The Morning Dispatch: Russia Shells Civilian Infrastructure
Plus: The January 6 committee says it has evidence Donald Trump may have committed crimes in his attempt to overturn the 2020 election.
Happy Thursday to everyone except MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred.
Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
The Biden administration announced another tranche of sanctions on Wednesday that includes export controls targeting Russian oil refining, full blocking sanctions on 22 Russian defense entities, and restrictions on Belarus’ ability to import technological goods. The Justice Department also announced the launch of “Task Force KleptoCapture,” an interagency effort aimed at enforcing the United States’ sanctions.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters Wednesday that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin decided to postpone a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile test scheduled for this week to demonstrate the U.S. has “no intention of engaging in any actions that can be misunderstood or misconstrued.” Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered nuclear forces into “special combat readiness” earlier this week, and the country conducted nuclear submarine drills on Tuesday.
The January 6 Select Committee alleged in a court filing on Wednesday it has evidence that former President Donald Trump and his allies “may have engaged in criminal and/or fraudulent acts” as part of their efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, including obstruction of an official proceeding and conspiracy to defraud the United States.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 increased about 1.8 percent on Wednesday after Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell told the House Financial Services Committee he plans to propose raising interest rates 0.25 percentage points—not 0.5 percentage points—at the Fed’s policy meeting in two weeks. “We’re going to avoid adding uncertainty to what is already an extraordinarily challenging and uncertain moment,” Powell said.
U.S. Attorney John Lausch announced the indictment of former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan on Wednesday. Madigan—a Democratic who held the role of Speaker for nearly 40 years—was charged with 22 counts of racketeering and bribery for his role in a corruption scandal involving ComEd, the state’s largest electric utility.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin announced Wednesday Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings will begin on Monday, March 21. Jackson began meeting with senators—including Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell—yesterday.
Damage Mounts in Nonstop Shelling of Ukraine
When we last wrote to you about the situation in Ukraine on Tuesday, John Spencer, chair of Urban Warfare Studies at the Modern War Institute, told us that—although Russia’s military strategy to date had been flawed and Ukrainian forces were putting up a good fight—the violence in the conflict was about to “significantly increase.” As badly as we wanted him to be wrong, he wasn’t.
Amid reports of food and fuel shortages, Russian ground forces in Ukraine haven’t made much headway in the past two days. “There essentially has been no appreciable movement closer to [Kyiv] than what we briefed a couple of days ago,” a senior U.S. Defense Department official told reporters on Wednesday. “They appear to be stalled outside of [Chernihiv and Kharkiv] as well, and they are clearly meeting with resistance.”
Russian airstrikes, however, continue apace—and may even be accelerating in frequency. The Pentagon estimates Russian forces have launched 70 missiles in Ukraine over the past 48 hours, and on-the-ground sources indicate more and more of these projectiles are landing in residential and civilian areas.
“In Kyiv, we’ve observed, certainly as you have all observed, an increase in missiles and artillery targeting the city,” the defense official said. “This increasing aggressiveness in terms of just the iron that they’re lobbing into the city certainly aligns with open-sourced reporting that the [Russian] Ministry of Defense has decided to become much more aggressive with its targeting in Kyiv to include infrastructure right there inside the city. We’re actually seeing sort of similar situations bear out in and around Chernihiv to the north and Kharkiv to the northeast. Both cities are continuingly under assault.”
January 6 Committee: Trump May Have Committed Crimes
The January 6 Select Committee filed court documents Wednesday asserting former President Donald Trump may have committed crimes in connection with his attempts to remain in office after losing the 2020 presidential election. The filing—part of the committee’s effort to obtain documents from John Eastman, a law professor and Claremont Institute scholar who helped concoct an unconstitutional scheme to delay certification of the election results—urges a federal judge to review communications between Trump and Eastman and deny Eastman’s claims of attorney-client privilege.
Eastman has invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself in refusing to answer questions from the Committee. In seeking these communications, the Committee is arguing that they are not protected by attorney client privilege on several grounds. They argue that Eastman didn’t have an attorney/client relationship with Trump, or that if he did, that privilege was vitiated by the crime/fraud exception to the attorney client privilege.
Just as a search warrant requires an officer to swear that there is a fair probability that the search would produce evidence of a crime, in this case the committee must show that it has provided the judge “a factual basis adequate to support a good faith belief” that these communications would show that Mr. Trump committed a crime and that he relied on Eastman’s legal advice to aid his criminal efforts.
Worth Your Time
Vladimir Putin wants the West to believe he’s open to using nuclear weapons. President Biden says not to worry. “The Russian invasion of Ukraine has politicians and policymakers talking about something that would have been almost unimaginable as recently as a month ago: the specter that a ground war in Eastern Europe could escalate into a nuclear conflict,” writes Eric Felten at RealClearPolitics. “Russian strongman Vladimir Putin has created an urgent need for what had seemed to be a dusty relic—a strategy for what to do with nuclear weapons. It’s possible the answer may be found in a short policy paper that helped John F. Kennedy blunt Russian ambitions in 1961 when Nikita Khrushchev tested the new American president by threatening to make good on his demand that West Berlin be handed over to the Soviets.” Kennedy advisers would later say the two-page paper, written by Thomas Schelling, made a “deep impression” on Kennedy and shaped his response to the crisis.
Russia House—a D.C. restaurant—was targeted by vandals last week who smashed windows, broke a door, and tagged walls with anti-Russian rhetoric. The restaurant’s owners are American and Lithuanian. But even if they weren’t, Christian Britschgi notes for Reason, it’s vital we distinguish Russian people from Vladimir Putin’s autocratic regime. “What’s so concerning about the ever-widening cultural boycott of Russia and Russians,” he writes, “is that it’s punishing people with little connection to and no influence over the Russian government and its war in Ukraine. That probably won’t change the course of Russia’s war against Ukraine—and when the war does end, the world will have a lot fewer cultural ties to sustain whatever fragile peace emerges.”
As if on cue, Politico’s Nahal Toosi is out with an article detailing the Biden administration’s efforts—both overt and covert—to drive a wedge between Putin and the Russian people. “Russia’s pro-democracy movement is weaker than it’s been in the past. Putin has killed, imprisoned or pushed into exile many of the most skilled Russians willing to stand up to him, including [Alexei] Navalny. And U.S. officials are unwilling to say much about what covert methods they are using to weaken Putin’s grasp on power, especially when it comes to the oligarchs,” she writes. Former U.S. officials, however, say such moments are ripe for a country like the United States to penetrate Putin’s inner circle as well as to recruit informants from within Russia’s bureaucracy. ‘There are doubtless prominent elites who will have little stomach for the moral or financial bankruptcy of the Kremlin’s moves here,’ said Gavin Wilde, a former National Security Council official who dealt with Russia. He agreed that the ‘nameless rank-and-file are probably ripe for recruitment,’ but said it might be hard for U.S. officials to reach them given restraints the Kremlin is reported to have put on their travel.”
Presented Without Comment
Julian Borger @julianborgerA thumping defeat for Russia at the UN General Assembly https://t.co/LVMoucUoyk
Also Presented Without Comment
Dmytro Kuleba @DmytroKulebaKyiv TV tower, which has just been hit by a Russian missile, is situated on the territory of Babyn Yar. On September 29-30, 1941, Nazis killed over 33 thousand Jews here. 80 years later, Russian Nazis strike this same land to exterminate Ukrainians. Evil and barbaric.
Toeing the Company Line
Georgetown professor of international affairs Paul Miller joined Jonah on The Remnant yesterday for a conversation about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the difference between patriotism and nationalism. Has Putin always been this crazy? How should America be preparing itself for a new Cold War?
On Wednesday’s Dispatch Podcast, Steve spoke with Sen. Ben Sasse about President Biden’s State of the Union address and what else the United States should be doing to help Ukraine. Then, former GOP Rep. Barbara Comstock dropped by for a conversation about the future of the Republican Party.
Jonah has some gripes with the State of the Union. Joe Biden’s, yes, but also the entire concept of the address. “It’s way too monarchical, promoting the presidency above Congress, at least symbolically,” he writes in Wednesday’s G-File (🔒). “Remember, the State of the Union was intended to be a mandatory performance update from essentially an underling.”
In this week’s Capitolism (🔒), Scott pulls together some of his early observations on the economic impact of Russia and Ukraine. “There’s a lot more to the situation than just these bilateral trade and capital flows [between the U.S. and Russia],” he notes. But Russia and Ukraine are major energy and grain exporters, and, “though most of these supplies go to places other than the United States, global commodities markets are—well—global, meaning that real or anticipated reductions in supplies of these commodities in one place can lead to higher prices in others.”