• Trump's Nobel Is on Hold
• Trump Finally Has a Mueller Strategy
• Cohen's Partner in the Taxi Business Has Flipped
• Officials Warn Congress of 2018 Election Hacking
• Trump Uses an Unsecure Cell Phone
• EPA Blocks Media Outlets from Covering Pruitt Speech
Abrams, that is. She crushed the more moderate Stacey Evans with 76.5% of the vote. This gives Abrams a chance to be the first black female governor in American history. Since she had the support of both the centrist and the progressive wings of the party—including endorsements from Hillary Clinton and Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Kamala Harris (D-CA), among others—there probably aren't too many lessons to be drawn from her triumph. Perhaps more meaningful is that a somewhat competitive Democratic primary attracted 553,397 votes, while a very competitive Republican primary drew 607,660 votes. The latter, in fact, will head to a runoff between top finisher Casey Cagle (38.9%) and #2 Brian Kemp (25.5%). If we embrace the general rule that Democrats don't show up for primaries as loyally as Republicans do, and then we consider that the 1.5 million black voters in the Peach State might be extra enthusiastic in November, and finally add in that the GOP candidate is going to emerge from primary round two a bit poorer and bloodier than Abrams, this could be a barn burner.
Beyond the governor's mansion, the Democrats are most keenly focused on GA-06, the red district (PVI R+8) where Rep. Karen Handel (R) barely fought off Jon Ossoff last year, and GA-07, the slightly redder district (PVI R+9) where incumbent Republican Rob Woodall was facing a challenge from the right. Woodall easily secured renomination, while Handel was uncontested. The Democratic side of both of those contests, meanwhile, will head to a runoff.
In Arkansas, meanwhile, there wasn't much to see on Tuesday. This very red state will presumably remain so; GOP voters outnumbered Democrats 2-to-1. That means that Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R), who won renomination, will dispatch newly-minted Democratic nominee Jared Henderson. The state's four Congressional districts are all represented by Republicans; the only one that might be competitive is AR-02, which includes Little Rock, and so isn't quite so red as the rest of the state (PVI R+7). There, the DCCC got the candidate it wanted, Clarke Tucker, who easily knocked off three challengers with 57.8% of the vote. He will face incumbent French Hill in November.
Kentucky is pretty much the same story as Arkansas. It's a red state that will stay red, but with one congressional district possibly in play, in this case KY-06 (PVI R+9). Incumbent Andy Barr (R) was renominated, but is seen as vulnerable enough that the Democratic side of the contest drew six candidates. Amy McGrath (48.7%) came out on top, and that's all that matters, since the Bluegrass State does not require a candidate to claim 50% of the vote. As a woman, in what is shaping up to be the Year of the Woman, and also as a former Marine pilot, McGrath is a strong challenger. Also interesting is that 100,418 Democrats showed up to vote in KY-06, compared to only 48,372 Republicans. Even if we assume that GOP enthusiasm was down due to the lack of a competitive race, that's still a very large gap.
In Texas, finally, the second round of primary voting ended with Lupe Valdez as the Democrats' gubernatorial candidate. It's hard to imagine that she will topple incumbent Greg Abbott, particularly in a state as red as Texas, but it's not impossible. She's going to need a lot of votes from folks who are not white men. Meanwhile, in the three congressional districts that the Democrats are drooling over (TX-07, TX-23, TX-32) the establishment got the candidate it wanted (Lizzie Fletcher, Gina Ortiz Jones, and Colin Allred). In each case, it was a laugher; the closest of the three was Fletcher's 67.1% to 32.9% win over Laura Moser.
In short, the Democratic pooh-bahs got pretty much exactly what they wanted across the board on Tuesday night, continuing a trend of blue team voters embracing electability in 2018. Next week, it's a breather, and then in two weeks it's going to be the California battle royale, along with Alabama, Iowa, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, and South Dakota. (Z)
Some of Donald Trump's allies in Congress have nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts getting North Korea to the bargaining table. Oops. Maybe they were jumping the gun. Yesterday, Trump acknowledged that the June 12 meeting with Kim Jong-Un might not happen then, or at all. Kim's government recently blasted NSA John Bolton for saying that North Korea would not receive any benefits from the U.S. until it had fully abandoned its nuclear program. It is inconceivable that North Korea would cancel its nuclear program in the hope the U.S. would later shower it with benefits rather than calls for regime change, given what happened in Libya and Iraq. Those who are unfamiliar with what happened in Libya and Iraq could ask Moammar Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein, except that they're both dead. Kim surely understands what the actuarial tables look like for dictators who threaten the U.S. and then leave themselves vulnerable to American intervention.
And that's not the only thing Kim understands. He also knows that Trump marketed himself as "the world's greatest negotiator," but that it's simply not true. The Donald's entire career has been built on bullying people and companies in a weaker position than he was in, which is not "negotiating." Now that he is in the Oval Office, his old tactics won't work. Trump hasn't fully absorbed the fact that, for example, you cannot bully a country as large and powerful as China, which has its own economic and geopolitical interests. It's not the same as placing an order for $100,000 worth of pianos and then after they are delivered, refusing to pay the agreed upon price. Xi doesn't like being told what to do and has plenty of ways of showing it.
But it's not just that Trump has been an ineffective negotiator as president. He's actually been actively bad, making all manner of amateurish mistakes. Here are the three biggest:
- Don't Give Something Unless You Get Something:
Trump has consistently granted major concessions without getting anything
in return. In the case of Israel, for example, each of the last 10 presidents
decided that there was no price that nation could pay in order to make it
worthwhile to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Not only did
Trump set a price, that price was "free." He got absolutely nothing from Bibi
Netanyahu in exchange for the biggest (early) Hanukkah gift the Israeli PM has
ever gotten. Similarly, the President got no concessions from Kim before
agreeing to a summit (and then bragging about it). Afterward, Kim did release
three Americans being held in North Korean prisons, but that came after the
summit was announced, and was a zero-cost gesture for him. The dictator has yet
to give up anything that's actually tough for him, while he has been gifted all
sorts of attention and prestige courtesy of Trump.
- Don't Blink: There are two basic types of negotiations:
Competitive and collaborative. The competitive style is more aggressive, is focused
on separating "winners" from "losers," and conceives of negotiations as a zero-sum
game—more for me means less for you. Trump has always favored the competitive
approach, in both his private- and public-sector negotiations. Tariffs and trade wars,
for example, are the very epitome of the competitive approach. Whether this is the better
choice is debatable, but what is 100% certain is that if you choose a competitive approach,
you cannot show weakness. And yet, whenever Trump puffs up his chest and his adversary
puffs back, Trump blinks. He threatened China with all sorts of sanctions and tariffs, and
when they responded in kind, he backed down and even announced his intention to help out
Chinese telecommunications company ZTE, a bad actor whose products not only undermine American businesses,
but also allow the Chinese government to spy on Americans. Similarly, as soon as Kim pushed back against Trump
and threatened to withdraw from the summit, Trump
to redirect the flight plans of two B-52 bombers that were scheduled to fly over South Korea.
- Don't Be Too Eager: This may be Trump's biggest mistake of all. It is essential
to approach negotiations from a position of strength, and not desperation. Desperation plays right into the other
side's hands. And you don't have to believe us; this fellow will tell you the same thing:
“The worst thing you can possibly do in a deal is seem desperate to make it.” – The Art of The Deal.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 25, 2013
It's not a coincidence that as soon as Trump started talking about winning a Nobel, Kim started to make up excuses for why he might not be interested in meeting after all. The North Korean knew that Trump's bragging gave him the upper hand, and that he was in a position to extract more concessions. Like, say, the B-52 non-flyover, which probably wasn't all that important in and of itself, but was a good test for Kim of his ability to say "jump!" and to have Trump ask "How high?" And the President is clearly not learning from his mistakes; just yesterday it leaked that his administration has already created a handsome commemorative medallion to be distributed to friends and admirers of the President (and, presumably, the dictator):
If this does not make clear that Trump's biggest concern is advertising himself and his bigly successes, then nothing does.
What it amounts to is this: Kim may be corrupt and reprehensible and violent, but he is not stupid. He's watching all of this very carefully, and learning that Trump is easily manipulated and easily cowed, and very willing to give more than he gets (since what matters most to the President is bragging about his accomplishments, and not necessarily improving the United States' position vis-a-vis the rest of the world). While both leaders are unpredictable, the likeliest outcome seems to be this: Kim finds excuses to delay the summit for a month or two or three, until the midterms are upon us. At that point, Trump will really, really need a deal so that GOP candidates have something useful to run on. And also at that point, Kim's leverage will be at its absolute zenith. (V & Z).
It has taken a year, but Donald Trump now seems to have settled on a two-pronged strategy for dealing with special counsel Robert Mueller: First, Trump wants to reduce the threat, and second, he wants to undermine Mueller.
The meeting on Monday in which he tried to pressure the Justice Dept. is part of the plan, though the risk is that later it could become part of an article of impeachment. Also in the first prong is Rudy Giuliani's attempt to limit how long Mueller can talk to Trump and about what subjects. Whether Mueller will buy this remains to be seen. He could issue a subpoena and count on its being enforceable with no restrictions on account of Clinton v. Jones. Giuliani has also announced that Mueller will wrap up the obstruction part of the investigation by September. Again, Mueller has given no indication that he will accept that. He probably has his hands full with investigating the meeting between Donald Trump Jr., representatives of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, and George Nader, among others. Since Nader has flipped, Mueller undoubtedly already has a lot of information, so he knows who to question and what to ask. There is no reason to believe Mueller will accept any limitations on his investigation.
The second prong of the strategy is to try to undermine Mueller and make the whole thing look like a witch hunt. Trump has already and repeatedly said that 13 of Mueller's 16 lawyers have contributed to Democrats. What he has not mentioned is that Mueller himself is a lifelong Republican, as are Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller, and FBI Director Christopher Wray. Trump, and especially Giuliani, are now making a big deal about the fact that the FBI already had gotten wind of a Russia connection during the campaign itself and had an informant talk to several people inside the campaign who indeed had contacts with Russians, directly or indirectly.
James Clapper Jr., director of national intelligence in the Obama administration, said that if the FBI had suspicions that a campaign was talking to foreign nationals, it would be normal to check it out. The president would not even be informed of its work, let alone be involved in it. He said that Trump was trying to make a mountain out of a molehill.
Alan Dershowitz, who is on Trump's side although he has no formal role on the legal team, said that Emmet Flood is working on legal strategies whereas Giuliani is working to lay the groundwork for a confrontation if Flood can't come up with a solid defense. Dershowitz said that Giuliani's role is to turn the whole investigation into "Democrats vs. Republicans" so that any future impeachment attempt looks like partisan politics, just as Bill Clinton's impeachment was. In effect, the Giuliani strategy is to hang tough, deny everything, admit nothing, and count on the Democrats being unable to get 67 votes in a Senate trial if the House impeaches Trump next year. (V)
In a new development that should be troubling to Donald Trump, Michael Cohen's partner in the taxi business, Evgeny Freidman, has flipped and will cooperate with the New York attorney general's office on both state and federal cases. Freidman, who is known as the "taxi king," was facing four counts of tax fraud and one of grand larceny. If convicted on all counts, he could have gotten 125 years in prison. Instead, he and the prosecutors have agreed that he will plead guilty to a single count of evading $50,000 in taxes. If he pays a fine of $1 million, and fulfills his part of the deal, he will avoid prison altogether and get 5 years probation.
The interesting question is why the NY AG's office let him off with no prison time. Freidman and Cohen worked together in the taxi business for years. Cohen owned many of the taxi medallions, but Freidman actually ran the (largely cash) business, skimming a 50-cent surcharge from each fare. Since Cohen was his business partner, he is probably also guilty of the same charges that were originally sought against Freidman.
Acting NY AG Barbara Underwood knows very well that Freidman's testimony and evidence against Cohen will be a powerful weapon to get him to come clean, not only on the taxi business, but on any more women he may have paid off on Trump's behalf as well as any money laundering Trump may have done in his real estate business. What is especially significant here is that it is the NY AG's office that is handling this case, not Robert Mueller. In other words, the leverage against Cohen is that he may have committed state crimes, not federal ones. The president does not have the power to pardon state crimes, so Cohen's strategy can't be to stonewall, lie, refuse to cooperate, and then hope for a pardon from Trump. It also can't be waiting and hoping that Mueller gets fired. Freidman's plea bargain is just a small step, but it ratchets up the pressure on Cohen, who may soon decide to save his own neck and to heck with Trump's. (V)
DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, and FBI Director Christopher Wray told Congress yesterday that multiple countries, including Russia, China, and Iran, have the capability of influencing the 2018 midterms, and may all try to do it. They pointed out that the states and counties need to be prepared, and they are not. Congress appropriated $380 million for voting security, but the money hasn't been distributed yet. By the time the states have requested bids, gotten them, made their choices, and received and installed the shiny new equipment, we will be very lucky if the 2020 election is still on the horizon rather than in the rear view mirror.
A Senate report issued May 8 concluded that Russian actors "scanned databases for vulnerabilities, attempted intrusions, and in a small number of cases successfully penetrated a voter registration database." And this is only what was detected. It is not known if there were Russian attacks that have evaded detection.
Congress often holds the view that once it has appropriated some money to deal with a problem, the problem is solved. Or, at least, it is no longer Congress' problem. However, it is well established that many states (1) have little to no expertise in defending against cyberhacking, especially by well-trained and well-funded foreign adversaries, and (2) resent any attempt by the big bad federal government to get them to shape up.
Some members of Congress want to go beyond just voting for an appropriations bill and then congratulating themselves for a job well done. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), for example, wants to create a real-time communications channel between the intelligence community and technology companies, so if, for example, Russians create fake Facebook pages and the CIA detects this, it will be able to inform Facebook of it immediately (and hope Facebook does something about it).
The 2018 hacking might not be quite the same as the 2016 hacking. In 2016, most likely Russia was the only player and it wanted to see Trump elected. Russian President Vladimir Putin may or may not be happy with what he has gotten from Trump and may be having second thoughts about whether he got his money's worth. If China decides to try its hand at hacking the 2018 elections, its interests may be different from Russia's. It is none too happy with Trump threats of tariffs on Chinese goods and restrictions on Chinese purchases of advanced U.S. technology. Iran is downright furious with Trump for canceling the nuclear deal and threatening it with the mother of all sanctions. In other words, it is far from clear that the 2018 meddling by foreign countries will be to help the Republicans. Iran, in particular, would love to see Trump impeached, so its meddling may be to try to help Democrats. With China, it is hard to say at this point which side it is on, but if by September it becomes clear that Trump is serious about imposing tariffs, it could work to undermine House candidates who support Trump's tariffs and support both Democrats and conventional Republicans who are in favor of free trade. While it is an exaggeration, at this point, to say that the 2018 elections will be determined by whether the Iranian hackers are better or worse than the Russian hackers, it is not a great state of affairs that this possibility is right out there front and center. (V)
A constant refrain from Donald Trump during his campaign was that Hillary Clinton used a private email server for official business and it might not have been secure, so it could have been hacked. Now it appears he is just as bad (or arguably worse). He has two iPhones, one for calling and one for tweeting. Unlike Barack Obama, who surrendered his phones to the White House Communications Agency like clockwork every month for a security check, Trump has resisted that. It has sometimes been as long as 5 months between security checks, meaning that potentially months of his calls could have been intercepted by hostile foreign powers.
The fact that cell phone calls can be fairly easily intercepted is not a secret. Every communications security expert will tell you that absent high-grade encryption software, cell phone calls should be seen as basically public. Chief of staff John Kelly learned this after his own cell phone was compromised during the transition. As a result of that incident, Kelly ordered personal cell phones banned from the West Wing. Unfortunately, the only person Kelly can't order around is Trump, and he is not only every foreign government's top target, but also the most likely to discuss classified information on the phone.
The Politico article linked to above contains one interesting nugget of information just mentioned briefly in passing, but which could be of enormous importance down the road. It said that one of Trump's phones uses a blocked number. People paying very close attention to politics will recall that while Donald Trump Jr. was making calls to Rob Goldstone to set up the Trump Tower meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya in the summer of 2016, Junior made a call to a blocked number that the House Intelligence Committee refused to track down. If it is true that Trump has a cell phone with a blocked number, that makes it more probable that between the calls to Goldstone, Junior got in a quick call to the President to either tell him about the meeting or ask permission to hold it. Either way, if true, Trump knew about the meeting, whose purpose was to get dirt on Hillary Clinton, in advance, and he didn't say: "Whoa! Having foreign nationals help our campaign is illegal. Don't do it." (V)
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has consistently been uninterested in protecting the environment. More like exploiting it; they really ought to change the name to EEA while he's in charge. On top of that, he has been dogged by scandal after scandal, and is the subject of a dozen different investigations from various government inspectors and agencies. He's also acknowledged that he doesn't enjoy being criticized or questioned about his actions; that is the official reason he needs to fly first class all the time, such that nobody says something that might hurt his feelings.
All of this being the case, it's not much of a surprise that the EPA has taken the next, disturbing step in protecting Pruitt from scrutiny. He gave a speech on Tuesday about drinking water, and whether or not it's contaminated as the scientists say it is. Reporters from CNN, the Associated Press and the trade publication Ecology and Environment were barred from attending. The official reason given was that the room did not have enough capacity, and yet seats were found—conveniently enough—for right-wing media. These folks had plenty of leg room, too, since there were a number of empty chairs around them. So, that excuse does not seem to hold much (likely polluted) water. It would seem that if CNN wants to report on Pruitt any more, it's going to have to invest in some first-class plane tickets. (Z)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
May22 Pompeo Announces Iran Policy
May22 Pence Threatens North Korea
May22 Blankenship Wants to Sink Morrisey's Ship
May22 Sanders Supporters Are in Disarray
May22 "Drain the Swamp" Set to Be a Major Theme of 2018 Midterms
May22 Nathan Gonzales Moves 19 House Races Toward the Democrats
May21 Trump Demands Justice Dept. Determine if FBI Spied on His Campaign
May21 Stone to Be Indicted
May21 Three (or Four) States Will Hold Primaries This Week
May21 The Trade War Is on Hold
May21 Europe Thinks the Current State of the U.S. Might Be the New Normal
May21 Young Voters Might Actually Show Up This Year
May21 GOP Appears to Be Foundering on Key Issues for Young People
May21 Tax-Law Supporters Are Helping Republicans
May21 Help Wanted--But Not if You Worked for the Trump Administration
May20 Another Meeting at Trump Tower
May20 Prison Reform Bill Could Pass
May20 Ryan Can't Do His Job Any More
May20 Trump Nominates Robert Wilkie for VA
May20 The 800-Pound Trump in the Corner of the Room
May20 Why Michael Avenatti Is a Big Threat to Donald Trump
May20 Royals Get Married, Trump Becomes Part of the Story
May19 Trump Claims Conspiracy "Bigger than Watergate"
May19 Discovery Can Proceed in Summer Zervos Case
May19 Manafort's Former Son-in-law Flips
May19 School Shooting in Texas
May19 Trump Tried to Get the Post Office to Double Amazon's Shipping Rates
May19 House Freedom Caucus Kills the Farm Bill
May19 China Offers to Cut Trade Surplus by $200 Billion
May19 Trump Likes Cox
May18 The Plot Thickens Around Cohen's Bank Account
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.