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Bad day for Hunter Biden

Presented by The U.S. Chamber of Commerce: POLITICO's must-read briefing on what's driving the afternoon in Washington.
Aug 11, 2023 View in browser

By Bethany Irvine

Presented by The U.S. Chamber of Commerce

In a surprise announcement, AG Merrick Garland named David Weiss, the U.S. attorney for Delaware who has been leading the probe, as a special counsel. | AP

The federal investigation of HUNTER BIDEN was upended in the span of an hour this afternoon with a pair of surprise developments inside the Justice Department. The prosecution of President JOE BIDEN’s son, which appeared to be nearing completion only a few weeks ago, now appears to be set for months of more wrangling — and a possible trial.

First … In a surprise announcement, AG MERRICK GARLAND named DAVID WEISS, the U.S. attorney for Delaware who has been leading the probe, as a special counsel, giving him broader powers to investigate and bring charges without standard Justice Department oversight.

Weiss, who had not previously sought special counsel authority, did so on Tuesday, and Garland said he determined the move was warranted.

“This appointment confirms my commitment to provide Mr. Weiss all the resources he requests,” he said in a statement delivered at Main Justice. “It also reaffirms that Mr. Weiss has the authority he needs to conduct a thorough investigation and to continue to take the steps he deems appropriate independently, based only on the facts and the law.” More from Betsy Woodruff Swan

Then … Moments later, prosecutors working under Weiss filed papers in Delaware’s federal trial court indicating that they no longer had any hopes of reaching a plea bargain with the younger Biden on tax and gun charges. (Recall that a misdemeanor plea deal that would have kept him out of jail fell apart at a court hearing last month.)

“The Government now believes that the case will not resolve short of a trial,” the prosecutors wrote, asking the judge to dismiss the pending charges so the case could be refiled in California or D.C., where Biden is alleged to have committed his tax crimes.

Note that the request for a change of venue would not have been possible without Garland’s special counsel designation, which now gives Weiss the latitude to file charges outside of Delaware.

The fallout … Republicans have raised questions for months about why Weiss had not been granted special counsel status. But now that he has it, they are hardly pleased.

House Oversight Committee Chair JAMES COMER, who has been leading the GOP’s investigation into the Biden family, called Garland’s move “part of the Justice Department’s efforts to attempt a Biden family coverup,” while a spokesman for Judiciary Committee Chair JIM JORDAN said “Weiss can’t be trusted” with the case.

CHUTKAN WARNS TRUMP — Just before Garland spoke a few blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue, a separate set of federal prosecutors and lawyers for former president DONALD TRUMP sparred in front of U.S. District Judge TANYA CHUTKAN over the DOJ’s request for a protective order in the ongoing 2020 election conspiracy case.

Chutkan’s decision, dealing with how Trump and his defense team can disclose evidence gathered in the case, split the difference between the two sides.

Although the prosecutors under special counsel JACK SMITH initially wanted to bar Trump and his defense team from disclosing any evidence handed over to Trump's defense as they prepare for trial, Chutkan said she was willing to allow nonsensitive materials to be made public.

“​​I don’t want this order to be overinclusive,” Chutkan said, “I don’t want to just issue a blanket protective order over information that is not sensitive."

Still, Chutkan repeatedly noted that Trump is still required to adhere to pretrial conditions preventing witness intimidation.

“What the defendant is currently doing, the fact that he’s running a political campaign, has to yield to the orderly administration of justice,” Chutkan said. “If that means he can’t say exactly what he wants to say about witnesses in this case, that’s how it has to be.”

Chutkan closed the hearing with a final warning for Trump’s team: The more “inflammatory statements” are made that could affect the jury, the “greater the urgency will be that we proceed to trial quickly.” More from Kyle Cheney

Related read: “Who Are the Prosecutors Helping Jack Smith Take On Donald Trump?,” by WSJ’s Sadie Gurman

Good Friday afternoon. Thanks for reading Playbook PM. Drop me a line: [email protected].


A message from The U.S. Chamber of Commerce:

Concerns about policy risks for public companies — changes in taxes, regulations, and enforcement — increased 27% over the last decade, according to a report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Rising public policy risks threaten business growth, innovation, and our country’s global competitiveness. In Washington, the polarization, gridlock, regulatory overreach, and inability to act smartly and strategically are making it harder for businesses to do their jobs and move this country forward.


PEAK DOUG — “The Strange Club of D.C. Politicos Who All Have One Thing in Common,” by Sam Stein: “It’s not particularly surprising to find a lot of men who share the same name in national politics. In the Senate, 10 percent of current members go by Jon or John. But the Dougs are different.”


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2024 WATCH

MONEY, MONEY, MONEY — Trump’s legal troubles are challenging his cash flow, with the former president racking up more than $27 million in legal fees in the first six months of this year, NYT’s Shane Goldmacher and Maggie Haberman report this morning.

“New financial reports show that the former president’s various political committees and the super PAC backing him have used roughly 30 cents of every dollar spent so far this year on legal-related costs. … That $27 million in legal costs includes Mr. Trump paying at least eight law firms more than $1 million each in the first half of 2023.”

And while Trump continues to rake in donations “across the broader Trump sphere, the signs of fiscal strain are showing,” Goldmacher and Haberman write.

“In one unusual transaction, Mr. Trump’s Save America PAC asked for a refund on the $60 million it had transferred last year to the super PAC, Make America Great Again Inc., that was expected to chiefly pay for television ads. Already, $12.25 million has been returned to the account that mostly pays for legal bills. In another move, Mr. Trump began redirecting more of every dollar raised into that same account.”

DeSANTIS DOWNLOAD — Amidst multiple staff cuts and personnel upheavals, some Republicans fear that Florida Gov. RON DeSANTIS’ weak messaging and political strategy are adding to his growing problems on the campaign trail, AP’s Steve Peoples, Thomas Beaumont and Michelle Price report this morning from Coralville, Iowa.

“‘It remains to be seen whether or not he can save his campaign. He’s not run a particularly effective one to date, obviously,’ said ERIC LEVINE, a New York-based Republican donor … ‘He needs to be able to speak to a broader range of issues than the culture wars. To me, that is fundamentally at the core of his problem.’”

Related read: “DeSantis Is Heckled During Iowa Bus Tour,” by NYT’s Neil Vigdor


IT AIN’T OVER TILL IT’S OVER — Despite a new wave of cautious optimism that the Federal Reserve's rate hikes have reduced inflation numbers, some experts fear “volatile” energy prices and uncertain food and fuel inflation rates may indicate that the Fed will continue to raise interest rates down the road, NYT’s Dealbook reports. “‘With oil prices and gasoline prices edging higher, the Fed may feel compelled to conclude its rate hike campaign with one last “insurance” rate hike — but could now wait until the November meeting to decide,’ QUINCY KROSBY, chief global strategist for LPL Financial, wrote in a research note.”


ECO UPDATE — The Department of Energy announced this morning it’s granting $1.2 billion in two “direct air capture” projects aimed at removing carbon dioxide from the air, AP’s Isabella O’Malley: “Project Cypress will be built in Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana. South Texas DAC is planned for Kleberg County, Texas. Each claims it will capture up to one million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year initially. A representative of the Texas project said it will scale up to remove 30 million metric tons per year once fully operational. No date was given.”

ON THE WRONG TRACK? —  “Before Joining Federal Safety Program, Freight Railroads Push to Change It,” by NYT’s Mark Walker: “Following years of resistance, the nation’s largest freight railroads agreed to participate in a federal safety program that allows employees to confidentially report safety issues. But five months after that commitment, none of the railroads have formally joined the program. Though they say they still intend to participate, the companies have raised concerns about the initiative, saying it is flawed and needs to be overhauled, according to government and industry officials.”

Related read: “EPA weighs formal review of vinyl chloride, the toxic chemical that burned in Ohio train derailment,” by AP’s Matthew Daly

BACK TO SCHOOL — “A New FAFSA Form Is Coming, Along With Changes in College Aid,” by NYT’s Ann Carrns


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DON’T SEE THIS OFTEN PART II  — After California Democrat ADITYA PAI announced he was suspending his campaign for Rep. MICHELLE STEEL’s (R-Calif.) House seat yesterday citing “a lack of joy,” he has reversed course once more. In a follow up email announcement yesterday afternoon, Pai said that he planned to continue his campaign and the letter announcing the suspension was sent by accident.

“I wrote that letter as an emotional processing exercise after an exhausting glimpse into the political machine. I sent it to some mentors and staff for perspective before getting back to work; it was never supposed to be shared,” Pai wrote, “Despite the emotional weight of candidacy, my call to service — not politics — far outweighs it.” More from LA Times’ Lilly Nguyen


MORE BAD NEWS — Bar authorities in California say the trial to disbar former Trump attorney JOHN EASTMAN should move forward despite the looming threat of an indictment from Special Counsel Jack Smith, Kyle reports. Eastman, who helped orchestrate Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election results, is being charged by legal authorities with several violations of legal ethics and rules. He previously requested that his trial be postponed while awaiting a potential indictment from the DOJ.


TURNING UP THE HEAT — “Ukraine backers want Biden to amp up his pitch for the war effort to the American public,” by CNN’s Kylie Atwood, Lauren Fox and Kevin Liptak: “White House officials are confident the $24 billion in supplemental funding for Ukraine the president requested Thursday will ultimately get the congressional backing it needs to make it to his desk … But a major concern among Ukraine supporters in Congress this summer is what precarious position they might be in down the road – especially if public support falters heading into a bigger showdown over funding that could play out before year’s end.”


TO INFINITY AND BEYOND  — “Russia launches moon mission in first attempt in almost a half-century,” by WaPo’s Adela Suliman and Natalia Abbakumova

DANCE OF THE SUPERPOWERS — With a weakening economy and cash flow issues, Beijing is unlikely to push back against the White House’s new investment ban on Chinese tech companies, WSJ’s Liza Lin and Dan Strumpf report: “Instead, Beijing is more likely to retaliate in other domains, such as by imposing more export restrictions over key materials that China has significant influence and control over—like rare earths or particular minerals.”

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Bad day for Hunter Biden


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