Aug. 06

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Sanctions for North Korea

Given Kim Jong-Un's insistence on building and testing missiles, a response from the international community was sure to come, sooner or later. Now that time has arrived: The United Nations Security Council has agreed to sanctions on North Korea, which will cut off a fair portion of the country's exports and will also limit foreign investment.

The Trump administration is, of course, taking full credit for this development. UN Ambassador Nikki Haley crowed that this is, "the most stringent set of sanctions on any country in a generation." Donald Trump said much the same on Twitter:

United Nations Resolution is the single largest economic sanctions package ever on North Korea. Over one billion dollars in cost to N.K.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 5, 2017

It's fair enough that Haley and Trump should take a little credit, since the U.S. is a leading player in the United Nations. However, the real linchpin to the situation is China, which could have vetoed the sanctions if it wanted, and chose not to do so. There has been no evidence that Trump & Co. had anything to do with persuading China to vote in that fashion. Indeed, China had already turned up the heat on North Korea well before Saturday's vote, suspending coal shipments to Pyongyang.

It's also worth noting that while it is true that the new sanctions could reduce North Korean exports by 33%—aka $1 billion—that's only because North Korea's exports are so middling. A 33% hit to Chinese exports (a loss of $663 billion), or American exports ($465 billion), or German exports ($423 billion) would put a real pinch on those nations. A 33% hit on North Korea, by contrast, doesn't have quite the same bite. So, we should not expect the missile tests to stop just because of Saturday's vote. Indeed, it would be characteristic of Kim to fire another missile as soon as he can, so as to make clear how little he cares for what the U.N. has to say. (Z)

What Might the Final Grand Jury Report Contain?

National Review has an interesting article on what can and cannot be in a grand jury report. Indictments can certainly be there, but other things are possible as well. In particular, according to Title 18, Sec. 3333 of the U.S. code, a grand jury can recommend removal or disciplinary action for an appointed official. Technically, this does not apply to an elected official, but it is unlikely any court would block the report because the official was elected. That would go completely against the purpose of the section: that a grand jury can recommend punishing a corrupt official.

The section of the U.S. code does not require that the official actually committed a statutory felony, only that the official was involved in it. It does require that the criminal activity occurred when the official was in office. That means that in the case of Donald Trump, any conspiracy to commit a crime during the campaign would not be allowed in a grand jury report, but obstruction of justice once in office would be allowed.

Also of importance is that a grand jury is not a petit (trial) jury and the standard of proof is much lower for a grand jury. The grand jury merely need be convinced that the official did something suspicious that warrants further investigation. The report need not prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. If Mueller were to issue a report saying that it seems probable that Trump committed a crime (e.g., obstruction of justice), ultimately it would be up to Congress to take action. In practice, it would be very hard for any Republican in the House to vote no on an impeachment bill. Whether Mueller wants to go this route is up to him, but the law gives him ample opportunity. (V)

Mueller's Microscope Is on Flynn

According to the New York Times, Robert Mueller has asked the White House for documents relating to former NSA Michael Flynn. It's not a subpoena, though that could change now that a grand jury has been impaneled.

According to those who are watching closely, Mueller appears to be looking into multiple Flynn-related leads. There's his violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, of course—his undisclosed work for the nation of Turkey, and his subsequent lies about it, are what cost him his job in the first place. Mueller also seems to be looking into the General's paid speaking engagements in Russia (which he did not reveal in his financial disclosure forms), possible work Flynn's firm did on behalf of the Japanese government, and the relationship Flynn has with the White Canvas Group. The Group was founded by one of the General's close friends, and received $200,000 from the Trump campaign for "unspecified services."

It is highly unlikely that Mueller cares this much about Flynn, per se. It is much more likely that the special counsel has noted the extent to which Donald Trump has gone to try to protect Flynn, and has concluded that the General must have some pretty juicy dirt on the President. If Mueller can put Flynn in a position where a lengthy prison sentence is a possibility, he might well get Flynn to flip on The Donald. This was a common ploy that Mueller used as FBI Director, and there's every reason to think he's using it now.

The only complication is that Flynn (or more likely, an intermediary) might go to Trump and say: "I'm kind of in a tight spot. A pardon would be much appreciated." If Trump pardoned Flynn, Mueller couldn't threaten him with prison any more. On the other hand, a pardoned Flynn could be put back on the witness stand and forced to answer questions since the pardon also eliminates his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. Mueller certainly knows how to play three-dimensional chess. Whether Flynn does, well, who knows? (Z & V)

Does Trump Want to Be Impeached?

Robert J. Samuelson, writing for the Washington Post, has produced an interesting op-ed that starts with the observation that, "No one is working harder for the impeachment of Donald Trump than Donald Trump." Samuelson's thinking goes something like this: In TrumpWorld, all publicity is good publicity. An impeachment trial would give him the attention he craves for months and months, and—since conviction and removal from office are unlikely—would eventually give him a "win" and plenty of ammunition for bitching and moaning about how "the swamp" is out to get him.

It's an intriguing and provocative argument, but we would offer two corrections. The first is that if impeachment proceedings do commence, there is a very good chance that Trump will be removed. It's true that the other two impeachments in U.S. history did not result in convictions, but that's because in one (Andrew Johnson), many senators disliked the person next in line (Benjamin Wade) even more than they disliked the president, while in the other (Bill Clinton) there was no real evidence to convict with. Already for Trump, the evidence would be more substantive than it was for Clinton, and informal reports suggest that 90% of the GOP members would be happy to see Mike Pence in the White House.

The other correction is this: If he's not already there now (and he may be), Trump may reach a point where he actually would like to be removed from office. All evidence suggests that he does not much care for being president. If he wants out, however, he would have to resign, which would make him a quitter for the rest of his life. An impeachment and conviction would solve that problem, on some level, and would give him the ability to spend the rest of his life tweeting about how unfairly he was treated, and how he was the victim of a witch hunt, and how the evidence used against him was fake. It's not an elegant solution, necessarily, but it may be that or else developing some mysterious, unnamed, supposedly-debilitating health condition. Too bad for Trump that we no longer live in a world where wanting to marry a divorced woman is justification enough for giving up power. (Z)

The Four Anti-Trump Camps in the GOP

There has been rock-solid opposition to Donald Trump in the Democratic Party since he first became a candidate. Now, given his underwhelming first six months in office, the opposition within the GOP is getting louder and more substantial. Trying to put some order on things, CNN's Ryan Struyk suggests there are four distinct camps of Anti-Trump Republicans:

It's a pretty good analysis, though it does seem to miss one key faction: The Old Guard. These are the Republicans who remember the Party of Eisenhower, Ford, and Reagan, and simply can't abide by Donald Trump's brand of Republicanism. George H. W. Bush, for example, or Mitt Romney, or Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). It's also worth pointing out that what Struyk is really telling us is that Trump had managed to capture roughly three of the GOP factions that existed before he ever got into politics (the evangelicals, the pro-business types, and the populists), but that he has not really rounded up any of the rest. (Z)

Trump Could Have a Challenger in 2020

Actually, Trump will have a challenger in 2020, if he makes it that far. The real question is how many challengers he will draw, and how viable they will be. Early indications are that the answers to these two questions are: many, and very.

Obviously, it's very early, inasmuch as the election is still 3-1/2 years away. However, as John McCain observed in an interview with the New York Times published on Saturday, the GOP's ambitious politicians "see weakness in this president." Among the candidates who seem to be laying the groundwork for a run are Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Ben Sasse (R-NE) and Gov. John Kasich (R-OH). The White House can see the sharks beginning to circle, and a spokeswoman went so far as to warn that, "The president is as strong as he's ever been in Iowa, and every potentially ambitious Republican knows that." This is just hot air, though—if the President is strong enough to be re-nominated, he does not need to intimidate his opponents with threats, and if he's too weak to be re-nominated, threats will not save him.

The most interesting question is: "What will Mike Pence do?" He and Trump do not seem to be particularly close, and it's quite clear that the Vice President is setting himself up for a 2020 run should Trump be out of the picture. But what if Trump remains in the picture? Might Pence—who would be 61 on Election Day 2020—decide there's no time like the present? Pence is certainly acting like a potential candidate. He is meeting with key Republicans in the early states and holding intimate dinners at the Naval Observatory for major Republican donors. He pooh-poohs the idea that he is running in 2020, but make no mistake, he is systematically preparing for a run. Whether he pulls the trigger and actually announces depends on how popular Trump is in the summer of 2019.

No Veep has ever challenged the president he served under (though John C. Calhoun came close). We live in strange times, however, where "unprecedented" has become ordinary. If nothing else, a Mike Pence-Donald Trump debate would surely be a sight to behold. (Z & V)

Miller May Become Communications Director

Having been burned by three White House Communications Directors already, there is enormous temptation for Donald Trump to look within his inner circle for #4. Kellyanne Conway was reportedly under consideration, but if she was going to be tapped, presumably it would already have happened. After all, there's nothing that Trump is going to know about her next week that he doesn't already know. With her apparently out of the running, and most of the other members of Trump's inner circle busy writing Muslim travel bans or bringing peace to the Middle East, the new frontrunner appears to be strategic adviser Stephen Miller.

Unlike #3 communications director Mooch, Miller actually does have relevant experience, having worked in the press operations of former representatives Michele Bachmann and John Shadegg, as well as that of then-senator Jeff Sessions. Further, he has the most important qualification of all: He's willing to go on TV and defend his boss to the death. Reportedly, the incident that has put Miller in contention for the job was his heated exchange with CNN's Jim Acosta, in which they argued about immigration policy and the poem that appears at the base of the Statue of Liberty. That back-and-forth reportedly earned Miller high-fives and cheers from his colleagues, including the President. Exactly what impact he would have in the new position is unclear, unless he plans—as Mooch did—to supplant Sarah Huckabee Sanders at the daily press briefings. (Z)

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