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Sensemaker: Trump’s awful day

Sensemaker: Trump’s awful day

What just happened

Long stories short

  • German officials said 25 people had been arrested on suspicion of plotting a coup.
  • Protestors called for a three-day nationwide strike in Iran over disputed claims that the morality police would be disbanded. 
  • The EU said passengers would be able to access 5G broadband signals on civilian aircraft from next year.

Trump’s awful day

All in one news cycle, Trump’s man lost in Georgia and the Trump Organization was convicted of criminal tax fraud in New York. Jurors found it guilty on 17 counts in a verdict the prosecution said was all about “greed and cheating”.

  • Yesterday’s Senate victory for Raphael Warnock over ex-NFL star and alleged abuser Herschel Walker in Georgia showed once again that if Trump was ever good at picking winners he has lost his touch. 
  • The Trump Organization verdict is not about the man, but it is about his business, and Trump is all about his business.

So what? It’s far too soon to count him out as the next US president, but for now Trump’s bid to exact revenge for the humiliations of the past two years is treading water.

New York. The Trump Organization could be fined $1.6 million but will stay in business. Trump himself wasn’t in the dock and can still run for president. But…

  • The prosecution repeatedly linked its case personally to Trump, arguing he paid executives in untaxed perks to lower his corporate tax bill. Jurors didn’t buy the defence claim that his chief lieutenant, Alan Weisselberg, did all the dodging for himself.
  • The verdict will give ammunition to any Democrat running against him.
  • It will give lenders pause before backing the Trump Organization again. 
  • It will give political donors grounds to fear their money is being used to pay legal bills, since there’ll be an appeal and there are plenty more legal fights to come (see below).
  • It will embolden other Republicans to run against him for the nomination, as will…

Georgia. The Trump plan was to declare for president before the midterms and confirm his supremacy within the party by backing winners in Congress and state assemblies. Instead, most of his protégés lost – including Walker in the Georgia run-off despite a tele-rally Trump hosted for him on Monday. This extends Republicans’ unbroken string of defeats and disappointments since 2018 and gives Democrats a vital one-vote cushion in the Senate. 

Scott Jennings, a former aide to Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell, tells the NYT Georgia “may be remembered as the state that broke Trump once and for all”.

Unforced errors. Trump keeps making them. Last month he hosted Ye, the anti-semitic rapper formerly known as Kanye West, and Nick Fuentes, an avowed white supremacist, for dinner at Mar-a-Lago. Last week he said the US constitution should be “terminated” for allowing what he continues to call the fraud of the 2020 election. Almost no one has defended him. Loyalists have rolled their eyes. Benjamin Netanyahu, the former Israeli prime minister, has asked him to apologise. He has not.

Legal pipeline. To be Trump is to be sued. Yesterday’s verdict could be the first of many given the number of ongoing investigations of his businesses, personal life and presidential term. They include probes into 

  • the removal of government documents – 100 of them classified – from the White House and their storage at Mar-a-Lago;
  • whether Trump played a role in the January 6th assault on the US Capitol;
  • whether his attempt to challenge Joe Biden’s 2020 win in Georgia broke the law; and
  • alleged financial crimes committed by the Trump Organization (a civil probe separate from Bragg’s, led by New York Attorney General Letitia James).

As things stand the Georgia case is the closest thing to a material threat to Trump’s liberty. There’s a smoking gun: his 2020 phone call to Brad Raffensburger, the secretary of state,  asking him to “find” votes. But he hasn’t even been indicted yet, and he can weaken every legal case against him by branding it political. 

To remember: Trump’s base is intact – 40 per cent of Americans still have a positive view of him, around the same as when he left office – and their grievances against the political establishment run deep. They are rooted in the 2008 crash and the polarisation of US politics since then. 

To ask: wherefore art thou, Rupert? Murdoch has abandoned Trump as a candidate, although how this plays out in his outlets remains unclear. As of this morning, from Fox News and the New York Post on the Trump Organization’s criminal conviction, not a word.

world cup 2022

Morocco marches towards the quarter-finals as the Arab world’s envoy

Paul Hayward

The celebrations in Piccadilly Circus were a long way from Qatar. But then Morocco were a long way from reaching World Cup quarter-finals – until they did, dispossessing Spain, the masters of possession football, in a penalty shootout. The Arab world has a standard bearer at the first Arab World Cup.


Michelle Mone

Baroness Mone, a former lingerie entrepreneur, is taking a leave of absence from the UK’s House of Lords to clear her name. She stands accused of being a beneficiary of a trust that received £29 million of proceeds from £200 million earned by PPE Medpro, a company linked to her husband, at the height of the pandemic. She reportedly used her position as a peer to lobby the government for PPE contracts, and today the Guardian adds to her difficulties by naming another company, LFI Diagnostics, as another “entity” of her husband’s family office in the Isle of Man. Mone lobbied hard on LFI’s behalf, the paper reports, for contracts for lateral flow tests which in the end it didn’t win. In fact a health minister had to remind her of “the need for propriety”. A lot of people think the whole upper chamber – almost unique in the free world for being unelected – needs more than that. It remains to be seen if Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, has the nerve to put abolition on the House of Lords in his next manifesto.



In Friday’s Sensemaker, we reported on Elon Musk’s busy week – which included a “show and tell” for the brain/computer interface known as Neuralink. In his presentation, Musk joked he would turn up one day with the implant in his own brain and made the bold claim human trials would be coming in 2023. But Neuralink is reportedly facing a federal probe over potential breaches of the Animal Welfare Act. Internal staff complaints reviewed by Reuters reveal how Musk’s pressure to accelerate development has led to “botched” experiments on animals leading in turn to their suffering and death. An estimated 1500 animals including sheep, pigs and monkeys have been killed since 2018 in these experiments. Animal deaths aren’t an inherent breach of the Act – but unnecessary deaths brought on by a “pressure cooker environment” created by Musk could bring legal sanctions not to mention an employee backlash. 

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

Ambulance strikes 

On 21 December more than 10,000 ambulance workers in nine of the ten ambulance trusts in England and Wales will walk out in coordinated strike action between the GMB, Unison and Unite unions. Why? A below-inflation pay offer (around 4 per cent) and broader concerns about funding, workforce and workload have left unions, they say, “with no choice” but to strike. The day before, 20 December, nearly 100,000 nurses from Royal College of Nursing walk out over pay disputes. Life-preserving care will be maintained – but that doesn’t mean it won’t be affected. A reminder: the president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine warned last week that a significant proportion of excess deaths in the NHS were caused by failures in emergency and urgent care. Steve Barclay, the new health secretary, declined to call the situation a “crisis” on media rounds this morning, but it’s hard to find another word. 

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Hungary plays nasty 

Hungary has vetoed an €18 billion EU aid package for Ukraine, threatening plans to get much-needed finance to Kyiv by January. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán seems to be leveraging his support to secure Hungary’s share of EU funding worth up to €13.3 billion, which the bloc has held back because of concerns about Hungarian corruption and the rule of law. Orbán is also blocking efforts to introduce a minimum corporate tax rate. What next? Other EU capitals will look for alternative ways to secure the funds, but the process could take longer – and Kyiv can’t wait. Meanwhile, Orbán needs to have his recovery plan approved by the end of the year or he risks losing 70 per cent of €5.8 billion in possible EU grants. 


No Rain

Today is the last day of broadcasting in Latvia for the Russian Dozhd channel (meaning: rain). It was banned in Russia because of its relatively unblinking war coverage, and has now been banned in Latvia as a “threat to national security and public order”, the head of Latvia’s broadcasting regulator announced. Dozhd’s sins in Latvia’s eyes include no Latvian subtitles (obligatory by the law); showing occupied Crimea as part of Russia on a map; and an anchor talking about helping “our army” (ie the Russian army) and about helping its recruits with supplies. Dozhd’s chief editor, Tikhon Dzyadko, called the decision a  “farce”. Earlier, Russian-speaking Dozhd representatives came to a meeting with the media watchdog without an interpreter, making their case review impossible. But since Dozhd “does not understand the importance and seriousness of [its] violations”, the regulator says, it cannot work in Latvia.

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James Wilson

Giles Whittell

Additional reporting by Jessica Winch and Phoebe Davis.

Photographs Getty Images

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