I’ve been following the tribulations (and am looking forward to the trials) of Donald Trump. It’s fascinating, to me, the level of stupidity and bad lawyering that the republican fascist party has managed to scrape together.

As I mentioned before, the various indicted and unindicted co-conspirators in Trump’s Keystone Koup appear to mostly have no idea what to offer beyond an affirmative defense [stderr] i.e.: “yeah, I did it but the election was stolen!” or “yeah, I did it but Trump told me to!” or “yeah, I did it but Sydney Powell says her claims were simply intended to be entertainment!” etc. None of those is a good defense. Not even close. This is the time when Trump and his lawyers should be trying on a couple of defensive strategies, but, nope, they’re just mostly shouting at clouds. The problem they have is that all of the various attorneys and judges they are up against have heard this all before, and none of them are the least bit surprised. I mean, really, does anyone actually think Fani Willis didn’t expect to have to overcome claims of privilege? If she were reading over my shoulder as I write this, she’d probably laugh and say “yeah but I never thought they’d keep asserting it over and over and over” If you think about it, that’s basically all that Team Weirdo has offered: privilege, 1st amendment, attorney/client privilege, and oh can we move to another court because we’re privileged?

Bobby Seale bound and gagged in court – still not a good idea

In a normal case, we’d expect the defendant to shut up and let their lawyers do the talking – except that’s not what’s happening. I have a theory about this: the Keystone Koup had too many lawyers, all along. Lawyers who think they are smart but aren’t. So you’ve got Eastman, who puffs up like a frog and announces “executive privilege” and expects the clouds to roll away and the sun to shine – and is baffled when it does not. I think all of the judges so far have been straining their patience to remain professional and to project the gravitas of their office. Imagine if OJ Simpson had been on the airwaves before his trial, basically saying, “sure, I could stab someone and get away with it, except racism, Hunter Biden, privilege!” I am also sure that the judges and attorneys have seen a lot of shit, before, and are not going to get rattled or show they are annoyed at being called “deranged” or “liberal communist” or whatever. There will come a time when that annoyance shows, but it’s not yet. And, the judges and attorneys involved also know that there will be (endless) appeals once it’s all over, so this is merely the first few steps of a long, tedious, pavane. [That’s redundant] By repeatedly bleating “privilege!” the conspirators in the Keystone Koup are mostly showing that their lawyers are not very good, or they think they’re doing their own lawyering and they’re going to do just great. I’m endlessly puzzled. Surely this is not the first time Sidney Powell has tried lying to a judge – making spurious legal claims is how she got sanctioned and will get disbarred and bankrupted; did she somehow not notice in the midst of all that process that she is actually not a brilliant lawyer? Is this the first time she’s tried to play games with a judge? How does one get to be a lawyer without learning about defamation, and how it works? Lawyering, after all, is all about not just making shit up – you are supposed to argue precedents and processes, etc. Not “I got this information from an anonymous source who claims to have learned it while time-traveling.” But, it seems to me that we are witnessing a gigantic flood of stuff that a bunch of lawyers and an ex-president are just making up as they go along. That’s not a strategy – eventually, they are going to have to deal with reality in the traditional way, and then they’re going to get locked up.

Of course the focal point of the “just make shit up” faction is Trump himself. Some of the stuff that he blurts out is not just wrong, it’s shockingly wrong. I’m sure that Jack Smith and Fani Willis are just sitting there, glowering at a blank wall someplace private, muttering “I really hope he tries that shit with me.” Of course a lot of the media prefer to sit back and remain ignorant, so none of this stuff never enters the public discussion, but someone needs to tell Trump, “shut up about the Presidential Records Act – it does not authorize you to do whatever you want with presidential records, it is actually the opposite.” How is this defendant saying “I can do whatever I want” on live TV? It seems pretty obvious that he is ignoring his lawyers, or has managed to find lawyers that are also completely delusional, who don’t see statements like that as a liability.

The really interesting show, though, is happening where the attorneys have basically pushed Trump out of the way because he’s useless as a witness, or defendant, or anything else, really. He managed to lose his first case against E. Jean Carroll by obviously lying, not testifying, and demonstrating publicly that he’s exactly the kind of asshole she said he was. That was remarkable. Trump did not even have to shoot himself in the foot. So then (why? what the fuck!?) Trump doubled down and defamed E. Jean Carroll fucking more a day after he lost a substantial judgement to her for defaming her. What’s fascinating about that is that the judge is basically going to avoid Trump, again: “Well, since you lost your first case so perfectly and then you just did exactly the same defamation thing again, I guess we don’t need to waste a jury’s time finding you guilty, we’ll just meet and figure out the damages.” He’s already in the hole for $5 million, and now is not the time to be doubling down. It’s hard for me to think of something more stupid, but I suppose staring at an eclipse or asking about putting bleach up your butt to cure viruses is somewhere on the same scale.

It’s so obvious, it’s so weird, it’s so stupid – I feel like I’ve fallen into some la-la land when I realize that a whole lot of Americans think that guy should be president again. It’s as if Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roy is a documentary. Merdre!

The other axis of obviousness, that I think is going to be incredibly interesting, is the New York financial fraud case. Where things stand, right now, with that, the Trump org is maneuvering itself into a situation where they have basically already lost the case – they’re just delaying and obfuscating it. Letitia James’ case is really, really clear and, interestingly, it’s just framed as a statement of facts gleaned from Trump org’s financial filings and statements of values. I don’t see any practicable defense against any of it: it’s the receipts for what they paid for a thing, followed by a loan application in which they claimed the thing was worth something dramatically different, and that difference is the amount of the fraud. I’ve been generally impressed by the clarity and quality of the thinking that is arrayed against Trump – Jack Smith’s indictments are clear, elegantly argued, and straightforward, so are Leticia James’ and Fani Willis’. It’s as if these prosecutors have – you know – thought about it and figured out “what arguments might Trump’s lawyers make?” then figured out how to neutralize those arguments in advance. For example, in Smith’s indictment he argues that sure, of course Trump has the right to use his free speech to challenge an election, but he doesn’t have the right to use illegal pressure tactics to ask state voting agencies to “find me more votes.” These people are not amateurs, they’re top-notch professionals who are thinking hard and carefully about the issues. That’s why Trump and the Keystone Koupers’ arguments seem so silly – just shouting “privilege!” and “first amendment!” does not indicate any attempt to engage intellectually with the problem.

What I am saying, in other words, is that Trump and his circle of happy hacks is going down, and are going down very hard when their wiggle room runs out. They’re going to explore that wiggle room thoroughly, of course, but it will not have any effect on the final outcome.

I encourage any of you to read the various indictments, because they’re generally high art but devoid of artifice: they’re dry, straightforward, and direct. There’s no attempt to write them as literature, or for rhetorical effect, which just makes them all the more devastating. The latest one I’ve been reading (since I have not found a dramatic reading audio performance, yet!) is Letitia James’ complaint against Trump org: [NY ag]

See what I mean? How is Trump org going to argue against that? What possible argument is there? It’s facts from the New York real estate market, Trump org’s tax filings, and loan applications. It’s so dry and direct that you have to do a double-take and re-read this:

For example, Mr. Trump’s own triplex apartment in Trump Tower was valued as being 30,000 square feet when it was 10,996 square feet

Wait, what?! This is not simply inflating the value by saying “it’s worth more than it was when we bought it” it’s “the apartment has actually grown to nearly three times its size.” Or something spatially improbable. There is no plausible claim of privilege or bias or first amendment rights that can be brought to bear against that one.

The restriction issue comes up all over the place: Trump often bought properties that had covenants or controls on them, then re-valued them as if those controls no longer applied. The difference in such properties, in a city like New York, is really significant – and James calls that out clearly and drily. “rent stabilized apartments at Trump Park Avenue were valued as if they were unrestricted” you can raise the rent on an unrestricted apartment (more revenue!) but not on a rent controlled apartment.

It just goes on and on:

The property should have been valued at closer to $75 million, but Trump org valued it at $739 million – ten times what it was actually worth. When you inflate your worth by $600 million here, and $49 million there, pretty soon you’re a fake billionaire! James’ complaint (it’s a civil case not a criminal indictment)

“Oh, those cottages that we don’t have, and which we can’t rent because we’re not allowed to build them – they’re worth millions I swear!” Remember, whenever Donald Trump, in his capacity as the CEO of Trump org, signed a statement of the value of a property, he was attesting that it was worth far more than it was. That’s the fraud, and the amount of the fraud is staggering. If you use those inflated valuations to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars so you can build a hotel in Moscow, or renovate a building into a hotel in Washington, you are doing it with money you borrowed from a bank under false pretenses. That’s a big deal because the collateral you’re offering against the loan is not worth anywhere near what the lender thinks it’s worth.

Imagine if I went to my local bank and borrowed money to do some home remodeling – and put my car, a vintage 1964 Ferrari 250GTO worth $70 million – up as collateral. With collateral like that, I could borrow $20 million, easily. But then the bank finds out that my car is actually a 2013 Honda CRV that I bought used with 120,000 miles on it, and maybe I’m not repaying that loan because I’m going to prison for some crimes I committed when I was in public office. Now, the inflation of the collateral really, really matters.

This is normal: buy low, sell high, and sell something as worth more than you know it to be. That’s not a crime. It’s a crime when you do it so consistently and so much that it amounts to selling stuff that you haven’t got. If I tried to sell my Honda CRV for $3,000 more than I paid for it, because I had it detailed, replaced the tires, and painted it with a cool paint-job, that’s arguable. If I sell it as a 1964 Ferrari, that is not arguable. [Actually a better comparable would be if I were selling it as 3 Ferraris – magical multiplying Ferraris like the square footage of Trump’s apartment]

Midjourney AI and mjr “Donald Trump as a mid-80s goth”

Privilege! Witch hunt!

What Letitia James’ complaint documents is a spectacular amount of fraud, amounting to billions of dollars. That’s not “billions of dollars over the life-span of Trump org” that’s “billions of dollars in one year.” There’s basically no way Trump org will be able to wiggle out of this, because just re-stating the square footage of a penthouse apartment to the tune of millions of dollars, is an open and shut case.


  1. Jean says

    I knew Trump had small hands but I didn’t know he was polydactyl (thanks Midjourney). But what jumped at me was the resemblance with Daryl Hall from Hall & Oates (man I feel old).

  2. says

    “the Keystone Koupers”

    How about “the Keystone Koup Klan”?

    Oh, and as for becoming a lawyer without understanding defamation, that’s pretty easy. As a first year law student (abbreviated 1L) you do have a basic course on torts, and defamation will be covered there, but to the extent that it’s covered, it will only be the basic definition + how that definition comports with and evolved from the original concept of a tort. Really torts is more “theory of law” than “practice of law”. Hell, all of law school is more “theory of law” than practice. You can be quite good at the theory (like me) without ever having actually practiced. You can also be a good test-taker, which involves a certain kind of intelligence and organizational skill, without being a good lawyer.

    Despite having written law that is now on the books in Canada (as part of a class on legislative drafting) and nailing constitutional law and statutory interpretation finals, the actual process of challenging a law in Canadian courts would involve certain procedural steps that would be entirely unfamiliar to me. Just reading your civil procedure text won’t tell you which motions you should expect to defend against as a plaintiff’s attorney pressing a defamation case, nor will that remotely tell you the practical risks of speaking to the media between being served and going to trial.

    A gadfly might test well, but just not have the common sense to shut up when that is an advantage to herself (or her client) and thus make a very bad lawyer.

    In short, being a student and being a barrister are two different things, as are theory and praxis. I’m not at all surprised that there are people who get through school and pass the bar but can’t lawyer themselves out of a paper bag.

  3. dangerousbeans says

    My guess is that his lawyers have worked out they are losing but that they’ll still get paid, and they THINK that this will help them get future jobs from the same crowd.
    They get paid, only have to do the bare minimum, and the narrative from the client will be that it was rigged against him. So no reflection on how good a job they are doing.

    Either that or they’re just terrible lawyers

  4. lochaber says

    I normally can’t stand to watch/read/observe any of his bullshit, but it’s starting to look like the chickens might be coming home to roost, and that’s kinda appealing.

    I’ve been wondering about this, and my idle speculation is that he’s had a _LOT_ or court cases in his life, but they’ve all been civil cases/suits, so he’s not uncomfortable talking to lawyers, being in a courtroom, etc., but hasn’t quite caught on that there is a big difference twixt a civil and a criminal case. And, he’s just relying on his old tried-and-true tactics of delaying, obfuscating, and outspending his opponents. Which works quite well when he’s being sued by people with limited time, funds and assets, but I don’t think is going to work so well with government institutions (in a criminal case).

    I also think there’s a bit of the issue what with him being surrounded by “yes-men” his entire life. I imagine never being told you are wrong, mistaken, incorrect, etc., over the course of decades, would cause something along the lines of psycho-somatic brain damage, where he genuinely believes his own bullshit, and doesn’t perceive reality the same way as those of us who have to face consequences do.

    I’ve previously been concerned about the outcomes of his criminal trials, due to the probabilities of getting a red-hat on the jury that would play jury-nullification, but as the criminal cases and counts pile up, I feel that shifts the probabilities a bit. Also, I’ve heard people claim if you can get red-hats away from the fox news/OAN/newsmax/associated bubbles for a week or two, they start behaving/thinking a bit more rationally, and I’m guessing any criminal trial involving a former president will involve pretty strong jury sequestration. Maybe wishful thinking, but I’m hoping that further reduces the chances of a red-hat individual engaging in jury nullification or similar.

  5. Dunc says

    I think lochaber is right to some extent, but I think it possibly goes further than that… I suspect that they actually know damn well that none of this is actually going to fly in court, but that’s not the point. Judges and lawyers are not the target audience here. I think this is all part of his next run for President, and that he hopes that if he can win again, this will all go away. Or they’ll at least get enough people riled up enough for Florida to secede and set up a government in exile in Mar-a-Lago or something.

    They’ve already tried one coup, and one of the things about coups is that they tend to invalidate any prior legal proceedings against their leaders. They only need to succeed once.

  6. sonofrojblake says

    @dangerousbeans, 5:

    his lawyers have worked out they are losing but that they’ll still get paid

    That’s… optimistic.

    I mean, apart from being President of the USA, I would have said that one of the top three things Trump is literally famous for is stiffing people to whom he owes money.

  7. Reginald Selkirk says

    MR: I have a theory about this: the Keystone Koup had too many lawyers, all along. Lawyers who think they are smart but aren’t.

    @6: I also think there’s a bit of the issue what with him being surrounded by “yes-men” his entire life.

    They are handicapped by one detail: Trump only hires lawyers who are willing to work for Trump. So that limits the quality of applicants right there. This is more general than legal representation, it applies to cabinet members and any other positions filled by Trump.

    @4: Despite having written law that is now on the books in Canada…

    You had to pick a field where you don’t get royalties or residuals for your writing.

  8. says

    Crip Dyke@#1:
    Oh, and as for becoming a lawyer without understanding defamation, that’s pretty easy. As a first year law student (abbreviated 1L) you do have a basic course on torts, and defamation will be covered there, but to the extent that it’s covered, it will only be the basic definition + how that definition comports with and evolved from the original concept of a tort […]

    Ah! Thank you for explaining. I’ve heard things about law exams and thought that, to create such terror, they must be pretty thorough.
    I’ve worked as a non-testifying expert on a number of patent cases, and have found (generally) that high-priced attorneys are willing to learn and study, or at least to listen to their experts and peers who have learned and studied for them. But surely Trump hires idiots (Alina Habba!?) who are willing to work with him – rather than being good, they have to be ignorant bottom-feeders.

  9. says

    But what jumped at me was the resemblance with Daryl Hall from Hall & Oates (man I feel old).

    I noticed that, too – also the extra fingers. But I still loved the concept…

  10. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    But what jumped at me was the resemblance with Daryl Hall from Hall & Oates (man I feel old).

    I see the Daryl Hall, but I also get a little young Meat Loaf vibe from it as well.

  11. jenorafeuer says

    On top of what Cryp Dyke mentioned @#4 (that testing well enough to pass doesn’t mean actually understanding a subject) and Reginald Selkirk @#10:

    One of the things I’ve been thinking about this is that because of Trump’s absolute loyalty demands, most of his lawyers are coming from big right-wing legal schools. The thing is, those schools were primarily set up to act as pipelines to create judges that can be appointed politically, and lawyers for big ‘think tanks’ like ALEC. Both of those situations are places where they’re in control and there isn’t anybody from outside their bubble who can say ‘no’. Actually being able to argue a case in front of a judge who is not part of the right-wing bubble is not something they’re trained for.

    And then on top of that, the lawyers for Trump are the people who weren’t even good enough at the theory to get into the think tanks. So they’re not good at the legal theory, they’re not good at legal practice in ‘hostile environments’ because they’re just good little authoritarian followers who can’t handle non-authoritarian leaders, and so all they’ve got is bluster which would only work on people who are either part of the clan or beneath them in social ranking. Once they’re in a situation where neither of those is true, they have nothing except yelling and hoping the judge will give them what they want to make them go away.

    With some of these, we’re pretty much dealing with sovereign citizen lawyers. That concept should make your brain hurt.

  12. Allison says

    I’m reminded of the saying:

    When the law is on your side, pound the law.

    When the facts are on your side, pound the facts.

    When neither the facts nor the law are on your side, pound the table.

    This would all be an amusing sideshow, except that these people are the ones who were and probably will be running (ruining?) the country and the world.

  13. Dunc says

    To put it in cybersecurity terms: I think you’re looking at a buffer overrun attack, so there’s no point trying to parse it like it’s legitimate input.

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