Good Friday Morning! Especially to me because I’m back on a regular writing schedule. For the last year or so, every time a new CPI report dropped, that’s what I’d focus on for the newsletter. But when a former President’s house gets raided by the FBI, that ends up being the more important story.
On inflation, the report was where I thought it’d be for the month. As I said a few weeks ago, “I expect the following CPI report in August to be lower than the July report. The primary reason for that is that gas prices dropped for the majority of the month. That drop slowed towards the end, but the decline cannot be discounted. It will likely generate a better CPI report (a similar dynamic played out earlier this spring).”
The key is this: where do commodities go as we get into fall? Notably, food prices continued to increase in the CPI data, despite the drop in gasoline. Housing and rent are rising too. For all the talk of a 0.0% July inflation report, consumers aren’t going to feel much relief beyond the gas pump, and even oil has leveled off after a drop. Markets are likely in the middle of a rally, a large bear market rally.
All eyes are now on the Federal Reserve. I think it’d be a policy mistake for them to slow down rate hikes here, but I suspect they’ll slow to 50 basis points at a minimum, and others think they’ll go lower. September looms for the Fed. We’ll see what happens. I’m getting into the FBI’s raid on Trump’s residency below – links to follow.
Where you can find me this week
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[8/5/2022] Biden was right, he does get to face another recession – Conservative Institute
[8/8/2022] From jobs reports to Congress, Democrats deliver bad news – Conservative Institute
[8/12/2022] McCarthy, GOP signal start of Hunter Biden probe – Conservative Institute
A bizarre raid that opens Pandora’s box.
It’s hard to come up with another description of the FBI raid on Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence beyond the word “bizarre.” I use that word because nothing around this makes sense, the media reaction makes even less sense, and the DOJ is saying one thing while leaking another.
With these things, I like to start with what we know, but so much is unknown here. So far, very little has changed from the initial Associated Press report:
The Justice Department has been investigating the potential mishandling of classified information since the National Archives and Records Administration said it had received from Mar-a-Lago 15 boxes of White House records, including documents containing classified information, earlier this year. The National Archives said Trump should have turned over that material upon leaving office, and it asked the Justice Department to investigate.
Christina Bobb, a lawyer for Trump, said in an interview that aired on Real America’s Voice on Tuesday that investigators said they were “looking for classified information that they think should not have been removed from the White House, as well as presidential records.”
There are multiple federal laws governing the handling of classified records and sensitive government documents, including statutes that make it a crime to remove such material and retain it at an unauthorized location. Though a search warrant does not necessarily mean criminal charges are near or even expected, federal officials looking to obtain one must first demonstrate to a judge that they have probable cause that a crime occurred.
Two people familiar with the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation, said the search Monday was related to the records probe. Agents were also looking to see if Trump had additional presidential records or any classified documents at the estate.
We also know, from AG Merrick Garland’s speech, that this got approved at the highest levels of the federal government. At the end of his speech, he said:
Federal law, longstanding Department rules, and our ethical obligations prevent me from providing further details as to the basis of the search at this time. There are, however, certain points I want you to know.
First, I personally approved the decision to seek a search warrant in this matter.
Second, the Department does not take such a decision lightly. Where possible, it is standard practice to seek less intrusive means as an alternative to a search, and to narrowly scope any search that is undertaken.
Third, let me address recent unfounded attacks on the professionalism of the FBI and Justice Department agents and prosecutors. I will not stand by silently when their integrity is unfairly attacked.
I have to add here if Garland personally approved the decision, then there is exactly a zero percent chance Joe Biden didn’t know about the raid. The official White House line is “The president was not briefed, was not aware of it,” White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters. “No one at the White House was given a heads-up,” she added.”
That’s just a bald-faced lie. The idea that the Attorney General of the United States, appointed by the President, would not inform the current President (his boss) that the Department of Justice was about to execute a raid on the former President, approved by the Attorney General, is utter hogwash. I can’t think of a single President-Attorney General pairing in US history where something like this wouldn’t go to the White House — immediately.
Garland told the other lie. He said ethical obligations prevented him from providing further details. Yet a few hours after that speech, which offered little new, the Washington Post reported that the raid was about nuclear secrets. The DOJ is leaking the Washington Post to set expectations, a strategy that Garland is also approving:
Classified documents relating to nuclear weapons were among the items FBI agents sought in a search of former president Donald Trump’s Florida residence on Monday, according to people familiar with the investigation.
Experts in classified information said the unusual search underscores deep concern among government officials about the types of information they thought could be located at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club and potentially in danger of falling into the wrong hands.
This is a marked change from earlier reports like the AP above and this WSJ description, “A warrant approved by a federal magistrate judge refers to the Presidential Records Act and the possible violation of law over the handling of classified information, people who have seen it have said.” The NYT provides a bland description, “Two people briefed on the classified documents that investigators believed remained at Mar-a-Lago indicated that they were so sensitive, and related to national security, that the Justice Department had to act.”
Of all the sources, the WSJ is the only one quoting the subpoena. This next point should go without saying, but the Presidential Records Act is not enough for a warrant and raid like this, especially on a political basis. I saw some commentators say that this subpoena was like any other, which is a farce. It’s impossible to escape the politics of this situation. If you’re going to serve a warrant and raid the residence of a former President — you had better be right, it had better be worth it, and the evidence had better be damning.
The other thing about this is that if actual nuclear information was involved, it seems incomprehensible that they’d wait 19 months to go after it. I do not doubt that classified information was in the stuff Trump had, but the question is, what makes him worth a raid, and Hilary Clinton not?
I’m not making a “whataboutism” claim. I mean this literally. One of the first pieces I wrote as a newsletter/essay in 2016 was about Hilary Clinton walking away free despite doing everything the same here. This is the quote from James Comey I led that piece with, “…although the Department of Justice makes final decisions on matters like this, we [the FBI] are expressing to [the Justice Department] our view that no charges are appropriate in this case.”
They described her conduct as “grossly negligent.” Classified information was front and center, with some information containing the highest levels of classified markings. There was even a genuine concern that foreign entities had hacked Clinton’s private server — which was built to defy federal laws.
Trump had physical documents in a safe. According to the WSJ, the documents at issue were stored under lock and key:
Aides to Mr. Trump have said they had been cooperating with the department to get the matter settled. The former president even popped into the June 3 meeting at Mar-a-Lago, shaking hands. “I appreciate the job you’re doing,” he said, according to a person familiar with the exchange. “Anything you need, let us know.”
Five days later, Trump attorney Evan Corcoran received an email from Mr. Bratt, the chief of the Justice Department’s counterintelligence and export control section, who oversees investigations involving classified information.
“We ask that the room at Mar-a-Lago where the documents had been stored be secured and that all the boxes that were moved from the White House to Mar-a-Lago (along with any other items in that room) be preserved in that room in their current condition until further notice,” according to what was read to The Wall Street Journal over the phone.
Mr. Corcoran wrote back, “Jay, thank you. I write to acknowledge receipt of this letter. With best regards, Evan.” By the next day, according to a person familiar with the events, a larger lock was placed on the door. It was the last communication between the men until Monday’s search of Mar-a-Lago, according to the person.
On June 22, the Trump Organization, the name for Mr. Trump’s family business, received a subpoena for surveillance footage from cameras at Mar-a-Lago. That footage was turned over, according to an official.
On a sunny Monday morning, Aug. 8, a new set of agents arrived and began a search for documents at around 9 a.m. The warrant, signed by a judge in Palm Beach County, refers to the Presidential Records Act and possible violation of law over handling of classified information, according to Christina Bobb, a lawyer for the former president. The warrant hasn’t been made public by Mr. Trump nor has the inventory of documents retrieved by the government.
An unsecured private server is far more dangerous to national security than boxes in a locked room. And it’s hard to make the case that the danger to the country was so great that it required a subpoena and raid.
I am open and willing to admit I may be wrong here. Maybe Trump was keeping something that was incredibly dangerous that he should have done. But it’s hard to square the evidence with the outrageous politics. And it’s even harder to square the Clinton precedence with what is happening with Trump.
George Will, no fan of Trump, had an excellent take in this regard. Talking about Garland, Will said:
His current job as attorney general inescapably involves making judgments that are inherently political. They involve exercising discretion about when to wield government power, and for what ends. Furthermore, the best quality of politics at its best is prudence: adjusting tidy principles to untidy realities. This requires making judgments that balance competing objectives.
As this is written Thursday, there are important unanswered questions about who instigated the search of Mar-a-Lago, and why. One remarkable aspect of this debacle, however, is that vigorous disgust need not wait until we know those answers: Try to imagine a justification for this flamboyant exercise of — what? Law enforcement? What was important enough to bring to a rolling boil the already simmering suspicions of tens of millions of Americans about tentacles of the “deep state” engaging in partisan skulduggery?
Trump might have broken laws pertaining to presidential documents. So, cue those who believe that “No person is above the law” is a thought that makes further thinking unnecessary. However, the punctilious enforcement of every law, no matter how complex the social context, is zombie governance by people spouting bromides to avoid making complex judgments.
In one way, this week’s behavior by the FBI and the Justice Department was not unusual, unfortunately. Hardly a day passes without some government entity vindicating historian Robert Conquest’s axiom: “The behavior of any bureaucratic organization can best be understood by assuming that it is controlled by a secret cabal of its enemies.”
This nation is running low on an indispensable ingredient of a successful society: trust, in institutions and one another. This week was another subtraction. Garland has said about the Justice Department, “We will and we must speak through our work.” Actually, his political duty is to explain and justify his work more thoroughly than he did in his minimalist statement Thursday afternoon.
Again, this is a bizarre moment. It makes little sense politically because this moment emphatically helps Trump in his bid for 2024. He can say that Biden has hounded him with the DOJ while the same people cover for the Clintons. I know, early on, there was talk that if Trump were found guilty of a crime, he would no longer be eligible to run for office.
That is what the statute says. However, that statute would get struck down as unconstitutional in a 9-0 Supreme Court decision if it ever got litigated. The Constitution is the first and only arbiter of what determines who can run for office — statutes can’t add onto those requirements. Josh Blackman covers some other particulars at Volokh, but there’s no way the laws involved here will bar Trump from office.
It’s bizarre because it helps Trump. The DOJ is now in a place where it’s getting forced to defend the actions that make it appear that they’re targeting the person most likely to run against their current boss. And they’ve opened the floodgates to much worse. Republicans will subpoena Hunter Biden, and in the process, they’ll go after Joe Biden too. Why wouldn’t they? What Democrats have launched here will come back to haunt them later. That’s a guarantee.
I’ll leave you with the WSJ Editorial Board, which gets this exactly right:
It’s nice to hear Mr. Garland say he personally signed off on the search. But it’s a little much to hear him lecture the country that it’s beyond the pale to criticize the FBI. After the Russia collusion fraud, the Steele dossier con, the misleading FISA requests for the Carter Page warrants, and the Robert Mueller whitewash of all of that, there are plenty of reasons for Americans to take a don’t-trust-but-verify attitude to the bureau. This isn’t disdain for the rule of law. It’s well-earned skepticism.
By sanctioning the Mar-a-Lago search, Mr. Garland has broken a political norm that has stood for 232 years. He had better have enough evidence to justify it in the end, or he will have unleashed political forces and a legal precedent that Democrats as much as Donald Trump may come to regret.
Links of the week
What scientists know — and don’t know — about how monkeypox spreads – Megan Molteni, Stat News
These Families Thought Food Inflation Was Bad in 2021. It Only Got Worse: A year ago, Bloomberg chronicled the lives of four households around the world who were struggling to put meals on the table. Here’s how they’re doing now. – Bloomberg
Can Portions of States Secede from Those States? – Eugene Volokh, Volokh Conspiracy
National Archives official who notified DOJ in Trump probe declined to do the same over Clinton emails: Ferriero said he didn’t believe it was ‘appropriate or necessary to notify the DOJ about Hillary Clinton’s emails in 2015 – Fox News
Judge who OK’d Mar-a-Lago raid Obama donor once linked to Jeffrey Epstein – Miranda Devine, Mark Moore, and Samuel Chamberlain, NYPost
NY Times staffer wanted to check with Schumer before running Sen. Tim Scott op-ed, Bari Weiss says: Weiss spilled more drama on the liberal bias within the New York Times during her podcast Wednesday – Fox News
Evictions spiking as assistance, protections disappear – Associated Press
UK Plans for Blackouts in January in Emergency Energy Plan: Reasonable worst-case scenario envisages 4-day power shortfall Industry, households could face planned power outages – Rachel Morison, Bloomberg
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire of the week
Dublin Woman Marks Death Of Olivia Newton-John By Watching VHS Of Grease For 1,312th Time – Waterford Whispers News
Thanks for reading!