• No More McMaster of Trump's Domain
• Trump's Lawyers Are Preparing for an Interview with Mueller
• Mueller Subpoenas Trump Organization Records
• Public Confidence in Mueller is Mixed
• Republicans Suspect they Blew It on Russia Report
• Democrats Are Expecting Big Problems in California
• Democrats are Feuding Over Lamb Win
• Trump Jr., Wife Split
Rather surprisingly, yesterday Donald Trump imposed sanctions on Russia for its interference in the 2016 election. Until now, Trump has vigorously denied that Russia was involved in the elections. He has called those allegations a "hoax" and "fake news." This might indicate that Trump is finally tacitly admitting what the intelligence agencies have long concluded: Russia meddled. However, he also said (in another reversal) that he believed the Russians had poisoned a former spy in London, so that was an additional reason for sanctions.
The sanctions target five Russian organizations and 19 individuals. They bar them from visiting the U.S. and also freeze assets they have in the U.S. These include the FSB (Russian version of the CIA) and the GRU (Russian military intelligence). It is unlikely these organizations have bank accounts in their own names in the U.S. with lots of money in them. So the effect of the sanctions is not going to be very great, but the mere fact that Trump is now willing to sanction Russia is a big change and certainly not something that will please Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had expected Trump to lift the sanctions Barack Obama had imposed after Russia invaded Ukraine and took over the Crimea. (V)
We already knew there was a good chance that more heads would roll in addition to Rex Tillerson's. We knew that National Security Adviser Herbert McMaster's head was likely to be among them. Plus, Friday is "firing day" in the Trump White House. So, it's no surprise that the Washington Post is reporting that Trump is about to make it official: McMaster is out. The administration is just waiting until it can find a face-saving job for McMaster to transfer to. How about U.S. ambassador to Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga, and Tuvalu?
Trump, of course, can change his mind about these things on a dime, so it's still possible he could reverse course. But even if he does (unlikely), McMaster would remain a dead man walking. He and Trump don't like each other and don't particularly respect each other, so the relationship is not tenable long term. Meanwhile, the departure of the NSA (whether now or in a few weeks) means that another moderating force on Trump is gone. Whether it's Hope Hicks, or Gary Cohn, or McMaster, or Tillerson, the number of people in the White House willing to say "no" to the President is shrinking dramatically. Which means he's likely to become even more erratic, and more likely to act impetuously. If that is possible. (Z)
Donald Trump's lawyers are expecting that sooner or later the president is going to be interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller, so they are already making lists of potential questions and answers. The main problem for the lawyers isn't Mueller, though. It is their client. They can come up with great scenarios, like:Q: Did you collude with the Russians?
The problem is that their client is not going to sit down with a fat briefing book and memorize the answers to hundreds of potential questions. He is going to wing it. That's what he always does. In a civil suit against a garden-variety civil lawyer, that might work, but up against some of the best prosecutors in the country, who are extremely well versed in all the details of the subject matter, Trump could easily say something incriminating like: "Of course I fired Comey because he was investigating me. That's my right as president." (Hint: wrong answer)
If Trump's lawyers think he can't be trained, they may go nuclear and announce that presidents can't be subpoenaed. However, in the Paula Jones case, the Supreme Court ruled 9-0 that presidents are not above the law in civil cases, so probably they aren't in criminal cases either. Simon Wisenberg, who worked for Ken Starr when he was investigating Bill Clinton, said if Trump refuses to comply with a subpoena, the case will be decided by the Supreme Court, and "He's going to lose 9-0, and Gorsuch is going to write the opinion." (V)
Well, now he's gone and done it. It is one of the worst-kept secrets in Washington that Robert Mueller suspects there may have been some sort of a quid pro quo between the Trump Organization and the Russians, roughly along the lines of "you get me elected, I lift the sanctions, you forgive my debts/let me build Trump Tower Moscow." Why else would the Special Counsel need so many money laundering experts? However, suspecting something is not the same thing as proving it. Now Mueller has begun going after the evidence he would need if his hunches are correct, subpoenaing the Trump Organization for some of its financial records.
Normally, under these circumstances, a prosecutor would request the documents first before turning to the nuclear option that is a subpoena. Exactly what happened here is not known; maybe Mueller did ask and was turned down, or maybe he felt it was a waste of his time, or maybe he feared records would be conveniently "lost," possibly in the same place where Donald Trump misplaced his plan to win the war against ISIS and his Obamacare replacement plan. In any case, the President has threatened Mueller not to cross this particular line in the sand, and now Mueller has crossed it. Your move, Donald. (Z)
A new Pew Research Center poll shows that public confidence that special counsel Robert Mueller will conduct a fair investigation of the Russian investigation is mixed. Of those asked, 25% are very confident, 36% are somewhat confident, 19% are not too confident, and 18% are not at all confident that he will do his job fairly and impartially. There is a partisan tilt to the responses, but it does not run exactly along party lines. Democrats are overwhelmingly confident (75%) that Mueller will be at least somewhat fair, but less than half of Republicans (46%) believe this.
The poll also asked people whether they think the administration will make a serious effort to thwart Russian efforts to influence future elections. About 42% think it will but 36% thought it will not. Also noteworthy is that 75% of Democrats think that the 2016 meddling helped Trump but 74% of Republicans don't believe that. (V)
When the Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee decided to hastily end their investigation into Russiagate, and to issue a report exonerating Donald Trump, the goal was to give the President a giant early birthday present. Once they were set on that course, the smart play was to declare "no collusion" and leave it at that. But they overshot, and also claimed that there is no evidence Vlad Putin tried to help Trump win. Bad move. The problem is that the intelligence community—which most people still respect, and which has no reason to lie—has reached a consensus that Putin did indeed try to help Trump. Denying that was, in many ways, like denying global warming. The people who badly want to believe the conclusion will ignore the experts' conclusions, but nobody else will be persuaded.
It would appear that House Republicans have now concluded that they botched the whole thing. Ending the investigation early did not look good, nor did completely excluding the Democrats on the Intelligence Committee from the process. The defection of some Republican members of the committee, most obviously the staunchly partisan Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), was another blow. Anyhow, now the GOP members of the House are holding closed-door meetings to figure out how they can repair the damage they did. The answer is simple: They can't. It's unlikely that the committee's reports were going to change minds even before this week's fiasco, now it's inconceivable they will do so. (Z)
Democratic operatives in California, probably the most anti-Trump state in the country, are seriously worried that no Democrat will appear on the November general election ballot in some key House races in districts the Democrats had been counting on winning. The problem is California's jungle primary system, in which the top two finishers advance to the general election irrespective of party. The filing deadline for California has passed, but in a number of districts, there is a distinct possibility that the top two finishers will be Republicans and no Democrat will be on the November ballot. One district that is an especially big problem is CA-48, Dana Rohrabacher's Orange County district in which eight Democrats are running, along with Rohrabacher and the Orange County Republican chairman Scott Baugh. It is very possible that the Democrats will split the vote eight ways and Rohrabacher and Baugh will make it to the general election.
The only thing the DNC and DCCC can do now is let all the Democrats know that a couple of weeks before the primary, they will run a poll to see who is ahead and then pump a ton of money into the leading candidate's war chest, in a desperate effort to get that person into the first or second place slot. The problem is that if an establishment candidate is leading and a progressive candidate supported by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is second, Sanders supporters will have a conniption if the party actively tries to defeat the progressive candidate. The other way wouldn't be so bad. If the leading Democrat is a progressive, the party regulars would probably accept that.
In CA-49, where Rep. Darrell Issa (R) is retiring, the problem is not as severe as there are multiple Republicans running as well as multiple Democrats. Still, there are 14 districts in California with a Republican representative and this problem is going to manifest itself in a number of them. The only long-term solution is to give the jungle primary back to Louisiana and have California go back to party primaries. It is too late for that this year. (V)
"I'm not a member of any organized political party," the humorist Will Rogers famously said, "I'm a Democrat." It would seem that the members of the blue team are determined to prove him right, as we're just days removed from Conor Lamb's stunning victory in PA-18, and the progressive and moderate wings are already squabbling over what it means going forward.
The moderates, of course, are arguing that to win a conservative district, it will take a conservative-leaning Democrat like Lamb, who can attract some disaffected Republicans. The progressives, by contrast, say that Lamb's win is all good and well, but that he's not the blueprint the blue team should be looking toward. "People [who] say this is the direction all of us should take are kind of missing where the energy is coming from," said Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ).
There is some truth to what Grijalva said, in the sense that progressives are certainly stepping up with the donations, the door-knocking, the anti-Trump protests, and the like. Under near-ideal circumstances (weak opponent, lots of money, great candidate), the Democrats were able to eke out a victory by the thinnest of margins. But if they had run a true lefty, there is no way they would have won in a district as conservative as PA-18. And even if there is a massive blue wave that somehow sweeps a lot of progressve candidates into office in red districts in November, that's not likely to be sustainable long term. Not every year will be a wave, and every progressive in a red district will appear on the GOP's "top target" lists every cycle until they are sent packing. DNC chair Tom Perez is really going to earn his salary in the next six months, as he tries to navigate this morass. (Z)
Half of marriages end in divorce and, as of Thursday, both Donald Trumps are now in the club. Vanessa Trump, wife of Don Jr. and mother to his five kids, has filed to dissolve the marriage. "After 12 years of marriage, we have decided to go our separate ways," the couple said in a joint statement. Only the two of them know what went wrong, but Trump's increased duties at work, as well as the incident last month where Vanessa and her mother were hospitalized after receiving and opening an envelope containing a white powdery substance (ultimately benign), surely did not help.
Does this story really belong here? Is it political news? Junior knows some interesting things, like what was actually said at that meeting in Trump Tower with Natalia Veselnitskaya in July 2016. His ex-wife may know some of the secrets. Special counsel Robert Mueller might decide he's interested in what she knows, especially now that he's looking long and hard at the Trump Organization (see above). Even after the divorce, Vanessa would have spousal privilege, and could refuse to answer most questions. However, depending on how acrimonious this split is, she may not be interested in invoking it. (Z)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
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