‘Detached From Reality’ Is Trump’s Best Defense at This Point

“Attorney General Bill Barr..said former President Donald Trump’s insistence that the 2020 election had been stolen from him indicated he was “detached from reality.” Ironically, that seemingly damning assessment of Trump’s state of mind might be his best defense against a possible criminal prosecution.

The Jan. 6 Committee has spent a great deal of time during its first two hearings trying to prove that Trump knew he lost the 2020 election fair and square. On Monday, they effectively used the testimony of Trump’s former staff and lawyers to hammer home that Trump was repeatedly told the vote totals went against him, that allegations of election fraud were bogus and that he continued to spread them to his followers anyway.”

“as several former Trump insiders testified, the former president clung to implausible conspiracy theories advanced by a handful of legal advisers such as Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman and Sidney Powell.”

“prosecutors would have to overcome the likely defense that Trump sincerely believed the election had been stolen because he had been told so by people he believed were knowledgeable. Defendants usually don’t go to prison for following legal advice. While Eastman, Giuliani and Powell were conspiracy theorists whose claims were thrown out of multiple courts, they also were lawyers with, at one time, good credentials. Trump’s defense team would argue that he trusted them and relied on their advice. Poor judgment might disqualify someone for public office, but it is not, in and of itself, a crime.”

” That would also be a defense to another potential charge — that Trump obstructed an official proceeding, which requires proof that Trump had corrupt intent. A federal judge recently found that it was “more likely than not” that Trump had corrupt intent, relying on the fact that Pence and others told Trump that Eastman’s plan to set aside valid slates of electors and send the process back to the states was illegal. But in the context of a federal jury trial, Trump would only need to convince one juror that there was reasonable doubt that he believed a plan proposed to him by a prominent lawyer (who had once been a former Supreme Court clerk) was lawful.”

“Garland has been dealt a difficult hand. Many who view the committee hearings will assume that the mountain of evidence amassed by the committee would be more than sufficient to convict Trump. But Garland and his team must know that such a case would be a coin flip at best, and federal prosecutors don’t win over 95 percent of their cases by rolling the dice. They charge defendants when they know they have the goods, and based on what we’ve seen so far, they don’t have an airtight case against Trump.”

What’s in the Senate’s new gun control bill

“Under the legislation, $750 million would be allotted over the next five years to help states implement red flag laws, which allow authorities to temporarily confiscate guns from individuals deemed a threat to themselves or others. (Similar laws already exist in 19 states and the District of Columbia.) The legislation allows for the implementation of these programs through mental health, drug and veterans’ courts.

Republicans involved in the negotiations pushed to make sure no one is flagged without “the right to an in-person hearing, an unbiased adjudicator, the right to know opposing evidence, the right to present evidence, and the right to confront adverse witnesses,” as well as a right to bring counsel to the hearing.

“Under this bill, every state will be able to use significant new federal dollars to be able to expand their programs to try to stop dangerous people, people contemplating mass murder or suicide, from being able to have access to the weapons that allow them to perpetrate that crime,” Murphy said in a floor speech.”

“While spouses, co-parents or cohabitating partners convicted of domestic violence are already banned from purchasing firearms, abusers in relationships between people who are not married and live separately are still able to purchase guns, creating the so-called “boyfriend loophole.” (According to Everytown, a gun safety advocacy group, about 70 women are shot and killed by an intimate partner every month.)

Under the new legislation, anyone convicted of domestic violence against a former or current dating partner would be banned from purchasing a weapon.”

“The legislation calls for an expansion of background checks into buyers under 21 years of age, providing three business days for the check into their criminal and mental health history to be completed. If that background check finds something questionable in a potential buyer’s record, the legislation would provide for an additional seven business days to look into the buyer.”

“The bill provides funding for expanding access to mental health services, including making it easier for Americans on Medicaid to use telehealth services and work with “community-based mental health and substance use disorder treatment providers and organizations.” And it would provide additional funding for the national suicide prevention hotline (since guns accounted for a majority of suicide deaths in 2020) while schools would receive funding to increase the number of staff members providing mental health services.”

“The bill also provides $300 million for the STOP School Violence Act for increased security at schools, although some Democrats had expressed concern about this aspect of the bill.”

“The legislation would also require more sellers to register as “Federally Licensed Firearm Dealers,” including anyone who sells guns to “predominantly earn a profit.” These sellers would in turn be required to run background checks on potential buyers and keep records of the sales.

The bill would also impose penalties on “straw” purchasers who buy guns for people who can’t pass a background check.”

Gun safety deal puts Cornyn’s Republican cred on the line

“Cornyn hoped to get as many as 20 Republican votes for his legislation, which would enact new enhanced background checks on people younger than 21, grant states money for red flag laws and crisis intervention and close a loophole on domestic abusers’ firearm access. On Monday the vast majority of the conference voted against advancing the legislation, with 14 Republicans voting to advance the legislation and supportive Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) absent.”

“Faced with a chorus of boos and a rebuke from the Texas GOP over the weekend, Cornyn got a taste of what the reaction could be on the right for Republicans who vote for the Senate’s bill designed to curb mass shootings in America. What’s more, on Monday evening the NRA announced opposition to the package crafted by a quartet of senators that includes Cornyn, whose A+ rating from the gun group is probably about to take a downgrade.”

4 things we learned from Monday’s January 6 hearing

“Barr, along with other administration officials, described playing “whack-a-mole” with Trump’s false claims of fraud.

Every time one false claim was dispelled, they said, the former president would bring up another. Aides repeatedly intervened to tell Trump that he had lost the election, and described taking each claim seriously, investigating it until they had the facts and reporting back to Trump. Former acting Attorney General Richard Donoghue described one meeting during which Trump seemed to accept the gathered evidence, but for each conspiracy theory aides were able to explain away, he had another he’d latch onto.

Barr described one popular conspiracy theory around the 2020 election, that it had been rigged by voting machine malfeasance, as “idiotic.” Other Justice Department officials testified that they repeatedly insisted to Trump that other conspiracy theories around the election were simply “not true,” including viral claims of ballot box stuffing in Georgia promoted by Giuliani or Trump’s false claims of “big massive dumps” of illegal votes.

Essentially, the committee suggested, Trump knew or should have known that his lies about the election were, as Barr put it, “bullshit.” But he repeated them anyway, which helped lead to the violence on January 6.”

The January 6 committee calls Trump out for his scams

“In the second January 6 hearing, House lawmakers argued Monday that former President Donald Trump not only engaged in the “big lie” — promoting the false narrative that the election was stolen from him — but also what they dubbed the “big ripoff.” Effectively, they said, Trump conned his supporters into giving him $250 million to contest the election results, while actually funneling many of those funds elsewhere, including to a nonprofit led by former chief of staff Mark Meadows and to Trump’s own hotels.

“We found evidence that the Trump campaign and its surrogates misled donors as to where their funds would go and what they would be used for,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) said in a closing statement for the hearing. “So not only was there the big lie, there was the big ripoff.”

As video testimony from former Trump campaign officials revealed, small-dollar donors were bombarded with emails to donate to an official “Election Defense Fund” in the wake of the 2020 election. Those donors were told that fund was aimed at combating (nonexistent) election fraud. In reality, however, no such fund existed, according to the House committee investigating the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot.

“I don’t believe there was actually a fund called the Election Defense Fund,” Hanna Allred, a former Trump campaign staffer, testified to the committee. Ultimately, the fund was what another staffer categorized as a “marketing tactic” to bring in more money, most of which did not go to election-related litigation.

Instead, many of the funds were directed to a newly created Save America PAC, which has contributed millions to other pro-Trump groups. That includes $1 million to the Conservative Partnership Institute, a charity foundation helmed by Meadows, $5 million to Event Strategies Inc., the vendor that put on Trump’s January 6 rally, and $204,857 to the Trump Hotel Collection.”

AOC Defends Due Process as Colleagues Greenlight Asset Seizure Bill

“The bill does not suggest that those whose assets are seized must be linked to—let alone convicted of—any crime. Rather, it states that the Biden administration shall “determine the constitutional mechanisms through which the President can take steps to seize and confiscate assets under the jurisdiction of the United States” of any foreign person on whom the president has imposed sanctions due to their links to Putin’s regime.

Nor does it require that sanctions and asset seizure be linked to corruption; political “support for” the Putin administration is enough.

Of course, in a country like Russia, where dissidence can be punished gravely, support may be a matter of (economic and sometimes literal) survival. Is it really fair for the U.S. to punish people for this?

Alas, a lot of legislators think so. The Asset Seizure for Ukraine Reconstruction Act passed the House by a vote of 417–8 on Thursday.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–N.Y.) was one of just eight “no” votes on the measure.

“This vote asked President Biden to violate the 4th Amendment, seize private property, and determine where it would go – all without due process,” AOC said in a statement. “This sets a risky new precedent in the event of future Presidents who may seek to abuse that expansion of power, especially with so many of our communities already fighting civil asset forfeiture.”

It’s a very valid concern—and the kind all too rare among lawmakers and among political partisans more broadly.”

The Extreme Bias Of Florida’s New Congressional Map

“the Florida Legislature finally caved to DeSantis’s wishes and passed one of his proposed congressional maps — the last major piece in the national redistricting puzzle. And befitting DeSantis’s national reputation (and ambitions), it is a dream map for partisan Republicans, single-handedly adding four new Republicans to the U.S. House of Representatives. But while DeSantis’s uncompromising insistence on maximizing Republican power may give him a nice story to tell if he runs for president, it could also be the map’s undoing in court.”

“This map will significantly shake up Florida’s congressional delegation, as it virtually guarantees that Democrats will lose three of their House seats in Florida”

“The map has an efficiency gap of R+20, which means Republicans would be expected to win 20 percent more seats under this map than under a hypothetical, perfectly fair map. Because Florida has 28 congressional seats, that translates to a 5.7-seat Republican bias — right on Texas’s heels for the “honor” of having the biggest bias of any state.”

“it didn’t have to be this way. Republicans in the Legislature initially passed maps that were significantly less biased. The state House passed a map in March that would have created 15 seats that were R+5 or redder and had an R+13 efficiency gap (though according to the inventors of efficiency gap, that would still qualify as gerrymandered). And in January, the state Senate passed a map that was close enough to fair (an efficiency gap of only R+6) that even most Democratic senators voted for it.
But DeSantis pledged to veto them both, insisting that only one of his uber-aggressive proposals would do.”

Josh Hawley Absurdly Suggests That Ketanji Brown Jackson Has a Soft Spot for ‘Child Predators’

“After President Joe Biden nominated Ketanji Brown Jackson for the Supreme Court, Reason’s Damon Root noted that she “has shown admirable judgment in criminal justice cases.” One especially telling example is Jackson’s handling of people charged with possessing or sharing child pornography, who face absurdly long sentences under federal law even when they have never committed any offenses involving contact with a victim.

Questioning those sentences is politically perilous, since people tend to erroneously assume that anyone who looks at such pictures is a current or future child molester. Yet as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Jackson frequently imposed sentences below the range recommended by federal guidelines. Sen. Josh Hawley (R–Mo.), a former Missouri attorney general, thinks those decisions reveal an “alarming pattern” of “sentencing leniency for sex criminals,” whom he equates with “child predators.”

Hawley has no idea what he is talking about. His mindlessly punitive attitude elides crucial distinctions and ignores the fact that many federal judges agree with Jackson that the recommended sentences for possessing child pornography are frequently excessive.

Jackson, who is currently a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, was a member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) from 2009 to 2014. During that time, Jackson recognized that people caught with child pornography do not necessarily pose a threat to public safety. Hawley cites a hearing at which Jackson said she had mistakenly “assumed that child pornography offenders are pedophiles” and was “trying to understand this category of nonpedophiles who obtain child pornography.”

While Hawley implies that Jackson’s interest in this subject is clearly crazy, it is consistent with research that underlines the importance of a distinction that Hawley ignores in his haste to score cheap political points. As Karl Hanson, a senior research scientist at Public Safety Canada and a leading expert on sex offenders, told me more than a decade ago, “there does exist a distinct group of offenders who are Internet-only and do not present a significant risk for hands-on sex offending.”

Recidivism research supports that observation. A 2021 USSC study, for example, tracked 1,093 nonproduction child pornography offenders who were released from prison in 2005. Three years later, it found, 3.3 percent had been arrested for a “non-contact sex offense” (which would include possession of child pornography). Just 1.3 percent had been arrested for a “contact sex offense.” Even allowing for crimes that were not reported, these finding suggests this category of sex offenders is far less dangerous than people commonly imagine.

Hawley is completely uninterested in such findings. He even faults Jackson for referring to “less-serious child pornography offender[s],” a complaint that bizarrely implies there are no differences among such defendants that might be relevant to the punishment they receive. As far as lawmakers like Hawley are concerned, there is no such thing as an excessively severe sentence for possessing child pornography.”

“In fiscal year 2019, the USSC found, 59 percent of nonproduction offenders received sentences below the guideline range, compared to less than 16 percent in FY 2005. “There had been a steady increase in the percentage of sentences imposed below the applicable guideline range in non-production child pornography cases,” the USSC notes, “which indicate[s] that courts increasingly believed the sentencing scheme for such offenders was overly severe.”

In other words, the downward departures that Hawley presents as aberrant, marking Jackson as especially soft on “sex criminals,” are actually typical.”

“Hawley’s case against Jackson is based entirely on the unquestioned assumption that the current sentencing scheme is just and that any downward deviations from it must be inappropriately lenient. He cites one defendant, for example, who “had more than 600 images and videos and posted many on a public blog.” The guidelines recommended a sentence of 151 to 188 months, but “Judge Jackson settled on 60 months, the lowest possible sentence allowed by law.”

While a sentence of 12 to 15 years might be appropriate (or even too lenient) for someone who sexually abuses a child, Hawley thinks it’s obviously just for a defendant whose crimes consisted of nothing more than collecting and sharing images of such abuse. He likewise thinks it’s obvious that a five-year sentence for such conduct is akin to a slap on the wrist. Many people, including many federal judges, disagree.

Hawley’s sense of justice does not even comport with the views of average citizens who serve on federal juries. In a 2014 case involving a defendant who was caught with 1,500 child porn images on his computer, for example, James Gwin, a federal judge in Cleveland, asked the jurors what they thought an appropriate sentence would be. On average, they recommended a prison term of 14 months—far shorter than the mandatory minimum (five years), the sentence recommended by prosecutors (20 years), and the term indicated by federal sentencing guidelines (27 years).

Taking a cue from the jury, Gwin sentenced the defendant to five years, the minimum required by statute, which was one-quarter the term that prosecutors wanted but still four times longer than the jurors deemed fair. No doubt Hawley would consider five years insufficient in that case as well. But he does not bother to defend that position, except by lazily and ignorantly classifying all such defendants as “sex criminals” who are “preying on children.”

As a federal judge in Iowa, Mark W. Bennett likewise found that jurors did not agree with the sentences that Hawley believes are self-evidently appropriate. “Every time I ever went back in the jury room and asked the jurors to write down what they thought would be an appropriate sentence,” Bennett told The Marshall Project’s Eli Hager in 2015, “every time—even here, in one of the most conservative parts of Iowa, where we haven’t had a ‘not guilty’ verdict in seven or eight years—they would recommend a sentence way below the guidelines sentence. That goes to show that the notion that the sentencing guidelines are in line with societal mores about what constitutes reasonable punishment—that’s baloney.””

“”Protecting the most vulnerable shouldn’t be up for debate,” Hawley says. “Sending child predators to jail shouldn’t be controversial.” But the issue is not whether “child predators” should go to jail. It is whether defendants who are not “child predators” should be imprisoned for, say, 14 months (as the jurors in the Ohio case recommended), five years (the mandatory minimum in that case), or, as Hawley presumably would prefer, the 27 years recommended by federal sentencing guidelines.”