Dem 49
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GOP 51
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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)
      •  FBI Challenges Nunes Memo
      •  Mueller Will Interview Former Spokesman of Trump's Legal Team
      •  Justice Department Gives Up on Menendez
      •  Corruption Abounds in TrumpWorld
      •  McCaskill Leads Top Republican in Fundraising
      •  Cruz Lags Top Democrat in Fundraising
      •  Ninth House GOP Committee Chairman Will Retire
      •  State of the Union Reviews Are In
      •  Trump Zooms Up in New Poll

FBI Challenges Nunes Memo

As we have explained previously, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) recently produced a memo designed to undermine Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Yesterday, the FBI attacked that memo in public, saying that (1) it is not accurate and (2) releasing it would publicize classified information and would endanger national security. Donald Trump hasn't even read the memo, but has said he is 100% in favor of releasing it, presumably because he is looking for an excuse to force Rosenstein out and replace him with someone willing to fire special counsel Robert Mueller.

It is very unusual for the normally secretive FBI to push back on something like this, especially when it is clear where the president stands on it. Director Christopher Wray made a case to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly on Monday, asking him to keep the memo secret, but that didn't work, so now the bureau has gone public with its objections.

At lot of strange things have taken place in this administration, but the spectacle of a (Republican) president determined to overrule the FBI and endanger national security in order to damage a high-ranking law-enforcement official he himself appointed is new. The FBI said that everything it did in getting a warrant to surveil former Trump campaign aide Carter Page was perfectly legal, especially since Page was already on the FBI's radar before the campaign due to his numerous contacts with Russians. The FBI also complained that the memo is inaccurate, but if it is released, it will not be able to correct the record because that would require it to reveal even more classified information, something it is forbidden by law from doing. The Democrats on the House committee have written a point-by-point rebuttal, but it is not clear if that can be released, since it also contains classified information.

And in case this whole situation did not already have enough intrigue, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), who is the main author of the Democrats' rebuttal, said on Wednesday night that Nunes altered the memo before sending it to the White House, and that the new memo is substantively different from the one that the Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee voted to release. Nunes does not deny changing the memo, but insists that he just corrected a few typos and made a few other small changes. We may never learn the truth, given the classified nature of these documents. Nonetheless, the GOP certainly appears to be playing with fire. We shall soon learn if Trump is willing to risk getting burned. (V & Z)

Mueller Will Interview Former Spokesman of Trump's Legal Team

Until July 2017, Mark Corallo was a member of Donald Trump's legal team, primarily handling communication with the media. In July, he quit the team because he was very upset about the false statement Trump dictated about the Trump Tower meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya in which Donald Trump Jr. was expecting to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. Corallo has not commented publicly on exactly why he left, but author Michael Wolff has said Corallo quit because he believed Trump was engaging in obstruction of justice and he didn't want to be a part of it.

Corallo doesn't have to explain anything to the media if he doesn't want to, but shortly he will have to explain everything in detail to Robert Mueller. If Corallo tells Mueller that he personally observed Trump obstructing justice, it would obviously strengthen any case Mueller might make on that point. Corallo previously worked as public affairs director for the Dept. of Justice and knows Mueller from that period. Reportedly, they got along well. Most likely this means that Corallo will be open with Mueller and tell him the truth, without trying to obfuscate important details.

Corallo's cooperation could be important because it appears that Mueller is focusing on the meeting with Veselnitskaya, and especially on Trump's attempt to hide its real purpose. Misleading or even out-and-out lying to the media is not a crime, but in an obstruction of justice case, Mueller would have to show "corrupt intent," and evidence that Trump personally dictated a memo whose only purpose was to hide the real reason his campaign was talking to the Russians would bolster Mueller's case. One thing that Corallo can confirm to Mueller is what White House Communications Director Hope Hicks said on a conference he was part of. Allegedly she promised to make sure the email that Donald Trump Jr. sent to Veselnitskaya in which he said he would love to get dirt on Clinton would never come out. If Corallo confirms that, then Hicks is probably part of a conspiracy to hide a Russian contribution of information to the campaign, and that is a federal crime. Hicks could soon find herself in Mueller's crosshairs, with all the consequences of that. (V)

Justice Department Gives Up on Menendez

The corruption trial of Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) ended in a hung jury last year. In theory, the Justice Dept. could try the case again. However, the judge threw out seven of the 18 counts against Menendez and the DoJ apparently decided that the case on the remaining counts wasn't strong enough, so they are dropping the whole matter and Menendez will go free without any further trials. He is up for reelection this year, so in theory the voters could kick him out. Unless he is defeated in a Democratic primary, however, he will probably win the general election simply because New Jersey is a very blue state, where the Republican bench is fairly weak, and tolerance for a little corruption is very high. (V)

Corruption Abounds in TrumpWorld

Bob Menendez may have avoided legal consequences for his actions, but as his story makes clear, neither of the two major parties is corruption-free. With that said, some presidential administrations are rather closer to the bad end of the spectrum than others: Nixon, Harding, Grant, and so forth. And at the rate we're going, the Trump administration is set to leave them all in the dust.

The latest shady behavior that has come home to roost is courtesy of Brenda Fitzgerald, the physician who was director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) until she resigned on Wednesday. One of the CDC's main jobs, and thus the director's main jobs, is to communicate to Americans the dangers of cigarette smoking. The day after her appointment to lead the CDC, Fitzgerald celebrated by purchasing thousands of dollars worth of stock in tobacco companies. It is remarkable that any physician could make that purchase, but particularly one who was made head of the CDC just 24 hours earlier.

As shocking as this behavior is, however, it's also become par for the course for the Trump administration, from former HHS secretary Tom Price's dubious stock purchases and airplane usage, to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's cozy relationship with the folks who got a giant no-bid contract to help rebuild Puerto Rico, to all the Goldman Sachs wolves in the Cabinet who are now responsible for watching the Wall Street henhouse. And that's before we consider all the folks who had to be fired because of their dirty dealings, from Michael Flynn to Paul Manafort to Carter Page.

What's going on, here? The root issues seem both obvious and unsolvable. To wit:

  • Philosophy: Broadly speaking, Democrats have more regard for government than do Republicans, and a shade less interest in making money at all costs. There are, of course, the Bob Menendezes and Jim Traficants of the world, but historically members of the blue team have been a bit more wary of engaging in inappropriate financial behavior, while Republicans have been a bit less wary. Or, sometimes, a lot less wary—see the Credit Mobilier or the Teapot Dome scandals. This dynamic is particularly profound in the Trump administration, which is chock full of folks—including the President—who have had decades-long adversarial relationships with the government in their private sector careers.

  • Vetting: Speaking of Trump and his business interests, he has spent his entire presidency hovering near the line between acceptable and corrupt financial behavior, particularly as regards divestment of his businesses and the emoluments clause. And some would say he hasn't hovered near the line as much as he's blown right by it. Whatever the case may be, he clearly is less bothered by such concerns than, say, Barack Obama was, or Jimmy Carter, or Gerald Ford, or Dwight D. Eisenhower. Undoubtedly, that must mean that Trump and his team don't focus on the issue all that much in the vetting process, and do not communicate strong expectations to potential appointees about financial behavior.

  • Modeling: Even if Team Trump does vet candidates carefully, and even if it does communicate expectations (both are not too likely), it's also the case that the man at the top models dubious financial behavior on a regular basis. It's hard to impose discipline on the troops if you don't practice what you preach. Surely, The Donald's blurring of the line between his personal interests and his public duties encourages others to similarly blur the line, regardless of what they are told by the president and his lieutenants.

Again, none of this is going to change. And the media, of course, is turning over every rock in search of dirt, so the list of people who resign in disgrace will just grow and grow. Possibly on deck: Ben Carson, who may have been helping his son to secure no-bid contracts, against the advice of government ethics lawyers. (Z)

McCaskill Leads Top Republican in Fundraising

Probably the most endangered Senate Democrat up in 2018 is Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO). The state used to be a bellwether that was perfectly balanced between Democrats and Republicans, but it has become a very red state in the past few elections, so McCaskill could be in deep trouble. However, one thing the Senator has going for her is money. In Q4 of 2017, she raised $2.9 million. Her strongest Republican opponent, state Attorney General Josh Hawley, raised only $960,000 in the same period. Furthermore, McCaskill has $9 million in the bank, more than enough for a state like Missouri which has only three major media markets (St. Louis, Kansas City, and Springfield). Of course, the Koch brothers and others might step in and rain money on Hawley, but so far that hasn't happened and it probably won't until he wins a contested Republican primary, which will eat up some of the money he raised himself. McCaskill is by no means home free in a state Trump won by 19 points, but her problem won't be money. (V)

Cruz Lags Top Democrat in Fundraising

Speaking of fundraising, Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) is all but certain to be the Democrats' challenger to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) this November. This week, he pleased his followers with a nice surprise: His fundraising for Q4 of 2017 was $2.4 million, which is $500,000 more than Cruz.

Cruz still has the overall edge in cash on hand, $7.3 million to $4.6 million. And as a sitting senator in a red state (albeit one that's slowly inching into purple territory), the Senator is still a solid favorite, and can presumably make up the fundraising gap with a few steak breakfasts if he so chooses. Still, if the fundraising totals are a proxy for enthusiasm, which is often the case, then Cruz has at least a little reason to be nervous. Not helping him is the fact that Donald Trump is way underwater in Texas (54% disapprove, 39% approve), and Cruz is not doing much better (43% disapprove, 38% approve). Perhaps the Senator should spend less time worrying about his potential 2020 campaign, and more time worrying about 2018. (Z)

Ninth House GOP Committee Chairman Will Retire

Rep. Harold "Trey" Gowdy III (R-SC) has announced that he will not run for reelection this year. He is chairman of the House Oversight Committee, a position he utilized in order to go after Hillary Clinton on Benghazi with a fervor that would make Inspector Javert blush. Gowdy is only 53 and his district, SC-04, has a Cook PVI of R+15 and was won by Donald Trump by 25 points. So, even in a Democratic wave year he is in little danger of being defeated.

So why would someone so young give up such a powerful position when he is not involved in any scandal and is assured of reelection? His official reason is that he wants to return to the justice system (he used to be a U.S. attorney). Possibly not coincidentally, a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which covers South Carolina, became vacant yesterday. While Trump probably is sad to have such a powerful and partisan pit bull as Gowdy leave the House, having him be an appellate judge would be even better. Stay tuned for a nomination announcement. (V)

State of the Union Reviews Are In

The punditry has had time to digest all the red, red meat in Donald Trump's State of the Union address; here's what they're saying:

Left-leaning Commentators
  • James Hohmann, Washington Post, State of the Union underscores why Trump is his own worst enemy: The speech offered a window into what might have been, if he had stuck to script and shown more self-discipline during his first year. Trump's approval rating could easily be 10 points higher right now if he just behaved the way he did last night, even while pursuing an identical agenda. The speech worried politically savvy Democrats because it suggested that he has upside potential...[but] the president will perennially struggle to be a unifying figure because he is so personally divisive. It's a feature, not a bug. Frankly, it's part of his enduring appeal to the GOP base.

  • Editorial Board, Washington Post, A divisive and misleading State of the Union: Have a president's words ever rung more hollow? In his first State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Trump spoke of "what kind of nation we are going to be. All of us, together, as one team, one people and one American family." Yet Mr. Trump could not avoid, even for an hour, lacing his address with divisive references to hot-button issues and graceless attacks on his predecessors: to "disastrous Obamacare," "the mistakes of past administrations," "the era of economic surrender" and more.

  • E.J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post, Instead of seeking 'common ground,' Trump gives a flabby, divisive speech: [W]hile Trump opened his speech by calling on Americans "to set aside our differences, to seek out common ground," he kept coming back to the most divisive themes of his presidency—from "chain migration" and highlighting the role of immigrants in criminality to his calls for all to stand for the flag. Trump did not so much ask his domestic adversaries to set aside their differences as to abandon their own views. Nothing in this speech will inspire his critics with new hope that Trump is serious about negotiating anything.

  • Matthew Yglesias, Vox, Donald Trump has no solutions for America's big problems: Trump's big ideas about national problems are mostly to ignore them. He gave Ivanka's call for affordable care one line, with no actual path to achieving it. He made no mention of falling life expectancies and health outcomes in America, compared to other developed nations. On prescription drugs prices, he simply reiterated promises he's spent the past year failing to make good on. There's still no infrastructure plan, no Afghanistan strategy, and no actual policies to back up vague exhortations about the value of job training and vocational schools. To the extent that there are any ideas here at all, it's to blame immigrants.

  • Kerry Eleveld, Daily Kos, One of Trump's biggest SOTU applause lines will be the GOP's biggest stumbling block come November: While Democrats sat uniformly silent, Republicans gave a rousing cheer when Donald Trump declared the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate "gone!" during Tuesday's State of the Union address...Good thing Republicans are getting their kicks now, because that's gonna be the anvil around their necks this November. Not only are an historic number of Democratic women running for Congress this year, their issue of choice again and again appears to be health care access and affordability—the very things Republicans have been eagerly working to destroy.

  • Jamelle Bouie, Slate, President Trump used people of color as cover for his anti-immigrant policies.: Both Donald Trump and the White House believe that they are served politically by the cultivation of white racial resentment. There was no question that these lines and leaps of logic would make it into the State of the Union. They are part of who Trump is. To think that he wouldn't include racial demagoguery is to fundamentally misunderstand his impulses.
Centrist/Foreign Commentators
  • Anthony Zurcher, BBC, State of the Union: A smoother Trump with same hard edge: An open hand can be a gesture of kindness or the prelude to a slap. The chasm between the two sides is just as wide as it was yesterday. In fact, it may be wider.

  • Tessa Berenson, Time, President Trump's Big Speech Was Harsher Than It Sounded: Trump's calls for unity often rang hollow. Much of his speech focused on promoting accomplishments of his first year, including tax cuts and regulatory reform. And for year two, he set goals for infrastructure, tackling opioid addiction, fighting ISIS and resolving the immigration debate. But infrastructure and immigration were also goals he set out in his first joint address to Congress last year, and if anything the political potential for compromise has lessened since then.

  • Johanna Schneller, The Toronto Star, Trump's address shows U.S. in a sorry state: That we were openly discussing the penis of the president of the United States [on the Jimmy Kimmel show] right after a major address only shows how far we've slid into weirdness. That Trump's "soaring" rhetoric about American exceptionalism would not have won third prize in a Grade 6 patriotism essay shows how debased our standards have become.

  • David Smith, The Guardian (UK), Trump State of the Union address promised unity but emphasized discord: Donald Trump has promised a "new American moment" in a State of the Union address that sought harmony but succeeded only in underlining the deep discord at the heart of the country's politics.

  • Susan Page, USA Today, State of the Union analysis: Trump's speech was remarkable for what he didn't say: The most remarkable thing about President Trump's first State of the Union address Tuesday night may be that it wasn't particularly remarkable. That, and the fact that the most perilous challenge he faces went unmentioned...Some presidents have gotten a bump in their approval rating after their first State of the Union address. But it seems unlikely that any speech is going to shake up an electorate that already seems so firmly set for and against Trump. The resonance of this State of the Union was reduced by the political situation of the day and the other, unprecedented ways the 45th president has devised to communicate with Americans and the world.

  • Bhys Blakely and Ben Hoyle, The Times (UK), President with one eye on the midterms shows his softer side: The performance had the potential to worry Democrats: Mr. Trump can shift gear and act like a conventional president. The trouble, of course, is that his polarising, bomb-throwing alter-ego quickly reappears.
Right-leaning Commentators
  • Jonah Goldberg, The National Review, The (Tea) Party Is Over: I thought President Trump gave a politically effective speech. I don't think it was particularly bipartisan. Which is not that notable save for the fact that the White House billed it all day as a bridge-building, nationally unifying speech. And it really wasn't. It wasn't intensely partisan either. It just felt a little like a bait-and-switch given all the messaging today...But the most striking thing about the speech was how much it fell into an almost Trumpian version of compassionate conservatism—as if the tea parties had never existed. This was for the most part a conservative speech culturally and thematically. But except for some laudable bits about streamlining the bureaucracy and improving FDA policy, there wasn't a hint of fiscal conservatism to it.

  • Marc A. Thiessen, Washington Post, Trump's speech nailed it. Let's see what he does now.: A president this successful should not be this unpopular. Stepping up to the lectern of the House of Representatives on Tuesday night, Trump had an opportunity to change this dynamic and expand his base, by making the case for his presidency to tens of millions of Americans who support many of his policies but don't yet support him. He seized that opportunity.

  • Liz Peek, Fox News, Trump's State of the Union delivered more drama, passion, patriotism than his Hollywood critics have all year: Trump has a good story to tell. A story of accomplishment, of lower taxes, better jobs and higher wages. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer spoke earlier in the day, attempting to deny Mr. Trump credit for the improving economy and instead arguing that President Obama was responsible for the brightening picture. Sorry Charlie; the experts say this is Trump's economy, and come the fall voters may well agree.

  • Newton Leroy "Newt" Gingrich, Fox News, Trump's State of the Union was very inclusive—No wonder it shook up Democrats: It was a very inclusive speech, and its very inclusiveness seemed to leave the Democratic leaders unnerved. The more President Trump spoke about achieving positive, bipartisan goals, the more uncomfortable and unhappy House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., appeared. Her reaction to this forward-looking speech reminds us why she should not be speaker of the House again.

  • Ben Shapiro, The Daily Wire, Trump's Triumph: Trump's speech hit two notes in grand fashion: first, that America is a wonderful place, thriving and filled with opportunity; second, that American liberty is a dream for billions around the world, and a dream worth pursuing. Democrats sat and grimaced through all of that. It wasn't a good look.

  • Carl Arbogast,, Did Trump Give Republicans Clear Policy Goals Or Simply Mire The Path?: It's an election year so Republicans legislators will be hesitant to tackle issues that will give Democrats ammunition against them in November. But they rely on the president to lead the way. After this speech, they'll ask themselves, "What are we supposed to do?" They may not have an answer.

Overall, this collection of assessments would seem to confirm that the speech was targeted at the base—who largely ate it up—and was otherwise underwhelming and/or aggravating to the rest of the country and the world. (Z)

Trump Zooms Up in New Poll

A Monmouth University poll released yesterday shows that Donald Trump's approval has gone up from 32% to 42% since December. Only 50% disapprove of him now (was 56%). The improvement might be related to the tax law, but it will take more polls to confirm. The poll specifically asked about the new tax law and 44% said they approve of it and 44% said they didn't, an exact tie. Republican groups have been spending millions of dollars on ads claiming that the law is a good thing for ordinary Americans (and leaving out the inconvenient fact that most of the benefits go to corporations and the wealthy).

Another thing the poll showed is that the Democrats' lead in the generic House poll has been erased. It has been in double digits for months and now has dropped to only 2 points, 47% to 45%. If other polls confirm this result, the Democrats' chances of retaking the House will be greatly reduced. However, the respondents were 32% Democrats, 29% Republicans, and 39% independents, which is an unusual sample, with far more independents than the actual electorate has. That could make the poll's math dicey; it could also (theoretically) mean that some respondents were misrepresenting themselves. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan31 Trump Speaks, GOP Applauds, America Yawns
Jan31 Trump Lawyers: Mueller Has Not Justified Presidential Interview
Jan31 FEMA to Puerto Rico: You're on Your Own
Jan31 Justice Dept. Tried to Block Release of the Nunes Memo
Jan31 Ten Ways Trump Is Tied to Russia
Jan31 Trump Refuses to Implement Congressionally Mandated Sanctions on Russia
Jan31 Pompeo Expects Russia and China to Target the 2018 Elections
Jan31 As many as 80 House Seats Could Be in Play
Jan30 FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe Will Step Down Immediately
Jan30 Republicans Are Now Targeting Rosenstein
Jan30 Trump Decides Against Russia Sanctions
Jan30 FCC Chair Hates 5G Plan
Jan30 Conservatives Worry That a Strong Economy Won't Be Enough to Win the Midterms
Jan30 Rodney Frelinghuysen Will Retire
Jan30 Outside Republican Groups Pulled in Record Hauls for the Midterms
Jan30 State of the Union Could Be Historic...But Probably Not
Jan29 Trump's Attitude Toward Russia Will Be Tested Today
Jan29 Two Republican Senators Want Their Party to Return Steve Wynn's Donations
Jan29 Trump May Rejoin Paris Accord
Jan29 Everyone Wins with Senate's Abortion Vote Today
Jan29 Grammys Get Political
Jan29 Trump Administration May Nationalize 5G Network
Jan29 Voters Want SOTU Speech to Be about Health Care, Jobs, and Terrorism
Jan29 SOTU? So What?
Jan28 Wynn Steps Down from RNC
Jan28 Cheatergate Payment May Have Been Illegal
Jan28 Walker Decides that Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures
Jan28 Destination Bangor, Maine? Better Bring Your Passport
Jan28 Obstruction or Not?
Jan28 PA-18 May Be in Play
Jan28 Koch Network to Spend Nearly Half a Billion Dollars in 2018
Jan28 Dutch Intelligence Service Hacked Cozy Bear
Jan27 Why Did Don McGahn Stop Trump from Firing Mueller?
Jan27 Five Takeaways from McGahngate
Jan27 Trump Turns His Sights on Rosenstein
Jan27 Six Words That Could Sink Trump
Jan27 Trump Delivers Two Messages at Davos
Jan27 Trump's Immigration Plan Hits Strong Resistance
Jan27 Today's Sexual Misconduct News
Jan27 It's War in the State Department
Jan26 Trump Tried to Fire Mueller in June
Jan26 Trump Will Speak at Davos
Jan26 Trump Is Now Open to Citizenship for Dreamers
Jan26 Tax Cut? What Tax Cut?
Jan26 Marco Rubio Is Done with Gangs
Jan26 Poll: Trump Is No Moral Leader
Jan26 Kennedy to Deliver SOTU Response
Jan26 Meehan to Retire
Jan25 Azar Confirmed as Secretary of HHS
Jan25 Trump Will Send Immigration Framework to Congress on Monday