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The Morning Dispatch: Supreme Court Rules on Trump's Financial Records
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The Morning Dispatch: Supreme Court Rules on Trump’s Financial Records

Plus, the GOP's QAnon problem.

Happy Friday! And good morning to all of our eastern Oklahoma readers who found out yesterday they’ve been living a lie. Boomer Sooner!

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • As of Thursday night, 3,112,252 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the United States (an increase of 57,602 from yesterday) and 133,228 deaths have been attributed to the virus (an increase of 930 from yesterday), according to the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, leading to a mortality rate among confirmed cases of 4.3 percent (the true mortality rate is likely much lower, between 0.4 percent and 1.4 percent, but it’s impossible to determine precisely due to incomplete testing regimens). Of 38,032,966 coronavirus tests conducted in the United States (601,300 conducted since yesterday), 8.2 percent have come back positive.

  • On the final day of the term, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that, based on 19th-century land treaties, a large part of the state of Oklahoma is actually within a Native American reservation. The court also issued two rulings related to President Trump’s financial records, sending both cases back to the lower courts to decide whether House Democrats or the Manhattan district attorney are entitled to the records. Neither case is now expected to be resolved before the November election.

  • The number of Americans filing initial unemployment insurance claims fell by 99,000 week-over-week to 1.3 million last week. It was the 16th straight week more than 1 million Americans filed initial claims. The total number of Americans receiving unemployment benefits during the week ending on June 27 fell by 698,000 to 18.1 million.

  • New CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media Michael Pack is planning to deny visa extensions for dozens of foreign journalists working in the United States for Voice of America. A former board member of the agency called the decision “horrible,” adding that many of the journalists are likely to face “severe” repercussions if they return to their home countries after working for the U.S.

  • Former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman testified before the House Judiciary Committee yesterday behind closed doors, reportedly telling lawmakers Attorney General William Barr urged him to accept another job overseeing the Justice Department’s Civil Division. Berman allegedly said he told Barr “there were important investigations in the Office that I wanted to see through to completion.”

  • The Trump administration appears to be walking back earlier threats to withhold federal funding from schools that do not fully reopen. “We are not suggesting pulling funding from education,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said Thursday morning, “but instead allowing families, take that money and figure out where their kids can get educated if their schools refuse to open.”

  • In a speech in Pennsylvania on Thursday, Joe Biden laid out a populist and nationalist economic vision for his potential presidency. Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan would, according to a press release, “ensure that the future is made in America” and “build a modern infrastructure and an equitable, clean energy future.”

  • The Treasury Department sanctioned one Chinese government entity and four Chinese government officials yesterday for their involvement in “serious rights abuses against ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.”

  • In response to China’s new national security law in Hong Kong, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that his country was suspending its extradition treaty with Hong Kong and extending visas for Hong Kong residents.

  • The Big Ten announced Thursday its teams will move to a conference-only schedule for all fall sports, including football, so that the conference can maintain “flexibility to adjust its own operations … and make quick decisions in real-time.”

The End of the SCOTUS Term

In perhaps the most highly anticipated decisions of the season, the Supreme Court was set to decide whether Trump must turn over his financial records to Congress and the New York County District Attorney’s grand jury. In the end, the court sent both cases back to the district court for further arguments, which means Trump won’t be turning over his financial records anytime soon—if he ever does.

Both sides were able to claim some partial victories. The court rejected the arguments from Trump’s attorneys that the president enjoys “absolute immunity from state criminal subpoenas because compliance with those subpoenas would categorically impair a President’s performance of his Article II functions.” But it also also dismissed House Democrats’ arguments, finding that their “approach fails to take adequate account of the significant separation of powers issues raised by congressional subpoenas for the President’s information.”

A constitutional law professor helped break it all down for us. “The court held that Trump was wrong and that [state prosecutors] can request [the president’s personal records], but there might be reasons to withhold them in certain cases,” said Josh Blackman of the South Texas College of Law. “So instead of having this sort of 100 percent prohibition, we’ll consider each request from the states on a case by case basis.”

The legal battles may have ended in a draw, but Trump almost certainly won the political war—because neither subpoena will likely be resolved before Election Day.

“The district attorney one is probably more likely to get the tax returns first because there’s ongoing proceedings,” Blackman said. “But even then there are secrecy requirements, and it’s entirely possible in the district court Trump can raise other arguments about why the document should not be handed over.” 

“I think the long and short of it is that nothing will happen before the election.”

Someone should tell President Trump that. “The Supreme Court sends case back to Lower Court, arguments to continue,” he tweeted on Thursday.

Trump’s attorney, Jay Sekulow, argued the rulings were a good sign for the president’s litigation team. “We are pleased that in the decisions issued today, the Supreme Court has temporarily blocked both Congress and New York prosecutors from obtaining the President’s financial records,” he said. “We will now proceed to raise additional Constitutional and legal issues in the lower courts.”

But Cyrus Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, was also pleased with the ruling. “This is a tremendous victory for our nation’s system of justice and its founding principle that no one—not even a president—is above the law,” he said in a statement. “Our investigation, which was delayed for almost a year by this lawsuit, will resume, guided as always by the grand jury’s solemn obligation to follow the law and the facts, wherever they may lead.”

The ruling unsurprisingly incited a partisan reaction from Democrats. “The path that the Supreme Court has laid out is one that is clearly achievable by us in the lower court and we will continue to go down that path,” said House speaker Nancy Pelosi. Joe Biden retweeted a video from 2019 in which he said he had released 21 years of tax returns, and told the president to release his, “or shut up.”

The court’s decision “will serve to delay the committee’s investigation—and, given the risk of foreign influence over this president, such delay is dangerous,” Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, added. “But we remain confident that we will ultimately prevail. And in light of the President’s tweets this morning, he appears to believe the same.”

But as Josh Blackman reminds us, this case wasn’t “just about this president, it’s about the presidency.” Blackman suspects that “in the future, we’ll see other prosecutors investigate other high level officials, including the president.”

The third opinion received far less attention but was no less interesting. In McGirt v. Oklahoma, the court held that Congress’s 19th century promise to give large swaths of eastern Oklahoma to the Muscogee (Creek) tribe still stands. The decision could potentially reclassify roughly half of Oklahoma—and most of Tulsa—as Indian reservation land if tribal sovereignty agreements similar to the one at the core of the McGirt decision are upheld.

In the 5-4 ruling joined by the four liberal justices, Justice Neil Gorsuch emphasized the rule of law over the inconvenience of the consequences of the sweeping decision:

If Congress wishes to withdraw its promises, it must say so. Unlawful acts, performed long enough and with sufficient vigor, are never enough to amend the law. To hold otherwise would be to elevate the most brazen and longstanding injustices over the law, both rewarding wrong and failing those in the right.

When the Fringe Goes Mainstream

Does the Republican Party have a QAnon problem? Or a conspiracy problem more generally? In a partisan political climate that has sown the seeds for fringe candidates to win elections, the GOP is struggling to distance itself from conspiracy-mongering nominees without surrendering key districts to Democratic opponents. And sometimes choosing not to distance itself at all.

Audrey Fahlberg profiles a handful of candidates who believe in QAnon or other fringe theories, some of whom could end up in Congress next January.

Back in 2016, “Pizzagate” gained national attention when a man who believed that Hillary Clinton and John Podesta were running a child-trafficking ring out of the Comet Ping Pong pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C., went into the establishment and fired a rifle.

No one was hurt, and the outlandish claims were quickly debunked. But the vile conspiracy theory didn’t totally die. It lingered in dark corners of the internet. And in 2017, an anonymous user named Q—self-dubbed for his alleged Q level security clearance—took the reins and began posting claims that Clinton would be arrested, adding other allegedly classified intel about her on a public messaging board called “4chan.” Mesmerized by Q’s cryptic clues (which were, in reality, baseless rumors), anonymous users began obsessively tracking his posts and the QAnon movement took hold.

QAnon support is rare—a Pew Research poll from March 2020 found only 3 percent of Americans know “a lot” about the theory while 76 percent know “nothing at all”—but those who do support it are deeply invested.

And some of those 3 percent are running for Congress.

GOP primary candidates Lauren Boebert, Marjorie Greene and Jo Rae Perkins have won the hearts of Republican voters in their states. While Perkins secured a Senate primary victory in Oregon and Boebert ousted a Trump-backed incumbent in Colorado’s 3rd District primary, Greene is well on her way to win a House GOP primary runoff in Georgia.

QAnon’s Oregon contender, Jo Rae Perkins, has no realistic shot at beating her Democratic incumbent, Sen. Jeff Merkley. But she won nearly 200,000 votes in her GOP primary—earning almost 50 percent of the vote in a four-person race—and she has garnered national headlines for some of her bolder proclamations. Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Greene, however, have a real chance at winning the general election in each of their districts.

Republican establishment support for these candidates varies. Boebert has the stamp of approval. “This is a Republican seat and will remain a Republican seat as Nancy Pelosi and senior House Democrats continue peddling their radical conspiracy theories and pushing their radical cancel culture,” said National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Tom Emmer in a statement.

But Marjorie Greene is a different story.

She uploaded a video in 2017 in which she declared, “Q is a patriot, we know that for sure, but we do not know who Q is.”

The rest of the nearly 30-minute video—which is still up as of today—consists of Greene unspooling outlandish conspiracy theories, one of her favorites being Hillary Clinton’s alleged sacrifice of a chicken in her backyard to the ancient Canaanite deity Moloch. After explaining Q’s prophetic Great Awakening in which deep state Democrats will be held accountable for their sins, Greene says “I really truly pray that this is true.”

Greene’s indulgence in conspiracy theories isn’t the only thing that’s problematic

More recently, Politico uncovered recordings in which Greene said African Americans “are held slaves to the Democratic Party” and that she would feel proud to see Confederate monuments if she were black because they demonstrate the progress American has made since the Civil War. “I know a ton of white people that are as lazy and sorry and probably worse than black people,” Greene said on the topic of black unemployment. “And that has everything to do with their bad choices and their personal responsibility. That is not a skin-color issue.”

She called the 2018 House midterms “an Islamic invasion of our government”—clearly alluding to the victories by Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib—and said that “anyone that is a Muslim that believes in Sharia law does not belong in our government.”

In Florida, right-wing provocateur Laura Loomer is a candidate for Congress in the state’s 21st congressional district. Loomer has toiled alongside “Pizzagate” conspiracist Jack Posobiec and spread a variety of loony conspiracies about mass shootings. She has worked with discredited fabulist Jacob Wohl, locked herself to the doors of Twitter headquarters, and shouted to disrupt a congressional hearing. Loomer has also worked with conspiracy outlet InfoWars after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. And yet Joe Gruters, chairman of the Florida GOP, is enthusiastic about her candidacy. “I’ve developed a close relationship with Loomer,” he tells The Dispatch.

Ultimately, the rise of these conspiracy Republicans is causing concern in some quarters of the party, with some leaders denouncing the crazy outright and others awkwardly seeking to avoid comment. But movements often take the shape of their leaders, and with Donald Trump, an eager amplifier of many false or unproven conspiracies, as the country’s most prominent Republican and the party’s de facto leader, there will be no distancing the GOP from conspiracy theories—at least for four more months.

Worth Your Time

  • If you looked at the COVID charts in any recent TMD, you will notice a widening gulf between the trend in new cases and the trend in daily deaths. The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson wrote quite possibly the best piece we’ve read on the subject, explaining what we know about this divergence—and what we don’t. “In the fog of pandemic, every statistic tells a story, but no one statistic tells the whole truth.”

  • Brad Polumbo wrote a piece for the Foundation for Economic Education that zeroes in on two Joe Biden policy positions—his support for AB 5 in California and his desire to repeal Section 230—that could dramatically damage the economic landscape for millions of Americans. President Trump has signaled a desire to limit Section 230 protections for tech companies as well, but AB 5, if nationalized, could essentially eliminate independent-contracting as we know it today. “From artists to musicians to freelance journalists to Uber drivers, thousands of California workers saw their livelihoods snuffed out by this bill,” Brad writes. “Even the original sponsor of the law, state Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, admitted she was ‘wrong’ in response to angry freelancers who lost work.”

  • Atlanta rapper Michael Render—Killer Mike—went viral last month for a speech he gave during the protests that erupted in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. But that moment was far from his first foray into politics. Donovan Ramsey went to Atlanta to profile Render for GQ, and came back fascinated by the contradictions. Killer Mike “is a proud ‘compassionate capitalist,’” Ramsey writes. “A small-business owner and landlord with multiple barbershops, a restaurant, and about $2 million in property across Atlanta. But he’s also backed democratic socialist candidates like Bernie Sanders, who, Mike has said, operates in the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr.”

Presented Without Comment

Presented Without Comment, Throwback Edition

Toeing the Company Line

  • David and Sarah are going to need a breather after all these emergency pods. But they managed to muster one more episode of Advisory Opinions this week, and you’re not going to want to miss it. The duo talked about how many in the media misinterpreted the court’s decisions on Trump’s financial records.

  • This was a good week for small-L liberalism, David writes in his most recent French Press (🔒). An open letter published in Harper’s Magazine set the internet ablaze earlier this week. Even though some of its signatories have “hardly been stalwart defenders of free speech (especially from conservatives) in the past,” David argues the fact that so many are seeing the light now is a very positive development. “The cynic responds, ‘Oh, so now they’re worried, when their ox is finally gored.’ The better response is to say, ‘Welcome to the struggle, friend. This is exactly how things change.’”

  • On the site today, Andrew explains the state of play on COVID testing, and he notes the strain on the system. “First, there’s the test positivity rate, which tracks what percentage of COVID tests come back positive and thus helps us gauge the strength of our testing apparatus relative to the strength of the virus. Second, there’s the test turnaround time, which gives a sense of how backlogged the labs processing the tests are getting.”

Let Us Know

Say instead of your tax return, the Supreme Court ruled you had to publicly release your credit card bill from last month. What would be the most embarrassing purchase?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Sarah Isgur (@whignewtons), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), Nate Hochman (@njhochman), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).

Photograph by Alex Wong/Getty Images.