• Discovery Can Proceed in Summer Zervos Case
• Manafort's Former Son-in-law Flips
• School Shooting in Texas
• Trump Tried to Get the Post Office to Double Amazon's Shipping Rates
• House Freedom Caucus Kills the Farm Bill
• China Offers to Cut Trade Surplus by $200 Billion
• Trump Likes Cox
On Thursday morning, Donald Trump sent out this very provocative tweet (which he has since followed up with several similar tweets):
Wow, word seems to be coming out that the Obama FBI “SPIED ON THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN WITH AN EMBEDDED INFORMANT.” Andrew McCarthy says, “There’s probably no doubt that they had at least one confidential informant in the campaign.” If so, this is bigger than Watergate!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 17, 2018
Whenever the President tweets something like this, there are really two options: (1) It's partly true, or (2) It's completely false. One would be forgiven for guessing option 2, since he has previously told baldfaced lies of this exact sort, but it's actually option 1. The fact at the heart of the tweet is correct, but Trump's framing introduces gross distortions of that fact.
Let's start with the actual fact: The New York Times reports that there was indeed an informant, and he talked to three members of the campaign at the FBI's behest, as the agency investigated the campaign's ties to Russia. The name of the informant is being kept secret, for obvious reasons, but he is allegedly an American academic who teaches in Great Britain (some think it is Stefan Halper, a veteran of the Nixon, Ford, and Reagan White Houses who is currently at Cambridge).
Now let's deal with the distortions. First of all, though the President's wording is meant to strongly suggest otherwise, Barack Obama had nothing to do with this. As much as Trump struggles to accept this fact, it is neither customary nor apropos for a sitting president to get involved in FBI investigations. Beyond that, a person who chats one or two times with a few members of the campaign is not a "spy." And the folks the informant spoke to were George Papadopoulos and Carter Page (according to the Times) and Sam Clovis (according to the Washington Post). One of those (Papadopoulos) has already been indicted and pleaded guilty, and the other two could very well follow him. All three either had contact with Russia during the election, or knew about contact by other members of the campaign. So, the Bureau wasn't exactly on a wild goose chase here. Still, Trump now has his story to peddle, and his base is eating it up. So, whatever damage was done by the Senate Intelligence Committee's report earlier this week has likely been erased. (Z)
Oddly enough, Donald Trump may be in more trouble from a couple of women who are private citizens than he is from Congress. The House Intelligence Committee issued a report basically clearing Trump of any wrongdoing and the Senate Intelligence Committee report was only moderately more damaging. But a lawsuit from Summer Zervos may cause him a very big headache. She sued Trump in New York State Court for calling her a liar. His lawyer in the case, Mac Kasowitz, claimed that a state court does not have the jurisdiction to hear a case against a sitting president. The judge ruled that it does and Kasowitz appealed. Now the New York appeals court has ruled that the discovery process can go forward pending a final ruling on the appeal.
Zervos' lawyer, Mariann Meier Wang, has issued subpoenas to MGM, which owns the archives of "The Apprentice." She wants documents, audio recordings, and video that feature Zervos, Trump talking about Zervos, or Trump talking about women in a sexual manner. Wang also subpoenaed the Beverly Hills Hotel to find out if Trump stayed there any time in the period 2005 to 2009. Zervos claims Trump sexually assaulted her there in Dec. 2007. Her lawyer also wants any surveillance videos the hotel still has from that period.
All lawyers know that when your client is innocent, you fight the case on the facts. When your client is guilty, you fight the case on the law. The fact that Kasowitz is fighting for Trump based on the idea that federal courts, and not state courts, have jurisdiction on this matter speaks volumes. Of course, he should be careful what he wishes for. The federal courts (including the Supreme Court) ruled in Clinton v. Jones that a sitting president cannot delay a civil lawsuit filed in federal court until after he is out of office. Wang has not yet said whether she wants to depose Trump under oath, but given the precedent of Clinton v. Jones, if she asked to do it, the judge would probably grant her request. (V)
On Friday, news broke that Jeffrey Yohai has turned state's evidence and is now cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller. It appears that the deal was actually concluded weeks (or even months) ago, but unlike some parts of Washington, Mueller's office does not leak like a sieve.
Because of the non-leakiness, nobody really knows how Yohai will be deployed. Reportedly, even he is still in the dark.. However, he was once son-in-law and business partner to former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. So, it seems fair to guess that Yohai will be used to increase the pressure on Manafort, who is currently trying to fight the charges against himself. Who knows exactly what Yohai knows, though? Actually, there is an answer to that question: Robert Mueller knows. And that cannot be good news for Manafort or, by extension, Team Trump. (Z)
The 22nd school shooting of the year happened on Friday, which means that the U.S. is averaging more than one per week in 2018. The latest one, which took place at Santa Fe High School, just outside of Houston, was particularly bad, leaving at least 10 people dead. This means that more students (29) than military personnel (13) have been shot to death this year.
Donald Trump does not do empathy well, and his response was characteristically clumsy:
School shooting in Texas. Early reports not looking good. God bless all!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 18, 2018
This was followed by a considerably more artful tweet about an hour later:
We grieve for the terrible loss of life, and send our support and love to everyone affected by this horrible attack in Texas. To the students, families, teachers and personnel at Santa Fe High School – we are with you in this tragic hour, and we will be with you forever... pic.twitter.com/LtJ0D29Hsv— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 18, 2018
There is, of course, zero chance that Trump wrote the second tweet. It is, to be blunt, written too skillfully to be his. The completely proper capitalization and the correct use of the en-dash are also clues.
Trump also delivered a few remarks at a pre-planned public appearance on Friday:
This has been going on too long in our country. Too many years, too many decades now. To the students, families, teachers and personnel at Santa Fe High, we're with you in this tragic hour and we will be with you forever. My administration is determined to do everything in our power to protect our students, secure our schools, and keep weapons out of the hands of those who pose a threat to themselves and to others.
This would be a perfectly admirable sentiment if not for the fact that Trump is lying. He has no intention of keeping weapons out of anyone's hands. He had a real chance to do something after the Parkland shootings, and chose not to proceed after the NRA threw the fear of God into him. Then he visited the NRA convention—which took place just a hop, skip, and jump away from the site of Friday's shootings—and told them that his administration would never take anyone's guns away and would instead focus on mental health. It's also worth noting that Trump was so deeply affected by the shootings Friday that he resumed Twitter-bragging about his accomplishments as President within hours of the shooting, while victims 9 and 10 were lying in hospital beds dying.
It is not surprising that Trump moved on as quickly as he could. Beyond his general lack of empathy, Friday's shooting was perpetrated by Dimitrios Pagourtzis, a white person in a state where folks have liberal access to guns. That is, it does not fit the President's (or the GOP's) narrative very well. If Pagourtzis was a person of color, Trump could have railed against gangs or terrorists. If the shooting had been in California or Illinois, Trump could have declared that if only there had been armed teachers/janitors/lunch ladies, maybe the tragedy could have been avoided. Trump can't even blame mental illness or people who should have "seen the signs" that Pagourtzis was disturbed. In contrast to Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz, there is no evidence of mental illness in Pagourtzis, and there were no previous incidents in his past that hinted at what was to come on Friday.
Indeed, it may be even worse than that. Not only was there no "angle" for Trump to take on Friday, one could make a compelling argument that the President bears some responsibility for the shooting. Not because of his failures on guns, since any progress on that front was unlikely to have avoided Friday's event. No, because of the general climate he's helped create, by encouraging people (particularly his supporters) to think of those who disagree as traitors and liars, by embracing violence in various forms (imprisonment, torture, physical assault), and by just generally weakening respect for the rule of law. And this isn't pure speculation: Following Friday's shooting, a man presented himself at Santa Fe High School. He was wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat, waving an American flag, and carrying a pistol. When asked by reporters why he was there, the man said "support." Can one really imagine an Obama, or Clinton, or Bush, or Sanders supporter showing up at the site of a shooting, armed and in full political costume, as if reenacting a John Wayne film?
There was at least one other shooting on Friday that had some significant connection to Trump and his rhetoric. A recently-minted U.S. citizen named Jonathan Oddi, a former gay porn star/stripper and South African of Italian descent, stormed onto the grounds of Trump National Doral Miami. Unfurling a huge American flag, and complaining about Barack Obama and other bugaboos, he opened fire. Nobody was hurt except for Oddi. Normally, when a news story includes "Trump," "stripper," "porn star," and "complaining about Barack Obama," it's not about a public shooting. But in any event, it's hard to dispute that Oddi and Mr. "Support" were not enabled on some level by Trump, which makes it more plausible that Pagourtzis was too. (Z)
Donald Trump doesn't like the Washington Post much. He has no easy way to punish the Post, so Plan B is to punish its owner, Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon. To do that, he has personally asked the Postmistress General, Megan Brennan, to double the rates it charges Amazon to ship packages, something that would cost Amazon billions of dollars. Brennan has resisted, saying that the Post office has contracts with Amazon that can't be thrown out 1-2-3 and changing them at all would require a review by a regulatory commission. Also, she told him that while the Post Office loses money delivering first-class letters (especially in the thinly populated states where much of Trump's base lives), it makes money on package delivery. Some people believe that absent Amazon, the Post Office would be far deeper in the red than it is now. Trump has called Brennan to the White House several times to discuss the matter, but the meetings have never appeared on Trump's published schedule.
Needless to say, Bezos is no dummy. Amazon has stepped up its lobbying dramatically in recent months. In particular, the company has hosted members of Congress and governors at Amazon facilities all over the country, informing them of how many jobs Amazon has created in their district or state. Amazon also has a Plan B of its own. It is large enough that it could buy a package delivery company or start its own to compete with the Post Office and possibly cause the USPS to go belly up. But Trump doesn't care about that. What he cares about is that when someone or some thing hits him, he hits back 10x harder, no matter what the consequences might be. (V)
Much to the dismay of lame duck Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), the House Freedom Caucus voted yesterday with all the Democrats to kill the farm bill that was before the House. The caucus demanded that Ryan first bring up a controversial immigration bill, which he knows will split his caucus badly. Democrats voted to kill the bill because it contains a provision requiring many people who get food stamps to work and also cuts $800 million from conservation programs.
Traditionally, farm bills are bipartisan and not controversial, but Ryan included the work requirements as his final "achievement" in reforming the "welfare" system. What is peculiar here is that he knows very well that the bill could never get 60 votes in the Senate, so including a provision that the Senate would never accept is just grandstanding. The net result, though, is angering farmers who are already nervous about the uncertainty caused by tariffs and a possible trade war. The bill is not dead, though, since too many powerful interests want it. What will happen now is that House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) will have to talk to the Republican leadership in the House and come up with a modified bill. If he doesn't move fast enough, though, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) and ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) may come up with their own bipartisan farm bill, get it passed by the Senate, and send it over, taking much of the initiative from the House.
The Freedom Caucus might just get some negative feedback on its stunt. Currently, several bills to protect the Dreamers in various ways are bottled up in committees. The Freedom Caucus opposes all but the most punitive one. Under House rules, if 218 members sign a "discharge petition," a bill can be forced out of committee and brought to the House floor for a vote. It would take all the Democrats (easy) plus 25 Republicans to force a bill onto the floor for a vote. Currently 20 Republicans have signed up. This maneuver by the Freedom Caucus might just annoy five more Republican moderates enough to sign up, just to tell the Freedom Caucus that they don't speak for the Republican Party. Time will tell. (V)
Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, said yesterday that China has offered to reduce its trade surplus with the U.S. by $200 billion. In the proposal, China offered to buy $200 billion more of U.S. made goods and services. In return the U.S. would forgo any new tariffs on Chinese products.
This is an easy thing for China to promise, since its leaders know very well that with the U.S. economy running full blast there is no way for the U.S. to produce even $50 billion worth of new things to ship to China. Suppose the deal happens and Chinese airlines suddenly order vast numbers of new airplanes from Boeing. Boeing has no way to double or triple its production capacity overnight. Suppose China were to double its orders for U.S. soybeans. Where would farmers find new land to grow all the soybeans? The same problem holds for just about every exporter except maybe Microsoft, which could supply China with as many copies of Word as it wants, because no actual manufacturing is involved.
The only way to even begin meeting such a demand would be for U.S. manufacturers to divert supplies intended for other markets. For example, Boeing could tell European airlines looking for new planes to go buy them from Airbus. In the best case, the net result would be that the U.S. trade deficit with China would drop by $200 billion and the trade deficit with the rest of the world would increase by a little under $200 billion, depending on how much new production was actually possible. In terms of jobs, that might add a few, but probably not many. On the other hand, this scenario would certainly anger U.S. allies, with likely negative consequences.
Just plunking down a number, especially a very big number like $200 billion, doesn't work. You have to look at the trade deficit sector by sector. Then the impossibility of the deal becomes obvious. First look at soybeans. They are a major export to China, to the tune of $12 billion a year. Doubling that, which would be very difficult, would only get you 6% of the way there. Second, what about liquified natural gas? China bought $2 billion worth of it last year. Even if that were to triple (which would require many new processing facilities), the additional $4 billion is only 2% of the $200 billion. Third, China did buy $50 billion worth of electronic components last year, but if were to double the number of chips it buys to make iPhones, Apple would have to double the number of iPhones it sells. That won't be easy. China would love to buy advanced military equipment from the U.S. and Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and General Dynamics would be happy to sell to it, but the Dept. of Defense kind of frowns upon selling the latest military gear to a country the U.S. might have to fight some day. How about services? Get more Chinese students to study at Harvard? More Chinese tourists at Disneyland? Get 100 million Chinese people to sign up for American Express cards? The math just doesn't add up.
The real danger is that Trump makes a $200 billion deal and demands the Nobel Prize in economics for it, but in reality very little changes. (V)
Inasmuch as Gov. Jerry Brown (D-CA) is term-limited, California is going to have a new governor next year. And Donald Trump has picked his candidate:
California finally deserves a great Governor, one who understands borders, crime and lowering taxes. John Cox is the man - he’ll be the best Governor you’ve ever had. I fully endorse John Cox for Governor and look forward to working with him to Make California Great Again!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 18, 2018
It's anyone's guess what prompted this tweet, since California's primaries are three weeks away. Cox must have been interviewed on Fox News, or some other right-leaning channel.
It's also hard to discern what Trump's purpose is here. The President hates to be associated with losers, and Cox has "LOSER" written all over him in bright red letters. He's a perennial candidate who has failed (badly) in runs for Congress, the U.S. Senate, and the presidency before. A hardliner on abortion and immigration, among other issues, he is way out of step with California (even the state's Republicans). Think of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) running for governor of Mississippi, except without actual political experience, and you begin to get the picture. Cox is also a carpetbagger (his past campaigns were all in Illinois) and he has gotten in trouble for breaking campaign finance laws. In short, there is no chance Cox becomes governor, and there is little chance that he (or any other Republican, for that matter) appears on the general election ballot, given California's jungle primary system, in which the top two primary finishers advance to the general election.
These things being the case, there are only two possible explanations for the endorsement that seem plausible. The first is that Trump literally knows nothing about California politics, and has no idea that Cox cannot win, and that a presidential endorsement actually worsens his odds (assuming odds even less than zero are possible). The alternative is that Trump is just using Cox to send a message to the base, and deliberately sent his tweet weeks before the election, such that it would be completely forgotten by the time the ballots are counted. (Z)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
May18 Giuliani Keeps on Keepin' On
May18 Avenatti: Two More Women May Have Gotten Hush Money from Trump
May18 Bolton Is trying to Take Trump's Nobel Prize Away from Him
May18 Paul Ryan Has a Mess on His Hands
May18 White House Demands Apology
May18 Who Can Call Trump Directly?
May18 Candidates for Office in Florida Are Already Campaigning Hard--in Puerto Rico
May17 Senate Committee: Russians Helped Trump
May17 Steve Bannon May Have Tried to Suppress the Black Vote
May17 Trump Discloses Payment to Cohen
May17 Giuliani Says Mueller Told Him a Sitting President Can't Be Indicted
May17 EPA Suppresses Report
May17 Trump May Cut Planned Parenthood Funding
May17 Senate Votes to Protect Net Neutrality
May16 Pennsylvania Goes to the Polls
May16 About that Meeting with Kim...
May16 Today's Trump Intrigue
May16 Manafort Will Not Avoid Trial in D.C.
May16 Democrats Are Beginning to Find Their Theme for the Midterms
May16 Pence Is Deeply Involved in the Midterms
May16 Hawley May Be Squandering a Winnable Senate Race
May16 Preet Bharara May Run for NY Attorney General
May16 McConnell Not Ready to Go Nuclear
May15 Four States Hold Primaries Today
May15 Both Parties Stunned by Trump's Move to Rescue ZTE
May15 Trump's Immigration Policies Are Hurting Some of His Supporters
May15 Trump Calls Leakers "Traitors and Cowards"
May15 How Trump Got Hooked on Fox
May15 Net Neutrality Vote Scheduled for Wednesday
May15 Paging Jimmy Carter...
May14 Trump Pledges to Save Jobs--in China
May14 Giuliani Backtracks, Again
May14 Some Republican Senate Targets Are Fading Fast
May14 How to Be the Next Trump
May14 Trump Administration, "Saturday Night Live" Have Something in Common
May14 Key Supreme Court Rulings Expected Soon
May14 Chafee May Rise from the Ashes
May13 Has the Democratic Wave Crested?
May13 McCain "Joke" Keeps Reverberating
May13 Donnelly Comes Out for Haspel
May13 Trump Brags About Saving $999,800,000 on New Embassy in Israel
May13 O'Rourke to PACs: I Don't Want Your Money; PACs: Too Bad
May13 Few Cities Want 2020 GOP Convention
May12 AT&T and Novartis Admit Paying Michael Cohen Was a Big Mistake
May12 Trump Announces "Plan" to Lower Drug Prices
May12 So Much for that Trump-Schumer Bromance
May12 The Battle to Replace Schneiderman Is Complicated
May12 Nielsen May Go Even if She Wants to Stay
May12 Ohio Just Got Harder to Gerrymander