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Jack Smith's Steely-Eyed Gaze
Plus: Revisiting the Flight 93 election
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It’s an early morning here in beautiful Asheville, North Carolina. And since it’s Friday, I thought we could ease into the weekend with a few of my favorite stories.
Trump and his entourage arrived at Versailles shortly after leaving the courthouse and made straight for the bakery….
A glad-handing Trump was heard to declare, "Food for everyone!"
So, New Times wondered, did Trump — who famously fancies his chicken from KFC and his steaks well-done and slathered with ketchup but isn't exactly known for picking up the check — treat his fan club to a spread of croquetas, pastelitos, and cubanos chased with cafecitos?
It turns out no one got anything. Not even a cafecito to-go.
A knowledgeable source assures New Times that Donald Trump's stop at Versailles totaled about ten minutes, leaving no time for anyone to eat anything, much less place an order.
Exit take: Metaphor alert.
Imaginary tapes. Dead source. For weeks now, Congressional Republicans, including House Oversight chairman James Comer and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Octogenarian) have been hyping smoking-gun tapes that allegedly blow the lid off a Biden bribe story. Or something. Fox News has mentioned the story literally hundreds of times. But it turns out the tapes may not exist, and Rudy Giuliani (!) is now saying that the confidential source is
a giant 7-foot-rabbitdead.
Felonies? No problem, we’re Republicans. Politico’s Natalie Allison: “Asa Hutchinson has asked the RNC to amend its loyalty pledge so candidates won’t have to promise to potentially support a convicted felon. In a call today, RNC officials said absolutely not.”
A question to ponder this weekend: Was DJT actually ever read his Miranda rights? (You have the right to remain silent….)
But nothing matters, right? Oh, wait. “Donald Trump Has a Polling Problem.”
Most Republicans still support Trump. But the polls still suggest the federal indictment is hurting him.
Happy Fathers Day!
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Trump in the dock
On Thursday’s episode of “The Trump Trials,” Lawfare’s Ben Wittes and Anna Bower joined me to take a deep-dive into the Trump Arraignment. What was it like in the courtroom? What does the indictment tell us? What about the judge? And what happens next?
Here’s an edited partial transcript of some of our conversation:
Sykes: So tell me about Jack Smith, you were able to watch him as they waited for the judge to come in. What was he doing?
Anna Bower: Right. That was a surprise. We did not expect that Jack Smith would be seated in the courtroom. It wasn't clear, would he be making an appearance?
But members of the media were seated and this kind of murmur went down the row as, as a few of us realized that right behind the table where the members of the DOJ prosecution team were waiting to make their appearances. Jack Smith was seated in the gallery on the front row and there's a lot that's been made of this stare that Jack Smith made over in Trump's direction.
People have commented that, surely this is being blown out of proportion that this staring that went on with Jack Smith looking over at Trump with this very intense gaze, not just the media making a story out of it, but I will say it was a thing.
It was very noticeable. You know, I had not had a lot of asleep, so I was like, am I just overthinking this: Jack Smith staring in Trump's direction throughout this?
But it was real and other members of the media afterward confirmed that it was very noticeable.
And at the end of the hearing, Trump rises from the defense table, he turns around, looks at the media and the gallery the whole time, Jack Smith has his eyes trained on Trump.
Trump exits to a door on the right.
Sykes: Did Trump look at him?
Bower: No, Trump does not look at Jack Smith one time. He only ever looks back whenever he looks back at the section that is directly behind him and Jack Smith was on the other side and then kind of poetically, Jack Smith exits through a separate door on the opposite side of the room.
And then all of us in the room kind of have this moment of pausing and everyone seems to kind of exhale and then we all start running out of the courtroom to go and, you know, file our stories and tell the world what happened.
The Flight 98 election revisited
A note from one of our smart readers:
Longtime listener (back to the Weekly Standard days), don't always agree with your perspective but hugely appreciate your work.
I recently had the opportunity to visit the Flight 93 memorial outside of Somerset, PA. The experience was eerie, humbling, unsettling -- all as it should be, so I suppose the designers did a pretty good job
The experience caused me to look back at Michael Anton's "Flight 93 Election" essay in the Claremont Review of Books. Back in 2016, I was aware of the essay and its role in justifying voting for Trump (or rather against Hillary). I thought the metaphor was stupid and gross, but I also understood its political utility.
After visiting the memorial, however, I am now struck by how horrifyingly ghoulish the metaphor is. I'm sure that you realized this in the moment, but it didn't click for me until I went there: this was a moment of tragedy, of desperation, and organizing to rush the cockpit was an act of heroism and love. The people on that flight were young and old, citizens and foreign nationals, just a random group of non-terrorists who, when placed in an extraordinary circumstance, found the sense of purpose to do an extraordinary thing. Staring doom in the face did not paralyze them. For Anton (then hiding behind his pseudonym 'Publius') to appropriate their story for his own tawdry ends, and to do it so crassly ("a Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto"), is nauseating.
It might be worth revisiting that essay as an early demonstration of what has now become so clear: on the Trump-aligned Right, people are objects. Immigrants are pawns to be demonized or shipped around the country to score political points. Children of immigrants are leverage to be exploited, and if you lose track of a few so be it. Trans people and LGBTQ families are convenient scapegoats and whatever pain they or those who love them are going through is just collateral damage (except when it's the point). Service members who die under arms are suckers and losers.
The people on Flight 93 were ordinary people. Some were probably moral and upright; others probably weren't. But all of them are worth commemorating for that day, and Michael Anton--just one among the many who have swept along in Trump's wake, excusing and amplifying and building upon the poisonous and dehumanizing politics of Trumpism--deserves condemnation. Re-electing Trump would mean putting the powers of the US government back in the hands of Anton and his fellow ghouls.
Given Anton's recent speech at the American Conservative’s annual foreign policy summit, that might be a connection worth making.
Thanks again for your work,
1. From Justifying Trump to Justifying Autocracy
Explaining away his lawlessness by claiming he is the law. Will Saletan, in today’s Bulwark:
This boundless resolve to defend the former president goes beyond the documents case. Already, some senior Republicans are preparing to attack any prosecution of Trump for his schemes to block the peaceful transfer of power on January 6, 2021. On Wednesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham told CNN: “If the special counsel indicts President Trump in Washington, D.C. for anything related to January 6th, that will be considered a major outrage by Republicans, because you could convict any Republican of anything in Washington, D.C.” On Fox News, Graham added that if Trump were to be indicted in Washington “for January 6th activity . . . that will tear this country apart.”
Graham and other accomplices of the former president aren’t just trying to shield him from prosecution. They’re trying to return him to power. “We have your back,” the senator told Trump on Wednesday, gazing with love and reassurance into the Fox News camera. “You’re going to be president again.”
If there’s anything Trump could do to forfeit the allegiance of his party—any crime he could commit, any dictatorial power he could claim—we haven’t found it yet.
J. D. Vance and the Yahoo Caucus
Once in the Senate, Vance shed the MAGA clown costume and became a responsible center-right legislator, advancing the interests of the poor and forgotten in Ohio and … I’m kidding, of course. Vance did no such thing. What he once wore as electoral camouflage is now tattooed all over him, in yet another fulfillment of the late Kurt Vonnegut’s warning that, eventually, “we are what we pretend to be.”
In politics, you pay at least some of the debt you owe for a crucial endorsement, but Vance is paying it all—including a brutal vig. It’s one thing to hand-wave about supporting the nominee; it’s another entirely to speak up when staying quiet would be just as effective, and perhaps more sensible. But when you’re writing articles defending Donald Trump’s foreign policy—a radioactive subject many Republicans would rather ignore—you’re not just paying off what you owe the sharks; you’re begging to be part of the crew.