"Must I shoot a simple-minded soldier boy who deserts, while I must not touch a hair of a wily agitator who induces him to desert?" -- Abraham Lincoln
"Stand back and stand by” — Donald Trump to the Proud Boys
“And now after three trials, we have secured the convictions of leaders of both the proud boys and the oath keepers for seditious conspiracy, specifically conspiring to oppose by force the lawful transfer of presidential power. Our work will continue.” — Attorney General Merrick Garland
“Well then, what’s next? “ — The Rest of Us
Somebody is having a very bad week in the American judicial system.
Make sure you check out of the second episode of our podcast, “The Trump Trials,” which we recorded moments after the federal jury convicted four leaders of the proud Boys of seditious conspiracy and other felonies.
You can listen to the whole thing here.
Kim Wehle writes in today’s Bulwark:
In the Proud Boys case, DOJ charged that the defendants “did knowingly conspire, confederate, and agree . . . to oppose by force the authority of the Government of the United States” and “the lawful transfer of presidential power by force,” and “by force to prevent, hinder, and delay the execution of any law of the United States.” The prosecution aimed to show that the defendants used social media and electronic communications to raise funds and travel to Washington, obtained paramilitary gear and supplies, engaged in planning meetings and encrypted messages on and before January 6th, mobilized the crowd, dismantled metal barricades, destroyed property, and assaulted police officers.
So, it turns out that they were not casual tourists, or patriots after all. How big was yesterday’s verdict? In his newsletter, Ben Wittes writes:
Short answer: It’s a big deal. It’s not just that the people convicted today were serious bad actors who, in a meaningful sense, played a important role in making the storming of the Capitol happen. That would, of course, be worthy in and of itself.
But, I think, to fully understand the importance of the Proud Boys verdict, you have to situate it against the more than two years of prosecutions the Justice Department has pursued against Jan. 6 perpetrators. So zoom out with me for a second.
There have, to date, been about 1,000 federal Jan. 6 convictions. In the beginning, a lot of these were for misdemeanor offenses. As time went on, the number of felonies increased—and the seriousness of those felonies increased as well. Then the Justice Department brought two major seditious conspiracy cases, one involving the Oath Keepers, the other involving the Proud Boys. The Oath Keepers case was important, but it wasn’t central to the violence that took place that day, as the Oath Keepers actually didn’t engage in the major violence.
The Proud Boys case, by contrast, is the single most important case related to the on-the-ground conduct of the insurrection on Jan. 6.
So when you look at the pattern of cases so far, what emerges is that as time has gone on, the Justice Department has systematically worked its way up the food chain—from the randos who wandered into the Capitol to foot soldiers and those who engaged in minor league violence to actors who committed major acts of violence to those who organized insurrectionary activity to stop the certification of President Biden’s election as president.
The Proud Boys convictions, even more than the Oath Keepers convictions several months back, shows the department’s seriousness about and capability in seeking accountability for these highest-level ground actors.
The only level that remains untouched is the political echelon—the top of the pyramid.
The Jan. 6 investigations will not be judged a success if the special counsel cannot address that final major challenge. But I want to suggest that the department’s success at every other layer of the pyramid, combined with the evident energy of Jack Smith’s investigation ought to generate some confidence.
The Justice Department is not playing here.
Ben has also written a song in honor of the Proud Boy convictions, which you can sing here.
Remarkably, The Proud Boy convictions may not have been Trump’s worse legal moment.
There was also this development, via the NYT: “Federal prosecutors investigating former President Donald J. Trump’s handling of classified documents have obtained the confidential cooperation of a person who has worked for him at Mar-a-Lago, part of an intensifying effort to determine whether Mr. Trump ordered boxes containing sensitive material moved out of a storage room there as the government sought to recover it last year, multiple people familiar with the inquiry said.”
A reminder that obstruction is very much on brand for the former guy.
And there was the cringeworthy Trump deposition tape that was played for the jury in the E. Jean Carroll rape trial. In it, Trump explained that stars have long gotten away with sexual assault, “unfortunately or fortunately.”
In the deposition, conducted at Mar-a-Lago in October, Kaplan asked Trump about the “Access Hollywood” tape, a recording from 2005 in which Trump can be heard saying, “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything,” adding: “Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”
“Well, historically that’s true with stars,” Trump replied after watching a clip of his comments.
When Kaplan pressed him on whether he stood by the statement that a star could “grab them by the pussy,” the former president said: “Well, I guess if you look over the last million years, that’s been largely true — not always true, but largely true, unfortunately or fortunately.”
“And you consider yourself to be a star?” she asked.
“I think so, yeah,” Trump said.
The jury really got to see the man in full:
During the deposition, Kaplan questioned him about several other women who have accused him of sexual assault, women Trump has characterized as not being his “type.”
Growing belligerent, Trump told Kaplan herself that “you wouldn’t be a choice of mine, either, to be honest.” He added: “I wouldn’t in any circumstances have any interest in you.”
And there was also this awkward moment.
Lawyers for E. Jean Carroll rested her civil case against Donald Trump on Thursday, shortly after jurors were shown a deposition video of the former president confusing the accuser with his ex-wife Marla Maples.
"It's Marla," Trump said during a deposition for the case when shown a picture of him, Carroll and Carroll's ex-husband in the 1980s.
"That's Marla, yeah. That's my wife," Trump continued before being corrected by his lawyer, Alina Habba. "No, that's Carroll," Habba said. Trump then responded the photo was "very blurry."
Not his type at all.
“No mention of Ginni, of course”
This story is not getting better, is it?
Following hard on the heels of the latest reports about the tuition payments from Justice Thomas’s billionaire sugar-daddy, we get this jaw-dropping story last night: “Leonard Leo directed fees to Clarence Thomas’s wife, urged ‘no mention of Ginni’.”
In January 2012, Leo instructed the GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway to bill a nonprofit group he advises and use that money to pay Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, the documents show. The same year, the nonprofit, the Judicial Education Project, filed a brief to the Supreme Court in a landmark voting rights case.
Leo, a key figure in a network of nonprofits that has worked to support the nominations of conservative judges, told Conway that he wanted her to “give” Ginni Thomas “another $25K,” the documents show. He emphasized that the paperwork should have “No mention of Ginni, of course.”
Conway complied, transferring the cash, without using the Supreme Court justice’s wife’s name.
Conway’s firm, the Polling Company, sent the Judicial Education Project a $25,000 bill that day. Per Leo’s instructions, it listed the purpose as “Supplement for Constitution Polling and Opinion Consulting,” the documents show.
In all, according to the documents, the Polling Company paid Thomas’s firm, Liberty Consulting, $80,000 between June 2011 and June 2012, and it expected to pay $20,000 more before the end of 2012. The documents reviewed by The Post do not indicate the precise nature of any work Thomas did for the Judicial Education Project or the Polling Company.
The bottomline? It’s about the grift, stupid.
The arrangement reveals that Leo, a longtime Federalist Society leader and friend of the Thomases, has functioned not only as an ideological ally of Clarence Thomas’s but also has worked to provide financial remuneration to his family. And it shows Leo arranging for the money to be drawn from a nonprofit that soon would have an interest before the court.
And… He. Put. It. In. Writing. (See Cheap Shots below.)
1. America’s Lowest Standard
In the Atlantic, I expand on something I’ve been thinking about: Try to imagine anyone like Trump surviving in any other segment of our society—business, entertainment, sports, the military.
No publicly traded company would consider naming Trump to an executive position, or even to a position on its board. None of his billionaire friends would trust him with their money. Even in our debased political culture, the cascade of rape allegations and indictments would force Trump’s resignation as a senator, governor, or legislator.
Trump would not be allowed to own an NFL, NBA, or MLB team, and no one would even think of giving him a management job at a local Burger King. It’s impossible to imagine him being given any position of authority at any school or university in the United States.
Hamilton thought that he had fireproofed the presidency from mountebanks and charlatans because we would seek out only the best and the brightest among us. Instead, we have apparently saved our lowest standards for the presidency.
At this point, the Senate would be unlikely to confirm Trump’s appointment to any other position of trust.
Someone with Trump’s character would not be granted a security clearance at any level of government.
We wouldn’t let the man babysit our children or even walk the dog. We would definitely not buy a used car from the guy.
But we might give him back the nuclear codes and control over the military, the FBI, the CIA, the IRS, and the Department of Justice.
Americans might make him, once again, the face of America.
You can read the whole thing here.
2. Trump Claims to “Believe in Loyalty.” Not So Fast...
Will Saletan in this morning’s Bulwark:
On April 10, Trump wrote on Truth Social that if DeSantis were to enter the 2024 presidential race and compete against Trump, “he will lose the cherished and massive MAGA vote, and never be able to successfully run for office again.” And on Sunday, the former president delivered a more explicit threat. John Rich, a Trumpist country music singer, wrote that if DeSantis were to win the nomination at Trump’s expense, “there wouldn’t be one true Trump supporter left that would vote for him and he would be destroyed in a general election.” Trump recirculated Rich’s message, adding: “I’ve always said John Rich was a very smart guy!”
When Republicans embraced Trump as their nominee in 2016, they knew they were tying their party to a narcissist. As the song goes, they knew damn well he was a snake. In every election since then, he has bitten them. And he’s going to do it again.
Lordy, there are consequences.
Kari Lake's lawyers sanctioned over false election claims
The Arizona Supreme Court on Thursday sanctioned attorneys for Kari Lake, the 2022 Republican candidate for governor, ordering them to pay thousands of dollars for repeating "unequivocally false" election claims in court.
Chief Justice Robert Brutinel fined Lake's attorneys $2,000 for making "false factual statements to the Court."
I think this is an under-rated tweet.
Not unlike gangrene the amputation of Thomas is necessary right now. The one that actually put me over the top was the payment through Kelly Ann Conway to Ginni the lump to hide the transaction. Those aren't the actions of a dear friend. They're the actions of someone buying influence from the court and trying to hide it. .
Are there any people who were influential in the Trump administration that weren't totally dishonest
The Clarence Thomas saga keeps going from bad to worse. Yet there is little chance that there will be consequences for him. Partly because of his built-in immunity due to the job-for-life nature of his employment. And partly because his partisan supporters, in an odd role reversal of convenience, like to play the race card in order to defend him. Which is to say that, in their eyes, there never is an acceptable reason to critique Thomas, because it always can be refuted with the intellectually lazy and one-sided argument that it is grounded in racism and nothing else.
I prefer to tell it like it is. There is more than enough evidence now to reasonably conclude that Thomas is a slimy opportunist who is milking his lack of accountability on the Supreme Court for whatever it is worth toward achieving his personal goals and promoting his own agenda. There is no skin color to that. One appropriately asks what the rest of the high court justices, regardless of personal political beliefs, think of him now as he continues to stain the institution at will.