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The Week Ahead
Today’s week ahead first takes a peek behind us at the events of last week, because they will certainly inform what we have our eyes on for the coming one.
It was an outrageous signal to radical extremists for Trump to hold a campaign rally in Waco, Texas during the 30th anniversary of the deadly, armed standoff there. But notably, the mainstream media did not cover the speech, and Trump’s best hit list of grievances, along with his meandering, incoherent style of speech, has not changed. People on the left genuinely seemed more angry at right-wing singer Ted Nugent for labeling President Zelenskyy a “weird homosexual” than at Trump, who charitably sounded like a broken record.
If that was Trump’s last public appearance before he is an indicted defendant, it was fairly anticlimactic. The arrest and arraignment, should they come, might also prove less than the spectacle Trump wants, with no signs as yet of nationwide protests or uprisings on his behalf. It is one thing to tell people to take back their country because their votes were supposedly stolen. It’s another to tell them to risk arrest because he is being unfairly prosecuted. We shall have to see if and when an indictment arrives.
DeSantis is DeSinking
New polling showing DeSantis’s support slipping, an embarrassing about-face on Ukraine (Putin is a war criminal after all!), and lingering doubts among key GOP big money donors that he is agile enough to take on Donald Trump have the DeSantis campaign scrambling to keep his presidential prospects from fading. He is starting to feel a bit like that other one-time, front-runner, Florida governor, Jeb Bush, who received a lot of attention and money initially but faded in the harsh, orange glow of Trump. Yes, I may be enjoying this a bit too much.
Judge Howell in D.C. dropped a trail of bombs
In her final weeks as chief district judge of the D.C. Circuit, Judge Beryl Howell not only ordered Trump’s attorneys to appear on ground that a crime of obstruction likely had pierced Trump’s attorney-client privilege, she also found that a number of top Trump aides had to testify despite their claims of executive privilege. These included former chief of staff Mark Meadows, former Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, former national security adviser Robert O'Brien, former top aide Stephen Miller, and former deputy chief of staff and social media director Dan Scavino. Meanwhile, as I wrote about earlier, a panel of judge on the D.C. Circuit has made clear they do not intend to allow Trump to unduly delay testimony through emergency appeals. So after two years of slow going, it’s now everything, everywhere, all at once in the two grand jury cases against Trump in D.C.
Some Sunday thoughts
A common complaint I see in the comments, and from liberals and progressives on social media and in OpEds, is that Donald Trump, as dangerous as he has shown himself to be, is still walking free. He is still threatening violence and unrest throughout the entire country. Attorney General Merrick Garland, they argue, should do something. And so should Special Counsel Jack Smith, and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, and New York State Attorney General Letitia James, and Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis. Why aren’t indictments happening?
One assumption is that they are simply all too afraid to take Trump on. But if this is true—that not a single one of them has the spine to indict or press their cases fully— then we are truly in trouble. These are some of the best prosecutors and law enforcement officials in the country. I personally don’t believe this supposed fear is true or impacting their decisions in the least.
Another assumption is that they are all waiting for someone else to go first. While that is of course possible, it also makes little sense to me. First, that kind of coordination would wind up as Exhibit One before a hostile Congress. Also, a decade plus of litigating cases has taught me that cases simply tend to move forward from their own momentum and weight. The more complex the case, the more slowly it moves. It’s basic physics. And once you reach a certain point, it’s not very easy to stop that momentum. Bragg’s case for falsification of business records and associated crimes is the most straightforward, followed by Jack Smith’s case for obstruction and top secret document mishandling. That’s why those two appear to be moving the fastest, at least based on when the decision to move ahead on them was made.
That leaves us with the most likely assumption, which I stand by: The prosecutors are being very meticulous and are moving forward methodically, and this means indictments are taking far more time than most people have patience for.
The American public is used to watching cases complete, from investigation to jury verdict, in one hour of television. But in real life, a jury trial in a high profile case takes at least a year or more to get through. And when you’ve got a defendant who has things like executive and attorney-client privileges to wave around, backed by a House GOP majority willing to obstruct the process on his behalf, with landmine pro-Trump judges who gum things up for months just because they can, it gets very complicated.
“But if this were anyone else, they’d be behind bars by now.”
While I agree with this sentiment, let’s stop leaning into the dubious notion that justice is in fact a level playing field when it comes to Trump. Instead, let’s agree that it’s highly distorted, full of unique risks both legal and political, and could easily tip into civil unrest and violence if the perception is that the system is simply out to get Trump.
From that standpoint, it’s fair to ask, “What other defendant has those kinds of cards to play?” I can’t think of any. That’s why we should be clear-eyed, and not unduly idealistic, about the limits of our judicial process. And we shouldn’t underestimate what Trump can do to delay, debase and destroy our system.
In the months ahead, also consider this: We face the real possibility that a man indicted in three jurisdictions on multiple federal and state crimes will nevertheless dominate the primary contests of one of our major political parties—a party that increasingly prefers authoritarian rule to democratic process.
Our task, as members of the public, will be to keep Trump’s support hovering little higher than his MAGA base of 30-40 percent, mostly by keeping up the drum beat for the great center of the country that this is not who we are, nor what we should aspire to be.
The next 20 months will put America to a test never before endured. And our resolve, focus, and work must be as very great through this time, at least as great as the existential danger we now face.