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Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis Have Some Legal Problems
Trump is having a particularly bad week.
Friday Saturday my babies. Sorry this one is coming to you late; the Podhaskie household unexpectedly had a power outage yesterday.
What we do have this week is a very law-focused Jackal, which can be boring, but I think the actual content is pretty juicy. So, for this Jackal we’ll touching on:
Ron DeSantis’s legal problems.
Trump’s legal problems.
Not sure if we needed the bullet points given the headline. But I like them.
Ron DeSantis faceplants into his own face (?).
I’ll start with Ronny first because I think his legal issues, while present and real, are definitely less serious than The Donald’s (sorry). As you’ll recall, last week I tried to break down DeSantis’s motive behind shipping immigrants up to Martha’s Vineyard and I think moving past the initial shock of the scheme has allowed for more detailed analysis. First off, it’s pretty clear that the whole thing backfired:
You read that correctly: DeSantis had another flight planned for Delaware (Joe Biden’s home state) and pulled out at the last minute. My guess is because DeSantis - who reportedly trusts his own political instincts more than anyone else’s - thought his trick would slot in nicely with Greg Abbott’s decision to send migrants up to New York and Washington. Ronny probably thought his move would just get lumped in with that, get a little bit of media attention, and ultimately fade away. But what DeSantis did is markedly different from Abbott, and given that the GOP has only been quietly defending DeSantis over the past week, it seems pretty obvious that the public gets it.
I think that’s because Abbott’s moves are more defensible than DeSantis’s. TO BE CLEAR, I don’t like that Greg Abbott buses migrants to D.C. to sit outside Kamala Harris’s house, since it is obviously a political stunt meant to outrage Democrats and really nothing more. But Abbott has always framed it as a form of protest against (perceived) indifference from Washington about Texas’s problems with immigration.
Never mind the fact that New Mexico and California are also border states and do not have to get Joe Biden’s attention in the same way; it is entirely possible that Governor Abbott is incompetent and can’t manage his border without help from Uncle Joe. But given the surge of migrants who have approached the border this year, the Biden Administration itself has been moving asylum seekers to different parts of the country as they await hearings. In fact, some of the busiest courts for hearing such claims aren’t even close to the border (the busiest one is in San Francisco, but that probably changes monthly). The difference is, the Biden Administration does these movements in coordination with local governments and usually moves the migrants to a Federal facility. That is essentially what happened on Martha’s Vineyard: After the locals on the island housed the migrants, the State stepped in and offered help. They were eventually relocated to Joint Base Cape Cod about an hour and a half away. That sort of movement within the U.S. isn’t uncommon during periods of high migration, like we are seeing now.
However, what DeSantis did is problematic because of how it happened. When migrants are moved from the border to a city in the heartland, they are given explicit instructions about what they can and can’t do, and when they need to show up for hearings related to their immigration status (again, these were legal immigrants that DeSantis moved). While it’s not always clear, it does appear that even Abbott’s Administration has the decency to do that. DeSantis’s team didn’t do any of it, potentially placing asylum-seekers hundreds of miles away from the hearing office they need to show up at.
Right now, the respective sheriff in Texas is conducting a criminal investigation into the scheme to see if it violated local laws. It is now explicitly clear that the migrants were tricked into getting on the plane. Judd Legum got a copy of the “brochures” that were given to them:
This all looks pretty official, but certain things jump out at you, like the fake Massachusetts State flag on the bottom right of the brochure. Because of the obvious deception and the actual harm done to migrants, some of them have filed a lawsuit against DeSantis.
All in all I still think this was a pretty sadistic and evil move by DeSantis, but it’s also simultaneously blowing up in his face. There are varying opinions on whether or not it was actually legal and what consequences DeSantis will face because of that. Then there is the actual payment for the flight itself:
To break it down: Florida taxpayers coughed up money to ship these migrants to Massachusetts using a Republican donor who is connected to criminals and Matt Gaetz. DeSantis is starting to get an Andrew Cuomo sort of scent to him. To me, the scandal this most reminds me of is BridgeGate with Returning Champion Chris Christie. It damaged him so heavily that it essentially tanked his run for the Presidency, thus ending his career as a politician. It feels weird to think about, but Christie was - at one time - the golden boy in GOP politics and seen as an obvious choice to head up a GOP ticket. Things can collapse for you that quickly in politics, and this scandal has the same sort of “drip-drip” quality that BridgeGate had. I am not sure how it will affect DeSantis (who seems to be resiliently popular with the GOP base), but the first poll conducted after the migrants story broke has him down by six points against his challenger.
Trump is living in a legal nightmare.
To say it quickly: Donald Trump had a very bad week. The big story was the civil lawsuit filed by the State of New York, which alleges that Trump and the Trump Organization routinely lied about the value of their properties in order to secure better loan terms, as well as better tax terms. An easy example so that you can understand the whole scheme quickly:
Trump valued his own personal apartment in Trump Tower at $327 million, and obviously used that valuation to increase his “net worth,” when in reality it was never valued that much (at the time, the most expensive apartment ever sold in New York was $100 million).
He used the increased valuation of his properties to get better loan terms from banks, which allowed him to pay lower interest rates and fewer fees.
When tax time came around, his properties would magically return to their actual value.
It’s easy to see why this would piss off Tish James: Through his actions (which are extensive; James’s lawsuit is 200+ pages) Trump defrauded both taxpayers and banks. While I don’t think anyone is lighting candles for them, James’s lawsuit details that Trump’s lenders lost out on close to $100 million. James also made criminal referrals to the Federal government, to see if they are interested in prosecuting Trump and his family.
So, I’ll say two things about this lawsuit, which targets not only Trump himself but also his family:
James has the goods. Her filing is extremely detailed and it’s clear that after three years, she has gathered a lot of evidence. I don’t think it will be particularly hard for her to prove this case to a jury.
James made multiple statements while she was campaigning about how she was going to “get Trump,” and the fact that she did not recuse herself from this investigation is truly baffling to me. Many Trump supporters will say that James is biased against Trump and it will be hard to argue that they are wrong. Even still, I think it is possible to simultaneously believe that Trump is 100% guilty and that James should have had someone else carry out this investigation.
The implications of this lawsuit really can’t be overstated. First off, James is asking for the money back, which she believes to be about $250 million. Second, the punishments for the Trump Organization are severe: None of the Trumps (including the kids) can run businesses in New York, and the Trump Organization itself will have to pack up and leave the Empire State. This lawsuit (if successful) would be the end of a major New York real estate firm.
All that said, Steve Vladeck actually thinks Trump’s battle over the Mar-A-Lago documents is worse for him:
In other words, the three-judge panel on one of the more conservative federal appeals courts in the country looked at the Mar-a-Lago search and the broader criminal and national security investigation into the former President of the United States and could not "see any evidence in the record" to support the claim that the Biden administration was using its law enforcement authorities to harass Trump -- as opposed to conducting a genuine, above-the-board investigation into serious potential violations of federal criminal statutes.
That won't be how the ruling is portrayed in right-wing media, but in its unemotional prose, it's a devastating indictment of the ongoing efforts to portray Trump as the victim.
If you want a good recap on what’s going on with the Mar-A-Lago case, Vladeck’s op-ed is a good summary. But what you can take away from the past few weeks of arguments going back and forth is that all of Trump’s efforts to stop (or delay) the investigation into his mishandling of classified material have fallen short. His lawyers have gotten smacked down, and so has the judge (whom he appointed) that went to bat for him.
I loved this piece on Laila Gohar.
A fair warning for next week: Since I’ll be traveling, it will very likely be an extremely short Jackal (maybe just should-reads). Again, sorry that this one went out late.