Trump Spent $50 Million in Donor Money on Legal Bills Last Year: Report

Rolling Stone

Trump Spent $50 Million in Donor Money on Legal Bills Last Year: Report

Nikki McCann Ramirez – January 30, 2024

Donald Trump’s PACs spent a staggering $50 million on the former president’s legal defense in 2023, according to a report from The New York Times

According to two sources who spoke to the Times, the former president’s massive legal bills were paid out through funds from the Save America PAC and the Make America Great Again PAC, his two primary political action committees. The full details of the PAC spending will be made available Wednesday, the deadline for Federal Election Commission year-end campaign filings.

Given the multiple civil and criminal cases leveled against Trump in the last year, the mountain of legal bills is not necessarily a surprise. In August of last year, Save America revealed that it had burned through the majority of its cash-on-hand on Trump and his associates’ legal defenses. The Times reported at the time that Save America had requested a $60 million refund from another Trump-affiliated group to keep itself afloat.

According to the Times, 10 cents of every dollar donated to Trump’s campaign is being directed towards Save America, which in the last year has operated virtually exclusively as a legal slush fund for the former president.

Trump is raking in millions in donations fundraising off his various legal indictments. In the days after Trump’s New York indictment on charges related to his 2016 hush money payment to Stormy Daniels, the former president raised more than $7 million on the news.

Trump was not photographed when he was booked in New York, but it didn’t stop his campaign from hawking merchandise using a fake mugshot. When Trump did finally make history in August as the first American president to have his mugshot taken, the campaign was prepared with a slew of fundraising emails and campaign merch featuring the image. In December, he began offering scraps of the suit and tie he wore in the now infamous photo to convince fans to buy into his NFT trading card cash grab.

The influx and outflow converting donations to legal bills would normally be enough of a concern to send major donors and grassroots contributors running for the hills, but it’s having virtually no effect on Trump’s momentum toward securing the Republican 2024 nomination. The former president secured decisive victories in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, and has all but crowned for his November rematch with Joe Biden.

More than $27M in Trump campaign fundraising went to legal costs in the last six months of 2023

NBC News

More than $27M in Trump campaign fundraising went to legal costs in the last six months of 2023

Bridget Bowman, Katherine Doyle, Ben Kamisar – January 31, 2024

WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump’s affiliated committees spent about $27 million on lawyers’ bills and related legal fees in the last six months of 2023, new federal election filings show, bringing the total for a year that included four separate indictments to almost $50 million.

Trump’s political fundraising apparatus is sprawling, but the new filings show that the price of lawyers is weighing him down. Still, Trump, the GOP presidential front-runner, has seized on the legal cases against him as a potent fundraising tool, with his booking in a Georgia election case giving him what his campaign said was a record single-day haul.

Save America PAC, one of the groups Trump uses to raise money, spent $24.3 million on “legal consulting” in the last six months of 2023, according to federal election filings. That includes payments to firms that include lawyers like John Lauro, who is representing Trump in the case related to his effort to overturn the 2020 election; Todd Blanche, who also represents Trump in the New York hush money case; and Alina Habba, who represents Trump in the defamation case filed against him by author E. Jean Carroll and has appeared at his criminal arraignments.

While the Save America PAC raised $36 million over the last six months, $30 million came across six monthly payments from Make America Great Again Inc., a Trump-affiliated super PAC. While Save America helped provide early funding for MAGA Inc. when it launched at the beginning of Trump’s presidential bid, it appears that much of that money has been returned to Save America, which has been the primary vehicle for paying Trump’s legal fees. In the first six months of 2023, Save America PAC took more than $12 million from MAGA Inc.

Save America ended the year with just $5 million in cash banked away after having spent $35.2 million in total in the second half of 2023, almost as much as it raised.

On top of the legal spending from Save America, another Trump-affiliated group, the Make America Great Again PAC (which, under federal law, Trump raises money toward, and he can say how the money is used) spent $2.4 million on additional legal consulting in the second half of 2023.

Trump’s committees previously reported having spent more than $20 million on legal fees in the first half of 2023.

Both groups also reimbursed another company, which handles campaign finance compliance and prepares disclosures for the campaign, millions more for legal fees. It was not clear whether those legal fees were associated with complying with federal campaign finance law or with investigations into Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election.

A fund to cover the legal fees for some of Trump’s aides raised more than $1.6 million from July to December, according to its filing. Known as the Patriot Legal Defense Fund, it does not contribute toward Trump’s legal expenses.

The filings show the brunt of the financial weight of Trump’s legal defense across four criminal cases, including two indictments related to his efforts to overturn his 2020 presidential election loss and one over his handling of classified documents after he left the White House. He also has been the subject of a civil fraud lawsuit in Manhattan related to his business.

Trump’s legal woes have also taken him off of the campaign trail and into courtrooms, monopolizing resources and diverting him with legal brawls.

Trump’s rival for the Republican nomination, Nikki Haley, has attacked Trump over his legal spending, posting on X this week, “He can’t beat Joe Biden if he’s spending all his time and money on court cases and chaos.”

Haley has continued to raise money despite early losses to Trump in Iowa and New Hampshire, even as he threatens to blacklist her donors.

Putin’s official financial disclosure claims he earns just $175K a year and owns a couple of apartments and a parking spot

Business Insider

Putin’s official financial disclosure claims he earns just $175K a year and owns a couple of apartments and a parking spot

Mia Jankowicz – January 31, 2024

Why the Putin-Kim meeting has world leaders worried

  • Putin’s official financial disclosure is out, and it’s almost comically modest.
  • It says his assets include a couple of apartments, some old cars, a camping trailer, and a parking spot.
  • It makes no mention of the vast palaces and superyachts widely reported to be under his control.

President Vladimir Putin’s latest financial disclosure has been released, declaring a modest set of assets that almost certainly does not reflect his true financial position.

The disclosure is one of the formalities associated with registering as a presidential candidate, which Putin did on Monday, ahead of Russia’s March 17 elections.

According to the document, detailed by The Moscow Times, Putin’s assets are largely unchanged compared to his last disclosure in 2018, and include:

  • $753,000, representing six years of his official salary, pension, and other earnings;
  • $607,000 in savings across several bank accounts;
  • A 1,650-square-foot government-leased apartment in Moscow;
  • An 828-square-foot apartment in St Petersburg, with a 193-square-foot garage attached;
  • A St Petersburg parking space;
  • Two classic cars from the 1960s;
  • A 1987 camping trailer;
  • And a 2009 Lada Niva.

That’s far from the riches Putin is widely believed to command.

Putting a true figure on those is close to impossibleeven for wealth experts like those at Forbes.

Investigative reporting by groups such as the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, independent Russian outlet Proekt, and opposition campaigner Alexei Navalny have over the years pointed to vast sums and property portfolios whose likely ultimate controller is the Russian president.

Footage shows the main building of the Lake Valdai palace.
A photo shows the main building of the Lake Valdai

The most widely-cited estimate is credited to financier and Kremlin critic Bill Browder, who suggested that Putin was worth about $200 billion — which in 2024 would place him as the third-richest person in the world, a few billion ahead of Jeff Bezos.

The latest financial disclosure makes no reference to the multiple palaces and superyachts said to be owned or controlled by Putin.

Secret Putin palace
Drone footage by the Dossier Center showing what is allegedly a luxurious home belonging to Russian President Vladimir Putin in Karelia, northern Russia.Dossier Center

There’s no mention of the secret bunker at his Black Sea palace, nor the highly-protected woodland palace on Lake Valdai, where his rumored girlfriend Alina Kabayeva is said to live.

As recently as this month, investigative outlet the Dossier Center also reported on a complex on Lake Karelia, near Finland’s border, said to belong to Putin.

It described the property as comprising “three modern-style houses, two helicopter pads, several yacht piers, a trout farm, and a farm with cows for the production of marble beef, as well as a personal waterfall.”

CIA chief says Russia’s failures in the Ukraine war have sealed its fate as ‘China’s economic vassal’

Business Insider

CIA chief says Russia’s failures in the Ukraine war have sealed its fate as ‘China’s economic vassal’

Kwan Wei Kevin Tan – January 31, 2024

CIA chief says Russia’s failures in the Ukraine war have sealed its fate as ‘China’s economic vassal’
  • The Russia-Ukraine war has dealt multiple setbacks to Vladimir Putin, the director of the CIA says.
  • William J. Burns said in an op-ed that the war had “proved foolish and illusory” for Putin.
  • The invasion, Burns said, had weakened Russia’s military and economy.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has crippled its economy and left it beholden to China, says William J. Burns, the director of the CIA.

“Russia’s economy is suffering long-term setbacks, and the country is sealing its fate as China’s economic vassal,” Burns wrote in an opinion article for Foreign Affairs on Tuesday.

Russia has been struggling under the West’s crippling economic sanctions ever since it invaded Ukraine in February 2022. But the ties between Russia and China have only deepened, with bilateral trade reaching a record $240 billion in 2023, Chinese customs data showed.

“Putin’s war has already been a failure for Russia on many levels,” Burns wrote in his article. “His original goal of seizing Kyiv and subjugating Ukraine proved foolish and illusory.”

The Ukraine war, he said, had dealt “immense damage” to Russia’s military.

“At least 315,000 Russian soldiers have been killed or wounded, two-thirds of Russia’s prewar tank inventory has been destroyed, and Putin’s vaunted decadeslong military modernization program has been hollowed out,” Burns wrote.

Russia’s military and economic setbacks have also seen it turn to countries such as North Korea and Iran for munitions.

“Putin’s overblown ambitions have backfired in another way, too: they have prompted NATO to grow larger and stronger,” Burns wrote.

The military alliance has seen its ranks grow in the past year, with Finland joining in April. Sweden’s application for NATO membership has received the endorsement of all members except Hungary.

Burns’ withering assessment of Putin and Russia was echoed by the UK defense secretary, Grant Shapps, earlier this month.

“The world has turned its back on Russia, forcing Putin into the humiliation of going cap in hand to North Korea to keep his illegal invasion going,” Grant Shapps wrote in an X post on January 5.

Representatives for Burns didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from Business Insider sent outside regular business hours.

Abandoning Ukraine would be an ‘own goal’ for the US as the war hollows out the army Putin spent decades building, CIA chief says

Business Insider

Abandoning Ukraine would be an ‘own goal’ for the US as the war hollows out the army Putin spent decades building, CIA chief says

Chris Panella – January 31, 2024

Abandoning Ukraine would be an ‘own goal’ for the US as the war hollows out the army Putin spent decades building, CIA chief says. Ukrainian servicemen driving a T-72 tank on the frontline in eastern Ukraine in July 2022.MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP via Getty Images
  • If the US abandoned Ukraine and cut off crucial aid, it’d be an “own goal,” the CIA director said.
  • William J. Burns said the US supporting Ukraine was a modest investment with significant returns.
  • With aid tied up in Congress, the US and Ukraine’s next steps have critical implications.

Should the US walk away from the war in Ukraine and abandon it as it attempts to fend off the Russians, it would be an “own goal of historic proportions,” the CIA director said.

The warning comes as new, crucial aid is held up by Republicans in Congress. It’s a critical time for the US, which has contributed a significant amount of aid to Ukraine, to question its vested interests in seeing a stronger Ukraine and a weaker Russia.

In an opinion article published Tuesday in Foreign Affairs, William J. Burns, the director of the CIA, wrote that Putin‘s war had already severely impacted Russia in a variety of ways, such as isolating it globally and damaging its military and economy. He added that Putin’s efforts to modernize the Russian military had suffered as a result of this devastating, high-casualty conflict.

“At least 315,000 Russian soldiers have been killed or wounded, two-thirds of Russia’s prewar tank inventory has been destroyed, and Putin’s vaunted decades-long military modernization program has been hollowed out,” Burns wrote. “All this is a direct result of Ukrainian soldiers’ valor and skill, backed up by Western support.”

The war isn’t over, though. Russia is launching offensives on multiple fronts, and despite losses, the operations continue. Russia’s defense industry is on a war footing, and support from pariah states such as North Korea and Iran is fueling its war efforts. Ukraine is holding the line, but its defense is strained by shortages in ammunition and other supplies. Putin appears to be gearing up for a longer war that will require Ukraine to receive committed and stable support from the West if it’s going to survive the fight.

Burns said there were many benefits for the US to continue supporting Ukraine, a “relatively modest investment with significant geopolitical returns.”

Among other benefits, he said that with more ammunition and weapons aid, which translates to a greater ability to resist, Ukraine would be in a stronger position should it opt to negotiate a deal with Russia.

“It offers a chance to ensure a long-term win for Ukraine and a strategic loss for Russia; Ukraine could safeguard its sovereignty and rebuild, while Russia would be left to deal with the enduring costs of Putin’s folly,” Burns wrote.

A handout image shows President Vladimir Putin, sitting and gesturing with one hand and sitting in front of a blue stylised world map as he takies part in an annual televised phone-in with the country's citizens dubbed "Direct Line with Vladimir Putin"  on June 30, 2021.
Russian President Vladimir Putin.Anadolu/handout via Getty Images

A weakened Russia licking its wounds for years to come may offer some sense of peace to NATO members and other nations concerned about an increasingly aggressive Putin invading them. And the US would be able to shift its focus to tensions elsewhere, such as the Taiwan Strait.

There’s no guarantee, but Burns presented a bleaker alternative.

“For the United States to walk away from the conflict at this crucial moment and cut off support to Ukraine would be an own goal of historic proportions,” Burns wrote; effectively, it would allow Russia to achieve its goal of conquering Ukraine or forcing it into an unfavorable peace deal, leaving Putin emboldened and more aggressive.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has warned about that exact scenario previously, including to US lawmakers back in December. During a visit to Washington, DC, the Ukrainian leader pleaded for more US aid and explained that if Russia took Ukraine, Putin wouldn’t stop there.

Such aggression would draw the US into a much larger, costlier war than the one it’s supporting in Ukraine right now, experts and analysts have argued. But aid is still held up in Congress.

The latest aid package to Ukraine has been on hold since October, when Republicans blocked it, along with assistance to Israel.

Since December, Republicans and Democrats have been working on a bipartisan bill that includes the $111 billion aid package for both nations, as well as stricter border security and immigration measures. But it remains unclear whether such a deal will have enough support, particularly from former President Donald Trump’s allies, to pass.

Trump says he’s looking for new lawyers on Truth Social amid report he’s not “happy” after $83M loss


Trump says he’s looking for new lawyers on Truth Social amid report he’s not “happy” after $83M loss

Tatyana Tandanpolie – January 31, 2024

Donald Trimp; Alina Habba Brendan McDermid-Pool/Getty Images
Donald Trimp; Alina Habba Brendan McDermid-Pool/Getty Images

Former President Donald Trump on Tuesday announced on social media he’s searching for a new law firm to represent him in an appeal against last week’s jury verdict awarding $83.3 million to writer E. Jean Carroll.

He left a message to prospective hires in the Truth Social post, writing: “Any lawyer who takes a TRUMP CASE is either ‘CRAZY,’ or a TRUE AMERICAN PATRIOT.” The former president’s announcement follows his vow to appeal the jury’s decision last Friday, predicated by the presiding federal judge’s September ruling finding him liable for defamation.

“I am in the process, along with my team, of interviewing various law firms to represent me in an Appeal of one of the most ridiculous and unfair Witch Hunts our Country has ever seen – The defamation Sham presided over by a Clinton appointed, highly partisan, Trump Hating Judge, Lewis Kaplan, who was, together with certain other Radical Left Democrat Judges, one of the most partisan and out of control activists that I have ever appeared before,” Trump’s Tuesday night post began. He further bemoaned the rules the federal judge implemented barring him from denying he sexually abused and defamed Carroll, which a jury last spring found him liable for. “This entire HOAX is a disgrace to our American System of Justice,” Trump added.

Representing Trump is a tough task, according to New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman.

“He’s almost never happy with his legal team,” she said during a Tuesday CNN appearance.

Trial attorney Joe Tacopina withdrew from Trump’s counsel ahead of the trial, and lawyer Alina Habba assumed the role, often drawing sharp rebuke from Kaplan during the proceedings.

“I don’t know how winnable this case was for anybody, Alina Habba or not,” Haberman added. “But, you know, Trump has certain things he wants from his lawyers and I think you see that.

MSNBC host Joe Scarborough on Wednesday joked that Trump had “83.3 million reasons” to ditch Habba, calling her “one of the most ill-prepared attorneys for a case of this magnitude, maybe in the history of the planet.”

“He’s had bad lawyers but at least they knew their way around the courtroom,” he added, “and by the way, you either know your way around the courtroom or you don’t, and speaking as a lawyer that didn’t know his way around the courtroom, I can tell you, it can be a very frightening thing and you would not want to be in this type of case.

Taylor Swift, Travis Kelce and a MAGA Meltdown

The fulminations surrounding the world’s biggest pop icon — and girlfriend of Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce — reached the stratosphere after Kansas City made it to the Super Bowl.

By Jonathan Weisman – January 31, 2024

Travis Kelce, left, wearing football pads with an AFC Champion T-shirt and hat that says Super Bowl, kisses Taylor Swift on the field after a game.
Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce after the Chiefs’ victory on Sunday. They are the focus of right-wing vitriol and conspiracy theories. Credit…Julio Cortez/Associated Press

For football fans eager to see a new team in the Super Bowl, the conference championship games on Sunday that sent the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers back to the main event of American sports culture were sorely disappointing.

But one thing is new: Taylor Swift. And she is driving the movement behind Donald Trump bonkers.

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The fulminations surrounding the world’s biggest pop icon — and girlfriend of Travis Kelce, the Chiefs’ star tight end — reached the stratosphere after Kansas City made it to the Super Bowl for the fourth time in five years, and the first time since Ms. Swift joined the team’s entourage.

The conspiracy theories coming out of the Make America Great Again contingent were already legion: that Ms. Swift is a secret agent of the Pentagon; that she is bolstering her fan base in preparation for her endorsement of President Biden’s re-election; or that she and Mr. Kelce are a contrived couple, assembled to boost the N.F.L. or Covid vaccines or Democrats or whatever.

“I wonder who’s going to win the Super Bowl next month,” Vivek Ramaswamy, the conspiratorial presidential candidate, turned Trump surrogate, pondered on social media on Monday. “And I wonder if there’s a major presidential endorsement coming from an artificially culturally propped-up couple this fall.”

The pro-Trump broadcaster Mike Crispi led off on Sunday by claiming that the National Football League is “rigged” in order to spread “Democrat propaganda”: “Calling it now: KC wins, goes to Super Bowl, Swift comes out at the halftime show and ‘endorses’ Joe Biden with Kelce at midfield.”

Other detractors of Ms. Swift among Mr. Trump’s biggest fans include one of his lawyers, Alina Habba, one of his biggest conspiracy theorists, Jack Posobiec, and other MAGA luminaries like Laura Loomer and Charlie Kirk, who leads a pro-Trump youth organization, Turning Point USA.

The right has been fuming about Ms. Swift since September, when she urged her fans on Instagram to register to vote, and the online outfit reported a surge of 35,000 registrations in response. Ms. Swift had embarked on a world tour that helped make her a billionaire. Gavin Newsom, the California governor, praised her as “profoundly powerful.” And then Time magazine made her Person of the Year in December, kicking off another round of MAGA indignation.

The love story that linked her world with the N.F.L. has proved incendiary. Mr. Kelce’s advertisements promoting Pfizer’s Covid vaccine and Bud Light — already a target of outrage from the right over a social media promotion with a transgender influencer, Dylan Mulvaney — added fuel to that raging fire.

Taylor Swift onstage, middle, while she is projected onto two screens at left and right, in the middle of a stadium.
Ms. Swift embarked on a worldwide stadium tour last year, which included a May stop at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. Credit…Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet for The New York Times

The N.F.L.’s fan base is huge and diverse, but it includes a profoundly conservative element that cheered on the star quarterback Aaron Rodgers’s one-man crusade against Covid vaccines and jeered Black players who knelt during the national anthem. The league has long battled charges of misogyny, from the front offices of the Washington Commanders to multiple cases of sexual and domestic assault and abuse.

The Swift-Kelce story line, for some, has delivered a bruising hit to traditional gender norms, with a rich, powerful woman elevating a successful football player to a new level of fame.

Some of the Monday morning quarterbacking has been downright silly, including speculation that Ms. Swift is after Mr. Kelce for his money. (Her net worth exceeds $1 billion, a different universe than the athlete’s merely wealthy status.)

Other accusations appear to be driven by fear and grounded in some truth, or at least in her command of her 279 million Instagram followers: that she has enormous influence, and has supported Democrats in the past. For much of her extensive music career, Ms. Swift avoided politics, but in 2018, she endorsed two Democrats in Tennessee, where she owns two homes: former Gov. Phil Bredesen, who was running for the Senate against then-Representative Marsha Blackburn, and Jim Cooper, a House member who has since retired.

“I always have and always will cast my vote based on which candidate will protect and fight for the human rights I believe we all deserve in this country,” she wrote on social media. “I believe in the fight for L.G.B.T.Q. rights, and that any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender is WRONG.”

She added, “I believe that the systemic racism we still see in this country towards people of color is terrifying, sickening and prevalent.”

The alarm bells were loud enough to pull Mr. Trump into loudly backing Ms. Blackburn: “I’m sure Taylor Swift doesn’t know anything about her,” he said at the time, knowing all too well how influential Ms. Swift could be. “Let’s say that I like Taylor’s music about 25 percent less now, OK?”

He probably liked her even less in 2020 when she criticized his pandemic response, and then endorsed Mr. Biden.

While her early pop music may have mainly attracted teens and preteens, those fans have reached voting age, and her music has grown more sophisticated with the albums “Evermore” and “Folklore” to match her millennial roots and her fans’ taste.

Taylor Swift fans taking selfies outside a merchandise booth before a concert.
In September, Ms. Swift urged her fans on Instagram to register to vote, yielding a surge of 35,000 registrations on the website Credit…Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet for The New York Times

Much of the Swift paranoia has lurked on the MAGA fringes, with people like Ms. Loomer, the conspiracy theorist from Florida who declared in December that “2024 will be MAGA vs Swifties” and Mr. Kirk, who declared in November that Ms. Swift would “come out for the presidential election” after Democrats had another strong showing in an election that demonstrated the issue of abortion motivated voters to the polls.

“All the Swifties want is swift abortion,” he said.

Then Swift-bashing reached Fox News in mid-January. The host Jesse Watters suggested the superstar was a Defense Department asset engaging in psychological warfare. He tied Ms. Swift’s political voice with her boyfriend’s Pfizer endorsement to the remarkable success of her Eras tour, which bolstered local economies and landed her on the cover of Time.

“Have you ever wondered why or how she blew up like this?” Mr. Watters wondered on air. “Well, around four years ago, the Pentagon psychological operations unit floated turning Taylor Swift into an asset during a NATO meeting.”

Andrea Hailey, the chief executive of, made the most of the Fox News criticism, saying the organization’s partnership with Ms. Swift “is helping all Americans make their voices heard at the ballot box,” adding that the star is “not a psy-op or a Pentagon asset.”

But her appearance on the field with Mr. Kelce in Baltimore after the Chiefs beat the Ravens on Sunday, complete with a kiss and a hug, appears to have sent conservatives into a fit of apoplexy that may only grow in the run-up to Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas Feb. 11.

The feelings are so strong that Fox News ran a segment on Sunday lamenting that Ms. Swift’s private “jet belches tons of CO2 emissions,” showing a sudden awareness of the leading cause of global warming.

Mr. Ramaswamy said his Super Bowl conjecture was dead serious.

“What your kind of people call ‘conspiracy theories,’ I simply call an amalgam of collective incentives hiding in plain sight,” he said.

The White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stoked speculation still more by invoking the Hatch Act, which prohibits political actions by civil servants, in declining to answer whether Mr. Biden would be appearing with Ms. Swift.

“I’m just going to leave it there,” she said Monday. “I’m not going to get into the president’s schedule at all from here, as it relates to the 2024 elections.”

The Trump campaign, which had initially planned to ignore the frenzy, dispatched Karoline Leavitt, a campaign spokeswoman, to dismiss concerns about a potential Biden endorsement.

“I don’t think this endorsement will save him from the calamity” of his record, she said.

Audio produced by Parin Behrooz.

Jonathan Weisman is a politics writer, covering campaigns with an emphasis on economic and labor policy. He is based in Chicago. 

Why Republicans are trying to impeach Biden’s top immigration official

The Washington Post

By Amber Phillips – January 31, 2024 

Instead of passing a law with President Biden to crack down on illegal crossings of the U.S.-Mexico border, Republicans in Congress are moving quickly to impeach the Cabinet official who oversees it.

This is a highly political act that won’t help the border crisis, and even some conservative legal scholars and Republican senators are skeptical of doing this. Here’s what’s going on and how it’s tied to the broader immigration battle that is dominating U.S. politics right now.

Why so many migrants are coming: More than 6 million migrants have come to the border under the Biden administration; 2.3 million have been released into the country. There’s a debate about whether it’s in reaction to economic forces outside of politicians’ control, or whether migrants are reacting to having a more lenient president in office.

As the U.S. economy recovers more quickly than most nations after the pandemic, there’s a huge labor demand in the United States right now.

But fairly or not, migrants across the globe have also perceived Biden as more willing to let people in than President Donald Trump was.
Those who are desperate enough to leave their homes probably won’t be deterred by policy changes in Washington, argues Cris Ramón, a senior adviser on immigration for UnidosUS, a Hispanic civil rights group.
“Once someone makes it across the border, if they’re not expelled … there is a pretty good chance they will be able to stay in the United States at least for several years,” immigration analyst Jessica Bolter said in an interview last year.

What Biden has done at the border: In many significant ways, the president has softened Trump’s immigration and border policies. His administration has cut way back on deporting people who are already in the country illegally, and created more legal pathways for them. Biden also stopped building the wall Trump started, stopped detaining families at the border and stopped deporting minors.

But Biden has also been somewhat Trump-like recently in his approach to migrants. He said the border is not secure, and he is being sued by immigration rights groups for making it harder for people to apply for asylum.

Why Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is on his way to getting impeached: Republicans say he lied to Congress or has mishandled the border crisis. But the reality is that they disagree with the president’s border policies, and Mayorkas is the guy carrying them out.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in November on Capitol Hill. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in November on Capitol Hill. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Congress has the power to impeach presidents, judges and Cabinet officials. But Cabinet officials are rarely impeached because they are often just implementing the president’s policies. “I think it’s the first time an impeachment drive over policy disagreements has gotten this far,” said Josh Chafetz, a constitutional law expert at Georgetown University.

Having committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” is the bar for impeachment of a federal official. By the assessment of even top conservative legal experts, Republicans have not met that threshold. “Bad policy is not a high crime,” writes conservative legal scholar Jonathan Turley.

Politics is playing a huge role: It’s good politics right now for any politician to sound tough about the border. Really tough. Trump is on his way to winning the Republican nomination by demonizing immigrants, saying they are “poisoning the blood of our country.”Biden campaigned four years ago on a more humane approach to the border. But as border crossings surge to record highs, he says the government should be able to block migrants from entering if the border becomes “overwhelmed” — which is what a bipartisan bill being negotiated in the Senate right now would do.“If given that authority, I would use it the day I sign the bill into law,” Biden said last week.

Why Biden says the border is a problem: Biden and Republicans say the huge rush of migrants has opened up the border to dangerous people sneaking through — although Trump takes much more liberty by categorizing all border crossers as dangerous. Most are people escaping danger and economic hardship back home. And the vast majority of convicted fentanyl traffickers have been U.S. citizens, said Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration analyst with the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute.

The real-world impact of impeaching Mayorkas is minimal: House Republicans will vote next week to impeach him. But he’ll still get to keep his job. The Democratic-controlled Senate is highly unlikely to convict him.But through all of this, Republicans are weaponizing immigration to break the norms of democracy. They are voting to impeach Mayorkas over policy disagreements rather than actual “high crimes and misdemeanors.”It raises the question of what’s to come next in this increasingly heated election-year battle over immigration.

Ukraine Needs American Weapons, Not More GOP Drama

The Atlantic Daily

Ukraine Needs American Weapons, Not More GOP Drama

The GOP’s moral collapse threatens global security.

By Tom Nichols – January 31, 2024 

A Ukrainian soldier stands in a doorway
Anadolu / Getty

Republicans need to recover their senses about the dire moral and strategic tests Ukraine and the West face in Europe.

A Test of Will and Commitment

Wars test people and weapons on a battlefield, but eventual victory rests on much more than combat. Wars also stress-test political institutions, ideas, and the courage of entire societies. At this moment, the United States is on the verge of failing a challenge of will and commitment, much to the delight of the neo-fascist Russian regime that has turned Ukraine’s fields and homes into an immense abattoir. President Joe Biden, most of NATO, and many other nations recognize the crisis, but the world could face a Russian victory—and an eventual escalation of Russian aggression against Europe—solely because of the ongoing drama and inane bickering within the Republican Party.

The GOP, the party of Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan, once supported the bipartisan American understanding that U.S. leadership in the world was both a strategic and a moral imperative, especially in the great struggle with the Soviet Union. Reagan, however, supercharged the idea of the Cold War as a moral crusade. When he talked about the need for the West to oppose an “evil empire,” he meant it—and as we found out years later, his words stung Soviet leaders. As one adviser to Mikhail Gorbachev later admitted, Reagan’s rhetorical attack did not change much at the very top in the Kremlin, but for many of the people who worked in Soviet foreign-policy circles, “this term and this propaganda was perceived as punishment for what we did in Afghanistan. In other words, we felt that we deserved it.”

Soviet leaders deserved it then and Russian leaders deserve it now. Reagan’s detractors will point to his policies in Central America and elsewhere as examples of what can happen when righteous fixation on noble ends leads to the justification of bloody and repulsive means. But Reagan—like Jimmy Carter before him—was right to view opposition to the Kremlin as both strategically necessary and morally justas it is again today. Biden’s policy of steadfast support for Ukraine wisely continues that tradition.

(One of Carter’s speechwriters told me years ago that, as you might expect, Carter never liked being compared to Reagan. But Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, was as much a Cold War hawk as almost anyone in the Reagan administration, and Carter infuriated the Soviets so badly that by 1980 the Kremlin, according to the former Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin, was rooting for Reagan to win because it thought Carter and Brzezinski were so dangerously bellicose.)

Reagan understood the Cold War as a moral issue, but today’s GOP is incapable of understanding anything as a moral issue. Indeed, the Republican Party is defined now almost entirely by its dedication to a cult of personality, the relentless quest for raw power, and the ongoing effort to institutionalize minority rule. It functions not as a political party but as an amoral claque whose members are dedicated only to their mutual protection.

Ukraine, of course, is an object of special hostility for Republicans because that besieged nation is inextricably bound up in Trump’s first impeachment. Some in the GOP also admire Russian President Vladimir Putin; Trump speaks of the Kremlin dictator in terms that would have made Reagan furious and disgusted. But nothing, it seems, can get through the Republican deflector shields powered by two of the strongest forces in the world: resentment and self-interest.

Money to help Ukraine is, for now, still tied to legislation regarding the situation on the U.S. southern border, but Biden has already surrendered on that issue: He said on Saturday that, if Congress sent him the bill that Republicans have been working on, “I’d shut down the border right now and fix it quickly.” (He is also cleverly using his legal authority to send surplus American weapons to allies—in this case, Greece—who can use these surplus U.S. arms to replenish their stocks while they send their older weapons to Ukraine.) But Republicans aren’t interested in fixing the border or helping Ukraine—not if any of it helps Joe Biden, a detestable position that abandons millions of people to slaughter under Russian guns simply for the sake of good press from the GOP’s infotainment system.

To their credit, some Republicans are trying to do the right thing. I was critical of Oklahoma Senator James Lankford on Monday for answering a question about Trump’s fitness to be president with a mouthful of mush that was, if I may paraphrase a Bible verse I’m sure the senator knows well, neither hot nor cold but lukewarm. But when it comes to the border and Ukraine, Lankford (along with some of his Senate GOP colleagues) is on the right side of both policy and history.

What, however, does a GOP senator gain by being on the right side of anything? In Lankford’s case, it earned him censure from his own state’s Republican Party. For others, it means facing an electorate that is now being flooded with news about Deep State Agent Taylor Swift instead of whether America and Europe can hold back a savage—and nuclear-armed—enemy.

The Republicans now wallowing in conspiracy weirdness and jumping at Trump’s commands are risking a mistake, in the words of CIA Director William Burns, “of historic proportions.” As the GOP plays games, the Russians continue blowing apart homes and shredding human beings, including their own hapless conscripts. The killing goes on every day, driven by a cruel and petty paranoid in Moscow and supported by a coterie of cowards who issue unhinged threats from behind the safety of the Kremlin’s walls.

Changes are afoot in the Ukrainian high command; The Washington Post reported today that the top Ukrainian commander, General Valery Zaluzhny, is about to be replaced because of his ongoing disagreements with President Volodymyr Zelensky about strategy, mobilization, and other issues. Such moments, as retired Australian Major General Mick Ryan explained in a cogent thread on X yesterday, are a normal part of the civil-military tensions that inevitably arise in wartime.

Some Republicans, driven by their hatred of Zelensky, will no doubt seize on any news from Kyiv as an excuse to hold back aid, but the Ukrainians don’t need more drama from the self-absorbed GOP. They need brave and clear-eyed friends in the West who understand what is at stake, both for the security of the world and the defense of freedom. They need more than our good wishes: They need ammunition, and they need it now.


Rock band critical of Putin is detained in Thailand, fearful of deportation to Russia

Associated Press

Rock band critical of Putin is detained in Thailand, fearful of deportation to Russia

Grant Pecku – January 30, 2024

FILE – Aleksandr “Shura” Uman, left, and Yegor “Lyova” Bortnik perform during the Bi-2 rock band concert in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011. Members of a rock band that has been critical of Moscow’s war in Ukraine remain locked up in a Thai immigration jail, fearful that they could be deported to Russia as a reported plan to let them fly to safety in Israel was apparently suspended. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)More

BANGKOK (AP) — Members of a rock band that has been critical of Moscow’s war in Ukraine remained locked up Tuesday in a Thai immigration jail, fearful that they could be deported to Russia as a reported plan to let them fly to safety in Israel was apparently suspended.

The progressive rock band Bi-2 said on Facebook that it had information that intervention from Russian diplomats caused the plan to be scuttled, even though tickets had already been purchased for their flight.

“The group participants remain detained at the immigration center in a shared cell with 80 people,” the post said. It said they declined to meet with the Russian consul. The Russian press agency RIA Novosti said the refusal was confirmed by Ilya Ilyin, head of the Russian Embassy’s consular section.

The group later said on the Telegram messaging app that its singer Yegor Bortnik, whose stage name is Lyova, was at the airport awaiting a flight to Israel but the other members remained in the jail.

The seven band members were arrested last Thursday after playing a concert on the southern resort island of Phuket, reportedly for not having proper working papers. On Facebook, they said all their concerts “are held in accordance with local laws and practices.” Phuket is a popular destination for Russian expats and tourists. After paying a fine, the band members were sent to the Immigration Detention Center in Bangkok.

The detained musicians “include Russian citizens as well as dual nationals of Russia and other countries, including Israel and Australia,” the group Human Rights Watch said in a statement Tuesday. Those holding only Russian citizenship are thought to be most at risk.

“The Thai authorities should immediately release the detained members of Bi-2 and allow them to go on their way,” said Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Under no circumstances should they be deported to Russia, where they could face arrest or worse for their outspoken criticisms of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s war in Ukraine.”

“It is not known if the Russian authorities have sought the band members’ forcible return to Russia,” Human Rights Watch said. “However, amid repression in Russia reaching new heights, Russian authorities have used transnational repression — abuses committed against nationals beyond a government’s jurisdiction — to target activists and government critics abroad with violence and other unlawful actions.”

Self-exiled Russian opposition politician and a friend of Bi-2, Dmitry Gudkov, told the AP that he had been in touch with lawyers and diplomats in an attempt to secure the band’s release and suggested that pressure to detain and deport them came directly from the Kremlin and the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Russia, Gudkov said, needs an “evocative story to show that they will catch any critic abroad. This is all happening in the run-up to (Russia’s presidential election), and it’s clear that they want to shut everyone up, and that’s why there’s intense pressure going on.”

Russia’s ambassador to Thailand Yevgeny Tomikhin said Russian diplomats were not responsible for the group’s detention.

“It’s not our practice to dictate to anyone. Americans can do this. We don’t behave like that and don’t make such requests,” Tomikhin was quoted as telling the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda.

There have been no public statements from Thai officials on the situation.

Bi-2 has 1.01 million subscribers to its YouTube channel and 376,000 monthly listeners on Spotify.

Andrei Lugovoi, a member of the lower house of Russia’s parliament, called the band members “scum” for their criticism of Russia’s military operations in Ukraine.

“Let the guys get ready: soon they will be playing and singing on spoons and on metal plates, tap dancing in front of their cellmates,” Lugovoi said on Telegram. “Personally, I would be very happy to see this.”

Britain has accused Lugovoi of involvement in the death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, who died in London in 2006 after being poisoned with tea laced with radioactive polonium-210.

Associated Press writers Emma Burrows and Jim Heintz in Tallinn, Estonia, contributed.