Discover more from Letters from an American
September 21, 2022
Russian president Vladimir Putin announced today that he is mobilizing the Russian population to fight Ukraine. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu put that number at 300,000 soldiers. At the same time, the legislature abruptly changed the laws to inflict harsh penalties on those who don’t report to military duty, who surrender, or who refuse to fight. Reports suggest that 20–40% of the soldiers from some units have quit.
The cost of airline tickets out of Russia immediately skyrocketed.
Having called for the territories Russia claims to hold referenda on annexation to Russia, and clearly expecting that those votes will call for annexation, Putin also said that “Russia will use all the instruments at its disposal to counter a threat against its territorial integrity—this is not a bluff.” He is arguing that he will consider any Ukrainian attempt to retake its own territory as an attack on Russia and has told his people that the West is responsible for the Ukrainian resistance to Russian conquest. He is threatening to use nuclear weapons to conquer Ukraine, in what seems an admission that Russia is on the ropes.
Putin began his attack on Ukraine in late February with the expectation it would be short and decisive. More than six months later, the Russian economy is in tatters, the armies are collapsing, and the future of Putin’s administration is uncertain.
President Joe Biden responded in a speech before the United Nations General Assembly in New York. He reminded his audience that the Ukraine crisis was “a brutal, needless war—a war chosen by one man…. This world should see these outrageous acts for what they are. Putin claims he had to act because Russia was threatened. But no one threatened Russia, and no one other than Russia sought conflict.”
Biden urged the world to stand firm against Russia’s aggression and reiterated that “the United States is opening an era of relentless diplomacy to address the challenges that matter most to people’s lives—all people’s lives: tackling the climate crisis… strengthening global health security; feeding the world.”
It is no secret, Biden said, “that in the contest between democracy and autocracy, the United States—and I, as President—champion a vision for our world that is grounded in the values of democracy.”
Midday, today, New York attorney general Letitia James announced that her office has filed a $250 million civil lawsuit against Donald Trump, the Trump Organization, Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump, Eric Trump, and two executives from the company—Allan Weisselberg and Jeff McConney—accusing them of years of fraudulent financial practices, lying to banks about the value of their assets by billions of dollars while undervaluing those same properties for tax purposes.
The investigation began more than three years ago when Trump’s fixer, Michael Cohen, testified under oath that Trump lied about the value of his properties to get better loan terms and lower taxes. The instances James identified today were eye-popping. Mar-a-Lago is worth around $75 million; Trump valued it at $739 million based on its potential for development even though Trump himself had signed deeds sharply restricting that development. Rental units worth $750,000 were valued at nearly $50 million.
“The pattern of fraud that was used by Mr. Trump and the Trump organization for their own financial benefit was astounding,” James said.
Forced to testify in the investigation last month, Trump refused to answer questions, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination more than 440 times. In a civil trial, jurors can draw negative inferences from a witness taking the Fifth. Last month, James rejected an offer from the Trump Organization to settle the case.
The suit seeks to recover the profits from the scheme, to ban the Trumps from engaging in real estate transactions for five years, and to prohibit Trump or his children from running any business licensed in New York state. James also filed a criminal referral to federal prosecutors and a tax fraud referral to the IRS.
If the suit succeeds, it will devastate the Trump Organization.
Then tonight, in a major victory for the Department of Justice, a three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta ruled that Judge Aileen Cannon’s lower court “abused its discretion” when it temporarily banned the Justice Department from using the roughly 100 documents with classification markings in its criminal investigation of the former president.
The decision was unanimous. Two of the three judges on the panel were appointed by Trump.
At issue are the documents Trump stole from the U.S. government when he left the White House. All of those documents belong to the U.S. government—that is, the American people—but some of them are classified, some at the highest level of classification.
Today’s struggle is not over the 184 classified documents in the first 15 boxes of material Trump returned to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in January 2022, or the 38 additional classified documents recovered after a subpoena. It’s about the 100 or more documents with classified markings FBI agents recovered from Mar-a-Lago on August 8.
Trump wanted a special master to determine if any of the documents recovered on August 8 actually belonged to him or were protected by attorney-client privilege, and a court to rule that until the special master had reviewed the documents, the Department of Justice could not use them in a criminal investigation of the former president.
On Labor Day, Judge Cannon agreed with Trump, so the Justice Department asked for the part of her decision that involved the classified documents to be stopped, since it could not untangle the criminal investigation from the investigation into the damage the national security had suffered from this breach. She refused, but today’s decision gave the DOJ what it wanted.
“For our part, we cannot discern why Plaintiff would have an individual interest in or need for any of the one-hundred documents with classification markings,” it said. “Classified documents…are ‘owned by, produced by or for, or…under the control of the United States Government’... and “they include information the ‘unauthorized disclosure [of which] could reasonably be expected to cause identifiable or describable damage to the national security.’” It continued: Trump “has not even attempted to show that he has a need to know the information contained in the classified documents.”
It noted that while Trump “suggests that he may have declassified these documents when he was President,” “the record contains no evidence that any of these records were declassified,” and that yesterday, Trump’s lawyers “resisted providing any evidence that he had declassified any of these documents.” The U.S., the court said, “would suffer irreparable injury” if the bar on using the documents for a criminal investigation stays in place, because that investigation is “inextricably intertwined” with the ongoing national security review. The government needs to figure out who saw the documents, whether they were compromised, and what else might be missing.
This afternoon, before the ruling, in an interview on the Fox News Channel, Trump said: “I declassified the documents when they left the White House…. There doesn’t have to be a process as I understand it. You’re the president of the United States, you can declassify…even by thinking about it.” (In fact, there is a process for declassification.) He also suggested that the archivists at NARA are “a radical left group of people” who were hiding documents, and that maybe the FBI was looking “for the Hillary Clinton emails” when they searched Mar-a-Lago.
Also today, CNN reported that Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who was active in the effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election, will speak to the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol.
To prevent any future attempt to overturn an election, the House today passed a fix to the Electoral Count Act, making it clear the vice president cannot refuse to count certified electors and making it harder for congress members to object to those certified ballots. The vote was 229 to 203. Only nine Republicans, most of whom are retiring or who lost their primaries, joined the Democrats to pass the measure.