10 min read

Trump’s veepstakes, UFOs, and other reader questions

It’s time for a mailbag edition! Gabe answers questions on Trump’s running mate, the UFO hearing, and other topics.
Trump’s veepstakes, UFOs, and other reader questions
“Mailbox decorated with the American flag” (DALL-E)

Good morning! It’s Tuesday, August 29, 2023. The 2024 elections are 434 days away. If this newsletter was forwarded to you, subscribe here. If you want to contribute to support my work, donate here.

One of my favorite parts of writing this newsletter is hearing from so many of you over email each day. WUTP subscribers unfailingly send insightful questions and feedback that push me and make me think. I try to respond to almost every email, even if it can be a few weeks after the fact — I am a one-man band after all — and occasionally feature some of your questions in the “Ask Gabe” section.

This morning, I want to lead off by tackling a whole bunch of questions at once. Every time I do this, I hear from readers who say someone else asked a question they’ve been wondering too, so I hope there’s something for everyone to learn in this issue. Let’s dive in:

Trump veepstakes

Leslie R. asks: Why is no one talking about potential running mates for Trump? Yes, it would be early to do that for someone who can’t exactly yet be called the presumptive nominee. But with all the indictments it would seem something that might prove to be consequential—at least as much so as Biden’s pick, though I’d say even more so. I’d additionally love to hear someone talk about the decision-making process Trump and team might go through when looking at options and whether the thought of being the running mate is in any of the Republican contenders’ calculus at this point.

The thought of being vice president is absolutely an animating calculus for several of the Republicans running for the top job. Trump’s campaign went so far as to call last week’s debate the “2024 Vice Presidential Debate,” which may have been a bit exaggerated, but directionally, they’re not far off: it feels like several of Trump’s rivals are actually running to be his No. 2.

Looking at the field broadly, you see this not just in their hesitance to attack Trump — but also in who they are attacking. I think one of the reasons Vivek Ramaswamy, say, got more daggers at last week’s debate than Ron DeSantis is that Ramaswamy poses more of a threat to the other candidates in the veepstakes than DeSantis, who has a pretty toxic relationship with Trump at this point. (Although not more toxic than Trump’s actual former running mate, Mike Pence, who is also firmly out of the running for VP this time around.)

Ramaswamy and Tim Scott, in particular, are two of Trump’s rivals who have gone out of their way to praise him and keep up good relationships with him; in turn, he has singled out both of them as possible VP picks. Nikki Haley is another candidate who you can easily see as VP, especially as someone to reach out to independent voters after she took more moderate stances on abortion and climate change at the debate.

In general, there is a broad expectation that Trump will choose either a woman or person of color as his VP if he receives the nomination, making more of an attempt to counter Kamala Harris and target those voter bases. Looking outside of those running for president, other names that come to mind include South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, former Arizona gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake, Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and New York Rep. Elise Stefanik. Intriguingly, the Wall Street Journal also recently named South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace — a onetime Trump critic — as a possibility under consideration.

The one thing I’ll note about some of these contenders: Trump hates when his underlings get more attention than him, which would certainly be a risk for possibilities like Ramaswamy, Lake, or Greene. Someone like Noem, Stefanik, or Sanders (who has experience as Trump’s understudy, having served as White House press secretary) is a lot less likely to overshadow the boss, one factor that I do expect will figure into Trump’s thinking.

What’s next on UFOs

Kamila B. asks: What are the next political steps after the congresstional hearing on UFOs? And what about the whistleblower complaint? I guess what I’m really wondering is whether any further info in this process will be made public, and what happens if Congress does uncover evidence that white collar crimes were committed to divert funds into reverse-engineering supposedly alien craft. And is there even a protocol around what the government would do if it had to officially acknowledge the existence of non-human intelligent life?

The hubbub over UFOs — or unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs), as they’re known in Washington-speak — has really died down on Capitol Hill since last month’s blockbuster hearing, when a military whistleblower testified that the U.S. government is hiding information about them from the public.

In terms of next steps, the main lawmaker to watch is probably Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TN), who was a driving force behind the UAP hearing and has made this issue a signature. Just last week, he launched a UAP Caucus and led a letter with other lawmakers pressing the intelligence community to answer questions raised by the whistleblower testimony.

A key forum for action will also be the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the annual defense policy package, which Congress is hoping to pass by the end of the year. In addition to controversial amendments on abortion and social policy, the NDAA passed by the House in July also included a lower-profile amendment by Burchett that would require the Defense Department to “declassify any documents and records relating to publicly-known sightings of unidentified aerial phenomena that do not compromise the national security of the United States.”

The version of the NDAA passed by the Senate featured an amendment by Chuck Schumer and other top lawmakers that would require the National Archives to create a “UAP Records Collection” to spur the public release of government documents relating to UAPs. So, although a lot of horse-trading and negotiation is still left to be done over the NDAA, it seems likely that some provision on UAP public disclosure will be included.

Right now, as far as we know, there are no government protocols for announcing the discovery of non-human life — at least none that have been made public. In 2021, NASA called for a more comprehensive framework to be put together; there is also the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA), a UN-recognized group that has its own protocols that call for any confirmed sign of extraterrestrial intelligence to be reported in a “full and complete open manner to the public.”

Many American astronauts are members of the IAA, but, of course, their protocols don’t bind the U.S. government. Ultimately, it would likely be up to the president (although I’m skeptical that any secret of that magnitude could be kept a secret even if the president wanted it to). At last week’s debate, Chris Christie — to his annoyance — was asked how he would handle such a situation. “The job of the president of the United States is to level with the American people about everything,” he answered, promising to be honest if anything were discovered on his watch.

Trump pardon in Georgia

Richard M. writes: If Trump is convicted in Georgia court he absolutely cannot pardon himself. The idea of a president pardoning himself is constitutionally untested but given Trump’s history it is very plausible that he would attempt it if re-elected. This, I believe is the primary motivation to get his case into federal court.

Actually, if Trump were re-elected, he would not be able to pardon himself on the Georgia charges — no matter if they are litigated in Georgia court or federal court. (Trump has not formally requested that his case in Georgia be removed to federal court, but five of his co-defendants have; many legal experts expect he will try to do the same.)

The president can only pardon federal charges; when a state case is removed to federal court, it remains a state case and the same state charges are still used as the indictment. In addition, the same state prosecutors handle the case, just arguing before a federal judge and federal jury pool and using federal legal procedures (e.g. there could no longer be cameras in the courtroom, unlike in Georgia).

In Georgia, pardons are handled by the State Board of Pardon and Paroles; convicts are only eligible for them after serving at least five years of their sentence. That would hold true even if Trump’s case is moved to federal court.

Supreme Court disclosure

Tim R. asks: My question is related to the extension on the financial disclosure forms that Justice Clarence Thomas requested. When is he now due to provide that disclosure? I believe that Justice Alito also requested an extension. Are they due the same date?

As I’ve covered before, Supreme Court justices are required to file annual financial disclosure forms. Tim is correct that, so far this year, all but seven of the justices have done so; Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito requested 90-day extensions, as they are allowed to by law.

The original deadline for the disclosures was May 15, so the 90-day clock would have run out on August 13. But it shouldn’t be seen as odd that the Thomas and Alito forms have yet to be made public: these forms are never posted online immediately.

Per the U.S. Guide to Judiciary Policy, the Judicial Conference’s Committee on Financial Disclosure reviews all judicial financial disclosure forms to ensure compliance before they are released. The forms that were handed in May 15 were released on June 7, so — assuming Thomas and Alito complied with the August 13 deadline — we in the public should be seeing their forms sometime in the next few weeks.

Mugshot rules

Craig C. asks: Does the state of Georgia or any other governmental organization have a copyright of Trump’s mug shot, or can Trump legally use it to make more money?

Mugshots are in the public domain so Trump — or anyone else — is free to monetize the image. Already, the Trump campaign has begun to sell T-shirts, mugs, koozies — you name it — with the mugshot, and they aren’t alone. An entire cottage industry has popped up around the mugshot, with Trump fans and critics alike trying to make a quick buck off the picture.

Trump’s campaign manager has threatened legal action against other groups and individuals trying to make money off the mugshot, but the campaign has no legal rights to the image, so it’s unlikely such a lawsuit would go very far.

Do you have a question you’d like answered in Wake Up To Politics? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com, or just click reply to this email: the newsletter is sent from my real address!

Trump’s colliding calendar.

In a hearing on Monday, Judge Tanya Chutkan — who is overseeing Trump’s federal January 6th indictment — set a date for the trial in the case to begin: March 4, 2024.

If that date holds, it means Trump’s D.C. trial will kick off one day before Super Tuesday, when at least 14 states are set to hold Republican presidential primaries. It’s just the latest example of Trump’s political and legal calendars colliding in an unprecedented fashion, with his legal fate set to be decided at the exact time as Republicans potentially crown him as their presidential nominee.

It will make for an extraordinary, and chaotic, few months in the political world, to be sure. Here’s a look at the key dates for Trump coming up:

  • September 6, 2023: Trump and his 18 co-defendants will be arraigned in Georgia.
  • September 27, 2023: Second GOP debate
  • October 2, 2023: Civil trial begins in the New York attorney general’s fraud lawsuit against the Trump Organization
  • January 15, 2024: Iowa caucuses; civil trial begins in E. Jean Carroll’s defamation lawsuit against Trump
  • January 29, 2024: Civil trial begins in class-action lawsuit against Trump and his company over an alleged pyramid scheme
  • February 6, 2024: Nevada primary
  • February 27, 2024: Michigan primary
  • March 4, 2024: Criminal trial begins in Trump’s federal January 6th case
  • March 5, 2024: Super Tuesday
  • March 25, 2024: Criminal trial begins in Trump’s New York case
  • May 20, 2024: Criminal trial begins in Trump’s federal classified documents case
  • July 15-18, 2024: Republican National Convention

Note that a trial date has not been set in Trump’s Georgia case, and that all of the trial dates are subject to be moved around (especially if they are poised to conflict with each other).

Also keep in mind something I noted a few weeks ago: under this calendar, considering how many weeks his trials may take and how GOP delegate rules benefit frontrunners, Trump could easily have the Republican nomination sewn up before a verdict is rendered in any of his trials.

As Nate Cohn of the New York Times wrote yesterday, if Trump’s D.C. trial does begin on March 4, around 70% of the GOP delegates will likely be awarded while the trial is ongoing — meaning even if he is convicted at the trial’s end, it may already be too late to deny him the GOP nod.

More news to know.

GUNS IN AMERICA: A faculty member was killed Monday in a shooting at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill that prompted an hours-long lockdown on the campus. A suspect is in custody.

  • The shooting came just two days after three Black people were gunned down in a racist attack in Jacksonville, Florida, and three days after a 16-year-old boy was killed in a shooting at an Oklahoma high school football game. According to the K-12 School Shooting Database, there have been 11 shootings at high school football games just this month.

IN THE STATES: Tennessee Republicans voted to silence state Rep. Justin Jones (D-TN) on Monday, while Wisconsin liberals on the state Supreme Court continued sparring with their conservative colleagues in what the state chief justice called “nothing short of an unprecedented coup.”

ON THE TRAIL: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has paused campaigning as his state grapples with the Jacksonville shooting and Tropical Storm Idalia. In a rare phone call between the two, DeSantis spoke with President Biden on Monday to discuss both matters.

COMING UP IN CONGRESS: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is putting together a push on AI legislation, with plans to bring Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg to the Hill next month.

  • Meanwhile, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) says the House could launch a Biden impeachment inquiry as soon as September. He called an impeachment probe the “natural step forward” for the ongoing GOP investigations.  

The day ahead.

White House: President Biden will announce the 10 prescription drugs for which the government will soon be able to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies to set their prices for Medicare beneficiaries. The negotiations, which were spurred by the Inflation Reduction Act, will begin later this year; the new prices won’t take effect until 2026.

On the campaign trail: Former VP Mike Pence is set to announce his “Day One Executive Actions plan” in a press call.

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— Gabe