Happy Friday! We know a lot of people have moved to Florida recently, but this is getting out of hand.
Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
- Former President Donald Trump was indicted yesterday by a federal grand jury as part of special counsel Jack Smith’s investigation into his handling of classified documents. Trump was reportedly charged with seven counts, including a violation of the Espionage Act, obstruction of justice, and making false statements. He said he is scheduled to appear at a federal courthouse Tuesday in Miami, though the Department of Justice has yet to make the indictment public.
- The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 yesterday—Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh joining the court’s liberal wing—in Allen v. Milligan that Alabama’s new congressional map likely violates the Voting Rights Act, which bans limiting the right to vote based on race. The court rejected an interpretation of the law which would have made it harder to challenge maps on grounds that they dilute black votes, and Alabama may be required to redraw its map to include two majority-black districts as a lower court ordered. The court also ruled 7-2 in Health & Hospital Corp. of Marion County v. Talevski, upholding the right to sue nursing homes for mistreating Medicaid patients.
- Early Thursday morning, Ukraine launched what appears to be the core of its long-awaited counteroffensive against Russia in Zaporizhzia, a hotly contested region in the southeast of the country. According to Russia’s Defense Ministry, the Ukrainian military attacked Russian lines with up to 1,500 troops and 150 armored vehicles. Ukraine’s reported use of advanced German-made Leopard tanks and American-made Bradley armored vehicles suggests Ukraine may be deploying units specifically assembled for the counteroffensive.
- The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that Cuba has agreed to allow China to build an electronic spying facility on the island to conduct signals intelligence on U.S. communications, though U.S. officials have contested the reports. “We are not aware of China and Cuba developing any type of spy station,” said Brigadier General Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesperson. “This report is not accurate,” said John Kirby, a spokesperson for the National Security Council. The Journal’s reporting relies on unnamed U.S. officials “familiar with highly classified intelligence.”
- The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced Thursday it is halting food aid to Ethiopia because “a widespread and coordinated campaign is diverting food assistance” away from those who need it. USAID did not disclose who was behind the diversion, but Ethiopian military units are reportedly receiving some of the aid. Last month, USAID suspended aid to the northern Ethiopian region of Tigray, the center of a recent civil war in the country, also after discovering the diversion of aid.
- The Louisiana legislature passed a bill banning minors from signing up for accounts for social media networks, multiplayer video games, and other content-sharing platforms without parental consent. The bill lacks enforcement penalties and does not explicitly require companies to conduct age verification. The measure will now go to the governor’s desk for approval.
- Homicide rates are down 12 percent year-over-year in nine out of 10 major cities across the country, according to local government data compiled by The Wall Street Journal. New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago experienced declines while Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio saw upticks.
- Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson died yesterday at 93. Robertson founded a cable channel—the Christian Broadcasting Network—and Regent University in Virginia Beach. He also helped the Republican party appeal to Christian voters—pioneering the tactic of courting Iowan evangelicals while running for the Republican presidential nomination in 1988—and notoriously blamed some natural disasters and 9/11 on God’s judgment.
- The Department of Labor reported Thursday that initial jobless claims—a proxy for layoffs—increased by 28,000 week-over-week to a seasonally-adjusted 261,000 claims last week, the highest since October 2021 and an indication the labor market may be cooling.
Trump Indictment, Take Two
If you’re a public relations professional looking to release some bad news without attracting attention, now’s your chance. There’s a volcano erupting in Hawaii, the Northeast is choking on a cloud of wildfire smoke—and, oh yeah, a former president is facing federal charges for the first time in United States history.
Just 305 short days since the FBI searched Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club to retrieve boxes of presidential records and classified documents, the former president has been indicted for his mishandling of those records. The indictment reportedly includes seven charges, including willful retention of national defense information under the Espionage Act, obstruction, false statement, and conspiracy. Though the details of the indictment aren’t yet public, Trump’s allies have already leapt to defend him.
We’ve previously reported the events that led to these charges, but here’s the recap in case you don’t remember every twist of the roller coaster:
Contra legal requirement, the Trump administration didn’t preserve and send all of its records to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) for safekeeping after vacating the White House. NARA hounded Trump and retrieved 15 boxes of presidential records from Mar-a-Lago in January 2022, but the Department of Justice (DOJ) found evidence the former president had kept additional records—including classified material. The DOJ obtained a subpoena for any and all such materials, and Trump’s team handed over 38 more classified documents, certifying they’d conducted a “diligent search” for everything meeting the subpoena. But within days, the FBI had evidence that Trump still had documents—and agents believed Trump’s team had likely “concealed” records, moving them to avoid discovery by federal authorities. On August 8, the FBI executed a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago, recovering dozens of boxes of material and more than 100 classified documents.
Unamused with the failure of Trump’s “diligent search,” Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed special counsel Jack Smith to investigate the case (as well as Trump’s conduct surrounding the January 6, 2021 Capitol attack). In recent weeks, details trickled out suggesting Smith was closing in on an indictment as multiple outlets reported grand juries—one in Washington, D.C., and one in Florida—had heard testimony from dozens of witnesses. The star-studded witness list included former Vice President Mike Pence, one-time White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, and more than 20 Secret Service officers, along with Mar-a-Lago staff. On Wednesday, the grand jury heard from former Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich, reportedly about a statement published after the news first broke that NARA had retrieved documents from Trump in January 2022. A draft of the statement reportedly claimed Trump had returned all remaining presidential material, while the final version didn’t—suggesting Trump knew he still had some classified info tucked away that he should have returned.
But why rely solely on testimony or drafted documents when you’ve got video? Surveillance footage from Mar-a-Lago reportedly shows Trump staffers moving boxes of documents around the resort—the Department of Justice has said it believes “government records were likely concealed.” And prosecutors reportedly obtained a recording of a summer 2021 meeting in which Trump said he had a Pentagon document detailing a hypothetical plan to attack Iran that he wanted to make public but couldn’t because it was classified. If that’s accurate, it suggests once again that Trump knew full well he had retained classified material—and hadn’t declassified it before leaving office, as he has claimed.
We’ve been using the word reportedly a lot because we still don’t have the charging documents or details of the case Smith has built against Trump. But Trump attorney Jim Trusty confirmed to CNN that the former president had received a summons with seven charges, including willful retention of national defense information under the Espionage Act, obstruction, making false statements, and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Trump said he’s been ordered to appear at a federal courthouse in Miami on Tuesday and told Fox News he plans to plead not guilty, reiterating his claims of innocence on social media. “The corrupt Biden Administration has informed my attorneys that I have been Indicted, seemingly over the Boxes Hoax,” Trump wrote, adding in a video, “I am an innocent man. I did nothing wrong.”
For those keeping count at home, this is the second time Trump has been indicted. Last time was in New York, on 34 low-level felonies related to the alleged falsification of business records to disguise hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels. A New York jury also ruled against Trump in a recent civil suit brought by author E. Jean Carroll, concluding the former president likely sexually assaulted and defamed Carroll and ordering him to pay her about $5 million. In Georgia, Trump may also face charges for election interference—and Smith is still investigating Trump’s conduct surrounding January 6.
Details of the documents case may not be public yet, but Trump allies have already rallied to his defense—and picked up his evidence-free claim that Biden is responsible for the charges. “I, and every American who believes in the rule of law, stand with President Trump,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said in a statement. “It is unconscionable for a President to indict the leading candidate opposing him.” Sen. Josh Hawley tweeted, “If people in power can jail their political opponents at will, we don’t have a republic.” Sen. Marco Rubio declared, “There is no limit to what these people will do to protect their power & destroy those who threaten it, even if it means ripping our country apart & shredding public faith in the institutions that hold our republic together.” Before news of the indictment broke, Biden rejected the idea that he’d pressured prosecutors. “I have never once, not one single time, suggested to the Justice Department what they should do or not do, relative to bringing a charge or not bringing a charge,” he said.
Trump’s pals also echoed his frustrations that Biden—who also improperly retained classified documents long after leaving office—hasn’t been charged. “Joe Biden kept classified documents for decades,” McCarthy noted. Special counsel Robert Hur is still investigating Biden’s conduct, but there’s some recent precedent for prosecutors declining to pursue charges if a former elected official cooperates to hand over improperly retained documents—the Justice Department last week told former Vice President Mike Pence it won’t be bringing any charges against him despite the discovery of classified documents at his Indiana home.
Even some of Trump’s opponents for the Republican presidential nomination—who ostensibly have motive to cheer his downfall—rallied around the frontrunner. “The weaponization of federal law enforcement represents a mortal threat to a free society,” tweeted Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, currently polling a distant second to Trump in the race. “Why so zealous in pursuing Trump yet so passive about Hillary or Hunter?” DeSantis asked. Vivek Ramaswamy pledged, if elected, to pardon Trump on day one. “I never thought we’d see the day when the U.S. President deputizes the DOJ to arrest his lead rival in the middle of an election,” he tweeted. “We cannot devolve into a banana republic where the party in power uses police force to arrest its political opponents.”
Other GOP presidential candidates took a slightly more traditional tack. Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson called on Trump to drop out of the race and argued Trump’s “willful disregard for the Constitution” and “disrespect for the rule of law” should not define the U.S. or the GOP. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie withheld judgment. “No one is above the law, no matter how much they wish they were,” he said. “Let’s see what the facts are when any possible indictment is released.”
Worth Your Time
- As the race for the presidency ramps up, Karl Rove argues people should take the buzz with a grain of salt. A lot can change between now and the Iowa caucuses—and he has the receipts. “Many observers are jumping to conclusions that, while not unreasonable, might not pan out when voters start casting their ballots next year,” he writes in a piece for the Wall Street Journal. “Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was at 3 percent in May 2007 but had reached 27 percent come November. He won the January 2008 caucuses with 34 percent. Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum had an even later turn. He was at 4 percent in the Iowa Poll in June 2011 and 6 percent in November. He won the January 2012 caucuses with 25 percent. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz also had a last-minute surge. In May 2015, he was at 5 percent in the Iowa Poll and 10 percent in late fall. He won the February 2016 caucuses with 28 percent.”
- In The Atlantic, Jonathan Haidt makes the case for phone-free schools. “Think about how hard it is for you to stay on task and sustain a train of thought while working on your computer,” he writes. “Email, texts, and alerts of all kinds continually present you with opportunities to do something easier and more fun than what you’re doing now. If you are over age 25, you have a fully mature frontal cortex to help you resist temptation and maintain focus, and yet you probably still have difficulty doing so. Now imagine a phone in a child’s pocket, buzzing every few minutes with an invitation to do something other than pay attention…One study from 2016 found that 97 percent of college students said they sometimes use their phone during class for noneducational purposes. Nearly 60 percent of students said that they spend more than 10 percent of class time on their phone, mostly texting. Many studies show that students who use their phone during class learn less and get lower grades.”
Presented Without Comment
Washington Post: Supreme Court rules for Jack Daniel’s in fight over poop-themed dog toy
Also Presented Without Comment
New York Post: Bryson DeChambeau wants path to Saudi ‘forgiveness’ for 9/11 as LIV Golf merges with PGA
Toeing the Company Line
- In the newsletters: Nick explains (🔒) why he’s glad Christie and Pence are running for president, even if their odds of winning look low.
- On the podcasts: Chris and Mike join Jonah on the Dispatch Podcast to analyze the GOP primary field now that Pence and Christie are officially in the race.
- On the site: Price explains a new Senate bill that could pave the way for a carbon tariff, and Kevin examines the potential for a 2007-style commercial real estate collapse.
Let Us Know
Based on what is publicly known today, do you agree with the decision to indict Donald Trump? Do you agree with Republicans who claim, citing Hillary Clinton, that a double standard exists? Are you surprised so many Republicans are criticizing the decision to indict without having seen the DOJ’s evidence?