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What got me steamed up this week

This Was a Wagnerianly Bad Week for Donald Trump

With legal cases piling up, the former president may be destined for a jumpsuit to match his skin tone.

Andrew Milligan/Getty Images

Nearly every week is a bad week for Donald Trump these days, but this week brought developments that, while extremely gratifying from my perspective, are monumentally, roaringly, Wagnerianly bad for the former guy. It now looks somewhere between probable and certain that as he seeks the presidency, Trump will be staring—at not one, not two, but three indictments—as well as at least one criminal trial, which we learned this week is going to happen in the thick of the presidential primary season.

I don’t want to speak too soon. The wheels of justice grind slowly, and they can roll very timidly where presidential office-seekers are concerned. But we’re getting closer with each passing week to being able to say that by running for and becoming president, Trump finally went too far and made his biggest mistake. If you’re a rich private citizen in this country, you can break the law all you want, short of things like actual murder, and the law might never catch up with you. But take a public office, and suddenly an entirely different set of laws applies to you, the scrutiny of your words and deeds—past and present—becomes white-hot intense, and the system takes your misdeeds far more seriously than a mere failure to pay your taxes. This can take a person who became accustomed to ignoring the law over the course of 50 years by surprise—though in fairness, it could be a big reason more white-collar criminals don’t run for president.

Let’s go through the three cases, with which you may have some familiarity. The first is the criminal indictment already unsealed, that of Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg, over the Stormy Daniels hush money and the whole National Enquirer “catch and kill” business. This week, Judge Juan Merchan (by the way, he is a native of Colombia; I’m starting an over-under pool on when Trump starts pointing this out) set the trial date for next March. Also on the schedule for next March: No fewer than 25 primaries—13 on Tuesday, March 5 (Super Tuesday), and another dozen following over the course of the month.

Picture it: It’s Tuesday, March 12. The date of the primary in the crucial state of Georgia, the state Trump most blatantly tried to steal in 2020. Ron DeSantis is in the Atlanta suburbs. Nikki Haley is in Columbus. Tim Scott is in Macon. Asa Hutchinson is in Augusta. Mike Pence is barnstorming his way from Valdosta to Albany to Vidalia. And Donald Trump is in a courtroom in Manhattan testifying, lying his brains out, as will be obvious to everyone watching except the MAGA people.

Case number two is the big one: where special prosecutor Jack Smith enters the chat. Reports came out this week that Smith could be within weeks—some say within days—of bringing charges against Trump. The Washington Post reported Thursday that two Mar-a-Lago employees moved boxes of papers the day before a June 2022 visit by FBI agents (this was not the raid—that was August—it was just a visit) looking to collect classified documents pursuant to a subpoena that May.

It could be a coincidence. (There are a lot more coincidences in this world than people think.) But it looks pretty weird. Legal experts seem to be in agreement that the classified documents situation represents Trump’s biggest legal Achilles’ Heel. And remember—Smith is also investigating Trump’s role in the January 6 attacks. We all saw Trump egg on the violence in a way that meets any human common-sense standard. But meeting a legal standard is a higher bar. So that may be harder to reach.

But the encouraging development along these lines this week? There is renewed speculation about what’s going on behind the scenes with Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff at the time. CNN reported this week that Meadows is quietly advising the House Freedom Caucus on the debt-limit fight. But that report also noted that Meadows is no longer in touch with Trump, which has led to speculation about whether Meadows is cooperating with Smith. A former Defense Department counsel tweeted the CNN story and wrote: “If he’s cooperating, game over.” Others were skeptical that Meadows would cooperate against Trump. But prosecutors have leverage. If Meadows is cooperating, well, there’s probably no one, not even Melania, who possesses a fuller mental log of the things Trump did and said that day.

We circle back to Georgia to consider the third case: Fani Willis’s probe into Trump’s frantic search for the famous 11,780 votes he called for to be added to his short-of-Biden’s-tally total. Willis appears almost certain to bring an indictment against Trump in August, a date she announced a week ago today. (See what I mean about this being a spectacularly bad week?) This investigation has long seemed the most open-and-shut of all the cases against Trump, given that the whole world has heard him on the telephone instructing state officials to go find him the votes.

So, let’s assume indictments from Smith and Willis. When would those trials commence? In all likelihood these, too, would kick off sometime next year. (Though I suppose that maybe one will have to wait for the other; all indictments answered in the order they are received and all that,) Still, it’s just wild to imagine what this could all look like, what kind of presidential campaign we might have if one candidate is moonlighting as a semi-professional defendant.

We must, of course, admit of the possibility that the GOP will nominate Trump anyway and, by Election Day, he will be thrice acquitted.

But it sure seems more likely that a harsher outcome awaits him. Let’s just look at the post-presidential legal track record. In December 2022, the Trump Organization was found guilty on all charges of tax fraud. Earlier this month, a jury took about three minutes (okay, not literally) to agree that Trump sexually abused E. Jean Carroll. There’s a pattern here.

There remains the question of whether there’s a point at which this all becomes too much even for Republican primary voters. A third indictment may be a bridge too far; they might decide at long last that Trump’s no longer worth the trouble. But he’ll turn this into Armageddon. It will get ugly—perhaps terrifyingly so. But the end times are coming, all right—not for the world, but for Trump. If he’d stayed a private citizen, the law wouldn’t have gone to the expense and trouble of nailing him. But he became a public servant. As corrupt as our country and legal system are in many ways, you just can’t do anything you want as a public servant. The system eventually says enough. Let’s sit back and enjoy every delicious minute of watching him learn this lesson.

This article first appeared in Fighting Words, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by editor Michael Tomasky. Sign up here.

Did Donald Trump Seriously Sell Pardons?

The sexual assault lawsuit against Rudy Giuliani is chock-full of other shocking allegations.

DON EMMERT/AFP via Getty Images
DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images
Trump and Giuliani in 2016

It’s established fact that Donald Trump is deep in the legal soup. The Trump Organization was found guilty of criminal tax fraud. Trump was indicted by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg over the payment to Stormy Daniels and those “catch and kill” payments that buried negative stories about him. A separate New York jury found that he sexually abused E. Jean Carroll.

That would be reasonably “impressive” for any gangster, but for Trump, it’s just the appetizer. Fani Willis, district attorney of Fulton County, Georgia, is expected to drop the hammer by August. And special prosecutor Jack Smith continues to look like he’s loading the cannon with grapeshot, getting ready to indict Trump on both January 6–related charges and his … expropriation of classified documents.

But this week, we learned that it’s quite possible that none of that is the worst thing he may have done. Noelle Dunphy, who worked for Rudy Giuliani back in 2019, filed a complaint this week alleging all manner of grotesque behavior by her old boss. But even as I waded through that sordid muck, I gasped when I got to paragraph 132:

[Giuliani] also asked Ms. Dunphy if she knew anyone in need of a pardon, telling her that he was selling pardons for $2 million, which he and President Trump would split. He told Ms. Dunphy that she could refer individuals seeking pardons to him, so long as they did not go through “the normal channels” of the Office of the Pardon Attorney, because correspondence going to that office would be subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. 

What?

This hasn’t gotten nearly the attention it deserves, partly because the bulk of her complaint is far more sensational and gross, as it has to do with allegations of forced sexual service and morning boozing, and partly because the news cycle has been pretty crowded this week.

But think about it. A president selling pardons is morally and ethically right up there with the Catholic Church selling indulgences, a practice that has gone down rather poorly in history—and that led, more or less, to the rebellion against the Church that became the Protestant Reformation. As Trump’s possible crimes go, it may not be quite the equal of trying to orchestrate the overthrow of the U.S. government. But it’s bad. It’s impossible to imagine any other recent American president having contemplated such a thing (Nixon? No, not even Nixon, I don’t think). But with Trump … well, of course this is just an allegation, but who on this earth—this earth, not Jim Jordan earth—thinks he’s above such a thing? And Giuliani? The Giuliani I knew 30 years ago would not have done such a thing. But this Giuliani?

Let me put it to you this way. Bill Barr was on Fox this week. Bret Baier asked Barr if he thought such an allegation could be true. Barr sighed: “Uh, I’m skeptical about that. I don’t think Rudy Giuliani would do that. I hope he wouldn’t, but I don’t know.”

Note that Barr expressed the hope that Giuliani wouldn’t do such a thing. But with respect to Trump, he expressed no such hope. Left unsaid but clearly implied: Of course Trump would do such a thing! And this is the guy who shilled for Trump on several occasions.

There’s reason to suspect there may be some fire behind this smoke because this has come up before. In January 2021, when everybody was obsessing over the insurrection, The New York Times reported on the “brisk market” in fees for Trump allies helping to arrange last-minute pardons for various people. There was the case of a onetime Trump adviser who was paid $50,000 to try to get a pardon for John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer convicted of selling classified information. The Times reported that Kiriakou was “separately told” (by whom, it didn’t say) that Giuliani could help him secure a pardon for … $2 million. Kiriakou rejected the offer. Someone told the FBI about it. Giuliani denied it.

Kiriakou appeared on Democracy Now! this week and told Amy Goodman of a meeting he had with Giuliani and others at Trump’s Washington hotel. Kiriakou said he asked Giuliani about a pardon. Giuliani got up and went to the rest room. Kiriakou asked the aide what just happened. The aide said, “You never talk to Rudy about a pardon. You talk to me about a pardon, and I’ll talk to Rudy.” Kiriakou said OK. The aide said: “Rudy’s gonna want $2 million.”

There it is. So paragraph 132 of Dunphy’s complaint didn’t materialize out of thin air (although the fact that it was public previously could conceivably mean Dunphy’s lawyers included it based on those news accounts).

Now let’s look at some of the folks Trump pardoned, or whose sentences he commuted, just before he left office. It was a long, long list. There were a lot of narcotics traffickers, and while this doesn’t exactly mesh with the Republican Party’s hard-line stance on the matter, let’s be kind and assume that some of those were actually sort of humane.

But there were at least seven or eight people who were involved in Ponzi schemes or other forms of fraud. I’m not accusing these people of anything. I’m just pointing out that Trump pardoned (or commuted the sentences of) people who probably had access to or could rustle up a significant amount of cash.

Trump’s already-known abuse of the pardon system is that he pardoned or gave commutations to so many people who were involved with him—Michael Flynn, Roger Stone, and so on. This constituted a flagrant abuse of power. At the Constitutional Convention, when they were debating the pardon power, George Mason said the president “ought not to have the power of pardoning, because he may frequently pardon crimes which were advised by himself. It may happen, at some future day, that he will establish a monarchy, and destroy the republic” (big points for prescience there, eh?). James Madison rejoined that, well, Congress could always impeach such a president. Right.

So Trump has already violated the spirit of the pardon language. Now we learn he might have violated laws too (specifically, these laws). Again, we don’t know it to be true. But surely there’s good reason for the Justice Department to look. And it’s safe to say that this is unlikely to be the last shocking allegation we’ll hear about the man who remains the GOP front-runner for 2024.

This article first appeared in Fighting Words, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by editor Michael Tomasky. Sign up here.

Remember “Defund the Police”? Well, Guess Who’s Actually Proposing Doing It.

The House Republican’s debt ceiling bill has several nasty surprises for anyone who “backs the blue.”

Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy

We hardly go a week without seeing yet another example of Republican hypocrisy. They claim to live according to God’s law and family values, and yet some hectoring moralists in their ranks will splash into the tabloids after getting caught in a love nest. They preach about the rule of law and then back every lawless move Donald Trump makes. They natter on about freedom, but when it comes to the freedoms of women and LGBTQ people, well... I could, as you well know, go on and on.

But here’s a particularly hilarious and galling example of Republican hypocrisy, on display in the ongoing debt ceiling fight. Last week, the House Republicans passed their debt-limit budget bill, with all but four members of their caucus voting aye. The bill puts off the debt limit problem for a year, but in exchange, it demands a raft of the usual right-wing priorities—work requirements for poor people getting government assistance, the repeal of student-loan relief, attacks on Joe Biden’s renewable energy priorities, and, just to show us all how proud they are of their hatred of science, boosts for fossil-fuel production.

The bill also would result in massive cuts to most government programs, because it shields the Pentagon, which eats up about 16 percent of the federal budget, from any trimming. Around two-thirds of federal spending goes to things Congress can’t really change like entitlements and interest payments. That places the remainder of federal spending under the guillotine. The White House says most domestic programs would face cuts of 22 percent.

The list of affected programs includes the usual things Republicans hate. But it also includes some things Republicans claim to love.

What am I referring to here? Well, let’s recall how, in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, activists introduced the phrase “defund the police” into the public discourse. At the time, Republicans tried to hang that phrase on President Joe Biden and Democrats like stink on a pig. But while a handful of Democrats in deep blue districts took up the call, the rest of the party from Biden on down said no, we don’t support that. (Perhaps they should: If we lived in a world where we could have a rational debate about these things, we might be able to agree that police departments handle some matters that would be better attended to by social-service agencies, but that isn’t our world.)

Institutionally, Democrats have never wanted to defund the police. In fact, last year, Biden sought $37 billion in additional federal funding for police departments. The Republican debt ceiling bill, however, would defund the police! At both the local and federal levels.

Let’s look at the numbers. Federal spending on local law enforcement isn’t a huge program. But there are two categories of federal spending on police that are reasonably significant. The Community Oriented Policing Services program, or COPS, doles out $225 million in grants to local police departments. Another grant program called the Byrne-JAG hands out a little more, around $270 million or so. These dollars are used for personnel, equipment, crime prevention, and so on. A lot of money goes to small-city and small-town departments—which is to say, police departments in red America.

Democrats are more inclined, given their interests and priorities, to make noise about social-service cuts. They should do that—those cuts are unpopular too. Some examples: The Office of Management and Budget estimates that the GOP bill would result in the layoffs of 108,000 teachers, and 30 million fewer outpatient visits for veterans.

Americans generally like teachers and veterans. I have days when I think Biden should just roll over, let the Republicans have their way, and say to America, “Okay, folks, let’s live according to Republicans’ priorities for a while,” just so people can feel the impact of the cruelty and hypocrisy in their daily lives. But as a liberal, I actually give a crap about things like kids having an adequate supply of teachers and veterans getting decent care, so I’d rather not subject ordinary Americans to the full impact of the Republican Party’s grand social experiments, edifying though they may be.

Oh—I haven’t even mentioned the border! The southern border is just about all that Republicans talk about. Whenever there’s a huge story that runs against them in the news, a Trump indictment, or some other scandal, I flip on Fox to see how they’re handling it. And nine times out of 10, they’re handling it by yammering about the border. “Border” is the GOP’s safe word. But their debt ceiling bill would eliminate funding for 2,000 border agents!

Finally, their bill would eliminate funding for more than 10,000 FBI personnel. This no longer counts as hypocrisy, I suppose, since Trump has turned those people into deep staters. But it sure can’t be popular. And it will have obvious knock-on effects that could land heavily on ordinary people.

Biden and the Democrats have two roads they can travel here on the debt limit debate in these next three weeks. One is to highlight Republicans’ heartlessness. The other is to showcase their hypocrisy. I see no reason why they can’t do both, and I sure hope Democrats don’t ignore the hypocrisy angle. That theme would also highlight the fact that Republicans happily passed debt limit increases during the Trump presidency when they controlled the Senate and House—twice when they controlled Congress, and once when Democrats did (and Kevin McCarthy voted for all three, by the way).

Republicans do these things because they’re shameless, and they know that the average person is too busy living their lives to sit down and connect these complicated dots on their own. That’s why it’s the White House’s job to do that for them. It’s how Democrats win this fight.

This article first appeared in Fighting Words, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by editor Michael Tomasky. Sign up here.

Rupert Murdoch Must Be Totally and Utterly Humiliated

Forget Tucker Carlson. There are bigger fish to fry.

Rupert Murdoch in 2018
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Rupert Murdoch in 2018

As Tucker Carlson begins to slither out of the news cycle, here’s a reminder to keep our eyes on the prize. The prize—that is, the real enemy of standards and decency and integrity—is Rupert Murdoch. Carlson was a symptom. An unusually disgusting and purulent (great word, look it up!) symptom, but a symptom all the same. The disease is Murdoch.

He has been destroying journalism for 50 years. I’ll get into some of that below. But right now, let’s focus on something that’s happening in England, which I can assure you is something that Rupert is worried about—maybe even more worried than he is about Smartmatic.

Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but, a month out from Prince Charles’s coronation, Prince Harry has been out there shredding his father’s reputation. Harry is part of a large group suing Murdoch’s British media empire, News Group Newspapers, over the old phone-hacking scandal, which Harry and other litigants claim went on far longer than known and extended to the Murdoch property The Sun (so far, only News of the World, shuttered after a massive settlement, has been implicated). In papers released Tuesday, Harry alleges that Queen Elizabeth II wanted to go after Murdoch’s media empire legally but that Charles called her off. This was allegedly because he wanted to stay on Rupe’s good side for the sake of Camilla—that is, so that Murdoch media outlets didn’t make any waves about her becoming queen. Charles may have feared another “Tampongate.”

The internal royal squabbling is an interesting curiosity. But what concerns us more over here is Harry’s crusade against Murdoch. Clive Irving explains in The Daily Beast: “Harry’s attack on the ‘grotesque and sadistic’ London tabloids is likely to bring more reputational harm. Murdoch’s lawyers know this. Harry’s refusal to settle out of court—as thousands of other hacking victims have done because they lack his kind of wealth to support protracted litigation—means that damning documents uncovered during discovery would suddenly be made public in court.”

Harry is out for blood. And unlike the thousands of regular-person victims of the phone-hacking scandal, such as the grieving parents of dead children, Harry has the money to go toe-to-toe with Murdoch in the courtroom. He doesn’t want to settle. He wants all the facts out there, and he wants Murdoch crushed.

The target, aside from Murdoch himself, is Rebekah Brooks, the odious former editor of News of the World who ran the tabloid while the phone hacking was going on. Brooks was acquitted in 2013 of the charge of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, and her lawyers managed to persuade the court that she hadn’t been actively involved in the hacking of people’s phones. Irving reports that Harry’s legal team has discovered new evidence that the hacking happened at The Sun while she was editor there. And they want the British public, and the world, to know. Irving writes that it is estimated in Britain that all this could end up costing Murdoch $1.25 billion.

And now let’s return to Smartmatic, the electronic-voting tech company that’s suing Fox News for $2.7 billion. On Wednesday, CNN reported that Fox agreed to hand over more documents to Smartmatic’s lawyers after the lawyers complained in a letter to the judge about “obvious gaps” in the material Fox had provided. Judge David Cohen is seeking a “broadening of discovery.” One Smartmatic lawyer previously vowed that the Dominion lawsuit had started the demolition of Murdoch’s empire and that Smartmatic would finish the job.

So, in both the United States and England, Murdoch’s ass is on the hot seat in a huge way. The costs still aren’t enough to kill his empire, in all likelihood. But with any luck, the reputational damage will be severe. So severe that pressure builds on cable companies to stop paying the carriage fees that are Fox News’s mother’s milk. These fees, not ad revenue, constitute a majority of Fox’s income. And just last week, Fox asked for a large increase in those fees, Brian Stelter reported. That was after the Dominion settlement but before the firing of Carlson. Fox’s ratings have tumbled since Carlson’s ouster.

I once spent an afternoon in the morgue of the New York Post looking at old papers from late 1976 and early 1977. Why? Because it was January 1977 when Murdoch took over ownership of the paper from Dolly Schiff, the longtime owner of the Post and ardent New Dealer. Schiff’s Post was one of the country’s leading liberal newspapers—and, in those days when there was little tension between liberalism and Zionism, a leading defender of both. And while it was tabloid, it wasn’t supermarket-ish.

Within a month or so, Murdoch’s henchmen had transformed the paper utterly. It was conservative, and it was trashy; whereas Schiff’s Post had shouted, Murdoch’s version screamed at the top of its lungs. Then he took over The Village Voice (just for the money—he didn’t try to change it ideologically), New York magazine, and a local New York TV news channel, and the race was on. It was unheard of at the time that one man should own two newspapers and a magazine. Unheard of and against the laws that then existed. Murdoch just got the laws changed.

He’s been destroying journalism ever since. It’s not even journalism, what his properties do. Oh, they do enough journalism for the purposes of cover. The New York Post has a good sports section. Fox News dayside reports on what happened today. But the point of both properties isn’t to cover the news; it’s to shape and distort and change it. In Britain, by eavesdropping on suffering people. In America, by turning its audience into raging reactionaries who hate their foes so much that they now oppose the democracy they’ve shared with those foes for 250 years. It’s a reign of terror that must end. And now, there is some actual hope that it might.

This article first appeared in Fighting Words, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by editor Michael Tomasky. Sign up here.

First Alex Jones, and Now Fox News—Connect the Dots, People

Gee, how come we don’t see liberal media outlets paying huge settlements in defamation lawsuits?

The legal team representing Fox News
Alex Wong/Getty Images
The legal team representing Fox News on April 18

Last October, jurors in Connecticut ordered Alex Jones to pay nearly $1 billion to the families of the children murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The next month, a judge added another nearly $500 million in various fees. It was described at the time as the largest known defamation award at trial in the history of the United States.

This week, as we know, Fox News settled with Dominion Voting systems for $787.5 million.* This has been described as the largest known defamation settlement in the history of the United States.

Do we see a pattern here, folks? Fox News is the largest right-wing propaganda network in the country. Alex Jones’s Infowars, which includes a website and loads of streamed videos, is not nearly as large as Fox. But it is a “media organization,” or at least gets to act like one under the agreed-upon rules, and it too reaches a hefty audience (around 16 million visitors a month to the website, according to one site I looked at). Indeed Jones, after the 2021 death of Rush Limbaugh but before the defamation award, might have made a plausible claim to being the single most influential voice on the far right (although maybe Tucker Carlson overtook him somewhere in that time frame).

However you rank them, the plain truth is that Alex Jones and Fox News are vastly influential right-wing “media” voices. And now one has been assigned to pay history’s largest defamation award and the other to pay history’s largest defamation settlement.

This is not a coincidence. This is how they roll. Lying is what these people do. Why? A few reasons. Money, mostly, as the Fox-Dominion depositions showed (“It is not red or blue, it’s green,” Rupert Murdoch said). Also, to shock and upset conventional liberal opinion (which is tied to money, of course, because the more shocking they are, the higher the ratings, and the greater the profit).

And finally, for ideological reasons. There isn’t much of an ideological angle in a comment like this one, which Jones made about a grieving parent the night after the shooting: “You know, after you lose your daughter, they put you on some antidepressants or something, but I thought those take a month to kick in. I mean, it’s like a look of absolute satisfaction, like he’s about to accept an Oscar.” But remember that Jones also said this: “Why did Hitler blow up the Reichstag—to get control! Why do governments stage these things—to get our guns! Why can’t people get that through their head?” That’s a clear ideological defense of his lies.

The record would seem to indicate that Fox executives and anchors had no ideological motivation, because said record suggests that they knew Donald Trump was lying about the 2020 election. But their choice to go along with the Big Lie was partly an ideological choice too, and for this reason: They understood the stakes of going along with the lie. They knew very well that if Trump got his way, and states tried to put in substitute slates of electors or Mike Pence refused to certify the electoral votes on January 6, 2021, that would have been the end of more than 240 consecutive years of democratic rule in the U.S. The end! And they went along. It was driven by ratings in the first instance—which is hardly an excuse, by the way—but it was also revealing of the ideology of the place, where democracy takes a distant second to power.

They lie. They lie all the time about practically everything. It’s a strategy. Turn reality on its head. Invert every question. Cherry-pick evidence. Here’s a comparatively benign, wonky example. There’s a recent book out called The Myth of Inequality, co-written by former Senator Phil Gramm, which argues that inequality has shrunk, not increased, over recent decades. One chief claim in the book is that the way we measure inequality doesn’t count transfers of “wealth” to poor people like Medicare and Medicaid. Well … it’s true to some extent that these are resources that are transferred to poorer Americans—but mainly if they get sick! TNR’s Tim Noah demolished this argument last fall, writing: “By Gramm’s logic, the sicker you get, the richer you become.” Gramm and his co-authors also wrote—for real—that Ebenezer Scrooge is misunderstood.

That, as I said, is a more quotidian example of the way they lie, but its very quotidian-ness makes my point: They lie about virtually everything, because reality is at odds with their worldview. Sometimes those lies are merely insidious, with horrible consequences for policymaking and society (that inequality is shrinking; that charter schools do better than public schools). But other times, the lies are vicious and unspeakable, with potentially tragic consequences for society. And they don’t care.

Meanwhile … where are the massive defamation lawsuits against MSNBC, HuffPost, and the like? Funny thing. They don’t exist. It’s not that these outlets, and other mainstream and liberal ones, have never been sued. Everybody makes errors, sometimes fairly bad ones. But we—both the avowedly liberal media and the mainstream media—don’t lie as a strategy. And the right is reduced to trying to catch the mainstream media in lies by … in essence, lying—i.e., sending people like James O’Keefe out to try to dupe people and get them to admit certain things and heavily edit the resulting conversations.

They’ve been lying for years. Reality was bound to catch up. But they still are able to use the cover of the First Amendment to lie—to help destroy, paradoxically, the very democracy that the First Amendment was written to sustain. There is much more to be done to rein them in. Go, Smartmatic.


* This article originally misstated the amount for which Fox settled.

It’s Simple: The Senate Judiciary Committee Must Subpoena Clarence Thomas Now

What are you prepared to do, Democrats?

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Remember that great early scene from The Untouchables? Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) and Officer Malone (Sean Connery) are sitting in a church. Ness says he wants to get Capone. Malone (Sean Connery) responds: “What are you prepared to do?” It’s a simple but emotionally powerful scene.

Malone goes on to recommend certain extralegal courses of action that I hasten to point out I do not endorse in the current instance, but: We now know, thanks to the heroic trio at ProPublica (Justin Elliott, Joshua Kaplan, and Alex Mierjeski) that Clarence Thomas violated the law. Their earlier reporting on Thomas from two weeks ago was stunning enough, about all the trips and gifts Thomas accepted from megadonor Harlan “Hey, they’re just World War II souvenirs!” Crow. But even that jaw-dropping report had to be qualified: Crow’s “apparent” gifts to Thomas, whose failure to disclose them “appears” to violate the law.

Now there is little such ambiguity. Crow bought a house Thomas owned in Savannah, Georgia, in 2014 for $133,000. A federal law passed after Watergate requires officials—including Supreme Court justices—to disclose the details of most real estate transactions worth more than $1,000. There is an exception in the law for primary residences, but that doesn’t apply here—Thomas didn’t live there, and neither did his wife. The law says Thomas was required to provide “a brief description, the date, and category of value of any purchase, sale or exchange during the preceding calendar year which exceeds $1,000.” He did not.

As responsible journalists and not lawyers, ProPublica’s reporters don’t say outright that it’s a violation of law. But they quote legal experts who do say so. “He needed to report his interest in the sale,” said Virginia Canter, a former government ethics lawyer now at the watchdog group CREW. Interestingly, Thomas filed a disclosure for 2014 that, ProPublica reports, got rather specific: “Thomas’ financial disclosure for that year is detailed, listing everything from a ‘stained glass medallion’ he received from Yale to a life insurance policy. But he failed to report his sale to Crow.”

Hmmm. Why would that be?

It’s hard to imagine a legitimate excuse. A major donor who’d been giving Clarence and Ginni Thomas lavish gifts for years finally went so far as to purchase a house he owned (Thomas shared ownership with his brother and mother). Thomas obviously made money from the sale. He didn’t disclose it. Obviously, the intent of the law is for the public to know about such matters. Thomas decided the public had a right to know about his stained-glass medallion but not this house.

This brings us to the Democrats.

Earlier this week, I wrote in response to ProPublica’s first report that the Democrats need to destroy Thomas’s reputation by holding hearings on his dealings, which of course is something they’ve never done. “Have a long hearing that lays bare every instance of his and his wife’s corrupt activities in a high-profile venue that Americans will watch,” I wrote. “Make the case to swing-voting Americans that he is dishonoring the court’s name and reputation; drive his approval ratings into the toilet (in a 2022 YouGov poll, Thomas already had the highest ‘very unfavorable’ rating of the nine justices, at 32 percent); and force the Republican senators to vote to keep this clearly undeserving, mediocre, arrogant, unscrupulous hornswoggler on the court.”

Now the case for action is even clearer. But action by whom? There’s only one serious contender: the Senate Judiciary Committee. It’s controlled by the Democrats, and they can do whatever they are prepared to do. But what exactly is that?

Last Monday, after the first ProPublica report, committee Chairman Dick Durbin vowed that the committee “will act.” He did not elaborate on that. Later, he urged Chief Justice John Roberts to investigate Thomas. Then I saw on cable news Thursday night (I can’t find anything online Friday morning) that he called on Merrick Garland to do something.

Mr. Chairman: Stop tossing the football around. You have a gavel, and you have subpoena power. Subpoena Clarence Thomas. Next week.

What? Horrors! Subpoena a Supreme Court justice? Can that even be done?

Yes. Congress can subpoena anybody it wants to. In fact, it has been done, at least once. In 1953, the House Un-American Activities Committee subpoenaed Associate Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark, who had been Harry Truman’s attorney general. It also subpoenaed James Byrnes, who had been Truman’s secretary of state—and Truman himself! This was all prompted by charges leveled by Herbert Brownell, Dwight Eisenhower’s attorney general, that Truman had knowingly as president appointed a Russian spy to an International Monetary Fund position (this was the economist Harry Dexter White; the general historical verdict is that White did pass some classified information to the Soviet Union but was not a Communist or Marxist dedicated to Soviet triumph in the Philby-Burgess sense).

None of them ever appeared before the committee, and sure, HUAC does not represent one of our country’s proudest moments by a long shot. I admit that gives me a moment’s pause. But we are not in the middle of a Red Scare here. There is no witch hunt taking place of prominent right-wingers (well, if you live on normal Earth, there’s not). No careers are being destroyed. All we have here is a man, one man, one very corrupt man, who is supposed to be one of this nation’s nine most preeminent lawgivers but who clearly thinks he is above the law.

And this returns us to Malone. Senator Durbin: What are you prepared to do?