Former FBI Director James Comey gave his first nationally televised interview to ABC News, and it aired Sunday night (watch the highlights here). Predictably, it was full of juicy stuff that will have people talking for at least the next two or three news cycles. Here are the key points:
In short, the interview was jam-packed.
Donald Trump, of course, does not have the patience of the RNC, and believes that the best defense is a good offense. So, unlike them, he did not wait until the interview had ended to respond. In fact, he didn't even wait until the interview had started. No, he started ripping into Comey Sunday morning:
Slippery James Comey, a man who always ends up badly and out of whack (he is not smart!), will go down as the WORST FBI Director in history, by far!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 15, 2018
I never asked Comey for Personal Loyalty. I hardly even knew this guy. Just another of his many lies. His “memos” are self serving and FAKE!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 15, 2018
Comey throws AG Lynch “under the bus!” Why can’t we all find out what happened on the tarmac in the back of the plane with Wild Bill and Lynch? Was she promised a Supreme Court seat, or AG, in order to lay off Hillary. No golf and grandkids talk (give us all a break)!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 15, 2018
The big questions in Comey’s badly reviewed book aren’t answered like, how come he gave up Classified Information (jail), why did he lie to Congress (jail), why did the DNC refuse to give Server to the FBI (why didn’t they TAKE it), why the phony memos, McCabe’s $700,000 & more?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 15, 2018
Unbelievably, James Comey states that Polls, where Crooked Hillary was leading, were a factor in the handling (stupidly) of the Clinton Email probe. In other words, he was making decisions based on the fact that he thought she was going to win, and he wanted a job. Slimeball!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 15, 2018
Some of these are barely comprehensible, which is what happens when Trump gets frothing-at-the-mouth angry. Though this may be the first time Trump tried to come up with an insulting nickname and had it backfire. It's our guess that Bill Clinton would actually kind of like to be known as "Wild Bill." In any case, the Comey interview will be a big story on Fox News this morning, which means another twitterstorm is undoubtedly imminent. (Z)
With fears of the blue wave getting stronger by the day, Republicans are planning to fight back with an important weapon: money. The RNC has a goal of raising and spending $250 million to keep control of the House. Much of the money will be spent on the ground war. The RNC expects to have 900 paid staff all over the country training volunteers and knocking on doors. It has already trained over 10,000 volunteers and it is only April.
The approach mirrors what Barack Obama pioneered in 2008 and 2012, by microtargeting voters and getting volunteers to bring up points with them that they are concerned about. If a voter owns a gun, the pitch will be: "Democrats will confiscate your gun." If a voter is concerned about taxes, the pitch will be: "Democrats will raise your taxes." If a voter cares about national defense, the pitch will be: "Democrats will decimate the military to give money to poor people." If a voter cares about the federal debt, the pitch will be: "Democrats will bankrupt the country."
This operation will require raising a very large amount of money to pay for it, but many wealthy Republican donors may be willing to share some of the money they got from the tax cut with the RNC. It will also require building a huge infrastructure in a short time, but part of it is already up and running in some states. For example, in Florida, there are 60 paid staffers already at work, and that will be increased to 150 by Election Day.
While money is very helpful, a lot of other factors will play a role that determines which party will control the House (and maybe the Senate), including:
As a footnote, Hillary Clinton greatly outspent Trump in 2016 and had a much better ground operation than he did, but it didn't do her much good, so making predictions is tough. Especially about the future. (V)
The Republican establishment really, really, really does not want coal baron and convicted felon Don Blankenship to win the three-way West Virginia GOP senatorial primary next month. His company regularly ignored safety citations, which resulted in a mine explosion that killed 29 miners. So, a new super PAC called Mountain Families PAC is now running an ad accusing Blankenship's company of contaminating drinking water with coal slurry. The ad was needed because the multimillionaire Blankenship has been flooding the airwaves with his own ad saying that he was the victim of the Obama Justice Department hell bent on punishing anyone involved with coal.
The national party is worried about a backlash, since it is not all that popular in West Virginia. So, it is officially neutral in the primary, but in reality it would be happy with either Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV) or West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, just not with Blankenship. It would be easier if Blankenship had just one Republican opponent, but he has two, which makes it hard for the super PAC to run positive ads. If it picked one and the other guy won, it could have a loose cannon in the Senate going forward. The RNC fears that if Blankenship wins the primary, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) will be reelected easily, so it will go all out to take him down. Negative ads or no negative ads, Blankenship is a force to be reckoned with. He is a wealthy businessman and Donald Trump supporter whose campaign is about having an outsider come in and help Trump drain the swamp. Because apparently some people still believe that's going to happen. The primary is May 8. (V)
A new WaPo/ABC News poll has Donald Trump's approval back up to 40% (from 36% in January). His disapproval rating is 56%. However, the strongly approves (25%) are appreciably smaller than the strongly disapproves (46%). When asked if they approve of Trump as a person (as opposed to his policies), 61% have an unfavorable view of him vs. 32% who have a favorable view of him. The explanation of this discrepancy is that 9 in 10 Republicans approve of how Trump handled the economy, even if they are not thrilled with him personally.
Compared to the January poll, Trump has gained ground among white rural Americans, with his rating zooming from 50% approval in January to 65% now. He has also gained among conservatives (74% approve now vs. 65% in January). History shows that people who don't like a president personally but like his policies will generally still vote for him. Throughout the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Bill Clinton's personal popularity cratered, but his policies were popular and the Democrats actually picked up five seats in the House and didn't lose any in the Senate. (V)
For a politician, the unfortunate thing about voters who strongly approve of what you're doing (like the 25% who feel that way about Donald Trump right now) is that their votes count the same as anyone else's. There's no extra credit for a ballot cast with great enthusiasm. The good news is that high levels of enthusiasm tend to translate into donations. And so, even though the President's year is not off to a great start, his political operation is raking in the dough, to the tune of $20 million in Q1 2018. That's an unusually large amount for a president so early in his term, though of course Trump has essentially been running for reelection since the day he was inaugurated.
Now, the bad news, in no particular order. First, Trump is also burning through a lot more cash than any other president at this point in his term, due to his extensive Russiagate-related legal bills. Second, it is Trump himself who proved that money isn't everything in modern politics, particularly if one is up against an unpopular opponent. Third, those 46% who strongly disapprove are likely to donate money, too, except to anti-Trump candidates. And while Trump can't run again until 2020, the anti-Trump candidates are going to be on the ballot this year. So, the anti-Trump money is going to pay dividends much more quickly than the pro-Trump money. (Z)
The vice president's main job is to call the White House each morning, confirm that the president is still alive, and then to spend the day golfing. However, just in case something goes wrong, and the VP has to take over, he has to be up to date on issues of national security. To that end, Mike Pence had chosen Jon Lerner, deputy to UN ambassador Nikki Haley, as his national security adviser. It would seem that Donald Trump is not the only one who has trouble picking NSAs, because Lerner withdrew from consideration on Sunday.
Though Lerner did not require Senate approval, his appointment did require White House approval, and that approval was not forthcoming. Pop quiz: Was it because...
The answer, of course, is Number 5. Numbers 1 (Rob Porter), 2 (Tom Price), 3 (Paul Manafort), and 4 (Sam Clovis) were not, in and of themselves, disqualifying. Perhaps that says something about the administration's priorities. (Z)
Clearly, the Wall Street Journal has a source who is both close to Michael Cohen and not very loyal, because the paper keeps coming up with salacious new revelations about Donald Trump's personal lawyer. The latest: Cohen allegedly used his persuasive skills to convince the tabloid Us Weekly to kill a 2013 story about an alleged affair between Donald Trump Jr. and "Celebrity Apprentice" contestant Aubrey O'Day, a member of the singing duo Dumblonde. The New York Daily News is also reporting that Donald Trump Jr. may also have had an affair with O'Day, and that may be related to his wife's recently filing for divorce. Like father, like son?
At this point, this story is just a rumor, though it's one that the WSJ is confident enough in its sources to print. And the odds are good that if it's true, the FBI knows it, particularly as of last Monday. If it is indeed true, it suggests a pattern of behavior on the part of the Trumps, and one on the part of Cohen, that gives even more credence to other, similar, allegations like Stormygate.
Speaking of Stormy (Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford), she and Cohen will meet up this afternoon—in court. Federal Judge Kimba Wood has ordered Cohen to show up and bring a list of list clients. She wants to know who they are because she has to decide what evidence on the computer the feds seized in a raid last week is covered by attorney-client privilege. Stormy isn't involved in that decision exactly, but if Cohen lists her as a "client," she might want to clarify the situation to the judge.
Also of note here is that late last night, Donald Trump's lawyer Joanna Hendon filed a request with Wood to allow her to inspect Cohen's computer before the prosecutors do. It would be somewhat unusual for the judge to grant such a request because Trump is not formally part of the case (which involves possible wire fraud and bank fraud on Cohen's part), but she knows the national spotlight is on her and will no doubt try to be very careful. (Z & V)
Many Democrats are still smarting from the loss of Merrick Garland's Supreme Court seat. What the Republicans did was unconventional, but perfectly legal. Now, political scientist David Faris has written a book describing what the Democrats could do if they win control of Congress and the White House in 2020 and decide to play dirty pool, but strictly legal dirty pool. Here are some of his steps.
All of the above requires nothing more than Congress passing laws. None of them require a constitutional amendment. That done, Democrats could then tackle voting rights. The Constitution unambiguously gives Congress the power to set the rules for federal elections. A new voting rights law could require a 2-week period of early voting from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day, make pre-registration of 17-year-olds legal nationwide, forbid states from passing voter-ID laws or imposing any voting requirements not stated in the Constitution, and make it a federal crime to intimidate a voter. The law could also make Election Day a national holiday for federal employees (the vast majority of whom happen to be Democrats). Federal contracts could also require that the contractor (and its subcontractors) give all employees Election Day off. Faris also suggests fighting gerrymandering by doubling the size of the House and having multimember districts with proportional representation. If a two-member gerrymandered district had, say, 55% Republicans and 45% Democrats, then the Republicans would get 1.1 seats and the Democrats would get 0.9 seats. Since cutting up people to satisfy competing wishes hasn't been in vogue since the days of King Solomon, each party would get 1 seat, thus defeating the purpose of the gerrymander.
Would there be blowback? Of course, monumental blowback, but when Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) decided not to bring Merrick Garland's nomination up for a vote, there was also blowback, and it bothered him not a whit. (V)