Dem 49
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GOP 51
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New polls:  
Dem pickups vs. 2012: (None)
GOP pickups vs. 2012: (None)

Trump Will Release the Memo

Donald Trump has decided to release a controversial memo written by staffers working for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), despite the FBI saying that doing so would endanger national security due to classified information contained within it. The agency has been pleading with Trump for a week not to do it, but he plans to proceed anyway because it may undermine Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, whom Trump would like to fire so he can replace him with someone willing to shut down special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) defended the memo yesterday saying that it will "bring accountability to the process," and that its purpose is not to undermine Mueller. Technically that may be true, as it is expected to undermine Rosenstein, rather than Mueller directly. On the other hand, The #3 Republican in the Senate, John Thune (SD) urged the House to tap the brakes a bit. He requested that the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), be allowed to see the memo before it is released.

Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA) went a lot further, and called on Ryan to remove Nunes from his role as chairman of the Intelligence Committee, saying: "Congressman Nunes' deliberately dishonest actions make him unfit to serve as Chairman, and he must be removed immediately from this position." The chance that Ryan takes this seriously is zero. In the past, Republicans have always had the greatest respect for law enforcement in general and for the FBI in particular, but now that they are forced to choose between loyalty to the FBI and loyalty to Donald Trump, it seems that Trump wins. All of this maneuvering emphasizes the lengths that Trump and his supporters in Congress (which is nearly the entire GOP caucus) will go to stop Mueller. It is hard to come to any conclusion other than that Trump is scared witless by the possibility of Mueller finding something devastating. It could be about Russia, his finances, the size of his button, or something else, but he is clearly willing to reverse decades of Republican policy to stop Mueller, no matter the cost.

Multiple sources within the White House have confirmed this reasoning to CNN. They told the CNN reporters that Trump believes the memo will expose bias against him within the FBI and that its release will make it easier for him to stop Mueller's "witch hunt," as he calls it. However, Mueller may regard Trump's approving the release of classified information in order to stop his work as yet more evidence of "corrupt intent," which is needed to prove obstruction of justice. The stakes could hardly be higher here.

Another factor at play here is how FBI Director Christopher Wray will react if the memo is released, despite his warnings that doing so will endanger national security. Some people in the White House are afraid he might quit in disgust, the consequences of which are hard to foresee. If Trump's hand-picked successor to James Comey—who Trump fired—quits and says he does not want to be part of an administration that is willing to endanger national security to score political points, it is likely to cause a firestorm. (V)

I Fought the Law and the Law Won

The FBI assumed its current form in 1935 and, since that time, has been one of the few entities in Washington that stands on something of an equal footing with the president. Despite what Donald Trump says, the Bureau is not some sort of secret deep state Democratic sleeper cell. To the extent that the FBI has a partisan lean, that lean is Republican (more so 50 years ago than now). However, the agents' primary loyalty is not to party, but to country, duty, and to the Bureau itself. Their motto is "Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity," and they mean it. The agents generally remain out of political squabbles, as best they can, but if they are challenged directly, they will absolutely close ranks and take steps to make the offender regret their actions. Most presidents since 1935 knew to tread lightly when dealing with the Bureau, the remainder learned their lesson the hard way. A brief overview:

  • Franklin D. Roosevelt: FDR was the first president to have to deal with the FBI; by that time director J. Edgar Hoover (who also led earlier iterations of the Bureau) had amassed enormous power (in part due to having amassed enormous amounts of dirt on everyone). Sometimes Roosevelt cooperated with Hoover (spying on anti-war activists), sometimes they argued (Hoover opposed Japanese internment). Their relationship, however, is probably best compared to the relationship between (fictional) godfather Don Vito Corleone and his associate Hyman Roth. As Vito's son Michael was famously advised in The Godfather, Part II, "Your father did business with Hyman Roth, your father respected Hyman Roth, but your father never trusted Hyman Roth!"

  • Harry S. Truman: Truman not only distrusted Hoover, he despised him. And since the Director and the Bureau were essentially interchangeable at that time, that meant that Harry S. didn't much care for the FBI. The President never took his concerns public, but privately he made his feelings quite clear, declaring that, "We want no Gestapo or secret police. The FBI is tending in that direction." Hoover responded by encouraging the anti-Communist hysteria that was engulfing the administration, and trying to swing the election of 1948 by leaking dirt on Truman to Republican nominee Thomas E. Dewey.

  • Dwight D. Eisenhower: Ike decided that fighting with Hoover was more trouble than it was worth, and so looked the other way as the Bureau dramatically expanded its use of wiretaps and other techniques for spying on American citizens, all of it of dubious legality.

  • John F. Kennedy: JFK loathed Hoover and distrusted the FBI, his brother and attorney general Bobby shared those sentiments. The Kennedys did not like the wiretaps, particularly those used against Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders. They also did not have confidence that the FBI would enforce the laws, and so preferred to rely on national guardsmen and other alternatives when necessary. The President was so fed up that he gave serious consideration to firing Hoover, but the Director let it be known that he had photographic proof of extramarital dalliances that just might find their way to the press. There is little question that J. Edgar would have given some juicy dirt to JFK's 1964 opponent, had Kennedy lived long enough to run for re-election.

  • Lyndon B. Johnson: LBJ, who knew a little something about dirty tricks, and who had a front row seat for Hoover's shenanigans for 20 years, was yet another president who considered firing Hoover and trying to cut the Bureau down to size. In the end, however, Johnson decided the cost-benefit analysis didn't work out. As he famously said, in his oh-so-earthy fashion, "I would rather have [Hoover] inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in." Given LBJ's extensive catalog of extramarital affairs, he was surely a little nervous about being blackmailed like Kennedy.

  • Richard Nixon: Like LBJ, Tricky Dick had a few things up his sleeve, and had many an opportunity to watch Hoover in action. He would also be the last president to consider firing the Director because in 1972, six weeks before the Watergate break-in, Hoover went to the big interrogation room up in the sky. Nixon managed to get Hoover's successors deeply enmeshed in the scandal, and tried to shift as much of the blame as he could to the Bureau. The agents pushed back, including a high-ranking FBI official whose name was Mark Felt, but who is much better known by his pseudonym "Deep Throat." In short, this round went to the Bureau in a rout.

  • Gerald Ford: Ford had a pretty strong relationship with the FBI, in part because of the brownie points he earned for secretly feeding them information while he was a congressman serving on the Warren Commission.

  • Jimmy Carter: Carter also managed to avoid difficulties with the Bureau, and he even managed to enact some significant reforms to curtail the kinds of abuses that took place under Hoover's stewardship. This process went smoothly because the President was very careful to do it behind the scenes and very, very quietly.

  • Ronald Reagan: Reagan, like FDR, decided that the best way to utilize the FBI was to let them spy on his political opponents. That friendly arrangement did not stop the Bureau from accumulating much of the key evidence used to prosecute the Iran-Contra affair, though.

  • George H. W. Bush: As a former CIA Director, Bush knew how to work with the Bureau, and so—like Ford—had a fine relationship with them.

  • Bill Clinton: Bubba fired one FBI director (William Sessions) and had a tense relationship with his replacement (Louis Freeh). Consequently, the Bureau has never exactly been part of the Clinton fan club. Whether the hard feelings of the 1990s played a role in the dealings between the Bureau and candidate Hillary is something that we'll likely never know.

  • George W. Bush: In a reversal from the Hoover years, the Bush administration was wiretap-happy, and the FBI leadership felt that things were going too far. W., and even more so Dick Cheney, told the Bureau that they better get on board with keeping America safe. A trio of high-ranking fellows in the Justice Department said that if Bush didn't dial it back, they would all resign. Bush caved, later admitting that "I thought about the Saturday Night Massacre in October 1973," and that he feared his presidency would be destroyed. Our researchers are still trying to figure out what became of the three men who faced Bush down; if anyone has any information, their names were Robert Mueller, James Comey, and Christopher Wray.

  • Barack Obama: Of all the Democrats who served since 1935, Obama probably had the best relationship with the FBI. Too good, apparently, since it's given rise to all the conspiracy theories that the Bureau is in the bag for him.

Clearly, not all presidents had an adversarial relationship with the FBI. For those who did, the tensions were kept hidden from public view, and even then the situation often blew up in the president's face. The U.S. has never witnessed something like what's unfolding now, with the POTUS and the Bureau doing battle out in the open. What precedent we do have, however, suggests that Donald Trump is going to end up with the short end of the stick. (Z)

Poll: 62% Want a Law to Protect Mueller

If Donald Trump ultimately fires Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, Assistant AG Rachel Brand, and heaven knows who else and eventually finds someone to fire Robert Mueller, it may not go over well with the public. A new Monmuth University poll shows that 62% of Americans want a law protecting Mueller while only 29% oppose such a law. Democrats and independents strongly support such a law, with 76% and 65%, respectively, in favor. Among Republicans, it is close to even, with 44% supporting a law to protect Mueller and 47% opposing one.

Another question Monmouth asked was whether attempting to fire Mueller constitutes obstruction of justice. On this issue, 41% say it is obstruction while 44% say it is not. Finally, 71% say Trump should agree to be interviewed by Mueller while 22% say he should not be. (V)

RNC Crushed the DNC in 2017 Fundraising

The RNC raised $123 million in 2017, of which 44% came from small-dollar (< $200) donations. In contrast, the DNC raised only $65 million last year. On the other hand, the DSCC and DCCC outraised their Republican counterparts, the NRSC and NRCC. If we add up the three committees on both sides and throw in the two main PACs on each side as well, the Republicans are ahead, but the margin is smaller: $289 million to $258 million.

It is expected that the Republicans will be able to raise a lot of money in 2018 for the midterms because their big donors sat on their wallets in 2017, waiting to get big tax cuts. Now that the tax cuts have arrived, the donors are happy and are likely to start pouring money into the committees. And this is in addition to outside groups that often raise and spend more money than the parties themselves. The Koch brothers network, for example, expects to spend $400 million on the midterms, much more than all the official Republican committees combined raised in 2017. (V)

Three Certainties in Life: Death, Taxes, and Donald Trump Lying About His Ratings

Given the last decade's changes in the television business, not to mention the serious case of Trump weariness that has afflicted millions of Americans, it was all but certain that the President's State of the Union address would deliver solid, but not spectacular, ratings. Even more certain was that Trump would lie about whatever ratings he did pull. And so it has come to pass:

The 45.6 million figure is correct. The Fox News information is almost correct (it was actually 11.5 million). The "highest number in history" bit isn't remotely correct. The real record is held by George W. Bush, who drew 51.7 million viewers for his 2002 SOTU, which was not only his first, but came just months after the 9/11 attacks. Bush outdrew Trump on one other occasion, and Barack Obama and Bill Clinton also did it twice each. Most significantly, each member of the trio did better for their first SOTU than Trump did for his (48 million viewers for Obama, 45.8 million for Clinton).

Who knows why Donald Trump peddles such obvious falsehoods. Maybe he actually thinks it's true, or maybe he no longer distinguishes between fact and exaggeration. Maybe he believes his base won't fact check, or maybe they do, but place a higher value on braggadocio than on the truth. The only thing that is certain is this: Next year's SOTU is going to set another "record." (Z)

Romney Will Make Announcement on Feb. 15

Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney sent out a tweet yesterday saying that he will make an announcement on Feb. 15 about a possible Senate run to replace the retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). If he were to say then: "I have better things to do than be a senator," it would send shock waves through Washington, as virtually everyone expects him to run, win in a landslide, and become a gigantic thorn—no, make that a fishhook—in Donald Trump's side. Depending how strong/weak Trump looks in 2020, Romney might make another attempt to grab the big brass ring, but his mere presence in the Senate will give him a huge megaphone for a year before he has to make a decision about running for president again. (V)

Rick Scott Moving Toward a Senate Race

Term-limited Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) is taking steps that indicate he is planning to challenge Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) this year. He has raised more than $1.1 million for his super PAC—not that he really needs it, since he could easily finance his campaign out of pocket (Net worth: $147 million). Nevertheless, companies that have business before the state are eager to contribute. These include a dental-benefits administrator that got a special carve out from the state's Medicaid program and a nursing home operator that won a contentious fight last year.

Scott has also hired top consultants from previous campaigns. These include Drucker Lawhon, a fundraising firm, Holtzman, et al., a top law firm, and OnMessage, a political consulting firm. He has said that he hasn't made up his mind yet and won't until the Florida legislature adjourns on March 9. However, people who have spoken to the governor say he is ready to roll. One said the chances of his running are 85%. Another put it at 95%. One insider said that if Scott doesn't run, Nelson will keep his seat since it is too late to find another top-flight candidate.

However, even if Scott runs, his victory is hardly a sure thing. Nelson's approval rating is at 53%, against only 25% of Floridians who disapprove. Beating a popular incumbent is always tough, and Scott's 2010 and 2014 races were in Republican wave years, not Democratic wave years. Finally, the addition of 300,000 Puerto Ricans to the electorate since Hurricane Maria could easily blow Scott out to sea if they all decide to register to vote. Most Puerto Ricans are Democrats and all Puerto Ricans are angry with the Trump administration for essentially abandoning them after the hurricane destroyed much of the island's infrastructure. (V)

FEMA Reverses Puerto Rico Decision

Speaking of Puerto Rico, FEMA seems to have realized that cutting the island off without warning was not a good look, particularly on the same day that Donald Trump bragged to the nation about everything his administration had done to help. So, a spokesman for the agency said on Thursday that the announcement had been "mistakenly provided," and that the food and water will continue to flow, at least for now. The deadline for registering to vote in time for the midterm elections in Florida—say, for a newly-arrived Puerto Rican—is October 10. One wonders if the supplies will just so happen to end on October 11. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb01 FBI Challenges Nunes Memo
Feb01 Mueller Will Interview Former Spokesman of Trump's Legal Team
Feb01 Justice Department Gives Up on Menendez
Feb01 Corruption Abounds in TrumpWorld
Feb01 McCaskill Leads Top Republican in Fundraising
Feb01 Cruz Lags Top Democrat in Fundraising
Feb01 Ninth House GOP Committee Chairman Will Retire
Feb01 State of the Union Reviews Are In
Feb01 Trump Zooms Up in New Poll
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