Nov. 01

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Why the Papadopoulos Guilty Plea Is Dangerous for Trump

It will be weeks or months before we can assess the full damage the guilty plea of George Papadopoulos is going to do to Donald Trump, but political writers are starting to count the ways. A piece in the New York Times lists five problem areas for the President

In short, there are a number of ways the guilty plea could cause a lot of trouble for Trump, and Mueller is sure to make maximum use of them. (V)

White House Takes Credit for Papadopoulos Arrest

Any White House who finds itself under attack from a special counsel is going to do what they can to spin the problem as best they can. That is particularly to be expected with this White House, where the basic necessities of existence are food, water, air, shelter, Twitter, and spin. But even by Trump administration standards, they came up with quite a whopper on Tuesday: That they should be given credit for George Papadopoulos' arrest and subsequent guilty plea.

Huh? It's true that if the campaign never hired Papadopoulos, then he couldn't have engaged in shady behavior, lied about it, and then gotten arrested. But that is not what Trump & Co. mean. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders presented the White House's argument:

Papadopoulos is an example of actually somebody doing the wrong thing while the president's campaign did the right thing. All of his emails were voluntarily provided to the special counsel by the campaign, and that is what led to the process and the place that we're in right now is the campaign fully cooperating and helping with that. What Papadopoulos did was lie, and that's on him and not on the campaign, and we can't speak to that.

Nice try, but there are two problems here. First, surrendering documents to someone who has subpoena power is not really an act of honesty. It's an act of "We're probably better off not irritating this guy needlessly." Second, the Washington Post reports that the e-mails were surrendered in August, well after Papadopoulos had been arrested. So the White House had nothing to do with bringing him to justice. If anything, this news just shows that the administration should not have been as surprised as they were about his being pinched. Did they think Mueller wanted the e-mails so he'd have some light reading while drinking his morning coffee? (Z)

Ten Takeaways from Mueller's Bombshells

Just about every political outlet is going to make a list of takeaways from Monday's announcements. The Washington Post has one with 10 items in it, briefly summarized as follows.

It is hard to argue with any of these points. (V)

Clovis Nomination in Trouble

Donald Trump, wanting to reward Sam Clovis' service to the presidential campaign, nominated him to be the Department of Agriculture's chief scientist. This despite the fact that Clovis is not a scientist, and does not have a background relevant to that post (his degrees are in political science and public administration). In a case of really bad timing (at least, for him), Clovis is scheduled for his confirmation hearings next week. Given that he's now at the center of Russiagate, his prospects are not looking good.

Democrats, of course, already opposed Clovis, in part because he's totally unqualified, in part because he's Trump's nominee, and in part because he's a conservative firebrand. Which of those concerns is most significant, the blue team isn't saying. And their opposition doesn't matter, anyhow, as long as the Republicans remain on board with the pick. By all indications, Clovis' lack of qualifications was a non-concern for them. But now, he is at best an incompetent manager who brought dubious people on board with the Trump campaign without proper vetting, and at worst a Russian collaborator. He could also be indicted by Robert Mueller at any time. These things being the case, Senate Republicans would presumably prefer not to give their stamp of approval to him, for fear of ending up with egg on their faces. And Donald Trump presumably would prefer to avoid a public rejection of his nominee, particularly this nominee, since it would imply that the GOP senators believe there's some truth to Mueller's allegations. Add it up, and the odds are pretty good that Clovis discovers some other commitment in the next few days, and "regretfully" withdraws his name from consideration. (Z)

Republican Senators Won't Cut Off Mueller's Funding

Robert Mueller has a large staff, so his investigation is an expensive operation. Breitbart CEO Steve Bannon and others have suggested that if Donald Trump won't fire Mueller, then Congress should cut off Mueller's money supply. Currently, it is funded out of a permanent Treasury Dept. account, but Republicans could add an amendment to some must-pass bill to change the funding to some other account and then appropriate very little money for that account.

However, remarks from several Republican senators indicate that is unlikely to happen. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who is no friend of Trump, said of the plan to defund Mueller: "I would not support that. He needs to continue to investigate. I have confidence in Bob Mueller." Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has been a constant critic of Trump. He said yesterday that he would oppose defunding Mueller. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) also said "I'm not for it." Even Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said: "The special counsel has his job to do." So it sounds like a bill to change Mueller's funding wouldn't be able to get even 50 votes in the Senate, let alone the 60 it would need. (V)

Trump Campaign Uses Mueller Indictments to Raise Money

Lots of people are talking about Richard Nixon these days, for obvious reasons. One thing he never did, though, was use the Watergate scandal to raise money for his political war chest. Clearly, he was a rank amateur, because trying to cash in on Robert Mueller's indictments was one of the first things Team Trump did as soon as they were unsealed on Monday.

With the subject line "Still standing," and over the signature of Eric Trump, the campaign sent out an e-mail just over an hour after the Manafort news broke. It begins thusly:


There's new opposition against my father and this Administration every day. The mainstream media continues to play politics, creating division and turning the American people against one another.

But as a loyal supporter of our movement, I know you know the truth.

My father has spoken out time and time again against those who have tried to bring this country down, and will always do so to protect hardworking Americans whose values have been forgotten by Washington.

Lots of buzzwords there—friend, values, movement, loyal—but no explanation of how a special counselor filing criminal charges is a media creation. Nor any comment on why it is wrong for the media to create divisions, but OK for young Trump to celebrate his father's doing so just 15 words later. In any event, it's a rare politician who sees a burgeoning scandal as a moneymaking opportunity, but then again, most of them were never billionaire reality TV stars. (Z)

Tax Bill Will Not Allow State Income Taxes to Be Deducted

House Republicans had originally planned to release their tax bill today, but due to the commotion around Robert Mueller's announcements on Monday, the release will be delayed. Originally, the bill was said to eliminate the deduction for state and local taxes, but that drew so much opposition, the bill has been revised. It is interesting to see how it was revised, since that reflects where the real power lies in Congress and what the leadership thinks it can do. The elimination of property taxes was strongly opposed by the real estate industry, home builders, and banks that issue mortgages, since this section of the tax code makes home ownership cheaper, something these sectors love. They won and the new bill allows local property taxes to be deducted.

State income taxes are a completely different story. They are mostly felt by people (not necessarily home owners) in high tax states, nearly all of which are deep blue. So eliminating the deduction for state income taxes would be a way for Republicans in Congress to punish blue states for having high taxes to pay for good education, health care, infrastructure, etc. A potential problem in the Senate is that Republican senators from high-tax states like California, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois would be put in a tough position having to vote for a bill with the state tax deduction eliminated. Fortunately for Mitch McConnell, though, none of these states have any Republican senators.

The House, however, is a different story. Together, these four states have 35 Republican representatives, far more than enough to sink any tax bill they don't like. The breakdown by state is California (14), New York (9), New Jersey (5), and Illinois (7). Thus, if the House leadership insists on eliminating the deduction for state taxes it is setting itself up for a problem. If most of these 35 Republicans vote no, the bill won't pass. But if they vote yes, many of them could be defeated in 2018 and the Democrats could take back the House.

Of course, the leadership could solve the problem by keeping the deduction, but that creates another problem: money. In order to make the tax cut permanent, Senate rules require it to be close to budget neutral. Given the large cuts expected for the top rate and for corporations, revenue has to be found somewhere to fill the hole. If deductions for state and local taxes are off the table, where is the money going to come from? (V)

Pruitt Continues to Dismantle EPA

One upside to the Manafort-Papadopoulos mess for the administration is that the heavy coverage of the situation everywhere (except Fox) gives cover to sneak a few controversial moves in under the radar. So it is at the Environmental "Protection" Agency, where administrator Scott Pruitt announced Tuesday that he's canning all of the scientific advisers he inherited from the Obama administration, and replacing them with folks who hold "more diverse views" (Translation: "0.5% of scientists are global warming skeptics, and we WILL find them.").

Pruitt's specific plan is to hire only scientists who are "financially independent from the agency." What he means is that he will not utilize anyone who has gotten a grant from the EPA, or who may get a grant from the EPA in the future. Inasmuch as the vast majority of scientists get their research money from either the government or from private corporations, and Pruitt has just taken the government-funded researchers off the table, that lets us know exactly what kind of people he'll be hiring. Perhaps that is why he's had 120 meetings with energy-industry executives, so that he could collect recommendations for which researchers are already in the, are worthy of consideration. (Z)

What's Up with the Virginia Governor's Race Polls?

In one week, Virginians will choose a new governor. And while most polls of the race suggest that Democrat Ralph Northam has a small but consistent lead of about four points, there have been some wild outliers. Like the Quinnipiac poll last week that had Northam up by 17. Or the Hampton poll two weeks ago that had his Republican opponent, Ed Gillespie, up by eight.

Politico has taken a look at the matter, and has a pretty good answer as to what's going on. The majority of the polls screen respondents on some level, making sure (at very least) that they say they are likely to vote. Some pollsters go so far as to accept responses only from people who have voted in at least two of the last four statewide elections. This seems prudent, since non-presidential turnout is smaller and often idiosyncratic. The outlier polls, by contrast, all rely upon random-digit dialing (RDD), wherein they call phone numbers at random and speak to any adult who answers. Quinnipiac's Doug Schwartz defends the approach, declaring that "RDD is still considered the gold standard." Maybe so, if by that we mean that RDD is the cheapest approach, and therefore the standard way to avoid spending too much gold. Anyhow, we can now be very confident that those outliers can be discarded, and that Northam really is up by 3-4 points. (Z)

Hensarling to Retire

Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), one of the dozen or so most powerful members of the House of Representatives, announced Tuesday that he will not stand for re-election. In contrast to some of his other colleagues who have thrown in the towel, Hensarling will do the good people of TX-05 the favor of finishing his term (his eighth) before exiting.

TX-05 has a Cook PVI of R+16, so there's no way a Democrat is winning there unless the Republican candidate gets caught in bed with a live boy, a dead girl, and Paul Manafort. Nonetheless, Hensarling's retirement continues a not-promising-for-the-GOP trend that has become evident in the era of Trump. Already, 21 House Republicans have announced their retirements, for various reasons, compared to only 10 Democrats. Expect more in the next month or two on both sides of the aisle; those who are jumping ship need to give their party time to find a replacement. (Z)

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