Donald Trump has decided to release a controversial memo written by staffers working for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), despite the FBI saying that doing so would endanger national security due to classified information contained within it. The agency has been pleading with Trump for a week not to do it, but he plans to proceed anyway because it may undermine Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, whom Trump would like to fire so he can replace him with someone willing to shut down special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) defended the memo yesterday saying that it will "bring accountability to the process," and that its purpose is not to undermine Mueller. Technically that may be true, as it is expected to undermine Rosenstein, rather than Mueller directly. On the other hand, The #3 Republican in the Senate, John Thune (SD) urged the House to tap the brakes a bit. He requested that the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), be allowed to see the memo before it is released.
Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA) went a lot further, and called on Ryan to remove Nunes from his role as chairman of the Intelligence Committee, saying: "Congressman Nunes' deliberately dishonest actions make him unfit to serve as Chairman, and he must be removed immediately from this position." The chance that Ryan takes this seriously is zero. In the past, Republicans have always had the greatest respect for law enforcement in general and for the FBI in particular, but now that they are forced to choose between loyalty to the FBI and loyalty to Donald Trump, it seems that Trump wins. All of this maneuvering emphasizes the lengths that Trump and his supporters in Congress (which is nearly the entire GOP caucus) will go to stop Mueller. It is hard to come to any conclusion other than that Trump is scared witless by the possibility of Mueller finding something devastating. It could be about Russia, his finances, the size of his button, or something else, but he is clearly willing to reverse decades of Republican policy to stop Mueller, no matter the cost.
Multiple sources within the White House have confirmed this reasoning to CNN. They told the CNN reporters that Trump believes the memo will expose bias against him within the FBI and that its release will make it easier for him to stop Mueller's "witch hunt," as he calls it. However, Mueller may regard Trump's approving the release of classified information in order to stop his work as yet more evidence of "corrupt intent," which is needed to prove obstruction of justice. The stakes could hardly be higher here.
Another factor at play here is how FBI Director Christopher Wray will react if the memo is released, despite his warnings that doing so will endanger national security. Some people in the White House are afraid he might quit in disgust, the consequences of which are hard to foresee. If Trump's hand-picked successor to James Comey—who Trump fired—quits and says he does not want to be part of an administration that is willing to endanger national security to score political points, it is likely to cause a firestorm. (V)
The FBI assumed its current form in 1935 and, since that time, has been one of the few entities in Washington that stands on something of an equal footing with the president. Despite what Donald Trump says, the Bureau is not some sort of secret deep state Democratic sleeper cell. To the extent that the FBI has a partisan lean, that lean is Republican (more so 50 years ago than now). However, the agents' primary loyalty is not to party, but to country, duty, and to the Bureau itself. Their motto is "Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity," and they mean it. The agents generally remain out of political squabbles, as best they can, but if they are challenged directly, they will absolutely close ranks and take steps to make the offender regret their actions. Most presidents since 1935 knew to tread lightly when dealing with the Bureau, the remainder learned their lesson the hard way. A brief overview:
Clearly, not all presidents had an adversarial relationship with the FBI. For those who did, the tensions were kept hidden from public view, and even then the situation often blew up in the president's face. The U.S. has never witnessed something like what's unfolding now, with the POTUS and the Bureau doing battle out in the open. What precedent we do have, however, suggests that Donald Trump is going to end up with the short end of the stick. (Z)
If Donald Trump ultimately fires Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, Assistant AG Rachel Brand, and heaven knows who else and eventually finds someone to fire Robert Mueller, it may not go over well with the public. A new Monmuth University poll shows that 62% of Americans want a law protecting Mueller while only 29% oppose such a law. Democrats and independents strongly support such a law, with 76% and 65%, respectively, in favor. Among Republicans, it is close to even, with 44% supporting a law to protect Mueller and 47% opposing one.
Another question Monmouth asked was whether attempting to fire Mueller constitutes obstruction of justice. On this issue, 41% say it is obstruction while 44% say it is not. Finally, 71% say Trump should agree to be interviewed by Mueller while 22% say he should not be. (V)
The RNC raised $123 million in 2017, of which 44% came from small-dollar (< $200) donations. In contrast, the DNC raised only $65 million last year. On the other hand, the DSCC and DCCC outraised their Republican counterparts, the NRSC and NRCC. If we add up the three committees on both sides and throw in the two main PACs on each side as well, the Republicans are ahead, but the margin is smaller: $289 million to $258 million.
It is expected that the Republicans will be able to raise a lot of money in 2018 for the midterms because their big donors sat on their wallets in 2017, waiting to get big tax cuts. Now that the tax cuts have arrived, the donors are happy and are likely to start pouring money into the committees. And this is in addition to outside groups that often raise and spend more money than the parties themselves. The Koch brothers network, for example, expects to spend $400 million on the midterms, much more than all the official Republican committees combined raised in 2017. (V)
Given the last decade's changes in the television business, not to mention the serious case of Trump weariness that has afflicted millions of Americans, it was all but certain that the President's State of the Union address would deliver solid, but not spectacular, ratings. Even more certain was that Trump would lie about whatever ratings he did pull. And so it has come to pass:
Thank you for all of the nice compliments and reviews on the State of the Union speech. 45.6 million people watched, the highest number in history. @FoxNews beat every other Network, for the first time ever, with 11.7 million people tuning in. Delivered from the heart!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 1, 2018
The 45.6 million figure is correct. The Fox News information is almost correct (it was actually 11.5 million). The "highest number in history" bit isn't remotely correct. The real record is held by George W. Bush, who drew 51.7 million viewers for his 2002 SOTU, which was not only his first, but came just months after the 9/11 attacks. Bush outdrew Trump on one other occasion, and Barack Obama and Bill Clinton also did it twice each. Most significantly, each member of the trio did better for their first SOTU than Trump did for his (48 million viewers for Obama, 45.8 million for Clinton).
Who knows why Donald Trump peddles such obvious falsehoods. Maybe he actually thinks it's true, or maybe he no longer distinguishes between fact and exaggeration. Maybe he believes his base won't fact check, or maybe they do, but place a higher value on braggadocio than on the truth. The only thing that is certain is this: Next year's SOTU is going to set another "record." (Z)
Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney sent out a tweet yesterday saying that he will make an announcement on Feb. 15 about a possible Senate run to replace the retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). If he were to say then: "I have better things to do than be a senator," it would send shock waves through Washington, as virtually everyone expects him to run, win in a landslide, and become a gigantic thorn—no, make that a fishhook—in Donald Trump's side. Depending how strong/weak Trump looks in 2020, Romney might make another attempt to grab the big brass ring, but his mere presence in the Senate will give him a huge megaphone for a year before he has to make a decision about running for president again. (V)
Term-limited Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) is taking steps that indicate he is planning to challenge Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) this year. He has raised more than $1.1 million for his super PAC—not that he really needs it, since he could easily finance his campaign out of pocket (Net worth: $147 million). Nevertheless, companies that have business before the state are eager to contribute. These include a dental-benefits administrator that got a special carve out from the state's Medicaid program and a nursing home operator that won a contentious fight last year.
Scott has also hired top consultants from previous campaigns. These include Drucker Lawhon, a fundraising firm, Holtzman, et al., a top law firm, and OnMessage, a political consulting firm. He has said that he hasn't made up his mind yet and won't until the Florida legislature adjourns on March 9. However, people who have spoken to the governor say he is ready to roll. One said the chances of his running are 85%. Another put it at 95%. One insider said that if Scott doesn't run, Nelson will keep his seat since it is too late to find another top-flight candidate.
However, even if Scott runs, his victory is hardly a sure thing. Nelson's approval rating is at 53%, against only 25% of Floridians who disapprove. Beating a popular incumbent is always tough, and Scott's 2010 and 2014 races were in Republican wave years, not Democratic wave years. Finally, the addition of 300,000 Puerto Ricans to the electorate since Hurricane Maria could easily blow Scott out to sea if they all decide to register to vote. Most Puerto Ricans are Democrats and all Puerto Ricans are angry with the Trump administration for essentially abandoning them after the hurricane destroyed much of the island's infrastructure. (V)
Speaking of Puerto Rico, FEMA seems to have realized that cutting the island off without warning was not a good look, particularly on the same day that Donald Trump bragged to the nation about everything his administration had done to help. So, a spokesman for the agency said on Thursday that the announcement had been "mistakenly provided," and that the food and water will continue to flow, at least for now. The deadline for registering to vote in time for the midterm elections in Florida—say, for a newly-arrived Puerto Rican—is October 10. One wonders if the supplies will just so happen to end on October 11. (Z)