• Pruitt's Head Could Roll Next
• Jackson's Confirmation No Sure Thing
• Today in Muckraking...
• McDougal Payment Becoming a Problem for Trump
• Trump's Businesses May Be Exposed
• Poll: Young People Don't Like Trump
• McCabe Raises Almost $500,000 in One Day
DSCC chairman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) are going to have to make some tough choices shortly. There is only so much money available, and it has to be allocated among the various Senate races. Normally, it is an easy call: Embattled incumbents get financed before anyone else. If Van Hollen follows that rule, then Democratic senators Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Claire McCaskill (MO), and Joe Donnelly (IN) are probably first in line. They are all from deep-red states that Donald Trump won handily. Seven other Democrats are also from states Trump won, but in most of the other cases, the need is not quite so great. For example, Trump eked out a tiny victory in Pennsylvania, but it is not really a red state, so Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) is not in enormous danger. Similarly, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is from one of the reddest states in the country, but if the Republicans nominate Don Blankenship, who was CEO of a mining company that regularly ignored safety regulations, resulting in the deaths of 29 miners, Manchin is safe.
However, there are already signs that there will be a blue wave in November. If so, Democrats could go on the offense and try to not only hold their own seats, but pick up Republican seats, especially seats in Nevada, Arizona, Tennessee, and Mississippi. The big question is: Can the party afford to divert even a dollar from incumbents with a fragile grip on their seats to go after GOP seats?
For reference, in 2016, Hillary Clinton was expecting a wave election, so she put money and energy into campaigning in Arizona and Georgia, ignoring Wisconsin. She ultimately lost all three of them. If she had conceded Arizona and Georgia and made even one trip to Madison, Wisconsin, accompanied by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), she probably could have picked up enough students to carry the state. Bad decision. What keeps Van Hollen up at night is a nightmare of the early morning of Nov. 7 when he learns that Heitkamp lost by a few hundred votes and the money spent in Tennessee could have saved her. Of course, the alternative nightmare is that he doesn't spend a penny in Tennessee, Heitkamp wins easily, but $100,000 in Tennessee would have pulled Democrat Phil Bredesen over the finish line first. (V)
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, the man doing everything in his power to make the world a warmer place, has just landed himself in hot water. ABC News is reporting that when the Oklahoman stays in Washington, he rents a townhouse for just $50 a night. Further, when he's not there, he doesn't pay. This cozy arrangement, in which Pruitt is paying less for a prime Capitol Hill townhouse than he would for a room at Motel 6, is made possible by the generosity of Vicki and Steven Hart. Who are they? Well, they are lobbyists who work primarily on behalf of energy producers. Oops.
Pruitt's housing arrangements are, at very best, shady—just about as far removed from "draining the swamp" as you can get. At worst, they are an illegal campaign contribution, and a violation of ethics rules against accepting gifts. And this follows on the heels of other behavior from Pruitt that has made the wrong kinds of headlines. He's already being investigated by the EPA's inspector general for his habit of flying first class on the government's dime (with his $2 million/year, 24-hour security contingent), often to destinations that are personal rather than professional (a family reunion, Disneyland, the Rose Bowl, etc.). He's also spent lavishly on his office, including the installation of a $43,000 soundproof booth.
Thus far, the White House has had no official comment, though insiders say the administration is peeved. In this case, silence may be deafening, since Team Trump generally tends to close ranks and go on the offensive when one of its members is accused of bad behavior, even if that person is eventually shown the door (Michael Flynn, Rex Tillerson, Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, and Herbert McMaster, among others, were all lauded shortly before being terminated). So, at a time when the President already has his trigger finger all warmed up, Pruitt could find himself as the next member of the administration to be on the firing line. (Z)
When Donald Trump dumped David Shulkin as VA Secretary and chose presidential physician Rear Admiral Dr. Ronny Jackson as his replacement, it probably seemed like a slam dunk. After all, Shulkin was embattled, and Jackson is a veteran, and a high-ranking one at that, although it is unlikely that Trump knows what kind of general a rear admiral, lower half, is equivalent to (it's a brigadier general). Anyhow, as one nominee among a string of them that are raising concerns—ex-CIA head Mike Pompeo to lead the State Dept., ex-torturer Gina Haspel to replace Pompeo at the CIA—Jackson is not a sure thing to be confirmed.
There are two issues that are making things a little murky. The first is that Jackson was on nobody's radar for this job, including his own. White House senior staffers (translation: John Kelly) had intended to ease Shulkin out the door, and to appoint Robert Wilkie on an interim basis while potential replacements were vetted. But Trump torpedoed all those plans when he got on Twitter and announced the admiral as his pick. And since Jackson is effectively an unknown, none of the stakeholders (veterans' groups, members of Congress, etc.) is aware of where he stands on the major issues facing the VA, most notably the issue that engulfed Shulkin: How much freedom to choose non-VA doctors should veterans have? There's a chance that Jackson himself doesn't know where he stands on the issues, as yet, since there was not necessarily a need before this week for him to have put careful thought into these matters.
The second issue for Jackson is his resumé, and whether or not it is apropos to the job he would assume. He was a trauma physician in Iraq, and has served for more than a decade as White House physician. In both capacities, he oversaw a small staff of doctors, nurses, and administrators (30-40 people). But the VA is the second-largest department in the government (behind Defense), with 360,000 employees and a $186 billion annual budget. Nothing in the admiral's past has prepared him for anything remotely like this. Most of the nine men previously confirmed for the job either had experience running large-scale health-related bureaucracies in the private sector (as Shulkin did), or else held much higher ranks in the military and thus managed much larger commands (for example, Gen. Eric Shinseki was Army Chief of Staff and also commanded the Seventh United States Army and Allied Land Forces Central Europe, among other posts).
The GOP members of the Senate who will make the call are playing it close to the vest. "We are doing our homework on Dr. Jackson," said a spokesperson for Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), for example. However, many of them are grumbling about both the number and the quality of the nominees they have to vet at a time when many would prefer to be focusing their attention on the midterm elections. Certainly, the senators were willing to hand over the keys of Education, HUD, Energy, and other departments to folks with far bigger red flags than Jackson. However, those are departments that Republicans famously don't care about, and that many of them would like to eliminate. Will they put one of their most prized agencies in the hand of an amateur bureaucrat? That's the $64,000 question. (Z)
Around the time that Donald Trump took office, the Washington Post changed its motto to "Democracy Dies in Darkness." And the paper has certainly been on the front lines, doing its fourth-estate duty to provide oversight of the President as much as is possible.
With that said, sometimes the WaPo gets dangerously close to the yellow journalism that was in vogue at the turn of the 20th century, a style that modern journalists generally tend to pooh-pooh as overly-sensational and not dispassionate enough. Case in point: An investigative piece about the White House's Presidential Personnel Office (PPO), which is responsible for hiring people for the executive branch. Robert O'Harrow Jr. and Shawn Boburg report that the office is understaffed, and that the people who do work there are largely unqualified for their jobs. Further, and as a byproduct of those facts, poor vetting is the rule rather than the exception, and there's some pretty significant nepotism going on (for example, one family now has five members working as part of the administration).
All of these revelations seem to fit squarely within the realm of "fair game," and are apropos to an investigative report of this sort. But then we move on to the more salacious elements of the piece. For example:
[T]wo office leaders have spotty records themselves: a college dropout with arrests for drunken driving and bad checks and a Marine Corps reservist with arrests for assault, disorderly conduct, fleeing an officer and underage drinking.
There is also much about the frat house atmosphere that has taken hold at the PPO, including revelations that staffers spend much of their time sitting around and vaping (a smoking substitute), and that they enjoy playing drinking games:
In January, they played a drinking game in the office called "Icing" to celebrate the deputy director's 30th birthday. Icing involves hiding a bottle of Smirnoff Ice, a flavored malt liquor, and demanding that the person who discovers it, in this case the deputy director, guzzle it.
Needless to say, nobody can be happy to hear that an important office within the White House—and one that still has plenty of work to do—has embraced such an unprofessional workplace culture. Still, one is left to wonder if the Post isn't taking the "Democracy Dies in Darkness" thing just a little too far. (Z)
At this point, several pieces of information appear to be pretty well established. The first is that Donald Trump had adulterous affairs with at least two women, porn star Stormy Daniels, and Playboy model Karen McDougal, around the time that Melania Trump gave birth to son Barron. The second is that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen tried to buy Daniels' silence with a $130,000 payment that may well have been an illegal campaign contribution. The third is that National Enquirer boss David Pecker tried to buy McDougal's silence with a $150,000 purchase of the rights to her story, along with a promise to give her a column and some other media exposure.
By all evidences, Pecker appears to be a bit shrewder than Cohen, with the result that the Pecker's attempt to cover Donald Trump's rear end was a bit smoother, and has created fewer problems thus far. But now, attention to the McDougal payment is heating up. The New York Times reports that Pecker had an Oval Office meeting last summer with the President and French businessman Kacy Grine, who generally serves as a point person for Saudi royalty in their Western business ventures. The significance here is that it is clear that Pecker and Trump remained friends, and in close communication, well after McDougal's silence was purchased. And if the payment came up during their interactions, then Trump or Pecker (or both) would be in trouble, since The Donald's awareness would almost certainly make it a campaign contribution. Maybe Pecker never mentioned it, but that's unlikely. A former high-ranking employee of American Media, which publishes the Enquirer, said that Pecker and Trump were constantly in communication about Trump-related coverage, declaring, "[W]e never printed a word about Trump without his approval."
At the moment, Trump is considerably more exposed on the Daniels front, again thanks to the clumsiness of Michael Cohen. However, if the McDougal story continues to develop, then it could be a very serious one-two punch for the administration. After all, one incident could be an anomaly, but two is a pattern. (Z)
Donald Trump's main pitch during his campaign was essentially "I am a very rich businessman and I can get things done." However, he refused to release his tax returns—something every other candidate for president has done for 40 years—so no one really knows if he is as rich as he says he is. Up until now, Trump's finances have been completely hidden, but that may change now as a result of three separate processes currently underway.
First, special counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed documents from the Trump Organization. Mueller wants to know if Trump has business dealings with Russia. Mueller hasn't discussed it publicly, but he may well have also subpoenaed Trump's federal and New York state tax returns. If Trump has loans from Russian banks, the interest on those loans is deductible as a business expense and might well show up on his tax returns.
Second, the attorneys general for D.C. and Maryland have sued Trump for violating the Constitution's emoluments clause. A federal judge ruled on Wednesday that they have standing to sue since hotels in D.C. and Maryland may have been hurt by foreign governments moving big events from other hotels to Trump International Hotel in D.C. Those attorneys general understand the discovery procedure very well and will certainly subpoena all manner of financial documents as the case goes forward (but Trump's lawyers are appealing the judge's decision, so it is not certain the case will proceed).
Third, Michael Avenatti, the lawyer working for Stormy Daniels (actually, Stephanie Clifford), is asking for internal Trump documents as part of her lawsuit to get out of a nondisclosure agreement. There's no telling what he might dig up.
Additionally, under federal law, Congress can examine anyone's tax return. If the Democrats capture the House in November, they may decide to exercise their power to get a copy of his tax return. In short, although Trump has so far successfully managed to keep details of his business private, that could possibly change soon. (V)
Although Donald Trump is edging up in some recent national polls, young voters still don't care much for him. A new AP/NORC poll shows that just 33% of Americans between 18 and 34 approve of Trump. In contrast, 67% disapprove of him. That is 9 points worse than a similar poll covering Americans of all ages. Even more startling is the answer to the question: "Does Donald Trump reflect your values?" Only 9% said he does, 18% said he does somewhat, and 72% said nope.
Polls are all well and good, but what matters is voting, and younger voters usually don't bother with it much. For example, in the most recent midterm (2014) only 20% of 18-29 year-olds bothered to vote. There are some signs that younger voters are more engaged this year than usual, but we won't know until November if that is really the case. (V)
Former deputy director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, was fired by Attorney General Jeff Sessions just 26 hours before his scheduled retirement. Most commentators have described his firing as petty and vindictive, since McCabe was leaving anyway. He may well end up suing the administration for what was clearly a political act, and to that end has started a crowdfunding page to pay for legal costs. Somewhat amazingly, he raised $500,000 in the first day, even though his goal was $250,000. This is just another sign that there is a lot of energy among people who want to oppose the Trump administration any way they can. (V)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Mar30 2016 Exit Polls Were Off
Mar30 Polling Numbers Looking Up for Trump; Everything Else, Not So Much
Mar30 Trump Toying with Having no Chief of Staff or Communications Director
Mar30 Trump Implies Wall Construction Has Begun
Mar30 Daniels' Lawyer Won't Be Able To Depose Trump Right Now
Mar30 Atlanta Will Bid for the 2020 Democratic National Convention
Mar30 Gov. Scott Walker Will Call Special Elections After All
Mar29 Another One Bites the Dust
Mar29 Mueller Plays Another Card from His Hand
Mar29 Trump's Allies Are Starting a Campaign against Mueller
Mar29 Judge Allows Emoluments Case to Go Forward
Mar29 Appeals Court Orders Wisconsin to Hold Elections for Vacant State Legislature Seats
Mar29 Stormy Daniels' Lawyer Wants to Depose Trump
Mar29 Former Disney Star to Work in the White House
Mar29 Joe Arpaio, One-Trick Pony
Mar28 Trump Wants the Pentagon to Pay for His Wall
Mar28 Two More Top Conservative Lawyers Say No to Trump
Mar28 Can a President Be Indicted?
Mar28 Trump Strikes His First Trade Deal
Mar28 Republicans Are Taking Nothing for Granted in AZ-08 Special Election
Mar28 Rick Scott Getting Close to Announcing; Already Has Baggage
Mar28 What Goes Up Apparently Must Go Down
Mar27 Takeaways from Stormy Daniels Interview
Mar27 Trump Ignores Daniels
Mar27 Daniels Expands Her Lawsuit to Include Cohen
Mar27 What Is Gates Telling Mueller about Trump?
Mar27 Does Team Trump Really Threaten to Rough People Up?
Mar27 No Trade War? Wall Street Is Thrilled
Mar27 Trump's Approval Is Climbing
Mar27 Citizenship Question To Be Included on 2020 Census
Mar27 Is Sean Hannity an Idiot?
Mar26 Stormy Rains on Trump's Parade
Mar26 Trump's New Lawyers Quit
Mar26 More White House Personnel Changes Are Likely
Mar26 Gun Advocates, Manufacturers Are Feeling the Pinch
Mar26 Cambridge Analytica Scandal Deepens
Mar26 Democrats Discover the State Legislatures
Mar25 Guns Under Fire
Mar25 Trump Midterm Message: I Need Allies
Mar25 Rep. Ryan Costello Won't Run Again
Mar25 Today in Voter Suppression...
Mar25 Stormy Unleashed
Mar25 Landrieu for President?
Mar25 Trump Could Cost the U.S. World Cup
Mar24 White House Staffers Don't Know What to Do
Mar24 No Wonder Trump is Angry about the Budget He Just Signed
Mar24 White House Announces Transgender Ban
Mar24 McGahn Wants to Quit, Sooner or Later
Mar24 Everyone Has an Opinion on Bolton