Aug 30, 2023

House Republicans launch Fani Willis investigation.

House Republicans launch Fani Willis investigation.
Jim Jordan (R-OH) is leading an investigation into Fulton County prosecutor Fani Willis. 

Can they really slow her down?

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: 10 minutes.

🕵️‍♀️
House Republicans are investigating Fani Willis, but can they slower her down? Plus, a reader question about electric vehicle charging stations.

Correction.

In yesterday’s edition of Tangle, we erroneously referred to Vivek Ramaswamy as “a young, successful immigrant” in the “My take” section. Elsewhere, we correctly noted that Ramaswamy is the child of immigrants, was born in Ohio, and frequently discusses his parents’ immigration story on the campaign trail. We should have said something to the effect of “Ramaswamy’s immigration story” rather than explicitly calling him an immigrant.

Elsewhere, a few readers noted that we once referred to Ramaswamy as a “nominee” for president. While this is technically correct as nominee is synonymous with candidate, in common political parlance it denotes someone who has won their party’s nomination, and we should have described him as a “candidate.” Thanks, as always, to all the eagle-eyed readers out there. We appreciate you, and even minor corrections give us a chance to update our stories online. 

This is the 90th correction in Tangle's 214-week history and our first since August 22nd. We track corrections and place them at the top of the newsletter in an effort to maximize transparency with readers.


Quick hits.

  1. The United States announced $250 million of additional military aid to Ukraine, bringing the total since Russia invaded to over $43 billion. President Biden requested another $24 billion in aid earlier this month. (The money)
  2. Hurricane Idalia strengthened to a Category 3 hurricane and made landfall in Florida this morning. (The storm)
  3. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez suspended his campaign for president, making him the first Republican presidential candidate to drop out. (The campaign)
  4. U.S. job openings fell to the lowest levels in more than two years, according to new government data. (The numbers)
  5. Former President Donald Trump has raised over $9.4 million since his mugshot was released, including $1.7 million in merchandise sales with the image of the mugshot, according to his campaign. (The fundraising)

Today's topic.

House Republicans' investigation of Fani Willis. On Thursday, House Republicans announced an investigation into Fani Willis, the district attorney in Fulton County, Georgia, who is charging former President Trump and 18 co-conspirators with felony racketeering regarding their alleged attempts to overturn the 2020 election. Trump specifically is being charged with unlawfully pressuring Georgia officials to reverse his 2020 defeat. The House Judiciary Committee announced its investigation into Willis just hours before Trump was set to report to jail for his mugshot on Thursday.

The Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jim Jordan (R-OH), wrote to Willis asking if her investigation was coordinated with the U.S. Justice Department, including special counsel Jack Smith, and if she was using federal tax dollars in the investigation. Jordan's inquiry was aimed at discovering whether Willis collaborated with any Biden administration officials and if her office received any federal funds. 

In his letter, Jordan also accused Willis of carrying out a politically motivated prosecution.

“Turning first to the question of motivation, it is noteworthy that just four days before this indictment, you launched a new campaign fund-raising website that highlighted your investigation into President Trump,” he wrote. "Additionally, the forewoman of the special grand jury you convened to investigate President Trump earlier this year bragged during an unusual media tour about her excitement at the prospect of subpoenaing President Trump and getting to swear him in."

Jordan also criticized Willis for the timing of the indictment, noting that charges were not brought until after two-and-a-half years of investigation, so they've now come down in the heart of campaign season. He also argues that the charges seek to criminalize conduct of federal officials acting in their official capacities.

"In Count 22, for example, the indictment seeks to criminalize under Georgia law internal deliberations within DOJ, including a meeting where a former DOJ official requested formal authorization from his superiors to take an official act," he wrote. "And in Count 1, the indictment seeks to criminalize under Georgia law the White House Chief of Staff arranging meetings and phone calls for the President."

Jordan requested all documents and communications related to any receipt of federal funds, any communications between the Fulton County District Attorney's Office and the Justice Department, and all other communications between the Fulton County office and executive branch officials. He gave Willis until September 7 to turn those documents over.

This is the second time Republicans, who have a narrow majority in the House, have launched a probe into criminal investigations against the former president. Previously, they launched an investigation into Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who brought charges against Trump for alleged hush money payments to a porn star during the 2016 campaign. Bragg responded by suing Jordan for a "campaign of intimidation."

Today, we're going to break down some responses to this investigation with views from the right and left, then my take.


What the right is saying.

  • The right supports the investigation into Willis, arguing that her actions amount to an abuse of power. 
  • Some praise Jordan for fighting back against the powerful forces that are conspiring to take down Trump. 
  • Others say there are more than enough questions about Willis’s conduct to justify an investigation. 

In The American Spectator, Jeffrey Lord praised Jordan for “taking a leading role” in the fight against the weaponization of government.

Willis’s prosecution of Trump is “a brazenly corrupt enterprise engineered by a far-left prosecutor who used her Trump prosecution to raise campaign funds,” Lord said. Trump represents an ongoing threat to the political establishment, so it’s no surprise that “massively corrupt prosecutors in Washington, New York, and now Georgia” are coming after him. Fortunately, Jordan is using his own power to push back against attempts to silence a former president.

The significance of the House Judiciary’s investigation “cannot be underestimated,” Lord added. “The hard fact here is that the American Left and its Democrat Party operatives have set out in determined, decidedly fascist/authoritarian style to weaponize the American legal system to intimidate, silence, and imprison their political opponents and the opponents of the Biden administration.” Jordan is showing that despite the corruption on display, there are ways to fight back. 

In National Review, Andrew C. McCarthy said Willis is clearly acting on partisan grounds and has crafted an “ill-conceived” case designed to elevate her own political profile.

“Fani Willis has a case. It’s just not the case she brought,” McCarthy said. Her partisan motivations are made clear by the fact that she could have charged Trump on a number of “competently drawn charges, narrowly tailored to address state-law offenses,” but instead distorts the facts to paint Trump as “a shrewd political-mafia boss playing multidimensional chess, choreographing the diverse plots of compartmented crews.”

“Willis is an elected Democrat who seeks reelection next year, and her indictment is the progressive fever dream: the Trump-orchestrated insurrection with all the villains the Left loves to hate — Rudy Giuliani, Mark Meadows, John Eastman, Sidney Powell, Jeff Clark, et al.,” McCarthy wrote. “But because Willis, like Smith, lacks proof of violence and hence proof of an actual insurrection, she is left groping for a unifying crime that would tie them all to the same conspiracy.”

In PJ Media, Chris Queen said the House Judiciary Committee has Willis “in its sights.”

Jordan is making the case that Willis had a political motive to go after Trump, evidenced by the “questionable timing” of filing the charges now that the Republican presidential nomination process is underway, after two-and-a-half years of conducting an investigation without major updates. “Jordan also intimates that the original schedule Willis set for trial is meant to interfere with Georgia’s GOP primary.”

Another issue that Jordan’s letter addresses is that “the investigation and upcoming trial ‘implicate several significant federal interests.’ Those interests include acts that Trump and then-Chief of Staff Mark Meadows engaged in while Trump was president and certain actions the Department of Justice took.” The amount of federal funds Willis spent in this investigation is unknown, as is “the extent to which she communicated with Special Counsel Jack Smith.” All of these factors make Jordan’s investigation warranted. 


What the left is saying.

  • The left is opposed to Jordan’s investigation, but don’t think it poses any real threat to Willis. 
  • Some argue Jordan is again trying — in vain — to protect Trump, this time from Willis’s case against him.
  • Others say the right is normalizing attacks and weaponizing the government against prosecutions they don’t like. 

In MSNBC, Norman Eisen, Josh Stanton, and Fred Wertheimer said Willis should call Jordan’s bluff.

“Congress can't use its investigative power to engage in law enforcement,” they said. “Yet once again that is precisely what Jordan is attempting to do by seeking to second-guess and superintend a pending case by a local prosecutor.” This limit on Congressional authority is something Trump and his allies pushed for during his time in office — “when Congress tried to obtain Trump’s tax and financial records, Jordan proclaimed it ‘an unprecedented abuse of the committee’s subpoena authority.’”

Jordan is asking for “a broad array of confidential or internal documents and communications that would not normally see the light of day, including information that could reveal strategy, witness information, internal deliberations and contacts with special counsel Jack Smith,” they added. Willis should “call Jordan’s bluff,” and trust that, “if it comes to litigation, the courts will see through Jordan’s efforts for the distracting and partisan political theatrics they are.”

In the Washington Post, Greg Sargent said there’s nothing Jordan can do to “save Trump from a jury’s judgment.”

“Jordan’s game — using House investigations to protect Trump at all costs — is transparent,” Sargent said. But this strategy carries substantial risks, as pursuing this investigation could force other Republicans to “take difficult votes on future subpoenas — aligning them with Trump and putting their reelection at risk — without protecting Trump in any meaningful way.” Accordingly, “the whole project is almost surely a doomed charade at the outset.”

In his letter to Willis’s office, Jordan “hints at nefarious coordination” between her and special counsel Jack Smith, but “federal and state prosecutors often confer on cases with violations of federal and state law.” And even if Jordan successfully subpoenas Willis, she can fight back in court. “Besides, even if Republicans did get everything they want, it’s unlikely to reveal anything that would derail the prosecution of Trump in any case.”

In The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Bill Torpy called the response to Willis’s case against Trump “part of a prosecutor’s dilemma.”

The right has, as expected, made Willis a target. “The ‘radical left lunatic’ has waged a ‘witch hunt’ to make a name for herself, Trump said, as his minions nodded vociferously. By doing so, she has allowed criminals to roam free and unbothered, turning Atlanta into a crime-ridden hellscape, they say. (Actually, violent crime is down 23% in Atlanta this year.)” Now, “Trump toady Jim Jordan, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, is calling for an investigation into Willis’ investigation.”

“Georgia pols are similarly chiming in,” Torpy wrote. “State Sen. Clint Dixon said he will ask the newly created Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission (PAQC) to ‘investigate and take action against Fani Willis and her efforts that weaponize the justice system against political opponents.’... The Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission was created this year to sanction or even remove prosecutors for ethical violations or not properly doing their job. By that, I mean ‘woke’ prosecutors who don’t go fire-and-brimstone on criminal defendants.”


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 have investigation fatigue.
  • Republicans can certainly claim some oversight function here, but any real investigation with teeth into Willis will come from the state level.
  • While there are good questions about this indictment, all the drama is going to happen in the courtroom. 

I'll be honest: I'm getting a bit exhausted by all the investigations. 

Consider this: At the start of what feels like an endless stream of investigations since 2015, we had the FBI (and Congress and the State Department) investigate Hillary Clinton's emails — an investigation which was turned on, then off, then on again, then off again by FBI Director James Comey right before the 2016 election. Then Republicans investigated the investigation into Clinton’s emails. Then we had Comey's FBI investigating the Trump campaign's ties to Russia. Then we had special counsel Robert Mueller taking over that investigation. Then we had the inspector general, Michael Horowitz, investigate the investigators. Then we had a special counsel, John Durham, appointed by the new Attorney General, William Barr, investigate the origins of the investigation into Trump. When Durham released his final report, Democrats suggested they might even launch an investigation into his review of the investigation.

All the while, we had the Manhattan District attorney Alvin Bragg investigating, and eventually charging, Trump for allegedly paying hush money. So House Republicans launched an investigation into Bragg, which Bragg responded to by suing House Republicans. We also had the investigation into Hunter Biden and its blundered plea deal, an investigation that Republicans also now want to investigate after a pair of IRS whistleblowers came forward with very credible allegations that that investigation was corrupted. That’s given us a special counsel investigator for the Hunter Biden investigation (though it's the same person who headed the investigation in the first place).

Oh, and there's also the Letitia James investigation into fraud at the Trump Organization, the investigation into Donald Trump's handling of classified documents, as well as the (seemingly forgotten) investigation into President Biden's handling of classified documents, which is still ongoing. There was the Congressional investigation into January 6, which Republicans are now investigating, and there's also the two investigations into Trump's alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election — a federal probe and this state-level Georgia probe. And now there might be two investigations into the investigators of those investigations, too.

Are you having fun yet?  

I honestly have no idea how any American could possibly keep up with all this stuff and understand what is truly going on. And perhaps that is the point — what one or both sides want is to reduce their talking points into something like, "Trump is a criminal" or "Democrats are on a witch hunt."

Frankly, there are legitimate questions about Fani Willis's investigation. As the reliable never-Trumper Ken White put it in his very even-handed piece on the Fulton County charges, "No, Fani Willis is not making tweets or phone calls into crimes. But maybe her indictment is a bit indulgent and gratuitous."

As I wrote when this indictment came down, I think this case (and Jack Smith's indictment) covers the worst acts of Trump's presidency. While those actions may not result in a conviction, they certainly portray a group of people with a radical disregard for our democratic norms. Of course, Trump's promise to share exonerating evidence of election fraud in Georgia is not one I expect him or his team to ever fulfill, because the election in Georgia was not stolen.

At the same time, there are many novel elements to Willis's investigation, there are real questions about the logistics of how this trial might go down, and there is a very real chance the RICO statutes she is using either don't hold up for some of the charges or don't convince a jury. Nothing about this is a slam dunk, and liberals should understand that Willis is not an infallible character in this story — it very well may be that she loses this case at trial, or that judges overseeing it significantly alter the contours of the charges. Then again, that’s what the legal system is for. 

It's also true, as Jordan notes in his letter, that Willis is an elected official who is campaigning at this very moment — and I'm sure she wants to squeeze as much juice out of this investigation for her political benefit as possible.

Sure, Republicans have a "right" to know how federal funds were used in this indictment, and I think they have the oversight to start an investigation. But that doesn't mean Willis communicating with the Justice Department is criminal (it's actually pretty common) or that this investigation will slow down the trial (it probably won't).

Further, as Sargent noted (under "What the left is saying"), I think this investigation has a real chance of blowing up in Republicans’ faces. GOP members in purple swing districts will be pressured to take a stronger stance in defending Trump, which is not a smart electoral strategy — and not one they'll be keen on taking. It's also true, as Sargent noted, that this very same tactic was used against Bragg, who initially cooperated (with very little gleaned from the revelations) and then successfully counter-sued. Jordan has not subpoenaed any more sensitive documents from Bragg since, and his effort to protect Trump (or prosecute Bragg) has so far failed.

Willis, like any other prosecutor, is subject to oversight and investigation herself. If that’s going to happen, though, I'd prefer it be done by the Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission (PAQC) in Georgia, which Gov. Brian Kemp (R) set up with a law he signed in May. The commission could investigate Willis if it receives a complaint about her, and may even have the authority to remove her (though some legal experts contend that isn't clear). I find this incredibly unlikely, but it is much more appropriate than Republicans in Congress trying to slow things down.

In the end, Jordan is making a political move here, and I don't expect it to amount to much. He'll probably get some insignificant documents from Willis's office, a couple of talking points, and Willis’s case will otherwise go on without much interruption. The real drama is going to happen in the courtroom, where we'll find out whether Willis's charges can hold up to judicial scrutiny — and exactly how Trump's team plans to keep him out of prison.



Your questions, answered.

Q: I've seen so much ads and information on Electric vehicles, but nothing about infrastructure for them... what's your take? My opinion is that we are far from it... we have six gas stations in a small town of 6,000, no EV rechargeable stations in a neighbor city of 120,000!

- Scott from Boonville, Indiana

Tangle: First, I'd be careful not to extrapolate too much from your local infrastructure to draw larger conclusions. The city of Bend, Oregon, has a population of about 100,000 and about 20 charging stations.

That being said, I do think that you're right that in the coverage of electric vehicles, there hasn't been a huge focus on charging stations. There's a lot of discussion in the press about the production of electric vehicles. There's a lot of discussion about China's dominance in the EV battery market. I also see the environmental concerns of electric vehicles due to lithium mines and stressing power grids come up as counter-points to the narrative of electric cars solving climate change. But there isn't the same kind of coverage about charging stations.

I think the reason for that is quite simple: Charging stations aren't that controversial, they're mostly logistical, and logistics are pretty dull. People will click on articles about electric cars being very good for the environment or very bad for the environment, or on articles about big names like Ford or Chevrolet getting into the EV game. But charging stations are a secondary concern, and not particularly interesting.

Still, it is getting talked about. Earlier this summer, both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal wrote pieces on the "charging wars," and both declared that Tesla had already won. It's hard not to buy into the consensus that Tesla's advantage is going to be hard to beat, but in any case, my take is that I'd expect to see more and more charging stations coming to a city and interstate near you.


Can you help us?

Tangle was recently added to Credder, a website that ranks online news sources based on the accuracy and reliability of their content. They call themselves “Rotten Tomatoes for news” and are on a mission to make news compete for credibility instead of clicks — an effort that’s right up our alley. Even better, anyone can sign up to review individual articles and contribute to an outlet’s overall score. We think it’s a great idea and would love to see Tangle climb up the leaderboards — if you’re interested, consider signing up and reviewing our work!


Blindspot report.

Once a week, we present the Blindspot Report from our partners at Ground News, an app that tells you the bias of news coverage and what stories people on each side are missing.

The right missed a story about Fox News apologizing to the Gee family, a Gold Star family, for falsely claiming they had to pay $60,000 to ship their fallen relative's remains from Afghanistan because Biden's Pentagon refused to pay.

The left missed a story about the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) acknowledging it had nearly 5,400 emails and documents showing President Biden used pseudonyms while emailing his son during his time as vice president.


Numbers.

  • 63%. The percentage of Americans who say the charges against Trump in Georgia are serious (47%) or somewhat serious (16%), according to an ABC News poll.
  • 25%. The percentage of Americans who say the charges against Trump in Georgia are not too serious (10%) or not serious at all (15%).
  • 49%. The percentage of Americans who think Trump should have been charged with a crime in the Georgia case.
  • 32%. The percentage of Americans who think Trump should not have been charged in the Georgia case.
  • 50%. The percentage of Americans who think Trump should suspend his presidential campaign.
  • 33%. The percentage of Americans who think Trump should not suspend his presidential campaign.

The extras.

  • One year ago today we covered California's gas car ban.
  • The most clicked link in yesterday's newsletter was the Medicare price negotiations.
  • Anybody's Guess: 690 Tangle readers responded to our poll asking where they think Vivek Ramaswamy would end up if Republicans win the White House in 2024, with 34% saying he would be uninvolved. 58% think he would have a role, with 29% seeing him in the cabinet, 23% seeing him as vice president, 2% as president, and 4% somewhere else. 7% were unsure or had no opinion. "He said himself it's all or nothing on Bill Maher," said one respondent.
  • Nothing to do with politics: This week's blue supermoon.
  • Take the poll. What do you think of the investigation into Fani Willis? Let us know!

Have a nice day.

It's full sail ahead for the cargo ship Pyxis Ocean. The vessel, now on its maiden voyage from China to Brazil, is outfitted with WindWings sails, which are 123-feet tall and made of the same material as wind turbines. This is the first real-world test of the WindWing sails, which are designed to cut fuel consumption; because the ship does not rely solely on an engine, the sails could reduce its lifetime emissions by 30%. The shipping industry generates an estimated 837 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year, and wind power "can make a difference," according to Dr. Simon Bullock, shipping researcher at the University of Manchester's Tyndall Center. As the world waits for new clean energy sources, "we have to throw everything at operational measures on existing ships, like retrofitting vessels with sails, kits and rotors," Bullock added. The BBC has the story.


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