As we struggle to the end of another everything-everywhere-all-at-once week, it is perhaps worth contemplating the fact that the former president of the United States yesterday pleaded the Fifth Amendment. More than 440 times.
Shortly after arriving at that court-ordered interview under oath at [New York Attorney General Letitia James’] offices in lower Manhattan, Trump released an email saying he would not answer any questions given the Fifth Amendment right barring people from being compelled to make self-incriminating statements.
Trump answered just one question — his name — and then cited the Fifth on every other question he was asked during the deposition, his lawyer Ronald Fischetti told NBC News.
Trump, of course, has every right to do this.
He is perfectly free to invoke the 5th in any civil or criminal proceedings, because he can’t be compelled to answer questions that might be incriminating.
And the rest of us are free to draw the appropriate inferences that Donald Trump is refusing to answer questions because his answers might incriminate him because… he has committed crimes. “Like you see on the mob right? You see the mob takes the Fifth. If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?”
These are supposed to be the dog days, but this August — like last August — feels as if it could be pivotal. We can’t pretend that we know which way the pivot will go, or how this will all turn out.
In GOP primaries around the country, Trump moved from strength to deplorable strength, and election deniers moved closer to power in swing states. The GOP has rallied around the former president, even in the face of multiple criminal investigations. The populist wave of paranoid politics feels like it is reaching a fever-pitch, and the pull of raw authoritarianism feels stronger than ever.
But we live in a split screen world.
Joe Biden and the Democrats notched major (and unexpected) legislative wins, inflation seems to be cooling a bit, and the conventional political wisdom seems to be shifting. Politico reports: “GOP midterm hurricane gets downgraded.”
Democrats recently inched ahead of Republicans on the generic ballot, a leading indicator of midterm performance. Kansas demonstrated the salience of Roe v. Wade. And on Tuesday night, a Minnesota special election became the second consecutive contest to suggest Democratic candidates may be better positioned to compete in November than once expected.
Josh Kraushaar agrees, writing, “August election results suggest GOP's ‘red wave’ may be subsiding.”
The results suggest Republicans are still well on track to win the House majority in 2022, but not by the historic margins that once looked possible. They also indicate that Republicans can't rely on a big red wave to sweep in their flawed Senate nominees in battleground states.
And, amidst the spittle-flecked fury of the MAGA right, and the GOP’s rah-rah rally around TFG, it’s hard not to notice that Trump is having what the Daily Beast calls a “Hell Week”: an FBI raid of his home; his testimony in the NY attorney general’s investigation of his business practices; a ramped up Fulton County grand jury probe of his election interference; a federal appeals court ruling that he has to turn over his tax returns to Congress; and the ongoing federal probe that continues to target his henchmen and confederates.
As for the raid at Mar-a-Lago, some of the cool kids at the media lunch table are suggesting that the whole thing may be overblown because it’s just about “some papers”. Others worry that the raid suggests that Merrick Garland and his team are “politically autistic.”
Reports suggest that the feds had an informant on the inside, who tipped them off that Team Trump was lying about the government records, and the Daily Beast reminds us that this is potentially a legal BFD.
The danger to Trump personally is severe. Violating the Presidential Records Act, a little-known and seldom cited law, comes with the implausible risk of prison time but the very real threat of barring him from ever being elected again.
Anyone who willfully conceals, removes, or destroys any presidential records—or even attempts to do so—is “disqualified from holding any office under the United States.”
John W. Carlin, who led the National Archives for a decade during the Clinton and Bush II administrations, said the Justice Department was right to become “much more aggressive.”
“I would be shocked if they were nonconsequential classified records. There’s a reason why those boxes were taken,” he said of the raid at Mar-a-Lago.
But we don’t really know what they were looking for, what they found, and whether any of this will ultimately make a difference, do we? Because covfefe.
Mona, Will and Ted will discuss the GOP’s turn against the rule of law starting at 8:00 p.m. ET on Thursday, Aug 11.
Exclusively for Bulwark+ members.
Who is Joe Kent?
You may have missed this deplorable political moment: U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, one of the handful of honorable Republicans who voted to impeached Trump, became the latest victim of the MAGA revenge tour.
She lost her primary this week to Trump-backed Joe Kent, who really ought to be a lot more famous than he is. Back in March, our own Tim Miller wrote about Kent, “a grown ass man” who humiliated himself “on a livestream for teenage white nationalists.”
This, ladies and gentleman, is the GOP circa 2022:
Kent has positioned himself as a darling of the self-described “America First” wing of the GOP, contrasting his slavish devotion to Donald Trump with Herrera-Beutler’s support for Trump’s second impeachment. In doing so, Kent has touched all the MAGA campaign bases. Holding fundraisers with the pro-insurrection glitterati. Being feted by Trump at the Winter White (Power) House. Tweeting about how Ukraine should surrender to Russia. Becoming one of a select group of virile men chosen to earn Peter Thiel’s largesse. Ranting about the tyranny of life-saving vaccine mandates on Tucker Carlson’s show.
But this was the moment that caught Miller’s attention:
Kent’s attempt to re-ingratiate himself with youthful confederates was streamed live in an excruciating 47-minute interview with the American Populist Union that was billed as an attempt to “set the record straight” on L’affair Fuentes.
What is the APU? It’s a group of teens and post-teens who are trying to advance Christian white identity politics through memes and ugly sunglasses. They’ve been called the “forgotten gamers of America.” This interview was Kent’s second appearance before them. So he clearly sees them as a key constituency….
As their exchange goes on, sensing that he needs to earn the young man’s approval, Kent begins to give the klansboys what they want.
Carlson: Would you say that white people are discriminated against in America today?
Kent: Yeah certainly, yeah I would . . . to say that the culture is anti-white, to say that the culture is anti-straight-white-male, like yeah, I feel like that’s fairly easy to bring receipts to. . . .
Carlson: There’s a cultural aspect too, you admit that. What would you say the effects of mass legal immigration is on the cultural America. I mean, what is the cultural America too, what is that to you?
Kent: The cultural America is acknowledging our history. For all the good that our history has done. Our Judeo-Christian roots I think are absolutely essential, I don’t think we can deny that . . . I think tearing down our statues and monuments is a major problem. I think we have to recognize that America has a unique Judeo-Christian culture. . . . We can’t be bringing in massive amounts of people either legally or illegally that really don’t agree with our cultural values. Again, that’s why I do support an immigration moratorium. Yeah. . . .
Carlson: Another thing you pointed out about Nick and his rhetoric, you said it is divisive regarding race and religion . . . The Founding Fathers were Christian, the founding stock were Puritan Quaker Christians, the greatest Americans have been Christians from any walk, any church. Why is that angle in your opinion from where Nick is coming from divisive. What is so dividing about that?
Kent: That’s more of a tactics thing. . . . If he wants to do that with his brand like that’s fine, that’s his thing, however if we are trying to win elections I don’t see that as a very good strategy.
The conversation later moved on from Kent being fine with Fuentes “doing his thing” to Fuentes’s assertion that white Christian men are the “backbone” of the movement:
Carlson: If the constituency of the movement is young white Christian men that would be true the same way the constituency of BLM is black people, ya know that doesn’t mean it’s only for those people, right, there’s also like white liberals that self-hate that are part of BLM.
Kent. Yeah, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with there being a white-people special interest group. They have to be very careful about the way they couch that and the way they frame that, obviously in terms of messaging and in terms of getting credibility. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. As far as me running as a candidate, running out there and saying this is all about white people, that does not seem like a winning strategy.
Yikes. Say what you want about that white identitarian drivel, it’s hard to question the strategic mind of a man currently supplicating himself in front of a dormitory David Duke.
1. Alex Jones Isn’t Going To Pay $45.2 Million in Damages
Greg Doucette in today’s Bulwark:
The trial on damages ended last week, with a jury finding Jones should pay $4.1 million in compensatory damages to two parents, followed by a separate award of punitive damages (called “exemplary” damages in Texas) in the amount of $45.2 million.
Maybe this sounds low to you, based on what a pile of human garbage Jones is. But the truth is actually worse. Jones will never pay that $45.2 million. Because of tort reform caps, those punitive damages are going get pared back to a meager $750,000.
To understand how that will play out, you need to understand the laws that govern these sorts of proceedings in Texas.
2. What’s Behind Amnesty International’s Victim-Blaming in Ukraine?
Cathy Young looks at Amnesty’s light-on-facts exercise in both-sidesism.
Last week, a venerable human rights watchdog group’s apparent attempt to both-sides Russia’s war in Ukraine caused an immediate and near-unanimous outcry. An August 4 Amnesty International statement titled “Ukrainian fighting tactics endanger civilians” was widely denounced as a gift to Vladimir Putin and his propaganda machine; the fallout included not only intense criticism in the media but the resignation of the director of Amnesty’s Ukraine office, Oksana Pokalchuk. On August 7, Amnesty put out a follow-up that defended the earlier statement while expressing regret for “the distress and anger” it had caused.
3. Ukraine’s Strike in Crimea Could Be a Turning Point in the War
Doug Klain in this morning’s Bulwark:
On Tuesday, Ukraine conducted its most daring strike since it sank the Russian Black Sea flagship Moskva. While Ukraine hasn’t yet publicly taken responsibility, multiple Ukrainian officials have confirmed it off the record. Kyiv seems to be using the same playbook it employed for a high-profile strike into Russian territory earlier this year, when Ukrainian officials didn’t immediately claim responsibility for the strike, helping to mitigate the chance of a Russian escalation in response.
Carlson asserts in his interview with Joe Kent that, "The Founding Fathers were Christian, the founding stock were Puritan Quaker Christians. . . ." Let me assure you that there was no such thing as a "Puritan Quaker". The Puritans were intractable religious purists and would not allow Quakers to live in the Massachusetts Bay colony. In addition to denying Quaker-owned ships permission to dock in their port, they hanged Quaker Mary Dyer on June 1, 1660, in Boston after having previously hanged William Robinson and Marmaduke Stevenson, for the crime of being Quakers.
As usual, Carlson doesn't know what he's talking about.
Trump, like anybody else, is entitled to invoke the Fifth Amendment to avoid self-incrimination. Constitutional rights for everyone are just that, for everyone. But it's deeply ironic that he does so now, after telling everyone that anyone who invokes the Fifth is guilty as the sun. And we shouldn't forget that either.