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Heather Cox RichardsonAug 26

Today, legal news about the former president and members of his team revealed a group of people who appear to have ignored the law.  

The stories began with the release of the Department of Justice (DOJ) memo written for Trump’s attorney general Bill Barr arguing that Trump should not be charged with obstruction of justice over his attempts to shut down the Russia investigation despite his firing of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director James Comey, urging of witnesses not to “flip,” hints of pardons to those who stayed quiet, and so on. The memo seems clearly to have been a whitewash to justify Barr’s predetermined decision not to prosecute, illustrating the dangerous politicization of the DOJ.  

The memo argued that because special counsel Robert Mueller did not find enough evidence to charge Trump with conspiring with Russia, there was no crime committed, and thus Trump could not be charged with obstruction. In fact, Mueller noted in the report that the investigation was hampered by the president’s allies who refused to cooperate. Andrew Weissman, a 20-year veteran of the Department of Justice who worked on the Mueller investigation, concluded: “Key ‘reasoning’ of…memo: if you successfully obstruct an investigation, you cannot be charged with obstruction as you were not charged with the crime under investigation. Future defendants will have a field day with this memo unless DOJ repudiates it soon.”

Harry Litman, former U.S. attorney and now legal affairs columnist for the Los Angeles Times, noted that the principal author of the memo, Steven Engel, “is too good a lawyer not to have known what was going on. In a way, the most important words in the memo are the first 3: ‘at your request.’ This was a political mission.” 

And then there is the attempt of Republican operatives to smear their opponents. Today, the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York announced that two people have pleaded guilty to stealing the diary and other personal property of then-candidate Joe Biden’s daughter and selling it for $40,000 to James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas. In the process, they transported the material across state lines and then, at the request of the person to whom they sold it, went back to get more. They pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit interstate transportation of stolen property, and will cooperate with authorities.

The attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election results is also in legal news. 

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is arguing in court that the judge should not let a grand jury question the senator “on all the topics” covered by its recent subpoena of his testimony in the investigation of the Trump campaign’s attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election results in Georgia. Graham argues that the Speech or Debate Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which says that congress members “shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place,” means he cannot be questioned about his two phone calls to Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger about throwing out mail-in ballots in that state. 

For Graham’s argument to prevail, he will have to convince the court that his calls to Raffensperger were part of his legitimate congressional work, rather than part of the efforts of Trump’s campaign to overturn the election, actions outside the scope of Graham’s congressional duties. 

Lawyer Kenneth Chesebro, who helped to invent the false electors plan to overturn the results of the 2020 election, is refusing to talk to the grand jury, arguing that he has an attorney-client relationship with the Trump campaign and saying the campaign had “instructed” him to maintain confidentiality. But Chesebro never received any payment, and it is unclear whether he was officially working for the campaign. 

Meanwhile, Fulton County, Georgia, district attorney Fani Willis filed petitions today to require Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, Trump lawyer Sidney Powell, Meadows ally James “Phil” Waldron, and Trump campaign advisor Boris Epshteyn to testify before the special grand jury next month. 

Finally, the top secret documents Trump stole from the government: Today the DOJ submitted to the court a redacted version of the affidavit it used to obtain a search warrant for Trump’s Florida property Mar-a-Lago earlier this month. The judge has ordered the release of the document by noon tomorrow. Trump had publicly demanded the release of the affidavit but had not actually asked the court to release it. Instead, he has whipped up his followers against the FBI. 

With these headlines from the Republican Party, and coming on the heels of a spectacular few months for the Democrats, the Biden administration came out today swinging against MAGA Republicans.

First, after a day of Republican congress members railing against yesterday’s educational loan forgiveness of up to $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients and $10,000 for others, the White House tweeted a thread of those members alongside the amount of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) money those individuals were forgiven. 

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) said: “For our government just to say ok your debt is completely forgiven.. it’s completely unfair.” Greene had $183,504 in PPP loans forgiven.

Representative Vern Buchanan (R-FL) said: “Biden’s reckless, unilateral student loan giveaway is unfair to the 87 percent of Americans without student loan debt and those who played by the rules.” Buchanan had more than $2.3 million in PPP loans forgiven.

Representative Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) said: “We do not need farmers and ranchers, small business owners, and teachers in Oklahoma paying the debts of Ivy League lawyers and doctors across the U.S.” Mullin had more than $1.4 million in PPP loans forgiven.

Representative Kevin Hern (R-OK) said: “To recap, in the last two weeks, the ‘Party of the People’ has supercharged the IRS to go after working-class Americans, raised their taxes, and forced them to pay for other people’s college degrees.” Hern had more than $1 million in PPP loans forgiven.

Representative Mike Kelly (R-PA) said: “Asking plumbers and carpenters to pay off the loans of Wall Street advisors and lawyers isn’t just unfair. It’s also bad policy.” Kelly had $987,237 in PPP loans forgiven.

Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) said: Everyone knows that in a $60 Billion+ European land war, it’s always the last $3 Billion that kicks in the door….” Gaetz had $482,321 in PPP loans forgiven. 

Then Biden gave a barn-burning speech to the Democratic National Committee in Rockville, Maryland, clearly dividing the Republican Party between the MAGAs and mainstream Republicans. The MAGA philosophy is “semi-fascism,” he said, and we are seeing either its beginning or death knell. 

“I want to be crystal clear about what’s on the ballot this year. Your right to choose is on the ballot this year. The Social Security you paid for from the time you had a job is on the ballot. The safety of our kids from gun violence is on the ballot…. The very survival of our planet is on the ballot. Your right to vote is on the ballot. Even…democracy.”

“The MAGA Republicans don’t just threaten our personal rights and economic security,” he said. “They’re a threat to our very democracy. They refuse to accept the will of the people. They embrace…political violence. They don’t believe in democracy.”

“This is why in this moment, those of you who love this country—Democrats, Independents, mainstream Republicans—we must be stronger,” he said.

Notes:

Andrew Weissmann 🌻 @AWeissmann_Key “reasoning” of Barr/Engel/O’Callaghan memo: if you successfully obstruct an investigation, you cannot be charged with obstruction as you were not charged with the crime under investigation. Future defendants will have a field day with this memo unless DOJ repudiates it soon.August 25th 20221,712 Retweets5,539 Likes

https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/pr/florida-residents-plead-guilty-conspiracy-commit-interstate-transportation-stolen

The White House @WhiteHouseCongressman Matt Gaetz had $482,321 in PPP loans forgiven. Rep. Matt Gaetz @RepMattGaetzEveryone knows that in a $60 Billion+ European land war, it’s always the last $3 Billion that kicks in the door… https://t.co/VwyJUgLCvYAugust 25th 202250,543 Retweets207,424 Likes

Charlie Savage @charlie_savageBREAKING: DOJ has released the full memo to then Attorney General Bill Barr analyzing why Trump should not be charged with obstruction-of-justice based on the Mueller report. DOJ had fought but lost a @CREWcrew FOIA lawsuit seeking this disclosure. August 24th 20223,998 Retweets11,563 Likes

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/08/23/lindsey-graham-georgia-speech-or-debate/

https://www.cnn.com/2022/08/24/politics/lindsey-graham-georgia-election-investigation/index.html

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/georgia-prosecutor-in-2020-election-probe-seeks-testimony-from-meadows-powell

https://www.politico.com/news/2022/08/25/trump-attorney-fake-electors-subpoena-00053765

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/08/25/fiery-midterm-speech-biden-says-gops-turned-toward-semi-fascism/

Harry Litman @harrylitmanSteven Engel, the principal author of the memo, is too good a lawyer not to have known what was going on. In a way, the most important words in the memo are the first 3: “at your request.” This was a political mission.August 25th 20221,628 Retweets9,356 Likes

https://www.politico.com/news/2021/05/04/trump-obstruction-justice-doj-485360

https://www.c-span.org/video/?522491-1/president-biden-remarks-democratic-national-committee-rally

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