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John Durham Flames Out
Plus: Jack Smith Cometh
Let’s catch up before we get to the main event today:
Fight Club update: “Marjorie Taylor Greene Calls Boebert a ‘Little Bitch’ on the House Floor.”
The messy feud between two of MAGA world’s biggest stars burst into public view on Wednesday, when Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) called Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) a “little bitch” to her face on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.
The angry exchange came as the two lawmakers have been swiping at each other over their competing resolutions to impeach President Joe Biden.
I know. You really hate to see it.
GOP, say hello to Senator Schiff.
Tell me more about that two-tiered justice system. “Ex-FBI analyst sentenced to prison in KC classified docs case | The Kansas City Star.”
A former FBI intelligence analyst from Dodge City, Kansas, who kept hundreds of classified documents at her home, including in her bathroom, was sentenced to nearly four years in prison by a federal judge in Kansas City on Wednesday for violating the same part of the Espionage Act that former President Donald Trump is accused of breaking.
But where do they go to get an apology? “Georgia poll workers targeted by Trump are cleared of false election fraud claims.”
Years after their lives were turned upside down by conspiracy theorists, Ruby Freeman and her daughter, Wandrea ArShaye "Shaye" Moss, were officially cleared by Georgia authorities on Tuesday.
Georgia’s State Election Board dismissed its yearslong investigation into alleged election fraud at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta, more than two years after conspiracy theorists — and then-President Donald Trump — claimed that Freeman and her daughter had committed election fraud in the 2020 presidential election.
The fraud claims were “unsubstantiated and found to have no merit,” the investigation concluded, reporting on the work of the FBI, the Georgia Bureau of Investigations and investigators from the Secretary of State’s office vetting the alleged fraud.
"I'm still holding out hope that I'll be delivering a victim impact statement at the conclusion of Donald Trump's trial," [Fanone] said.
Welcome to the Thunderdome. “Will Hurd, moderate Republican and Trump critic, to run for president.'
Hurd revealed his decision in a Thursday morning interview on CBS and followed it up online with an announcement video that began with Hurd listing illegal immigration, inflation and other problems before addressing the current and former presidents.
“President [Joe] Biden can’t solve these problems — or won’t,” Hurd said. “And if we nominate a lawless, selfish, failed politician like Donald Trump — who lost the House, the Senate and the White House — we all know Joe Biden will win again.”
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Jack Smith Cometh
An outstanding conversation with Andrew Weissmann on yesterday’s podcast.
Special Counsel Jack Smith is racing against the clock; Justices Alito and Thomas seem to be taking cues from Donald Trump’s “What are you gonna do about it?” approach to following rules; Republicans oppose the IRS and gun laws unless Hunter is involved; and Barr’s about-face is way too little, way too late.
Did Durham lie?
John Durham was supposed to be the great Trump hope — the anti-Mueller, who would blow the lid off something something something. His years-long probe ended with multiple courtroom humiliations and a damp squib of a report.
His testimony before a House committee yesterday didn’t go any better. He stumbled, hedged, and made it clear that he didn’t really know much at all about the Rusia probe. Here’s Jonathan Chait:
Durham seemed to be unaware of the major factual elements of the alliance between the Trump campaign and Russia. This ignorance came through in several awkward exchanges with Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee panel.
Eric Swalwell asked Durham about how Trump “tried and concealed from the public a real-estate deal he was seeking in Moscow.” This was a deal, described in the Mueller report, in which the Russian government promised Trump several hundreds of millions of dollars in profit at no risk to himself to license a tower in Moscow. The proposed payoff, and Trump’s public lies at the time about it, gave Russia enormous leverage over his campaign. Durham replied, “I don’t know anything about that.”
There was a lot more like that.
When Adam Schiff asked Durham if the Russians released stolen information through cutouts, he replied, “I’m not sure.” Schiff responded, “The answer is yes,” to which Durham reported, “In your mind, it’s yes.”
When Schiff asked Durham if he knew that, hours after Trump publicly asked Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s State Department emails and release them, Russian hackers made an attempt to hack Clinton emails, Durham replied, “If that happened, I’m not aware of that.”
When asked if Trump referred to those stolen emails more than 100 times on the campaign trail, Durham answered, “I don’t really read the newspapers and listen to the news.”
And when Schiff asked Durham if he was aware that Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, passed on polling data to Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian intelligence agent, at the time Russia was conducting both a social-media campaign and the release of stolen documents to help Trump, Durham replied, “You may be getting beyond the depth of my knowledge.”
David Corn isn’t having it. He writes, “John Durham Just Made False Statements to Congress.”
“The Manafort-Kilimnik connection — which the Senate Intelligence Committee report characterized as a ‘grave counterintelligence threat’ — is one of the most serious and still not fully explained components of the Trump-Russia scandal.
“It is inconceivable that Durham is unaware of this troubling link.”
Corn walks through Durham’s other false statements, including his account of the infamous Trump Tower meeting in which Don Jr. hoped the Russians would provide dirt on Hillary Clinton.
This meeting signaled to Moscow that the Trump camp was receptive to Russian endeavors to intervene in the election to boost Trump’s chances, and Schiff expressed surprise that Durham found it insignificant. “Are you really trying to diminish the importance of what happened here?” he asked.
Durham answered: “The more complete story is that they met, and it was a ruse, and they didn’t talk about Mrs. Clinton.”
That is not true.
The report produced by special counsel Robert Mueller notes that the Russian emissary, a lawyer named Natalia Veselnitskaya, did discuss Clinton: “Participants agreed that Veselnitskaya stated that the Ziff brothers [an American family investment firm] had broken Russian laws and had donated their profits to the DNC or the Clinton Campaign. She asserted that the Ziff brothers had engaged in tax evasion and money laundering in both the United States and Russia.” (There was no evidence that Ziff Brothers Investments had engaged in wrongdoing.)
The Mueller report points out that Trump Jr. zeroed in on this: “Trump Jr. asked follow-up questions about how the alleged payments could be tied specifically to the Clinton Campaign, but Veselnitskaya indicated that she could not trace the money once it entered the United States.” The report quotes a participant in the meeting recalling “that Trump Jr. asked what they [the Russians] have on Clinton.”
Durham’s characterization of the meeting—that it had nothing to do with Clinton—lined up with what the Trump camp first claimed when the meeting was revealed a year afterward, in 2017. At that time, Trump Jr. issued a false statement dictated by his father that insisted the conversation had focused “primarily” on the adoption of Russian children by Americans. That was a phony cover story. Later on, when more information came out, even the elder Trump conceded that the point of the meeting was to gather negative information on Clinton from a foreign adversary. “This was a meeting to get information on an opponent,” Trump said. Yet years later, Durham was still pushing the original disinformation about the meeting propagated by Trump and his allies.
BONUS: You know who else was mad at Durham? Matt Gaetz.
Instead, Durham said in his opening statement that his report “should not be read to suggest in any way that Russian election interference was not a threat; it was.” And when it came to Mueller himself, Durham didn’t hold back in his praise. “Our object, our aim, was not to dispute Director Mueller,” Durham said. “I have the greatest regard, the highest regard for Director Mueller. He is a patriot.” That’s again not what Trump’s most ardent devotees would like to hear coming from the man who they expected to expose Mueller’s role in the “witch hunt” against Trump.
We’ll have a lot more on today’s episode of the Trump Trials, which will be released this afternoon:
Brutal poll for Biden
Biden job approval little changed. Currently, 35% of Americans approve of President Joe Biden’s job performance, while 62% disapprove. Biden’s job approval has changed little in the past year. The survey also finds low job ratings for House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (34% approve) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (32%).
You can see the effect of the Afghanistan pull-out in this chart:
1. Will Judge Cannon Give Trump a Favorable Jury?
Legal experts (among others) lost trust in Judge Cannon as a fair-minded jurist in September when, without plausible legal authority, she appointed a special master to review the classified documents the government seized in the court-authorized search of Mar-a-Lago the previous month. The Eleventh Circuit bluntly corrected her for treating a former president specially. Cannon’s trial date order suggests that she “got the memo” and may have learned a lesson.
Still, there are many ways Judge Cannon could still tilt the process in Trump’s favor, from evidentiary rulings to jury instructions. Atop the list of ways she could tip the scales of justice is in how she conducts jury selection. Her responsibility is to weed out individuals with unshakeable, pre-formed opinions of innocence or guilt. How she does that—or doesn’t, as the case may be—could determine the outcome of the trial.
2. Is the E.U. a Bureaucratic Nightmare or a Beacon of Freedom?
Very few Americans would use the word “inspiring” to describe the European Union. If we think about the E.U. at all, most of us share something like the dyspeptic view that prompted many Britons to want out: It’s a many-tentacled, meddlesome regulatory bureaucracy, useful in its way, perhaps, as an economic umbrella. But hardly inspirational.
But the E.U. looks different from Ukraine, where the idea of joining is freighted with hope and deeper meaning. In 2013, just as the Brexit debate began in London, pro-Russian Ukrainian president Victor Yanukovych rescinded the country’s application for E.U. membership, bringing nearly a million people into the streets of Kyiv, shouting “Ukraine is Europe.” Later that winter, more than 100 protesters died for the idea. Today, polls show upward of 90 percent of Ukrainians wanting to join.
3. In Arkansas, a Vision of Single-Party Democracy
What happens when one party becomes dominant in a liberal democratic environment? We’ve experienced over a decade of such dominance from Republicans in my home state of Arkansas, where Democrats have been relegated to just 18 out of 100 seats in the state House and six of 35 in the state Senate—a drastic change in fortune from 2010, when every county in the state voted to re-elect incumbent Democratic Governor Mike Beebe. Chris Jones—you might not recognize that name; he was the state Democrats’ candidate for governor last fall—pulled in a little over a third of the vote in the most recent gubernatorial election, which Sarah Huckabee Sanders won by almost 28 points. Almost half the state’s registered voters did not bother to vote.
"I don’t give a s--- about Daniel Rodriguez. He ceased to exist to me as a person a long time ago," Fanone said. "Any compassion or empathy I felt toward those who laid siege to our Capitol, whose actions I felt were at least in part influenced by their leader, Donald Trump, and his lies, has been eroded — eroded by the attacks directed at me and my family by supporters of Donald Trump and the right-wing media."
Fanone, referring to special counsel Jack Smith's ongoing investigation of Trump's actions leading up to Jan. 6, called for the Justice Department to pursue indictments against Trump and anyone else responsible "regardless of their wealth or current political position" and prove the mantra that no one is above the law.
"Your honor, we must all join in the fight against Donald Trump and the destructive, divisive movement he has come to represent," Fanone said. "We must offer him no safe harbor and to his enablers — whether in business, in politics and the media — give no quarter. In the fight to preserve our Republic, there can be no spectators."