Felony Fallout

Heather Cox Richardson

The fallout from the New York jury’s conviction of Donald Trump on 34 felony counts last Thursday, May 30, continues. Trump’s team continues to insist that the guilty verdict will help him, but that’s nonsensical on its face: if guilty verdicts are so helpful, why has he moved heaven and earth to keep the many other cases against him from going to trial? And why are he and House speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) calling for the Supreme Court to overturn the convictions? 

As political consultant Stuart Stevens put it: “I worked in five presidential races and helped elect Republican governors or Senators in over half the country. I have never heard anything more transparently desperate than a party trying to spin that there is some non-MAGA pool of voters who can’t wait to vote for a convicted felon.”

On Friday, Morning Consult conducted a poll to gauge how voters were reacting to the guilty verdict. It showed that 54% of registered voters approved of it, while only 34% disapproved. Perhaps worse for Trump was that 49% of Independents and 15% of Republicans thought he should end his campaign. A Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 10% of registered Republican voters and 25% of Independents said that his conviction made it less likely that they would vote for him for president. 

Then, on Saturday, there was what Danny Westneat of the Seattle Timescalled a plot twist. It turns out the state of Washington has a law on the books that prevents felons from running for office. But because a candidate has to be certified to be on a ballot before they can be challenged, the issue can’t be resolved until Trump officially becomes the Republican Party’s presidential nominee at the July convention. Westneat asked, “Republicans: You sure you want to go down this road?”

On Sunday, Trump appeared on Fox and Friends for his first interview since his conviction. The interview was heavily edited, suggesting his comments were problematic in some way, but what was there was still bad enough. He repeated his plans to fire generals who refuse to do his bidding and to deport immigrants by using local police to round them up. Notably, considering his own looming sentencing, he claimed he never said “lock her up” about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a claim that reporters on social media promptly shredded with video clips of him doing exactly that. 

Media figures are puncturing Trump’s image. The verdict buried a story by The Apprentice producer Bill Pruitt, who is now free of a nondisclosure agreement, explaining how he and others created an illusion that Trump was a successful businessman and alleging that Trump used the n-word on set. On Saturday, an image circulated on social media of Trump leaving Trump Tower and waving as if to a crowd, but there was no one there.

Also on Saturday, top sports talk host Colin Cowherd pushed back on the idea that the trial was rigged, telling his listeners: “If everybody in your circle is a felon, maybe it’s not rigged. Maybe the world isn’t against you.” “Donald Trump is now a felon,” Cowherd said. “His campaign chairman was a felon. So is his deputy campaign manager, his personal lawyer, his chief strategist, his National Security Adviser, his Trade Advisor, his Foreign Policy Adviser, his campaign fixer, and his company CFO. They’re all felons. Judged by the company you keep. It’s a cabal of convicts.”

Cowherd went on: “[Trump’s] trying to sell me an America that doesn’t exist.” “Stop trying to sell me on ‘everything’s rigged, the country’s falling into the sea, the economy’s terrible,’” he continued. “The America that I live in is imperfect. But compared to the rest of the world, I think we’re doing okay.”

This morning, Robert Faturechi, Justin Elliott, and Alex Mierjeski of ProPublicareported that Trump’s businesses and campaign committees have funneled significant financial benefits to at least nine witnesses in the criminal campaigns against Trump, often at crucial moments in the legal proceedings. The pay of one campaign aide doubled; another got a $2 million severance package that barred him from cooperating with law enforcement. The daughter of one of the campaign’s top officials was hired onto the staff and is now the fourth-highest-paid employee, with a salary of $222,000. Payments to the companies of certain witnesses dramatically increased.

Faturechi, Elliott, and Mierjeski note that it is not uncommon for bosses to find themselves defendants, complicating their relationship with employees who might have witnessed alleged crimes. In such cases, lawyers advise the defendant not to provide any unusual benefits or penalties, to avoid the appearance of witness tampering.

Trump’s attorney, David Warrington, sent ProPublica a cease-and-desist letter saying that if the outlet and its reporters “continue their reckless campaign of defamation, President Trump will evaluate all legal remedies.” He demanded that ProPublica kill the article, keeping it from publication.

And then, this afternoon, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams, along with the U.S. Department of Labor and the State Department, unsealed an indictment charging Weidong Guan, also known as Bill Guan, the chief financial officer of the global news outlet The Epoch Times, with using the outlet to launder at least $67 million. The Epoch Times is affiliated with the ultraconservative Chinese anticommunist religious group Falun Gong and supports Donald Trump and other right-wing U.S. politicians with both press and cash. It was a major promoter of Dinesh D’Souza’s film 2000 Mules that claimed the 2020 presidential election was stolen. A voter depicted in that film sued for defamation, and just last week the distributor settled with the plaintiff, issued an apology, and stopped distributing the film.

The allegation that The Epoch Times is a money-laundering operation comes on top of yesterday’s story by Joseph Menn in the Washington Post, reporting that the editor of another media site that pushes disinformation from both the far right and the far left, The Grayzone, has worked for Russia’s Sputnik as well as taken money from Iranian government-owned media. One of the people who retweets Grayzone stories is Senator Mike Lee (R-UT).

In the middle of all this bad news for MAGA Republicans, it felt like desperation today when the House Oversight Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic tried to resurrect Covid conspiracy theories against Dr. Anthony Fauci. Fauci was director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) from 1984 to 2022, serving under seven presidents. President George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the U.S., for his work on combating the global AIDS epidemic. 

Fauci’s position as NIAID director put him at the center of U.S. attempts to grapple with Covid-19, and for his work on developing a vaccine, Trump awarded him a presidential commendation. But first QAnon and then MAGA Republicans centered him as a villain who either started or covered up the pandemic, or forced people to mask or to get vaccines they told their supporters were unnecessary or even dangerous. QAnon conspiracy theorist Ivan Raiklin and convicted January 6 rioter Brandon Fellows were seated behind Fauci today; Fellows made pouty faces when Fauci was describing the death threats he, his wife, and his daughters have endured. 

Video creator and political commentator Michael McWhorter noted that Raiklin has made dramatic threats of violence against those he considers members of “the Deep State” and that he should have been nowhere near Fauci. McWhorter also noted that the two men were likely invited to the hearing and that it would be useful to know who invited them.  

Committee member Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who has skipped seven of the last ten hearings and who has expressed sympathy for QAnon in the past, attacked Fauci by saying he should be prosecuted: “You know what this committee should be doing? We should be writing a criminal referral because you should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity,” she said. “You belong in prison, Dr. Fauci.” For all the nastiness, the hearing turned up nothing.

Later, Greene told Manu Raju of CNN that Speaker Johnson should shut down the government over the Trump verdict and prosecutions. “We’re literally a banana republic. So what does it matter funding the government? The American people don’t give a sh*t.” 

While MAGA Republicans are insisting that a Manhattan jury’s conviction of Trump means that President Joe Biden has weaponized the Department of Justice and that they must take revenge, the trial of Biden’s son Hunter on federal gun charges, brought by a Trump-appointed U.S. attorney whom Biden kept on, started today. Former top Justice Department prosecutor Andrew Weissmann noted that Biden is “living the rule of law…in the most personal way. He is not telling DOJ to stand down…. He is not pardoning his son…. He is living what it means to have a rule of law in this country…. If you want to know if he believes it, you can actually see what is happening with his own son.”

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