• Trump Calls Comey An "Untruthful Slime Ball"
• The Feds Have Tapes
• The Walls Are Closing in on Cohen
• Justice Dept. Inspector General Lowers the Boom on McCabe
• Freedom Caucus Founder Jim Jordan Fires a Warning Shot at McCarthy
• Why Did Trump Win the Election?
• Could Texas Help Democrats Flip the House?
When it comes to the chemical attack that the Syrian government made on the city of Douma last weekend, three facts were particularly relevant in anticipating Donald Trump's response:
- Trump was very angry about (and possibly embarrassed by) the attack
- Trump could use a good distraction right now
- The new National Security Advisor, John Bolton, is likely eager to put his stamp on things, and is an ultra-hawk
Consequently, anyone who was paying attention cannot be surprised that the Trump administration launched an attack against alleged chemical weapons sites in Syria early Saturday morning (local time; Friday night in the United States). Which of these factors was actually relevant in the decision-making process is something that only the people in the White House can know, but the odds are pretty good that they all played a role. Bill Maher quipped that it was "Operation Desert Stormy."
The good news is that—unlike Trump's previous attack on Syria, and unlike much of his foreign policy—this attack appears to have been conducted in what might best be described as a "grown-up" fashion. Rather than act unilaterally, Trump partnered with France and the UK. The three nations made a pitch to the U.N. on Friday and, failing to get support (predictably, given that Russia has a veto), moved forward with a joint strike against three different targets. It is also the case that the attack was, to use the New York Times' word, "restrained." The goal was very clearly to send a message to Bashar al-Assad without antagonizing Iran and Russia any more than is necessary. Add it all up, and the operation could easily have been the handiwork of Barack Obama, or Bill Clinton, or George H. W. Bush. You know, people who behaved like presidents.
The administration's goal of punishing Syria while trying not to aggravate Iran and Russia any more than necessary was also evident in the statement Trump delivered while operations were getting underway. It includes this passage:
I also have a message tonight for the two governments most responsible for supporting, equipping, and financing the criminal Assad regime.
To Iran, and to Russia, I ask: What kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women, and children?
The nations of the world can be judged by the friends they keep. No nation can succeed in the long run by promoting rogue states, brutal tyrants, and murderous dictators.
In 2013, President Putin and his government promised the world that they would guarantee the elimination of Syria's chemical weapons. Assad's recent attack -- and today's response -- are the direct result of Russia's failure to keep that promise.
Russia must decide if it will continue down this dark path, or if it will join with civilized nations as a force for stability and peace. Hopefully, someday we'll get along with Russia, and maybe even Iran -- but maybe not.
That is some pretty deft diplomacy, actually—again, it could easily have come the mouth from Obama, Clinton, or Bush Sr.
Of course, the Russians are still angry. Alexander Sherin, an official in the Russian foreign ministry, compared Trump to Adolf Hitler, declaring that, "he can be called Adolf Hitler No. 2 of our time because, you see, he even chose the time that Hitler attacked the Soviet Union." Seems like a little bit of a reach to decide that attacking at 4:00 a.m. is inherently Hitler-esque, but there it is. The Russian government also warned that there will be "consequences" as a result of the attack.
As to exactly what those "consequences" might be, well, that's anyone's guess. The original threat was that the Russians would shoot down any missiles sent in Syria's direction, but last night's attack was done using Lebanese airspace, so the Russians never had that chance. The Putin regime doesn't have a lot of other military options for striking back at the United States at the moment, and they've already done the "expel American diplomats" bit a few times, so that's getting kind of old. If they really do have kompromat on Trump, they could release some of it. Or, perhaps they will kick their cyberwarfare operation into high gear, with an eye toward finding dirt on Trump and/or his administration, or perhaps influencing the midterms in favor of the Democrats. We could end up with every branch of the government controlled by folks whose legitimacy is questionable.
Meanwhile, on the domestic front, Trump's base is not happy, either. He ran on an America-first, essentially isolationist platform. He also specifically said, many times, that he would not intervene in Syria. In fact, that is something he's been saying for at least five years:
@walaa_3ssaf No, dopey, I would not go into Syria, but if I did it would be by surprise and not blurted all over the media like fools.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 29, 2013
Now, just days after apparently reversing himself on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Trump's done a 180-degree turn on military intervention. Infowars' Alex Jones, who is a kook, but who has the ear of many Trump supporters, announced that World War III is coming, and said:
If he had been a piece of crap from the beginning, it wouldn't be so bad. We've made so many sacrifices and now he's crapping all over us. It makes me sick. Trump's now a fraud. Done. Fu** Trump.
Other prominent right-wingers weighed in via Twitter:
We lost. War machine bombs syria. No evidence Assad did it. Sad warmongers hijacking our nation— Michael Savage (@ASavageNation) April 14, 2018
Americans should not die fighting a war that’s NOT OURS TO FIGHT. #syria— Tomi Lahren (@TomiLahren) April 14, 2018
After Trump’s first year we have: 1.3 trillion omnibus, no wall, war in Syria. Is Clinton secretly President?— Lucian B. Wintrich (@lucianwintrich) April 14, 2018
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Our track record of intervening in Syria and the Middle East is terrible.— Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) April 14, 2018
Of all the things Trump has done, it's hard to recall a more unhappy response from his supporters. Maybe this will prove to be the tipping point for The Donald.
The President also has one other thing to be concerned about, at least a little: The legality of the strike against Syria is questionable, at best. The various interventions in Syria have been conducted under the auspices of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF), which empowers the president to use all "necessary and appropriate force" against those whom he determines "planned, authorized, committed or aided" the September 11th attacks, or who harbored said persons or groups. Needless to say, Syria and its citizens had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks, but Presidents Bush Jr. and Obama both interpreted the AUMF as giving them authority to also take action against al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other such groups, who definitely are present in Syria. That's a bit of a stretch, but Congress tolerated it. Last night's strike was not against Al-Qaeda or any other terrorist group, though; to the extent those people are still in Syria, it's on the other side of the country.
Consequently, many Senate Democrats, along with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), are carping about the attack, and are pressing Trump to justify the legality of it. Complicating things for the President is that one of the people who has raised this very question is...Donald Trump:
What will we get for bombing Syria besides more debt and a possible long term conflict? Obama needs Congressional approval.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 29, 2013
Rand Paul plus Senate Democrats, of course, equals 50 votes. Thus far, Congress has not been willing to do much to rein in Trump, but—given how many on the right and on the left would be pleased—it's not impossible that they cancel the AUMF, which would be an embarrassing black eye for the President. Also, if we want to get involved in some particularly wild speculation, "launched an illegal military strike" is exactly the sort of thing that an impeachment case could be built around, should Democrats retake Congress and decide to go in that direction. And so, Donald Trump's week just got worse, which is pretty remarkable given how bad it's already been. (Z)
Donald Trump went after former FBI Director James Comey yesterday for the former FBI Director's not-yet-published book. When it comes out on Tuesday, the President is likely to go completely ballistic because leaks suggest that the book is extremely detailed and precise due to Comey's habit of writing himself memos of events in real time. In the end, what will matter most is whether people believe Comey or Trump. So far, Comey is ahead according to a new ABC/WaPo poll released yesterday, with 48% saying Comey is more believable and 32% saying Trump is.
Trump went on yesterday attacking Comey for the way he handled Hillary Clinton's emails. Oddly enough, most Democrats would actually agree with him on that. In July 2016, Comey said she didn't break any laws, but then went on to scold her for her sloppy behavior. Justice Dept. guidelines state that when charges will not be brought, public statements are not supposed to attack the accused. He would never say: "Smith didn't rob the bank, but he would have liked to had he gotten the chance and often thinks about robbing banks and he even read some books about famous bank robberies." Furthermore, some people think that Comey's announcement a week and a half before the election of "More emails!" might have tipped the scales toward Trump, since Clinton was leading in most polls before he made the announcement, but her lead quickly evaporated. In the last week of the campaign, Trump praised Comey for his bravery in reopening the email investigation.
One of the items in the book that has leaked (so to speak) is Comey's statement that says that the item in the Steele Dossier about Trump and prostitutes and pee in Moscow might be true. In the infinite scheme of things, colluding with Russia to influence an election is a million times more important than whether Trump hired prostitutes and then behaved in a vulgar way with them. But the latter accusation apparently really gets under Trump's skin because it suggests he had to pay for sex, and when you're famous, you get it for free. When Comey was still FBI director, Trump asked him to investigate the possibility that there was a tape. If the incident didn't happen. there could not possibly be a tape of it. So his interest in finding out if there was a tape ("kompromat" in Russian), suggests the incident did happen.
When the book comes out next week, no doubt the story will explode even more. (V)
Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's fixer, was only 7 years old when it was discovered that Richard Nixon taped all his conversations in the White House, so he can be excused for not knowing that recordings of your conversations can be used in ways you not may have planned. That being the case, Cohen often recorded conversations to use as proof in certain situations, or to show Trump how he was handling various matters. Actual tapes went out of fashion along with the Sony Walkman, but according to ABC News, the digital recordings are all stored nicely on his computer, which federal prosecutors now have.
ABC's sources don't know how many recordings there are or who was recorded or what was discussed, but the parallels with Watergate are obvious. If Cohen recorded incriminating conversations and prosecutors now have the recordings without having to fight a court battle to get them or deal with compromises such as having an elderly hard-of-hearing senator listen to them and report on what he heard, Cohen is in deep doodoo, and possibly others are well.
Nevertheless, Cohen has one hope: That prosecutors in New York obey the law. To protect attorney-client privilege, a special "taint team" independent from the prosecutors in the case will listen to the recordings and study the documents first. If they hear Cohen and Trump discussing how to organize Trump's defense against some (future) charge, that is off limits and the taint team won't give it to the prosecutors. If, however, they hear Cohen talking to women about hush money, especially close to the election, that would be given to the prosecutors. Trump's lawyers went to court yesterday to try to block prosecutors from searching Cohen's computer for evidence. A complication in this matter is that although Cohen has a law degree, he is not Trump's defense lawyer in the sense that Ty Cobb or Jay Sekulow is, so the prosecutors could argue that attorney-client privilege is not relevant here and prosecutors can have everything on the computer.
To make things even worse, Cohen's computer is not in special counsel Robert Mueller's office. It is held by the prosecutors for the Southern District of New York, who will no doubt continue studying it carefully even if Mueller is fired. (V)
The fact that the FBI has seized his recordings (see above) is very bad news for Michael Cohen, particularly if the archive proves to be extensive. However, that was hardly the only bad news for the attorney in the last few days. To wit:
- In case there was any doubt, the Dept. of Justice
on Friday that Cohen is under criminal investigation, and has been for
that special counsel Robert Mueller has evidence that—despite his
denials—Cohen made a secret trip to Prague during the 2016 presidential
campaign. This confirms yet another of the details contained within the Steele
dossier. What is not publicly known, one way or another, is if Mueller has proof that Cohen
met with friend-of-Putin Konstantin Kosachev while he was there, as the dossier
alleges. If Mueller does have that evidence, it would be a "smoking gun," or at
least very close to it.
- The Wall Street Journal is
that last year, Cohen arranged a $1.6 million payment from GOP fundraiser
Elliott Broidy to a Playboy model who says she was impregnated by Broidy.
While this has nothing to do with Donald Trump, per se, it does provide further
evidence that the payment Cohen arranged with porn star Stormy Daniels was not a
- Cohen's attorneys appeared in federal court on Friday (see above) to try to get some limits placed on the information that federal prosecutors are allowed to look at. This backfired—not only did Judge Kimba Wood (yes, the failed Clinton AG appointee) refuse their request, she ordered that Cohen provide a list of all of his clients by Monday. That list will be a public record, and is not protected by attorney-client privilege unless the very name of the client would reveal what kind of advice was sought or given. If Cohen gives the court an accurate list, and there were other payments made to porn stars, Playboy models, etc., all of those folks' identities would be known. And if Cohen gives something other than an accurate list, he would be risking perjury charges in addition to all the other trouble he's in.
In short, Cohen's license to practice law is now on life support. And he is very likely going to have to make a decision very soon: Do I flip on Trump, or do I go to prison for 20 to life? Although, depending what's in the recordings, the government might not even need to cut a deal with Cohen, and then could send him up the river without even offering. (Z)
The Justice Department's inspector general, Obama appointee Michael Horowitz, issued a scathing report to Congress yesterday about former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, whom AG Jeff Sessions fired just hours before he was going to retire after 21 years of service to the Bureau. The report found that McCabe had lacked candor on four separate occasions. It also faulted him for disclosing information to a reporter in October 2016. McCabe issued a point-by-point rebuttal, said that he never misled anyone, and pointed out that he was authorized to release information to the media as he saw fit.
The report will be a godsend to Donald Trump at a time when the news is about to be dominated by the publication of former FBI Director James Comey's book on Tuesday. Leaks from the book and from an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos that will be aired tomorrow paint a picture of Trump as a mafia boss who has little regard for the law. Trump will now try to use the inspector general's report to depict the entire FBI as out of control and out to get him. You can read the full IG report here. (V)
As we pointed out yesterday, to be elected Speaker of the House a candidate needs 218 votes, not merely a majority of his own caucus. Yesterday, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) hinted he may take a shot at winning the job. As a co-founder of the Freedom Caucus, and someone who is disliked by most of the moderate Republicans and absolutely loathed by most of the Democrats, he has zero chance of actually winning. No, his "campaign" is really just a message to front-runner Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) that Donald Trump's support may be well and good should it be forthcoming, but the votes of Jordan and the Freedom Caucus will determine if McCarthy becomes speaker.
Jordan knows that he will never be speaker, but he could be kingmaker, using his leverage to get concessions from McCarthy. One possibility is putting him in the leadership and thus giving the far right more visibility and power. Jordan might also be angling for the chairmanship of a powerful committee, such as the House Oversight Committee, which would give him power to investigate anyone he cared to investigate. Just when you thought Benghazi was over.
McCarthy, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), and anyone else eyeing the speakership will have to take Jordan seriously because even if the Republicans hang onto the majority, it is likely to be a very narrow one, so the Freedom Caucus will effectively get a veto on personnel, legislation, and everything else. McCarthy understands this all too well. For him, in the immortal words of Yogi Berra, it is déjà vu all over again. In 2015 he (McCarthy, not Berra) ran for speaker and had to withdraw when Jordan et al. withheld their votes. (V)
People are still looking at the data from the 2016 election to understand why Donald Trump won. Alan Abramowitz has crunched more data and come to the conclusion that racial bias played a very large role. It has been known since Election Day that one of Trump's best demographics was white working-class voters, who were once fervent Democrats, but are no longer. What Abramowitz did was look very closely at a large amount of survey data taken 6 months into Trump's presidency. There are two theories about why this group swung heavily to Trump. One is that these voters are being squeezed economically and Trump's promise of "America first" and jobs attracted them. The other is that they are racist and his plans to build a wall, deport immigrants, and ban Muslims did the trick.
Here is a graph of Trump's support by family income:
From the graph, it is clear that at all income levels, noncollege voters supported Trump more than college-educated voters, with the biggest Trump support coming from workers making $100,000 or more. These people are not on the brink of starvation. They are doing just fine, so it is probably not economics that was the driving force.
Now consider these survey questions:
|Do you agree with this statement?||Noncollege||College|
|Discrimination is the reason blacks can't get ahead||30%||58%|
|Blacks who can't get ahead are responsible themselves for their situation||70%||42%|
From the answers, it is very clear that noncollege whites have a negative view of black Americans and hold them responsible for the fact that so many live in poverty. College-educated whites are much more likely to disagree with that. Trump exploited this racial animosity to the hilt and constantly attacked immigrants, especially nonwhite ones, and everyone else who isn't white. His slogan of "Make American Great Again" implicitly says that things used to be better when the country was much more racially homogeneous (i.e., white).
This is just one study, but if it is true, it presents a real challenge to the Democrats going forward. If white working-class voters voted for Trump for racial, rather than economic, reasons, dangling a $15 minimum wage in front of them isn't going to make much difference. The blue team can hardly try to be more racist than Trump, as that would completely alienate their own base. Figuring this one out will be tough, but one strategy may be to simply give up on white working-class voters and put a huge effort into converting college-educated suburban voters into Democrats. (V)
The obvious answer to that is: "No, of course not." The not-so-obvious answer is: "Maybe." Strange as it might sound, Texas is not a completely lost cause for the Democrats. Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) has raised almost $7 million for his Senate run. He'll probably still lose to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), but several Republican House districts are probably in play. Let's look at some districts where incumbent Republicans may have a problem on their hands.
- TX-23 (Will Hurd): The district runs from the
eastern El Paso suburbs in the west along the border and up to San Antonio. The
population is 55% Latino. Hurd beat Democrat Pete Gallego in 2016 by 1.3 points.
Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump here by 3.5 points. The Democrats have an
appealing young candidate, Gina Ortiz Jones (37), who was an Air Force officer
in Iraq. She is also a Filipina and openly lesbian. With the large minority
population in the district, the fact that she is a Filipina should be a plus.
The combination of Hurd's narrow win last time, the demographics of the
district, and a young veteran running is going to give Hurd a real scare at the
- TX-32 (Pete Sessions): The district is a
collection of Dallas suburbs plus part of the city. Sessions got 71% of the vote
here in 2016—but only because the Democrats didn't bother to field a
candidate. They are not making that mistake this time, since Hillary Clinton won
the district by 3 points. The Democrat is Colin Allred (34), a black civil
rights lawyer, who, like Jones, is making his first run for public office. He
once played professional football for the Tennessee Titans, then he got a law
degree at UC Berkeley. He is a strong supporter of gun control legislation,
whereas Sessions is an NRA favorite.
- TX-31 (John Carter): This one will be tougher,
because Trump won here by 13 points, but the Democrats have a very strong
candidate in Mary Hegar (42), a war hero whose story might become a movie "Shoot Like
a Girl," starring Angelina Jolie. Hegar served several tours of duty in
Afghanistan as a pilot and won a Purple Heart when the Taliban shot down her
helicopter while she was trying to rescue people. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL)
managed to parlay a similar story to victory in the Senate, although her
electorate was much bluer. Still, Carter will celebrate his 77th birthday on
Election Day (unless he loses, in which case he won't celebrate so much), so age
is likely to be an issue here.
- TX-21 (Open): This is also a district that Trump won (by 10 points), but Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) is retiring, so it is an open seat. It is located in the middle of the state, north of San Antonio. About 20% of the residents are Latino. Four Democrats ran in the primary and Mary Wilson and Joseph Kopser will face off in the May runoff. The Republican primary was a real circus, with 18 candidates. Chip Roy and Matt McCall will duke it out in the Republican runoff. This one is a longshot for the blue team, but in a wave year, it could be within reach.
The first two are on the DCCC's red-to-blue list, meaning that Jones and Allred will get funding from the national party as well as publicity for being on the list. While it currently seems unlikely that the Democrats could flip all four of these, given that Clinton won the first two, they are clearly prime targets. (V)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr13 About that Trans-Pacific Partnership...
Apr13 Replacing Ryan May Be Complicated
Apr13 House Democrats Have Their Own Leadership Problem
Apr13 Today's Russiagate Update
Apr13 Today's Smut Update
Apr13 Preet Bharara Says the Likelihood of Michael Cohen Being Charged Is High
Apr13 Trump Expected to Use Pardon Power Again
Apr13 Menendez Is Way Ahead Despite Indictment for Taking Bribes
Apr12 Ryan Will Retire in January
Apr12 Which Crisis Will Materialize First?
Apr12 Pu**ygate Strikes Back
Apr12 Bill to Prevent Trump from Firing Mueller Is Getting Attention
Apr12 Comey Will Compare Trump to a Mob Boss on Sunday
Apr12 Senators Will Question Pompeo Today
Apr12 Evangelicals Still Like Trump but are Disappointed by Republicans
Apr12 Missouri Governor Accused of Sexual Coercion
Apr11 Trump Threatens Mueller
Apr11 FBI May Have Been Looking for More Stormies
Apr11 More on Michael Cohen
Apr11 CBO Projections Are Brutal
Apr11 Bossert Exits
Apr11 Puerto Rico's Governor Plans to Mobilize Mainland Puerto Ricans
Apr11 Fox News and CNN Are Losing Viewers While MSNBC Is Gaining Them
Apr11 Zuckerberg 1, Senators 0
Apr10 FBI Raids Cohen; Trump Outraged
Apr10 Trump May Soon Discover Where the Buck Stops
Apr10 Senate Confirmation Battles Loom
Apr10 Taxes Will Rise in Many States Despite the Tax Cut
Apr10 Mueller Investigating $150,000 Payment from Ukrainian to Trump Foundation
Apr10 Neither Party Is Ready for Mueller
Apr10 Rick Scott Is Running
Apr10 Older, Educated, White Voters are Moving Away from the Republican Party
Apr10 100,000 Young Californians Have Pre-Registered to Vote
Apr09 Syria Gets Messy
Apr09 Fire in Trump Tower
Apr09 Republican Issue for the Midterms: Impeachment
Apr09 Manafort Might Try to Put the FBI on Trial
Apr09 Sanders and Harris Make Gaffes
Apr09 Nearly All Republican Candidates Embrace Trump
Apr09 GOP Pollster: Republicans Are in "Deep Trouble" in 2018
Apr09 Race to Succeed Paul Ryan Has Already Begun
Apr08 Trump Doubles Down on Pruitt
Apr08 Managing Trump, v2.0
Apr08 Managing Trump, v3.0
Apr08 Trump Will Get to Reinvent the Ninth Circuit
Apr08 GOP Candidates Have to Walk a Fine Line on Tariffs
Apr08 Americans Are Taking to the Streets
Apr08 Democrats Surging in Tennessee
Apr07 Trade War Fever Continues Unabated