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Justice Pushed Forward Hard This Week—A Recap of the Many Important Moves

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

It often can seem like absolutely nothing is happening to hold members of the former administration and the politically-connected instigators of the January 6 insurrection accountable, or to stop the relentless assault by the GOP upon voting rights and democracy in general. But then a day like yesterday happens, and it's worth taking note of many things that are suddenly in play. Here is a quick recap of four of them, all breaking yesterday.

Second Grand Jury in NY Likely To Indict the Trump Org

Outgoing Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance left a parting gift for the former president. According to a report by the Washington Post, Vance has convened another grand jury to investigate whether to indict the Trump Organization over how it represented valuations of its properties. This is tied to New York Attorney General Letitia James's ongoing investigation over whether the Trump Organization misled banks, insurance firms and tax authorities over the value of several of its key properties in order to gain loans or increase the size of government payouts.

The report notes that in the Trump Org's "Statements of Financial Conditions" there are often blatant misrepresentations. For example, Trump claimed his Virginia vineyard had 2,000 acres but it was only 1,000 acres; he said Trump tower had 68 stories when it only had 58; and he inflated the value of properties by claiming credit for homes he did not have permission to build. On the much-disputed Silver Springs property in upstate New York, Trump claimed the property was zoned for as many as 25 luxury homes—when in fact he had never completed the process required to build any homes at all. Nevertheless, he included those home sales prices in his property valuation of $263 million, when local assessors had only recently valued it at $20 million. This had an outsized consequence, as Trump was able to sell an easement to the property based on an inflated value that was $243 million more.

A grand jury has already indicted his Chief Financial Officer Alan Weisselberg and the Trump Organization itself on tax evasion charges relating to how certain employees were compensated on the side and avoided payroll taxes as a result. This second grand jury is also highly likely to return true bills of indictment over the false valuations (grand juries in New York indict an average of 98 percent of the time), adding more pressure for higher-ups to cooperate against their boss. The indictments could even finally pull Trump in as a defendant.

Giuliani and Cohorts Now in Very Hot Water over Ukraine

A report by The Guardian states that prosecutors in the Southern District of New York have zeroed in on evidence that could land Giuliani and two of his associates, Victoria Toensing and Joe diGenova, in prison. Back in 2019, three Ukrainian prosecutors paid Giuliani, Toensing and diGenova hundreds of thousands of dollars to gain influence within the Trump administration. This of course went unreported, meaning the three violated laws around acting as foreign agents without disclosing the foreign interest.

Specifically, prosecutors there have a list of more than two dozen instances where the three Trump associates acted on behalf of the Ukrainian government to advance its political interests. The most crucial evidence The Guardian describes as follows:

"[F]ederal investigators have uncovered extensive, detailed plans devised by one Ukrainian prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko, and approved by Giuliani, by which they would announce and promote an investigation of Joe Biden and his son Hunter, in Ukraine, to help boost Trump's chances of re-election.
Investigators as early as last year obtained emails received and sent by Lutsenko describing various elements of the scheme, according to sources close to the investigation."

Lutsenko was in fact preparing to announce his quid pro quo (a bogus investigation into Joe Biden and his son Hunter) but the election of a new president foiled this plan. Trump then tried hard to get it back on track with the infamous "perfect call" to the new Ukrainian president, during which he hinted at withholding military assistance unless Ukraine went along with his scheme. That series of events led to Trump's first impeachment.

The homes and offices of Giuliani and Toensing were raided by authorities back in April of this year and their electronic devices were seized at the time. Since then, investigators have been putting together the pieces of the crimes that, apparently, were committed. I would not be surprised if arrests followed later this year or early next.

Justice Department Sues Texas Over Voter Suppression Law

Even while all but one of the GOP senators voted to block the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Law, the Justice Department took matters into its own hands directly and sued the state of Texas yesterday over its new voter suppression law, S.B. 1. That law bans 24-hour and drive-through voting (two options utilized by many minorities), curtails mail-in ballots, and gives power to partisan poll watchers. All of these measures were designed by the GOP-led legislature to depress minority voter participation.

According to CNN, the Justice Department lawsuit alleges that the law illegally rejects mail ballots "for immaterial errors and omissions" and harms the rights of voters with limited English proficiency, military members deployed away from home, and voters overseas. "Before SB 1, the State of Texas already imposed some of the strictest limitations in the nation on the right of certain citizens to voting assistance. SB 1 further, and impermissibly, restricts the core right to meaningful assistance in the voting booth," the Justice Department said. The suit follows a similar action against the state of Georgia over its new voter suppression law.

Texas Governor Abbott denounced the action. At the time the law passed, he claimed the law would make it easier than ever to vote (it does not) while making it harder than ever to cheat (there's no evidence anywhere of widespread fraud or cheating). Those claims will now be tested in Court under a challenge brought under the Voting Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.

Voting rights advocates hailed the move. "Finally, a Justice Department that fights for justice. Texas is torpedoing American democracy and our constitutional right to vote. We are encouraged to see the DOJ pushing back," NAACP President Derrick Johnson said in a statement to CNN about the Texas lawsuit.

Judge Excoriates Trump Lawyer over Privilege Claims

A story that got little press attention but will have a massive impact on the January 6 Committee's investigation centers on a hearing, covered by observer Glenn Kirschner of NBC News, that took place yesterday before Federal District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan, who has been a real thorn in Trump's side lately. Judge Chutkan had asked for an expedited briefing and hearing on the privilege claims, thwarting efforts by the former president's team to delay.

Before her were the status of records from the National Archives that the Committee has requested. The sitting president, Joe Biden, already has waived privilege on behalf of the Executive Branch over these documents, citing the greater importance of accountability for the insurrection. Within the documents are, apparently, phone records and logs of communications between the former president and his advisors, some of whom like Steve Bannon were not even government employees at the time.

When Trump's attorney Justin Clark sought to argue that the best person to assess the question of executive privilege was the former president, Judge Chutkun responded that, under the Presidential Records Act, the sitting president is the person to make that call. Moreover, there was not, as the lawyer tried to argue, any dispute over privilege between the current Executive and Legislative Branches here, since both agreed the documents should be produced.

Clark tried to rely on the case of GSA v. Nixon to support his position, but the judge correctly observed that the case does not hand the power to claim executive privilege to a former president, and Clark was apparently unable to cite specific, relevant language in that case that supported his position.

Most observers agree that Chutkun will rule against Trump. It appears she intends to issue her opinion soon because the deadline for production is November 12. Trump's team likely will appeal her decision to the D.C. Circuit, but as a matter of discovery and evidence it may be disposed of more promptly than other cases.

Here's hoping, anyway.

Correction: An earlier version of this incorrectly stated that Judge Chutkun was appointed by Donald Trump. She was appointed by Barack Obama.

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