It isn’t Jack Smith. Although the Special Counsel is conducting multiple investigations into Trump crimes, this latest furore is not about that.
It isn’t Fani Willis. The regular grand jury with indictment power is underway and Trump’s bargain basement lawyers are seeking to get the special purpose grand jury report thrown out but that’s not what has the House GOP in a lather.
It is Manhattan DA, Alvin Bragg. His grand jury is rumoured to be on the verge of indicting Trump and that has the sad excuse for leadership in the US House pulling at their hair, gnashing their teeth and writing letters.
Last week they were at their annual retreat in Orlando where they were whining about important stuff like Democrats flooding committee hearings with facts that were derailing their carefully-coifed narratives. There was a press room and McCarthy was looking forward to holding court and spinning tales about their usual talking points but instead, he found himself facing a deluge of questions about Trump.
So what is a House Squeaker to do? Ignore the questions and plough on with his own agenda or attack the Manhattan DA? This is Kevin we’re talking about so he obviously chose the latter. Per ABC News:
“What we see before us is a political game being played by a local … Look this isn’t New York City, this is just a Manhattan, this is just a borough DA. Okay,” McCarthy said.
If he’d left it at that, it would’ve just been more of the mealy-mouthed blather that we’ve come to expect from Trump groupies. As for why the Manhattan DA, we’d all say that, for the first time in his life, TFG is facing legal accountability so he called on his congressional circle to come to his defence.
But McCarthy wasn’t just defending the indefensible as per usual. As ABC News noted, McCarthy brought this on himself.
At times, McCarthy seemed to grow frustrated that, at the House issues retreat, he’s being asked repeatedly about Trump amid potential charges, blaming the press who he claims keeps bringing up the former president.
However, ahead of this week’s retreat, McCarthy announced he would direct House committees to investigate the investigation into Trump, which helped fuel the news cycle heading into this week’s retreat.
So Kevin triggered the media by announcing he’d ordered House committees to conduct an investigation into the investigation. [pause for eye-roll]. Committees, plural. How many committees and which ones? We did not have long to wait to find that out and the odd combination indicates that McCarthy didn’t specifically choose them, they volunteered.
This coalition of the incompetent but willing comprises Jim Jordan (Judiciary), James Comer (Oversight and Accountability) and Bryan Steil (House Administration) who met during a break in the whine-and-sleaze schedule at the retreat. Together they collaborated on a letter to DA Bragg, demanding documents and communications plus the “receipt and use of federal funds.”
DA Bragg’s General Counsel, Leslie Dubeck, penned a blistering letter in return. Per Axios:
The House GOP’s request to Bragg “only came after Donald Trump created a false expectation that he would be arrested the next day and his lawyers reportedly urged you to intervene,” she wrote. “Neither fact is a legitimate basis for congressional inquiry.”
Her response included these gems:
“As articulated below, the District Attorney is obliged by the federal and state constitutions to protect the independence of state law enforcement functions from federal interference.” (page 2)
“The Letter’s requests are an unlawful incursion into New York’s sovereignty.” (page 3)
“Consistent with these constitutional obligations, the DA’s Office is cognizant of DOJ’s “[l]ongstanding” policy of not providing Congress with non-public information about investigations.” (page 3)
Apparently, no one in the GOP conference knows that District Attorneys are not subject to congressional oversight. If not common knowledge, this should at least come under the heading of common sense.
But no, common sense is absent in this coalition of the incompetent and so is all understanding of their untenable position. At least two of the three sycophantic chairmen have directed their staffers to contact the Manhattan DA’s office and are whining about “unfair treatment”. Per Raw Story:
Speaking with the Post, one unnamed [Jordan] aide claimed they made a call to Bragg’s office “at noon on Wednesday [and] was promptly hung up on after he identified himself to a woman who answered the phone.”
When they called back a second time, another staffer working for the Manhattan DA reportedly told them, “Your committee has no jurisdiction over us. You’re wrong. Stop calling us with this bulls—t.”
The brusqueness of the Manhattan DA staffers is hardly surprising given that they’ve been dealing with hate speech and death threats since Trump targeted their office. The last thing they need is unwarranted and unwanted nuisance calls from GOP congressional staffers.
It used to be rare for elected officials to comment on independent inquiries for fear of seeming to influence them improperly. But that is not the case with today’s House GOP. Nor are they content with merely commenting. They are trying to forcibly insert themselves into the Manhattan investigation with the apparent goal of preventing it from proceeding to an indictment. That smells like desperation.
Now they might be doing this solely for Trump’s sake but it’s also possible they recognise that this particular investigation may lead to legal jeopardy for themselves. Admittedly there is no preponderance of evidence for this, but one sign does invite speculation.
One of the principal witnesses for the Manhattan DA is Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen. By mid-February this year, Cohen had met with Manhattan office prosecutors sixteen times before giving testimony to the grand jury in March.
Sixteen times – and the duration of each interview was measured in hours, not minutes. The subject of this investigation is the hush money payment provided to Stormy Daniels. Now, this is not a complex case. In short, Trump directed Michael Cohen to pay Stormy Daniels $130,000 and Trump reimbursed Cohen in multiple monthly payments of $35,000 from campaign funds. It’s the last three words that actually contain the crime in this transaction.
Yet it took sixteen lengthy interviews to cover everything Michael Cohen knew about this crime. That defies credulity. The obvious conclusion is that Cohen provided information about a great deal more than just this one crime.
Now circle back to the four GOP members of the House who are the subject of this piece: what might Cohen know that could impact them?
One thing Cohen certainly knew about was donations to GOP campaigns, and not just with respect to Trump. In 2018-19, Cohen served as one of three RNC Deputy Finance Chairmen with Elliot Broidy and Louis DeJoy. So Michael Cohen knew all about what money flowed into the RNC and from there into GOP campaigns.
Given that there’s an investigation into Trump’s inaugural funding, it’s obvious to conclude that corruption also occurred in his campaign finances. In 2020, Elliot Broidy pleaded guilty to acting as an unregistered foreign agent working for Chinese and Malaysian interests. Did Chinese dark money find its way into the RNC coffers? Cohen would know.
Russian rubles found their way into dark money GOP PACs via dual Russian-American citizen, Len Blavatnik. Per The Dallas Morning News August 2017:
Donald Trump and the political action committees for Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Lindsey Graham, John Kasich and John McCain accepted $7.35 million in contributions from a Ukrainian-born oligarch who is the business partner of two of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s favorite oligarchs and a Russian government bank.
During the 2015-2016 election season, Ukrainian-born billionaire Leonard “Len” Blavatnik contributed $6.35 million to leading Republican candidates and incumbent senators. Mitch McConnell was the top recipient of Blavatnik’s donations, collecting $2.5 million for his GOP Senate Leadership Fund under the names of two of Blavatnik’s holding companies, Access Industries and AI Altep Holdings, according to Federal Election Commission documents and OpenSecrets.org.
Michael Cohen would know about those transactions too. he may also know something about the Russian money that made its way into GOP campaigns via the NRA. Remember Maria Butina? She spent a great deal of time with past and present elected members of the GOP and their influencers.
If McCarthy, Jordan, Comer and Steil were merely acting in token defence of their party leader, public criticism would be enough to serve them. But consider their likely reaction if they thought Cohen had provided testimony on dodgy deals they’ve done and the corruption in their campaigns. They wouldn’t hesitate to overreach themselves by opening an unlawful congressional investigation into the Manhattan DA’s Trump investigation and federal funding.
And that’s exactly what they’ve done – not just one inquiry either but three full-blown committee attacks that include harassing Manhattan office staff. And now this:
NEW: A trio of @HouseGOP committee chairs say the House could soon take up legislation to strip state and local prosecutors of the authority to prosecute former presidents in response to the potential indictment of former president Donald Trump. https://t.co/lkwqad6JGS
— Andrew Feinberg (@AndrewFeinberg) March 25, 2023
And that smacks of fear and desperation.