Trump’s Smoking Tape?
Plus: A bipartisan victory.
"It’s not inconceivable that Trump could be wearing an ankle bracelet when and if he delivers his acceptance address at the Republican National Convention." — David Frum, The Atlantic, May 7, 2023
During my podcast with former RNC chair Michael Steele yesterday, I was thinking about Frum’s prediction, and it triggered an admittedly dark vision.
ME: It is Milwaukee. It is the summer of 2024. And Donald Trump, who is a convicted felon out of New York, steps from behind the podium [at the Republican National Convention], pulls up his pants leg, shows the ankle bracelet and says, “I wear this as a badge of honor. I wear this for you. For you.”
The crowd would go f***ing out of their minds.
STEELE: Boom. You know, it erupts. It erupts. Women and children passed out weeping. Yeah. Yes. They’re weeping. That’s exactly what happens.
And that’s what our media and our political class still don’t get about the man in front of them. After all this time, they still don’t understand that…
I mention this as a partial antidote to any irrational exuberance over this new report, which seems like a smoking BFD: “Trump captured on tape talking about classified document he kept after leaving the White House.”
CNN — Federal prosecutors have obtained an audio recording of a summer 2021 meeting in which former President Donald Trump acknowledges he held onto a classified Pentagon document about a potential attack on Iran, multiple sources told CNN, undercutting his argument that he declassified everything.
The recording indicates Trump understood he retained classified material after leaving the White House, according to multiple sources familiar with the investigation. On the recording, Trump’s comments suggest he would like to share the information but he’s aware of limitations on his ability post-presidency to declassify records, two of the sources said.
As CNN notes: “The revelation that the former president and commander-in-chief has been captured on tape discussing a classified document could raise his legal exposure as he continues his third bid for the White House.”
Well, yes. But what are we talking about here? Obstruction? Espionage? We don’t know yet, but Just Security’s Ryan Goodman had a useful thread last night.
If the reports are accurate, he notes, the audio recordings show Trump talking with several people who don't have security clearances. “If Trump discussed content of document it is even worse - and raises its own criminal exposure. These individuals are all likely good witnesses, with disincentive to lie given their number.”
Other key points from Goodman:
“War plans are among the most highly classified documents. Puts pressure on DOJ to indict, and a jury to convict.”
“As CNN reporting notes, this recording also goes to show knowledge and intent: ‘The recording indicates Trump understood he retained classified material after leaving the White House.’”
“The recording also appears to knock a hole in already very weak (non-defense) defense of declassification: ‘On the recording, Trump’s comments suggest he would like to share the information but he’s aware of limitations on his ability post-presidency to declassify records.’”
“Make no mistake. This is squarely an Espionage Act case. It is not simply an ‘obstruction’ case. There is now every reason to expect former President Trump will be charged under 18 USC 793(e) of the Espionage Act. The law fits his reported conduct like a hand in glove.”
“Prosecutors do not need to show motive for conviction, but it helps with a jury. CNN report suggests motives: To hold onto docs as trophies, to use to settle scores or try to retain control over the narrative - here to try (in vain) to contradict [Susan Glasser’s] reporting on Milley.”
“NYT corroborates CNN scoop plus with this specificity: ‘Trump then began referencing a document that he had with him,’ saying it was compiled by Gen. Milley and related to attacking Iran.”
Meanwhile: Via Navigator Research: “A growing majority of Americans now say Trump has committed a crime, as majorities support his indictment and believe the jury in the E. Jean Carroll case made the right decision.”
Bonus: Today’s episode of “the Trump Trials” with Lawfare’s Ben Wittes should be … lit. Stay tuned:
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An outburst of bipartisanship
The 314-to-117 vote came days before the nation was set to exhaust its borrowing limit, and days after a marathon set of talks between White House negotiators and top House Republicans yielded a breakthrough agreement.
With both far-right and hard-left lawmakers in revolt over the deal, it fell to a bipartisan coalition powered by Democrats to push the bill over the finish line, throwing their support behind the compromise in an effort to break the fiscal stalemate that had gripped Washington for weeks. On the final vote, 149 Republicans and 165 Democrats backed the measure, while 71 Republicans and 46 Democrats opposed it.
That was a blow to the Republican speaker, whose hard-fought victory on the measure was dampened by the fact that more Democrats ultimately voted for the bill than members of his own party.
The measure nearly collapsed on its way to the House floor, when hard-right Republicans sought to block its consideration, and in a suspenseful scene, Democrats waited several minutes before swooping in to supply their votes for a procedural measure that allowed the plan to move ahead.
It was a major victory for Biden, not just preventing an economic calamity that could have come with a debt ceiling breach but proving — five months into a divided government — that the White House and House Democrats have persevered through what seemed, at times, like a rocky relationship.
BONUS: Trouble in the MAGAverse.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene's decision to vote in support of the debt ceiling deal on Wednesday has been harshly criticized by her former ally Steve Bannon, who called on the Georgia Republican to be challenged in the next party's primary.
In a message posted on the conservative social media platform Gettr on Wednesday night, Bannon called on Greene and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio—who also voted in line with party's leaders—to "Both Face Primary Challenges from Real MAGA.
Here come Chris Christie and Mike Pence.
Folks, they’re running. Via Axios:
Why it matters: Christie, 60, is a former close Trump ally who now calls the former president a "coward" and "puppet of Putin.
Mike Pence plans to enter the GOP presidential nomination fray June 7 with a campaign video and a kickoff speech in Des Moines, Iowa, according to a person familiar with his launch schedule.
Meanwhile, punches from DeSantis?
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is teeing up former President Donald Trump over golf.
DeSantis hosted 9/11 Families over the Memorial Day weekend just as Trump National in Washington, D.C., was the site of the Saudi-backed LIV golf tournament.
“The juxtaposition is stark,” said Brett Eagleson, who was 15 years old when his dad, Bruce, died while working at the Twin Towers on 9/11. “I don’t know if DeSantis will beat Trump, but the fact is he wants to talk to us about the Saudis.”
1. Anatomy of a Murder: How the Democratic Party Crashed in Florida
What happened in 2022 was a perfect storm. A decade’s worth of decisions to intentionally defund the state party had left it an empty shell. Republicans had an incumbent governor in Ron DeSantis who was incentivized to run up the score to support his presidential ambitions. An unpopular Democratic president was facing his first midterm election. And Democratic donors were both tired of Florida and focused—rightly—on maintaining a majority in the U.S. Senate and defending key governorships.
All the ingredients were in place for a wipeout. Which is what Florida Democrats got:
No statewide elected officials
Only 8 of 28 members of Congress
12 seats out of 40 in the state Senate
35 seats out of 120 in the Florida House
Think about this: Today, Democrats in Montana have a larger share of seats in their legislative chambers than Democrats in Florida do.
That shouldn’t be able to happen.
2. The DEI Industry Needs to Check Its Privilege
A more jaded appraisal is that many kinds of DEI spending symbolize not a real commitment to diversity or inclusion, let alone equity, but rather the instinctive talent that college-educated Americans have for directing resources to our class in ways that make us feel good.
In that telling, the DEI-consulting industry is social-justice progressivism’s analogue to trickle-down economics: Unrigorous trainings are held, mostly for college graduates with full-time jobs and health insurance, as if by changing us, the marginalized will somehow benefit. But in fact, the poor, or the marginalized, or people of color, or descendants of slaves, would benefit far more from a fraction of the DEI industry’s profits….
[The] reflexive hiring of DEI consultants with dubious expertise and hazy methods is like setting money on fire in a nation where too many people are struggling just to get by. The professional class should feel good about having done something for social justice not after conducting or attending a DEI session, but after giving money to poor people. And to any CEO eager to show social-justice-minded employees that he or she cares, I urge this: Before hiring a DEI consultant, calculate the cost and let workers vote on whether the money should go to the DEI consultant or be given to the poor. Presented with that choice, I bet most workers would make the equitable decision.