January 25, 2022
Tonight is not an imperative read, if you need a break from politics. It’s just more details emerging in ongoing stories.
Today, the White House told reporters that it is preparing severe economic reprisals for any new Russian movement into Ukraine. Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo told Bloomberg Television that the sanctions are prepared; he did not deny that Russia might be expelled from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), a system that facilitates international money transfers.
The White House is also working with energy-producing nations in the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia to see if it will be possible to ease shortages of liquefied natural gas in Europe if Russia invades Ukraine and sanctions fall into place.
Administration officials noted that the Russian economy is already taking a hit from the threatened economic sanctions. Indeed, Russian stocks sank 8% today, and the ruble has dropped to a 14-month low. Today the JPMorgan Chase bank stopped handling the ruble. It closed all its positions in Russian currency, saying that the buildup of troops made the currency too risky. The Moscow Times today reported that Russian businesses are preparing for heavy losses.
When a reporter today asked President Biden if he would consider placing sanctions on Russian president Vladimir Putin himself if he invaded Ukraine, Biden responded: “Yes. I would see that.”
There was a sign today that Putin’s position at home is not as strong as his military stance is designed to project. Russian authorities are cracking down on opposition to Putin’s leadership, and now they have added Alexei Navalny and some of his allies to a registry of terrorists. Putin had Navalny poisoned and then, when he survived to return to Russia, had him imprisoned. And yet, despite his removal from active politicking, Putin appears still to consider him a threat.
Another major story developing today is the story of the attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
Georgia District Attorney Fani Willis last week asked for a special grand jury to investigate former president Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election. Willis has said she needs the grand jury because a number of potential witnesses for Trump’s actions refuse to testify without subpoenas, which the grand jury can provide. The judges on Fulton County’s Superior Court agreed to a grand jury to be impaneled May 2.
This is the only investigation we know of that is focusing directly on Trump himself and his part in trying to steal the election. Observers say that he is at risk of being charged with racketeering or conspiracy; Willis hired an outside expert in state racketeering back in March.
Trump was recorded on January 2, 2021, trying to bully Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, asking him to “find 11,780 votes” to override the will of the voters and deliver the state to Trump. A number of people joined then-president Trump on the call, including then–White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and several lawyers, among them longtime right-wing attorney Cleta Mitchell, whose law firm distanced itself from her after Raffensperger made the call public (when she resigned days later, she blamed “left-wing pressure groups” for the need to resign).
Curiously, Trump released a statement blasting the Georgia investigation and complaining that he is being investigated for “asking an Attorney General…to look for corruption.” But, so far as we know, he was being investigated for pressuring Georgia’s secretary of state. They are two different positions, two different men. Was Trump just confused when he issued the written statement, or was there another conversation?
The House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol is also in the news. On Sunday, committee member Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) told CNN’s Jim Acosta that Trump’s attorney general William Barr had appeared voluntarily before staff attorneys for the January 6 committee. Trump announced Barr’s resignation on Twitter on December 15, 2020, minutes after Congress counted in the Electoral College ballots certifying Biden as president. On December 14, false electors had met in seven states to declare for Trump; the plan to use those false votes to throw out the real ones may have been connected to Barr’s sudden removal.
Also on Sunday, on the Fox News Channel, former Republican representative from Georgia Newt Gingrich attacked the January 6 committee as a lawbreaking lynch mob and said that when the Republicans retake the house and the Senate in fall 2022, the committee’s members will face “a real risk of jail.”
And yet, today a federal judge in California strongly rejected the argument that the committee is not legitimate, an argument Trump loyalists have made as they have ignored subpoenas.
At issue was the attempt of lawyer John Eastman, who wrote the infamous memo outlining how then–vice president Mike Pence could steal the election for Trump, to keep his former employer from turning documents over to the committee. Eastman invoked his Fifth Amendment’s right to silence to avoid self-incrimination 146 times in his own responses to the committee, and when it then subpoenaed his former employer, Chapman University, for the material it wanted, Eastman tried to stop the university from turning over nearly 19,000 of his emails that pertain to the insurrection. Eastman argued that the committee was illegitimate.
Federal Judge David Carter rejected that argument. “The public interest here is weighty and urgent,” Carter wrote. “Congress seeks to understand the causes of a grave attack on our nation’s democracy and a near-successful attempt to subvert the will of the voter.”
The committee appears to be getting answers. Today, right-wing personality Alex Jones of InfoWars told his followers that he met with the committee virtually on Monday and that he had taken the Fifth “almost 100” times, claiming he was worried he would misspeak and the misstatement would be used against him. He seemed taken aback to learn that the committee had his text messages and emails.
Today, Jones walked back his rhetoric from early January and appeared to want to distance himself from the events of January 6. “Let’s get something clear for the committee and my audience and everybody else,” he said, “I don't want a civil war in this country, and that’s a terrible idea…. And I don't want lawlessness by anybody. And I don’t want anybody attacking anybody, OK?”