Playbook: Trump’s high-stakes day in court – POLITICO
August 28, 2023
With help from Eli Okun and Garrett Ross
THE VIVEK DOCTRINE — Responding to one of the central criticisms from his debate performance, VIVEK RAMASWAMY is rolling out his foreign policy platform in an op-ed for The American Conservative: “A Viable Realism and Revival Doctrine”
A taste: “I will lead our nation from the bloody follies of neoconservatism and liberal internationalism abroad towards a strategy that affirmatively defends our homeland. We will be Uncle Sucker no more. … Though I often pay tribute to GEORGE WASHINGTON, when it comes to foreign policy, the president I most admire is RICHARD NIXON.”
A BIG DAY IN COURT — Get used to a lot more days like this: The most momentous happenings in national politics won’t be happening inside the White House or Capitol or on the stump in Iowa or New Hampshire. They’ll take place instead inside East Coast courtrooms, where the trials of DONALD TRUMP and his alleged co-conspirators are already being shaped.
— First: In Washington this morning, Trump lawyers and prosecutors working under special counsel JACK SMITH will appear at 10 a.m. before U.S. District Judge TANYA CHUTKAN after sparring in court filings over a trial date.
To recap: Smith’s team asked Chutkan to schedule the trial — on conspiracy charges related to Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election — for January, arguing there is overwhelming public interest in seeing the case resolved before the election. Trump’s team countered with an April 2026 proposal.
Expect Chutkan to set a date today, as she signaled she would earlier this month. It’s hard to see the judge, who has already shown a penchant for moving the case along, bowing to Trump’s request for a two-year delay.
The bigger question is whether Chutkan will agree with prosecutors and allow the Jan. 6 trial to precede Trump’s already-scheduled trial in Florida on charges related to his handling of classified documents, which is set for May 20. If she does, the biggest trial in American political history could run smack into presidential primary season.
— Another hearing, happening at the exact same time in Atlanta’s federal courthouse, could be even more important: It represents the first major test for Fulton County DA FANI WILLIS’ sweeping indictment of Trump and 18 alleged co-conspirators — one that could foreshadow how the election subversion charges will hold up in the future.
Note that this isn’t the courtroom that Willis wants her case tried in. She sought her indictment in Georgia state court, but co-defendant MARK MEADOWS wants the case moved to federal court, arguing that his alleged illegal conduct was part of his job as then-White House chief of staff.
The decision is in the hands of U.S. District Judge STEVE JONES, an appointee of former President BARACK OBAMA who has spent 12 years on the federal bench. Today’s session could “resemble a mini-trial,” as our colleagues Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney write in a story that just posted, with both Willis’ prosecutors and Meadows’ legal team expected to “air their strongest initial arguments about the case.”
Witnesses have been subpoenaed to testify, including Georgia Secretary of State BRAD RAFFENSPERGER, whom Trump tried to browbeat to “find” more than 11,000 votes to carry the Peach State following the 2020 election.
Underscoring the stakes of it all, Meadows unveiled last night in a court filing that he picked up new legal firepower to help make his case: attorney ROBERT BITTMAN, whom Josh noted was “one of the most hard-charging members” of independent counsel KEN STARR’s Clinton-era investigative team.
Should Meadows succeed in getting the case “removed” to federal court, Willis would still oversee the prosecution and the charges wouldn’t change, but federal prosecutorial rules would prevail, potentially helping Trump and his co-defendants in the following ways:
Jury pool: As Josh and Kyle note, Willis’ turf of Fulton County went for JOE BIDEN over Trump by a whopping 73%-26% margin. But should the case move to federal court, jurors would likely be sourced from the larger Atlanta metropolitan region, which includes a significant swath of Trump supporters.
Cameras in the courtroom: Unlike Georgia court proceedings, cameras are not allowed in federal courtrooms. And while Trump usually craves televised publicity, he’s not likely to benefit from daily clips of Republican officials testifying against him streaming into swing voters’ homes, particularly if it comes in the heat of the general election.
Immunity: This is the big one. Citing the Constitution’s “supremacy clause,” which says federal law trumps state laws, Meadows’ team plans to argue that he is legally immune from the state charges because his actions were part of his federal duties. There’s some precedent for that argument, but Willis’ team is prepared to argue that Meadows’s actions were purely political in nature and that, under that Hatch Act, they could not have been part of his chief-of-staff duties.
“The question is whether the call was made by Mark Meadows, the chief of staff to the president of the United States, or Mark Meadows, a private citizen or member of the Trump campaign,” former Georgia prosecutor CHRIS TIMMONS told ABC News’ Olivia Rubin and John Santucci in their Sunday story on the issue. “The president’s chief of staff typically doesn’t have a reason to call the secretary of state in Georgia. Thus, arguably he was acting in a private capacity, and he’s going to have a difficult time Monday.”
Expect to hear a lot more about this today, with one big question hanging over the proceedings: If Meadows wins, will other defendants — including Trump — automatically follow him into federal court? Four other defendants have already made the request, and Trump might not be far behind.
FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — The Republican Accountability Project is launching a six-figure ad campaign targeting Trump over the Georgia indictment. The group is running 60-second ads on Fox News in Phoenix, Milwaukee and Atlanta. Additionally as part of the campaign, the group will be putting up a billboard in Times Square featuring Trump’s mug shot with the 91 charges facing Trump scrolling by next to him. Watch the ad … See the billboard
THE WEEK —Tuesday: Biden hosts Costa Rican President RODRIGO CHAVES at the White House for a bilateral meeting. AFL-CIO President LIZ SHULER delivers “State of the Unions” address in Washington. … Thursday: July core inflation figures released. … Friday: August unemployment figures released. Biden travels to Rehoboth Beach, Del., for the Labor Day weekend.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
DeSANTIS PRESSES PAUSE — Florida Gov. RON DeSANTIS is canceling campaign events this week as a major storm encroaches on his state and in the aftermath of the racist shooting in Jacksonville. “DeSantis said during a Sunday news conference that he will remain in Florida in the coming days as Tropical Storm Idalia, which is expected to become a hurricane and make landfall somewhere along the Gulf Coast later this week, continues to approach Florida,” Arek Sarkissian writes.
Interesting nugget,via The Messenger’s Marc Caputo: “After the shooting on Saturday evening, DeSantis’s office refused to discuss his whereabouts with reporters. That prompted a CNN reporter to say on air that she asked a DeSantis spokesman ‘specifically if [DeSantis] plans to deviate away from his campaigning … he said we will let you know.’
“Spokesman JEREMY REDFERN then posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, his text message exchange with the reporter to dispute her exact characterization of the conversation. What Redfern didn’t say: when he told her ‘will let you know’ about the governor’s whereabouts on Saturday, DeSantis was already en route to Tallahassee and had plans to attend Sunday’s vigil in Jacksonville.”
NO LABELS SETS A DATE — JOE LIEBERMAN, the founding chair of No Labels, said yesterday that the centrist group is eyeing a nominating convention in Dallas in April. “Right now, we’re focused first on what’s most important: On getting on the ballot with a third line in all 50 states that we will then offer and give to a bipartisan unity ticket,” Lieberman said on “Fox News Sunday,” though he once again cautioned: “Our plan is to only run if we think we have a chance to win realistically.” Read more from David Cohen
STEFANIK STEPS UP —ELISE STEFANIK is betting it all on 2024. Nearly a year after Republicans flipped numerous battleground House seats in New York, Stefanik insists she has a plan that will allow the party to hold off a Democratic offensive. Control of Congress may depend on her success — not to mention her political future, Nick Reisman reports from Potsdam, N.Y.“She’s pledging to ‘make sure’ her Republican colleagues in New York have the resources needed to win. A Stefanik adviser, granted anonymity to discuss the private plans, put it more bluntly: ‘It’s a guerilla warfare mentality.’”
LAND O’ LAKES — Failed Arizona Senate candidate KARI LAKE told Fox News’ MARIA BARTIROMO that she is still “contemplating” another Senate bid, adding that she will make the final decision “in the next couple of months,” Kelly Garrity writes.
He writes: “Vice President Harris and I came into office determined to change the economic direction of the country and grow the economy from the middle out and bottom up, not the top down. Our plan — Bidenomics — is working. Because of the major laws and executive orders I’ve signed — from the American Rescue Plan, the bipartisan infrastructure law, the Chips and Science Act, the Inflation Reduction Act, my executive orders on racial equity and more — we’re advancing equity in everything we do making unprecedented investments in all of America, including for Black Americans.”
McCARTHY’S MESSAGE — Speaker KEVIN McCARTHY yesterday weighed in with his latest comments on the push to open an impeachment inquiry into Biden. McCarthy said an official impeachment proceeding is “a natural step forward” for the GOP-led House during an appearance on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures,” adding that an inquiry “provides Congress the apex of legal power to get all the information they need.”
On a stopgap spending measure: “McCarthy said passing a short-term spending bill to keep the government running past the end of September would ensure that investigations of HUNTER BIDEN could continue, a pitch directed at conservatives worried a bipartisan deal with Senate Democrats would not cut enough spending,” AP’s Jonathan Cooper writes.
THE WORLD VIEW — “The World Is Contemplating a Second Trump Administration,” by WSJ’s Stacy Meichtry in Paris, Austin Ramzy in Hong Kong and Bojan Pancevski in Berlin: “Policy makers and politicians were reluctant to make public statements that might rile the current administration or an incoming one. But officials interviewed by The Wall Street Journal did share their thoughts about what a Trump return to the world stage would mean for geopolitics. Among the most widespread fears is that Trump would spark a global trade war.”
PUMP IT UP — “Republicans seize on gasoline prices, but the U.S. is pumping oil faster than ever,” by Ben Lefebvre: “The late-summer surge in gasoline prices is heightening the risks that inflation poses for President Joe Biden, and offering Republicans a new chance to pin the blame on his green agenda. The GOP narrative has a major hole: U.S. oil production — already the highest in the world — is on track to set a new record this year, and will probably rise even more in 2024. But the ever-increasing flow of U.S. crude has failed to keep a lid on gasoline prices, showing once again that a global market drives the fuel prices that shape presidents’ political futures.”
THE BRAVE NEW WORLD — “A.I. Brings the Robot Wingman to Aerial Combat,” by NYT’s Eric Lipton: “An Air Force program shows how the Pentagon is starting to embrace the potential of a rapidly emerging technology, with far-reaching implications for war-fighting tactics, military culture and the defense industry.”
AMERICA AND THE WORLD
DANCE OF THE SUPERPOWERS — With Commerce Secretary GINA RAIMONDO in China for high-level meetings with senior officials, her visit marks the latest attempt by the Biden administration to “stabilize ties between the world’s two largest economies,” NYT’s Ana Swanson, Alan Rappeport and Keith Bradsher write. “Both U.S. and Chinese officials have hinted that while many of the large issues probably can’t be resolved in these meetings, there are perhaps a few areas where the two sides might move closer to agreement.”
ON THE GROUND IN SYRIA — “In a Place Shattered by War and Earthquakes, People Feel Forgotten,” by NYT’s Raja Abdulrahim: “On Sunday, three U.S. Congress members, including Representative FRENCH HILL, a Republican from Arkansas, briefly visited the Syrian side of one of the border crossings. It was the first visit by American lawmakers to this part of the country in a decade and Syrians said they hoped it would draw attention to the dire humanitarian situation and the need for more U.S. action to end the conflict.”
IN MEMORIAM — “Former Tennessee Gov. Don Sundquist, who led state during income tax fight, dies at 87,” by the Nashville Tennessean’s Vivian Jones: “Don Sundquist, a former congressman and two-term Republican governor who led Tennessee during a time of dramatic changes to its social safety net and a fight over a state income tax, died on Sunday. He was 87. … Sundquist was the 47th governor of Tennessee from 1995 to 2002, and represented Tennessee’s 7th District in Congress for 12 years.”
FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — Stephen Smith, Ashley Gibaldi and Nate Byer are being promoted to partners at Purple Strategies. They previously were managing directors. Smith is a Bill Frist, Mitt Romney and Lamar Alexander alum. Gibaldi previously worked at Edison Research. Byer is a Debbie Stabenow, Obama for America and USAID alum.
TRANSITIONS — Shelby Begany Telle is joining the American Investment Council as associate general counsel. She previously was a senior associate at WilmerHale, and is an SEC and Richard Shelby alum. … Erika Naegeli is now chief of staff to WasteFuel CEO and co-founder Trevor Neilson. She previously was senior consultant at APCO Worldwide.
ENGAGED — Subhan Cheema, comms director for the White House Office of Science and Technology policy, and John Phillip Deering, comms manager at Excelencia in Education, got engaged at Rose’s Luxury on Friday. Subhan, with the help of the restaurant, popped the question during dinner celebrating the couple’s fifth anniversary. Pic
WEDDING — Zach Graumann, author and founder of tech startup Samarity, and Carly Reilly, founder of Overpriced Media, got married on Saturday in Manchester, Vt. The two met while they were both working for Andrew Yang’s presidential campaign. Pic … SPOTTED: Andrew and Evelyn Yang, Erick Sanchez, Randy Jones, Ethan Dunn, Matt Shinners, South Carolina state Rep. Jermaine Johnson, Patricia Nelson and Katie Dolan.
WELCOME TO THE WORLD — Betsy Bryant Struse, director of international government relations for Cargill, and Charley Struse, a real estate developer, welcomed Edward “Teddy” Bryant King Struse on Tuesday. He joins big brother Whit (5) and big sister Schuyler (3). Pic … Another pic
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Rep. Julia Brownley (D-Calif.) … WSJ’s Ken Thomas … Sheryl Sandberg … Pat Pelletier … Emma Tomaszewski of Rep. Mike Thompson’s (D-Calif.) office … DOT’s Ben Halle … R.C. Hammond … POLITICO’s Rebecca Miltenberger … The Messenger’s Marty Kady … NBC’s Sarah Carlson Brooke … Semafor’s Morgan Chalfant … Mallory Blount Jaspers … Gary Shapiro … Jessica Herrera-Flanigan … Ellen Ratner … Ellen CarmichaelGugenberger … Hilary Halpern … former Defense Secretary Bill Cohen … Thomas Winslow … FT’s Rhonda Taylor … Callie Strock … Ann Marie Jablon … Robert Simpson … Lindsay Gill … Arlet Abrahamian … David Youngblood … WaPo’s Silvia Foster-Frau … Robert Elman … Janet McUlsky … Jay Wegimont … American Conservation Coalition’s Brooke Thigpen Ogles … Bob Tierney
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