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Artificial Intelligence’s Congressional Debut
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Artificial Intelligence’s Congressional Debut

Plus: Checking in on the jury system.

Happy Wednesday! Did you pick up your new Dispatch sticker, rocks glass, or “treats” mug? We’re reliably told product has been flying off the shelves, so get your orders in

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Ukrainian army Commander-in-Chief Valeriy Zaluzhnyi said Tuesday the country’s air defenses had shot down 18 Russian missiles, including six hypersonic Kinzhal ballistic missiles, during an overnight barrage. Russian state media had previously declared the sophisticated hypersonic weapons “impossible” to detect or intercept.
  • Russian media reported Monday authorities had arrested a Russian former employee of the U.S. embassy in Moscow, Robert Shonov, on charges of “collaboration on a confidential basis with a foreign state or international or foreign organization.” The State Department condemned the detention yesterday, calling the Russian government’s allegations “wholly without merit” and noting that most diplomatic missions—including the Russian embassy in the United States—employ local staff. Shonov was taken to Lefortovo Prison in Moscow, where Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich is being held on espionage charges.
  • President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy met at the White House Tuesday to continue negotiations over raising the debt ceiling, emerging optimistic but without a deal ahead of the estimated June 1 default deadline. McCarthy suggested Tuesday they may reach an agreement by the end of the week, and Biden said he would cut short an overseas trip this week to focus on striking a deal.
  • The Secret Service is investigating an intrusion last month at National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan’s home, the Washington Post first reported Tuesday. Sullivan’s permanent Secret Service detail reportedly did not notice an allegedly intoxicated man walking into Sullivan’s home in Washington, D.C., at 3 a.m. one night in April. There’s no evidence the man knew whose house he had entered, and he reportedly left after Sullivan confronted him. A spokesman for the Secret Service said the agency would be conducting a full investigation into why the intruder was able to breach Sullivan’s home unnoticed.
  • An Internal Revenue Service supervisory agent working on the investigation into Hunter Biden’s taxes was removed from his post after claiming to have evidence the Biden administration was improperly interfering in the probe, the agent’s lawyer told lawmakers this week. The employee, who is seeking whistleblower protection, says his entire team was also removed from the case at the request of the Justice Department. The Justice Department declined to comment.
  • Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron notched a double-digit victory in the state’s GOP gubernatorial primary Tuesday and will face Kentucky’s Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear in November. Cameron—a Trump-endorsed candidate and longtime ally of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell—fended off a challenge from former U.N. Ambassador Kelly Craft, who had been backed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
  • North Carolina state lawmakers voted Tuesday to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a bill that prohibits most abortions after 12 weeks of gestation, with exceptions for rape and incest (up to 20 weeks of gestation), “life-limiting anomalies” (up to 24 weeks), and life of the mother (no limit). The bill also appropriates money for child and foster care programs, contraception, and paid parental leave for teachers and government employees. North Carolina’s Republican lawmakers have pitched the legislation as a model for states around the country. 
  • The Commerce Department reported Tuesday that retail sales rose 0.4 percent month-over-month in April—the first such increase since January—after declining 0.7 percent in March.
  • Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Lucas died Monday at 85. A professor at the University of Chicago for four decades, he popularized the inclusion of rational expectations in macroeconomics and introduced what became known as the “Lucas critique”—the idea that policymakers need to consider how a given decision will influence individuals’ behavior when modeling the effects of said decision.

AI-Yai-Yai

Samuel Altman, CEO of OpenAI, testifies before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law on May 16. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Samuel Altman, CEO of OpenAI, testifies before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law on May 16. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Members of Congress might not agree on much, but at a Tuesday hearing before the Senate Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, they all affirmed it’s crucial to get artificial intelligence regulation right. Lawmakers compared the technology to the breakthroughs of the printing press, internet, and atomic bomb, while Sam Altman—CEO of OpenAI, which creates AI tools including ChatGPT—warned that “if this technology goes wrong, it can go quite wrong.”

Cheer up, ChatGPT told TMD: “Regulating AI doesn’t mean we have to be AI-fraid of it!”

We’ll keep writing our own jokes for now. And ChatGPT’s reassurances won’t do much for lawmakers who expect AI tools to shape elections, news, and labor markets—and are worried about repeating regulatory mistakes made with social media companies. Tuesday, they asked Altman and other experts for help regulating AI without quashing its useful attributes.

Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut filled a square on everybody’s bingo card by opening his comments with AI-generated content—a deep fake of himself giving a speech about tech regulation—to demonstrate the risk of misinformation produced by AI. “What if it had provided an endorsement of Ukraine surrendering or Vladimir Putin’s leadership?” Blumenthal asked. “The prospect is scary.”

Altman—who co-founded a defunct social networking app before leading startup accelerator Y Combinator—reminded lawmakers of his hope that AI will create new jobs but acknowledged AI image and text generators can cheaply produce a flood of false information. “When Photoshop came onto the scene a long time ago, for a while people were really quite fooled by photoshopped images and then pretty quickly developed an understanding that images were photoshopped,” he said. “This will be like that, but on steroids.” To help combat misinformation at the source, Altman endorsed the idea of model cards: labels that quickly explain an AI tool’s function, intended audience, and limitations. Such a disclaimer card for ChatGPT, for example, might flag that its dataset ends in 2021 so users don’t trust its claims to be quoting more recent articles.

Altman testified alongside IBM privacy chief Christina Montgomery and Gary Marcus, a professor emeritus of psychology and neural science at New York University. While all three agreed on the need for congressional action, they disagreed on the exact path forward. Montgomery and Marcus, for instance, argued AI companies should be required to reveal the data they use to train their models, but AI developers like Altman have argued that information is proprietary and key to maintaining a competitive advantage. Altman also demurred on Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn’s call to stop training AI models on artists’ work without their permission. And pressed by Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Altman wouldn’t promise that ChatGPT will never advertise to users—despite Altman’s concerns that marketers will use AI to generate promotions hyper-targeted to individuals’ soft spots.

The panel also split over whether Congress should stand up an oversight agency tasked with regulating all things AI—from existing models designed to flag cancer on medical scans to hypothetical tools suggesting targets for drone strikes. Montgomery argued existing agencies like the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission are equipped to handle the new technology, but that contention earned an incredulous rebuke from Sen. Lindsey Graham. “I don’t understand how you could say that we don’t need an agency to deal with the most transformative technology, maybe ever,” the South Carolina Republican said.

Altman, meanwhile, suggested a hypothetical, AI-specific agency could issue licenses to companies developing AI tools and require them to undergo safety tests. He’d include an exemption for smaller companies and tools, though, in order to avoid stifling research or fledgling AI startups. Pressed to say what models would require strict oversight, Altman didn’t have a firm answer, but suggested tools sophisticated enough to manipulate humans should qualify.

Marcus went even further, pushing for a Food and Drug Administration-style review of any new AI tool before it could be rolled out and granting the new agency authority to withdraw a tool’s approval if it proves harmful. As an example of why such power is necessary, he pointed to Microsoft’s refusal to shut down its Sydney AI bot after it urged a writer to leave his wife. “Even if you have a company like OpenAI that is a nonprofit” and concerned about safety, Marcus argued, “other people can buy those companies and do what they like with them.”

Marcus did concede that a new agency—in addition to being politically difficult to stand up—would risk being captured by the very industry it’s supposed to regulate as industry players lobby agency staff for favorable rules. To be fair, that’s a danger for any congressional regulation. Cryptocurrency wunderkind Sam Bankman Fried, for instance, was the leading proponent of cryptocurrency regulation—and helped lawmakers craft legislation—before his company went up in a puff of Ponzi. Lawmakers yesterday seemed to be similarly enamored with Altman: Republican Sen. John Kennedy suggested Altman could lead an AI regulator, but the CEO demurred and offered to provide him a list of alternative candidates.

Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri suggested slicing this Gordian Knot by skipping an oversight body and instead making it easier for harmed consumers to sue AI companies. “You want to talk about crowdsourcing—we’ll just open the courthouse doors,” the Republican senator said. Marcus cautioned that existing laws weren’t written with AI tools in mind, so lawyers might find ways to argue they don’t apply to these new tools, cutting off lawsuits at the knees. “We can fix that,” Hawley promised.

Outside the hearing room, Congress isn’t the only branch of government eyeing AI. The National Institute of Standards and Technology in January rolled out a framework to assess risks and prevent harms in AI design and deployment, while the White House has published a consumer-facing “AI Bill of Rights” intended to help Americans navigate the new technology safely. Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan—patron saint of enthusiastic tech regulators—has promised to prevent AI abuses.

Yesterday’s hearing raised more questions about AI regulation than it answered, but whatever Congress does, Blumenthal cautioned that the push for safety shouldn’t mean throttling AI development in the U.S. while other countries rush to build and deploy new tools. “Safeguards and protections, yes,” he said. “But a flat stop sign, sticking our head in the sand—I would be very, very worried about that.”

Jury’s Out

Donald Trump says there’s no way he could get a fair trial in New York—blue state juries will always see red when it comes to the former president. 

But nobody told his lawyer. 

“A juror’s political affiliation is not grounds for dismissal, even in cases involving a political figure,” Trump attorney Joe Tacopina argued a few weeks ago, opposing a request by writer E. Jean Carroll’s counsel to dismiss a juror who had said he found far-right podcaster Tim Pool balanced. “The law does not permit such excusals based on such broad judgments about jurors’ ability to serve fairly.”

Tacopina convinced the judge, but not his own client. After the jury deliberated for three hours and ruled against him, Trump declared Manhattan “probably the worst place in the U.S. for me to get a fair ‘trial.’” He made his point more explicit at last week’s CNN town hall, listing New York and Washington, D.C., as places where you “cannot get” a fair trial. Trump applied that argument to his own legal situation, but also to the plight of convicted January 6 rioters, expressing openness to pardoning all but a handful who “got out of control” if reelected president.

Faith in the jury system—like just about every major institution in the United States—seems to have eroded in recent years, as Americans grow more polarized and local criminal cases are increasingly used as fodder in the national culture war. From the indictment of Trump to the acquittals of Kyle Rittenhouse or the police officers who shot Breonna Taylor, commentators unhappy with any given outcome have proven willing to delegitimize the entire process if they don’t get their way. “The jury in the Derek Chauvin trial came to a unanimous and unequivocal verdict this afternoon: Please don’t hurt us,” former Fox News host Tucker Carlson joked in April 2021. “Everyone understood perfectly well the consequences of an acquittal in this case. After nearly a year of burning and looting and murder by BLM, that was never in doubt.”

In 2019, at least, Americans still viewed juries as the least bad option. Though only 38 percent of Americans felt confident in the jury system in a Willow Research poll conducted that year, 62 percent said it was “still the best way to resolve disputes.” That said, jury trials have become increasingly rare, as civil parties grow more likely to settle out of court and criminal defendants seek plea bargains—avoiding the harsher sentences that come with losing at trial—or receive summary judgments from judges. Just 2 percent of defendants in federal criminal cases went to trial in fiscal year 2018, according to Pew Research Center.

Maligning jury impartiality isn’t a new tactic for Trumpworld. Remember Roger Stone? Convicted of witness tampering and lying to Congress, the longtime Trump associate in 2020 declared his trial manifestly unfair. “I learned when I got into the D.C. circuit jury system that I’m not going to be judged by a jury of my peers,” he said at the time. A number of Republicans have taken a similar approach in recent weeks, playing down Trump’s civil liability for assaulting and defaming Carroll. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio labeled the jury in the case “a joke,” and Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville argued Trump “had no chance” given where the trial was taking place. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham was similarly dismissive: “I think the New York legal system is off the rails when it comes to Donald Trump.”

Sometimes jurors bring these accusations on themselves. Emily Kohrs—forewoman of the Georgia grand jury investigating Trump’s efforts to interfere with the 2020 presidential election—went on a splashy media blitz after the grand jury finished its report, hinting that more than a dozen people would be indicted after the jury’s investigation. “The big name that everyone keeps asking me about—I don’t think you will be shocked,” Kohrs said. Trump, unsurprisingly, did not take her PR tour well: “This is not JUSTICE, this is an illegal Kangaroo Court.” (Following the Carroll verdict earlier this month, the judge presiding over the case had some prudent counsel for the jurors: “My advice to you is not to identify yourselves. Not now and not for a long time.”)

Defenders of the January 6 rioters have also argued those who stormed the Capitol can’t get a fair trial in the nation’s capital, where those cases are being tried. Defense attorneys can seek a venue transfer in hopes of a friendlier juror pool—and many of the rioters’ attorneys have done just that, noting the district voted 92 percent for President Biden in 2020 and many of its residents had personal experience with the event.

But the Bill of Rights stipulates criminal jury trials should be held in the state where the crime was committed, so judges rarely grant such requests. Extensive pretrial publicity of a case can occasionally be grounds for moving it—but the Carroll and January 6 cases were both national stories, rendering that point moot.

That said, the jury selection process does include safeguards against prejudice. Attorneys for both the defense and prosecution can review potential jurors’ social media posts—without subterfuge such as sending a Facebook friend request under a false name to see more posts—in search of clear prejudice. “If you want to be on a jury in a particularly sensational case, stay off of Facebook,” said Dennis Hale, political science professor at Boston University and author of The Jury in America. “The judge is going to see what you said.” More commonly, judges or attorneys strike jurors based on their answers to questions about their ability to remain impartial. 

That’s not to say juries are never biased, but legal analysts say political leanings play a surprisingly narrow role. “Political orientation—as liberal or conservative—or general views about crime control versus due process, those kinds of things matter,” said Valerie Hans, a professor at Cornell Law School who researches jury participation. “But they tend to matter most in cases where the evidence is very ambiguous. So if you have pretty clear evidence, then whether you’re Democratic or Republican, whether you lean liberal or conservative, it’s really unlikely to have much of an impact.” The system relies, she said, on the presumption that jurors usually “try to do their best even if they have preconceptions.”

That may seem naive in a hyper-polarized era, but jurors sometimes surprise even themselves. Self-described Trump fan Paula Duncan, for instance, served on a jury in 2018 that weighed the financial fraud charges against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. “I did not want Paul Manafort to be guilty,” she told Fox News after voting to convict. “But he was, and no one’s above the law.”

Worth Your Time

  • To hear many pro-choice activists tell it, abortions after 20 weeks gestation are incredibly rare—and only occur when the viability of the baby or life of the mother are at risk. Don’t tell that to Warren Hern, an 84-year-old abortionist in Colorado who specializes in late-term procedures. “Abortions that come after devastating medical diagnoses can be easier for some people to understand. But Hern estimates that at least half, and sometimes more, of the women who come to the clinic do not have these diagnoses,” Elaine Godfrey writes in a profile of the doctor for The Atlantic. “‘This is a grotesque conversation to many people,’ he said at the bar. ‘But this is a surgical procedure for a life-threatening condition.’ During that conversation and the ones following it, I prodded for cracks in Hern’s certainty. At one point, I thought I’d found one: Hern had told me about a woman who’d sought an abortion because she didn’t want to have a baby girl. I thought he had refused. But when I followed up to ask him why, I learned that I had misunderstood. Hern said he had done abortions for sex selection twice: once for this woman; and once for someone who’d desperately wanted a girl. It was their choice to make, he explained. ‘So if a pregnant woman with no health issues comes to the clinic, say, at 30 weeks, what would you do?’ I asked Hern once. The question irked him. ‘Every pregnancy is a health issue!’ he said. ‘There’s a certifiable risk of death from being pregnant, period.’”

Presented Without Comment 

Axios: “Trump on Saturday rolled out his own slate of 150 endorsements from ‘elected and grassroots leaders’ in Iowa—but at least three people on the list tell Axios they were not consulted and remain undecided.”

Also Presented Without Comment

NBC News: 2 Republicans on DeSantis’ N.H. Endorsement List Say They Still Back Trump

Also Also Presented Without Comment 

Slate: Sen. Dianne Feinstein Seems Unaware of Her Senate Absence 

Toeing the Company Line

  • How is Ron DeSantis planning to overcome his polling deficit? What’s Mike Pence’s pitch to Republican primary voters? Will Republican challengers not named Trump or DeSantis be able to compete in the fundraising game? Kevin was joined by David and Mike on last night’s Dispatch Live (🔒) to discuss all that and more. Members who missed the conversation can catch a rerun—either video or audio-only—by clicking here.
  • Slight update from yesterday’s TMD: The Dispatch Book Club will now be reading four books this summer instead of three. Add The Wager by David Grann to the list!
  • In the newsletters: Haley checks in on the high-stakes debt limit negotiations at the White House, Sarah warns both parties (🔒) against getting high on their own 2024 supply, and Nick argues (🔒) DeSantis is stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to taking on Trump.
  • On the podcasts: Jonah is joined by American Enterprise Institute scholar Matt Continetti to discuss the second half of his book on the history of conservatism, focusing on the 1980s to the present. 
  • On the site: Drucker reports from Iowa on DeSantis’ tour of the state, Kevin gives Elon Musk a lesson in free speech, and Arthur Herman looks at Chinese encroachment in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Plus, Jonah writes on the expiration of Title 42 and the importance of managing expectations.

Let Us Know

Do you believe a judicial system involving a jury of one’s peers is the fairest means of adjudicating disputes? Have you ever served as a juror on a case that went to trial?

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.