• Schneiderman Is Asking for a Change in the Law So He Can Prosecute Pardonees
• Cohen Might Not Take a Bullet for Trump
• Democrats Get Good News in Senate Races
• Republicans Are Trying to Save McCain's Seat
• McDougal Is Free to Tell Her Story
• Melania Trump to Attend Bush Funeral
Last week, a bipartisan group of senators, including Democrats Cory Booker (NJ) and Chris Coons (DE) and Republicans Lindsey Graham (SC) and Thom Tills (NC), proposed legislation that would protect special counsel Robert Mueller from being fired. Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said he was willing to bring it up for a committee vote, but now it looks like it won't matter, because Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) made clear on Wednesday that he will not bring such legislation before the whole Senate. "I don't think [Donald Trump] should fire Mueller and I don't think he's going to," McConnell explained. "So this is a piece of legislation that isn't necessary in my judgment."
For a fellow who once had a reputation as an institutionalist, McConnell has certainly become a law unto himself recently. He manipulated the system to steal a SCOTUS seat and has killed the longstanding tradition of giving senators blue-slip vetoes over judges that will serve in their home states. He rammed through the tax bill with parliamentary trickery, running roughshod over the normal order. He's more than happy to ignore the recommendations of the committees run by members of his own party, whether it's the Mueller bill, or the (expected) thumbs down for Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo.
It's hard to guess exactly what is motivating McConnell. One might imagine that he's trying to make nice with Donald Trump, except that the two don't actually work all that well together, because Trump doesn't really work well with any member of Congress. The Majority Leader is not an ideologue—the next significant law he proposes will be the first. His goal has always been power for power's sake, and he has been willing to take any position on the issues necessary to advance that goal. It's hard to see how aggravating his colleagues, not to mention pouring even more fuel on the Democrats' fire, is helping on that front. Similarly, he couldn't possibly have his eye on higher office—there aren't too many rungs on the ladder higher than Senate Majority Leader, and even if he was trying to move up, he's 76 years old and he's got one of the most abysmal approval ratings (about 20%) of any politician in America. Whatever his game may be, he's certainly toting Donald Trump's water so enthusiastically they're going to have to give him a Trump Organization e-mail address. Or a show on Fox News. (Z)
As a general rule, the president does not have the power to pardon people for state crimes, but a peculiarity of New York State law makes it difficult to bring prosecutions under certain circumstances. New York AG Eric Schneiderman wants the legislature to change the law, so that if Donald Trump pardons people for federal crimes, he will be free to indict them for state crimes.
Under the current law and the concept of double jeopardy, a person cannot be tried twice for the same crime. Schneiderman is worried that some people may be indicted under federal law, tried, convicted, and then pardoned. As it stands now, Schneiderman could not then indict them for the same act named in the federal indictment, even if it were also a violation of state law. He is asking the state legislature to change that so as to allow a state indictment for an act that violated both federal and state law.
It is far from clear that Schneiderman will get his change. The Democrats have a massive majority in the state Assembly, but the Republicans have operational control of the state Senate. A special election will take place on April 24 for two vacant state Senate seats. One of them is a deep blue seat in the Bronx, and the Democrat will definitely win that one. The other is in a swing district in Westchester County, with Julie Killian (R) running against state assembly member Shelley Mayer (D). The seat is vacant because the former occupant, George Latimer (D), was elected Westchester County executive last year. Millions of dollars of outside money has poured into the race.
New York state Senate politics are very complicated. If both Democrats win next week, there will be 31 normal Democrats and 31 normal Republicans in the state Senate, along with one Democrat, Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, who caucuses with the Republicans. If the two Democrats win, Felder will come under intense pressure from both parties to caucus with them, and Felder will undoubtedly come with a very long wish list. If a bill to change the law passes the legislature, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) has said he would sign it.
If the Republicans retain control of the NY state Senate and Schneiderman doesn't get his bill, potentially he and Robert Mueller could work out a deal in which people who have violated both state and federal law (e.g., for tax evasion), are charged only for the state crime. Then there is no double jeopardy and no problem, but both Schneiderman and Mueller would have to agree to such a plan. (V)
Donald Trump lawyer Michael Cohen has been called a lot of things that contribute to his slightly Mafia-esque persona: "bulldog," "muscle," "fixer," "henchman," and the like. Along with that, there's been a general suggestion that he would happily take a fall for Donald Trump, just like Luca Brasi would for Don Corleone. Cohen himself told Vanity Fair that, "I'm the guy who would take a bullet for the president." However, some Trump allies are worried that might not be true.
The key clue that Trump insiders are looking at is Cohen's response to the raid on his offices last week. While The Donald was outraged, Cohen was uncharacteristically calm and level-headed, remarking that the agents were "extremely professional, courteous and respectful." This could be a sign that he's thinking about the possibility of a long prison sentence and/or a forfeiture of millions in assets, and he's rethinking his priorities. As one friend of Trump and Cohen explained:
I think for two years or four years or five years, Michael Cohen would be a stand-up guy. I think he'd tell them go piss up a rope. But depending on dollars involved, which can be a big driver, or if they look at him and say it's not two to four years, it's 18 to 22, then how loyal is he?
In short, Cohen may soon be playing his very own, personal version of the prisoner's dilemma.
If Cohen does flip, then that will be as ruinous to Trump as that of anyone walking the planet, with the possible exception of the President's family, and maybe not even them. Trump's three (ex-)wives probably know nothing of Trump's business dealings and daughter Ivanka probably doesn't want to know. First son-in-law Jared might know a little about recent real estate deals with Russians, but probably not older ones. If there are bodies, Cohen certainly knows where they are buried. If there are skeletons, Cohen knows what closet they're in. Of course, given his unwise habit of recording things, he might not even get to decide whether to flip, because the government might not need his testimony. (Z)
If the Democrats hope to capture the Senate, they are going to need a lot of good luck, possibly including one or more wins in states where they really have no business winning. And on that front, the blue team got some good news on Wednesday.
First, there is Texas, where Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D) is young, charismatic, and a fundraising dynamo. He's up against the hard-to-like Sen. Ted Cruz (R), who is only two years older but seems two decades older, who is not terribly charismatic, and whose fundraising has been sluggish. The Senator has no business being in danger in a state so red that the last time a Democrat won statewide election, "The Lion King" was the #1 movie in America (1994). And yet, the first major poll of the Senate race, conducted by Quinnipiac, has Cruz leading by just three points, 47-44. As that is within the margin of error, that makes it a toss-up. The numbers make clear that the deciding factors will be: (1) Which party does the better job on turnout, and (2) Which way independent voters break. At the moment, the national climate seems to favor the Democrats on both counts, so Cruz really could be in trouble.
Meanwhile, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) had a few choice remarks on Wednesday about the race to succeed him, remarks that undoubtedly have GOP leadership tearing out their hair. He said that Democrat Phil Bredesen is definitely the favorite (by 6 points, Corker estimates), that Bredesen has "crossover appeal," and that he (Corker) will not campaign against Bredesen. That is dangerously close to an endorsement. Given that the only recent poll of the race actually gave Bredesen a 10-point lead, there's no question at this point that Tennessee is in play.
To take control of the Senate, the Democrats need to gain at least two seats on a map that is very unfriendly, given that they have candidates running for reelection in 10 states that Donald Trump won (including five that he won big time). Their most plausible route to demoting Mitch McConnell is to somehow hold serve in those 10 states, and to pluck off the seats of Dean Heller (NV) and Jeff Flake (AZ). If they get a gift from the heavens in the form of a Texas seat or a Tennessee seat (or both), though, then it gives them some breathing room and a much broader number of paths to 51. Similarly, if the other Arizona seat happens to become available, that also gives the Democrats more options. Which, of course, the Republicans know very well (see below).
Finally, there is Mississippi, of all places. When Thad Cochran resigned from the Senate due to failing health, Gov. Phil Bryant (R-MS) appointed a former Democrat, Cindy Hyde-Smith, to his seat. That does not sit well with all Mississippi Republicans. Also in the race is right-wing firebrand Chris McDaniel (R) as well as Bill Clinton's Agriculture Secretary, Mike Espy. If McDaniel and Espy finish in the top two on Nov. 6, Espy has an excellent chance of knocking off McDaniel in the December run-off. Espy is black along with 37% of the Mississippi electorate, so Espy is almost certain to finish in the top two. The big question is whether McDaniel can beat Hyde-Smith. Initial polling puts her far ahead. (Z)
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is in the midst of some very serious health problems. The 81-year-old has been diagnosed with a very aggressive form of brain cancer, and was forced to return home to Arizona for treatment. And at the moment, he is in the hospital, recovering from surgery for diverticulitis. There is much speculation that he will be compelled to vacate his Senate seat, possibly sooner rather than later.
At the moment, per the interpretation of Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan, McCain's seat would be on the ballot in November if it is vacated anytime between now and May 31. The GOP certainly hopes he holds on, and McCain undoubtedly plans to do so. But, just in case, the state senate is discussing a bill that would change the rules, making the deadline March 31 instead of May 31. Since that date has passed, and since Gov. Doug Ducey is a Republican, the bill would guarantee that the GOP holds the seat regardless of what happens with McCain.
Since the bill would amend the Arizona constitution, it would need 21 votes in the state senate to pass. And since the Republicans control only 17 of the 30 seats, there's no chance it will get there. This being the case, many are wondering exactly why the Arizona GOP is bothering (though there are vague whispers that Ducey is pulling the strings, for unknown reasons). The most important part of this story is probably the fact that a lot of people who are in the know are clearly worried that McCain is much sicker than he says. Shades of the old Soviet Union, where after the leader's body had been cold for 2 days, there was a cryptic announcement that he had an upset stomach. (Z)
Former Playboy model Karen McDougal has settled her lawsuit with AMI, the parent company of the National Enquirer. She had a 10-month (sexual) relationship with Donald Trump, seeing him almost every week at a time he was married to Melania (after she had just borne a son). She was paid $150,000 to keep quiet about the affair. Recently, she sued AMI to get out of her nondisclosure agreement using the "playmate defense": I was just a dumb brunette and they led me around by the nose.
AMI apparently decided fighting this wasn't worth it, so they agreed to settle the suit. Under terms of the settlement, McDougal will be free to tell or publish her life story (including the part about the affair with Trump) as she wishes. In return, AMI will get a percentage of any money she makes from selling the story. Also, AMI will feature her on the cover of Men's Journal and will publish five health and fitness columns by her.
Trump has denied having an affair with McDougal, but now that she is free of the NDA, she can tell her story and fill in all the details, some of which may be externally verifiable, such as airline flights, hotel bookings, and more. McDougal has apologized profusely to Melania Trump, saying: "What can I say except I'm sorry. I wouldn't want it done to me. I'm sorry." (V)
The etiquette question of the week was answered much more quickly than expected, as Melania Trump announced on Tuesday that she will indeed attend the funeral of Barbara Bush, joining the Clintons and the Obamas. This is the resolution that will presumably raise the fewest eyebrows, while also making nobody all that happy. The First Lady, by all evidences, is very uncomfortable with public appearances like this. And the Bushes, by all evidences, would prefer a Trump-free funeral. But social niceties being what they are, everyone will grin and bear it.
It is not yet known if Donald Trump will attend, though it would be a big surprise if he did. While Bush had no qualms with Melania (and probably some sizable amount of empathy for her), she did not like Donald and made no bones about it. And then there's his hostile relationship with Jeb Bush. So, for the President to attend would not only be outside the norm and a huge logistical problem, it would also be in poor taste. The Carters' plans are also unknown, though they do not often travel outside of Georgia, given their ages and their moderate physical infirmity. (Z)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr18 Nikki Haley Isn't Jeff Sessions
Apr18 Republicans Book the First $48 Million Worth of Ads for House Races
Apr18 Joe Crowley Would Like to Be Speaker of the House
Apr18 Charlie Dent Will Retire from the House
Apr18 More Trouble for Greitens
Apr18 What Would Francisco Do?
Apr18 What Would Francis Do?
Apr18 Barbara Bush Dead at 92
Apr17 Cohen, Hannity Have a Bad Day in Court
Apr17 Tensions Rise in House Due to Ryan's Refusal to Step Down Immediately
Apr17 More Trouble for Pruitt
Apr17 Joe Biden: Yoo Hoo, I'm Still Here and Maybe I'm Running in 2020
Apr17 Republicans Are Gaining in Generic House Poll
Apr17 Democrats May Flip House Seats in New Jersey
Apr17 Another Top Lawyer Turns Down Trump
Apr16 Comey Unloads on Trump
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?