Nov. 25

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Trump Should Be Nervous Now

Thursday it was reported that former NSA Michael Flynn's lawyers have stopped working with Donald Trump's lawyers. This was widely interpreted as a sign that Flynn is trying to negotiate a deal with special counsel Robert Mueller. Now people who know how Mueller works are adding more information to the mix. For example, Norman Eisen, who worked in Barack Obama's administration, sent out these tweets yesterday:

I negotiated a cooperation deal for a target with Mueller's office when he was US Atty and lemme tell ya, he's not gonna give one to Flynn unless he implicates someone up the ladder. That means Kushner, Don Jr., or Big Daddy. They are all having indigestion tonight.

— Norm Eisen (@NormEisen) November 24, 2017

One more thing I learned about Mueller. When I was at State & he was at FBI we worked together on an investigation, & he loves surprises. Kushner, Donnie Jr. and the rest of the Trump crime family better keep their overnight bags handy. Pack shoes with no laces guys.

— Norm Eisen (@NormEisen) November 24, 2017

If this is correct, Flynn either has the goods on someone higher on the food chain than himself, or else on Paul Manafort. Although Manafort is not really of interest to Mueller, if Flynn has information that could put him away for decades, that might jog Manafort's memory a bit and get him to help Mueller.

Might Flynn be willing to take a fall to save his son? Possibly, but Jeffrey Jacobovitz, a specialist in white-collar crime, thinks that Mueller wouldn't offer Flynn Sr. a deal if he can't take down a big fish. Flynn Jr. is a guppy.

It is important to keep in mind the two questions Mueller undoubtedly has in mind. First, did the Russians interfere with the election and were any laws broken in the process? Second, did anyone in Trump's campaign or administration break any laws, possibly trying to cover up some crime? These are quite different and the consequences are different. If the Russians helped elect Trump/Pence, then Vice President Mike Pence is just as tainted as Trump and impeaching Trump would just replace an illegitimate president with an illegitimate vice president. In this case we would have a full-blown constitutional crisis. If the Russians didn't swing the election but Trump obstructed justice when he fired former FBI Director James Comey, then Trump could be impeached, Pence could become president, and there would be no crisis. Right now, only Mueller and his team know where he is on these two points, but unless Flynn has information on at least one of these issues, Mueller is not going to let him get away with a slap on the wrist. (V)

Budget Hawks Are Afraid All the Tax Cuts Will Be Made Permanent

As the Senate tax bill is currently written, the corporate tax cuts are forever, but the individual ones go poof in 2027. The bill was written this way so it could crawl under the wire set by the budget reconciliation process. Nevertheless, secretly and not so secretly, many Republicans in Congress are hoping Congress extends the personal tax cuts when 2027 arrives. Unfortunately, deficit hawks in Congress are afraid that precisely this will happen and that it will blow a gigantic hole in the budget down the road.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ now, but R-nothing in 2019), one of the deficit hawks, said: "You can't assume that we'll grow a backbone later. If we can't do it now, then it's tough to do it later." Flake and the other deficit hawks are complaining about the gimmicks in the bill because they know there will be tremendous pressure on Congress later to make all the cuts permanent. Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and John McCain (R-AZ) are also concerned about the deficit, but haven't shown their cards yet. Their votes on the bill are still up for grabs. (V)

Latest White House Squabble: Tillerson vs. Ivanka

The annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit is a pretty big deal, so much so that Barack Obama attended in person several times, as did his Secretaries of State. This year's theme is "supporting women entrepreneurs," and so Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi—whose country will be hosting this year's event—asked Ivanka Trump to represent the United States. She is, after all, a woman and an entrepreneur. Normally, she would be joined by a large delegation of high-ranking State Department staffers. Not this year, however, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has announced that only a small contingent will join the First Daughter, and that none of them will be higher in rank than deputy assistant secretary.

This is a clear shot across Ivanka's bow, because Tillerson resents the extent to which she and her husband have usurped his authority and stepped on his toes. Everyone in Washington recognizes it as such. "Rex doesn't like the fact that he's supposed to be our nation's top diplomat, and Jared and now Ivanka have stepped all over [him] for a long time," said one White House insider. "So now, he's not sending senior people from the State Department to support this issue. He's not supporting Ivanka Trump."

Of course, the relationship between Tillerson and Ivanka's father is already strained and, when push comes to shove, The Donald's family wins out above all others. Further, the Secretary—by all accounts—hates a job he never asked for in the first place, and has given much thought to exiting once the one-year mark is up. So, there's a pretty good chance that this is him taking his last big chance to extend a middle finger to the Trumps. And there's also a chance that the President becomes angry enough about it that he doesn't even let the Secretary get to January 20 before lopping off his head. (Z)

Cordray Resigns as Head of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Richard Cordray, an Obama-era holdover, suggested he would step down as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) at the end of this month. On Friday, he made it both official and quicker, quitting as of the end of the day on Friday. He has not made public his reasons for leaving, though some think he's got his eye on the Ohio governor's mansion.

For the moment, the CFPB will be led by chief of staff Leandra English, but it remains to be see exactly what Donald Trump will do long term. It's not impossible that the President will try to shut the agency down, since it was a creation of Barack Obama, and thus evil incarnate as far as Trump is concerned. He may also choose to put it under the auspices of someone in his inner circle; budget director Mick Mulvaney's name has been mentioned. Assuming that the Bureau does survive, it's likely that whomever its new leader is will be about as interested in protecting consumers as EPA director Scott Pruitt is in protecting the environment. (Z)

Trump Says He Turned Down "Person of the Year"

Donald Trump is Time's reigning Person of the Year, which—whether he realizes or not—is not an "honor" like the Nobel Prizes or the Academy Awards. It is instead an acknowledgment of impact on the news (Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, William Westmoreland, and Ruhollah Khomeini were among the less-than-admirable folks to claim the title).

On Friday, Trump took to Twitter to announce that he was "probably" in line to be a back-to-back winner, but that he turned Time down:

Time Magazine called to say that I was PROBABLY going to be named “Man (Person) of the Year,” like last year, but I would have to agree to an interview and a major photo shoot. I said probably is no good and took a pass. Thanks anyway!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 24, 2017

It did not take long for the magazine to chime in and make clear that the President is incorrect, and that they do not comment on their choice prior to publication (December 6 this year).

There is little doubt that Time is being truthful here, and Trump is either mistaken, or is peddling a falsehood. Among the reasons his story does not pass the smell test:

So, why would Trump decide to broadcast an almost certain lie? Besides to keep his skills sharp, that is? One possibility is that he misunderstood; that Time was thinking about doing an article or profile on him, and he inferred that it was for Person of the Year. More likely, however, is that he's gotten wind of some of the possible selections for this year, and he wanted to get out ahead of the story. The magazine has a poll on its website wherein readers can vote on possible choices for 2017. If those results are at all indicative, it's looking like the President's successor could be #MeToo (sometimes the Person of the Year isn't a person at all), Robert Mueller, the Dreamers, Hillary Clinton, Colin Kaepernick, Carmen Yulín Cruz, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), or Jimmy Kimmel. In other words, a "greatest hits" of Donald Trump's nemeses. If any of them are chosen, it will be a bit of an embarrassment for the President, especially since he's insisted on portraying the choice as a great honor. So, by claiming he could have been Person of the Year if only he wanted to be, he gets out ahead of the story. Meanwhile, he's likely rooting secretly for the two guys currently in the Top 10 whom he has not openly squabbled with: Mohammed bin Salman, and...Vladimir Putin. (Z)

Will 2020 Be the Year of the Woman?

With all the news about men sexually harassing women in the past few weeks, women may feel that the time for a woman president has finally come. Since about 60% of the Democratic primary electorate consists of women, 2020 may be the year. There is certainly no shortage of female candidates lining up. The "big four" are four Democratic senators, Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Kamala Harris (CA), Amy Klobuchar (MN), and Elizabeth Warren (MA). And the first three are young, so if Democrats decide that they don't want a septuagenarian, like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) or Joe Biden, (both of whom will be pushing 80 on inauguration day 2021), any of them will do.

One of the things that motivates many Democrats on the left is breaking barriers, and although the nomination of Hillary Clinton broke a barrier, she was so despised on the left that many of Sanders' supporters ended up voting for a third-party candidate or not voting at all. None of the big four have a lot of enemies among Democrats. Here is a quick rundown of the big four:

Needless to say, 3 years is forever in politics. And if four women try to grab the brass ring all at once, they may split the vote of Democrats who want a female candidate. Of course, if one of them wins the invisible primary as well as a couple of the early actual primaries and the other three drop out, she could become a unifying force and take the nomination by storm. (V)

Facebook Will Let People Check if They Fell for Russian Propaganda

Facebook is desperately trying to avoid being regulated by the federal government. To that end, they announced this week that they will soon deploy a tool that will allow users to check and see if they liked or followed a post by the Internet Research Agency, which is the Russian firm that pushed all manner of fake content on the social media platform. "It is important that people understand how foreign actors tried to sow division and mistrust using Facebook before and after the 2016 US election," the company declared.

This all sounds good, but it's really just for show. First of all, the tool will only work for content that the user actually interacted with, not content they merely saw or read. Second, the tool won't show the actual content, merely the account that posted it. Third, the people who were most likely to fall victim to Russian shenanigans are least likely to use the tool, and/or to believe they were hoodwinked when presented with the (less-than-adequate) evidence. Inasmuch as the Russkies' activities helped the GOP, if they helped anyone, this move will probably be enough to keep Uncle Sam's hands off the social media site while the Republicans control the government. Once the Democrats are back in control, however, then Silicon Valley will have to hope that their generally liberal politics and their mega-donations are enough to keep them from being put under the microscope. (Z)

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