Apr 5, 2023

The Trump charges, and we're taking a break.

We finally have the actual indictment.

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: 5 minutes.

Today is Passover. Sunday is Easter. We're in the midst of Ramadan. And Congress just kicked off a two-week recess.

In other words: This is a great time for a quick vacation — not just for me and the Tangle staff, who try to take breathers when we can, but for you, our readers. Politics is grueling, and partisan warfare can be overwhelming. It takes energy to remain engaged, level-headed, and open-minded. Too much news is not a good thing. So, whenever we take a little time off, I always encourage my readers to join us. Step outside. Get some sun. Visit with family. Take a breath.

To that end, we'll be taking off tomorrow and returning to your inbox on Tuesday, April 13. If you are someone who observes any of the religious holidays during this time of year, I wish you a peaceful and fulfilling holiday. If you don't, I hope you at least get a day or two off work thanks to the holidays. If you're not observing and you're retired, well, shoot... it sounds like you've got some free time already.

While we're headed into vacation, I don't want to leave you hanging without any news. So, below, we've got some quick hits, an abbreviated Tangle on the Trump indictment, a reminder on how to support us, and a shoutout to our partners at DailyChatter.

Quick hits.

  1. Judge Janet Protasiewicz won her race in Wisconsin, marking the first time the state will have a liberal supreme court in 15 years. (The win)
  2. Progressive Brandon Johnson won Chicago's mayoral runoff election over former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas, a moderate. (The win)
  3. Rep. Tricia Cotham, a Democratic lawmaker in North Carolina, is changing her party affiliation and giving Republicans a veto-proof majority over Gov. Roy Cooper (D). (The flip)
  4. The United States pledged another $2.6 billion in military aid to Ukraine. (The cash)
  5. The Tennessee state GOP is moving to expel three Democrats who participated in gun control protests at the state Capitol. (The protests)

The indictment.

Yesterday, former President Donald Trump was arraigned and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg unsealed his indictment and statement of facts in the case.

Trump is being charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. The charges are largely identical to what was reported here in Tangle and what was expected based on leaks from the district attorney's office. Bragg alleges that from August 2015 to December 2017, Trump "orchestrated a scheme with others to influence the 2016 presidential election by identifying and purchasing negative information about him to suppress its publication and benefit the Defendant’s electoral prospects."

The most surprising part of the indictment is part of Bragg's argument. While he hasn't pinned the case to one exact potential cover-up crime that would elevate the misdemeanor charges to a felony, he surprised some pundits by introducing multiple theories, including that Trump may have violated state election laws (arguing that he prevented someone from being elected to public office by unlawful means while acting in a conspiracy with others, which is illegal in New York), or was committing business fraud to back up planned state tax crimes. The complication around the state election law charge is that Trump was running in a federal race, though some think the state tax charges could carry weight.

Trump appeared in court and pleaded not guilty to all of the charges. As expected, Bragg is attempting to elevate misdemeanor business records charges to felonies by alleging they were done to conceal or advance other crimes (in this case, one of the multiple theories Bragg introduced). Adult film star Stormy Daniels and former playboy model Karen McDougal are both named in the case as women whose stories Trump purchased in order to keep them out of the media. So too is a doorman at Trump tower who alleged to know of an illegitimate child Trump fathered, but whose story was rejected by the tabloid AMI.

Judge Juan Merchan set the next hearing for Dec. 4, and prosecutors asked to try the case in January, which would be a month before the Iowa caucuses. Legal experts say a trial could not start for another year and an indictment or conviction would not prevent Trump from running for president.

Trump, meanwhile, returned to Mar-a-Lago and delivered a speech, calling Judge Merchan “a Trump-hating judge with a Trump-hating wife and family.”

“I never thought anything like this could happen in America. Never thought it could happen,” Trump said. “The only crime that I have committed is to fearlessly defend our nation from those who seek to destroy it.”

Some opinions.

As news of the charges dropped, an interesting thing happened: Even some of Trump's most notable detractors seemed skeptical of the charges. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), who has said Trump is unfit for office, said, "The prosecutor's overreach sets a dangerous precedent for criminalizing political opponents and damages the public’s faith in our justice system." Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who was fired by Trump, said the indictment was "an unimpressive document" and "landed like a dud." Former Attorney General William Barr, who has hammered Trump for his claims the election was stolen, called it a "pathetically weak case."

From the right: The Wall Street Journal editorial board said there were "few surprises, except perhaps astonishment that Mr. Bragg’s case looks even weaker than we expected." National Review said, "It’d be one thing if there were a clear felony violation that is consistently prosecuted, but the unsealed indictment is as weak as advertised." Bragg also "catalogues every false business entry, deeming each a felony, in a frowned-upon practice known as 'stacking' to try to make an attenuated or relatively minor offense seem more serious through sheer repetition." In The New York Post, Michael Goodwin called it "pathetic."

From the left: In The Washington Post, Ruth Marcus said prosecutors could win, and she hopes they do, but "fears I had in the weeks leading up to the indictment about the strength of the case against Trump were in no way allayed by Tuesday’s developments." In The New York Times, David Firestone said the the images and details of the case were more serious than Trump expected, and Bragg is "on much safer ground tying fraudulent business records to a violation of state law, because the defense cannot argue that he lacks jurisdiction on the matter." In Slate, Mark Joseph Stern said this is not the slam dunk case Democrats wanted.

One opinion that stood out: Others were more excited. In his newsletter The Racket, Jonathan Katz said Tuesday was a good day. While sympathetic to the view this case could get dismissed, and while agreeing the other cases carried more convincing and serious charges, Katz said "Good! Charge all of those too... Let the man spend his entire miserable 2024 reelection campaign enduring the daily monotony and fear of court proceedings, while the nation is reminded at every turn of his repeated attempts to steal elections through fraud and violence, and the rampant criminality that has defined his entire adult life."

Not only that, Katz argued, but let's "get George W. Bush and Dick Cheney indicted for torture, illegal wire-trapping, and various war crimes. Investigate, indict, and prosecute Bill Clinton for the alleged rape of Juanita Broaddrick. Prosecute every politician who’s engaged in insider trading, illegally destroyed documents, or engaged in other kinds of fraud. This would be a better country by leagues if everyone who puts on a dark suit and takes an oath of office understands not only that the law applies equally to them, but that the power they wield to shape and execute those laws means they will have to endure more scrutiny — and potentially harsher consequences — than ordinary citizens."

My take: Nothing about the indictment was particularly new or surprising. It was, basically, what we expected. I find Katz’s argument persuasive in many ways, but to sum up my position: I think Trump probably committed the acts he is accused of, but I don't think this indictment is wise, and I worry about the Pandora's box we just opened. I also doubt that Trump can get a fair trial in Manhattan. Monday's post is still relevant.


One of the most common questions I get in Tangle is "can you do more international news?" or "what about a Tangle for Country X?" While we focus primarily on politics in the United States, I am thrilled to announce a new partnership with DailyChatter, an international news organization built in the same ethos as Tangle. It's the most neutral, even-handed international round-up I've found, and one of the first reads for me every morning. You can try it for 2 weeks for free, and it's just $29.95 a year after that. 84% of all users who try DailyChatter for free stick around after their trial. Sign up here. So far, the feedback from Tangle readers has been great!

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Thank you!

Have a nice weekend.

What if your doctor prescribed you something that could cure your ails, but instead of being a dose of medicine, it was a pleasant, enjoyable activity that was free and easy to access? Well, there is strong evidence that is just what the doctor should be ordering. A new meta-analysis from UNSW Sydney shows "nature prescriptions" — the recommendation to spend time in nature — showed patients "had reduced blood pressure, as well as lower depression and anxiety scores – and they had a higher daily step count." The research shows that "contact with nature reduces harms, including those from poor air quality, heatwaves, and chronic stress, while encouraging healthy behaviours such as socialising and physical activity. This can help to prevent issues including loneliness, depression and cardiovascular disease." USNW 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.