• Trump Doesn't Seem to Get It
• CIA and NSA Know What Trump and Putin Discussed
• Four States Will Hold Primaries Tomorrow
• How Is the "Year of the Woman" Going?
• Biden Leads in 2020 Presidential Polls
• Takeaways from the First Week of Manafort's Trial
Donald Trump may not have realized what he was doing, but yesterday he threw Donald Trump Jr. under the bus when he sent out this tweet:
Fake News reporting, a complete fabrication, that I am concerned about the meeting my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower. This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics - and it went nowhere. I did not know about it!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 5, 2018
For the first time, Trump Sr. has admitted in public that the purpose of the Trump Tower meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya was to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. Donald Jr. didn't go there to hear about adoptions. He went there to get oppo research, which Trump Sr. claims is legal. Maybe he should have checked first with either his television lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, or one of his real lawyers. Getting valuable information about an opponent from Americans is perfectly legal and a time-honored tradition in politics. But foreigners are not allowed to contribute anything of value to a campaign, and that includes information. His lawyers know that very well and if he had bothered to ask, they would have told him very clearly.
Trump's point that meeting with foreigners is legal is true—provided they don't provide any help to the campaign. If, as Trump once maintained, the purpose of the meeting was simply to discuss international adoption policy, that would have been legal. But there is clear (e-mail) evidence that the purpose of the meeting was to get oppo research, not to discuss adoptions. And since it is illegal for foreigners to contribute anything to a campaign, even in-kind rather than cash, the Trump Tower meeting was effectively a conspiracy to violate election law, namely, to help foreigners contribute to the campaign. Not helping the President's case is that he and his team have spent well over a year trying to concoct a plausible cover story for what happened, starting with the ill-advised statement that Trump Sr. himself wrote (and then lied about writing) on Air Force One, shortly after the story first broke.
Now, all of this came out on a Sunday. Special counsel Robert Mueller is an Episcopalian and maybe he was in church yesterday and missed the news. However, his teammate Andrew Weissmann is Jewish and probably wasn't in church yesterday so he can bring Mueller up to speed today if need be. While this isn't exactly a smoking gun, having the president basically admit that his son was part of a criminal conspiracy isn't going to help the Trump family much.
Another problem with the tweet is that Trump denies knowing about the meeting in advance. His former fixer, Michael Cohen, is on record saying that Trump most definitely knew about it in advance, so one of them is lying. Cohen also said that he isn't the only one who knows that Trump was aware of the meeting in advance. Former Trump executive assistant Barbara Res, though not present, has declared there is no way Trump didn't know, while Rick Gates (who has turned state's evidence) was in the know, and may be able to confirm Cohen's story. In addition, there may be strong circumstantial evidence that Trump knew in advance because while Junior was planning the meeting, he made a phone call to a blocked number. If Mueller subpoenas the phone company records and it turns out that in the middle of planning the meeting, Junior called Senior, he may have some trouble explaining the timing of the call and what they talked about (Football? A good divorce lawyer? Strategies for applying as much hair gel as possible?).
Less than an hour after the tweet, Trump's lawyer Jay Sekulow appeared on ABC to ask George Stephanopoulos how the meeting would be illegal. Stephanopoulos suggested "conspiracy to defraud the U.S." as a possibility. Sekulow also admitted that when he said a year ago that Trump knew nothing about the meeting and played no role in drafting the statement on Air Force One, he was wrong. When asked about whether Trump could be subpoenaed to testify before Mueller, Sekulow fudged it, saying: "A subpoena for live testimony has never been tested in court as to a president of the United States." That's true, although the Supreme Court did tell Richard Nixon he had to obey a subpoena to give up his tapes, and also told Bill Clinton he had to testify in a civil case. It would be possible, but surprising, for the Court to rule that presidents can be subpoenaed in civil cases but not in criminal ones, especially criminal ones involving themselves. (V)
It must be maddening to serve as counsel for Donald Trump, as he continues to make foolish mistake after foolish mistake that plays right into the hands of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. As he makes these mistakes, of course, the President continues to insist that he and everyone else in his orbit did nothing wrong, and that there's nothing to see here. And, in contrast to most of his falsehoods, Trump really appears to believe this (on some level).
David Atkins of the Washington Monthly took a crack at trying to make sense of it all, and his suspicion is that Trump is literally not smart enough to understand the mess he's in. Like us, Atkins concedes that Trump may have very strong emotional/social intelligence, but thinks that the President's intellectual acumen is somewhat lacking. Actually, Atkins is willing to go further than we did:
Even the briefest observation of Donald Trump is adequate to confirm that he is not a man of profound intellect. He certainly possesses his share of social intelligence, a knack for salesmanship and an obsessive drive to dominate and humiliate others stemming from a yawning maw of overlapping insecurities. But in terms of how we traditionally measure intelligence in the modern developed world-the acquisition of knowledge over time and the ability to process, digest and act cogently in response to complex information-Trump probably doesn't even reach the 50th percentile of Americans. And that is being generous.
This may be overstating it. Or, it may not be.
Atkins also alludes to a second, related problem. It's one that we think is probably paramount, even more so than Trump's intelligence (or lack thereof). To put it simply: The Donald has never adapted to the idea that the U.S. government is not a business, and he is not the nation's CEO. His approach to economic policy, for example, is rooted entirely in a microeconomic, "one more for me is one less for you" way of looking at things that has virtually nothing to do with how national and international economies work. Similarly, Trump spent virtually the entirety of his business career suing people and being sued. Most of those lawsuits could be dealt with through some bluster and some flexing of muscles. There was also the possibility of a little backroom dealing, if need be. And, if worst came to worst, then Trump just had to write a check. He's never really been the subject of a lawsuit that threatened anything beyond his pocketbook.
Now, however, the President is enmeshed in something very, very different from what he is used to. To start, the scrutiny upon him (and his team) is vastly greater than it used to be, even if he was on the pages of the tabloids all the time when he was a real estate tycoon and reality star. Further, elections and government work play by a different, and generally much stricter, set of rules. And, perhaps worst of all for Trump, he's facing a different kind of adversary this time. Threats and muscle-flexing won't work. Sleazy lawyer tricks won't work. Money, whether paid in small, unmarked bills in a brown bag, or in the form of a formal court judgment, won't solve his problems. Metaphorically speaking, he's continuing to play baseball, not realizing that he's standing on a football field.
In case we needed a reminder of the extent to which Trump just doesn't get it, he had a visitor on Air Force One this weekend: former assistant Hope Hicks. In private life, this visit was no big deal. But in public life, no attorney worth his salt should have let Hicks get within 20 miles of the President. Most obviously, because she is now a material witness to whatever happened in the White House, having already done an interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. For someone who is on the hot seat for potential obstruction of justice charges, this could add witness tampering (something that Paul Manafort, incidentally, already got popped for) to Trump's list of offenses.
Beyond that, however, nobody knows exactly how exposed Hicks is, or exactly what she and Mueller's team discussed. Undoubtedly, she is loyal to Trump, but—as we have seen—few of his foot-soldiers appear to be loyal enough to go to prison on his behalf. It is not impossible that Hicks is working for Mueller on some level, perhaps collecting some key piece of information in exchange for reducing her legal exposure. This is not likely, and would be something of a worst-case scenario for Trump. However, part of the reason defense lawyers are paid big bucks is to foresee worst-case scenarios and to avoid them.
In any event, between Trump's tweets and Hicks' visits, not to mention the ongoing trial of Manafort, Robert Mueller is going to have a busy week. (Z)
Whether Donald Trump believes it or not, America's intelligence agencies are really, really good at what they do. And so, even though the President continues to be tight-lipped about what was discussed in his confab with Vladimir Putin, the intel pros know most of what was said.
How do they know? Well, it turns out there were so many bugs near Putin and his team that he really should have brought a can of Raid. The American spies weren't able to listen in on the Trump-Putin conversation itself (as far as we know), but they do have a recording of the debriefing that Putin gave to his team, as well as recordings of high-ranking Russian spies discussing the summit with each other. The CIA even has chats about exactly how the meeting would be spun for public consumption.
In the end, though, as Mark Summer—the author of the linked piece—points out, it largely doesn't matter what Trump and Putin discussed. Since there were no notes taken, no agreements signed, and so forth, it's really about the public pronouncements made afterward. If Putin declares that Trump has agreed to return Alaska, and Trump doesn't say otherwise, then it doesn't matter if they actually discussed Alaska. And if Putin declares that Trump formally recognized Russian annexation of Crimea, and Trump announces that he did not, then it doesn't particularly matter what was said about Crimea one-on-one.
There is one small fly in the ointment, however, from Trump's perspective. There may not be formal documentation of his conversation with Putin but, as noted, the CIA and the NSA know what was said. If he said something unwise, or if he tries to make outrageous and false claims about the meeting, there is every chance that the truth could leak out, and he could end up being burned. This may be why, in contrast to the North Korean summit, Trump has essentially let Putin do all the talking. (Z)
No non-runoff primaries were held in July, but they are now coming back in force, with four of them tomorrow and another one (Hawaii) on Saturday, followed by eight more later in August. Let's take a look at what tomorrow will bring:
Neither of Kansas' senators is up this year, so the top of the ticket is the race for governor. Seven Republicans are running for the job.
The best known is Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, whose main preoccupation is keeping people from voting, an odd thing
for a state official whose job is running elections. The big question here is whether Kobach will win the Republican primary.
Most of the state's major newspapers would prefer that he doesn't. The Wichita Eagle, the state's biggest paper, has endorsed
state senator Jim Barnett. About Kobach, it said: "he's the last person Kansas needs in charge." Barnett is going to need to make
up ground quickly; he's looking up at not only Kobach in the polls, but also Gov. Jeff Colyer, who got the job when the previous
governor, Sam Brownback, resigned to take a sinecure in Washington. Kobach, given his history, is probably the most vulnerable of
the GOP candidates, so many Democrats are secretly rooting for him to prevail. Could a Democrat be elected governor in Kansas? Actually, Kathleen Sebelius (D) was elected in 2002 and reelected in 2006.
In addition to the gubernatorial contest, two House races are of note. In KS-02, there is an open seat due to the retirement of Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS). The Democrats are running a former state House minority leader, Paul Davis, who carried the district when he ran for governor in 2014. He is unopposed. In contrast, the Republicans have a seven-way free-for-all. The district is R+10, but since the Democrats have a strong candidate and the Republicans might not, it could be competitive in November, depending on who wins on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton carried KS-03, which is R+4, making Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS) a top Democratic target. He got only 51% of the vote in 2016. Here it is the Democrats who have a free-for-all, with five candidates. On the left is Brent Welder, populist labor lawyer. He got national attention last week when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) showed up to campaign for him. Of course, Kansas is not Queens, so Kansas Democrats may go with one of the more moderate candidates. KS-03 was held by a Democrat from 1999-2011, which means that a strong candidate is in a very good position to prevail.
The Wolverine State has a doubleheader coming up, with both gubernatorial and senatorial elections this year.
Gov. Rick Snyder (R-MI) is term limited, and four Republicans are engaged in a big food fight to succeed him.
They are Lt. Gov. Brian Calley (R), Michigan AG Bill Schuette (R), state senator Patrick Colbeck, and president of the
Christian Medical and Dental Association, Jim Hines. The Democrats also have a primary, but former state senate minority leader
Gretchen Whitmer is strongly favored.
The Senate primaries aren't very exciting. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) is unopposed and the best the Republicans could come up with is a pair of completely unknown businessmen. Stabenow is completely safe.
A more interesting race is MI-13, which John Conyers represented for decades until he was driven from Congress in a sex scandal. The district is D+32, so whoever wins the Democratic primary can begin measuring the drapes for his or her office in Congress. There is a complete spectrum of candidates, from very liberal to moderate, including state senators, former state representatives, a mayor, and the president of the Detroit city council.
Gov. Mike Parsons (R-MO), who took office after Eric Greitens was booted this spring, is not up for election this year, so the
top-of-the-ticket race is Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) and AG Josh Hawley (R). Neither is facing a serious primary challenge
and none of the House races are particularly noteworthy.
Republicans will choose a candidate to face Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) Tuesday, but it hardly matters. She will romp to an easy
win no matter who the sacrificial lamb is.
However, when Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA) threw in the towel, his district (WA-08) became an instant battleground. The Republican candidate is almost certain to be Dino Rossi, who is aiming lower after running for governor in 2004 and losing by 133 votes, then trying and losing again in 2008. Three Democrats, all newbies, are running for the nomination. Emily's List is backing pediatrician Kim Schrier, who has raised the most money. Not surprisingly, she has made health care her main issue. Also running are Jason Rittereiser, a former prosecutor, and an Obama administration staffer, Shannon Hader, who worked on global health issues. The big issue there is who is most electable in November, since the candidates are not that far apart on the issues. WA-08 has a PVI of even, so whoever prevails on the Democratic side is likely to be swept into office by any sort of blue wave, even a small one.
- Ohio: This one's not a primary, it's a special election. But since it is the race that will attract more attention and more headlines than all the others combined, it's worth mentioning again here. Republicans have pulled out all the stops to try and get Troy Balderson elected to Pat Tiberi's vacated seat, lavishing millions upon him and sending in the cavalry to campaign for him, including Donald Trump. If Democrat Danny O'Connor prevails in a district Trump won by 11 points, he will serve only a three-month term before having to do it all over again, but it will be a huge symbolic victory for the blue team heading into the midterms.
In short, lots of important elections Tuesday. (V & Z)
As with most primary elections this year, Tuesday's contests will feature a lot of women on the ballot. More precisely, there will be 5 women in Kansas, 17 in Michigan, 15 in Missouri, and 13 in Washington running for either Congress or for their state's governor's mansion. That is pretty impressive, in and of itself.
Nationwide, Politico has put together a nice tracker of how women candidates are doing in races for high-profile offices. All in all, there are 183 women still waiting for their primary elections (including, of course, the 50 who will be up on Tuesday). In primaries that have already taken place, women candidates are 182-227, a success rate of 44.4%. That's actually very solid since, of course, quite a few contests featured multiple women.
In terms of the endgame, the U.S. Senate could potentially increase its number of female members from 23 to 32, while the House could rise from 84 to a staggering 241, and as many as 21 governor's mansions could end up in female hands, as compared to the current 6. Needless to say, there is no way that women candidates will come anywhere near their ceiling, since many races are already effectively decided (for example, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) is not going to be unseated by Cynthia Nixon). Still, it is a near certainty that the House, in particular, is going to get considerably more gender balance than it currently has. (Z)
The midterms aren't even over—in fact, are still more than three months away—and people are already looking ahead to the 2020 presidential contest. Maybe that's just where we are in the world of politics these days, or maybe people are particularly eager to think about a change in leadership. In any event, pretty much all polls of the Democratic field have former VP Joe Biden leading the pack.
Pundits and Washington insiders are skeptical about this, and for good reason. Biden will be 78 by Inauguration Day 2020, which is a little long in the tooth to take on a grueling, potentially 8-year commitment. Further, the idea of Biden may be appealing, but the two times he's been subjected to the intense glare of an actual presidential campaign, his gaffes and his past errors (plagiarism) have caught up with him and he's come up way short. Further, he cast a "yes" vote on war with Iraq, which means he's on the wrong side of what might be the most unpopular decision Congress has made in the last 30 years. There is little question that Biden's lead in the polls is primarily a product of reflected glow from Barack Obama, as well as being a guy that people have actually heard of. At this point in the process, there are undoubtedly huge swathes of the Democratic base who do not know, or who barely know, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) or Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO), or Rep. Sam Rayburn (D-TX). If they did, then they would know that not only is Rayburn not running this year, he's been dead for half a century.
A more useful crystal ball when it comes to foreseeing the Democratic field (albeit only slightly more useful) is betting odds. There, people have some idea of what they are talking about, and are backing their picks with actual cold, hard, cash (or not-so-cold, not-so-hard bitcoin). The betting sites have Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) as the favorite at roughly 5/1 odds (17% chance of winning), followed by Harris and Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) at 6/1 (14%), and Biden and Bernie Sanders at 7/1 (12%). Nobody else is currently given a double-digit percentage chance of winning. Of course, as we are fond of noting, a week is a lifetime in politics. That means that there are roughly 115 lifetimes for all of this to change. (Z)
The trial of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort will continue this afternoon, so this is a good time to reflect on what we learned in the first week. Roll Call has three takeaways.
First, Manafort is in a hopeless position on tax evasion charges. Prosecutors have already presented overwhelming evidence that Manafort knowingly stashed millions in foreign bank accounts, used the money to finance a lavish life style, and lied to his bookkeeper and accountants to avoid paying taxes on the income. He told them income (which is taxable) was a loan (which is not). The only piece of the puzzle that is missing is proof that Manafort actually opened all the foreign accounts and the prosecution will introduce a witness later on to prove this. The defense doesn't know how to rebut all of this. Manafort is almost certainly dead meat here.
Second, bank fraud is also in the picture. The prosecution is going to try to prove that Manafort lied to banks on his loan applications, in order to keep up his lifestyle when the foreign well ran dry. For example, Manafort claimed one of his properties as a rental on his tax forms, making it eligible for business deductions, but on his loan applications claimed it was his personal residence, thus trying to bolster his assets. This is illegal. The defense will probably argue it is fine to give the bank any cock-and-bull story you want because it is the bank's job to verify what you say. It remains to see if the jurors fall for this.
Third, Rick Gates, Manafort's former business partner, is a likely witness against Manafort. When he testifies, 23 e-mail exchanges between him and Manafort will be entered into evidence. Presumably they will be deadly. Here is the defense's main chance at saving Manafort's neck. They will claim Gates is a habitual liar (true) and also blame all of the crimes Manafort is accused of on Gates. The problem with this defense is that Manafort's bookkeeper has already testified that Manafort was a detail guy and personally approved every penny his company spent. The cross examination of Gates should be interesting, to say the least. (V)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Aug05 This Is Why Trump Hates Judges, Part I: Mueller's Investigation Is Legitimate
Aug05 This Is Why Trump Hates Judges, Part II: DACA Must Be Reinstated
Aug05 Panel Member: There Was No Voter Fraud
Aug05 LeBron James Tweet Not Working Out So Well
Aug05 Time to Stop Covering Trump Rallies?
Aug05 Former Representative: Trump Wants the Democrats to Win
Aug04 China Threatens Retaliation if Trump Imposes More Tariffs
Aug04 Manafort's Accountants Testify
Aug04 Democrats Are Hoping for a Blue Wave, But Are Experiencing a Green Wave
Aug04 Trump to Visit Ohio Today
Aug04 Trump Slams LeBron James
Aug04 Butina Connected with Trump Campaign
Aug04 Manhattan Madam Met Mueller
Aug04 FBI Can't Keep Top Computer Security People from Leaving
Aug03 Coats: The Russians Are Coming
Aug03 The Trumps and the Nazis, Part I: Don Jr.
Aug03 The Trumps and the Nazis, Part II: Don Sr. (and His Base)
Aug03 Not Many Surprises in Tennessee Primary
Aug03 Last Bellwether Election Is Next Tuesday
Aug03 Why Has Congress Ceded All Its Power to Trump?
Aug03 RNC Tells Donors to Drop the Koch Network
Aug03 The Democrats Are Having an Identity Crisis at an Inconvenient Moment
Aug02 Trump Demands that Sessions Fire Mueller Right Now
Aug02 The Manafort Trial: Day 2
Aug02 Manafort Is Facing Long Odds
Aug02 Senate Rejects Proposal to Beef Up Election Security
Aug02 Trump Continues to Chip Away at Obamacare
Aug02 Cruz Could Be in Real Trouble
Aug02 Koch Network Pushes Back Against Turning Point USA
Aug01 Facebook Shuts Down Disinformation Campaign
Aug01 Manafort's Trial Gets Underway
Aug01 Trump Wants to Give a Tax Cut to the Rich
Aug01 Trump Attacks the Koch Brothers
Aug01 Trump's Former Right-hand Woman Says Trump Knew about Meeting with Russians
Aug01 Giuliani Keeps Shooting His Client in the Foot
Aug01 Kelly Will Remain Chief of Staff until 2020
Aug01 Cuomo Leads Nixon by 30 Points in New York Democratic Gubernatorial Primary
Jul31 Giuliani: Colluding with Russia Is Not a Crime
Jul31 North Korea Situation Deteriorates; Trump Likes His Chances with Iran, Though
Jul31 Rand Paul Supports Kavanaugh
Jul31 Manafort's Trial Begins Today
Jul31 Koch Brothers Will Not Oppose Heitkamp
Jul31 Kelly Is a COSINO
Jul31 Sessions Announces "Religious Liberty Task Force"
Jul31 Trump to Get the "All the President's Men" Treatment
Jul30 Trump Tweets, Part I: Government Shutdown
Jul30 Trump Tweets, Part II: Robert Mueller
Jul30 Trump Tweets, Part III: The Press
Jul30 States Struggling with Election Security