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GOP 51
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Manafort Jury Goes Home for the Weekend without a Verdict

The jurors in the trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort told Judge T.S. Ellis III on Friday afternoon that they had not reached a verdict and wanted to go home for the weekend. He granted their request. Deliberations will continue Monday morning.

At the end of the day, Ellis disclosed that he has received threats and is guarded by U.S. Marshals. They go wherever he goes, including to the hotel where he is temporarily staying during the trial. The judge has apparently been hiding under a rock for the past 6 months, since he added: "I had no idea this case would excite these emotions, I can tell you frankly." Pretty much everyone else knew the trial would be extremely high profile with enormous stakes for Donald Trump, special counsel Robert Mueller, the Dept. of Justice, and more.

It is hard to read the tea leaves on what is taking the jurors so long. The prosecution produced massive evidence in terms of documents and witnesses that Manafort had earned tens of millions of dollars helping foreign dictators, stashed the money in secret bank accounts in Cyprus, and didn't pay U.S. taxes on the income. Working for a foreign dictator is perfectly legal, as long as you register as a foreign agent, pay taxes on the income from doing so, and report the bank accounts. Manafort did none of these. This trial is about the tax and reporting aspects; the one in September is about the foreign agent part.

It seems like a simple case of tax evasion, failure to report foreign bank accounts, and also bank fraud, so why is the jury taking so long? We may find out later, or maybe not. Theory 1: One or more jurors are Trump loyalists and refuse to find Manafort guilty on any charge because it would make it look bad for Trump and possibly put him in an awkward situation with respect to pardoning or not pardoning Manafort.

Theory 2: Some of the technical details are very complicated and the jury could be working through them on one or more charges. One question the jury asked the judge was whether it was legal for someone who had control over disbursements from a foreign bank account but didn't have signature authority over it was required to report it. It is a very detailed legal question and the jury could be struggling with the question of whether Manafort was technically required to report such an account.

Theory 3: There is nothing wrong. There are 18 counts and the jury could be going over each count in detail discussing it at length. With so many counts, it could take a few days to deal with them all.

Trump got into the act later in the day. He said that Manafort is a very good person and the trial is very sad. (V)

Why Hasn't Manafort Flipped?

This seems like an easy question to answer: The reason Paul Manafort hasn't turned on Donald Trump is that he's a Trump loyalist, and instead of selling the Donald out, he's hoping for and expecting a pardon. However, there are a couple of problems with that explanation, which suggest that may not be what's going on at all.

The first problem is: Why Manafort? That is to say, we've seen people who were much more deeply connected to Trump, and for a much longer time, turn traitor on a dime. Michael Cohen, for example, or Omarosa Manigault Newman. As the President himself has pointed out, he and Manafort worked together for only a short period of time—less than a year. Would anyone really roll the dice on life imprisonment based on the hope of getting a pardon from someone you worked with for only a few months and who sees loyalty as a one-way street? Of all the people who might take a bullet for Trump, Manafort would seem to be among the least likely.

The second problem is that a pardon doesn't necessarily do much for either man. Let's start with Manafort's side of the equation. Even if he is pardoned, he's not in the clear, because he could easily be charged with state-level crimes in New York and Virginia. Further, at the moment, Manafort can refuse to answer certain questions from Robert Mueller, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. If he were to be pardoned, that protection goes away. And then, Mueller would still be knocking on Manafort's door, wanting to ask about Trump. If Manafort does not give up what he knows at that point, then he will be facing contempt of court and obstruction charges. In other words, he just trades in one set of crimes for another. So, a pardon—or, for that matter an acquittal—does not do all that much to solve Manafort's "Mueller problem".

Meanwhile, a pardon doesn't do a whole lot for Donald Trump, either. If Manafort is convicted in the current trial, or the next one, or both, it will look bad for the President since he hires only the "best people." Reporters will be asking: "Why did you hire a crook to run your campaign?" If Trump then pardons Manafort, it will look even worse. The President could, in theory, continue pardoning Manafort for further infractions, including obstruction and contempt of court, but every time Trump does that, the more he pushes his luck with the base and the Republicans in Congress. The President might not have many lines he won't cross, but there are some, which is why—for example—Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein still has a job. And beyond the bad optics of a pardon, there is also the Fifth Amendment issue. Once Manafort is pardoned, it actually makes it less risky for him to spill his guts and to tell what he knows about Trump.

Now, it should be pointed out that Trump does not tend to think long-term, and that he might pardon Manafort nonetheless, if only to make a statement about the "deep state" and the "witch hunt" and so forth. It's well within the realm of possibility. The point here is merely that Trump (and, more likely, his lawyers) could very plausibly conclude that a pardon doesn't actually do Trump himself much good, and that's all that counts.

In any event, if Manafort is not actually a loyalist, and is not thinking pardon, then why the court case? Well, as the Washington Post's Paul Waldman and Washington Monthly's Martin Longman both point out, it is believed that Manafort is tens of millions of dollars in debt to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. This is like being tens of millions of dollars in debt to the mafia. It's possible that Manafort is keeping quiet to protect Deripaska (and, by extension, his own life) and not to protect Trump. After all, Deripaska is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and if Deripaska were to ask his buddy for the best places to buy some extra-strength radioactive polonium, Putin would surely tell him.

If this theory is correct, it's possible that whatever Manafort knows incriminates both Deripaska and Trump (for example, something about money laundering Trump did for Deripaska). In that case, then Manafort will probably keep his mouth closed, regardless of the legal consequences. However, it's also possible that Manafort knows something about Trump that has nothing to do with Deripaska. If such information exists, then Manafort might be able to use it to secure a reduced sentence. In that case, it could give him the best of all worlds: Manafort would have very publicly kept Deripaska's secrets, but then would possibly manage to avoid spending the rest of his life in prison.

This is all a little conspiratorial, and might be entirely off the mark. On the other hand, it may be that there's a lot to this story that we don't know, and that we may never know. (Z)

Trump Says He Will Yank Bruce Ohr's Security Clearance Next

Earlier this week, Donald Trump canceled the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan. It looks like the next target (of many) is Bruce Ohr, a current and longtime prosecutor in the Dept. of Justice. Of the various folks Trump has threatened with this particular punishment, Ohr is the only one still on the government payroll. Were he to lose his clearance, his ability to do his job would be substantially compromised.

With Brennan, and with others who have been threatened by Trump, the issue is that the President is angry about public criticism they have lodged against him. In the case of Ohr, the issue is somewhat different. Ohr's wife was working for Fusion GPS during the campaign, and Ohr himself is longtime friends with British spy Christopher Steele. In other words, Ohr was in very close quarters to the American company and the British spy responsible for the infamous Steele dossier. Once he figured out some parts of the puzzle, primarily through e-mail discussions with Steele, Ohr (very appropriately) went to the FBI with what he knew. By then, the Bureau was already in the know, and Ohr was just giving them information they already had.

In short, Ohr had nothing to do with compiling the dossier, nor triggering any of the investigations into Trump and his campaign. Once he became aware of potentially problematic information, he handled it as protocol dictates. Nonetheless, it is easy enough for Trump (and his supporters) to take those details and to spin them into evidence of the "deep state" and a conspiracy against the President and the like. In case there was any doubt on this point, Trump took to Twitter late Friday to lay out the conspiracy:

And so, when Ohr's clearance is (presumably) revoked, it will be to make a statement about the "witch hunt," and not because he criticized the President.

Of course, "I don't like him" and "I think he's part of a conspiracy against me" are both pretty poor reasons for revoking someone's clearance. On Friday, 60 former CIA officials sent a letter to Trump urging him to reconsider the policy, arguing that "the country will be weakened" if he moves forward. This will, of course, have no impact on Trump, whose staff has reportedly already drafted the paperwork needed to remove at least a dozen more clearances. The odds are fair we'll get names this weekend, since the administration tends to like to bury the nasty stuff by releasing it on Saturday night. (Z)

Trump Cancels Military Parade

Earlier this year Donald Trump said he wanted to hold a (Soviet Union-style) military parade on Veterans Day. While his base might like to see tanks rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue and fighter jets screaming above, the military was against it from the start, saying it was pointless and a waste of resources. He didn't think it would cost much and it would show the world how powerful America is. Turns out it would cost a lot. One estimate of the total cost is $92 million, but Defense Secretary James Mattis said that the source for that number was "probably smoking something that is legal in my state, but not in most," (Mattis is from Washington).

The mayor of D.C., Muriel Bowser, chimed in that a parade would cost the District $22 million just for extra police, fire fighters, paramedics, cleanup crews, etc. and this excludes all the military costs. Whatever the true cost, Donald Trump threw in the towel yesterday and canceled the parade. That is very unlike him. Normally when he gets an idea in his head that he thinks will please his base, he doesn't let go of it easily. But this time he did. Few in the military will lose any sleep over his decision. (V)

U.S.-Supplied Bomb Kills 40 Children in Yemen

Last week, Saudi Arabia led an offensive in Yemen that resulted in the destruction of a schoolbus. In the explosion, 40 kids died, and the bomb that did it was a 500-pound (227 kilogram) laser-guided MK-82 bomb made by American defense contractor Lockheed Martin.

Normally, a story like this would not find its way onto a political site like this one. However, in this case, the blood of those 40 children is partly on Donald Trump's hands. Something very much like this happened twice in 2016; in one attack 155 Yemeni citizens were killed, and in the other it was 97. Those incidents involved bombs similar or identical to the one used Friday, and in response to the apparent carelessness of the Saudi military, Barack Obama stopped the sale of precision-guided military technology to Saudi Arabia. Then, in 2017, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson persuaded Trump to reverse the ban.

The President has said nothing publicly about the attack, though he did find time to slam Andrew Cuomo four different times on Twitter on Friday. Presidents are busy and have to prioritize things. However, behind the scenes, Team Trump is scrambling to figure out what happened, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense James Mattis taking the lead. Further, in the recently-passed defense bill, there are provisions essentially requiring the Saudi government to report on what they are doing to reduce civilian casualties. It remains to be seen if the administration holds the Saudis' feet to the fire, and perhaps even concludes that Obama might have been right about this one. Not likely, but you never know. (Z)

Nathan Gonzales Changes House Ratings toward the Democrats

Nathan Gonzales of Inside Elections (who took over from veteran election analyst Stu Rothenberg) has changed his ratings on House races again, and the new ones favor the Democrats. He has 12 Republican seats as pure toss-ups and only two Democratic seats as toss-ups. Gonzales also has 10 Republican seats as tilting, leaning, or likely Democratic. The most endangered GOP seats are the open seats in NJ-02 (Frank LoBiondo), PA-06 (Ryan Costello), and PA-05 (new, due to a revised map). Only one Democratic seat is likely to flip (the open PA-14 seat). Gonzales' bottom line is a Democratic gain of 22-32 seats. The Democrats need to flip 23 seats to take over. (V)

The Hill Sees a 72-Seat Wipeout as the Worst Case Scenario for House Republicans

The Hill also had an analysis of the House elections yesterday, and it is bleaker for the red team than Gonzales' analysis. In its view, if Republicans continue to perform as badly in the general election as they have done in a variety of special elections, it could result in a 72-seat wipeout for the GOP. That would be the biggest swing since Harry Truman ran against the "Do-nothing Congress" in 1948.

However, the worst-case scenario is unlikely for several reasons. First, Republican turnout is likely to be higher in November than in the special elections because in many of the races the Republican candidate was not awe-inspiring, as were several of the Democratic candidates. Second, big Republican megadonors could step in to help the GOP, something that hasn't happened so far.

The best case scenario for the Republicans, according to The Hill, is a loss of 10 seats: two in California, five in Pennsylvania, and one each in Minnesota, Nebraska, and Texas. Below is a map showing the best case and worst case scenarios for the Republicans by state. Each dot represents a red-to-blue House seat.

Best and worst cases for GOP

A lot depends on what the electorate looks like in each state. If the national electorate looks like that of the special elections in OH-12, SC-05, AZ-08, and MT-AL, the Republicans will lose 31 seats and with it, control of the House. (V)

FiveThirtyEight Has New House Ratings Out, Too

As long as we are at it, FiveThirtyEight has just updated its House forecasts, too. They don't parse it quite the same way as The Hill or Nathan Gonzales (see above), but they think there is a 75% chance the Democrats retake the House, that the likely range of outcomes is between 14 and 58 seats, and that the over-under is 35 seats.

Nate Silver wrote a pretty thorough analysis, but his main points are that it's a bad year to be a Republican incumbent, and that there's a lot of uncertainty because the correlation between the Democrats' advantage on the generic ballot, and the number of seats they win, is not linear. That is to say, it is not the case that each 1% of the vote by which the blue team outpaces the GOP equates to 3 more seats flipped. It's more like a Democratic advantage of 7% nationwide translates into very few seats won, an advantage of 8% or 9% likely means they retake Congress, and an advantage of 10% or 11% means a triumph of historic proportions.

Of course, there are still 11 weeks until the midterms, aka several lifetimes in politics. Further, it's just a year and a half since Donald Trump proved that much of what we know about predicting election results is wrong. So, take all of these predictions with a bucket or two of salt. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Aug17 Newspapers Assert Freedom of the Press; Trump Fires Back
Aug17 Omarosa Releases a Recording of Lara Trump Offering Her a $15,000/Month Job
Aug17 No Verdict Yet in Manafort Case
Aug17 Another Piece of the Stormygate Puzzle
Aug17 Admiral Who Oversaw the Raid on Bin Laden Wants His Security Clearance Revoked
Aug17 Trump Badly Wants to Take the Show on the Road
Aug17 Trump Has Praised All the Candidates in the Arizona Senate Primary
Aug17 Who's Who on the House Judiciary Committee?
Aug16 Takeaways from the Primaries
Aug16 Does Trump's Endorsement Matter?
Aug16 Trump Revokes Security Clearance of Former CIA Director John Brennan
Aug16 Manafort's Trial Ends
Aug16 Republican Midterm Strategy Is to Play Nice for a Few Months
Aug16 Democratic Midterm Strategy Is to Go Local
Aug16 Researchers Show that Votes Can Be Hacked in Nearly 30 States
Aug16 Defeated Democrat Says He Was Targeted by Hackers
Aug15 Election Results, States that Held a Primary Last Night Edition
Aug15 Kobach Advances, Johnson Throws His Hat in the Ring
Aug15 White House Staffers Scared Witless of Omarosa's Next Tape
Aug15 Trump Doing His Best to Prove that Yes, He Is a Racist Who Used the N-Word
Aug15 The Five Most Competitive House Races
Aug15 Americans Want Mueller to Finish by Election Day
Aug15 Latinos in Florida Prefer Nelson to Scott, but Barely
Aug14 FBI Fires Peter Strzok
Aug14 Prosecution Rests Its Case in the Manafort Trial
Aug14 Stone Says He Won't Testify Against Trump
Aug14 Omarosa Keeps Dishing
Aug14 Team Trump Decides on a New Flynn Narrative
Aug14 Florida Might Have a Red Tide Instead of a Blue Wave
Aug14 Political Spending at Trump's Properties Is $3.5 Million Since His Inauguration
Aug13 Omarosa: Trump Is a Racist
Aug13 Hawaii Chooses the Democrats Who Will Be Elected in November
Aug13 Four States to Vote on Tuesday
Aug13 A Year Later, What Is the Lesson from Charlottesville?
Aug13 Charlottesville, Part II Fizzles
Aug13 Over 100 Newspapers Will Fight Back on Trump's Attacking the Media
Aug13 The Trump Jr. Follies Continue
Aug12 Omarosa Was Telling the Truth about the Hush Money
Aug12 Charlottesville Back on Deck Today
Aug12 Chris Collins Will End Re-Election Bid
Aug12 Today's Swamp News, Part I: Wilbur Ross the Grifter
Aug12 Today's Swamp News, Part II: Who's Really Running the VA?
Aug12 Realignment Was on Full Display in Ohio Special Election
Aug12 Paul Ryan Nears the End of the Line
Aug11 Sarah Huckabee Sanders Slams Omarosa Manigault-Newman's Not-Yet-Published Book
Aug11 Manafort Trial: Judge's Errors, Mystery Conference
Aug11 Trump Uses Market Pain to Get His Way around the World
Aug11 Unfortunately, Market Pain Doesn't Work with North Korea
Aug11 Judge Holds Roger Stone's Aide in Contempt of Court
Aug11 Trump vs. NFL Enters Year Two