Yesterday, President Donald Trump refused to say whether he would sit for an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller if Mueller asked him to, a possibility that seems increasingly likely. Trump doesn't seem to realize that most likely his choices will come down to:
If Trump thinks he can pull a Nancy Reagan and Just Say No, he might want to read the Wikipedia article Clinton v. Jones. Or if that is too long for his phone, he could ask his lawyers for a summary. They will tell him that a 9-0 decision by the Supreme Court said that a private citizen can sue a sitting president, and thus compel his testimony. If a private citizen has that power, surely a special counsel appointed by the deputy attorney general has at least as much power to compel testimony. So, Trump's implication that sitting for an interview is up to him is either due to ignorance or bluffing. If it is the latter, he may be later surprised that experienced prosecutors like Mueller don't pay a lot of attention to bluffing. We may know how this plays out in a few weeks. (V)
Special counsel Robert Mueller has hired yet another lawyer to his team. It's Ryan Dickey, who is known for his expertise in cybercrime. His most prominent case was the prosecution of Marcel Lazar, aka "Guccifer" (the original one), who went up the river for 52 months for hacking the e-mail accounts of Secretary of State Colin Powell and Hillary Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal, among others.
The hire was actually made in November, but Mueller does not send out press releases about these things, so the press did not discover it until Wednesday. At this point, of course, we can only speculate as to why Dickey was hired. One possibility is that Mueller is looking into the hacking of voter registration databases, and how that might be connected to the Trump campaign. Much more likely, given what we already know, is that Mueller thinks (or knows) that there is a connection between the Trump campaign and the hacking of Hillary Clinton's e-mails, and he could be going for charges under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which makes it a crime to abet computer intrusions. We will presumably find out whenever Mueller decides to lay his cards on the table. (Z)
A new report released by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) looks at Russian meddling in European elections and draws some conclusions:
The report is a serious document—200 pages, plus footnotes. That will get you a Ph.D. in some disciplines. Of course, the chance that Donald Trump takes notice of Cardin's recommendations is roughly equal to the chance that he dyes his hair black to show support for sexual assault awareness. Surely the Senator knows this, and he is just trying to give the Democrats another hammer to hit the Republicans with going into the midterms. (Z)
The testimony of Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson released Tuesday by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) directly contradicts at least six things that Donald Trump has said. This is no doubt the reason that Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) didn't want to release the transcripts. According to the Washington Post, here are six points in which Simpson's testimony (under oath) contradicts what Trump has said:
The Post is not the only organization that has made its way through the 312-page transcript and tried to understand what Simpson said. CNBC also came up with a list of notable items from it, albeit not only items that directly contradict something Trump has said.
The first item isn't well phrased. The source inside the campaign was most likely George Papadopoulos, who didn't go to the FBI, but blabbed to the Australian ambassador, who went to the FBI. The long and the short of it is that if a private company was able to dig up so much information, one can only imagine what Robert Mueller and his team of over a dozen experienced prosecutors armed with subpoena power have found. (V)
Michael Cohen, one of Donald Trump's many lawyers, is one of the many people mentioned in the Fusion GPS dossier. And now, he has decided to sue them and Buzzfeed (which published the dossier) for libel, declaring "enough is enough."
As we have pointed out before, the bar for a libel lawsuit is very high, particularly for a public figure like Cohen. Essentially, the plaintiff has to demonstrate that (1) The guilty party knew their information was untrue and maliciously shared it anyway, or else (2) that the guilty party showed a reckless disregard for the truth, such that they should have known they were perpetuating damaging falsehoods. Then, even if one of those two tests is satisfied, the plaintiff also has to prove damages. And given the nature of what Fusion GPS was doing—collecting gossip, in essence—the burden is even trickier. For example, if they noted that Russian spies say Vladimir Putin has videos of Donald Trump watching prostitutes pee, it does not matter if Putin actually has such videos. All that matters is that the spies said Putin had them.
Clearly, Cohen recognizes that he's got a problem, as the suit advances a rather novel theory, namely that Fusion "recklessly placed [the dossier] beyond their control and allowed it to fall into the hands of media devoted to breaking news on the hottest subject of the day: the Trump candidacy." He's not attacking Fusion's understanding of the information, since they undoubtedly believed it to be true, he's attacking their handling of the information. This is quite the attempt to shoehorn the situation into condition #2 above, and it's not likely to fly. And that is before we talk about the problem of damages; given that Cohen has remained fully employed since the dossier became public, presumably at his usual rate, it's hard to see how he has been damaged.
In short, Cohen surely can't think he has a chance to prevail here. And he can't be enthused about the notion of being deposed. So, this is presumably a "statement" lawsuit that will quietly be dropped at some point. Without putting Donald Trump directly in the line of fire, Cohen has effectively set the President's base up to say to themselves: "The dossier must be false, otherwise why would Trump's lawyer file suit?" (Z)
No, not for Slurpees. Instead, Immigration and Customs Enforcement raided 98 7-Eleven franchise stores in an effort to crack down on the hiring of undocumented immigrants. They conducted interviews and document checks, and ultimately arrested 21 people who are suspected of being in the United States illegally.
It's hard to see why it was tactically necessary to hit nearly 100 stores on the same day. Undocumented workers are not illegal narcotics or stolen gold bullion—they are not going to be spirited away when the heat is on. It's even harder to see why it was tactically necessary to focus on 7-Elevens. Why not some Burger Kings or Targets or construction firms? On the other hand, if the goal is to get some headlines, then everything starts to make sense. Focusing on one company keeps things simple, and it's a well-established stereotype that "the clerks at 7-Eleven are all foreigners." "The Simpsons" has been getting mileage out of that one for 30 years. Overall, then, Wednesday's raids add to the impression that the Trump immigration policy has no coherence, and is merely theater for the benefit of the base. (Z)
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) has announced that he will not run for reelection in November. He was an attack dog who went after Barack Obama and Democrats generally with great ferocity, but his district is trending Democratic and he won in 2016 by a mere 1,600 votes out of over 300,000 cast. His district, CA-49, now has a PVI of R+1. He would have faced a very tough race this year and clearly would rather retire on his own terms than be booted out. He is one of the richest members of Congress, with a net worth in excess of $400 million, most of it earned from his company that made those annoying car alarms. Consequently, he doesn't really need the piddling $174,000 the government pays him annually to serve in Congress.
Issa is the second California Republican to throw in the towel in 2 days. The two California retirements could be harbingers. Other Republicans in swing districts may see a bleak future and decide to call it quits, especially those in high-tax states full of suburbanites angry about their upcoming higher tax bill. Yes, Mimi Walters (CA-45, R+3) and Dana Rohrabacher (CA-48, R+4), we're looking at you. If enough Republicans decide to retire, it will make it more likely that the Democrats capture the House, since winning an open seat is always much easier than taking on an incumbent. More specifically, an incumbent, on average, runs about seven points better than a non-incumbent.
One factor that makes California retirements especially likely, beyond the tax issue, is the state's jungle primary system. With Gov. Jerry Brown (D) term limited, the governor's mansion is up for grabs, and there is a very good chance that on Election Day in November, Californians will be choosing between two Democrats (as happened in the most recent Senate race). That is likely to drive Democratic turnout up and keep Republican turnout down, and so throws an extra wrench into the and plans of GOP representatives in the Golden State.
On the other hand, Democratic enthusiasm and the jungle primary system could work for the Republicans. Imagine a district in which 72% of the voters are Democrats and 28% are Republicans. Everyone knows this, so six Democrats and only two Republicans enter the primary. The six Democrats each get about 12% of the vote and the two Republicans each get 14% of the vote. Result: the general election features the two Republicans and no Democrats.
To make it easier for you to keep track of House retirements, we have added a new link to the menu to the left of the map called "House retirements." Click on it to get a complete list of who's out. It will be updated as new retirements are announced. As a first approximation, any district between R+5 and D+5 is probably in play, and in a Democratic wave year, districts as Republican as R+8 or even R+10 could be in play, depending on the quality of the candidates, the bitterness of any primaries on both sides, funding, and any hotly contested senatorial or gubernatorial elections on the ballot. (V & Z)
The Cincinnati Enquirer is reporting that Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH), who was planning to run for governor, will now run for the Senate instead. His change of mind is due to the unexpected withdrawal of the main Republican senatorial candidate, Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel. Supposedly, Donald Trump's political team is urging him to go for the Senate instead of the governor's mansion.
Renacci is unlikely to be the only Republican in the race. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has encouraged Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance to run. If both Trump and McConnell get their wishes, the Republican primary will pit a Trump-supported candidate against a McConnell-supported candidate. Vance comes from a white working-class background in Appalachia; that could resonate with voters in southeast Ohio, which borders West Virginia and south Ohio, which borders Kentucky. In addition to possible runs by Renacci and Vance, wealthy businessman Mike Gibbons is also running and has pledged to spend at least $5 million of his own money on the race. (V)
In a Politco/Morning Consult poll released yesterday, 48% of all voters think Donald Trump will be cleared of wrongdoing by Robert Mueller this year while 37% don't expect him to be cleared. Fewer than a third think he will leave office this year. The poll breaks down very sharply along partisan lines, with 74% of Republicans saying Trump will be cleared of wrongdoing while only 32% of Democrats agree with that. While the pollsters didn't go into the details, part of the explanation may relate to where people get their news. Many Republicans get it mostly (or entirely) from Fox News, which maintains the whole Mueller thing is a witch hunt. Democrats get their news from a much wider variety of sources, including newspapers, most of which do not whitewash Trump as much as Fox does.
The poll also found that 45% of voters think it is at least somewhat possible that Democrats win the House in November, while 38% say it is not (too) likely. The same numbers apply to the Senate, despite many experts who think the Senate will be a much tougher climb than the House for the Democrats. (V)