• Trump Picks William Barr as Attorney General
• Nauert Under Scrutiny
• Kelly Is No Longer on Speaking Terms with Trump
• Pelosi Suggests Two New Members of the House Might Not Be Seated
• Trump Advisers Fear a Recession by 2020
• Tillerson Unloads on Trump and Vice Versa
Does Donald Trump have good days any more? Or is it just bad days and really bad days? Whatever the case may be, Friday was definitely a really bad day for him, as special counsel Robert Mueller filed two sentencing memos, and the U.S. attorney's office for New York filed another, all of them very worrisome for the President.
Let's start with former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. We already knew that Mueller was preparing to accuse Manafort of lying, but now we know that the accusation covers "five major issues." And although Friday's memo was heavily redacted, there is enough there to know that one of the major issues is Manafort's interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik. Kilimnik is a Russian intelligence operative who has been linked to the hacking of the DNC, and Mueller says he has hard evidence that Manafort was talking to Kilimnik during the campaign, despite claiming otherwise.
Another one of the major issues is contact between Manafort and the Trump administration. Although both parties suggested that all contact had ceased back in 2016, and although Trump himself has consistently downplayed the length and importance of his interactions with Manafort, Mueller says he has text messages showing that communication continued through this year, even after Manafort had been indicted. Not only does that make Trump a liar (what's new?), it adds significantly to the obstruction of justice case. One is also left to wonder what claims Trump made in his written answers to Mueller, and if he now knows he's been caught perjuring himself. After all, one might get away with, "I don't remember if I was told about the meeting with the Russians." However, one can hardly say, "It completely slipped my mind that I talked to Paul Manafort many times after I said I was no longer doing so, including as recently as three months ago."
Now let's move on to Michael Cohen. He was the subject of two of Friday's three memos, as both Mueller and the U.S. attorney's office weighed in on what kind of prison time he should get when he's sentenced next week. The short answer: They think he should get a lot, in large part because they do not believe he was entirely forthcoming with the FBI, and that he kept some of his cards hidden. That said, Trump's former lawyer gave up enough information such that both memos assert the payments to Stormy Daniels and to other former Trump flings were orchestrated by the President himself. They also say that Cohen made at least one previously unknown contact with the Russians, in November 2015, in search of "political synergy" for the Trump campaign.
The administration's spin in response to these developments was immediate and aggressive. In response to the Manafort filing, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, "The government's filing in Mr. Manafort's case says absolutely nothing about the President." And in response to the Cohen filings, Donald Trump tweeted:
Totally clears the President. Thank you!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 7, 2018
Actually, it's not really correct to call this "spin," since spin is at least somewhat based in reality. Either Trump and Sanders are lying outright, are in denial, are delusional, or are some combination of the above. Given that all three memos discuss the existence of contacts between Team Trump and the Russians, and that all three memos assert systematic lying by Trump about his interactions with Cohen/Manafort, there is no plausible way to argue that the President's position did not get much, much worse on Friday. And that is despite the fact that much of the memos are redacted, and that the nature of Mueller's evidence is known only in a general sense. We will learn a bit more next week, when Cohen and Manafort are sentenced. And meanwhile, get ready for a wild winter season, as Trump will have lots of time off, and will be feeling lots of pressure. That is a situation pretty much guaranteed to generate massive fireworks. (Z)
Yesterday Donald Trump announced that he will nominate William Barr as attorney general. It is altogether fitting and proper that he should do this (sorry, Abe!). After all, what better way to pay tribute to the late George H.W. Bush and his personnel choices than to put Bush's first choice as attorney general back in the saddle (Bush inherited Dick Thornburgh from Ronald Reagan and kept him on for a bit before picking Barr). Trump explained his pick by saying: "He was my first choice since Day 1." He didn't explain how Jeff Sessions got nominated first, though. Maybe Trump made a typing error when filling in the form for cabinet choices. After all, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III and William Pelham Barr are very similar names.
Though he is a staunch conservative, Barr is generally well regarded by both Republicans and Democrats and will probably be confirmed by a large bipartisan majority of the Senate. There will be questions, to be sure, probably about his view that Hillary Clinton should be investigated for her role in the Uranium One deal. In addition, Democratic senators on the Judiciary Committee will demand an ironclad guarantee that he will not mess with special counsel Robert Mueller. Barr will respond with vague statements about how much he reveres the Constitution and would never do anything that violates it. Ironclad guarantees will not be forthcoming. But unless some major skeleton turns up and falls out of his closet, he will be confirmed.
It is very unlikely that confirmation can be done by the lame-duck session of the Senate, so it will be pushed into January. This means that Matthew Whitaker will remain acting attorney general for another month or more. It is hard to imagine that Whitaker will fire Mueller in that period, since that would instantly lead to a lawsuit in which the Democrats claim that because Whitaker was not confirmed by the Senate, he is not the acting attorney general and no action he takes is legal.
While Barr is no toady, he has been critical of Mueller, saying that the special counsel hired too many prosecutors who have donated to Democrats. He also has developed a theory of the executive in which the president may act on many matters without congressional authority, or even in defiance of specific statutes Congress has enacted. One time that this issue came up was when Bush invaded Panama without any permission from Congress. That was fine with Barr. If invading another country isn't an act of war (for which a declaration of war from Congress is required), it is hard to imagine what is.
Needless to say, Barr is in a tough spot. He can't serve both a president whose main requirement is that he fire Mueller, and the Constitution, which says he can't play politics with justice. We will see which master he chooses, though it is worth noting that Trump expected Sessions to be a loyal toady, and it didn't quite work out that way. Among other things, anyone who becomes attorney general knows what obstruction of justice looks like, and knows to stay 100 miles away from it. Well, unless that AG happens to be named John Mitchell, that is. (V)
While Bill Barr is very likely to get confirmed, the other nomination that Donald Trump made this week—Heather Nauert for U.N. Ambassador—is not quite as much of a slam dunk, as she's got some serious liabilities. In fact, with only a day or so having passed since Trump made the pick, her liabilities seem to be the only thing that many people are talking about.
One problem, for lack of a better word, is her lack of gravitas, as she has no significant experience in diplomacy or in public office. In theory, the U.N. Ambassador should be an important voice in shaping an administration's foreign policy, as they have information and insight that other key players, like the Secretary of State and the NSA, don't necessarily have. The current holders of those positions, Mike Pompeo and John Bolton, are strong-willed fellows who are also not known for...shall we say, being feminists? Nikki Haley managed to stand toe-to-toe with them in large part because her résumé and record of achievement are actually stronger than theirs. Nauert's aren't, and it's expected that she would be walked all over or, more likely, ignored if she replaces Haley. Meanwhile, in most countries, a U.N. ambassadorship is the capstone of a long career spent in the foreign service. So, when she's on the job in New York, the very green Nauert would be dealing with seasoned vets who might struggle to take her seriously, or who might take advantage of her lack of experience.
Another potential problem is her lack of knowledge. As is generally the case these days, people are currently looking under every rock to find things Nauert has said in the past that might give insight into her mindset and her suitability (or lack thereof) for the job. Getting some attention on Friday was a speech she gave in June in which she seemed to suggest that D-Day was a high point for German-American cooperation. If that is really what she meant, she may want to check which side of the war each of those powers was on (Hint: Not the same side). At least she didn't say, "Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!"
It is unlikely that Nauert will be confirmed during the current session. So, that means she will face a slightly more Republican and slightly more Trump-friendly Senate in January. That said, the senators care a lot more about the integrity of the U.N. than the president does, and they have been willing to say "no" to a few of his weakest picks (like the obviously-unqualified Ronny Jackson). So, Nauert probably shouldn't start picking out furniture for her new office quite yet. (Z)
CNN is reporting that chief of staff John Kelly is about to be canned—unless he resigns first. He and Trump are no longer speaking to each other. One problem for Trump, however, is that he doesn't have the [fill in body part here] to fire anyone. He normally has Kelly deliver the bad news. That is tougher when Kelly himself is the target. Maybe he can find a mirror in the White House somewhere.
Kelly won't be the first chief of staff to bite the dust. Reince Priebus already did that. At first Kelly did what he was supposed to do: Bring order to a chaotic White House. But Trump didn't like anyone messing with his freewheeling ways and Kelly began to get frustrated. The low point for Kelly was his handling of former staff secretary Rob Porter, who abused two of his ex-wives. Kelly fumbled it badly, changing his story about what he knew and when he knew it multiple times. The rumor is that Kelly will be replaced by Nick Ayers, Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff. (V)
Once-and-likely-future Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi spoke to reporters Thursday, and said that there are two newly-elected GOP members of Congress who might not get seated if they show up in Washington. The obvious one is Mark Harris, whose election in NC-09 appears to have been won by a fair amount of chicanery, and who is more likely than not going to have to face voters a second time. The other one is Ross Spano, who was elected to represent FL-15, and has already admitted to accepting $180,000 in illegal loans to his campaign, and then covering it up.
There's actually a third election that is in "doubt," namely Jared Golden's (D) victory in ME-02, which happened only due to ranked-choice voting. Republicans claim that ranked-choice voting is unconstitutional, and so Golden's win shouldn't count. Note that they weren't arguing that before the election, and besides, Pelosi isn't exactly looking for excuses to boot a member of her caucus, so Golden's not going anywhere. As to the other two, she's in a strong position when it comes to Harris. He very well might not get certified (and if he didn't, then the decision would be taken out of Pelosi's hands). Even if he did, and Pelosi and the Democrats booted him, they would stand an excellent chance of prevailing in the inevitable lawsuit. As to Spano, his behavior is in the same ballpark as that of Adam Clayton Powell Jr., who (as we noted recently) was denied his seat due to shady spending of campaign money, sued, and won. The two cases aren't identical, so Spano wouldn't be assured of victory if it comes down to a lawsuit, but his position would certainly be much stronger than Harris'.
Even if Spano was seated, however, he would still be at risk of indictment, which means he could join two of his would-be GOP colleagues who are already under indictment (Duncan Hunter in California and Chris Collins in New York). If absolutely everything breaks the Democrats' way, it's within the realm of possibility that they could end up +44 seats by the middle of next year. That's nearing Watergate territory (+48). (Z)
Despite yesterday's news that the economy added 155,000 jobs last month (less than the predicted 190,000, but still solid), White House economic officials are worried that the economic boom could turn into a bust by November 2020 and take the Republicans, including Donald Trump of course, down with it. Trump knows this better than anyone since he follows the stock market very closely and constantly brags when it goes up.
One huge advantage Trump has over the Democrats in 2020 is that he can start planning his campaign now. The DNC can't do that now because a campaign around, say, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) would be a completely different campaign from one featuring Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) as the star. However, a potential recession could mess up the best-laid plans of rodentia and homo sapiens. If the messaging, commercials, bumper stickers, and all the rest are all about how great the economy is, that whole campaign goes down the toilet if the economy is also in the toilet in 2020.
Fortunately, Trump does have a plan for how to deal with a recession: Blame someone else. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell could get the blame for raising interest rates too high. Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) could get the blame because she is a female Democrat, not unlike Crooked Hillary. After Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is pushed out, he could get the blame for failing to manage the economy correctly. Then there is General Motors CEO Mary Barra or President Xi Jinping or Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The list is enormous. The only problem is that when things go south, the names of Wilbur Ross, Mary Barra, Jerome Powell, and Steve Mnuchin won't be on anyone's ballots, and Pelosi's will only be on those in CA-12 (a D+37 district). There is one fellow, however, who will be on every ballot in America. Or maybe none. We shall see. (V)
Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sat for an interview with CBS' Bob Schieffer and told him that Trump frequently wanted to do things that were illegal, so he had to keep telling Trump that he couldn't do the things the President wanted. Trump eventually grew very frustrated with being told "no." Tillerson didn't give examples, though, and he also didn't say whether his constant telling Trump what he could do and couldn't do is what led to his being fired. After all, Trump is not the kind of person who likes being told he can't do something. On the other hand, Tillerson once allegedly called Trump a "moron," something he's never denied, so that could be the real reason he was dumped.
Trump did not take the interview well. After it, he sent out this tweet:
Mike Pompeo is doing a great job, I am very proud of him. His predecessor, Rex Tillerson, didn’t have the mental capacity needed. He was dumb as a rock and I couldn’t get rid of him fast enough. He was lazy as hell. Now it is a whole new ballgame, great spirit at State!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 7, 2018
Tillerson also said he and Trump didn't share a common value system. Tillerson is methodical, careful, inclined to plan ahead, and as far as anyone knows, honest and truthful. Trump, well, not so much. Given their very different value systems, one has to wonder why Trump picked Tillerson in the first place. After all, the two had never even met until the day Trump asked Tillerson to be secretary of state. Tillerson wasn't asked about that, but our best guess is that what Trump liked about Tillerson is that he not only knew Vladimir Putin very well (on account of the many oil deals Exxon made with Russia), but Putin liked Tillerson enough to award him the Order of Friendship for his work helping develop the Russian energy sector. So maybe Trump saw in Tillerson someone who could help him make deals in Russia as well. (V)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec07 Arrest of Chinese Executive Makes a Messy Situation Messier
Dec07 Trump Employs an Undocumented Housekeeper
Dec07 Haley Replacement: It's Nauert, of Course
Dec07 Manchin Will Be Ranking Member of the Senate Natural Resources Committee
Dec07 Trump Tries to Save Coal, Is Doomed to Fail
Dec07 Valadao Concedes
Dec06 Bush Is Memorialized, and Yet Trump Becomes the Story
Dec06 Takeaways from Mueller's Memo about Michael Flynn
Dec06 Maryland and D.C. AGs Subpoena Trump's Businesses
Dec06 Roger Stone Keeps Seeking the Limelight
Dec06 Two Down, 40 to Go
Dec06 Sanders Looks to Be Gearing up for 2020, but Maybe He Shouldn't
Dec06 Thursday Q&A
Dec05 Flynn Spilled His Guts
Dec05 NRCC Says it Was Hacked
Dec05 Trump: I Am the "Tariff Man"
Dec05 Trade War Has Cost Nebraska Farmers a Billion Dollars So Far
Dec05 GOP Senators Are Hopping Mad About Saudi Arabia
Dec05 Democrats Lost Florida Because They Took Latinos for Granted
Dec05 Democratic Governors: Opposing Trump Is Not Enough
Dec05 House Democrats May Not Seat Mark Harris in January
Dec04 Trump Wants to Withdraw from NAFTA
Dec04 Nielsen Appears Safe for Now
Dec04 Trump Attacks Cohen, Praises Stone
Dec04 Bush Wanted Trump at His Funeral
Dec04 Republican Legislatures in Michigan and Wisconsin Try to Weaken Incoming Governor
Dec04 NC-09 Just Keeps Getting Shadier
Dec04 Iowa Democratic Leaders Want a Young 2020 Candidate
Dec03 The Real Reason the Government Shutdown Has Been Delayed
Dec03 Senate to Take up Saudi Arabia Punishment
Dec03 Trump Is Embedded in a Culture of Lying
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
Dec02 Trump and Xi Make Nice
Dec02 Mattis: Russia Tried to Interfere in Midterms
Dec02 Bush Plans Come into Focus
Dec02 Replacing Nikki is Tricky
Dec02 Pelosi Promotes Barbara Lee
Dec02 Six White House Officials Violated the Hatch Act
Dec02 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Tulsi Gabbard
Dec01 George H.W. Bush Dead at 94
Dec01 Trump Nails Down NAFTA Replacement, But He's Not Out of the Woods Yet
Dec01 Senate Republicans Dump All over Flake
Dec01 Democrats Reveal Their First Bill
Dec01 Schiff Wants to Investigate Trump's Plan to Give Putin a Penthouse
Dec01 Shenanigans in NC-09?