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While many of us have been sidetracked by weather events (Ian) and world events (Russia), there have been multiple developments on multiple fronts regarding former President Donald Trump this week.
Trump weathered the storm at Mar-a-Lago, allowing him to delay testifying in a fraud class action lawsuit.
The January 6 committee postponed its scheduled public hearing due to the storm, but it interviewed Ginni Thomas, a conservative activist and wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
A Florida-appointed Trump judge shielded him from the special master he requested and she approved, meaning he doesn’t have to justify some of his outlandish claims about the FBI in court.
I spoke to Katelyn Polantz, CNN’s senior crime and justice reporter, who follows all of this, to find out about the developments. We conducted this conversation via direct message.
WHAT MATTERS: What is the thing from this week that caught your attention the most and why?
POLANTZ: What all of these developments have in common is that timing is really everything.
This week, there was a clear need to shift from the daily grind of investigations and legal battles to focus on the devastation of the hurricane in Florida. But things are really getting tough on some political fronts.
In the deposition situation, that trial had a Friday deadline to swear in Trump, months after he agreed to give the deposition. It was planned for the very last day it was possible, but the hurricane and its insistence on staying in Florida really upended that. The new deadline for his deposition is now the end of October, further delaying work in progress in this case, which is a class action lawsuit against his fraudulent corporate promotions.
The House is not helped by the delays either. The January 6 committee has an expiration date tied to the end of this convention in January. As the congressional elections approach, there is not much time left for public hearings before people cast their ballots. That said, the committee is obviously continuing its work and still promises to submit a final report before the end of the year. It’s unclear whether they’ll be able to muster the same political impact as their series of hearings over the summer.
When it comes to the Mar-a-Lago investigation — perhaps the most significant legal situation Trump faces — Judge Aileen Cannon gave the Trump team an extra gift, in that prosecutors don’t won’t get clarity on any issues Trump has with what was seized, or the ability to use the unclassified documents in their investigation until after the November election.
The name of the game right now on all fronts for Trump is delay, delay, delay. Although it remains to be seen if he can delay all the investigations going on around him in a way that exceeds the time limit.
WHAT MATTERS: You wrote an interesting story last week, along with Evan Perez and Zachary Cohen, about Trump’s “secret” court battle to block information from a federal grand jury. I have the impression that this is another theme of these surveys. There is the information known to the public, the details reported, and then the secret things that hide under the water. What else can we assume that we don’t know?
POLANTZ: There are always parts of investigations, even whole lines of investigation, of which we are not aware. That’s just the nature of how investigations work, especially those conducted by the Department of Justice. We can’t assume much more than what we’ve reported, as this fight, like many others, didn’t come out of nowhere. It’s another step in a painstaking effort by the DC federal grand jury to gather information from Trump’s top White House advisers and then-Vice President Mike Pence. We know this relates to Trump’s assertions of privilege, and it could impact a very large set of witnesses, and whether they and others may be coerced into sharing interactions that have so far been kept secret from all investigations. We also know that because of the way Trump has a tendency to push the courts into uncharted legal territory, we may have to follow rounds of appeals – even though past precedent indicates that even sitting presidents lose that type of battles in criminal investigations. But how the results will settle, and when, remains a major question.
WHAT MATTERS: The DOJ isn’t the only government entity with an investigation that could affect Trump. What’s happening with the Fulton County prosecutor’s investigation into efforts to nullify the 2020 election in that state?
POLANTZ: This grand jury is still at work! They’re bringing in witnesses like Boris Epshteyn this week. Like most grand jury investigations, their work could result in charges against one or more people — several Trump allies have received target letters. But where exactly the survey is and how it works locally is a question that others than me could answer better.
POLANTZ: There is an intriguing situation with all these simultaneous investigations that I want to mention –
WHAT MATTERS: Keep on going…
POLANTZ: In the end, will the Big Kahuna investigations of January 6, the one conducted by the Department of Justice in Washington, get answers that no other investigator could get? With so many simultaneous investigations, it’s a very complex game.
Take for example Jeffrey Clark, the former DOJ official whose phone was seized by federal investigators as part of their investigation into conspiracy and obstruction. He has not been charged with any crime.
He faces a DC attorney discipline case that resulted from months of investigation and was pursued by the House Select Committee. In both of these situations, he took the Fifth and did not answer questions. Will the DOJ, which has tools to immunize witnesses and force them to answer questions, be able to get someone like him to talk? Will they even want to try to get him to talk? Many people close to Trump take the Fifth, based on what we know from their non-responses to the House Select Committee.
WHAT MATTERS: It’s an interesting side drama – Trump’s legal team. There was a report this week about one of his new attorneys, Chris Kise, being sidelined. What, if any, do we know about the size of his legal team, how they are paid, and how they distribute these many, many, many different cases?
POLANTZ: Zach, you’re asking the toughest questions today! From what we know, there are many attorneys working with Trump, and no one central person coordinating all of his efforts and keeping tabs on all investigative topics that are close and aligned with him. Payments to various attorneys regularly appeared in Trump’s political committee expense reports.
The attorney who was sidelined – who was brought in to take over the Mar-a-Lago situation in Florida and was on track to have a $3million retainer – wasn’t even not on the Trump team’s latest filing in the court’s public record. Three lawyers are still registered. One of them, Evan Corcoran, is part of a separate team of three lawyers who went to court in the January 6 privilege battle, alongside two other lawyers. Others we know are in the background, including Ephsteyn. I can’t even get to the various legal teams Trump uses to respond to his myriad ongoing civil lawsuits. It would be a tome. Of course, it’s not uncommon for someone with a lot of legal problems to need a lot of lawyers.
That said, avocados are not cheap! In addition to all of these attorneys, Trump owes special master’s fees in reviewing the Mar-a-Lago documents. The selected special master, a working judge, does not take payment, but a retired judge he hired to help him will charge $500 an hour. And in the legal world, that’s a godsend.
WHAT MATTERS: I think it’s a good place to leave it today. Keep up the good work!
POLANTZ: You too!