Aug 1, 2023

The new Trump charges.

The new Trump charges.

What the latest allegations mean, and the response.

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: 12 minutes.

Former President Trump is facing new charges in his indictment. Plus, a reader question about the Florida education law.

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Quick hits.

  1. In closed-door testimony, former Hunter Biden business partner Devon Archer testified that then-Vice President Biden regularly joined his son on speakerphone at business dinners, according to lawmakers present for the testimony. However, Archer said Vice President Biden did not discuss Hunter's business, only describing the Biden "brand" and exchanging casual pleasantries. (The allegations)
  2. A two-day summit in Nairobi, Kenya, ended without Russian President Vladimir Putin agreeing to restart the Black Sea grain deal that helps feed much of Africa. However, Putin pledged to ship free grain to six African nations. (The summit
  3. Georgia turned on the first nuclear reactor built in the U.S. in decades, which is expected to power 500,000 homes and businesses at full capacity. (The reactor
  4. The United States agreed to send a $345 million weapons package to Taiwan, including MQ-9A reconnaissance drones and small arms ammunition. (The package)
  5. A new Siena College poll finds President Biden's approval rating is up from a year ago, but also shows him in a dead heat with former President Donald Trump. (The poll)

Today's topic.

The new Trump charges. On Thursday, special counsel Jack Smith filed additional charges against former President Trump tied to his alleged mishandling of classified documents. Most significantly, the new indictment accuses Trump and his aides of attempting to delete surveillance footage from his Mar-a-Lago club so it couldn't be turned over to a grand jury.

The charges also include an additional count of willful retention of a classified national security document which prosecutors allege he showed to guests at his New Jersey golf club. Further, the indictment charges Carlos de Oliveira, a maintenance worker at Mar-a-Lago, with lying to investigators. That makes him the third defendant in the case (along with Walt Nauta and Trump).

In June, the Justice Department indicted Trump on 37 counts of seven different charges, including willful retention of national defense information, false statements, conspiracy to obstruct, and withholding classified records. Nauta, Trump's personal aide, was also charged in the original indictment. He and Trump have pleaded not guilty. 

According to the latest additions to the indictment, Trump had a 24-minute phone call with de Oliveira the day after a lawyer for the Trump Organization was given a draft of a grand jury subpoena seeking Mar-a-Lago security footage from a staffer. A few days later, de Oliveira allegedly confronted the staffer and informed him "the boss" wanted the footage deleted, and asked him "what are we going to do?" The staffer said he didn't know how to delete the footage and didn't think he had the right to, according to the indictment. There is no allegation the footage was ultimately deleted.

Security footage is key to the prosecution’s case against Trump, as it is being used to buttress their claim that boxes of classified documents were held in insecure locations and moved to be kept from investigators.

The additional charge on willful retention of documents was related to Trump's boast in July of 2021 to a writer, a publisher, and two staff members about a document purporting to show a plan to attack a country, which journalists have since identified as Iran. An audio recording of Trump showing the group the document was published in CNN and other news outlets, and is cited in the indictment.

Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung called the indictment "nothing more than a continued desperate and failing attempt" by the Justice Department to harass Trump.

A federal judge in Florida, who was appointed by Trump, has scheduled his trial to begin on May 20, 2024. Meanwhile, Trump is currently leading all Republican primary candidates by a wide margin in the race to become the Republican presidential nominee in 2024. He is also facing another indictment from the state of Georgia, where prosecutor Fani Willis is expected to seek a grand jury indictment in the coming weeks after investigating Trump’s attempt to overturn his 2020 presidential race loss. The investigations into his conduct come as the Justice Department is attempting to sort out a plea agreement for President Biden’s son, Hunter, who is facing charges for tax crimes and illegally possessing a firearm.

Today, we're going to explore some opinions from the left and right, then my take.

What the right is saying.

  • The right is mixed on the charges, with some saying they show the Justice Department's bias and others suggesting they look very bad for Trump.
  • Some argue that the timing of the indictments is meant to distract from the president's son Hunter’s own legal problems.
  • Others suggest Trump's best strategy is to focus on kitchen table issues.

In Newsweek, Stephen L. Miller wrote about the timing of the new indictments.

Trump's conduct looks bad and avoidable, but "how can you expect the American people to take seriously these indictments against the current front runner to face Biden in 2024 from Biden's Department of Justice when they come on the heels of an unprecedentedly sweet deal for the President's son, one that had to be scuttled by a judge in the eleventh hour thanks to how lenient it was?" Miller asked. "The truth is, the Biden administration is currently playing a shell game—with the media as its witting accomplice. To distract from these simple facts about the DOJ's favoritism towards the President's son, that same DOJ continues to act aggressively toward Biden's leading political opponent."

"Furthermore, it doesn't appear Garland will be seeking a special prosecutor to look further into the Bidens and the troubling whistleblower testimony that suggest obstruction in the Hunter Biden investigation. Because as troubling as Hunter Biden's behavior has been, the worst is yet to be disclosed: how Hunter allegedly sold out the United States by using his father's power and influence as a vessel," Miller wrote. "If Garland refuses to act, then the Republican House must start an impeachment inquiry. The political favoritism of President Biden's DOJ can no longer be ignored."

The Wall Street Journal editorial board said the new evidence undercuts Trump’s defense in the documents case.

"Does Donald Trump not understand the greatest truism in politics—i.e., that it’s not the crime, it’s the coverup?" the board asked. "According to this week’s indictment, the feds subpoenaed Mar-a-Lago’s surveillance footage on June 24, 2022. Within hours, Mr. Trump’s valet, Walt Nauta, was planning to fly to the club, while texting its IT director to ask if he was available. On Saturday, June 25, Mr. Nauta and Carlos De Oliveira, a club property manager, 'went to the security guard booth where surveillance video is displayed on monitors, walked with a flashlight through the tunnel where the Storage Room was located, and observed and pointed out surveillance cameras.'

"On Monday morning, Mr. De Oliveira found the IT director, took him ‘to a small room known as an “audio closet,”’ and asked him how long the club’s server kept footage. He then said that 'the boss’ wanted the server deleted," the board wrote. "Mr. Trump is entitled to a defense and presumption of innocence, but this is a damaging allegation... If Mr. Trump sought to destroy evidence, it undercuts his defense on the document charges. He contends that the Presidential Records Act gives him the right to retain documents from his time in office. But if Mr. Trump believed that, he would have played it straight."

In The Daily Caller, Neil Banerji said Trump can play these latest charges to his advantage.

"Rather than allowing the Democrats to succeed in taking control of the narrative by drawing unending attention to his legal problems, Trump can reemphasize the issues that actually matter to the average voter and argue that Democrats in Washington are more focused on persecuting him than on addressing the concerns of Main Street," Banerji said. "While these new charges could galvanize the Republican base into backing Trump for the nomination, focusing on them would likely harm his standing among swing voters, who will be pivotal to his victory in a general election."

"Voters of all political stripes care about the issues, not pointless legal drama, which seem even more suspicious when the party in power is pursuing charges against its chief opponent," Banerji said. "Therefore, Trump needs to constantly and consistently redirect public attention to the bread and butter issues that will be the foundational strengths of his campaign: addressing sky-high inflation, securing energy independence and preserving his tax cuts which saved the average American household thousands of dollars."

What the left is saying.

  • Many on the left argue that the latest indictments bolster the already strong case against Trump, and might actually change some opinions.
  • Some suggest the new evidence guts his best defense, which was already weak.
  • Others say the charges are so powerful they were worth bringing, even if they delay the case.

In MSNBC, Jessica Levinson said the new indictment guts Trump's best defense.

"If prosecutors can prove the allegations in the superseding indictment, they mostly gut Trump’s best (albeit still bad) defenses — that he could, or thought he could, lawfully possess the documents," Levinson wrote. "People who lawfully possess documents, even those who claim to be subjects of political witch hunts, don’t typically ask others to hide those documents prior to federal investigators going through them, and then ask that video evidence of those documents being moved be deleted... Reading the original indictment leaves one with the feeling that Trump’s biggest, alleged, mistake was not the taking of the documents in the first place, but his repeated failure to hand them over and his attempt to hide them.

"Reading the superseding indictment gives one the impression that Trump’s next biggest, alleged, mistake was in trying to hide his attempts to hide the documents," she added. This bolsters a key part of Smith's case, "that Trump obstructed a federal investigation and then tried to cover up that obstruction... Even if, and this is a huge and far fetched 'if,' Trump was entitled to retain some of these documents in the first place, he certainly wasn’t entitled to hide them from federal investigators and then delete video footage of his employees moving boxes of those documents during an ongoing federal investigation."

In CNN, Norman Eisen said the "remarkable new charges" paint an even more damning picture.

"Many experts agree that special counsel Jack Smith already had a strong case. So, why would he bother to file a superseding indictment, adding a third defendant — Mar-a-Lago worker Carlos De Oliveira — at the risk of further delaying a trial that has already been pushed back by US District Judge Aileen Cannon?" Eisen asked. "A close look at the new charging document shows that the benefits to the special counsel and his case are well worth the costs in delay and otherwise." Adding a charge on the Iran document "allows prosecutors to center the case on this telling example of his alleged wrongdoing, making it more concrete and understandable."

Prosecutors also now have "a much stronger legal basis to play the audio tape of Trump talking to the group about the document — and to show the jury Trump’s Fox News appearance falsely denying that he had any such document," Eisen said. "Regarding the obstruction charges, prosecutors have added the details of the alleged Trump-led attempt to delete security camera footage at Mar-a-Lago. While the Justice Department already had powerful evidence on obstruction, this is a leap forward because it hammers home the extent of the degree to which he and his co-defendants went to conceal potential evidence from a jury."

In The New Yorker, John Cassidy said the indictments are finally having an impact on public opinion.

A recent survey from Bright Line Watch "confirmed the familiar picture" that "universally acknowledged truths hardly exist" when it comes to Trump. "Fewer than one in six Republican voters said they believed that Trump had committed crimes in trying to overturn the 2020 election, in his actions before the January 6th riots, or in making hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels. A few more Republicans said they believed that he committed a crime in the classified-documents case, but the total was still only one in four," Cassidy wrote. But "the survey also found that the number of independents who believe that Trump has done something criminal is growing, especially in relation to the classified-documents case.

"This suggests that, as prosecutors release more details of the charges and evidence against Trump, opinion is slowly shifting against him among less partisan voters," Cassidy said. "The survey even showed evidence of movement among Republicans... Last week, a survey from NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist College indicated that the percentage of Republicans who believe that Trump has 'done nothing wrong' has dropped from fifty per cent to forty-one per cent since June."

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.

  • I’m not going to play “what about Hunter” games here; this story is about Trump’s conduct.
  • The new charges are damning and only increase the odds that he will be convicted on charges of obstruction and mishandling classified documents.
  • And yet, I still don’t think anything is going to stop him from becoming the Republican nominee.

When I wrote about what makes a bad argument, one of the examples I listed was "whataboutism." To that end, I'm not going to make this issue a comparison between Hunter or Joe Biden's purported crimes versus Trump's, just as I don’t compare Hunter Biden to Trump when we cover his allegations. We have covered Hunter Biden extensively, including everything from his laptop to his plea agreement to the IRS whistleblowers. And while comparing the Justice Department's treatment of various actors can be useful, in this case the alleged crimes and evidence are so different that I don't see much benefit in doing so. This story is about former President Donald Trump.

As I said when the indictment was first released, the evidence looks damning. Indictments, of course, are not "proof" — they are only a statement of charges. But you can typically tell when reading an indictment whether prosecutors have a strong case or not, and Jack Smith clearly has a very strong case.

Smith has the hard evidence: The actual classified documents Trump took from the White House, security footage of the documents being moved, and audio recordings of Trump boasting about them. He has witnesses, including two of Trump’s employees who allegedly participated in attempts to conceal documents from prosecutors. And now he alleges to have evidence Trump went so far as to instruct those employees to delete security footage to obscure how the documents were handled.

It is, as I said in June, a worst-case scenario indictment for Trump. Not because the crime is so serious it could destroy him politically — it hasn't, clearly — but because, given the specificity of allegations, the Justice Department appears to have an overwhelming amount of evidence.

Since this case began, I have also been saying that Trump's primary defense, one of the few consistent ones he has levied, is fanciful. He cannot simply speak classified documents into declassification, and he doesn't get to work outside the processes of declassification by taking those documents to his home and keeping them with no oversight. As his former Attorney General Bill Barr put it: Those documents don't belong to Trump. They belong to the government.

"This idea of presenting Trump as a victim of a witch hunt is ridiculous," Barr said in June. "Yes, he's been a victim in the past. Yes, his adversaries have obsessively pursued him with phony claims... But this is much different."

The latest indictment only bolsters how different it really is.

And this all sets up a rather unprecedented situation in American history. The first GOP primary debate is a few weeks away, slated for August 23rd. An indictment in the case involving Trump's attempts to change the outcome of the 2020 election in Georgia seems imminent. As Republican presidential nominee Chris Christie put it, that means by August 23rd, it's likely that "the front-runner will be out on bail in four different jurisdictions—Florida, Washington, Georgia, and New York."

But will it matter?

I was recently interviewed for a forthcoming news story about the work I do with Tangle. At the end of the interview, the reporter asked me if I had any "political hot takes" I wanted to share. Given our mission here, I hesitated. But one idea popped into my head that I couldn't help but blurt out: The GOP primary is over. After looking deep into every poll I find, I simply haven’t found any data to suggest that anyone other than Trump will be the Republican nominee in 2024, and the press seems largely unprepared and unwilling to accept this reality.

This indictment matters because it includes more evidence that Trump is willing to obstruct legitimate investigations into his conduct, and it increases the odds he'll be convicted as charged. He'll get his day in court, of course, which I'll be watching closely with an open mind; but it doesn’t bode well for the former president.

Yet the political reality here looks like this: So many Americans have so little trust in our institutions — including the FBI and Justice Department — that these charges, and even a potential conviction, are not going to stop Trump. The allegations have been flattened to mere political fodder, rather than the serious, disqualifying charges that they may have been 10 or 20 years ago.

That reality speaks not just to the political unrest in our country, but to the strength of the partisan bases that are so intractable that they can’t be moved even when new evidence comes to light. It's certainly possible the total mass of the allegations against Trump blocks his path to the presidency, but I don't see a world in which it stops him from becoming the nominee.

And that remains true even as the odds of a conviction appear to keep rising.

Your questions, answered.

Q: I’m curious about the Florida law that started this. “…teachings that make students feel guilt over past actions by members of their racial group.” How is it possible to regulate guilt? Can’t any student simply claim they are being made to feel guilty and shut down pretty much any lesson they want to get out of? This seems impossible to regulate in practice. How can it actually be legal?

— Arthur from Asheville, North Carolina

Tangle: The enforcement of this law is something I'm curious about, too, and there already are some legal challenges to it. But first, let me clarify that my quote describing the law was a summary that re-worded it for brevity. The actual text states, "A person should not be instructed that he or she must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress for actions, in which he or she played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex."

So, right away, there's a big difference between a lesson that makes a student feel guilty and a lesson where the instructor tells the student that they must feel guilty. The real issue is that where to draw the boundary between those two things can be very ambiguous. I could imagine a lesson where a teacher says something like, "The discriminatory policy of redlining defined who could own a home along racial lines, and since home ownership is a large way for families to pass down wealth, the impacts of this policy still exist today." In that lesson, I could also imagine a teacher saying that white students, by and large, inherited more privilege than their classmates.

Does that tell a white student that they personally have something they should or must feel guilty over? This is hypothetical, so it's impossible to say; but depending on the wording I think it's definitely possible that a court could interpret this as instructing someone to feel guilt. That, in part, is why so many teachers in Florida have expressed concern about the law — fear that they might be prosecuted for how they taught something they viewed as innocuous.

Is the law legal? We’ll see, as a case is underway that challenges that the law stops the free discussion of race and gender in classrooms. I don't know how critical this one portion of the text is to that challenge, but we'll keep an eye on the story in Florida as it develops.

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.

Less than a week after CNN published a report about the weight loss drug Ozempic causing stomach paralyzation, European regulators announced plans to review safety data on the drug after patients reported suicidal or self-harming thoughts. The drug, which is classified as diabetes medicine, has soared in popularity in the United States for its ability to induce weight loss by limiting cravings for food. Questions have swirled about its safety while some doctors have expressed concern that it is prescribed too widely. Now, the European Medicines Agency has announced a review of its safety data, as has a regulatory agency in the United Kingdom. Roughly 373,000 Ozempic prescriptions were filled last year in the U.S. alone. Reuters has the story.


  • 43-43. The percentage of voters who said they would cast their ballots for Joe Biden or Donald Trump, according to the latest New York Times/Siena College poll.
  • 23%. The percentage of voters who said the United States is on the right track.
  • 55%. Donald Trump's net unfavorable rating, according to the poll.
  • 54%. Joe Biden's net unfavorable rating, according to the poll.
  • 6%. The percentage of voters who said they wouldn't vote in an election between Biden and Trump.

The extras.

Have a nice day.

Josephine Wright, a 93-year-old resident of Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, is defending the right to land that's been in her family since the Civil War. Court documents show a Georgia-based land developer, which wants to build on and around her property, is suing Wright for encroachment after she refused to sell them her house. "I've just never seen a multi-million dollar company handle themselves like this," said Charise Graves, one of Wright's 40 grandchildren. But Wright is getting help from powerful allies — like Snoop Dogg, who donated $10,000 to help pay legal fees, and Kyrie Irving, who pitched in another $40,000. "I'm hoping that the outcome is this: That these people will leave us alone and let me keep my property for the sanctuary of my family," Wright said. USA Today has the story.

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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.