March News 2024

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Editor’s Choice: Scroll below for our monthly blend of mainstream and March 2024 news and views

Note: Excerpts are from the authors’ words except for subheads and occasional “Editor’s notes” such as this

March 1

Top Headlines

“I didn’t get everything I wanted in that compromise bipartisan bill, but neither did anybody else,” President Biden said on Thursday as he visited the border, in Brownsville, Texas. “Compromise is part of the process. That’s how democracy works” (New York Times Photo by Kenny Holston).

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Collapsing GOP Impeachment Probes Of Bidens

Top Trump Courtroom News

Reactions To Supreme Court’s Pro-Trump ‘Immunity Claim’ Delay

The five most radical right Republican justices on the U.S. Supreme Court are shown above, with the sixth Republican, Chief Justice John Roberts, omitted in this view.

The five most radical right Republican justices on the Supreme Court are shown above, with the sixth Republican, Chief Justice John Roberts, omitted in this photo array.

More On Israel’s War With Hamas

Russia-Ukraine War, Navalny Death, Russian Goals

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 Alexei Navalny was President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent opponent and a fierce critic of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (Denis Kaminev photo via the Associated Press)

More On Trump’s Cases, Claims, Allies, Insurrectionists

More On U.S. 2024 Presidential Race

U.S. Reproductive Rights, Culture Wars

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More On U.S. National Politics, Governance

Incoming House Republican Speaker Mike Johnson (R-MS).

More On Global Disputes, Disasters, Human Rights

More On U.S. Military, Security, Intelligence, Foreign Policy

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Conflict Claim Against Georgia Trump Prosecutors

Fulton County Prosecutors Fani Willis and Nathan Wade (Reuters file photo by Elijah Nouvelage).

More On U.S. Supreme Court

More On U.S. Courts, Crime, Guns, Civil Rights, Immigration

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Climate Change, Environment, Energy, Disasters, Transportation

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Pandemics, Public Health, Covid, Privacy

More On U.S. Abortion, #Me Too, Trafficking

U.S. Economy, Jobs, Poverty, Space, High Tech

U.S. Education, Religion, Media, High Tech, Free Speech, Culture

Top Stories

“I didn’t get everything I wanted in that compromise bipartisan bill, but neither did anybody else,” President Biden said on Thursday as he visited the border, in Brownsville, Texas. “Compromise is part of the process. That’s how democracy works” (New York Times Photo by Kenny Holston).

“I didn’t get everything I wanted in that compromise bipartisan bill, but neither did anybody else,” President Biden said on Thursday, shown speaking with three U.S. border patrol agents as he visited the border, in Brownsville, Texas. “Compromise is part of the process. That’s how democracy works” (New York Times Photo by Kenny Holston).

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ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: How the Biden-Trump Border Visits Revealed a Deeper Divide, Shane Goldmacher, Updated March 1, 2024. Their approaches to immigration represent a test of voters’ appetite for the messiness of democracy, pitting the president’s belief in legislating against his rival’s pledge to be a “Day 1” dictator.

Even the participants in President Biden and Donald J. Trump’s overlapping visits to Texas on Thursday seemed to sense there was something remarkable about their near encounter along the southern border.

trump 2024Rarely do the current and former commanders in chief arrive on the same scene on the same day to present such sharply different approaches to an issue as intractable as immigration. Even rarer still was the reality that the two men are most likely hurtling toward a rematch in November.

“Today is a day of extraordinary contrast,” declared Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, who had appeared alongside Mr. Trump.

biden harris 2024 logoBut the dueling border events were about something even more fundamental than immigration policy. They spoke to the competing visions of power and presidency that are at stake in 2024 — of autocracy and the value of democracy itself.

Perhaps the most surprising facet of the split screen was that Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden agreed on some of the basic contours of the border problem: that the current situation, with migrant crossings setting a new monthly record of nearly 250,000 in December, is unsustainable.

“It’s long past time to act,” Mr. Biden said.

Credit…Kenny Holston/The New York Times

texas mapWhere they disagreed, at least in part, was politically in how to go about fixing it. And their disparate answers represent a test of the American appetite for the systemic messiness of democracy: Mr. Biden’s intrinsic and institutional belief in legislating versus the “Day 1” promises of dictatorial enactment under Mr. Trump.

Mr. Biden says he would close the border, if only he could. Mr. Trump says Mr. Biden could close the border, if only he would.

“A very dangerous border — we’re going to take care of it,” Mr. Trump pledged on the tarmac upon his Texas arrival.

Donald J. Trump was joined in Eagle Pass, Texas, by the state’s governor, Greg Abbott. Mr. Trump compared the border crossings with a war (New York Times Photo by Doug Mills).

Donald J. Trump was joined in Eagle Pass, Texas, by the state’s governor, Greg Abbott. Mr. Trump compared the border crossings with a war (New York Times Photo by Doug Mills).

“What’s being proposed is more than a difference on immigration policy,” said Brendan Nyhan, professor of government at Dartmouth, who helped found a group that monitors American democracy. “The difference is between a president who is trying to address a complex policy issue through our political system and one who is promising quasi-authoritarian solutions.”

For his part, Mr. Biden made the case on Thursday that his hands had been tied by the failure of a bipartisan border package that had been negotiated on Capitol Hill. The legislation would have increased border spending, made asylum claims harder and stiffened fentanyl screening. It unraveled when Mr. Trump demanded its defeat.

ny times logoNew York Times, Middle East Crisis Live Updates: Deaths of Gazans Desperate for Food Prompt Fresh Calls for Cease-Fire, Victoria Kim and Raja Abdulrahim, March 1, 2024. Questions still surround the convoy disaster as clamor grows for a cease-fire.

Calls were mounting Friday for a cease-fire and for Israel to take immediate steps to get more relief supplies into Gaza, a day after scores of Palestinians died in a scene of chaos surrounding a humanitarian convoy in northern Gaza.

palestinian flagMany questions remained unanswered as the Israeli military and Gazan officials offered divergent accounts of one of the deadliest known disasters involving civilians in the nearly five-month war.

It began as thousands of hungry people gathered near a food convoy in Gaza City, with Israeli troops and tanks nearby. It was a scene increasingly common in Gaza, where Palestinians fighting starvation amid Israel’s war against Hamas are regularly massing around the relatively small number of aid trucks being allowed into the territory.

Israel FlagWhat happened next is still unclear. Gazan health officials say that Israeli troops fired on the crowd, killing more than 100 people and injuring 700 others in what they called “a massacre.” An Israeli military spokesman said that soldiers had fired warning shots into the air before opening fire “when the mob moved in a manner which endangered them.” The military said most of the deaths had been caused by trampling and that people had also been run over by the aid trucks.

Neither account could be independently verified, and partial drone video footage released by the Israeli military, along with social media videos of the scene analyzed by The New York Times, do not fully explain the sequence of events. Videos show people crawling and ducking for cover. A hospital in Gaza City said it had received bodies of at least a dozen people who had been shot and had treated more than 100 people with gunshot wounds.

An Israeli military spokesman, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, told Israel’s Channel 4 that soldiers had been providing security for the convoy, which involved private vehicles distributing food supplies from international donors. Israel has come under growing international pressure to facilitate more aid deliveries as groups including the United Nations relief agency for Palestinians — the main group distributing humanitarian supplies in Gaza — say it has become too lawless and chaotic to operate in much of the territory, especially the north.

International leaders and aid groups said the disaster reinforced the need for an immediate halt in fighting between Israel and Hamas to alleviate the suffering in Gaza.

President Emmanuel Macron of France expressed “deep indignation” that “civilians have been targeted by Israeli soldiers.”

“I express my strongest condemnation of these shootings and call for truth, justice, and respect for international law,” he wrote on social media.

Samantha Power, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said that regardless of how they had died, it was clear that people were killed or injured while trying to get food for their families.

“That cannot happen,” she said. “Desperate civilians trying to feed their starving families should not be shot at.”

She urged Israel to open more border crossings to facilitate aid reaching northern Gaza and to ease customs restrictions that she said leave flour sitting in ports while people near starvation.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry called on world leaders to impose sanctions on Israel to force it to protect civilians and ensure their humanitarian needs, arguing that it was obligated to do so under international law as an occupying power.

Here’s what we know:

  • International leaders and aid groups said the disaster reinforced the need for an immediate halt in fighting and more relief for Gaza.
  • Questions still surround the convoy disaster as clamor grows for a cease-fire.
  • Israeli military videos provide a limited view of what happened at a deadly scene in Gaza.
  • Aid into Gaza declined sharply in February despite calls for increases.
  • Growing lawlessness has kept northern Gaza increasingly cut off from aid.
  • A witness said he saw people with gunshot wounds and sacks of flour covered in blood. 

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. to launch airdrop campaign over Gaza, Biden says, Karen DeYoung and Bryan Pietsch, March 1, 2024. President Biden said Friday that the United States would launch an airdrop campaign to deliver aid to Gaza. The announcement comes with the enclave on the brink of famine, humanitarian groups say. Aid convoys have struggled to make deliveries amid Israeli bombardment and disruptions at border crossings. Airdrops are expected to begin “in the coming days,” according to National Security Council spokesman John Kirby.

President Biden authorized the U.S. military to airdrop humanitarian food aid into Gaza, he announced Friday.

In remarks in the Oval Office, Biden said the United States would be “pulling every stop we can to get more aid into Gaza” while negotiations continue for a temporary cease-fire.

“Innocent people got caught in a terrible war unable to feed their families, and you saw the response when they tried to get aid,” Biden said, apparently referring to the deaths Thursday of a reported 115 Palestinians who were trampled to death or killed by Israeli military forces after swarming an arriving food convoy.

“We need to do more, and the United States will do more, and in the coming days we are going to join with our friends from Jordan and others to provide airdrops of supplies into Ukraine,” he said, apparently referring to Gaza. “Aid flowing to Gaza is nowhere nearly enough now — it’s nowhere nearly enough. Innocent lives are on the line and children’s lives are on the line.”

Biden said the United States would also “seek to open up other avenues … including the possibility of a marine corridor delivering large amounts of humanitarian assistance.”

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the airdrops would be “a supplement to — not a replacement for — moving things by ground.” He emphasized the difficult nature of airdrops, noting the danger to pilots flying above an active war zone, and how crowded the Gaza Strip is.

“That airdrops are even being considered is a testament to the serious access challenges in Gaza, where over half a million people are facing famine conditions,” said a spokesperson for the International Rescue Committee, a humanitarian organization, in an emailed statement. “Airdrops are not the solution to relieve this suffering, and distract time and effort from proven solutions to help at scale.”

Humanitarian organizations have reported an increasingly desperate situation in the enclave, where more than half a million people, a quarter of the population, are nearing famine as aid has been slowed and often blocked by the Israeli military operation. Kirby said it was “no surprise to the Israelis that we’re doing this.”

Canada is considering similar measures to deliver aid. Geneviève Tremblay, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, said that “given the limited access and the dire humanitarian crises, Canada is exploring options to support humanitarian assistance, including airdrops in Gaza with Jordan and other partners.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump Says Little on Gaza, and Nothing About What He’d Do Differently, Jonathan Swan, Maggie Haberman and Michael Gold, March 1, 2024. Donald Trump’s hands-off approach to the conflict reflects the profound anti-interventionist shift he has brought about in Republican politics.

In the nearly five months since Hamas terrorists invaded Israel on Oct. 7, igniting the most divisive foreign policy crisis of the Biden presidency, Donald J. Trump has said noticeably little about the subject.

He criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, before quickly retreating to more standard expressions of support for the country. And he has made blustery claims that the invasion never would have happened had he been president. But his overall approach has been laissez-faire.

“So you have a war that’s going on, and you’re probably going to have to let this play out. You’re probably going to have to let it play out, because a lot of people are dying,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with Univision a month after the attack. His main advice to Mr. Netanyahu and the Israelis, he said then, was to do a better job with “public relations,” because the Palestinians were “beating them at the public relations front.”

Mr. Trump’s hands-off approach to the bloody Middle East conflict reflects the profound anti-interventionist shift he has brought about in the Republican Party over the past eight years and has been colored by his feelings about Mr. Netanyahu, whom he may never forgive for congratulating President Biden for his 2020 victory.

Mr. Trump has offered no substantive criticisms of Mr. Biden’s response to the Hamas invasion and Israel’s retaliation in Gaza. Instead, he has pinned the blame for the entire crisis on Mr. Biden’s “weakness,” in the same way he often does when violence or tragedy occurs.

“You would have never had the problem that you just had, the horrible problem where Israel — Oct. 7, where Israel was so horribly attacked,” the former president told a crowd in Rock Hill, S.C., on Feb. 23, before switching to more practiced attack lines against Mr. Biden.

It is unimaginable that in a pre-Trump Republican Party, the standard-bearer would have had so little to say about a major terrorist attack against Israel and a broadening regional conflict in the middle of a presidential campaign.

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ny times logoNew York Times, What to Know About Trump’s Cash as He Faces Penalties of $537 Million, Susanne Craig and Benjamin Weiser, March 1, 2024. Donald J. Trump and his lawyers have bragged in public about his cash hoard. Court papers tell a different story.

This is a moment of financial truth for Donald J. Trump.

The former president, who has lost two recent civil cases, is under pressure to find enough cash to stave off enormous asset seizures while he appeals judgments against him totaling at least $537 million.

One, $454 million, was imposed by a New York State judge last month in Mr. Trump’s civil fraud trial. The other, $83.3 million, was awarded in Former President Donald Trump is shown in a photo collage with columnist E. Jean Carroll, who accused him of raping her three decades ago, with her civil suit scheduled for trial this spring in New York City.January by a federal jury in a defamation case brought by the writer E. Jean Carroll, right. (She won a jury verdict that he sexually attacked her three decades ago and then repeatedly defamed her).

alina habbaMr. Trump has long bragged he is a billionaire many times over. While much of his wealth is tied up in real estate, he testified under oath less than a year ago that he had “substantially in excess of $400 million in cash.” And after last month’s verdict, Alina Habba, left, one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers, said that he is worth “billions and billions and billions of dollars” and “happens to have a lot of cash.”

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But a filing Wednesday by Ms. Habba and other lawyers raised questions about just how liquid he actually is. They offered a New York appeals court a bond of only $100 million while he appeals. Mr. Trump’s lawyers said that to secure the full $454 million set by Justice Arthur F. Engoron, shown above, he would probably need to sell properties.

Unless the appeals court cuts him a break, in each case Mr. Trump would have to post cash or a bond in the full amount, plus an additional percentage to account for interest. If he fails, the state’s attorney general, Letitia James, who brought the fraud cause, has warned she will move quickly to seize some of his buildings.

Mr. Trump has been exaggerating his net worth for decades and his company, the Trump Organization, is privately held. That means it is not subject to the same scrutiny as public corporations like Apple or Microsoft.

Politico, Senate sends government shutdown patch to Biden’s desk, Caitlin Emma and Jennifer Scholtes, March 1, 2024 (print ed.). Congress now has another week to pass six of the dozen government spending bills. The other half expire on March 22.

politico CustomThe Senate approved a stopgap funding bill Thursday night for President Joe Biden’s signature, thwarting a partial government shutdown on Saturday and buying more time to finalize half a dozen spending bills that congressional leaders aim to pass next week.

Congress now officially has until March 8 to clear that initial six-bill bundle, which leaders struck a deal on earlier this week. But they’re still working on an agreement to fund the rest of the government, including the military and some of the biggest domestic programs, before a second deadline on March 22. The upper chamber cleared the measure in a 77-13 vote, following votes on four Republican amendments that were defeated on the floor.

Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said on the floor Thursday night that leaders plan to release bill text of the six finalized bills “in the coming days” to give lawmakers time to review them before a vote next week. “We are genuinely close. And if bipartisan cooperation prevails, I am very confident we can, at long last — at long last — wrap up our FY24 bills,” she said. “It is full speed ahead.”

U.S. House logoAppropriators are optimistic that this latest stopgap — the fourth enacted by Congress this fiscal year alone — will finally deliver enough time to wrap up funding negotiations after a particularly chaotic cycle largely derailed by House Republican infighting. If congressional leaders can successfully pass the six bills next week to fund the departments of Agriculture, Energy, Veterans’ Affairs and Transportation, they’ll face an even bigger test in trying to strike a compromise on the remaining six bills that fund the rest of the federal government.

“I think people are optimistic right now. This has been a slog. It has kind of worn people down a little bit,” said Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.), a senior appropriator. “The first six are, I mean, they’re not easy by any means, but they’re easier than what we’re going to deal with by the 22nd.”

Under the deal to fast-track passage of the stopgap, Senate leaders agreed to a vote by the end of next week on a bill sponsored by Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) that would compensate people diagnosed with cancer after being exposed to nuclear waste stored as a byproduct of the top-secret program to make an atomic bomb during World War II.

Before passage, the chamber rejected three different proposals from Republican Sens. Roger Marshall of Kansas, Mike Lee of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas that would fund federal agencies at current levels through the end of the fiscal year, triggering an estimated $73 billion in cuts to non-defense programs and forgoing billions of dollars in agreed-upon funding for the Pentagon. Marshall’s plan also included emergency aid to Israel, and Cruz’s proposal included H.R. 2, the House-passed border security bill.

washington post logoWashington Post, Thousands of millionaires haven’t filed tax returns for years, IRS says, Julie Zauzmer Weil, March 1, 2024. About 125,000 notices will be sent to high-income earners, including 25,000 people with income more than $1 million, the tax agency said.

irs logoThousands of high-income earners have not filed tax returns for several years, but the cash-strapped Internal Revenue Service did nothing to get them to pay what they owe.

That changes now, the tax agency announced Thursday. The IRS will send notices to thousands of people who made more than $400,000 and did not file returns in at least one year from 2017 to 2022, the first step to collecting any tax owed.
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About 25,000 cases involve people whose income is known to the agency to be above $1 million, IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel said. About 100,000 instances stem from people with income from $400,000 to $1 million, as reported to the IRS by their employers and banks.

Although the IRS will send out 125,000 notices, the actual number of taxpayers involved may be fewer, as many of them failed to file in multiple years.

If they don’t file within about two months of getting the letters, the IRS can take further action, including eventually filing a “substitute” tax return on the person’s behalf and then levying money from their paycheck or bank account to collect the taxes owed.

“When people don’t file their taxes, they need to know there’s a consequence,” Werfel said.

Failing to file one year can lead to a snowballing effect, a lawyer said. “They forget one year, and then the next year, they say, ‘Well, if I file now, I’ll get in trouble for the year before,’ … Pretty soon, 15 or 20 years later, they’re in a lot worse trouble,” said Rob Kovacev, a former Department of Justice attorney who said that more than 15 years ago, before IRS budget cuts, his docket was full of non-filer cases, some for very rich people.

Collapsing GOP Impeachment Probes Of Bidens

President Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden, leaves after a court appearance, July 26, 2023, in Wilmington, Del. House Republicans are warning Hunter Biden that they will move to hold him in contempt of Congress if he doesn’t appear this month for a closed-door deposition, raising the stakes in the growing standoff over testimony from President Joe Biden's son (AP File photo by Julio Cortez)

President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, leaves after a court appearance, July 26, 2023, in Wilmington, Del. House Republicans are warning Hunter Biden that they will move to hold him in contempt of Congress if he doesn’t appear this month for a closed-door deposition, raising the stakes in the growing standoff over testimony from President Joe Biden’s son (AP File photo by Julio Cortez).

ny times logoNew York Times, Hunter Biden Calls G.O.P. Impeachment Inquiry a ‘Partisan Political Pursuit,’ Luke Broadwater, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). President Biden’s son was being deposed behind closed doors on Capitol Hill in the Republican impeachment inquiry into his father.

Hunter Biden, the president’s son, blasted House Republicans’ impeachment inquiry during a closed-door deposition on Wednesday, condemning their investigation as a “partisan political pursuit” that was based on a “false premise” and fueled by “lies.”

Conducted in an office building on Capitol Hill, the interview was the latest bid by Republicans to unearth evidence that President Biden was inappropriately involved in his son’s foreign business dealings. So far, their impeachment investigation has turned up no proof.

U.S. House logoHunter Biden, 54, made clear in his opening statement, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, that he planned to cede no ground to the G.O.P.

“You have trafficked in innuendo, distortion and sensationalism — all the while ignoring the clear and convincing evidence staring you in the face,” Mr. Biden said in the prepared remarks. “You do not have evidence to support the baseless and MAGA-motivated conspiracies about my father because there isn’t any.”

“I did not involve my father in my business,” Mr. Biden added. “Not while I was a practicing lawyer, not in my investments or transactions domestic or international, not as a board member and not as an artist. Never.”

The interview, which was expected to last into the evening, came at a make-or-break moment for the inquiry. Republicans have sought for months to tie President Biden to the alleged misdeeds of his second-born son, but they have struggled with a series of setbacks, including the indictment of an F.B.I. informant accused of making up a story that the elder Mr. Biden took a $5 million bribe.

In his opening statement, Hunter Biden mocked the way Republicans have relied on accused criminals to build the case against his father.

“Rather than follow the facts as they have been laid out before you in bank records, financial statements, correspondence and other witness testimony, you continue your frantic search to prove the lies you, and those you rely on, keep peddling,” he said. “Yes, they are lies.”

The deposition is the culmination of a multiyear Republican pursuit of Mr. Biden, whose business dealings and descent into debauchery have long made him a punching bag for the G.O.P. After years of asking “Where’s Hunter?” and spreading the lurid contents of a laptop that contained graphic material of his exploits while he struggled with drug addiction, Republicans finally had their chance to question him.

The interview also was a major moment in the drawn-out feud between Republicans and Mr. Biden about whether he would cooperate in the impeachment inquiry. He had refused repeatedly to sit for a private deposition, and Republicans threatened to hold him in contempt of Congress for defying an earlier subpoena to do so.

Mr. Biden had maintained that he was worried that House Republicans would selectively leak portions of his testimony to misrepresent his account and try to harm his father. He made two surprise appearances on Capitol Hill in which he challenged Republicans to question him at a public hearing. But after the contempt threat, Mr. Biden relented.

Former FBI informant Alexander Smirnov, second from left, leaves the courthouse with his attorneys (Photo by Bizuayehu Tesfaye for the Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP)

Former FBI informant Alexander Smirnov, second from left, leaves the courthouse with his attorneys (Photo by Bizuayehu Tesfaye for the Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP).

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: How do you say ‘impeachment is dead’ in Russian? Dana Milbank, right, March 1, 2024. To the extent there ever was life in the dana milbank newestimpeachment case against the president, it has died after a long illness.

Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Democrat from Florida, usually wears loud ensembles and sneakers to work. But for this week’s seven-hour deposition of Hunter Biden on Capitol Hill, Moskowitz came in all black: suit, tie and shoes.

U.S. House logo“My colleagues and I are witnessing the death of the fake, faux, frivolous Joe Biden impeachment inquiry,” he said by way of explaining his somber garb. “In fact, as a Jewish American, when this is over I will say the mourner’s kaddish for this impeachment inquiry.”

Amen. To the extent there ever was life in the case against the president, it has died after a long illness.

But more fitting than the mourner’s kaddish would be to offer a Panikhida, the Russian Orthodox prayer service for the dead. For the House Republicans’ year-long attempt to impeach Biden, it now seems clear, was based on a Russian disinformation campaign — and House Republicans went along with it, either as useful idiots or knowing accomplices.

The Republicans’ star witness, Alexander Smirnov, has been indicted by a special counsel for fabricating the claim that Joe Biden received a $5 million bribe. He was apparently doing the bidding of Russian intelligence, with which, a court filing shows, he had recent contacts.

Before that, the Republican sleuths’ other key witness, Gal Luft, went missing. It turned out he had been charged in a sealed indictment with arms trafficking and illegal lobbying work — for China. He remains on the lam.

Republicans have also relied on the accounts of one of Hunter Biden’s former business partners, who was sentenced to prison for defrauding a Native American tribe, and of a convicted fraudster House investigators went to visit last week at a prison in Alabama.

james comerClearly, they will take dirt from any source, no matter how dubious. Even then, they have produced nothing that shows Joe Biden was involved in any way in the businesses of his son. Of course, Republicans don’t actually need any evidence to impeach the president, if they have the votes. But even the impeachment ringleader, Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (Ky.), left, has tiptoed away from this goal. He told a group of us staking out the Hunter Biden deposition on Wednesday that “the purpose of this investigation [is] to create legislation” — legislation to stop “the Bidens from continuing to enrich themselves.”

Wagging two index fingers, Comer admonished: “The American people do not want families to peddle access to the tune of $200,000.” Asked whether his legislation would also target the Trump family, which peddled access to the tune of about $2 billion, Comer ignored the question as he walked away.

The indictment of Smirnov is the most damning, for he had provided, in the words of House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (Ohio), “the most corroborating evidence we have.” And the fabricated bribery allegation is just the latest case of MAGA Republicans trumpeting Kremlin propaganda.

 President Joe Biden, left, with his son Hunter Biden (Associated Press photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta).

President Joe Biden, left, with his son Hunter Biden (Associated Press file photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta).

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: Hunter Biden gives House Republicans the rebuttal they didn’t want, Philip Bump, right, March 1, 2024. Hunter Biden’s philip bumpappearance in front of investigators and members of the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees unfolded a bit like a Bruce Lee movie.

Republican legislators and interviewers challenging the president’s son on the House majority’s behalf would throw out an allegation, often one that’s been worn smooth after tumbling around in the right-wing media universe for the past year or two. And Biden would invariably swat it away, stripping off the layers of innuendo that had been applied by Donald Trump and Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) or Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) or any of myriad Fox News commentators.

This included epic battles against well-known foes, like an exchange between Hunter Biden and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), or repeated, matt gaetz o Customextended back-and-forth with Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), right. But at no point was a question left unanswered — including through an invocation of the Fifth Amendment — or, to an objective observer, left answered with obvious incompletion.

The discussion was centered on the Republican effort in the ongoing impeachment inquiry to demonstrate that President Biden had benefited financially from Hunter Biden’s business endeavors — and, they hoped, that the elder Biden had used his position as vice president to that end. They were unsuccessful in making that case from the hearing’s first moments.

“I did not involve my father in my business,” Hunter Biden said in his opening comments, “not while I was a practicing lawyer, not in my investments or transactions, domestic or international, not as a board member, and not as an artist, never.” His position did not diverge from that at any point; instead, he frequently invoked this same claim over and over again as a means of cutting off one of the familiar lines of inquiry with which he was presented.

The effect, in reading a transcript of Wednesday’s hours-long interaction, is of a man repeatedly trying to get his accusers to see a forest instead of a smattering of trees.

Hunter Biden’s testimony centered heavily on two themes. First, the closeness of his family, having been drawn together by the tragic deaths of his mother and, later, his brother. This is why he always took his father’s calls, he said, and why he would always welcome his father to join him at dinners.

“I can’t count the number of times my dad stopped to have dinner with me and my family,” he testified — including at a cafe that was situated between the White House and the vice-presidential residence.

The other was that Joe Biden was a career politician.

“My dad has been a United States Senator since I was 2 years old,” Biden said at one point. “My whole life has been this.”

His point? That glad-handing strangers and dropping into events was part of his father’s daily life — and therefore his own.

At one point, a questioner pressed Biden to admit that there was a suspicious pattern in his father having met people with whom Hunter Biden or his partners ended up doing business. Biden rejected that framing.

“The pattern I see is that you literally have no evidence whatsoever of any corruption on the part of my father,” he said. “And therefore what you’re trying to do is you’re trying to make every single thing in business that I was ever involved in somehow corrupt.”

Gaetz, during his lengthy inquisition of Biden, attempted to portray several occasions in which Joe Biden called his son during a meeting or stopped by a dinner as implicating the president in his son’s business. Hunter Biden turned the question around.

“If my father was to sit down here today and he was to call me right now and I was in and I put him on the speakerphone, does that mean that he had a meeting with you, Mr. Gaetz?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Gaetz replied.

Gaetz later tried to suggest that since Hunter Biden sometimes covered his father’s tab, that his and his father’s finances “were pretty interwoven.” (“Will the record show that we’re all laughing?” Biden attorney Abbe Lowell interjected.)

“No, our finances aren’t interwoven,” Hunter Biden said in response. “What are interwoven is that we’re a family.”
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Over and over, interlocutors presented Hunter Biden with the sorts of suspicious-sounding tidbits that have been the crux of the Republican argument for months. And, over and over, he offered credible responses.

Biden was asked, for example, whether he was aware that money he’d transferred to his uncle James Biden might have been reused by his uncle to repay a loan to his father.

“This is the most ridiculous thing that — I mean, so far,” Biden replied. “Are you saying to me, do I understand the fungibility of dollars? Do I understand that there is a — I mean, what is it? Post hoc ergo propter hoc? It’s all based upon a fallacy?”

He noted that the deal at issue was centered on building a liquefied natural gas terminal in Louisiana that, according to him, would have created 17,000 jobs.

Mentioning this had a different purpose: to bolster his credentials and, by extension, the validity of his having been hired to participate in these agreements in the first place. He fleshed out the specifics of several of them in a similar way, including offering details of his relationships with prospective partners, both close and contentious.

“I’d put my résumé up against any one of you, in terms of my responsibility,” he challenged the lawmakers at one point.

Those deeply immersed in the lore of Joe Biden’s putative corruption will find any number of the allegations dismissed in Hunter Biden’s testimony, not that they will believe his (sworn) testimony if they were to read the transcript at all. They would also note two particular targets of Hunter Biden’s ire: Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Hunter Biden’s former associate Tony Bobulinski.

Kushner served as a repeated point of comparison for Biden: Republicans were quizzing him on his father stopping by a dinner one evening when Kushner pulled in $2 billion after leaving the White House?

A legislator asked him whether he’d worked for foreign governments.

“I never worked for a country,” he replied. “I am not Jared Kushner.”

Bobulinski, whose testimony has been repeatedly cited by Republicans as their probe has progressed, was dismissed by Hunter Biden as only briefly involved in his endeavors — and as having been bounced for being unreliable. Among the transgressions, he said, was that Bobulinski had hoped to gain leverage over the Biden family name, something that Hunter Biden found particularly offensive.

He had “no faith in this person that I had just met, Tony Bobulinski,” he said, “who was presented to me as some Wall Street whiz kid that was going around, throwing around my name, and throwing around my family’s name.”

joe biden black background resized serious file“It’s not their name to screw up,” he added at one point. “It’s mine.”

This relates to where Hunter Biden’s testimony was the shakiest. He indicated that, thanks to those decades of being immersed in his father’s world, he was sensitive to keeping his father at arm’s length.

“One thing that we — that I was fully aware of my entire life, is that my dad was an official of the United States Government,” he said, “and there were very bright lines that I abided to and that I was very, very cognizant of. And made certain that I never engaged with my father in asking him to do anything on my behalf or on behalf of any client of mine.”

That may be, but it has also been demonstrated that he at times specifically sought to invoke his father, including in a text message in which he falsely implied that his father was sitting beside him. (He said he was probably intoxicated when it was sent and that he was “more embarrassed of this text message, if it actually did come from me, than any text message I’ve ever sent.”)

GOP Probes Of Bidens Attacked, Undermined

Top Trump Courtroom News

djt indicted proof

Justice Department Special Prosecutor Jack Smith, left, and former President Donald Trump, shown in a collage via CNN.

Justice Department Special Prosecutor Jack Smith, left, and former President Donald Trump, shown in a collage via CNN.

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump’s Legal Troubles: Judge Holds Off on Timing of Trump Classified Documents Trial, Alan Feuer, Maggie Haberman and Eileen Sullivan, March 1, 2024. The judge previously indicated she would push back the proceeding from the planned May start. Prosecutors want to begin in July, and Donald Trump in August.

A federal judge in Florida held a hearing on Friday to consider a new date for former President Donald J. Trump’s trial on charges of mishandling classified documents, but made no immediate decision about a choice that could have major consequences for both his legal and political future.

aileen cannonFour months ago, the judge, Aileen M. Cannon, right, declared she was inclined to make some “reasonable adjustments” to the timing of the classified documents trial, which was originally scheduled to start on May 20 in Federal District Court in Fort Pierce, Fla. But by holding off on making a decision at the hearing on Friday, Judge Cannon further delayed resolving the question of how long the trial would be postponed.

In all of Mr. Trump’s criminal cases, the issue of timing has been paramount in a way that is unusual for most prosecutions. He is facing four separate indictments in four different cities, and proceedings have to be scheduled in relation to each other and against the busy backdrop of his presidential campaign.

Justice Department log circularThe daylong hearing in Fort Pierce reflected those intersecting complications as federal prosecutors and Mr. Trump’s lawyers sparred not only over the thorny legal issues involved in the case, but also over the separate complexities of taking Mr. Trump to trial as he runs for office and juggles his crowded legal calendar.

The former president attended the proceeding, appearing almost cheerful in a way that he has not during visits to other courtrooms. Jack Smith, the special counsel who has twice indicted Mr. Trump on federal charges, was also in attendance and the two men shot fleeting glances at one another, at one point appearing to lock eyes.

At Judge Cannon’s request, Mr. Trump’s lawyers and Mr. Smith’s prosecutors had sent her competing proposals about when the trial should begin on the night before the hearing was held.

The prosecutors, hewing to their long-held position of trying to conduct the trial before Election Day, had requested a date of July 8. But Mr. Trump’s legal team made an odd, double-barreled request, arguing that he could not get a fair trial until after the election but also suggesting a start date of Aug. 12, almost three months before voters would go to the polls.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers used a similar split-screen argument at the hearing itself, saying on the one hand that they could live with a trial date in August, but arguing on the other that trying Mr. Trump in the months before November was “completely unfair” to him and “the American people.”

But one of the prosecutors, Jay I. Bratt, referred to the defense’s proposed schedule as “fake dates” that were offered in “almost bad faith.” Mr. Bratt suggested that the defense’s true intention was to simply get a trial date on the books and then ask for further adjournments down the road.

Under questioning from Judge Cannon, Mr. Bratt, for the first time, publicly asserted that if a trial was conducted in September and October, the government would not be violating a Justice Department policy against holding proceedings too close to an election — a provision known as the “60-day rule.” He said that the policy forbade prosecutors from bringing new charges in the run-up to an election, but did not stop them from prosecuting an indictment that had already been filed.

On occasion during the hearing, Judge Cannon, who was appointed by Mr. Trump and has been on the bench for less than four years, seemed a bit uncomfortable with the arcane legal process for handling the highly classified materials at the heart of the case.

At one point, Mr. Bratt explained to her that the defense lawyers, in their proposed schedule, had unnecessarily requested a hearing to determine the “sufficiency” of a set of court papers they are poised to file that will detail the precise classified information they intend to present at trial.

“That’s not a thing,” he said.

At another point, Judge Cannon asked a second prosecutor, David Harbach, when the government intended to publish its list of trial witnesses. Generally, in high-profile or sensitive cases, witness lists are submitted under seal and remain out of view until a trial takes place.

Mr. Smith, in particular, seemed shocked by the question and sat up stiffly in the well of the courtroom, his eyes gone wide in apparent incredulity.

fulton county jail

Fulton County Prosecutors Fani Willis and Nathan Wade (Reuters file photo by Elijah Nouvelage).

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump Lawyer Argues ‘Appearance of Impropriety’ Is Enough to Disqualify Prosecutor, Richard Fausset and Danny Hakim, March 1, 2024. Lawyers for Donald Trump summed up their arguments about whether Fani Willis has a conflict of interest and should be disqualified from the Georgia case.

A judge in the Georgia election interference case against former President Donald J. Trump heard final arguments on Friday on a motion to disqualify the prosecutor who brought the case, Fani T. Willis, on the ground that a romantic relationship she had with a subordinate created a conflict of interest.

michael romanWith a historic criminal case against a former president on the line, lawyers for Mr. Trump and his co-defendants took turns assailing Ms. Willis. John B. Merchant III, who represents the defendant Michael Roman, right, said that if the court finds the prosecutors’ romance did not create a conflict of interest, “public confidence in the system will be shot.”

But Adam Abbate, a prosecutor in Ms. Willis’s office, called the defense’s effort to disqualify Ms. Willis “a desperate attempt to remove a prosecutor from a case for absolutely no reason, other than harassment and embarrassment.”

georgia mapDefense lawyers on Friday repeatedly asserted that the bar for disqualification should be relatively low, arguing that even the appearance of a conflict of interest should lead to Ms. Willis’s removal from the case because her actions had undermined public confidence in it. The question of whether the defense needs to show an actual conflict or just an appearance of one could prove pivotal.

“We can demonstrate an appearance of a conflict of interest, and that is sufficient,” Mr. Merchant told the judge, Scott McAfee Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee, right (Photo via Superior Court of Fulton County).of Fulton County Superior Court, right.

Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Steven H. Sadow, picked up the theme in his own remarks, arguing that “once you have the appearance of impropriety,” the law in Georgia is clear: “That’s enough to disqualify.”

Mr. Sadow focused his comments on a speech Ms. Willis made in January at a Black church in Atlanta, calling her remarks a “violation of professional rules of conduct.” Her speech, at Big Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, came shortly after the conflict-of-interest motion was filed.

Ms. Willis, who is Black, suggested in the speech that the scrutiny of her romantic relationship with the prosecutor she hired to run the Trump case, Nathan Wade, was racist. Some of those comments she described as part of a conversation she had with God.

Reactions To Supreme Court’s Pro-Trump ‘Immunity Claim’ Delay

The five most radical right Republican justices on the U.S. Supreme Court are shown above, with the sixth Republican, Chief Justice John Roberts, omitted in this view.

The five most radical right Republican justices on the Supreme Court are shown above, with the sixth Republican, Chief Justice John Roberts, omitted in this photo array.

Hartmann Report, Opinion: Will the Most Corrupt Supreme Court in History Assist the Trump Coup? Thom Hartmann, right, Feb. 29, 2024. SCOTUS thom hartmannintroduced what will be at least a 130-day delay in Trump’s trial. They won’t even hear arguments until April 22. Democracy be damned…

At least four members of the most corrupt Supreme Court in American history have decided to help Trump delay his trial for trying to overthrow the government of the United States.

Just like in 2000, when five Republicans on the Court ignored Al Gore’s probable (later found to be definite) win in Florida to put Bush in the White House, today’s Court is doing as much as they can to help Trump win this November.

In a hail-Mary attempt to push his trials beyond the election, hoping he’d win with Putin’s help and could then pardon himself and gut the DOJ, Trump’s attorneys filed a claim that his efforts to overturn the 2020 election were “official acts” and that all presidents have “absolute immunity” while in office and for the rest of their lives thereafter.

Nobody took it seriously. Even the appeals court his bid first went to pointed out how absurd it was.

“Could a president who ordered SEAL Team Six to assassinate a political rival,” Judge Florence Pan, one of the appeals court judges, asked Trump’s lawyers, “[and not] be subject to criminal prosecution?”

The answer from Trump’s attorney D. John Sauer was that Trump can’t be prosecuted unless he’s first impeached, which, as noted, is absurd on its face. Under this logic, President Biden could today order Trump assassinated and dare Congress to impeach him for it.

But absurd is nothing new to the six bought-off Republicans on the Supreme Court.

As I laid out in detail in The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America, Republicans on the Court have, for almost a century, taken the side of autocracy over democracy, billionaires over workers, and corporations over consumers and the environment.

And now they’re doing everything they can to get Donald Trump back into office so Clarence Thomas and Sam Alito, both well into their seventies, can retire confident in the knowledge they’ll be replaced by rightwing judges chosen by the Federalist Society.

Justice Department Special Prosecutor Jack Smith, left, and former President Donald Trump, shown in a collage via CNN.

Justice Department Special Prosecutor Jack Smith, left, and former President Donald Trump, shown in a collage via CNN.

This week's new official portrait of the U.S. Supreme Court

The official portrait of the U.S. Supreme Court

washington post logoWashington Post, Justices set oral argument for week of April 20 on whether Donald Trump can be criminally prosecuted for acts he took while president, Ann E. Marimow, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). The Supreme Court will review Donald Trump’s unprecedented claim that he is shielded from prosecution for actions taken while in office, further delaying the former president’s D.C. trial on charges of conspiring to overturn his 2020 election loss to remain in power.

The justices set argument for the week of April 22 to consider a unanimous ruling from a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that rejected Trump’s sweeping assertion of immunity from prosecution.

Trump’s pretrial proceedings in D.C. will remain on hold until a ruling is issued, putting the Supreme Court in the politically fraught position of influencing the timing of a federal election-obstruction trial for the leading Republican presidential candidate.

The brief unsigned order issued Wednesday said the justices were not “expressing a view on the merits” of the case and would consider only the question of whether and to what extent a former president has “immunity from criminal prosecution for conduct alleged to involve official acts during his tenure in office.

djt indicted proof

Trump faces four felony counts brought by Special Counsel Jack Smith in connection with what prosecutors allege was a plan to overturn Biden’s 2020 presidential victory: conspiring to defraud the United States, conspiring to obstruct the formal certification in Congress of President Biden’s victory, obstructing a congressional proceeding and conspiracy against rights — in this case, the right to vote.

He challenged the indictment, saying former presidents are immune from prosecution, at least for actions related to their official duties, unless first impeached and convicted by Congress. On Feb. 6, the D.C. Circuit delivered a forceful rebuke of that novel argument.

“We cannot accept former President Trump’s claim that a president has unbounded authority to commit crimes that would neutralize the most fundamental check on executive power — the recognition and implementation of election results,” wrote the three judges, two nominated by Biden and the third by President George H.W. Bush.

Trump asked the Supreme Court to put the appeals court ruling on pause and give him time to seek rehearing by a full complement of D.C. Circuit judges. His lawyers argued that he should not be sidelined from the campaign trail by a months-long criminal trial, and said voters have the right to hear from Trump on the stump.

MSNBC, Andrew Weissmann: The Supreme Court has given Trump the win, Feb. 29, 2024. The Supreme Court on Wednesday laid out a hearing schedule on former President Donald Trump’s claims of presidential immunity that raises significant doubts that the election interference case against him will go to trial before the 2024 election. Former Justice Department prosecutor Andrew Weissmann discusses.

Lawyers Defending American Democracy, Opinion: Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision to hear the appeal of the presidential immunity claim is the ultimate example of the adage: justice delayed is justice denied, Staff Report, Feb. 29, 2024. Faith in the Supreme Court’s impartiality can only continue to plummet after this inexplicable action.

In a decision which surprised legal experts, the Supreme Court has scheduled its oral argument for late April, giving the gift of time to a criminal defendant who is the master of manipulating time to his advantage. The presidential immunity claim was found to be meritless by the district and appellate courts in meticulously reasoned opinions. Yet after taking more than two weeks to issue a one-page ruling taking the case, the Supreme Court gave an additional gift of seven more weeks until oral argument.

As former Judge Michael Luttig stated, the Court’s decision will likely not issue before the end of their term, throwing the timing of an actual trial before November into doubt.

Faith in the courts has also been undermined by the Alabama Supreme Court, which recently decided to allow a wrongful death claim to proceed for the accidental destruction of IVF test tubes. This ruling has created chaos within the state, and is impacting reproductive health care across the country.

The concurring opinion by Chief Justice Parker offered a glimpse of a future in which our courts rule based upon their religious beliefs, rather than principles of Constitutional law. LDAD board member and former Massachusetts Appeals Court Justice James McHugh wrote elegantly about this concurrence for The Fulcrum: Alabama, Religious Freedom and Frozen Embryos.

We know that accountability is a fundamental underpinning to the rule of law. We are pleased to share with you an interview of three LDAD board members conducted by Renee Knake Jefferson, an author and Professor of Law at the University of Houston Law Center, in her Substack column entitled Legal Ethics Roundup.

Merrick Garland, Biden's choice as Attorney General (White House file photo from 2021).

Merrick Garland, Biden’s choice as Attorney General (White House file photo from 2021).

OpEd News, Opinion: Merrick Garland Must Go, Arlen Grossman, Feb. 29, 2024. President Joe Biden made a consequential and significant mistake when he appointed Merrick Garland to be Attorney General of the United States. Garland has turned out to be weak, clueless, and ineffective, to the point that his actions are currently endangering our very democracy.

At first Biden’s appointment of Garland seemed sensible. Most of us remember when Senate Leader Mitch McConnell blocked President Obama’s plans to put the moderate jurist on the Supreme Court, the seat eventually going to right-wing religious fanatic Amy Comey Barrett.

When Biden took office in 2021, he likely figured Merrick Garland would be acceptable to both parties, and would be objective, serious about the law, and could be counted on to do the right thing.

Merrick Garland turned out to be a major disappointment in so many ways. President Biden, reportedly, and most Democrats now are not happy with the A.G.’s decisions, and most people deem it unlikely he will return to head the Justice Department if Biden wins a second term.

But so much damage by Garland’s inept performance as Attorney General has already been done. The worst was his foot-dragging in holding Donald Trump accountable for his many crimes and abuses of power while president.

By the time Garland appointed special prosecutor Jack Smith in November of 2021 to look into Trump’s transgressions, almost two years after the January 6 insurrection, too much time was wasted. And everyone knows Trump is a master at delaying justice and avoiding accountability.

Garland’s selection of Robert Hur, a Republican-leaning, Trump-appointed federal prosecutor, to look into President Biden’s mishandling of official documents was a major mistake. Hur glossed over the potential crime and zeroed in on Biden’s mental state, which was beyond the scope of his duties, and changed the narrative of the election to whether Biden is capable of performing his presidential duties. That he has performed his job so far quite capably has taken a back seat to concerns about his age.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Supreme Court order gives Trump’s long-shot immunity claim a boost, Ruth Marcus, right, March 1, 2024 (print ed.). The Supreme ruth marcus twitter CustomCourt’s decision to hear Donald Trump’s audacious claim of presidential immunity from prosecution — with oral argument a leisurely seven weeks off — all but guarantees one of two terrible outcomes.

Either the former president’s trial on charges of attempting to subvert the 2020 election, a trial that was supposed to start next week, will now not take place until after the 2024 election, or it will be held in the final months before Election Day. The justices are not entirely responsible for this mess, but they have just made a bad situation far worse than it needed to be.

My beef isn’t with the court’s decision to hear the case — it’s with the outrageously lethargic timing. It would have been far better for the court to have taken up the issue back in December, when special counsel Jack Smith urged the justices to leapfrog the federal appeals court. Now, two and a half months have gone by. It took the justices two weeks after Trump sought their intervention to announce that they would hear the case. Worse, they set oral argument for the week of April 22, a delay that means a decision could easily take until May or even linger until the term finishes at the end of June.

Worst of all, especially given this timetable, the justices could have allowed trial preparations to go forward while the case was briefed, argued and decided. That would have prevented Trump from accomplishing what has been his aim all along: to use the immunity claim as a ploy to delay his trial until after the election.

Hopium Chronicles, Opinion: Democrats Really Like Their President, The Republican Party Is Splintering, Mitch’s Dark Legacy, Simon Rosenberg, right, Feb. simon rosenberg twitter29, 2024. The Republican Party’s corruption of the judiciary is a central reason why illiberalism is on the rise here in America. We need to stop counting on or even paying attention to Trump’s trials and just go out and win the election with what we have, which is, in my view, more than enough to get it done this November.

Some have asked about Biden getting fewer votes in MI on Tuesday. Of course he did! Rs had a competitive primary and we didn’t. As I’ve been writing the story of Trump/GOP so far is one of weakness and struggle, not strength. Remember, since Dobbs, when we’ve had competitive elections, we just keep overperforming and they keep struggling. In MI, Biden broke 80%, Uncommitted disappointed, Dean Phillips is now officially defeated and Trump for the fourth straight state underperformed public polls. We had a good night. We are strong and united, they are weak and divided. In every way possible I would much rather be us than them as head deeper into 2024.

washington post logoWashington Post, What happens next after Supreme Court agrees to hear Trump immunity case, Spencer S. Hsu, March 1, 2024 (print ed.). Answers to questions you have about the prosecution of the former president’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: What the Supreme Court told us, Jennifer Rubin, right, March 1, 2024 (print ed.). The Supreme Court on Wednesday granted certiorari to jennifer rubin new headshothear four-times-indicted former president Donald Trump’s claim that he has absolute immunity for official acts while he was in office. With oral argument set for April 22, the prospect for a trial on charges related to election interference and the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection to be completed before the election wanes considerably.

One fascinating aspect is how the court defined the case.

The court determined that the only question to be addressed is whether a former president enjoys absolute “immunity from criminal prosecution for conduct alleged to involve official acts during his tenure in office.” The language is telling in a number of respects.

Had the court entertained the possibility the answer would be yes (e.g., yes, he can order Seal Team Six to kill his enemies; yes, he can exile his opponent in his reelection bid), it would have had to address subsidiary questions such as “Was the president engaged in an official act?” or “What is the ambit of an official act?” Only if the answer is “no” — that is, affirming Judge Tanya S. Chutkan and the D.C. Circuit’s unanimous ruling — would there be no need for further inquiry. The presence of the single question tells us where the court is heading. 

Furthermore, if the court’s order is limited to considering official acts, then special counsel Jack Smith almost certainly could effectively argue that Trump’s attempt to overthrow an election for which he has no constitutional role must be deemed “unofficial” at the trial court level. That would allow Smith to proceed to trial. In other words, if the Supreme Court wanted to spare Trump, it simply would have asked, “Is a president immune from criminal prosecution?”

In addition, the court framed the question with regard to a “former president” only. Again, this sets up the case to disadvantage Trump. After all, saying a president cannot be prosecuted either during or after his presidency would make him a king. As lower courts have held, no court has remotely approached this conclusion. To hold that a president could never be held to account for his actions, no matter how egregious, no matter if he had left office, would create a single class of individuals — criminal ex-presidents — immune from the law. Though that might attract support from right-wing, authoritarian-friendly Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr., it defies imagination that Trump could accumulate five votes for such an outrageous proposition.

Whether a trial could begin and finish before Election Day, we most certainly will have a decision addressing what is essentially his only defense: “I cannot be punished for official acts. Interfering with my own election was an official act. Therefore, I go free!” At the very least, if my analysis is correct, heading into an election, voters will know that this cannot possibly be the law. Voting for him would amount to allowing someone going to trial (or already on trial) for serious crimes to waltz into the White House.

Meanwhile, keep your eye out for a ruling on whether Trump is disqualified under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. Though the letter of the Constitution suggests he should be, few think that is what the court will hold, especially after an oral argument in which no justice seemed inclined to knock him off the ballot. How the court rules, however, now takes on major significance. If, for example, the Supreme Court does not dispute that Jan. 6 was an insurrection, it would leave unchallenged the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision, the Maine secretary of state’s decision and the Jan. 6 House select committee’s conclusions that he did instigate an insurrection. Refusing to spare Trump from the conclusion of those bodies — and of the voters — would speak volumes about how the justices regard his conduct.

More On Israel’s War With Hamas

washington post logoWashington Post, Global leaders react to casualties during Gaza aid delivery, Staff Reports, March 1, 2024. Global leaders expressed shock and grief over an incident in which Gaza health officials said more than 100 people were killed after a crowd converged on an aid convoy in Gaza City. Palestinian and Israeli officials exchanged blame for Thursday’s incident, which the White House described as “tragic and alarming,” and President Biden said it will complicate hostage negotiations.

At least 30,228 people have been killed and 71,377 injured in Gaza since the war began, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants. Israel estimates that about 1,200 people were killed in Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack and says 242 soldiers have been killed since the start of its military operation in Gaza.

washington post logoWashington Post, On Gaza, Biden increasingly looks ineffective and weak, Fareed Zakaria, right, March 1, 2024. When Hamas launched its gruesome fareed zakariaterrorist attack on Israel on Oct. 7, President Biden made a decision based on conviction and calculation. He announced his complete solidarity with the country. Biden must have calculated that the only way to have any influence on Israel would be to hug it close, show real empathy, send it the arms it needed and thus earn Israel’s trust to shape its response. It was a thought-through strategy, but it has failed almost completely.

palestinian flagFrom the start, the administration urged the Israelis to consider proportionality in their response to Hamas. Israel heard it and went ahead with one of the most extensive bombing campaigns in this century against a population of about 2.2 million people that, by Israel’s own estimates, contained about 30,000 Hamas militants. By one January estimate, more than half of the buildings across Gaza have been damaged or destroyed.

The U.S. administration counseled Israel against a large ground invasion of Gaza, advising it to take a narrower, targeted approach aimed at eliminating Hamas militants and infrastructure. The Israeli government held lots of long meetings with U.S. officials — and then went ahead with a ground invasion.

The Biden team urged a humanitarian pause, but got only a brief one when it was able to get the Qatari government to broker a hostage exchange.

After initial operations wound up, American officials told Israeli officials that what was done in the north of Gaza could not be done to the south. Yet after telling people to move to the south to get out of harm’s way, Israel then proceeded to bomb it in a manner that Biden himself admitted is “indiscriminate.”

The United States has repeatedly pressured Israel to make greater efforts to protect innocent civilians, but to little avail. Now it has been counseling against an invasion of Rafah, the city nestled close to Egypt where more than 1 million Palestinians have huddled together. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised to invade Rafah, whether another hostage deal is made or not.

Washington has warned that after the war there should be no Israeli seizure of land in Gaza and no new Israeli occupation of the territory. The Israeli government’s plans are to do both.

The result is that American policy on the Gaza war now appears hapless, ineffective and immoral. The image of U.S. officials wringing their hands about civilian casualties while providing ever-more weapons is grotesque. The image of a president of the United States mumbling words such as “indiscriminate” and “over the top” to describe Israel’s bombings suggests weakness and passivity.

Part of the problem is that in trusting the Israeli government, Biden is trusting Netanyahu, an exceptionally clever politician who knows how to handle American presidents expertly and has done so for decades. This time, Bibi has outsmarted, outmaneuvered and outplayed Biden.

But the problem goes beyond Bibi. Israel is in trauma. The Oct. 7 attack shook the country to the core. The sense of safety that Israel was supposed to confer on its people has been shattered. As a result, many Israelis are allowing policies that they will regret deeply. Biden, as a true friend of Israel, has the credibility to tell them the truth publicly and directly — perhaps in an address to the Israeli Knesset, as foreign policy expert Richard Haass has suggested.

Since the war began, 30,000 people have died in Gaza, a large portion of them children. About 1 in 4 are on the brink of famine and almost all are dependent on food aid. The water supply as of late December is 7 percent of what it was before the war. Most of its hospitals no longer function.

A visiting Oxford-based surgeon, Nick Maynard, described the condition at a hospital in Gaza, one of the few that are partially functioning: “We saw mainly a lot of children coming in with the most appalling injuries, many of whom you knew were going to die. And you couldn’t give them pain relief. There was often no morphine. There was nowhere for them to die in dignity. So often they were just literally left lying on the floor of the corner of the emergency department to die.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Parties to Gaza Cease-Fire Talks Offer Mixed Signals, Staff Reports, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). The president of Egypt said he hoped a truce could be reached “in the next few days,” even as Hamas signaled it was far from a breakthrough with Israel.

Parties haggling over a possible cease-fire in Gaza offered mixed signals on Wednesday, with Hamas’s political leader saying that the group was ready to keep fighting Israel while the president of Egypt said that a truce could be reached “in the next few days.”

The Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, said in a televised speech that the group was open to the mediated talks with Israel, but that “any flexibility we show in the negotiation process is a commitment to protecting the blood of our people, matched by a readiness to defend them.”

At least a quarter of Gaza’s population is “one step away from famine,” a U.N. humanitarian aid official has warned, as aid groups say that people are so hungry they are resorting to eating leaves, donkey feed and food scraps.

One in six children under 2 years old in northern Gaza, where the United Nations says it has not been able to deliver any aid since early this month because of security risks and Israeli restrictions, is suffering from acute malnutrition, the official, Ramesh Rajasingham, told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday.

The president of Egypt said he hoped a truce could be reached “in the next few days,” even as Hamas signaled it was far from a breakthrough with Israel.

  • Hamas insists it is being flexible in talks, but is prepared to continue the war.
  • A U.N. aid official warns that Gaza is close to famine.
  • ‘The bag of flour or your life’: Gazans are in a desperate search for food.
  • Families of hostages are marching from the Gaza border area to Jerusalem.
  • A new aid package brings U.S. assistance to Gaza during the war to $180 million.

washington post logoWashington Post, More than 100 killed in Gaza City, officials say; Israel cites stampede at aid drop, Staff Reports, March 1, 2024 (print ed.). Officials in the Gaza Strip said more than 100 people were killed and hundreds more injured in Gaza City on Thursday, accusing Israeli forces of opening fire on a crowd of people waiting for humanitarian aid.

Israel FlagIsrael said an unspecified number of the casualties were caused by a stampede as residents scrambled to reach a convoy of trucks. Israeli forces opened fire on members of the crowd who approached soldiers in a manner deemed threatening, according to Israeli officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.

palestinian flagAt least 30,035 people have been killed in Gaza and 70,457 injured since the war began, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants. Israel estimates that about 1,200 people were killed in Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack and says 242 soldiers have been killed since the start of its military operation in Gaza.

Gaza is on the brink of famine, humanitarian groups say, as the volume of aid has plummeted in recent weeks and as convoys have struggled to make deliveries amid intense bombardment and disruption at border crossings.

joe biden benjamin netanyahu split

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: After 4 Months of War, Biden and Netanyahu Are on Different Timetables, Peter Baker and Isabel Kershner, Feb. 28, 2024 (print ed.). The divergent goals of President Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel are playing out as negotiators try to reach a hostage deal.

President Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel each addressed the future of the battle in Gaza this week, speaking just a day apart but worlds removed from one another in a way that captured the essential tension between the two men after more than four months of fighting.

Mr. Netanyahu spoke of war and how it would continue even if there is a temporary cease-fire to secure the release of hostages, just “delayed somewhat.” Mr. Biden spoke of peace and how such a cease-fire deal could “change the dynamic,” leading to a broader realignment that would finally end the underlying conflict that has defined the Middle East for generations.

The disparity in visions reflects the opposing political calendars on which the two leaders are operating. Mr. Netanyahu has a compelling interest in prolonging the war against Hamas to postpone the day of reckoning when he will face accountability for failing to prevent the Oct. 7 terrorist attack. Mr. Biden conversely has a powerful incentive to end the war as soon as possible to tamp down anger in the left wing of his party before the fall re-election campaign when he will need all the support he can get.

At the same time, each has reason to think he may yet get a better deal if the other loses his post. Mr. Biden’s advisers are acutely aware that Mr. Netanyahu’s government could fall in response to the terrorist attack while the Israeli prime minister, who goes by the nickname Bibi, may prefer to buy time until November in case former President Donald J. Trump recaptures the White House.

Relevant Recent Headlines

gaza destruction

U.S. Reproductive Rights

ny times logoNew York Times, Alabama Republicans Race to Pass an I.V.F. Shield Law, Emily Cochrane, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). Republicans have long maintained that life begins at conception, but they must now reconcile that stance with broad support for I.V.F. treatment.

Alabama lawmakers on Wednesday were racing to protect the routine practice of in vitro fertilization, moving to assuage families and fertility clinics alarmed by a recent State Supreme Court ruling that found that frozen embryos should be considered children.

The lawmakers’ urgency underscores the bind for Republicans, who have long maintained that life begins at conception — a tenet of their opposition to abortion — but must now reconcile that stance with the realities of how I.V.F. is practiced and the broad public support for it.

Republican leaders across the nation have been quick to express their support for I.V.F., with the party already struggling to counter the backlash over stringent anti-abortion laws it has backed in a critical election year.

Former President Donald J. Trump, the front-runner for the Republican nomination for president, called on the Alabama Legislature to protect I.V.F. treatment, while in Florida, lawmakers sidelined a bill this week that would allow civil lawsuits over the wrongful death of a fetus.

In Alabama, top Republicans are now coalescing around a proposal that would provide immunity to I.V.F. clinics, barring any intentional destruction of embryos outside the usual medical process.

ny times logoNew York Times, Senate Republicans appeared ready to block a bill that would establish federal protections for I.V.F. treatment, Kayla Guo, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). Republicans, many of whom have said they support access to the treatment, argued that it should be left to states to ensure its legality after an Alabama court ruled that frozen embryos were children.

Senate Republicans on Wednesday appeared ready to block a bill that would establish federal protections for in vitro fertilization and other fertility treatments in the wake of a ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court that frozen embryos should be considered children.

Senator Tammy Duckworth, Democrat of Illinois, planned to try to bring the bill up on Wednesday under a procedure that allows any one senator to object and stop it in its tracks, effectively daring Republicans to oppose the measure and highlighting divisions within the G.O.P. on how to handle the issue. The bill would establish a federal right to access to I.V.F. and fertility treatments.

Democrats orchestrated the action as they sought to point out the hypocrisy of Republicans who have rushed to voice support for I.V.F. after the Alabama ruling, even though many of them have sponsored legislation that declares that life begins at the moment of fertilization. Such a bill could severely curtail or even outlaw aspects of the treatments.

“This is really to call out my Republican colleagues,” Ms. Duckworth said in an interview on Wednesday. “If this is urgent and you care deeply about this as you say you do — like you’ve been saying in the last 72-plus hours since the Alabama Supreme Court ruling — then don’t object. Let this bill pass.” She argued that the bill’s protections were all the more essential since the decision by Alabama’s Republican-majority court.

The legislation was the latest instance of Republicans trying to walk a political tightrope — made more perilous by the Alabama ruling — since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and made real many Americans’ fears of losing their access to reproductive health care. Democrats have vowed to pummel Republicans on the issue this election year, buoyed by polls that show that access to abortion and contraception is a major concern for voters that could drive them away from Republicans.

“Make no mistake about it: What happened in Alabama is a direct consequence — a direct consequence — of the hard-right MAGA Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, said on Tuesday. “And make no mistake about it: There will be other awful, restrictive decisions emanating from the Dobbs decision.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Republican lawmakers in Florida suspended a bill that aimed to protect an “unborn child” after the Alabama ruling, David W. Chen, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). Republican lawmakers in Florida sidelined a bill this week that would allow civil lawsuits over the wrongful death of a fetus.

Those on both sides of the abortion debate attributed the pause to fallout from the Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling that frozen embryos should be considered children.

If it moves ahead, the bill would add Florida to the ranks of about a dozen other states that allow parents to receive financial damages in some instances when a fetus has died. The bill says in cases of wrongful death, parents of an “unborn child” are considered survivors who can sue in civil court.

But in recent weeks, Democrats and others warned that the bill amounts to “fetal personhood,” assigning full rights of a person to a fetus. Such a designation, they said, would imperil doctors and anyone who assisted women in obtaining an abortion and would also adversely affect fertility treatments.

On Monday, Republican legislative leaders in Florida announced that they had postponed the bill.

ny times logoNew York Times, At least one in six abortions was conducted via telehealth from July through September, data shows, Claire Cain Miller and Margot Sanger-Katz, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). A growing share of abortions is now being administered through telemedicine, with clinicians prescribing mail-order abortion pills after online consultations, according to the first nationwide count of telehealth abortions in the U.S. medical system. At least one in six abortions, around 14,000 a month, was conducted via telehealth from July through September, the most recent months with available data.

How It Works

Pills are prescribed by virtual-only providers and by clinics that also offer in-person services. Patients fill out an online questionnaire or meet with a clinician via video or text chat. This method began nationwide in 2020, when the Food and Drug Administration began allowing abortion providers to mail pills without an in-clinic visit during the pandemic.

Some of the prescriptions included in the new count were given to patients in states where abortion is banned, a new development made possible by shield laws. These laws protect clinicians in states where abortion is legal when they prescribe and mail pills to patients in states where it is not. Shield laws were in effect in Colorado, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont and Washington during the period covered by the new data, and California has since passed one.

Why It Matters

The growth of telemedicine abortion has made it easier and often less expensive for women to get abortions, particularly if they live far from an abortion clinic or in one of the roughly one-third of states that have banned or substantially restricted abortions since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision in 2022.

Activists, legislators and prosecutors in the states with bans are working to stem the flow of these mail-order pills. But they have so far proven hard to regulate.

More On U.S. National Politics, Government

Incoming House Republican Speaker Mike Johnson (R-MS).

House Republican Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA).

Letters from an American, Commentary: February 29, 2024 [U.S. Government Funding], Heather Cox Richardson, right, March 1, 2024. Today’s story is heather cox richardsonthat in the negotiations to fund the government and pass the national supplemental security bill, MAGA Republicans appear to be losing ground. Biden appears to be trying to weaken them further by making it clear it is Republicans, not Democrats, who are preventing new, strict border security legislation.

The first of two continuing resolutions to fund the government for fiscal year 2024 will expire tomorrow. Fiscal year 2024 began on October 1, 2023, and Congress agreed to a topline budget, but it has been unable to fund the necessary appropriations because MAGA Republicans have insisted on having their extreme demands met in those measures. In this struggle, former president Trump has urged his loyalists not to give way, telling them in September 2023: “UNLESS YOU GET EVERYTHING, SHUT IT DOWN!”

But a poll from last September showed that 75% of Americans oppose using brinksmanship over a government shutdown to bargain for partisan gain.

After kicking the can down the road by passing three previous continuing resolutions, House Republicans a week ago expected a shutdown. But today they backed off. The House passed a short-term continuing resolution that pushes back the dates on which the two continuing resolutions expire, from March 1 and March 8 to March 8 and March 22. The vote was 320 to 99 in the House, with 113 Republicans joining 207 Democrats to pass the measure. Ninety-seven Republicans opposed the bill, as did two Democrats who were protesting the lack of aid to Ukraine.

Tonight, the Senate approved the continuing resolution by a vote of 77 to 13. President Joe Biden is expected to sign it tomorrow. “What we have done today has overcome the opposition of the MAGA hard right and gives us a formula for completing the appropriations process in a way that does not shut the government down and capitulate to extremists,” Senate majority leader Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) said.

Trump opposes helping Ukraine in its fight to resist Russia’s invasion, and under his orders, MAGA Republicans have also stalled the national security supplemental bill, which contains Ukrainian aid, as well as aid to Israel, the Indo-Pacific, and humanitarian aid to Gaza. The measure passed the Senate on February 13 by a strong bipartisan vote of 70 to 29, and is expected to pass the House if Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) takes it up, but so far, he has refused.

Today, Representative Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) told reporters that “several” House Republicans are willing to sign a discharge petition to force Speaker Johnson to bring a national security supplemental measure to the floor for a vote. A simple majority can force a vote on a bill through a discharge petition, but such a measure is rare because it undermines the House speaker. With Johnson refusing to take up the Senate measure, Fitzpatrick and his colleague Representative Jared Golden (D-ME) have prepared their own pared-down aid measure. Fitzpatrick told CNN’s Jake Tapper Tuesday that “[w]e are trying to add an additional pressure point on something that has to happen.”

patrick mchenry smile

Politico, McHenry’s ‘extreme candor’ on Johnson splits GOP, Eleanor Mueller, Jasper Goodman and Zachary Warmbrodt, March 1, 2024. McHenry told Politico “what I’m saying is obvious to a majority of the House Republican Conference.”

politico CustomRep. Patrick McHenry is closing out two decades in Congress by returning to the bomb-throwing days of his youth. His new target is House Speaker Mike Johnson, and it’s starting to rattle fellow conservatives.

McHenry, the bow-tied North Carolina Republican who plans to retire at the end of this session, has been ratcheting up his criticism of Johnson in recent weeks over what he views as a serial mishandling of big issues before the House, including government funding, the border and Ukraine aid.

The underlying tension is that McHenry believes Johnson is holding back activity in the House because of fears that he’ll suffer the same fate as his predecessor, Kevin McCarthy. McHenry told reporters last month that under Johnson’s leadership “we’ve yet to actually fulfill and execute policy.” He went further in a CBS News interview last week, warning of a “50-50” chance of a shutdown and calling it a “preventable disaster.”

One banking lobbyist granted anonymity to speak candidly said McHenry “speaks for what I would call the leadership class of the conference.”

“Patrick uses the ‘Shawshank Redemption’ metaphor,” the person said. “Andy Dufresne has to crawl three miles through a pipe full of human shit to go and reach freedom. And Patrick’s like, ‘Well, you can crawl slowly, or you can crawl quickly.’ … The analogy is supposed to be like, just make a decision.”

McHenry’s public critique of Johnson and the path that led him here is an illustration of the extent to which the House GOP has been turned upside down during his tenure. The 48-year-old lawmaker was once a self-described “bomb-thrower” — also referred to by others as the “the GOP’s attack dog-in-training” — but then took on the mantle as an aspiring deal-maker and McCarthy fixer before finding himself on the outside again in the Johnson era.

Hopium Chronicles, Opinion: Let’s Thank Joe Biden, Dems Fighting Hard For The Senate, Moving On From The Trump Trials, Simon Rosenberg, right, March simon rosenberg twitter1, 2024. Moving On From The Trump Trials. Let’s Focus On His Crimes and The 2024 Election.

I think it’s been a core part of Trump’s strategy this year to get us to focus on the latest drama in the courts – this motion, that ruling, will he show? – and not on the crimes he’s committed or winning the 2024 election. It’s been a strategic diversion, and we need to stop playing along. Just as waiting for Mueller denied us time to talk about the underlining misdeeds and what we knew, the ESPN-like coverage of the wheels of sometimes justice turning is preventing us from focusing on more important things.

So, step 1. As I’ve been saying for some time, we should take these trials from the legal domain and bring them into the political one. We can and should be talking about what Trump did, not the trials. Here’s what we can and should be talking about:

  • Trump raped E. Jean Carroll in a department store dressing room, and is now an adjudicated rapist
  • He and his family oversaw one of the largest financial frauds in American history, and he now owes hundreds of millions of dollars in fines and penalties. He and Rudy together owe more than $700m for their various misdeeds, and his partners in his media company are now accusing him of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from them (see below – it’s incredible)
  • He stole America’s secrets, lied to the FBI about it, shared them with others and should already be in jail, in pre-trial detention, for the grave risk he poses to the country
  • He led a party-wide effort to overturn American democracy, led an armed attack on the Capital when all 435 Members were present, and has promised to end American democracy if he gets back into the Oval Office. Thousands of his associates have already been indicted, convicted or plead guilty to the insurrection, including dozens of Republican leaders in key battleground states across the US
  • He and his family have corruptly taken more money from foreign governments than any political family in American history
  • His campaign partnered with Russian intelligence in 2016 to corruptly win the election for him, and his party has once again partnered with Russian intelligence to smear Joe Biden and his family this year. Most of his top campaign officials from 2016 have been indicted and convicted for their illegal activities, including his initial National Security Advisor
  • From 2016 to today Donald Trump has sided with Putin in his effort to take Ukraine against the clear security interests of the United States and the Western alliance
  • He is singularly responsible for ending Roe, and stripping the rights and freedoms from more than half the population. And as we’ve learned in recent days ending Roe was only the beginning

Waiting for Mueller prevented us from talking to the American people about the facts we already knew about Trump’s rancid relationship with the Russian government. We should not repeat that consequential mistake again this year. We should talk incessantly with our fellow citizens about what is already known about him – that he is a rapist, an epic fraudster, a serial criminal, a traitor, an enemy of women, the most corrupt politician in American history, etc. All of this is enough to win the election with. We don’t need any more. Conditioning the discussion of these matters to the outcome of the criminal trials is what they want us to do. We don’t have to wait. Let’s talk about all this now. The American people deserve to know all this information before voting in 2024.

Step 2. We should move on from spending time reading about the motions, the daily machinations and use that time to talk about what’s above, and to increasingly focus on the elections themselves. They are here, now. It’s time to make winning the Presidency, flipping the House and keeping the Senate the central focus of our days. Can’t wait for Jack Smith any longer. We need to put our heads down, get to 55 and win all these elections in front of us. We should do more, wait for Jack Smith less.

Current Senate Landscape – It’s Close, Competitive – In keeping my own counsel from above, I’m going to focus more now on the 2024 elections. Today, we do a quick look at recent Senate polling. What we find is a close, competitive fight for the Senate, with perhaps more good news for us than them (all polls via 538):

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), shown in a file photo by Saul Loeb of AFP at the U.S. Capitol).

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), shown in a file photo by Saul Loeb of AFP at the U.S. Capitol).

ny times logoNew York Times, McConnell to Step Down as Party Leader at the End of the Year, Carl Hulse, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). Mitch McConnell, the long-serving Republican leader, said he would step aside at the end of his leadership term but remain in the Senate.

Senator Mitch McConnell, the longtime top Senate Republican, said on Wednesday that he would give up his spot as the party’s leader at the end of this year, acknowledging that his Reaganite national security views had put him out of step with a party now headed by former President Donald J. Trump.

kentucky map

“Believe me, I know the politics within my party at this particular time,” Mr. McConnell, who turned 82 last week, said in a speech on the Senate floor announcing his intentions. “I have many faults. Misunderstanding politics is not one of them.”

His decision, reported earlier by The Associated Press, was not a surprise. Mr. McConnell suffered a serious fall last year and experienced some episodes where he momentarily froze in front of the media. He has also faced rising resistance within his ranks for his push to provide continued military assistance to Ukraine as well as his close-to-the-vest leadership style.

Mr. McConnell had said that he would serve out his full Senate term ending in 2027, but had been more opaque about whether he would try to remain leader after the November elections.

His announcement followed a White House meeting on Tuesday where he strongly advocated congressional passage of a foreign aid bill that includes more than $60 billion in aid for Ukraine and urged Speaker Mike Johnson to put the proposal on the House floor.

“I believe more strongly than ever that America’s global leadership is essential to preserving the shining city on a hill that Ronald Reagan discussed,” Mr. McConnell said.

Mr. McConnell became the longest serving Senate leader in history at the start of this Congress, surpassing Mike Mansfield of Montana and fulfilling a personal goal. Though he worked closely with Mr. Trump in placing conservative judges on the federal bench and three justices on the Supreme Court, Mr. McConnell broke with Mr. Trump over his refusal to acknowledge that President Biden had won the 2020 election and over the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol, which Mr. McConnell blamed on Mr. Trump even though he voted against convicting him on impeachment grounds.

ap logoAssociated Press via Politico, Wisconsin Supreme Court rejects Democrats’ congressional redistricting challenge, Staff Report, March  1, 2024. The decision not to hear the congressional challenge comes after the court in December ordered new legislative maps, saying the Republican-drawn ones were unconstitutional.

politico CustomThe liberal-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court on Friday rejected a Democratic lawsuit that sought to throw out the battleground state’s congressional maps, marking a victory for Republicans who argued against the court taking up the case.

The decision leaves the state’s current congressional district boundaries in place for the November election.

The decision not to hear the congressional challenge comes after the court in December ordered new legislative maps, saying the Republican-drawn ones were unconstitutional. The GOP-controlled Legislature, out of fear that the court would order maps even more unfavorable to Republicans, passed ones drawn by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. He signed those into law on Feb. 19 and urged the court to take up the congressional map challenge.

mark kelly oThe Elias Law Group (led by Marc Elias, right), which filed the congressional challenge on behalf of Democratic voters, said the court’s decision on the legislative maps opened the door to them revisiting the other maps.

But the court declined to take up the case. It did not give a reason in the unsigned order.

Justice Janet Protasiewicz did not participate. There was a request for her to recuse, but Protasiewicz said she didn’t participate because she wasn’t on the court when the case was originally brought.

wisconsin map with largest cities CustomTwo of the court’s conservative members, Chief Justice Annette Ziegler and Justice Rebecca Bradley, wrote that although the case was rightfully rejected, “it likely won’t be long until the new majority flexes its political power again to advance a partisan agenda despite the damage inflicted on the independence and integrity of the court.”

The court faced a tight deadline to act in time for the November election. Wisconsin’s elections commission has said district boundaries must be set by mid-March to meet deadlines for elections officials and candidates. Candidates can start circulating nomination papers on April 15 for the Aug. 13 primary.

In the legislative maps ruling, the state Supreme Court said the earlier conservative-controlled court was wrong in 2021 to say that maps drawn that year should have as little change as possible from the maps that were in place at the time. The lawsuit argued that decision warranted replacing the congressional district maps that were drawn under the “least change” requirement.

Six of the state’s eight congressional seats are held by Republicans. In 2010, the year before Republicans redrew the maps, Democrats held five seats compared with three for Republicans.

wisconsin supreme court seal CustomOnly two of the state’s current congressional districts are seen as competitive.

Western Wisconsin’s 3rd District is represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Derrick Van Orden, who won an open seat in 2022 after longtime Democratic Rep. Ron Kind retired.

And southeastern Wisconsin’s 1st District, held by Republican Rep. Bryan Steil since 2019, was made more competitive under the latest maps but still favors Republicans.

Both seats have been targeted by national Democrats.

The current congressional maps in Wisconsin were drawn by Evers and approved by the state Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court in March 2022 declined to block them from taking effect.

oregon map

ny times logoNew York Times, Oregon Is Recriminalizing Drugs, Dealing Setback to Reform Movement, Mike Baker, March 1, 2024. The state removed criminal penalties for possessing street drugs in 2020. But amid soaring overdose deaths, lawmakers voted to bring back some restrictions.

“This Legislature did not pass real solutions,” said Sandy Chung, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon. “This is about politics and political theater.”

In recent decades, states across the country have moved to legalize medical and recreational marijuana. But no state other than Oregon had taken the step of removing criminal penalties for possessing hard drugs such as fentanyl, heroin and methamphetamine.

Oregon’s decriminalization initiative, known as Measure 110, was driven by growing concern that drug laws were disproportionately incarcerating people of color and punishing people in need of addiction treatment. Under the measure, which was approved by 58 percent of voters, people found in possession of small amounts of hard drugs would be given a $100 citation that could be avoided by taking a health assessment.

But as law enforcement began handing out tickets, officials found that few people were opting for a health assessment, and the state stumbled in distributing funds to expand the availability of treatment options.

Meanwhile, fentanyl was flooding the region. In Portland’s downtown, streets already barren as a result of the pandemic felt threatening, with people using drugs openly or acting out in crisis.

Overdose deaths skyrocketed. From September 2022 to September 2023, deaths in the state rose an estimated 42 percent — the highest increase in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (The fatality rate nationwide went up 2 percent.) Since the start of 2020, Portland’s Multnomah County has recorded more overdose deaths than Covid-19 deaths.

Decriminalization advocates pointed to research that found no link between the legal changes and rising overdose deaths over the first year of implementation. Instead, they argued, the crisis was rooted in the abundance of fentanyl, a lack of social services, the lingering effects of the pandemic, and, especially in Portland, widespread homelessness, all factors that tended to exacerbate dangerous drug use.

But the tide of public opinion was already turning.

The Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit that spent millions to support the 2020 decriminalization effort, had envisioned Measure 110 as the start of a series of similar campaigns in states like Washington, Vermont, Maine and California.

Three years ago, when Oregon voters approved a pioneering plan to decriminalize hard drugs, advocates looking to halt the jailing of drug users believed they were on the edge of a revolution that would soon sweep across the country.

But even as the state’s landmark law took effect in 2021, the scourge of fentanyl was taking hold. Overdoses soared as the state stumbled in its efforts to fund enhanced treatment programs. And while many other downtowns emerged from the dark days of the pandemic, Portland continued to struggle, with scenes of drugs and despair.

Lately, even some of the liberal politicians who had embraced a new approach to drugs have supported an end to the experiment. On Friday, a bill that will reimpose criminal penalties for possession of some drugs won final passage in the State Legislature and was headed next to Gov. Tina Kotek, who has expressed alarm about open drug use and helped broker a plan to ban such activity.

“It’s clear that we must do something to try and adjust what’s going on out in our communities,” State Senator Chris Gorsek, a Democrat who had supported decriminalization, said in an interview. Soon after, senators took the floor, with some sharing stories of how addictions and overdoses had impacted their own loved ones. They passed the measure by a 21-8 margin.

The abrupt rollback is a devastating turn for decriminalization proponents who say the large number of overdose deaths stems from a confluence of factors and failures largely unrelated to the law. They have warned against returning to a “war on drugs” strategy and have urged the Legislature to instead invest in affordable housing and drug treatment options.

Relevant Recent Headlines

More On Global Disputes, Disasters, Human Rights

alexny navalny ap denis kaminev

 Alexei Navalny was President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent opponent and a fierce critic of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (Denis Kaminev photo via the Associated Press)

washington post logoWashington Post, Live: Russian opposition leader’s body headed to cemetery as thousands follow, Francesca Ebel, Robyn Dixon and Mary Ilyushina, March 1, 2024. Alexei Navalny, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most formidable critic, was lowered into the ground to the strains of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” as thousands of his supporters outside the cemetery chanted to be allowed in to pay their respects.

alexey navalny 2017Under the supervision of busloads of riot police, Navalny’s body was whisked into the church for a brief ceremony before being taken for burial. The opposition leader died suddenly at the age of 47 in the Polar Wolf prison colony in northern Russia — a death that his widow, Yulia Navalnaya, and other supporters have described as “murder” but which Russian authorities attributed to “natural causes.”

Crowds of mourners, including opposition figures, chanted “We are not afraid! Don’t be afraid!” as Navalny’s coffin arrived. Thousands waited behind barriers in hopes of laying flowers on the coffin, but the public was not able to enter the church.

Russian authorities exerted tight control on the crowd of public mourners, with metal barriers blocking access to the entrance of the church. Navalny’s team, which operates in exile in Vilnius, Lithuania, broadcast the funeral live but reported interruptions to the internet around the church.

 Relevant Recent Headlines

More On  U.S. 2024 Presidential Race

djt biden resized smiles

Hopium Chronicles, U.S. Political Commentary: Biden Breaks 80% in Michigan, Trump Continues To Struggle, Simon Rosenberg, right, Feb. 28, 2024 simon rosenberg twitterMarianne Williamson, who dropped out a month ago, beat Dean Phillips last night!

In Michigan, Biden Keeps Cruising, Trump Continues To Struggle – In my post yesterday, I argued that the opposition to Biden’s foreign policy inside the Democratic Party was very limited, but intense. And that’s what we saw last night. Biden broke 80%, and for all the hype Uncommitted got to a very modest 13%, just 2 points higher than Uncommitted got against Obama in 2012. Biden is very popular in the Democratic Party, and the opposition he has is very narrow and limited. But it’s there, and Biden world has work to do to bring everyone along, as all campaigns do. It’s doable work in my view, the work we have to do, well within the normal debates and dissensions that happen in these very large, big-tent parties we have in America. 

Let’s review some data. 100,000 people voted uncommitted in Michigan last night. About 100,000 Arab Americans voted for Biden in Michigan in 2020. Let’s assume that 50,000 of those people stay home this November. That’s a little less than 1% of the total vote this fall. Can we make it up other places? Can we work really hard to get number down? Yes and yes. I characterize what’s happening right now as more of a challenge to Biden than a threat. But we have work to do.

ny times logoNew York Times, Michigan Primary Takeaways: ‘Uncommitted’ Makes Itself Heard, Reid J. Epstein and Shane Goldmacher, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). President Biden endured a protest vote, Donald Trump fended off Nikki Haley again, and both may face challenges with their party coalitions as they start to look toward November.

biden harris 2024 logoJoseph R. Biden Jr. and Donald J. Trump won Michigan’s primary elections on Tuesday as the president and his predecessor hurtle toward a rematch in November.

But the results showed some of the fragility of the political coalitions they have constructed in a critical state for the fall. Losing any slice of support is perilous for both Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump. Mr. Biden won Michigan in 2020 by about 150,000 votes, and Mr. Trump carried it in 2016 by about 11,000 votes.

trump 2024The results of the primaries on Tuesday carried extra weight because Michigan was the first state that is a top general-election battleground to hold its primary in 2024.

michigan map‘Uncommitted’ succeeded in grabbing Biden’s attention. When the movement to persuade Democrats to vote “uncommitted” began three weeks ago, its public goal was clear: Pile enough pressure on Mr. Biden that he would call for an unconditional cease-fire in Gaza.

Since then, top White House officials told Arab American leaders in Dearborn, Mich., that they had regrets over how the administration had responded to the crisis. Mr. Biden called Israel’s military action “over the top.” And on the eve of the primary, he said he hoped a cease-fire agreement would be in place within a week. (The view from Israel and Gaza suggested Mr. Biden was being a bit optimistic.)

In the early hours of Wednesday, roughly 13 percent of primary voters had chosen “uncommitted” — a share that paled next to Mr. Biden’s 81 percent, but represented more than 75,000 people in Michigan who made the effort to lodge their disapproval of the president.

The movement is now likely to spread to other states, many of which have an option for voters to choose “uncommitted” or “no preference” in their primaries.

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Clash: U.S. Culture Wars Meets Public Health

alabama capitol

washington post logoWashington Post, Shock, anger, confusion grip Alabama after court ruling on embryos, Tim Craig and Sabrina Malhi, Feb. 21, 2024 (print ed.). The state Supreme Court decision signals a new chapter in America’s fight over reproductive rights and marks another blow to women’s rights groups who expect similar challenges in other conservative states.

Alabama doctors are puzzled over whether they will have to make changes to in vitro fertilization procedures. Couples have crammed into online support groups wondering if they should transfer frozen embryos out of state. And attorneys are warning that divorce settlements that call for frozen embryos to be destroyed may now be void.

Throughout Alabama, there is widespread shock, anger and confusion over how to proceed after the state Supreme Court ruled Friday that frozen embryos are people, a potentially far-reaching decision that could upend women’s reproductive health care in a state that already has one of the nation’s strictest abortion laws.

“Women who actually know what happened, they feel under attack and almost powerless,” said AshLeigh Meyer Dunham, a Birmingham mother who conceived a child through in vitro fertilization and is a partner in a law firm that specializes in assisted reproductive technology cases. “First you had the Dobbs decision and now this. What does this even mean?”

The state Supreme Court decision signals a new chapter in America’s fight over reproductive rights and marks another blow to women’s rights groups that expect similar challenges in other conservative states. The ruling is limited to Alabama, but legal experts say it could embolden the “personhood movement,” which asserts that unborn children should be granted legal rights beginning at conception.

The decision was decried Tuesday by the White House.

“This is exactly the type of chaos that we expected when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and paved the way for politicians to dictate some of the most personal decisions families can make,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters traveling with President Biden.

Interviews with physicians and attorneys in Alabama, as well as advocates on both sides of the issue nationwide, paint a confusing path forward for IVF clinics trying to interpret the ramifications of the ruling. Although physicians hope the Alabama legislature will limit the impacts of the ruling, they warn that the most dire consequence of the ruling is that some Alabama IVF clinics may be forced to suspend their operations.

alabama locator mapLetters from an American, Commentary: February 22, 2024 (Alabama Supreme Court), Heather Cox Richardson, right, Feb. 23, 2023. The Alabama Supreme heather cox richardsonCourt on February 16, 2024, decided that cells awaiting implantation for in vitro fertilization are children and that the accidental destruction of such an embryo falls under the state’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act.

In an opinion concurring with the ruling, Chief Justice Tom Parker declared that the people of Alabama have adopted the “theologically based view of the sanctity of life” and said that “human life cannot be wrongfully destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God.”

Payton Armstrong of media watchdog Media Matters for America reported today that on the same day the Alabama decision came down, an interview Parker did on the program of a self-proclaimed “prophet” and Q-Anon conspiracy theorist appeared. In it, Parker claimed that “God created government” and called it “heartbreaking” that “we have let it go into the possession of others.”

Parker referred to the “Seven Mountain Mandate,” a theory that appeared in 1975, which claims that Christians must take over the “seven mountains” of U.S. life: religion, family, education, media, entertainment, business…and government. He told his interviewer that “we’ve abandoned those Seven Mountains and they’ve been occupied by the other side.” God “is calling and equipping people to step back into these mountains right now,” he said.

While Republicans are split on the decision about embryos after a number of hospitals have ended their popular IVF programs out of fear of prosecution, others, like Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley agreed that “embryos, to me, are babies.”

House speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) identifies himself as a Christian, has argued that the United States is a Christian nation, and has called for “biblically sanctioned government.” At a retreat of Republican leaders this weekend, as the country is grappling with both the need to support Ukraine and the need to fund the government, he tried to rally the attendees with what some called a “sermon” arguing that the Republican Party needed to save the country from its lack of morality.

As Charles Blow of the New York Times put it: “If you don’t think this country is sliding toward theocracy, you’re not paying attention.”

In the United States, theocracy and authoritarianism go hand in hand.

ny times logoWashington Post, Alabama embryo ruling may have devastating effects on cancer patients, Sabrina Malhi, Feb. 25, 2024. A cancer diagnosis often comes with a host of difficult decisions, including what to do about the impact of treatment on a person’s fertility. Many individuals grappling with this dual burden turn to in vitro fertilization (IVF) as a way to preserve their reproductive options.

alabama state mapThat’s why cancer patients and oncologists are expressing shock and anxiety about the recent ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court that frozen embryos are considered children under the law.

The ruling is already having a chilling effect on IVF clinics in the state. Worries are mounting that other states could adopt similar rulings that would impede fertility medicine for people, including many cancer patients, who say assisted reproductive technology might be their only way of having a family after treatments.

“We’re leaving a lot of young men and women to deal with the long-lasting effects of the cancer treatments, and some of those effects could be infertility and premature menopause,” said Deanna Gerber, a gynecologic oncologist at NYU Langone Perlmutter Cancer Center who is a triple-negative breast cancer survivor.

ny times logoWashington Post, Alabama justice who quoted Bible in IVF case often invokes religion, Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff, Feb. 25, 2024 (print ed.). In the Alabama Supreme Court ruling that said frozen embryos are people, Chief Justice Tom Parker wrote a concurring opinion that sought to define the “sanctity of unborn life,” citing heavily from scripture and theology. His opinion, which drew criticism from abortion rights activists for instilling religious beliefs into a judicial decision, was the latest in nearly 20 years on the bench in which he has repeatedly invoked religion on his way to laying the groundwork to overturn Roe v. Wade.

tom parker mickey welsh advertiser reutersParker, shown at right in a photo by Mickey Welsh via the Advertiser and Reuters,  has also openly criticized other judges for not sufficiently considering religion in their rulings and has expressed support for the theory known as the Seven Mountain Mandate, which calls for conservative Christians to run the government and broadly influence American life.

Parker, 72, was first elected to the Alabama Supreme Court in 2004 and won the chief justice’s seat in 2018. His term ends in 2025; state law prohibits judges older than 70 from being elected. Parker has for years been lauded by abortion foes and condemned by reproductive rights advocates for writing opinions that would help spawn the fall of Roe and further restrict abortion access.

ny times logoNew York Times, Abortion Shield Laws Pit U.S. States Against One Another, Pam Belluck, Feb. 23, 2024 (print ed.). Doctors in six states where abortion is legal are using new laws to send abortion pills to tens of thousands of women in states where it is illegal.

Behind an unmarked door in a boxy brick building outside Boston, a quiet rebellion is taking place. Here, in a 7-by-12-foot room, abortion is being made available to thousands of women in states where it is illegal.

The patients do not have to travel here to terminate their pregnancies, and they do not have to wait weeks to receive abortion medication from overseas.

Instead, they are obtaining abortion pills prescribed by licensed Massachusetts providers, packaged in the little room and mailed from a nearby post office, arriving days later in Texas, Missouri and other states where abortion is largely outlawed.

This service and others like it are operating under novel laws enacted in a half-dozen states — Massachusetts, Washington, Colorado, Vermont, New York and California — that have sought to preserve abortion access since the Supreme Court overturned the nationwide right to abortion in June 2022. The laws have been in use only since the summer and have not been tested in the courts, but they are already providing abortion access to tens of thousands of women in states with bans, especially low-income patients and others who cannot travel.

Called telemedicine abortion shield laws, they promise to protect doctors, nurse practitioners and midwives licensed in those six states who prescribe and send abortion pills to patients in the nearly two dozen states that ban or sharply restrict abortion.

The laws stipulate that officials and agencies of their states will not cooperate with another state’s efforts to investigate or penalize such providers — a stark departure from typical interstate practices of extraditing, honoring subpoenas and sharing information, legal experts on both sides of the abortion issue say. Many expect them to ultimately be challenged in federal court.

Abortion opponents see the laws as brazen infringement on state sovereignty.

“You have states not just picking their own strategy but really trying to completely sabotage the governing efforts of their neighboring states,” John Seago, the president of Texas Right to Life, said.

washington post logoWashington Post, Man found guilty of killing trans woman in historic hate crime verdict, Daniel Wu, Feb. 25, 2024 (print ed.). A South Carolina man is the first person convicted by trial of a federal hate crime based on gender identity, federal authorities said.

A federal jury found a South Carolina man guilty Friday of killing a Black transgender woman, marking the first conviction at federal trial for a hate crime motivated by gender identity, according to authorities.

The jury unanimously found Daqua Lameek Ritter guilty of a hate crime, a firearms charge and obstruction for the 2019 fatal shooting of Dime Doe, a 24-year-old transgender woman, the Justice Department announced Saturday.

Ritter lured Doe to a remote area in Allendale, S.C., and shot her three times in the head, prosecutors alleged. Ritter was upset after he learned rumors had spread in his community about a sexual relationship between him and Doe, and he killed Doe because of her gender identity, according to the Justice Department.

Officials hailed the conviction as historic. Until Ritter’s case, no federal hate-crime case based on gender identity had reached a guilty verdict by trial, according to the Justice Department.

Ritter faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.

“We want the Black trans community to know that you are seen and heard, that we stand with the LGBTQI+ community, and that we will use every tool available to seek justice for victims and their families,” Justice Department Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said in the department’s news release.

The 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act created a federal law criminalizing violent acts against people due to their religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation or disability. The law gave, among other things, federal authorities greater flexibility to prosecute hate crimes that local authorities choose not to pursue, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. But prosecutors did not pursue a case centered on a victim’s gender identity until several years after the law’s enactment.

Related Recent HeadlinesWashington Post, RFK Jr. says he didn’t read Alabama IVF ruling, won’t say when life begins

GOP Probes Of Bidens Attacked, Undermined

Former FBI informant Alexander Smirnov, second from left, leaves the courthouse with his attorneys (Photo by Bizuayehu Tesfaye for the Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP)

Former FBI informant Alexander Smirnov, second from left, leaves the courthouse with his attorneys (Photo by Bizuayehu Tesfaye for the Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP).

Impeachment Probe of President Biden, Son Hunter Biden

hunter biden nbc beard

washington post logoWashington Post, Hunter Biden testifies that he never involved his father in business, Matt Viser and Jacqueline Alemany, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). President’s son (above) opens with a defiant statement accusing Republicans of ‘partisan house of cards’ built on ‘lies.’

Hunter Biden testified on Wednesday that he never involved his father in any of his business decisions, and he accused House Republicans of having “built your entire partisan house of cards on lies.”

President Biden’s son, ahead of what is expected to be a lengthy and long-awaited closed-door deposition for a GOP-led impeachment inquiry, wrote an opening statement that was defiant, emotional and combative.

“I am here today to provide the Committees with the one uncontestable fact that should end the false premise of this inquiry: I did not involve my father in my business,” he said, according to a copy of the statement obtained by The Washington Post. “Not while I was a practicing lawyer, not in my investments or transactions domestic or international, not as a board member, and not as an artist. Never.”

House Republicans have struggled to uncover firm evidence that Joe Biden benefited from — or played a role in — the business pursuits of his family members. The testimony from Hunter Biden follows an appearance from President Biden’s younger brother James Biden, who testified last week that Joe Biden never played a role in his businesses. Several other former associates of Hunter and James Biden have made similar statements under oath.

Hunter Biden’s appearance before the Oversight and Judiciary committees could provide Republicans with a final chance to alter the trajectory of an impeachment inquiry that so far has produced mostly exculpatory statements, despite Republicans’ efforts to prove that the president benefited improperly from his family’s businesses.

“This has been a comedy of errors from the beginning,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said ahead of the hearing. He urged Republicans to “fold up the circus tent” and end the impeachment inquiry.

Letters from an American, Commentary: Feb. 21 (Biden Probes), Heather Cox Richardson, right, American academic historian at Boston College heather cox richardsonand author of seven books, most recently, Democracy Awakening, which relates how history can teach us about ourselves, and how can it serve as a roadmap for the future of American democracy), Feb. 22, 2024.

The centerpiece of Republicans’ case for impeaching Democratic president Joe Biden is the allegation that he and his son Hunter, above, each accepted a $5 million bribe from Ukrainian oil and gas company Burisma when Biden Sr. was vice president. But in the last week, that accusation has revealed quite a different problem, one that implicates Republicans.

washington post logoWashington Post, Editorial: The Biden impeachment inquiry has utterly collapsed, Editorial Board, Feb. 23, 2024 (print ed.). Until this month, House Republicans referred to information provided by a “highly credible” FBI informant as the core of their case to impeach President Biden. This week, they quietly deleted any mention of that source from official documents. This one small move speaks volumes about an ill-founded GOP crusade that seems finally to be reaching an embarrassing denouement.

david weiss o 2018Special counsel David Weiss, left  — the man in charge of the Justice Department’s criminal case against Hunter Biden — last week filed charges against Alexander Smirnov. The 43-year-old U.S.-Israeli citizen, prosecutors say, lied to federal investigators about the Biden family’s business dealings. These lies, crucially, included claims that the president and his son each sought $5 million bribes from Ukrainian energy company Burisma when Mr. Biden was vice president, in exchange for protecting the firm from scrutiny by Ukraine’s national authorities. Now, Mr. Smirnov has also disclosed that “officials associated with Russian intelligence” fed him his information.

Justice Department log circularOf course, there’s reason for skepticism about that latest explosive allegation from this supplier of apparently bogus bombshells. The memo released on Tuesday portrays Mr. Smirnov as a con man hawking “an amalgam of otherwise unremarkable business meetings and contacts,” none of which occurred during the time period he purported, as proof of corruption. He apparently lied about his wealth, his profession and more. Prosecutors even refer to “new lies” Mr. Smirnov is “actively peddling … that could impact U.S. elections,” involving suggestions that Moscow “may use as ‘kompromat’ ” information taken from intercepted phone calls of Hunter Biden in a foreign hotel.

Might Mr. Smirnov also be lying about Russian officials providing him with dirt on the president? Absolutely. But that is the point. Either Mr. Smirnov is an asset in a current Kremlin plot to spread disinformation about the president, an eerie echo of 2016’s election interference, or he is dissembling about that, too. Either way, congressional Republicans have staked their impeachment inquiry on the words of a fabulist.

washington post logoWashington Post, Fact Checker Analysis: How a Bill Barr ‘assignment’ led to a Biden impeachment effort based on a lie, Glenn Kessler, right, Feb. 23, glenn kessler2024. The indictment of Alexander Smirnov, a trusted FBI confidential source, on charges of lying about an alleged Ukrainian bribery scheme involving President Biden and his son Hunter is a new twist in a saga that has its roots in a project launched by then-Attorney General William P. Barr soon after President Donald Trump was impeached for the first time.

Trump was impeached Dec. 18, 2019, charged with pressuring the Ukrainian government to turn up dirt on Biden, potentially his most formidable rival in 2020. Sixteen days later, on Jan. 3, 2020, Barr tasked Brady, a U.S. attorney in Western Pennsylvania, rudy giuliani wwith vetting material regarding Biden and Ukraine — some of it supplied by Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani — for possible distribution to prosecutors who could use a grand jury to investigate further.

To some extent, this story mirrors that of the “Steele dossier,” a string of unverified and derogatory pieces of information on Trump collected during the 2016 election by a confidential source trusted by the FBI, Christopher Steele, on behalf of Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Steele’s reports, leaked to the media, created a firestorm of speculation by Democrats about Trump’s ties to Russia — even though much of it turned out to be false. (Steele has said he stands by his work.)

Justice Department log circularIn the same vein, the Smirnov tale has its roots in a Republican effort to target Biden. His story didn’t gain much traction among investigators in 2020 but emerged in 2023 and was immediately embraced as true by many GOP lawmakers. A detailed review of information contained in the indictment, Brady’s testimony before congressional investigators, public statements and other documents shows that — absent Barr’s creation of a Biden task force — Smirnov’s allegations probably never would have appeared in the FBI document that led to his indictment and to the possible collapse of the Republicans’ impeachment case with Smirnov as its star.

Here is a timeline of the years-long events ending in Smirnov’s arrest.

Drug-Related Gun and Tax Charges Against Hunter Biden

hunter biden beard

 Meidas Touch Network, Commentary: Hunter Biden To Appear At Closed Door Deposition Today, Jordy Meiselas, Feb. 28, 2024. This comes after an embarrassing week for House Republicans. 

mtn meidas touch networkPresident Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, will appear at a closed door deposition later today in front of the House Oversight Committee. Biden is expected to testify about his alleged business dealings overseas, along with any connection with his business dealings and the President. This testimony is being taken to further the Republican Party’s impeachment inquiry into President Biden.

The only problem for House Republicans is that their inquiry has already fallen apart in advance of this closed-door deposition. During the past week, the Republican Party’s star witness, Alexander Smirnov, was arrested and charged by Special Counsel David Weiss for lying to investigators about the nature and veracity of many of the claims that House Republicans are using to try to impeach the President. Special Counsel Weiss is the same special counsel who also charged Hunter Biden in an unrelated tax crimes case.

Specifically, prosecutors revealed that Smirnov had high level contacts with Russian officials who potentially used Smirnov as a conduit to spread lies about Hunter and Joe Biden in an attempt to influence American politics. Smirnov was the individual who pushed the story that Hunter Biden used his status as President Biden’s son to peddle influence for foreign officials. Years later, Smirnov is now indicted for lying to law enforcement about that exact story. Currently, due to him being a flight risk, Smirnov is incarcerated pending trial in the Central District of California and faces the potential of decades in federal prison.

Following the closed door deposition, expect Republicans to come out and try to get ahead of the story by spinning Hunter Biden’s testimony. Make no mistake, the impeachment inquiry has already failed, no matter how much they or the mainstream media try to say otherwise.

Emptywheel, Analysis: Lesley Wolf Vindicated by Alexander Smirnov Indictment, Emptywheel (Marcy Wheeler), right, Feb. 26, 2024. You know who is marcy wheelervindicated by the Alexander Smirnov indictment? Lesley Wolf, who made an effort to prevent Trump’s efforts to interfere in the investigation from tainting the investigation into Hunter Biden and then faced death threats because she did so.

In the wake of the Alexander Smirnov indictment, the 51 former spooks who wrote a letter stating their opinion that the release of Hunter Biden emails to the NY Post is consistent with a Russian information operation have claimed vindication. That has led to this problematic Justice Department log circularKen Dilanian report parroting David Weiss filings that deliberately obscured the evidence in the Hunter Biden case. And that, in turn, has led to a flood of people expressing opinions about the laptop turned over by John Paul Mac Isaac (Olivia Nuzzi, Reese Gorman) that exhibit no clue about how precarious that evidence is now.

In other words, that has renewed a debate consisting of misrepresenting the 51-spook letter, then misstating what the public evidence about the laptop shows.

Meidas Touch Network, Commentary: Hunter Biden Attorneys Say Prosecution Confused Sawdust with Cocaine, Brett Meiselas, Feb. 20, 2024. His legal team says the prosecution still has not met their discovery obligations.

mtn meidas touch networkA new filing by Hunter Biden’s attorneys in their reply in support of Hunter’s motion to compel discovery and set discovery deadlines raises some very troubling lapses in the case brought by Special Counsel David Weiss.

The filing accuses the prosecution of sidestepping addressing actual disputes identified in the case, accusing them of instead focusing on tangential issues.

Stunningly, the filing reveals discrepancies in the interpretation of photographic evidence that further exacerbates doubts surrounding the prosecution’s handling of the case. These misinterpretations not only cast doubt on the accuracy of the evidence presented but also raise questions about the overall integrity of the prosecution’s investigative methods.

Specifically, Hunter Biden’s lawyers criticize the special counsel for their reliance in the indictment on a photo of a brown leather pouch they claimed belong to Hunter Biden and supposedly contained cocaine residue. Hunter’s attorneys reveal that what prosecution claimed to be cocaine was actually sawdust from an expert carpenter – and the photo was sent to Hunter Biden, not vice versa.

Problems With Special Prosecutors

Emptywheel, Analysis: Navel-Gazing: The Ethics Problem Caused by Merrick Garland’s Brad Weinsheimer Solution, Emptywheel (Marcy Wheeler), Feb. 25, 2024. Merrick Garland’s reliance on the career Associate Deputy Attorney General rather than a PADAG to oversee Special Counsel investigations seems to have created a kind of navel-gazing that only encourages ethical problems with the investigations.

Emptywheel, Analysis: Leo Wise Keeps Digging Through Difficulties Caused by a Dumb Prosecutorial Decision, Emptywheel (Marcy Wheeler), Feb. 26, 2024. Leo Wise keeps digging himself bigger holes, all of which stem from making rash prosecutorial decisions without considering the complexity of the case against Hunter Biden.

william barr resized donald trump

Emptywheel Opinion: Ken Vogel Covers Up Rudy Giuliani and His Alleged Russian Spies, Emptywheel (Marcy Wheeler), right, Feb. 24, 2024 (print ed.).  In a story struggling to explain how Alexander Smirnov relates to the side channel Bill Barr, above left, set up to launder dirt from Rudy Giuliani, Giuliani mouthpiece Ken Vogel covers up the role of Rudy and the alleged Russian spies from whom he solicited dirt on Hunter Biden.

Vogel wrote a story with Glenn Thrush that really struggled with basic details about the Hunter Biden investigation.

It’s not the struggle with basic facts about the Hunter Biden investigation that I find so remarkable, though. It’s the shamelessness by longtime Rudy Giuliani mouthpiece Ken Vogel of his cover-up of Rudy’s role in all this.

Ken Vogel knows Rudy’s role in the side channel that led to the Smirnov claim as well as anybody. But his story about the side channel covered up Rudy’s role — two dozen mentions at one of his links and over a hundred at the other — and in the process covered up the Russian spies that necessitated the side channel.

Relevant Recent Headlines

U.S. Justice Department photo of sawdust used in the prosecution of President's son Hunter Biden (shown at left in a file photo) to allege falsely that the photo was by the defendant showing cocaine (Justice Department photo seized from a transmission by Defendant's psychiatrist).

U.S. Justice Department photo of sawdust used in the prosecution of President’s son Hunter Biden (shown at left in a file photo) to allege falsely that the photo was by the defendant showing cocaine (Justice Department photo seized from a transmission by defendant’s psychiatrist).

Russia-Ukraine War

washington post logoWashington Post, Putin threatens nuclear response to NATO troops if they go to Ukraine, Francesca Ebel and Robyn Dixon, March 1, 2024 (print ed.). In a speech to Russia’s Federal Assembly, Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened strikes against the West if there are attacks on Russian territory.

Russian President Vladimir Putin used his annual State of the Nation address on Thursday to take aim at the West, threatening to use nuclear weapons against NATO countries if they send forces to help defend Ukraine from a Russian victory.

Russian FlagIn a speech to Russia’s Federal Assembly that was predominantly dedicated to Russia’s domestic affairs, Putin delivered a tough warning, threatening retaliatory strikes against the West in the event of attacks on Russian territory.

“They must understand that we also have weapons that can hit targets on their territory,” he said, warning of “tragic consequences” if NATO forces were ever deployed to Ukraine. “All this really threatens a conflict with the use of nuclear weapons and the destruction of civilization. Don’t they get that?”

  • Washington Post, Analysis: Foreign troops in Ukraine? They’re already there.

Western leaders, he continued, thought that war “is a cartoon,” adding that Russia’s “strategic nuclear forces are in a state of full readiness.” He boasted that Russia’s most advanced hypersonic nuclear-capable weapons, such as the Kinzhal and Zircon missiles, had been used in Ukraine, while others were in the final stages of testing.

Putin has hinted before of Russia’s readiness to use its nuclear weapons, but Thursday’s warning was unusually sharp.

ny times logoNew York Times, Ukraine Charges Key Figure in Arms Trade With Corruption, Daria Mitiuk, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). A Times investigation showed how the war helped Serhiy Pashinsky rehabilitate his reputation. Now he faces charges related to accusations about his past.

ukraine flagA high-profile Ukrainian former politician who has become central to the country’s effort to obtain weapons was arrested on corruption charges earlier this month, officials said.

The ex-politician, Serhiy Pashinsky, was a longtime member of Ukraine’s Parliament who spent much of his career denying accusations of self-dealing. After Russia’s invasion, senior government officials called on him to help arm the military.

The New York Times reported last year that a company tied to Mr. Pashinsky, Ukrainian Armored Technology, had become the biggest private arms supplier in Ukraine and that authorities were investigating the company.

Prosecutors recently accused Mr. Pashinsky and five other men of participating in a convoluted fuel-buying scheme that they said had defrauded the Ukrainian government out of about $25 million several years before the war started. Mr. Pashinsky denied the charges.

The accusations do not relate to weapons procurement.

Mr. Pashinsky’s arrest reflects the tensions of wartime Ukraine under President Volodymyr Zelensky. His government has made a series of high-profile moves to root out corruption and assure Western allies that Ukraine is a reliable ally committed to the rule of law. But Ukraine also urgently needs weapons and has rolled back years of anticorruption measures in order to speed up procurement.

Mr. Zelensky once criticized Mr. Pashinsky on national television. “Go out on the streets and ask whether Pashinsky is a criminal,” Mr. Zelensky he said in 2019. “I guarantee you that out of 100 people, 100 will say that he is a criminal.”

When the war broke out, his government turned for help to Mr. Pashinsky and other figures from a more rough-and-tumble era. Mr. Pashinsky excelled at the job, military officials said.

Mr. Pashinsky has denied running Ukrainian Armored Technology. In a hearing earlier this month, a prosecutor said that the authorities had found evidence that he indeed controlled the company.

ny times logoNew York Times, Seeking to Unsettle Russia, Macron Provokes Allies, Roger Cohen, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). The openness of President Emmanuel Macron of France to Western troops in Ukraine signaled a quest for military resolve. But some allies felt blindsided.

With his jolting unexpected statement that sending Western troops to Ukraine “should not be ruled out,” President Emmanuel Macron of France has shattered a taboo, ignited debate, spread dismay among allies and forced a reckoning on Europe’s future.

For an embattled leader who loathes lazy thinking, longs for a Europe of military strength and loves the limelight, this was typical enough. It was Mr. Macron, after all, who in 2019 described NATO as suffering from “brain death” and who last year warned Europe against becoming America’s strategic “vassal.”

But bold pronouncements are one thing and patiently putting the pieces in place to attain those objectives, another. Mr. Macron has often favored provocation over preparation, even if he often has a point, as in arguing since 2017 that Europe needed to bolster its defense industry to attain greater strategic heft.

This week was no exception. By lurching forward without building consensus among allies, Mr. Macron may have done more to illustrate Western divisions and the limits of how far NATO allies are willing to go in defense of Ukraine than achieve the “strategic ambiguity” he says is needed to keep President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia guessing.

Mr. Macron’s provocation looked in part like a quest for relevance at a time when he is isolated at home and has appeared a marginal figure in the war between Israel and Hamas. France has played a central role in coordinating European Union aid to Ukraine, including a $54 billion program to support Kyiv approved this month, but its own aid contribution lags Germany, Britain and the United States.

ny times logoNew York Times, Kremlin Warns Against NATO Ground Intervention in Ukraine, Paul Sonne and Constant Méheut, Feb. 28, 2024 (print ed.). The warning came in response to comments by President Emmanuel Macron of France, who said “nothing should be ruled out” when asked about the possibility.

Russian FlagA provocative comment by President Emmanuel Macron of France about the possibility of putting troops from NATO countries in Ukraine has prompted a warning from the Kremlin and hurried efforts by European leaders to distance themselves from the suggestion.

The fractured messaging underscores how Ukraine’s allies are struggling to agree on new ways to help Kyiv as resolve weakens in the United States and Russia advances on the battlefield.

The Kremlin warned Tuesday that a ground intervention by any NATO country would lead to a direct clash between the Western military alliance and Russian forces, fraught with potential dangers, and called the open discussion of such a step as “a very important new element.”

“This is of course not in the interest of these countries,” Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said in comments to reporters.

The warning came a day after Mr. Macron said “nothing should be ruled out” regarding the possibility of a NATO country sending troops to Ukraine, though he said there was no consensus on the matter.

“Anything is possible if it is useful to reach our goal,” Mr. Macron said, speaking after a meeting with European leaders in Paris about future support for Kyiv. Reminding leaders that the West was doing things it didn’t imagine two years ago, like sending sophisticated missiles and tanks, he said the goal was to ensure “Russia cannot win this war.”

Poland, Germany, Sweden, Spain, Italy and the Czech Republic rushed to emphasize they were not considering putting troops on the ground in Ukraine. NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg also told The Associated Press the alliance itself had no such plans.

France clarified that Mr. Macron was trying to emphasize how Europe must consider new actions to support Ukraine.

The French foreign minister, Stéphane Séjourné, said new assistance to Ukraine in the areas of mine clearance, cyberdefense and weapons production “could require a presence on Ukrainian territory, without crossing the threshold of fighting.”

ny times logoNew York Times, The Spy War: How the C.I.A. Secretly Helps Ukraine Fight Putin, Adam Entous and Michael Schwirtz, Feb. 26, 2024 (print ed.). A C.I.A.-supported network of spy bases has been constructed in the past eight years that includes 12 secret locations along the Russian border.

ukraine flagFor more than a decade, the United States has nurtured a secret intelligence partnership with Ukraine that is now critical for both countries in countering Russia.

CIA LogoNow entering the third year of a war that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, the intelligence partnership between Washington and Kyiv is a linchpin of Ukraine’s ability to defend itself. The C.I.A. and other American intelligence agencies provide intelligence for targeted missile strikes, track Russian troop movements and help support spy networks.

But the partnership is no wartime creation, nor is Ukraine the only beneficiary.

It took root a decade ago, coming together in fits and starts under three very different U.S. presidents, pushed forward by key individuals who often took daring risks. It has transformed Ukraine, whose intelligence agencies were long seen as thoroughly compromised by Russia, into one of Washington’s most important intelligence partners against the Kremlin today.

The listening post in the Ukrainian forest is part of a C.I.A.-supported network of spy bases constructed in the past eight years that includes 12 secret locations along the Russian border. Before the war, the Ukrainians proved themselves to the Americans by collecting intercepts that helped prove Russia’s involvement in the 2014 downing of a commercial jetliner, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. The Ukrainians also helped the Americans go after the Russian operatives who meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Around 2016, the C.I.A. began training an elite Ukrainian commando force — known as Unit 2245 — which captured Russian drones and communications gear so that C.I.A. technicians could reverse-engineer them and crack Moscow’s encryption systems. (One officer in the unit was Kyrylo Budanov, now the general leading Ukraine’s military intelligence.)

And the C.I.A. also helped train a new generation of Ukrainian spies who operated inside Russia, across Europe, and in Cuba and other places where the Russians have a large presence.

The relationship is so ingrained that C.I.A. officers remained at a remote location in western Ukraine when the Biden administration evacuated U.S. personnel in the weeks before Russia invaded in February 2022. During the invasion, the officers relayed critical intelligence, including where Russia was planning strikes and which weapons systems they would use.

“Without them, there would have been no way for us to resist the Russians, or to beat them,” said Ivan Bakanov, who was then head of Ukraine’s domestic intelligence agency, the S.B.U.

ny times logoNew York Times, Russia-Ukraine War: Senate Aide Investigated Over Unofficial Actions in Ukraine, Lara Jakes, Justin Scheck and Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Feb. 27, 2024 (print ed.). Kyle Parker said he delivered sniper gear as part of his unabashed support for Ukraine. Investigators said there may be “counterintelligence issues.”

A senior Capitol Hill staff member who is a longtime voice on Russia policy is under congressional investigation over his frequent trips to Ukraine’s war zones and providing what he said was $30,000 in sniper gear to its military, documents show.

The staff member, Kyle Parker, is the senior Senate adviser for the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, known as the Helsinki Commission. The commission is led by members of Congress and staffed by congressional aides. It is influential on matters of democracy and security and has been vocal in supporting Ukraine.

A confidential report by the commission’s director and general counsel, which The New York Times reviewed, said that the equipment transfer could make Mr. Parker an unregistered foreign agent. It said that Mr. Parker had traveled Ukraine’s front lines wearing camouflage and Ukrainian military insignia and had hired a Ukrainian official for a U.S. government fellowship over the objections of congressional ethics and security officials.

And it raised the possibility that he was “wittingly or unwittingly being targeted and exploited by a foreign intelligence service,” citing unspecified “counterintelligence issues” that should be referred to the F.B.I.

A representative for Mr. Parker said he had done nothing wrong. He said Mr. Parker was the target of a “campaign of retaliation” for making accusations of misconduct against the report’s authors.

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New York Times, Volodymyr Zelensky said 31,000 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed since the war began, a toll that is far lower than U.S. estimates, Carlotta Gall and Constant Méheut, Feb. 26, 2024 (print ed.). The tally that President Volodymyr Zelensky revealed on Sunday differs sharply from that given by U.S. officials, who have said the number is closer to 70,000.

Some 31,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed since Russia’s full-scale invasion began two years ago, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Sunday, acknowledging for the first time in the war a concrete figure for Ukraine’s toll.

“This is a big loss for us,” Mr. Zelensky said at a news conference in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. But he declined to disclose the number of wounded or missing, saying that Russia could use the information to gauge the number of Ukraine’s active forces.

Mr. Zelensky’s tally could not be independently verified. It differs sharply from estimates by U.S. officials, who, this past summer, put the losses much higher, saying that close to 70,000 Ukrainians had been killed and 100,000 to 120,000 had been wounded. Russia’s military casualties, the officials said, were about twice as high.

By revealing Ukraine’s losses, Mr. Zelensky said he wanted to counter Russian propaganda and other estimates that have placed Ukrainian casualties at a much higher level. He said Russia had wrongly claimed that Ukraine had lost 60,000 soldiers.

Mr. Zelensky’s unusual acknowledgment came as his country’s armed forces have been on the defensive, running low on manpower and ammunition along most of the 600-mile front line, with Russian troops pressing attacks in the east and south. A week ago, Moscow captured the city of Avdiivka, a Ukrainian stronghold in the east, and its troops have been slowly pushing westward in recent days, trying to build on their momentum in the area.

Ukraine’s top general, Oleksandr Syrsky, said he had ordered his troops to withdraw from Avdiivka to “preserve the lives and health of the soldiers,” which he described as the army’s “highest value.”

But soldiers on the ground said the retreat should have been ordered earlier since Ukrainian forces were outgunned by Russian artillery and Russian air superiority in the region.

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More On U.S. Military, Security, Intelligence, Foreign Policy

ny times logoNew York Times, U.S. and Britain Carry Out Large-Scale Strikes on Houthi Targets in Yemen, Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt, Feb. 24, 2024. The strikes were aimed at degrading the capabilities of the Iranian-backed militants that have continued to attack ships in the Red Sea.

washington post logoWashington Post, War in Ukraine: What the Pentagon has learned from two years of war in Ukraine, Alex Horton, Feb. 23, 2024 (print ed.). With hundreds of thousands dead or wounded and still no end in sight, the war has shown the Pentagon that its calculations must evolve.

As the general paced the briefing room, he displayed a piece of lethal technology and detailed the death and chaos it has caused in Ukraine.

Almost 90 Russian soldiers were slain in a single attack in 2022, explained Army Maj. Gen. Curtis Taylor, when Ukrainian forces dropped U.S.-provided rockets on buildings pulsing with electronic signals.

Here in the Mojave Desert, where Taylor oversees simulated war designed to prepare U.S. troops for the real thing, the same behavior abounds, he warned.

Taylor held up his cellphone. “This device,” he said, “is going to get our soldiers killed.”

The U.S. military is undertaking an expansive revision of its approach to war fighting, having largely abandoned the counterinsurgency playbook that was a hallmark of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan to focus instead on preparing for an even larger conflict with more sophisticated adversaries such as Russia or China.

What’s transpired in Ukraine, where this week the war enters its third year with hundreds of thousands dead or wounded on both sides and still no end in sight, has made clear to the Pentagon that battlefield calculations have fundamentally changed in the years since it last deployed forces in large numbers. Precision weapons, fleets of drones and digital surveillance can reach far beyond the front lines, posing grave risk to personnel wherever they are.

The war remains an active and bountiful research opportunity for American military planners as they look to the future, officials say. A classified year-long study on the lessons learned from both sides of the bloody campaign will help inform the next National Defense Strategy, a sweeping document that aligns the Pentagon’s myriad priorities. The 20 officers who led the project examined five areas: ground maneuver, air power, information warfare, sustaining and growing forces and long range fire capability.

ny times logoNew York Times, Leaked Files Show the Secret World of China’s Hackers for Hire, Paul Mozur, Keith Bradsher, John Liu and Aaron Krolik, Feb. 23, 2024 (print ed.). The country has increasingly turned to private companies in campaigns to hack foreign governments and control its domestic population.

The hackers offered a menu of services, at a variety of prices.

China FlagA local government in southwest China paid less than $15,000 for access to the private website of traffic police in Vietnam. Software that helped run disinformation campaigns and hack accounts on X cost $100,000. For $278,000 Chinese customers could get a trove of personal information behind social media accounts on platforms like Telegram and Facebook.

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More On Trump’s Cases, Claims, Allies, Insurrectionists

Brandon Fellows smoking marijuana in an office assigned to Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. (Government Sentencing Memorandum filed with the United States District Court for the District of Columbia).

 Brandon Fellows smoking marijuana in an office assigned to Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. (Government Sentencing Memorandum filed with the United States District Court for the District of Columbia).

washington post logoWashington Post, Defiant Jan. 6 rioter spars with judge at sentencing hearing, Salvador Rizzo, March 1, 2024. Brandon Fellows, 29, was sentenced to 3½ years in prison as an exasperated federal judge boomed, ‘It’s time for you to grow up!’

A tree cutter who smoked marijuana in a senator’s office during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol was sentenced to 3½ years in prison Thursday after his strategy of interrupting and challenging the sentencing judge seemed to blow up in his face.

A jury in U.S. District Court in D.C. last year convicted Brandon Fellows, 29, of obstructing an official proceeding, entering a restricted building and disorderly conduct stemming from his 36-minute incursion into the Capitol with a mob of supporters of President Donald Trump. The riot delayed Congress’s official counting of electoral ballots, which showed Joe Biden had won the 2020 election.

Fellows, from Upstate New York, chose to represent himself through most of his legal proceedings and was found in contempt at his trial after calling trevor mcFadden CustomU.S. District Judge Trevor N. McFadden [a Trump appointee] a “modern-day Nazi” running a “kangaroo court.”

“In all my years as a judge, and before that as a litigator, I have never seen such contemptuous conduct,” McFadden said at Thursday’s sentencing, recalling that Fellows also made “lewd comments” to his probation officer, “outlandish accusations” against prosecutors and heckling remarks to the jury as the verdicts were being read.

“There is no grand conspiracy here against you,” the judge said as Fellows kept interrupting. “It’s time for you to grow up!”

Fellows, who is also a chimney repairman, was not charged with violent conduct, but prosecutors described him as a “cheerleader” for the riotous mob. He tried to prevent the FBI from finding him by wrapping his cellphone in foil and wiping his data. Fellows, they said, entered the Capitol through a broken window after attending Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally at the Ellipse. 

He smoked pot in an office assigned to Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), “paraded” through the Capitol crypt with other rioters, taunted law enforcement officers, posed for photographs on a Capitol Police motorcycle outside the building, and then raved about the attack in media interviews and social media posts, prosecutors said.

“He told the jury he was having a blast,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Carolina Nevin said Thursday. When the FBI caught up with him, she said, Fellows asked for a marker to write the word “liberty” on his forehead for his mug shot. He blamed police officers for their own injuries and showed no remorse for his actions, Nevin argued.

In a court filing Tuesday that he conceded was “rambling,” Fellows continued to assert that “the election was stolen, and we had and have a right to go in and throw the people out who made this happen.” At his sentencing, he gave a 45-minute PowerPoint presentation railing against “crazy people who say a man can get pregnant,” accusing prosecutors of telling lies and bemoaning the “minimum of 23,736 hours” he had spent in jail “being treated like a terrorist without any constitutional rights.”

A liberal activist who interrupted now-Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court in 2018 had gotten off with a much lighter sentence than he would get, Fellows argued.

“I did not think I committed any crimes,” he said, adding later, “Officers were letting people in … saying, ‘Treat this place with respect, guys,’ which seems pretty welcoming.” Outside the Capitol, people with bullhorns were claiming Vice President Mike Pence had already certified Biden’s election, although that turned out to be inaccurate, he said.

Judges are required by law to explain the reasoning behind the sentences they impose, and they seldom appreciate it when people in the courtroom add their own running commentary. As he began to announce the punishment, McFadden barely got three sentences out before earning his first jeer from the defendant.

The judge said Fellows and others who had smoked pot in the Capitol had treated it like a “frat house” and shown “utter disrespect for our first branch of government.”

“Just as they disrespect the American people,” Fellows interjected. The judge admonished him not to interrupt. Fellows chimed in again.

“Sir, sir! This is a really bad idea for you to continue to interrupt me,” an exasperated McFadden told him.

Fellows’s mother had written a letter to the court, McFadden said. Fellows protested that he had asked her not to. (She told the judge her son was a “challenging” individual.)

His grandmother submitted a letter — but “she knows nothing about this case!” Fellows declared. She thanked the judge for being “more than fair” throughout the proceedings.

Fellows argued that he thought he was allowed inside the Capitol for the riot — or, in his words, “an exciting museum tour with our supportive friends, the police” — because of a freewheeling romp he had taken at his home state’s civic mecca, the New York Capitol. “Not only can you go up and touch it, but two weeks, two or three weeks prior to January 6th, I had sex in a vehicle about 20 feet away from it,” he said at trial.

“I definitely remember that,” the judge deadpanned.

During a hearing via video before his trial began, Fellows wrote “kangaroo court” on a piece of paper and held it up to the screen, prosecutors said. While Fellows was on the witness stand at his trial in August, McFadden warned him “to answer leading questions with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and to avoid editorializing comments about the trial and the prosecutor’s questions,” according to an order the judge signed Aug. 30.

“While the jury rendered its verdict, he interrupted the foreperson and yelled over her, ‘This is how you radicalize people!’ When the Court thanked the jurors for their service, Fellows laughed, ‘Ha!’” prosecutors wrote in a filing.

The judge sentenced Fellows to 37 months in prison for his Jan. 6-related convictions and an additional five months for contempt related to his courtroom outbursts. Fellows convinced him throughout the legal proceedings that he had “oppositional defiance disorder,” as he claimed, the judge said.

“I shared nothing but the truth here, unlike the other party,” Fellows said.

washington post logoWashington Post, Deputy who claimed to help police sentenced in Jan. 6 attacks on officers, Spencer S. Hsu, March 1, 2024. Off-duty Tenn. sheriff’s deputy Ronald McAbee, who assaulted two police officers and dragged one down steps, was sentenced to 70 months in prison.

An off-duty Tennessee sheriff’s deputy who claimed he was helping police was sentenced Wednesday to nearly six years in prison for aggravated assaults against two officers in one of the most violent areas of the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol riot.

Ronald McAbee, 30, struck D.C. police officer Carter Moore twice in the face while wearing hard-knuckle gloves and a bulletproof vest with two patches that read “SHERIFF” and “III” (for the Three Percenters right-wing, anti-government movement).

Moore was trying to help a fallen D.C. police officer, Andrew Wayte, after a third officer had been dragged down the steps and beaten at the entrance of a bloodily fought-over tunnel at the Lower West Terrace at about 4:30 p.m. Video showed that McAbee, another rioter and police then grabbed hold of Wayte and began pulling in different directions “in a violent tug-of-war with Wayte’s defenseless body as the rope,” U.S. District Judge Rudy Contreras said at McAbee’s sentencing hearing in D.C. 

McAbee fell on Wayte as they slid down the steps in front of the tunnel archway, pinning him for about 25 seconds while rioters pulled off Wayte’s gas mask and hit his face with a chemical spray. 

“It was an aggravated assault in every sense,” Contreras said at the hearing. “You lost your cool that day,” he told McAbee, adding, “I take attacks on law enforcement very, very seriously, as I suspect you did too before that day.”

The hand-to-hand combat at the tunnel entrance was one of the most violent moments of the hours-long riot at the Capitol, where enraged supporters sent by President Donald Trump and inflamed by his false claim that the 2020 election had been stolen injured more than 100 officers and caused more than $3 million in damage.

McAbee testified at trial that he was trying to protect Wayte and alert police to the body of an unconscious protester, Rosanne Boyland, 34, who died of what was determined to be amphetamine intoxication.

McAbee said he never intended to “strike fear or cause chaos” on Jan. 6 and apologized to police, saying he now understood officers’ frame of mind: “They had a job to do” and he was “in the way.”

“I wish they were here so I can tell them I’m sorry,” McAbee said of the two officers. “I’m sorry for all the families that lost someone,” he added, naming Boyland, other members of the public, and police who died or killed themselves on or after the Jan. 6 attack.

McAbee, who has worked as a sheriff’s deputy or corrections officer for five departments in Tennessee and northern Georgia, said he has nightmares about what he could have done differently and expressed particular remorse to Boyland’s parents that he could not save her, after trying to perform CPR following his fight with police.

Assistant federal defender Benjamin Schiffelbein urged leniency, citing McAbee’s good character, law enforcement work, recovery from emotional and physical abuse as a child, and the point that he did not abuse the fact that he was a police officer during the Capitol attack.

McAbee pleaded guilty in September to assaulting Moore and was convicted after trial in October of Wayte’s assault. He was sentenced on all seven counts charged by prosecutors including felony rioting and trespassing on restricted Capitol grounds with a deadly or dangerous weapon (his reinforced gloves).

Prosecutor Benet J. Kearney asked for a 12½-year sentence, saying McAbee was a law enforcement officer who “chose to break the law” by harming officers trying to protect the Capitol and Congress from “an armed, angry crowd of rioters.”

McAbee will be credited with 31 months he has been jailed pending trial, and Contreras agreed with a defense request to seek his designation to a minimum security federal prison facility in Englewood, Colo., known for holding convicted former police officers. Contreras ordered McAbee to pay along with two co-defendants $30,165.65 in restitution to the D.C. police department for Wayte’s medical treatment and the six months he spent recuperating from his injuries while out of or on limited duty.

washington post logoWashington Post, Appeals court ruling means over 100 Jan. 6 rioters may be resentenced, Rachel Weiner and Spencer S. Hsu, March 1, 2024. More than 100 people convicted for participation in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol may have to be resentenced after a federal appeals court Friday overturned a sentencing enhancement used to help determine their punishments.

The decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit came in the case of retired Air Force Lt. Col. Larry R. Brock Jr., who had appealed his felony conviction of obstructing the work of Congress that day. Former president Donald Trump faces the same charge.

The court, a panel of three Democratic appointees, did not overturn the conviction. But it said that a lower court judge erred in deciding that Brock should face a stiffer sentence for “substantial interference with the administration of justice,” ruling that the penalty does not apply to crimes committed at the Capitol.
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At least 100 people convicted in connection with the Jan. 6 attack have had their punishments shaped by that enhancement, and they could now ask to be sentenced anew. That does not mean they would necessarily face lighter terms. Sentencing enhancements raise the suggested range of prison time that a judge must consider. But in D.C., judges have generally imposed penalties below those recommended ranges, and they have often said their punishments would be the same regardless of what enhancements they applied.

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Resentencing can also be dangerous for defendants. One participant in the riot who succeeded in undoing his 60-day misdemeanor sentence on technical grounds was given another 60 days behind bars by a judge who cited the man’s lack of remorse. (That ruling is now on appeal).

Still, many will surely ask for lower punishments. Edward Ungvarsky, a defense attorney involved in several Jan. 6 cases, said there is “great potential” for some defendants to win earlier release. “Even if a judge suggested their sentence would be the same regardless of application of any enhancements,” he said, that judge “still has to meaningfully reconsider that sentence.” The ruling could also have an impact in plea negotiations, eliminating a bargaining chip used by prosecutors to encourage defendants to plead guilty without a trial.
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Brock, who gained notoriety after he was photographed in the Senate Chamber wearing an army green helmet and vest, was sentenced to two years in prison — far less than prosecutors sought, and at the bottom of his guidelines. He is currently scheduled to be released in December.

Those guidelines included an extra penalty for “substantial interference with the administration of justice.” Judge John D. Bates reasoned, as several other trial judges have, that it applied because Brock “contributed to this unnecessary expenditure of substantial government resources during and after the riot.” The appeals court, however, ruled that “text, context, and commentary” indicate that “justice” covers only “investigative, prosecutorial, or judicial resources.”

They added, “We must apply the Guideline as written, and Brock’s interference with one stage of the electoral college vote-counting process— while no doubt endangering our democratic processes and temporarily derailing Congress’s constitutional work—did not interfere with the ‘administration of justice.’”

ny times logoNew York Times, Donald Trump Asks for August Trial Date in Classified Documents Case, Alan Feuer and Maggie Haberman, March 1, 2024 (print ed.). After previously seeking to have the proceeding postponed until after the election, Mr. Trump’s lawyers unexpectedly said he could live with a date over the summer.

For the past eight months, former President Donald J. Trump and his lawyers have used nearly every means at their disposal to delay his federal trial on charges of mishandling classified documents until after the election in November.

But in court papers filed on Thursday evening, the lawyers made an abrupt turnabout. In a filing to the judge overseeing the case, they repeated their complaints that Mr. Trump could not be tried fairly until the election was concluded, but then proposed a new date for the trial of Aug. 12, almost three months before Election Day and just weeks after the Republican convention to choose a party nominee.

It was not immediately clear what led to the sudden change of heart — or to the selection of Aug. 12 — especially given that the lawyers spent much of their filing to the judge, Aileen M. Cannon, claiming that the law, the Constitution and the Justice Department’s own policy manual frowned on the idea of taking “the presumptive Republican nominee” to trial at the height of his campaign for the White House.

One possibility was that the lawyers, by proposing to spend much of late summer and early fall in court on the classified documents case, were seeking to prevent the former president’s other federal trial — on charges of plotting to subvert the 2020 election — from being held before voters make their choice.

Prosecutors working for the special counsel, Jack Smith, also sent a letter on Thursday evening to Judge Cannon proposing a new date for the trial: July 8. That was in keeping with Mr. Smith’s long-held position of trying to put the documents case in front of a jury before November.

Judge Cannon had solicited the proposed new dates on the eve of a hearing she was set to hold on Friday in Federal District Court in Fort Pierce, Fla., to reset the trial clock for the case. She has already indicated that she intends to push back the current start date of May 20, but it remains to be seen how much of a delay she will impose.

It has been no easy task finding time for all four of Mr. Trump’s criminal trials both in relation to each other and against his increasingly busy schedule as a presidential candidate. And Mr. Trump’s persistent strategy of seeking to delay the proceedings for as long as possible has already had some measurable success.

On Wednesday, for instance, the Supreme Court made a decision that increased the likelihood that the election interference case in Washington — which was once set to be first of the cases to be tried — would likely not face a jury until September at the earliest.

The justices agreed to hear the former president’s claims to be immune from prosecution to the charges in the case, setting arguments for the end of April and keeping all of the proceedings in trial court frozen as it worked.

At this point, only one of Mr. Trump’s criminal cases has a solid trial date in 2024: the one in Manhattan, in which he stands accused of arranging hush money for the porn star Stormy Daniels in an effort to avert a scandal on the eve of the 2016 election.

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: Why Trump’s effort to run out the clock in federal election case is working, Philip Bump, March 1, 2024. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court announced that it would consider Trump’s primary delay tactic: an argument that he had broad immunity for his actions because of his position. It’s an argument that’s been rejected multiple times in various venues previously and one that most independent observers view as invalid. The Supreme Court will probably (though by no means certainly) agree.

But, thanks to how this has unfolded, Trump’s 2020 actions will probably not be adjudicated by the time voters go to the polls in November — which may render the whole thing irrelevant.

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump seeks to move Fla. trial to 2025, while prosecutors push for July, Perry Stein and Devlin Barrett, March 1, 2024. U.S. District Judge Aileen M. Cannon will probably push back the May start date for the Florida trial amid evidentiary issues and Trump’s immunity appeal.

A federal judge is holding a key hearing Friday to address scheduling and evidentiary matters in former president Donald Trump’s trial for allegedly withholding highly classified documents and obstructing government efforts to retrieve them.

In response to a request from U.S. District Judge Aileen M. Cannon, federal prosecutors on Thursday suggested moving the start of the trial from May 20 to July 8, which would almost certainly be after the Supreme Court rules on Trump’s claim of presidential immunity in his separate election-obstruction trial in Washington. Trump’s lawyers again asked Cannon to delay the trial until after the next presidential election, in which Trump is the Republican front-runner.

Cannon indicated late last year that she would probably have to push back her initial trial start date to sort out complicated issues involved with examining classified evidence and presenting it to a jury. The judge also must consider the scheduling challenge that comes with Trump being a defendant in four separate criminal cases whose trial timelines cannot overlap.

washington post logoWashington Post, Illinois judge removes Trump from primary ballot, Patrick Svitek, March 1, 2024. The ruling is stayed until Friday to allow for appeal and also includes a stay tied to the pending Supreme Court case from Colorado.

illinois mapAn Illinois judge ruled Wednesday that former president Donald Trump should be removed from the state’s primary ballot because of the 14th Amendment ban on insurrectionists holding office.

Illinois became the third state where Trump has been kicked off the primary ballot, following Colorado and Maine. Both of those states’ rulings are on hold pending an appeal of the Colorado decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Cook County Circuit Court Judge Tracie R. Porter immediately stayed her ruling until Friday, to give Trump time to appeal. The ruling also includes a stay if the U.S. Supreme Court rules on Anderson v. Griswold, the lawsuit at the heart of Colorado’s decision to remove the former president from its primary ballot.

Trump’s campaign blasted the ruling.

“This is an unconstitutional ruling that we will quickly appeal,” Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said in a statement.

Porter said in her ruling that the Illinois election board’s January decision to keep Trump on the ballot was “clearly erroneous.”

Supreme Court poised to allow Trump to remain on Colorado ballot

In each of the cases, Trump’s critics have argued he is ineligible to appear on the ballot based on Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which bars those who have “engaged in insurrection” from holding office. They have cited his conduct around the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol in the wake of his reelection loss.

Trump has argued Section 3 does not apply to him, while his campaign has expressed confidence the Supreme Court will side with them.

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump Media co-founders sue company, alleging a scheme to dilute shares, Drew Harwell, Feb. 29, 2024. The case could complicate a long-delayed bid by the owner of Truth Social to go public — and deliver former president Donald Trump a financial lifeline

The co-founders of former president Donald Trump’s media company filed a lawsuit Wednesday, claiming that Trump and other leaders had schemed to deprive them of a stake in the company that could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
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The case could complicate a long-delayed bid by Trump Media & Technology Group, owner of the social network Truth Social, to merge with a special purpose acquisition company called Digital World Acquisition and become a publicly traded company.

That merger deal, which could value Trump’s stake in the company at more than $3 billion, would offer the former president a financial lifeline at a time when he is facing more than $454 million in penalties from a civil fraud judgment this month in New York.

Representatives for Trump, Trump Media and Digital World did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Andy Litinsky and Wes Moss, who met Trump as contestants on his reality show “The Apprentice,” pitched Trump on the idea of a Trump-branded tech start-up and social media platform in early 2021 after he lost the White House and was banned from Twitter, now called X.

Trump agreed to the deal and was given 90 percent of the company, according to a motion for expedited proceedings filed Wednesday in the Delaware Court of Chancery by the co-founders’ partnership, United Atlantic Ventures. The partnership took 8.6 percent, while an attorney on the deal, Bradford Cohen, was given the remaining 1.4 percent, the motion states.

UAV launched the Trump Media business, hired employees and raised funding while receiving no “fee or payment for its work,” the motion said. And though Litinsky and Moss left Trump Media that year amid a dispute with its current leadership, UAV retained its shares, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing this month from Digital World.

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump Says He Might Have to Sell Properties to Pay $454 Million Penalty, Ben Protess and Kate Christobek, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). Former President Trump, who is appealing the penalty in his civil fraud case, offered a bond of only $100 million to pause the judgment.

ICE logoDonald J. Trump offered a New York appeals court on Wednesday a bond of only $100 million to pause the more than $450 million judgment he faces in his civil fraud case, saying that he might need to sell some of his properties unless he gets relief.

It was a stunning acknowledgment that Mr. Trump, who is racing the clock to either secure a bond from a company or produce the full amount himself, lacks the resources to do so. Without a bond, the New York attorney general’s office, which brought the fraud case, could seek to collect from Mr. Trump at any moment.

djt maga hatIn a filing with the appeals court, Mr. Trump’s lawyers also asked to delay a wide range of other punishments that the trial judge in the fraud case, Arthur F. Engoron, levied in a decision this month. They include a prohibition on obtaining a loan from a New York bank for three years and a ban on running a company in the state during that same period.

One appellate court judge was hearing the request from Mr. Trump on Wednesday afternoon and was expected to issue a decision by the end of the day. If the judge were to grant the pause, it would be only temporary; Mr. Trump would still have to persuade a larger panel of appellate judges to keep the judgment on hold.

In seeking relief, Mr. Trump’s lawyers disclosed that he would be unable to secure a bond for the full $454 million, raising the prospect that he might soon default on the judgment if the appeals court denies his request.

Justice Engoron’s decision to bar Mr. Trump from obtaining new loans from New York banks further constrains his ability to either produce the money himself or have enough cash to pledge as collateral for a bond, they argued. Under New York law, a defendant also owes 9 percent interest to the plaintiff until the judgment is paid or the appeal resolved, meaning a full bond in this case might reach $500 million or more.

If the appeals court denies the request, Mr. Trump’s lawyers warned, he likely would have to sell some New York properties “under exigent circumstances,” in what would be a punishing blow to the former president.

ny times logoNew York Times, Suspicious Powder Found at Courthouse Where Trump Judge Has Offices, Claire Fahy, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). An envelope containing white powder was found Wednesday morning at the New York State Supreme Courthouse in Lower Manhattan, officials said. The court building, at 60 Centre Street, contains offices belonging to Justice Arthur F. Engoron, the judge who oversaw former President Donald J. Trump’s civil fraud trial.

Police officers responded to a 911 call at 9:29 a.m. regarding the suspicious powder. A court officer had opened an envelope, and white powder fell onto his pants, the police said.

No injuries were reported, and the building was not evacuated. The police said that the Fire Department had responded to the discovery of the powder and that the investigation continued.

The officer declined medical attention, according to the Fire Department, as did another court officer who was exposed to the powder.

Justice Engoron and the Supreme Court building have been targets in the past. Last month, the Nassau County Police Department responded to a hoax bomb threat at the judge’s home on Long Island.

In December, a man set a small fire on the fourth floor of the courthouse that he then quickly extinguished. The Fire Department responded, and three floors of the building were evacuated, but no serious injuries were reported. It was unclear whether the fire was related to Mr. Trump’s trial.

djt maga hatOver the course of the 11-week civil fraud trial, which ended this month, Mr. Trump repeatedly attacked Justice Engoron on Truth Social, Mr. Trump’s website, and in statements he made in court. In November, Mr. Trump’s Republican allies also went after Justice Engoron publicly, with Representative Elise Stefanik of New York filing an ethics complaint accusing him of “inappropriate bias and judicial intemperance,” and Laura Loomer, a far-right activist close to the former president, repeatedly attacking the judge and his family on social media.

arthur engoron djt

ny times logoNew York Times, Donald Trump Is Racing Against Time to Find a Half-Billion Dollar Bond, Ben Protess and Jonah E. Bromwich, Feb. 25, 2024 (print ed.). After losing two civil trials, the former president must find a bonding company that will vouch for him — or his real estate empire is threatened.

Donald J. Trump is on the clock.

The $454 million judgment that a New York judge imposed on Mr. Trump in his civil fraud case took effect on Friday, placing the former president in a precarious position.

Now, he must either come up with the money quickly or persuade a company to post a bond on his behalf, essentially vouching for him to the court with an I.O.U.

The bond is likely to be his best bet: Mr. Trump, who also faces an $83.3 million judgment in an unrelated defamation case, does not have enough cash on hand to do it all himself, according to a recent New York Times analysis of his finances. If Mr. Trump can find a bond company willing to do a deal this big, it will require him to pay the firm a fee as high as 3 percent of the judgment and to pledge collateral.

The bond would prevent the New York attorney general’s office, which brought the civil fraud case against Mr. Trump, from collecting the $454 million while Mr. Trump’s appeal is heard. Without it, the attorney general, Letitia James, is entitled to collect at any moment.

Ms. James is expected to allow Mr. Trump up to 30 days, but if he fails to secure a bond by March 25, and an appeals court denies him extra time, he has a lot to lose. The attorney general’s office could seek to seize some of Mr. Trump’s properties in New York, perhaps even a crown jewel like Trump Tower or 40 Wall Street.

“The attorney general is in the catbird seat and can make this a very unpleasant experience for Trump,” said Mark Zauderer, a partner at the law firm Dorf Nelson & Zauderer who is a veteran New York business litigator and has secured many appeal bonds.

As Mr. Trump races to secure a bond, here is what we know about this perilous new phase.
Why does Trump owe $454 Million?

Ms. James took Mr. Trump to trial last year, accusing him of orchestrating a conspiracy to inflate his net worth to receive favorable loans. This month, the judge Arthur F. Engoron ruled that Mr. Trump had done so and meted out several punishments.

The most severe was a $355 million penalty — $454,156,783.05 as of Friday afternoon, thanks to interest that continues to accrue. The judge said the sum accounted for Mr. Trump’s ill-gotten gains from the scheme.

ny times logoNew York Times, Key Witness in Georgia Hearing Says He Does Not Know When Relationship Began, Richard Fausset and Danny Hakim, Feb. 28, 2024 (print ed.). A judge has brought the witness back to court as he weighs whether the prosecutors in Donald Trump’s case in Georgia have a disqualifying conflict of interest.

In a potential setback to former President Donald J. Trump and his co-defendants in the Georgia election interference case, a key witness testified on Tuesday that he had no knowledge of when a romantic relationship began between the two prosecutors leading the case.

Defense attorneys are seeking to disqualify Fani T. Willis, the district attorney of Fulton County, claiming that her romantic relationship with the lawyer she hired to run the case, Nathan Wade, has created an untenable conflict of interest.

Ms. Willis and Mr. Wade have said that the relationship began only after she hired him in November 2021. Mr. Trump’s lawyer has accused them of lying.

For weeks, the defense had suggested that the key witness, Terrence Bradley, the former divorce lawyer and law partner of Mr. Wade, could provide crucial testimony contradicting Ms. Willis and Mr. Wade. But Mr. Bradley testified in court on Tuesday that “I don’t know when the relationship started,” and that he “never witnessed anything.”

Lawyers for Mr. Trump and other defendants hammered at Mr. Bradley’s credibility on Tuesday, reading aloud text messages he wrote in January that appeared to suggest that he knew more about the prosecutors’ relationship than he was letting on. In text exchanges, Mr. Bradley told a defense lawyer, Ashleigh Merchant, that the romance between the prosecutors had begun before Nov. 1, 2021, when Ms. Willis hired Mr. Wade.

“Do you think it happened before she hired him?” Ms. Merchant asked Mr. Bradley in one text exchange, which was entered into evidence. “Absolutely,” Mr. Bradley replied.

But on the stand on Tuesday, Mr. Bradley insisted that he had been only “speculating” about the relationship in those texts, and was not speaking from personal knowledge.

It was Mr. Bradley’s third time on the witness stand this month, in a series of hearings that have threatened to upend the prosecution of Mr. Trump and his allies for seeking to reverse the 2020 presidential election results in Georgia. The defense team contends that the two prosecutors engaged in “self-dealing,” because Mr. Wade spent money on vacations that he took with Ms. Willis while he was being paid by her office.

ny times logoNew York Times, In Trump Criminal Case, Manhattan D.A. Asks for Gag Order Before Trial, Jonah E. Bromwich, Ben Protess and William K. Rashbaum, Feb. 27, 2024 (print ed.). Lawyers for Alvin Bragg, the district attorney, are seeking to protect jurors and witnesses in the first criminal prosecution of a former president.

Manhattan prosecutors on Monday asked the judge overseeing their criminal case against Donald J. Trump to prohibit the former president from attacking witnesses or exposing jurors’ identities.

The requests, made in filings by the Manhattan district attorney’s office, noted Mr. Trump’s “longstanding history of attacking witnesses, investigators, prosecutors, judges, and others involved in legal proceedings against him.”

In outlining a narrowly crafted gag order, the office hewed closely to the terms of a similar order upheld by a federal appeals court in Washington in another of Mr. Trump’s criminal cases.

The gag order in the Manhattan case, if the judge approves it, would bar Mr. Trump from “making or directing others to make” statements about witnesses concerning their role in the case. The district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, also asked that Mr. Trump be barred from commenting on prosecutors on the case — other than Mr. Bragg himself — as well as court staff members.

Although Mr. Bragg carved himself out of the gag order request, the district attorney has received the brunt of the attacks from Mr. Trump and his supporters. In an affidavit released Monday, the head of his security detail listed some of the worst of the dozens of attacks directed at Mr. Bragg last year, including racial slurs and death threats.

In a separate filing, Mr. Bragg placed a special emphasis on the protection of jurors. His prosecutors asked that Mr. Trump be barred from publicly revealing their identities. And although Mr. Trump and his legal team are allowed to know the jurors’ names, Mr. Bragg asked that their addresses be kept secret from the former president.

If the judge, Juan M. Merchan, accepts the restrictions, he would be just the latest judge to impose a gag order on the former president. There was an order in the Washington case, a federal case that involves accusations that Mr. Trump plotted to overturn the 2020 election. And the judge in Mr. Trump’s civil fraud trial that recently concluded ordered Mr. Trump not to comment on court staff members.

In a federal trial in Florida in which Mr. Trump is accused of mishandling classified documents, the special counsel, Jack Smith, is also seeking to protect witnesses. The prosecutors have vehemently opposed an attempt by Mr. Trump’s lawyers to include the names of about 24 potential witnesses in a public filing, claiming that the witnesses could face harassment or intimidation. The prosecutors have even opened a separate criminal investigation of threats made on social media against one of the witnesses.

The Manhattan criminal case was the first of Mr. Trump’s four indictments to be filed and is scheduled to go to trial on March 25. Last year, the district attorney’s office accused Mr. Trump of 34 felonies, saying he had orchestrated a cover-up of a potential sex scandal with a porn star that could have hindered his 2016 presidential campaign.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers will be likely to oppose the gag order and could appeal it if Justice Merchan adopts it. A lawyer for Mr. Trump, Todd Blanche, declined to comment on the prosecutors’ proposal, saying that the defense’s court papers spoke for themselves.

In a separate motion filed on Monday, prosecutors provided something of a guide to their case, signaling that they hope to include other hush-money payoffs they say Mr. Trump orchestrated: one with a former Playboy model, and another involving a doorman who sought to sell an embarrassing story about Mr. Trump in 2015.

As they laid the groundwork to tell that expansive story, they asked Justice Merchan to allow them to introduce evidence from the 2016 presidential campaign, including the infamous “Access Hollywood” recording in which Mr. Trump boasts about groping women, as well as three public allegations of sexual assault made against him after the recording was released.

It is far from clear that Justice Merchan will grant those requests. Persuading him that allegations of sexual assault should be allowed could be particularly difficult, given that judges are supposed to carefully evaluate evidence that could unfairly harm a defendant in the eyes of the jury.

Prosecutors on Monday were more worried about the defendant harming jurors. In seeking to limit Mr. Trump from disclosing their names, the district attorney’s office cited recent instances of his attacking jury members, including in the 2020 trial of his associate Roger Stone. While still president, prosecutors noted, Mr. Trump had called the head of that jury “totally biased,” “tainted” and “DISGRACEFUL!”

ny times logoWashington Post, How Justice Engoron’s numbers add up for Trump’s penalty in the N.Y. fraud trial, Shayna Jacobs, Feb. 25, 2024. Donald Trump this month was ordered by a New York Supreme Court justice to pay a penalty of $354,868,768, plus interest that continues to accrue, because the former president and his company were found to have used false financial statements that deceived banks and insurance companies.

ny times logoNew York Times, A prominent Republican is seeking to shield the party from paying Donald Trump’s legal bills, Maggie Haberman, Feb. 25, 2024 (print ed.). A veteran Republican National Committee member has initiated a long-shot effort to prevent Donald J. Trump from taking over the party committee before he has enough delegates to become the presumptive presidential nominee in an effort to prevent the R.N.C. from paying his legal bills.

Henry Barbour, a committee member from Mississippi, has sponsored two resolutions, one that would require the committee to remain neutral in the primary and another that would assure it does not spend committee funds to assist Mr. Trump in his legal battles. The proposals, which would not be binding even if passed, come as Mr. Trump seeks to install new leadership in the organization, including Lara Trump, his daughter-in-law, who has said she would be open to the committee paying his legal bills.

The resolutions, which were first reported by The Dispatch, have come under fire from the Trump campaign.

“The primary is over, and it is the RNC’s sole responsibility to defeat Joe Biden and win back the White House,” said Chris LaCivita, a top Trump adviser who is expected to move into a top role at the R.N.C. “Efforts to delay that assist Joe Biden in the destruction of our nation. Republicans cannot stand on the sidelines and allow this to happen.”

The neutrality proposal is directly related to the primary: After the South Carolina primary, only four early states will have held contests. Mr. Trump has a fraction of the delegates he needs, and Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, is still running, although she has yet to win a state.

The other resolution has been more in the forefront of some R.N.C. members’ minds: It seeks to bar the committee from paying Mr. Trump’s legal fees as he faces four criminal indictments and two enormous civil lawsuits.

It seeks to codify that “the Republican National Committee should focus its spending on political efforts associated with winning elections and make clear from this point forward that the RNC’s financial resources are to be used to assist candidates across the country winning elections” this year and that the committee “will not pay the legal bills of any of our candidates for any federal or state office, but will focus our spending on efforts directly related to the 2024 election.”

Mr. Barbour, in an interview, conceded that neither resolution was likely to pass, given Mr. Trump’s strength in the party, but he said that sending a message was important.

 Relevant Recent Headlines

Conflict Claim Against Georgia Trump Prosecutors

Fulton County Prosecutors Fani Willis and Nathan Wade (Reuters file photo by Elijah Nouvelage).

In Georgia, a Push to Disqualify the Main Prosecutors, Richard Fausset and Danny Hakim. A judge in Atlanta hears evidence about the defense’s claim of a disqualifying conflict of interest among the main prosecutors, shown above.

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump’s Georgia Lawyers Surface Phone Records in Effort to Remove Prosecutors, Richard Fausset and Danny Hakim, Feb. 24, 2024 (print ed.). The lawyers presented an affidavit describing cellphone records they will likely use to try to prove the prosecutors lied about when they began a romantic relationship.

Lawyers representing former President Donald J. Trump are continuing to press their argument that the lead prosecutors in the Georgia election interference case are lying about when their romantic relationship began, surfacing phone records on Friday that they will likely use to try to undercut the prosecutors’ testimony.

In a court filing that Ms. Willis’s office challenged later in the day, Mr. Trump’s lawyers in Atlanta presented an affidavit describing phone records obtained through a subpoena that they said showed “just under 12,000” calls and text messages between Fani T. Willis, the Fulton County district attorney, and Nathan Wade, the lawyer she hired to help oversee the case, in the first 11 months of 2021.

The affidavit from Charles Mittelstadt, an investigator hired by Mr. Trump’s lawyers, also described cellphone location data that the lawyers said showed Mr. Wade’s phone, on at least 35 occasions, being connected “for an extended period” to a cell tower near a condominium where Ms. Willis was living.

The investigator said the data suggested that on two occasions, Mr. Wade was in the vicinity of Ms. Willis’s residence from late at night until dawn. One of those occasions was on the night of Sept. 11, 2021.

Ms. Willis’s office responded with its own filing on Friday night, saying that the records “do not prove that Special Prosecutor Wade was ever at any particular location or address.” The response also said that the phone records showed only that Mr. Wade “was located somewhere within a densely populated, multiple-mile radius where various residences, restaurants, bars, nightclubs and other businesses are located.”

The district attorney’s office included copies of some of Ms. Willis’s emails and calendars that it said refuted specific claims made by Mr. Trump’s legal team about her whereabouts.

There is no dispute that Mr. Wade and Ms. Willis were in contact in 2021. They are longtime friends, and after Ms. Willis was elected district attorney in 2020, she appointed Mr. Wade to a hiring committee to screen applicants for jobs in the district attorney’s office. She also consulted with Mr. Wade on a number of issues, including strategic questions about big cases, after taking office in January 2021.

His advisory role extended into the period covered by the cellphone data that Mr. Trump’s new motion cites, Jan. 1, 2021 to Nov. 30, 2021. At a hearing in the case last week, former Gov. Roy Barnes of Georgia, an experienced trial lawyer, recalled that Ms. Willis and a team that included Mr. Wade met with him in October 2021 and asked if he wanted to take the job that Ms. Willis eventually gave to Mr. Wade.

ny times logoNew York Times, After Testimony in Atlanta, Fani Willis Receives Both Praise and Condemnation, Rick Rojas, Christian Boone and Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon, Feb. 18, 2024 (print ed.). With her testimony, the Fulton Country district attorney earned plaudits for standing firm under pressure and drew doubts about her judgment.

Fani T. Willis, the Fulton County district attorney, testified in a hearing on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, at the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta (Pool photo by Alyssa Pointer).

 Fani T. Willis, the Fulton County district attorney, testified in a hearing on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024,  at the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta (Pool photo by Alyssa Pointer).

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Fani Willis turns the tables on her attackers, Jennifer Rubin, right, Feb. 20, 2024. Fulton County, Ga., District Attorney Fani jennifer rubin new headshotWillis took the stand last week under attack from Michael Roman, former henchman 0f four-times-indicted former president Donald Trump, and many in the media and legal community.

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More On U.S. Supreme Court

ny times logoNew York Times, Supreme Court Appears Split Over Bump Stock Ban, Abbie VanSickle, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). The justices appeared divided largely along ideological lines over whether former President Trump’s administration overstepped its bounds by imposing the ban.

The Supreme Court wrestled on Wednesday over whether the Trump administration had acted lawfully in banning bump stocks, a firearm accessory used by the gunman during a mass shooting in Las Vegas in 2017, the deadliest in modern U.S. history.

The justices appeared divided largely along ideological lines over whether the administration overstepped its bounds by imposing a ban without action by Congress. Some raised concerns about the broader implications of reversing course for an attachment that enables a semiautomatic rifle to fire at speeds rivaling a machine gun.

ny times logoNew York Times, The Supreme Court arguments could fundamentally change how social media sites are policed, David McCabe, Feb. 26, 2024 (print ed.). Here’s what to know: Both Florida and Texas passed laws regulating how social media companies moderate speech online. The laws, if upheld, could fundamentally alter how the platforms police their sites.

Social media companies are bracing for Supreme Court arguments on Monday that could fundamentally alter the way they police their sites.

After Facebook, Twitter and YouTube barred President Donald J. Trump in the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021, riots at the Capitol, Florida made it illegal for technology companies to ban from their sites a candidate for office in the state. Texas later passed its own law prohibiting platforms from taking down political content.

Two tech industry groups, NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association, sued to block the laws from taking effect. They argued that the companies have the right to make decisions about their own platforms under the First Amendment, much as a newspaper gets to decide what runs in its pages.
So what’s at stake?

The Supreme Court’s decision in those cases — Moody v. NetChoice and NetChoice v. Paxton — is a big test of the power of social media companies, potentially reshaping millions of social media feeds by giving the government influence over how and what stays online.

“What’s at stake is whether they can be forced to carry content they don’t want to,” said Daphne Keller, a lecturer at Stanford Law School who filed a brief with the Supreme Court supporting the tech groups’ challenge to the Texas and Florida laws. “And, maybe more to the point, whether the government can force them to carry content they don’t want to.”

If the Supreme Court says the Texas and Florida laws are constitutional and they take effect, some legal experts speculate that the companies could create versions of their feeds specifically for those states. Still, such a ruling could usher in similar laws in other states, and it is technically complicated to accurately restrict access to a website based on location.

Relevant Recent Headlines

Then-President Trump speaking to supporters on Jan. 6, 2021 outside the White House in advance of a mob moving east to overrun the U.S. Capitol, thereby threatening the election certification djt jan 6 speech

More On U.S. Courts, Crime, Guns, Civil Rights, Immigration 

ny times logoNew York Times, In Dual Border Visits, Biden and Trump Try to Score Points at a Political Hot Spot, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Erica L. Green and Michael Gold, March 1, 2024 (print ed.). In South Texas, President Biden and former President Donald J. Trump each emphasized the urgency of securing the U.S.-Mexico border, but took sharply different approaches.

President Biden issued a political dare to his biggest rival, former President Donald J. Trump, as the men took dueling trips to the southern border in Texas on Thursday in an effort to leverage a dominant issue of the 2024 presidential campaign.

In remarks delivered some 300 miles away, Mr. Trump highlighted crimes committed by migrants in an attempt to portray Mr. Biden as a president plunging the nation into crime and disorder.

Mr. Biden, by contrast, focused on compromise, but he also baited his rival, using a bipartisan bill that fell apart in the Senate at Mr. Trump’s urging.

“Instead of telling members of Congress to block this legislation, join me,” Mr. Biden said of the bill that had been a breakthrough after years of paralysis on one of the nation’s most intractable issues.

Mr. Biden’s push to collaborate on what he called the “toughest” border legislation in decades shows how the Democratic Party has shifted to the right on this issue.

Here’s what else to know:

  • Mr. Biden arrived on Air Force One in Brownsville, Texas, a city in the Rio Grande Valley that has historically seen large influxes of migrants, and met with Border Patrol, law enforcement and asylum officers. He said it was “long past time” to fix the border and immigration system, and that message from Border Patrol agents and others involved in security was plain: They wanted more officers, more judges and more resources.
  • Mr. Biden also denounced Republicans for thwarting the bipartisan immigration bill — one that he championed and they themselves had demanded — that would have resulted in a crackdown at the border.
  • Mr. Trump spoke in Eagle Pass, which has become a common backdrop for politicians who want to show they are tough on immigration. He was met there by Gov. Greg Abbott and Brandon Judd, the president of the National Border Patrol Council, the main union for Border Patrol agents, and began his remarks by commending Mr. Abbott on his efforts on the border. “The United States is being overrun,” Mr. Trump said, as he criticized Mr. Biden’s border policies and “what he has done to our country.”
  • Mr. Trump also focused on the death of Laken Riley, a 22-year-old nursing student found dead in Georgia, blaming it on Mr. Biden. The man charged with killing her is an immigrant from Venezuela who crossed the border illegally, and her death has become a political flashpoint.
  • Record numbers of migrants have crossed into the United States during the Biden administration, a surge that Mr. Trump and other Republicans have used to attack the president as weak on the border.
  • A Gallup poll released on Tuesday found that Americans are most likely to name immigration as the most important problem in the country.

ny times logoNew York Times, The U.S. Economy Is Surpassing Expectations. Immigration Is One Reason, Lydia DePillis, March 1, 2024 (print ed.). Immigrants aided the pandemic recovery and may be crucial to future needs. The challenge is processing newcomers and getting them where the jobs are.

The U.S. economic recovery from the pandemic has been stronger and more durable than many experts had expected, and a rebound in immigration is a big reason.

A resumption in visa processing in 2021 and 2022 jump-started employment, allowing foreign-born workers to fill some holes in the labor force that persisted across industries and locations after the pandemic shutdowns. Immigrants also address a longer-term need: replenishing the work force, a key to meeting labor demands as birthrates decline and older people retire.

Net migration in the year that ended July 1, 2023, reached the highest level since 2017. The foreign-born now make up 18.6 percent of the labor force, and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects that over the next 10 years, immigration will keep the number of working Americans from sinking. Balancing job seekers and opportunities is also critical to moderating wage inflation and keeping prices in check.

International instability, economic crises, war and natural disasters have brought a new surge of arrivals who could help close the still-elevated gap between labor demand and job candidates. But that potential economic dividend must contend with the incendiary politics, logistical hurdles and administrative backlogs that the surge has created.

Visits to Texas on Thursday by President Biden and his likely election opponent, former President Donald J. Trump, highlight the political tensions. Mr. Biden is seeking to address a border situation that he recently called “chaos,” and Mr. Trump has vowed to shut the door after record numbers crossed the border under the Biden administration.

Since the start of the 2022 fiscal year, about 116,000 have arrived as refugees, a status that comes with a federally funded resettlement network and immediate work eligibility. A few hundred thousand others who have arrived from Ukraine and Afghanistan are entitled to similar benefits.

But far more — about 5.5 million — have been apprehended at the borders and at airports and seaports. Not all are allowed to stay, but a vast majority of those who do receive little government assistance. People seeking asylum have faced long delays before they can work legally, and a busing campaign by Southern governors has concentrated them in a few cities that are struggling to absorb them.

Americans will get their first look at the likely presidential rematch coming this fall as President Biden and Donald J. Trump make dueling visits to the Texas border on Thursday, a rare convergence on the campaign trail that shows just how volatile and potent a political issue immigration has already become in the 2024 race.

trump 2024For Mr. Trump, the border is a familiar backdrop and represents almost the background music of his candidacy, as he warns of a nation slipping out of reach and an “invasion” he promises to stop. For Mr. Biden, immigration represents a top vulnerability as border crossings reached record highs in late 2023 and images of mass migration and its fallout have become fixtures on the news.

Republicans have long had an edge politically on the issue, with the G.O.P. advantage swelling even larger of late. In the fall of 2020, Mr. Trump was more trusted on immigration by a sizable 16 percentage points, according to NBC News polling at the time. That margin has more than doubled to 35 percentage points as of this January — the largest advantage either Mr. Biden or Mr. Trump had on any of the nine issues tested.

biden harris 2024 logoBut Biden allies believe the recent decision by Republican congressional leaders — at Mr. Trump’s urging — to abandon a potential bipartisan border deal has provided the party a rare opening to cut into that deficit. The package would have made asylum claims more difficult, expanded detention capacity, increased fentanyl screening and paid for more border officers.

Democrats hope they can draw attention to the package’s failure and contrast Mr. Biden’s pursuit of bipartisanship with Mr. Trump’s belligerence.

“Donald Trump doesn’t want a solution,” said Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, a top Biden surrogate, in a call arranged by the Biden campaign before the Texas trip. “He wants a campaign slogan.”

ny times logoNew York Times, On the Arizona Border, Even a Slow Day Is Busy, Jack Healy, March 1, 2024 (print ed.). Illegal crossings have dropped, but the migrant crisis still defines life on the border, where many are skeptical that politicians can help.

Helen Ramajo, 11 years old, reached the U.S.-Mexico border before the American presidents did.

arizona mapAs President Biden and former President Donald J. Trump prepared for the political stagecraft of dueling visits to two Texas border towns, Helen slipped through a gap in the wall in southern Arizona on Tuesday morning, her fuzzy bear-eared hoodie pulled up against the chill.

“A dream!” she said. She, her father and older sister left Guatemala a month ago, and they now trudged toward a makeshift camp with other tired, dehydrated migrants to wait beside the wall to surrender to U.S. immigration authorities.

Illegal crossings across the Southern border have plummeted in the last month, but even a slow day means dozens of migrants arriving every few hours, a ritual that has come to define life in border towns and nearby cities. Migrant aid workers say they often see around 200 people a day crossing in this area of the border outside the tiny town of Sasabe, southwest of Tucson.

A visit from two presidential candidates seeking to persuade voters they can tackle the border crisis may check an election-year box. But in this corner of southern Arizona, which now has the most undocumented crossings of any stretch of the entire Southern border, ranchers, aid workers and other residents who live and breathe the border crisis said the problem had become too intractable and complicated for any politician to tackle.

“I have no faith that it will ever be solved,” said Lori Lindsay, a cattle rancher whose Tres Bellotas ranch runs along a slice of the border wall.

The surge in illegal crossings has become a threat to Mr. Biden’s re-election hopes and a political attack line for Mr. Trump. There were 2.4 million migrant apprehensions along the Southern border in the last fiscal year, the third record-breaking year in a row.

As dozens of migrants threaded their way along the border wall on Tuesday, several said they had not been deterred by renewed construction to fill in gaps along the 30-foot-tall border wall, or by the threat of tough new enforcement measures from Washington.

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. launches probe into possible fraud by organ collection groups, Lenny Bernstein, Mark Johnson and Lisa Rein, Feb. 27, 2024 (print ed.). The investigation led by federal prosecutors could be the gravest threat yet to the status quo in the multibillion-dollar organ transplant industry.

Federal authorities have launched a wide-ranging investigation of the nonprofit organizations that collect organs for transplant in the United States, according to six people familiar with the inquiry, which seeks to determine whether any of the groups have been defrauding the government.

The probe involves U.S. attorneys in various parts of the country who are investigating organ procurement organizations in at least five states. Their team includes investigators from the Department of Health and Human Services and the office of Michael Missal, the inspector general of the Department of Veterans Affairs. They are seeking to determine, among other things, whether any of these groups have been overbilling the government for their costs.

georgia mapThe investigation has been underway for at least several months, the people said. But in a sign the probe is intensifying, investigators from the VA inspector general were “dispatched” to the offices and homes of 10 chief executives of organ procurement organizations at the beginning of February “as part of an inquiry,” according to a notice that Steve Miller, chief executive of the Association of Organ Procurement Organizations, sent to his membership.

Serious deficiencies in the nationwide organ transplant system have been the subject of increasing government scrutiny in recent years, but an investigation led by federal prosecutors — which carries the possibility of criminal charges — could be the gravest threat yet to the status quo in the troubled, multibillion-dollar organ transplant industry.

Meidas Touch Network, Commentary: Lauren Boebert’s Son Arrested in Connection to “Recent String of Vehicle Trespasses and Property Thefts, J.D. Wolf, Feb. 28, 2024. 18 year old Tyler Boebert made Lauren a Grandmother Last Year.

mtn meidas touch networkLauren Boebert’s 18 year old son Tyler Boebert’s was arrested in connection to a “recent string of vehicle trespasses and property thefts” according to the Rifle Police Department’s Facebook page.

Tyler “is facing the following charges: four felony counts of Criminal Possession ID Documents – Multiple Victims, one felony count of Conspiracy to Commit a Felony, and over 15 additional misdemeanor and petty offenses,” according to police.

In 2022, Lauren Boebert’s son was speeding and flipped his vehicle into a creek bed. An occupant during the crash accused Lauren of trying to coverup his injuries.

Tyler fathered a child with an underage teen making Lauren a grandmother in March. Lauren announced the expected grand baby at the CPAC Women’s Breakfast where she was awarded with a “Mothers of Influence” award from Moms for America.

Lauren Boebert frequently states how she has to leave her children in order to be a representative in Washington. Lauren Boebert is currently trying to win the GOP primary in her new district and these type of stories underscore why voters may want to chose someone different.
ColoradoTyler BoebertLauren BoebertArrest

washington post logoWashington Post, Airman who set self on fire grew up on religious compound, had anarchist past, Emily Davies, Peter Hermann and Dan Lamothe, Updated Feb. 27, 2024. Less than two weeks before Aaron Bushnell walked toward the gates of the Israeli Embassy on Sunday, he and a friend talked by phone about their shared identities as anarchists and what kinds of risks and sacrifices were needed to be effective.

Bushnell, 25, mentioned nothing violent or self-sacrificial, the friend said.

Then on Sunday, Bushnell texted that friend, who described the exchange on the condition of anonymity to protect his safety.

“I hope you’ll understand. I love you,” Bushnell wrote in a message reviewed by The Washington Post. “This doesn’t even make sense, but I feel like I’m going to miss you.”

He sent the friend a copy of his will on Sunday. In it, he gave his cat to his neighbor and a fridge full of root beers to the friend.

Twelve minutes later, Bushnell, who was a senior airman in the U.S. Air Force, doused himself with a liquid and set himself on fire. He had posted a video online saying he did not want to be “complicit in genocide.” He shouted “Free Palestine” as he burned.

Secret Service officers extinguished the blaze. Bushnell died seven hours later at a hospital.

His suicidal protest instantly won him praise among some antiwar and pro-Palestinian activists, while others said they were devastated that he would take an action so extreme. But how a young man who liked The Lord of the Rings and karaoke became the man ablaze in a camouflage military uniform remains a mystery, even among some of his closest friends.

Bushnell was raised in a religious compound in Orleans, Mass., on Cape Cod, according to Susan Wilkins, 59, who said she was a member of the group from 1970 to 2005. She said that she knew Bushnell and his family on the compound and that he was still a member when she left. Wilkins said she heard through members of Bushnell’s family that he eventually left the group.

Wilkins’s account is consistent with those of multiple others who said Bushnell had told them about his childhood in the religious group or who had heard about his affiliation from his family members.

The group, called the Community of Jesus, has faced allegations of inappropriate behavior, which it has publicly disputed. In a lawsuit against an Ontario school, where many officials were alleged to be members of the U.S.-based religious group, former students called the Community of Jesus a “charismatic sect” and alleged that it “created an environment of control, intimidation and humiliation that fostered and inflicted enduring harms on its students.” The school, now defunct, disputed the allegations. Last year, an appeals court in Canada awarded 10.8 million Canadian dollars to the former students, who attended the Ontario school between 1973 and 1997.

ny times logoWashington Post, Man found guilty of killing trans woman in historic hate crime verdict, Daniel Wu, Feb. 25, 2024 (print ed.). A South Carolina man is the first person convicted by trial of a federal hate crime based on gender identity, federal authorities said.

A federal jury found a South Carolina man guilty Friday of killing a Black transgender woman, marking the first conviction at federal trial for a hate crime motivated by gender identity, according to authorities.

The jury unanimously found Daqua Lameek Ritter guilty of a hate crime, a firearms charge and obstruction for the 2019 fatal shooting of Dime Doe, a 24-year-old transgender woman, the Justice Department announced Saturday.

Ritter lured Doe to a remote area in Allendale, S.C., and shot her three times in the head, prosecutors alleged. Ritter was upset after he learned rumors had spread in his community about a sexual relationship between him and Doe, and he killed Doe because of her gender identity, according to the Justice Department.

Officials hailed the conviction as historic. Until Ritter’s case, no federal hate-crime case based on gender identity had reached a guilty verdict by trial, according to the Justice Department.

Ritter faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.

“We want the Black trans community to know that you are seen and heard, that we stand with the LGBTQI+ community, and that we will use every tool available to seek justice for victims and their families,” Justice Department Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said in the department’s news release.

The 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act created a federal law criminalizing violent acts against people due to their religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation or disability. The law gave, among other things, federal authorities greater flexibility to prosecute hate crimes that local authorities choose not to pursue, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. But prosecutors did not pursue a case centered on a victim’s gender identity until several years after the law’s enactment.

ny times logoNew York Times, N.R.A. Civil Corruption Case: For N.R.A.’s LaPierre, a Legacy of Guns and Money, Danny Hakim, Feb. 24, 2024. A civil court jury’s verdict underscored the extent to which Wayne LaPierre had enriched himself in the over three decades he led the N.R.A.

Wayne LaPierre, who led the National Rifle Association for more than three decades, had long been the face of the American gun rights movement, a Beltway Clint Eastwood who insisted that “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.”

But on Friday, a civil court jury found Mr. LaPierre, 74, liable for misspending $5.4 million of the organization’s money, after a six-week corruption trial brought by Letitia James, the attorney general of New York.

The trial, and the years of revelations leading up to it, underscored that the N.R.A. had become as much about money as about guns during his tenure.

BIG, a newsletter on the politics of monopoly power: BOMBSHELL: Potential Criminal Activity Revealed in the Kroger-Albertsons Merger, Matt Stoller, right, Feb. 20, 2024. matt stollerWith two antitrust suits filed and a big one on the way, this merger is on life support. And enforcers discovered what could be criminal collusion.

Today I’m writing about the $24 billion Kroger-Albertsons supermarket merger, which is, to put it mildly, in trouble. I haven’t written about this deal in depth since late 2022, because it looks like a standard problematic big merger. It’s a private equity arrangement where the executives will get rich, consumers will pay higher prices, workers will endure lower wages, and there will be worse quality in the food system. There will be a trial where the Federal Trade Commission will argue before a judge that it should be blocked, and it’s semi-random how judges interpret the Clayton Act. I said that in late 2022, and little had changed.

But fascinating things have happened over the last few months. Most notably, enforcers found what looks like criminal behavior by Albertsons and Kroger to suppress worker wages, and are actually doing something about it beyond just challenging the merger.

But first, let’s go over the stakes of the deal itself. The Kroger-Albertsons combo is massive:

Kroger and Albertsons are both monsters, and the two of them combining would create the second largest chain in the country, after Walmart, with 15% of the national grocery business. Kroger/Albertsons would employ over 700,000 people, have over $200 billion in revenue and more than 40,000 private label brands, and own and operate brands such as Safeway, Ralphs, Smith’s, Harris Teeter, Dillons, Fred Meyer, Vons, Kings, Haggen, Tom Thumb, Star Market, Jewel-Osco, and Shaw’s.

There are already 30% fewer grocery stores than there were a few decades ago, because of consolidation. And that’s a problem. Large chains “not only secure better prices for goods than their smaller counterparts, but can also increase prices faster than costs, contributing to inflation.” This merger will worsen the situation, as “suppliers, consumers, and workers will all feel the pressure from Kroger/Albertsons, and since suppliers buy from farmers, farmers will feel it too, at least indirectly.”

kansas city chiefs parade fox

washington post logoWashington Post, Two men charged with murder in Kansas City Super Bowl parade shooting, Praveena Somasundaram, Feb. 21, 2024 (print ed.).  Two men were charged with murder in the shooting that killed a person and injured at least 22 others after a parade celebrating the Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl win last week, prosecutors announced Tuesday.

Dominic Miller of Kansas City and Lyndell Mays of Raytown, Mo., face charges of second-degree murder, unlawful use of a weapon and two counts of armed criminal action, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker (D) said at a news conference. At Tuesday’s news conference, Baker indicated that charges would be filed against more people and did not answer questions about how many shooters there were or the numbers and types of firearms they used. Two juveniles were charged with gun-related offenses and resisting arrest last week.

Prosecutors also released new information Tuesday about what they’d previously described as a personal dispute, detailing how Mays and Miller allegedly drew firearms during a verbal altercation involving at least four other people.

Mays was arrested over the weekend and Miller was arrested Monday night, said Michael Mansur, a spokesperson for Baker. Both men, who were shot, according to court records, remain in the hospital with law enforcement officers guarding them, Baker said.

KKFI disc jockey Lisa Lopez-Galvan, right, who was killed in a shooting in Kansas City, Mo., on Wednesday, poses with co-host Tommy Andrade in an undated photo. (Tommy Andrade)

KKFI disc jockey Lisa Lopez-Galvan, right, who was killed in a shooting in Kansas City, Mo., on Wednesday, poses with co-host Tommy Andrade in an undated photo. (Photo courtesy of Tommy Andrade)

When detectives interviewed Miller, he said he had been carrying a 9mm handgun and fired four or five shots, according to the document. Detectives said a bullet recovered from the autopsy of the woman who died in the shooting, Elizabeth “Lisa” Lopez-Galvan, matched the gun Miller fired.

On Friday, when detectives asked Mays why he had taken out a firearm during the argument, he responded with: “Stupid, man. Just pulled a gun out and started shooting,” according to a probable cause statement.

ap logoAssociated Press via Politico, WikiLeaks founder Assange may be near end of long fight to stay out of US, Feb. 20, 2024 (print ed.). His wife says the decision is a matter of life and death for Assange.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s fight to avoid facing spying charges in the United States may be nearing an end following a protracted legal saga in the U.K. that included seven years of self-exile inside a foreign embassy and five years in prison.

politico CustomAssange faces what could be his final court hearing in London starting Tuesday as he tries to stop his extradition to the U.S. The High Court has scheduled two days of arguments over whether Assange can ask an appeals court to block his transfer. If the court doesn’t allow the appeal to go forward, he could be sent across the Atlantic.

His wife says the decision is a matter of life and death for Assange, whose health has deteriorated during his time in custody.

“His life is at risk every single day he stays in prison,” Stella Assange said Thursday. “If he’s extradited, he will die.”

Assange, 52, an Australian computer expert, has been indicted in the U.S. on 18 charges over Wikileaks’ publication of hundreds of thousands of classified documents in 2010.

Prosecutors say he conspired with U.S. army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to hack into a Pentagon computer and release secret diplomatic cables and military files on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Justice Department log circularHe faces 17 counts of espionage and one charge of computer misuse. If convicted, his lawyers say he could receive a prison term of up to 175 years, though American authorities have said any sentence is likely to be much lower.

Assange and his supporters argue he acted as a journalist to expose U.S. military wrongdoing and is protected under press freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Among the files published by WikiLeaks was video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack by American forces in Baghdad that killed 11 people, including two Reuters journalists.

“Julian has been indicted for receiving, possessing and communicating information to the public of evidence of war crimes committed by the U.S. government,” Stella Assange said. “Reporting a crime is never a crime.”

U.S. lawyers say Assange is guilty of trying to hack the Pentagon computer and that WikiLeaks’ publications created a “grave and imminent risk” to U.S. intelligence sources in Afghanistan and Iraq.

ny times logoNew York Times, Capital One to Acquire Discover, Creating a Consumer Lending Colossus, Lauren Hirsch and Emma Goldberg, Feb. 19, 2024. Capital One announced on Monday that it would acquire Discover Financial Services in an all-stock transaction valued at $35.3 billion, a deal that would merge two of the largest credit card companies in the United States.

capital one bank logo“A space that is already dominated by a relatively small number of megaplayers is about to get a little smaller,” said Matt Schulz, chief credit analyst at LendingTree.

Capital One, with $479 billion in assets, is one of the nation’s largest banks, and it issues credit cards on networks run by Visa and Mastercard. Acquiring Discover will give it access to a credit card network of 305 million cardholders, adding to its base of more than 100 million customers. The country’s four major networks are American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Discover, which has far fewer cardholders than its competitors.

Justice Department log circularBut consumer advocates pushed back on the possible deal, saying it posed antitrust concerns. “It is very difficult to imagine how federal regulators could allow Capital One to buy Discover given the requirement that mergers benefit the public as well as insiders,” Jesse Van Tol, the chief executive of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, said in a statement.

The acquisition by Capital One will be one of the first tests of regulatory scrutiny on bank deals since the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency said last month that it intended to slow down approvals for mergers and acquisitions.

Consumer advocates pushed back against the $35.3 billion deal, which would require regulatory approval, saying that it posed antitrust concerns.

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More On Climate Change, Environment, Space, Transportation

climate change photo

ny times logoNew York Times, Fast-Spreading Wildfires in Texas Panhandle Prompt Evacuations, J. David Goodman and Miglena Sternadori, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). One of the wildfires, the Smokehouse Creek fire near the cattle-country town of Canadian, is now the second largest wildfire ever recorded in Texas.

The second-largest wildfire on record in Texas raged across more than half a million acres on Wednesday, as firefighters from around the state tried to contain it. The blaze has consumed houses, burned vast ranch lands and forced evacuations across the sparsely populated Texas Panhandle.

Known as the Smokehouse Creek fire, the blaze was ignited on Monday and by Wednesday had spread to at least 500,000 acres, fueled by strong winds and dry conditions, and was uncontrolled, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service.

The fire spread around the town of Canadian, a cattle-country community of around 2,200 people northeast of Amarillo near the Oklahoma state line. Residents who had not already evacuated were forced to shelter in place overnight. The county sheriff warned on Tuesday that there were no open routes out of the town.

ny times logoNew York Times, Severe storms hit the Chicago area and parts of western Illinois, briefly grounding flights at O’Hare Airport, Derrick Bryson Taylor, Orlando Mayorquin and Judson Jones, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). A parade of severe weather was marching eastward on Wednesday, hours after parts of the Upper Midwest were hit with strong thunderstorms, damaging winds and numerous reports of tornadoes, leaving thousands without power.
Here’s what to know about the weather:

Between Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning, tornado warnings were issued across the Midwest as the line of storms rolled east.

The storms are likely to fade in intensity throughout Wednesday.

Relevant Recent Headlines

Pandemics, Public Health, Covid, Privacy

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. prescription drug market in disarray as ransomware gang attacks, Joseph Menn and Daniel Gilbert, March 1, 2024. Millions of Americans have been affected by delays in obtaining medicine or having to foot the bill without insurance.

A ransomware gang once thought to have been crippled by law enforcement has snarled prescription processing for millions of Americans over the past week, forcing some to chose between paying prices hundreds or thousands of dollars above their usual insurance-adjusted rates or going without lifesaving medicine.

Insurance giant UnitedHealthcare Group said the hackers struck its Change Health business unit, which routes prescription claims from pharmacies to companies that determine whether patients are covered by insurance and what they should pay. The hackers stole data about patients, encrypted company files and demanded money to unlock them, prompting the company to shut down most of its network as it worked to recover.

Change and a rival, CoverMyMeds, are the two biggest players in the so-called switch business, charging pharmacies a small fee for funneling claims to insurers.

washington post logoWashington Post, Long covid may cause cognitive decline of about six IQ points, study finds, Victoria Bisset, Feb. 29, 2024. It’s more than four years since the first cases of covid-19 were identified — but many of its longer-term effects, including for those living with long covid, remain unclear.

Now, a new study has some worrying findings that suggest covid may have longer-term effects on cognition and memory — and that these lead to measurable differences in cognitive performance.

The study, published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that participants who recovered from covid symptoms had a cognitive deficit equivalent to three IQ points compared with those who were never infected, while participants suffering from unresolved covid symptoms lasting 12 weeks or more experienced a loss equivalent to six IQ points.

But researchers also stressed that the greater cognitive decline associated with persistent symptoms may not be permanent, as participants in this category who had recovered by the time they took part in the study were found to have cognitive deficits comparable to those who recovered quickly. Adam Hampshire, the study’s lead author and a professor in restorative neurosciences at Imperial College London, said in a telephone interview Thursday that the improvement for those who previously had longer-term symptoms “gives us a little bit of hope that those who are struggling with long covid at the moment — when their symptoms eventually resolve — may experience some cognitive recovery.”

washington post logoWashington Post, CDC recommends older adults get 2nd updated coronavirus shot, Lena H. Sun, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Wednesday that people 65 and older get a second dose of a coronavirus vaccine made available in the fall because they are at higher risk for severe disease from the virus.

“Most covid-19 deaths and hospitalizations last year were among people 65 years and older. An additional vaccine dose can provide added protection that may have decreased over time for those at highest risk,” CDC Director Mandy Cohen said in a statement after endorsing the recommendation from the agency’s vaccine advisory panel.

The 11-1 vote, with one abstention, by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices appeared to take some members by surprise.

washington post logoWashington Post, Exclusive: Tax records reveal the lucrative world of covid misinformation, Lauren Weber, Feb. 22, 2024 (print ed.).  Four major nonprofits that rose to prominence during the coronavirus pandemic by capitalizing on the spread of medical misinformation collectively gained more than $118 million between 2020 and 2022, enabling the organizations to deepen their influence in statehouses, courtrooms and communities across the country, a Washington Post analysis of tax records shows.

rfk jr mouth openChildren’s Health Defense, an anti-vaccine group founded by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., right, received $23.5 million in contributions, grants and other revenue in 2022 alone — eight times what it collected the year before the pandemic began — allowing it to expand its state-based lobbying operations to cover half the country. Another influential anti-vaccine group, Informed Consent Action Network, nearly quadrupled its revenue during that time to about $13.4 million in 2022, giving it the resources to finance lawsuits seeking to roll back vaccine requirements as Americans’ faith in vaccines drops.

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2Two other groups, Front Line Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance and America’s Frontline Doctors, went from receiving $1 million combined when they formed in 2020 to collecting more than $21 million combined in 2022, according to the latest tax filings available for the groups.

The four groups routinely buck scientific consensus. Children’s Health Defense and Informed Consent Action Network raise doubts about the safety of vaccines despite assurances from federal regulators. “Vaccines have never been safer than they are today,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on its webpage outlining vaccine safety.

Front Line Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance and America’s Frontline Doctors promote anti-parasitic or anti-malarial drugs as treatments for covid, long after regulators and clinical trials found the medications to be ineffective or potentially harmful. Leaders of these groups say they disagree with medical consensus and argue that their promotion of alternative treatments for covid and other conditions is safe.

Arthur Caplan, head of the division of medical ethics at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine, said that in his view, the four groups endanger lives with their spread of misinformation.

“These groups gave jet fuel to misinformation at a crucial time in the pandemic,” Caplan said. “The richer they get, the worse off the public is because, indisputably, they’re spouting dangerous nonsense that kills people.”

The influx of pandemic cash sent executive compensation soaring, boosted public outreach, and seeded the ability to wage legislative and legal battles to weaken vaccine requirements and defend physicians accused of spreading misinformation.

Some doctors following guidance by Front Line Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance or America’s Frontline Doctors have been disciplined or face the possibility of discipline from state medical boards alleging substandard medical care. In cases involving two doctors alleged to have followed Front Line Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance guidance, three patients died.

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U.S. Abortion, Family Planning, #MeToo

ny times logoNew York Times, Investigation: A Marketplace of Girl Influencers Managed by Moms and Stalked by Men, Jennifer Valentino-DeVries and Michael H. Keller, Feb. 23, 2024 (print ed.). Seeking social media stardom for their underage daughters, mothers post images of them on Instagram. The accounts draw men sexually attracted to children.

Thousands of accounts examined by The Times offer disturbing insights into how social media is reshaping childhood, especially for girls, with direct parental encouragement and involvement. Some parents are the driving force behind the sale of photos, exclusive chat sessions and even the girls’ worn leotards and cheer outfits to mostly unknown followers. The most devoted customers spend thousands of dollars nurturing the underage relationships.

The large audiences boosted by men can benefit the families, The Times found. The bigger followings look impressive to brands and bolster chances of getting discounts, products and other financial incentives, and the accounts themselves are rewarded by Instagram’s algorithm with greater visibility on the platform, which in turn attracts more followers.

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U.S. Economy, Jobs, Poverty, Consumers, Space, High Tech

Commentator Joanne Lipman with CNBC host Andrew Ross Sorkin

Commentator Joanne Lipman with CNBC host Andrew Ross Sorkin

Time Magazine, Commentary: No Recession? Thank Women, Joanne Lipman, March 1, 2024. The rise in working moms has helped prop up theeconomy. Now return-to-office mandates are threatening that progress,

time logo ogRemote work allowed Alyson Velasquez to juggle her demanding roles as a Wells Fargo talent recruiter and as mother of two young children, including a son with special needs. The flexibility made sense both for her job, working with hiring managers across the country, and for her kids, ensuring she would be available for medical appointments and pickups. Remote work “is wonderful for working moms,” she says.

Women like Velasquez have flooded into the fulltime workplace over the past few years, spurred by newly flexible options combined with the rollback of pandemic-era school and daycare restrictions. The percentage of “prime age” working women—defined as ages 25 to 54—set a record in 2023, with moms of very young children leading the way.

These women have become the economy’s secret weapon—and one of the reasons why the recession that just about everyone predicted hasn’t happened. Despite almost two straight years of dire forecasts, unemployment remains low, consumer spending has held steady, and productivity is on the rise. Just last week (feb 20), the Conference Board, which had been warning of a recession since July 2022, finally gave up and abandoned its call. “The strong labor force participation of women workers and the strength of the economy are intertwined,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told me in a recent email exchange. She attributes the employment gains for women in part to the child tax credit and other initiatives. “But also important is the increased flexibility of the workplace that came as a result of the pandemic,” she said.

That flexibility has been key for women like Laura Podesta, who left her role as a CBS television correspondent in 2022, when her sons were three and one. Her long overnight hours in the studio, along with frequent travel, “made me start to reassess what I was committing to,” she says. She pivoted to a hybrid position, overseeing communications for Fiverr, a freelance platform. “I decided to make the move in large part so I could work from home part of the week,” she says.

Flexibility helps corporate bottom lines, too, because employees are less likely to quit, recent research suggests. Replacing just one employee can cost twice as much as their salary, after factoring in recruiting and training costs, according to Gallup. Valerie Danna, a Seattle mother of five who spent years as a communications and human resources executive at companies including Starbucks, today spends part-time coaching other women who are transitioning in their careers. “Some want to switch companies…and some are looking to start their own,” she says. “But they all want hybrid.” By providing flexibility, she says, companies “retain the talent longer, which saves the company money.”

Yet now that progress is being threatened by a wave of return-to-office mandates. High-profile companies including Disney and Meta have announced mandates requiring three or more days a week in the office. Bank of America threatened employees who don’t comply with “disciplinary action.” IBM told remote workers they must move to be near a company office or quit. United Parcel Service says that as of March, all employees must work on premises five days a week. And a global survey of CEO’s found that almost two-thirds expect a full five-day-a-week return to office by 2026.

About 40% of employees work remotely at least one day a week, according to Stanford University economist Nick Bloom, a figure that has remained steady since December 2022. But fully remote opportunities are drying up—and researchers have found that those workers are more likely to be laid off than peers who spend time on premises.

As a long-time manager of teams, I empathize with the importance of in-person work for collaboration, mentoring and culture. But at a time when women – finally! – have made historic employment gains, and are contributing to the economy’s resilience in the process, why put policies in place that will instead chase them away?

Inflexible mandates are already squeezing out women who want to stay in the fulltime workforce. Livia Fine, a litigator who worked for years at a major Manhattan law firm, moved during the pandemic to a town two hours outside the city to raise her two young children. She believes she can be just as effective working remotely—but mainstream law firms don’t agree, and she has yet to find a comparable position. In her Hudson Valley town, she says, she is surrounded by professional women in other fields who are similarly boxed out.

“These are some of the most vibrant, intelligent, community-oriented, brilliant women I’ve met,” she says. “What a waste” for companies that won’t hire them, she adds. “You’re creating a society that’s pushing us out.”

Joanne Lipman has served as editor-in-chief of USA Today, USA Today Network, Conde Nast Portfolio magazine, and The Wall Street Journal Weekend. She is the bestselling author of NEXT! The Power of Reinvention in Life and Work, and That’s What She Said. She is also a Yale University journalism lecturer and on-air CNBC contributor. She finally learned how to cook during the pandemic.
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nasa logo ny times logoNew York Times, Odysseus Moon Lander to Power Down, With Aim to Extend Time on Surface, Kenneth Chang, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). The commercial spacecraft’s builder released new images from the moon’s surface as the company described plans to try to wake it up in two to three weeks.

Odysseus is not dead yet. But it will soon be time to say, “Good night, moon lander.”

Last week, Odysseus, a privately built robotic lunar lander, became the first American spacecraft to set down on the moon in more than 50 years, and the first nongovernmental effort ever to accomplish that feat.

But like the Homeric Greek hero it was named after, the lander has not had an easy journey with a neat happy ending.

In a news conference on Wednesday, Intuitive Machines, the Houston-based company that built Odysseus, said the spacecraft continued to operate, but that it would be put into a planned shutdown later on Wednesday.

“We’ve conducted a very successful mission,” said Steve Altemus, the chief executive of Intuitive Machines.

The extension of the spacecraft’s lifetime was the latest twist in the mission’s timeline, after the company suggested earlier this week that the lander’s operations might cease on Tuesday, then said that day that the vehicle could have as much as 20 hours of remaining battery life.

Uncertainty about the state of Odysseus has persisted since Thursday, when the rover reached the moon. For several anxious minutes that evening after the time of landing passed, Intuitive Machines flight controllers waited for a radio signal confirming the lander’s safe arrival at its destination in the moon’s south pole region. When the signal was detected, it was faint, indicating that the spacecraft’s main antennas were pointing away from Earth.

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Media, Religion, High Tech, Education, Free Speech, Culture

elon musk thumbs up

washington post logoWashington Post, Elon Musk sues OpenAI, accuses ChatGPT maker of abandoning its original mission, Julian Mark, March 1, 2024. Musk (shown above in a file photo) is accusing the company of straying from its original nonprofit goal of researching AI for the benefit of humanity.

Elon Musk is suing OpenAI, the artificial intelligence powerhouse he helped found, charging that the company has strayed from its original nonprofit mission of researching AI for the benefit of humanity.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday in San Francisco Superior Court against OpenAI, CEO Sam Altman and co-founder Greg Brockman, Musk is asking the court to block OpenAI from using its products, such as the popular large-language model ChatGPT, for “financial benefit,” including in its multibillion-dollar partnership with Microsoft.

Musk, the billionaire chief executive of Tesla and other large companies, accuses Open AI of breaking its founding promises to develop AI for the benefit of humanity after Musk “contributed tens of millions of dollars, provided integral advice on research directions, and played a key role in recruiting world-class talent.”

The lawsuit is the latest headache for OpenAI, which went through turmoil last year after Altman was briefly ousted as CEO. OpenAI’s board is drawing closer to announcing new members following a dramatic November overhaul of the company’s governance. Meanwhile, the Securities and Exchange Commission is looking into whether investors in the company were misled.

The Dispatch, Analysis: Joe Biden’s Student Debt Cancellation, Explained, Dan Currell, March 1, 2024. Although the Supreme Court blocked one of the president’s debt cancellation plans, his administration has forgiven billions via other policies.

President Joe Biden announced last week the cancellation of $1.2 billion in student debt for 153,000 borrowers—an average of $7,843 per borrower. The move is one of dozens he’s made since 2021 in a multi-pronged strategy to deliver on his campaign promise to “forgive a minimum of $10,000/person of federal student loans.”

education department seal Custom 2To date, Biden has approved the cancellation of $138 billion in student debt for 3.9 million borrowers —an average of $35,384 per borrower, according to the White House.

What about that Supreme Court decision?

One could be forgiven for thinking that the student debt cancellation issue was settled in June 2023 when the Supreme Court struck down the Biden administration’s rule attempting to cancel student debt using the national emergency provisions of the HEROES Act. Had it survived the legal challenge, the move would have canceled $20,000 in student debt for borrowers originally from lower-income families and $10,000 for most others.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that around $400 billion in debt would have been canceled under the program if it had survived the lawsuit.

On the day the court released its decision, Biden announced his Plan B: to work through required regulatory channels to achieve broad-based debt cancellation using authorities granted in the Higher Education Act. Uniquely for the Higher Education Act, this involves a slow and iterative process called negotiated rulemaking, explained here. Less noticed was that the administration reiterated its commitment to a series of actions to cancel student debt in other ways. Even after the Supreme Court defeat, the White House’s message was “Debt Relief for As Many Borrowers as Possible, as Fast as Possible.” There are dozens of White House press releases relating to actions taken on student debt cancellation since last summer.

Student debt: a quick recap.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that as of mid-2022, 43 million borrowers owed $1.6 trillion in federal student debt—about $37,000 per borrower. Add in private and state student loans and the total comes to around $1.78 trillion. By comparison, in 2006, student borrowers owed $724 billion (adjusted for inflation), meaning student debt has more than doubled in an era when undergraduate enrollment has declined and postgraduate enrollment has only modestly increased.

The Hartmann Report, Opinion: Why Won’t Our Media Say Donald Trump is America’s Modern-Day Benedict Arnold? Thom Hartmann, right, Feb. 28, 2024. thom hartmannDonald Trump needs money. Apparently, many of the documents Trump stole from the White House are still missing. Including the binder with raw intelligence about American spies in Moscow.

Are they his “get out of jail free” card?

It’s as if the media doesn’t want to confront the possibility that a former president and current candidate is actually a traitor. But consider the facts.

We are right now in the midst of the third presidential election featuring massive interference from Russian intelligence. Most recently, we found that they sent an agent to the FBI to claim that Biden had taken a bribe in Ukraine: James Comer and Jim Jordan have been running with it, trying to use this Russian disinformation to damage Biden in his run against Trump this fall.

Similarly, the 2020 and 2016 elections featured substantial and persistent interventions by Russian intelligence to help get and keep Trump elected. One of the first things Trump did when he became president in 2017 was to invite the Russian Foreign Minister and their ambassador to the US for a secret meeting in the White House, where he gave them a spy we and Israel ran in Syria.

He had dozens of private phone conversations with Putin while in the White House, for which no meaningful records exist, and at Helsinki took Putin’s side against American intelligence to lie about Russian involvement in the 2016 election.

He stole thousands of top-secret (and above) classified documents from the White House, transported them to Florida, and stored them in publicly-accessible locations at Mar-a-Lago. It’s the perfect way to hand off intelligence to agents of foreign governments without getting caught.

He lied to both the National Archives, the FBI, and the American people about them. And now apparently many are missing.

Did Trump sell them already? Does he now have an overseas account with the hundreds of millions he’ll need to pay off his judgements? Or is he planning to sell documents that the FBI hasn’t yet found?

Prosecutors say that roughly 48,000 people visited Mar-a-Lago between the time in 2021 when Trump brought those documents from Washington to Florida and May 2022, when the FBI finally recovered as many as they could find. Of those people, only 2,200 had any sort of identity verification done, and only 2,900 passed through magnetometers that may have detected spying or photographing equipment.

For example, a female Chinese national, Yujing Zhang, flew into the US and went to Mar-a-Lago.

When she was finally caught by the Secret Service (after having her photo taken with Trump the day before on his golf course), they discovered on her person four mobile phones, a laptop, an external hard drive, and a thumb drive that was later discovered to contain spyware. There were, back in her hotel room, an additional 9 USB drives, five SIM cards for burner phones, and a bug-tracking device that could identify hidden cameras and microphones.

She claims she’s just a tourist and is now back in China; nobody knows how much time she spent in any of the many publicly-available rooms where Trump had stored our nation’s most sensitive and secret documents, including those involving nuclear war and spying on Russia and China.

And there was the notorious Russian-speaking Ukrainian woman, Inna Yashchyshyn, who went by the pseudonym Anna de Rothschild (complete with fake passport) to gain entrance to Mar-a-Lago. She was photographed on the golf course with Trump and Lindsay Graham, before spending hours wandering around Mar-a-Lago doing nobody-knows-what.

As former CIA director John Brennan said:

“I’m sure Mar-a-Lago was being targeted by Russian intelligence and other intelligence services over the course of the last 18 or 20 months, and if they were able to get individuals into that facility, and access those rooms where those documents were and made copies of those documents, that’s what they would do.”

Most likely “Anna” and Yujing Zhang were among the least competent of the spies who visited Mar-a-Lago. The good ones we’ll probably never know about.

For example, because Trump thinks it’s “upper class” to have people working at his resort who have “European” accents, the bug-infested resort hired scores of young people from European countries, typically paying them between $11 and $12 an hour.

That would present another great opportunity for foreign governments to get their people installed there in ways that would give them plenty of time to peruse the secret documents Trump was keeping out in the open.

Most concerning, though, is a 10-inch-thick binder of raw intelligence and assessments of Russia’s efforts to help Trump become president in 2016, which included reports and details from American spies in Moscow. The binder is missing, and multiple American spies and people working for US intelligence have been murdered.

ny times logoNew York Times, How the Media Industry Keeps Losing the Future, David Streitfeld, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). Thirty years ago, one media executive offered a reassuring vision of the future of newspapers. Now he says, “I’m not very optimistic.”

If the career of Roger Fidler has any meaning, it is this: Sometimes, you can see the future coming but get trampled by it anyway.

Thirty years ago, Mr. Fidler was a media executive pushing a reassuring vision of the future of newspapers. The digital revolution would liberate news from printing presses, giving people portable devices that kept them informed all day long. Some stories would be enhanced by video, others by sound and animation. Readers could share articles, driving engagement across diverse communities.

All that has come to pass, more or less. Everyone is online all the time, and just about everyone seems interested, if not obsessed, by national and world happenings. But the traditional media that Mr. Fidler was championing do not receive much benefit. After decades of decline, their collapse seems to be accelerating.

Every day brings bad news. Sometimes it is about recently formed digital enterprises, sometimes venerable publications whose history stretches back more than a century.

Cutbacks were just announced at Law360, The Intercept and the youth-oriented video site NowThis, which laid off half its staff. The tech news site Engadget, which comprehensively tracks tech layoffs, laid off its top editors and other staff members. Condé Nast and Time are shedding employees. The continued existence of Vice Media, once valued at $5.7 billion, and Sports Illustrated, in another era the most influential sports publication, is uncertain. The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post eliminated hundreds of journalists between them. One out of four newspapers that existed in 2005 no longer does.

The slow crash of newspapers and magazines would be of limited interest save for one thing: Traditional media had at its core the exalted and difficult mission of communicating information about the world. From investigative reports on government to coverage of local politicians, the news served to make all the institutions and individuals covered a bit more transparent and, possibly, more honest.

The advice columns, movie reviews, recipes, stock data, weather report and just about everything else in newspapers moved easily online — except the news itself. Local and regional coverage had a hard time establishing itself as a paying proposition.

Now there are signs that the whole concept of “news” is fading. Asked where they get their local news, nearly as many respondents to a Gallup poll said social media as mentioned newspapers and magazines. A recent attempt to give people free subscriptions to their local papers in Pennsylvania as part of an academic study drew almost no takers.

“Soon after the printing press emerged in the 15th century, the scriptoriums for copying manuscripts in monasteries rapidly began shutting down,” said Mr. Fidler, now 81 and living in retirement in Santa Fe, N.M. “I’m not very optimistic about the survival of the majority of newspapers in the United States.”

ny times logoNew York Times, The Center for Public Integrity is considering shutting down amid financial turmoil, Benjamin Mullin, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). The nonprofit had a budget shortfall of roughly $2.5 million last year amid a difficult market for fund-raising.

The Center for Public Integrity, one of the oldest and most storied nonprofit newsrooms in the United States, is considering merging with a competitor or shutting down amid turmoil in its top ranks and financial difficulties that have significantly sapped its reserves, according to two people with knowledge of the organization’s inner workings.

The nonprofit fell about $2.5 million short of its budget goal of around $6 million for 2023, according to the two people, who would speak only anonymously to protect their relationships within the organization.

This month, Paul Cheung, the organization’s chief executive, resigned after an employee accused him of unethical behavior. The board also eliminated the position of its editor in chief, Matt DeRienzo, who has left the nonprofit.

In a statement, the Center for Public Integrity said it had a “financially challenged past year” like many other nonprofit media organizations.

ny times logoNew York Times, Biden Acts to Stop Sales of Sensitive Personal Data to China and Russia, David McCabe, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). In an attempt to limit blackmail and other harm, he will issue an executive order asking the Justice Department to write rules restricting sales to six countries.

President Biden will issue an executive order Wednesday seeking to restrict the sale of sensitive American data to China, Russia and four more countries, a first-of-its-kind attempt to keep personally identifying information from being obtained for blackmail, scams or other harm.

The president will ask the Justice Department to write rules restricting the sale of information about Americans’ locations, health and genetics to China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela, as well as any entities linked to those countries. The restrictions would also cover financial information, biometric data and other types of information that could identify individuals and sensitive information related to the government.

The White House said this kind of sensitive data could be used for blackmail, “especially for those in the military or national security community,” and against dissidents, journalists and academics.

The new restrictions would be the United States’ first-ever broad prohibition on the sale of digital data to individual countries in an era when companies known as data brokers assemble huge amounts of information on people, from favorite hobbies to household income and health conditions, and then typically sell it to marketers that target them with ads.

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