Nov. 04

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Russiagate Plot Thickens, Courtesy of Page and Sessions

Ever since special counsel Robert Mueller started issuing indictments, the memory of Trump adviser Carter Page has suddenly gotten much better. He made a trip to Russia in the midst of the campaign last year and, whenever asked about it, he has insisted that he met only with longtime friends in the business community and in academia. On Thursday, however, Page suddenly recalled that he also met with a member of the Russian government, namely Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich. Dvorkovich is roughly the equivalent of Energy Secretary Rick Perry, which is to say that he's of high enough stature that a meeting with him would not generally slip someone's mind.

Now perhaps Page was freelancing, the way that George Papadopoulos was (according to the Trump campaign)? Not so much. Friday afternoon, Page acknowledged that he told "a few people" working on the campaign about his plans. Among those individuals was Attorney General Jeff Sessions. And after the trip was over, Page sent an e-mail to some members of the campaign sharing the insights he had gleamed during his meetings with Dvorkovich and several Russian legislators.

This news is bad for Donald Trump, worse for Page, and worst of all for Sessions. Recall that, as he attempted to excuse his multiple meetings with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, Sessions explained that he was acting in his official capacity as a then-senator, and not as a member of the campaign. Asked if he or anyone else had met with the Russians on behalf of the campaign, he answered, "I did not, and I'm not aware of anyone else that did, and I don't believe it happened." It would seem that was not truthful, and since Sessions was under oath when he said it, an untruthful statement would be perjury. The Attorney General's buddies in the Senate are not likely to do much about it, but Mueller might find it to be of great interest. (Z)

Mueller Shows How the Game is Played

Donald Trump has many specific things to be worried about when it comes to Russiagate. And speaking more broadly, he should probably be concerned about this: His administration is populated largely with political amateurs, while Robert Mueller's crack team of lawyers is made up of seasoned pros who know as well as anyone how Washington works, and how to handle the justice system. It's not unlike Usain Bolt racing against the best sprinter from East Cupcake Junior High.

Now that legal experts have had a few days to parse the charges that Mueller did (and did not) file, his master-level strategy is becoming apparent. The decision to charge George Papadopoulos with just one crime, when he probably committed a dozen, is pretty basic stuff when it comes to striking a plea deal. However, the charges against Paul Manafort (and Rick Gates) reflect much more sophistication. Thus far, Donald Trump's former campaign manager is only on the hook for financial crimes that predate 2016. This is more than enough for now, since the goal is simply to get Manafort to flip on Trump.

But what if Trump pardons Manafort? Well, that is why Mueller has left tax fraud, soliciting stolen goods, and other crimes uncharged—so that he can take this show to state court, as needed, and beyond the President's pardon power. Normally, it would not be necessary to proceed so cautiously, since it is generally possible to prosecute the same crime at the state and federal levels without double jeopardy attaching. In other words, a person could be prosecuted for federal tax fraud, pardoned, and then still be prosecuted for state-level tax fraud. But although this is the usual situation, there are a few states whose laws forbid prosecution of a crime that's already been adjudicated at the federal level, most notably...New York.

Adding it all up, and it is as plain as day that Mueller has not only left himself a backup plan, but that he has specifically got New York in mind, if needed. So, Trump cannot save Manafort, something that Manafort's attorneys will soon point out to him, if they haven't already. Which means he will have to decide between doing time in the big house to save his former boss, or to flip on Trump. (Z)

Trump Shows How the Game is Not Played

Donald Trump is aggravated by the scandals swirling around him, and his only real means of fighting back right now is lashing out verbally and via Twitter. That's was certainly his approach Friday, when he took to the social media platform to demand that the Dept. of Justice commence an investigation of Hillary Clinton and the Democrats:

....People are angry. At some point the Justice Department, and the FBI, must do what is right and proper. The American public deserves it!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 3, 2017

Later in the day, speaking to reporters, Trump declared, "I'm really not involved with the Justice Department. I'd like to let it run itself. But honestly, they should be looking at the Democrats ... And a lot of people are disappointed in the Justice Department, including me." He also lamented that, "I'm not supposed to be involved with the FBI. I'm not supposed to be doing the kind of things I would love to be doing and I am very frustrated by it."

Richard Nixon also enjoyed the notion of using the Justice Department to harass his enemies, but at least he had the good sense not to announce his feelings openly, since doing so is illegal. Trump's suggestions riled grown-up politicians on both sides of the aisle, but perhaps none more so than his new archnemesis Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who complained that, "President Trump's pressuring of the Justice Department and FBI to pursue cases against his adversaries and calling for punishment before trials take place are totally inappropriate and not only undermine our justice system but erode the American people's confidence in our institutions." Maybe one day, Trump will decide the country is better off when the legal system is allowed to work without presidential interference. Or, at very least, he will realize that he's very, very exposed on obstruction charges, and he really should stop talking about what he would like to do with the Justice Department, if only he could. (Z)

Tax Bill Faces Hurdles in the Senate

If the tax bill makes it through the House—and that is a big if—it faces an uncertain future in the Senate, which is busy crafting its own bill. The problem there is that the Republicans' margin for error there is tiny. It would take only three votes to derail it. For starters, senators who are deficit hawks, including Bob Corker, John McCain (AZ) and Jeff Flake (AZ), don't want to increase the deficit. They may or may not accept the current $1.5 trillion addition to the deficit, but changes to the bill in the coming days could make it unacceptable to them. None of them are up in 2018, so the leadership has no way to exert much pressure them.

Next come the moderate Republicans, Susan Collins (ME) and Lisa Murkowski (AK). Collins is against eliminating the estate tax and also doesn't like killing the deduction for state taxes. Murkowski has been quiet about her wishes so far, but since she ran as an independent last time and won, she doesn't owe the leadership anything.

Then we come to the conservatives, Ted Cruz (TX), Mike Lee (UT), and Tom Cotton (AR). So far they haven't made their demands clear, but often they march to their own drummer. If they want things, it will most likely be killing the ACA mandate or bigger cuts to spending somewhere.

Finally we get the "no" caucus, run by Rand Paul (KY), sometimes with assistance from Ron Johnson (WI). Paul is generally a "no" vote on everything and sometimes Johnson is too. Placating Paul will be impossible but the leadership will try to get Johnson, even if they have to serve only cheese sandwiches in the Senate cafeteria for a month.

All in all, successful passage through the House is only step 1. The real challenge could be the Senate. (V)

Bannon's Endorsement May Not Mean Much

Breitbart publisher Steve Bannon is feeling like the cock of the walk these days, as his horse—Roy Moore—won the Republican primary in the race to replace departed senator Jeff Sessions. Consequently, he's planning to support an anti-establishment Republican in just about every race that does not involve Ted Cruz.

A new poll finds that Bannon might be fooling himself, and might be giving himself credit for a victory that would have happened without him. Specifically, 13% of respondents said that Bannon's endorsement would make them more likely to vote for a candidate. Not bad, except 13% of respondents said that Bannon's endorsement would make them less likely to vote for a candidate. That's a net impact He still has other tools to influence elections, including Breitbart, and the near-unlimited pot of gold from billionaire benefactor Robert Mercer. Those things go only so far, however, and on the whole it looks like Bannon will be very disappointed next November. (Z)

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