• Mueller Following the Money
• Trump & Co. Working Hard to Delegitimize Mueller
• Sessions Met with Russian Lobbyist During the Campaign
• Trump Punts on Commander-in-Chief Responsibilities
• Pence Hires a Defense Lawyer
• Trump Sells $12 Billion Worth of Arms to Terrorist Sponsor Qatar
• Senators of Both Parties Criticize Secrecy around Senate Health Bill
• Putin Offers Asylum to Comey
• AHCA's Margin of Error is Dropping
• Turnbull Mocks Trump
• Democrats Crush Republicans--in Baseball
They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 15, 2017
He called the investigation being run by special counsel Robert Mueller a "witch hunt." Trump seems to have forgotten that he went on national television and announced that he fired then-FBI Director James Comey because Comey was investigating any connection between his campaign and Russia. That alone is prima facie evidence that he tried to stop an investigation. In addition, Trump told at least two high-ranking government officials (DNI Dan Coats and NSA Director Mike Rogers) to get Comey to stop investigating former NSA Michael Flynn. With all this evidence out in the open, it is hard to claim there is no reason to at least investigate the matter. But Trump clearly is aiming his alternative facts at his base, rather than the Washington Post readership. As long as they stick with him, House members will be afraid to challenge him and he will be safe for the moment.
Speaking of the WaPo readership, it's not doing badly. In May, the paper had over a billion hits from 81 million unique visitors, an increase of 28% compared to May 2016. Furthermore, the visitors are spending more time reading the paper than ever before, an average of 19 minutes. When Amazon founder Jeff Bezos bought the WaPo in 2013 for $250 million in cash, few people understood what his game plan was. Maybe it was just to make a lot of money. (V)
We learned on Wednesday that special counsel Robert Mueller is taking an interest in obstruction of justice. And on Thursday, we learned that his Russia investigation has taken on a new avenue of inquiry: finance. The theory, according to the New York Times, is that any cooperation with Russian officials may have been in exchange for cash payments, which would have to be laundered in some way to keep them on the down-low.
Trump himself may have some pretty serious exposure in this regard. In the past, he's been linked to money laundering schemes that centered on the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. More recently, a Dutch-produced documentary linked The Donald to a laundering scheme in the Netherlands. That said, at the moment, Mueller's inquiry into finances appears to be focused on son-in-law Jared Kushner, according to reporting from the Washington Post. Those of former NSA Michael Flynn, Trump friend Carter Page, and former campaign manager Paul Manafort are also going to get a look-see. Surely, Trump's own finances won't be far behind. And so, the plot thickens, yet again. (Z)
As noted above, Donald Trump has been using Twitter to lash out against Robert Mueller and his investigation. These tweets are part of a full-court press being mounted right now by Trump and his associates, including Carter Page, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Newt Gingrich, and others. The former Speaker, for example, tweeted this back in May:
Robert Mueller is superb choice to be special counsel. His reputation is impeccable for honesty and integrity. Media should now calm down— Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) May 18, 2017
But on Thursday, he tweeted this:
Muelleris now clearly the ti[p of the deep state spear aimed at destroying or at a minimum undermining and crippling the Trump presidency.— Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) June 15, 2017
A rather dramatic shift of opinion in just under a month.
The anti-Mueller campaign is so overt, and so aggressive, that it surely must be coordinated. As Slate's Jeremy Stahl points out, there are four themes to the attacks being made:
- There's no evidence of collusion, so they're making up an obstruction charge (see Trump's tweet above)
- Robert Mueller is a deep state agent bent on destroying Donald Trump (see Gingrich's tweet)
- Robert Mueller's investigation is spiraling out of control
- Robert Mueller is a very bad man
There are two things worth noting here. The first is that if Trump's base buys into these lines of thinking—and there's no reason to think they won't—then the President is risking a constitutional crisis should Mueller find evidence of guilt. Apparently, Trump's ego and/or desire to remain in power are more important than the stability of the government. The second thing worth pointing out is that innocent people do not generally work this hard, this fast, to sabotage their accusers. (Z)
During his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee this week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that he did not "believe" that he had any contacts with Russian lobbyists. Now Richard Burt, who lobbied for the Russian Gazprom energy conglomerate, has gone on record saying that he attended two events with Sessions during the campaign. During the Reagan administration, Burt was ambassador to Germany, so he has some foreign policy expertise in addition to his lobbying work for the Russians. Trump tapped him to help with a foreign policy speech the President delivered at Washington's Mayflower Hotel in April 2016. Sessions and Burt were present at the event.
It is important to note that when the senators asked Sessions, under oath, if he had any contact with Russian lobbyists, he didn't say "no." If more evidence comes out showing that Sessions did talk to Burt at the Mayflower, he will be able to say that he never denied it. Weasel words like this might get him off on a perjury charge, but in the court of public opinion meeting with a Russian lobbyist and then saying that you didn't believe you met with a Russian lobbyist may not work so well. (V)
The presidency comes with many and varied responsibilities. The occupant of the Oval Office manages the executive branch (Chief Executive), sets the nation's legislative agenda (Chief Legislator), takes the lead in interactions with other nations (Chief Diplomat), and serves as a symbol of what is good and great about American society (Head of State). Possibly the most important of the presidential roles, however, is serving as Commander-in-Chief of the military, providing critical civilian oversight of the most potent, and potentially most dangerous, arm of the government.
Donald Trump, of course, has virtually no experience with military affairs. And, by all evidences, he has no interest in the subject, either. Consequently, he has officially put management of the conflict in Afghanistan in the hands of Secretary of Defense James Mattis. Decisions about troop levels and deployment are now Mattis' alone.
Given that Congress abrogated its responsibility for overseeing the conflict in Afghanistan many years ago, and that Trump has now abrogated his, there is now effectively no civilian oversight of the conflict there. Yes, Mattis is technically a civilian, but one who retired from the military less than four years ago. There is enough risk of blurring the lines between civilians and the military that it's actually against the law for Mattis to serve so soon after retirement, but of course he was granted a waiver by Congress. By all evidences, Mattis is a man of integrity, and won't abuse the powers he has been given. Nonetheless, the men who wrote the Constitution—who feared unchecked military power, with good reason—would be horrified at the current state of affairs. (Z)
In a surprising development, Vice President Mike Pence has hired his own personal defense lawyer, Richard Cullen. While there have been leaks about a large number of people under investigation, Pence has not been named as a potential target in any of them. Nevertheless, he could yet be ensnared in Russiagate. In particular, Pence was head of the transition team and that team is definitely being investigated, so it is possible that Robert Mueller might want to question Pence under oath. For example, he might ask: "What did you know and when did you know it?" Having a private attorney to help him prepare for such moments could prove useful to Pence.
Cullen worked on George W. Bush's legal team during the 2000 Florida recount. His other clients have included former Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Tiger Woods' ex-wife Elin Nordegren. One unusual fact about Cullen is that he and James Comey once worked together at the McGuireWoods law firm and Cullen is godfather to one of Comey's daughters. (V)
Less than a week ago, Donald Trump attacked Qatar and told it to stop funding terrorism. Yesterday, Trump announced that the U.S. will sell Qatar $12 billion worth of F-15 fighter jets and another $9 billion worth of other military equipment. Historically, the U.S. has not sold large amounts of very advanced military equipment to countries that sponsor terrorism, Saudi Arabia excepted.
While Trump wants to take credit for the deal, and the 60,000 jobs it will create, the deal has actually been in the works since Nov. 2016 and was largely arranged by the Obama administration. In principle, Qatar is an ally and hosts a very large military base that is used to fight ISIS. Keeping Qatar friendly so the base can continue functioning has been a U.S. priority for a long time. (V)
A group of Republican senators handpicked by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is writing its own healthcare bill in complete secrecy. There will be no hearings, no open markup session, and no copy of the bill made available to anyone until the vote. Democrats are complaining bitterly that a dozen senators, with no input from the outside world, are planning to redo one-sixth of the U.S. economy, and then order the other senators to vote on it. And now, Republican senators are also starting to complain about the process. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) said: "The process is better if you do it in public, and that people get buy-in along the way and understand what's going on." Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) put it this way: "I've solved a lot of problems. It starts with information. Seems like around here, the last step is getting information, which doesn't seem to be necessarily the most effective process." Even Secretary of HHS Tom Price admitted that he has not seen the bill.
McConnell is no dummy. He undoubtedly thinks that drafting the document in private, then handing each senator a 1,000-page bill in the morning and taking a vote on it in the afternoon maximizes the chance that it will pass. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) succinctly explained why McConnell is doing what he is doing: "We've got a divided caucus. I listen avidly at lunch as we go over the same arguments over and over and over again." Clearly McConnell wants the Senate to vote on a bill that nobody understands, lest individual senators find items in it they don't like and then vote no. (V)
Yesterday, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered asylum to former FBI Director James Comey in case he is afraid of what Donald Trump might do to him. Putin referenced Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who leaked classified information about NSA spying, who was granted asylum and is currently living in Russia. Comey hasn't indicated any interest in taking up the offer, however. (V)
The AHCA bill passed the House by a margin of 217 to 213, but it could get even tighter. The Senate is working on its own bill, so the House will have to vote either on the Senate bill or on a conference bill. Whatever the case may be, another vote is needed. On account of being shot by a crazy person, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), probably won't be able to vote on the new bill. If Jon Ossoff (D) wins the GA-06 special election next Tuesday, the vote could be 216 to 214. That means every Republican who voted for the bill last time could threaten to bolt and take down the bill unless that member gets something he or she wants. A situation in which over 200 Republicans can block the new healthcare bill unless some demand is met could put Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) in a very difficult position. No doubt Ryan's prayer until Tuesday is going to be: "Lord, please let Ossoff lose." (V)
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was appearing at his nation's equivalent of the White House Press Correspondents Dinner. During his remarks, then, a certain amount of jocularity was expected. And so, he took the opportunity to mock Donald Trump. Adopting the President's speaking style (albeit with an Aussie accent), Turnbull said:
The Donald and I, we are winning and winning in the polls. We are winning so much! We are winning like we have never won before. We are winning in the polls. We are! Not the fake polls. Not the fake polls. They're the ones we're not winning in. We're winning in the real polls
Turnbull's problem is that the event, which is supposed to be off the record, was being surreptitiously recorded, and was posted to the Internet by Australia's Channel Nine.
This performance provides direct evidence of something we already suspected: The rest of the world's leaders, or many of them at least, do not respect Trump. Mocking Barack Obama in this way, or even George W. Bush or Bill Clinton (both of whom had their detractors, internationally) would have been unheard of. But with Trump, well, we can easily imagine that it's not just Australia where he's the butt of jokes behind closed doors. (Z)
The blue team beat the red team 11-2 in the annual Congressional baseball game last night. There were 25,000 people in attendance at the game, which raised $1.5 million for local charities. At a practice session on Wedneday, a crazed gunman shot four people, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who is still in critical condition at a Virginia hospital, even after having undergone three surgeries. Before the first pitch, Donald Trump spoke by video and said: "By playing tonight, you are showing the world that we will not be intimidated by threats, acts of violence, or assaults on our Democracy." In a rare gesture of good will toward the other side, the Democrats' manager, Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) handed the trophy to the Republicans to place in Scalise's office until he returns to work. (V)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jun15 Scalise Shot by Unbalanced Sanders Supporter
Jun15 Senate Approves New Sanctions on Russia
Jun15 Feinstein Defends Blue Slips
Jun15 Government Ethics Office Says Bannon's Waiver Is "Problematic"
Jun15 Why Do Republicans Still Grovel to Trump?
Jun15 Trump's Plan to Privatize the Air Traffic Control Systems Is Hitting Turbulence
Jun15 Fox News Drops the "Fair and Balanced" Slogan
Jun15 Trump's Twitter Etiquette Raises Eyebrows
Jun15 Christie's Approval Rating Is Ghastly
Jun14 Sessions Bobs, Weaves, and Jabs
Jun14 Russian Hacking Much Worse than Previously Thought
Jun14 Could the Georgia Special Election Next Week Be Hacked?
Jun14 Virginians Choose Northam, Gillespie
Jun14 Not Achieving Much? Fake It
Jun14 How Trump Could Fire Mueller
Jun14 Longitudinal Study Gives Insight into the Obama-Trump Voters
Jun14 Good News for Democrats
Jun14 Muslim Travel Ban v2.0 Is in Big Trouble
Jun14 Trump Calls House Healthcare Bill "Mean"
Jun14 Democrats Will Sue Trump over Emoluments
Jun13 Ninth Circuit Upholds Muslim Ban v2.0 Injunction
Jun13 Trump Holds First Cabinet Meeting
Jun13 Sessions Will Testify in Public before the Senate Intelligence Committee Today
Jun13 Questions for Sessions
Jun13 Secret Service Knows of No Recordings
Jun13 Plurality of Voters Think Trump Obstructed Justice
Jun13 Senate Has a Bill to Put More Sanctions on Russia
Jun13 Four Members of Mueller's Team Have Donated to Democrats
Jun13 Trump Reportedly Considering Firing Mueller
Jun13 Gorsuch Makes His First Ruling
Jun12 Maryland and D.C. Sue Trump over Emoluments
Jun12 Schumer Invites Trump to Testify before the Senate
Jun12 Democrats Want Sessions to Testify in Public
Jun12 Could Trump Fire Mueller?
Jun12 Mueller Hires Top Criminal Lawyer
Jun12 Trump to Address Tapes Next Week
Jun12 Trump Orders Priebus to Drain the Swamp by July Fourth
Jun12 No Trump Visit to the U.K. Anytime Soon
Jun12 Sheldon Adelson Is Planning to Create a New Super PAC for 2018
Jun12 Is Romney Really Running?
Jun12 Puerto Rico Votes to Become the 51st State
Jun11 Trump's Lawyers Are Aghast at His Offer to Testify for Mueller
Jun11 Sessions Will Testify before Senate Committee on Tuesday
Jun11 Everyone Wants the Comey Recordings
Jun11 When Will Trump Staff His Administration?
Jun11 Trump Has No Relationship With Barack Obama
Jun11 Putin Blew It
Jun11 Schneiderman Is Investigating Eric Trump's Foundation
Jun11 Democrats Woo Black Voters in GA-06