Wed. May 29th, 2024

Morning Report — Trump trial: Conspiracy or politics?

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell May25,2024

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The prosecution Monday told jurors that then-candidate Donald Trump orchestrated a criminal plot to corrupt the 2016 election. Influencing voters is not a felony, the defendant’s lawyer countered. It’s politics.

“President Trump did not commit any crimes. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office should never have brought this case,” defense attorney Todd Blanche told jurors.

Boiled to its essence, that’s the terrain for the next six weeks inside a scruffy Manhattan courtroom. But amid seemingly bland references to doctored business records and payouts, there will be asides about alleged affairs and sexual trysts, “catch-and-kill” tabloid tactics and reminders about Trump’s reputation in business and later as president.

The Hill: Meet the 12 New Yorkers selected as the jury for Trump’s historic criminal trial.

Opening arguments ended midday as Judge Juan Merchan moved briskly to witnesses, beginning with former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker. Prosecutors describe him as one member of a three-man plot to block damaging accounts of Trump’s alleged encounter with a porn star from surfacing as he launched a White House bid. Pecker, who was on the stand for 20 minutes under subpoena, will be back this morning after summarizing his experience with “checkbook journalism” aimed at buying and publishing newsy flotsam about the rich, the notorious and the notable.

Trump denies any wrongdoing and assails former lawyer and go-between Michael Cohen, a future witness for the prosecution, as a liar. Trump hopes to create reasonable doubt about the veracity of witnesses, their motives and the aims of District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D) and his team.

The Hill’s Niall Stanage in The Memo: Five takeaways from Monday’s Trump trial.

A prosecutor told jurors that to “cook the books” to paper over Cohen’s $130,000 pre-election payment to adult film celebrity Stormy Daniels, Trump, who was by that time the president of the United States, reimbursed his former associate and approved false internal records at the Trump Organization to disguise the transaction as routine legal expenses.

Trump is charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, allegedly to cover up the hush payment to Daniels. He has pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors allege a scheme of “election fraud, pure and simple.”

If Trump chooses to testify, he can be cross-examined by prosecutors about the separate E. Jean Carroll fraud case, the judge ruled Monday.

▪ The Hill: Trump told supporters Monday to “go out and peacefully protest” on his behalf.

▪ The Hill: A special hearing today will determine whether the judge agrees with the prosecution that Trump violated a gag order.

3 THINGS TO KNOW TODAY:

▪ 📣 Tensions rose Monday over pro-Palestinian protests on U.S. campuses, including at Columbia and Yale, Emerson College, MIT and Tufts University. Members of Congress, law enforcement and university donors have gotten involved.

▪ 🔌 Sagging consumer demand for electric vehicles has nudged automakers and dealers to slash prices. EVs were languishing on dealership lots for an average of 119 days as of April 1, lower than 169 days two months ago (discounts helped), but higher than the 73-day average supply of gasoline-powered vehicles for sale. Tesla today is expected to report its lowest gross profit margin in more than six years.

▪ 🗯 Voyager 1, the most distant human-made object in the universe, phoned home with usable data after traveling for five months with a bad chip, which NASA figured out how to fix, the agency said Monday.

👉 Rethinking inflation: What if economic conventional thinking is all wet? Higher interest rates, embraced by the Federal Reserve as a tool to tame rising prices, may be exacerbating the problem of sticky inflation, some experts believe (The Hill).

LEADING THE DAY

© The Associated Press / J. Scott Applewhite | The Capitol on Monday.

CONGRESS

THE SENATE IS SET TO ADVANCE legislation providing aid to Ukraine today, moving Congress toward the end of a months-long battle that raised questions about the survival of Speaker Mike Johnson’s (R-La.) position and Kyiv’s defenses. Senators will hold the first procedural vote on the $95 billion aid package this afternoon, starting a 30-hour countdown toward a vote on final passage. That would take place on Wednesday night absent a deal on amendments, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) increasingly likely to let the time run out instead.

“The prevailing thought now is that Schumer will make them grind out the clock,” one Senate Republican told The Hill.

While the timing of a final vote is unknown, the result is not, writes The Hill’s Al Weaver. The House’s aid bill is expected to win almost every Senate Democrat and about half of the Republican conference, passing with ease after a tortuous legislative process.

Meanwhile, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) is escalating her threat to remove Johnson from power over his support of Ukraine aid, but she faces a tough climb if she hopes to achieve that goal. Not only has the Speaker recently received a glowing review from Trump, the GOP’s presumed presidential nominee, but The Hill’s Mike Lillis reports Democrats say they’re ready to rescue Johnson from a conservative coup. On top of that, many of the conservatives most frustrated with Johnson’s leadership style are opposing a motion to vacate, leaving Greene well short of a majority in the lower chamber. 

“My judgment and estimation is that this is not the time to do that,” said Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), who faces a competitive primary and is head of the far-right Freedom Caucus.  

TICK-TOCK FOR TIKTOK: Opponents of legislation that could ban TikTok in the United States are pinning their hopes on the Senate after the House passed legislation over the weekend that would force TikTok’s Chinese parent company ByteDance to sell the popular app or be banned in the U.S.

The social media crackdown may stand poised to become law, since Biden has vowed to sign it if it passes the Senate and reaches his desk. Here’s what to know about whether the ban would ever take effect, what it means for users and how people may seek to bypass it.

In a reversal, Trump is now digging in against the potential TikTok ban — and seeking to blame Biden for it — even though Trump sought to outlaw the social media application when he was in the White House.

ADMINISTRATION 

The White House on Monday announced new rules intended to protect the privacy of patients seeking abortions, and that of health workers who may have provided them amid threats from Republican prosecutors to crack down on the procedure. The rules strengthen the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA — a nearly 30-year-old health privacy law — to offer more robust legal protections to those who obtain or provide reproductive health care in a state where it is legal to do so (The Hill and The Washington Post).

“Each and every American still has a right to their privacy, especially when it comes to their very private, very personal health information,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a Monday press briefing.

Meanwhile, nursing homes will be required to have minimum levels of front-line caregivers for the first time or face financial penalties under a new federal requirement announced Monday. The final policy, unveiled by Vice President Harris, comes despite intense lobbying from the nursing home industry and opposition from bipartisan lawmakers, who argue a federal standard is unfeasible because of a nationwide staffing shortage made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. Mark Parkinson, CEO of the American Health Care Association, said in a Monday statement that the fact the administration finalized the rule was “unconscionable” given the nationwide workforce shortages (The Hill).

“At the end of the day, the agency is overstepping with a one-size-fits-all enforcement approach that is deeply flawed,” Parkinson said. “This fight is not over. Momentum against the mandates continues to build among both Democrats and Republicans, and we hope to work with lawmakers on more meaningful solutions that would help boost the long-term care workforce.”

WHERE AND WHEN

The House will meet at 10:30 a.m.

The Senate will convene at 10 a.m.

The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 10 a.m. Biden will fly to Tampa, Fla., to speak about abortion rights during campaign events at 3 p.m. and 4:15 p.m. He will return to the White House tonight. Today, the administration plans a state, Tribal, and local leaders for a White House Water Summit to announce a national goal to protect, restore, and reconnect 8 million acres of wetlands and 100,000 miles of river and streams.

Vice President Harris will host a Passover Seder at the vice president’s residence accompanied by second gentleman Doug Emhoff.

ZOOM IN

© The Associated Press / J. Scott Applewhite | Activists Monday demonstrated at the Supreme Court during oral arguments in a case challenging an Oregon community’s ban on homeless people sleeping on public property.

SUPREME COURT

Homelessness: The high court sounded inclined Monday to favor Grants Pass, Ore., and its authority to decide how to control homeless encampments on public property. Advocates for the homeless argued that fines of $295 issued by Grants Pass authorities to homeless people amounted to cruel and unusual punishment and a violation of the Constitution because they have no alternatives.

Justices appeared to lean toward the idea that the case involved policy questions best left to local officials, not constitutional questions for the courts. A ruling may pose significant implications for American cities and towns dealing with rising numbers of homeless people and residents living full-time in tents in public spaces. Publicly funded shelters and drug and mental health programs say they’re inundated and housing is expensive. A decision is expected by the end of June (The New York Times).

Guns: The Supreme Court said Monday it will hear the Biden administration’s appeal of a court ruling that would invalidate its “ghost gun” regulations, setting the stage for a major showdown on firearms next term. After previously intervening in the dispute twice on an emergency basis, the justices in a brief order agreed to take up the case on the merits (The Hill).

Elections: The Supreme Court declined Monday to take up a case brought by Republicans Kari Lake and Mark Finchem over the use of voting machines in Arizona elections, the latest blow to the duo of GOP candidates who have seen their lawsuit rejected several times (The Hill).

POLITICS

ARCHAIC PIECES OF LEGISLATION are taking a more prominent place in the fight over abortion access, with groups trying to limit abortions by citing bills passed in the 1800s at both the state and federal level. When the Arizona Supreme Court ruled to ban nearly all abortions in the state, it did so by upholding an 1864 law that made performing abortions a felony. The law was passed before Arizona was even a state. Since the Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, anti-abortion groups have further cited the Comstock Act of 1873 when arguing against sending mifepristone, a drug used for medical abortions, through the mail.

Anti-abortion groups are looking to revive these long-dormant bills and there are at least five other states that have similar so-called zombie laws that could be used to restrict or ban abortions entirely. The Hill’s Joseph Choi reports on what legal experts have to say.

WFLA NewsChannel8 and NewsNation: Biden in Tampa today will speak about reproductive freedom and Florida’s May 1 law banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

2024 ROUNDUP:

▪ Louisiana’s top education official advised school districts Monday not to change their policies to comply with new federal rules that extend civil rights protections to LGBTQ+ students, setting up a potential showdown with the Biden administration.

▪ Retiring Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) endorsed Democratic Mayor Glenn Elliott to succeed him in his Senate seat, which is expected to flip to Republicans in the fall. 

▪ The rhetoric of immigration shifted away from the GOP’s use of the word “invasion,” The Hill’s Rafael Bernal reports.

▪ Rep. Summer Lee’s (D-Pa.) criticism of Israel’s response to the Oct. 7 attacks initially set her apart. But the Israel-Gaza war has shifted U.S. public opinion, and as she faces her primary opponent, support may be swinging her way.

▪ Airport security bipartisanship: A pair of California state senators from opposing parties — who frequently fly between their districts and Sacramento — are boosting a first-in-the-nation proposal critics say would ban the expedited security screening company CLEAR from state airports.

ELSEWHERE

© The Associated Press / Susan Walsh | Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department on Monday.

INTERNATIONAL

BIDEN PROMISED UKRAINE on Monday that tens of billions of dollars of military aid would be “quickly” sent as the country suffers a new battering of Russian strikes and a top official warned that troops will face worsening pressure in coming weeks. Biden told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that economic assistance from the U.S. aims to help Ukraine maintain financial stability, build infrastructure following attacks from Russia and support reform while Ukraine moves toward Euro-Atlantic integration (The Hill).

WHILE ISRAEL’S MILITARY OPERATIONS in Gaza have weakened Hamas and at least one senior military leader has been eliminated, six months into the war, the country has not achieved its primary goals: freeing hostages and fully destroying Hamas. The question of what Israel has achieved — and when and how the fighting could come to an end — is creating ever more intense global strains around a war that has cost Israel support from even close allies as vast numbers of Palestinian civilians have been killed and hunger is widespread in Gaza.

But CIA Director William Burns last week placed the lack of progress in cease-fire and hostage release talks squarely at the feet of Hamas and its negative reaction to a U.S.-backed proposal presented this month (The New York Times).

“It’s a big rock to push up a very steep hill right now,” Burns said. “It’s that negative reaction that really is standing in the way of innocent civilians in Gaza getting humanitarian relief.”

THE STATE DEPARTMENT INVESTIGATION into allegations of Israeli human rights abuses and the role of American weapons in potential violations is being carried out to the same standard as that for any other country, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday. Blinken said an announcement is expected “in the days ahead” on State Department findings on whether to restrict assistance to the Netzah Yehuda military unit over alleged human rights abuses. The unit, which is made up largely of ultra-Orthodox Israelis and primarily operates in the West Bank, is reported to have the highest conviction rate for abuses against Palestinian civilians (The Hill).

▪ PBS NewsHour: The head of the World Health Organization on Monday called for safe passage for humanitarian aid missions throughout Gaza after an aid team failed to complete its most recent trip.

▪ The Hill: A highly anticipated independent report did not find the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is compromised by outside groups or has a systemic neutrality failure, a point of major contention after Israel accused 12 staffers at the agency of participating in the Oct. 7 attacks.

▪ The New York Times: U.N. officials and some donor nations are renewing calls to revive funding for the main U.N. agency aiding Palestinians following the release of the review.

▪ The Washington Post: Israel’s top military intelligence chief said Monday he would step down and retire because of his department’s failure to anticipate Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack.

The Biden administration is unlikely to ease high-level travel warnings for China unless the country takes concrete steps to address safety concerns, a senior administration official told The Hill ahead of Blinken’s trip to Beijing this week. Blinken will raise steps officials must take before the State Department lowers its Level 3 travel warning, which urges American tourists to “reconsider travel.”

The Hill: Polish President Andrzej Duda said Poland is ready to host U.S. nuclear weapons, adding the topic was one of frequent discussions between Warsaw and Washington.

OPINION

■ Ukraine just got $61 billion. Here’s what it should buy, by James Stavridis, columnist, Bloomberg Opinion.

■ Israel’s next move can disarm Tehran or upend a fragile global détente, by Harlan Ullman, opinion contributor, The Hill.

THE CLOSER

© The Associated Press / Kiichiro Sato | A life size archival photo marked the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field in Chicago in 2014.

And finally … ⚾️ On this day 110 years ago in 1914, Chicago’s Wrigley Field (then known as Weeghman Park) hosted its first major-league baseball game. The Chicago Federals, the nickname for the Chicago Whales in the upstart Federals League, crushed the Kansas City Packers 9-1. The stadium later became the home of the Chicago Cubs (Cubs Park) in 1920 after the Wrigley family purchased the team from Weeghman. It was named Wrigley Field in 1926 in honor of William Wrigley Jr., the club’s owner.

“[Joe] Tinker seems to have the nucleus of a real ball team,” wrote Chicago’s “The Day Book” newspaper published April 23, 1914, referring to the Cubs star and one of the first to jump to the Federal League. (Tinker in 1946 was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.) “The infield is a hot aggregation, and the outfielders can be depended on for their share of the hitting. The catching is as good as could be desired, and the pitching is composed of the right proportion of youngsters and veterans. It is a team that will improve and grow better every week.”

▪ Chicago magazine, 2022 (with photos): Chicago Whales, a short-lived team with a long legacy.

▪ Bleacher Report, 2014: Let’s not forget the Federals at Wrigley Field.

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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One thought on “Morning Report — Trump trial: Conspiracy or politics?”
  1. The prosecution Monday told jurors that then-candidate Donald Trump orchestrated a criminal plot to corrupt the 2016 election. Influencing voters is not a felony, the defendant’s lawyer countered. It’s politics.

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