Hello and happy Sunday. If there’s anything positive that we can take away from the last eight years, it’s that Donald Trump has afforded us countless opportunities to brush up on our civics. What’s the Emoluments Clause? How many excuses can a president offer for firing the FBI director who might have been investigating him? If Congress won’t fund something, can a president divert money from the military? What is the Hatch Act? For those who don’t remember the 1990s, how does impeachment work?
In just the past few months, we’ve all gotten refreshers on the National Archives and how presidential records are (supposed to be) handled. And on how grand juries work. We’ve had debates on the fine line between freedom of speech and criminal conspiracy. And all of us—but especially those who don’t remember the 1980s, when, um, Rudy Giuliani successfully went after the mob in New York City—are now getting a crash course in racketeering.
Late Monday night, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis announced that Donald Trump had been indicted, along with 18 others, for his efforts to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election results. His co-defendants include Sidney Powell, John Eastman, Jenna Ellis, and, ironically, Giuliani. The indictment includes 41 counts, 13 of which implicate Trump himself. But all 19 co-defendants are charged on the first count, for violating Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. As Gabriel Malor helpfully explained in a piece we published Friday, “For a RICO prosecution, the crime is joining the ‘racket’ or, to use the legal term, the ‘enterprise,’ through ‘a pattern of racketeering activity.’ Racketeering activity means crimes like murder, arson, and bribery, but also … forgery, false statements, witness intimidation, and perjury.”
In the indictment, Willis meticulously details dozens of phone calls, emails, text messages, and meetings in which Trump, his co-defendants, and unindicted co-conspirators discussed ways to overturn the election. Trump defenders cried foul about free speech, and also that the indictment listed acts that are most certainly legal—Trump’s speech early on November 4, 2020, declaring victory, a press conference in which his lawyers made false claims about election fraud, etc. As we point out in a few places this week, an action doesn’t need to be illegal on its face if it is done in furtherance of a crime. It’s not illegal to buy duct tape, for example, but if you’re buying it to kidnap someone, it’s an act that contributes to the crime.
Now that Trump faces charges in four different jurisdictions, Sarah ranks the strength of the various cases. She argues in The Collision that the indictment related to Trump’s handling of national security documents is the strongest because, “It’s narrowly focused, the laws are clear, and the conduct alleged falls squarely within the bounds of the statutes applied.” The Georgia indictment is second, she argues, as the state’s laws are broad, giving Willis an advantage. Then comes the election fraud case Smith filed in Washington, D.C., which might prove a challenge because “Smith is relying on vague federal statutes and applying them in novel ways.” Last, and definitely least, is the case filed by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.
In Boiling Frogs (🔒), Nick has own special way of ranking the cases, comparing them to children. The Manhattan case is a “problem child … a troublemaker.” The documents case? It’s a dependable child, “the child you leave in charge when you have to run errands. If anyone’s going to deliver a conviction, it’s this kid.” The federal election charge is the ambitious child. But the Georgia case? It’s special: “The favorite child is the one that’s most like you, that sees the world as you do. It doesn’t get held to the same standards as the other three. There’s a special connection. The special connection between the Georgia indictment and Trump’s critics is that it recognizes his attempt to overturn the 2020 election was a conspiracy with many accomplices.”
But enough about the legal analysis—Jonah wants to talk about morality. “The issue of his criminal guilt is separate from the broader question of his moral and historic culpability,” he writes in the G-File. “And there’s no reason to cling to the presumption of innocence on this score. He’s just so, so, so guilty. By all means, use ‘alleged’ when discussing criminal enterprise. But there’s no reason to use ‘alleged’ when talking about his unconstitutional and immoral enterprise.”
Thank you for reading. Here’s a few other things you might have missed this week.
It’s not just the frontrunner for the Republican nomination who’s facing allegations of illegalities and improprieties: Hunter Biden is now facing a special counsel investigation of his own after his plea deal on tax evasion and gun charges fell apart, and the probe could continue to expand. Price helpfully summarizes the various conduct for which Biden is being investigated, sorting between criminal behavior (the tax evasion) and what he labels “sketchy, but necessarily criminal conduct,” namely claims that Hunter traded on his father’s name and position to secure international business deals. The president himself also finds himself increasingly entangled in the mess, having participated in calls and dinners with Hunter and his business associates (though one of Hunter’s associates says there was no discussion of business during the calls).
In Wanderland (🔒), Kevin dives deep (bring your scuba gear) on the class divides that are fueling so much tension and resentment—but they’re not all about the money. Plenty of people abhor inherited wealth, he notes, but few get too worked up about the advantages people get from inherited intelligence. “One of the hardest things to drill into the noggins of the American ruling class … is that there is no more merit in being born with certain economically valuable intellectual talents than there is in being born tall, or with curly hair—or white, for that matter,” he writes. “Inherited wealth is an enormous factor in the lives of a relatively small number of Americans and a more modest one in the lives of a larger number, but inherited brainpower is the unearned asset that matters most.”
And here’s the best of the rest:
- In Capitolism (🔒), Scott Lincicome looks at a real-world experiment happening in Minnesota, where the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul are taking different approaches to housing supply and zoning regulations. Minneapolis is making it easier to build new housing units, while St. Paul has opted for rent control. Turns out, the laws of supply and demand still apply.
- The Biden administration claims that the $6 billion in Iranian assets that were to be unfrozen as part of a deal to return wrongfully imprisoned Americans can be used only for humanitarian purposes. But as Charlotte reports, Iran has already declared, “The decision on how to utilize these … lies with the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Richard Goldberg also dives into the many other disastrous implications of the prisoner swap.
- Can the Georgia Republican Party repair its relationship with the state’s GOP governor, Brian Kemp? Georgia GOP chairman, David Shafer—who backed Kemp challenger David Perdue in the state’s 2022 gubernatorial election—has been named as a co-defendant in Trump’s Georgia indictment for his role as an alternate elector in the 2020 election. Shafer’s successor, Josh McKoon, is hopeful that he can work with Kemp. But, in an interview with Dispatch Politics, he wouldn’t confirm that he agreed with Kemp that the 2020 election was legitimate.
- The American Association of Pediatrics has voted to conduct a systematic review of gender-transition treatments. Price explains how systematic reviews work, and details what similar reviews in Europe have found.
- Can Congress pass a budget before the end of the fiscal year on September 30? In Uphill, Harvest looks at the upcoming fight over appropriations and notes how the Biden administration’s proposal for another $40 billion in emergency funding for Ukraine could throw a wrench in the works.
- And the pods: On Advisory Opinions, Sarah and David French welcome BYU professor Bradley Rebeiro to talk about the political theories that influenced abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Middle East expert Ken Pollack joins Jonah on The Remnant to talk about Iran and its new strategy to try … diplomacy. And last but not least, Stirewalt joins Sarah and Jonah on The Dispatch Podcast to preview the GOP debate scheduled for Wednesday.