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A MAGA mugshot.
August 25, 2023
The post-debate analysis on Thursday was overwhelmed by wall-to-wall coverage of the arrest and surrender of Donald Trump in Fulton County. As anchors waited for shaky, long-distance footage of black SUVs driving into parking lots, they speculated about every procedural calamity that could befall D.A. Fani Willis. The underlying premise of the anchors’ patter seemed to be that complexity is Willis’s enemy and political attacks from the Georgia legislature and House Judiciary Committee will be her undoing.
As with most things in life, it does no good to collapse all future uncertainties and fears into the present moment. Most of those imagined fears will not materialize. For the small handful that do, we are not defenseless sheep immobilized by fear. Rather, we are armed with the rule of law, the truth, and the desire of most Americans to see justice done. Holding Trump to account will not be easy. There will be setbacks, surprises, and disappointments. Some of his minions may escape conviction. Trump will not. He will be convicted on at least some of the charges against him. That will be enough.
I analyze below some of the current concerns about Willis’s prosecution of Trump. In attempting to put those developments in perspective, I do not mean to dismiss the possibility that some of the developments may impair Fani Willis’s case. Even if they do, we must remember that special counsel Jack Smith has two solid cases against Trump that should result in multiple guilty verdicts against Trump. All our eggs are not in the Georgia basket.
Ken Cheseboro’s request for a speedy trial.
Attorney Ken Cheseboro advised Trump regarding the fake electors’ plot. He also corresponded with state election officials and legislators regarding the preparation of the fake elector certificates. Cheseboro filed a request on Thursday for a “speedy trial,” which means that his trial must start no later than November 3, 2023. If Willis does not commence trial by November 3, 2023, the charges against Cheseboro will be dismissed.
Willis responded to Cheseboro’s request for a speedy trial by requesting a trial on October 23, 2023, for all defendants.
The trial judge immediately issued an order setting a trial for Cheseboro only on October 23, 2023. Trump's lawyers squealed in horror, saying that they wanted to sever Trump's case from Cheseboro’s. See Talking Points Memo, Trump And Chesebro Engage In Early Jockeying Over Georgia Trial Date.
Anchors (as opposed to legal commentators) are speculating that an early trial against Cheseboro will be difficult (if not impossible) for Willis to accomplish and that the other defendants will benefit from seeing Willis’s evidence in the Cheseboro trial.
Hogwash! If anyone believes that Fani Willis is not ready to go to trial, they haven’t been paying attention. The evidence recited in the indictment is enough for an impartial jury to convict Cheseboro. Proving her case against a single defendant will streamline Willis’s prosecution—and put Trump on ice. (Jill Wine-Banks made this point on MSNBC on Thursday evening.) Willis will be relieved from dealing with 19 attorneys objecting to questions and cross-examining witnesses. When she obtains a conviction against Cheseboro (a high likelihood), she will increase her leverage over other defendants.
In short, the last thing we should fear is going to trial against a Trump co-conspirator. Earlier is better, and if that “earlier” trial is streamlined, so much the better.
Political attacks on Fani Willis.
In a clear sign that the Georgia indictment is a serious threat to Trump, his political allies are attacking Fani Willis in every way possible. Let’s examine those efforts.
House Judiciary Committee sends inquiry to Fani Willis.
Jim Jordan announced on Thursday that the House Judiciary Committee has launched an investigation into Willis’s prosecution of Trump. The basis for a federal investigation into a state prosecution is . . . well, non-existent. Jordan vaguely claims that the prosecution of a former president “implicates federal interests.” Not so when the crimes alleged involve the violation of state law! In truth, Jordan commenced the investigation so he could send the lend letter on the day that Trump had his mug shot taken. See Talking Points Memo, Fani Willis Hit With Jim Jordan’s Post-Trump Indictment Noise Routine.
Jordan’s letter to Fani Willis is similar to the letter Jordan sent to Manhattan prosecutor Alvin Bragg regarding his prosecution of Trump in New York.
Do you recall what happened as a result of the letter Jordan sent to Bragg? Nobody else does, either.
Ignore Jordan’s sham investigation. It is an embarrassment to the hapless GOP members of the Judiciary Committee.
Effort to impeach Fani Willis.
A Georgia legislator has asked Governor Brian Kemp to call a special session of the Georgia legislature so that he can introduce a resolution to impeach Willis. See The Guardian, Georgia Republican lawmaker moves to impeach Trump prosecutor Fani Willis.
The impeachment effort will go nowhere. Conviction of Willis—required to remove her from office—requires a 2/3 vote in the Georgia Senate. That isn’t going to happen.
Efforts to remove Willis for dereliction of duty.
In addition to impeachment, the Georgia legislature enacted a law this year (which will go into effect in October) that creates a commission empowered to hear complaints against district attorneys who allegedly refuse to enforce categories of crimes like low-level drug offenses, juvenile offenses, and abortion laws. Seventeen other states have enacted similar legislation to target progressive prosecutors who—in their view—refuse to enforce the law. See The Guardian, Georgia governor signs bill that allows removal of district attorneys.
Per The Guardian,
The new law is widely believed to target Deborah Gonzalez, a Democrat who was elected the prosecutor in Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties in 2020. Gonzalez has adopted a number of criminal justice reforms, including not charging for simple possession of marijuana. She was also one of several district attorneys in Georgia who announced last year that she would not prosecute abortion-related crimes.
Four Georgia prosecutors have sued to invalidate the law. See The Intercept, Reformist Georgia DAs Sue Over Gov. Brian Kemp Law to Remove DAs.
Although the new law was targeted at district attorneys who refuse to enforce existing laws, some of the grounds for discipline are broad and vague— including engaging in “conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.”
On Thursday, a Georgia legislator said he would file a complaint against Willis with the commission. See Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Republican Georgia lawmaker eyes new panel as way to punish Fani Willis over Trump indictments.
Per the AJC,
State Sen. Clint Dixon said Monday that he would file a complaint against Willis in October when the Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission begins its proceedings, saying the indictments were sparked by Willis’ “unabashed goal to become some sort of leftist celebrity.”
We should not underestimate the willingness of Republican state legislators to overturn the rule of law, but removing Willis because she indicted Trump out of a desire for publicity is laughable. The indictments were issued by a grand jury of Georgia citizens and mirror a federal indictment that covers some of the same conduct. If the Georgia Commission orders Fani Willis removed after a hearing, she can appeal to the Fulton County Superior Court and (ultimately) to the Georgia Supreme Court. That will take a while, to say the least.
Even if Willis is removed, her assistants will continue to prosecute the case. Although Governor Kemp can appoint an acting District Attorney, it is highly unlikely he will appoint a replacement who will ask for dismissal of the case against Trump. Why? Kemp wants to run for US Senate in 2026. He must know that dismissing the criminal case against Trump will doom any such candidacy.
Moreover, Kemp has steadfastly rejected Trump's claims that the Georgia election was rigged. The two politicians are not friends—as illustrated by Kemp’s visit to Milwaukee earlier this week during which he called Trump a “loser.” See AJC, The Jolt: Why Kemp went to Milwaukee to call Trump a ‘loser’.
While I have drifted a bit afield, the point is that you have to assume lots of counterfactual arguments to get to a point where Kemp supports the removal of Fani Willis and replaces her with someone who will dismiss the Trump prosecution.
Here’s my point: Fani Willis has filed strong indictments and is ready to go to trial. If she starts trial in late October, that will be a good development for America. A trial will take a couple of months (at least), keeping Trump's criminal conduct in the foreground right up until the Iowa caucuses on January 15, 2024. A conviction of Ken Cheseboro in mid-January would be a nice “election eve” gift for Iowa voters to consider when they cast their votes.
News and polling organizations surveyed Republican voters’ reactions to the debate, asking “Who performed best during the debate?” The conclusion? Such polls are utterly useless because they are subject to manipulation by voters seeking to “promote” their candidate’s narrative. A WaPo/FiveThirtyEight poll concluded that Ron DeSantis (29%) and Vivek Ramaswamy (26%) “performed best” in the debate, while Nikki Haley came in a distant third (with 15%). Pence was fourth with 7%, and Christie was a rounding error near zero. See Republican debate poll finds Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy won - Washington Post.
Whatever happened on the stage on Wednesday evening, it is not fairly reflected by the results of the WaPo poll. My takeaway: A renewed skepticism of polls is warranted.
Separately, we know how many people say they watched the debate versus Trump's interview with Tucker Carlson. Based on the same WaPo poll, about 32% of likely Republican primary voters say they watched the debate; about 5% of likely Republican voters say they watched the Tucker Carlson interview with Trump.
While I believe those numbers are also inflated, the relative disparity based on self-identified GOP voters is telling. There was much less interest in watching Trump, even though he is the overwhelming front-runner for the GOP nomination.
Hmm . . . Do I sense of lack of enthusiasm for Trump, even among people who say they are going to vote for him? For example, look at the crowd size in Fulton County on the day of Trump's surrender and arrest. Oh, wait! There were no crowds. None. Nada. Zip. There were more cars in Trump's motorcade from the airport than Trump supporters at the courthouse. Ouch!
Trump's mugshot will become the defining image of Trump for all time. His facial expression conveys equal parts menace, anger, and defiance. There is no hint of a soul behind the eyes, only animal grievance and feral resentment at being cornered. It is astounding that a mugshot could capture the essence of evil that resides beneath the surface in Donald Trump.
The photo is also a mugshot of MAGA extremism. It captures the hostility and meanness that animates most of the GOP’s “agenda”—including policies that demean and discriminate against Blacks, women, LGBTQ people, educators, scientists, and immigrants. Trump's mugshot will likewise become the defining image of MAGA extremism for all time. Tens of millions of MAGA adherents will celebrate and glorify the image—confirming the virulent strain of authoritarianism that has infected the MAGA base.
The mugshot will become the equivalent of a “gang sign” for MAGA extremists to identify fellow travelers in hate. They will display the mugshot on tee shirts, baseball caps, and beer cans with an “in your face” defiance designed to offend anyone who disagrees. And this, they believe, is how they will win the 2024 election. They couldn’t be more wrong.
By making this gargoyle of hate the “face” of the 2024 GOP campaign, Republicans are reinforcing the suspicions and fears of tens of millions of Republicans and swing voters who are looking for a reason not to vote for Trump—or to stay home. (As they did on debate night by boycotting his Tucker Carlson interview.)
Against the deeply unsettling MAGA mugshot, Democrats will feature the kindly face of Joe Biden as he reaches to pet a rescue dog or hug a survivor of the Hawaii wildfires. Joe Biden may be older than some would like, but his face exhibits kindness and wisdom. We should not underestimate visceral reactions to human decency—or lack thereof—in our leaders.
None of this means we can relent or ease up. But it should give us confidence that Democrats are on the right path as Republicans are burdened with a leader who holds them in contempt and sees them only as chumps who will donate more money every time he is indicted.
It has been another emotional week. I was corresponding with a reader tonight and said that I hoped next week would be calmer. She responded, “You think it will be calmer next week?!?” That is a fair point/question, but we are now beyond the indictments and bookings in Georgia. There will be a flurry of procedural posturing that will be important but not outcome-determinative. I believe the initial “hard part” is behind us and that we will have a short break to relax. We should take advantage of any respite because we will soon begin the marathon to November. The good news is that we are well-positioned for the race!
I will send a short note tomorrow to open the weekend Comment section. Talk to you tomorrow!