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Trump Legal News: The Trial

In the Pink Floyd song of that name, the judge finds the defendant guilty without even bothering with the jury, because the evidence is "incontrovertible." If you're reading, Judge Juan Merchan, it's an interesting thought. Could save everyone a lot of time.

For now, however, they are going to proceed as if it's a normal trial. And here are the 10 most interesting storylines from the first day, in our view:

  1. March Of The Meanies: Whenever Trump appears in court, it's something of a circus outside. Yesterday, however, the first time that a U.S. president had ever gone on trial to face criminal charges, the circus was... very small. There were only a few dozen MAGA types, despite a well-promoted MAGA rally and the presence of celebrity (?) MAGA-woman Laura Loomer. There were even fewer counter-MAGA protesters. Both groups were greatly outnumbered by the media that showed up to cover the trial. Said Newsmax personality/MAGA fanatic/U.S. Senate candidate Cara Castronuova (R): "I just think that people are kind of just tired of these trials..."

  2. Tell Me What You See: It being the first day of a trial, some amount of time was spent, naturally, on figuring out what evidence would be allowed. The prosecution scored what is apparently a big win, with the ruling that anti-Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) stories from the National Enquirer would be allowed, because they were run by then-publisher David Pecker at the instigation of the Trump campaign, and speak to a pattern of behavior. Playboy model/Trump paramour Karen McDougal will also be allowed to testify, even though the payment made to her is not part of the criminal case.

  3. You Can't Do That: On the other hand, Merchan also excluded some evidence, including the infamous Access Hollywood tape. Although the prosecution will be allowed to quote from the interview, the Judge said the tape itself is too prejudicial. Similarly, E. Jean Carroll's deposition from her defamation suit against Trump is verboten. Boy howdy, this man has a long trail of documented sexual misconduct.

  4. I'm Looking Through You: As we've noted previously, Trump is required to be in court unless excused by the judge. Trump doesn't particularly want to be there, and asked for a bunch of days off for various purposes, such as attending the Supreme Court hearing about presidential immunity. Merchan wasn't buying it, and gave New York's "Parker Warnings" to Trump, basically an advisory that if Trump somehow doesn't make it to court when he's required to be there, he'll be arrested and jailed.

  5. Bad Boy: Also as part of the Parker Warnings, Merchan warned Trump he better behave in court, or it will also be a one-way ticket to the slammer: "If you disrupt the proceedings in any way, the law permits the court to exclude you from the courtroom. Do you understand?" Trump barely whispered the "yes" of a defeated man.

  6. Money (That's What I Want): Continuing on the theme of jail time, the prosecution asked for Trump to be fined $3,000 for violating the Court's gag orders ($1,000/each for three offenses) and to be warned that future violations will land the former president in a holding cell. Merchan will rule on this question next week.

  7. Crying, Waiting, Hoping: He wouldn't be Donald Trump if he didn't find something to lie about, although even he is not so careless as to perjure himself on the very first day of a criminal trial. So, the lie was posted to social media; Trump whined that "I can't go to my son's graduation" because Merchan won't let him. That's the high school graduation of Barron Trump that The Donald is referring to, and the truth is that the judge has not yet ruled on the request, as yet.

  8. I Call Your Name: It's not going to be easy to find a jury for this trial, for obvious reasons. The first group of 96 was brought into the courtroom yesterday, and about half were dismissed because they said they could not be impartial, while another half-dozen or so were dismissed because they have personal conflicts that cannot accommodate the trial's schedule. That left 34, and of those, only 9 have thus far "made the cut" for the next round of scrutiny. In the end, the Judge wants roughly 36 "possible" jurors, from which a panel of 12 regular jurors and 6 alternates will be selected. Finding 9 of 36 means the Court is just one-quarter of the way to round two. It's probable that it will take until the middle of next week to seat the jury.

  9. I'm Only Sleeping: The New York Times' Maggie Haberman reported that, on numerous occasions, Trump appeared to be nodding off in the courtroom. Not a great look for someone who has slurred his opponent as "Sleepy Joe."

  10. I Don't Want To Spoil The Party: Speaking of Sleepy Joe, the White House does not want to touch this story with a 10-foot pole. When White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked for comment on the day's proceedings, she said that Biden would probably get an update at some point, but that he was very busy meeting with the prime ministers of Iraq and the Czech Republic. Just in case you forgot who is president, and who is not.

And so it begins. And now we wait to see what Day 2 brings. (Z)


As long as we're covering bad news for Donald Trump, let us move just a few miles north from Juan Merchan's courtroom (100 Centre Street) to NASDAQ headquarters (4 Times Square). As everyone knows, Trump Media &Technology Group (TMTG) is not making money. In fact, it is losing money which, as we understand it, is the literal opposite of making money. The company also has no real plan for reversing that trend. What it does have, however, is expenses that must be paid.

TMTG doesn't have a lot of ways to raise capital, and so it announced yesterday that it will turn to the one option it does have: issuing more stock. The plan is to sell 21.5 million more shares, so as to bring in some cash and keep the doors open. Well, keep the bits flowing, let's say.

This new issuance will water down existing stockholders' holdings, which did not make the markets happy yesterday, as the stock closed at a new low of $26.63/share. It could well go much lower, particularly if there aren't too many buyers willing to throw their money at what looks to be a sinking ship. It could also go the other direction, of course, if speculators and/or MAGA cult members jump at the chance to buy low. Still, the fact that the company is not profitable isn't going away. Forbes Senior Editor Dan Alexander appeared on CNN yesterday, and went so far as to say that the stock could go to zero eventually, forcing TMTG to declare bankruptcy. If so, that would be lucky number seven for the former president.

You may wonder why we give as much attention as we do to this story. It's not schadenfreude (although, admittedly, that doesn't hurt). But it is for two primary reasons. First, the profits Trump expected to realize from this venture might well have solved his money woes. But if there are to be no profits, then he's back to a situation where paying his lawyers and keeping his business empire intact or semi-intact will be a real challenge. At the moment, his TMTG holdings are worth about $2 billion, and of course there's no plausible way to liquidate that much and keep the price steady. So even now, if he was planning to cash out $450 million ASAP to pay his New York judgment, he might not be able to realize that amount.

Second, there could be political fallout here. Trump's whole image is built on the notion that he's a wildly successful businessman. It's one thing that some Atlantic City casinos went belly-up 20 or 30 years ago. It's potentially another thing if such a high-profile venture fails right in the middle of his reelection campaign. And it could make it even worse if a bunch of MAGA fanatics are left holding the bag, because they trusted their Dear Leader with some big portion of their life's savings. (Z)

Maine Joins National Popular Vote Interstate Compact

The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC), a consortium of states that have agreed to cast their electoral votes for the winner of the popular vote, thus nullifying the Electoral College, got a little bigger yesterday as Maine joined the team.

The addition of Maine means that the NPVIC pledgees control 209 electoral votes. The Compact does not become binding until that total reaches 270, so barring some sort of miracle it won't have an effect on this year's elections. All of the states that have signed off on the pact are somewhere between "light blue" and "deep blue," so presumably the last 61 EVs would have to come from blue/bluish states that are not already participants.

Is it doable? Well, Michigan, Nevada, Arizona and Virginia are all blue-leaning, and all have an NPVIC bill under consideration at some level (often, pending consideration from a legislative committee). If we imagine that at some point in the next few years they all get Democratic trifectas (something only true of Michigan right now) and that they all take the plunge, then that would bring the total to 254 EVs.

There are five other states that have an NPVIC bill under consideration at some level, but they all have Republican-controlled legislatures: North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Alaska and Kansas. North Carolina alone would be enough to put the NPVIC over the hump (again, assuming the four states in the previous paragraph all join), or South Carolina and Kentucky would be enough, or South Carolina/Kentucky and both Kansas and Alaska would be enough. We think any of these is very unlikely in the foreseeable future.

So then, one has to look at the map for blue/bluish states that aren't pondering an NPVIC bill, but might plausibly do so in the future. Wisconsin is a natural candidate, but its 10 votes would only take 254 to 264. Georgia is possible, and would take 254 to the necessary 270, but that state has a Republican trifecta and seems unlikely to make a move anytime soon. That leaves us with Pennsylvania, which has 19 EVs (bringing the total to 273) and may have a Democratic trifecta after this year's elections (three state Senate seats would have to flip).

And that leaves us with the likeliest path forward: Michigan, Nevada, Arizona and Virginia all adopt their pending NPVIC bills and then Pennsylvania decides to jump on board, too. It's a bit of a longshot, but one can squint and see the slight possibility of it happening by 2030 or so.

Alternatively, the government could announce that, 150+ years later, the request of the 11 Confederate states to secede has been granted. There would then be 513 EVs, since the size of the House is by law fixed at 435 members and there would be 78 senators, but the NPVIC members would get enough additional seats to just squeak past the 257 threshold. So, the next time you see a "The South Will Rise Again" bumper sticker, don't assume it's the property of some racist yokel. It could be a fan of the NPVIC. (Z)

Foreign Affairs, Part I: Johnson Threads His Needle

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) and his leadership team have apparently decided on a strategy when it comes to the various foreign aid issues that are currently languishing. He's going to put forward four separate bills:

  • One with money for Ukraine
  • One with money for Israel
  • One with money for Taiwan
  • One with a bunch of stuff, like forcing Chinese divestment from TikTok and selling off seized Russian assets

Note that the Senate passed a bill many months ago that had all those things in one nice, tidy bundle.

So, what is the point of splitting up the bills? Well, since the contents are not yet public, it's hard to know. Johnson could be trying to cut some of the things Democrats want out of the package(s), like humanitarian aid. Alternatively, he could be setting it up so that some bills (Israel) succeed, while others (Ukraine) fail. Then he would be able to say, "Hey, I tried, but the votes just weren't there." Or, he could be setting it up so that the House Freedom Caucus has the power to kill the measures, but is unable to do it. Then he would be able to say, "You had your chance, and you couldn't find the votes. Don't blame me."

Will it work? Maybe, depending on what's in the bills. House Democrats, especially the moderates, say the need is acute enough at this point that they're willing to help the Speaker out, if the bills he proposes are acceptable (read: they include humanitarian aid). That said, there are also some problems for Johnson. The Freedom Caucus is, of course, furious, because they're always furious. And the White House made clear yesterday that a stand-alone bill for Israel, without any accompanying aid for Ukraine, is unacceptable. Oh, and Donald Trump hasn't weighed in yet, but of course he is capable of throwing a giant wrench into the works at any time.

In short: Good luck, Mr. Speaker. You're going to need it. (Z)

Foreign Affairs, Part II: Iran vs. Israel

There's some pretty skilled statecraft going on right now, and it's getting very little attention from most media outlets.

As readers will recall, Israel killed a high-ranking Iranian general a little over a week ago, and did it without clearance from the U.S. or any other ally. Iran was certain to retaliate, and did so this weekend, sending 300+ missiles and drones at Israel.

The Iranian attack, despite being fairly massive, did very little damage. Indeed, most of the incoming armaments were shot down before reaching Israel, courtesy of a partnership between the Israeli Defense Forces, the U.S. Navy, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The attack was so ineffectual that it gave rise to speculation that the Iranians deliberately blew it, launching an offensive that allowed them to "save face" while not escalating tensions in the region any further. That is a little hard to accept, since wouldn't 20 missiles and drones be enough for that? Why 300? But either way, it's a feather in Joe Biden's cap. Either he persuaded the Iranians not to escalate, or he quickly put together an ad hoc alliance of anti-Iranian forces in order to defend very successfully against the attack.

And then, just as importantly, Israeli Cabinet minister Benny Gantz announced yesterday that there would be no "imminent" response to Iran's attack. This has Biden's fingerprints all over it; the White House demanded de-escalation. There was wisdom in it for the Israelis, as well, since they are not in a great position to be fighting multiple wars at once. But the White House's strong words sealed the deal.

In short, it appears that the Biden administration's diplomacy has managed to de-escalate a situation that could easily have spun out of control. The White House considered a presidential address, to let Americans know about the progress that has been made. And is there really any doubt that if Donald Trump had pulled this off, he'd be all over TV and social media crowing about it? But in the end, Team Biden decided that an address would be needlessly provocative and insulting to the Iranians, and risked undoing the good that has already been done. So, no address.

Again, that's what skilled statecraft looks like. And part of the deal, as president, is that you rarely get credit in the moment, because that's just not plausible. Maybe when you write your autobiography. Maybe. (Z)

Foreign Affairs, Part III: Trump Gets THE Endorsement

The 2024 election cycle can officially begin, because the endorsement that everyone has been waiting for has finally dropped. Liz Truss, former Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, has come out in support of Donald Trump.

Truss was on LBC, which in California means "Long Beach, California," but in Britain apparently means Leading Britain's Conversation. It's basically the Brits' version of NPR. And while being interviewed, she said: "I don't think [Joe] Biden has been particularly supportive to the United Kingdom. I think he's often on the side of the EU. And I certainly think I would like to see a new president in the White House." She added, for anyone who might think she means Cornel West, that "It has to be [Donald Trump]."

Most international leaders, even if they are out of office, have the good taste not to comment directly on other nations' elections. Everyone knows who Emmanuel Macron or Justin Trudeau or Tony Blair or Angela Merkel would like to win the election, but none of them says it openly. They have the skill to communicate their views without being too direct. Truss, on the other hand, is reminding everyone why she couldn't last in office longer than a head of lettuce.

Her endorsement probably won't have any impact, but if it does, it will likely be negative. After all, her party is currently a sinking ship, while her own premiership sank so fast it brought Titanic to mind. It's hard to think of an international leader whose endorsement would be less desirable, unless it's Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong-Un, and Trump's already got those. (Z)

Looking Forward to 2024, Part VIII: Reader Predictions, Foreign Affairs Edition

We hoped to get to this last week, but not so much. It's at least fortuitous that this will run on a day we have three foreign affairs items. Here are the previous entries:

And now, 10 reader predictions for foreign affairs:

  1. R.C. in Des Moines, IA: Benjamin Netanyahu will be forced to resign and will then go on trial and will be convicted before Trump. (Potential Bonus Points: 67)

  2. P.L. in Denver, CO: Netanyahu will be out of office and well on his way to jail. A more liberal coalition government will be formed, opening a way for FINALLY settling the Palestine and Israel issues. Neighboring Muslim countries will participate in solving these problems. (Potential Bonus Points: 62)

  3. J.J. in Johnstown, PA: The U.S. will be in a full-blown shooting war with Iran before this year is over (not the proxy war with the Iranian-backed Houthis currently happening). (Potential Bonus Points: 79)

  4. F.S. in Cologne, Germany: In October, shortly before the U.S. presidential election, Iran will officially declare that it has developed a nuclear weapon. (Potential Bonus Points: 64)

  5. B.H. in Southborough, MA: The Ukraine war will resolve in some way by year's end. (Potential Bonus Points: 76)

  6. P.C. in Austin, TX: Vladimir Putin will be assassinated. Ukraine will strongly deny involvement. Russia will be in chaos for the rest of 2024. The war in Ukraine will fizzle. (Potential Bonus Points: 77)

  7. M.G. in Seattle, WA: Ukraine will receive the aid it needs to continue to hold out against Russia. (Potential Bonus Points: 31)

  8. S.H. in Broken Arrow, OK: In the U.K., Rishi Sunak will take one last look at the polls and end up waiting until the last possible day (approx. December 17th) to call for a dissolution of Parliament and call elections. (Potential Bonus Points: 39)

  9. O.E. in Greenville, SC: At least one country will seek to leave the European Union this year. (Potential Bonus Points: 74)

  10. J.C. in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia: The Netherlands will still have no functional government by year's end. (Potential Bonus Points: 49)

If the readers go 10-for-10, then they'll earn 1,000 points for 10 correct predictions, along with 618 bonus points for degree of difficulty.

The final set of predictions will be a wildcard set. (Z)

Today's Presidential Polls

Bullfinch returns, this time with a poll that looks good for Trump. Though, as you can see, this one was conducted before the abortion decision. So don't take it to the bank, would be our advice. (Z)

State Joe Biden Donald Trump Start End Pollster
Arizona 38% 44% Mar 29 Apr 03 Bullfinch Group

Click on a state name for a graph of its polling history.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr15 Trump's First Criminal Trial Could Begin Today
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