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Key Takeaways From Day 1 of Trump’s Impeachment Trial

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  • During the first day of former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, senators focused mostly on the question of whether it was unconstitutional to try a president who had already left office.
  • House impeachment managers tried to appeal to the senators’ emotions in their opening statements and showed a graphic 13-minute video of the insurrection, intercut with Trump’s remarks throughout the day.
  • By contrast, Republican senators criticized Trump’s defense lawyer for using his opening remarks to deliver a confusing, unfocused speech that appeared to be largely off-the-cuff and ignored the constitutional question at hand. 
  • Senators ultimately ended the four-hour debate in a 56-44 vote agreeing that the trial proceeding is constitutional.

Senate Votes on Constitutionality Question

Former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial kicked off Tuesday with several hours of debate between the prosecution and defense over whether or not it was constitutional to try a president who had already left office.

The debate ultimately ended in a 56-44 vote that it was constitutional. The same five Republicans that broke party lines on a similar resolution last month again voted with Democrats, though this time they were also joined by a sixth Republican, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La).

The overall outcome of that vote was expected, and the more notable parts of the day did not come from the arguments each team made, but rather how they presented them and the reactions they got from the Senate jury.

Democrats Appeal To Emotion

Leading up to the trial, Democrats said that the best evidence they had was already on the public record: that the insurrection and Trump’s incitement of it all happened in real time on national TV, and that the senators on the jury were witnesses.

As a result, their strategy has been focused on an appeal to emotion. House manager Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md) opened the trial with a stirring and graphic 13-minute video that he said showed the timeline of events both inside and outside the Capitol on Jan. 6.

The video presented a violent visual record of the insurrection, including explicit, disturbing rhetoric and rally cries used by Trump’s supporters. The footage was intercut with Trump’s remarks at the rally before the attack and comments he made throughout the day.

According to pool reporters present, some senators looked away while the video played. Raskin later closed by recounting his own experience that day in an emotional speech. He argued that even though Trump is no longer in office, a president should be responsible for their speech from their first day in office to their last. 

“A January exception is an invitation to our founders’ worst nightmare,” he said.

Trump Team Delivers Perplexing Opening

By contrast, the opening remarks delivered by Trump’s attorney, Bruce Castor Jr., were criticized by both Democrats and Republicans as meandering and confusing.

During his nearly hour-long speech, Castor took the senators down a winding path that largely ignored the constitutional question at hand and did not appear to end in a cohesive argument. Much of the speech appeared to be off the top of his head, and at times his remarks even seemed to undermine his own case.

“I’ll be quite frank with you. We changed what we were going to do on account that we thought that the house manager’s presentation was well done,” he said at one point.

Notably, Castor also acknowledged a few times that voters had chosen a new president and that Trump had in fact lost the election.

Trump’s other defense lawyer, David Schoen, later took the stand and attempted to remedy Castor’s blunder. He also made several arguments against the constitutionality of trying a former president, claimed the move was just a partisan ploy, and asserted that Trump’s speech was protected under the First Amendment.

What To Look for on Day 2

While the first day was focused on the constitutionality question, the remainder of the trial will be centered around whether or not Trump incited the attack.

The House managers are expected to continue their appeal to emotion and hammer home the point that Trump was responsible. Raskin has also said he will show previously unseen security footage.

As for team Trump, it is largely unclear how they will use their time moving forward. So far, most of their arguments outlined both before and during the trial have mainly focused on the now-settled claim that it is unconstitutional.

It is possible the defense will continue to make that argument, but they will at least be pushed to address the heart of the accusations head-on. At the same time, it seems all but ensured that there will not be enough Republicans who will vote to convict Trump, so it is very possible his team will just go through the motions without really trying because the outcome is already secured.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (The New York Times)

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Pelosi Reverses Course, Signals Openness to Stock Trading Ban for Congress

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The move comes as public and bipartisan support for legislation banning Congress members from stock trading has grown in recent weeks.


Pelosi Backtracks on Member Trading

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) on Thursday signaled openness to legislation that would ban members of Congress from trading stocks, reversing her previous position on the matter.

“I do come down always in favor of trusting our members,” Pelosi said at a press conference. “If the impression that is given by some that somebody is doing insider trading, that’s a Justice Department issue and that has no place in any of this.”

“To give a blanket attitude of ‘We can’t do this and we can’t do,’ because we can’t be trusted, I just don’t buy into that. But if members want to do that, I’m okay with that,” she continued.

The speaker’s remarks come as she has faced mounting backlash for voicing opposition to such a ban. 

“We are a free market economy,” she told reporters when asked about the matter last month. “They should be able to participate in that.”

While Pelosi herself does not trade, her husband has invested millions in stocks. Those trades have been made public under the 2012 STOCK Act, which has required Congress members and their spouses to disclose when they buy and sell stocks for the last decade.

But the law has a mixed track record. A recent investigation by Insider found that “dozens of lawmakers and 182 senior congressional staff” have violated the law.

The act also came under intense scrutiny after financial disclosures filed by lawmakers exposed that members of both parties made trades in 2020 that benefited their portfolios after receiving early briefings on the seriousness of the pandemic. 

The Justice Department reviewed some of the cases, but it ultimately did not bring any charges. 

Momentum Grows for Congressional Ban

In recent weeks, pressure to reform the STOCK Act has been growing both among the public and in Congress.

Proponents argue that Congress members should be banned from trading stocks altogether to ensure they do not have conflicts of interest or use their access to classified briefings to make money.

According to a new poll from the progressive firm Data for Progress, 67% of voters support a ban. That number rose to 74% when the respondents were given arguments both for and against the idea.

In Congress, there is widespread bipartisan support for legislation to impose stricter regulations, including among top leadership.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) has reportedly said he is considering banning members from trading if Republicans win control of the House and select him as Speaker in 2022.

“I cannot imagine being a Speaker of the House with the power of what can come before committee, you name them and what can come to the floor and trading millions of dollars worth of options,” he told NPR earlier this month. “I just don’t think the American people think that’s right.”

Members of both parties have already put forth proposals. Last week, Sens. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) and Mark Kelly (D-Az.) introduced legislation that would effectively ban lawmakers, as well as their spouses and dependents, from buying and selling stocks.

The same day, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) rolled out a very similar bill, though his version would not include dependents.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Hill) (Business Insider)

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Supreme Court Allows Release of Jan. 6 Documents in Major Loss for Trump

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The high court’s decision initiates the release of White House documents that the former president had attempted to block the Jan. 6 investigation committee from viewing.


SCOTUS Ruling

The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected former President Donald Trump’s efforts to block the White House from handing over records to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Trump filed a lawsuit against the panel and the National Archives to prevent the committee from seeing key documents, testimonies, and other evidence lawmakers had requested.

In the suit, he argued that the records were protected by executive privilege, which he said still applied to him even though he’s not president anymore, and despite the fact that President Joe Biden decided not to exercise his executive privilege over the documents.

Trump also claimed that the information has “no reasonable connection to the events of that day” or “any conceivable legislative purpose.”

In an 8-1 decision with Justice Clarence Thomas dissenting, the Supreme Court rejected the effort to block the records from the committee until the issue is resolved by the courts — a process that could take months if not years.

In their ruling, the justices wrote that there are “serious and substantial concerns” regarding whether a former president can obtain a court order to prevent the disclosure of records, especially when the incumbent president waived their right to exercise executive privilege over said documents.

However, they still agreed with the determination by an appeals court that Trump’s claim of privilege over the documents would fail “even if he were the incumbent.”

Records Handed Over to Committee

According to reports, within just hours of the ruling, the National Archives began sending the roughly 800 pages of documents to the Jan. 6 committee.

The documents have not been made public, and it remains unclear if and when they will be.

What is known is the nature of the content that the committee has requested, including records detailing all of Trump’s movements and meetings on Jan. 6. 

Notably, the lawmakers also requested information about plans by the administration to undermine Congress’s confirmation of the electoral college vote and Trump’s pressure campaign to overturn the results of the elections.

Also unknown is what the panel will do with the documents if it finds damning evidence. While the committee’s powers are limited in scope, it could make a criminal referral to the Justice Department, which has its own ongoing probe into the insurrection and the events that preceded it.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Associated Press) (The Washington Post

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NY Attorney General Says Investigation of Trump Business Found “Significant Evidence” of Fraud

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The state attorney general’s office accused the former president and his family business of falsely inflating the value of assets and personal worth to lenders, the IRS, and insurance brokers.


New York Attorney General’s Filing

New York Attorney General Letitia James announced late Tuesday she had “significant evidence” that former President Donald Trump and the Trump Organization “falsely and fraudulently” misrepresented the value of assets “to financial institutions for economic benefit.”

The allegations mark the first time James has made specific accusations against Trump and his business. They come as part of a nearly 160-page filing asking a judge to order the former president — along with Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. — to comply with subpoenas for the investigation after the family sued James to block her from questioning them.

The filing claims that Trump and the company inflated the value of six properties, including several golf courses and Trump’s own penthouse in Trump Tower, on financial statements to obtain favorable loans, tax deductions, and insurance coverage. 

The document adds that many of the financial statements were “generally inflated as part of a pattern to suggest that Mr. Trump’s net worth was higher than it otherwise would have appeared.”

James outlined several specific examples, such as a financial statement where the value of Trump’s Seven Springs estate in Westchester was boosted because it listed seven mansions on the property worth $61 million that did not actually exist.

That resulted in Trump receiving millions of dollars in tax deductions on that property, as well as another in Los Angeles.

In another notable instance, the attorney general’s office said that the $327 million value of Trump’s penthouse in Trump Tower was calculated off a financial statement that falsely reported his home was nearly triple its actual size.

While the statement claimed the apartment was 30,000 square feet, Trump had signed documents stating it was actually 10,996 square feet.

Alleged Direct Involvement

The allegation regarding the apartment is especially significant because it directly ties Trump himself to the accusations of financial wrongdoing. It is also not the only instance where Trump was implicated.

The filing additionally asserts that Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg — who was indicted last summer on multiple criminal charges relating to the business’ tax dealings — implied the former president was involved in finalizing the false valuations. 

According to the documents, Weisselberg “testified that it was ‘certainly possible’ Mr. Trump discussed valuations with him and that it was ‘certainly possible’ Mr. Trump reviewed the Statement of Financial Condition for a particular year before it was finalized.” 

Another top Trump Organization executive also testified that he was under the impression Trump reviewed the statements before they were finalized.

While the filing provides less direct links to Trump’s children, it does detail their involvement. Specifically, it alleges that Ivanka Trump rented an apartment at Trump Park Avenue and was given an option to buy it for $8.5 million, despite the fact that the property was valued at $25 million.

It also connected Donald Trump Jr. to some of the properties flagged by claiming investigators found evidence he “was consulted” on the Statements of Financial Condition.

Response

Citing these connections, James argued in a series of tweets Tuesday that it is necessary for her inquiry to question Trump and his two children on their alleged involvement.

“We are taking legal action to force Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., and Ivanka Trump to comply with our investigation into the Trump Organization’s financial dealings,” she wrote. “No one in this country can pick and choose if and how the law applies to them.”

The former president has not yet addressed the matter, but a Trump Organization attorney representing Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump responded by arguing the subpoenas violate the constitutional rights of the family and that the filing “never addresses the fundamental contentions of our motion to quash or stay the subpoenas.”

In a statement Wednesday, the Trump Organization denied James’ allegations as “baseless” and accused her of trying to “mislead the public yet again.”

As far as what happens next, James’ office has said it “has not yet reached a final decision regarding whether this evidence merits legal action.”

Because James’s investigation is civil, she can sue Trump, his company, and his children, but she cannot file criminal charges. However, her probe is running parallel to a criminal investigation into the same conduct led by the Manhattan district attorney, who does have that power.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal)

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