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The Daily 202

A lunchtime newsletter featuring political analysis on the stories driving the day.

Making sense of the Trump investigations

The Daily 202

A lunchtime newsletter featuring political analysis on the stories driving the day.

Welcome to The Daily 202! Tell your friends to sign up here. Today we have 5-Minute Fix author and politics reporter Amber Phillips in for Olivier, who will be back next week.

The big idea

Making sense of the Trump investigations

Former president Donald Trump’s legal problems have perhaps never been more stark. He or his company has been under investigation pretty much since he left office — or even while he was in office. But suddenly, it feels like all of it is heating up.

Let’s step back and try to put it in context. We ranked the top Trump legal investigations as to what appears most serious for the former president — at least based on what is publicly known about the cases. 

1. The Justice Department probe into classified material at Mar-a-Lago

Why this is getting serious for Trump: To search Mar-a-Lago, FBI agents had to provide detailed evidence to a court that there was probable cause a crime was committed. They outlined three laws at play involving the unauthorized taking, disclosure or destroying of government documents, the most serious of which is the Espionage Act. That law makes it illegal to harbor defense-related information if you’re not supposed to have access to the material.

There are a number of ways to violate the Espionage Act, legal experts say. At the highest level, there’s selling secrets to a foreign government — “what the lay person would think of as plain old treason,” said Jack Sharman, who served as special counsel to Congress during the Whitewater investigation. On the low end, government officials have previously pleaded guilty to much lesser crimes under the law, like simply having the information in their possession.

We don’t know what was in the boxes FBI agents took from Mar-a-Lago — nuclear weapons information is a possibility, The Post has reported. But Sharman said he thought it was fair to assume that “the issue is probably less that President Trump was about to sell nuclear secrets to Vladimir Putin, and probably more a concern of: Has he retained material that is classified that he should not have.”

What to watch for next: Did the FBI just want the documents back badly enough to search a former president’s residence and get them? Or do they think Trump or his allies were up to something nefarious? Either way, the cache of secret documents agents said they found sitting in a former president’s home is mind-boggling, security and legal experts say.

“These are the types of documents that would make most of us quiver to hold,” said Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. attorney, “let alone retain unlawfully.”

2. The Justice Department probe into Jan. 6, 2021

Why this is getting serious for Trump: As it charges hundreds of people who entered the Capitol that day, as well as alleged organizers, the Justice Department is also looking at what Trump said and did leading up to the attack. Specifically, The Post reported in July, investigators want to know about his involvement in the scheme to set up fake electors in states Trump lost — a potential precursor to trying to get Vice President Pence to overturn the election results, or even a potential rationale for the violence. Investigators have convened a grand jury and had top Pence aides testify. They’ve also seized the phones of top Trump allies.

What to watch for next: This is probably the toughest investigation to make sense of, because it’s operating so secretly. It’s also the one that faces the most political pressure. Watch for any Trump allies (like lawyers Rudy Giuliani or John Eastman) to get subpoenaed for signs investigators are still focused on Trump. On Tuesday, Politico reported investigators have subpoenaed top White House lawyer Eric Herschmann, who has been very forthcoming with the congressional Jan. 6 committee.

3. The Georgia probe into his efforts to overturn election results

Why this is getting serious for Trump: Besides the Justice Department investigations, this is the other criminal probe we know about into his efforts to overturn the election. Fulton County prosecutor Fani Willis (D) is looking into whether Trump or his allies broke Georgia election law when Trump pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) to “find” enough votes to give Trump the win, long after the popular vote had been certified. Willis has her own grand jury going and this week succeeded in forcing close Trump allies Giuliani and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) to testify about their roles in all this.

What to watch for next: Giuliani is a target of this investigation. Could he face charges? Willis has less political constraints than the Justice Department, reflected in her aggressive fights in court to get testimony. And she’s been known in past investigations to find creative ways to charge people for crimes. 

4. The New York probe into Trump’s business practices

The day FBI agents searched Mar-a-Lago, Trump was more focused on this investigation in New York, report my colleagues. It’s the only civil one on this list — meaning it won’t lead to criminal charges. But it does put Trump’s business at risk, as investigators look at whether the company misstated the value of assets to get loans and evade taxes. Trump himself was deposed by investigators last week. He pleaded the Fifth more than 400 times. 

What to watch for next: This week, the man overseeing Trump Organization’s finances for years is expected to plead guilty to tax fraud in a separate but closely tied together investigation into the Trump Organization in Manhattan. Though Allen Weisselberg is not expected to help provide information about Trump, The Post reports

What’s happening now

Cheney says she’s considering a run for president

“Today, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said Wednesday she is considering a run for president in 2024 and will make a decision in the coming months. She shared her thinking during a television interview the morning after badly losing in a Republican primary to a candidate backed by former president Donald Trump,” John Wagner and Mariana Alfaro report.

Giuliani appears before Georgia grand jury in probe of efforts to overturn 2020 election

Rudy Giuliani on Wednesday appeared before a Georgia special grand jury as part of a criminal probe into efforts to overturn the 2020 election,” Matthew Brown and Tom Hamburger report.

“The former New York mayor, who was informed Monday that he is a target of the investigation, is the highest-profile member of Donald Trump’s inner circle to appear before grand jurors.”

Fourth Circuit first to rule gender dysphoria a protected disability

“The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has become the first appellate court in the country to find that gender dysphoria is covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act, after a transgender woman sued Fairfax County for housing her with men during her time in jail,” Rachel Weiner reports.

Syria denies holding Austin Tice after Biden’s demand for release

“In a statement, the Foreign Ministry addressed President Biden’s claim last week that Tice is being held by the Syrian government, calling it ‘invalid accusations against the Syrian government of kidnapping or arresting U.S. citizens, among them Austin Tice, a service member in the U.S. Army.’ It added that Tice and others had entered illegally,” Sarah Dadouch reports.

Lunchtime reads from The Post

Trump is rushing to hire seasoned lawyers — but he keeps hearing ‘No’

“Longtime confidants and advisers of Trump have grown extremely worried about Trump’s current stable of lawyers, noting that most of them have little to no experience in cases of this type, according to two people familiar with the internal discussions,” Isaac Arnsdorf, Josh Dawsey, Carol D. Leonnig, Jacqueline Alemany and Rosalind S. Helderman report.

“Ordinarily, the prestige and publicity of representing a former president, as well as the new and complex legal issues at stake in this case, would attract high-powered attorneys. But Trump’s search is being hampered by his divisiveness, as well as his reputation for stiffing vendors and ignoring advice.”

Inside the 100-day U.S. struggle to stop monkeypox

“For two months, the Biden administration has been chased by headlines about its failure to order enough vaccines, speed treatments and make tests available to head off an outbreak that has grown from one case in Massachusetts on May 17 to more than 12,600 this week, overwhelmingly among gay and bisexual men. And 100 days after the outbreak was first detected in Europe, no country has more cases than the United States — with public health experts warning the virus is on the verge of becoming permanently entrenched here,” Dan Diamond, Fenit Nirappil and Lena H. Sun report.

… and beyond

Inside the frantic, final days of record-keeping that landed Trump in hot water

“It was part free-for-all, part fire sale. Souvenirs were kept, records were indiscriminately thrown away. The Oval Office and its adjacent private dining room were only packed up the weekend before former President Donald Trump moved out, former aides said,” Politico's Daniel Lippman, Meredith McGraw and Jonathan Lemire report.

“So-called ‘burn bags’ were widely present, according to two former Trump White House officials, with red stripes marking ones that held sensitive classified material meant to be destroyed. Such bags, according to Mark Zaid, an attorney well-steeped in national security law, are common. But one former official said that staff would put seemingly non-classified items in there too, such as handwritten letters and notes passed to principals. Zaid said it wasn’t necessarily improper to dispose of non-classified information this way, provided it was done under the confines of the law. But those who observed the process later conceded that it was not entirely clear if documents should have been headed to the National Archives instead of the incinerator.”

The Biden agenda

Bill Gates and the secret push to save Biden’s climate bill

“It was the middle of July — with temperatures surging through one of the hottest summers in US history, half of the country in drought — and the Senate’s all-important member, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, had slammed the brakes on legislation to combat global warming. Again,” Bloomberg News's Akshat Rathi and Jennifer A Dlouhy report.

“That’s when billionaire philanthropist and clean-energy investor Bill Gates got on the phone with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, whose job it was to hold together the Democrats’ no-vote-to-spare majority.”

Even on Biden’s big day, he’s still in Trump’s long shadow

“Moments before President Biden signed a legacy-defining package of initiatives into law on Tuesday, one of his congressional allies lamented that the president’s accomplishments are ‘often away from public view; while another contrasted him with a former president who ‘relished creating chaos,’” the New York Times's Peter Baker writes.

“No one mentioned Donald J. Trump’s name during the ceremony in the State Dining Room of the White House, but his presence was felt nonetheless as Mr. Biden enacted major climate, health care and corporate tax policies. One major reason Mr. Biden’s achievements often seem eclipsed in public view is because Mr. Trump is still creating chaos from his post-presidential exile.”

Biden signs sweeping bill to tackle climate change, lower health-care costs

“‘Let me say from the start: With this law, the American people won and the special interests lost,’ Biden said. His administration had begun amid ‘a dark time in America,’ Biden added, citing the coronavirus pandemic, joblessness and threats to democracy,” Amy B Wang reports.

Biden for Yahoo News: 3 things everyone should know about the Inflation Reduction Act

(Correction: An earlier version of this newsletter incorrectly attributed Biden's op-ed to USA Today. It was published by Yahoo News.)

Monkeypox cases in the U.S., visualized

“The coming weeks will reveal whether the administration has overcome its early struggles — or whether too much time was lost as the virus took hold in the United States under a president who had vowed to prevent pandemics,” Dan Diamond, Fenit Nirappil and Lena H. Sun report.

Hot on the left

Trump’s angry words spur warnings of real violence

“Law enforcement officials across the country are warning and being warned about an increase in threats and the potential for violent attacks on federal agents or buildings in the wake of the FBI’s search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home,” the Associated Press's David Klepper reports.

“Experts who study radicalization and online disinformation — such as Trump’s aggressive false claims about a stolen election — note that the recent increase was sparked by a legal search of Trump’s Florida home. What might happen in the event of arrests or indictments?”

Hot on the right

Does preserving democracy require letting Trump off?

“It isn’t just children who burn with indignation about injustice. The longing to see right prevail and wrong punished is arguably one of the fiercest human desires, along with the desire for recognition and the yearning for meaning. That’s why it is nothing less than agonizing to consider that in the case of Donald Trump, justice may have to be sacrificed on the altar of order,” Mona Charen writes for the Bulwark.

“Republicans have succeeded in undermining confidence in the rule of law, and though I waver on this, I find [the] argument that pursuing Trump criminally will only speed the descent compelling.”

Today in Washington

Biden is in Delaware and he has no events scheduled.

In closing

Endless possibilities

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.