Wake Up To Politics - January 21, 2022
by Gabe Fleisher
Good morning! It’s Friday, January 21, 2022. Election Day 2022 is 291 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,019 days away.
Investigations creep closer to Trump
Former President Donald Trump is the odds-on favorite to capture the Republican presidential nod in 2024: no GOP official — not even Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, with whom he’s been sparring lately — comes close to reaching his level of dominance among the party faithful.
But will Trump’s potential comeback bid be disrupted by legal threats? There are several investigations — state, local, and federal — into the former president currently ongoing, and several seem as though they’re creeping closer and closer to him by the day. Here’s an update on the Trump investigations to watch:
New York attorney general’s office. New York Attorney General Letitia James has been conducting a civil investigation into Trump’s eponymous family business, the Trump Organization, since 2019. James has been probing “whether the Trump Organization committed fraud in reporting the value of certain properties to banks and tax authorities,” as NBC News put it.
Earlier this month, James issued subpoenas for testimony and documents from the former president and his two eldest children, Ivanka and Donald Jr., a sign that the investigation is zeroing in on Trump and his inner circle. This week, in a court filing responding to Trump’s effort to quash the subpoenas, the AG outlined specific accusations against the company for the first time.
James wrote in the new filing that her probe has uncovered evidence of the Trump Organization engaging in “fraudulent or misleading” practices, by inflating the value of at least six of its properties to lenders, insurers, and the IRS in order to gain “economic benefit.” According to an Axios report from this week, Trump allies are increasingly worried about the probe — partly due to concerns about his choice of lawyer, a “relatively inexperienced New Jersey attorney.
Manhattan district attorney’s office. James’ investigation is civil, meaning she cannot file criminal charges against Trump; her only recourse would be to sue him. However, her investigation has been running parallel to a criminal probe by the Manhattan district attorney’s office; the two investigating outfits announced in May of last year that they were working in concert.
The probe by the district attorney’s office, which is examining similar allegations of fraud as James, is now being overseen by its second leader: the investigation has continued as the longtime Manhattan DA, Cyrus Vance, stepped down on January 1 and was replaced by Alvin Bragg Jr. In an interview with CNN, Bragg described the investigation as a “consequential case, one that merits the attention of the DA personally.”
Per the Washington Post, the DA’s office convened a second grand jury in the investigation in November, to hear evidence in the case and possibly deliver additional criminal charges. (The first grand jury charged the Trump Organization and its longtime chief financial officer with overseeing a 15-year “scheme to defraud” the government.”) According to a New York Times report last month, the DA’s office has “zeroed in on financial documents that [Trump] used to obtain loans and boast about his wealth” as they consider whether to pursue an indictment against the ex-president personally. Per the Times, the investigators are examining the possibility that Trump misled his own accountants into “presenting an overly rosy picture of his finances.”
Fulton County district attorney’s office. But Trump’s hometown district attorney isn’t the only DA leading an investigation into him. Fani Willis, the district attorney in Fulton County, Georgia (a jurisdiction that includes Atlanta), stepped up her probe into Trump on Thursday by asking a judge to convene a special grand jury to aid in her criminal investigation.
Unlike James and Bragg, who are examining Trump’s conduct outside of government, the probe by Willis is focused squarely on his presidential actions: she’s examining Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia, including his infamous January 2021 phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, in which he urged the election offical to “find 11,780 votes” in order to put Trump over the top in the state.
The new special grand jury Willis is hoping to impanel will be specifically focused on the Trump investigation, as opposed to a range of cases like a regular grand jury. It would not have the authority to return any indictments, but the grand jury would be able to issue subpoenas to compel testimony and to recommend prosecutions. In her request this week, Willis indicated that one of the witnesses she’d aim to subpoena would be Raffensperger.
Willis also wrote that her office had “received information indicating a reasonable probability” that the Georgia election results in 2020 were “subject to possible criminal disruptions.” Hers is the only known criminal probing eyeing Trump’s efforts to overturn the election.
January 6 committee. Next up is the House panel investigating last year’s attack at the U.S. Capitol. This probe is not focused on Trump specifically, but one of its areas of focus is Trump’s involvement in possibly inciting the attack and his broader efforts to overturn the 2020 election. As part of its investigation, the committee has targeted much of his inner circle, issuing subpoenas to most of his senior White House advisers.
This week, the panel veered even closer to the former president: the committee issued subpoenas to Rudy Giuliani, his personal lawyer, and on Thursday to his daughter Ivanka. She is the second Trump child known to be targeted in the probe: earlier this week, CNN reported that the committee had subpoenaed phone records for his son Eric Trump, as well as for Kimberly Guilfoyle, the fiancé of Donald Trump Jr.
The Trump family subpoenas signal that the committee could be inching towards requesting testimony from Trump himself. The House panel also scored a big win in its investigation of Trump this week as the Supreme Court ruled that the National Archives could turn over a tranche of his White House records to the committee.
Justice Department. As part of its work, the leaders of the House January 6 committee have previously indicated that they are considering making criminal referrals to the Justice Department encouraging prosecutions against Trump or his allies for their efforts to overturn the election and disrupt the Electoral College certification.
But some Democrats are hoping Attorney General Merrick Garland will get there himself and prosecute Trump as part of the DOJ’s ongoing January 6 investigation, which has already charged more than 700 people. Garland vowed this month to pursue charges against individuals “at any level” who were “responsible for the assault on our democracy.”
The DOJ is not currently known to be personally investigating Trump, but an interesting indicator dribbled out this week: per the New York Times, “evidence emerged in court papers that prosecutors have posed questions” to at least one January 6 defendant that focused on Trump’s role in encouraging the riot, a sign that the agency could be considering a more direct investigation into Trump.
Policy Briefing: Economics
Each week, Wake Up To Politics contributor Davis Giangiulio offers a roundup of the week’s top economic news — usually on Mondays, but this week on Friday:
Retail sales fell in December, despite a strong holiday season. Census Bureau data showed sales declined 1.9% last month, compared to a 0.2% rise in November. Economists expected only a slight 0.1% fall, meaning figures missed expectations. Some believe that the fall occurred due to an earlier than typical holiday shopping season, which happened due to fear goods would be difficult to find thanks to supply chain problems.
But the figures may reveal consumers finally starting to take rising inflation into consideration. For months retail spending was rising despite surging prices. However, December’s fall may show reality is catching up to spending. On a brighter note, sales for the year rose 19.3%, buoyed by big jumps in January and March thanks to government stimulus checks. When factoring in inflation, that figure is an increase of 10% for the year.
New data from the Census Bureau reveals just how hard Omicron hit the economy, even if its presence may be short-lived. The Household Pulse Survey for late December to early January showed that 8.75 million people were not working because they were “caring for someone or sick...with coronavirus symptoms.” Compare that to early December 2021, when that figure was closer to 3 million.
The Omicron variant came at a terrible time for employers: already when they’re struggling to find employees, suddenly they had large numbers of their staff who couldn’t come to work. Instead of facing shutdowns or strict capacity restrictions like had occurred under previous waves, businesses now instead confront the inability to manage their establishments. Supply chains, already clogged due to high demand, could get even more jammed as Omicron moves through China and the government responds with strong mitigation measures. But the surge in the U.S. is subsiding, so the pain caused by the variant may prove to be harsh but swift domestically.
Union membership in 2021 fell despite a rise in striking and organizing in the latter half of the year. 14 million wage and salary workers were in a union in 2021, according to data released by the Labor Department, down 241,000 from 2020. The fall, though, is better than 2020’s decline of 321,000 compared to 2019. The amount of wage and salary workers represented by a union also fell by 137,000 in 2021. The empowerment workers had due to the labor shortage gave workers the perfect opportunity to organize last year, yet unions still contracted in their membership.
Biden’s Year One, by the numbers
President Biden marked his first anniversary in office on Thursday. Student journalist William Lloyd writes in with this roundup of the top numbers you should know to understand Biden’s first year:
- $3.1 trillion. The combined price tag of Biden’s two major legislative packages — a Covid relief bill and a bipartisan infrastructure bill.
- 209.8 million. The number of Americans fully vaccinated against Covid-19, the vast majority of whom received their shots during the Biden presidency.
- 472,000. The number of Americans who have died from Covid-19 since Biden took office, more than who died under Trump in 2020.
- 2,401. The number of Americans who died in the 20-year war in Afghanistan before Biden withdrew from it.
- 42. The number of federal judges nominated by Biden who have been confirmed to the bench, more than any president in their first year since Reagan.
- 7%. The U.S. inflation rate in December, its highest level since June 1982.
- 3.9%. The U.S. unemployment rate in December, which has had its biggest single-year drop in history.
In Thursday’s newsletter, I misstated the FiveThirtyEight average for President Biden’s approval rating. According to the average, as of Thursday, 52.5% disapproved of Biden’s job performance, compared to 41.9% who approved.
All times Eastern.
President Joe Biden will meet virtually with Prime Minister Kishida Fumio of Japan at 8 a.m. Then, at 11 a.m., Biden will deliver remarks on his administration’s efforts to rebuild supply chains and increase the U.S. supply of semiconductors. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo will also deliver remarks.
- At 1:50 p.m., Biden will address the nation’s mayors at the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ 90th annual Winter Meeting. Finally, at 4 p.m., he will travel to Camp David, where he will spend the weekend.Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to San Bernardino, California today. She will arrive at 9:30 a.m. and Harris receive a briefing at 4:25 p.m. on wildfire prevention and mitigation with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at the Forest Service Del Rosa Fire Station.
- At 4:55 p.m., Harris and Vilsack will deliver remarks to highlight the provisions of the bipartisan infrastructure package providing funding for wildfire preparedness and resilience. Finally, at 7:15 p.m., Harris will travel from San Bernardino to Los Angeles, where she will spend the night. Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff will join Harris on her trip to California. At 5 p.m., he will participate in a service activity with AmeriCorps at a local food pantry in Los Angeles. At 7:15 p.m., he will participate in a listening session with legal aid providers.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken is on the final leg of his trip to Europe. Earlier this morning, he met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva, Switzerland, as tensions between Russia and Ukraine continue to accelerate.
White House Press Secretary Jen Pskai will hold her daily press briefing at 12 p.m.
U.S. public health officials will hold a press briefing at 1 p.m. to provide an update on the Covid-19 response. Participants will include Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House chief medical adviser; Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director; and Jeff Zients, the White House Covid-19 response coordinator.
The Senate is on recess until January 31.
The House is on recess until February 1. The chamber will briefly convene at 9 a.m. for a pro forma session, without conducting any business.
The Supreme Court will meet for its weekly conference.