• Roger Stone Met with a Russian Offering Dirt on Clinton
• All Hell Will Break Loose When Mueller Issues His Report
• Trump Encourages WaPo Staff to Strike
• First Ladies Blast Trump on Border Separations
• Steve King: Ryan Might Be Removed
• Trump's Approval Has Dropped in All 50 States
• Poll: Too Early to Judge if Singapore Summit Was a Winner
Peter Strzok, whose seven-word text message to his lover Lisa Page gave Donald Trump "evidence" that the deep state is after him, yesterday said that he is willing to testify before Congress, answer all questions fully, and not invoke the Fifth Amendment. He said he wanted to clear his name. Such testimony could be explosive, potentially revealing what the FBI was thinking in a very high-profile case. Strzok is an important figure because he was the one who wrote the letter that then-FBI Director James Comey sent to Congress just 11 days before the election announcing "More Clinton e-mails." Many people believe that letter cost Clinton the election. Strzok also worked on the Russiagate probe, so he is in the middle of some very hot issues.
Strzok's lawyer, Aitan Goelman, said yesterday that his client's view that Trump's election would be disastrous for American national security was not based on bias, but based on information available to him. If Strzok were to testify that he wanted to prevent Trump from winning because he knew Trump was deeply compromised by the Russians, well, denuclearizing Korea would be child's play compared to denuclearizing D.C. Whether Congress will take Strzok up on his offer to testify will probably be clear in a few days. (V)
That Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer in July 2016 with the expectation of getting dirt on Hillary Clinton is well known. What was not known until yesterday is that long-time Trump confidant and dirty trickster Roger Stone also met with a Russian offering dirt on Clinton. The Russian, who identified himself with the pseudonym Henry Greenberg, met with Stone in Sunny Isles, Fla., in May 2016 and made the offer. However, according to Stone, there was a catch: He wanted $2 million for the dirt. Stone told him that Trump never pays for anything. If Stone's story is correct, probably no crime was committed. If someone asks you to break the law and you refuse point blank, you are probably safe.
Of course, there could be more to the story. A few weeks before Greenberg's offer, George Papadopoulos was told in London that the Russians had dirt on Clinton. A few weeks later, Natalia Veselnitskaya told Donald Trump Jr. that she had dirt on Clinton. The careful reader may notice a pattern here. The Washington Post has contacted Greenberg—also known as Henry Oknyansky—and gotten his side of the Stone story. At first he denied everything, but later changed it and confirmed parts of it. Still, the two accounts don't line up. Stone said Greenberg was alone, but Greenberg said he was accompanied by a Ukrainian friend, Alexei, who had been fired by the Clinton Foundation. However, a spokesman for the Foundation said that no one named Alexei had ever worked for them.
At the very least, Stone now has a problem because he previously told a House Committee that he never met with any Russians. Lying to Congress is a felony. There could well be more to this story that we don't know yet.
On the other hand, it's worth pointing out that there's also a lot that we do know. In addition to the folks listed above—Papadopoulos, Trump Jr., and Stone—we know that half a dozen other members of Team Trump had contact with the Russians during the campaign: Michael Flynn, AG Jeff Sessions, Carter Page, Paul Manafort, Felix Sater, and Jared Kushner. That's nine people, and all of them—with the possible exception of Kushner—lied about their dealings before being forced to admit the truth. And while Kushner may be the one non-liar (it's debatable), he's also the one who tried to set up a secret phone line to Russia. So, his hands are just as dirty, even if it's a different kind of dirt.
The United States' experience with Watergate provided a template for political scandals, which is why hundreds of scandals since then have had the name "descriptive term" plus "gate;" e.g. "Russiagate," "Whitewatergate," "Bridgegate," "Emailgate," and, perhaps best of all, "Gategate." Given this, everyone appears to waiting for the infamous Nixon-style "smoking gun" that will prove Team Trump's guilt beyond all doubt. But as any criminal attorney will tell you, most cases aren't resolved in that manner, no matter what shows like "Perry Mason" or "Matlock" or "Boston Legal" might suggest. No, most cases are resolved with a preponderance of evidence. And at this point, the preponderance of evidence makes clear that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians. There is no other explanation for why so many people would have so many meetings and then would find a need to lie about those meetings. There is no other explanation for why Trump himself would need to spend so much time and energy challenging the legitimacy of the investigation and the coverage of his conduct.
The New Yorker's Adam Davidson made this point last week; that the focus on all of the various dumpster fires of the Trump administration—Stormy Daniels, Kim Jong-Un, Twitter, Trump University, tax returns, Mexican walls, Rudy Giuliani, emoluments, Michael Cohen, the G-7, etc.—is taking attention away from the basic fact that the Russiagate story is both clear and simple: The Russians meddled in the election and offered help to the campaign. There is no "reasonable doubt" at this point.
Someday, probably soon (more below), Robert Mueller is going to release a bunch of reports. And he will undoubtedly fill in some details we don't know. The extent of the contacts between the Russians and the Trump campaign, for example. Exactly how involved the President was in the scheme. What the motivation was—profit, winning the election, kompromat, something else, or some combination of the above. What other crimes or offenses Trump & Co. might have committed. Mueller might even have a smoking gun or two (but probably not). However, we already know exactly what the central, and most damning, conclusion is going to be: The Russians successfully meddled in the 2016 election and tried mightily to get the campaign to help. The big question now is: Did the campaign take the bait? (V & Z)
It may not be too long before special counsel Robert Muller issues his first report, because Justice Dept. guidelines discourage officials from doing anything that could affect an election in the 2 months before one takes place. Once Mueller is done, he will hand his report to Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, preferably in a lead pouch, since it will be completely radioactive. When Rosenstein puts on his protective clothing and opens it, that's when the trouble will start. He will have to decide whether to forward the report to Congress and whether to make it public. There will be immense pressure on him no matter what he does.
Donald Trump would clearly prefer holding off the report until after the midterms, so if Mueller issues a subpoena for him to testify, he is likely to battle it out in the courts to drag the process out until after Election Day. Nevertheless, sooner or later it will come out. And if Trump gets wind of Mueller having given Rosenstein a copy, he could offer Rosenstein a choice: Kill the report or be fired. If Rosenstein quits or is fired, it would be unclear who gets the report and what authority that person would have with it. If Mueller is afraid of a scenario in which Rosenstein is fired, he could take an unprecedented action and indict Trump. Under Justice Dept. rules then Congress would automatically get a copy of the report. This gives Mueller a pretty big bargaining chip.
One thing is already very clear: Trump is going to fight back to the max, calling the report a witch hunt and worse, no matter how many kilopages of footnotes and evidence Mueller supplies. The battle then is likely to be much more fierce than anything we have seen so far. (V)
Speaking of Donald Trump's war against those who might expose him, he was not at all happy about the Washington Post's reporting on Roger Stone (see above). He went on an absolute rampage Sunday morning, even by his standards. Included was this message:
Washington Post employees want to go on strike because Bezos isn’t paying them enough. I think a really long strike would be a great idea. Employees would get more money and we would get rid of Fake News for an extended period of time! Is @WaPo a registered lobbyist?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 17, 2018
This one was in there, too:
My supporters are the smartest, strongest, most hard working and most loyal that we have seen in our countries history. It is a beautiful thing to watch as we win elections and gather support from all over the country. As we get stronger, so does our country. Best numbers ever!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 16, 2018
Both sentiments, of course, have no real precedent with any of Trump's 43 predecessors. Some presidents were friendly to organized labor, others not so much, but they all did what they could to resolve (or crush) labor strikes. They all understood that strikes are like chemotherapy; they might have long-term benefits, but they're brutal while they are still underway. So, no chief executive has ever urged people to strike, particularly in service of that chief executive's own personal interests and needs.
Meanwhile, all presidents before Trump regarded themselves as the leader of all Americans (even if some of them, like Dick Nixon or Andy Jackson, sometimes struggled to summon warm feelings for those who voted against them). Trump makes no bones about announcing that he cares only for his supporters, and that anyone who did not vote for him is—as the tweet above implies—stupid, weak, lazy, and disloyal. American politics has taken a particularly nasty turn in the last 20 years or so, even when the presidents in office—Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama—remained above the fray. When the man in the Oval Office wades right into the middle of the scrum, it takes the incivility to new level. Which may just have something to do with the fact that comments sections on political websites, Twitter, Reddit, Quora, many corners of Facebook, etc. are fetid and festering sewers these days. (Z)
As we have noted for several days in a row, the response to the Trump Administration's harsh immigration policy, particularly the choice to separate children from their parents, has gone over very poorly. On Sunday, several First Ladies weighed in on the matter, and they are not pleased.
To start, there is Laura Bush. Given that she's pretty moderate, and that several members of her extended family are Latino, her response is not surprising. She took to the pages of Donald Trump's favorite newspaper, the Washington Post, and penned an absolutely scorching op-ed, particularly by her reserved standards. The key passage:
I live in a border state. I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart.
Our government should not be in the business of warehousing children in converted box stores or making plans to place them in tent cities in the desert outside of El Paso. These images are eerily reminiscent of the Japanese American internment camps of World War II, now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history...
Generally speaking, when one's policies are drawing comparisons to Japanese internment, one is doing something wrong.
Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama, meanwhile, know that Trump dislikes them so much that any overt denunciation, like Laura Bush's, could serve to encourage the President to act more aggressively out of spite. So, they have remained pretty quiet, although Clinton sent out a few tweets Sunday, most notably this one:
Not terribly subtle, but a bit more so than if the Clintons had written an op-ed for the Post.
Meanwhile, the most interesting statement might be the one that came from the First Lady who...is currently living in the White House. On Sunday, Melania Trump sent her spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, to talk to CNN. Grisham declared that:
Mrs. Trump hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform. She believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart.
It would seem that the White House leakers aren't the only ones who have decided that the best way to influence the President is through the media.
And in case this issue hasn't gotten away from the President badly enough, it's close to getting worse. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has introduced a bill that would make it illegal to separate families at the border. She says she's already got 43 votes lined up, and she expects to reach 50 soon. If the President does not find a way to extract himself from the mess he's created—he's got a meeting with Congressional Republicans on Tuesday—then he's going to find himself outmaneuvered, with the Democrats as the party that tries to keep families together, and the GOP as the party that likes to break them up. That is not a winning position for the Republicans to run on in the midterms. (Z)
Rep. Steve King (R-IA) was on Breitbart News Tonight this weekend, and he "let slip" that he and several colleagues are thinking about removing Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) from his post. His exact words: "I also have got information that there are—I'll say 'members'—I say that plurally, with knowledge, that are considering introducing a motion to vacate the chair."
This is worth noting, because it's certainly possible that trying to navigate the current immigration mess could be the final nail in the coffin for Ryan, either triggering a revolt among the members of his caucus, or causing him to decide it's not worth it and to throw in the towel early, John Boehner-style. However, it is also worth noting that King's words should be taken with a bowling ball-sized grain of salt. First of all, he is given to popping off, and as one of the most far-right members of Congress, he's hardly a spokesman for most House Republicans. Further, if King believes that he and his Freedom Caucus buddies can sack Ryan and replace him with someone further right, he's got another thing coming. There is no chance the Tuesday Group (moderate Republicans) and the Democrats are going to let that happen. Finally, a leadership struggle right before the midterms would be a very bad look for the GOP, and that alone is likely to cause most members of the red team to say, "If Ryan wants to stay on the job until the end of his term, let him." (Z)
A Morning Consult poll done in all 50 states plus D.C. shows that Donald Trump's approval rating has gone down since his inauguration in every one of them (as did Barack Obama's at this point in his presidency). But the amount of the drop varies by state, as shown below. The color coding indicates which party won the state in 2016.
|State||Jan. 2017||May 2018||Change|
One takeaway here is that Trump still has double-digit popularity in some states with tight Senate races, namely Mississippi, Tennessee, and West Virginia. However, so far Trump's coattails haven't been very long and support for Trump has not transferred easily to candidates he supports.
The article linked to above also cites some other recent polls:
- Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) leads Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH) for the Senate 51% to 34% (Quinnipiac Univ.)
- Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) leads Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH) for the Senate 53% to 37% (Suffolk Univ.)
- Richard Cordray (D) leads Ohio AG Mike DeWine (R) for governor of Ohio 42% to 40% (Quinnipiac Univ.)
- Richard Cordray (D) leads Ohio AG Mike DeWine (R) for governor of Ohio 43% to 36% (Suffolk Univ.)
- Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) leads Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA) for the Senate 44% to 27% (Franklin and Marshall College)
- 51% think the tax bill favors the rich, 30% think it favors the middle class, and 7% think it favors the poor (PPP)
- Among registered voters, 21% think a president can pardon himself and 58% think he can't (Morning Consult)
- Again among registered voters, 37% think the FBI put a spy in Trump's campaign, and 42% don't believe it (PPP)
- Among all Americans, 71% want the dreamers to stay and 23% want them out (Fox News)
Although it is not exactly a poll, Pew Research Center found an inverse correlation between the GDP of the 102 countries they studied and the percentage of people who prayed daily. The U.S. is the only country with a GDP per capita of over $30,000 in which half the adult population prays every day. (V)
As a result of his 45-minute meeting with Kim Jong-Un (of which half was taken up by translations), Donald Trump announced that the nuclear threat from North Korea has ended. Americans aren't so sure yet. A WaPo/ABC poll shows that 21% of Americans think the summit was a success, 55% think it is too early to tell, and 16% think it was not a success for the U.S. Similarly, 29% think it was a success for North Korea, 56% think it is too early to tell, and only 5% think it was a failure for North Korea. In any case, it appears people think North Korea did better than the U.S. but most people are reserving judgment for the time being to see if any concrete steps are taken to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, whatever that may mean. (V)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jun17 Trump Taps Unknown to Lead Consumer Bureau
Jun17 Pruitt Might Finally Be in Real Trouble
Jun17 Giuliani Bloviates Some More
Jun17 Breitbart is Flailing
Jun17 Sanders Won't Endorse His Son
Jun17 There Aren't Going to Be Three Californias
Jun16 Trump Imposes Tariffs on China
Jun16 Manafort Goes to Jail
Jun16 Giuliani: Trump Won't Sit for an Interview with Mueller
Jun16 What's Going on with Immigration, for Christ's Sake?
Jun16 Prosecutors Reconstruct 16 Pages of Cohen's Shredded Documents
Jun16 Senate Democrats Look Safe in Four Trump States
Jun16 McConnell Gets Serious about Reelection Bid
Jun15 New York Attorney General Sues Trump
Jun15 Justice Department Report: Comey Had Poor Judgment on Clinton E-mail Case
Jun15 Trump Officially Approves $50 Billion in Tariffs
Jun15 Kim? Check. Next Up? Maybe Putin
Jun15 Trump Probably Lied about Parents of Korean POWs
Jun15 Republicans Embrace the "Cult" of Trump
Jun15 Bill Nelson Has a Latino Problem
Jun14 Michael Cohen and His Lawyers Part Ways
Jun14 Trump Runs More Victory Laps
Jun14 Trump's Claims about the North Korea Deal Don't Align with the Facts
Jun14 Trump Will Play a Big Role in the Dreamer Feud
Jun14 Sanders Looks to Be on Her Way Out
Jun14 Pruitt Could Be On His Way Out, Too
Jun14 Las Vegas and Charlotte Are the Leading Contenders for the 2020 GOP Convention
Jun14 Pence Ruffles Baptists' Feathers
Jun14 McCaskill's Private Plane Has Become a Campaign Issue
Jun13 Takeaways from the North Korea Summit
Jun13 Five More States Vote
Jun13 Sanders Defends Endorsement Record
Jun13 Team Obama Announces Midterm Targets
Jun13 House Republicans Possibly Avoid Ugly Fight over Immigration
Jun13 Sessions Cracks Down on Refugees
Jun13 AT&T-Time Warner Merger Goes Forward
Jun12 Trump and Kim Meet, Reach Agreement
Jun12 G-7 Meltdown Continues to Reverberate
Jun12 Supreme Court Upholds Ohio's Right to Purge Voters
Jun12 Top Russians Met with NRA Executives During the 2016 Election Campaign
Jun12 Obama Has Been Advising Democratic Presidential Hopefuls for Months
Jun12 ACLU Is Getting Into Politics
Jun12 Democratic Chances in NJ-02 Just Got Better
Jun11 Trump vs. the Western World
Jun11 Five States Will Hold Primaries This Week
Jun11 Kim and Trump Have Different Ideas of What Denuclearization Means
Jun11 All Hail King Donald
Jun11 Net Neutrality Dies Today
Jun11 It's Almost Always the Best Economy Ever