The Trump legal news came fast and furious yesterday, and from all over the country. Here's the rundown, presented roughly in the order that the news broke:
Florida: Over the weekend, Donald Trump hopped on his boutique social media platform and demanded that Judge Tanya Chutkan be removed from his trial in Washington, and implied that he'd hate to have to reveal the "very powerful grounds" for his demand. In other words, the former president was effectively trying to blackmail Chutkan (though one has to assume it's a bluff, and he doesn't actually have anything blackmail-worthy to back his implied threat).
Trump attorney John Lauro (whose main office is in Tampa, FL) has not impressed thus far with his legal skill. However, even he knows that threatening a federal judge, even indirectly, is not such a good idea. It's an even worse idea when that judge is presiding over a criminal trial in which you are the defendant. So, Lauro quickly got on TV to explain that the former president was merely speaking with his "layman's political sense," and that trying to get Chutkan removed from the case is not a part of the defense's strategy. Undoubtedly, this will be the only time that Trump and his lawyers are not on the same page in this case, and that Trump unwisely runs his mouth in public. Right?
New York: E. Jean Carroll sued Trump for defamation. And then she did it again, and again. Carroll is 1-0 in those suits, so far, with the other two pending. Trump, for his part, thinks the whole thing is ridiculous and without merit, and so he filed a countersuit against Carroll, also claiming defamation. The problem for the former president is that "Trump thinks it's ridiculous and without merit" and "it's actually ridiculous and without merit" are very different things. The two pending Carroll suits are still pending. Trump's suit, on the other hand, was dismissed yesterday by Judge Lewis Kaplan. And while he was at it, Kaplan issued a second order decreeing that Trump depositions from the Carroll lawsuit can be used in other suits, like the one involving Stormy Daniels. That means the former president went 0-for-2 in New York, which means that, this season at least, he is eminently qualified to bat leadoff for the Yankees.
Georgia: Republican Geoff Duncan was the lieutenant governor of Georgia from 2019 through January of this year. He was an outspoken critic of "Stop the Steal," which made him basically unelectable, and so he did not attempt to hold onto his job, or try for a promotion, when his term was up. Yesterday, he was subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury that has been impaneled by DA Fani Willis.
Undoubtedly, Duncan will be happy to tell Willis whatever she wants to know. However, we are not quite sure how to reconcile this with Willis' statement that indictments are "ready to go" in Georgia. Was that not true? Did she just now figure out that Duncan might be a useful person to speak with? Is there some piece of the puzzle that's still missing? Is she getting cold feet, and looking for excuses to avoid pulling the trigger? We don't get it. Still, the fact that Willis is apparently still collecting evidence suggests that when she said an indictment would come down by the end of August, she meant "late August" and not "early August" or "mid-August."
Florida, again: Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) is in Iowa right now, undoubtedly so he can take care of important corn-related business on behalf of the voters who are currently paying his salary. And while he's in the Hawkeye State, the Governor thought he might as well chat with a few Iowans about his 2024 aspirations. During an appearance, DeSantis was asked about "stop the steal" and the resulting criminal cases, and he said "all those theories that were put out did not prove to be true." And this was not a slip of the tongue, as around the same time, NBC News released an interview in which DeSantis said the same thing.
This could well be the first sign that DeSantis is finally going to do the obvious thing, which is turn his sights on Trump and declare that the emperor has no clothes. This might work, or it might not, but it's not like what the Governor is doing right now is paying dividends. That said, if this is his Jeb! moment, it's pretty flaccid criticism. DeSantis is using the most milquetoasty language possible, and is leaving his answer to the question of "Should Trump be on trial?" implicit rather than explicit. If the Governor is going to launch an offensive, he should launch a real one, as opposed to deploying the Quaker guns.
Florida, yet again: Thus far, this item has been about mostly neutral-to-bad news for Trump. But late in the afternoon, he got some excellent news out of Florida, as Judge Aileen Cannon reminded everyone she might well be in the bag for the president who appointed her to the bench. Last week, special counsel Jack Smith and his team filed two sealed motions asking for hearings about conflicts-of-interest that arise with Stanley Woodward representing all three defendants in the case (i.e., Trump, Walt Nauta and Carlos De Oliveira). Cannon issued an order yesterday that, while brief, was also... rather unhinged, according to people who know this stuff far better than we do.
To start, Cannon not only denied the request to keep the hearings secret, she ordered that the two motions be stricken from the record. She also questioned why a Florida case is still being investigated by a Washington grand jury. This not only reflects either ignorance or willful disregard of how things work (it's appropriate for the grand jury to be based in either place, since the crime took place in both jurisdictions), it also reveals that deliberations are still underway. That's not supposed to be public information. Cannon also demanded that Smith account for himself, while also using a footnote to remind Trump that he's still free to file a motion to dismiss the whole case.
It is at least possible that Trump's success here will be short-lived. Cannon's order is not only extraordinary, it also invents a grand jury issue where there is none (again, either out of ignorance or deliberate obfuscation), and it also asserts authority Cannon does not have (she doesn't have the power to oversee the operations of a Washington grand jury). So, the insta-response, from people who know what they are talking about (like former U.S. Attorney Joyce Alene and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Weissman) is that Cannon has given Smith grounds to appeal her rulings and, quite possibly, to request her removal from the case. We shall see if the Special Counsel plays that particular trump card (as it were).
Washington, DC: Meanwhile, back in D.C., Smith's team and Trump's lawyers are busily arguing about what the former president can and cannot say in public while the gears of justice grind. Judge Chutkan ordered that a hearing on the matter will be held on Friday, unless counsel agree on some earlier date and time.
And that is where things stand, as of the moment. We suspect this won't be the last "Trump Legal News" of the week, even if we don't know for sure what the upcoming days will bring. All we know for sure is that the song never remains the same. (Z)