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Three Strikes, You’re Out?
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Three Strikes, You’re Out?

Donald Trump indicted yet again, this time related to his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss.

Happy Wednesday! According to seismologist Jackie Caplan-Auerbach, raucous Taylor Swift concertgoers at Lumen Field in Seattle recently registered seismic activity equivalent to a 2.3 magnitude earthquake.

If every TMD reader lets out a little “woo” when this email hits your inbox this morning, we’re sure we could reach at least 3.4.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories 

  • Former President Donald Trump was indicted by special counsel Jack Smith on four felony charges Tuesday related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, including conspiring to defraud the U.S., conspiring to obstruct and obstructing an official proceeding, and conspiring against the rights of voters. The indictment detailed six unnamed co-conspirators, but five of the six can be identified by their descriptions in the charging document: Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman, and Sidney Powell, as well as Jeffrey Clark, a Justice Department official, and Kenneth Chesebro, a lawyer who helped devise the plan to submit fraudulent slates of presidential electors. The sixth co-conspirator has yet to be identified and is described in the indictment as a “political consultant.”
  • France began evacuating its citizens and other Europeans from Niger by air on Tuesday after the recent military coup, and a Pentagon spokesman confirmed yesterday the United States had suspended security cooperation and counterterrorism training with the country. The U.S. has not withdrawn any of its forces from the region, however, and does not currently have plans to evacuate Americans in the area. Neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso, meanwhile, have backed the coup leaders and said Monday they would consider any outside intervention to restore deposed President Mohamed Bazoum a declaration of war. Over the weekend, a coalition of African nations demanded Bazoum’s reinstatement, saying they would use force against the new junta if necessary.
  • Fitch Ratings announced Tuesday it had downgraded the U.S. credit rating from AAA to AA+, citing “the expected fiscal deterioration over the next three years, a high and growing general government debt burden, and the erosion of governance”—a reference to repeated debt ceiling fights and a complex budget process. The move brings the United States’ credit rating with the agency in line with Canada, Finland, and New Zealand, but below countries like Australia, Germany, and Switzerland.
  • The Labor Department reported Tuesday that job openings fell from 9.62 million in May to 9.58 million in June, reaching the lowest level since April 2021. The decline—which came largely from the transportation and warehousing industries as well as public sector jobs—comes on the heels of the Federal Reserve’s decision last week to raise interest rates to a 22-year high after a brief hike in the efforts to slow inflation.
  • The U.S.’ first entirely new nuclear reactor in decades went online this week, seven years late and $17 billion over budget. The Georgia-based Plant Vogtle reactor is expected to provide energy to 500,000 homes in Georgia, Florida, and Alabama.
  • Preliminary Customs and Border Patrol data shows arrests of migrants making illegal crossings of the southern border rose by more than 30 percent in July, reaching 130,000, the Washington Post reported yesterday. Illegal border crossings had hit their lowest level in two years in June following a crackdown by the Biden administration in May.
  • The U.S. imposed new travel restrictions on Hungarian citizens Tuesday, concerned Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s policy change nine years ago to grant citizenship to ethnic Hungarians outside the country resulted in passports being issued “without stringent identity verification mechanisms.” About 1 million people have received passports through the program, and yesterday’s move will limit travel under the American Visa Waiver Program—which allows citizens from certain countries to travel to America for up to 90 days without a visa so long as the travelers have an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). Hungarians’ ESTA validity will be reduced from two years to one and each traveler will only be allowed to enter the U.S. once through the system.
  • The Department of Homeland Security banned imports from two China-based firms on Tuesday in an effort to further crack down on forced labor practices. Ninestar Corp—a printer manufacturer—and Xinjiang Zhongtai Chemical Co. will be added to the list of imports banned under the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which Congress passed in 2021.
  • GOP Rep. Tom Tiffany of Wisconsin ruled out a 2024 Senate run yesterday, turning down the chance to challenge Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin and saying he will instead seek reelection for his House seat. No prominent Republican candidates in the state have announced a challenge to Baldwin—Rep. Mike Gallagher, another rising Wisconsin Republican, announced in June he wouldn’t run.
  • The Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America group criticized Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for not supporting a national abortion ban after the GOP presidential candidate waffled over the question in a recent interview and suggested states have the primary jurisdiction over the issue. “Gov. DeSantis’s dismissal of this task is unacceptable to pro-life voters,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, the group’s president, said in a statement. SBA also criticized Donald Trump’s position on abortion earlier this spring, but Dannenfelser had a “terrific” meeting with the former president a few weeks later.
  • A biotechnology company settled a lawsuit brought by the descendants of Henrietta Lacks, a black woman whose cells were taken without her consent for scientific research in the 1950s. The lawsuit alleged Thermo Fisher Scientific profited off of Lacks’ cervical cells—which it harvested while she was being treated for cancer—and used them to aid in the development of several vaccines and therapeutic treatments.
  • New Jersey Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver died on Tuesday after being hospitalized earlier this week with an unspecified illness. Oliver was serving as acting governor while Gov. Phil Murphy was on a family vacation in Italy, but her unexpected death leaves the president of the state senate to fill the role until Murphy returns.

‘Conspiracy S— Beamed Down from the Mothership’

Former President Donald Trump attends the UFC 290 event at T-Mobile Arena on July 8, 2023, in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa/Getty Images)

On February 13, 2021, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell delivered a speech that offered cold comfort to the majority of Americans who wanted him—and the Senate—to convict former President Donald Trump in the post-January 6 impeachment trial that had just concluded. “Justice [Joseph] Story specifically reminded that while former officials were not eligible for impeachment or conviction, they were ‘still liable to be tried and punished in the ordinary tribunals of justice,’” McConnell argued. “We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil litigation. And former presidents are not immune from being held accountable by either one.”

Nearly two-and-a-half years later, federal prosecutors are attempting to do exactly that, indicting Trump yesterday via a grand jury on four counts related to his behavior after losing the 2020 election: conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of an official proceeding, and conspiracy against rights. The charges are the second set brought by special counsel Jack Smith this summer, and rely on far shakier legal theories than the classified documents case that even Trump’s former White House counsel conceded is “tight” and “overwhelming” in the evidence against Trump. But years in the making, the indictment—and ensuing trial—will thrust one of the most tumultuous times in recent American political history back to the forefront of our collective consciousness, just as Trump’s third Republican presidential nomination  looks increasingly likely.

“The attack on our nation’s capital on January 6, 2021, was an unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy,” Smith said in brief remarks after the indictment was unsealed. “Since [then], the Department of Justice has remained committed to ensuring accountability for those criminally responsible for what happened that day. This case is brought consistent with that commitment, and our investigation of other individuals continues.”

Six co-conspirators were included in federal prosecutors’ indictment, but—likely in a bid to speed the trial along—Trump was the only person charged. Over the course of 45 pages, Smith and his team lay out a detailed narrative—unearthing little new material, but incredibly damning nonetheless. “For more than two months following election day on November 3, 2020, the Defendant spread lies that there had been outcome-determinative fraud in the election and that he had actually won,” the document reads. “These claims were false, and the Defendant knew that they were false. But the Defendant repeated and widely disseminated them anyway.”

“Each of these conspiracies—which built on the widespread mistrust the Defendant was creating through pervasive and destabilizing lies about election fraud—targeted a bedrock function of the United States federal government,” prosecutors continued. “The nation’s process of collecting, counting, and certifying the results of the presidential election.”

By propagating his misguided claim that the 2020 election had been robbed from him—and acting on that fundamental falsehood in increasingly unhinged ways—prosecutors alleged Trump not only conspired to defraud the United States, but to deny American citizens their right to choose their own elected officials. Among the steps Trump & Co. took that Smith argue crossed a line from free expression to criminal behavior: 

  • “pushed officials in certain states to ignore the popular vote; disenfranchise millions of voters; dismiss legitimate electors; and ultimately, cause the ascertainment of and voting by illegitimate electors in favor of the Defendant.”
  • “organized fraudulent slates of electors in seven targeted states (Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin), attempting to mimic the procedures that the legitimate electors were supposed to follow under the Constitution and other federal and state laws.”
  • “attempted to use the power and authority of the Justice Department to conduct sham election crime investigations and to send a letter to the targeted states that falsely claimed that the Justice Department had identified significant concerns that may have impacted the election outcome.”
  • “attempted to enlist the Vice President to use his ceremonial role at the January 6 certification proceeding to fraudulently alter the election results.”
  • “exploited the [January 6 rioters’] disruption by redoubling efforts to levy false claims of election fraud and convince Members of Congress to further delay the certification based on those claims.”

We’ll let Sarah and David dive into the legal minutiae on their emergency episode of Advisory Opinions coming later today, but whether the special counsel’s office succeeds on the merits will depend largely on prosecutors’ ability to recreate Trump’s state of mind from November 2020 through January 2021—and prove that he knew his fraud claims were bogus. “The president believes in his heart that he had not only the responsibility but the right, as any American, to contest issues in the 2020 election,”  John Lauro, the former president’s lead attorney on the case, told Sean Hannity on Tuesday. To Bret Baier, he added: “I would like them to try to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Donald Trump believed that these [voter fraud] allegations were false.”

Throughout the indictment, Smith lays out a number of reasons why Trump should have known the claims were false—his own vice president, attorney general, director of national intelligence, White House lawyers, and senior campaign officials told him as much—but the most compelling evidence will have to demonstrate Trump internalized this counsel rather than disregarded it. While entertaining, one high-level campaign advisor emailing in early December 2020 that Trump’s “Elite Strike Force Legal Team” was pushing “conspiracy s— beamed down from the mothership” likely doesn’t cut it. Trump’s supposed dismissal of Vice President Mike Pence as “too honest” and alleged admission that the theories of Co-Conspirator 3—likely Sidney Powell—sounded “crazy” come a little bit closer.

To those who followed the work of the January 6 Select Committee, much of what’s included in yesterday’s indictment is likely to sound familiar. Smith did, however, leave several avenues of inquiry on the cutting room floor. The indictment, for example, makes no mention of the Proud Boys or Oath Keepers who were present at the Capitol that day, and doesn’t really touch on the funding and organization behind the Stop the Steal rally. The word “insurrection” appears only once, and it’s in reference to Co-Conspirator 4—likely Justice Department lawyer Jeffrey Clark—suggesting Trump could invoke the Insurrection Act to put down any riots that sprung up if he refused to leave office.

Although Trump’s 2024 rivals abstained from comparing yesterday’s indictment to “Nazi Germany in the 1930s” like he did, they more or less rallied to the frontrunner’s defense, accusing the Biden administration of implementing a two-tiered justice system as Hunter Biden’s legal woes mount. “We’re watching Biden’s DOJ continue to hunt Republicans, while protecting Democrats,” South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott alleged. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, without mentioning Trump by name, complained about the “unfair” venue for his opponent’s trial and pledged to “end the weaponization of the federal government.” Tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy announced he had sued the Department of Justice for records he claimed would show President Biden was involved in the Justice Department’s decision to file charges against a potential general election rival. 

(Attorney General Merrick Garland, in a brief statement yesterday, defended Smith’s “independence,” and, though many Republicans strongly disagree, the White House has long maintained that Biden—who spent last night watching Oppenheimer—has never placed pressure on the Justice Department to charge or not charge any individual.)

There were, however, a handful of (predictable) exceptions in the GOP field. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie argued the events leading up to January 6 were a “disgrace” and a “stain on our country’s history.” Former Texas Rep. Will Hurd asked voters if they “really want a president who’s willing to violate his oath to the Constitution just to cling to power.” Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson argued Trump was “morally responsible” for what occurred that day.

But it was Mike Pence—who testified before the grand jury in April and whose contemporaneous notes played a key role in yesterday’s indictment—who came out most forcefully against his former running mate. “Anyone who puts himself over the Constitution should never be President of the United States,” he said. “Our country is more important than one man. Our constitution is more important than any one man’s career. On January 6th, Former President Trump demanded that I choose between him and the Constitution. I chose the Constitution and I always will.”

Trump is scheduled to make his first court appearance related to the charges in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, and the case will be handled by District Judge Tanya Chutkan, an Obama appointee who has consistently handed down harsh sentences for January 6 rioters. 

Worth Your Time 

  • Brooke and Billy High were thrust into the national political spotlight last year after they became teen parents to twin baby girls due in part to a Texas abortion ban that went into effect two days after Brooke found out she was pregnant. “For many readers, Brooke and Billy’s story was a Rorschach test, with each side of the abortion debate claiming the teenagers’ experiences as validation of their own views,” Caroline Kitchener writes for the Washington Post. “Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) called the story ‘powerfully pro-life.’ Abortion rights advocates decried the Texas law that compelled an ambitious young woman to abandon her education and raise two kids on the $9.75 an hour her then-boyfriend made working at a burrito restaurant.” Two years later, Kitchener paints an intimate portrait of where Brooke and Billy are now. “Brooke’s future is still uncertain,” she writes. “After her daughters were born, she and Billy got married and moved into a two-bedroom apartment more than 1,000 miles away from South Texas, the only home they’d ever known. If they didn’t have the babies, Brooke and Billy both concede that they probably wouldn’t still be together. Their teen romance would have flamed and faded, remembered by a few Instagram posts and the pink-wheeled skateboard Billy chose for Brooke at the skate shop by the bay. Now, with two children, they are permanently linked.”

Presented Without Comment

Washington Post: Biden Said His Son Earned No Money From China. His Son Says Otherwise.

Also Presented Without Comment

Washington Free Beacon: Columbia Law School Said It Would Require Applicants To Submit ‘Video Statements’ In Wake Of Affirmative Action Ban. Then it Backtracked.

Also Also Presented Without Comment

NBC News: Zoo in China Denies Speculation That Its Bears Are Actually Humans in Disguise

Toeing the Company Line

  • How much will Trump’s third indictment actually affect his campaign? Is it too late for DeSantis and other GOP contenders to change the dynamic of the race? And is the government hiding a bunch of dead aliens from us? An ailing Declan was joined by Sarah, Drucker, Audrey, and Mary to discuss all that and more on last night’s edition of Dispatch Live (🔒). Members who missed the conversation can catch a rerun—either video or audio-only—by clicking here.
  • In the newsletters: Nick pokes holes (🔒) in the DeSantis campaign’s new line of attack against Trump and Price breaks down what’s at stake in this year’s iteration of the farm bill.
  • On the podcasts: Jonah is joined by old friends Tevi Troy and Vincent Cannato to dig into urban politics, criminology, and social decay on the newest episode of The Remnant. Plus, David and Sarah will discuss the Trump indictment in a new episode of Advisory Opinions out later today.
  • On the site: Jonah analyzes Trump’s chances for the GOP presidential nomination following a consequential new poll and Dan Kaplan breaks down the competing student athlete publicity rights bills making their way through Congress.

Let Us Know

Do you think Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election rise to the level of criminality? Were they constitutionally protected speech?

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.

Jacob Wendler is an intern for The Dispatch.