Aug 12, 2022 - Podcasts

Trump’s legal peril

There are dozens of cases and investigations involving former President Donald Trump — and this week we saw developments in several. From his Mar-a-Lago home being searched by the FBI, to his pleading the fifth at a deposition in New York in a civil investigation. 

  • Plus: inflation may be cooling, but prices aren’t.
  • And: Wikipedia as a model for consensus in divided times.

Guests: Ilya Marrtiz, NPR contributor and co-host of "Will Be Wild" podcast, and Axios' Neil Irwin.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Alex Sugiura, and Ben O'Brien. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Friday, August 12th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re covering today: The difference between slowing inflation - and lowering prices. Plus, Wikipedia as a model for consensus in divided times.

But first, Trump’s legal peril is today’s One Big Thing.

NIALA: There are dozens of cases and investigations involving former President Donald Trump — and this week we saw developments in several. From his Mar-a-Lago home being searched by the FBI…to his pleading the fifth at a deposition in New York in a civil investigation.

For some clarity on all of these investigations, how they tie together and what they mean for Trump's political future, Ilya Marritz is with us. He covers Trump legal for NPR. Hi, Ilya.

ILYA MARRITZ: Hi, how’re you doing?

NIALA: Let's start with the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago. Do we know what investigation that's specifically part of?

ILYA: Yeah, all indications are that that is connected with an investigation into missing presidential records, records that were taken from the White House to Mar-a-Lago the president's resort and estate, which is also his home in Palm Beach, Florida. And, uh, we know that some of those should have gone to the National Archives. It did not go to the National Archives. That started a whole process and an investigation by the department of justice. We know that earlier this year, Trump sent a number of boxes up to Washington DC, but what this search tells us is that that's not the end of the story. There must be other records or other information that the Department of Justice wanted to see information that was at Mar-a-Lago. Moreover, the fact that they did this, you know, very intrusive search, suggests that the FBI and the DOJ felt they had no other way of getting this information.

NIALA: And then there was also the deposition in New York this week where former president Trump pleaded the fifth, I think more than 400 times. What was that related to?

ILYA: Yeah. So this is a civil investigation. It's not even a case. But it's a civil investigation by the New York Attorney General Letitia James. It's been going on for three years. It's the first time that I know of, that a prosecutor has deposed a former president. And really interesting when you take the fifth in a civil matter, as this is, as opposed to a criminal matter, jurors, if it does come to charges, would be allowed to draw what they call adverse inference. And this is the idea that if a party is not talking, they might have something to hide. It may actually hurt his case to not answer the questions. Obviously he and his lawyers felt that it would help matters, but it could also harm them.

NIALA: And he's also under investigation in Georgia?

ILYA: Yeah. My, my friend, uh, Zach Everson at Forbes has tallied up 38 cases and investigations connected with the former president. The Georgia one is in Fulton County, that's where Atlanta is. And that's looking into Trump's apparent attempts to interfere in the counting or to pressure a recount of the vote in Georgia. That seems to be moving ahead pretty quickly. The thing is with these 38 or so Trump investigations that are going on right now, you never quite know which one is gonna pop when I try to stay on top of it. If you told me a week ago that Mar-a-Lago was gonna be searched in this really intrusive way, I don't think the missing presidential records investigation would've been top of mind for me, but that is indeed the reason that that happened, as far as we know.

NIALA: So then if you had to sum up Trump's legal peril right now, how would you.

ILYA: Oh, it's coming at him from a bunch of different angles. I mean, we can look at it by like, area, right? So there's like January 6th and election-related stuff. There is business related stuff. There is personal stuff like Eugene Carroll and with his cousin, Mary Trump, we can also look at who's originating it right? In some ways, the stuff that's coming from state and local authorities, like in Georgia, like in New York where I am, can be really potent because if Trump becomes president again, he would have no means of interfering in that blocking it, giving pardons, So I think there is danger everywhere. And not all arrows are pointing in the same direction.

NIALA: And given the scope of all of these, what you often hear from Trump supporters is that these are politically motivated.

ILYA: Yeah. I mean, what you hear from Trump in every single case pretty much is that it's politically motivated. If it's coming from a relevant authority, law enforcement, authority, oversight authority, he almost always accuses them of political motivation. And I think that that contributed to Merrick Garland's decision to seek, to have the warrant released. Garland saw what we all saw, which was lots and lots of Republicans, not just party faithful, but senior elected officials questioning the motivations for the raid. I think in this atmosphere, it's very hard to to fight the many loud voices that are saying it's politically motivated. Even if there is a good legal predicate to get a warrant like this as there almost certainly must.

NIALA: Ilya Marritz covers Trump legal for NPR and is also co-host of the podcast “Will be Wild,” a deep dive into January 6th. We'll put a link to that in our show notes. Thanks, Ilya.

ILYA: Thank you.

NIALA: In a moment: Axios’ chief economic correspondent Neil Irwin explains the latest inflation numbers.

Inflation may be cooling, but prices aren’t

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today - I'm Niala Boodhoo.

The inflation numbers out this week were a welcome surprise to people looking for signs that inflation may be slowing. But a political divide has emerged over how to interpret July's numbers.

So I asked Axios' chief economic correspondent Neil Irwin about this debate, and if it's affecting how Americans feel about the economy.

NEIL IRWIN: So we're in a very unusual economic moment and, uh, a new controversy has emerged over how we ought to define inflation and what we should think of as, the inflation level that's happening in the US economy. We got a new number on Wednesday that showed that inflation was essentially leveled during the month of July meaning prices in July, according to Consumer Price Index overall did not rise compared to June, gas prices were down. Some other prices were up, but it all netted out to, to no change in, in the aggregate price level. In the month of July, Republicans heard this and president Biden starts touting this, uh, on Wednesday and say that's insane, inflation's extremely high. And you should really be looking at the year over year number. So over the last 12 months from July of 2021, inflation is much higher than that inflation is 8.5%. That's down a little from 9.1 during June, but that's still a very high inflation rate. And there's no question that American families are really struggling with you know, high prices for groceries, for gasoline, for everything else. Um, but you know, what it boils down to is a lesson. Even as inflation starts to come down and the rate of price increases slows, we might still be in a world where people are feeling pain and people are feeling like they can barely get by and facing really high prices. There's a big difference between inflation slowing, coming down, uh, reaching a lower level and prices actually reversing and falling, going back to their, you know, pre pandemic levels. A we're seeing some receding and some slowing in the rate of inflation. And We're not seeing prices go back to what they used to be, and that's gonna be a real source of political controversy in the months and years ahead.

Neil Irwin is one of the writers of the daily Axios Macro newsletter.

Wikipedia as a model for consensus in divided times

NIALA: One interesting note to leave you with this week:

Wikipedia is often the first search result you get when you’re looking into something online. And what you find on any topic page is – of course – thanks to the work of volunteers.

INA FRIED: If you click on the button next to the top, it says talk, and then you see all the discussion that led up to that posting. And there's often a lot of debate.

Axios’ Ina Fried told us that all that debate may be giving us better, less-biased information when it comes to big, highly divisive topics of the day like abortion.

INA: I talked not only to folks at Wikipedia, but to a bunch of academics who study this and they, they find that actually the areas where Wikipedia is the weakest are some of the more obscure topics because they are more potential for being manipulated. Whereas the big topics of the day are highly debated and the quality is actually higher as a result.

NIALA: Wikipedia is by no means perfect – for example the majority of editors are still men, though that ratio is changing. But for now it’s a nice thought that some healthy debate online is resulting in more reliable info on the web. Something more important than ever.

That’s all for this week. Axios Today is produced by Nuria Marquez Martinez and Lydia McMullen-Laird. Our sound engineer is Alex Sugiura. Alexandra Botti is our supervising producer. Sara Kehaulani Goo is Axios’ editor in chief. And special thanks as always to Axios co-founder Mike Allen.

I’m Niala Boodhoo. Stay safe and enjoy your weekend and we’ll see you back here on Monday.

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