Lost in the Sauce: Trump’s “Election Defense” slush fund rakes in $170 million
Welcome to Lost in the Sauce, keeping you caught up on political and legal news that often gets buried in distractions and theater… or a global health crisis.
NOTE: Some important news that would be in this post is going into a separate special post tomorrow!
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President Trump pardoned his former national security adviser Michael Flynn on Wednesday, excusing him from charges of lying to the FBI in 2017. While Flynn’s flip-flop plea change and AG Barr’s intervention got the most news coverage, we should focus on the origin of the case itself: the lie. Flynn lied about his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak not to protect himself, but to protect Trump.
- There was nothing illegal about talking to Kislyak before the new administration took control; Flynn had no liability. Trump’s murky history with Russia, backroom meetings, and deals for dirt on opponents put him at risk. In return for lying to protect him, Trump pardoned Flynn. Keep in mind, Michael Cohen has yet to receive a similar pardon (and likely will not, as he stopped lying for Trump.)
- While he was never charged with acting as an unregistered foreign agent, Flynn’s role in a scheme to advance Turkey’s interests are arguably worse than lying to federal agents. In response to revelations that he was a paid asset of a foreign government while serving as National Security Advisor, Judge Emmett Sullivan declared: “Arguably, you sold your country out.”
The text of the pardon was released on Monday in DOJ court filing seeking to dismiss the criminal case against Flynn. The specific language absolves Flynn of “any and all possible offenses arising from the facts set forth … or that might arise, or be charged, claimed or asserted” based on “facts and circumstances, known to, identified by, or in any manner related to the investigation of the Special Counsel.”
Trump is reportedly considering pardons for other associates…and perhaps for himself. Others who could be under consideration are George Papadopoulos and Paul Manafort. Trump has been asking aides since 2017 about whether he can self-pardon and even brought up whether he could issue pardons pre-emptively for things people could be charged with in the future.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) has been pushing Trump to issue pardons to a wide variety of people, including Joe Exotic. Gaetz took to Fox News to exclaim that Trump should “pardon everyone, from himself to his administration officials to Joe Exotic” to combat “radical left bloodlust.”
- Representatives for Joe Exotic have been chasing a pardon since April, when in a coronavirus briefing Trump suggested that he would “take a look” into the case. His advocates have made appeals to Don Jr. and Jared Kushner, appeared on Fox News, and spent $10,000 at the Trump International Hotel in DC in a bid to get Trump’s attention.
A lawsuit accusing Trump associate Felix Sater of laundering millions of money from a Kazakh bank through Trump Organization properties was allowed to advance on Monday. In the next step, the Kazakh entities bringing the case must present evidence showing the Sater defendants’ deceptive conduct and their justifiable reliance on that conduct.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the Trump administration’s attempt to exclude undocumented immigrants from census apportionment. Overall, the justices seemed skeptical of the plan, with even Barrett and Kavanaugh pointing out that the Constitution’s apportionment clause leaves little wiggle room. However, Chief Justice Roberts and conservative Justice Alito advocated they delay ruling on the case until the Census Bureau acts in January.
The Supreme Court voted 5-4 in favor of an injunction blocking coronavirus restrictions imposed on religious gatherings in New York. Trump’s impact on the highest court is now crystal clear, with Chief Justice Roberts in the minority alongside the liberal justices. Amy Coney Barrett joined the conservative justices, including Trump’s two other appointees Gorsuch and Kavanaugh.
Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan: ”Justices of this Court play a deadly game in second guessing the expert judgment of health officials about the environments in which a contagious virus, now infecting a million Americans each week, spreads most easily.”
- The cases under review were brought by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox Jewish group. The restrictions at issue limited attendance to 10 or 25 worshipers in the most dangerous zones.
- The next day, Pope Francis published an op-ed in the New York Times praising medical workers and criticizing groups protesting Covid-19 restrictions. “Looking to the common good is much more than the sum of what is good for individuals. It means having a regard for all citizens and seeking to respond effectively to the needs of the least fortunate,” the Pope wrote.
Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill asked the Supreme Court to take on a case that could strip same-sex couples of their equal parenting rights. A three-judge panel for the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals appears to have delayed issuing a decision on the case until the Supreme Court signaled an interest in taking it up. Now, with a conservative majority, SCOTUS is considering the request.
The Justice Department filed an appeal of a lower court ruling that it may not intervene in the defamation lawsuit brought by E. Jean Carroll against the president. Last month, SDNY Judge Lewis Kaplan rejected the DOJ’s attempt to replace Trump in the lawsuit, writing that “the allegations have no relationship to the official business of the United States.” If the DOJ is successful, the case would likely be dismissed because the government cannot be sued for defamation.
The Trump campaign paid $3 million of its donor money to the Wisconsin Elections Commission for recounts in two counties in the state, Milwaukee and Dane. As a result, the counties discovered a net increase of 87 votes for Biden, adding to his already sizable lead in the state. At 11 a.m. (eastern) today, Wisconsin will certify its election results (stream).
On Friday, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the Trump campaign’s latest attempt to stop the certification of the voting results in Pennsylvania. The ruling, written by Trump appointee Stephanos Bibas, thoroughly repudiated Trump’s argument: “calling an election unfair does not make it so…Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here.”
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Saturday dismissed with prejudice a lawsuit brought by Trump ally U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly and other Republicans challenging the state’s vote-by-mail system. The court ruled that it was far too late to file such a lawsuit, noting the absentee voting procedures had been established last year.
A venture capitalist has sued a pro-Trump group for the return of $2.5 million he donated to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Fred Eshelman, the owner of the healthcare-focused investment company Eshelman Ventures LLC, claims True the Vote promised to file lawsuits in seven battleground states to challenge the election results. Instead, the group dropped lawsuits and did not respond to Eshelman’s communications.
Trump has raised about $170 million since Election Day as his campaign operation continues to inundate supporters with fundraising emails to file election challenges… despite losing almost all of his court cases. The first 75 percent of every contribution currently goes to a new political action committee that Mr. Trump set up in mid-November, Save America, which can be used to fund his political activities going forward, including staff and travel. The other 25 percent of each donation is directed to the Republican National Committee.
Republicans are worried that pro-Trump conspiracists are demoralizing Georgia voters and may cost them control of the Senate. Trump himself has accused the Republican state leaders of election fraud and thrown doubt on the integrity of the voting system. RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel met with voters over the weekend and confronted the reality firsthand:
One person demanded to know why the RNC wasn’t investigating accusations about voting machines that supposedly changed votes or counted votes that weren’t there. When McDaniel said that “the evidence wasn’t there” for voting irregularities, the crowd got surly, according to CNN correspondent Ryan Nobles, shouting things like “Kemp is a crook!”
A supporter asks why the RNC is not looking into the allegations with the voting machines. McDaniel stated flatly there is no evidence of that. Then someone asks why they should vote in this election when it’s “already decided” (clip).
YouTube temporarily suspended One America News Network from posting new videos last week for violating its COVID-19 misinformation policy. YouTube has a three-strikes policy before an account is terminated. This is OANN’s first strike, but it has violated the platform’s COVID-19 misinformation policy before.
House Democrats subpoenaed an ICE detention facility last week after it refused to hand over documents related to allegations of medical abuse and Covid safety hazards. LaSalle Corrections, which runs the Irwin County Detention Center, has been under investigation since September, when reports surfaced that women held at the detention center underwent sterilizations without their consent.
Republicans in Ohio want to expand the state’s “stand your ground” laws and cut down on gun restrictions, just a week after proposing legislation that would crack down on protests.
El Paso has hired legal counsel to help it collect the more than half a million dollars owed to the city by the Trump campaign from a rally almost two years ago. The city is struggling to fight the pandemic amidst budget shortfalls and a lack of federal funding.
The Texas attorney general’s office has fired the last remaining whistleblower who alleged Ken Paxton broke the law in doing favors for a political donor — just days after aides had sued the agency alleging they suffered retaliation for making the report.
The House of Representatives paid $850,000 this year to settle wrongful termination claims by five Pakistani-American technology specialists, after a set of routine workplace allegations against them morphed into fodder for right-wing conspiracy theories amplified by President Trump.
In 2018, Mr. Trump stood next to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia at a now-infamous news conference in Helsinki, and implied that one of the employees involved in the House case — a “Pakistani gentleman,” he said — could have been responsible for stealing emails of Democratic officials leaked during the 2016 campaign. His own intelligence agencies had concluded that the stolen emails were part of an election interference campaign ordered by Moscow.
“It is tragic and outrageous the way right-wing media and Republicans all the way up to President Trump attempted to destroy the lives of an immigrant Muslim-American family based on scurrilous allegations,” said Representative Ted Deutch, Democrat of Florida, who had employed Mr. Awan and is chairman of the Ethics Committee.