Dem 48
image description
GOP 52
image description
New polls:  
Dem pickups vs. 2012: (None)
GOP pickups vs. 2012: (None)
TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Manafort Notes from Meeting with Russians Mention Donations
      •  Could an Accountant Take Down Trump?
      •  Muslim Travel Ban v1.0 Is Dead
      •  CEOs May Attack Trump If He Ends DACA
      •  Trump Reduces Pay Raises for Government Employees
      •  Democrats' 2020 Dilemma: Old vs. Young
      •  Majority Thinks Trump Is Tearing the Country Apart
      •  Trump Is a Weak President
      •  Kushner Has Yet Another Problem
      •  Not So Fast, Joe

Manafort Notes from Meeting with Russians Mention Donations

Last June, Donald Trump Jr., then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner met with several Russians, including lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who has ties with Vladimir Putin. The Americans expected that they would get some dirt on Hillary Clinton. Much later, Veselnitskaya said that Manafort wasn't paying attention but was playing with his smartphone. Now it turns out that he was very much paying attention, and was using the phone to take notes. NBC News is reporting that Manafort turned the notes over to special counsel Robert Mueller as well as to House and Senate committees. According to two sources, the word "donations" appears in the notes, close to a reference to the RNC. Since the entire contents of the notes have not leaked, it is hard to tell in what context "donations" was used. One context it had better not have been used is donations from foreign citizens to a U.S. political campaign, since that is a felony.

According to multiple reports, Mueller is keenly interested in what was said during the meeting. He probably has guessed that Manafort will be the easiest of the three to flip and spill the beans, so he is pursuing this lead aggressively. This is also why he is sharing information with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Mueller knows very well that the president does not have the power to pardon people for state offenses, so if Manafort is indicted and convicted in New York, he will be at risk of imprisonment and cannot count on a pardon.

At this point it is hard to understand what kind of donations might have been discussed. Putin's operatives surely know that a wire transfer from a bank controlled by a Putin ally to the RNC's bank account would not be a smart idea. So something else must have been discussed, but what it might have been remains a mystery for the moment. (V)

Could an Accountant Take Down Trump?

Could a couple of obscure Treasury Dept. forms that almost nobody knows about take down President Donald Trump? It's not out of the question. Yesterday it was reported that special counsel Robert Mueller is working with the crack IRS Criminal Investigations (CI) unit. This group of 2,500 agents focuses entirely on financial crimes such as tax evasion and money laundering. Mueller has a history of working with CI from his time as FBI director and has the greatest respect for its expertise. The CI unit has also worked extensively with Andrew Weissmann, Mueller's financial crimes prosecutor. Needless to say, the CI unit has access to everyone's tax returns, including Trump's and that of Paul Manafort. It also has access to all obscure Treasury Dept. forms.

It is perfectly legal for Americans to have bank accounts at foreign banks. However, they are required to fill out FinCEN 114 (also called FBAR) every year reporting the names and addresses of any foreign bank accounts and the maximum amount of money in each account that year. The form must be filled out electronically online to make it easier for the Treasury Dept. to process the information. The penalty for noncompliance can be up to 50% of the unreported assets plus potentially prison time.

It has been widely reported that Paul Manafort received at least $12.7 million from Ukrainian sources and possibly as much as $100 million. If he received that money, stashed it away in off-shore bank accounts, and failed to file form FinCEN 114, he could be nailed for that crime, much as Al Capone was never convicted or murder and racketeering, but was convicted of tax evasion.

Sometimes the left hand of the government doesn't know what the right hand is doing. In addition to having to file FinCEN 114, anyone with a foreign bank account also has to file form 8938 along with his or her regular tax return, even though the information on 8938 differs from FinCEN 114 in only minor ways. If Manafort failed to file either of these forms, Mueller could indict him for that and use those indictments to get him to squeal like a stuck pig, revealing all he knows about Trump's dealings with Russia. Mueller may not know about these forms, but the CI unit most certainly does, and could use them as the lever to flip Manafort. (V)

Muslim Travel Ban v1.0 Is Dead

Donald Trump's first Muslim travel ban, the one that appeared from nowhere and got shut down by the courts almost as rapidly, is now effectively dead. So as to avoid a long, drawn out lawsuit that they apparently feared they would lose, the federal government's lawyers have agreed that everyone who was denied entry under the ban will now be contacted and told that they are allowed to apply for visas to enter the United States.

In the end, only 2,000 people were detained in the 24 hours that travel ban v1.0 was in effect, and only 140 or so were denied entry. So, this development does not represent a seismic shift in immigration policy. Nonetheless, it does suggest that the pros at the Dept. of Justice are not terribly optimistic about defending travel ban v2.0, which wasn't all that different from v1.0, particularly after the judges of the Ninth Circuit expressed great skepticism about the order just two days ago. (Z)

CEOs May Attack Trump If He Ends DACA

Donald Trump is considering ending DACA, the Obama-era policy of not deporting undocumented people who arrived in the U.S. as children. If he does, he may find himself in direct conflict with CEOs of some of the biggest companies, many of whom employ some of these 750,000 people. One Silicon Valley executive said: "These are people who came out of the shadows, got jobs and mortgages—we see this as betraying fellow Americans—This is consuming a ton of time at every major company."

After already having had CEOs of some of the biggest companies in America desert him after his Charlottesville remarks, Trump doesn't especially want to antagonize the rest of them. But there is great pressure on him from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and conservatives in general to end the program, putting the DACA folks in danger of deportation. The conservatives say the program is amnesty for people who broke the law.

Needless to say, Trump will soon learn where the buck stops. He could attempt a compromise: People already registered in the program can stay until their visas expire but no one else can sign up. However, it is far from clear that such a decision will please either supporters or opponents of the program. Of course, he could also just tweet: "Who knew that being president was so hard?" (V)

Trump Reduces Pay Raises for Government Employees

Federal government employees were scheduled to get a 1.9% raise this year. Hopefully, they did not spend that money already, because President Trump announced on Thursday that he was slashing the raise to 1.4%. With the average government employee earning $86,365, that's a not-inconsequential loss—a bit more than $400. In the letter he sent to Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) advising him of the decision, Trump cited his authority to make such a move in times of, "a national emergency or serious economic conditions affecting the general welfare." Since Trump brags about the health of the economy on a regular basis, it must be a national emergency that prompted the move, though the President did not specify which one. If it's Hurricane Harvey, that would be unprecedented as a justification for slashing federal salaries.

The 1.4% raise is not entirely out of line with recent precedent; Barack Obama set the number at 1.6% and 1.3% in his last two years in office. However, in contrast to Obama-era policy, Trump has granted a considerably more generous raise to military personnel—2.1%. A cynic might suggest that Trump is aware that government employees tend to vote Democratic, and soldiers tend to vote Republican, and that his decision was guided by his knowledge of what side his bread is buttered on. (Z)

Democrats' 2020 Dilemma: Old vs. Young

The leading Democratic presidential candidates for 2020 fall into two distinct categories: (1) well known but old and (2) young and unknown. The blue team doesn't seem to have anyone under 55 with a national profile. Among the oldsters who are well known are Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and former Veep Joe Biden. No spring chickens here; all will be in their 70s on Election Day 2020. Potential younger candidates are Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (D), and Rep. John Delaney (D-MD), but these and other young aspirants for the Oval Office are almost unknown nationally. Former DNC Chairman Howard Dean (68) put it this way: "I have nothing against any of the people my age who will run, but I really do believe that if we're going to appeal to the younger generation, we've got to change the party."

Democratic strategists are split over what to do about this. Anson Kaye, who worked for Hillary Clinton, said: "Bernie Sanders came out of nowhere, Barack Obama came out of nowhere, Donald Trump came out of nowhere, and my guess is that somebody is going to come out of nowhere for 2020." Others disagree. Bill Burton, who worked on Barack Obama's 2008 campaign, said: "If you look at the nominees for the two major parties going back to JFK, we never just pick somebody who no one has ever heard of."

When you look more closely, Burton may be closer to the truth than Kaye. Trump didn't really come out of nowhere, he had been a television celebrity for decades. Obama wasn't really unknown either, he was the star of the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Similarly, Ronald Reagan, the two Bushes, and Richard Nixon also had national profiles well before their nominations. On the other hand, Bill Clinton was not on the national radar at this point in the process, nor was Jimmy Carter. So, given the problems with the Democratic bench, maybe they should be looking for a centrist governor of a Southern state to carry their banner in 2020. Any interest, Gov. Roy Cooper (D-NC)? Or how about you, Gov. John Bel Edwards (D-LA)? Or maybe you, Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-VA)? (V)

Majority Thinks Trump Is Tearing the Country Apart

A Fox News poll released yesterday shows that 56% of Americans think that Donald Trump is tearing the country apart. Only 33% think he is drawing the country together. Democrats overwhelmingly think this, with 93% saying he is dividing the nation. Among independents, 53% agree but only 15% of Republicans think so. Trump's approval rating of 41% is the lowest ever registered in a Fox poll.

In a sense, a split of 33%/56% isn't unusual any more. Several polls have put his approval/disapproval in this range. What is unusual is the more brutal wording ("tearing the country apart") rather than the usual "Do you approve of the president?" (V)

Trump Is a Weak President

The presidency carries with it certain powers that are at the disposal of whoever is sitting in the Oval Office. The ability to issue executive orders, for example, or launch a nuclear strike, or call a press conference and get national coverage. What separates the weak presidents from the strong ones, then, is the ability to exert influence beyond these "freebies." And the great irony—as items written for FiveThirtyEight, Politico, and the Washington Post all point out—is that Donald Trump, a president who may care more about projecting strength than any of his predecessors, is actually the weakest president America has had in a very, very long time.

There are many ways for a president to exert influence, and to build upon the power inherent in the office. Of course, different presidents pursue different avenues; an LBJ was skilled at leading Congress by the nose, for example, while a Richard Nixon was good at influencing foreign leaders. And if we review the basic list of ways in which a President can exert extra influence, Trump is seriously wanting in all of them. To wit:

  • He has no influence on the public, beyond his base.
  • He does not serve as a moral compass for the nation.
  • He has no ability to bend Congress to his will.
  • Foreign leaders, with few exceptions, don't respect him and don't follow his lead.
  • He is struggling to build a functioning executive branch.
  • The staffers he does have are beginning to rebel against him. In fact, the general consensus is that Trump needs Sec. of State Rex Tillerson, Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn, and Sec. of Defense James Mattis far more than they need him, giving them virtually free rein to do whatever they want.

In view of these realities, as well as Trump's general desire to shrink and weaken the federal government, FiveThirtyEight's Julia Azari argues—compellingly—that Trump is more like a 19th century president than a 21st century president (Twitter use notwithstanding). The bad news for the country is that a 19th century president kind of belongs in, well, the 19th century. The bad news for Trump is that the 19th century presidents that Azari is talking about—particularly Tyler—are the most forgettable chief executives in American history, and were all "one term and done," assuming they even lasted that long. (Z)

Kushner Has Yet Another Problem

No, Donald Trump has not ordered Jared Kushner to cure cancer, in addition to reinventing the government, making peace in the Middle East, ending the opioid epidemic, and reforming the criminal justice system. His new problem is one of his own making: His company is way overextended financially. His sister was caught in China promising green cards to investors in Kushner's business. It turns out there was a good reason she was doing that: He owes hundreds of millions of dollars on a 41-story office building at 666 Fifth Avenue in New York City and has failed to get investors despite an extensive search.

The $600 million mortgage on the building is due in full in 18 months and Kushner is desperate for money. Federal investigators are looking into the possibility that Kushner has misused his official position in some way in an attempt to bail out his business. For example, there was the matter of his asking the Russian ambassador to set up a secure phone line with Russia last December. Is that somehow related to his business dealings? There may be a way out for Kushner—for example, selling large numbers of his other properties—but given all his government responsibilities, will he be able to find time to also run his business and avoid some kind of bankruptcy? (V)

Not So Fast, Joe

The first amendment to the Constitution declares that, "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech." Then, someone falsely shouted "fire" in a crowded theater and ended up in court. And someone else wrote something libelous about one of their fellow citizens and ended up in court. And a third someone produced a book that was obscene and ended up in court. And, in all cases, the court system ruled that "no law" does not literally mean "no law."

What is the relevance of this? Well, the Constitution is pretty unambiguous about the president's power to issue pardons, declaring that he "shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment." However, very few presidents have explored the limits of that passage, and whether or not the power is truly absolute. Now, Donald Trump has stretched things to the limit with Joe Arpaio, and several groups have filed lawsuits asking the Arizona Circuit Court to block the pardon. They are arguing, in essence, that Donald Trump just became the first guy to shout "fire" in a crowded theater. And just as the public good allows free speech to be stifled in that case, the lawsuits argue that the public good outweighs Trump's pardon power in this instance.

Legally-speaking, we're in something of a brave new world here. There is apparently nothing in the United States' 200-plus years of case law that speaks to this particular situation, and so there's no telling where this could go. However, legal experts consulted by the Washington Post say the argument has merit. So, ex-sheriff Arpaio probably shouldn't return all the pink underwear that he bought quite yet. (Z)

Email a link to a friend or share:

---The Votemaster and Zenger
Aug31 Mueller Teams up with Schneiderman
Aug31 'Talking is not the answer,' Says Trump; 'Yes, it is,' Says Mattis
Aug31 Trump Talks Taxes
Aug31 Richard Trumka: White House Was Split between Racists and Wall Streeters
Aug31 Prosecutors Assert that Menendez Has Been Taking Bribes for Years
Aug31 Christie Slams Cruz
Aug31 Harris to Co-Sponsor Sanders' Single-Payer Bill
Aug31 Jerry Springer May Run for Governor of Ohio
Aug30 Trump Holds Rally in Texas
Aug30 Trump May Soon Face Tough Choice Due to Hurricane Harvey
Aug30 Kim Jong-Un Isn't Going Away
Aug30 Trump's Tax Plan Doesn't Hold Water
Aug30 Ninth Circuit Court Seems Skeptical of Muslim Ban v2.0
Aug30 Mueller Subpoenas Manafort's Former Lawyer
Aug30 Donald Trump Jr. Will Talk to Senate Judiciary Committee
Aug30 Mattis Forms Panel to Study Transgender Soldiers
Aug30 2020 Is Already Here
Aug29 Trump Signed Letter of Intent for Trump Tower in Moscow during the Campaign
Aug29 Could a Presidential Pardon Be Grounds for Impeachment?
Aug29 DeSantis Wants to End Mueller Investigation
Aug29 Trump's Team May Follow Karl Rove's 2004 Playbook
Aug29 Mexico to Trump: We Are Not Paying for a Wall under Any Circumstances
Aug29 Bannon Is Taking on McConnell in Alabama
Aug29 Pruitt Being Investigated
Aug29 Another Presidential Council is Collapsing
Aug29 Another Trump Insider Is Out
Aug28 Trump Organization Sought Business Deal in Moscow...While He Was Running for President
Aug28 Arpaio Story Is Not Going Away
Aug28 Breitbart Says Ryan Has Joined Up with Leftists
Aug28 Trump May Be Failing His Hurricane Harvey Test
Aug28 The Politics of Floods
Aug28 Trump: "Bring Me Some Tariffs!"
Aug28 Tillerson Just Threw Trump Under the Bus
Aug28 Gingrich Still Spinning Like a Maniac
Aug28 No Kasich-Hickenlooper Independent Ticket
Aug28 Can a Country Survive an Unstable Leader?
Aug27 Hurricane Not Quite the Distraction That Trump Hoped
Aug27 Mueller's Microscope Trained on Flynn Again
Aug27 Cohn Should Have Been More Reserved
Aug27 Gorka Headed Back to Breitbart
Aug27 Polls Are Ugly for Prominent Republicans
Aug27 Should Democrats Avoid Playing the "Race Card"?
Aug27 WSJ Says Trump Is No Republican
Aug26 Trump Settles Some Business
Aug26 Ted and John Meet Harvey
Aug26 Trump May Back Away from Strange
Aug26 Trump Goes After Bob Corker
Aug26 RNC Adopts Resolution Condemning White Supremacists
Aug26 Cohn Almost Resigned
Aug26 Kasich-Hickenlooper 2020?