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Manhattan grand jury indicts Donald Trump

Former commander-in-chief is first former president indicted

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President Donald Trump (Screen capture via ACU Vimeo)

A New York grand jury on Thursday voted to bring criminal charges sought by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office against former President Donald Trump in connection with his alleged orchestration near the end of the 2016 presidential race of a hush money payment to an adult film actress.

The contents of the indictment triggered by the grand jury’s decision will almost certainly be kept under seal, however. And it is not clear when the charges will be filed, nor when an arrest and arraignment might come, or even whether Trump will surrender himself.

The uncertainty also extends to the consequences of America’s first-ever indictment of a former president, the prospect of which had already roused Trump’s allies in Congress to accuse prosecutors of politically motivated misconduct while prompting the former president’s supporters to heed his call for protests.

The New York Times reported on March 9 that Trump’s attorneys had received the signal from prosecutors that they were considering criminal charges, according to four people with knowledge of the matter.

Republican members in House leadership, meanwhile, signed on to a letter issued by Trump ally and chair of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), which demands testimony and documents from Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg on his office’s case against the former president.

The move closely followed Trump’s Truth Social post previewing the coming indictment in which he wrote that charges would be filed on March 21 and urged his supporters to “protest, take our nation back!” The message recalls Trump’s Dec. 19, 2020, tweet promoting the “wild” protests in D.C. that were scheduled for Jan. 6, 2021.

Evidence from court testimony in the criminal cases against several defendants who were charged with crimes including seditious conspiracy for their involvement in the deadly insurrection on the U.S. Capitol that day has shown that tweet was a major factor in the instigation of the riots.  

In a notice to senators’ offices on March 20, the Senate sergeant at arms said U.S. Capitol Police are taking security precautions, because “while law enforcement is not tracking any specific, credible threats against the Capitol or state offices, there is potential for demonstration activity.”

Trump’s former longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen is a key witness for the government, reportedly meeting with prosecutors 20 times to testify to his involvement in facilitating the payment to Daniels under Trump’s instruction.

In 2018, Cohen was charged with violating campaign finance laws and other crimes stemming from his involvement in the scheme, testifying under oath that he routed – “in coordination with” and “at the direction of” Trump, who was then “a candidate for federal office” – $130,000 to Daniels just before the 2016 presidential election to secure her agreement not to disclose that she and Trump had extramarital sex in 2006.

Cohen was convicted and then disbarred before serving 13.5 months of his 5-year prison sentence.

However, after his two-hour testimony before the grand jury on March 20, Trump ally Robert Costello publicly challenged Cohen’s testimony and credibility. He told reporters that Cohen, to whom Costello had once been a legal advisor, was lying about the former president’s involvement in the payment and had previously claimed credit for conceiving of and executing the payment to Daniels.

The Federal Election Commission opened an inquiry into the matter but dropped the probe following a split 2-2 vote along party lines by the bipartisan agency’s commissioners. A former FEC official previously told the Washington Blade that its investigations are almost always dropped, even in cases for which there is clear and substantial evidence that campaign finance laws were violated.

Trump faces more legal jeopardy amid the Justice Department’s ongoing separate probes into his role in the Jan. 6 siege of the Capitol and potentially criminal mishandling of classified documents.

According to reports last week, there were new developments in the case presented to members of a special grand jury that was convened in connection with charges brought by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis over allegations that Trump unlawfully interfered in  the 2020 presidential election in Georgia.

Trump in a lengthy statement described the New York indictment as “political persecution and election interference at the highest level in history.”

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DeSantis stumbles into 2024 race with chaotic, disorganized announcement

Fla. governor defended the state’s anti-LGBTQ policies

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (Photo courtesy of DeSantis' office)

More than 300,000 Twitter users were logged in at 6 p.m. ET on Wednesday to hear Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis begin his 2024 presidential campaign in an announcement address featuring the social media platform’s owner, Elon Musk.

Moments after moderator David Sacks kicked off their conversation, however, the audio cut out due to technical glitches that persisted for nearly half an hour as the event was steadily hemorrhaging listeners.

Those who joined or rejoined the event at various times after about 6:30 p.m. ET might be forgiven for thinking the topic was Musk rather than DeSantis, who is widely considered the candidate likeliest to unseat former President Donald Trump as the Republican Party’s frontrunner for the nomination.

At one point, for instance, U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) entered the chat to tell the polarizing billionaire tech entrepreneur, “I’m one of your biggest fans” and brag, “I’m one of the first members of Congress to own a Tesla,” the electric carmaker founded by Musk.

Following reports on Tuesday of DeSantis’ unorthodox plans to announce his run for president, pundits saw a golden opportunity for the Florida governor to generate buzz around his campaign, which seemed to lose momentum leading up to its official launch.

Responding to questions from Sacks, DeSantis defended Florida’s spate of anti-LGBTQ policies, like last year’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, which criminalizes classroom discussion of LGBTQ subjects and, earlier this month, was broadened to cover more grade levels.

LGBTQ groups, Democratic Florida lawmakers, and other critics argue the law was written with discriminatory intent, to create a chilling effect that will discourage educators from creating welcoming environments for LGBTQ students.

Disney came out against the measure, kicking off an ongoing spat with DeSantis, who said on Wednesday that the company “obviously supported injecting gender ideology in elementary school.”

The governor also objected to what he characterized as the media’s misleading coverage of Florida’s adoption of policies restricting the educational materials made available in schools.

LGBTQ groups air objections to DeSantis’ presidential run

In advance of Wednesday’s conversation with Musk, DeSantis filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission formally declaring his plans to enter the race as LGBTQ and other civil rights advocacy groups registered their objections to his candidacy as well as to Florida’s policies under his leadership.

“Dangerously out of step with average Americans’ views on freedom and equality, DeSantis has weaponized his position as governor to target and punish anyone he considers his political enemy, including LGBTQ+ families,” Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson said in a statement Wednesday.

Following Tuesday’s statement from the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which called DeSantis a “transphobic bigot” who has “no place in government — let alone the White House,” the LGBTQ Victory Institute on Wednesday said his entry into the race is “bad news for America — and even worse for anyone who’s part of a community he’s targeted while in office as governor.”

Over the weekend, the NAACP issued a travel advisory for Florida because of “DeSantis’ aggressive attempts to erase Black history and to restrict diversity, equity and inclusion programs in Florida schools.”

HRC and Equality Florida followed suit on Tuesday with a jointly issued travel notice that cites the potential impact of the state legislature’s recent passage of six anti-LGBTQ bills, several of which have already been signed into law.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to specifically address the travel advisories during Tuesday’s press conference, but said Florida Republicans “have attacked diversity. They’ve attacked inclusion efforts. They’ve limited the teaching of Black history. And they’ve launched attacks on the LGBT youth, immigrants, educators and women’s reproductive freedom.”

“That’s what you have seen from lawmakers in Florida,” Jean-Pierre said, adding that the Biden-Harris administration will “continue to speak out against discriminatory policies.”

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DeSantis to announce presidential bid in a live conversation Wednesday with Elon Musk

Victory Fund denounces Florida guv as ‘transphobic bigot’

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) (Screenshot/YouTube)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) will reportedly announce plans to run for president in 2024 during a live conversation with Elon Musk Wednesday evening on Twitter Spaces.

The unorthodox move might generate renewed interest in DeSantis, who was long expected to enter the primary race against former President Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner, but seemed to lose momentum as the official launch of his campaign drew nearer.

It also comes on the heels of DeSantis signing last week a slate of anti-LGBTQ bills including an expansion of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, which criminalizes classroom discussion of LGBTQ subjects.

Musk, who has a trans daughter from whom he has been estranged, has expressed his affinity for DeSantis in the past while also courting other public figures known for expressing transphobic views, such as the comedian Dave Chappelle.

The polarizing and often pugilistic billionaire was widely blamed for allowing anti-LGBTQ and especially transphobic abuse to proliferate on Twitter since he purchased the social media platform last year.

On Twitter, Musk has occasionally complained about or mocked the use of personal pronouns by trans and nonbinary people, and he was widely criticized last year for promoting a false and baseless anti-LGBTQ conspiracy about the violent attack on Paul Pelosi.

The LGBTQ Victory Fund denounced DeSantis’s candidacy on Tuesday ahead of his announcement, writing, “Transphobic bigots like Ron DeSantis have no place in government, let alone the White House,” the LGBTQ Victory Fund wrote in a statement issued Tuesday.

“Not only does Governor DeSantis’ appalling record against LGBTQ+ people and communities of color disqualify him from the Presidency, the rhetoric he will spew on the campaign trail as he and Donald Trump race to the bottom will have long-term consequences for our community and LGBTQ+ kids in particular.

“LGBTQ+ leaders are our best defense against hate, which is why his announcement is a rallying cry to the LGBTQ+ community and our allies that we must redouble our efforts to elect pro-choice LGBTQ+ candidates in 2023 and 2024. On Election Day, our message must be resounding: we are not going back.”

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Anti-LGBTQ Republican Sen. Tim Scott enters 2024 presidential race

Opposes marriage equality, compares homosexuality to adultery

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U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Republican U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.), who filed paperwork on Friday with the Federal Election Commission to run for president in 2024, kicked off his campaign for the GOP primary with an announcement address Monday morning in Charleston.

The only Black Republican member serving in the Senate, Scott developed a strident anti-LGBTQ record since entering national politics in 2010 with his first election to the House, during which time he told Newsweek homosexuality is a “morally wrong choice, like adultery.”

Today, Scott remains opposed to same-sex marriage, writing on his Senate bio that South Carolinians “have voted overwhelmingly to protect the traditional definition of marriage, and I stand with their decision.”

Last year, Scott cosigned a letter with 20 other Senate Republicans urging the GOP caucus to oppose the Respect for Marriage Act unless it contained provisions allowing for discrimination against LGBTQ couples. Scott, 57, is single and never married, which has led to some speculation about his sexual orientation.

In February, with GOP Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, Scott introduced legislation that would cut funding for any elementary or middle school in the country that changes a student’s pronouns, gender markers, or access to sex-based accommodations like locker rooms without first obtaining consent from their parents or legal guardians.

Having developed a reputation as a fiscal and social conservative who is well-liked by his Republican Senate colleagues, Scott hopes to build a coalition of establishment types and evangelical conservatives who are skeptical or critical of the party’s 2024 frontrunner, former President Donald Trump.

According to Vox, Scott is polling around 1 percent, but he will be able to transfer $22 million from his Senate campaign coffers to help fund his presidential bid and has begun aggressively buying up television ads in early primary states as campaigns get underway in the next few months.

The junior senator from South Carolina will face off against the state’s former Republican governor, Nikki Haley, who served as ambassador to the United Nations during the Trump administration. Haley, who appointed Scott to fill the Senate seat vacated by Jim DeMint in 2012, announced her bid for president in February.

Caitlin Byrd, senior politics reporter for the Post and Courier, noted on Twitter that South Carolina Democrats are broadcasting mobile billboards that echo the same arguments they used to oppose Haley’s candidacy, seeking to portray the candidates’ platforms as indistinguishable from Trump’s.

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