Feb. 11

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New Senate: DEM 49             GOP 51

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Trump Spends Saturday Pointing Fingers

Donald Trump is very cranky these days, between Portergate and Russiagate and the various other intrigues swirling around his administration. Yesterday was Saturday. These two facts, when taken together, are virtually guaranteed to generate a Twitterstorm of obfuscating and deflecting, and the President did not disappoint.

To start, The New York Times reported on Saturday that the CIA made a deal with a shady Russian who was offering to return hacked materials in exchange for $1 million, and who also was willing to sell dirt he claimed he had on Donald Trump. The CIA was allegedly interested in the hacked materials, as they were desperately trying to figure out how badly exposed they were, but they said "no, thanks" to the Trump material. Eventually, the whole arrangement fell apart, but not before the unnamed Russian had collected a $100,000 down payment.

The CIA vigorously denies the Times' allegations. Not surprising, since the Agency hardly wants to admit that they got hacked, or that they tried to buy their way out of the problem, or that they got bilked out of $100,000. Donald Trump doesn't buy their denials, either, because he quickly seized on the story as proof of a conspiracy:

According to the @nytimes, a Russian sold phony secrets on “Trump” to the U.S. Asking price was $10 million, brought down to $1 million to be paid over time. I hope people are now seeing & understanding what is going on here. It is all now starting to come out - DRAIN THE SWAMP!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 10, 2018

It's interesting how the Times' reporting is "fake news," right up until it isn't. In any event, the President seems to have missed that the CIA specifically declined to purchase the Trump dirt, and also that they never completed the transaction anyhow. The only thing that the story would appear to confirm, as far as Trump and the Russians, is that they really do have some sort of kompromat on him.

The finger pointing did not stop there, either. Trump was evidently watching Fox News yesterday morning, and he felt it essential to share what he heard there:

“My view is that not only has Trump been vindicated in the last several weeks about the mishandling of the Dossier and the lies about the Clinton/DNC Dossier, it shows that he’s been victimized. He’s been victimized by the Obama Administration who were using all sorts of.......

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 10, 2018

....agencies, not just the FBI & DOJ, now the State Department to dig up dirt on him in the days leading up to the Election. Comey had conversations with Donald Trump, which I don’t believe were accurate...he leaked information (corrupt).” Tom Fitton of Judicial Watch on @FoxNews

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 10, 2018

The second tweet kind of descends into babbling, but the general idea is that somehow Russiagate is a Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama conspiracy. So, thanks Obama. That said, Tom Fitton may not be the most reliable judge on this matter. He is, first of all, a longtime conservative activist who has written conspiratorial anti-Obama books. Further, one might hope that someone presuming to weigh in on this matter might have some legal expertise, but Fitton's degree is in English. Most importantly, there are only a dozen or so people in the world who know what evidence special counsel Robert Mueller has collected, and Fitton is not one of them. So, it's not a grain of salt that his opinion requires as much as it is a shovel. (Z)

Civics 101 with Donald Trump

Donald Trump didn't limit his Saturday Twitter output to the three tweets above. He also decided to double down on his sense that Rob Porter was treated unfairly:

Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused - life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 10, 2018

This promptly generated two reactions. The first was that, like people who incorrectly claim "freedom of speech" when it does not apply, Trump doesn't seem to grasp exactly what "due process" is. There is ample evidence that Porter was guilty of abuse, that evidence was presented to a court, and the court granted a restraining order. We call that...due process. On the other side of the ledger, reports from two ex-wives and an ex-girlfriend, corroborated by photographic evidence, are not "mere allegations." Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, one of the leaders of the anti-Trump faction in Congress, advised that she and her fellow Senators would be happy to give Trump some first-hand experience with due process, if that is what he really wants.

The other reaction to the tweet, of course, was that Trump's interest in due process is a rather new development. He was, for example, ready to throw Hillary Clinton in jail without due process. Repeatedly, he has railed against the "Central Park Five," who were accused of a brutal rape in 1989 and then exonerated by DNA evidence and by someone else confessing to the crime. Trump continues to insist that they are guilty, even though due process declared that they are not. It's probably just a coincidence that the Central Park Five are all not white.

Trump's shaky grasp of civics was also on display in this Saturday tweet:

Republicans want to fix DACA far more than the Democrats do. The Dems had all three branches of government back in 2008-2011, and they decided not to do anything about DACA. They only want to use it as a campaign issue. Vote Republican!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 10, 2018

As we have noted before, this gets dangerously close to shooting fish in a barrel. Nonetheless, Trump has managed to squeeze a whole lot of wrong into 280 characters. Namely:

A question that observers are dealing with today, and the scholars will deal with for generations, is how much method there is to Trump's madness. With much of today's tweets, however, there simply is no method. It's impossible to avoid the conclusion that the President of the United States has a poorer understanding of how the U.S. government works than the average high school senior. (Z)

The Campaign Against Rosenstein Has Begun

Assuming that Justice Dept. #3 Rachel Brand leaves—and it's not 100% confirmed quite yet—then that will leave only one major Justice thorn in Donald Trump's side as regards Russiagate: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the Department's #2. Trump will undoubtedly select someone friendly to replace Brand, and with AG Jeff Sessions having recused himself from this matter, all The Donald needs to do is also replace Rosenstein with someone friendly, and then he will have a much easier time putting the screws to Robert Mueller. Or firing him.

To that end, a Tea Party group has begun running an ad slamming Rosenstein for "incompetence and abuse of power" and demanding that he resign. It's hard to know exactly what the purpose of this commercial is, however. The odds are good that Rosenstein won't see it, and if he does, he is not terribly likely to say "someone doesn't like me, so I better quit." Perhaps the real target is Donald Trump, who is much more likely to see the spot when it airs on Fox News. The problem there is that he doesn't need to be convinced to hate Rosenstein, because he already does. The decision to get rid of the Deputy AG or not will be dictated by political considerations, and a hyperpartisan commercial airing on cable TV isn't going to change that. (Z)

Wyden Wants Documents Related to Trump-Rybolovlev Mansion Transaction

In 2004, Donald Trump purchased a 6.3-acre property in Florida for $41.35 million. In 2008, the property was appraised at $65 milion. Despite that, Trump managed to sell it to Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev that same year for $95 million. The transaction is a little curious, since billionaires don't generally overpay for things by $30 million. And while it's possible that Rybolovlev fell in love with the property and just had to have it, it lay vacant for years after until it was finally divided up into pieces and sold off that way. Rybolovlev never lived there, and it's not clear he has even set foot there.

Now, Ron Wyden (D-OR), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wants to examine the documents related to that transaction, and has asked the Treasury Department to turn them over. What Wyden undoubtedly suspects here is that the transaction was used to do some money laundering. Heightening his suspicions are the fact that Rybolovlev has close ties to Vladimir Putin, and the fact that Rybolovlev's plane and Trump's plane ended up parked next to each other twice during the 2016 campaign (though both men claimed it was a coincidence). It is not clear if Wyden will be able to get the documents he wants. Even if he does, it will be tough for him to prove anything. Of course, this might just be an exercise in bringing something to Robert Mueller's attention without risking accusations of collusion or plotting. Mueller would have considerably more ability to get to the bottom of the matter (if he hasn't already looked into it). In any event, it's another item for the list of things Trump needs to be concerned about. (Z)

Democratic Senators Winning the Fundraising Battle

Which party is doing better with its fundraising this year? That's hard to say, because there are so many different places that people can send their money, and some of those are exceedingly political without being parties (the ACLU, for example, or Planned Parenthood, or the NRA). The RNC left the DNC in the dust in the last year, giving cheer to many in the GOP. When it comes to the Democrats running for the Senate in 2018, however, the shoe is on the other foot.

Across the board, the figures tilt heavily in favor of the blue team. For example, of the 10 Democrats running for re-election in states won by Donald Trump, nine raised more than $1 million in Q4 of 2017 (with Joe Manchin of West Virginia the only exception). None of their Republican opponents crossed the $1 million threshold. Quite a few endangered Democrats have built up handsome war chests, among them Claire McCaskill of Missouri ($9.1 million), Bob Casey of Pennsylvania ($8.6 million), and Joe Donnelly of Indiana ($5.3 million). In these cases, and in nearly all others, the Democratic candidates have vastly more cash on hand than their opponents, many of whom will have to blow some of their money dealing with a primary challenge. Even in states where Democrats are trying to steal a Republican seat, they are doing pretty well. For example, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema raised $1.6 million and has $5.1 million on hand, compared to $1.1 million and $1.8 million for her main challenger, Martha McSally.

The GOP is hoping and expecting that the tax bill will lead to a spike in their fundraising. We will see, but it usually doesn't work that way—people don't generally celebrate having more cash by immediately giving it away. And, on top of that, most of the tax break will be going to wealthy folks and to corporations, who are capped in terms of how much they can donate.

It's worth pointing out that money may not be as important in politics as it once was, since the big expense is television commercials, and those are much less effective than they once were. However, "funds raised" is a pretty good proxy for "enthusiasm," and that being the case, the Democrats have to be feeling pretty good right now about defending their position, and maybe even stealing a Senate seat or two from the GOP. (Z)

Laboratories of Democracy?

Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once referred to the states as "laboratories of democracy," but this isn't quite what he meant. The Trump administration has, of course, taken on a decidedly unscientific posture. In part, by denying or actively arguing against well-established scientific notions, like global warming. And, in part, by appointing non-scientists to scientific posts. Consequently, a large number of scientists who never really wanted a career in politics have decided that they are not gonna take it anymore, and have thrown their hats (or their lab coats) into the ring.

The numbers are really quite staggering. At least 60 people with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) backgrounds are running for Congress this year. If just one of those people wins, the number of scientists in Congress will double, and Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL) will finally have someone to talk with. Another 200-plus people with STEM backgrounds are running for state legislatures across the country, These folks are being assisted by 314 Action, a pro-science PAC created, in part, to get scientists elected to office. Add it all up and, sooner or later—possibly sooner—the government is going to get dragged into the 21st century. Or, in the case of those who continue to question evolution, the 19th century. (Z)

No More Moore (for Now)

There was a fair bit of talk that, having narrowly missed his bid for a U.S. Senate seat, Roy Moore might make a run at the Alabama governor's mansion. That will not be happening, as the deadline for filing paperwork has passed without a filing from Moore.

The whole notion did not make a lot of sense. If Moore was unable to defeat a Democrat in red, red Alabama, it was very unlikely he would be able to unseat moderately popular governor Kay Ivey (R), who is running for re-election. The 71-year-old Moore cannot run for judicial office any more, as state law disqualifies anyone above 70. If he does decide he's still got a career in politics, it is much more likely he would take another shot at Jeff Sessions' former Senate seat, which Doug Jones (D) will have to defend in 2020. (Z)

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