Monday, April 3, 2023

Last Call For Vote Like Your Country Depends On It, Con't

The real major story for tomorrow isn't in Manhattan, it's in Madison and Milwaukee, as Ben Jacobs of Vox interviews Wisconsin political reporter Jessie Opoien about Tuesday's critical state supreme court election.



One of the most consequential elections of 2023 will happen on April 4 in Wisconsin. The race for an open state Supreme Court seat will determine the partisan balance of the Badger State’s highest court and either maintain the 4-seats-to-3 hold that conservatives have on the court, or the race will flip it to a liberal majority. The result could not only determine whether abortion is legal in Wisconsin after the Supreme Court last year overturned Roe v. Wade, but it could also lead to a redraw of the state’s heavily gerrymandered legislative and congressional maps. New maps in Wisconsin could flip control not just of the statehouse but even of the US House of Representatives, where Republicans currently only have the slimmest majority.

Jessie Opoien is the capitol bureau chief for the Capital Times and has covered Wisconsin politics for over a decade. We spoke about the race and what it means not just in Wisconsin but nationally.

Ben Jacobs

Who is running in this race, and why is it getting so much attention?
Jessie Opoien

So the two candidates are Janet Protasiewicz, who is a Milwaukee County circuit judge, and Daniel Kelly, who is a former state Supreme Court justice. And although the race is ostensibly nonpartisan, it’s extremely influenced by partisan entities. So, again, Janet Protasiewicz is linked with Democrats and the liberal side of things. And Kelly is linked with Republicans and the conservative side of things. It’s getting so much attention because it’s one of the only huge races on a ballot anywhere this year because the ideological ballot balance of the state Supreme Court could flip in favor of liberals for the first time since 2008.

That could open the door to challenges to a number of policies that were passed by Republicans over the last 10 years. And I think, most notably, it would open the door to the court, looking at a challenge to the state’s abortion ban, which was passed in 1849 and had been unenforceable until the Dobbs decision.
Ben Jacobs

How much does redistricting come into play as well?
Jessie Opoien

Yeah, redistricting is the No. 2 issue on voters’ minds. At this point, I think abortion is definitely driving the race. The state has seen a number of challenges to its electoral map. I think it’s pretty widely agreed throughout the country that Wisconsin’s maps are among the most gerrymandered in the country. Janet Protasiewicz has certainly talked about those maps. She has said outright that they’re rigged. That’s something that the Kelly campaign has hit her on. But I think we could definitely expect, if she were to win, we could expect another challenge or a revival of one of the old challenges to make its way back to the court.
Ben Jacobs

Judicial races are nominally supposed to be nonpartisan. Is there any pretense at this point that this is removed from party politics?
Jessie Opoien

Not really; both of the candidates pretty much acknowledge that this is the way it works at this point. It’s kind of one of those things where, as a reporter, you have to note that it’s nonpartisan, and then explain that it’s really nonpartisan in name only. So I think both candidates are pretty well-linked to their respective political parties. We’re seeing both parties get pretty involved. It’s really just a difference between saying liberal and Democrat or conservative or Republican.
Ben Jacobs

So there’s a lot of money being spent in the race. How much is being spent, and who is doing it?
Jessie Opoien

Yeah, it’s huge. We’ve already surpassed the record for the most expensive judicial race in the country. ... We’ve already passed $20 million, and I’ve been hearing as high as $27 million. We are going to keep seeing that go higher and higher in the final days of the race. The Protasiewicz campaign is spending more than Kelly, who is relying a little bit more on outside groups. But we’re just seeing so much money flooding in from groups that have an interest in this race.
 
There's a very good chance that the 2024 election comes down to Wisconsin. There's a very good chance that this state supreme court election will determine if Joe Biden can win in the state fairly, or if the Republicans in the state legislature can and will declare someone like Trump the winner regardless of the vote, in the most gerrymandered state in the union.
 
On top of that, there's the state's abortion ban, and how the state will repond to a law that's been on the books since before the US Civil War.  Both will be decided by this election.

It's that important.

Orange Meltdown: The Day Before, Con't

With Trump arraignment expected tomorrow, and as many have pointed out, Trump is going to soon have much bigger problems than just Alvin Bragg.
 
Justice Department and FBI investigators have amassed fresh evidence pointing to possible obstruction by former president Donald Trump in the investigation into top-secret documents found at his Mar-a-Lago home, according to people familiar with the matter.

The additional evidence comes as investigators have used emails and text messages from a former Trump aide to help understand key moments last year, said the people, who like others interviewed for this article spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing criminal investigation.

The new details highlight the degree to which special counsel Jack Smith’s investigation into the potential mishandling of hundreds of classified national security papers at Trump’s Florida home and private club has come to focus on the obstruction elements of the case — whether the former president took or directed actions to impede government efforts to collect all the sensitive records.

The emphasis on obstruction marks a key distinction so far between the Mar-a-Lago investigation and a separate Justice Department probe into how a much smaller number of classified documents ended up in an insecure office of President Biden’s, as well as his Delaware home. The Trump investigation is much further along than the Biden probe, which began in November and is being overseen by a different special counsel, Robert K. Hur. Biden’s lawyers say they have quickly handed over all classified documents found in Biden’s possession.

The Trump investigation team has spent much of its time focusing on events that happened after Trump’s advisers received a subpoena in May demanding the return of all documents with classified markings, the people familiar with the matter said. Smith is trying to determine if Trump or others mishandled national security documents, and if there is enough evidence to ask a grand jury to charge him with obstructing the investigation.

The Mar-a-Lago investigation is one of four separate criminal probes involving Trump, who is campaigning for another term in the White House. Trump has been indicted by a New York grand jury that heard evidence about money paid to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels during his 2016 presidential campaign. He is set to make his first court appearance in that case Tuesday. He is also being investigated by the Justice Department and a state prosecutor in Georgia over efforts to block Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election.

An FBI spokesman referred questions to a spokesman for the special counsel, who declined to comment.
 
It's not the crime, it's the cover-up that's also criminal.


Court papers filed seeking judicial authorization for the FBI to conduct the search of Trump’s home show agents believed that “evidence of obstruction will be found at the premises.”

The application for court approval for that search said agents were pursuing evidence of violations of statutes including 18 USC 1519, which makes it a crime to alter, destroy, mutilate or conceal a document or tangible object “with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation or proper administration of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency.”

A key element in most obstruction cases is intent, because to bring such a charge, prosecutors have to be able to show that whatever actions were taken were done to try to hinder or block an investigation. In the Trump case, prosecutors and federal agents are trying to gather any evidence pointing to the motivation for Trump’s actions.

The Washington Post reported in October that Trump’s valet, Walt Nauta, had told investigators that he moved boxes at Mar-a-Lago at the former president’s instruction after the subpoena was issued. Smith’s team has video surveillance footage corroborating that account, The Post reported, and considers the evidence significant.

 
In other words, Trump's intent to purposely impede the investigation into his classified documents at Mar-a-Lago is an even bigger problem then having the documents. That's likely been the case, but now we know that's what Jack Smith and the feds are actively pursuing.

Still, that's not going to stop Trump from screaming at Bragg and demanding that somebody deal with him

Donald Trump has told advisers and associates in recent days that he is prepared to escalate attacks against the Manhattan prosecutor who resurrected the criminal prosecution into his hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels in 2016 now that a grand jury has indicted him.

The former president has vowed to people close to him that he wants to go on the offensive and – in a private moment over the weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida that demonstrates his gathering resolve – remarked using more colorful language that it was time to politically “rough ’em up”.

Trump had already signaled that he would go after the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, weeks before the grand jury handed up an indictment against him on Thursday, saying in pugilistic posts on Truth Social that the prosecution was purely political and accusing Bragg of being a psychopath.

But the latest charged language reflects Trump’s determination to double down on those attacks as he returns to his time-tested playbook of brawling with prosecutors, especially when faced with legal trouble that he knows he cannot avoid, people close to him said.

The episode at Mar-a-Lago came on the sidelines of strategy meetings Trump had with advisers and associates about how to respond to the indictment from a legal and political standpoint, sessions which were described by two sources close to the former president.
 
Unless the judge in this case is ready to issue a gag order with significant and far-reaching consequences, Trump will simply have others issue his calls to target Bragg and "rough em up". Even if Trump is muzzled in order to stop his attacks, House Republicans are ready to try to tie up the case for months with subpoenas and motions targeting Bragg and his office, if not going so far as to directly interfere with the proceedings themselves.

Tomorrow will be a madhouse, and the madness will only get worse.
 

Sixty percent of Americans approve of the indictment of former President Donald Trump, according to a new CNN Poll conducted by SSRS following the news that a New York grand jury voted to charge him in connection with hush money payments made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels. About three-quarters of Americans say politics played at least some role in the decision to indict Trump, including 52% who said it played a major role.

Independents largely line up in support of the indictment – 62% approve of it and 38% disapprove. Democrats are near universal in their support for the indictment (94% approve, including 71% who strongly approve of the indictment), with Republicans less unified in opposition (79% disapprove, with 54% strongly disapproving).

While views on the indictment are split along party lines, the poll finds that majorities across major demographic divides all approve of the decision to indict the former president. That includes gender (62% of women, 58% of men), racial and ethnic groups (82% of Black adults, 71% of Hispanic adults, 51% of White adults), generational lines (69% under age 35; 62% age 35-49; 53% age 50-64; 54% 65 or older) and educational levels (68% with college degrees, 56% with some college or less).
 
Even White voters approve of the indictment (barely).  The goal by Trump and his cronies is to turn voters against the indictment and use that anger to help him politically. So far, that's not happening.

But we have a long way to go.

Losing It At The Finnish Line

Finland's government led by PM Sanna Marin has been ousted in national elections on Sunday, with Marin's Social Democrat party finishing third behind right-wing National Coalition Party and extremely right-wing neo-Nationalist Finns Party.

Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin appears to have lost her bid for a second term on Sunday, with her party headed for defeat by two conservative opponents in an extremely tight three-way race for control of parliament.

The center-right National Coalition Party claimed victory Sunday evening with around 97.7% of the votes counted, coming out on top at 20.7%. They were followed closely by right-wing populist party The Finns with 20.1%, while the Social Democrats garnered 19.9%.

With the top three parties each getting around 20% of the vote, no party is in position to form a government alone. Over 2,400 candidates from 22 parties were vying for the 200 seats in the Nordic country’s parliament.

“Based on this result, talks over forming a new government to Finland will be initiated under the leadership of the National Coalition Party,” said the party’s leader Petteri Orpo, as he claimed victory surrounded by supporters.

Marin, who at age 37 is one of Europe’s youngest leaders, has received praise for her Cabinet’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and for her prominent role, along with President Sauli Niinist√∂, in advocating for Finland’s successful application to join NATO. Her vocal support of Ukraine in the last year has increased her international visibility.

The problem now is that Finland's bid to join NATO may be in jeopardy. The Finns Party has vowed to pull Finland out of the pact, and the National Coalition Party, and if talks fall apart to form a government, it's possible that the NATO bid fails completely. The NCP has said that Finland "should be prepared militarily" if Russia tries anything on the border, but that's no guarantee that they will stay if the Finns make the case that the easiest spending cuts, which the NCP ran on, would be military.

On the other hand, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto says Finland will officially join NATO tomorrow, so it's a done deal. As to if Finland stays in NATO, well, we'll see. I believe they will, but nothing is 100% in politics these days.
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