Happy Friday—and stop the count!
Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
- Turkey’s parliament voted to approve Finland’s accession to NATO on Thursday, clearing the way for the Nordic nation to become the alliance’s 31st member once it deposits its request with the U.S. State Department in Washington, a move likely to occur in the coming days. Finland’s addition more than doubles the length of the border NATO shares with Russia. Sweden’s bid, originally announced concurrently with Finland, is still being held up by Hungary and Turkey.
- Russia’s Federal Security Bureau (FSB) arrested Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich in Yekaterinburg on Wednesday, accusing the Russian-speaking American journalist of spying on behalf of the U.S.—the first time Moscow’s made such an allegation since the Cold War. Gershkovich’s latest story—on Russia’s failing economy—was published on Tuesday. The White House condemned Russia’s detention of the reporter, and urged Americans to heed the State Department’s travel advisory and not travel to Russia—or leave the country “immediately” if they are still there.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Thursday ordering 147,000 more men to be drafted into the Russian military. The spring draft—affecting male conscripts between 18 and 27 years old—is set to run from April 1 to June 15.
- The Defense Department said Thursday the United States has trained more than 7,000 Ukrainian troops since Russia’s invasion last year—including 65 servicemembers who returned to Ukraine this week after learning how to operate the Patriot missile defense system at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. Training with European partners, including Germany, is also underway across Europe.
- The Department of Defense announced Thursday that retaliatory airstrikes—launched last week after a drone “of Iranian origin” killed a U.S. contractor and injured several U.S. troops at a base in Syria—killed eight Iran-backed militants in eastern Syria. Another round of rocket and drone attacks from an Iran-backed militia last Friday injured an additional American.
- Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced Thursday nine soldiers were killed Wednesday night when two Black Hawk helicopters collided during a routine training mission at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, home of the 101st Airborne Division. The crashes killed everyone aboard the two helicopters but resulted in no additional casualties among those on the ground. An Army spokesman said the cause of the crash was not yet known, but an Army aircraft safety team will be investigating the incident.
- At least 31 people died in a ferry fire in the Philippines Wednesday night, and 200 other passengers were forced to jump overboard and await rescue by the Philippine Coast Guard or nearby fishermen. The cause of the fire—which raged for more than eight hours even after the ship was towed aground—is still unknown.
- The House voted 225-204 on Thursday—with four Democrats joining nearly every House Republican—to pass H.R. 1, a sweeping energy bill that would repeal elements of the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act and expedite the review process for energy infrastructure projects. The bill will not advance in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
- Republican state legislators in Kentucky voted overwhelmingly this week to override Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto of S.B. 150, a bill banning gender-reassignment surgery and the use of puberty blockers for children under 18. The bill also prohibits classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation in all grades, and requires students to use the bathroom or locker room that corresponds to their sex. Nineteen protesters were arrested in Kentucky’s capital of Frankfort yesterday during demonstrations against the measure.
- The Labor Department reported Thursday that initial jobless claims—a proxy for layoffs—increased by 7,000 week-over-week to a seasonally-adjusted 198,000 claims last week, remaining near historic lows despite high-profile layoffs in the tech sector.
Trump Faces Criminal Charges
Not since Ulysses S. Grant was arrested for speeding through Washington, D.C., in his horse-drawn carriage had a United States president—current or former—officially run afoul of the law. That changed Thursday when a New York grand jury voted to indict former President Donald Trump. Although the indictment remains under seal and the specific charges Trump faces are not yet public, the accompanying investigation led by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg over the past several months has focused on the $130,000 in alleged hush money Trump had paid adult film star Stormy Daniels through an intermediary to keep her from talking about a years-old affair during his run for the White House in 2016. Citing “two sources familiar with the case,” CNN reported yesterday Trump will face more than 30 counts related to business fraud.
We’re loath to speculate on the strength of an indictment we have yet to see, but as we reported last week, Bragg’s case—based on publicly available evidence—seems far from a slam dunk. Not only did federal prosecutors opt not to pursue similar charges against Trump when his former lawyer Michael Cohen was put through the wringer back in 2018, but the two-year statute of limitations on falsifying business records would have already passed if not for a New York rule that time spent out-of-state doesn’t count against the clock. Bragg is also looking for a way to convert the record-falsification misdemeanor charges into a felony by proving Trump’s actions were carried out with the intent to commit or conceal a second crime (in this case, likely an election-related one). Can Bragg draw in a federal law, over which he has no jurisdiction, for a state case? Can he apply a New York election law to a federal election? We’re about to find out.
Bragg’s office was reportedly hoping Trump would surrender voluntarily as early as today, traveling from Mar-a-Lago to Manhattan to be processed and have his fingerprints and mugshot taken. But that turnaround was too tight for the former president’s legal team, who argued Trump’s Secret Service detail would need more time to plan for what will assuredly be a chaotic trip. One of Trump’s lawyers, Joseph Tacopina, said yesterday his client will “likely” turn himself in on Tuesday. Bragg’s office publicly confirmed it was in touch with Tacopina and his colleagues on the details of Trump’s surrender.
Although Trump originally predicted that he would be arrested 10 days ago, yesterday’s move reportedly still managed to come as a shock to him and his advisers. After his prophecy of a March 21 indictment didn’t come to pass, Trump grew increasingly emboldened that it wasn’t going to come at all. “I think they’ve already dropped the case,” he told reporters on the plane ride back from his campaign rally in Waco, Texas, last Saturday. “It’s a fake case—some fake cases. They have absolutely nothing.”
He was probably feeling pretty secure on Wednesday, when Politico reported the grand jury investigating him was set to take a one-month break, pushing any potential indictment to late-April at the earliest. Evidently, something changed—and Trump was none too happy about it. “These Thugs and Radical Left Monsters have just INDICATED [sic] the 45th President of the United States of America, and the leading Republican Candidate, by far, for the 2024 Nomination for President,” he posted on Truth Social. “THIS IS AN ATTACK ON OUR COUNTRY THE LIKES OF WHICH HAS NEVER BEEN SEEN BEFORE.”
But as upset as Trump himself may be, plenty of people around him believe the indictment to be a political goldmine. “Most people are going to consider this a politically motivated endeavor,” Sen. Lindsey Graham told the Washington Post. “From a political point of view, it’s going to solidify Trump’s standing in the Republican Party.”
Not only has the Trump campaign already sent out multiple emails fundraising off the news, but it’s also resulted in Republicans of all stripes—including his would-be rivals—lining up behind him. “I think the unprecedented indictment of a former president of the United States on a campaign finance issue is an outrage,” former Vice President Mike Pence told CNN last night. “This will only further serve to divide our country.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a likely Trump challenger, leapt to the former president’s defense, decrying the “weaponization” of the legal system. “Florida will not assist in an extradition request given the questionable circumstances at issue with this Soros-backed Manhattan prosecutor and his political agenda,” he tweeted Thursday evening. Trump’s lawyers insist he will turn himself in, so DeSantis’ declaration is likely a moot point. But it’s a change from last week when he told reporters he would “not get involved in [the case] in any way” and that “I’ve got real issues I’ve got to deal with here in the state of Florida.”
Former South Carolina Gov. and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who’s already announced plans to run for the Republican ticket in 2024, accused Bragg of pursuing the charges to score “political points” during a Fox News appearance last night. “I think what we know is when you get into political prosecutions like this it’s more about revenge than it is about justice,” she added.
Trump has reportedly been reaching out to his backers in Congress since news of the indictment broke. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy was among those to come to the former president’s defense on Twitter last night, accusing Bragg of trying to interfere in the presidential election: “The House of Representatives will hold Alvin Bragg and his unprecedented abuse of power to account.”
Democratic lawmakers, meanwhile, praised the indictment as an example of the American justice system working as it ought.
“It is, you know, a sad and sobering, historic day in the life of our country,” said Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, who headed Trump’s first impeachment trial. “It is also, I think, a vindication of the rule of law and the principle that people should be held accountable whether they’re rich and powerful, whether they’re presidents or former presidents, or whether they’re ordinary citizens.”
Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the grand jury “acted upon the facts and the law,” adding that the trial would afford Trump the opportunity to prove his innocence. But, as Twitter users were quick to point out, a person accused of a crime in the United States has the presumption of innocence—not the other way around.
The indictment has also heightened concerns about political violence, especially after Trump took to Truth Social last week to warn about potential “death and destruction” if he were indicted—a suggestion some Trump-friendly voices on the right have encouraged. “Probably not the best time to give up your AR-15,” Tucker Carlson quipped in response to a guest’s comments Thursday night. Fox News host Jesse Watters also issued something of a veiled threat on air: “The country’s not gonna stand for it. And people better be careful. And that’s all I’ll say about that.”
Demonstrations in Manhattan have been tame since Trump first publicly predicted an indictment would come nearly two weeks ago, but all NYPD officers are expected to be on duty and in uniform today.
War of the War Powers
It’s taken more than 20 years, but Congress might be on the verge of repealing the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that licensed the United States to invade Iraq. If it passes the House, it’d mark the first time lawmakers have clawed back such powers since 1974.
You might assume the vote would require us to withdraw the approximately 2,500 troops still stationed in Iraq, but that’s likely not the case. Far from it, in fact: The Biden administration says repealing the authorization—a move it supports—would have “no impact on current U.S. military operations.”
But lawmakers who support the repeal argue it’s worth following through anyway. Not only would the vote be important symbolically, they argue, but it’d prevent future presidents from using the AUMF to justify tangentially related military actions, as previous administrations have done. The Senate voted 66-30 on Wednesday to approve the measure, but its fate in the House is far less clear.
Originally passed to authorize the invasion of Iraq and toppling of Saddam Hussein, the 2002 AUMF allows the president to take military actions—without seeking congressional permission—if they are related to promoting democracy or opposing terrorism in Iraq. Over time, the executive branch has stretched the parameters of this AUMF to encompass an increasingly broad range of actions. Though President Barack Obama formally declared an end to the Iraq War in 2011 and ordered U.S. troops to withdraw, he cited the order when returning U.S. forces to Iraq a few years later in the fight against ISIS. In 2020, President Donald Trump relied in part on the 2002 AUMF to legally justify the fatal airstrike on Qassem Suleimani—an Iranian military leader—in Baghdad.
President Joe Biden has thus far made less use of the 2002 AUMF and says its repeal—along with an accompanying repeal of the 1991 AUMF authorizing the Gulf War—won’t affect current operations and will strengthen relations with Iraq’s government. “President Biden remains committed to working with the Congress to ensure that outdated authorizations for the use of military force are replaced with a narrow and specific framework more appropriate to protecting Americans from modern terrorist threats,” the White House said in a statement.
But that doesn’t mean the move would be entirely symbolic. Trump’s killing of Suleimani is just one example of how zombie authorizations have given the executive branch the ability to escalate conflicts without lawmakers’ input. “[Repeal] removes a potentially dangerous tool that can be used in the future by another administration to use force in a way that was never intended by Congress,” argued Brian Finucane, a senior advisor at the International Crisis Group who studies American use of military force and war power reforms. “What the opponents of repeal seem to want is to leave this authority on the books to enable a future president to misuse it—to go to war without Congress actually having to debate and deliberate. They want to cede their constitutional authority and responsibility to the executive branch.”
Under the War Powers Act, the president must notify Congress within 48 hours of committing troops to military action, and he can’t keep them in action for more than 60 days without an AUMF. But a repeal of the 1991 and 2002 AUMFs would still leave in place a third AUMF, passed in 2001 shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attack to allow strikes against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and interpreted over time to include a broad range of anti-terrorism activity. Some lawmakers and analysts argue that AUMF should also be whittled down, specifying which groups the president can target and how. “There’s a lot of good arguments for saying, ‘Well, maybe we don’t need that sort of carte blanche,’” said Scott Anderson, senior fellow at the Columbia Law School National Security Law Program. “[But] if you started talking about new authorization, obviously you have to start talking about which of these operations we want to keep, which ones do we want to go.” In a fractured Congress, passing measures narrowing the president’s powers to order anti-terrorism efforts would be a heavy lift.
Even the current measure isn’t a slam dunk, as the GOP is divided. Thirty Republicans opposed the repeals in the Senate this week, and it would’ve been 31 if Minority Leader Mitch McConnell wasn’t home recovering from a recent fall. “Our terrorist enemies aren’t sunsetting their war against us,” McConnell said in a statement ahead of the vote. “And when we deploy our service members in harm’s way, we need to supply them with all the support and legal authorities that we can.” The Senate rejected an amendment by the libertarian-leaning Sen. Rand Paul to repeal the 2001 AUMF as well as one from the hawkish Sen. Lindsey Graham that would have authorized strikes on Iranian-backed militants operating in Iraq.
After advancing through the Senate, the repeal may still flounder in the House, where it needs majority Republican approval to come to the floor—not a done deal. A newer crop of isolationist, “America First” Republicans like Rep. Matt Gaetz and Rep. Andy Biggs have supported repeal, but others are nervous. Rep. Michael McCaul, Republican leader on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, opposed a similar repeal effort in 2021 on grounds that it didn’t come with a new, if narrower, authorization. “There is bipartisan support for updating the outdated authorized uses of military force,” he said in a statement at the time. “But we must do this as part of a comprehensive replacement to provide clear authorities against the terrorists who still plot to kill Americans at home and abroad.”
McCaul is still reluctant, and whether reservations from Republicans like him are enough to stall the measure depends partly on whether House Speaker Kevin McCarthy decides to push the issue. “He’s signaled he’s willing to let it come to the floor,” Anderson said, “but I don’t know if that means he’s willing to really put pressure on the committee to bring it forward.”
McCarthy has said he supports the repeal—as long as the 2001 AUMF remains—and signaled optimism earlier this month. “It’ll have to go through committee,” he said. “I think it has a good chance of one getting through the committee and getting to the floor.”
But he sounded a more dour note last week. “Just because a bill passes in the Senate,” he said, “doesn’t mean it comes directly to the floor.”
Worth Your Time
- What’s the first thing you’d do if you won the lottery? Buy a car? Pay off some debt? Go on vacation? What about having a baby? Recent studies of lottery winners could offer some important lessons on how policymakers can increase a country’s birth rate, Lyman Stone writes for the Atlantic. “A team of economists studying a large pool of lottery players in Sweden found that when men win the lottery, they become a lot likelier than demographically similar lottery losers to get married (if they were lower-income and unmarried before their win), and they have more children,” Lyman reports. “If people want to have more children than they can presently afford—and surveys have repeatedly suggested that they do—and societies as a whole thrive when parents of all kinds are able to raise their children in stable households, then declining birth rates are cause for alarm. And for governments seeking to reverse them by creating family policies, this research indicates that some kinds of spending may prove more effective than others. This much seems safe to say: Working-class people shouldn’t need to win the lottery to feel that they can afford to get married and have kids.”
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Toeing the Company Line
- In the newsletters: Nick experiences schadenfreude (🔒) witnessing Disney’s apparent end run around Gov. Ron DeSantis in its new administrative district in Florida. “DeSantis acted on a thuggish impulse when he penalized Disney for criticizing his pet legislation,” Nick writes. “He deserved to get pantsed here.”
- On the podcasts: Sarah, Jonah, and Kevin react to Trump’s indictment, discuss the Covenant School tragedy, talk about protests against pension reform in France, and debate whether ChatGPT is coming for all our jobs.
- On the site today: Harvest reports on a bipartisan effort to end child labor, Kevin corrects the Washington Post’s latest errors in its firearms coverage, and Price walks through how the RESTRICT Act could be used to ban TikTok if it becomes law.
Let Us Know
Should the House follow in the Senate’s footsteps and approve the repeal of the 2002 AUMF?