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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Goes after Blumenthal
      •  Debt Ceiling Could Give Us Trump's First Real Crisis
      •  Why Did Mueller Impanel a Grand Jury Last Week?
      •  Nesterczuk Withdraws
      •  Moore Leads in Alabama Senator Primary
      •  SCOTUS Will Hear Ohio Voter Purge Case
      •  Peter Thiel Appears to Have Jumped Ship on Trump
      •  The Strange Saga of Nicole Mincey

Trump Goes after Blumenthal

President Donald Trump lit into Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) yesterday, saying: "Never in U.S. history has anyone lied or defrauded voters like Senator Richard Blumenthal. He told stories about his Vietnam battles and conquests, how brave he was, and it was all a lie." Trump was no doubt inspired to send out his tweets because he saw Blumenthal on CNN a few minutes earlier talking about Russiagate and how no one is above the law. There is simply no way that Blumenthal is the biggest liar in all of U.S. history, however. In fact, in the Senator's honor, we now present our list of the 10 biggest lies in American political history:

  1. President Bill Clinton (1998): "I did not have sexual relations with that woman."

  2. Presidential candidate George H. W. Bush (1988): "Read my lips: no new taxes."

  3. Presidential candidate Donald Trump (2016): "We're going to have insurance for everybody. There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can't pay for it, you don't get it. That's not going to happen with us."

  4. President Ronald Reagan (1982): "[W]e did not—repeat, did not—trade weapons or anything else for hostages."

  5. Former Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens (1868): The Civil War "sprung from no attachment to slavery."

  6. Vice President Dick Cheney (2002): "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction."

  7. President Lyndon B. Johnson (1964): "We are not about to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves."

  8. Senator Joseph McCarthy (1950): "I have here in my hand a list of 205 [people] that were known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping the policy of the State Department."

  9. President Andrew Jackson (1830): "Toward the aborigines of the country no one can indulge a more friendly feeling than myself."

  10. President Richard Nixon (1974): "I am not a crook."

Blumenthal isn't even in the same league as these fellows, inasmuch as his lie had relatively little impact on other people, and was at least in the same ballpark as the truth. What Trump was alluding to is Blumenthal's 2010 statement that he had served in the Vietnam War. In reality, Blumenthal was in the Marines Corps reserves during the Vietnam War, but did not serve in Vietnam.

Needless to say, Trump did not mention his own military service record: He got five draft deferments, which kept him out of the military (and the Vietnam War) altogether. The first four were because he was in school, the fifth declared him 4-F—physically unfit to serve. This despite having been a star athlete in high school, not to mention "the healthiest president in history." Perhaps this helps explain how Trump is so good at detecting people who fudged the truth as regards serving in Vietnam. (V & Z)

Debt Ceiling Could Give Us Trump's First Real Crisis

Originally adopted during World War I in an effort to make certain that the costs of the war did not get out of control, the United States' debt ceiling turns 100 on October 1 of this year. For most of its existence, it has been controversial. Advocates argue that the ceiling encourages fiscal austerity and keeps Congress from being irresponsible, while critics say that it needlessly interferes with managing the federal budget while also putting the government at risk of paying financial penalties.

Given the consequences of hitting the debt ceiling, Congress is generally very careful to avoid doing so. It's only happened once, in 1979, and even that was primarily due to an accidental computer glitch. On a second occasion, in 2011, budget hawks nearly caused the ceiling to be reached, which was enough for Standard & Poor's to downgrade the United States' credit. In both cases—1979 and 2011—interest rates rose by about 0.5% for the U.S. government.

To put that change in rates in a present-day context, note that an increase of just 0.2% in interest rates in 2017 would cost the federal government approximately $400 billion over the next 10 years. That's a lot of health insurance or infrastructure; it's even enough for about 12 Mexican walls. Private businesses would also be affected if the government's credit takes a hit, as private lending rates are pegged to the rates at which the Treasury borrows. This would slow the economy, as would the government's failure to pay some of its debts, almost certainly resulting in a recession.

So, if Congress is 98-for-100 in getting the job done, should we really be all that worried this year? The answer, according to law professor and former Chief of Staff of the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation Edward D. Kleinbard, is "yes." He points out a trio of warning signs. The first, of course, is that Donald Trump's administration is understaffed and inexperienced. From Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin on down, most of Team Trump has little knowledge of how to manage this particular situation. The second problem is that the House Freedom Caucus is smarting from the failure to repeal Obamacare, and is signaling a willingness to use the ceiling in an effort to bend Congress to their will. It likely won't work, as the Democrats are definitely dug in, and the moderate Tuesday Group is growing weary with their far-right GOP colleagues. If nobody backs down, we could be looking at a very expensive game of chicken.

The third problem is, in effect, a combination of the other two. The one high-ranking person in the White House who does have relevant experience with the federal budget is Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney. And, as it just so happens, he helped found the Freedom Caucus while he was in Congress. Mulvaney—in opposition to virtually all of the experts—doesn't believe that hitting the debt ceiling is a big problem. His view is that, if it becomes necessary, the government can adopt an approach to bill-paying called "prioritization," wherein the "most important" bills get paid first, and then everyone else waits. This may sound exactly like how the average American household manages its bills, but the U.S. Treasury isn't the average American household. It's entirely unclear how it would be determined which bills are "most important," and doing this might not even be legal, anyhow. If that's not enough, it's also the case that this kind of robbing Peter to pay Paul would not stop the United States' credit rating from being dinged. In other words, Mulvaney is willing to gamble an awful lot of money on a theory that doesn't really stand up to scrutiny.

Whether or not a disaster comes to pass is likely in the President's hands. If he uses whatever political capital he has left to encourage Congress to raise the budget ceiling, it would probably follow his lead. However, Trump has never shown a sophisticated understanding of this subject. More specifically, he's never shown an awareness that the budget of the federal government is not a larger version of the budget of the Trump Organization. If Mulvaney gets in Trump's ear, and convinces him that standing firm on the debt ceiling will be a "win" and will make the President look like a skilled businessman who is serious about reining in costs, then The Donald might go for it. We shall soon see. Congress will be back in session on September 5, and the debt ceiling will be reached sometime in early October. That gives the House—where budget resolutions must originate—about 20 working days to figure it out. (Z)

Why Did Mueller Impanel a Grand Jury Last Week?

Last week, special counsel Robert Mueller impaneled a grand jury to issue subpoenas and possibly indictments in the Russiagate matter and perhaps others. Why did he do this? He didn't have to. He had a perfectly good grand jury already impaneled in Virginia, so why a new one? Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz has proposed a (controversial) explanation: Mueller likes the demographics of D.C., where the new grand jury is located, better than he likes the demographics of Virginia. It isn't that a D.C. grand jury will do what Mueller wants and a Virginia one wouldn't. All grand juries do exactly as instructed by the prosecutor. It is very rare for a grand jury to refuse to indict someone a prosecutor wants indicted and in such a high profile situation as this, with Mueller being so highly regarded, he will get everything he wants from any grand jury.

According to Dershowitz's theory, the reason is more sinister. By federal law, anyone indicted by a grand jury is tried in the jurisdiction of the grand jury. That means anyone Mueller gets indicted will be tried in D.C., which has an overwhelmingly black population and is 10 to 1 Democratic. This is not to say that no white Republican can get a fair trial in D.C., but as every defense lawyer knows, the composition of the jury matters—a lot. That's why defense lawyers for rich clients hire special jury-selection consultants to get them the most favorable possible jury. In D.C. that will be extra difficult, certainly a lot harder than in Virginia.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), called out Dershowitz as a racist for saying this because he implied black people will automatically vote to convict a white person. She said that black jurors are just as capable as white ones of coming to a fair and proper verdict. Dershowitz rebutted her by saying that he learned all about jury selection from his late friend Johnnie Cochran, who is black, and that despite what Waters would like, race does matter. (V)

Nesterczuk Withdraws

One of Donald Trump's big plans is to overhaul the federal government. It is quite important to him, so he outsourced the work to that jack-of-all-trades, first son-in-law Jared Kushner. A key person in any such plan is the head of the Office of Personnel Management, which oversees the policies that affect all 2 million federal workers. To fill that important office, Trump nominated George Nesterczuk. Yesterday, Nesterczuk withdrew from consideration after there were allegations that he had done work for the Ukrainian government and that he had ties to Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who is under investigation by Robert Mueller. No proof has been presented about the allegations, but normally when completely baseless allegations are made, the person about whom they are made denounces them and stays the course. That Nesterczuk's reaction was to withdraw is unusual.

Trump now has a problem. While the OPM is a small office, it is a crucial one for any plans to overhaul the government. No one in the White House has any expertise in the area, which is essential, given the enormous web of rules relating to federal employees. In effect, the OPM is the HR department for a company with 2 million employees. Many of the rules, such as under what conditions employees can be fired, are of great importance to Trump's plans. Nesterczuk worked in OPM during the George W. Bush and Reagan administrations, so he understands how things work there. Trump must now find a new candidate, and then get Senate approval, which will not be forthcoming until September at the earliest. So, Nesterczuk's withdrawal will slow down government reform for at least a month and probably much more. (V)

Moore Leads in Alabama Senator Primary

According to a JMC Analytics poll, former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore is leading all other contenders in the Alabama Republican primary to be held next week for Attorney General Jeff Sessions' old Senate seat. Moore is at 30%. Second is Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) at 22%. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) is third at 19%. Special election primaries in the middle of the summer are notoriously low turnout events, so a poll like this has to be taken with a boatload of sodium chloride. Moore's strongest constituency is Alabama's many evangelicals. Strange's constituency includes Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who is going all out to keep Strange in the Senate because he obeys orders and speaks only when spoken to. Moore and Brooks would be loose cannons and could not be counted on to vote the party line. Either of them would align with conservatives like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and give McConnell a lot of grief. So he really, really, wants to keep Strange. (V)

SCOTUS Will Hear Ohio Voter Purge Case

From 2011 to 2016, Ohio purged 2 million voters from their state rolls, the majority of them for "infrequent voting." One of those 2 million was Larry Harmon, a software engineer, navy veteran, and Democrat. He filed suit against his home state, with help from the ACLU, and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in his favor, saying that Ohio's actions had violated the 1993 National Voter Registration Act. Ohio appealed, and on Monday the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

This news is of significant interest for two reasons. The first is that this will be the first voting rights case that the Supreme Court will hear since seating Neil Gorsuch. So, it should give us a sense of where he stands on this issue. The second is that, inasmuch as Democrats tend to be purged twice as often as Republicans, this is a particularly effective way of achieving the same thing that Voter ID laws try to achieve. So, lots of people—like, say the leadership of the 15 GOP-controlled states that filed amicus briefs siding with Ohio—will be watching this one with great interest. (Z)

Peter Thiel Appears to Have Jumped Ship on Trump

Generally speaking, Silicon Valley's elite—a left-leaning group of people in a left-leaning region of a left-leaning state—are not fans of Donald Trump. The glaring exception is Peter Thiel, billionaire co-founder of PayPal (and hedge fund manager). Thiel spoke forcefully on Trump's behalf at the Republican convention, and backed up his words with $1.25 million in donations to Trump-allied super PACs.

Officially, Thiel is still on board the S.S. Trump, and issued a statement to that effect on Monday, declaring that, "We still need change. I support President Trump in his ongoing fight to achieve it." However, it is reportedly a different story behind the scenes. Friends say that Thiel has described the administration as "incompetent" and has said that, "there is a 50 percent chance this whole thing ends in disaster." Perhaps even more tellingly, the man once described as the "shadow" president has played no role in various interactions between the Trump administration and Silicon Valley in the past 100 days. Needless to say, Thiel is only one person. But if we combine his wavering with that of other outspoken Trump loyalists (Jeff Sessions?) and what the polls are telling us, it paints a picture that's not very rosy for The Donald. (Z)

The Strange Saga of Nicole Mincey

Donald Trump may have lost Peter Thiel, but at least he still has superfan Nicole Mincey. That's the good news. The bad news? Mincey isn't, in any meaningful way, real.

For months, Mincey has been one of the President's most enthusiastic supporters on Twitter, Whenever Trump tweets, thousands of replies pile up almost instantaneously, and Mincey was often among the very first respondents. She also regularly re-tweeted pro-Trump messages from a small group of "friends." At the height of her popularity, Mincey had nearly 150,000 followers on Twitter. As a black Republican, she helped GOP loyalists persuade themselves that the party is not racist, and has broad support among minority voters. Meanwhile, all the attention that Mincey got allowed her to sell lots of pro-Trump hats and t-shirts through the website

There were certain things about the Mincey Twitter account that did not quite sit right however, not the least of which was that she seemed to be awake 24 hours a day, and thus able to jump on every Trump tweet no matter when he sent it. The facade finally collapsed on Saturday when she sent a message to Trump in response to his 17-day golf outing—er, work trip—in New Jersey: "Trump working hard for the American people." The President was pleased with this, and retweeted it, which multiplied the amount of friendly and unfriendly attention being paid to Mincey by tenfold. It was not long before the unfriendlies discovered that Mincey's profile picture was from a stock photo website, as were the pictures of all of the friends she regularly re-tweeted. For about 24 hours on Sunday and Monday, the popular theory was that Mincey does not exist, and her Twitter account was merely a bot.

It turns out, however, that there is a real person behind the account. Actually, several real people. The Daily Beast's Ben Collins put on his investigative reporter's hat, and got pretty close to the bottom of the story. "Nicole Mincey" was described as a black college student and Trump supporter who attends college in New Jersey. This also describes the real-life Ahyanah Nicole Mincy (note the lack of 'e'), whom Collins managed to reach on the phone. According to Mincy, her identity was adopted by a three-person team of entrepreneurs and Trump supporters because they believed that a black face on the Twitter account would sell more shirts than a white face (even though none of the pictures used was actually Mincy). While she was on board with the plan for a while, Mincy eventually asked the others to stop using her identity, but they refused.

Not all of these details have been verified, since two of the three people who borrowed Mincy's identity were unreachable. However, the story certainly appears to be basically truthful. The disclosure of her true identity has led the Nicole Mincey account to be shut down, since Twitter policy forbids people from misrepresenting themselves. The friends whom she regularly retweeted are also gone; those accounts were 100% phony, as no real person's identity was being used. The next time Trump is on the search for fake news, then, he might want to check his own retweets. Meanwhile, now that "Nicole Mincey" has been unmasked, maybe someone can figure out if Diamond and Silk are for real. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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Aug05 The Obama-Trump Voters Were Actually Republicans
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Aug05 Manchin Is Now Isolated
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Aug04 Mueller Impanels a Grand Jury
Aug04 Trump's Conversations with Foreign Leaders Have Leaked
Aug04 Trump May Change the Balance of Power between the President and Congress
Aug04 Democrats Have a Problem on Many Issues with White Working-Class Voters
Aug04 Poll: 80% of Voters Disapprove of Republicans' Plans on Health Care
Aug04 Senate Won't Recess During August
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Aug03 Trump Wants to Reinvent Immigration
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Aug03 Two Phone Calls, Two Lies
Aug03 Beware the "Race Traders"
Aug03 Mueller Hires a Specialist in Fraud and Bribery
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