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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Mueller Report: McGahn and Obstruction

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's dishonesty and his record of disregarding the rule of law.   The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

From the Mueller report:
On Saturday, June 17, 2017, the President called McGahn and directed him to have the Special Counsel removed.  McGahn was at home and the President was at Camp David. In interviews with this Office, McGahn recalled that the Pre sident called him at home twice and on both occasions directed him to call Rosenstein and say that Mueller had conflicts that precluded him from serving as Special Counsel. 
On the first call, McGahn recalled that the President said something like , "You gotta do this. You gotta call Rod."  McGahn said he told the President that he would see what he could do.  McGahn was perturbed by the call and did not intend to act on the request.  He and other advisors believed the asserted conflicts were "silly" and "not real, " and they had previously communicated that view to the President.  McGahn also had made clear to the President that the White House Counsel's Office should not be involved in any effort to press the issue of conflicts.  McGahn was concerned about having any role in asking the Acting Attorney General to fire the Special Counsel because he had grown up in the Reagan era and wanted to be more like Judge Robert Bork and not " Saturday Night Massacre Bork." McGahn considered the President 's request to be an inflection point and he wanted to hit the brakes. 
When the President called McGahn a second time to follow up on the order to call the Department of Justice, McGahn recalled that the President was more direct , saying something like, "Call Rod, tell Rod that Mueller has conflicts and can 't be the Special Counsel."  McGahn recalled the President telling him "Mueller has to go" and "Call me back when you do it." McGahn understood the President to be saying that the Special Counsel had to be removed by Rosenstein. To end the conversation with the President , McGahn left the President with the impression that McGahn would call Rosenstein. McGahn recalled that he had already said no to the President's request and he was worn down , so he just wanted to get off the phone. 
McGahn recalled feeling trapped because he did not plan to follow the President's directive but did not know what he would say the next time the President  alled.  McGahn decided he had to resign. He called his personal lawyer and then called his chief of staff, Annie Donaldson, to inform her of his decision.  He then drove to the office to pack his belongings and submit his resignation letter.  Donaldson recalled that McGahn told her the President had called and demanded he contact the Department of Justice and that the President wanted him to do something that McGahn did not want to do.  McGahn told Donaldson that the President had called at least twice and in one of the calls asked "have you done it?" McGahn did not tell Donaldson the specifics of the President's request because he was consciously trying not to involve her in the investigation , but Donaldson inferred that the President's directive was related to the Russia investigation. Donaldson prepared to resign along with McGahn. 
That evening, McGahn called both Priebus and Bannon and told them that he intended to resign. McGahn recalled that, after speaking with his attorney and given the nature of thePresident 's request, he decided not to share details of the President's request with other White House staff. Priebus recalled that McGahn said that the President had asked him to "do crazy shit, " but he thought McGahn did not tell him the specifics of the President 's request because McGahn was trying to protect Priebus from what he did not need to know.  Priebus and Bannon both urged McGahn not to quit, and McGahn ultimately returned to work that Monday and remained in his position.  He had not told the President directly that he planned to resign, and when they next saw each other the President did not ask McGahn whether he had followed through with calling Rosenstein. 
Around the same time, Chris Christie recalled a telephone _call with the President in which the President asked what Christie thought about the President firing the Special Counsel. Christie advised against doing so because there was no substantive basis for the President to fire the Special Counsel, and because the President would lose support from Republicans in Congress if he did so.
...

Substantial evidence indicates that the President's attempts to remove the Special Counsel were linked to the Special Counsel's oversight of investigations that involved the President's conduct- and, most immediately , to reports that the President was being investigated for potential obstruction of justice.
Before the President terminated Corney , the President considered it critically important that he was not under investigation and that the public not erroneously think he was being investigated. As described in Volume TI, Section TI.D, supra, advisors perceived the President , while he was drafting the Corney termination letter, to be concerned more than anything else about getting out that he was not personally under investigation. When the President learned of the appointment of the Special Counsel on May 17, 2017, he expressed further concern about the investigation, saying "[t]his is the end of my Presidency. " The President also faulted Sessions for recusing , saying "you were supposed to protect me. "
On June 14, 2017, when the Washington Post reported that the Special Counsel was investigating the President for obstruction of justice, the President was facing what he had wanted to avoid: a criminal investigation into his own conduct that was the subject of widespread media attention. The evidence indicates that news of the obstruction investigation prompted the President to call McGahn and seek to have the Special Counsel removed. By mid-June, the Department of Justice had already cleared the Special Counse l's service and the President's advisors had told him that the claimed conflicts of interest were "silly" and did not provide a basis to remove the Special Counsel. On June 13, 2017, the Acting Attorney General testified before Congress that no good cause for removing the Special Counsel existed, and the President dictated a press statement to Sanders saying he had no intention of firing the Special Counsel. But the next day, the media reported that the President was under investigation for obstruction of justice and the Special Counsel was interviewing witnesses about events related to possible obstruction - spurring the President to write critical tweets about the Specia l Counsel's investigation. The President called McGahn at home that night and then called him on Saturday from Camp David . The evidence accordingly indicates that news that an obstruction investigation had been opened is what led the President to call McGahn to have the Special Counsel terminated.
There also is evidence that the President knew that he should not have made those calls to McGahn. The President made the calls to McGahn after McGahn had specifically told the President that the White House Counsel's Office-and McGahn himself-could not be involved in pressing conflicts claims and that the President should consult with his personal counsel if he wished to raise conflicts. Instead of relying on his personal counsel to submit the conflicts claims, the President sought to use his official powers to remove the Special Counsel. And after the media reported on the President's actions, he denied that he ever ordered McGahn to have the Special Counsel terminated and made repeated efforts to have McGahn deny the story, as discussed in Volume II, Section II.I, infra. Those denials are contrary to the evidence and suggest the President's awareness that the direction to McGahn could be seen as improper. 

Monday, April 15, 2019

Tax Day

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the tax issue in the 2016 campaign.  The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms. and explains why the Trump tax cut backfired on Republicans.

Ben White at Politico:
Polling data suggest Democrats have fertile ground to rip into Trump’s tax cuts.
A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that just 17 percent of Americans believe their own taxes will go down as a result of the bill. A CBS News poll found that 40 percent said they saw no change from the tax bill. And more said it drove their taxes up (32 percent) than lowered their tax bill (25 percent.)
The bill itself has been unpopular from the start and remains so.
A Pew Research Center survey conducted last month found that 36 percent of Americans approve of the tax-cut law while 49 percent disapprove. Even the number of Republicans who strongly approve of the law dipped in the latest Pew survey.
Megan Brenan at Gallup:
Americans continue to have net-negative views of the 2017 tax bill -- 49% disapprove and 40% approve. Since Gallup began measuring reaction to the law before its passage, approval has ranged from 29% to the current 40%.
The legislation passed without a single Democratic vote in either chamber of Congress, and Americans' views of it are similarly divided along party lines. Democrats' approval of the law is 16% and Republicans' is 78%. Independents' approval stands at 32%.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Bonkers Trump Comments, April 2019 ed.

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's character and record of dishonestyThe update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

Elaina Plott at The Atlantic quotes Trump on Ivanka:
“She went into the whole helping-people-with-jobs, and I wasn’t sure that was going to be the best use of her time, but I didn’t know how successful she’d be,” the president said. “She’s created millions of jobs, and I had no idea she’d be that successful.”
The “millions of jobs” claim is not true. (Through Ivanka’s work as an adviser to the president, companies such as Walmart and IBM have pledged to provide re-skilling opportunities over the next five years, mainly to people with jobs already.) But it’s true that when jobs open up in the Trump administration—a frequent occurrence—Ivanka is at the top of her father’s mind. “She’s a natural diplomat,” Trump said. “She would’ve been great at the United Nations, as an example.” I asked why he didn’t nominate her. “If I did, they’d say nepotism, when it would’ve had nothing to do with nepotism. But she would’ve been incredible.” Warming to the subject, he said, “I even thought of Ivanka for the World Bank … She would’ve been great at that because she’s very good with numbers.”
During the campaign, Trump cited Wikileaks more than 100 times.  He said he loved it.  Last week Trump reacted to the arrest of Julian Assange:
I know nothing about WikiLeaks. It’s not my thing. And I know there is something having to do with Julian Assange. I’ve been seeing what’s happened with Assange. And that will be a determination, I would imagine, mostly by the Attorney General, who’s doing an excellent job.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Impeachable Pardon Offer?

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's dishonesty and his record of disregarding the rule of lawThe update -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

Maggie Haberman, Annie Karni and Eric Schmitt at NYT:
President Trump last week privately urged Kevin McAleenan, the border enforcement official he was about to name as acting secretary of homeland security, to close the southwestern border to migrants despite having just said publicly that he was delaying a decision on the step for a year, according to three people briefed about the conversation.

It was not clear what Mr. Trump meant by his request or his additional comment to Mr. McAleenan that he would pardon him if he encountered any legal problems as a result of taking the action. Federal judges have already blocked the administration’s attempts to limit asylum seekers who illegally enter the country, and it is not likely that Mr. McAleenan would have ended up in jail if he had followed the president’s directive.

One of the people briefed on the conversation said it was possible Mr. Trump had intended the comments to Mr. McAleenan as a joke. But the conversation, which took place during the president’s visit to the border town of Calexico, Calif., alarmed officials at the Department of Homeland Security who were told of it, according to the people familiar with the remarks.

It was another instance of the president trying to undo a decision and to stretch the boundaries of his power, even when told there were legal issues at stake. The same situation played out on Friday, when Mr. Trump said he was considering releasing asylum seekers into so-called sanctuary cities after administration officials told reporters the proposal was rejected because of legal issues.
Quinta Jurecic at The Atlantic:
It is entirely reasonable to ask whether this, in itself, is an impeachable offense. Jamal Greene, a professor at Columbia Law School, sparked discussion on Twitter as to whether Trump’s actions might fall afoul of the Constitution’s requirement that the president “shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of … Bribery”—the pardon being the bribe offered. The legal scholar Charles Black, in his 1974 Impeachment: A Handbook, suggests that a president’s choice to pardon “all government police who kill anybody under any circumstances” would be impeachable insofar as it is “obviously wrong, in [itself], to any person of honor.”


Friday, April 12, 2019

Trump Threat

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's dishonesty and his record of disregarding the rule of law. The update -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

Rachel Bade and Nick Miroff at WP:
White House officials have tried to pressure U.S. immigration authorities to release detainees onto the streets of “sanctuary cities” to retaliate against President Trump’s political adversaries, according to Department of Homeland Security officials and email messages reviewed by The Washington Post
Trump administration officials have proposed transporting detained immigrants to sanctuary cities at least twice in the past six months — once in November, as a migrant caravan approached the U.S. southern border, and again in February, amid a standoff with Democrats over funding for Trump’s border wall.
Senior Trump adviser Stephen Miller discussed the proposal with ICE, according to two DHS officials. Matthew Albence, who is ICE’s acting deputy director, immediately questioned the proposal in November.
From February 2018:
President Trump said Thursday he is considering pulling U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers from California, warning that the nation’s most populous state would turn into a “crime nest” without the federal agents.

Trump said heavily Democratic California, which gave Hillary Clinton a resounding victory in the 2016 presidential race, was “doing a lousy management job.” He pointed to “a disgrace, the sanctuary city situation” and lamented the “protection of these horrible criminals.”
...
“Frankly, if I wanted to pull our people from California, you would have a crime nest like you’ve never seen in California. All I’d have to do is say is, ‘ICE and Border Patrol, let California alone,’ you’d be inundated. You would see crime like nobody has ever seen crime in this country.”

He added: “If we ever pulled our ICE out, and we ever said, ‘Hey, let California alone, let them figure it out for themselves,’ in two months they’d be begging for us to come back. They would be begging. And you know what, I’m thinking about doing it.”

Thursday, April 11, 2019

DNC Oppo for 2020: Local and Policy-Focused

In  Defying the Oddswe discuss opposition research The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

Heidi Przybyla at USA Today:
Responding to criticism that Democrats were too focused on Trump’s temperament and personal attributes during Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign, the party’s main organizing arm says it’s making a major expansion of its opposition research team that will be “hyper-focused” on the impact of Trump’s policies on local communities.
A team of several dozen staffers have compiled an archive of thousands of documents obtained through local news and Freedom of Information Act requests that will be used to spotlight promises Trump made during visits to specific communities — and to “put a human face” on what’s happened since then.
Those include promises made to welders and pipefitters in Virginia Beach and Newtown, Pennsylvania, construction workers around Tampa, Florida and seniors struggling with high drug prices in Reno, Nevada. The DNC did not provide estimates on how much money they planned to spend on an effort that is planned to continue through the 2020 election.
While Democratic presidential candidates compete for the nomination, the DNC will bypass traditional primary states like Iowa to get a head start in targeting voters in battleground states Clinton lost, including Florida, Arizona, Michigan and Georgia.

Sample work:

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Best People, Continued Again

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's approach to governing The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.
The choice of servants is of no little importance to a prince, and they are good or not according to the discrimination of the prince. And the first opinion which one forms of a prince, and of his understanding, is by observing the men he has around him; and when they are capable and faithful he may always be considered wise, because he has known how to recognize the capable and to keep them faithful. But when they are otherwise one cannot form a good opinion of him, for the prime error which he made was in choosing them.
-- Machiavelli
Catherine Rampell at WP:
Moore is a career political operative whose singular motivation is helping Republicans cut taxes. In service of that goal, he sometimes fabricates economic factoids entirely, including during a Thursday radio interview in which he falsely claimed that wages just began to grow for the first time in 20 years. Usually though, he either cherry-picks or misrepresents (real) government data — e.g., by not adjusting figures for inflation, or claiming that a decline in soybean prices driven by China’s decision to stop buying from American farmers means that prices across the U.S. economy overall are falling. (They are not.)
Cain, on the other hand, does not appear to have sufficient facility with economic statistics to know which cherries to pick. During a recent episode of his Web show, he appeared genuinely confused by the differences between, say, jobs vacant and jobs filled. (This is arguably an important thing to know if you’re on the Federal Reserve Board, where half the legal mandate concerns maximizing the number of jobs filled.)
But when all else fails — that is, when they run out of real numbers to spin or mischaracterize — both Moore and Cain have a tendency to invoke Trump-style data trutherism: that is, to simply claim the official government data are phony.

Jon Swaine and David Smith at The Guardian:
A court official accompanied by four police officers had to break into the home of Stephen Moore, Donald Trump’s pick for the Federal Reserve board, after he repeatedly failed to pay debts to his ex-wife.
The group used a locksmith to force their way into Moore’s house in Virginia in May 2013, according to court filings. They were there to prepare the property for a court-ordered sale in order to raise $330,000 that Moore owed his ex-wife after their divorce.
When the court official telephoned Moore on her way out to ask where she should leave the new key to his home, Moore “was very argumentative” and “denied that we were in his house”, the official, Kyle Skopic, said in a June 2013 motion.
The court records were reopened to the public by a judge on Friday, in response to legal action by the Guardian and other media. They had been temporarily sealed this week following the publication of reports about Moore’s past financial and legal problems.
The Week:
Meet Herman Cain: Federal Reserve Board of Governors nominee. Former Republican presidential candidate. CEO. And professional grifter?
Cain, whom President Trump recently tapped as a nominee for a spot on the Fed's Board, has reportedly turned his sponsored mailing list — which he has been profiting off since his failed presidential bid in 2012 — into a "haven for scammy emails," promoting worthless penny stocks and dubious "moneymaking strategies," according to Media Matters: