• Tensions Rise in House Due to Ryan's Refusal to Step Down Immediately
• More Trouble for Pruitt
• Joe Biden: Yoo Hoo, I'm Still Here and Maybe I'm Running in 2020
• Republicans Are Gaining in Generic House Poll
• Democrats May Flip House Seats in New Jersey
• Another Top Lawyer Turns Down Trump
Every time we think this administration could not get more soap opera-esque, they prove us wrong. The setting for the latest episode of this reality show was the New York courtroom of Kimba Wood. In most other places, Wood—a former Playboy bunny who sent junk bond king Michael Milken to prison, earned the nickname "The Love Judge" because of her steamy extramarital affair with millionaire Frank Richardson, and had to withdraw from consideration for attorney general due to her employment of nannies with unclear citizenship status—would be the most notorious person in the room. But with Donald Trump's paramour Stormy Daniels in the gallery, apparently to make some sort of statement, and Trump fixer Michael Cohen at the defendant's podium, Wood barely even makes the medal stand. And that is before we consider the wildly unexpected cameo made by Fox News host Sean Hannity (in name, if not in person).
Cohen was in Wood's court to address two matters. The first was that he and Trump would like to be the first to review the materials that were seized from Cohen's office, home, and hotel room last week. Wood is a three-decade federal judge, which means she was not born yesterday. She knows that if she were to grant that request, important evidence could end up in the same place as Trump's secret plan to fight ISIS, and his terrific plan to replace Obamacare. So, her ruling was a hard "no." However, Wood did say that she would make sure the materials were reviewed by FBI agents not involved in the prosecution, that she might appoint an independent attorney to serve as a referee, and that Trump would eventually get a copy of anything that refers to him. So, that's Justice system 1, Cohen 0.
And then there was the second matter, and the one everyone was waiting on pins and needles for: Cohen was required to reveal the clients he works for. He told Wood that he had worked for roughly 10 clients in the past several years, but that he did legal work for only three of them: Donald Trump, GOP fundraiser Elliot Broidy (for whom Cohen allegedly facilitated a $1.6 million payment to a pregnant former mistress), and a third "mystery" client who had ordered Cohen to keep his name a secret. Cohen's lawyers, who were not exactly impressive during Monday's hearing, made a vague argument about how publicizing the mystery client's name would not be "fair" to him. Wood was having none of it, and declared that argument was "not in accord with the law in this circuit." Then, apparently thinking that they were playing a game of Clue, they offered to give the judge the mystery name in a sealed envelope. Wood grew irritated and said, "I am directing you to disclose the name now." Defeated, Cohen admitted that his third client is Hannity. By all accounts, there was an audible gasp across the court room. Justice system 2, Cohen 0.
Now, let us first observe that from a purely soap operatic angle, there aren't too many answers to that question that would have been more juicy than "Sean Hannity." Indeed, one could think for a long time and struggle to come up with a client that adds more layers of drama than does the name of the Fox host. Former Klansman David Duke? Serial sexual harasser Kevin Spacey? Mafia kingpin Michael Franzese? The estate of Adolf Hitler? Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff? Vladimir Putin? Ok, if it had been Vlad, that might have ended Trump's presidency by the end of the week. But beyond him, it's hard to think of any name that would have elicited a bigger response than Hannity's.
By all accounts, and judging from his response on various media platforms, Hannity is not happy. He sent these tweets, then reiterated almost exactly the same sentiments in a statement released through Fox News, then on his radio show, and then on his TV show:
Michael Cohen has never represented me in any matter. I never retained him, received an invoice, or paid legal fees. I have occasionally had brief discussions with him about legal questions about which I wanted his input and perspective.— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) April 16, 2018
I assumed those conversations were confidential, but to be absolutely clear they never involved any matter between me and a third-party.— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) April 16, 2018
Cohen seems to have quite a practice. One client doesn't pay him, apparently, and for another one he supposedly had to cough up $130,000 out of his own pocket. Broidy better be a real whale, because otherwise Cohen's going to go bankrupt quickly. Actually, there is a serious legal issue in play. If the judge decides that Cohen wasn't really a lawyer at all, and instead a financial advisor/lackey/fixer who just so happened to have a law license, then attorney-client privilege doesn't apply to any of his dealings with Donald Trump. So, Cohen really needs to establish that he's a legitimate attorney, and Monday's revelations certainly did not help on that front.
Meanwhile, Sean Hannity and his employers at Fox have a pretty big headache, too. Though Hannity was trying to downplay the significance of his relationship with Cohen, he clearly knows it's a big deal, or he wouldn't have tried to get Cohen to keep his name secret. And really, it's two separate—but related—problems. The first is that everyone already knew that Hannity and Trump were in bed together—they frequently dine together, they get advice from each other, Hannity promotes Trump's policies, Trump promotes Hannity's show. But the fact that they use the same lawyer takes this to a whole new level, one that would set off bells, whistles, sirens, red flags, fire alarms, etc. at any other news organization. While Hannity is in the opinion branch of Fox, rather than the news branch, even opinion folks have ethical standards to which they are supposed to adhere.
That leads us to the second problem, and the reason that even an opinion guy is not supposed to be this much in bed with those he covers. As Hannity shilled for Trump, he—naturally enough—ranted and raved about the raid on Cohen's offices last week, on both his radio and TV programs (Anderson Cooper has both clips here). At no time during his monologue did Hannity mention that Cohen was also his attorney, and that by trying to discredit the raid, he (Hannity) was personally benefiting. This is one of the grossest ethical breaches a journalist of any sort, even in the opinion section, can commit.
Of course, caught red-handed, Hannity apologized and promised to mend his ways, right? If you answered "yes," apparently you haven't seen his program. After repeating the same excuses he sent out via Twitter, he then declared that the whole thing was a conspiracy by the liberals and the left-wing media to try and destroy him. Kind of the way the liberals and the left-wing media conspired to destroy Bill O'Reilly by tricking him into paying out all those millions in sexual harassment settlements. And if that were not enough, Hannity then discussed the matter on his television show with Joe diGenova, another lawyer who has worked for Hannity in the past (and, briefly, for Trump). Naturally, Hannity once again neglected to disclose that fact.
There is no question that Hannity's viewers don't care about any of this. The more that he subverts the norms of professional journalism, and the closer his relationship with Trump, the happier they are. Similarly, there is no question that Fox has the most lax ethical standards of any major journalistic organization, especially for their opinion makers (Breitbart and InfoWars are not major news organizations). Still, at a certain point, one rotten apple can spoil the brand. We shall see if Monday's revelations are a bridge too far for the sons of Murdoch. (Z)
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) wants to leave the House on his own terms, and he says that means in January 2019, not now. He has endorsed Kevin McCarthy as leader of the GOP, but Ryan has basically told him to keep his pants on since he (Ryan) is not going anywhere before the election. McCarthy is not enthusiastic at all about a 7-month leadership race. Ryan's argument is that he is the biggest fundraiser the GOP has, and for him to be sidelined for more than half a year before a crucial election is a bad idea.
Even with Ryan's endorsement, and even if Donald Trump endorses McCarthy, it is not a done deal. Everything depends on whether the Republicans are in the majority in the new House. If they are, McCarthy will need 218 votes to become speaker, so he will have to give the Freedom Caucus whatever it wants, which could be painful. If the Republicans are in the minority, the Republican caucus will elect its leader, and then only a majority of the caucus is needed (probably around 100+ votes).
Also an issue here is that McCarthy is working with Trump to renege on the budget bill. The bill contained goodies for the Democrats as well as for the Republicans. McCarthy wants to have Trump refuse to spend some of the money appropriated for Democratic goodies. That will please the Freedom Caucus and help his bid for the leadership, but it will also poison the well completely with the Democrats. They will never, ever agree to any other deal with McCarthy after that, so how is he going to pass a budget next year? Furthermore, the Freedom Caucus also wants McCarthy to endorse the idea of appointing a special prosecutor to go after Hillary Clinton. It also has more things on its wish list and the longer the leadership race goes on, the longer the list will get, so McCarthy really wants to become speaker right now and Ryan doesn't want that (at least, for the moment). (V)
It could well be that the one Republican who is happy about all the drama surrounding Syria and Michael Cohen is EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. After all, those headlines have pushed his questionable behavior—renting rooms from lobbyists, excessive travel bills, high-cost security detail, unethical use of police sirens—out of the headlines, and onto the back burner.
However, he's back on the front pages today (albeit near the bottom, given the Cohen-Hannity shocker). To start, the Government Accounting Office (GAO) issued its official report on the $43,000 purchase of a soundproof booth for Pruitt's office. They concluded that the transaction was unquestionably a violation of federal law, which requires that such improvements be approved by Congress if they exceed $5,000. Interestingly, the GAO seems to have made its report to congressional Democrats. Perhaps they recognize that nothing will be done to punish Pruitt right now, but that he could be on deck if the blue team retakes Congress.
Unfortunately for Pruitt, the GAO isn't the only federal agency taking a long look at his conduct. Even if he skates on the soundproof booth, the IRS has taken notice of his spending habits. The relevant tax codes are a bit abstruse, but what it boils down to is this: If you have a 24-hour government-funded security detail, and they accompany you during a 4-hour personal trip to, say, the Rose Bowl, then you may have just received 4 hours' worth of taxable benefits. The same is true of government-funded travel, in some circumstances. So, the Administrator could find himself with a hefty tax bill, perhaps five or even six figures. The moral of the story: No matter how good you are at being on the take, the IRS is better. (Z)
Former Vice President Joe Biden is leading the Democratic field in some 2020 presidential polls. In a way, this is no surprise. He has decades of experience, has run for president multiple times, is beloved by working-class white voters, has an easygoing style, and has very few enemies, a real trick for someone in politics as long as he has been. He just announced that he is seriously thinking of a run. In many ways, he would be the ideal Democrat to run—in 1992.
Biden will be 78 on inauguration day 2021, a whole year younger than Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who is also looking at a run. But that is the least of his problems. The Democratic Party has changed a lot since he last ran for office and he hasn't. Also, in his six terms as a senator, he has taken a lot of votes that will be held against him in a future run. For example, most progressive Democrats want to rein in the banks, but Biden fought for a law that makes it harder for consumers with big debts to file for bankruptcy and discharge those debts. That was understandable when he was a senator from Delaware, where many credit card companies are incorporated, but it doesn't sit well with progressive activists who haven't forgotten. Hillary Clinton tried to use the "I-was-senator-from-New-York defense" and it fell flat with the base, and it probably wouldn't work for Biden either.
He was also a key force behind the 1994 criminal justice bill that started the mass incarceration of blacks. They are unlikely to have forgotten and will be reminded by about 20 or 30 other candidates, most of whom have clean records. Biden also voted to authorize the use of military force in Iraq and has been on the wrong side of the abortion issue. In short, his age and his moderately left-of-center views are not a great fit for a Democratic base that wants to break up the banks and have Donald Trump's head on a pike. (V)
A new WaPo/ABC News poll shows that if the election were held now, 47% of registered voters would vote for the Democrat while 43% would vote for the Republican, a 4-point lead for the Democrats. In January, the generic Democrat had a 12-point lead, so the GOP is closing the gap rapidly. The gain is entirely due to white voters, who now prefer Republicans over Democrats by a 14-point margin. Among white voters without a college degree, Republicans lead by 60% to 31%, a massive 29-point advantage.
In the midterms, the big issue for each party is turning out its base, and in recent midterms Republicans have been better than Democrats. Older whites, who favor the Republicans, are reliable voters. They turn out come rain or shine. Minorities and younger voters, who tend to prefer the Democrats, are much more finicky and their turnout has dropped in recent midterm years compared to presidential years. Here is the total House vote by party since 2000.
If anything, the situation for Republicans is better than the poll shows, because telling a pollster whom you like is one thing, but actually showing up and marking the ballot is something quite different. (V)
The national generic poll certainly has predictive value, but in the end there are 435 House races and House races aren't national elections. The best kind of polling is for individual races; second best is statewide generic polling. A new Monmouth University poll of New Jersey shows that the generic House Democrat leads the generic House Republican by a whopping 19 points. That has the potential to flip five GOP seats in the Garden State. The gap is growing, too, up from a 9-point Democratic lead a month ago.
If the current poll holds, it would be a huge improvement over past elections. In 2016, Democrats won the statewide House vote by 8 points. In 2014 they won it by 2 points. In the five districts with a Republican representative, the Democrat has moved 20 points closer to the Republican. These were hugely Republican districts in 2016 and now they are tossups. The poll shows the driving force here is the negative view most voters have of Donald Trump. Maybe Tip O'Neill was wrong, and all elections are national. (V)
So far Ted Olson, Emmet Flood, Robert Bennett, Bob Giuffra, Victoria Toensing, and Joe diGenova have turned down the "chance of a lifetime" to represent Donald Trump. John Dowd took the job and then quit. Now another top defense lawyer, Steven Molo, has said "no thanks" to Trump. Molo has the extensive courtroom experience that Trump badly needs, but Molo cited vague "conflicts" when asked why he refused to join Team trump. One potential problem is that when Trump tried to get out of a loan of $40 million he got from Deutsche Bank in 2008, and which he personally guaranteed, Molo was the bank's lawyer, so they butted heads. Still, Trump is about to face a prosecutor's dream team and his counsel so far consists of Jay Sekulow, who defends him on television, and Ty Cobb, whose job it would be to manage the other lawyers—if there were any other lawyers. (V)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr16 RNC Will Spend $250 Million to Keep the House Majority
Apr16 Secret Super PAC Attacks Blankenship in West Virginia Senate Primary
Apr16 Trump's Approval Is Back Up
Apr16 Trump's Fundraising Is Going Well
Apr16 Pence's NSA Pick Withdraws
Apr16 Cohen's "Fixing" Appears to Be a Family Affair, Especially for Family Affairs
Apr16 What Could the Democrats Do If They Decided to Play Dirty in the Future?
Apr15 Syria: The Aftermath
Apr15 Comey Thought Clinton Was Going to Win
Apr15 Consumer Protection Bureau Not Doing Any Protecting
Apr15 Cohen: I've Never Been to Prague
Apr15 A House Divided
Apr15 A Young Wave Is Building
Apr15 Gas Prices Headed Up
Apr14 U.S. Bombs Syria
Apr14 Trump Calls Comey An "Untruthful Slime Ball"
Apr14 The Feds Have Tapes
Apr14 The Walls Are Closing in on Cohen
Apr14 Justice Dept. Inspector General Lowers the Boom on McCabe
Apr14 Freedom Caucus Founder Jim Jordan Fires a Warning Shot at McCarthy
Apr14 Why Did Trump Win the Election?
Apr14 Could Texas Help Democrats Flip the House?
Apr13 Pompeo Grilled by Senators
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