Plus, a reader question about trans women in sports.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 14 minutes.

We've got a jam-packed newsletter today: Trump's criminal trial begins, a reader question about trans women in sports, a sold out show, and some fun stuff in The Extras section.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Yesterday, we released more general admission tickets for tomorrow’s Tangle Live event in New York City. Before we could even advertise them in the newsletter, the event sold-out again (in literally 30 minutes). Thank you all so much for the support. We are thrilled and can't wait for the show.

One important note: Two readers have written in to let me know they have tickets but can no longer attend, and have offered to donate their tickets. In total, we have three general admission tickets that are up for grabs. If you still need tickets, email me with the subject line "Tickets'' and I'll see if we can get you some. First come, first served. Thank you all, and see you tomorrow!

Quick hits.

  1. The U.S. Supreme Court allowed an Idaho law to go into effect that bans minors from receiving medication or surgery related to gender transitions. (The ruling) Separately, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas missed oral arguments for a case on Monday without providing a reason. (The absence)
  2. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin that Israel has no choice but to respond to Iran's drone-and-missile barrage from over the weekend. (The comments)
  3. Tesla is expected to lay off 14,000 workers, or about 10% of its global workforce. The electric car company experienced its first-ever year-over-year decline in quarterly sales last month. (The layoffs)
  4. House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) is expected to bring separate funding bills for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan to the floor this week for a vote. (The plan)
  5. The FBI has opened a federal criminal investigation into the crash that led to the Key Bridge in Baltimore collapsing. (The investigation)

Today's topic.

Donald Trump's trial. On Monday, jury selection began in Manhattan for former President Donald Trump's trial for allegedly falsifying business records, commonly referred to as the "hush money" case. The allegations brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg are that Trump orchestrated a scheme to influence the 2016 election by identifying and purchasing negative information about him and suppressing its publication, then covering his tracks by illegally falsifying business records. With jury selection underway, Trump now becomes the first former president ever to stand trial in a criminal case. 

Reminder: The case is based on allegations made by Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen, who served three years in prison after pleading guilty in 2018 to federal campaign finance crimes that implicated the president. Part of Cohen’s admission was that he had paid adult film star Stormy Daniels $130,000 in 2016 to keep quiet about an alleged sexual encounter with Trump roughly 10 years earlier. Cohen also said he paid the publisher of the tabloid National Enquirer to kill a story about a 10-month affair Trump allegedly had with former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Trump denies any sexual relationship with either woman.

Federal prosecutors allege that both of the transactions were crimes; however, they did not pursue charges, following long-standing precedent against prosecuting a sitting president. Prosecutors claim that Cohen's payment to Daniels to buy her silence influenced the 2016 election, acting as a personal donation to the Trump campaign — almost 50 times the legal contribution limit at the time. Furthermore, the payment by the National Enquirer publisher American Media to McDougal violated federal restrictions on corporate contributions to a campaign, prosecutors argue.

In his plea, Cohen said Trump coordinated both payments, and federal prosecutors found that Cohen was repaid for the Daniels deal in monthly increments disguised as a retainer for legal services. Those payments and the disguise represent the crime that state prosecutors are pursuing: Falsifying business records. That crime is a misdemeanor under New York state law, but it can become a felony if the records are falsified to conceal or commit another crime.

New York officials had all but abandoned the case, determining that it'd be difficult to build. In 2022 shortly after Joe Biden was elected, Bragg and his team revived the case, deciding to present evidence to a grand jury. Bragg charged Trump with 34 felony counts, one for each record he allegedly falsified while reimbursing Cohen. The Manhattan District Attorney's Office has left several avenues open for pursuing the case, including campaign finance violations or tax offenses.

Jury selection in the heavily Democratic district began on Monday and is expected to last about a week. So far at least 50 potential jurors have been dismissed because they said they could not be impartial. Judge Juan Merchan, who is overseeing the trial, declined requests from Trump’s legal team to recuse himself and denied another effort to delay proceedings, which once started are expected to last as long as two months. 

Today, we're going to break down the latest on the trial. You can read our previous coverage here, here, and here.

What the left is saying.

  • The left thinks the trial underscores the stakes of the 2024 election.
  • Some say the evidence suggests Trump committed a serious criminal offense.
  • Others struggle to find anything of consequence in the charges.

In Slate, Jeremy Stahl wrote about “the real stakes of the first criminal case against a former president.”

“Although I personally find the substance of the prosecution more compelling and legally significant than lots of other observers do, it would be impossible to argue that this is a bigger deal than Trump’s efforts to steal the 2020 election, culminating in the violent effort to overthrow the government on Jan. 6, or the classified documents case. And yet, this is the case we’re getting first,” Stahl said. “If Trump is convicted, he’ll face the potential of a prison sentence or, more likely, home confinement. If he manages to reclaim the presidency anyway, he will be free of those consequences for a while. But that sentence will hang over the entire course of his time in office.”

“Here is the problem: That knowledge will cause him to do whatever he can through the power of the presidency to postpone that day forever. Whether that means attempting to hold on to the office past the expiration of his term, or seeking to destroy his enemies in New York in other ways that prevent them from enforcing judgment on him, the country will be plummeted into a crisis. We may not escape with our democracy intact. That danger itself—that of Trump actually becoming the dictator he claims he wants to be, with all that that entails, so that he can once again escape consequences at any cost—will be what awaits us on the other side of this.”

In MSNBC, Kristy Greenberg argued “why you should take Trump's hush money trial seriously.”

“For starters, the alleged cover-up of a presidential candidate’s hush money payments to a porn star to try to win an election is captivating and easily comprehensible — in stark contrast, for example, to the financial statements and property valuations from Trump’s civil fraud trial,” Greenberg said. “Trump initially denied knowing about the hush money payments when they were first reported — a provable lie. Only after law enforcement searched Cohen’s premises — and Trump realized he would be caught — did Trump acknowledge that he knew about the payments and had reimbursed Cohen for them. Trump’s lie exhibits his consciousness of guilt.”

“I expect that jurors’ common sense will tell them that Trump made the hush money payments on the eve of the presidential election to help him win. This was a close election, and Trump’s candidacy may not have survived another setback after the ‘Access Hollywood’ tape fiasco,” Greenberg added. “The reimbursement payments were made by Trump and the hush money payment was made for Trump’s benefit; any defense attempts to distance Trump from those payments won’t pass the smell test for a New York jury.”

In The Los Angeles Times, Richard L. Hasen said “it’s hard to muster even a ‘meh’ over Trump’s New York criminal trial.”

“People want the hush money case to be the big case that can take down Trump because it may be the only one that goes to trial before the election,” Hasen wrote. “I have a hard time even mustering a ‘meh.’ Trump may not be convicted of a felony in the case, and if he is, there’s a reasonable chance of an eventual reversal on appeal. Besides, the charges are so minor I don’t expect they will shake up the presidential race. They may actually make that situation worse.”

“I certainly understand the impulse of Trump opponents to label this case as one of election interference… But any voters who look beneath the surface are sure to be underwhelmed. Calling it election interference actually cheapens the term and undermines the deadly serious charges in the real election interference cases,” Hasen said. “Anything less than a felony conviction would only embolden Trump. He has already convinced a chunk of Republican voters that all the claims against him are a ‘witch hunt’; a hung jury or acquittal, or even a conviction on minor charges, would only feed the lie that all the indictments he’s racked up are bogus.”

What the right is saying.

  • The right says the charges against Trump lack merit and the prosecution is motivated solely by political aims.
  • Some suggest Bragg is damaging the integrity of the legal system by pushing this case.
  • Others say their opinion of Trump will remain unchanged regardless of the verdict.

In National Review, Rich Lowry wrote “Alvin Bragg makes history — preposterously.”

“If this alleged crime doesn’t shock your conscience, the drafters of the relevant New York statute agreed with you — they made it a misdemeanor. This presented two obstacles for Alvin Bragg. One was that charging a former president with a misdemeanor would be too ridiculous even for him. The other was that the statute of limitations for such a misdemeanor offense is two years, so he’d be out of luck even if he wanted to indict Trump anyway,” Lowry said. “By redefining Trump’s offense as a felony, Bragg got several years back on the statute-of-limitations clock. He then proceeded to charge basically every keystroke related to these payments as a separate offense.”

“It’s likely that none of this is going to matter because the New York legal system is so stacked against Trump. Still, it’s possible that the former president could wiggle off the hook with a hung jury or… a request that the judge let the jury consider the ‘lesser included’ misdemeanor offenses. Anything less than a resounding victory would be a major embarrassment for Bragg, and it couldn’t happen to a better prosecutor.”

In The New York Post, Jonathan Turley called the trial “an embarrassment for the New York legal system.”

“Lawyers have been scouring the civil and criminal codes for any basis to sue or prosecute Trump before the upcoming 2024 election. This week will highlight the damage done to New York’s legal system because of this unhinged crusade,” Turley wrote. Bragg “used the alleged federal crime to bootstrap a defunct misdemeanor charge into a felony in the current case. He is arguing that Trump intentionally lied when his former lawyer Michael Cohen listed the payments as retainer costs rather than a payment — to avoid reporting it as a campaign contribution to himself. Thus, if he had simply had Cohen report the payment as ‘hush money,’ there would be no crime.”

“Making this assorted business even more repellent will be the appearance of Cohen himself on the stand… Cohen has a long record as a legal thug who has repeatedly lied when it served his interests. He has a knack for selling his curious skill set to powerful figures like Trump and now Bragg,” Turley said. “So this is the case: A serial perjurer used to convert a dead state misdemeanor into a felony based on an alleged federal election crime that was rejected by the Justice Department… Whatever the outcome, it may prove a greater indictment of the New York court system than the defendant.”

In PJ Media, Matt Margolis asked “why should anyone care if Trump is convicted?”

“After Trump left office, we saw a coordinated effort by George Soros-funded district attorneys to abuse the legal system by going after Trump. District attorneys like Alvin Brag[g] and Fani Willis and attorneys general like Letitia James literally campaigned on the promise of getting Trump. For what? Well, you just had to elect them so they could find something,” Margolis wrote. “Democrats made it clear from the beginning of Trump's presidential ambitions that they were (and still are) afraid of him.”

“It wasn't even a secret that Democrats were plotting Trump's impeachment before inauguration day… And, of course, they ultimately did,” Margolis said. “However, their efforts to impeach him failed to achieve a conviction, and the current efforts to convict him of various bogus charges are just a continuation of the impeachment movement against him… So, no, why should I care if any of these carefully plotted partisan prosecutions succeed? They'll only serve as proof that our legal system is broken.”

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. Write in by replying to this email, or leave a comment.

  • As I’ve said before, Trump almost certainly arranged hush money payments, but prosecuting that as federal election interference seems very flimsy.
  • I’m not comfortable with an opposing party district attorney breaking with precedent and testing a novel legal theory to go after a former president.
  • Still, the political effects of this case are bad for Trump, even if he is exonerated.

This is the fourth edition we’ve devoted to this case, and it's dragged on so much that it’s almost hard to believe the trial has actually begun.

Since the days when details about this potential indictment were leaking, the specifics of what Bragg was going to charge Trump with — and how he was building the case — have not changed much. So my opinion hasn't changed much, either.

First, Trump almost certainly did what he is accused of. I know this will be very controversial to many of my readers who support the former president, but the evidence strongly suggests that Trump's team paid Daniels not to share her story and then tried to cover their tracks. The paper trail is pretty overwhelming (it’s actually so obvious that it’s kind of amusing), which is why Michael Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison. Did Trump actually instruct and orchestrate these payments? I don't know, that’s what the trial is for. Did they actually have an affair? That is something only Trump and Daniels are likely to ever know for sure. But did Cohen make these payments, and did he attempt to cover them up? Definitely.

Second, that this case is being brought at all makes me very uncomfortable. Trump has a lot of legal troubles, but of all the cases that have been brought against him I think this one has the least justification.

Remember: Bragg brought this indictment by introducing multiple potential theories of how Trump broke the law, without actually specifying which one he was pursuing. He has not argued the payments were covering up a specific crime that would potentially elevate these charges from a misdemeanor to a felony. Instead, Bragg elevated the charges by claiming either that the payments might have violated election laws or perhaps that Trump’s team used payment documents to execute state tax crimes. When the indictment was unsealed, the general reaction was surprise at how much weaker it was than many even expected it to be.

The case isn’t weak just because it introduces a novel legal theory against a former president. It's not weak just because, had Trump not left New York to be president (and paused the statute of limitations), this case would be too old to bring; or because Bragg “stacked” the charges by separating each alleged falsified document into its own count; or because other prosecutors have already opted not to bring this case when they saw the same details. It's weak because of all of those things combined. On top of all of that, Bragg’s case marks the very first time a former president has ever stood criminal trial, and the first time a former president or presidential candidate has been indicted by a district attorney from the opposing party.

It's also worth pointing out that Trump has a decent chance of simply being exonerated. If prosecutors fail to prove intent, or Trump shows he was just doing what his legal team told him, or there is no smoking gun showing Trump instructing Cohen, or the jury determines Cohen isn’t a credible witness because of his past perjury conviction, or Trump convincingly argues the scheme was simply meant to protect his wife from embarrassment, then he will probably avoid conviction.

That’s the legal stuff. Judging the politics of this case has always been harder. When we first wrote about it a year ago, it was hard to predict this case’s impact (back then, it seemed possible Trump might not even be the nominee). Interestingly, despite everything I said above, I think the politics have actually gotten worse for Trump, not better. Trump's delay tactics in his other cases have been remarkably successful, so this case is going to be the one that dominates the news pre-election. And in that regard, there is a lot of bad news for Trump.

For starters, the basic allegations are simple: He paid off women he slept with to stay quiet, then falsified business records to cover it up. That’s not nearly as complicated as the RICO case in Georgia or the business fraud case he lost in New York. Second, he's stuck in court for four days a week over the next two months, which might be the worst news for him. One of Trump's great strengths as a politician is campaigning, and now he is essentially locked down for 60% of the week right as Biden’s campaign goes full throttle. Third and finally, most people believe Trump did something wrong here. Even though only 1 in 3 Americans think Trump is guilty, roughly 70% of the country believes he acted illegally or unethically. So a lot of priors are likely to be confirmed.

The best thing Trump has going for him is that he’ll get to use the buzz around the case to make himself a victim of an overzealous district attorney. But for the millions of voters figuring out what to do in 2024, weeks of salacious news stories and two months of being limited on the campaign trail are just not good news for Trump, no matter how you slice it.

Do you think Trump is guilty in the “hush money” case? Let us know!

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Your questions, answered.

Q: Do you support trans rights (men self-identifying as women) at the expense of women's sex-based rights in sports, prisons, lockers, bathrooms, shelters, awards and scholarships?

— Leila from Warwick, Rhode Island

Tangle: These are all pretty different issues that I think should have different answers. Which, actually, is my answer: Broad responses to loaded questions like these are not helpful.

In that sense, sports are a great microcosm — every sport itself is a different situation. As I said during the Lia Thomas controversy, I think it is very obvious there are instances where certain trans women are going to have unfair advantages in certain sports and competitions. I think there are also instances where that advantage is much less clear or, actually, non-existent. Which is why I think the governing bodies of the individual sports themselves should handle these issues, not the federal government or even major collegiate groups like the NCAA.

Every sport is different. Every level of every sport is different. Every individual is different. Both sides loathe to admit it, but the annoying truth is that there isn’t an easy blanket answer here; this issue is just really complicated. 

For instance, if an 8th grade boy is experiencing some kind of gender incongruity during puberty and begins identifying as a girl, then wants to play with the girls in an after-school recreational league softball program, do I care at all? No. And I don’t think anyone really should. We should prioritize helping those kids navigate what is almost assuredly a difficult time, especially during puberty — an impossible time for everyone. 

Now, say a Division I men’s track athlete who races with the men his freshman year begins identifying as a woman during his sophomore year. Do I think this athlete, by virtue of self-identification alone, should just be able to switch divisions and begin racing against women? Definitely not. And I don’t think anyone really should. Based on how we know men’s and women’s track athletes compare, we could be pretty sure that this athlete would have an unfair advantage. 

I play ultimate frisbee. I’ve played competitive ultimate frisbee my entire adult life. Ultimate is a very progressive space, and the community has a very progressive posture (compared to other sports) towards trans players moving through divisions. One cool feature of ultimate is that, on top of men’s and women’s divisions, it also has mixed-gender competition at both the rec league and the most competitive levels.

I have played mixed-gender ultimate many times (i.e. men and women on the field at the same time, with men usually covering men and women usually covering women, but people often switching). I’ve had many trans women and trans men as teammates. I’ve watched trans women and trans men cover each other and other cisgender men and women and switch who they are covering and… it works. There is an openness and level of fairness that people abide by. We all understand nobody is switching their genders to win a recreational league ultimate frisbee championship. With scant exceptions, there has not been much controversy and the fairness of play has not been impeached, all while the community has been able to give space for trans players to participate and feel welcomed. It’s a win-win. Nobody is that upset by it. Certainly not me. My personal experiences have provided an interesting example of how sports can bring people together and be an escape from politics, work, and all the other stressors that plague our daily lives.

Of course, not only are the stakes lower in a primarily amateur sport like ultimate and the gender relationships on the field already unique, but the attitudes of the participants are much more uniform on this issue — which makes it much easier. Regardless, I think ultimate should provide its own rules, and other sports can (and might have very good reason to) act differently. 

Between the Division I track athlete example and the 8th grade softball example and the ultimate frisbee example is an ocean of iterations. Depending on the circumstances of the person, sport, level of play or questions of fairness, my answer might change. That is true for all the examples you laid out, and that’s why I don’t feel comfortable just saying “yes” or “no.”

Want to have a question answered in the newsletter? You can reply to this email (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

Under the radar.

Americans spent more than economists expected in March, with retail sales rising 0.7% despite persistent inflation and other economic challenges. The increase was double what economists expected and comes after spending rose 0.9% in February, a figure that was revised upward. This snapshot offers just a partial look at consumer spending and doesn't include things like travel or hotels, but it did record an uptick of 0.4% spending at restaurants. “Retail sales aren’t increasing just because prices are going up,” Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst at Bankrate, said. "Americans are actually buying more stuff. This is one of the strongest retail sales reports we’ve seen in the past couple of years.” ABC has the surprising story.


  • 48%. The percentage of Americans who said they believe Donald Trump did falsify business records to conceal a “hush money” payment, according to an Economist/YouGov poll released last week.
  • 26%. The percentage of Americans who said they believe Trump did not falsify business records to conceal a “hush money” payment.
  • 36%. The percentage of Americans who think Trump will get a fair trial in New York.
  • 42%. The percentage of Americans who think Trump won’t get a fair trial in New York.
  • 40%. The percentage of Americans who think it is likely Trump will be convicted of a crime in the “hush money” case. 
  • 38%. The percentage of Americans who think it is unlikely Trump will be convicted in the case. 
  • 57%. The percentage of likely voters who think the charges that Trump falsified business records related to hush money payments are serious, according to a New York Times/Siena poll released last week.
  • 37%. The percentage of likely voters who think the charges that Trump falsified business records related to hush money payments are not serious. 

The extras.

Yesterday’s survey: 1,060 readers answered our survey on Iran’s strike on Israel with 83% saying Israel should not respond. “Israel ‘won’ this exchange. Take the win and build off it. While unlikely, restraint could add to the momentum for a satisfactory end, for Israel, to the current conflict. Israel will never completely eliminate Hamas, or any of the other proxies. But it might be able to build a coalition to mostly neutralize the threats. This is an opportunity that should not be wasted,” one respondent said.

Do you think Trump is guilty in the “hush money” case? Let us know!

Have a nice day.

A recent poll from Pew Research Center shows that more teenagers than you might think are conscious of the positive and negative aspects of smartphone use. In an online survey from last year of 1,453 U.S. teens between the ages of 13 and 17 and their parents, 72% of the teens said they often feel ‘peaceful’ without their smartphone, while only 44% said it gives them a kind of separation anxiety. 70% of those surveyed said that the negatives of their smartphones outweigh the positives. Furthermore, many more teens say they spend the right amount of time on social media (64%) than say they spend too much (27%). Pew has the survey.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.