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May 29, 2024

Top Republicans Come Face to Face With Trump’s Seamy Past

Top Republicans Come Face to Face With Trump’s Seamy Past

May 14, 2024, 4:01 p.m. ET

Top Republicans Come Face to Face With Trump’s Seamy Past


Michael Cohen on the witness stand.Credit…Josh Cochran

On a day when Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former fixer, testified about the price of loyalty to Trump, a group of Republicans, including House Speaker Mike Johnson, Gov. Doug Burgum of North Dakota and Vivek Ramaswamy, a former presidential candidate, showed up at the courthouse to demonstrate their loyalty to Trump.

Sitting in the courtroom on Tuesday on my first day at the trial, I kept wondering what they were thinking as they heard Cohen, seeming every bit the weary, reluctantly reformed TV gangster, testify about his mafia-like interactions with Trumpworld.

He described how, after his home and office were raided by the F.B.I., Trump encouraged him, both through a “really sketchy” lawyer and through his own Twitter posts, to, in Cohen’s words, “Stay in the fold, stay loyal, don’t flip.” He described how once he decided “not to lie for President Trump any longer,” the then-president publicly attacked him.

Cohen now seems like a man whose life has been essentially wrecked — he went to prison, lost his law license, had to sell his New York and Chicago taxi medallions and is still on supervised release. Though his implosion has been particularly severe, he is far from alone; many people who’ve served Trump, no matter how faithfully, have been ruined in various ways by the experience.

Nevertheless, as Trump runs for re-election, Republicans are climbing over one another to get as close to him as possible. Toward the end of his testimony for the prosecution, Cohen was asked about his regrets.

“To keep the loyalty and to do things that he had asked me to do, I violated my moral compass, and I suffered the penalty,” he said. I’d like to know if Johnson, hearing this, had even a flicker of foreboding.

May 14, 2024, 1:00 p.m. ET

The Increase in Drowning Deaths Should Be a National Priority

Drowning deaths in the United States rose by more than 12 percent to an estimated 4,500 per year during the pandemic, according to grim new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The increase, from 4,000 per year in 2019, comes as this long-neglected public health crisis is slowly beginning to draw some attention from government policymakers.

“It’s moving in the wrong direction,” the C.D.C. director, Dr. Mandy Cohen, told The Times. The agency said more than half of Americans had never taken a swimming lesson.

The sobering data is an opportunity for President Biden and health officials to finally make drowning prevention a national priority.

Drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 4 in the United States and the second leading cause of death by accidental injury for children 5 to 14. Tackling the issue has clear bipartisan appeal and would improve quality of life in every American community.

Despite the obvious need for action, federal, state and local governments in the United States have invested very little to prevent these deaths.

The rise in deaths has caught the eye of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose philanthropy told The Times this week it plans for the first time to direct millions of dollars to drowning prevention efforts within the United States to improve data collection and help fund swimming lessons in 10 states where drowning rates are highest: Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, New York, Oklahoma and Texas.

The planned $17.6 million investment by Bloomberg Philanthropies is modest compared with the $104 million it is spending globally on preventing drownings. But the focus by Bloomberg, whose prominent public health campaigns helped ban smoking in bars and restaurants in New York, could help raise the profile of this issue. Executives at the philanthropy said they planned to work with the C.D.C.

Many Americans of even wealthy backgrounds have lost children to drowning. But drowning is also an issue of equity. Black people and Native Americans are at substantially increased risk of drowning. So are teenage boys. The C.D.C. report found that these trends have continued. In 2020, they said, Black Americans saw the greatest increase in fatal drownings.

Red Cross surveys suggest that a majority of Americans lack basic swimming abilities. With C.D.C. data showing the existence of more than 10 million private pools in the United States and fewer than 309,000 public ones, it’s clear that large numbers of Americans lack access to basic information about water safety, as well as safe places to learn to swim. Instead of a public health issue, drowning is treated as a private matter and swimming as a luxury. To save lives, this needs to change.



May 14, 2024, 5:04 a.m. ET

Why Trump Is Ahead in So Many Swing States


Credit…Terra Fondriest for The New York Times

What do American voters want? The latest New York Times/Siena polls of swing states offer some confusing evidence on this point. Some of the polling results suggest that Americans are in a revolutionary frame of mind: Asked whether the political and economic systems need major changes, 69 percent of respondents said those systems need major changes or should be entirely torn down.

On the other hand, when the pollsters gave voters a choice between a candidate who would bring the country back to normal and one who would bring major changes, 51 percent said they would prefer the back-to-normal candidate and only 40 percent would prefer the major-changes candidate.

So which is it? Is 2024 a change election in which people want someone who will shake things up, or is this a stability election in which people are going to vote for the candidate of order over the candidate of chaos?

Well, different voters want different things. But if I had to write a single sentence that reconciled these diverse findings, it would be this: The people who run America’s systems have led the country seriously astray; we need a president who will shake things up and lead the country back to normal.

When they hear “systems,” I assume voters are thinking of the network of institutions run by America’s elite — corporations, governing agencies, higher education, the news media and so on. If voters believe one thing about Donald Trump it’s that he’s against these systems and these systems are against him.

Voters clearly see President Biden implicated in these systems. The heart of his problem heaves into view when people are asked which candidate will bring about change. Seventy percent of voters said that Trump would bring about major changes or tear down the system entirely if elected. And 71 percent of voters said that little or nothing would change if Biden was re-elected.

In other words, the evidence suggests that the swing voter wants reactionary change, not revolutionary change. The mood suggested by the evidence is angry nostalgia. That would be my explanation for why Trump is so convincingly ahead in most of the swing states.

May 13, 2024, 3:50 p.m. ET

Trump Told Cohen Disclosure of His Fling Would Be a ‘Total Disaster’


Clockwise from top left, Justice Juan Merchan, Donald Trump, the prosecutor Susan Hoffinger and Michael Cohen.Credit…Josh Cochran

When Michael Cohen took the stand for the first time in Donald Trump’s hush-money trial on Monday morning, he almost accidentally sat down without taking the oath. But after he raised his hand and swore to tell the truth, he seemed to do so.

In dry language, with his impulse-control problems nowhere in sight, he landed blow after blow on the former president.

Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, is willing to look like a stooge — pathetically eager for any praise from the boss — to implant in jurors’ minds that even in the absence of incriminating emails, he should be believed because of all the time he spent looking for Brownie points from Trump. When he did so, he was implicating Trump.

Cohen’s testimony about the Playboy model Karen McDougal, who says she had a nine-month affair with Trump, is important beyond Trump describing her to Cohen as “beautiful.” It cemented Trump’s attention to detail, which we’ve heard a lot about already. He constantly asked for updates on the hush money that American Media Inc., publisher of The National Enquirer, was paying at his direction to McDougal, replying, “Great!” or “Fantastic,” when Cohen delivered them.

Cohen’s tape of Trump discussing that deal landed hard when it was played, and not just because it was Trump’s voice talking about “150” — a clear reference to the $150,000 in hush money that Trump — through Cohen and A.M.I. — was originally going to pay McDougal. Trump’s micromanaging, which we’ve heard about for two weeks, came to life in a way that didn’t help him. And when Cohen dissected practically every moment of the call, there was no mistaking the meaning of the brief conversation.

When Cohen told Trump that Stormy Daniels was shopping her story, “Trump was really angry with me,” he said. Trump told Cohen: “‘I thought you had this under control, I thought you took care of this! … Just take care of it!’”

According to Cohen, Trump thought he would surely lose the 2016 election if the Daniels story came out. He testified that Trump said, “This is a disaster, a total disaster. Women will hate me,” and added that “guys, they think it’s cool” to have sex with a porn star, “but this is going to be a disaster for the campaign.” In combination with the fallout from the “Access Hollywood” tapes, they agreed, it would send his already low polling with women into a tailspin.

“Get control of it!” Trump barked, Cohen testified. “Just get past the election. If I win, it’ll have no relevance when I’m president. And if I lose, I don’t really care.”

Here the prosecutor, Susan Hoffinger, asked if Cohen inquired about Melania Trump. He said yes, and said Trump responded: “Don’t worry. How long do you think I’ll be on the market for? Not long.”

Wow. With Trump, every time you think he’s touched bottom, he crashes through the floor. Here he was already looking ahead to his third divorce.

Cohen is doing very well on direct examination. The test will come Tuesday afternoon, when cross-examination is likely to begin.



May 13, 2024, 2:10 p.m. ET

Israel Needs to Allow More Aid Crossings to Keep Gazans Alive

An already unbearable situation in Gaza is getting far worse, as hundreds of thousands of desperate Palestinian families flee an Israeli ground operation in Rafah, in southern Gaza. Aid groups say the so-called humanitarian zone near the sea, where people are being told to move, doesn’t have enough shelter, food, water or sanitation to support the people who are already there. Without a significant infusion of new aid, this place is at risk of total famine and social chaos.

One glimmer of good news came on Sunday, when Israel opened the Western Erez crossing in northern Gaza. But virtually no aid has got through to southern Gaza for nearly a week, aid groups say. The reality is that the Gaza Strip needs many, many more crossings.

“If you have only one entry point in, then it becomes extremely valuable, and every adverse actor can disrupt it for their own gain,” Dave Harden, a former U.S.A.I.D. mission director in the West Bank and Gaza, told me.

If there were a dozen access points, spread across every two or three kilometers, then no single crossing would become a choke point, vulnerable to attack. He said there’s no reason that Israel, which controls the security envelope around Gaza, could not open far more checkpoints.

“People complain that Hamas is stealing aid, but there would be no incentive to steal if there was enough food going in,” said Harden, adding that he shared a plan to open more than half a dozen more border crossings in Gaza with a branch of the Israeli military about six weeks ago.

But since then, the opposite has occurred. The main artery for humanitarian aid, Kerem Shalom, was shut down on May 5 after a Hamas rocket attack killed four Israeli soldiers. Then Israel seized the border crossing at Rafah, gaining full control over the vital entry and exit point for people and goods for the first time since 2005. Israeli officials have blamed Egypt for the halt in humanitarian goods through Rafah since last week. But for months aid groups have cited the onerous inspections of aid convoys, Israeli attacks on aid workers and protests by right-wing Israeli settlers who have destroyed or delayed truckloads of aid as the cause of famine in Gaza.

“The situation is absolutely desperate,” Sean Carroll, who leads Anera, an American aid organization that has operated in Gaza for decades, wrote in an email on Monday. His staff members have been forced to evacuate Rafah at a moment’s notice, just like the rest of the population, and were forced to leave vital supplies in a warehouse behind.

“They are trying to keep delivering but there’s not much to deliver,” he told me.

May 13, 2024, 10:31 a.m. ET

Believe It, Democrats. Biden Could Lose.

Donald Trump may be the presidential candidate whose midday snoozing has generated headlines and animated late-night comics, but President Biden is the one who needs to wake up.

He’s a whopping 12 points behind Trump among registered voters in Nevada, according to polls by The New York Times, Siena College and The Philadelphia Inquirer that were released on Monday morning. Biden won that state by nearly 2.5 points in 2020. He’s behind among registered voters in Arizona, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan — in all of the six battleground states surveyed except Wisconsin. That’s not some wildly aberrant result. It echoes alarms sounded before. It speaks to stubborn troubles.

And it’s difficult for Democrats to believe. I know: I talk regularly with party leaders and party strategists and I’ve heard their incredulity. They mention abortion and how that should help Biden mightily. They mention the miserable optics of a certain Manhattan courtroom and a certain slouched defendant. They mention Jan. 6, 2021. They note Trump’s unhinged rants and autocratic musings and they say that surely, when the moment of decision arrives, a crucial share of Americans will note all of that, too, and come home to Biden.

From their lips to God’s ear. But with stakes this huge, I can’t help worrying that such hopefulness verges on magical thinking and is midwife to a confidence, even a complacency, that Biden cannot afford. He needs to step things up — to defend his record more vigorously, make the case for his second term more concretely, project more strength and more effectively communicate the most important difference between him and his opponent: Biden genuinely loves America, while Trump genuinely loves only himself.

The new polling shows that Democratic senators up for re-election are doing better than Biden, so his party affiliation isn’t his doom. That’s the lesson, too, of the favor enjoyed by Democratic governors in red and purple states. Look, for prime example, at Josh Shapiro in Pennsylvania.

But Biden seems to get the blame for the war in Gaza. For the high cost of living, too. Regarding the economy, he has a story to tell — infrastructure investment, the CHIPS Act, low unemployment — and must tell it better, with an eye not on his liberal base, but on the minorities and young people who are drifting away from him. That’s the moral of the latest numbers: Take no voter for granted. And there’s not a second to waste.



May 13, 2024, 5:03 a.m. ET

Will Michael Cohen Throw Cold Water on Trump’s Polling Lead?


Merchandise for sale at a Trump rally in Wildwood, N.J., on Saturday.Credit…Damon Winter/The New York Times

Every Monday morning on The Point, we kick off the week with a tipsheet on the latest in the presidential campaign. Here’s what we’re looking at this week:

  • The next two weeks are critical for Donald Trump. He is leading President Biden in most polls in Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania and other swing states that will decide the 2024 election. But on Monday, the star witness in Trump’s criminal trial — Michael Cohen, his former lawyer — will begin telling a Manhattan jury that he gave $130,000 to the porn star Stormy Daniels in exchange for her silence about a sexual encounter with Trump. And based on the pace of the trial, the case could go to the jury as soon as next week.

  • Cohen is the linchpin to any conviction, acquittal or hung jury for Trump. More than any other witness in the case, he will put words in Trump’s mouth for jurors — telling them how the former president directed the payment to Daniels. Expect the cross-examination to be withering, but in the end, Trump’s lawyers may be hard-pressed to contain or thwart the damaging Cohen testimony without strong witnesses who can rebut it.

  • The trial matters because some voters say a conviction could change their thinking about Trump — a man who for years has shaken off scandals like Teflon. Failure to convict, in turn, could boost the martyr message that he’s been campaigning on at rallies like his big one in New Jersey on Saturday.

  • I just did a focus group with Trump voters from 2020 about how they see him now, which will be published on Tuesday. Most of these voters want to support him again because they think the economy will do better under him. But these voters volunteered how much they dislike Trump’s chaotic and inappropriate behavior, and several of them are looking at R.F.K. Jr. as a third-party candidate. What happens in the trial could steer some of these Trump voters away from him.

  • Biden had a successful fund-raising weekend on the West Coast, but it’s Israel’s military actions in Gaza and the cease-fire talks that will loom over both his week and the biggest event on his schedule: his commencement address at Morehouse College next Sunday. Many voters are unhappy with Biden’s approach to Gaza and general handling of the war, and he came in for some criticism over his latest move on U.S. weapons to Israel.

    This isn’t an easy time for Mr. Biden to set foot on a college campus, but he’s been an admired figure at many historically Black colleges like Morehouse — and he and his campaign need to improve his standing with both Black voters and Georgia voters, where he is lagging Trump in polls. No single event will turn it around for Biden, but I think this will be one of his highest-stakes speeches of the spring.

May 10, 2024, 6:09 p.m. ET

The Table Is Set for Michael Cohen to Testify Against Trump


Donald Trump’s lawyer Emil Bove, two witnesses, a Trump post and reporters in court.Credit…Josh Cochran

For months, we’ve heard that the prosecution’s entire case in Donald Trump’s New York felony trial boils down to one man: Michael Cohen.

It turns out that it doesn’t — as long as Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, behaves himself on the witness stand beginning early next week.

For three weeks, I’ve sat in the courtroom and watched prosecutors carefully set the table for the feast of Cohen’s testimony against his longtime boss. Knowing that Cohen is a disreputable witness, they’ll basically argue that you don’t have to like the chef to swallow the food he serves.

The arc of the prosecution’s narrative has taken the jury from the “catch and kill” scheme (a coherent prelude to the crime) to the validation of highly incriminating records to the debunking of arguments for the defense. It all adds up to an effective precorroboration of Cohen’s likely testimony.

Stormy Daniels had no connection to the falsification of business records, the fundamental charge against Donald Trump. But by establishing that she did, indeed, have sex with Trump, her testimony provided important proof of motive. It’s increasingly clear to the jury that Trump coughed up the hush money to save his 2016 campaign after it was sent reeling by the “Access Hollywood” tape. He knew that a credible story of sex with a porn star would sink him. So he broke the law.

The defense has responded mostly by grasping at straws. It tried to make the hush money look like an extortion scheme, with the former president in his favorite position as victim — a difficult maneuver, considering that Trump has spent years in the same tawdry milieu.

On Monday and Friday, the defense attorney Emil Bove used technojargon and innuendo to suggest, without a shred of proof, that a key piece of evidence — a Sept. 9, 2016, call in which Trump and Cohen discussed hush money for the Playboy model Karen McDougal — was somehow tampered with by Cohen, the F.B.I. or some other sinister force and that it might not have been Cohen on the call. The idea was to use a nanosecond gap in the call and a change in phone ownership to capture the imagination of even a single conspiracy-minded juror. It takes only one to create a hung jury.

But Bove’s cross-examination crashed when a young prosecution witness explained that when people (in this case, Cohen) buy new phones, they usually keep their old numbers.

Is that all they’ve got? No, the defense is betting on the offensiveness of Cohen, who has been ignoring repeated pleas from prosecutors to keep his mouth shut in the days before he takes the stand. (Justice Juan Merchan strongly suggested he do so.)

If Cohen can straighten up and fly right, riding on a trove of evidence and surviving cross-examination, a conviction is well within sight.



May 10, 2024, 5:20 p.m. ET

The Ugly Spirit of the Confederacy Remains Very Much Alive

The white supremacist organization known as the United Daughters of the Confederacy was at the peak of its influence during the early 20th century, when it valorized the Ku Klux Klan and raised boatloads of money so that the South could fill its public squares with monuments to Confederate officers who had waged war on this country with the goal of preserving slavery.

The group came close to building an embarrassing “mammy” monument in Washington, depicting the enslaved women who supervised the slave master’s children. By the time the U.D.C. had finished its work, Southern schoolchildren were being raised to think of slavery as a bed of roses for Black people and to view the generals who defended it as saints worthy of placement in the stained-glass windows of cathedrals.

A member of the Shenandoah County School Board in Northern Virginia mouthed the same propaganda yesterday, just before the board restored the names of three Confederate officers to schools in the district. Describing Gen. Stonewall Jackson as a “godly” man, Tom Streett, one of four members who ignored considerable opposition and voted to return the names, said that the general stood for enviable values.

The decision to expunge the names was made four years ago, after the killing of George Floyd forced local governments and Congress to acknowledge the role that racism played in the decisions to memorialize Confederate commanders in place names, public monuments and military bases.

By that time, it had become clear that the monuments, in particular, were memorials to the racial terrorism that the Southern states employed to strip African Americans of their rights during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The sudden reversion to type in Shenandoah County shows that Confederate propaganda is still very much a force in American life.

May 10, 2024, 10:03 a.m. ET

Biden Is Less Unpopular Than His Peers


Credit…Evan Vucci/Associated Press

In recent years the U.S. economy has been the wonder of the advanced world. It has recovered far more strongly from the Covid slump than any of the other Group of 7 countries (the major advanced economies) except Italy (yes, Italy):


Credit…International Monetary Fund

We did have a bout of inflation as the economy recovered from the pandemic, but inflation has subsided most of the way back to prepandemic levels — and U.S. inflation has been similar to that in other major economies. For example, if you use comparable measures of consumer prices, cumulative inflation since the start of the pandemic has been almost identical in the United States and the euro area:


Credit…Sources: Eurostat, St. Louis Federal Reserve

As we all know, however, voters are remarkably reluctant to give President Biden credit. Lately a number of observers have been picking up on a theme I’ve been banging on for a while: There’s a huge gap between voters’ negative perception of the economy and their generally positive assessment of their own situation. For example, according to the latest Quinnipiac poll of Wisconsin, only 34 percent of voters say that the economy is excellent or good, but 65 percent say that their own finances are excellent or good.

And negative perceptions of the economy are weighing down Biden’s approval rating. Or are they?

Morning Consult has just released its latest assessment of public approval for major leaders around the world. It reveals, among other things, that every Group of 7 leader has low approval — maybe because voters are still angry about past inflation. But here’s the shocker: Biden is the least unpopular of the bunch. Only Italy’s Giorgia Meloni comes close in the not-too-low approval contest:


Credit…Morning Consult

By the way, I have no idea what’s going on in Japan.

You can argue that Biden should be doing better. But anyone suggesting that Biden is a uniquely bad candidate should be aware that his peers in other countries are doing much worse. In fact, if Britain were to hold elections today, Rishi Sunak would probably preside over the death of the Tories as a major political party.

Of course, if Biden loses in November, it might mean the death of American democracy. So he may be doing better than his peers, but the stakes here are higher.



May 10, 2024, 5:04 a.m. ET

Stormy Daniels Will Not Be Shamed


Credit…Josh Cochran

First, Donald Trump’s lawyers tried to paint Stormy Daniels, the adult film actress and director at the center of the hush-money case against him, as an opportunist who was in it for the money. Then, they worked to discredit her as dishonest, highlighting discrepancies in how she’s told her story over years.

But on Thursday, during the second day of Daniels’s cross-examination, Trump’s lawyers made a very different set of accusations. They used Daniels’s work to suggest she was lying about the sexual encounter — while arguing that her surprise at Trump’s sudden disrobing was phony because, well, as a porn star shouldn’t she have been used to it?

“You’ve acted and had sex in over 200 porn movies, right?” Susan Necheles, a lawyer for Trump, asked. “And there are naked men and women having sex, including yourself, in those movies?”

“Correct,” Daniels replied.

“And yet according to you, seeing a man on a bed in a T-shirt and boxers was so upsetting that you got lightheaded?”

“When you are not expecting a man twice your age in his underwear, absolutely,” Daniels replied.

Daniels has largely been unflappable in the face of combative questioning. But that did not stop the defense from pursuing what is perhaps the oldest trope in the book: harping on her sexual history.

Necheles said Daniels was “selling herself” when she made appearances at exotic-dancing clubs. (“I was not ‘selling myself’ to anyone,” Daniels replied.) She hammered Daniels on a recent “affair” while Daniels was separated from her husband. But the most striking exchange came when Necheles implied that Daniels’s work writing for pornography films had primed her to fictionalize a sexual encounter with Trump.

“You have a lot of experience making phony stories about sex appear to be real,” Necheles said.

“Wow,” Daniels replied, taken aback. She took a long pause, then said, “The sex in those films is very much real, just like what happened to me in that room.”

The idea that Daniels’s pornography career could be equated with making up a story — or used to undermine it — might have been convincing in a pre-#MeToo world. But the public perception of sex work has changed a lot since Daniels’s initial accusation, as has the way the public understands trauma.

Daniels, for her part, was unapologetic: She is a woman who proudly makes pornography for a living and doesn’t believe it hurts her credibility one bit.

May 9, 2024, 7:17 p.m. ET

A Furious Trump Is Denied His Mistrial


Todd Blanche and Donald Trump.Credit…Josh Cochran

After the jury went home Thursday afternoon, Todd Blanche, Donald Trump’s lead defense lawyer, moved for the second time for a mistrial in the Trump felony case. He failed in spectacular fashion.

It was actually his second failure of the afternoon. Before the hearing on a mistrial, Blanche requested permission for Trump to respond in public to Stormy Daniels’s testimony because TV analysts are spreading her “new story” that the sexual encounter was nonconsensual. Blanche argued that the gag order that prevents Trump from attacking Daniels should be lifted, in part because she is no longer a witness.

Justice Juan Merchan slapped that down. “I don’t see what you’re referring to as a new set of facts, a new theory of the case,” he told the defense, adding that the gag order was to protect both the witness and the trial as a whole. So, no, Trump cannot now fire away at Daniels.

In moving for a mistrial that would end his client’s misery, Blanche argued that Daniels’s account of spanking Trump with a rolled-up magazine was extremely prejudicial and that allowing in questions about whether the former president wore a condom was “a dog whistle for rape.” The defense was especially upset about the jury hearing that Daniels “blacked out” before sex and “doesn’t know how her clothes came off,” among other details.

One of the prosecutors, Joshua Steinglass, argued persuasively that the defense’s claim to having been “ambushed” by a new story from Daniels was “nonsense.” He’s right that Daniels had not changed her story in significant ways.

The judge did more than agree with that. He ripped Susan Necheles, who interrogated Daniels for the Trump team, for her incompetence. I saw Boris Epshteyn, one of Trump’s senior lawyers, happily fist-bump Necheles after her cross-examination, but Trump must be furious at how her missteps sank not just his chances for a mistrial but at least some of his hopes on appeal.

Merchan ruled that Daniels was allowed to offer details to “corroborate her account” — especially because Trump has denied it ever happened — and the prosecution was allowed to argue that the sexual encounter was relevant because if it happened, it “increases the motivation to silence her.” To rebut that, he said, the defense can offer testimony that it never happened, but that, of course, would require Trump to testify.

The judge then admonished Necheles: “There were many times when you could have objected but didn’t.” Merchan noted that he, not the defense, had objected to admitting the damaging mention of Trump offering to get Daniels “out of the trailer park,” and struck it from the record. He said he couldn’t imagine why Necheles didn’t object to the condom testimony.

I heard from a Trump lawyer unconnected to this case that in 2023, Trump called Necheles “a loser” to her face. You can bet that he’s calling her that — and worse — Thursday night.



May 9, 2024, 3:27 p.m. ET

A Defiant Stormy Daniels Survives a Difficult Cross-Examination


Top: Susan Necheles, defense lawyer, and two exhibits. Bottom: Stormy Daniels, Justice Juan Merchan and Donald Trump.Credit…Josh Cochran

“Sometimes I give too many details,” Stormy Daniels said toward the end of her cross-examination on Thursday at Donald Trump’s criminal trial in New York.

Justice Juan Merchan thought so when he admonished her on Tuesday to keep her answers shorter. And the defense clearly hoped that the difference between the details she included in her testimony and those she included in interviews were harmful to her credibility.

Perhaps. But more likely, Daniels’s propensity for offering TMI — bolstered by easygoing quips that made the jury laugh — kept her basic story and her credibility intact.

Susan Necheles is legendary in New York courtrooms for her cross-examinations and she lacerated Daniels for hours. Daniels was defiant and didn’t give an inch.

Necheles’s best moments came when she trapped Daniels on whether she had eaten dinner with Trump or not. In an interview with In Touch magazine, she said she had talked at length with Trump in the hotel suite “before, during and after” dinner. On Tuesday, Daniels testified that amid the conversation “we never got food.” On Thursday, her excuse was, “I’m very food-motivated and in all of these interviews, I would have talked about the food” if there had been any. So, great, a discrepancy about whether they ate anything.

The defense approach has been to slam everything against the wall and see what stuck. Little else did. Necheles’s efforts to challenge Daniels on a dozen details ran aground in part because the witness had offered hundreds more over two days that the defense didn’t challenge — accounts so detailed they would be hard to make up.

Necheles sneered that because Daniels believed in the paranormal and wrote films, Daniels had a lot of experience in remembering “things that aren’t real.” Daniels replied, “If that story was not true, I would have written it to be a lot better.” Reporters spotted jurors visibly stifling laughs.

For much of the morning, Necheles tried to make Daniels seem like a liar for not admitting that she, for instance, approved the name “The Making America Horny Again Tour.” Again, big whoop. While Daniels was dodgy about the extent of her capitalist impulses, it’s hard to imagine the jury caring.

At one point, Necheles made everyone think she was prepared to blow Daniels sky-high. Daniels had testified that the foyer in Trump’s suite had a black-and-white tile floor. On Tuesday, the judge used the tile floor as an example of Daniels’s being too detailed. When Necheles started pushing hard on what Daniels remembered about the foyer, I was sure the lawyer would produce a décor plan or photo from Harrah’s proving the floor tile was not black-and-white.

She didn’t do so. In the end, it didn’t matter much that Daniels got dinged a bit, or that some of her testimony was slightly at odds with what she told In Touch, Slate and Vogue. Her story came off as believable.

May 9, 2024, 1:33 p.m. ET

Months Late, Biden Uses His Leverage on Israel


Credit…Damon Winter/The New York Times

For seven months, President Biden has called on Israel to show more restraint in its war in Gaza and to allow more aid into the territory, and he has been mostly ignored. Now, belatedly and reluctantly, he is doing what presidents do all over the world: He is applying leverage.

Biden has delayed the transfer of 3,500 bombs to Israel and has warned that an all-out Israeli invasion of the packed southern Gaza city of Rafah would lead to further suspensions in the weapons flow. It was the only way to get the attention of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli leadership.

Republicans have denounced Biden’s move as weakening Israel and impeding its war effort, but the United States is continuing to provide defensive weaponry to Israel. The new moves affect only munitions that would be used to pulverize Rafah and cause thousands more civilian casualties there.

President Ronald Reagan likewise delayed arms shipments after Israel’s reckless invasion of Lebanon in 1982 led to enormous civilian casualties.

As I see it, Biden had to act, for both humanitarian and practical reasons. United Nations agencies have been warning that an invasion of Rafah would result in a catastrophic civilian toll. The United States would be complicit in that blood bath, through the use of American munitions and American backing for the war.

I only wish that Biden had taken such actions months ago. That might have saved the lives of so many Gazan children and prevented people from starving to death as aid flows were constricted.

It’s not clear how Israel will respond. Netanyahu may defy Biden, seeing an invasion of Rafah as his path to staying in power by retaining support from extremist parties in his country.

While Biden’s focus is on preventing an all-out invasion of Rafah, I hope he will also use this leverage to press Israel to allow more aid into the territory. Cindy McCain, the head of the World Food Program, warns that there is already full-blown famine in parts of Gaza, even as trucks with food are lined up outside the Israel-controlled entry points on the border. This is unconscionable.



May 9, 2024, 5:06 a.m. ET

There’s Only One Explanation for Judge Cannon’s Actions


Credit…Justice Department, via Associated Press

It always feels a little too simplistic to suggest that federal judges deliberately act in the interest of the president who nominated them. Most of them, in fact, do their jobs with integrity and independence. But it’s getting hard to reach any other conclusion about Judge Aileen Cannon in Florida, who on Tuesday essentially blew up the classified-documents trial of the man who gave her the job.

Cannon said the trial of Donald Trump on charges of illegal possession of classified documents would not start on May 20, as she had announced. Then she refused to set an alternative date, delaying the case indefinitely and most likely past the election. The reason she gave was so ludicrous that it gave the game away: There were just too many unresolved legal issues to settle before the case could proceed. Of course, those issues are unresolved because she has somehow failed to resolve them.

After all the favorable rulings she has already provided to Trump, the delay on Tuesday was the final straw for many legal analysts. Several openly accused Cannon of ulterior motives to favor Trump and even advance her career if he wins in November.

“Judge Cannon seems desperate to avoid trying this case,” wrote Joyce Vance, a professor at the University of Alabama law school. “This isn’t justice.”

“Is it too cynical to believe that Judge Cannon timed the announcement of the postponement of a Trump classified documents trial to take away from the salacious sex details from Stormy Daniels’s testimony today?” asked Rick Hasen, a professor at the U.C.L.A. law school.

“After the election, if Trump wins, Jack Smith gets fired, the case gets dismissed, and Judge Cannon is ready for SCOTUS,” wrote Richard Painter, the White House ethics lawyer under George W. Bush, who teaches at the University of Minnesota law school.

This case has long been considered the most straightforward of the four prosecutions of Trump. He clearly took classified documents from the White House to Mar-a-Lago, as the government has demonstrated in great detail, and he then refused to give them back when the government demanded them. Trump’s team, aware of his vulnerability, has tried to argue that there are enormous complexities in the classification of the documents that require months of hearings.

A competent, nonpartisan judge — one like Justice Juan Merchan in the New York hush-money case — would have thrown out that kind of nonsense. A novice political acolyte like Cannon uses it like a wrecking ball.

May 8, 2024, 2:50 p.m. ET

Grover Cleveland Didn’t Lie About His Sex Scandal


President Grover Cleveland and Frances Cleveland.Credit…PhotoQuest/Getty Images

It’s taken a while for people to start comparing Donald Trump and Grover Cleveland. Cleveland, of course, was the only man to achieve Trump’s current political goal: win the presidency, lose the re-election and then win it again the third time around.

Both championed tax cuts and fiscal restraint, although only Cleveland actually tried to balance the budget. And both had sex scandals — which we’re going to compare now just because it’s sort of fun.

Cleveland, unlike Trump, was unmarried. He’d never been divorced. And the closest thing he had to a sex scandal before his presidential nomination was a bunch of stories about jolly drinking parties he’d had with his male friends at neighborhood beer gardens.

Trump had — well, really, there’s no point in discussing that, is there? This week in court we’ve been dragged through his entanglement with Stormy Daniels (“He said, ‘Oh it was great. Let’s get together again, honeybunch,’” Daniels testified on Tuesday. “I just wanted to leave.”), which is interesting only now that we’re arguing about whether he illegally disguised the money he used to silence her as legal expenses.

Cleveland, a Democrat, was nominated for president as a virtuous bachelor. Then a story arose about a possible son. There was definitely a child, born to an unmarried woman with a drinking problem. Cleveland looked after the child and eventually arranged to have him adopted.

It took some of the Republican tabloids of the era about two minutes to figure out a spin. “Ma, Ma, where’s my pa?” they roared. (To which the Democrats later replied, “Gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha!”)

Cleveland told his advisers to “tell the truth” in the face of the scandal. This approach succeeded, possibly because many people at the time assumed the child in question was actually the secret offspring of Cleveland’s longtime friend Oscar Folsom, who died not long before in a carriage accident. His daughter, a beautiful college student named Frances, was the secret love of Cleveland’s life.

Jump to the end here: The voters decided they were more interested in Cleveland’s superhonesty in public matters than secret offspring. He married Frances Folsom in the nation’s first White House wedding. And they lived devotedly until Cleveland died.

Not going to make you try to compare this with the Trump saga because, really, I know you’ve already gotten there. Just a story about sex and the White House that might make you feel a little less depressed about what you’re reading today.



May 8, 2024, 10:22 a.m. ET

The Fizzled Rebellion of Marjorie Taylor Greene


Credit…Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Update: On Wednesday, Greene brought up a motion to remove Johnson from the speaker’s job. Republicans and Democrats joined together to save his position, and the motion was defeated on a 359-to-43 vote.

Let’s just come right out and say what pretty much everyone keeping an eye on Marjorie Taylor Greene’s effort to blackmail House Speaker Mike Johnson is now thinking: Way to keep screwing this up, congresswoman!

After huddling for several hours in two days of meetings with Greene this week to discuss her elongated crusade to oust him, the speaker emerged unscathed Tuesday afternoon, apparently without having committed to any ridiculous concessions. And really, why would he?

There was no way Johnson was going to get booted by Greene and her wee band of bomb throwers over the Ukraine funding bill. A majority of House Republicans are tired of her antics, and the Democrats were prepared to step in and save the speaker in the unlikely event he found himself in real danger from the wingers.

Not that there was a snowball’s chance of that happening once the report started circulating that Donald Trump had basically told his Georgia minion to stand down. The MAGA king does not respond well to displays of disobedience.

And so Greene and her wingman, Thomas Massie, were reduced to gas-bagging on the steps of the Capitol after their meetings with Johnson, insisting that this showdown isn’t over. Really! They mean it! Massie boldly proclaimed that the rebel forces will be watching to make sure the speaker makes “hourly” progress on the sprinkling of demands put before him.

I could bore you with what some of those demands are, but why bother? If Johnson is feeling indulgent, he can throw the rebels a bone or two. Assuming it won’t cause him too much trouble. But it’s not as if they have the upper hand — or much of any hand, really. At this point, they are less like blackmailers threatening a victim than like exhausted preschoolers begging for attention from their teacher.

Indeed, what Greene & Co. seem to need more than anything is a timeout, followed by a nice, long nap.

May 7, 2024, 6:48 p.m. ET

Stormy Daniels Stood Up Well to the Taunts of Trump’s Lawyer


Clockwise from top left, Donald Trump’s lawyer Susan Necheles, Justice Juan Merchan, Stormy Daniels, Trump and a Stormy Daniels tweet from 2022 about legal fees from a failed defamation suit against Trump.Credit…Josh Cochran

So far, Susan Necheles’s cross-examination of Stormy Daniels feels a little star-crossed, and not just because the jury in the Trump hush-money trial surely noticed when the lawyer accidentally called the CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin “Jeff Daniels” and twice referred to Gina Rodriguez, Stormy Daniels’s talent agent, as “Geena Davis.”

Strangely enough, Daniels stood up better under cross than her former lawyer Keith Davidson did last week. In certain ways, she is doing even better on cross-examination — which continues on Thursday — than she did on direct examination by the prosecution in the morning.

On direct, Daniels was admonished by the judge for oversharing, and she might have sold her narrative so hard that it came across as canned. On cross, she didn’t fall into Necheles’s attempted traps or let the harsh questions intimidate her. With her hardscrabble background still in the minds of jurors, Daniels’s defiance on the stand seemed more spunky than defensive.

And Necheles went down some useless byways. She spent too much time trying to tarnish Daniels for not paying Donald Trump the legal fees a court awarded him in a frivolous civil suit that her lawyer at the time, the now imprisoned Michael Avenatti, persuaded her to bring against him.

When Necheles pressed Daniels on whether she really went to exercise class after a “supposed” encounter with a threatening man in a parking lot, it felt like a reach. Same for when she quibbled with Daniels’s estimate of the length of an interview.

Necheles was more successful in pushing Daniels on her changing stories about whether she and Trump had sex. But Daniels had explanations — some more convincing than others — for the zigzagging in interviews and statements by her lawyers.

Necheles practically shouted, “You were looking to extort money from President Trump, right?”

“False!” Daniels said with a vigor that obscured whatever her true motive might have been.

Later, Necheles charged, “Your whole story is made up, isn’t it?”

“No, none of it is made up,” Daniels replied.

Jurors probably won’t buy “none of it,” but I don’t see them rejecting Daniels’s whole story. Nonetheless, when she testifies on Thursday, she is likely to confirm that she had no connection to the falsification of business records at the heart of the case.

And that renders Stormy Daniels in the witness box little more than a circus sideshow.



May 7, 2024, 3:56 p.m. ET

Stormy Daniels Was Entertaining, but Did She Make a Real Impact?


Clockwise from top left: Stormy Daniels, Justice Juan Merchan, prosecutor Susan Hoffinger, defense lawyer Todd Blanche, Donald Trump.Credit…Josh Cochran

The court transcript and eyewitness accounts cannot do justice to the entertainment value of Stormy Daniels’s testimony in Donald Trump’s felony trial on Tuesday.

But those of us inside the courtroom are uncertain of her impact on the case, especially since we haven’t yet heard all of what will surely be a long and blistering cross-examination.

The poised, smart and sassy black-clad witness — blond in front and brunette in back, with a big tattoo on her right lower arm — told a story that is familiar to tabloid aficionados but became much more powerful in court.

She spared no juicy details, from exactly and convincingly explaining how she met Trump at a 2006 golf tournament in Lake Tahoe; how he met her in his hotel suite clad in pajamas and she teased him about thinking he was Hugh Hefner; how Trump, sprawled in his boxer shorts on the bed, surprised her when she came out of the bathroom; how they had brief sex, though her mention of “the missionary position” was stricken from the record; how Trump invited her to other events with the lure of a possible appearance on “Celebrity Apprentice” before, more recently, describing her as “Horseface” and a “sleaze bag.”

Trump has denied everything except meeting Daniels briefly in Lake Tahoe. After hearing her testimony, it’s hard to imagine any jurors believing him.

But that hardly means they bought all of Daniels’s testimony. The least credible part came when she claimed that she was not in it for the money, but for “safety” because she had been confronted by a menacing man in a Las Vegas parking lot in the presence of her daughter.

My sense is jurors intuited that she would feel safer if she either signed the nondisclosure agreement, protecting her from threats, or went public with the sexual encounter, which would mean that if something bad happened to her, everyone would know why.

I asked several women in the courtroom how they thought women on the jury would react and opinion was divided, with some saying Daniels came across as self-regarding and untrustworthy. What we all agree on is that juries typically respond to real and assumed messages from the judge.

It helped the defense that Justice Juan Merchan sustained almost all objections to details in her testimony and, when the defense lawyers failed to object, did it for them.

Before the jury was summoned back from its lunch break, the defense made a motion for a mistrial, saying the details were too prejudicial.

But Merchan rejected the motion. He said “some things should probably have been better left unsaid,” but in fairness to the prosecution, “the witness was a little hard to control.” When he added, “I was surprised that there were not more objections,” I imagined steam coming out of Trump’s ears.

Even before cross-examination, it was clear Daniels had a lot of questions to answer about how she has exploited her time in the spotlight.

But my guess is that jurors will eventually conclude her testimony was a fun but fundamentally irrelevant part of this trial.

May 7, 2024, 3:16 p.m. ET

The Darker Side of Stormy Daniels’s Testimony


Stormy Daniels.Credit…Josh Cochran

He promised her dinner … but they didn’t have dinner. He told her she reminded him of his daughter … then stripped down to his boxers and a T-shirt while she was in the bathroom. He said he could help her career with a spot on his TV show … then scolded her, “I thought you were serious,” when she tried to leave.

To be clear, Stormy Daniels has never accused Donald Trump of anything but a payoff. She has maintained that the sex she says they had in his Lake Tahoe hotel suite in 2006 was consensual, albeit unenjoyable. But as I sat in the packed overflow room in the criminal courthouse where Trump is being tried and listened to Daniels testify about the sexual encounter she has often joked about, the whole thing sounded a lot darker, and murkier, than it had before.

Daniels took the stand on Tuesday and spoke confidently. She gestured with her hands, at times joking, and at other times she spoke so quickly that the judge had to ask her to slow down. But despite an agreement by the prosecution to not present “salacious” details about the sexual encounter itself, things took a bleak turn when Daniels described what came immediately before and after it.

Trump was not threatening during the sexual encounter, she testified, though he was standing between her and the door. She did not say no to sex with him, but she also didn’t consent to him not using a condom. She kept in contact with him after, she said — even going to another hotel room with him another time — because she wanted to expand her career, and he was dangling an opportunity to appear on “The Apprentice.”

And yet at times, the words Daniels used to describe the encounter with Trump were reminiscent of so many of the other stories of women who have come forward to accuse him of sexual assault: She said she “blacked out,” then lay naked, staring up at the ceiling. She “felt like the room spun in slow motion,” and that the blood left her hands and feet. When it was over, she said, she fumbled with her shoes — gold strappy heels she had trouble fastening because her hands were shaking so hard.

Ultimately she blamed herself: “I just thought, ‘Oh my God, what did I misread to get here?’”



May 7, 2024, 1:37 p.m. ET

The Dangers in Putting Stormy Daniels on the Stand

As a purely legal matter, Donald Trump’s hush-money/election interference trial is not about the sex, but a single sexual encounter is at the heart of it. The prosecution made an important decision on Tuesday to highlight that in the most graphic way for the jury.

The district attorney’s team called Stormy Daniels, the porn star at the center of this whole imbroglio, to the witness stand to describe the tryst she said she had with Trump in 2006. He denies that happened, but the case is about whether he falsified records to pay her $130,000 to deny it as well.

Daniels has no incriminating bank statements or other business records to offer in support of the key charges against Trump, but in describing her hardscrabble upbringing and detailing a hotel-room sexual encounter with Trump, she has been without doubt the most interesting and engaging witness yet to appear before the jury. Her role appears to be to convince the jury that the sex took place, that it was “traumatizing,” and that Trump by implication is a liar, willing to go to great — and illegal — lengths to hide the encounter from the public.

At the same time, having Daniels testify presents real risks to the prosecution. She has been telling her Trump story for more than a decade now, and it’s evolved, which opens the door for defense lawyers to challenge her memory or, worse, her honesty.

As her testimony continued through the morning, in fact, it grew more contentious. Justice Juan Merchan became increasingly impatient with the prosecutors, sustaining numerous objections from Trump’s lawyers and admonishing Daniels to limit her description of the sexual encounter itself. “Just answer the questions,” he said to her. His impatience might rub off on the jury.

This is a common problem for those who prosecute crimes, which are generally not committed by people with redoubtable morals. That character flaw can extend to the people they surround themselves with, some of whom (like Michael Cohen) may be convicted criminals themselves, even as they are needed to deliver the most damning evidence against the defendant.

It’s hard to know how the jury will process Daniels’s testimony, but at least she managed something few others have — humiliating Trump to his face. “Are you always this rude?” she recalled asking him after dinner at his hotel room. “Like, you don’t even know how to have a conversation.”

A better summary of the last eight years would be hard to find.

May 7, 2024, 12:21 p.m. ET

The U.S. Must Keep the Rafah Invasion From Turning Into a Starvation Crisis

Israeli forces have entered Rafah, near the Egyptian border of the Gaza Strip, but we don’t yet fully understand whether this is the beginning of a full-scale ground invasion of the city or something more modest. What we do know is that the flow of desperately needed food aid into a territory that is already starving is severely impeded.

The World Food Program warns that there is already a “full-blown famine” in northern Gaza, and children have already died of malnutrition. It’s unconscionable that children should be starving as trucks full of food line up outside the border, waiting to enter. Israel’s latest move aggravates the crisis.

The Israel Defense Forces seized the Rafah border crossing on Tuesday, halting the transfer of aid through that crossing from Egypt. And another crucial crossing, Kerem Shalom, was closed after a Hamas attack on Sunday killed four soldiers in the area. There are other ways assistance could enter Gaza, but U.N. agencies warned that the closures of these two crucial crossings risk worsening the starvation.

Israel has the right to pursue Hamas fighters who attacked Israeli civilians in a brutal attack on Oct. 7 and to recover its hostages still kept in Gaza. But Israel does not have the right to starve civilians.

The United States, along with Israel and Hamas, bears a measure of responsibility for the crisis. It is the United States that has continued to provide the weapons to prosecute the war and that has provided the diplomatic protection for Israel at the United Nations. The Biden administration is providing both food aid to Gazans and the bombs that fall on them.

Israel’s actions also amount to a challenge to the Biden administration, which this week faces a deadline to announce whether it will enforce a law that restricts transfers of arms to countries that block American humanitarian aid. J Street, a liberal advocacy organization, says that more than half the Democratic members of the House and Senate have called for enforcing that law.

When President Biden has applied leverage — by raising the possibility of cutting off the flow of offensive arms — Israel has announced measures to allow more food into Gaza. A central question this week is whether Biden will use his leverage to prevent the starvation in which the United States is complicit.



May 7, 2024, 5:03 a.m. ET

Israel Shutters One of Its Few Links to the Arab World


Family and friends mourning Hamza al-Dahdouh, a journalist for Al Jazeera, in Gaza in January.Credit…Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images

The Israeli government’s decision to kick Al Jazeera out of Israel says more about the government than the TV network. The Arabic programming on Al Jazeera may often be tendentious and anti-Israeli, but shutting it down further erodes Israel’s proud image as a democracy in a neighborhood populated largely by authoritarian or hereditary rulers. And it may well be counterproductive.

Silencing a news outlet, however divisive or hostile it may be, is the trademark of strongman rule. It is a way of declaring that information is the monopoly of the ruler, and it’s a favored populist tactic for channeling public anger at moments of national crisis. Al Jazeera has often come under attack from Arab countries, including Egypt and the Gulf States, whose leaders bridled at its reporting — especially during the Arab Spring, when it gave extensive coverage to opposition movements.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel accused Al Jazeera of being a security threat by serving as a megaphone for Hamas. But if the network was hostile to the messaging of Netanyahu’s right-wing government, it was also one of the very few international networks reporting from within the Gaza Strip, from which foreign media has been barred by Israel. One of the many Palestinian journalists killed in Gaza was Hamza al-Dahdouh, a son of Al Jazeera’s Gaza bureau chief, Wael al-Dahdouh, who earlier in the war lost another son and his wife, daughter and infant grandson.

Founded in 1996, Al Jazeera is the most popular source of news for much of the Arab world. (A separate English-language service was founded in 2003.) From a purely tactical point of view, having an Al Jazeera bureau in Israel gave Israelis a better shot at getting their message to the Arab world than shutting it down. Over the years, many Israeli officials have been interviewed on Al Jazeera, and the Israeli Army’s Arabic spokesman has appeared on the network during the current war.

That link would be especially important now that Israel and Hamas are talking about a cease-fire. With its clout, Al Jazeera, based in Qatar, will be crucial to the reception of any agreement by the Arab world — something Netanyahu was undoubtedly aware of. According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, the timing of Netanyahu’s decision might be “another bid to thwart the deal,” for which Qatar has been an important intermediary.

May 6, 2024, 6:39 p.m. ET

The Boring Documents That May Be Devastating to Trump


Clockwise from left, Emil Bove, Justice Juan Merchan, Jeffrey McConney, Todd Blanche and Donald Trump.Credit…Josh Cochran

In Donald Trump’s felony trial last week, we heard about Hulk Hogan’s sex tape, and we watched Hope Hicks cry.

So far this week, we heard all about ledgers, invoices and accounts payable stamps. We watched as a loyal Trump accountant authenticated Allen Weisselberg’s handwriting. The same documents with different dates popped up not once or twice but over and over again.

It’s deadly boring. But it’s deadly to Trump’s defense if the jurors can stay awake for it.

With one or two drowsy exceptions, they are. They seem to understand that Trump was indicted on 34 counts — one for each falsified business record — and that they must carefully study Trump’s $35,000 monthly checks to Michael Cohen in order to grasp the heart of the prosecution’s case.

The documents were validated today by a former senior vice president of the Trump Organization, Jeffrey McConney, and an accounts payable supervisor, Deborah Tarasoff, both of whose legal fees are being paid by the company. Stormy Daniels’s sexy testimony, expected as soon as Tuesday, is not nearly as significant to the basic charges as that of these mundane gray-haired bean counters.

Of all the stultifying numbers we heard in the courtroom today, the one that stands out is the $130,000 that Weisselberg, a former chief financial officer of the company, scrawled on a bank document before “grossing it up” (his handwritten description) to $420,000. That was to cover up the fact that $130,000 is the exact amount of money that Cohen wired to Keith Davidson, Daniels’s lawyer, to keep his client quiet. As in Watergate, the crime is mostly in the cover-up.

We’re awaiting Cohen’s testimony that Trump knew that he was reimbursing Cohen $35,000 a month for hush money, not for vague legal services, and thus broke the law. But the circumstantial and documentary evidence precorroborating Cohen — and lessening the impact of his multiple lies — is now piled as high as Trump Tower.

At the end of the day, the judge asked Josh Steinglass of the prosecution team how much longer he expected the D.A.’s case to take. When Steinglass said “very roughly” two weeks — to May 21 — I saw Trump raise and lower his arms in exasperation, like a 6-year-old told to clean up his Legos. Then he went into the hallway and whined to reporters, “I thought they were finished today.”

Trump never thought anything of the kind. He’s a caged animal (to use his word for immigrants) and wants out ASAP. Good luck with that.



May 6, 2024, 6:00 p.m. ET

The Baffling Theme of This Year’s Met Gala

On Monday night, a select group of celebrities and fashion designers mounted the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, presenting a litany of costumes for the public to devour. The Met Gala is an annual spectacle of celebrity that raises money for the museum’s Costume Institute, which works to preserve fashion history.

The night’s enduring power can largely be chalked up to the way guests interpret its themed dress code, which changes every year. At its most brilliant, a theme might inspire absurd, campy or daring interpretations by clever designers. At its most exhausting, it inspires famous people to perform vacuous social commentary while attending an event where a ticket reportedly costs as much as $75,000. In either case, the commentary the theme provokes gives the gala its enduring cultural relevance.

This year’s theme is “The Garden of Time,” based on J.G. Ballard’s dystopian short story about a count who, for a time, prevents a mob from destroying his villa and the works of culture it contains. The story is an allegory warning about the consequences of keeping art out of public view. The most generous reading of the story in the context of the Met Gala is probably that the Costume Institute, by giving art to the masses instead of hiding it away in a place only the wealthy inhabit, averts Ballard’s dystopia.

But there’s also an unfortunate irony in choosing this particular story. Ballard implicitly criticizes the wealthy count’s distance from the public, but the gala essentially celebrates the counts among us.

High culture is available to the public largely because the wealthy, charitably, make it so. But the nature of this gala, with its emphasis on extolling the captivating virtues of celebrity, leaves me wondering whether the event’s organizers misread the story’s critique or were simply blind to it. For a less generous interpretation of the story appears to mock the culture-consuming public.

Consider the greatest threat to the count’s rarefied life: the teeming people, described as struggling laborers and soldiers, who unthinkingly defile his cultural artifacts at the end of the story. Is that how the party’s organizers see the ordinary museum patrons and tourists who will fill the institute’s halls after the cameras are gone?

I hope the organizers simply didn’t think hard enough about the implications of their chosen story. But if they did, they would do well to remember that art, even high fashion, endures because a mass audience witnesses and appends meaning to it.

May 6, 2024, 1:12 p.m. ET

Jail for the Chief? There’s a Better Punishment.


Todd Blanche whispers in Donald Trump’s ear as Justice Juan Merchan reads the latest contempt citation.Credit…Josh Cochran

Before summoning the jury on Monday, Justice Juan Merchan directly addressed the defendant, whom he called “Mr.” and not President Trump. In a measured and by-the-book tone that showed no hint of his exasperation, Merchan told Donald Trump that he had now found him in contempt of court on a 10th charge. Each carries a $1,000 fine, the most allowed by New York State law.

The judge then warned Trump that if he continued to violate his order, “this court will have to consider a jail sanction.”

Merchan told Trump that he was well aware that “you are the former president of the United States and possibly the next president as well” and that he understood that jailing Trump “would be disruptive to the proceedings.” The judge said he also worried about the court officers, corrections officers, Secret Service and other law enforcement personnel who would be involved in the incarceration of a former commander in chief.

“The magnitude of that decision is not lost on me,” Merchan said. “But at the end of the day, I have a job to do.” Trump’s offenses, he noted calmly, represented “a direct attack on the rule of law, and I cannot allow that to continue.”

As he spoke, the loud clacking of reporters’ fingers on their laptop keyboards sounded like the cicadas that will appear this summer.

But jail shouldn’t be the only penalty the judge considers. He has wide latitude in imposing sanctions, so why not consider alternative punishment if he reoffends? After all, Trump said last month that it would be his “great honor” to be jailed by this “crooked” judge.

He’s bluffing, of course. If he thinks the toilets are “disgusting” in the courthouse, wait till he sees what they’re like in the holding cell. And the bed, if you can call it that, is unlikely to be up to Mar-a-Lago standards. His hairdresser would not be allowed into the cell, which could prove inconvenient to Trump when he’s released and has his picture taken.

Even so, Trump should not be allowed to use his punishment to play the martyr. A more appropriate sanction would draw on Trump’s history of adopting highways and attaching a sign thanking himself for beautifying them.

If Trump again attacks witnesses or the jury, Merchan should assign him to pick up trash in parks on two or three Wednesdays, when court is not in session. (City judges have done this before to contempt offenders.) Parks could be more easily secured by the Secret Service than roads, and that would spare the agents uncomfortable nights outside his cell.

I imagine Trump would need a long trash stick because even after losing some weight, he’s still too heavy and out of shape to bend down. The orange man in the orange jumpsuit would need help picking up all of the cigarette butts, Styrofoam coffee cups and old newspapers with headlines about his disgrace.



May 6, 2024, 11:40 a.m. ET

A Little More Carbon Monoxide Might Really Help the Planet

Scientists have figured out an easier way to turn carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide.

That might seem like a dubious achievement, since carbon dioxide is something we exhale and carbon monoxide is deadly.

But carbon monoxide is an important feedstock for the chemical industry. It can also be made into a fuel. Carbon dioxide, on the other hand, while nontoxic, is overheating the planet. So converting carbon dioxide that’s captured from smokestacks or the atmosphere into something more useful is a good thing.

In the latest issue of the journal Science, chemists reported the discovery of a potentially cheap and stable catalyst that can efficiently split carbon dioxide (which has two oxygen atoms) into carbon monoxide (one oxygen atom).

The catalyst is based on the element molybdenum, which is a trace element in foods and is available in dietary supplements, so obviously is not dangerous. The catalyst can break down carbon dioxide at about 600 degrees Celsius, as compared with 1,000 degrees Celsius by some other methods under development.

In contrast to some other experimental catalysts based on molybdenum, this one is highly stable (so it doesn’t have to be replaced constantly) and highly selective (so it doesn’t trigger other reactions, creating less useful byproducts such as methane).

The lead researchers were Milad Ahmadi Khoshooei and Omar Farha of Northwestern University.

If humanity is going to get climate change under control, it will have a little bit to do with economists and politicians and a lot to do with scientists such as Khoshooei and Farha.

May 6, 2024, 5:02 a.m. ET

Trump Is Rallying in New Jersey and Boasting of New States. Is It a PsyOp?


A Trump supporter on horseback outside the felony trial in Manhattan on Friday.Credit…Ted Shaffrey/Associated Press

Every Monday morning on The Point, we kick off the week with a tipsheet on the latest in the presidential campaign. Here’s what we’re looking at this week:

  • This week, in Manhattan, Donald Trump’s trial will continue. He will also be campaigning, a little unusually, in New Jersey on Saturday, near Cape May.

  • Cease-fire talks regarding Israel and Gaza are continuing, and that remains front and center for national politics, particularly for President Biden. Also, as she is doing quite often, Vice President Kamala Harris will be doing a campaign event on Wednesday focused on abortion in Pennsylvania.

  • Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene has said she’ll try to oust the House speaker, Mike Johnson, this week after he helped pass the foreign aid package last month. Democrats have said they will help him out because he helped pass that package, which would really cement the unusual nature of the Congress we have. It’s functionally a coalition government, as Brendan Buck recently wrote in a guest essay for Times Opinion.

  • Over the weekend, Trump compared the Biden administration to the Gestapo and said Democrats “get welfare to vote, and then they cheat on top of that” during a fund-raiser, as Maggie Haberman and Shane Goldmacher reported.

  • Toward the end of Maggie and Shane’s article, they report that Trump campaign officials told donors that the 2024 race has only three swing states: Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. But Trump campaign officials also showed donors an “expanded reality” map that included Minnesota and Virginia, neither of which has received much attention this year.

    Their inclusion here could be a couple different things. First, maybe they’ve polled and really see something in those states; the electoral map can change, as when Democrats won Georgia in 2020. Second, sometimes campaigns will spend money in less apparently competitive states primarily to require opponents to divert resources from a more competitive state.

    But as a note on Virginia: Insofar as Republicans have done better there since 2020, it’s probably because people like Glenn Youngkin have been able to balance appealing to voters who do and don’t like Trump, while also turning frustrations with public school closings during the pandemic into a revived social conservatism. As time has gone on, though, voter enthusiasm for that social conservatism seems to have waned, as Jamelle Bouie has argued.

  • Lastly, Gov. Kristi Noem’s book is being released this week, and at this point, it feels like anything could be in it.

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