Jan. 13

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Shitholegate Continues

It looks like the dam has been breached and the media are all over "shitholegate," in part because referring to entire countries and continents like that is unbecoming a president, and in part because what Trump clearly meant is obviously racist (white Norwegians are good, black Haitians are bad). Trump has tried to deny what he said Thursday, but Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), who was there at the meeting, has confirmed that the President did use the word "shithole" multiple times to describe a number of countries. Durbin is not known for being a liar while Trump is and, besides, it would be a very strange thing to invent.

Two Republicans in the room, Sens. David Perdue (R-GA) and Tom Cotton (R-AR), said they "do not recall" hearing Trump say that. When politicians say they "do not recall" something, that generally means the statement is true, but they don't want to confirm it for fear of aggravating the speaker, and they don't want to deny it because it could backfire on them if a recording later surfaces. Saying you do not recall something gives you plausible deniability if the output of the shithole hits the fan. Speaking of recordings, Trump has threatened to set up a recording system in the Oval Office for future meetings. Before doing so, he might want to consult with John Dean about possible consequences of taping conversations in the Oval Office.

Trump's comment has been denounced all over the U.S. and the rest of the globe. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said: "I could call @realDonaldTrump's comments racist, vile and disgusting because that is what they are." But, of course, she is a Democrat, so he couldn't care less about what she says. How about Republicans? Rep. Mia Love (R-UT), whose parents are from Haiti, took him to task. Rep. Ilena Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) said that the language Trump used should not be used in a locker room, let alone in the White House, and ignores the contributions thousands of Haitians have made to her South Florida district.

Now the view from abroad. The Toronto Star had this to say: "If an American president calls countries s---holes, does that make him a s---head?" You can always count on Canadians to be polite, eh. The Brits, not so much. The Guardian ran the headline: "There's no other word but 'racist': Trump faces global rebuke for remark." Down under, the Sydney Morning Herald had this headline: "Racist rhetoric marks Donald Trump's candidacy and presidency." At least in France, papers didn't use the word "shithole." Le Figaro, for example, used the headline: "Donald Trump ne veut pas d'immigrés venant de 'pays de merde'." In English: "Donald Trump does not want immigrants from 'shitty countries.' Not a whole lot better, really.

Of course, Trump doesn't give a hoot what anyone thinks other than his supporters, many of whom no doubt agree with this sentiment that the U.S. should take only white immigrants, not brown or black ones. The danger, however, is that it is very unlikely that Trump will gain any new supporters with comments like this, and he might lose a few who supported him on economic issues but not on cultural ones. (V)

Trump's Comments May Increase the Chance of a Government Shutdown Next Week

By attacking immigrants from "shithole countries," Donald Trump has pushed Democrats into a corner. If they vote to kick the can down the road again when the government runs out of money on Jan. 19, their base may regard this as capitulation to someone they despise. If Democrats want their base to turn up in great numbers in November, they can ill afford to look like cowards when Trump says or does something that most of the world (except Trump's own base) regards as deplorable.

Previously, Trump has said he would sign any bill about the dreamers that Congress passed. Thursday's little scene in the Oval Office casts some doubt on that. Of course, the whole incident may just have been to throw red meat at his base, and if Congress passes a bill to protect the dreamers but it also contains a small amount of funding for his wall (actually, for his "wall"—see below) then Trump may accept that and trumpet it as a huge victory. (V)

"Wall" Not Likely to Be a Wall

Thanks to shitholegate, other aspects of that now-infamous meeting are flying under the radar a bit. However, it would appear that President Trump dropped a bit of a bombshell: He now says that the wall with Mexico might not end up being an actual wall. Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) spoke to reporters, and explained The Donald's current thinking:

People want to paint that it's some 2,000-mile long, 30-foot-high wall of concrete. That's not what he means and not what he tries to say. There's going to be border fencing in some areas, there's going to be vehicular barricades, there's going to be technology, there's going to be greater manpower in some areas.

During the campaign, and in the year-plus since, Trump spoke of a wall hundreds of times. His verbiage never suggested that what he really meant was "a bit of wall and maybe half a dozen drones with video cameras flying along the border."

What has prompted this change of heart? Kellyanne Conway was on Chris Cuomo's show on CNN, and she explained it. It turns out—hold on to your hat—that, "There are rivers involved...There are mountains involved, there's terrain that isn't conducive to building an actual physical structure in some places." Apparently, Team Trump never looked at a map. Or, if they did, perhaps they do not grasp Spanish well enough to understand that the name of the river along the border is literally "big river." Who knew that building a wall could be so hard? (Z)

Mueller Wants to Try Manafort and Gates in May

Special counsel Robert Mueller has requested a trial date of May 14 for Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his associate Richard Gates. The duo is charged with money laundering and failing to register as foreign agents. Mueller has disclosed that he has 590,000 items of evidence, including 2,200 important ones. Mueller also has 19 warrants. He is required to turn all the evidence over to the defense attorneys before the trial. The prosecutors and defense attorneys will meet with Judge Amy Berman Jackson on Tuesday to discuss the date of the trial.

If the trial takes place in May and Manafort and Gates are found guilty, it will force the issue for Donald Trump, who may then pardon them to prevent them from flipping. On the other hand, Mueller is obviously aware of this possibility, since he has carefully avoided charging them with crimes such as tax evasion, which Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) might just hit them with if that scenario plays out. If Mueller had charged them with tax evasion and they were found guilty and pardoned, they could fight a state trial claiming it was double jeopardy, something prohibited by the Fifth Amendment. But by not charging them with offenses that are also state crimes, Mueller has very intentionally kept the door open to potential state prosecutions, knowing full well that the president does not have the power to issue pardons for state crimes. (V)

Trump Waives Iran Sanctions "One Last Time"

Every three months, Donald Trump must make a decision about the Iran nuclear deal—to certify compliance (and thus to waive sanctions on the Iranians), or to declare non-compliance and impose sanctions. After kicking the can to Congress in October, and getting it kicked right back to him, Trump declared on Friday that he was waiving sanctions "one last time":

Today, I am waiving the application of certain nuclear sanctions, but only in order to secure our European allies' agreement to fix the terrible flaws of the Iran nuclear deal. This is a last chance. In the absence of such an agreement, the United States will not again waive sanctions in order to stay in the Iran nuclear deal. And if at any time I judge that such an agreement is not within reach, I will withdraw from the deal immediately. No one should doubt my word.

Given that this is at least the third time Trump has made similar threats, and that he ultimately backed down on the previous occasions, it's rather easy to doubt his word.

Trump has painted himself into quite a corner here. He ran hard against the Iran deal, calling it the "worst deal ever negotiated." However, if he withdraws, he will aggravate America's closest allies, along with virtually every key member of his defense team, including NSA Herbert McMaster, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis. One or more of them might even resign if he does not heed their advice on this critical issue. So, Trump tried to pass the buck to Congress, in hopes that they would take some action, allowing him to declare things to be all better and to claim a "win." However, they are too dysfunctional to do much of anything, and the GOP majority certainly does not want ownership of this issue heading into the midterms. So, they handed the buck right back to the President. Now, as the quote above makes clear, he's passing it on to the leaders of Europe. If they do not do anything—and odds are, they won't—then Trump will face a big decision when the next deadline to certify comes up in April. (Z)

Trump in "Excellent Health"

Donald Trump had his physical today, and the preliminary report from Dr. Ronny Jackson is that the President is in "excellent health." A fuller accounting of the results will be released sometime next week.

This tells us...not very much. There really wasn't much question that Trump is physically in OK shape (particularly for a 71-year-old with poor exercise and diet habits). Further, Jackson cannot release adverse information unless he is authorized to do so, which Trump surely would never do. So, we can hardly be confident we're getting the full picture. Most significantly, there was no testing of the President's mental fitness. Or, if there was, we're not going to learn about it. Consequently, the biggest question about Trump's health, at least for most people, remains unanswered. (Z)

Report: Trump Paid Porn Star $130,000 in Hush Money in Oct. 2016

The Hill is reporting that Donald Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen, paid former porn star Stephanie Clifford (who performs as "Stormy Daniels") $130,000 to keep quiet about a consensual sexual encounter she had with Trump at Lake Tahoe in 2006, a year after he married Melania. Cohen has denied the allegations and said they were "old, recycled reports." Clifford has not commented on the matter recently, most likely because the alleged payment was accompanied by a nondisclosure agreement. The Daily Beast has a story on Trump's relationship with Clifford, including a photo of them together.

The payment was allegedly made around the time the "Access Hollywood" tape surfaced, in which Trump bragged about grabbing women by the "p***y" (note: just because we have crossed one bridge on dirty words, doesn't mean we have to cross all of them). (V)

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