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Here Comes the Indictment
The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. — Revelations 6:12-13
Well, it wasn’t quite that bad, but the sky over New York yesterday did seem like a sign of some sort. Has the hour come round at last for some rough beast? It must feel that way down at Mar-a-Lago.
For Trump, the omens are all bad. Prosecutors have informed the former president that he is a “target” in the investigation of the purloined classified documents. There are rumors, and rumors about rumors. And subpoenas. A new grand jury has been fired up in Florida, and the smart money is predicting that an indictment — Trump’s second — is imminent. The Orange God King in exile continues to lose his mind on social media:
And late last night:
“THE FAKE ‘CASE’ AGAINST ME MUST BE IMMEDIATELY DROPPED, AND THE INSPECTOR GENERAL SHOULD LAUNCH AN INVESTIGATION INTO THIS & THE MANY OTHER ALL TOO OBVIOUS WRONGDOINGS & CRIMES TAKING PLACE AT THE DOJ & FBI!”
And in what felt like another sign of the Apocalypse yesterday, the word “spicy” was used to describe Mike Pence. (Okay, that was me, but I also used it after I heard Katy Tur say it.)
Pence launched his candidacy with what (briefly) sounded like a bold assault on the former president.
“President Trump’s words were reckless. They endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol,” argued Pence. “But the American people deserve to know that on that day, President Trump also demanded that I choose between him and the Constitution. Now voters will be faced with the same choice. I chose the Constitution, and I always will.”
He went on to submit that his old boss was unworthy of reprising his role, declaring “Anyone who puts themselves over the Constitution should never be president of the United States. And anyone who asks someone else to put them over the Constitution should never be president of the United States again.”
Ah, but since Mike Pence is still, and will forever be, Mike Pence, the spiciness was short-lived. It didn’t even last the day. As Amanda Carpenter writes in today’s Bulwark:
When CNN anchor Dana Bash asked Pence in a town hall Wednesday evening about the breaking news that the Department of Justice notified Donald Trump that he was the target of a criminal investigation, Pence said he hoped the federal prosecutors would back down:
Now more than ever, we ought to be finding ways we could actually come together. And this kind of action by the Department of Justice would only fuel further division in the country.
And let me also say, I think it would also send a terrible message to the wider world. I mean, we’re the emblem of democracy, we’re the symbol of justice in the world, and the serious matter—which has already happened once in New York—of indicting a former president of the United States sends a terrible message to the world. I hope the DOJ thinks better of it and resolves these issues without an indictment.
Bash followed up by asking, “Sir, I just want to clarify: What you’re saying is if they believe he committed a crime, they should not go forward with an indictment? You just talked before about committing to the rule of law.”
The rest will simply make your cringes cringe. Pence — who once claimed that he was a “Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order” — went on to put party loyalty ahead of every other consideration, saying he would back Trump if he wins the nomination, even though he had just said that Trump “should never be president again.”
Needless to say, Pence’s fancy tightrope walk did not mollify MAGA World which lashed out at the former veep as a “backstabbing Judas” and ‘traitor,” who was “unfit” for office.
A conservative revolt in the House “blindsided” Kevin McCarthy, and has ground business to a halt. Via Politico: “Conservatives shut down House floor as revenge for debt deal.”
Pat Robertson, an icon of the Evangelical Right, has died at the age of 93.
And a GOP candidate for president felt that it was necessary to issue this clarification:
Trump’s Imminent Indictment
Whether it comes today, later this week, or next week, it’s coming. Writes Lawfare’s Ben Wittes:
While we don’t know precisely when Trump received his target notification, we do know that the meeting with the special counsel’s office took place on Monday, so the notification would have been some time shortly before that—last week sometime, if I had to guess. We also know that the grand jury in Florida has been meeting since sometime in May. And the Washington Post reported today that the special counsel has decided that major parts of the case against Trump will have to be brought in Florida.
I think we can reasonably infer from all of this the following: Sometime in May, the special counsel made the decision to pursue criminal charges against Trump in the Mar-a-Lago matter and decided that significant portions of the case would only have venue in Florida. He thus began presenting the case, previously investigated by a grand jury in Washington, to a different grand jury in Florida. Such a presentation does not take long, the case having already been investigated. Summary witnesses can do much of the work, and witness transcripts from one grand jury can be given to, read to, or summarized for the other. So in relatively short order, Smith was in a position to deliver Trump the target notification. This led to the meeting on Monday.
This fact pattern also implies something else, something very simple and stark: Trump’s indictment is imminent. When I say “imminent,” I do not mean the word in the way Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis—who told a judge her charging decisions were “imminent” back in January and hasn’t announced any six months later—uses the word. I mean that I will be surprised if a federal Trump indictment doesn’t happen this week or next, and I won’t be at all surprised if it happens tomorrow.
Ben and I will discuss the latest development on today’s episode of the “Trump Trials".
BONUS: Andrew Weissmann and Ryan Goodman have another excellent primer: “What to look for if Trump is indicted by the DOJ.”
A special counsel indictment of Donald Trump for mishandling classified documents is looking likely. If it happens, it would mark the first federal prosecution of a former president in U.S. history. It would also be a teaching moment, here and abroad, for the importance of the rule of law.
We believe that the rule of law requires that Trump be charged, based on the wealth of publicly available facts and the history of the Justice Department charging people who did far less. Just last week, a former Army lieutenant colonel was sentenced to three years in prison for illegal retention of classified documents.
If special counsel Jack Smith hands down an indictment, we will be keeping an eye on many open issues that might indicate how strong a case the government believes it has. Here is what is on our checklist of things to note…
Christie Brought the Hot Sauce
While Pence prevaricated, Chris Christie didn’t hold anything back. On Wednesday’s podcast, A.B. Stoddard and I discussed his campaign launch, the Freedom Caucus revolt against My Kevin, the defenestration of Chris Licht, and the PGA’s cynical surrender to the Saudis.
With Chris Licht Out, What’s Next for CNN?
SHOCKING NEWS. Boss with limited experience in running a giant journalism enterprise violates an iron rule of news reporting and ends up forced out.
What’s that rule? Never be the story. It’s not about you.
What’s another iron rule? When office politics, drama and competition ratchet up, step back, put your head down and do the work. Do. The. Work. All that’s important is the work.
Those are the rules I learned over decades of news reporting. The rules for entertainment and opinion journalism are different—in those cases, it is sometimes about you, and drama might be part of the deal. Which is why Chris Licht should never have gotten the job as CEO and chairman of CNN Worldwide.
Running shows for Stephen Colbert and Joe Scarborough is not the same as running an international cable news network that has proven time and again that it is an indispensable, fundamental part of the media ecosystem. That’s especially true during the biggest land war in Europe since the Second World War. And this fraught moment in American politics, when one of the two major parties and its leading 2024 candidate are proven threats to democracy, is not the time to install a naïve-sounding novice atop a major news network.