• Trump Claims to Be Worried that Russians May Help Democrats in 2018
• Giuliani Has New Demands for Trump Interview
• Cohen-Trump Recording Leaks
• Georgians Go to Polls
• Republican Leaders Renege on Immigration Promise
• White House Will No Longer Announce Calls with Foreign Leaders
• Majority of Americans Think Putin Has Something on Trump
The retaliatory tariffs that followed Donald Trump tariffs on steel, aluminum, and other products have been carefully designed to strike at Trump's base. To alleviate the pain he caused, Trump wants to give affected farmers $12 billion. Free-trade Republicans had a fit when he announced his plan. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), a big fan of free markets, had this to say: "This is becoming more and more like a Soviet-type of economy here: Commissars deciding who's going to be granted waivers, commissars in the administration figuring out how they're going to sprinkle around benefits." Republican Sens. Ben Sasse (NE), Bob Corker (TN), and Pat Toomey (PA) said that their legislation to tie the President's hands on tariffs should pick up steam now. Basically, what they are saying is that since Trump's tariffs hurt the farmers, he wants to give them welfare as compensation. This is not what traditional Republicans want at all. In addition, other Republicans are worried that once the markets are lost (e.g., if China turns to Brazil for its soybeans), they are never coming back so the welfare will have to be permanent.
Whether the legislation to tie Trump's hands goes forward is far from sure, as farmers who have been hurt by the tariffs are happy to take the welfare, principles be damned. Trump knows that Congress is not likely to appropriate $12 billion for his program, so he has instructed an agency of the Agriculture Dept. called the Commodity Credit Corporation to buy up the crops the farmers would otherwise have sold to China. Sasse called the idea "$12 billion gold crutches." Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) said that more than 456,000 jobs in her state depend on trade and she wasn't happy.
Many Republicans were angered by the bank bailout in 2008 and are not much happier now. They say that the new program would prop up agribusinesses at taxpayer expense. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) put it this way: "If tariffs punish farmers, the answer is not welfare for farmers—the answer is remove the tariffs." Another problem with this kind of welfare program is that while some senators are against it in principle, they are willing to close their eyes and pretend welfare is fine if their constituents benefit from it. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) falls in this category. Normally she is for free trade, but said if the government is going to be handing out freebies, she wants them for fishermen in her state who have also been hurt by tariffs. Once the dam breaks, other senators are also going to be demanding help for people in their states as well.
That said, there are some voices in Congress that approve of the $12 billion freebie to farmers. House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) said: "This is the right fight to have but in the meantime our producers have got to ... live, while this fight's going on." The issue is far from settled and is certainly not a long-term solution. Trump knows it is not a long-term solution, but if it placates the farmers through November, that is good enough for him. (V)
Without a shred of evidence, yesterday Donald Trump tweeted that he is concerned that the Russians will help the Democrats in 2018:
I’m very concerned that Russia will be fighting very hard to have an impact on the upcoming Election. Based on the fact that no President has been tougher on Russia than me, they will be pushing very hard for the Democrats. They definitely don’t want Trump!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 24, 2018
Unless he talked to Russian President Vladimir Putin about this at their recent summit, he doesn't have a clue about Putin's plans and it is exceedingly unlikely that Putin would have told him anything, even if asked point blank. It is indeed possible that Putin will help the Democrats because his real goal is to sow discord within America and weaken the country. In 2016, he sensed that Trump would divide the country more than Hillary Clinton would. He may now believe that a Democratic House would impeach Trump, leading to a bloody trial in the Senate that would tear the country apart. That would serve his interests well. That said, Trump's "guess" is based on the notion that no president has been tougher on Russia than he has been, which is about as far from the truth as saying that Joe McCarthy mollycoddled Communists.
In reality, Trump doesn't believe a word of what is in his tweet. This is just another way for him to publicly insist that the Russians played no role in his victory. If he really believed that Putin was planning to use information warfare and other methods to help the Democrats, he would be taking strong action to prevent it. So far he has done nothing and there isn't much time left to take any action. Most likely, he really believes Putin will help him again because he thinks Putin is his friend. Putin knows otherwise. (V)
Donald Trump's television lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has a new list of demands that special counsel Robert Mueller must agree to before Trump will agree to sit down for an interview. The main one is that there must not be any questions about possible obstruction of justice or Trump's firing of former FBI Director James Comey. Giuliani's reasoning is that the president has full authority to fire anyone in the executive branch he wants to, for any reason, and so firing anyone cannot be obstruction of justice. Therefore, there is nothing to discuss here.
Giuliani's argument goes quite a fit further than any other lawyer has been willing to go. What he is saying is that not only is a president immune to criminal prosecution for obstructing justice, but he can't even be impeached for it. In other words, a president is constitutionally immune to obstruction of justice charges in all forms.
Giuliani hasn't been a prosecutor for decades and apparently he is a bit rusty on the matter of obstruction of justice. On July 27, 1974, the House Judiciary Committee passed three articles of impeachment for then-president Richard Nixon. The first one accused Nixon of—surprise—obstruction of justice for trying to cover up the Watergate break-in. So not only can a president be impeached for obstructing justice, the House Judiciary Committee actually passed an article of impeachment for precisely that. Similarly, when Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998, one of the two charges was—you guessed it—obstruction of justice. Should the current president be unclear on this point, he might want to consult with the senator who argued most forcefully that a president can commit obstruction—a fellow named Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III.
Giuliani doesn't actually care whether Mueller or even a future House Committee buys his argument. It is not aimed at them. It is aimed squarely at Trump's base, trying to convince them that a future impeachment for obstruction of justice is improper and unconstitutional, despite clear evidence to the contrary. His strategy is to try to keep Trump's base on his side in order to pressure Republican senators not to vote for conviction should the Democrats capture the House and impeach Trump. Since impeachment and conviction are fundamentally political, and not legal, acts, politicians are not likely to go out on a limb and convict a president if they feel the country is not behind them. In this light, Giuliani's nonsensical statements make perfect sense. (V)
It was only a matter of time until the recorded conversation between Donald Trump and his former lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen became public. And on Tuesday, it happened, courtesy of CNN (and a leaker). CNN did not transcribe the tape but, helpfully, the Washington Post did. The conversation is not especially easy to follow, as it is only a fragment of a larger conversation, and both Cohen and Trump made regular allusions to other conversations. However, the key sequence is this:
Cohen: And, I've spoken to [Trump Organization CFO] Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up with...
Trump: So, what do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?
Cohen: ...Funding...Yes. Um, and it's all the stuff.
Trump: Yeah, I was thinking about that.
Cohen: All the stuff. Because—here, you never know where that company—you never know what he's—
Trump: Maybe he gets hit by a truck.
Cohen: Correct. So, I'm all over that. And, I spoke to Allen about it, when it comes time for the financing, which will be—
Trump: Wait a sec, what financing?
Cohen: Well, I'll have to pay him something.
Trump: [UNINTELLIGIBLE] pay with cash.
Cohen: No, no, no, no, no. I got it.
Trump: Che[TAPE SKIPS].
Team Trump, led by Rudy Giuliani, has claimed that the tape vindicates Trump. Their argument is that it shows that the Donald wanted to pay for Karen McDougal's story via check (a transaction that never actually happened), and that only a great fool would leave such an obvious paper trail if they were doing something illegal. There are some strong counter-arguments, however. Here are four of them:
- Some very important portions of the tape are simply not clear (you can
listen for yourself on CNN's page). Most obviously, it is not clear that Trump
said "Don't pay with cash." He might have, or he might have said something else.
Indeed, even if he used those words, the timing matters enormously. "Don't
pay with cash." means something entirely different from "Don't. Pay with cash."
Similarly, the WaPo transcript suggests that Trump said "check" at the
end of the snippet, but the word was cut off. And even if he said "check," it
could have been in the sense of "Make sure you pay with a check!" or in the sense
of "Got it!" It could also have been the first word in a sentence, like "Check
and make sure that McDougal knows to keep her mouth shut."
- Trump barely understands campaign finance laws now, and he had an ever
weaker grasp back then. It's entirely plausible that, if he insisted on a
check, he had no idea about possible crimes he might be documenting.
- Further, assuming that Trump did insist on a check, it doesn't mean that he
insisted on one that could easily be traced back to himself. Recall that these
transactions were handled by a shell corporation (Essential Consultants) set up
for purposes of giving Trump plausible deniability. A check issued in Essential
Consultants' name would not be any more or less incriminating than the existence
of the corporation itself.
- Most importantly, if Trump did nothing untoward, then why did he spend months lying about the existence of extramarital flings and payments to said flings?
In short, the tape is not a slam dunk in either direction, but it's more indicative of guilt than it is of innocence. (Z)
There aren't too many elections in July. However, Georgians did have a runoff yesterday. The biggest decision they made was choosing Brian Kemp as the GOP candidate for governor. Both he and his defeated opponent, Casey Cagle, competed with each other to see who is the Trumpiest. It was Kemp who managed to land the President's endorsement, however, so undoubtedly the Donald will take a victory lap on Twitter when he awakens today. It's not like he changed the outcome, though, as Kemp won with 69.4% of the vote to Cagle's 30.6%. Kemp will face Stacey Abrams, who is trying to become the first black woman elected to a governor's mansion in the United States.
There was also a contest between Trump-loving candidates for the lieutenant governor's slot on the GOP ticket, but that one did not attract a Presidential endorsement. It's so close—Geoff Duncan outpaced David Shafer by fewer than 2,000 votes out of 550,000, or 0.4%—that it won't be called until absentee ballots are counted (and, very possibly, a recount is held). Whoever prevails will go up against Sarah Riggs Amico, a Blue Dog Democrat.
In addition, a pair of Congressional races finally got their Democratic candidate. In GA-06, the district that Democrat Jon Ossoff (backed by millions of dollars in outside donations) nearly won, the blue team will run Lucy McBath. She's more lefty than her primary opponent, Kevin Abel, whom she beat on Tuesday with 14,285 votes to his 12,303. The plan is to run a gun control-oriented campaign, which may be a tall order in the South. However, it just might work for McBath, whose son was shot to death by an angry stranger who felt the teenager's music was too loud. Her opponent will be Rep. Karen Handel (R), the somewhat-flawed vanquisher of Ossoff.
The other Democrat to prevail on Tuesday, in GA-07, was Carolyn Bourdeaux. She's a bit more centrist than her primary opponent, David Kim, and won by a small margin in a contest that does not seem to have excited voters too much. That is to say, 7,948 Georgians cast a vote for Bourdeaux and 7,348 cast one for Kim. Bourdeaux will face Rep. Rob Woodall (R) in the general election, and will make Obamacare the centerpiece of her campaign. As an incumbent in a district that Donald Trump won by 6 points, Woodall is the favorite, but he's not completely safe.
Next week, (some) Mississippians will cast their votes to fill the vacant seat for Mississippi House of Representatives District 77. That officially nonpartisan contest features two candidates in Hayes Patrick and Price Wallace who both love guns, Jesus, and Donald Trump, so there's not much to see there. In August, things start to heat back up, with Tennessee holding its primary on August 2, and Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, and Washington holding theirs on August 7. (Z)
Almost all the House Democrats and about two dozen Republicans signed a discharge petition earlier this year to force a vote on an immigration bill that would give the dreamers a path to citizenship. The House Freedom Caucus was wildly opposed to the petition because it feared the bill would pass if it came to a floor vote. The Caucus got Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to keep two Republicans, Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL) and Dan Newhouse (R-WA), from signing the petition (which would have given it the required 218 signatures) by promising them they would hold a vote on multiple immigration bills, including a punitive one the leadership preferred. Now Ryan and McCarthy have reneged on their promise and won't hold any votes after all. Ross and Newhouse were not happy about the latest development.
A complicating factor is that McCarthy wants to be Speaker if the Republicans hold the House in November and breaking an explicit promise to members is not a proven way to generate good will. Another factor is that the immigration bill also addresses the guest-worker program, and Republicans are divided on it. The bill contains a requirement that employers use the E-verify system to determine if workers they hire are legally in the country. Many employers in the agriculture business don't want to do that because they know very well that their workers are illegal (and thus will work cheaply) and if they are required to verify the workers' status and don't do it, there are big fines if they are caught hiring illegal immigrants. McCarthy is from a heavily agricultural district, where opposition to E-verify is strong, which puts him in the middle between Donald Trump, who wants to make it impossible for farmers to hire illegal workers, and his constituents, who very much want to do precisely that. His response so far has thus been to try to prevent voting on any immigration bills, which irked Ross and Newhouse. This issue is not about to go away any time soon. (V)
Donald Trump is a big fan of transparency. Just check his Twitter account:
The hearing of Peter Strzok and the other hating frauds at the FBI & DOJ should be shown to the public on live television, not a closed door hearing that nobody will see. We should expose these people for what they are - there should be total transparency!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 25, 2018
What is taking so long with the Inspector General’s Report on Crooked Hillary and Slippery James Comey. Numerous delays. Hope Report is not being changed and made weaker! There are so many horrible things to tell, the public has the right to know. Transparency!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 5, 2018
Why is @BarackObama spending millions to try and hide his records? He is the least transparent President--ever--and he ran on transparency.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 6, 2012
A lot of undecided and independent voters have had enough with Obama’s lack of transparency. I don't blame them.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 31, 2012
For the sake of transparency, @BarackObama should release all his college applications and transcripts--both from Occidental and Columbia.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 17, 2012
Or, more accurately, he is a fan of transparency for everyone but himself. The man who blasted Barack Obama for not sharing his college applications (as if anyone keeps those for 35 years) and grades, and yet did not share his tax returns (much less his college applications/grades), has done it again. On Tuesday, the White House announced that they will no longer advise the public when Trump speaks on the phone with a foreign leader. This breaks with a custom that dates back more than half a century.
There are two ways to read this, neither of them good for Trump. One of them is that he (or his handlers) realize that he's not great in his phone calls with foreign leaders, and that keeping the public in the loop (which is also generally accompanied by a summary of the call, called a "readout") makes him look bad. The other, and more nefarious, possibility is that he wants to be able to talk to Vlad Putin without facing uncomfortable questions about the content and/or frequency of their conversations. Either way, transparent it ain't. (Z)
A new Quinnipiac University poll out yesterday shows that 51% of Americans think the Russian government has compromising information (i.e., kompromat) on Donald Trump. Only 35% think the Russians have nothing. However, among Republicans, 70% believe there is no kompromat. In addition, 54% of Americans say Trump did not act in the best interests of the United States in Finland, while 41% think he did. Fully 73% say the summit was a success for Russia and a mere 8% say it was not a win for Russia. All in all, Trump's national approval rating fell a bit as a result of the summit, going from 43% to 38%. Basically, this means his base is still with him, and that's all he really cares about. (V)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jul24 Rand Paul Still Undecided about Kavanaugh
Jul24 Judge Delays Manafort's Trial
Jul24 Number of Cohen Recordings: 12
Jul24 Republicans Are Already Starting Oppo Research for 2020
Jul24 Wilkie Confirmed to Lead VA
Jul24 Democrats' Chances Improving in Gubernatorial Races
Jul23 Trump Engages in War of Words with Rouhani
Jul23 Mariia Butina Got Funding from Russian Oligarch Close to Putin
Jul23 Carter Page: I Advised the Russian Government
Jul23 Trump's Meeting with Putin Didn't Move the Needle Much
Jul23 Progressive Democrats Are Not Doing Well in New York and California
Jul23 Democratic Governors Are Testing the 2020 Waters
Jul23 How Is the Senate Looking?
Jul22 Cohen Tapes Plot Thickens
Jul22 Did Trump Give Away Crimea?
Jul22 Congress Won't Talk to Trump's Interpreter
Jul22 Does GOP Have an Alger Hiss Problem?
Jul22 Is Will Hurd the New Whittaker Chambers?
Jul22 FBI (Sort of) Releases Carter Page Warrant Applications
Jul22 Tariffs Will Have Predictable Effects, Starting at the Worst Possible Time for the GOP
Jul21 Cohen Secretly Recorded Trump
Jul21 McConnell Threatens Democrats over Kavanaugh
Jul21 Trump Threatens Tariffs on $500 Billion in Chinese Goods
Jul21 Mueller Wants to Chat with "Manhattan Madam"
Jul21 Charlotte to Host 2020 RNC Convention
Jul21 Dan Coats Could Be Next to Go
Jul21 Post-Helsinki Polls Are Starting to Roll In
Jul20 Trump Wants a Rematch
Jul20 What Did Trump Agree To?
Jul20 Be Careful What You Wish For, GOP, You Just Might Get It
Jul20 White House Morale Is in the Gold-Plated Toilet
Jul20 Trump Fed Up
Jul20 NRA Is Getting What it Paid For
Jul20 Jason Lewis Sticks to His Slutty Guns
Jul19 Trump Administration Does Damage Control...Badly
Jul19 Is Russian Meddling Overblown?
Jul19 White House Considering Russian Proposal
Jul19 MS-13 Scare Tactics Are Working
Jul19 The Kneeling Isn't Going Away
Jul19 Rep. Jason Lewis Is in Hot Water
Jul19 California Will Remain a Single State
Jul18 Takeaways From the Trump-Putin Summit
Jul18 Trump Says He Misspoke
Jul18 Russian Arrested, Charged with Conspiring Against the U.S.
Jul18 Mueller Asks for Immunity for Five Witnesses
Jul18 Trump Fundraising Going Well
Jul18 GOP House Members' Fundraising Going Not So Well
Jul18 Roby Wins Runoff
Jul17 What Just Happened?