Happy Monday! A warm welcome to Thomas Dorsey, the Dispatch summer intern who—after an intense series of trial-by-fire tasks designed to assess his wits, pain tolerance, and daring—has been assigned to our Dispatch Politics newsletter for the summer.
Up to Speed
- The Washington Post reported last week that former President Donald Trump rejected proposals from his lawyers late last year to cooperate more fully with the Justice Department in the hope of preventing the matter from intensifying to the point of last week’s indictment. Instead, Trump relied on strategic advice from Tom Fitton, the activist who runs the conservative group Judicial Watch, who argued Trump had a legal right to keep the documents the Justice Department wanted.
- In a Wall Street Journal op-ed last week, Judicial Watch attorney Michael Bekesha laid out Fitton’s argument: “The Presidential Records Act allows the president to decide what records to return and what records to keep at the end of his presidency.” As evidence, Bekesha pointed back to a case he and Judicial Watch lost in 2012, when they sued the government to attempt to recover presidential records from former President Bill Clinton—audiotapes made during meetings with between Clinton and a historian that included recordings of official White House business—that they argued Clinton had improperly designated as personal. Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that it was the president’s prerogative to choose what subset of official presidential records he was designating as personal.
- Trump, who dined with Fitton the night before his Miami arraignment last week, repeatedly shared Bekesha’s op-ed on social media over the weekend. “Indictment must be immediately withdrawn by the Injustice Department, with apology!” he wrote.
- But other legal experts say the argument is grievously flawed and unlikely to hold up in court. Former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy wrote at National Review last week that Judicial Watch’s argument is based on a simple but categorical misreading of the Presidential Records Act. The classified documents over which Trump has been indicted, he wrote, are agency records—records produced by the government’s intelligence agencies, to which the president has access but which he does not own. And the Presidential Records Act is explicit that agency records are not presidential records.
- Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower whose leaking of the Pentagon Papers revealed government dishonesty about the Vietnam War and launched the chain of events that led to the Watergate scandal and the resignation of President Richard Nixon, died this weekend at the age of 92.
Vivek Ramaswamy’s Indictment Bank Shot
Most of Donald Trump’s Republican challengers are running a playbook you could call Trump minus—all the good things Republican voters like about Trump’s first term, minus the outbursts and sideshows and chaos. Biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, on the other hand, is running as Trump plus, regularly promising on the campaign trail to take the America First agenda “miles further than Donald Trump did.”
This posture gives Ramaswamy a certain degree of freedom to maneuver. While other Republicans tiptoed around the politics of Trump’s indictment last week, Ramaswamy threw himself into the story—as Trump’s biggest defender. He made swaggering appearances on cable news to proclaim the whole thing was likely a setup ordered by Joe Biden: “With due respect, I think it is shameful that I as a competitor to President Trump in this race have to ask questions that the media isn’t asking.” And he schlepped down to Miami ahead of Trump’s arraignment Tuesday to proclaim to the media and Trump supporters that he was challenging the rest of the field to join him in pledging to pardon Trump.
“Each of our paths to electoral success would be easier if President Trump were eliminated from competition, but that is the wrong result for our country,” Ramaswamy told the crowd, brandishing a copy of his pardon pledge. “The fact that we are running against Trump gives us credibility to denounce this politicized prosecution.”