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Friday Talking Points -- Grinding Exceedingly Fine

[ Posted Friday, February 16th, 2024 – 18:04 UTC ]

That headline comes from the end of an aphorism that goes back to the time of the ancient Greeks: "The wheels of justice turn slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine." Today, the wheels of justice just ground out a penalty of $355 million for Donald Trump, for committing serial fraud in his New York businesses -- which we certainly found to be an "exceedingly fine" result of the case (an "exceedingly fine fine," maybe?). The $355 million can now be added to the $88 million Trump is already on the hook for, after losing two other civil cases (the defamation cases brought by E. Jean Carroll). Plus, in today's ruling, two of Trump's children were fined $4 million each, as well as a $1 million fine for another member of the Trump Organization (making it a $364 million penalty, in all). This was the capstone to a week watching the slow grind of multiple court cases Trump is currently ensnared in, so we thought it was an appropriate place to start our column this week.

The biggest other Trump legal news of the week is that for the first time in history, an ex-president will face a criminal trial for paying "hush money" to a porn star. Actually, every word after "trial" in that previous sentence is superfluous in a way... but it's still fun to point out.

As we write this, Trump has yet to react to today's ruling, but our guess is he's not going to be very happy about it (to put it mildly). We'll be watching for his inevitable explosion of rage on social media, though, with a profound sense of expectant schadenfreude.

The week in legal maneuverings began with Trump filing (at the last moment, of course) an appeal to the Supreme Court of the appellate decision that he is not, in fact, a king. In the case dealing with January 6th and Trump's efforts to overturn an American presidential election, Trump claimed "absolute immunity" for any crime he may have committed as president, basing this assertion solely on his own megalomaniacal view of himself (it certainly wasn't based on the U.S. Constitution or any actual laws). His appeal to the Supreme Court was quickly answered with a filing by Special Counsel Jack Smith, who urged the court to follow in the appellate judges' footsteps and laugh Trump out of court forthwith, so the trial can get back on track and happen before the next presidential election. Nobody has any clue of how the Supreme Court will react (or when, for that matter, which is almost more important), although it was pointed out that it will take four justices to vote to hear Trump's appeal, and five justices to vote to extend the stay which is preventing the trial from continuing. So if they decide not to take up the appeal, it will translate into at least a 6-3 decision against Trump.

On the same day, Trump showed up for a closed-door hearing by the judge in the classified documents case being held in Florida, for a discussion about access to all the national security secrets Trump had refused to return to the government. No real news leaked from his appearance, so it's anyone's guess what happened (although "the judge was sympathetic to Trump" is a good guess, since this is the case with the most Trump-friendly judge imaginable).

Later in the week, we had a split-screen day in court, as Trump personally appeared (for no apparent reason, other than assumably to glare at the judge) to hear a rejection of his motion to toss out the porn-star case. The judge wasn't having any of it, and announced that the trial will indeed take place on schedule, with jury selection to begin on March 25th. So we've all got that to look forward to.

Down in Georgia, the lead prosecutor in the state-level RICO case against Trump (and a whole passel of co-conspirators) was grilled over her romantic involvement with another prosecutor she had hired to work on the case. Fani Willis was quite feisty in defending her actions, as she took the stand. She could be removed from the case or allowed to continue prosecuting it, depending on how the judge rules (the case is still being heard today, and nobody really knows when a decision will be handed down).

All in all, that's a pretty busy week for Trump's lawyers, you've got to admit. And this likely won't be the last week where we get bombshell news from multiple Trump cases -- this rollercoaster ride is going to last for months and months to come, folks. Of course, any sane political party would automatically disqualify someone with so many legal headaches from running for any office -- even dogcatcher -- as a representative of their party, but seeing as how it is today's MAGAfied Republican Party instead, Trump is still waltzing to the GOP presidential nomination.

In other presidential legal news this week, the effort by House Republicans to impeach President Joe Biden took a big hit, as the star witness they are basing their entire investigation on was indicted this week for lying to the F.B.I. That's right -- he is now accused of just making the whole thing up. And -- the icing on the cake -- the charges were brought by the same prosecutor who charged Hunter Biden with tax and gun crimes as well, so it's impossible to say this was somehow politically motivated. This completely undermines what was already the shakiest of efforts by Republicans to build some sort of case of wrongdoing against Biden, but (knowing them) they'll probably soldier on nonetheless. After all, this week they successfully (on the second try, and with only one vote to spare) impeached the first sitting cabinet member in United States history (one other was impeached almost 150 years ago, but he resigned moments before the House held the vote, so technically he wasn't still a "sitting" cabinet member at the time). Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was impeached not for bribery, not for treason, not for any discernable high crime and/or misdemeanor, but instead for the crime of not being a Republican. Which kind of proves that all the House GOP cares about is chalking up impeachments as revenge -- meaning the Biden impeachment could still happen even with their star witness now having to defend himself for flat-out lying about the entire matter.

Of course, this was big news -- everywhere but on Fox News, that is. After hyping the lies told by the F.B.I. informant for months on end, they found it wasn't newsworthy enough to mention the fact that their entire case just collapsed into a house of cards.

Speaking of things collapsing in the House, the speaker had to pull a bill reauthorizing spying powers from being voted on this week, since (as usual) Republicans couldn't even agree among themselves what to put into it. Also, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee followed up a classified briefing by immediately scaring the heck out of everyone by publicly warning of a new military threat from Russia. It instantly leaked that this meant anti-satellite nuclear weapons, which the White House then had to partially confirm. Nothing like putting Republicans in charge of national security, eh?

And finally, some choice Republican idiocy to close on. In the Missouri senate, a bill was being debated which would have allowed children who had been victims of rape or incest to have an abortion. One state senator objected, with the most bizarre reason imaginable (you simply cannot make this stuff up, folks!). Here's the story:

The debate ended before the [Missouri] Senate could vote on an amendment that would allow someone 12 or younger to have an abortion.

State Sen. Doug Beck, who proposed the amendment, said he was worried about the possible health effects on child victims who are forced to carry pregnancies to term.

[State Senator Bill] Eigel objected to the amendment by citing a nonexistent danger.

"You want to bring back the institution of abortion so that kids can get abortions in the state of Missouri," Eigel told Beck. "A 1-year-old could get an abortion under this."

Beck was skeptical. Very skeptical.

"I don't know that a 1-year-old could get pregnant, senator," he noted. "You're OK with forced birth of a child being raped, right?" Beck asked Eigel.

"I don't support the institutions of rape or of incest. But your amendment doesn't address those," Eigel responded.

Chalk this up as yet another Missouri Republican who simply does not understand how (or which) women can get pregnant. He can now join Todd "Legitimate Rape" Akin in the Missouri annals of Republican stupidity on the subject of female reproduction.

 

Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week

We were impressed with Georgia District Attorney Fani Willis this week, as she took the stand to defend herself against charges of impropriety in her case against Donald Trump (et al.). She was adamant and even downright scathing as she faced hostile lawyers, turning in a rather impressive appearance on the stand.

However, we cannot even see awarding her a Honorable Mention, since the whole mess was completely avoidable in the first place. The man she was romantically involved with was in the midst of a divorce, but that's not what was legally unethical about the situation, really. It was the fact that he was her subordinate, so any relationship between them should have never happened in the first place. Willis and her paramour had two basic choices: (1) don't have a relationship until after the trial had taken place, or (2) go ahead and see each other, but only after he stepped down from working on the case. They did neither of these. They claim that since he wasn't an actual employee of hers (he worked on a contract basis instead) that there was no real ethical problem, but that's a hair that's really too fine to split, at least as far as we are concerned.

Instead, we are giving the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week to Representative-Elect Tom Suozzi, who will soon be representing New York's third congressional district in the House. Suozzi will take the seat previously held by George Santos, who was ignobly kicked out of the chamber for being such a schmuck. Both parties had high hopes of winning this special election, since Santos had successfully flipped the district from the Democrats less than two years ago. In the end, it wasn't even really close -- Suozzi romped to an eight-point victory over his Republican opponent, which will shrink the Republican House majority by one more vote.

It's impossible to say exactly why Suozzi coasted to victory in a race that the polls said would be neck-and-neck, since there were multiple factors at play. Amusingly enough, one big factor was turnout on Election Day, since Democrats successfully convinced many of their voters to vote early while Republicans are still leery of mail-in or other early voting due to Donald Trump spreading conspiracy theories about it all. So when a big snowstorm hit the day of the election, Democrats already had a huge lead banked while Republicans had to struggle with smaller turnout for in-person voting. Which, as we say, we found quite amusing, since the entire Republican Party (by following Trump down this rabbit hole) has been hobbled by the consequences ever since.

But while this might have explained the larger-than-expected margin of victory, and while any election following an epic political scandal usually leans to the opposition party, Suozzi's campaign strategy was also likely a key reason why he won. The district is a wealthy suburban one, which is exactly the type of battleground both parties expect to fight over in November in many other places as well. And the Republican candidate doubled down on making the border and immigration the central part of her campaign, since she figured Democrats are weak on the issue and New Yorkers are tired of the crisis arriving on their doorstep (on buses from Texas).

Suozzi, however, leaned in to one big argument: Republicans talk a good game, but they refuse to do anything to fix the problem. The failure of the compromise deal on border security in the Senate was Exhibit A in this effort, since Republicans essentially forced Democrats to accept a whole bunch of Republican agenda items and then promptly walked away from the deal -- all because Donald Trump wanted to preserve it as a campaign issue. So the entire issue boomeranged on the Republican candidate.

This was not only impressive -- going on offense instead of retreating to a defensive crouch -- but it should make other House Republicans quake in fear over using the issue in their own campaigns. Because now, as Suozzi just proved, Democrats can effectively answer back: "Yeah? So why is your party refusing to do anything about it?"

For showing other Democrats how to accomplish this, for his impressive margin of victory, and for reducing the GOP House majority to the point where the speaker can now only lose two Republican votes to pass purely partisan bills, Representative-Elect Tom Suozzi is our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week.

[Since he has not yet been sworn in, Representative-Elect Tom Suozzi does not yet have an official House webpage, so you'll have to wait until after February 28th (when he is scheduled to be sworn in) to congratulate him and let him know you appreciate his efforts.]

 

Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week

We find ourselves (astonishingly) not disappointed by Senator Joe Manchin this week, after he just announced out of nowhere that he won't be making a third-party run for the presidency. But we don't exactly have a "Not Disappointed" award, so we just mention it in passing....

In fact, Democrats actually had a pretty good week all around, so yet again we find ourselves without a candidate for the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award. Which, as always, is good news indeed!

 

Friday Talking Points

Volume 740 (5/16/24)

Before we get to our actual talking points, we have two items that defied our abilities to insert elsewhere in this column. Call them "do-it-yourself talking points," maybe.

The first comes from Donald Trump, and from just about anyone else on the planet this would give rise to sadness and words of comfort. But, seeing as how it came from Donald Trump, that is absolutely impossible to even imagine. In the midst of a social media rant on why he should in no way be blamed for the Republican loss of a House seat this week -- and without any context to anything else he said in the rant -- Donald Trump interjected a bit of personal pathos, writing (in all-caps, naturally): "I WANT TO BE LOVED!" Make of that what you will.

And secondly, a bit of trolling that wasn't really all that great (but at least he's trying!) came from President Biden this week. On Valentine's Day, Biden's social media accounts sent out his own "Valentine" to House Speaker Mike Johnson. Which was kind of an amusing thing to do, but their message was just a wee bit too clunky to stick the landing: "Roses are red / Violets are blue / The border deal was crushed / Because of you." Um, well... points for effort, maybe?

In any case, as we said we couldn't really make either of those work and decided on seven other talking points this week, so let's just get right to them, shall we?

 

1
   Ball's in your court...

Hammer this one home -- it scares them.

"Republicans will now have to answer to the voters for why they are refusing to do anything about the southern border or immigration. Senate Republicans came up with a plan to solve at least some of the problems, and Democrats agreed to it but their fellow Republicans shot the idea down -- just so that Donald Trump and the rest of them can campaign on the issue. That's the very definition of partisan obstructionism -- refusing to do anything so you can continue to complain about something. But as the voters in New York just showed us all, the voters are smart enough to figure out who is now to blame. If you refuse to be part of any solution, then you are definitely part of the problem!"

 

2
   ICE melts

Rub their faces in it, in fact.

"The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency is hurting for money right now, but the Republicans voted down their own measure to provide ICE with an extra $6 billion right away. Because they won't now be getting this funding, they are now talking about releasing thousands of immigrants and slashing their capacity to hold detainees -- because they just can't afford to do so. This is exactly the opposite of what Republicans say they want, as it'd mean less enforcement, not more. This is all so Donald Trump can complain about the issue on the campaign trail -- they're going to allow ICE to go broke for partisan political gain. That is cutting off your nose to spite your face, folks."

 

3
   A Democratic House

Hit them with their worst fear, in fact!

"As Republicans continue to prove that they are absolutely incapable of doing pretty much anything in Congress, the voters are watching. They can't pass a budget, they can't pass bills for America's national security, heck they can't even keep their mouths shut when they get classified military briefings. We need to end the clown show in the House of Representatives and return it to functioning status. It's not going to take many seats flipping to hand control back to the Democrats this November, and as the New York special election showed this week, Democrats have the wind at their backs. I look forward to seeing Hakeem Jeffries sworn in as the next speaker of the House, personally, and I know tens of millions of other Americans feel exactly the same way."

 

4
   Trump finally facing the music

Indeed, it is about time.

"Donald Trump has skated away from consequences for his entire life, but now he's finally being called to account for his actions. He has now been fined over 440 million dollars, and that's just from the civil court cases he has lost. Soon he'll be back in court facing over 90 criminal felony charges, and the first trial will deal with him paying 'hush money' to an adult film star. For the first time in history, we're going to see an ex-president be judged by a jury of his peers over all the possible crimes he may have committed -- before, during, and after becoming president. I for one say 'It's about time!' because Trump finally facing the music in court is indeed long overdue."

 

5
   In the words of Oliver Twist...

This one's just pure schadenfreude, but hey, it's been that kind of day.

"My reaction to hearing that Donald Trump lost another court case and has been fined over 350 million dollars can be summed up in the immortal words of Oliver Twist: 'Please sir, I want some more.'"

 

6
   Seriously, though...

OK, that was a bit much, so we're going to get serious once again here. After Donald Trump had some encouraging words for Russia possibly attacking fellow NATO members, President Biden had a heartfelt response that is worth quoting in full. Because this is precisely the right way to react to such an outrageous statement:

Can you imagine a former president of United States saying that? The whole world heard it. No other president in our history has ever bowed down to a Russian dictator. Well, let me say this as clearly as I can: I never will. For God's sake, it's dumb. It's shameful. It's dangerous. It's un-American.

 

7
   Haley's husband burns Trump from overseas deployment

Trump also badmouthed Nikki Haley's husband recently, implying he had somehow disappeared to leave his wife to campaign on her own (which really should have resulted in a round of "Where's Melania?", but we digress...). Her husband, South Carolina National Guard Major Michael Haley, responded from his overseas posting in Africa by tweeting out a photo of a wolf with an absolutely priceless caption:

The difference between humans and animals

Animals would never allow the dumbest ones to lead the pack.

-- Chris Weigant

 

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground