• Mueller Talked to Barrack
• Lots of Blowback Over Trump's NRA Speech
• Kerry Trying to Save Iran Deal
• Trump Suggests "Closing" the Country for a While
• McCain Speaks Out
• Right-Wing Fringe Moves Center Stage
Every day, the hole that Donald Trump has dug for himself vis-a-vis porn star Stormy Daniels (nee Stephanie Clifford) just keeps getting deeper. During the Watergate scandal, the question that people asked about Richard Nixon was, "What did the President know, and when did he know it?" The same could be asked of Trump when it comes to the $130,000 in hush money that attorney Michael Cohen paid to Daniels. And it is becoming clear that the Donald knew plenty, even when he was claiming ignorance.
Late Friday, the New York Times reported, based on several sources within the Trump Organization, that the President had known about the payment made on his behalf for months (or more) when he denied any knowledge of it in April. The more he knew, and the earlier he knew about it, the more likely it is that he personally committed a violation of campaign finance laws. Meanwhile, the more he lied, the easier it is to conclude that he himself knew he was in the wrong, and that he was trying to engage in a cover-up. In turn, this makes it more likely that his behavior was serious enough to warrant prosecution.
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that the feds are looking very closely at Michael Cohen's finances. In particular, they are interested in a pair of credit lines he arranged, backed by his own apartment and his in-laws' condo, that gave him access to as much as $774,000 in quick cash. Given that only $130,000 of that went to Stormy Daniels, and yet during the same period Cohen received close to $500,000 in payments from the Trump Organization, it suggests that there may have been more hush payments made. If so, those payments won't remain secret for much longer.
Undoubtedly, all of this news will irritate Trump. However, the thing that is most likely to get under his skin is the opening sketch from this week's episode of "Saturday Night Live":
It's a greatest hits of players from Stormygate, with Cohen, Trump, Javanka, Rudy Giuliani, Harold Bornstein and Stormy Daniels making an appearance. The President does not like to be made the butt of jokes, he will like it even less that Giuliani was played by a woman (Kate McKinnon), and he will really hate it that Stormy Daniels was played by...Stormy Daniels. It's been a while since Trump called on SNL to be canceled, but that subject may well make a return to his Twitter feed on this morning. (Z)
No, not Barack. Barrack, as in Tom Barrack, one of the people who thinks he is a close friend of Donald Trump, and who served as the chair of the President's inaugural committee. The interview conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller's team reportedly took place last December, and focused on whatever information Barrack might have about Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates. Since it was Barrack who introduced Manafort to Trump, this is a pretty reasonable line of inquiry.
Nothing is known about what Barrack told Team Mueller. That fact, along with the fact that the interview has remained a secret for four months, reminds us of how disciplined an operation the Special Counsel is running—while the White House leaks like a sieve, Mueller's office is airtight. It also reminds us that, whether we hear about it or not, he's leaving no stone unturned. (Z)
Donald Trump's speech to the NRA on Friday was full of juicy, juicy red meat for the base, particularly that part of the base that is packing heat. That means it was also all-but-guaranteed to engender some controversy and some sharp responses. On Saturday, those responses came in bushels.
Let's start with the responses from abroad. In the address, Trump tried to use an unnamed British hospital, and a spike in treating stab wounds, as evidence of the shortcomings of British gun control laws. The Brits did not much care for this observation, and quite a few prominent folks spoke up and suggested that Trump has no idea what he's talking about. For example, Labour Party leader Diane Abbott declared that she could "hardly see how violent crime in London justifies the licensing of guns in the U.S." British trauma surgeon Karim Brohi, who works at the hospital Trump might have been referencing (Royal London Hospital in east London) also spoke up, observing that, "There is more we can all do to combat this violence, but to suggest guns are part of the solution is ridiculous. Gunshot wounds are at least twice as lethal as knife injuries and more difficult to repair."
As to France, Trump decided to pantomime what happened at the Bataclan concert hall, when 90 people were killed by a gunman. He used his hand to make a gun gesture, and suggested that if only someone in the room had been armed, all those lives would have been saved. Former French president Francois Hollande, who was in office for that incident, described Trump's remarks as "shameful" and "obscene." Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo offered a similar assessment, slamming the Donald's performance as "contemptuous and unworthy."
On the domestic front, meanwhile, there was also a fair bit of anger. Parkland shooting survivor Cameron Kasky, who—unlike Trump—actually knows a little something about what it's like to experience a mass shooting, went on CNN to share his response to the NRA speech. "He's a professional liar who will say anything to appease whatever crowd he's at. If he's in front of families, he might say something in support of common sense gun reform. But then when he's at the NRA, he'll say something to get a big cheer." It's pretty hard to find anything to dispute in that assessment.
Former congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who also—unlike Trump—actually knows a little something about what it's like to experience a mass shooting, was none too happy, either. She released a blistering statement that included this:
It takes courage to fight gun violence. It takes courage to oppose the powerful and the privileged, to stand up against a special interest that spends hundreds of millions of dollars to protect the firearms industry. Today, we saw no such courage from Donald Trump. It's the job of the President to ensure our public safety, but Trump takes his marching orders from the NRA. It's the job of the President to represent all Americans, but Trump has ignored the pleas of young people demanding safer gun laws, instead appearing for an unprecedented third time to support an organization that spent tens of millions of dollars to support him. Donald Trump has allowed his presidency to be hijacked by gun lobbyists and campaign dollars. As a result, the threats to our kids and our communities remain unaddressed. The solution for a Congress that won't act to prevent gun violence is a Congress that will. Election Day can't come soon enough.
Again, it's hard to disagree with anything Giffords writes. Trump spoke out pretty boldly after the Parkland shootings, telling GOP members of Congress that there was no reason to fear the NRA, and that slightly tighter restrictions on guns was a doable thing. Then, the President met with NRA muckety-mucks, and there hasn't been a peep from him since.
Finally, given how much Trump talked about how civilians must be prepared to confront gun-wielding attackers, his failure to say anything about James Shaw Jr. has attracted notice. Shaw has drawn wide praise for wrestling a rifle away from a gunman at a Waffle House, but Trump has not mentioned him in any tweet, interview, or speech. This just may have something to do with the fact that Shaw is black and was not armed, while the gunman he disarmed was white. (Z)
Speaking of Donald Trump's speech before the NRA, he also took time to slam the Iran deal, and the man who negotiated it—then-Secretary of State John Kerry:
John Kerry—not the best negotiator we've ever seen. He never walked away from the table except to be in that bicycle race where he fell and broke his leg. That was the only time. I said, "Don't tell him you broke your leg. Just stay inside. Say you don't want to negotiate. You'll make a much better deal."
It is true that Kerry broke his leg in the midst of the Iran negotiations. It is also true that Trump spends a great deal of time talking about how lousy a job Kerry (and Obama) did, and zero time trying to do better himself. As Disraeli once observed, "It's easier to be critical than to be correct."
That's not to say nobody is working on the Iran situation, however. In fact, Kerry himself is laboring furiously behind the scenes to preserve one of his (and Obama's) signature foreign policy accomplishments. Given that Kerry is now a private citizen, he has to tread carefully, as it is not legal for him to conduct actual diplomacy on behalf of the U.S. government due to the centuries-old Logan Act. However, he can give out all the advice he wants, and so has been doing so in meetings with Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and French President Emmanuel Macron. Kerry can also work the phones, and has been lobbying GOP leaders in Congress with all his might to try to get them to step up and take some proactive action.
Time will tell if Kerry's efforts will do any good. And it may tell very quickly. This week (Saturday, to be precise) is the next time that Trump must decide whether to waive the Iran sanctions for another three months, or to restore them, effectively blowing up the deal. Two deadlines ago, Trump said he wanted Congress to take action to make the deal tougher, and one deadline ago, Trump said he was giving Congress one last chance. Congress, of course, has done nothing—in part, because it is dysfunctional, and in part because it's improbable it can do anything to improve the United States' position. So, Trump will have to admit he was bluffing, or he will have to tear down the deal and accept the consequences. The former choice would be embarrassing for him, the latter would risk serious consequences for the country and the world. Given his priorities, nobody knows which he will choose. (Z)
Donald Trump is desperate to prove that he's "tough" on immigration, and is frustrated that no Mexican wall is currently being built, or is going to be built anytime soon. Appearing at a tax reform event in Ohio, the President decided to engage in some of his signature shooting from the hip:
[The Democrats] don't want the wall, but we're going to get the wall, even if we have to think about closing up the country for a while. We're going to get the wall. We have no choice. We have absolutely no choice. And we're going to get tremendous security in our country. And we may have to close up our country to get this straight, because we either have a country or we don't. And you can't allow people to pour into our country the way they're doing.
By all accounts, the audience found these remarks...confusing.
Their confusion is understandable, since it's not at all clear exactly what Trump meant. The United States has 7,458 miles of borders, along with 12,383 miles of coastline. That would be a lot of entryways to "shut down," and one might observe that if such a thing were possible with current personnel/equipment/technology, then a wall would not be necessary. Further, if the courts were unhappy with the Muslim travel bans, they would surely be just thrilled with something as broad as this (whatever it was that Trump was actually thinking).
Really, the only meaningful thing that comes from this is that the President keeps going back to the same well, over and over, in trying to enrage the base with the idea that teeming hordes of dangerous, law-breaking immigrants are invading the United States. This despite the fact that his own administration says that immigration numbers are steady, and in line with historical trends. Of course, xenophobia is a tried and tested line of attack for politicians, dating back more than two centuries. Although Trump might not be happy to learn how the story of John Adams and his Alien and Sedition Acts, or the Know-Nothing Party, or the second iteration of the KKK turned out. (Z)
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is undergoing treatment for an aggressive form of cancer in his home state. This week, he had a lengthy visit with longtime colleague Joe Biden, and through Biden, communicated a number of thoughts for public consumption:
- The Senator is unhappy with the direction of the country
- He dislikes Trump, and does not want him at his funeral
- However, the Bush family and Vice President Mike Pence can come
- He would like a "McCain person," ideally his wife Cindy, to take his place in the Senate
Given these sentiments, not to mention the stream of high-profile visitors that have flown to Arizona to see McCain, it's clear that he thinks the end is near. It would be a surprise if he ever returned to the Senate, and it's pretty likely that—now that the May 31 deadline is approaching for putting the seat on the November ballot—he resigns if he makes it to June. It may well be that he (or his people) are in negotiations with Gov. Doug Ducey (R-AZ) on the question of who will be appointed as replacement, and that as soon as an agreement is worked out, the Senator's public career will officially come to an end.
Later this month, on May 22, McCain will release a memoir entitled The Restless Wave: Good Times, Just Causes, Great Fights, and Other Appreciations. In the book, the Senator really lets Trump have it. For example:
He seems uninterested in the moral character of world leaders and their regimes. The appearance of toughness or a reality show facsimile of toughness seems to matter more than any of our values. Flattery secures his friendship, criticism his enmity.
We already know Trump has no reservations about slamming a war hero and former POW. Right around May 23, we will learn if a war hero and former POW who is dying of cancer is off limits. (Z)
In the past decade or so, as the GOP has tacked rightward, it's run some pretty fringy candidates for various offices. However, 2018 in shaping up to be the election that really takes the cake in terms of right-wing candidates who are outside the mainstream. Right Wing Watch has compiled a list of 12 of the fringiest:
- Joe Arpaio (Arizona; U.S. Senate) is an overt
racist and a convicted felon who found plenty of time, while he was "America's
toughest sheriff" to harass Mexican immigrants. On the other hand, he just
couldn't find the time or resources to look into accusations of child
molestation or spousal abuse.
- Kelli Ward (Arizona; U.S. Senate) thinks all taxes
are theft, wants to see the U.N. dissolved, and describes Obamacare as an
"abomination." That's pretty far right, but what puts her over the top is her
love for conspiracy theories, including just about everything that Alex Jones
peddles on InfoWars. Ward is particularly concerned about chemtrails, despite
the fact that they don't, you know, exist. She's also a staunch supporter of
Cliven Bundy, the same fellow that said that black people were better off under
slavery, since at least they were working as opposed to collecting welfare
- Omar Navarro (California; U.S. House of
Representatives) is also a fan of Alex Jones' ideas, particularly the
Pizza-place-as-front-for-child-sex-ring conspiracy theory and is a close friend of Joe Arpaio and
Trump advisor (and alleged Wikileaks insider) Roger Stone. Navarro has faked
letters "written" by his opponent, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), and is also a
convicted felon, having pled guilty to putting a tracking device on his wife's
- Michael Snyder (Idaho; U.S. House of
Representatives) is yet another conspiracy theorist who is particularly
suspicious of fluoride and vaccines. He runs a website called
The Economic Collapse,
dedicated to the notion that another Great Depression is right around the
corner. Actually, that's his best-case scenario; it could be that the U.S.
government is about to collapse, or maybe that the end of days will soon be upon
- Shiva Ayyadurai (Massachusetts; U.S. Senate) may
run as a Republican or may run as an Independent. Though he is of Indian
descent, he pals around frequently with white supremacists. He also has devoted
much time and energy to "proving" that he is the person who invented e-mail.
- Chris McDaniel (Mississippi; U.S. Senate) loves
the Confederacy, and blames gun violence on "hip-hop culture." As with most
people on this list, he has some pretty fringy friends, including Bryan Fischer
(who loathes gays and Muslims) and Wayne Allyn Root (one of the most outspoken
birthers). McDaniel once said that the Democrats are "the party of sex on
demand, the party that supports the homosexual agenda."
- Dan Fisher (Oklahoma; Governor) is known for
sometimes wearing Revolutionary War garb when he speaks, particularly on the
subject of how there can never be a true separation between church and state.
That's either charming or kooky, but is no big deal. Much more significant is
Fisher's position that abortion is illegal, no matter what the Supreme Court
says. He has promised that, if elected, he will ignore federal law and begin
prosecuting those who provide or receive abortions in Oklahoma.
- Mark Burns (South Carolina; U.S. House of
Representatives) is a close ally of Donald Trump, and another friend of Roger
Stone. An evangelical, he's suggested that God hates Hillary Clinton, and that
Jesus really hates Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) because of his Judaism. Burns has
been caught falsifying his credentials on more than one occasion (though he
never managed to fake his way onto the Fortune 400).
- Cynthia Dunbar (Virginia; U.S. House of
Representatives) is yet another candidate who is viciously anti-gay and
anti-abortion, viewing both as an affront before God. She is also an Obama
birther. However, her real claim to fame is the leading role she took in trying
to get Texas (while she lived there) to rewrite its history textbooks. If she
had had her way, to take but one example, Thomas Jefferson would have been
excised from textbooks because he wasn't Christian enough. Which,
if it had happened, would have meant that the Declaration of Independence would
have had to write itself, and Louisiana would have had to purchase itself.
- E. W. Jackson (Virginia; U.S. Senate) is an
unusually outspoken homophobe, even by the standards of this list. He has
described LGBT folks as "perverted," "degenerate," "spiritually darkened," and
"frankly very sick people psychologically, mentally and emotionally," and has
declared that homosexuality "poisons culture, it destroys families, it destroys
societies; it brings the judgment of God unlike very few things that we can
think of." A black man, he has also declared that, "white liberals are far more
racist than any Klansman."
- Corey Stewart (Virginia; U.S. Senate) is a
neo-Confederate who has argued that removing Confederate monuments is no better
than the worst atrocities committed by ISIS. He's another enthusiastic
conspiracy theorist, and is particularly noted for his theory that the person
who arranged the release of the pu**ygate tape was...Speaker Paul Ryan
- Paul Nehlen (Wisconsin; U.S. House of Representatives) is the mostly openly anti-Semitic and white supremacist person on this list; his habit of posting bigoted memes and polls to Twitter got his account permanently suspended. He turned to Gab, the alt-right version of Twitter, and got suspended there, too.
Note that this list includes only candidates that have some mainstream support, and excludes folks that have been completely disavowed by the Republicans, such as Arthur Jones, the ex-Nazi running for Congress in Illinois.
In any event, there is no question that Donald Trump is largely responsible for the emergence and prominence of so many candidates from the fringes of the right. First, because of the manner in which the Donald has changed the national discourse, and redefined what is and what is not acceptable. Second, because of the way in which he has muddied exactly what the GOP stands for.
The bigger question is: What will the long-term impact of all these wacky candidates be? Perhaps all of this is just a blip on the radar screen, and these kinds of folks will fade away once they no longer have a steady supply of oxygen from the White House. Or maybe they will succeed in permanently dragging the Republican Party in the direction of xenophobia, homophobia, anti-evidence, anti-science, and anti-Semitism. Or perhaps they will permanently taint the reputation of the Party, relegating it for years (or decades) to an organization that can compete only in some states, but is largely a nonentity at the national level (like the Federalists in the 1810s and 1820s or the Democrats in the 1860s and 1870s). Depending on what happens, his impact on the GOP going forward is likely to be one of the main legacies of Donald Trump. (Z)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
May05 Judge Challenges Mueller on Manafort Case
May05 Trump Speaks to the NRA
May05 Pruitt Reimbursed Himself $65,000 from Former Campaigns
May05 DHS Ends Protections for 90,000 Immigrants
May05 Unemployment Drops Below 4%
May05 Rosen Leads Heller by a Hair in Nevada
May04 Feds Monitored Michael Cohen's Phones
May04 Trump Tries to Quell the Storm(y)
May04 Giuliani Revelation Blindsided Trump's Legal Team
May04 Lessons Emmet Flood Could Try to Teach Trump
May04 How Long Will Sanders Last?
May04 California Gubernatorial Race Casts a Long Shadow
May04 House Chaplain Unresigns, Dares Ryan to Fire Him
May03 More Turnover on Trump's Legal Team
May03 Giuliani: Trump Repaid the $130,000 to Cohen
May03 Caputo Has Some Scary Words for Trump
May03 Trump Claims Absolute Immunity in Emoluments Lawsuit
May03 Pruitt Under Review--Times 10
May03 West Virginia Senate Candidate Uses Fake Photo in Ad
May03 Corker's Distaste for Blackburn Could Hand the Democrats a Senate Seat
May03 Democrats Win a Bellwether Race in Florida
May02 Trump May Not Understand His Legal Jeopardy
May02 Things Are Tense Between Team Trump and Team Mueller
May02 Rosenstein: I Won't Be Intimidated
May02 Bornstein Turns on Trump
May02 This Week in Scott Pruitt Corruption
May02 Rubio: Workers Get Little Benefit from Tax Law
May02 No Tax Cut? GOP May Run on Impeachment
May02 Outsider Upends Indiana Senate Primary
May02 Trump Has Told over 3,000 Lies While in Office
May01 New York Times Has Mueller's Questions for Trump
May01 Trump's Campaign Has Paid Michael Cohen's Legal Fees
May01 White House Staff Not in Agreement About Trump's Intelligence
May01 Trump Was Warned about Jackson
May01 Lawsuits Piling Up at a Furious Pace
May01 Richard Painter Will Challenge Tina Smith for Al Franken's Old Senate Seat
May01 Ideological Warfare Erupts in Republican Special Election Primary in Ohio
May01 Millennials Are Moving Away from the Democrats
Apr30 Congressional Leaders Are Worried about Trump's Impact on the Midterms
Apr30 Democrats May Make a Play for Rural Districts
Apr30 Jackson Likely Won't Get His Old Job Back
Apr30 More Fallout From Wolf's Performance at Correspondents' Dinner
Apr30 Trump to Speak at NRA Convention
Apr30 Tenuous Financial Situation May Force Cohen's Hand
Apr30 Harris Running the Dean-Obama-Sanders Playbook
Apr29 Trump Rallies; Correspondents Dine
Apr29 Progress in Korean Talks
Apr29 When it Comes to Trump Interview, the Ball Is in Mueller's Court
Apr29 Pence to Tour "Wall Construction"