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Trump Legal News: Karma Police

We do not presume to know which doctrines among the world's religious traditions are on the right track. However, when the saga of Donald Trump finally reaches its end, it looks like it's going to make a strong argument for what the Hindus and the Buddhists have to say about karma. Not instant karma, in Trump's case, but karma nonetheless.

It is not a secret that Trump spent much of his life, even before he was president, telling lies left and right, stiffing business partners, cheating on his romantic partners, committing acts of sexual assault, and screwing over customers. And he clearly suffered very little in the way of consequences for his bad behavior in the first seven decades of his life. But sometimes (maybe always?) you get what you give, and on a near-daily basis, he gets closer and closer to spending some significant portion of his remaining days behind bars. Thursday was yet another day with bad legal news for Team Trump.

At the outset of the day, Trump's lawyers were in Washington to meet with Jack Smith and his team. The legal eagles presumably thought this was a run of the mill meeting, at which they would be advised that Trump is getting close to being indicted (yet again) by a federal grand jury, this time for the former president's activities on 1/6. And they did indeed get that news. However, they were also advised that the Mar-a-Lago indictment has been superseded by a new, super-sized indictment that adds another defendant to the case and three more charges to Trump's list of alleged crimes.

You can read the superseding indictment here, if you wish. One of the three new charges against Trump is for violating the Espionage Act due to having highly classified plans for a hypothetical war against Iran in his possession. This is the document he discussed in the recording made at Bedminster, a recording that was eventually acquired and released by CNN. You had to figure it was only a matter of time until Trump was charged for this, and now he has been. However, the fact that it was tacked on to the Mar-a-Lago case presumably means there won't be a separate prosecution in New Jersey. That would also suggest that Team Smith does not feel that having Aileen Cannon preside over the case is a problem. If they did feel that way, then they would surely file in New Jersey, where this particular (alleged) crime was committed, so as to hedge their bets.

The other two charges to be added to the indictment of Trump are for obstruction of justice. Specifically, the Special Counsel has evidence that the former president ordered Carlos De Oliveira, who is an employee of Mar-a-Lago and is also Trump's brand-new co-defendant, to erase security footage documenting the moving around of boxes of classified material. We have no idea, of course, what Trump's relationship with De Oliveira or with his other co-defendant, Walt Nauta, is like. But we do know that Smith's odds of getting one of the accused to turn state's evidence just increased dramatically, particularly if there's any bad blood between Trump and either man, or if either man is worried about the other singing like a canary, and wants to beat his rival to the punch (in other words, it's basically a combination of the prisoner's dilemma and a truel, and so is fascinating from a game-theory perspective).

It's an obvious point, but The Washington Post's Ruth Marcus would seem to have beaten everyone else to the punch in observing that Trump apparently did not grasp the moral of Richard Nixon and Watergate. No, it's not to turn off the damn cameras (or tape recorders) before he cheats. It's that the coverup is usually worse than the crime, at least when it comes to these sorts of white-collar/political things. Recall that Trump was caught red-handed (orange-handed?) with documents he was not supposed to have. However, if he had just surrendered them when NARA first came calling, none of the rest of this would have happened. Every president takes some stuff by accident, and NARA and the Department of Justice don't want to be in the business of putting former presidents in prison, even if they are technically entitled to do so. But Trump just had to double down, and double down again. Now, he faces 40 felony counts, and he's well past the point of no return where he could extricate himself without consequences. O! What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.

On that point, the research consortium Bright Line Watch surveyed 569 political scientists to ascertain which of the pending legal cases against Trump is most likely to compel The Donald to make karma's payment, as it were. Keeping in mind that 1/6 is currently vaporware (vapordictment?), and so not a part of the survey, 57% of them think that his biggest exposure is in the Mar-a-Lago case. Only 10% think the Alvin Bragg case in New York is stronger, while 33% of them think that Trump is in deep doo-doo in both cases. Perhaps more importantly, well north of 90% of them think that the factual basis of the DoJ's Mar-a-Lago case is proven just by the information that's been made public. As a consequence, 66% think he should serve prison time, while another 25% think he deserves a fine and/or probation. Only 2% thought that Trump deserves no punishment. And again, recall that these opinions are based solely on the evidence that's been made public. It's entirely possible Smith has one or more rabbits in his hat that he hasn't shown to the general public yet.

In short, as the walls get closer and closer, it looks like Donald Trump is going to get a very painful lesson in the notion that what goes around... comes around. Oh, and he'll likely get it right in the middle of the 2024 presidential campaign; Axios has put together a timeline based on what is known of the political calendar and what is known of Trump's legal calendar. Here it is:

Political Legal
8/23/23: First GOP debate  
  10/2: civil fraud suit
1/15/24: Iowa caucuses 1/15/24: E. Jean Carrol suit #2
  1/29: Pyramid scheme class-action suit
3/5: Super Tuesday  
  3/25: New York hush money suit
  5/20: Mar-a-Lago trial
7/15: Republican National Convention  

This must surely be giving RNC Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel nightmares.

One last note about Trump's ability to dodge bad karma, chameleon that he is. We think we're on to something when we suggest, whether it's mystical in basis or not, that a long lifetime of problematic behavior on the part of Trump is finally catching up to him. And as some readers might have noticed, to help make our point, and also to amuse ourselves, we dropped the title of a famous song about karma into the headline and into each paragraph. That's 10 songs in total, the one in the headline and the one in each of the nine body paragraphs. The titles are all at least two words long, so none of the myriad songs simply entitled "Karma" count for this purpose. We'll reveal the list of songs on Tuesday of next week; should you wish to try to hunt the songs down before then, and check your answers, feel free to send your list along, and we'll tell you if you've got it. (Z)

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