Friday, August 26, 2022

The Trump affidavit unsealed

 The affidavit attached to the FBI search of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home has been unsealed and is available online. The heavily redacted document tells the story of why federal agents felt they needed to raid the home of the former president.

Per the filing, the case began with a referral from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) after that agency received 15 boxes of documents in January. Some of these boxes contained classified information.

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The FBI determined that it was likely that classified National Defense Information was still stored at Mar-a-Lago in addition to other documents that were subject to presidential records retention laws. The filing also says that the FBI believed it likely that evidence of obstruction would also be found.

The filing cites several relevant statutes including, 18 U.S.C. § 793(e), which pertains to defense information, and 32 C.F .R. Parts 2001 and 2003, which deal with classified national security information.

The filing goes on to say that the National Archives referral alleged that “highly classified records were unfoldered, intermixed with other records, and otherwise unproperly [sic] identified."

Federal agents examined the 15 boxes of documents provided to NARA and found that they contained “184 unique documents bearing classification markings, including 67 documents marked as CONFIDENTIAL, 92 documents marked as SECRET, and 25 documents marked as TOP SECRET. Further, the FBI agents observed markings reflecting the following compartments/dissemination controls: HCS, FISA, ORCON, NOFORN, and SI.” These are highly controlled classifications of documents.

The filing goes on to say that Trump was notified by a letter to his counsel that Mar-a-Lago was not authorized as a secure location to store classified documents. In this June 8 letter, the government noted that the documents “have not been handled in an appropriate manner or stored in an appropriate location. Accordingly, we ask that the room at Mar-a-Lago where the documents had been stored be secured and that all of the boxes that were moved from the White House to Mar-a-Lago (along with any other items in that room) be preserved in that room in their current condition until farther notice.”

This wording is not an indication that the government was okay with the status quo of the documents. To me, this sounds more like a warning that nothing should be touched until we get there. Don’t tamper with the evidence.

The filing also includes an attachment from M. Evan Corcoran, a Trump attorney, stating that a “president has absolute authority to declassify documents.” Corcoran also noted, “Beyond that, the primary criminal statute that governs the unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents or material does not apply to the President.”

Donald Trump ceased being president on January 20, 2021.

A big piece to the puzzle might have fallen into place with a new CNN report. Per this reporting, Tom Fitton of Judicial Watch may have played a big role in encouraging Donald Trump to resist NARA requests for the documents at Mar-a-Lago. In a series of phone calls beginning last February, Fitton allegedly encouraged Trump to refuse to give up any additional records after the initial 15 boxes.

“The moment Tom got in the boss' ear, it was downhill from there,” said an anonymous Trump aide.

The affidavit confirms my initial suspicion that the FBI would not go into a former president’s home without strong probable cause. There seems to have been conclusive evidence that Trump unlawfully possessed classified documents and was storing them haphazardly in boxes with other unclassified materials. It also seems apparent that Trump pretended to be cooperative while obfuscating and hiding other documents.

While it is true that Trump could have declassified these documents while he was president, we have so far seen no evidence that he actually did so. What’s more, declassifying sensitive documents in order to take them home and leave them lying around the house is not exactly an argument that exonerates the former president of being careless with national secrets.

There are still many unanswered questions. Large sections of the affidavit are censored so we don’t know where the FBI got its tips about Trump’s stash. We also don’t know exactly what the raid yielded.

From what we know at this point, however, the raid was not only legal but was well-justified. Based on Trump’s lack of cooperation and dishonesty in dealing with the National Archives and the DOJ leading up to the raid, I would not be surprised to hear news of an indictment in the coming weeks.

That won’t be political persecution of a former president. That will be the fruit of his own bad behavior and disregard for the law.

A lot of people took some offense at a meme that Racket News posted in the wake of the student loan forgiveness story. I posted the meme myself and when I retweeted it, I added some context that you didn’t see in the original post.

I stand by the meme as far as it goes, but I don’t necessarily take it further. As I wrote in my earlier piece on the loan amnesty, I oppose Biden’s policy. That needn’t stop me from pointing out the hypocrisy in a lot of the plan’s opponents.

When it comes to Christianity, the entire religion is built upon forgiveness. That was the point of the meme.

It’s interesting to note but not really relevant to the current discussion that God instructed the ancient Israelites to cancel debts in every Sabbath year (Deuteronomy 15:1-2) while at the same time instructing believers both to be cautious about borrowing (Proverbs 22:7, 26-27and to pay their debts when they did borrow (Ecclesiastes 5:5, Romans 13:7-8). There seems to be no evidence that the Israelites ever followed the instruction of debt forgiveness in the Sabbath years.

Instead, what is relevant is that Christ paid our sin debt to God. This is affirmed in several verses such as 1 Corinthians 7:23. Even the term “redeemer” has financial overtones.’s first definition for the word is “to buy or pay off; clear by payment.”

This theme is also common in many hymns such as “Jesus Paid it All” and “I Will Sing of My Redeemer,” which says:

Sing, oh, sing of my Redeemer,
  With His blood He purchased me,
On the cross He sealed my pardon,
    Paid the debt, and made me free.

Now, I’m not saying that Biden’s loan forgiveness is Biblical or that Joe Biden is christlike, but I am pointing out that many of the political Christians have an unforgiving attitude.

It’s not hypocritical to say that a unilateral government program that transfers debt from the borrower to taxpayers is not real charity. That’s especially true when the program comes two months before an election and the president may not even have the legal authority to forgive the debt.

On the other hand, many of the critics had no problem with other giveaways such as Trump’s aid to farmers victimized by his tariff wars. Quite a few people virtue signaling about paying your debts were also quick to accept forgiveness of their own PPP loans.

As with many things, right and wrong seem to depend a lot on the specific issue and which side of the political aisle one sits on. Again, I oppose the program for a variety of reasons, but it isn’t as black and white as many critics would make it seem.

Do student borrowers deserve the forgiveness of their student loans? No, but then we don’t really deserve God’s forgiveness either, but I’m happy to take advantage of the offer.

From the Racket

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Biden acts on student loan forgiveness

 There are new reports today that President Biden will announce a new initiative to forgive some student loans. The announcement comes in a muddled election season with Democrats slowly making gains in Senate races while facing the prospect of losing the House.

The announcement has not yet been made, but the Wall Street Journal is reporting on the details, which include forgiveness of $10,000 in federal student loans for borrowers earning less than $125,000 per year or couples earning less than $250,000. Borrowers with federal Pell Grants will qualify for a total of $20,000 in student loan forgiveness. Additionally, the president will extend the pandemic pause on student loan repayments through the end of the year.

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Photo by regularguy.eth on Unsplash

Student loan forgiveness has long been a controversial topic. Democrats have campaigned on the issue for years while Republicans have decried it as a giveaway program that benefits the wealthy at the expense of working-class Americans. While the plan will excite young voters and progressives, it may also ignite opposition voters (even though I don’t expect many Republicans to refuse to take advantage of the windfall for themselves or their children).

There has been a lot of polling on student loan forgiveness in the past. As a general rule, there is broad approval for limited forgiveness but support drops as the program is expanded. For example, an Ipsos poll from June found that 55 percent supported forgiving $10,000 in loans, but that number dropped to 41 percent when forgiving all debt was considered.

In limiting the amount of debt forgiven and means-testing the benefit, President Biden seems to have chosen the wisest course politically. The idea is broadly popular and even though it will draw opposition, forgiving $10,000 is not as divisive as canceling all student debt.

Even though the figure isn’t huge, it can still have a very beneficial impact on student borrowers. The average debt for a bachelor’s degree is $28,400. Eliminating a third of this debt can help graduates who are wrestling with expenses and other inflation to get on their feet and stabilize their lives more quickly. On the other hand, students who pursued advanced degrees, such as medical students who have an average debt load of $194,280, will still be relying on their higher incomes to pay back the vast majority of the debt that they have incurred.

Even though Biden’s plan isn’t the massive wealth transfer that some of his critics allege, it does have problems. For starters, there is the question of whether President Biden has the authority to forgive the loans by Executive Order. The answer is not clear.

Proponents argue that the Higher Education Act of 1965 gives the executive branch the power to forgive student loans while critics point out that the powers delegated in this law are contingent upon congressional authorization. In the past, Congress has authorized student loan forgiveness for teachers, public service workers, and the disabled, but it did so specifically in standalone bills.

Nevertheless, it would be politically awkward for Republicans to challenge the president’s loan forgiveness initiative. A promise to make sure that students pay in full versus a promise for debt relief would most likely sway some students and parents of students to vote for Democrats. It’s about as likely as not that Congress would vote to affirm the plan, especially if it turns out to be popular.

Any successful challenge would have to go through the courts since a congressional bill or resolution will be filibustered by Democrats or meet the presidential veto in the unlikely event that it survives Congress. Finding standing to sue against the policy might well prove to be tricky.

An additional concern is whether the plan could fuel inflation. A new CNBC poll found that 59 percent are concerned that forgiving student loans could add to the inflation problem (the same poll found voters split into thirds over whether all loans should be forgiven, only for the needy, or none at all). In addition to the possible effect on general inflation, forgiving student debt could provide an incentive for colleges to continue to raise tuition prices.

Most economists say that the small individual value of the debt relief spread over many years is unlikely to significantly impact inflation in the short term. The bigger problem may be with the moral hazard that it creates in the long term.

After student loans have been partially forgiven once, it is not unreasonable to expect that a future president will take similar action. Students may assume that they won’t have to pay back all of their loans and consequently this may increase their appetite for student debt. This may in turn increase demand for college education, which could fuel the rate of increase in college tuition.

College tuition is already one of the fastest-growing commodity prices, having increased 747 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars since 1963. In the long term, student loan forgiveness may make college even more unaffordable and contribute to more student loan debt.

All-in-all, Biden’s move is a shrewd one. Personally, I oppose student loan forgiveness for several reasons, but I oppose a limited, means-tested program less vehemently than a broad, universal debt cancellation. If I had kids with college debt, I’d probably not complain about it too much. I think a lot of people will hold similar opinions.

In the meantime, the president fulfills a campaign promise and shores up support among young voters and progressives, both of which haven’t seen much to excite them so far from the Biden Administration. Indeed, what seems for years to be a lackluster presidency has picked up steam in recent months with a string of victories just ahead of a critical midterm election.

Biden’s action here seems pretty well-timed and thought out and it might just save a few vulnerable Democrats in November.

MICHIGAN MILITIA REDUX: Remember those Michigan militia members who allegedly tried to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and then got off due to a mistrial? Well, Adam Fox, 39, and Barry Croft Jr., 46, just had their second trial and this time a jury found them guilty of attempted kidnapping and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction. The pair of III Percenters face the possibility of life in prison for their role in a plot that prosecutors say was intended to start a new civil war.

UPSET IN NY 19: I wasn’t watching last night’s primaries too closely, but one surprise outcome did get my attention. In a special election in NY-19 that is widely considered a bellwether, Democrat Pat Rily upset Republican Marc Molinaro. The district is a battleground won by Joe Biden in 2020 by less than two pointsPre-election polling had given Molinaro the edge.

It’s not good to read too much into special congressional elections, but this may be sign that November is going to be a tougher row to hoe for Republicans than is generally assumed.

From the Racket