July 11, 2023
Late last night, just before a court deadline, former president Trump’s lawyers requested that his trial for illegally keeping national security documents be postponed indefinitely. While the lawyers argued that they were interested in protecting American democracy, falsely accusing President Biden of advancing the case in hopes of weakening his “chief political rival,” in fact the desire to push off the trial suggests that Trump realizes he’s in big trouble. His advisors have told reporters that he expects to end that trouble by winning the election. In the filing, his lawyers warned that as the “likely Republican Party nominee,” he would not have enough time to manage a trial.
The Department of Justice has asked for a speedy trial to begin in December, getting it over with before the election, not afterward.
Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) is in hot water today for calling white nationalists “true Americans” and refusing to admit that white nationalism, which quite literally means a nation built on the concept of white supremacy, is racist.
But Trump’s plea for delay until after the election so he can stack the DOJ with his own appointees is a reminder that, despite the distraction about white nationalism, we should not lose sight of Tuberville’s absolute unwillingness to drop his hold on about 250 senior military appointments. Keeping those positions open echoes then-Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) refusal to hold hearings for President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court in 2016, holding the seat open for Trump to appoint someone when he took office. Tuberville was in close touch with Trump during the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Meanwhile, Gal Luft, a dual Israeli-U.S. citizen who is the key witness to what the Republican-dominated House Oversight Committee insists is President Biden’s corrupt ties to China, has been indicted by the Department of Justice for being a Chinese operative. Damian Williams, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said Luft “subverted foreign agent registration laws in the United States to seek to promote Chinese policies by acting through a former high-ranking U.S. government official; he acted as a broker in deals for dangerous weapons and Iranian oil; and he told multiple lies about his crimes to law enforcement.”
On July 7, House Oversight Committee chair James Comer (R-KY) called Luft “a very credible witness on Biden family corruption,” who “provided incriminating evidence to six officials from the FBI and the DOJ in a meeting in Brussels in March 2019.” Luft also allegedly worked with a former Chinese government official to plant into Trump’s 2016 campaign someone who would push pro-Chinese policies and who then, for pay, funneled information to the Chinese. That person, who is not named in the indictment, was later under consideration for Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Homeland Security, or Director of National Intelligence.
Luft was indicted in absentia because he is a fugitive after jumping bail in April (which explains why Comer said he was “missing” in May). While Luft claims the indictment is retaliation for his revelations about Biden, in fact the sealed indictment was handed down on November 1, 2022, before he became a Republican witness. So he was charged first, arrested in Cyprus in February on related charges, and then became Comer’s star witness.
Also today, the Justice Department told lawyers for Trump and writer E. Jean Carroll, who has sued the former president for defamation, that it does not believe he was acting within the scope of his employment when he said he didn’t know her, she wasn’t his type, and he did not sexually assault her. While the DOJ focused on the statements Trump made as president, it said that it took into consideration the similar comments he made last October, which suggested that he was not, in fact, trying to protect and serve the U.S. when he made the initial comments. It also considered a jury’s verdict in May finding Trump liable for sexual abuse and defamation and awarding Carroll $5 million in damages.
This means that the Department of Justice will no longer defend Trump against Carroll’s lawsuit, forcing him to rely on his own lawyers. A Trump spokesperson said the DOJ’s decision showed that the department was “politically weaponizing the justice system” against Trump.
Meanwhile, the summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Vilnius, Lithuania, began with a surprise as Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan dropped his country’s opposition to Sweden’s NATO membership. His shift likely comes from U.S. assurances that the deal for F-16 jets Turkey badly wants will probably materialize. At the same time, Erdogan likely recognizes that moving away from Russia and toward Europe is a smart move as Russia’s war continues to sap that country’s strength.
In the Washington Post, Asli Aydintasbas of the Brookings Institution, formerly a journalist in Turkey, gave Biden credit for bringing Erdogan to “yes.” “The cutthroat geopolitical competition against China and Russia does not give Washington the luxury to maintain its policy of social distancing toward Erdogan,” she wrote, “despite his awful record on democracy.”
To get Erdogan permission to purchase F-16s, Biden had to work to convince congressional leaders, notably chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Robert Menendez (D-NJ), that it would be easier to work with Turkey inside NATO than outside it. Aydintasbas also suggested that Biden had worked with members of the European Union to consider expanding Turkey’s access to trade with the E.U.
“This is an important moment—and an opening to try to reverse Turkey’s drift,” Aydintasbas wrote. “But the window of opportunity for better relations with NATO and the West will not be open forever. For more thawing, Turkey will have to be willing to work on domestic issues as well.”
So Sweden has the green light, but to the dismay of Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky, who is also at the meeting, Ukraine does not. It is not a surprise that the 31 NATO member nations are not eager to welcome Ukraine to NATO immediately, since the terms of the alliance mean that doing so would bring the member states into open war with Russia, but Zelensky had hoped at least for a date for future admission.
A declaration from the heads of state and government participating in the meeting of the North Atlantic Council, NATO’s principal political decision-making body, blamed Russia for shattering peace in the Euro-Atlantic area and for violating the principles of a rules-based international order. Russia “is the most significant and direct threat to Allies’ security and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area,” it declared, and must be “held fully accountable” for its “illegal, unjustifiable, and unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine.”
“Ukraine’s future is in NATO,” it said, but for now it focused on additional security packages and the establishment of a new joint body, the NATO-Ukraine Council, “where Allies and Ukraine sit as equal members to advance political dialogue, engagement, cooperation, and Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO.”
It is not as much as Zelensky wanted, but it is a good deal more than Trump ally Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) offered today when she called for President Biden to withdraw from NATO altogether, saying bizarrely that NATO, which was formed in 1949 to stand against Soviet aggression and now stands against Russian expansion, is “entirely beholden to Russia.” Indeed, Trump recently boasted that he could end the war in 24 hours, and his former vice president Mike Pence noted that “the only way you’d solve this war in a day is if you gave Vladimir Putin what he wanted.” And even that suggestion rather neatly ignores the reality that the Ukrainians have the ultimate say about the matter.
In contrast to Trump’s approach to U.S. foreign policy, Bo Erickson of CBS News noted today that Biden’s extensive foreign policy experience and personal appeal have enhanced U.S. credibility and moral authority, which is especially welcome after the previous administration undermined international alliances. Liana Fix, European fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told Erickson: “For Europe, he represents a nostalgia for the 20th century, which was based on shared values, when the West was strong and the relations were clear with the Cold War…. President Biden is the old, great trans-Atlanticist.”