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A heavily fortified Minneapolis awaits verdict in Chauvin trial

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A heavily fortified Minneapolis awaits verdict in Chauvin trial

Each side will pull key testimony to support their narrative for what killed Floyd in a case that roiled America 11 months ago and continues to resonate. The anonymous jury will later deliver verdicts in a courthouse surrounded by concrete barriers and razor wire, in an anxious city heavily fortified by National Guard members and just days after fresh outrage erupted over the police killing of a 20-year-old Black man in a nearby suburb.

The attorneys aren’t limited by time, though legal experts say overlong arguments risk losing jurors’ attention and may be less effective. Prosecutors Steve Schleicher and Jerry Blackwell will share the closing, with Schleicher leading off and Blackwell coming on for the last-word rebuttal of defense attorney Eric Nelson’s closing.

Chauvin, 45, is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Experts expect Schleicher to walk jurors through the elements of the charges. All three require the jury to conclude that Chauvin’s actions were a “substantial causal factor” in Floyd’s death — and that his use of force was unreasonable.

Schleicher can remind jurors of key testimony from a myriad prosecution medical experts who testified that Floyd died of asphyxiation caused by being pinned to the pavement. He and Blackwell can point to plentiful testimony from use-of-force experts who said Chauvin’s actions were clearly improper, as well as Minneapolis Police Department officials saying they were outside his training.

Video played a huge role at trial, both in buttressing the expert testimony and in driving home the emotional impact of Floyd’s anguish and death. Prosecutors can re-play video during their closings, and experts say they expect it.

Guilty verdicts must be unanimous, which means Nelson needs to raise doubt in the minds of just a single juror on the various counts. His closing is certain to return to the themes of his cross-examination of prosecution witnesses and the brief defense case he mounted.

Nelson is sure to highlight how the county medical examiner, Dr. Andrew Baker, did not conclude that Floyd died of asphyxia — putting him at odds with the prosecution’s medical experts, even though Baker did call Floyd’s death a homicide and testify that he believes Floyd’s heart gave out in part due to being pinned to the ground.

Nelson is also certain to remind the jury of Floyd’s drug use, perhaps with the same language he frequently used during the testimony phase — with questions that emphasized words such as “illicit.” Despite the long duration of Floyd’s restraint, he’s likely to again portray Chauvin’s use of force as dictated by “fluid” and “dynamic” factors that shouldn’t be second-guessed, including the prospect that Chauvin was distracted by a threatening group of bystanders.

Nelson is also likely to question perhaps the strongest single part of the state’s case — the video of Floyd’s arrest, including bystander Darnella Frazier’s video that largely established public perceptions of events. Nelson argued that camera angles can be deceptive, and used other views to suggest to jurors that Chauvin’s knee wasn’t on Floyd’s neck at all times.

“If I was Nelson, I’d do a lot of things, because a lot of things need to be done,” Joe Friedberg, a local defense attorney not involved in the case, said. “He’s in desperate trouble here.”

Fourteen jurors heard testimony, two of them alternates. If Judge Peter Cahill follows the usual practice of dismissing the last two chosen as alternates, the 12 who will deliberate will include six white and six Black or multiracial jurors.

Second-degree murder requires prosecutors to prove Chauvin intended to harm Floyd. Third-degree murder requires proof that Chauvin’s actions were “eminently dangerous” and done with indifference to loss of life. Second-degree manslaughter requires jurors to believe that he caused Floyd’s death through negligence and consciously took the chance of causing severe injury or death.

Each count carries a different maximum sentence: 40 years for second-degree unintentional murder, 25 years for third-degree murder, and 10 years for second-degree manslaughter. Sentencing guidelines call for far less time, including 12½ years on either murder count.

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Opinion | The Real Reason Republicans Want to Oust Liz Cheney

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Opinion | The Real Reason Republicans Want to Oust Liz Cheney

But Republican lawmakers and GOP operatives alike are frustrated that, after standing by her, Cheney has repaid the favor by continuing to draw attention to an issue that divides Republicans, rather than training her fire on the Biden administration. And while, yes, it is possible to do both, take a look at the headlines and see which message is getting more traction.

Cheney’s allies say that allowing Trump to promulgate lies about the election, as he has done since November, risks another insurrection. She has every right to make that her focus. But it’s one thing to do that as a rank-and-file member; her job as conference chairwoman is to help the party regain a House majority next year by rallying Republicans around a message that unites them and damages Democrats’ prospects.

The divide is deeper than pro- or anti-Trump. Rather, it’s a disagreement about how influential an out-of-office Trump continues to be on the party and whether, politically speaking, GOP energy is best spent fighting him or President Joe Biden. Cheney and her allies say Trump is an electoral loser for the GOP and won’t fade on his own; others argue his influence is diminishing and it’s disastrous to keep fighting the last war.

That sentiment is behind the exasperation with Cheney that extends even to some of the Republicans who joined her in voting for Trump’s second impeachment, according to two GOP lawmakers. They say Cheney is hurting the electoral prospects of the anti-Trumpers in the conference, who are being asked about her, rather than Biden, when they return home to their districts.

“People who voted to impeach stand by their decision, but they don’t want to be litigating that,” a top Republican operative told me. “We should be litigating why the Democrats suck and how Republicans are going to win the majority.”

Yet, in the immediate aftermath of the January 6 attack, Cheney told donors she wanted to make her forthcoming primary battle a referendum on the attacks, according to people on the call. It is not a message that resonates particularly well with a group that struggled with how to approach the Trump era altogether, and is eager to put the divisions of the past four years behind them.

Cheney might have understood her colleagues’ thinking better if she spent some more time hearing them out. POLITICO’s John Harris made the point in a column in March that asked, pointedly, why some politicians are such a–holes. He contrasted the friendless and scandal-plagued New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, with the late presidential adviser Vernon Jordan, a man of a thousand close friends. At the time, I wrote Harris telling him that Cheney was another example of the former, and the retired Gen. David Petraeus, who survived a public scandal mostly intact, of the latter.

Cuomo and Cheney don’t have much else in common, but both are second-generation politicos whose rise in public life was propelled in large part by their father’s networks. As a result, they seem to have learned less about what it takes to develop and maintain professional friendships and alliances.

Since Cheney’s arrival in Congress in 2017, I’ve heard complaints from operatives, donors and fellow reporters about Cheney’s political operation, which has been described as difficult, brittle, unresponsive and tone deaf. To wit, she is not working her colleagues to hold onto her leadership role. As repellent as it might seem, the cultivation of allies and the trading of favors is essential to political survival, a lesson Cheney seems to be learning the hard way.

As a counterexample to Cheney’s persistent focus on Trump, take Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose distaste for the former president is hardly a state secret and who has demonstrated that it’s possible to stand on principle without belaboring it. It wasn’t so long ago that McConnell, a ruthless political operative, called his vote to affirm the results of the November election the most important he had cast in his political career. The former president has responded by calling McConnell a “dumb son of a bitch.”

But asked about a recent Trump broadside, McConnell told Fox News last week: “We’re looking to the future, not the past. And if you want to see the future of the Republican Party, watch [Sen.] Tim Scott’s response to President Biden last night. … We’re not preoccupied with the past but looking forward.”

Or, as a second GOP operative put it: “She is choosing not to pivot. Mitch McConnell is no fan of Donald Trump, but he doesn’t say a goddamned word.”

Team Cheney argues that Trump remains a threat even if he is tapping out inanities from a beach chair at Mar-a-Lago, rather than from the Oval Office, and that Cheney’s silence would be a concession to Trump’s version of events.

But Cheney’s ideological allies are now left wondering: What is her end game?

The irony of the situation is that Cheney has rightfully derided some of her colleagues for using their positions to peacock for the most pathetic pro-Trump grifters and media outlets. Cheney’s audience is different, and her cause more righteous, but that’s where she is headed.

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Trump backs Stefanik to replace Cheney

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Trump backs Stefanik to replace Cheney

Trump’s endorsement of Stefanik (R-N.Y.) comes after House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said on Wednesday morning that she should serve as the House GOP conference chair instead of Cheney (R-Wyo.).

“Thank you President Trump for your 100% support for House GOP Conference Chair. We are unified and focused on FIRING PELOSI & WINNING in 2022!” Stefanik wrote on Twitter.

Trump had already attacked Cheney in an earlier statement on Wednesday for continuing “to unknowingly and foolishly say that there was no Election Fraud in the 2020 Presidential Election.”

A spokesperson for Cheney’s office did not immediately return a request for comment on either of the former president’s statements.

Cheney, who voted to impeach Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, has feuded in recent weeks with fellow House Republican leaders over Trump’s role in the future of the GOP, as well as his for perpetuating the false claim that the 2020 election was stolen.

The Republican infighting escalated significantly this week, after House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said on Tuesday that his members had voiced concerns about Cheney’s “ability to carry out” her job duties.

Trump’s initial statement on Wednesday, however, undercut those remarks by McCarthy, making clear that his qualms with Cheney were rooted in her refusal to echo his false election claims — not concerns with her messaging or on-the-job performance.

Cheney, for her part, is not actively rallying support from colleagues to maintain her position.

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Trump attorney, other allies launch voter fraud organization

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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton

“The Election Integrity Alliance’s National Board is comprised of individuals who have fought for election integrity at great personal risk and who are champions for free and fair elections,” the organization said in a statement.

People familiar with the project say it is intended to be a centralized hub for providing information on issues related to ballot fraud and election security. It is also aimed at coordinating with other organizations that are focused on election integrity.

American Greatness Fund, which was founded by former Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale, is part of an ever-expanding web of Trump-aligned advocacy groups that have popped up since the 2020 election. Former Trump senior advisers Brooke Rollins and Larry Kudlow have started the America First Policy Institute; Ben Carson, who served as secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Trump administration, has launched the American Cornerstone Institute; Russ Vought, who oversaw Trump’s Office of Management and Budget, has unveiled the Center for American Restoration.

Another recent entrant is former Trump speechwriter Stephen Miller, who has formed America First Legal, an outfit aimed at combating the Biden White House.

Conservatives say they view the groups as key in a broader effort to match a formidable liberal “dark money” machine. The Conservative Policy Institute, an organization overseen by Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and ex-South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint which provides support to non-profit groups, convened a group of major donors at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate last month to discuss a path forward.

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