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Happy Thursday morning.
Former President Donald Trump will return to Washington today, but not in the triumphant way that he wants.
Trump is scheduled to be arraigned at 4 p.m. at the E. Barrett Prettyman Courthouse on Constitution Avenue. He’s facing four felony charges related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, including his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection. The arraignment will be overseen by Magistrate Judge Moxila Upadhyaya, while another judge will handle the criminal trial.
With the White House — and his former hotel — just a short distance away, Trump is expected to be booked and processed by the U.S. Marshals Service, including fingerprinted, although he won’t have his mugshot taken.
It’s unclear whether Trump — who has been staying at his club in Bedminster, N.J. — will hold a press conference following the arraignment. His team didn’t rule it out Wednesday evening, but the schedule was still fluid heading into today.
If Trump does, there will be a host of TV cameras there to greet him. Reporters from major TV and news organizations were already lining up Wednesday afternoon for a prime spot at the proceedings.
We also don’t know whether any members of Congress will be there to support the former president. We didn’t get the sense that throngs of GOP lawmakers were planning to do so, but there could be some, as when Trump was indicted in Manhattan. The House and Senate are on recess for the August break, which means the court session today will be somewhat less of a spectacle than if lawmakers were in town.
The multitude of police departments in the nation’s capital — the U.S. Capitol Police, Metropolitan Police Department, Park Police, Marshals Service and the Federal Protective Service — have been preparing for the indictment and arraignment for weeks. They held several calls Wednesday to review their protection plans, sources said.
“We’re prepared for tomorrow,” U.S. Capitol Police Chief Thomas Manger told reporters Wednesday, following what turned out to be a false report of an active shooter in one of the Senate office buildings just up the street.
Kaitlan Collins of CNN had former Trump attorney general Bill Barr on her new show Wednesday night. This is an interview that is well worth watching, as was Collins’ interview with the Trump defense lawyer John Lauro Tuesday night.
Barr — who very publicly broke with Trump following the 2020 election, including resigning from the Justice Department — said the case against Trump is “complicated” and has plenty of downsides. But the longtime legal figure pushed back on several of Trump’s defenses.
Barr told Collins that the First Amendment “does not protect you from entering into a conspiracy. All conspiracies involve speech and all fraud involves speech. So free speech doesn’t give you the right to engage in a fraudulent conspiracy.”
Barr added that Trump’s argument that he was simply listening to advice from lawyers would open up the former president to cross examination. In the former attorney general’s mind that, “would not come out very well for him.”
Furthermore, Barr said he believes special counsel Jack Smith has “a lot more to come, a lot more evidence as to President Trump’s state of mind” than was included in the indictment.
One more thing: Barr said he would “not get into” whether he’s spoken to Smith. Smith served in the Justice Department while Barr was AG.
— John Bresnahan and Jake Sherman
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Comer, self-declared election certifier, defends Trump
House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) is in an awkward spot.
One of Comer’s go-to responses when questioned on his credibility to investigate President Joe Biden is to tout his vote certifying the results of the 2020 election.
But in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s indictment over efforts to overturn that election, Comer has fallen in line with the majority of Hill Republicans.
On Tuesday, Comer told Fox News that the indictment marked “a sad day for the rule of law” and “a sad day for the justice system in America.” The Oversight Committee chair even speculated that the indictment was intended to distract from his panel’s investigation into Biden and his family’s business dealings.
Yet when we asked Comer recently about his vote to certify Biden’s victory, the Kentucky Republican struck a different tone.
“I think there’s a difference between me and some of the Democrats on the Oversight Committee, maybe all the Democrats,” Comer told us. “When I see a leader in my party that may not be exactly right in something, I’ll stand up and do the right thing.”
Comer went even further in trashing Trump’s claims of election fraud in an earlier conversation with Punchbowl News. Here’s Comer attempting to distance himself from Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s fishing expedition in Ukraine to find dirt on the Bidens:
“I’ve stayed away from the Giuliani stuff. You know, I’m not saying Giuliani was right or wrong.
“But for better or worse, he’s hurt his credibility on the election fraud side, right? And I voted to certify the election.”
Comer is walking a narrow tightrope here. He’s claiming to a mainstream audience that he’s a reasonable Republican interested in simply finding facts. And Comer points to his certification vote to rebut Democratic attacks that he’s a strong partisan.
But at the same time, Comer needs to show the GOP base he’s aligned with their goals. And that’s how Comer ended up on Fox defending Trump for actions he has publicly disagreed with.
For one, Comer’s Democratic counterpart on the committee isn’t overly impressed by the Kentucky Republican’s constant reference to his certification vote. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), of course, served on the Jan. 6 select committee.
“I guess I would just say [Comer] did the right thing on that occasion,” Raskin told us, before adding, “That’s like Donald Trump saying he paid his taxes one year.”
— Max Cohen
Trump and the ‘3 Johns’: It’s complicated
There’s nothing that divides the “Three Johns” quite like former President Donald Trump.
The three potential successors to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have long embraced different messages when it comes to the former president, his myriad of legal troubles and standing in the Republican Party.
But Trump’s indictment this week over efforts to subvert the 2020 election results — including the Jan. 6 attack on Capitol — is putting that divide into even greater focus for Senate Minority Whip John Thune, GOP Conference Chair John Barrasso, and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).
Barrasso was the only one of the three to issue a statement explicitly sticking up for Trump after the former was indicted on four charges including conspiracy to defraud the United States, efforts to obstruct an official proceeding and conspiracy to violate civil rights.
“The American people have lost faith in Biden’s Justice Department,” Barrasso said, decrying what he called a “two-tiered” justice system. “They are uncomfortable watching the current president weaponize the justice system against his political opponent.”
Thune and Cornyn, who are also viewed as possible McConnell successors, have either endorsed a Trump opponent for 2024 or said flat-out that Trump can’t defeat President Joe Biden.
Thune has endorsed Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) for president, and Cornyn has openly questioned Trump’s ability to win a general election.
But Cornyn, speaking at an event in Houston on Wednesday, appeared to nod to the overarching GOP message of a two-tiered justice system that’s unfairly targeting Trump while going easy on Hunter Biden, the president’s son.
“It’s a sad day when people believe that our system of justice has a double standard, and I think all you need to do is look at the difference in the way that the Hunter Biden investigation and the plea bargain that collapsed,” Cornyn said, adding that the Trump case will be resolved in a court of law rather than the “court of public opinion.”
Thune, meanwhile, has remained silent on the Trump indictment and has suggested in the past that GOP voters may tire of all the chaos surrounding Trump and his candidacy. Thune also said last week that there should be accountability for the Jan. 6 attack, and he urged people to “let that process play out.”
And last month, when asked about the “two tiers” argument from some Republicans, Thune wouldn’t go as far as to say that Trump is a victim.
“You’ve got to go where the facts lead you and determine whether or not laws were broken. But there shouldn’t be two systems of justice, everybody should be held accountable,” he said. “Clearly, in these circumstances it’s a politically charged environment. It puts an even higher burden of proof on the Justice Department.”
How this all impacts the jockeying for GOP leadership roles could ultimately depend on whether Trump actually becomes the Republican presidential nominee in 2024. Recent polling suggests Trump continues to dominate the field of candidates, and his multiple federal indictments are doing little to diminish his support within the GOP.
In the meantime, the three Johns are maneuvering around the Trump question in their own distinct ways.
Barrasso has always been seen as a bridge between the leadership and the conference’s right flank. He often breaks with the rest of the leadership on key votes — such as the recent debt-limit agreement, for example — while at the same time remaining a close ally of McConnell. Barrasso delivered a nominating speech for McConnell during the GOP leader race last year.
Barrasso’s Trump-related statements could be seen as a way to shore up support among the Senate’s conservatives in a potential leadership race in the future.
McConnell has studiously avoided weighing in on anything related to Trump since the Jan. 6 attack. But he’s clearly wary of the former president’s lingering influence on the GOP, which aligns McConnell more closely with the views of Thune and Cornyn.
— Andrew Desiderio
PRESENTED BY WELLS FARGO
News: The New Democrat Coalition Action Fund is endorsing Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos in the Democratic primary for Rhode Island’s 1st District. Matos is the only statewide elected official in the crowded primary to succeed former Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.).
Matos appeared as an early front-runner in the race. But Matos’ campaign has been engulfed in a scandal surrounding allegations that she relied on forged signatures to get on the ballot. Matos has said an outside vendor is to blame.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC is backing state Rep. Aaron Regunberg in the race. The Congressional Black Caucus PAC, meanwhile, is endorsing former White House official Gabe Amo.
— Max Cohen
Husch Blackwell Strategies, which counts former Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) as an adviser, has signed Great American Outdoors Group as a client. Great American Outdoors Group is the parent company of Bass Pro Shops. Blunt’s former chiefs of staff Stacy McBride and Gregg Hartley are lobbying on the account.
— Jake Sherman
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President Joe Biden is in Rehoboth Beach, Del., with no public events scheduled.
Vice President Kamala Harris will be in Wisconsin. She will tour the Sanmina Kenosha Facility with Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. Harris will attend a campaign reception before heading back to D.C.
“Trump Election Charges Set Up Clash of Lies Versus Free Speech,” by Mike Schmidt and Maggie Haberman
News Analysis: “For the Court of Public Opinion, Trump Relies on a ‘Whataboutism’ Defense,” by Peter Baker
“Trump Indictment Leaves Alleged Co-Conspirators Facing Tough Choices,” by Alan Feuer, Luke Broadwater and Ben Protess
“Heart of the Trump Jan. 6 indictment: What’s in Trump’s head,” by Devlin Barrett and Josh Dawsey
Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.
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