Judge Tosses Disney Lawsuit, Greenlights Ron DeSantis Retaliation

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Judge Tosses Disney Lawsuit, Greenlights Ron DeSantis Retaliation

A Trump-appointed judge effectively handed Florida Governor Ron DeSantis the keys to Disney World on Wednesday, ruling that the governor’s choice to dissolve the company’s special tax district and personally appoint every member of its new local governing body was “facially constitutional.”

U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor, in an order issued on Wednesday, found that the entertainment behemoth “lacks standing to sue the governor,” specifying that the drama around the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, or CFTOD, formerly known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District, could not be challenged with a free speech claim.

The lawsuit, which was filed by Disney in April, accused DeSantis of weaponizing his political position to punish the company for speaking out in disagreement after the state in 2022 passed the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law banning the discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools. In a statement released the same day DeSantis signed the controversial bill, Disney said it would remain committed to supporting organizations that would help repeal the law or bring legal challenges against it.

But DeSantis didn’t like that, arguing that Disney’s statement had “crossed the line” and that he would “fight back.”

Pointing to DeSantis’s own memoir, which was released last spring, Disney claimed that the Florida governor had attempted to punish the company for exercising its right to free speech, citing sections of his book that pegged the media conglomerate as “pledging a frontal assault” on the state of Florida, after which “things got worse for Disney.”

But according to Winsor’s ruling, Disney “has not alleged any specific actions the new board took (or will take) because of the governor’s alleged control” and “has not alleged any specific injury from any board action.”

“Its alleged injury … is its operating under a board it cannot control,” Winsor wrote. “That injury would exist whether or not the governor controlled the board.”

“To the extent the Governor contributed to Disney’s injury by appointing CFTOD board members, that action is in the past,” the order read. “Because Disney seeks injunctive relief, it must allege an imminent future injury, and it has not alleged facts showing that any imminent future appointments will contribute to its harm.”

“At the end of the day, under the law of this Circuit, ‘courts shouldn’t look to a law’s legislative history to find an illegitimate motivation for an otherwise constitutional statute,’” Winsor added, effectively dismissing the entire premise of Disney’s case.

DeSantis’s office glibly celebrated the win, with his press secretary, Jeremy Redfern, calling it an end to the “corporate kingdom.”

“This ruling finally ends Disney’s futile attempts to control its own special government and receive benefits not available to other businesses throughout the state,” the press release said.

But Disney vowed its great adventure against the state wasn’t over, promising in a statement that it would continue the legal battle.

“This is an important case with serious implications for the rule of law, and it will not end here,” a Disney spokesperson told CNN. “If left unchallenged, this would set a dangerous precedent and give license to states to weaponize their official powers to punish the expression of political viewpoints they disagree with. We are determined to press forward with our case.”

Republican Senator Tom Cotton grilled the CEO of TikTok on Wednesday with a series of increasingly racist questions about the tech executive’s ties to the Chinese government.

TikTok chief Shou Zi Chew testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee alongside the CEOs of Meta, X (formerly Twitter), Snap, and Discord about the risk of child sexual abuse material on their platforms. This was Chew’s second time on Capitol Hill, after a marathon House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing in March about data privacy.

At one point, Cotton repeatedly demanded if Chew had been a member of or affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party. Chew, clearly growing increasingly frustrated, replied every time that he is Singaporean.

Cotton also asked if Chew had any citizenship or passport other than Singaporean. Chew said no. (Neither China nor Singapore allow dual citizenship.)

Tom Cotton: “Have you ever been a member of the Chinese Communist Party?”

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew: “Senator, I’m Singaporean. No!”

Cotton: “Have you ever been associated or affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party?”

Chew: “No, Senator. Again, I’m Singaporean!” pic.twitter.com/5Wa72aJIr9

— Justin Baragona (@justinbaragona) January 31, 2024

This is not the first time lawmakers have implied (or in Cotton’s case, suggested outright) that Chew has links to the CCP. During the House hearing in March, Representative Dan Crenshaw asked questions about whether Chew had to abide by the Chinese national intelligence law that requires citizens to cooperate with government intelligence agencies. Members of Congress returned to that line of questioning on Wednesday, as Chew tried to explain that every business that operates in China has to abide by the law.

TikTok is a popular target for Democrats and Republicans alike, because the company is headquartered in China. A company associated with the Chinese government also owns a 1 percent stake in TikTok parent company Bytedance. With both political parties eager to seem tough on China, cracking down on TikTok is an easy move.

Republicans also regularly use TikTok as a scapegoat because the platform is popular with young people, the majority of whom tend to lean left.

But TikTok is far from the only problematic actor when it comes to child welfare, which is what Wednesday’s hearing was allegedly meant to focus on. A report published last year by the Tech Oversight Project revealed that Google and its affiliate YouTube were found in 2019 to have violated children’s privacy. Amazon’s livestreaming platform Twitch is rife with sexual harassment and child predators, while Apple and Google parent Alphabet design their products to be addictive for teenagers.

Internal documents leaked in 2021 showed that Meta knew its products were destroying teens’ mental health, particularly teenage girls’, but made no changes to its platform. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg was aware of this but lied to Congress under oath about it.

Meanwhile, Congress has repeatedly failed to pass laws that would actually protect children online. In the past decade, Congress passed just one narrow children’s online safety law. Since then, all other safety bills have been stalled by interparty disagreements about specific security and privacy provisions, as well as pushback from the tech industry.

Donald Trump doesn’t seem quite so keen on one of his star attorneys anymore.

Instead, the former president says he is scanning for new legal talent to appeal the verdict after losing the second defamation case brought by the writer E. Jean Carroll, which cost him a whopping $83.3 million.

“I am in the process, along with my team, of interviewing various law firms to represent me in an Appeal of one of the most ridiculous and unfair Witch Hunts our Country has ever seen—The defamation Sham presided over by a Clinton appointed, highly partisan, Trump Hating Judge, Lewis Kaplan, who was, together with certain other Radical Left Democrat Judges, one of the most partisan and out of control activists that I have ever appeared before,” Trump wrote on TruthSocial late Tuesday evening.

That could mean that Alina Habba, the attorney who went above and beyond embarrassing herself while representing Trump, to the point of butting heads with Judge Lewis Kaplan over what he described as “evidence 101,” is finally on the outs.

Habba set herself apart not just by her pathetic, over-the-top courtroom displays for the GOP front-runner but by making unexpected appearances in places she had no business to be, including at Trump’s victory party following his New Hampshire primary win, just one day after Habba claimed she wasn’t feeling well and the trial was postponed due to Covid concerns.

On Truth Social, Trump then went on to baselessly accuse Kaplan of being a “bully” who “only allowed me to be on the witness stand for minutes,” decrying the trial he lost as a “hoax” and a “disgrace” to the American judicial system.

But Trump might have a harder time than he’s letting on finding someone to replace his already paltry legal team. Law firms are reportedly hesitant to represent the bombastic TV star for fear that they won’t be able to keep him from damaging his own defense—and that he won’t pay them.

“First, Trump has a reputation for not paying his lawyers. And he is so toxic to half the population, that lawyers risk losing other business when they accept him as a client,” Neama Rahmani, the president of West Coast Trial Lawyers, told Newsweek.

Earlier this month, another of Trump’s key attorneys, Joseph Tacopina, announced that he and his firm would no longer represent Trump in the E. Jean Carroll lawsuit and the criminal case against Trump, in which the GOP front-runner is accused of making hush-money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels via his fixer and another former personal attorney, Michael Cohen.

A Pennsylvania man was arrested on suspicion of killing his father early Wednesday, after he reportedly uploaded a far-right-conspiracy-laden YouTube video that featured the decapitated head.

Justin Mohn, 32, is charged with first-degree murder, abuse of a corpse, and possessing an instrument of crime with intent, according to local authorities.

“We got called to the home and officers went in and discovered the father upstairs deceased,” Middletown Township Police Chief Joe Bartorilla told reporters late Tuesday evening.

The father, Michael Mohn, was found beheaded in the bathroom of the home he shared with his son in Levittown. Police said his wife, Denice Mohn, discovered the body in the first-floor bathroom after arriving home about 7 p.m. on Tuesday, after which her screams led neighbors to summon police to the scene.

Local authorities found the head inside a plastic bag in a pot in the first-floor bedroom, according to a police affidavit. Mohn reportedly used a machete and a large kitchen knife to sever the body. Both weapons were found in a bathtub in the home, according to court documents.

The younger Mohn was arrested in his father’s car, hours later, in Fort Indiantown Gap, home of a large National Guard Training Center, more than 100 miles away from the home, according to police.

“We didn’t know where he was going and what his intentions were when he left here,” Middletown Township Police Captain Pete Feeney told NBC News. “Fortunately, we were able to get a location based on his cell phone.”

A YouTube video, titled “Call to Arms for American Patriots” and posted to the channel Mohn’s Militia, showed Mohn lifting his father’s decapitated head while claiming he now had control over America’s military.

“He is now in hell for eternity as a traitor to his country,” Mohn said in the clip.

The video has since been removed from YouTube for violating the site’s policy on graphic content but reportedly featured a scripted political rant about “far-left woke mobs” and the “traitorous Biden regime,” reported The Daily Beast.

Over the course of 14 minutes, Mohn raged against the LGBTQ community, the Black Lives Matters movement, and antifascist group antifa, which he referred to as a “terrorist organization.” He also called for the seizure of federal buildings and claimed that federal employees should be “publicly executed for betraying their country”—adding, however, that state employees should not be targeted in his fantasy uprising, reported local outlet PhillyBurbs.com.

“He talked about his dad a lot,” a former friend of Mohn’s told the Beast. “He believed in all these conspiracies. The government is putting stuff in the water, they’re bugging places to listen to our conversations, stuff like that. His dad was always tied up in them somehow.”

Mohn is being held without bail. His hearing is scheduled for February 8.

Senator Marsha Blackburn on Wednesday became the latest Republican to run scared from Taylor Swift.

Swift has not yet weighed in on the 2024 elections, nor has she given any indication that she intends to. Yet in recent days, Republicans have increasingly accused Swift of being a Democratic operative, including insisting that she will rig the NFL Super Bowl to get more attention ahead of endorsing President Joe Biden (as if one of the biggest musical performers in the world needs to attract more attention).

While Swift rarely weighs in on politics, instead tending to encourage her fans to act without telling them how to do so, she did endorse Biden in 2020. And in the past, she has taken particular aim at Blackburn, who represents Swift’s home state of Tennessee and is up for reelection this November.

When asked Wednesday morning if she thought Swift’s endorsement could affect the upcoming election, Blackburn quickly became tongue-tied. She started by complimenting Swift, in an obvious effort to not alienate the singer’s millions of fans, and then stumbled her way to complaining about the “border, the open border, the Biden border policy.”

lmao Marsha Blackburn is terrified of Taylor Swift. Get a load of this response. pic.twitter.com/DvbMzPPynG

— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 31, 2024

Blackburn is one of many Republican senators resisting a bipartisan deal on the border. The GOP has actually spent months working to tank the deal because Donald Trump, Biden’s likely 2024 opponent, has said that any compromise with Democrats will be too lenient on immigrants. He also doesn’t want a bill that could potentially benefit Biden to pass.

Swift broke her long-running apolitical approach to publicity in 2018, when she endorsed Blackburn’s Democratic opponents in the midterm elections. Swift said in a statement that Blackburn’s voting record “appalls and terrifies me.”

Swift’s 2020 documentary Miss Americana shows the singer crying as she explains to her father why she needs to speak out against Blackburn, over the latter’s opposition to LGBTQ rights and the Violence Against Women Act. Swift criticizes Blackburn’s policies and calls her “Trump in a wig.”

Blackburn isn’t the only one getting worked up over Swift. Trump himself is frustrated by all the attention on the singer, and has privately insisted that he is “more popular” than she and has more loyal fans, Rolling Stone reported Tuesday. Trump also said it “obviously” made no sense that Swift was named Time magazine’s 2023 Person of the Year instead of him.

Trump’s anti-Swift ire has some of his more powerful supporters plotting a “holy war” on the pop star, according to Rolling Stone.

The real danger that Swift poses to Republicans isn’t her politics, specifically. Instead, as Edith Olmstead wrote for The New Republic in September, “it’s because of her vast influence over a younger demographic that conservatives have famously struggled to attract or exert an influence upon themselves.”

Mike Johnson’s ties to Christian nationalism are well documented, but a new report reveals his long-standing connection to a particularly extremist strain of Christianity—and the House speaker’s refusal to disavow it should be a source of major concern.

An investigation published Wednesday by The Daily Beast reveals Johnson has particularly close relationships with leaders of Christian dominionism, a radical sect of Christian fundamentalism that supports establishing an entirely Christian nation, opposes LGBTQ rights, and even defends slavery.

The Beast asked Johnson’s office whether the speakerthought biblically sanctioned violence conflicted with his duties as an officer of the constitution, whether he denounced the teachings of hardline fundamentalists who have endorsed biblical slavery and rejected constitutional provisions like liberty and justice, and whether he personally believed the Bible permitted slavery.” A spokesperson declined to explicitly disavow any of those beliefs.

“None of these actions or comments you are referencing were made by Speaker Johnson. The Speaker is not going to apologize to the Daily Beast for his Christian faith or judge the beliefs or statements of others,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

While Johnson has been open about his fervent faith, he has previously evaded other questions about just how deeply he believes in Christian fundamentalism. Keri Ladner, a religious studies scholar and author, told the Beast that Johnson is “too smart” to openly state he backs widely decried Christian sects.

But “when you dig into the people around Johnson, that’s what you find when you peel back the layers,” Ladner said. “It’s absolutely in that orbit.”

One of those people is David Barton, a Christian nationalist author and activist. The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that Barton has repeatedly “demonized LGBTQ persons and communities, arguing that HIV and AIDS are god-given consequences for living out one’s LGBTQ life.” Barton has also argued against aspects of the Thirteenth Amendment, insisting there is a biblical defense for slavery.

Johnson has known Barton for at least a quarter-century, and said at a Christian lawmakers’ event two years ago that Barton has had “a profound influence on me, and my work, and my life, and everything I do.”

After Johnson was elected speaker, Barton said on a podcast in October that he and his organization had been advising the Louisiana Republican on who to hire for his staff. In another, more recent podcast, Barton said Johnson becoming speaker gave him and his group “some tools at our disposal” that “we haven’t had in a long time.”

Johnson has also touted close relationships with Tony Perkins, a vocal Christian nationalist, and Mat Staver, who has called for the criminalization of same-sex relationships.

It’s no secret that Johnson holds extreme beliefs. He blames the collapse of the Roman Empire on LGBTQ people and opposes abortion access. He compared himself to Moses, decried the separation of church and state, and has a Christian nationalist flag hanging outside his office. The growing evidence of the people and causes he allows to influence him are further proof that he will try to push Congress to the right.

At least one Republican has reached a breaking point over Donald Trump’s border security chicanery.

On Tuesday, North Dakota Senator Kevin Cramer had swing voters at the front of his mind, lobbing his own mud at Trump for describing the bipartisan deal as a “betrayal.”

“Here’s what I worry about. If we don’t try to do something when we have the moment to do something, all of those swing voters in swing states for whom the border is the number one priority have every right to look at us and go: ‘You blew your opportunity. We were ready to give you a shot, and you blew it,’” Cramer told CNN’s Manu Raju.

“I don’t see that coming back as a reward to us,” Cramer added. “If we don’t try, then shame on us.”

GOP Sen. Cramer pushes back on Trump for calling border deal a “betrayal.”

Says “voters in swing states for whom the border is the No. 1 priority have every right to look at and say to us: ‘You blew your opportunity. We were ready to give you a shot and you blew it,” he told me pic.twitter.com/jCixsO8yx9

— Manu Raju (@mkraju) January 31, 2024

Republicans have spent months tanking a potential border deal in an increasingly transparent attempt to help Trump get reelected to the White House.

“As the leader of our party, there is zero chance I will support this horrible open borders betrayal of America,” Trump told a crowd of supporters at a rally in Las Vegas on Saturday. “I’ll fight it all the way. A lot of the senators are trying to say, respectfully, they’re blaming it on me. I say, that’s OK. Please blame it on me. Please.”

Meanwhile, Democrats are on the offensive, claiming that Republicans—who have a measly two-seat majority in the House—chickened out of a “tough deal.”

“It’s clear that when it comes to border security, Democrats are for the fix, and Republicans are for the fiction,” Representative Eric Swalwell told CNN.

And President Joe Biden took a more aggressive stance on the issue over the weekend, following a Supreme Court decision that launched a standoff between Texas state officials and federal border patrol agents.

“Give me the power, I asked them the very day I got into office,” Biden said. “Give me the Border Patrol, give me the people, give me the judges, give me the people who can stop this and make it work,” he added.

During a campaign stop in South Carolina, Biden supported the emerging deal, and said that he would shut down the border if given the authority by Congress.

“It would also give me as president the emergency authority to shut down the border until it could get back under control. If that bill were the law today, I’d shut down the border right now and fix it quickly,” he added.

Republican Representative Troy Nehls went on a rant loaded with racist dog whistles about his Democratic counterpart Cori Bush after she confirmed the Justice Department is investigating her campaign spending.

Bush, a Missouri progressive, said Tuesday that the Department of Justice is investigating her use of campaign funds for security services. Bush said she used the money to retain personal security, including her husband, due to “relentless threats to my physical safety and life.”

Congressional ethics rules for representatives allow them to use campaign funds to pay family members for “bona fide services,” as long as those payments do not exceed fair market value. Bush said she hired her husband as part of her security team because he was able to provide protection at or below market rate.

Nehls went off on Bush Tuesday evening. “The idea to pay her thug money to try to help protect her this and that, for what?” the Texas Republican demanded. “Maybe if she wouldn’t be so loud all the time, maybe she wouldn’t be getting threats.”

When asked by CNN’s Melanie Zanona if he felt Bush deserved the threats, Nehls said, “No, what I’m saying is, is that when you’re out there talking the way she does.… She’s pretty radical. And maybe she should tone it down a little bit.”

While Nehls did not explicitly mention Bush’s race, he did use multiple anti-Black tropes such as “thug” and “loud” Black woman. Bush noted as much when she responded to Nehls on X (formerly Twitter), demanding he apologize.

.@RepTroyNehls just called my husband, a Black man and army veteran, a thug. And I’m the loud Black woman who needs to be silent in order to be safe from violence, or else?

This is the kind of rhetoric that endangers Black lives. He must apologize. https://t.co/QeqZ7yYfRX

— Cori Bush (@CoriBush) January 31, 2024

Bush also noted the veiled threat in Nehls’s comments that she should “tone it down” or face threats. Republicans have increasingly used language both veiled and overt that appears to call for political violence—and people are only too willing to listen.

A man House Republicans had previously claimed was a whistleblower on Joe Biden’s corruption categorically debunked all of the GOP’s accusations in a closed-door hearing on Tuesday.

Eric Schwerin, a longtime business partner of Hunter Biden, testified in front of the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees in a closed-door interview. Schwerin also worked as a financial adviser for Joe Biden from 2009 until 2017, during which time he was able to see transactions in and out of the then vice president’s bank accounts.

“Based on that insight, I am not aware of any financial transactions or compensation that Vice President Biden received related to business conducted by any of his family members or their associates nor any involvement by him in their businesses,” Schwerin said in a prepared opening statement obtained by The New Republic.

Republicans have repeatedly accused Biden of profiting from his son Hunter’s overseas business dealings. House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer has spearheaded the impeachment inquiry into Biden, accusing the president and first son of influence peddling and accepting bribes. He has yet to produce any evidence of Biden’s wrongdoing.

Comer had listed Schwerin as one of the many supposed whistleblowers who spoke to Oversight Committee investigators about the Biden family. In March, Comer said four whistleblowers had come forward. But when committee Democrats asked him to share the new information, they were told that there wasn’t actually any new witness information. Comer’s statements referred to just two people: Schwerin and Kathy Chung, who worked as Biden’s executive assistant when he was vice president.

But in his statement Tuesday, Schwerin said Biden had not been involved, either as a public official or a private citizen, in Hunter’s business dealings, nor had he ever been asked to take action on Hunter’s behalf. Schwerin said that in his role as Hunter’s business partner, he never asked Biden to get involved with their work. He and Hunter never suggested to or promised their clients or associates that Biden would get involved, either.

“In my discussions with the Vice President concerning his personal finances, he was always crystal clear that he wanted to take the most transparent and ethical approach consistent with both the spirit and the letter of the law,” Schwerin said. “Given my awareness of his finances and the explicit directions he gave to his financial advisers, the allegation that he would engage in any improper conduct to benefit himself or his family is preposterous to me.”

This is far from the first time that one of Republicans’ star witnesses in the Biden corruption investigation has completely debunked their claims. One such witness was Devon Archer, another of Hunter’s business partners. In his testimony, Archer said he was “not aware of any” wrongdoing by the president and said he disagreed with the allegation that Biden accepted a bribe. Republicans then refused to let Democrats introduce Archer’s testimony as evidence during a September hearing.

Donald Trump’s lawyer Alina Habba on Tuesday suddenly backed off her own claim that the presiding judge in the E. Jean Carroll defamation trial had a conflict of interest, less than a day after she made the initial court filing.

Habba filed a letter to Judge Lewis Kaplan on Monday accusing him of failing to disclose the fact that he had worked at the same law firm as Carroll’s lawyer Roberta Kaplan (no relation) in the 1990s. Habba said she believed the judge had shown “preferential treatment” to Carroll’s team and would seek to have both verdicts overturned.

As Ms. Habba well knows, these allegations are utterly baseless,” Roberta Kaplan said in a letter of her own, submitted Tuesday.

Roberta Kaplan explained in her letter that she and Judge Kaplan had worked at the same New York law firm, but they overlapped for less than two years. What’s more, Roberta Kaplan has no recollection of interacting with the now-judge whatsoever.

She also expressed concerns about the sourcing behind Habba’s accusations and the New York Post article cited in her complaint. The Post article cited one anonymous source, who claims that the Kaplans had a mentor-mentee relationship.

“While both the New York Post and Ms. Habba purport to cite the recollections of an ‘unnamed partner at Paul Weiss’ … that partner (if he even exists) clearly has a very flawed memory about events that occurred three decades ago,” Roberta Kaplan wrote.

Roberta Kaplan accused Trump and Habba of pushing “a false narrative of judicial bias” and explained that while she had wanted to respond quickly to Habba’s allegations, she might still seek sanctions against the other attorney.

Within hours, Habba submitted another letter backtracking on her accusations. “The purpose of the letter was simply to inquire as to whether there is any merit to a recently published New York Post story which reported on the alleged existence of such a relationship,” Habba said.

“Since Ms. Kaplan has now denied that there was ever a mentor-mentee relationship between herself and Your Honor, this issue has seemingly been resolved,” she wrote, although she added in a footnote that there were other issues about Judge Kaplan’s conduct, “including potential bias hostility towards defense counsel,” that she would raise in her appeal of the verdict.

Habba butted heads repeatedly with the judge throughout the trial over her disruptive behavior. Kaplan regularly admonished her for breaking the rules he established before the trial even began.

More on Trump’s legal woes:

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