Discover more from Letters from an American
July 18, 2023
“I approve this message.”
Joe Biden’s Twitter account put that line over an ad using the words of Georgia Republican representative Marjorie Taylor Greene’s Turning Points Action Conference speech from last weekend, in which she set out to tear down the president’s policies but ended up making him sound terrific.
The description she intended to be derogatory—that Biden “had the largest public investment in social infrastructure and environmental programs that is actually finishing what FDR started, that LBJ expanded on”—was such an argument in Biden’s favor that the Biden-Harris campaign used it to advertise what the Democratic administration stands for: “[p]rograms to address education, medical care, urban problems, rural poverty, transportation, Medicare, Medicaid, labor unions.”
Generally, Biden and Harris have so far made the case for their reelection by meeting with voters in their home districts, emphasizing job growth and infrastructure investment in those districts, seemingly trying to demonstrate—without fanfare—that a well-run Democratic government can help ordinary Americans. But Greene’s misfire was just too good not to highlight. The programs she was denigrating are, in fact, enormously popular.
Biden has generally stayed out of the headlines that involve the 2024 election, giving Republicans free rein to define themselves for the American people.
That definition became clearer this morning, when former president Trump wrote on the right-wing Truth Social network that the Department of Justice’s special counsel Jack Smith has issued him a target letter associated with the investigation into the attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election. A target letter usually means that prosecutors have enough evidence to charge someone with a crime. It offered Trump four days to appear before the grand jury to tell his side of the story, an offer Trump is expected to refuse.
Then, it is likely that he will be indicted.
Trump reacted exactly as one would expect, called Smith “deranged,” and claiming his own legal troubles were political: an attempt on the part of President Biden to eliminate his chief 2024 rival. (There is no sign that Biden has touched the investigation, but of course Trump tried to eliminate Biden in 2020 by pushing Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky to announce an investigation into Hunter Biden’s work with Ukrainian company Burisma.)
Trump harped on the idea that the investigation into his attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election is “A COMPLETE AND TOTAL WEAPONIZATION OF LAW ENFORCEMENT,” an accusation echoed by Trump loyalists Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Marjorie Taylor Greene, both of whom were also involved in the attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.
House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) also echoed the accusation that the target letter is a sign of political “weaponization” of government, prompting Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA) to respond: “As Speaker, you are expected to uphold the rule of law. A target letter does not reveal what evidence the grand jury saw, nor what all the charges might be. Attacking a potential indictment before seeing the evidence and charges is irresponsible.”
But if Trump received the target letter on Sunday, why did he complain about it only today?
That delay might have had something to do with another legal issue: today’s hearing about the national security documents case, overseen by Judge Aileen Cannon. One of the issues to be discussed at that hearing was setting a date for the trial. The Department of Justice wants to go to trial in December; Trump wants to delay it until after the 2024 election.
MSNBC legal analyst Lisa Rubin noted that today’s target letter changes the calculations for the documents trial because no matter what Cannon decides, it seems likely that Trump will face another federal trial in Washington, D.C., over the events surrounding January 6, 2021. The Washington, D.C., trials for those involved in the events of January 6, 2021, have moved forward with few delays.
This week’s bad legal news for Trump did not end there.
On Friday of last week, Trump’s lawyers tried to stop Georgia’s probe into his attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in that state. They asked the court to disqualify Fulton County district attorney Fani Willis, who has been investigating that attempt, and to stop Willis from using any of the material gathered by the grand jury investigating the case. Yesterday, the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously rejected his petition, allowing the probe to go forward.
Then, today, Michigan’s attorney general Dana Nessel charged sixteen fake electors who signed fake certificates claiming that Trump had won Michigan’s electoral votes in 2020 with felonies: forgery, conspiracy to commit forgery, election law forgery, conspiracy to commit election law forgery, publishing a counterfeit record, and conspiring to publish a counterfeit record.
The sixteen Republicans met in the basement of the state Republican Party’s headquarters and signed fake documents claiming that they were the state’s legitimate electors and that Trump had won the state. Their actions were part of a plan to claim that the electoral votes of certain states were “contested,” allowing then–vice president Mike Pence to reject the votes of those states and throw the election to Trump.
The fake electors attested they were “the duly elected and qualified electors for president and vice president of the United States of America for the state of Michigan,” Nessel said. “That was a lie. They weren’t the duly elected and qualified electors, and each of the defendants knew it.” “The false electors' actions undermine the public's faith in the integrity of our elections and not only violated the spirit of the laws enshrining and defending our democracy, but we believe also plainly violated the laws by which we administer our elections in Michigan and peaceably transfer power in America,” Nessel said. “This plan, to reject the will of the voters and undermine democracy, was fraudulent and legally baseless.”
Text messages at the time show that the sixteen were “all asked to keep silent [so] as to not draw attention to what the other states were doing similar to ours!” One of those charged was former co-chair of the state Republican committee, Meshawn Maddock, who called the charges “political persecution.”
Legal analyst Renato Mariotti noted that the charges against the sixteen fake electors send a powerful message for those at the state level who might consider abetting Trump in the future. Those fake electors aren’t part of Trump’s inner circle who might get some kind of a reward for their trouble. They are just party operatives who are facing an expensive, stressful, and humiliating experience that could lead to hefty fines or imprisonment. Their example might well make others think carefully before they sign on to similar plans.
Josh Marshall pointed out in Talking Points Memo today that the lines of the 2024 election are coming clearer. Trump’s many legal troubles simply strengthen the loyalty of his base, making his nomination for the Republican presidential candidacy even more likely. But voters in the general election are unlikely to rally to someone facing multiple indictments in several different cases, especially ones related to the attempt to overthrow the results of the 2020 election, which horrified most Americans.
The Republican Party is now “handcuffed to Donald Trump,” Marshall writes.
President Biden’s policy of focusing on his job while letting the Republicans define themselves might be a smart strategy.