New Court Ruling Is Set to Destroy Main Republican Talking Point About Russian ‘Collusion’
One of the most common defenses of President Donald Trump and his associates as Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation has heated up is that “collusion” is not a crime, even if Mueller can prove that it took place. It’s a favorite claim of Trump and Rudy Giuliani.
To some degree, this is just wordplay. There is no federal statute that explicitly defines “collusion” or makes it a crime, so of course that would not be literally spelled out on any of the Mueller team’s dozens of indictments, convictions, and plea agreements with U.S. and Russian suspects.
But insofar as “collusion” — if that is taken to mean Russian actors working together to break U.S. laws — is in fact a crime, Mueller is absolutely hot on its trail. And a federal court decision last week reveals just how close the investigation is to actually proving such a thing took place.
In the decision, D.C. District Judge Dabney Friedrich, a Trump appointee, ruled Mueller can proceed with indictments against Concord Management and Consulting, a Russian company accused of helping manage a “troll farm” that used social media to broadcast election propaganda to the United States.
Specifically, Mueller sought to charge Concord, and several other Russian individuals, with 18 U.S.C. § 371, or conspiracy to defraud the United States. Prosecutors say that by secretly funding and promoting targeted messages to influence the election outside of any proper channel, the defendants conspired to stop the Federal Election Commission from enforcing campaign finance law, the Justice Department from registering them as foreign agents, and the State Department because they lied on visa applications to travel to the United States.
At issue in this ruling was whether Mueller could bring these charges alone, since the indictment did not charge any of the Russian companies or individuals with the underlying violations of the laws they allegedly conspired to defeat (failure to register as a foreign agent, for example, or failure to report campaign activity to the FEC). Concord argued to Friedrich that the conspiracy charge could not stand on its own, because “there is no such crime as interfering with an election.”
Friedrich did not agree. She denied Concord’s request to dismiss the charges, noting that established law does not require prosecutors to prove any underlying crime to bring a charge of conspiracy. In other words, she held that a conspiracy to interfere with U.S. elections can itself be a crime — and effectively laid out a way for Mueller to prosecute Russian actors over “collusion.”
Between this ruling and the fact that there are clear lines of evidence of involvement between Russia and the Trump campaign, it is getting untenable to claim that collusion isn’t a crime — or that the effort to uncover it will not take members of Trump’s inner circle down with it.
Image by Medill DC via Flickr and a CC license
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New WSJ Poll Is Devastating for DeSantis and His ‘Anti-Woke’ Policies
“Florida is where woke goes to die,” according to the Sunshine State’s governor, Republican Ron DeSantis, who has based much of his expected 2024 presidential campaign on being “anti-woke.”
FL Gov. Ron DeSantis says ‘woke’ 6 times in 20 seconds while celebrating his win: ‘Florida is where woke goes to die’ #Election2022 pic.twitter.com/U7zqbG5TW8
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) November 9, 2022
But a new poll from Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal is devastating to many of the policies being promoted and enacted by Governor DeSantis in his “free state of Florida,” calling into question how he and other Republicans who embrace his ideas will fare on the national stage.
“Patriotism, religious faith, having children and other priorities that helped define the national character for generations are receding in importance to Americans,” warns the WSJ, with some on social media pointing to a graphic that purports to capture how much America has changed in the past 25 years.
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The importance of issues of patriotism, religion, having children, and community involvement have dropped dramatically across America. The one that has increased? Money.
One Democratic strategist calls it “eye-popping.”
These numbers from the @wsj and @NORCNews poll are eye-popping. https://t.co/yHdMzVCIuu pic.twitter.com/CUsgQ3Iwyh
— Kenneth Baer (@KennethBaer) March 27, 2023
Money is also the only issue on which Democrats and Republicans both agree.
Marked partisan differences in these values today, also per new @WSJ poll: pic.twitter.com/yMY8P0PaEq
— Brad Wilcox (@BradWilcoxIFS) March 27, 2023
But the real siren for Republicans comes in answers to so-called “culture war” questions.
The gap between Democrats and Republicans, expectedly, is huge, but DeSantis – should he launch a presidential run – will confront conservative and independent voters (not to mention, of course, Democrats) who aren’t as keen on, say, banning books, as he might like.
Asked, “Which of these concerns you more about schools today?,” a whopping 61% chose “some schools may ban books and censor topics that are educationally important.” Just 36% opted for “some schools may teach books and topics that some students or their parents feel are inappropriate or offensive.”
And more than half the country (56%) say they have some or a great deal of confidence in public schools. Just one-third (33%) said very little or none.
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DeSantis’ attempts to radically reshape the concept of public education in Florida made another dramatic move last week, when the Republican-majority legislature passed a bill the expands the school voucher program to every student. It could decimate enrollment in public schools, which would also reduce the amount of federal funding public schools in the Sunshine State get. Expected to cost billions, it could also lead to expansions of private and faith-based schools.
Monday morning, surrounded by school children, DeSantis signed it into law.
Flanked by small schoolchildren, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) signs a bill to remove income eligibility requirements for school voucher programs in the state. pic.twitter.com/lyGRYXx38n
— The Recount (@therecount) March 27, 2023
And yet nationally, according to the WSJ poll, a plurality of Americans oppose school vouchers.
“Do you favor, oppose, or neither favor nor oppose states giving parents tax-funded vouchers they can use to help pay for tuition for their children to attend private or religious schools of their choice instead of public schools?”
37% oppose the vouchers.
34% support them.
Democratic strategist and former Hillary Clinton campaign national spokesperson Josh Schwerin lists a “few findings from the new WSJ poll that should scare Republicans relying on ‘woke’ attacks”: “1) Tolerance is as important as money 2) Book banning is far worse than offensive content 3) Majorities think society has been about right or not gone far enough on range of DEI issues.”
A few findings from the new WSJ poll that should scare Republicans relying on “woke” attacks
1) Tolerance is as important as money
2) Book banning is far worse than offensive content
3) Majorities think society has been about right or not gone far enough on range of DEI issues pic.twitter.com/fwHd6IeXpS
— Josh Schwerin (@JoshSchwerin) March 27, 2023
For those who look at Trump rallies, watch right-wing news, or listen to GOP politicians or influencers, the idea that another “red wave” is coming next year may seem real, but even the right-wing Wall Street Journal found that a plurality of voters (44%) identify as Democrats – and just 38% identify as Republicans. 18% call themselves independents without leaning one way or another.
Nearly half the country (47%) identifies as moderate.
One issue from the poll DeSantis and the GOP do seem to have support on is diminishing the rights of transgender Americans, who are under attack every day.
Despite increased anti-trans hate crimes, despite the 430 anti-LGBTQ bills filed this year alone (according to the ACLU,) a plurality of Americans (43%) say society has “gone too far” in accepting transgender people. Just one-third say society hasn’t gone far enough.
But on other issues of equality, as Schwerin mentioned, nearly half the country (48%) say society has not gone far enough in promoting equality between men and women. And pluralities also say society has not gone far enough in accepting people who are gay, lesbian, or bisexual (37%), and businesses taking steps to promote racial and ethnic diversity (39%).
There’s another statistic that also flies directly in the face of DeSantis and his “where woke goes to die” motto.
Two-thirds of the country say society has either not gone far enough has been “about right” on “Schools and universities taking steps to promote racial and ethnic diversity.”
Just three in ten Americans (30%) say society has gone too far.
See the video and graphics above or at this link.
‘A BFD’: Legal Experts Say Judge Ordering Ex-President’s Attorney to Testify Means ‘Trump Probably Committed Crimes’
A federal judge Friday afternoon ordered an attorney for Donald Trump to testify in the U.S. Dept. of Justice’s special counsel’s investigation into the ex-president’s unlawful retention and refusal to return hundreds of documents with classified and top secret markings along with thousands of other items removed from the White House and sent to Mar-a-Lago.
Classifying the judge’s ruling as “monumental,” CNN reports U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell ordered top Trump defense attorney Evan Corcoran to provide additional testimony, and “said in an order under seal that Justice Department prosecutors have met the threshold for the crime-fraud exception for Corcoran.”
Just one day ago ABC News reported the special counsel, Jack Smith, had been pushing for Judge Howell to order Corcoran to testify about a call between Trump and Corcoran.
“The alleged call would have been on the same day that investigators subpoenaed the Trump Organization for surveillance footage from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort as the government grew suspicious that Trump continued to hold onto classified materials even after one of his attorneys asserted in a sworn statement that he had complied with a subpoena requesting any remaining documents in his possession.”
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The crime-fraud exception is the critical marker, one that legal experts have jumped on in commenting about Judge Howell’s order.
Laurence Tribe, the noted Harvard law professor (retired) who literally wrote the book on the U.S. Constitution, enthusiastically weighed in.
“In finding that Evan Corcoran’s communications with Trump about the Mar-a-Lago documents fell within the crime/fraud exception, the District Court has held that Trump probably committed crimes with respect to those top secret documents,” Tribe explained.
“That’s a BFD!” he exclaimed.
Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti observed, “This is a remarkable ruling.”
“Judge Howell concluded that communications with Trump’s attorney are subject to the crime-fraud exception. Prosecutors must have significant evidence,” he said. “Judges are typically reluctant to pierce attorney-client privilege.”
Mondaire Jones, the former Democratic U.S. Congressman, an attorney, and a CNN political commentator wrote, “I don’t think people understand how rare it is to pierce the attorney-client privilege using the crime-fraud exception. This is serious stuff.”
Ryan Goodman, NYU and (former) Harvard professor of law, agrees with CNN’s “monumental” classification.
He explains, “Corcoran likely has direct evidence relevant to both core crimes under investigation: Willful retention of the documents [and] Obstruction,” he tweeted. “He apparently prepared false certification for DOJ. He led DOJ to storage room but refused access to boxes.”
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Goodman goes on, pointing to a September 2022 New York Times article mentioning former Trump attorney Eric Herschmann:
“Worth recalling this report in which Eric Herschmann, pushing back against Corcoran in an email, quoted words from federal witness tampering statute.”
4. Not as central, but also significant…
Worth recalling this report in which Eric Herschmann, pushing back against Corcoran in an email, quoted words from federal witness tampering statute.@maggieNYT @GlennThrush report:https://t.co/kjihlZ2vi1https://t.co/Y63Vg2qwZ5
— Ryan Goodman (@rgoodlaw) March 17, 2023
“Very serious,” concludes attorney and CBS News legal analyst Rikki Klieman.
Watch CNN’s report below and see tweets above or at this link.
“A federal judge does say in an order today that Evan Corcoran is going to have to answer more questions that he didn’t want to answer before a federal grand jury” pic.twitter.com/dpUvaYZWij
— Acyn (@Acyn) March 17, 2023
Legal Experts Say Pence Subpoena May Signal Special Counsel ‘About Ready to Make a Decision’ on Indicting Trump
The “explosive” news that the Dept. of Justice’s independent special counsel Jack Smith has issued a subpoena to former Vice President Mike Pence could be an indication he is nearing making a decision on whether or not to indict and prosecute ex-president Donald Trump.
Smith was appointed back in November by Attorney General Merrick Garland in response to Trump announcing he was officially running for president, to avoid any possible appearance of bias.
Professor of law and former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance explains that “Pence has always been the essential witness when it comes to establishing whether or not Trump’s involvement in the pressure campaign for the VP to interfere with the election result was criminal. Smith has to get his testimony before he can make a prosecutive decision.”
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“But,” she adds via Twitter, “pence does feel like a late in the game witness. Someone you want to talk to you after you have all of the other testimony, and when you’re just about ready to make a decision.”
Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti on MSNBC called the news Pence has been subpoenaed “explosive.”
“I expect Pence is one of the *last* witnesses Smith would call if he was building a case around the electoral vote certification,” Mariotti added via Twitter. “For that reason, this suggests that Smith’s January 6th investigation is far along. It also suggests that he is pursuing that aspect of his investigation aggressively—he isn’t focusing largely on the Mar-a-Lago documents matter and putting January 6th on the back burner.”
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Former prosecutor for the New York Attorney General’s Office, Tristan Snell, says, “why the subpoena? For cover. Witnesses often ASK to be subpoenaed, so they can say they were forced to comply.”
Pence is expected to announce a presidential run, and being perceived as complying with the investigation into Trump could be damaging for Pence with the ex-president’s base.
Snell appears to agree with Vance, stating: “Major step. The investigation of Trump’s January 6 Conspiracy is now entering its final phase.”
“If Smith and DOJ then have testimony and documents from Mark Meadows and Mike Pence — two of the people who were the closest to the center of the events from November 3, 2020 to January 6, 2021 — then the stage is set for subpoenaning Trump, or just indicting him,” Snell adds.
“This is pretty much the last step before you approach Trump,” former Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, Peter Strzok, said on MSNBC.
Image via Shutterstock
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