September 28, 2022

Reaction to the justice department’s filing over Donald Trump’s retention of classified documents came swiftly, and brutally, on Wednesday.

Conservative commentator George Conway, husband of Trump’s former senior adviser Kellyanne Conway, said it was “insanity” that the ex-president’s legal team had gone to a court seeking the appointment of a “special master” to oversee the inquiry, knowing it would likely reveal publicly much of what investigators knew.

“Basically they asked for the justice department to punch them in the face. And that’s what the justice department did in this in this brief,” he told CNN.

“They talk about obstruction… these documents were moved around from room to room. And they actually show us the certification. I don’t think we’ve seen that before, the certification from Trump’s lawyers that said ‘hey, there were no more documents, no more classified documents’ last year in response to a subpoena.

“They certified that’s it: ‘There’s all the responsive documents we have, and it turned out there were no documents anywhere other than in storage rooms.’

“It turned out there were documents at his office. They were documents all over the place, and tons of them. This factual recitation has him dead to rights. There’s just no question about it, and it explains a lot today about why we’re seeing Donald Trump ‘truthing out’ on his social media platform that’s failing. He was basically just freaking out all day and the reason is this.”

Key events

Lloyd Green

As a first-time presidential candidate, Donald Trump repeatedly demanded that Hillary Clinton be sent to jail. “Lock her up” emerged as a battle cry for the 45th president and his fans. He also pledged that his presidency would properly handle the nation’s secrets.

“In my administration, I’m going to enforce all laws concerning the protection of classified information,” Trump intoned at a 2016 rally in North Carolina. “No one will be above the law.” As promises go, this one aged badly – much like his commitment to release his tax returns.

On Tuesday night, the government filed its 36-page opposition to the ex-reality-show host’s demand that a special master be appointed. (A special master is an independent mediator appointed to go through documents and determine which may be protected by privilege.)

Trump’s gambit backfired, however. Once again, he looks like a liar. Beyond that, his lawyers became his lackeys. Christina Bobb meet William Barr.

Martin Pengelly

Martin Pengelly

Donald Trump’s former White House counselor, Kellyanne Conway, does not think Republicans should move on from her former boss, despite signs his control of the party could cost it the chance to take Congress in November.

Kellyanne Conway.
Kellyanne Conway. Photograph: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Speaking to Fox News on Tuesday, Conway said: “Those who want to move on from Trump: You go first.”

Democrats are increasingly confident they can capitalize on Trump’s dominance of the Republican party, their own legislative successes and the need to protect abortion rights and hold the House and Senate.

So much so, they have controversially boosted extremist Trump-endorsed candidates, including election deniers, in order to give independents and Republican moderates a stark choice at the polls.

But Conway, who remains close to Trump, doubled down on the appeal of the Trumpist agenda.

“Anytime Democrats tell you which Republican should be your nominee, run in the other direction, because they know that they’re fixing to make that person unpalatable,” she said.

Democrats think Trump and his supporters are unpalatable given his refusal to admit defeat in 2020 and his lie about electoral fraud; his legal jeopardy on that front and over his business affairs; and his furious reaction to an FBI search at his Mar-a-Lago home, over his retention of classified White House material.

Democrats have performed strongly in special elections, particularly by focusing on the supreme court’s removal of the right to abortion. In conservative Kansas, a ballot measure came out in favor of the right to choose. In key Senate races including Pennsylvania, Ohio, Arizona and Georgia, Trump-backed candidates are struggling.

Conway claimed voters were aligned with Republicans on key issues. Those obsessed with Trump, she said, “don’t spend a minute learning what the 74 million Trump-Pence voters want in these midterm elections. That’s what I study every single day.”

More than 74 million Americans voted for Trump and Mike Pence in 2020. Unsaid by Conway: more than 81 million voted for Joe Biden.

Read more here:

Julian Borger

Julian Borger

The US National Security Agency (NSA) tried to persuade its British counterpart to stop the Guardian publishing revelations about secret mass data collection from the NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, according to a new book.

Sir Iain Lobban, the head of Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), was reportedly called with the request in the early hours of 6 June 2013 but rebuffed the suggestion that his agency should act as a censor on behalf of its US partner in electronic spying.

Edward Snowden.
Edward Snowden. Photograph: Edward Snowden/The Guardian

The late-night call and the British refusal to shut down publication of the leaks was the first of several episodes in which the Snowden affair caused rifts within the Five Eyes signals intelligence coalition, recounted in a new book to be published on Thursday, The Secret History of Five Eyes, by film-maker and investigative journalist Richard Kerbaj.

According to Kerbaj, Lobban was aware of the importance of the particularly special relationship between the US and UK intelligence agencies but thought “the proposition of urging a newspaper to spike the article for the sake of the NSA seemed a step too far”.

“It was neither the purpose of his agency nor his own to deal with the NSA’s public relations,” Kerbaj writes.

In October 2013, the then prime minister, David Cameron, later threatened the use of injunctions or other “tougher measures” to stop further publication of Snowden’s leaks about the mass collection of phone and internet communications by the NSA and GCHQ. However, the DA-Notice committee, the body which alerts the UK media to the potential damage a story might cause to national security, told the Guardian at the time that nothing it had published had put British lives at risk.

In the new book, Kerbaj reports that the US-UK intelligence relationship was further strained when the head of the NSA, Gen Keith Alexander, failed to inform Lobban that the Americans had identified Snowden, a Hawaii-based government contractor, as the source of the stories, leaving the British agency investigating its own ranks in the search for the leaker. GCHQ did not discover Snowden’s identity until he went public in a Guardian interview.

‘It was a chilling reminder of how important you are, or how important you’re not,” a senior British intelligence insider is quoted as saying in the book.

Read the full story:

Here’s a quick aside from politics news: the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized new Covid-19 booster shots by both Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech to tackle widely circulating Omicron subvariants of the coronavirus.

As well as the currently dominant BA4 and BA5 subvariants, both single-dose booster vaccines also cover the original version of the virus targeted by all previous Covid shots.

Today, we amended the authorizations of the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine and the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine to authorize updated formulations of the vaccines for use as a single booster dose at least two months following primary or booster vaccination. pic.twitter.com/xJA1baopLh

— U.S. FDA (@US_FDA) August 31, 2022

As a single dose, Moderna’s vaccine is authorized for those aged 18 and above. Pfizer’s Bivalent vaccine is for those aged 12 and above.

The US government has purchased 175m doses of the booster shots in an effort to stave off the worst effects of a potential surge in new infections as schools reconvene and people spend more time indoors as the weather grows colder.

Read more:

A number of media outlets made a new attempt Wednesday to persuade a judge to unseal more court records tied to the FBI’s search of Donald Trump’s Florida estate, Reuters reports.

The request came hours after the justice department outlined publicly for the first time evidence it obtained that Trump may have tried to obstruct its investigation by deliberately concealing documents.

The news outlets, including ABC, the Associated Press, CNN, CBS, NBC, the New York Times and Washington Post, asked district court judge Aileen Cannon to make public two other records that the justice department also separately filed under seal earlier on Tuesday.

One is a more detailed receipt of the property the FBI seized from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, which included 33 items and boxes containing more than 100 records with classification markings.

The other is a document that will have more details about the status of the department’s “filter” review, in which agents not involved in the investigation weed through the documents to separate anything possibly covered by attorney-client privilege.

Arizona voting rights referendum struck down

Sam Levine

A referendum that would enact sweeping voting rights protections in Arizona won’t appear on the ballot this fall after a ruling from the state’s supreme court.

Included in the expansive measure was a provision that would have barred the state from making changes to the selection of presidential electors in a presidential election year, a concern after Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results there.

Arizona governor Doug Ducey.
Arizona governor Doug Ducey. Photograph: Ross D Franklin/AP

It would have also prohibited third-party audits, like the highly criticized one that took place in Maricopa county last year, and restored a widely-used permanent early voting list that allows voters to automatically receive a mail-in ballot. Republicans changed state law recently to make it easier to remove voters from the list.

The Arizona supreme court on Friday sided with groups who had challenged the number of valid signatures on the ballot. Proponents of the measure turned in more than 475,000 signatures, nearly double the 238,000 required to make the ballot.

Ultimately, enough signatures were invalidated that the measure fell 1,458 short. Kory Langhofer, an attorney representing the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, a group that challenged the signatures, told the New York Times about 20,000 of them were duplicates.

Stacy Pearson, a spokesperson for the group supporting the measure, told the Arizona Republic the court’s action was “unprecedented.” She also expressed alarm that the court, which Arizona’s Republican governor Doug Ducey and the state legislature expanded in 2016, was invalidating so many signatures.

“What we’re seeing here is the result of 20 years of Republican efforts to chip away at democracy in Arizona,” she told the Times.

According to the Arizona Republic, The groups that challenged the measure also included the Honest Elections Project, which is linked to Leonard Leo, one of the most influential figures in the conservative movement, and Restoring Integrity and Trust in Elections, a group founded by former president George W Bush and former attorney general William Barr.

Some analysts believe the justice department has struck a balance between needing to prove the weakness of Donald Trump’s legal argument for a special master, and showing too much of its hand over its investigation into the former president’s improper handling of classified documents.

But Carl Tobias, Williams chair in law at the University of Richmond’s school of law, warns not to expect an immediate resolution to the legal wrangling, which continues in district court in Palm Beach on Thursday, when judge Aileen Cannon will mull both sides’ arguments.

“The next step is a written response from Trump and his counsel, which is likely to deny all the ideas that department of justice meticulously stated in its filing,” he said.

“Judge Cannon, a Trump appointee, will ask them questions. The judge is unlikely to rule from the bench, and she will probably take the case under advisement and review all of the written and oral arguments and issue a ruling asap.

“The department of justice has made a very persuasive case so far about its need for the documents and the need to retrieve them, because of the delay and litigation engaged in by Trump and his counsel. DoJ has a delicate balancing act to show that Trump’s special master request is weak while preserving the integrity of this probe and many other investigations past and future.

“It seems to have achieved that balance by showing that Trump lacks standing in his case, because he is a former president, the court lacks jurisdiction to hear the case, and the request to name a special master is moot, because the department has reviewed all of the documents, so there is nothing for a special master to do that the judge cannot do by reviewing them.

“If the judge agrees with the DoJ arguments, she will dismiss the case and Trump will probably appeal. If she disagrees with DoJ, she could appoint a special master, but DoJ may appeal her ruling”.

The brouhaha over the justice department’s legal filing stems from Donald Trump’s demand for the appointment of an independent “special master” to review materials seized in the FBI raid on his Florida home.

But exactly what is a special master, who would become one, and what would their role be?

Here’s our handy explainer:

Reaction to the justice department’s filing over Donald Trump’s retention of classified documents came swiftly, and brutally, on Wednesday.

Conservative commentator George Conway, husband of Trump’s former senior adviser Kellyanne Conway, said it was “insanity” that the ex-president’s legal team had gone to a court seeking the appointment of a “special master” to oversee the inquiry, knowing it would likely reveal publicly much of what investigators knew.

“Basically they asked for the justice department to punch them in the face. And that’s what the justice department did in this in this brief,” he told CNN.

“They talk about obstruction… these documents were moved around from room to room. And they actually show us the certification. I don’t think we’ve seen that before, the certification from Trump’s lawyers that said ‘hey, there were no more documents, no more classified documents’ last year in response to a subpoena.

“They certified that’s it: ‘There’s all the responsive documents we have, and it turned out there were no documents anywhere other than in storage rooms.’

“It turned out there were documents at his office. They were documents all over the place, and tons of them. This factual recitation has him dead to rights. There’s just no question about it, and it explains a lot today about why we’re seeing Donald Trump ‘truthing out’ on his social media platform that’s failing. He was basically just freaking out all day and the reason is this.”

Before we get stuck into the reaction coming in over last night’s bombshell justice department filing into former president Donald Trump’s retention of classified documents after he left office, here’s a look at the 36-page document itself:

BREAKING: DOJ files response to Trump request to appoint a special master to review the materials seized from Mar-a-Lago — https://t.co/aZWwNDZuai

— Hugo Lowell (@hugolowell) August 31, 2022

Good morning, and welcome to our midweek US politics blog. Anybody tired of Donald Trump news yet?

In a stunning overnight court filing in Florida, the justice department has laid out in great detail their conclusions from the FBI search on the former president’s Palm Beach residence earlier this month that garnered a trove of highly classified documents and government records he had no business having.

Among the remarkable findings: some of the documents were found in Trump’s desk drawer; it was “likely” efforts had been made to move and hide them; Trump’s representatives had falsely asserted all documents were returned to the US government when they hadn’t; and that Trump’s team had obstructed and delayed at every opportunity efforts to retrieve them.

The cherry on the cake, so to speak, was a photograph accompanying the filing, redacted but showing a variety of documents and folders, at least six marked secret or top secret, laid out on the floor of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago mansion.

We’ll have plenty of reaction coming through the day. And to get yourself up to speed, read this account by the Guardian’s Hugo Lowell.

Elsewhere today:

  • Trump’s legal team has until this evening to file a response to the justice department filing, ahead of Florida district court judge Aileen Cannon mulling his request on Thursday for the appointment of an independent “special master” to oversee the investigation.

  • It’s a quieter day for Joe Biden after his speech in Pennsylvania on Tuesday laying out his Safer America plan on guns and crime, including his declaration to pursue a new federal assault weapons ban. The president has no scheduled public engagements.

  • Congress is on summer recess. Republicans previously outraged by the FBI raid on Trump’s home have become noticeably quiet.

  • The White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, will deliver her daily briefing at 2.45pm. She will be asked, but almost certainly deflect, all questions about the justice department filing.

  • US politicians of a certain age are paying tribute to Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet president and architect of the end of the Cold War who has died aged 91.

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