• Weeks Ago, Trump Asked Lawyers about Pardoning Manafort
• Sessions Pushes Back
• Trump Wants to Criminalize "Flipping"
• Collins Says Kavanaugh Described Roe as "Settled Law"
• Casey Has a 15-Point Lead in Pennsylvania Senate Race
• The Duncan Hunter Story Just Keeps Chugging Along
As far as is currently known, Donald Trump had extramarital affairs with two women, namely Stormy Daniels (nee Stephanie Clifford) and Karen McDougal (nee Karen McDougal). During the campaign, he wanted to make sure both kept quiet about the affairs, but the route taken to silence each woman was different. Daniels simply got a contract that paid her $130,000 for her silence. According to Michael Cohen's testimony on Tuesday, the contract was intended to help Trump win the election, which made the deal an illegal campaign contribution. McDougal's silence was bought in a different way. The National Enquirer's parent company, AMI, bought the rights to her story for $150,000 and then may have sold them to Trump or his company. If Trump's company bought the rights and reimbursed AMI, that would mean his company made an illegal campaign contribution.
It came out yesterday that the CEO of AMI, David Pecker, was subpoenaed in April by federal investigators who wanted to learn more about the details (and whether Trump's company committed a crime). Pecker was granted immunity because he faced possible charges of being part of a criminal conspiracy to violate campaign finance laws. He is now cooperating with investigators. As the New York Daily News so gently pointed out, he kind of had to:
The significance of Pecker's flipping is that Trump claims he didn't know anything about the deal, so if Pecker testified that Trump knew all about it, then Trump is in deep doodoo for violating campaign finance laws, and then for conspiring to cover that up. The Trump Organization may be in trouble as well, if the reimbursement to AMI came from company funds rather than Trump's own pocket. The Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., is investigating. Trump could not pardon anyone Vance indicts because he operates under New York State law, not federal law.
Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo is reporting a different take on Trump's relationship with Pecker, based on what Cohen pleaded guilty to. According to Marshall, although Pecker and Trump are long-time friends, Trump and AMI had a business deal in which AMI would look for stories that might be damaging to Trump, buy up the rights to them, and then resell them to Trump or his company. In effect, AMI was just a front to prevent the women (or possibly men, although none have come to light so far) from realizing that it was Trump who was buying their silence. In this light, it makes sense that Pecker asked for and got immunity, because he was in the business of being part of a criminal conspiracy to violate election laws. While he probably regrets that he has to pin the blame for the whole sordid affair on Trump, he undoubtedly thinks it is better that Trump goes to prison than that he goes to prison, especially if there is (much) more to this story than is already public.
Late Thursday, we even learned where Pecker kept his trove of Trump-related dirt: A safe in the offices of the Enquirer. However, after the election, the evidence was removed from the safe because Pecker feared legal exposure. Whether the cache was moved elsewhere, or was destroyed, is not clear. That said, you don't end up in Pecker's line of work by throwing away valuable dirt, so the odds are pretty good he's got that information somewhere. And if that is true, the odds are pretty good the feds have that information now, too. It will be interesting to see if any of it ever comes to light, and if so, if any of it digs Trump's hole deeper.
The walls are clearly closing in on Trump now. We already know that insiders Michael Flynn, Michael Cohen, David Pecker, and Don McGahn have all cooperated with special counsel Robert Mueller, and there may well be others. Trump is surely feeling extremely isolated at this point and probably trusts no one outside of his immediate family and (maybe) (some of) his lawyers. Cornered rats tend to lash out and Trump might do so as well, with unknowable consequences. (V & Z)
Donald Trump has been thinking about a pardon for now-convicted-felon Paul Manafort, Trump's one-time campaign manager, for months. He even asked his lawyers for their advice weeks ago. The lawyers said it was a bad idea and Trump dropped it for the time being, although now that Manafort has been convicted of eight felonies, the thought is sure to pop up in Trump's mind again. Trump's television lawyers, Jay Sekulow and Rudy Giuliani, told Trump that while he had the power to pardon Manafort, Robert Mueller might interpret that as obstruction of justice. Further, the optics of doing so would look bad, and in the end impeachment will happen only if the public turns on Trump, and a pardon might just move public opinion the wrong way. (V)
Tuesday's revelation by Michael Cohen that Donald Trump ordered him to commit a felony had an amazing side effect: Attorney General Jeff Sessions suddenly grew a spine. Yesterday, he said that "the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations." Donald Trump wants Sessions to un-recuse himself from the Russiagate probe and fire Robert Mueller. Sessions has now made it perfectly clear that he will not do so. He also will not waste any time investigating Hillary Clinton's e-mails or doing Trump's bidding on other political issues. Unless, of course, they are political issues that Sessions agrees with, like cracking down on undocumented immigrants.
Trump could just fire Sessions, of course, and he might yet do so, although that would cause a firestorm. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) even gave Trump permission to do so, saying: "Replacing him before the election, to me, before would be a nonstarter, but the idea of having a new attorney general in the first term of President Trump's administration, I think is very likely."
Graham's remark may be rooted in Senate politics, though. Any replacement for Sessions would have to go through the Senate Judiciary Committee. And the current chairman of that committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), may decide he would prefer being top dog of the Senate Finance Committee in January, replacing the retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) (assuming the Republicans hold the Senate). Then Graham would become chairman of the Judiciary Committee. By issuing a statement like the one he did, he is trying to curry Trump's favor, and to get him to nudge Grassley over to Finance.
So, Graham has his ax to grind, but other Republican senators have other views. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), the majority whip, supported Sessions, who was a colleague in the Senate for 20 years. Cornyn said: "We don't have time, nor is there a likely candidate, who could get confirmed in my view under these current circumstances." Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) said it would be "very difficult" to get a new AG confirmed. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said firing Sessions would not be a "wise move." Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) put it this way: "I find it really difficult to envision any circumstance where I would vote to confirm a successor to Jeff Sessions if he is fired because he's executing his job rather than choosing to act as a partisan hack."
With Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) back home battling brain cancer and not likely to ever return to the Senate, the Republicans have de facto a 50-49 majority, so any one senator (e.g., Cornyn, Flake, Collins, or Sasse), could torpedo the confirmation of a new nominee, assuming the Democrats stick together. That latter point means there's some time pressure here; it's plausible that a Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) or a Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) might not want to vote against Trump right before voters head to the polls in their Trump-loving home states. After the election, however, those two (and the other Senate Democrats up in red states) would have six years for people to forget their vote (and, maybe, to forget Trump), and so they would be much more likely to remain loyal to their party. In short, Trump is playing with fire if he cans Sessions now, and he's playing with fire if he does it after the midterms. Further, if Trump were to fire Sessions and the Senate balked at confirming a successor, Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein would become acting AG, not just on Russiagate, but on everything, which might make Trump's situation even worse. But he is not one to take advice from Republicans in the Senate or anyone else. (V)
Donald Trump has, for some unknown reason, developed a sudden interest in folks who, when looking at a long prison sentence, "flip" on their co-conspirators in exchange for leniency. Speaking with Fox News, the President declared that such behavior "ought to be illegal." Given that plea bargains of this sort are rather critical to keeping the justice system functioning, and to bringing down some of the biggest and most dangerous lawbreakers, this is probably not the best policy proposal that Trump has come up with.
Also, in case there was any doubt that Trump's ego—which is enormous, even by presidential standards—had taken a hit in view of all his recent setbacks, he put that to rest. Asked to grade his presidency, he gave himself an A+. He also said that he doesn't understand "how you can impeach somebody who's done a great job," and warned that if he is impeached, "I think the market would crash. I think everybody would be very poor." In short, he now believes that not only is the entire U.S. government balanced on his shoulders, so too is the entire U.S. economy. Folks on Wall Street were quick to correct his prediction, opining that not only would the market not crash, but that it would very possibly rally, as investors responded to the greater discretion and stability of a post-Trump federal government. So, if the President thinks that the corporate muckety mucks will rally to his banner just because he signed off on their tax cut, he may be in for an unpleasant surprise. (Z)
Thanks to other happenings this week, the confirmation process of Brett Kavanaugh has largely been flying under the radar. However, there was a development on that front. Susan Collins, one of the handful of GOP senators who might plausibly vote against the judge's confirmation, had her one-on-one with him. And afterwards, she told reporters that, "We talked about whether he considered Roe to be settled law. He said that he agreed with what Justice Roberts said at his nomination hearing in which he said it was settled law."
So, what does this tell us about the future of Roe, if and when Kavanaugh is confirmed? Absolutely nothing. It's unlikely the Court will hear a case challenging abortion rights head on; much more likely is that they will hear and rule in cases that undermine it, bit by bit. For example, if a state requires an abortion doctor to have a pre-med degree from Princeton, an M.D. from Yale, and a three-year residency in gynecology at Harvard, the Court could rule that states can legitimately set whatever educational requirements they want for physicians, and if nobody can meet them, well, that's their problem. And even if the Court does consider a direct challenge to Roe, and even if Kavanaugh votes to overturn the decision, he will just say something like "My thinking evolved." The only thing that Collins' announcement does, then, is advise her voters that she's done her "due diligence," and that she will be voting for confirmation. There are thus very few obstacles left, if any, to the judge's taking his seat on the Supreme Court. (Z)
At the beginning of this year, Democrats were sweating bullets because they were defending 10 Senate seats in states Donald Trump won, some by double digits. As the year has worn on, it has become clear that a Trump victory in 2016 doesn't always mean an easy win for the Republican senatorial candidate in 2018. The poster child for that is Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), who now has a 15-point lead over challenger Lou Barletta (R) according to a new NBC/Marist poll. So not only is Casey not in trouble, he is cruising to a landslide win, and his lead will probably hold up because donors see polls like this and say: "Barletta is dead meat" and slam their wallets shut.
Pennsylvania isn't the only state that Trump won in which the Democrat has a commanding lead in the Senate race. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) might end up with an even bigger margin than Casey. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) is also way, way ahead of Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH). Even Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), whose state went for Trump by 42 points, has a solid lead over WV AG Patrick Morrisey.
What this seems to show is that in Senate races, the candidate does matter. In House races, that is less so. Nevertheless, Democratic senators are in trouble in some states, notably Florida, North Dakota, and Missouri. Still, many people start paying attention to the campaign after Labor Day, so a lot can still change. (V)
When Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) was indicted for insider trading a few weeks ago, he kept up the "defiant" act for just a couple of days before throwing in the towel and ending his reelection campaign. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), who certainly appears to have pilfered a quarter of a million dollars from his campaign bank account, does not look like he will surrender so easily. While he has agreed to step down from his committee assignments, he continues to maintain his innocence. That doesn't mean he's saying the $250,000 didn't disappear, mind you, only that it's not his fault. Whose fault is it, then? Duncan points the finger at...his wife. "She was the campaign manager," he said on Thursday. "But I didn't do it. I didn't spend any money illegally."
This is, of course, nonsense. Even if Hunter was not making the decisions, he surely knew what his salary was, and that it did not afford the luxury vacations he and his family were taking. Although, with that said, much of the money went for rather plebeian purchases, like a cheap suit at the Men's Wearhouse, toiletries, beer, and golf shorts. And, as the Washington Post reports, it is true that Duncan's wife was more skillful than he was at hiding their illicit purchases. She advised him to buy his shorts at a pro shop, and then claim he was buying golf balls for the Wounded Warriors charity, for example, or to say that the groceries and cosmetics he bought were for charity gift baskets. When it was up to the congressman to come up with his own lies, he came up with flabby ones like, "Oops, used the wrong credit card."
If Hunter stays in the race, his R+12 district will certainly be in play, although his Democratic opponent is not a great fit for the district. The primary featured a fairly centrist former Navy SEAL named Josh Butner and a former Obama administration member named Ammar Campa-Najjar, who is of Mexican and Arab descent, and is a big supporter of socialized medicine and aggressive anti-global warming measures. Democrats in CA-50 went with Campa-Najjar, of course. His profile would play well in, say, San Francisco, but for Trump voters who are wavering on Hunter, it may be a bridge too far. (Z)Editorial note: We have new email addresses, namely email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. But no matter which address you use, Zenger will probably be handling the mail as Votemaster is working on getting ready to start updating the Senate map every day starting in early September, once nearly all the candidates are known, after Delaware holds its primary on Sept. 6. After that, only Rhode Island has a primary and it doesn't matter who the Republicans nominate because Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) will crush whomever the Republicans nominate, most likely Robert Flanders.
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Aug23 Manafort Juror Dishes on Deliberations
Aug23 Cohen Will Refuse a Pardon
Aug23 Trump Loves Manafort, Dings Cohen
Aug23 Pardons are No Panacea
Aug23 Trump's Next Problem: Michael Avenatti
Aug23 Maybe Trump Should Resign
Aug23 Untrained Teenager Shows How to Wipe Out a Voting Machine in 5 Minutes
Aug23 New Tariffs Kick in Today
Aug22 A Bad Day for Trump, Part I: Manafort Guilty on 8 Charges
Aug22 A Bad Day for Trump, Part II: Cohen Cops a Plea
Aug22 A Bad Day for Trump, Part III: Rep. Duncan Hunter Indicted
Aug22 A Bad Day for Trump, Part IV: Mueller Delays Flynn's Sentence Again
Aug22 Wyomingites, Alaskans Go to the Polls
Aug22 Trump Will Spend 40 Days on the Campaign Trail
Aug22 Trump Rallies in West Virginia
Aug22 Former Top NRCC Officials Blast the Group's Midterm Strategy
Aug22 Elizabeth Warren Releases Her Platform
Aug21 Trump Is Worried by McGahn's 30 Hours with Mueller
Aug21 Wyoming, Alaska Have Primaries Today
Aug21 Russians Tried to Hack Senate, Conservative Think Tanks
Aug21 Giuliani: OK, the Truth Is the Truth
Aug21 No Verdict in Manafort Trial Yet
Aug21 Auto Industry Unites to Oppose Trump's Tariffs
Aug21 A Blue Wave May Carry the House but Not the Senate
Aug21 Oppo Research Ramps Up in House Races
Aug20 Giuliani: "Truth Isn't Truth"
Aug20 Trump Teaches History Class
Aug20 Many Trump Allies Welcome Democratic-Controlled House
Aug20 Cohen Charges Likely Coming Soon
Aug20 "Stephen Miller Is an Immigration Hypocrite"
Aug20 Brennan May Take Trump to Court
Aug20 Ohio Begins Compiling Final Vote Count in OH-12
Aug19 White House Counsel Don McGahn Has Been Cooperating with the Special Counsel
Aug19 Judge Guts Trump NDA
Aug19 No Security Clearances Revoked on Saturday
Aug19 Trump's Knowledge of the World and Foreign Affairs Is Sad
Aug19 This Week's Senate News
Aug19 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: John Hickenlooper
Aug18 Manafort Jury Goes Home for the Weekend without a Verdict
Aug18 Why Hasn't Manafort Flipped?
Aug18 Trump Says He Will Yank Bruce Ohr's Security Clearance Next
Aug18 Trump Cancels Military Parade
Aug18 U.S.-Supplied Bomb Kills 40 Children in Yemen
Aug18 Nathan Gonzales Changes House Ratings toward the Democrats
Aug18 The Hill Sees a 72-Seat Wipeout as the Worst Case Scenario for House Republicans
Aug18 FiveThirtyEight Has New House Ratings Out, Too
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