• Democrats to Get Intel Briefing, Too
• The First Amendment Is Taking a Beating These Days
• BBC: Cohen Was Paid at Least $400,000 to Give Ukrainian President Access to Trump
• Schneiderman Is Out, Grewal Is In
• Congress Does Not Want Trump to Cave on ZTE
• Glenn Beck Climbs on Board the S.S. Trump
Up until yesterday, Donald Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani insisted that Trump refuse to be interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller. Yesterday, Giuliani flipped that position 180 and announced that, on second thought, Trump should sit for an interview. All of Trump's other lawyers have opposed an interview from the start because of the danger that Trump will start meandering and end up perjuring himself. Referring to Mueller's team, Giuliani also said: "They may have a different version of the truth than we do." He may soon learn exactly how much patience judges have for "alternate" facts and "different" truths.
At this point, it is hard to tell what Giuliani actually believes is best for his client. If there really is a benefit to Trump to yielding to Mueller's request, it's unclear what it is, or why his lawyers didn't perceive that benefit at all before Wednesday. It may be that, like the other lawyers, Giuliani thinks Trump should avoid an interview, but Trump himself wants to do it because he thinks that he is smarter than all of Mueller's 16 lawyers combined, and Giuliani doesn't want to contradict him.
The other lawyers may be resigned to the fact that Trump is going to give the interview voluntarily, and could be working to limit the damage. They would like the questions to refer only to events that happened before the inauguration. In other words, events like Trump's firing of former FBI Director James Comey would be out of bounds under those rules. However, since Mueller is clearly interested in finding out if Trump obstructed justice, he is never going to agree to that. In fact, Mueller may well refuse to make any deal and tell Trump that everything is fair game. The lawyers may start tearing out their hair, but Trump, thinking he is innocent and having no knowledge of what Mueller already knows, might just be willing to go for it. (V)
Congressional Republicans have demanded a briefing from the Dept. of Justice about the FBI informant who chatted with members of the Trump campaign. Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, caught between a rock and a hard place, decided to accommodate them. When Congressional Democrats found out what was going on, they cried foul, since none of them had been invited. The crisis was apparently averted on Wednesday, however, by an unusual arrangement in which DoJ officials will meet with a bunch of Republicans at noon today, and then will have a second meeting with the "Gang of Eight"—the Republican and Democratic leadership of the two houses of Congress.
During each of the two meetings, the Republicans (and maybe the Democrats, too) are going to push to get as much information as they can get. And the folks from Justice are going to try to give as little as they can. It is anyone's guess who wins this struggle. And if the congressmen do get the information they are really looking for, namely the identity of the informant, it is also anyone's guess as to how long it remains secret. (Z)
There seem to be a number of portions of the Constitution that Donald Trump and his administration are not fans of, and way at the top of the list is the First Amendment. That, of course, is the amendment that guarantees freedom of the press, something that the administration is doing just about everything they can to undermine these days. For example, on Wednesday, for the second day in a row, the EPA forbade several media outlets from covering a public summit on water contaminants, with a guard going so far as to tell CNN's reporter on the scene that, "They ain't doing the CNN stuff."
In essence, the EPA is just following the lead of the White House, which is also doing everything it can to avoid scrutiny from the fourth estate. The last time Donald Trump held a solo press conference was...462 days ago. Barack Obama averaged 1.72 press conferences per month, while his successor is on pace for roughly 1.72 press conferences per term. Meanwhile, the White House Press Office's "daily" press conference is devolving into a farce. In the last six weeks, "daily" has meant "twice weekly," and even then the sessions last an average of just 17 minutes. On those occasions when Sarah Huckabee Sanders finds time to, you know, do her job, most of what she says is either non-answer answers or else is spun so aggressively that it qualifies as propaganda. For example, while celebrating the confirmation of Gina Haspel as CIA Director last week, Sanders declared that the Democrats opposed her nomination because of their "war against women." The Press Secretary was pleased enough with this sentiment that she promptly repeated it on Twitter:
Historic day for our country: swearing-in ceremony for Gina Haspel, the first woman ever to serve as CIA director. Democrats are losing their war against women in the Trump administration.— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) May 21, 2018
This, of course, would be the same party that hates women so much that they just nominated one of them for president.
"Freedom of the press" is not the only part of the First Amendment that the administration finds annoying, however. There's also that pesky bit about freedom of speech. On that front, Trump "won" a victory on Wednesday when the NFL's owners approved a new policy wherein players who are on the field for the national anthem must stand, at risk of a fine for themselves or their team. The reason for this new policy is plain: "Our league," one team executive said, "is f**king terrified of Trump. We're scared of him." Now, it is true that some employers can impose limits on some employees' speech in some circumstances. However, NFL players are unionized, and their labor is governed by a collectively-bargained contract. The new rule was implemented unilaterally, and the NFL Players' Association has promised they will take the matter to court.
Whatever happens, what we have is a situation where a President of the United States has used his muscle to silence opponents. And the folks kneeling during the anthem weren't even critics of his, per se—their "crime" was, in essence, that they weren't being patriotic enough. Because, of course, nothing is more meaningful and substantive than compulsory patriotism. All of this is not good, and is definitely not normal. What makes it even worse is that Trump doesn't actually care about the flag or the national anthem in any meaningful way, he just cares about riling up the base and declaring his triumph over those ungrateful football players (who, coincidentally, just happen to be black). The President will be appearing on Fox & Friends this morning to take a victory lap, in fact. And making things even worse still is that Trump doesn't care what happens next, either. If the new policy sticks, then Trump will brag about his victory at every rally for years. And if it gets overturned, then Trump will get even more mileage out of attacking football players on Twitter.
All of this said, the United States still has a court system, and often the judges are willing to stand up to the President when Congress (and the owners of the NFL) are not. At almost the same time Trump was "winning" on the NFL front, he was losing on the Twitter front. Specifically, Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald ruled that since Trump is using his Twitter account for official business, it is a violation of the First Amendment for him to block users (which he and his staff love to do). A lot of people are going to badly misinterpret this ruling, deciding that it somehow means Twitter is no longer allowed to ban or censor anyone. That is not what the judge ruled, however. Her finding is that by using Twitter, Trump is effectively turning his account into a public forum. Public forums are granted extra protections, and under most circumstances government officials—including POTUS—cannot bar citizens from accessing them.
In many different ways, from his assaults on the First Amendment to mucking around in Justice Dept. investigations to running roughshod over the emoluments clause, Donald Trump has squarely taken aim at constitutional norms. Congress is not going to do much, at least not before November 6, so fans of checks and balances can only hope that the courts continue to assert themselves. (Z)
The BBC is reporting that Donald Trump's former fixer, Michael Cohen, was paid $400,000 to arrange a meeting between Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko and the President. A second source confirmed the story but said the payment was $600,000. Michael Avenatti, who uncovered the story of Cohen receiving large payments from AT&T and Novartis, also confirmed the story. Cohen is not a registered lobbyist and working for foreign interests could possibly violate several laws.
Poroshenko was desperate to meet Trump due to an article published in the New York Times in August 2016 that said Trump's campaign manager, Paul Manafort, got millions of dollars off the books from a Ukrainian political party. Several sources in Ukraine said that Poroshenko authorized the leak to the Times to help Hillary Clinton, probably because he expected her to (1) win and (2) later be grateful for his help. When he discovered that he had bet on the wrong horse, he had some patching up to do with Trump, and sending Trump an e-mail wouldn't cut it because Trump doesn't read e-mail. So he needed a face-to-face meeting, and paying off Cohen was the easiest way to arrange it.
What did Poroshenko have to say to Trump when they met? One source said that Poroshenko told Trump that he could count on the fact that Ukraine would not find any more evidence that he colluded with Russia. According to the source, it was a peace offering to Trump, to try to cancel the ill will that the leak had created in the first place.
The political implication of the story, if it is true, is that prosecutors have potentially yet another piece of leverage against Cohen in their efforts to get him turns state's evidence. (V)
With disgraced New York AG Eric Schneiderman suddenly out of the picture, there is an opening for a state attorney general to sign up to be Donald Trump's chief nemesis at the state level. New Jersey AG Gurbir Grewal is applying for the job. Grewal has jurisdiction over 20 of Trump's properties in New Jersey. He has been one of the leaders in suing the administration, having started or joined 30 actions, with causes ranging from debt collection to carbon emissions. Last week, when Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said that she was not going to investigate for-profit colleges that have made false claims to students, Grewal said he would take it on.
Grewal's authority is limited to prosecuting crimes that occurred in New Jersey, so any crimes committed in Trump Tower are beyond his reach, but anything done when Trump was in Bedminster falls within his purview. For example, when Trump and his team plotted at his residence in Bedminster to fire James Comey, that would be something Grewal could investigate and prosecute if criminal activity were discovered. When asked if he has been working with Mueller, Grewal declined to answer.
Grewal is a practicing Sikh and has openly talked about the discrimination he has faced, including extra TSA screenings he often gets, jokes about where he will park his elephant, and children who think he is a genie. He knows that if he goes after Trump, it will only get worse, to which he says: "Bring it on." (V)
The Chinese telecommunications company ZTE was sanctioned for selling critical chips to North Korea and Iran as well as putting spying software on telecom equipment sold in the U.S. When Donald Trump began indicating that he would let ZTE off the hook, some members of Congress were upset and began drafting legislation to strip Trump of the authority to lift the sanctions. Several bills are pending, including one that would bar the Defense Dept. from renewing contracts with vendors that work with ZTE. If Congress can decide on its approach, it is likely to attach the bill to another, must-pass bill, such as the defense policy bill, something Trump wouldn't dare veto.
Trump's statement that he might soften the sanctions on ZTE led a bipartisan group of 27 senators to implore Trump not to do it. They are especially concerned about transferring advanced U.S. military technology to China. In particular, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) went after Trump, saying: "China is not a developing country. It is the second largest economy in the world. It will soon be the largest economy in the world, and yet we continue to let them cheat and steal." (V)
Last week, right-wing radio/podcast/television personality Glenn Beck made if official: After a couple of years of being a semi-NeverTrumper, he became a full-fledged member of Team Trump (MAGA hat and all), saying he would be voting for the Donald in 2020. The reason given for the switch? All the negative press attention that Trump gets, which Beck finds "unfair"?
Now, what about the real reason for the switch? Beck's network, the Blaze, has been hemorrhaging viewers and listeners ever since Trump claimed the GOP nomination for president two years ago. It turns out that when right-wingers have to choose between two guys who are blasting immigrants, kvetching about high taxes, trumpeting their own patriotism, slamming ungrateful NFL players, asking pointed "questions" about Barack Obama's citizenship or Hillary Clinton's honesty, and disdaining Muslims, they prefer the President. In other words, Trump hasn't just taken ownership of the GOP, he's taken ownership of the right-wing media, too. There may be a small amount of oxygen for a National Review, catering to old guard Republicans who hope for a return of the party of Eisenhower, but beyond that it's love Trump or get dumped. (Z)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
May23 Trump's Nobel Is on Hold
May23 Trump Finally Has a Mueller Strategy
May23 Cohen's Partner in the Taxi Business Has Flipped
May23 Officials Warn Congress of 2018 Election Hacking
May23 Trump Uses an Unsecure Cell Phone
May23 EPA Blocks Media Outlets from Covering Pruitt Speech
May22 Trump Lashes Out; Rosenstein Is on the Hot Seat
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