Discover more from The Bulwark
Trump Dares the Judge
The GOP frontrunner’s ranty weekend.
Some non-snarky questions for a Monday morning: Does Donald Trump want to go to jail? Does he want to be found in contempt of court? Does he yearn for martyrdom — a spectacular scene of the ex-president in handcuffs?
Otherwise, why has he spent the last few days baiting, insulting, and threatening the judge, the jury pool, and potential witnesses?
Or is this weekend’s torrent of rants simply another chapter of the Mad King raging on the heath?
At his arraignment last Thursday, a federal magistrate judge had pointedly warned him: “It is a crime to try to influence a juror or to threaten or attempt to bribe a witness or any other person who may have information about your case, or to retaliate against anyone for providing information about your case to the prosecution, or to otherwise obstruct the administration of justice.”
The next day — less than 24 hours later — Trump bleated:
IF YOU GO AFTER ME, I’M COMING AFTER YOU!
Subtle, he is not.
But this was merely the beginning of a flood of invective from the GOP frontrunner. Special Counsel Jack Smith was “DERANGED”; there was “NO WAY” he could get a fair trial in D.C. “THIS FILTHY AND CRIME RIDDEN EMBARASSMENT TO OUR NATION”; and he would ask for “RECUSAL OF THIS JUDGE ON VERY POWERFUL GROUNDS”; and — because he apparently had some free time — declared that Nancy Pelosi “is a Wicked Witch . . . a sick & demented psycho who will someday live in HELL!”
He topped off his afternoon with a shot at his former VP, who is likely to be a key witness at his trial.
The rules in federal court are rather different than the rules in social media, and as Dennis Aftergut writes in today’s Bulwark, all of this has gotten the attention of both prosecutors and the judge.
Late Friday, Special Counsel Smith quoted Trump’s Truth Social post in a new legal motion for a protective order. Smith asked Judge Tanya Chutkan, the no-nonsense jurist assigned to Trump’s 2020 election/January 6th-related case, to limit his ability to share the discovery material that Smith will soon give to Trump’s lawyers.
Smith wrote: “If the defendant were to begin issuing public posts using details . . . obtained in discovery here, it could have a harmful chilling effect on witnesses or adversely affect the fair administration of justice in this case.”
“And in recent days, regarding this case, the defendant has issued multiple posts—either specifically or by implication—including the following, which the defendant posted just hours ago,” the special counsel’s office wrote, including a screenshot of the Truth Social post from Trump that read: “IF YOU GO AFTER ME, I’M COMING AFTER YOU!”
Trump’s lawyers asked for more time to respond, but Judge Tanya Chutka quickly denied their motion. Aftergut reports:
On Saturday, she issued a temporary order blocking Trump “from going public with potential trial evidence shared with his lawyers in an upcoming election fraud case after prosecutors cited his history of social media tirades,” as the New York Daily News put it.
Judge Chutkan gave Trump until 5 p.m. Monday to respond before she issues a final order. On Saturday, when his lawyers asked for more time, the judge refused.
On Monday morning, Trump went after both the prosecutor and the judge again:
So what happens now?
Trump, being Trump, will continue the threats, attacks, and bluster. There is nothing mysterious about his strategy here. He intends to discredit, delegitimize, and intimidate.
So, will the court let him?
It seems unlikely that the courts would tolerate this sort of behavior from any other defendant; and Trump is unlikely to be chastened by any sort of warnings from the bench. Which brings me back to my original question: What does Trump want here? Is he actually trying to goad the judge into holding him in contempt? And does he really think that will work for him politically?
With defendants who repeat defiant acts, it’s typical for courts to incrementally escalate from warnings to sanctions. Trump has learned that he will probably get three strikes before truly serious consequences accrue. (Judge Chutkan could surprise him.)
Trump’s GOP defenders rail against what they call a “two-tier system of justice.” But what about Trump’s behavior here? A former Chief Asst. District Attorney at the Manhattan D.A.’s office, Karen Friedman Agnifilo, writes:
As a three-decade former state prosecutor in New York, I have never seen a defendant treated as leniently as defendant Trump. He has a rap sheet with 3 open felony indictments, 78-charges, in 3 separate jurisdictions. He has repeatedly threatened prosecutors, judges, and potential witnesses and has his own 757 jumbo jet at the ready to fly anywhere in the world and can abscond at any time. And the nature of his charges are among the most serious there are — he is accused of stealing our nation’s most sensitive secrets, trying to destroy evidence of his crimes, committing fraud in the oval office, and causing a violent insurrection in order to attempt to steal an election he lost, and our democracy.
Imagine if he were Black or Muslim. There is no doubt he would be incarcerated pending trial.
BONUS: Trump also blamed Joe Biden for Sunday’s loss by the U.S. Women’s Soccer team:
Morning Shots is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Adam Kinzinger: The Rhetoric Is Getting More Dangerous
Lindsey Graham says the federal courts in DC are illegitimate, the FBI is being called the Gestapo, and Charlie Kirk is casually talking about executing Joe Biden. How do we come back from this? My weekend conversation with former J6 Committee member Adam Kinzinger.
1. Republicans Can Ditch the Big Lie at the Debate
Chris Christie is ready to tell GOP voters on August 23 that former President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election. God bless him, as President Joe Biden likes to say, and God bless the (probably mostly) Democrats who sent the former New Jersey governor enough small checks to get him to the debate stage so that he can tell this truth.
Christie is going to hammer Trump, in absentia, about everything. And he will hammer the other candidates about Trump. We expect those who have qualified for the debate to have readied their January 6th spin: It wasn’t an insurrection, but violence is never right, but many patriots were expressing heartfelt concerns, etc.
But of course, without the Big Lie, no one would have attacked the Capitol. And Trump wouldn’t have been indicted for trying to steal the 2020 election. Polling now shows the majority of Republican voters who were led astray by Trump’s malignant fiction has grown even larger.
And now Ron DeSantis seems suddenly to agree with Christie. This kind of thing can happen when you feel you have nothing left to lose. The other candidates may not feel as desperate as the Florida governor. Will they agree?
2. Democrats Are Handling the Hunter Biden Story Wrong
It’s tempting to try to dismiss or ignore it all—the constant “Biden & Son” and “Biden Crime Family” emails, the intrusive attempted shaming over the seventh grandchild, the drug addiction, the unpaid taxes, the illegal gun, the investigation by a prosecutor who was named by Donald Trump, the plea deal that’s now on hold.
And why not just tune it out? House Republicans can allege wrongdoing by President Joe Biden, but what did he do? They can even try to impeach him, but why? They’ve been digging and threatening for years, with no proof or evidence to show for it. The case against the Biden who holds a public office does not exist.
That is still a fact, but I’ve changed my mind about how to handle the Hunter Biden problem. Denial, dismissal, paternal indulgence, and legalistic analyses aren’t going to cut it in an election like the one we’re facing in 2024. Democrats, the president, and anyone who cares about the survival of democracy should fear any factor that could tip the balance the wrong way, whether it’s third parties or a troubled family member in the crosshairs of the House GOP and the MAGA movement.
3. Culture Matters
In the 21st century, we’ve heard a growing chorus, especially among elderly and blue-collar white people: “I don’t recognize this country anymore,” and “We’re going down the drain,” and “Donald Trump is the only politician who talks like we do.”
Their fears are often most directly expressed in the so-called “culture war” issues that so many Democrats refuse to take seriously. This is an era of disorderly conduct—homelessness, opioid addiction, flagrant public behavior, crude public language. A trans activist takes off her blouse and shows her breasts at a White House ceremony. There are fistfights on airplanes, Black Friday consumer riots. Grotesqueries of all sorts are celebrated as a form of free expression rather than the self-indulgences that they are. A significant segment of the population fears that their pre-pubescent grandkids are going to be taught gender fluidity.
They fear that illegal immigrants are flooding across the border carrying suitcases of fentanyl, even if their rural towns remain whiter than Wonder Bread. They believe that if “structural” racism exists in this country, it works largely to the benefit of black and brown people. They disdain liberals who embrace Black Lives Matter but don’t express much concern about the vast majority of black lives lost—those who are snuffed on the streets by black criminals.
It is too easy to dismiss such people as racists and homophobes and nativists. Their views are tempered and complicated by reality. They are not necessarily consistent. They might be appalled by “queer” posturing, but they’ve accepted gay marriage. They might fear black criminals, but an increasing number in the suburbs have black middle-class neighbors (who also fear black criminals). They may not like immigrants, but a lot of them have Latina daughters-in-law. There is a middle ground to be found, and campaigned for, on all the cultural issues. That’s even true on the issues where the public sides with Democrats, like abortion and gun control. But Democrats are loathe to embrace it. (Which is why Ruy Teixeira’s verbal strategies for dealing with the culture wars, first published here, are so important.)
“None of his Secretaries of State would work for him again,” he said. “None of his Attorneys General would work for him again.”
“But do voters care about any of this?” Costa asked.
“Well, they should.”
“They should. But the case has to be made, Bob. No one’s making the case. No one is.”
Christie’s case might as well be a flashing alarm; he told the Financial Times, “Trump wants to be Putin in America.”
Costa asked, “Are you saying you believe Trump wants to be a dictator?”
“I don’t think he’d have any objection to it if we were willing to give it to him,” he replied.
“That's serious stuff.”
“Do you come to any different conclusion than that?”
“So, you think he's a danger to democracy?”
Christie said, “I don't think he cares. And the proof of that are his own words, when he said, ‘It’s okay to suspend the laws and suspend the Constitution.’ Preserve, protect and defend the Constitution is what the president takes an oath to do. And he said, ‘It’s okay to suspend it.’ These are his own words.”