• North Korea Situation Deteriorates; Trump Likes His Chances with Iran, Though
• Rand Paul Supports Kavanaugh
• Manafort's Trial Begins Today
• Koch Brothers Will Not Oppose Heitkamp
• Kelly Is a COSINO
• Sessions Announces "Religious Liberty Task Force"
• Trump to Get the "All the President's Men" Treatment
Yesterday, Donald Trump's television lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, appeared on Fox News and CNN and claimed that colluding with the Russians is not a crime. Ipso facto, even if Trump did it, it is no big deal. He suggested that unless Trump paid the Russians for their campaign help, he didn't do anything wrong. This seems either to represent a new strategy or else is evidence that Giuliani has lost a few marbles along the way. Even Donald Trump has never argued that collusion with a hostile foreign power to swing an election is perfectly legal. He has merely said that he didn't do it. In his view, if crooked Hillary had done it, she would have committed treason.
In a very narrow sense, "collusion" is indeed not mentioned in the criminal code (except in anti-trust law). However, it is a crime for foreigners to contribute anything of value (including information) to a political campaign, and helping a foreign government do so is certainly a crime, even if the name of the crime isn't "collusion." For example, if Donald Trump Jr. arranged to meet with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya for the purpose of getting valuable information about Hillary Clinton, he could be charged with conspiring to violate election laws. And if Trump Sr. approved the meeting in advance, he would also be guilty of conspiracy. It is also possible that Robert Mueller might build a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) case against some members of the Trump Organization and/or the Trump campaign. If so, then Trump Sr. could be criminally liable for the activities of his organization/campaign even if he was not personally aware of them. Yet another possible crime in the picture is receiving stolen property, such as the DNC emails. There are plenty of others.
But in the end, impeachment is a political rather than a legal action. Does Trump really want to go to the House and say: "Russian President Vladimir Putin and I worked together to defeat crooked Hillary, but that is technically legal, so forget any impeachments." That might not fly so well, politically. (V)
It has been approximately six weeks since Donald Trump made this announcement on Twitter:
Just landed - a long trip, but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea. Meeting with Kim Jong Un was an interesting and very positive experience. North Korea has great potential for the future!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 13, 2018
It is too bad that Trump doesn't have much use for the United States' intelligence apparatus, as they would be able to clue him in on some important points. For example, that Kim Jong-Un's written promise to denuclearize plus five dollars will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks. And that Kim not only had no intention of ceasing his activities, he didn't even bother to pause them for a week or two.
On Monday, the Washington Post reported that the situation is even worse than it seems. Not only is Kim continuing his missile-building, he's aiming for bigger and better missiles. Specifically, sources within the intelligence establishment told the Post that satellite pictures show the regime's most important arms-building facility at work on one (or possibly two) ICBMs capable of reaching the United States. This is on top of the fact, already revealed several weeks ago, that the U.S. government has intercepted messages from the North Koreans in which they discussed their plans to deceive the Trump administration about exactly how many missiles they already have. So much for the nuclear threat being over.
In short, as the days and weeks pass, it looks more and more like Donald Trump got badly outmaneuvered by Kim. Of course, the same happened with Vladimir Putin. Maybe the President realizes this, maybe he really doesn't know, or maybe he's in denial (something Sean Hannity is happy to help with). Whatever the case may be, he's decided he wants to take another bite at the apple. Specifically, less than two weeks after his ALL CAPS Twitter threat hurled in the direction of Iran, and less than one week after members of his administration asked Australia for their help in planning a potential military strike against the Iranians, Trump announced that he is willing to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani without conditions. Because, of course, that worked out so well with Kim and Putin. It is certain that Trump did not run this offer by his advisers before issuing forth with it, since Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is already furiously backpedaling, and insisting that of course there would have to be conditions before any meeting takes place. Experience has shown, however, that once Trump gets an idea like this in his head, particularly one that involves a lot of pomp and many excellent photo-ops, he rarely lets it go. So, Pompeo seems likely to lose this battle. (Z)
Any hopes that Democrats had that the Senate might reject Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court suffered a big setback yesterday when Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) announced his support for Kavanaugh. Paul objects to some positions Kavanaugh has taken, especially on surveillance and torture, but in the end he came around. With his vote now assured, Kavanaugh's confirmation is all but certain.
Paul has a long history of announcing a mavericky position on issues, causing Republicans to panic and Democrats to get their hopes up. He also votes with the administration less frequently than any other Republican senator (about 74% of the time). However, he rarely pulls a McCain and breaks ranks on high-profile votes. And with Kavanaugh, it turns out that Paul was once again just grandstanding and will be a loyal vote for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Only Paul knows if he did it for publicity (maybe in anticipation of another presidential bid in 2024?), or as a tip of the hat to libertarian-inclined voters in his state, or so that he might extract some unannounced concession from McConnell ("$10 million for new carpet in Louisville International Airport? Peachy!").
In theory, either of Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) or Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), could buck their party and vote "no" on Kavanaugh, but that seems unlikely. They grandstand less than Paul, but ultimately, both are party loyalists. More specifically, Collins votes with Trump 79% of the time, and Murkowski does so 83% fo the time. That makes them less of a sure thing than, say, John Cornyn (R-TX; 96%) or Marco Rubio (R-FL; also 96%), but they are still pretty much in the bag. Particularly on a high-profile matter like this, when the pressure not to break ranks will be enormous. If they do waver, McConnell will promise them the sun and the moon to get them back in line. Maybe they can get new carpet and new chairs for their states' biggest airports.
If no Republians defect, that will ease the pressure on vulnerable Democratic senators such as Claire McCaskill (MO), Joe Donnelly (IN), and Heidi Heitkamp (ND) since their votes won't matter. This could allow them to vote for Kavanaugh to avoid having their opponents tar them as anti-Trump, which could be troublesome in states as red as theirs.
At this point, the blue team's only real hope for derailing Kavanaugh is (1) getting their hands on the documents from the Judge's time in the Bush administration, and then (2) finding proof therein that he lied to Congress when he said he had nothing to do with the administration's policies on torture/the treatment of detainees, and then (3) persuading the general public and/or several GOP senators that such an offense makes him an unacceptable candidate. This is something of a longshot and, even if it succeeds, then the Democrats will just find themselves dealing with some other arch-conservative judge, unless they somehow drag things out and then reclaim the Senate in November (also something of a longshot). In short, it's getting dangerously close to time for the blue team to get out the white flags for waving. (V & Z)
The trial of Donald Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, begins today. Manafort is charged with 18 counts, including bank fraud and tax evasion. None of the counts relate to his work as campaign chairman. The judge in the case, T.S. Ellis III, has openly said that special counsel Robert Mueller indicted Manafort simply to put pressure on him to flip. If Mueller can convince the jury that Manafort indeed committed a variety of crimes years ago, he might yet do so—unless he receives a presidential pardon.
If Manafort loses, he could go to prison for the rest of his life. On the other hand, if Mueller loses, the other people who are still on the fence or who are not cooperating are going to be much less likely to flip, so it is a high-stakes battle for both sides. Mueller, of course, is going to give this trial everything he's got. He has already unveiled a list of 35 witnesses he plans to call. One of those witnesses will be Manafort's former partner, Rick Gates. If Gates testifies that he worked with Manafort to help a Russian-puppet regime in Ukraine and they were paid $75 million for it, and then Mueller produces Manafort's tax returns and shows that none of Manafort's share of the loot was declared as income, the defense is going to have a hard time coming up with a rebuttal. Also of note here, Manafort lives in Virginia and Virginia has a state income tax. If Manafort is found guilty on the federal charges and pardoned, it is conceivable that Virginia AG Mark Herring (D) could charge Manafort with violating Virginia's tax laws. Presidents do not have the power to issue pardons for state crimes.
The jury-selection procedure is already underway and will continue for a day or two. The trial itself is expected to take 3 weeks. News reports may be spotty and contradictory, since the judge has banned all electronic devices from the courtroom, forcing reporters to leave their phones and notebook computers with a local deli that is willing to store them for a fee. At each break in the trial, reporters will be running to the deli to start typing in their handwritten notes. (V)
Republicans have gotten comfortable with the idea that the Koch Brothers are basically a piggy bank they can crack open at election time. That is not as true now as it used to be. Case in point: Charles Koch has announced that he will not support (i.e., fund) Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) in his run to unseat Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), probably the most vulnerable Senate Democrat in the country. Cramer's sin is voting for the $1.3 trillion spending bill that passed in March. The Koch brothers think the federal budget is out of control and don't like blowing up the deficit even more. They want to hold Republicans accountable, and this is one way to show it.
This decision doesn't mean that Heitkamp is out of the woods—far from it. Still, not having to contend with a barrage of Koch-sponsored television ads is obviously a huge relief to the Senator. If there is a blue wave this November, her seat is still salvageable, despite the fact that Trump carried the Peace Garden State by 35 points.
To make it even worse, the Koch brothers are also not planning to intervene in the Nevada and Indiana Senate races. In Nevada, Sen. Dean Heller (R) is in the fight of his life and is generally regarded as a deep underdog. He could use the Koch brothers' money badly since the RNC is probably going to write him off as a lost cause and spend its money in more promising places. In Indiana, Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) is facing wealthy businessman and former state legislator Mike Braun (R). Indiana is a deep red state and Braun has enough of his own money that the lack of the Koch brothers' money probably doesn't matter. (V)
John Kelly is Donald Trump's Chief Of Staff In Name Only (COSINO). He has no power left and doesn't even bother pretending that he is working for the administration. He spends the early part of the morning in the gym instead of in the office. When Kelly, a Marine general, was first hired, he tried to bring order to the White House, and for a short time it worked. But in the long run, it failed because the problem wasn't junior staffers not doing their jobs, it was the President going every which way with no plan and no idea where he was heading. Just as one example, Kelly tried to make all of Trump's phone calls go through the White House switchboard, so he could log and monitor them. Trump didn't buy that. As another example, he wanted to make First Daughter Ivanka Trump report to him. She wasn't too keen on that.
Early on, Kelly clashed mightily with then-strategic adviser Steve Bannon, who saw chaos as a feature, not a bug. Marine generals tend not to see things that way. Ever so gradually, power began flowing away from Kelly until there was essentially none left. Some members of Congress want him to stay to try to do what he can to control Trump, but his days are clearly numbered. The most likely replacement is OMB Director Mick Mulvaney. However, it is doubtful he will be able to control Trump any better. In truth, Trump wants to be his own chief of staff, even though he doesn't know how to do the job. (V)
Speaking of Trump administration members who have fallen out of favor, Attorney General Jeff Sessions keeps on keepin' on, despite the fact that he and the President can barely stand each other, and that Trump has repeatedly humiliated him in public. Other men would have resigned long ago, but Sessions has his own personal agenda to carry out. He knows that his job allows him to do it, and he's decided that a little abuse from Trump is a small price to pay.
The latest initiative to come from Sessions, announced on Monday, is the creation of a "religious liberty task force." In his remarks following the announcement, the AG said:
We've seen nuns ordered to buy contraceptives. We've seen U.S. senators ask judicial and executive branch nominees about dogma—even though the Constitution explicitly forbids a religious test for public office. We've all seen the ordeal faced so bravely by Jack Phillips. In short, we have not only the freedom to worship—but the right to exercise our faith. The Constitution's protections don't end at the parish parking lot nor can our freedoms be confined to our basements.
A fair bit of what Sessions is alluding to here is already settled law. For example, nobody is stopping people from worshiping God as they see fit. At least, nobody is stopping Christians from doing so (it's a safe guess that the new task force's duties do not extend to, say, Muslims). Similarly, if a job candidate is asked inappropriate questions about their religious background, there are legal remedies for that. What Sessions appears to be announcing, then, is that he and his Justice Dept. will be seeking to legitimize certain public expressions of "freedom of religion," like Jack Phillips' "right" not to bake cakes for LGBT folks. Of course, looked at through a different lens, Sessions appears to be telling us he will use his legal muscle in order to help Christians openly discriminate against those who offend them. This will thrill the base, but will provide even more ammunition for Democrats in 2020. (Z)
The preeminent book written on the Watergate scandal is "All the President's Men," penned by the two reporters who effectively broke the scandal, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. On Monday, Woodward announced that he's been working on a book about the Trump administration called "Fear: Trump in the White House." It will be available at a bookstore near you on September 11. Hopefully that date is just a coincidence.
"All the President's Men" was some of the worst PR a president ever got, and many opponents of Trump are giddy about the possibility of lightning striking twice. Anything is possible, but there are going to be some pretty clear differences between the books (besides the absence of Carl Bernstein on the new volume). To start, the Nixon book was published on June 15, 1974, by which point the Watergate scandal was already full-blown, courtesy of the Washington Post and other outlets. While the book certainly did not help Nixon, it was more like the final nail in the coffin than anything else (he resigned seven weeks later, on August 9). Whatever happens with Trump, he's probably not weeks away from throwing in the towel, so the new book comes at a very different point in the process. Further, "All the President's Men" was as much about the Post's reporting of the scandal as it was about the machinations within the White House. "Fear," by contrast, is entirely about the inner workings of the administration. In other words, if it's ever made into a movie, there isn't going to be a role for Robert Redford.
Perhaps the biggest difference, at least based on what we know so far, is the slant. Take a look at the covers of the two books:
As its original cover suggests, "All The President's Men" was a reasonably dispassionate treatment of its subject. It sold more than two million copies, and it's entirely plausible that some Americans (or some members of Congress) who were fence-sitters on Nixon read it and had their hearts and minds changed on the matter. But we live in a different media environment now; fewer people buy books, and those who do gravitate toward those that affirm their existing beliefs. That is how a silly gag volume like Reasons to Vote for Democrats: A Comprehensive Guide (which is, of course, blank) can become the #1 bestseller on Amazon. Point is, the modern market demands a hatchet job, and with a cover like that one, "Fear" must surely fit the bill. It may be a well-written, well-researched, 100% accurate hatchet job, but it will be a hatchet job nonetheless. Which means, in turn, that it will thrill people who hate Trump, but is unlikely to be read by anyone else. So, the chances of "All the President's Men" redux are pretty small. (Z)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jul30 Trump Tweets, Part II: Robert Mueller
Jul30 Trump Tweets, Part III: The Press
Jul30 States Struggling with Election Security
Jul30 Johnson May Mount Senate Bid
Jul30 Ginsburg: Five More Years
Jul30 Avenatti Says Trump Should Take an Intelligence Test
Jul29 Trump Wages War Against the Fourth Estate
Jul29 Judge Says Lawsuit Over Citizenship Question on Census Can Go Forward
Jul29 The Problems with Trump's Collusion Story
Jul29 Who's Going to Win the Midterms? Television Broadcasters
Jul29 Some Bad News for the GOP, Part I: The Kochs
Jul29 Some Bad News for the GOP, Part II: The Polls
Jul29 Trump Campaign Denies their Flags Are Made in China
Jul28 Trump Revs Up War on Cohen
Jul28 Trump Organization CFO Has Been Subpoenaed
Jul28 Trump Touts Economic Growth
Jul28 Trump Will Try to Save Barletta
Jul28 More Skeletons Emerge from Rep. Jason Lewis' Closet
Jul28 Rich White People Have Become Democrats
Jul28 How Five Key Demographics Regard Trump
Jul28 What Will Young Voters' Turnout Look Like in 2018?
Jul27 Trump Punts on Three Major Goals until after the Midterms
Jul27 Trump Administration May Be Getting Ready to Bomb Iran
Jul27 Mueller is Following the Tweets
Jul27 Administration Misses Deadline to Reunite Families
Jul27 Democrats Up by Double Digits in Generic House Poll
Jul27 West Virginia Secretary of State Blocks Blankenship's Senate Bid
Jul27 Jordan Is Running for House Speaker
Jul27 Surprise! No Rosenstein Impeachment
Jul27 Cohen Claims Trump Knew in Advance about the Meeting with Veselnitskaya
Jul26 Trump Claims Cohen's Audio Tape May Have Been Doctored
Jul26 Trump Makes Trade Deal with EU
Jul26 Republicans Move to Impeach Rosenstein
Jul26 Emoluments Case Against Trump Can Go Forward
Jul26 Trump Won't Meet Putin This Year
Jul26 White House Appears to Be Rewriting History
Jul26 Sabato Says Democrats Are Now Favorites to Take the House
Jul25 Trump Promises Farmers $12 Billion, Republicans Revolt
Jul25 Trump Claims to Be Worried that Russians May Help Democrats in 2018
Jul25 Giuliani Has New Demands for Trump Interview
Jul25 Cohen-Trump Recording Leaks
Jul25 Georgians Go to Polls
Jul25 Republican Leaders Renege on Immigration Promise
Jul25 White House Will No Longer Announce Calls with Foreign Leaders
Jul25 Majority of Americans Think Putin Has Something on Trump
Jul24 Trump in the Midst of a Meltdown
Jul24 Rand Paul Still Undecided about Kavanaugh
Jul24 Judge Delays Manafort's Trial
Jul24 Number of Cohen Recordings: 12