• Takeaways from Mueller's Memo about Michael Flynn
• Maryland and D.C. AGs Subpoena Trump's Businesses
• Roger Stone Keeps Seeking the Limelight
• Two Down, 40 to Go
• Sanders Looks to Be Gearing up for 2020, but Maybe He Shouldn't
• Thursday Q&A
George H.W. Bush, who will be laid to rest in Texas today, was honored with a grandiose funeral in Washington on Wednesday. Mostly, it was a fairly standard affair, as far as these things go, with a series of celebratory and heartfelt eulogies from a host of dignitaries, including son George W. Bush, who—and you may not know this—once served as president himself. Because it was so standard, in fact, the story really became the one sore thumb in the crowd that stuck out. That would be the sore thumb that was sitting at the far right of the front pew, wearing his usual black suit and too-long tie.
On one hand, one almost has to feel sorry for Donald Trump, who is constantly under laserlike scrutiny as people search for the smallest miscue. On the other hand, he doesn't seem to have the slightest concern about watching his body language and his facial expressions, so he brings most of this on himself. In any event, here is how the Washington Post described the scene:
When the others sang an opening hymn, his mouth did not move. When the others read the Apostles' Creed, he stood stoically. And when one eulogist after another testified to George H.W. Bush's integrity and character and honesty and bravery and compassion, Trump sat and listened, often with his lips pursed and his arms crossed over his chest.
It also did not help that it was almost impossible for the Bush family to live up to their promises, and to keep the proceedings from coming off as a rebuke of the Donald. For example, when Bush biographer Jon Meacham said, "His life code was: 'Tell the truth. Don't blame people. Be strong. Do your best. Try hard. Forgive. Stay the course,'" roughly half the room looked in Trump's direction, because they know his philosophy is something like, "Never tell the truth. Always find someone to blame. Pretend to be strong. Why do your best, or try hard? Never forgive. And change course at least twice a day."
In short, Trump showed once again that he is just not good at the ceremonial parts of his job. Which is why, of course, he avoids as many ceremonial functions as he can (he just skipped another Kennedy Center honors last week). Oh, well, at least this time Melania left her "I Don't Care. Do U?" jacket at home. (Z)
Special counsel Robert Mueller has filed a memo in court asking the federal judge handling the case of former NSA Michael Flynn to be very lenient. In the memo, he requests that the judge not sentence Flynn to any prison time. The memo also has some other interesting bits of information in it. Here are the top five takeaways according to The Hill:
- Valuable information: Flynn clearly gave Mueller valuable information,
the nature of which is not public yet. There are basically two kinds of witnesses: firsthand and
secondhand. Firsthand witnesses, like Flynn, were in the room when something important happened.
These are the most valuable. Secondhand witnesses heard about the event from someone else. Flynn saw
a lot of important stuff firsthand.
- Several ongoing investigations: The key word here is "several." It
seems that Flynn potentially knows about multiple crimes committed by multiple people and he is
helping prosecutors with all of them. We don't know yet what they are, but clearly Mueller has many
irons in the fire.
- More shoes will drop: Parts of the memo are secret, no doubt for good
reason. Very likely the hidden parts relate to ongoing investigations that aren't public yet and may
involve people not yet on the public's radar. Members of Trump's family, perhaps? We will no doubt
find out eventually, but not quite yet.
- Trump should be very nervous: Flynn was a key confidant of Trump
during the whole campaign and may have been a conduit between the campaign and the Russians. He
undoubtedly knows a lot of stuff Trump does not want prosecutors to know and which, due to Flynn's
cooperation, they now know. Flynn had 19 separate interviews with Mueller's team, so he has clearly
spilled enough beans to supply Starbucks for a year.
- No evidence Mueller is wrapping it up: Some press reports have said that Mueller is almost done and will soon close up shop. Nothing in the Flynn memo suggests this in any way. On the contrary, there are probably numerous side probes going on that could continue for a long time, although they might be taken over by Justice Department units outside of Mueller's team.
It's hard to read the tea leaves since Mueller is playing his cards so close to his vest, but it should be clear that Flynn really told Mueller a lot and Trump is going to be in hot water on account of how much Flynn knows. (V)
The attorneys general of Maryland and D.C. have sued Donald Trump for violating the Constitution's emoluments clause. They say foreign governments are spending money at his D.C. hotel to influence him, and thus hurting other hotels in Maryland and D.C. A federal judge has already granted them standing to sue, and now they have started the discovery phase of the cases. They have issued subpoenas seeking information from more than 30 businesses and other entities. They also want the tax returns of Trump's personal trust and the Trump Organization. Unless a court blocks them, the AGs are going to have a wealth of information about Trump's finances and especially about which governments are funneling money to him by spending lavishly at his hotel.
Trump is certain to fight all the subpoenas, but he may not win. In the Paula Jones case, the Supreme Court ruled 9 to 0 that the president is not immune to civil suits. If that ruling is applied in this case, all the organizations that have received subpoenas are going to have to give the AGs the requested information sooner or later.
Incidentally, there are some things that are already publicly known and that look very bad for Trump. On Wednesday, for example, the Washington Post reported that Saudi lobbyists began booking rooms at Trump's D.C. hotel right after the election. They booked 500 rooms, to be exact. That would look a bit shady under the best of circumstances. But now, with Trump doing everything possible to sweep the murder of Jamal Khashoggi under the rug, it looks downright sinister. (V & Z)
Usually people who are about to be indicted in high-profile cases try to keep a low profile. The self-described "dirty trickster" Roger Stone is doing the exact opposite, defying the advice of just about every defense lawyer in the country. He gives media interviews constantly, writes op-eds about Robert Mueller, and holds bull sessions with reporters at his home.
The reason for all the publicity may well be simple: He needs money—a lot of money—to pay lawyers for the deluge about to happen when he is indicted, which probably is fairly soon. So naturally he is trying to raise it on a GoFundMe.com. There appear to be five active campaigns raising money for him. So far they have raised $4,802, $3,798, $0, $0, and $0, respectively. That should cover, oh, about 8 or 10 hours of good-quality legal work.
Stone thinks that being in the news all the time makes people think he is innocent. In fact, he literally said: "The danger is in not speaking. When you're silent, people assume you are guilty of something." Defense lawyers think that is a terrible idea. By talking all the time, you might accidentally say something that hangs you later. Also, you are giving the prosecutors valuable insight into what you are thinking and are concerned about. That's never going to help. But despite the abject failure of his campaigns to raise money and the help he may be giving to prosecutors, Stone is keeping at his road show. (V)
Following in the footsteps of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY), who dropped out of the 2020 presidential race already, former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick has also thrown in the towel. Patrick was a prosecutor before he was a governor. Why did he give up so fast? There are probably two reasons. First, as a reasonably experienced black politician, he would immediately be compared to Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who is 13 years younger (62 vs. 49). The activist wing of the Democratic Party would clearly prefer a young person and Patrick is old enough to get a Social Security check if he wants one.
The other problem also relates to that Social Security check: He doesn't need it. He has been working for Bain Capital for several years now. That's Mitt Romney's old firm, you know, the one that bought up struggling companies, stripped them of all their assets, then fired all the workers. Romney took a lot of flack for that in 2012, and Patrick would, too. As an older black guy who can be tied to a company full of vulture capitalists, he's nobody's favorite. For those Democrats who want a black candidate to try to rebuild the Obama coalition, Booker and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) are younger and more exciting. Patrick really never had a chance, so why not admit it right off the bat and move on?
As an aside, Stormy Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti, is also officially out after melting down, but he was never a serious candidate, so his withdrawal doesn't count for anything. (V)
This week, a group of former members of the Bernie 2016 campaign who call themselves "Organizing For Bernie" are making a fair bit of noise about their plans. They have said they will formally launch next week, and will "hit the ground running." Their stated goals are: (1) To convince the Vermont senator that he should run for president again, and (2) To have as many ducks lined up as is possible, whenever he "might" happen to decide to throw his hat into the race. This is an old political bit, wherein a candidate arranges to be "drafted," so that he looks selfless and public-spirited, rather than self-interested and motivated by personal goals. It's how FDR got his third term, for example. In other words, we think it is unlikely that Sanders has nothing to do with this. No, this is just political theater designed to smooth his entrance into the race.
However, Bernie might want to think twice before launching another run. There are now many contenders for the support of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, many of whom are actually Democrats. Further, as noted above, a lot of party members (especially younger party members) appear to want a young candidate to carry their standard in 2020. With a Rep. Beto O'Rourke, or a Kamala Harris, or a Cory Booker, it is possible for these voters to have their young, progressive cake and eat it, too. For these reasons, among others, some of Sanders' most vocal supporters from 2016 are taking a wait-and-see attitude toward 2020. That's not to say the Senator's campaign is hopeless, merely that he is likely going to find it much harder than he thinks to make the move from "fly in the ointment" to "frontrunner." (Z)
Lots of questions related to the Bush funeral. We'll have to answer them now, because they have a limited shelf life.
The news coverage of our five living Presidents gathered for the Bush funeral made me wonder: Is five a lot? When did we have the greatest number of living Presidents? The least (not counting the country's early years)? M.H., Boston, MA
Five former presidents (making for a total of six walking the face of the planet) is indeed a record, although one that has been equaled a few times. When Abraham Lincoln took office in 1861, Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan were still living, which was the first time the U.S. had a presidential sextet. It lasted a little less than a year until Tyler keeled over. It did not happen again until pretty recently, when there have been three periods with six living presidents: Jan. 1993 to Apr. 1994 (the six consecutive from Nixon to Clinton), Jan. 2001 to June 2004 (the six consecutive from Ford to G. W. Bush), and Jan. 2017 to Nov. 2018 (Carter, the two Bushes, Clinton, Obama, and Trump).
On the other end of the spectrum, besides George Washington, there have been five men who spent part of their time in office as the nation's only living president: John Adams, Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, and Richard Nixon.
What must Jimmy Carter think when George H. W. Bush is referred to as the "last soldier-statesman," when he also served in the Navy and was a statesman as well? J.M., Knoxville, TN
Ah! You noticed that, too. Those were Jon Meacham's words, and what he actually said was that Bush was America's last great soldier-statesman. That really was pretty insulting to Carter. Is Meacham saying that Carter doesn't count because he wasn't great, or because his service was largely in peacetime (and he didn't see combat)? And besides Carter, Bob Dole, John Kerry, and John Warner might need to register a complaint, as well.
As George H.W. Bush lies in state at the US Capitol, do all ex-presidents now receive that honor? What committee decides who else may be a recipient? My youthful distractions do not allow me to recall if Nixon received a similar ceremony. If a hypothetical president is found to have been an inveterate liar, abused power, and committed treason (among other transgressions), do they too receive this prestige just by their status of being a former Commander-in-Chief? W.F., Blairs Mills, PA
Hm. One suspects you are thinking about potential future honorees who may or may not receive this particular honor.
Anyhow, the first fellow to be recognized in this way was Henry Clay in 1852, who was the greatest member of Congress of his time, and perhaps the greatest ever, so he was certainly worthy of it. Second up was Abraham Lincoln, after his untimely death. The stand on which his casket sat, known as the Lincoln catafalque, is in use to this day (and, in fact, was used for Bush). Thereafter, it remained a rare honor, extended very occasionally to very popular or special folks (like Admiral of the Fleet George Dewey), and to most presidents and veeps who died in office. Over the course of a century, only 16 people were given the treatment.
Since the 1960s, however, it has become customary for a dead president to lie in state. You could say that JFK set the trend, although his lying in state was entirely consistent with past precedent. The fellow who really set a new custom was Herbert Hoover, when he died in 1964. He was the first president to die after leaving office and then to lie in state. And since then, every deceased chief executive has been honored, except for two. One exception, as you correctly guessed, was Richard Nixon, while the other was Harry S. Truman.
The decision, incidentally, is made either by the leaders of Congress, or by Congressional resolution. In the case of presidents, particularly these days, their funeral plan is set shortly after they take office, and if they prefer to lie in state, then Congress' blessing is pretty much automatic. Nixon was not denied, his family preferred to skip it, because they felt the "mourners" might be less than respectful. One can imagine a similar decision being made when certain current holders of the office shuffle off this mortal coil. Truman, meanwhile, was a modest and unassuming Midwesterner who didn't want a bunch of fuss. Gerald Ford almost skipped lying in state for the same reason, but his family and friends prevailed on him to change his mind.
One last detail, as long as we're this deep into the matter, anyhow. To lie in state, you have to have been a functionary of the government at some point (officeholder, soldier, bureaucrat). If you were not one of those things, Congress can still stick your casket in the rotunda (on the Lincoln catafalque), but it's called lying in honor. That is very rare indeed; it's only happened a handful of times: Jacob Chestnut and John Gibson (Capitol police killed in the line of duty), Rosa Parks, and Billy Graham. So, several people who risked everything to make America a better country, plus a televangelist.
In your Monday assessment of George H.W. Bush's legacy, you left out the signing of the ADA, a monumental law that has reached deep into American society. The ADA's reach is wide and deep, affecting how business treats customers and employees, how education treats students, and how medicine treats patients. Socially, it has brought the severely physically and mentally disabled out of the closet in front of mainstream eyes. With nearly 60 million disabled in the U.S., the law has promoted major changes for the better. The self-evident truth of "the blessings of liberty" is, across the board, more equitable because of it. M.C., Rochester, NY
We did mention it in our obit of Bush. In the answer about his legacy, the reason we excluded it is not that it is unimportant, but that he's not particularly remembered for that piece of legislation. Nearly any student of U.S. history knows whose signature is on the Social Security Act, or the Interstate Highway Act, or the Voting Rights Act, or the bill that created the EPA, because those four presidents took a leading role in advocating for the legislation and maneuvering it through Congress. In the case of Bush and the ADA, he kind of remained in the background, and the real point person was Sen. Tom Harkin.
If Donald Trump is removed from office or resigns, something that seems pretty likely, then Mike Pence become President. What happens if Pence is then removed from office or resigns? Does the Presidency then go to the Speaker of the House or to whoever becomes Pence's VP? Is there any kind of window where it would still go to the Speaker of the House, or is it always going to go to Pence's VP? How long does it take for him to install a new VP and when or how does it become official? Is there any scenario where the Presidency could actually go to the Speaker of the House short of them dying/resigning/being impeached on the same day? S.S., West Hollywood, CA
First, you may be assuming a bit much when you say it is "pretty likely" Trump is removed from office or resigns. Our guess is that, even if he's in deep doo-doo, he goes down fighting. It shouldn't be too hard for him to drag things out until 2020 if he wants to, and if he's badly compromised, then he's more likely to get voted out at that time as opposed to resigning or being impeached and convicted.
That said, if Trump does depart, then the vice presidency would be temporarily vacant. The procedure, at that point, would be for the new president (Pence, presumably) to nominate a new VP, who then has to be confirmed by the House and the Senate. Pence would likely move very fast to pick a new #2, so as to avoid even the slightest risk of President Pelosi. The last two times the job was open mid-term, the new guy was installed in 57 days (Gerald Ford) and 132 days (Nelson Rockefeller).
Given Pence's eagerness to block Pelosi, it's pretty unlikely that she could sneak in the back door of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue right now. Even if Trump and Pence are both impeached, it would almost certainly require two separate trials, and so they would not be convicted on the same day. The only plausible way we can see the line of succession getting down to #3, barring Trump and Pence passing away in close proximity to each other, is if the Democrats somehow impeach/remove the Donald, pull a Merrick Garland and refuse to approve a new VP in the House, and then impeach/remove Pence. This is a very long longshot.
In these parlor games concerning succession to the presidency, the duties eventually fall back to the Cabinet. Is there a definitive list of what actually constitutes the Cabinet and is that list set by legislation? J.W., Los Angeles, CA
Yes. That is set by the Presidential Succession Act of 1947, which is occasionally updated to tweak the line of succession. The last time it was adjusted was 2006, when the newly-created post of Secretary of Homeland Security was added to the list.
Although you didn't ask, we might as well note that there are currently two people who would otherwise be in the line of succession by virtue of the jobs they hold, but are generally considered ineligible to serve. The first is acting AG Matthew Whitaker; although the Act is actually somewhat vague on whether or not acting department heads are eligible, most legal scholars agree they are not (and that's before considering whether or not Whitaker's acting AG status is kosher). The other is Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, who was born in Taiwan, and is a naturalized citizen. She is definitely not eligible.
If it requires only an act of Congress to change the size of the Supreme Court, and the current Congress still has a few weeks left, is there anything preventing them from taking such action now, and handing Trump additional robes to fill? The GOP will still control the confirmation process even after the end of the year, so presumably he'd have little problem cementing a lopsided majority on the Court for a long time to come? J.E., Bellevue, WA
What stops this from happening, beyond the not-so-good optics of such a baldfaced power grab, is the Senate filibuster. The GOP might ram such a bill through the House, but it would die in the Senate as Democrats made sure it never came up for a vote.
It is true that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) could probably kill the filibuster with some parliamentary tricks, and then maybe ram through such a law and maybe a few judges, too. But time is tight, and McConnell knows that spending two or three weeks gorging at the legislative smorgasbord is not worth opening up Pandora's Box and giving the Democrats license to do whatever the heck they want the next time they gain control of the Senate (2020?).
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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Dec04 Republican Legislatures in Michigan and Wisconsin Try to Weaken Incoming Governor
Dec04 NC-09 Just Keeps Getting Shadier
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Dec03 The New Senate Will Be Even Friendlier to Trump than the Old One
Dec03 No Autopsy This Time
Dec03 Comey and Goodlatte Reach a Deal
Dec03 Harris to Decide on a Run over the Holidays
Dec03 Monday Q&A
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Dec01 Trump Nails Down NAFTA Replacement, But He's Not Out of the Woods Yet
Dec01 Senate Republicans Dump All over Flake
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Dec01 Schiff Wants to Investigate Trump's Plan to Give Putin a Penthouse
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Nov30 A Tale of Two Rats
Nov30 Trump in Meltdown Mode
Nov30 Deutsche Bank Headquarters Raided
Nov30 No Meeting with Putin
Nov30 House Democrats Elect Cheri Bustos to Head the DCCC
Nov30 Tim Scott Shoots Down Farr
Nov30 Comey Sues to Quash Subpoena
Nov29 Republicans Block Bill That Would Protect Mueller
Nov29 Trump Told Mueller That He Didn't Know about the Trump Tower Meeting in Advance
Nov29 Everyone is Denying That They Knew About Wikileaks
Nov29 Democrats Nominate Pelosi as Speaker
Nov29 Powell Defends the Fed against Trump
Nov29 House Rundown