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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Spends Saturday Pointing Fingers
      •  More Trouble for Manafort
      •  Kushner's Lack of Clearance May Soon Become a Problem
      •  Trump May Rue Declassification of Memo
      •  Nothing but the Best for Trump Cabinet
      •  McConnell Acknowledges Coming Wave
      •  GOP Megadonor: No More Money Until You Do Something about Guns

Trump Spends Saturday Pointing Fingers

This was a very bad week for Donald Trump, from Portergate to the Mueller indictment to the revelation of yet another extramarital affair to the Florida shootings. Saturday is the day when he has plenty of free time for golfing and tweeting, and so it was inevitable that the spin emanating from Mar-a-Lago would be strong. The President certainly did not disappoint.

Of all the issues that have come up recently, the two worst for Trump are probably the Florida shootings (because he's done nothing to combat such incidents, despite promising otherwise while campaigning) and the Russiagate developments (because they call into question the legitimacy of his presidency). You might think that Trump would not be able to strike back on both fronts with a single tweet. And, as it turns out, you would be wrong. He's an absolute ninja at squeezing mileage out of 280 characters, as he reminded us on Saturday:

That's right, it's all the FBI's fault. Never mind that the Bureau undoubtedly gets hundreds of tips a day, nor that the folks investigating Russiagate are former FBI employees who now work directly for the Dept. of Justice, nor that Friday's indictment does not commit one way or the other to whether or not collusion took place.

Of course, even if we blame the FBI for the Florida shootings, that does not address the other school shootings that have taken place. Not to worry, however, because Trump has that covered, too:

The Donald has nothing if not chutzpah. It takes some Olympic-level gymnastics to argue that the Republicans are actually the party of gun control, and that the only thing stopping them is those infernal Democrats. Of course, Trump seems to have overlooked—once again—that if all it takes is control of the White House and both chambers of Congress, well, the GOP's got that right now. We can only assume, then, that sensible gun-control legislation will be coming sometime early this week.

Trump may have thought that he was done for the day after these tweets, and that he could get back to his disco party, but over in Europe, a rather prominent individual made headlines when he declared that, "As you can see with the FBI indictment, the evidence is now really incontrovertible and available in the public domain, whereas in the past it was difficult to attribute for a couple of reasons." This kind of undercuts the President's argument on Russiagate, and it demanded a response since the speaker was...Trump's NSA, H.R. McMaster. So, the President got out the iPhone again and went with this:

Again, ninja-like abilities. At the end of that tweet, that's five conspiracy theories for the price of one in the span of just 64 characters. In any event, there's no doubt that many of the Trump True Believers™ just eat these tweets up. However, the President's overall Twitter engagement is clearly waning; he used to be able to fall out of bed and get 200,000 likes and retweets. Now, he rarely reaches that plateau. So, his ability to rewrite the narrative may be weakening. (Z)

More Trouble for Manafort

Speaking of Russiagate, a small bit of significant news came out late Friday night. Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort tried to persuade a judge to relax the terms of his bail, and special counsel Robert Mueller's team responded by revealing more of the dirt they have. Already, Manafort was on the hot seat for alleged money laundering and for failing to disclose his work on behalf of foreign governments. Now, we can add "a series of bank frauds and bank fraud conspiracies" along with "additional criminal conduct."

Clearly, Manafort is resisting a plea deal, or else it would already be done. However, it seems clear that Mueller has the goods—enough to send the 68-year-old Manafort away for a long time. Further, right-hand man Rick Gates has already flipped. So, we have to assume that whatever is holding Manafort back—shame, loyalty to Trump, trying to get more favorable terms—won't hold him back much longer, and that he'll join the list of folks who have turned state's evidence. (Z)

Kushner's Lack of Clearance May Soon Become a Problem

Among the side effects of the Portergate scandal is that it was revealed that more than 100 White House staffers were doing their jobs with inadequate security clearances. This means that: (1) Some people don't have the information they need to do their jobs, or (2) They have information they are not cleared to see, or (3) Both of these.

The situation has compelled Chief of Staff John Kelly to announce that proper security clearances are going to be required for White House employees. If so, it creates something of a problem for some high profile folks in the West Wing, most obviously the un-cleared Jared Kushner. It's not known exactly why Kushner hasn't gotten clearance, but the most common problems are: (1) Connections to foreign governments, (2) Past bad behavior, and (3) lies/omissions on one's application paperwork. We know that #3 has been an issue for the First Son-in-law, and it's entirely possible that all three apply.

What we have, then, is something of a case of irresistible force meeting immovable object. Kushner may never get a clearance, and even if he does, it's not likely to happen soon. Meanwhile, his portfolio includes tasks—like bringing peace to the Middle East—that clearly demand access to classified information. Which means that Donald Trump will likely have to make a hard choice: cut the security clearance scandal off at the knees, or cut Kushner off at the knees. (Z)

Trump May Rue Declassification of Memo

Speaking of classified information, Donald Trump was more than happy to allow the pro-Trump Devin Nunes memo to be declassified so that it could be released to the general public. To the extent that the memo had an effect, it was surely short term. Most people had already made up their minds on Russiagate, and those who were still open to being swayed would certainly have been impacted more by Friday's indictments from Robert Mueller.

Meanwhile, in a recurring theme of the Trump administration, short-term gain has been prioritized over long-term pain. Experts note that the President may have created two problems for himself, one general, and one specific. The general problem is that the federal government has historically claimed broad authority, when it is sued, to withhold information related to ongoing investigations. Now, however, such claims will be rather more tenuous. Just about every federal judge in the land is going to ask government attorneys, "How, exactly, is this any different than the Nunes memo?"

This leads us to the specific problem. A judge has already asked that basic question, and the judge is Amit Mehta, who is overseeing aspects of the libel case that the website BuzzFeed is trying to fight. As part of their defense, Buzzfeed would very much like to know when the Steele dossier was first in the possession of the federal government, and also when Barack Obama was first briefed on its contents. Buzzfeed attorney Nathan Siegel did not previously dream that he could lay hands on this information, explaining that, "I never would have believed we'd ever get it." But now, it seems to be fair game, and Mehta's initial questions and pronouncement suggest he agrees. So, far from killing the Steele dossier as a going concern, the Nunes memo seems to have guaranteed a bunch more big, juicy headlines. (Z)

Nothing but the Best for Trump Cabinet

Former HHS Secretary Tom Price was brought down after his habit of traveling in government planes and first-class seats was brought to light. He had to reimburse the government for part of the six-figure tab, and he still lost his job. One might expect that to serve as a cautionary table for the rest of the Cabinet, but apparently not. Though a little more restrained that Price, they are nonetheless racking up big-time travel bills. That includes $122,334 for Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin, $90,000+ for EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, $811,800 for Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and $72,849 for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Every one of these fellows has excuses for their expenditures; Mnuchin, for example, insisted on a government jet for his honeymoon so he would have access to secure communications. The person who is most likely to find himself in Price-style hot water is Pruitt, who appears to have spent tens of thousands of dollars unnecessarily on first-class tickets. For example, he allowed his staff to fly in $200 coach seats on a short flight from Washington to New York City while he sat in a $1,641.43 first-class seat. When pressed on this, the Administrator said that when he sits in coach, he's sometimes "accosted" by critics. This has led some to be skeptical that people recognize Pruitt on sight, while others wonder why the government needs to spend tens of thousands of dollars so that his feelings don't get hurt. In any case, it's our latest reminder that there is very little swamp draining going on in Donald Trump's Washington. (Z)

McConnell Acknowledges Coming Wave

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) sat for a wide-ranging interview with the New York Times that was published Saturday. The major subject was the upcoming midterms, and the Majority Leader was frank, admitting that, "The odds are that we will lose seats in the House and the Senate," and that, "I concede the fund-raising problem."

Needless to say, a shrewd operator like Mitch McConnell does not pooh-pooh his own party's chances without some purpose. He may be trying to tell GOP donors that the time has come to open their checkbooks, or he may be preemptively soften the blow (and thus the damage he suffers) if Election Day turns into a bloodbath. Still, whatever his game his, it starts with the fact that even the second- or third- most prominent Republican in the country fears a wave is imminent. (Z)

GOP Megadonor: No More Money Until You Do Something about Guns

Florida real estate developer Al Hoffman Jr. has given many millions of dollars to Republican candidates, and unknown millions more to PACs, the RNC, and other organizations. Following the recent shootings in Florida, however, he's got a message for the GOP: "I will not write another check unless they all support a ban on assault weapons."

If ever there is going to be movement on this front, of course, this is how it will happen. At the moment, NRA money and the votes of people who fetishize the Second Amendment give great value to the GOP (and to some Democrats) with fairly little loss. Hoffman's money is not likely enough to counter that, but if a few more big guns line up with him—particularly if their last names happen to rhyme with Hoch or Hadelson—then it might tip the scales. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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