Trump’s Intimidation Tactics Worked. Just Look at the FBI.

Federal prosecutors and the FBI feuded over how aggressively to pursue classified documents they believed Trump was hiding.
Former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event at the South Carolina Statehouse on Jan. 28, 2023, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

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T.W.I.S.™  Notes 

The vigil for Fulton County indictments is officially on. Candles down while we keep tabs on everything else MAGA-legal in This Week in Subpoenas.


- My way or the Conway 

Loyal advisor to former President Donald Trump, Kellyanne Conway, met with the Manhattan DA’s office this week, as prosecutors accelerate the criminal investigation into the $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels during the 2016 campaign. Prosecutors are looking at whether the payment or its classification on Trump Organization books as a business expense violated the law. 

Michael Cohen, who first revealed the hush money, wrote in his book that he never talked to Trump directly to confirm the payment had been made. Instead, Conway got back to Cohen after he'd called Trump. She said she'd pass the news of the soon-to-be-infamous payments to the boss.

- Spurn before raiding 

Federal prosecutors and the FBI feuded over how aggressively to pursue classified documents they believed Trump was hiding before last summer’s federal search of Mar-a-Lago. In short, DOJ prosecutors pushed for a search once they became convinced it was the only way to recover classified docs, while many FBI agents resisted it. One thing that jumps out is this passage, suggesting just how deeply Trump’s prior attacks on law enforcement officials had permeated their sense of job security: 


…prosecutors learned FBI agents were still loath to conduct a surprise search. They also heard from top FBI officials that some agents were simply afraid: They worried taking aggressive steps investigating Trump could blemish or even end their careers, according to some people with knowledge of the discussions. One official dubbed it “the hangover of Crossfire Hurricane,” a reference to the FBI investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible connections to the Trump campaign, the people said. As president, Trump repeatedly targeted some FBI officials involved in the Russia case.

It pays to remember, when a former (and possible future) president intimidates and vilifies federal officials in an effort to undermine the rule of law: the intimidation works!

- Jumping through Rupes

Sure, powerful Fox News hosts knew stolen election allegations and conspiracies about Dominion voting machines were BS. And sure, they turned around and lied about it for ratings, and therefore money. 

But did the big boss, Fox Corp Chairman Rupert Murdoch, know about–even approve–of this lurid game? 


Why yes. Yes, he did

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Rupert Murdoch is seen on November 12, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by PG/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)

Another round of documents from Dominion’s $1.6 billion defamation suit against Fox came out this week. That’s how we learned that Murdoch himself knew leading Fox News hosts like Maria Bartiromo, Lou Dobbs, Jeanine Pirro, and Sean Hannity “endorsed” stolen conspiracy theories that he could have put a stop to. The deposition was another example of Fox’s willingness to use toxic disinformation to keep the attention of an audience overcome with months of Trump’s propaganda. 

Dominion Voting Systems argues that Fox News, its star hosts, and its executives all maliciously trafficked in stories they knew to be false. While Murdoch’s admissions may help build a case that the gang was reckless and malicious in its willingness to lie to their audience, clearing the legal bar to prove defamation is still a challenge

The filings in the Dominion case recount a sorry tale of brand-paranoid hosts and executives panicking over ratings after the network accurately called Arizona for Biden on election night 2020. (My interview with the Fox journalist who made that accurate call, and got harassed and fired for it, is here in the Breaking the Vote show.) 


Fox leaders attacked anyone on the staff who tried to tell the truth, then scrambled to tell a radicalized audience what it wanted to hear about election fraud. 

At the core of Dominion’s case is the claim that “fair and balanced” Fox’s lies damaged its business. VICE News’ Liz Landers and Shrai Popat went out west this week to visit one county where local Republicans just voided Dominion’s contract to service their elections. They don’t trust the machines any more. Stay tuned for the full story from Liz and team in the next couple weeks.

Insurrectile dysfunction

First, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy went ahead with the plan to let Fox propagandize the Jan. 6 riot. Then a curious pattern began to emerge.

House Republicans offered more support for Jan. 6 defendants by granting them access to the restricted riot footage. (While there’s nothing wrong with defendants accessing government evidence, much of the Capitol Hill footage has remained restricted on security grounds. A blanket release to criminal defendants means footage the Capitol Police have restricted to avoid exposing operational details can become public in court.)


Then one of McCarthy’s senior staffers met with Micki Witthoeft, the mother of Ashli Babbitt, who was killed by US Capitol Police on Jan. 6 as she tried to climb through a window just outside where lawmakers were hiding from rioters on the House floor.  Wittoeft also met with at least two GOP lawmakers, including House Oversight Committee GOP Chairman James Comer. Wiffoeft has said her daughter was “murdered” by police, a claim Donald Trump has repeated as he’s tried to make Babbitt a martyr for a heroic cause. The officer who shot Babbitt was cleared of any wrongdoing. 

Meanwhile, it was revealed that Jan. 6 defendant Victoria White of Minnesota allegedly violated a court order to stay away from the US Capitol when she came to Washington to meet with GOP members and staffers and protest conditions at the DC jail. 

That’s all while House Republicans ramped up their newfound passion for prison reform, as long as it applies to alleged rioters who federal judges have ordered held in the DC jail pending their trials. 

There’s nothing wrong with meeting a grieving mother, or advocating for fixing DC’s jail, or giving defendants access to evidence. But it also pays to recognize the pattern: wherever House Republicans interact with Jan. 6, it’s on the side of the alleged rioters. 


The second kick of a ghoul

Time for Tina! Breaking the Vote’s favorite election subverter is hoping to parlay her 2022 midterm loss, increasingly wild conspiracy theories, and upcoming multiple felony charges into a successful run to chair Colorado’s Republican Party.  We’ll find out next weekend if Tina Peters can pull it off. But first…

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Mesa County Clerk and Colorado Republican candidate for secretary of state Tina Peters reacts to early election returns during a primary night watch party at the Wide Open Saloon on June 28, 2022 in Sedalia, Colorado. Peters lost to former Jefferson County Clerk Pam Anderson, who will move on to face Democratic incumbent Jena Griswold. (Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)

Peters was on trial this week, charged with obstruction for this incident in February, 2022. Peters had been sitting in a Mesa County courtroom holding an iPad, when the judge asked Peters if she was recording, against the rules. Peters said she wasn’t. But when the judge later found out that wasn’t true, she sent investigators to find Peters and execute a warrant to collect the device. 

It was then that the shouting, writhing, and attempted donkey-kicking ensued. (Don’t miss the part where Peters goes quiet long enough to warn officers that by accosting her they’re merely helping Merrick Garland hide the truth about voting machines.)

Charles Ashby of the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel has great Twitter coverage of the trial going, so check it out. The best part: Peters has denied all along the iPad was hers, telling cops it belonged to Tammy Bailey. One witness testified he helped Peters set up a cell phone under the name…Tammy Bailey. A verdict on two counts of obstruction could come today.


Remember, these misdemeanors are just an appetizer. Tina goes on trial in August for seven felony counts and three misdemeanors for impersonation, fraud and election tampering.

Advocate emptor

Drew Findling is known as the “Billion Dollar Lawyer” among Atlanta’s Hip-Hop glitterati. Now the famous defense attorney who’s represented Cardi B, Migos, Waka Flocka Flame\ and many others is Donald Trump’s best hope of avoiding conviction he’s indicted in Fulton County for trying to illegally overturn the 2020 election. 

VICE New’s Greg Walters went to ATL to hang out with Findling and some of his most famous clients. Check it out!

I caught up with Greg to chat about Findling, and how he’ll handle the problem that is being Trump’s lawyer.

Drew Findling is a lawyer to the stars, he’s got rappers galore in his orbit. Known for getting people off. It seems like he’s the ideal guy for Trump. 

In a lot of ways, he is the ideal lawyer for Trump in this situation. Fulton County DA Fani Willis is clearly coming for Trump. And fortunately for Trump, he hired a guy who is widely known in these circles in Atlanta as just one of the best defense attorneys you can get. He’s also a guy who is really good at working with people with huge egos, big mouths, and a hard time saying sitting silent in the face of adversity. 

I noticed Findling says he's not worried about getting stiffed by Trump. That worried me, Greg. His client has a long and demonstrated history of stiffing people.


Drew didn't really want to dive further into that. But one thing to remember is that one of the other very high profile lawyers that Trump hired in Florida had a multimillion dollar retainer put down before he joined the team. Hard to say exactly what's going on there, but entirely possible that Findling’s confidence stems from knowing that the money is in the bank.

What did you learn hanging out with DaBaby and Waka Flocka? 

Both will tell you they have a special bond with Findling. And I think Findling has a way of bonding with his clients more deeply than most. 

Trump does not bond. I don't think his personality allows for interpersonal bonding. 

So that's what's going to be so interesting about this next stage. If Trump is indicted, how will he behave? Will he be able to resist going after the prosecutor? Even if a judge orders him to be quiet? If you have a judge's order when you're out on bond and you violate it, you can get into big trouble. 

So Findling's ability to influence Trump is going to be really interesting to watch. As you say, Trump may have an inability to make those connections. That's certainly what Trump's past lawyer, Cohen, would say. Trump has no true friends. On the other hand, Waka Flocka told me he sometimes goes to Drew’s office just to hang out. So you might have the famously antisocial president, the famously magnetic lawyer…and we’ll see how they mix.  


Being Donald Trump’s lawyer can be risky, though. They also tend to wind up in court. 

I asked Drew about the precedent of Trump's lawyers getting in big trouble. Cohen went to prison for Trump. Rudy Giuliani is a target of this Atlanta investigation. And I asked him whether he felt he could do the job and stay safe. Drew said he’s going to keep a very tight ethical ship here. Something unethical or illegal, he'd simply back away from the case. 

Good rule. 

Pretty good rule. You have to wonder whether that means at some point he will back away from the case. Because even Rudy and Michael aren't the only two lawyers who've had trouble working for Trump. Christina Bob and Evan Corcoran have exposure in the Mar-a-Lago case. So there's a lot of roadkill in the Trump legal lane. Findling is determined that he will not join it.

When indictments drop, we’ll be here to catch. Sign your friends up for Breaking the Vote!

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“Fuck off.” - Marjorie Taylor Greene spokesman Nick Dyer, when asked by a reporter to comment on Greene stating that Joe Biden lost Georgia in 2020 and that thousands of dead people voted, while lecturing Georgia election official Gabriel Sterling.

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Planting the secede — The time may soon come when Fox viewers decide they like the idea of conservative states breaking from the union and blocking Democrats from voting. If that happens, stay tuned for Fox hosts actively promoting secession and calling it freedom! Until then, Sean Hannity may have to keep helping Marjorie Taylor Greene explain what she actually meant by tweeting, repeatedly, about “national divorce.” 

Operations desert sturm — GOP-led committees in the Arizona legislature are going gangbusters with all kinds of ideas for making elections less reliable, efficient, and democratic. Most of them will be vetoed by the Democratic governor, who’s convened her own bipartisan commission on elections. In the meantime, election-related hearings have become a shitshow. Have you heard the one about how the governor, Maricopa County officials, a dozen judges and the mayor of Mesa, Ariz. all got bribed by the Sinaloa drug cartel to rig the last election?

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The FBI desperately wants to let Trump off the hook.


The forewoman emerges.


Yet another election denier needs to be held to account.