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Trump’s Liability
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Trump’s Liability

Plus: The schism roiling Russia’s war effort.

Happy Thursday! You may not have enjoyed his performance as much as we did, but you have to admit it made for some riveting television at 8 p.m. last night—and he certainly seemed to have his mojo back.

Seriously: Just look at this go-ahead home run from Cubs third baseman Patrick Wisdom to take the lead over the lowly St. Louis Cardinals.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Federal prosecutors arraigned GOP Rep. George Santos of New York Wednesday on 13 federal charges including money laundering, wire fraud, theft of public funds, and making false statements to the House of Representatives. Most of the charges stem from Santos’ solicitation of at least $50,000 in campaign donations, which prosecutors allege he spent on personal expenses including designer clothing. The congressman also allegedly collected more than $24,000 in unemployment payments in 2020 while earning $120,000 a year working for an investment company. Santos pleaded not guilty to all charges Wednesday and was released on $500,000 bail. He told reporters he will not resign from his seat and plans to run for reelection next year, but House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said he will not back his bid.
  • Republicans on the House Oversight Committee released a memo Wednesday accusing members of Joe Biden’s family—including his brother James and son Hunter—of influence peddling during his vice presidency by creating more than 20 shell companies to conceal more than $10 million in payments from foreign nationals to the family, business associates, and related companies. The Oversight probe has yet to directly link President Biden to the activity himself.
  • NBC News reported Wednesday that the Biden administration plans to release migrants caught crossing the border into the United States without court dates or a way to track them. Border enforcement and processing resources are at capacity amid record border crossings this week—including 11,000 on Tuesday alone—as the administration’s power under Title 42 to quickly turn away asylum seekers ends today.
  • The Consumer Price Index rose 0.4 percent month-over-month and 4.9 percent annually in April, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Wednesday. The figures represent a shift from 0.1 percent and 5 percent, respectively, in March, and came in lower than economists’ expectations. Despite the monthly acceleration, the annual decrease could encourage the Federal Reserve to pause its rate-hike campaign at the central bank’s next meeting in June.
  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters yesterday he opposes GOP Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s hold on more than 180 military promotions. Tuberville has blocked the nominations in protest of the Department of Defense’s post-Dobbs decision to offer administrative leave and pay travel costs for female service members and qualifying dependents seeking abortions. 
  • A U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel voted Wednesday to endorse allowing birth control pills to be sold over the counter. The agency is expected to decide on final approval of the panel’s recommendation sometime this summer. 

Jury Rules for Carroll

Former U.S. President Donald Trump disembarks his plane at Aberdeen Airport.  (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Former U.S. President Donald Trump disembarks his plane at Aberdeen Airport. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

About a quarter century ago, according to writer E. Jean Carroll, Donald Trump pinned Carroll against a wall in the changing area of a Bergdorf Goodman luxury department store in Manhattan, pulled down her tights, and sexually assaulted her.

Trump denies this claim, but on Tuesday a jury largely sided with Carroll, concluding the former president is liable for sexual abuse and subsequent defamation and ordering him to pay Carroll about $5 million. He’ll likely appeal—and he’s already issued more denials—but the verdict adds to an ever-growing stack of legal troubles and ethical baggage that have the potential to make him unelectable in a general election. But given the Republican Party’s tepid response over the past two days, it’s far from clear Trump’s standing in the GOP presidential primary will take a hit.

As the culmination of a civil suit, the jury’s decision in Carroll’s favor was made under a lower standard than that applied to criminal cases. While a criminal trial requires proof of guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” this civil suit required a less-strict “preponderance of the evidence”—meaning the evidence suggests it’s more likely than not that the incident occurred. The verdict doesn’t have criminal implications for Trump, and the statute of limitations for such charges has long expired. Carroll was only able to file this civil suit under a 2022 New York law granting adult survivors of sexual offenses a one-year window to file civil suits even if the statute of limitation had expired.

Still, Carroll had the difficult task of convincing a jury of her story without physical evidence or a police report. She couldn’t remember what day the alleged assault took place, or even what year, wavering between 1995 and 1996. Trump attorney Joe Tacopina hammered this point repeatedly, arguing Carroll’s lack of detail explained Trump’s decision not to testify in his own defense. “How do you prove a negative?” Tacopina asked the jury. “What could I have asked Donald Trump? Where were you on some unknown date 27 or 28 years ago?”

But Carroll’s attorney, Roberta Kaplan, argued the lack of a specific date only strengthened the writer’s account—wouldn’t a grifter have also fabricated a date, knowing its absence would draw suspicion? Carroll’s case was also helped by a string of witnesses. Journalist Lisa Birnbach and former New York news anchor Carol Martin both testified that Carroll had told them about the incident shortly after it occurred. Two other women, Jessica Leeds and Natasha Stoynoff, testified that Trump had also suddenly forced himself on them in semi-public locations—which Kaplan portrayed as demonstrating a pattern of behavior extended to Carroll. 

Kaplan supplemented this testimony with the infamous Access Hollywood recording of Trump declaring women let “stars” grab them by their genitals. Asked about those comments during his deposition, Trump mused that, historically, stars like himself have avoided consequences for sexual assault, “unfortunately or fortunately.” Trump has also suggested it’s implausible that he would rape Carroll because she is not his “type,” a claim Kaplan undercut with footage of him mistaking a photo of Carroll for his former wife.

Trump spent the trial conducting business and golfing in Scotland and Ireland and didn’t testify, despite briefly suggesting publicly he might do so. Tacopina argued Carroll’s attorneys could have called Trump to testify, and chose instead to rely on his crude previous statements: “What they want is for you to hate him enough to ignore the facts.” But Carroll attorney Michael Ferrara painted Trump’s courtroom silence as evidence of his culpability, destroying the “he said, she said” cliche. “There wasn’t even a ‘he said,’ because Donald Trump never looked you in the eye and denied it,” Ferrara said.

Apparently convinced, the jury deliberated for only about three hours before returning its verdict. The jurors found Carroll hadn’t proved that Trump raped her, but had proved that he sexually abused her—the distinction is in the severity of the assault—and awarded her $2 million in injuries, plus $20,000 in punitive damages. The jury also found that Trump’s October 2022 statement denying the incident and disparaging Carroll was defamatory—false, damaging, made with actual malice—and awarded her nearly $3 million in damages, including $1.7 million for reputation repair.

The legal saga isn’t over—Trump has promised to appeal—but Carroll told NBC’s “Today” show she’s delighted with the outcome. “This is about getting my name back, and that’s what we accomplished,” she said, arguing the verdict undermined harmful assumptions that real assault victims always report to the police or are permanently downtrodden. “I’m overwhelmed, overwhelmed with joy and happiness and delight for the women in this country.”

Predictably, Trump condemned the verdict, declaring it a “scam” and “political witch hunt” and repeating that he’d never met Carroll and that her accusation was “false and totally fabricated”—possibly laying the groundwork for another defamation claim. At a CNN town hall last night, the former president mocked Carroll’s story—“What kind of a woman meets somebody and brings them up and within minutes you’re playing hanky-panky in a dressing room?”

Trump also attacked the New York trial venue as “completely partisan” and declared presiding Judge Lewis Kaplan (no relation to Carroll’s lawyer) “completely biased.” Judge Kaplan warned jurors to keep their participation in the trial private lest they be targeted, so Trump didn’t have the opportunity to call them out by name—though at least one had said during jury selection that he got his news from conservative podcaster Tim Pool, suggesting not all jurors were politically predisposed to reject Trump’s claims.

Some GOP lawmakers offered muted echoes of Trump’s outrage—and his assertion that a New York jury could never provide justice for Trump. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio declared the jury and case “a joke,” while South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham questioned the verdict: “I think you could convict Donald Trump of kidnapping Lindbergh’s baby.” Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville, meanwhile, said the verdict makes him want to vote for Trump twice. “They’re going to do anything they can to keep him from winning,” Tuberville said. “A New York jury, he had no chance.”

Former Vice President Mike Pence also declined to condemn Trump. “In my 4.5 years serving alongside the president, I never heard or witnessed behavior of that nature,” he told NBC News—though former White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Trump’s sexual comments toward one staffer were alarming enough that she tried to keep that staff member from traveling or being alone with the president and reported the behavior to various chiefs of staff.

Some Republicans who skipped criticizing Trump’s behavior directly nevertheless pointed to storm clouds on his political horizon as legal challenges pile up—a hush money indictment, election interference, and classified documents investigations. “It has a cumulative effect,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota. “People are going to have to decide whether they want to deal with all the drama.”

But Trump’s prospective rivals for the 2024 Republican nomination had mixed responses. While former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson declared Trump’s behavior “indefensible,” former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley refused to comment on the verdict and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy suggested the case weaponized “decades-old allegations to eliminate” a political threat. 

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who’s reportedly eyeing a 2024 run, argued that the evidence is stacked against Trump. “He just has random people who he has never met before, who are able to convince a jury that he sexually abused them,” Christie told The Brian Kilmeade Show. “It’s one person after another, one woman after another. The stories just continue to pile up. And I think we all know he’s not unlucky and that he engaged in this kind of conduct.”

Prigozhin Picks A Fight

On Wednesday, the French National Assembly called on the European Union to designate the Russian paramilitary Wagner Group as a terrorist organization. Yevgeny Prigozhin, the group’s leader, responded in the measured and thoughtful way you’d expect from a brutal mercenary. “We can pull out rotten teeth from those bad mouths with pliers,” Prigozhin said on Telegram. “We can pull out [French President Emmanuel] Macron’s teeth and, generally, everyone’s teeth who spill pathogenic filth [about Wagner].”

Prigozhin’s been on a roll lately. Since Thursday, he’s made a series of increasingly inflammatory statements about the failures of the Russian military’s top brass, deepening an ongoing feud between the Wagner Group and the defense ministry and exposing cracks in the Russian war effort. 

In a graphic, expletive-laden video posted to the messaging platform Telegram last Thursday, Prigozhin stood in front of a pile of dead bodies he claimed were his men. He accused Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and the military’s chief of staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov—with some basis, it’s been reported—of refusing to provide sufficient ammunition, and argued they were personally responsible for the Wagner casualties. “They came here as volunteers and are dying so you can sit like fat cats in your luxury offices,” he said

In a second video posted Friday, he doubled down. “The dead and wounded—and that’s tens of thousands of men—lie on the conscience of those who did not give us ammunition,” Prigozhin said, dressed in fatigues while in front of several men in combat gear and carrying weapons. “And this is Defense Minister Shoigu and this is Chief of the General Staff Gerasimov.” Then, he gave the defense ministry an ultimatum: Provide the necessary ammunition or he would pull his mercenaries out of the embattled eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut by May 10. 

Two days later, he said his troops would stay, suggesting in another video the military had acceded to his demands of more ammunition and operational freedom. But as Victory Day celebrations commemorating the end of World War II kicked off in Moscow Tuesday, Prigozhin claimed in yet another video the defense ministry had “simply and brazenly deceived us” by failing to send additional ammunition and threatening him with treason charges should he order his men out of Bakhmut. 

The dizzying back-and-forth could have serious implications for Russia’s success in Ukraine. Prigozhin became the Kremlin’s golden child when Wagner stepped in to ramp up the war effort in Bakhmut last fall as Russian regular troops faltered elsewhere, even retreating from the port city of Kherson. The fight in Bakhmut has now ground to a stalemate, though, and reports yesterday indicated the Ukrainians may have regained some ground in the industrial city. 

If Prigozhin followed through on his threat to turn tail (as he accused the Russian military of doing in one of his numerous video screeds), the battlefield adjustments necessary to continue fighting for Bakhmut would spell trouble for Moscow. “[The Russians] could deploy some units from other directions that are currently prioritizing defensive postures, but it could be an issue for their defensive operations theater-wide,” Kateryna Stepanenko, a Russia analyst with the Institute for the Study of War, told TMD. “Russia has been so set on winning Bakhmut, it’s almost like an incarnational victory for them. I don’t think that they would back out from the capture of Bakhmut at this point, given that it would be such a big information space failure for them.”

But for now, it seems as though Prigozhin and his men will remain in Bakhmut. A spokesperson for Ukrainian military intelligence suggested the public kerfuffle was meant to shift the blame to Moscow for Wagner’s failure to take the embattled Ukrainian city by Victory Day. It may have also been a way to strongarm the military into coughing up additional arms—a risky and apparently failed gamble.

“Prigozhin likely anticipated he could scare the Russian Ministry of Defense into obliging and giving him all the resources that he was asking for, but they did not do that,” Stepanenko said, noting they denied his requests and threatened him with treason charges. “The Russian Ministry of Defense played an ‘Uno Reverse’ on him.” 

Worth Your Time

  • Artificial intelligence researchers have taken the first steps toward mindreading. Should they? Writing for Bloomberg, F.D. Flam explores the promise, the peril, and the perplexing questions for a world where human thought can be decoded. “The lead researcher on the project, computational neuroscientist Alexander Huth, called his team’s sudden success with using noninvasive functional magnetic resonance imaging to decode thoughts ‘kind of terrifying,’” writes Flam. “And yet their advance opens prospects that are both scary and enticing: A better understanding of the workings of our brains, a new window into mental illness, and maybe a way for us to know our own minds. Balanced against that is the concern that one day such technology may not require an individual’s consent, allowing it to invade the last refuge of human privacy.”
  • Consider this Washington Post piece—a collection of writers sharing their favorite parts of having kids—an early reminder that Mother’s Day is this weekend. “Children are unashamed of their big feelings and enormous capacity to love,” Leah Libresco Sargeant writes. “When I travel around on our Bunch Bike with my 3-year-old and 1-year-old, I call out hellos to neighbors, to our parish church, to a particularly beautiful tree. People might think I’m doing it to entertain the girls, but I love how taking care of small kids is a permission slip for me to take more joy, louder joy in the givenness of the world.” Hannah Grieco, meanwhile, recounts a long night waking up on the sofa after taking care of a sick 7-year-old: “It was 5 a.m., and my 3-year-old was holding my hand and kissing each fingertip one at a time. I asked her why she was up so early, and she said, ‘I couldn’t sleep because I just needed to love my mommy.’ And she crawled into my arms. I was so tired, and she was so beautiful.”

Presented Without Comment 

Mediaite: Pro-Trump Pundit Tests Out New Attack: ‘No One Would’ve Stormed the Capitol for Ron DeSantis’

Also Presented Without Comment 

The Drinks Business: U.S. Bud Light Sales Down 21.4 Percent Following Dylan Mulvaney Endorsement

Also Also Presented Without Comment 

ESPN: [West Virginia Basketball Coach] Bob Huggins Takes $1M Salary Reduction for Anti-Gay Slur

Toeing the Company Line

  • In the newsletters: The Dispatch Politics crew outlines the efforts of pro-choice groups to ensure abortion is on the ballot in Republican states, Scott explains (🔒) how reforming our immigration policies to attract more skilled labor could give America a competitive edge over China, Jonah explores (🔒) narratives surrounding Jordan Neely and Trump, and Nick breaks down (🔒) the depressing Republican response to the verdict in Carroll trial.
  • On the podcasts: Jonah and Steve talk with former Buzzfeed editor-in-chief and Semafor co-founder Ben Smith about the media landscape and his new book, and Sarah and David discuss Carroll’s case against Trump.
  • On the site: Geoffrey Cain looks at Microsoft’s artificial intelligence double standard and Gary Schmitt argues that character counts in the 2024 presidential election.

Let Us Know

Did you follow the latest Trump legal battle? Were you surprised by the decision?

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.