How DeSantis’s migrant stunt is playing out


When Ron DeSantis, Florida’s Republican governor, chartered a flight sending migrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard last week, it raised a lot of questions.

Who paid for it? (Florida.) Were the migrants lied to? (It depends whom you ask, but many of the migrants say they were misled.) Can he do that? (That isn’t clear yet, but the move has prompted a criminal investigation and several lawsuits.)

The first, most pressing question right now is whether he lied: Some of the migrants say they were given misleading information to persuade them to take the flight, such as promises of jobs and housing that one lawsuit filed by the migrants called “boldfaced lies.” (By contrast, some of the migrants controversially bused by Texas to D.C. said they were grateful for the ride.)

DeSantis hasn’t directly rebutted accusations he lied. He defends himself by saying the program was “all voluntary” and ultimately got the migrants to a better place. “They’re given a good ride,” he said. “It’s a humane thing to do.”

DeSantis in Bradenton, Fla., this week. (Thomas Simonetti for The Washington Post)

Another question is what laws, if any, he might have broken? Some experts said what DeSantis did bear a lot of resemblance to human trafficking. Others say that could be a hard case to make, because the migrants signed consent forms. The sheriff from San Antonio, where Florida officials traveled to find the migrants, opened a criminal investigation and said he thinks the travelers were lured under false pretenses. “If you think about what smugglers do, it’s not that different,” said Nelson Wolff, a local official in Texas. Also a question: Did DeSantis inappropriately use Florida taxpayer money for this?

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The politics of this are nothing but divisive: DeSantis promised more flights to liberal cities are to come. He probably won’t win over any swing voters for his November reelection by doing this. But if you’re trying to out-Trump Donald Trump in, say, a Republican presidential primary, well, this could help.

Nationally, this could help his party on the margins to take back control of Congress. Immigration has the potential to be a troublesome issue for Democrats in the midterm elections. How to fix the U.S. immigration system has tripped up politicians on both sides for decades. Other than Trump’s wall proposal, major overhauls just haven’t been a priority on either side. And that could put Democrats campaigning in conservative areas this November on the defensive, since their party is the one in charge right now.

A quick Mar-a-Lago investigation update

For now, the government’s investigation of whether Trump broke laws by taking government documents with him out of the White House has been allowed to continue. It’s an investigation that has potentially serious legal consequences for Trump and/or his lawyers, since the government justified its raid of Mar-a-Lago by arguing there was probable cause crimes were committed.

Lately, Trump has been losing two legal battles on this front:

1. Federal judges just said the investigation should go on: These judges, which included Trump appointees, temporarily reversed another judge’s controversial decision to pause the investigation so that a special master could evaluate whether Trump can claim ownership over any of the documents. The new decision thoroughly rebuked Judge Aileen Cannon’s reasoning, writes The Post’s Aaron Blake.

2. The ownership argument: Even if Trump took the appropriate paperwork steps to declassify hundreds of government documents he took with him from the White House — and it’s looking as if he didn’t, given his latest defense is he could declassify them simply “by thinking about it” — that wouldn’t make these documents his, the special master recently argued. Potential nuclear secrets are still government secrets, whether a former president thinks so or not. The special master appears to be putting pressure on Trump to put evidence behind his defenses.

Reader question: What is the deal with the Justice Department’s rule on pausing investigations that could be political right before an election?

Trump lawyers in New York this week. (Brittainy Newman/AP)

Trump lawyers in New York this week. (Brittainy Newman/AP)

So there is no rule that the federal government has to stop politically related investigations before an election. But the Justice Department believes it’s good practice to avoid the appearance of influencing voters, so much so that it’s been a norm for decades.

Following it means that any big, public action in any kind of remotely political investigation would be a no-go in the 60-day period before an election. We’re in that period now, fewer than 60 days out from the midterms.

This guideline probably applies to investigations of Trump and his allies’ involvement in Jan. 6, Trump taking classified documents to Mar-a-Lago and anything that may still be ongoing regarding Hunter Biden. It doesn’t mean those investigations will be put on pause, just that you probably won’t see anyone charged in them or other big developments. All that said, the government can decide to ignore that custom if it thinks something is important enough.

And this is only a guideline for federal investigations. New York’s attorney general, who announced a lawsuit against Trump yesterday, is under so such restriction.

Ask me a political question any time.

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Author: ntotb

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