• Mueller Brings New Charges against Manafort and His Associate
• Pardon Me?
• Trump Likes Weed
• Two Words Democrats Must Not Say on the Campaign Trail
• Judge Rules that Trump Can Be Deposed
• Romney Predicts "Solid" Victory for Trump in 2020
Donald Trump swaggered into La Malbaie, Quebec, yesterday to meet with the leaders of the G-7 (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the European Union are the members, beyond the U.S.). He's really painted himself into a corner, setting things up so that the story will almost certainly be "leaders of America's closest allies join together to rebuke Trump." On Friday, we learned what the President's strategy will be to try to short-circuit that narrative: He came out firing, not with personal attacks (as per usual), but with wild proposals for the other six Gs.
The very first salvo technically came before Air Force One even touched down. While traveling to Canada, Trump shared with reporters his view that Russia should be allowed to rejoin the group (it was the G-8 from 1997 to 2014), and that it has suffered enough punishment for its annexation of part of Ukraine. "Why are we having the meeting without Russia being in the meeting? Russia should be in the meeting, it should be a part of it," the President told reporters. This declaration will certainly not help when it comes to bridging the gap with the other world leaders, nor when it comes to convincing people that Trump did not collude with the Russians.
Trump was not done, though. After he touched down—so late that he missed a scheduled meeting with French president Emmanuel Macron—he unleashed his next salvo. The proposal: "[W]e should at least consider no tariffs, no barriers—scrapping all of it." The other leaders were reportedly dumbfounded, as well they should have been. First of all, they are never going to completely give up the single most significant tool they have for managing international trade. Second, Trump is the man who pulled out of the TPP and who might well kill NAFTA. Supposedly, he hates free trade (and his base definitely hates it). So, how can he possibly support what is, effectively, radical free trade? Does he even understand the implications of what he's proposing? Does he know anything about economic policy? These are undoubtedly some of the questions that were running through the heads of Angela Merkel, Justin Trudeau, Shinzo Abe, and company.
The summit will reconvene today, and one can only imagine what else Trump will throw out there. A joint space mission to Vulcan, because the President has always wanted to meet Spock? A pardon for Joan of Arc? Switching back to bartered goods as the international medium of exchange? Converting the World Bank into a Disneyland theme park? Your guess is probably as good as anyone's. (Z)
Special counsel Robert Mueller is operating as though Donald Trump is not on a pardoning spree (see below). He continues to bring new charges against Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, presumably in the hope that Manafort will flip rather than sit tight and wait for a pardon. Yesterday, Mueller charged Manafort and his long-time associate Konstantin Kilimnik with witness tampering. He is accused of coaching witnesses to lie—in particular, to say that the lobbying work that Manafort did on behalf of a Russian-friendly puppet regime in Ukraine was entirely in Europe (which would not violate any U.S. laws) rather than in the U.S. (which would violate multiple U.S. laws).
Politically, the new indictments could be important. The former head of Donald Trump's campaign is now formally accused for conspiring with a Russian (Kilimnik). While the underlying case happened before the campaign, the conspiracy happened this year. Furthermore, Kilimnik is suspected of being a Russian intelligence officer. Normally, heads of campaigns don't work hand-in-hand with Russian spies in an attempt to obstruct justice.
Manafort's situation is becoming more dire by the day. Mueller has already asked the judge to revoke his house arrest and put him in prison. With yesterday's additional indictments, there is a greater chance the judge will agree that if Manafort stays at home, he will try to tamper with more witnesses, suborn perjury, and generally obstruct justice. The indictment will also strengthen Mueller's case that Manafort knew he was guilty of the original charges. After all, if you are not guilty, you want the truth to come out. You don't instruct witnesses to lie.
Manafort is facing two separate trials, one in D.C. and one in Virginia. The D.C. is related to money laundering, failing to register as a foreign agent, and lying to the Justice Dept. The Virginia case is about tax evasion, bank fraud, and failing to report foreign bank accounts.
Reporters are already asking Trump if he plans to pardon Manafort, something Manafort is no doubt quite interested in. Trump responded by saying it is too early to consider such action. But if Manafort is sent to prison pending his two trials and doesn't especially like it there and threatens to flip, Trump could change his mind on a dime. (V)
Donald Trump has discovered that he just loves, loves, loves the pardon power. This is one of the least surprising developments of his presidency. After all, he can have a big impact with a decision that can be made spontaneously, and then executed unilaterally. Further, after he uses it, he gets heaped with praise by his friends and supporters. What's not to love? Which is why the President declared on Friday that, "The power to pardon is a beautiful thing." Most other presidents would have described the pardon power as a prerogative, but for Trump the more apropos word would be "perk."
Trump's earliest forays into using the pardon power were, by all evidences, very tactical. Starting with Joe Arpaio, and continuing with Kristian Saucier, Scooter Libby, and Dinesh D'Souza, Trump's pardons appeared to have the purpose of currying favor with the base, and—probably more importantly—to send a message to Paul Manafort, et al., that they would be "rescued," if necessary.
The pardon of Jack Johnson, which was the fourth one Trump granted (right before D'Souza), was of a different sort. In that case, the President was lobbied by a celebrity—Sylvester Stallone—to show clemency. The Donald has spent his whole career longing for the acceptance of the glitterati, and there is no question he was thrilled to have a Hollywood star (even one who has faded a little bit) sucking up to him. This caused Kim Kardashian West to take notice, and she used a visit with Trump to secure a pardon for Alice Marie Johnson (no relation to Jack). In this context, last month's surprising pro-Trump tweets from her husband Kanye West are suddenly a little less surprising.
Now we are rapidly moving toward open season. The message is out that Trump can be lobbied, and at the same time, he's looking for any opportunity to use his perk. It's already known that he's thinking about pardoning former "Celebrity Apprentice" contestants Martha Stewart and Rod Blagojevich, even though the Illinois GOP is pleading with him not to do that.
The latest person under consideration, as Trump revealed on Friday, came out of left field: Muhammad Ali. Huh? This seems to make very little sense until one considers that the President is a man of somewhat limited imagination. Jack Johnson was a black boxer who was controversially convicted of a crime, due in large part to his race. Trump tried to think of another candidate for a pardon, and he came up with...a black boxer who was controversially convicted of a crime, due in large part to his race. There is one pretty big difference between Johnson and Ali, though. Ali's conviction was vacated by the Supreme Court, so there's actually nothing to pardon him for.
In case there was any doubt that Trump is thinking along these lines (i.e., "black sports stars"), he also revealed another bit of his pardon-related thought process on Friday: That he might talk to kneeling NFL players and asking them about possible pardon candidates. Huh? That's even more of a curveball than Ali. It's possible that Trump is just trolling, well...everyone, but not likely. More probable is that he is thinking that this "compromise" will resolve the NFL players' grievances, with the result that he will (1) Secure a "victory," and (2) Get to use the pardon power some more. Never mind that his base would be furious, and that the kneeling players would not likely agree to be used as props in this way, especially since a few unfairly imprisoned people are only one small piece of the much larger picture they are concerned about.
In the end, these developments remind us of three things. First, that Trump has only a passing grasp of most subjects, whether it's Muhammad Ali's past, or modern racial politics, or exactly what Rod Blagojevich did. Second, that when Trump has to choose between his desires and those of anyone else (like, say, his base), his automatic response is his own desires. And that leads to the third point: That he's more than happy to use the powers of the presidency to advance his own personal ends, which means that one of these days, he probably will pardon Paul Manafort (and several others). Of course, this is also what makes it probable that one day, he's going to get nailed for obstruction of justice, or violation of the emoluments clause, or some other form of corruption. (Z)
Donald Trump now opposes his own administration's position on marijuana. He indicated yesterday that if Congress repeals the federal ban on the evil weed, leaving it up to the states to determine if it is legal within their borders, he will sign the bill. AG Jeff Sessions is fanatically against marijuana, so this puts him and Trump on opposite sides of the battle. This difference of opinion could give Trump a "reason" to fire Sessions. The real reason, of course, would be to replace him with someone who will rein in or fire Robert Mueller.
A number of states have eliminated state laws against marijuana, but growers, stores, and users are still at risk of federal prosecution. If the bill being co-sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) passes the Senate and eventually becomes law, the industry will undoubtedly skyrocket. One of the problems growers and stores have now is that banks won't give them accounts because they are dealing in a federally controlled substance. If the federal law is changed, that problem goes away. It is also possible that then the big tobacco companies will get into the business. (V)
Many Democratic voters want a single-payer health-care insurance system, like the one that Canada has, but political consultants are warning candidates that under no conditions may they utter the words "single payer," lest Republicans accuse them of wanting socialized medicine. That accusation would be completely false, since single-payer refers to an insurance system, whereas socialized medicine refers to a system in which the doctors are government employees, but very few voters understand this. The term the candidates are told to use is "Medicare for all," since Medicare is popular, even though it is exactly the same as single-payer.
With Democrats, there is constant warfare between the Bernie faction and the Hillary faction. This could be a workable compromise: Candidates support Bernie's program but use the DNC's terminology for it.
One place the concept of Medicare for all will be tested in is NE-02 (Omaha). A highly progressive candidate, Kara Eastman, won the Democratic primary there and is a big fan of single payer, but is willing to call it Medicare for all. Her race, against Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE), will be a test case for 2020. If a progressive candidate running on a progressive platform can win in Nebraska, progressive candidates will spring up all over the country in 2020. If she is wiped out, there may not be so much enthusiasm in 2020. (V)
Judge Jennifer Schecter has ruled that Summer Zervos' attorney, Gloria Allred, can depose Donald Trump as part of Zervos' defamation lawsuit against Trump. She claims that he kissed and groped her, something he vigorously denies. He called her a liar, which is the basis for the defamation suit.
The deposition is not going to happen any time soon, though, as the wheels of justice grind slowly. Allred and Trump's lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, must issue their demands for documents by July 13 and provide responses by Sept. 27. Third party subpoenas are due March 23, 2019. Discovery must be completed by April 12, 2019.
Trump could still avoid a deposition. Kasowitz is arguing that a sitting president cannot be sued in state court, only in federal court. He has said the Supreme Court has to decide this jurisdictional issue before any depositions can be taken. That could delay the case by months, which is no doubt Kasowitz' goal. (V)
Mitt Romney is the man who once said, "Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University." However, Romney is now running for the U.S. Senate as a member of the party of Trump, and so that has encouraged a certain...reassessment. Speaking to a group of big-time GOP donors on Friday, Romney had many flattering things to say about the President, including a prediction that he would sail to reelection for two reasons: (1) The growing economy, and (2) The likelihood that the Democrats will nominate an unelectable far-leftist.
The comment certainly reminds us why Romney got crushed during his presidential run. He doesn't seem to stand for...anything. Most politicians are a little weaselly and opportunistic, but Willard takes it to extremes, and is extremely ham-fisted about it. The only presidential nominee in recent history who has even fewer clear and consistent principles than Romney is, well, Donald Trump. Clearly, the GOP of George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, and Dwight D. Eisenhower is dead. Those men all had their opponents, but at least they stood for something.
The remarks also raise the question of exactly what Romney's larger plan is here. He's going to win his election, and shortly after he takes his Senate seat he will turn 72. Does he really want to be a backbencher for 12-15 years, before getting some real power in his late eighties? Is he planning to be the leader of the Trump resistance, with Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) gone? Apparently not. A presidential run in 2020? It does not seem so. A presidential run in 2024, at the age of 79? Improbable.
Meanwhile, it's hard to take Romney's political "analysis" seriously. The "growing economy" is a great talking point, but a phony one. The economy is holding steady, and "pocketbook" voters will know whether or not their lot in life has actually gotten better between 2017 and 2020, rhetoric or not. And that's before we consider the very strong possibility of a recession between now and Election Day. As to the Democrats nominating a too-liberal candidate, that seems to be wishful thinking more than anything else. Historical precedent does not support Romney's assertion; the Democrats don't tend to nominate far leftists under any circumstances. The only semi-exception is George McGovern in 1972, who triumphed because the Democratic coalition was in tatters, the sitting president was very popular, morale was low due to the Vietnam War and other violence, and the blue team's bench was very thin. Beyond a partly-fractured coalition (though less fractured than the Dems of 1972), those conditions aren't true of the Democrats right now. Further, results in this year's primaries overwhelmingly suggest that Democrats are currently valuing electability over ideological purity. No one can know who the Democratic candidate will be in 2020, but it's exceedingly likely that they won't shoot themselves in the foot with anyone who is even close to the fringes.
In any event, it will be interesting to see where Romney is headed. Thanks to his presidential run, he has a stature and a platform not afforded to most senators. Only he knows what he plans to do with it. (Z)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
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Jun06 Sadler Is out at the White House
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Jun05 Trump Asserts His Right to Pardon Himself
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