How to Read an Article Detailing a Criminal Investigation into a Former President
A step-by-step guide.
Happy Friday my beautiful babies. It is wild to me that we are only a few days away from August, which will mean we are only a month a way from September, a.k.a., basically the Fall, when the sun retreats behind the moon and the days become gloomy forever. Prepare yourself for the coming darkness. Here is a picture of my puppy.
I wanted this Jackal to be a special exercise in reading a couple articles together. A lot of times when reporters write pieces about legal investigations, you can learn almost as much from what they don’t say as you can from what’s explicitly laid out in the piece itself.
With that in mind, there were two really important articles this week that heavily suggest that there is an ongoing criminal investigation into Donald Trump by the Department of Justice. The big one is this Washington Post piece from Wednesday, and the confirmation of that reporting by the New York Times. Before I get into the articles and analyze them (almost) line by line, I should say that I am going to be providing lengthy screenshots of each piece, so you should subscribe to both publications. Neither subscription is cheap, but both outlets produce extremely good journalism, and good journalism - like anything else of high quality - costs money.
OK, so let’s start with The Washington Post piece. The first thing to note about it, off the bat, is the bylines, a.k.a., the authors of the piece: Carol Lennig, Josh Dawsey, Devlin Barrett, and Spencer Hsu. Lennig is the lead reporter here (as she appears first) and currently one of the best on the planet. But even that aside, this is a murderers’ row of high-stakes journalism, and the scoop they’ve secured here is really significant. The Justice Department is criminally investigating a former president. This is a flat-out historic piece.
Then, check out the subheading, otherwise known as the “dek:”
The revelation that the Justice Department (DOJ) has seized the phone records of top aides is really significant, and suggests that the criminal investigation is pretty advanced. DOJ obviously has a reasonable suspicion that a crime occurred here, otherwise they wouldn’t have taken such a drastic step. Previously, there have been reports that the homes of former Trump Aide Jeffrey Clark and former Trump attorney John Eastman had been raided. To repeat a line often often said in the Jackal: If DOJ agents are popping up at your door at 6AM on a Saturday, it’s not because they have some mild suspicion that you did something illegal. It’s because they have proof that you did, want more proof, and suspect that if you had any warning of them seizing your stuff, you’ll destroy that proof (probably because they’ve seen you do it before).
All in all, it is a serious indication that a criminal investigation into Trump is serious and underway, and has been for a while. Let’s keep reading:
A key thing to remember about articles like these is that it is highly unethical, bordering on illegal for federal prosecutors to communicate any details about grand jury testimony to the Press, so if you are hearing details about questioning and evidence, it is likely from the witnesses themselves or their attorneys (could be both).
That said, the level of detail here is astounding and suggests that the Post was able to talk with people directly involved in questioning. For one, they have four sources providing details, but those sources change throughout the article. If you look at my highlights, the piece switches between two sources and four sources, indicating that two of them gave more detailed information about grand jury happenings. I think it’s a pretty safe bet that some of the sources come from people associated with Mike Pence, and it’s either his two aides or their attorneys (probably the latter).
The piece suggests that four people were speaking with the Post about the criminal investigation by DOJ. Two explicitly confirmed that the witnesses were asked about the scheme to replace electors with a slate of “fake” electors that Pence could pivot to on January 6th (the New York Times has more details about that plan here). Then, look down a couple paragraphs and it seems to include details from two other people about the investigation surrounding Mark Meadows, Trump’s former chief of staff. The key sentence here is that the January 6th probe became “expansive…well before the high-profile televised House hearings.” As the televised hearings began in June, this suggests that the DOJ has been investigating Trump (or his aides) since the Spring, and possibly earlier than that. But keep going, and it gets juicier:
Here, the way people declined to comment really tells us a lot. First, we see the obvious: Spokespeople for both Trump and the Justice Department declined to comment. However, that doesn’t mean that no one from the Justice Department refused to confirm the story; it just means a spokesperson declined to comment.
Then, we get into a significant detail: The piece outlines that Meadows’s attorney declined to comment for the piece. But look at what happens later:
The reporters here are very careful with their language. They say clearly that Meadows’s attorney declined to comment, but then also clearly say that they tried to talk to Marc Short and Greg Jacob, and both directly declined to comment. If they also tried to talk to Meadows, why do they only say his lawyer declined to comment? The language here suggests that Meadows himself is one of their sources. If that’s the case, it means that the President’s former chief of staff is cooperating in some way with DOJ.
That is a five-alarm fire for Trump, since - as Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony showed us - Meadows had direct knowledge of Trump’s actions, and was close to him throughout the period from November 2020 through January 2021, when most of these alleged crimes happened. Many prosecutors have said that Meadows would likely be key to any criminal investigation of Trump.
We get further evidence of Meadows’s involvement, as the Washington Post says that they have secured copies of subpoenas sent to the fake electors in Arizona, and it asks them for all of their communications with a host of Trump aides and sycophants, but look whose communications are missing:
No Meadows, which suggests that the DOJ may already have his phone and email records.
Let’s move to the New York Times piece that confirms the Post’s reporting:
Maggie Haberman is obviously a major reporter; possibly the top political reporter in the country. Importantly, she is well-known to Trump himself, since she’s been covering him for about twenty years (maybe longer). And, if you ever find yourself wondering why some people speak to the Press, everyone I have spoken to that has been interviewed by Maggie brags about it; she has that kind of star power.
That out of the way, it looks like Maggie and Glenn were able to speak to one other source and get them to confirm the Post’s reporting. But they add other sources later on in the piece, and provide their own details:
The Times’ reporting suggests that they got sources who were able to confirm the nature of the grand jury testimony, but also that they got two other people to confirm that DOJ secured phone records from Trump officials (either Meadows or someone else). The key language here is that they were able to speak with someone “familiar with [grand jury] testimony,” and that they knew of two other people who had “knowledge” of DOJ securing phone records. That could be Meadows, his attorneys, or attorneys for Pence’s aides.
I think the key part of the Times’ reporting happens a couple paragraphs below. Haberman and Thrush went directly to Merrick Garland’s spokesperson (not a general spokesperson for DOJ) and they said they don’t provide details of “grand jury proceedings.” I would be super interested in seeing how the question was framed, because as it reads, it seems to at least confirm that there is, in fact, a grand jury proceeding underway. Otherwise, why wouldn’t Garland’s spokesperson just decline to comment?
Here is the last interesting bit from the New York Times:
It seems like the Times got its own set of subpoenas, and they do not say they’re the same ones secured by the Washington Post. That suggests that the DOJ’s actions are spread out wide across the country, and that it is tracking the fake electors scheme.
I think we can pull two really significant things away from these two pieces:
1. The DOJ haffi work, work, work, work, work, work.
The DOJ has gotten a lot of criticism lately because of their seemingly slow-moving investigation into Trump’s actions on January 6th. In fact, a lot of people have been skeptical that the investigation even existed, since we had not seen any evidence of testimony from witnesses or leaks, which tends to happen when an investigation is underway. Prosecutors almost never speak to the Press, but a lot of times witnesses do, and he hadn’t heard from them until now.
The witnesses (or their attorneys) are talking, and not only are they relaying information to the Press, but they are showing us that the DOJ’s investigation is further along than we assumed and that they are hard at work. There has been speculation that maybe the DOJ was just waiting for a criminal referral from the January 6th Committee, but obviously they have been doing their own investigation.
2. The DOJ has kept this under wraps.
One of the biggest critics of Garland’s process has been Andrew Weissmann, a celebrated former prosecutor who was part of the Mueller Investigation. I will admit, hearing Weissmann criticize the DOJ’s lack of action was especially alarming to me, because if he - one of the most famous former prosecutors in the country - had not heard anything from his myriad sources within the DOJ, then maybe there really wasn’t anything going on.
These articles basically prove that Weissmann was wrong, and he is probably more than happy to admit it. What they do show is that the DOJ investigation has been functioning sort of like a volcano:
Garland’s investigation seems to have started out as the wide processing of the January 6th insurrectionists, from regular people who invaded the Capitol to the more serious people charged with sedition, like the Proud Boys. A little nugget that some people missed was the indictment of Brandon Straka, a pro-Trump grifter who used to be a Leftist. He was there on January 6th, and his lawyer claims that Straka was asked about an “organized conspiracy” put forth by Trump and his aides, but we didn’t get details on those questions from DOJ. That was seven months ago.
From that sort of level, the investigation seems to be fanning out and centering on other people who were involved with the January 6th scheme, such as Eastman and Clark. In other words, we are slowly making our way up the volcano/Mount Doom, to the Eye of Moron, a.k.a. Donald Trump. Will it result in a criminal prosecution? It certainly seems like it’s possible, and I doubt the DOJ would be taking such serious steps (subpoenaing witnesses, getting phone records) if they were not confident an actual crime had been committed. A reminder: A typical Federal indictment takes about a year to get to trial, so if Trump were to get indicted in, say, May of 2023, his trial would be smack dab in the middle of his reelection campaign. Just something to think about.
The other big news this week is that the GDP report officially confirmed we are in a recession. Here is a good breakdown:
A great piece on what the Jackal talked about two weeks ago: A 10 year-old seeking an abortion in Ohio.
The Senate is going to pass Manchin’s version of the Build Back Better bill, and call it the Inflation Reduction Act. A huge, huge win for the Biden Administration (assuming it becomes law).
I will be on vacation next week, so the jury is out on whether or not there will be a Jackal. I will try to write something, but I am also simultaneously committed to not bringing my laptop on vacation. If you don’t hear from me next week, I’ll try to make the following Jackal extra special!