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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Gingrich and Pardons

In  Defying the Oddswe discuss Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign.

Face the Nation, October 13, 1996:
SCHIEFFER: Should--should President Clinton say flatly that he will not pardon anyone involved in Whitewater?
Rep. GINGRICH: You know, I--the notion that we're sitting here talking about whether or not a president of the United States would pardon people directly implicated in his potential breaking the law--I mean, it's so bizarre that I don't have a good answer for you. The Constitution provides for a very clear right of the president to pardon. Now it also provides for the Congress a very clear right to investigate a president. So I would guess that Clinton, in the end, will not pardon anybody because I don't think the country would tolerate it. I mean, I don't think he can buy Susan McDougal silence or Webb Hubbell silence with a pardon, because I think you'd then have just an outrage from the whole country. So...

Pardon? Indictment?

In  Defying the Oddswe discuss Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign.

President Trump has consulted his legal advisers about the possibility of pre-emptively pardoning his associates — and possibly even himself — to undermine the Justice Department’s Russia investigation, The Washington Post reported Thursday night. But on Friday, John Dowd, Mr. Trump’s new personal lawyer, denied to BuzzFeed that any such discussions had taken place.
The only limitation explicitly stated in the Constitution is a ban on using a pardon to stop an impeachment proceeding in Congress, and the only obvious implicit limitation is that he cannot pardon offenses under state law.
But some legal scholars think a president cannot pardon himself, either, because it would be a conflict of interest.

In August 1974, four days before Mr. Nixon resigned, Mary C. Lawton, then the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, issued a terse legal opinion stating that “it would seem” that Mr. Nixon could not pardon himself “under the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case.”

But she did not explain what transformed that principle into an unwritten legal limit on the power the Constitution bestows on presidents.

Other legal specialists have come out the other way. In a 1998 House Judiciary Committee hearing about the proposed impeachment of Mr. Clinton, for example, Representative Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican who is now the chairman of that panel, stated, “The prevailing opinion is that the president can pardon himself.”

There is no definitive answer because no president has ever tried to pardon himself and then been prosecuted, which would give courts a chance to weigh in. If Mr. Trump did purport to pardon himself, and was later indicted anyway, it could create an opportunity for the Supreme Court to resolve the question.
Charlie Savage reports at The New York Times:
A newfound memo from Kenneth W. Starr’s independent counsel investigation into President Bill Clinton sheds fresh light on a constitutional puzzle that is taking on mounting significance amid the Trump-Russia inquiry: Can a sitting president be indicted?
The 56-page memo, locked in the National Archives for nearly two decades and obtained by The New York Times under the Freedom of Information Act, amounts to the most thorough government-commissioned analysis rejecting a generally held view that presidents are immune from prosecution while in office.
“It is proper, constitutional, and legal for a federal grand jury to indict a sitting president for serious criminal acts that are not part of, and are contrary to, the president’s official duties,” the Starr office memo concludes. “In this country, no one, even President Clinton, is above the law.”

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Trump Abuses Commissioning Ceremony to Play Politics

In Defying the Odds, we explain that the 2016 campaign was a race to the bottom.  Trump is lowering the bottom.

Ashley Parker and David Nakamura report at the WP:
Speaking aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford, Trump extolled the virtues of the “wonderful, beautiful but very, very powerful” nuclear-powered warship — “We will win, win, win,” he said, “we will never lose” — but also decried the budget compromise known as sequestration, which requires mandatory and corresponding military and domestic cuts.
Trump promised to try to restore higher levels of military funding but also urged the crowd of about 6,500 — many in uniform — to help him push this year’s budget, in which he said he will seek an additional $54 billion in defense spending, through Congress.
“I don’t mind getting a little hand, so call that congressman and call that senator and make sure you get it,” he said, to applause. “And by the way, you can also call those senators to make sure you get health care.”
But Trump’s brief appeal created a potentially awkward tableau at a commissioning event intended to be ceremonial — a commander in chief offering political remarks, and what could even be construed as an order, to the naval officers he commands.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Bullock PAC

A new chief in Big Sky country: Montana Gov. Steve Bullock has hired a new chief of staff: Tom Lopach, who was the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee's executive director in the 2016 cycle. It's a homecoming for the Montana-born Lopach, who previously was Sen. Jon Tester's chief of staff. Still, Democrats nationally are taking notice of Bullock bringing aboard a seasoned veteran strategist.
Bullock (who won re-election in a state Donald Trump carried by 20 points last year) launched the Big Sky Values PAC this week, giving him a vehicle to pay for more political travel and to help other Democrats. He recorded an interview for Thursday's "Pod Save America" episode. He was also the focus of Jonathan Martin's New York Times look at the Democrats' pragmatic governors. And he'll kick off the Aspen Institute's "Divided States of America" half-day forum at 9:30 a.m. MT Monday.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Scandal Update, July 20

Peter Baker, Michael S. Schmidt And Maggie Haberman at The New York Times:
President Trump said on Wednesday that he never would have appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions had he known Mr. Sessions would recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation that has dogged his presidency, calling the decision “very unfair to the president.”
In a remarkable public break with one of his earliest political supporters, Mr. Trump complained that Mr. Sessions’s decision ultimately led to the appointment of a special counsel that should not have happened. “Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else,” Mr. Trump said.
In a wide-ranging interview with The New York Times, the president also accused James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director he fired in May, of trying to leverage a dossier of compromising material to keep his job. Mr. Trump criticized both the acting F.B.I. director who has been filling in since Mr. Comey’s dismissal and the deputy attorney general who recommended it. And he took on Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel now leading the investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s election.
Mr. Trump said Mr. Mueller was running an office rife with conflicts of interest and warned investigators against delving into matters too far afield from Russia. Mr. Trump never said he would order the Justice Department to fire Mr. Mueller, nor would he outline circumstances under which he might do so. But he left open the possibility as he expressed deep grievance over an investigation that has taken a political toll in the six months since he took office.
Asked if Mr. Mueller’s investigation would cross a red line if it expanded to look at his family’s finances beyond any relationship to Russia, Mr. Trump said, “I would say yes.” He would not say what he would do about it. “I think that’s a violation. Look, this is about Russia.”
Ben Protess, Jessica Silver-Greenberg And Jesse Drucker at the New York Times:
During the presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump pointed to his relationship with Deutsche Bank to counter reports that big banks were skeptical of doing business with him.
After a string of bankruptcies in his casino and hotel businesses in the 1990s, Mr. Trump became somewhat of an outsider on Wall Street, leaving the giant German bank among the few major financial institutions willing to lend him money.
Now that two-decades-long relationship is coming under scrutiny.
Banking regulators are reviewing hundreds of millions of dollars in loans made to Mr. Trump’s businesses through Deutsche Bank’s private wealth management unit, which caters to an ultrarich clientele, according to three people briefed on the review who were not authorized to speak publicly. The regulators want to know if the loans might expose he bank to heightened risks.
Separately, Deutsche Bank has been in contact with federal investigators about the Trump accounts, according to two people briefed on the matter. And the bank is expecting to eventually have to provide information to Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel overseeing the federal investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia
Mike McIntire, also at The New York Times:
Financial records filed last year in the secretive tax haven of Cyprus, where Paul J. Manafort kept bank accounts during his years working in Ukraine and investing with a Russian oligarch, indicate that he had been in debt to pro-Russia interests by as much as $17 million before he joined Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign in March 2016.
The money appears to have been owed by shell companies connected to Mr. Manafort’s business activities in Ukraine when he worked as a consultant to the pro-Russia Party of Regions. The Cyprus documents obtained by The New York Times include audited financial statements for the companies, which were part of a complex web of more than a dozen entities that transferred millions of dollars among them in the form of loans, payments and fees.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

One Reason Why Tax Reform Is Hard: Congress Lacks Institutional Memory

In  Defying the Odds, we discuss the issues of the 2016 campaign, including taxation.

Congress may soon take up tax reform.  Very, very few of its members have any firsthand experience with how hard it is to pass.  The last comprehensive tax reform passed 31 years ago, in 1986.

In the House,11 current members (5 R, 6 D) of the 115th Congress (2017-18) served in the 99th (1985-86). Thirteen senators (7R, 6 D) served in the 99th Congress.  Of this total, 5 were in the Senate at the time, while 8 were in the House.

How many of these 1986 veterans serve on the tax-writing committees?  Sander Levin still serves on House Ways and Means.  The Senate Finance Committee has a larger contingent: Ron Wyden (ranking minority member), Bill Nelson, and Thomas Carper, as well as Republicans Orrin Hatch (chair), Charles Grassley, and Pat Roberts.

Senate party leaders Charles Schumer and Mitch McConnell were present for the 1986 tax reform (McConnell in the Senate, Schumer in the House).  Neither Speaker Paul Ryan nor House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was serving at that time.  Ryan was still in high school.
House members of the 115th Congress who served in the 99th:


Don Young, (AK)
F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (WI)
Harold Rogers (KY)
Christopher H. Smith (NJ)
 Joe L. Barton (TX)


John Conyers Jr (MI)
Steny H. Hoyer (MD)
Marcy Kaptur (OH)
Sander M. Levin (MI)
Peter J. Visclosky (IN)
Jim Cooper (TN)
Senators of the 115th Congress who served in Senate during the 99th Congress:


Orrin G. Hatch (UT)
Thad Cochran (MS)
Charles E. Grassley (IA)
Mitch McConnell (KY)
Patrick J. Leahy (VT)

Senators who were serving in the House at the time:

John McCain (AZ)
Pat Roberts (KS)
Richard C. Shelby (AL)

Thomas R. Carper (DE)
Bill Nelson (FL)
Charles Schumer (NY)
Ron Wyden (OR)
Edward J. Markey (MA)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Trumpcare Dies

By announcing their opposition, Mike Lee and Jerry Moran killed BCRAChris Cillizza at CNN:
Part of the pivot by the White House -- and McConnell -- to the idea of "repeal then replace" is because they need to say something following such a consequential defeat at the hands of their own party.
But, there's very little chance that such a plan will work. After all, the reason that congressional leaders did "repeal and replace" was because their initial idea of "repeal then replace" wasn't going anywhere. As CNN congressional reporter Phil Mattingly tweeted Monday night: "Your weekly reminder that repeal only, then replace, was the original Hill GOP plan. It was deemed un-passable. Hence repeal/replace."
And, if you thought the Congressional Budget Office report on the proposed Senate bill was bad, take a gander at the numbers on the idea of repeal then replace.
On Monday afternoon at an event touting "Made in America" week, President Donald Trump said this about the health care legislation: "We're getting it together and it's going to happen. Right, Mike (Pence)? I think."
The truth is he had no idea -- of the vote count or the policy debate. The idea that Trump was going to get on the phone with, say, a noted policy maven like Ohio's Rob Portman and offer a convincing case for why Portman needed to be for the bill was laughable. Trump didn't know or seem to care about the particulars. He just wanted to sign something and declare victory.
Trump's lack of knowledge was brutally exposed when, even as he was dining with seven senators last night, Moran and Lee stabbed the bill in the heart.