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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

The New York AG and the Manhattan DA Might Go After Trump



In a little more than three weeks, Democrat Letitia James will take office as New York State's attorney general. David Klepper at AP:
Trump's critics have long looked to New York's attorney general as a backup if Trump were to pardon any associates convicted of federal crimes, since the president doesn't have the power to pardon people for state crimes. But there's a wrinkle in the state's double jeopardy law, which protects people from repeat prosecutions for the same allegations. The law includes several exceptions, but not one specifically allowing a state prosecution when a president has issued a pardon for similar federal charges.
That means anyone pardoned by the president and facing charges in New York could argue that without a specific exception to double jeopardy, the charges can't stick.
Former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman urged lawmakers to close the loophole shortly before he resigned in the face of allegations that he assaulted former girlfriends. His successor, current Attorney General Barbara Underwood then took up the cause. Democrat lawmakers introduced legislation, but the bills didn't pass. 
Prospects for closing the loophole will likely improve in January, when Democrats take control of the state Senate from Republicans. Democrats already control the Assembly.
"Given this federal administration's efforts to thwart our basic judicial processes — dangling pardons and attacking prosecutors — and recent developments regarding individuals close to this administration, it is time that we close the double jeopardy loophole," James said in a statement. "I am committed to working with leaders across the state to make this a reality because this loophole cannot be seen as a means to circumvent our justice system. No one is above the law, period."
In August, the NYT reported that Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance was taking a close look at the Trump Organization. 

California GOP Woes: Trump and the Late Vote

In Defying the Odds, we discuss state and congressional elections as well as the presidential race.   California is an important part of the story.

At LAT, Phil Willon reports on a letter by five former California GOP political directors: Mike Madrid, Debbie McCall, Jimmy Camp, Jarryd Gonzales and Matt Robbins.
This election proved that choosing Nationalism over Conservatism is a losing proposition. President Trump’s nationalist rhetoric has alienated far more than the diverse electorate that turned out to oppose him on election night — Republicans abandoned Republicans in historic numbers as well,” the letter said. “It is our hope that you will publicly renounce the nationalism metastasizing in the party, advance the cause of conservatism and return the greatness to our Grand Old Party.”
Also at LAT, Michael Finnegan and Evan Menezes report on the long California election process, in which a month of counting follows a month of voting.   So if one is writing a paper on California elections, one should NOT rely on day-after news reports about results and turnout figures.  
The morning after the Nov. 6 congressional midterm election in California, state, county and media websites reported that 100% of precincts had turned in their results.
It was highly misleading: The final tally, released Friday, showed that a staggering 5.2 million of the 12.1 million ballots cast — 43% — remained uncounted that morning. Most of the outstanding votes were from mail ballots.
And the late vote is different from the early vote.
The numbers confirmed a long-standing pattern that can also feed Republican suspicions of wrongdoing: The votes counted last skew Democratic, just as the votes counted first disproportionately favor Republicans. Campaigns track these patterns closely so they can time their mail to various voter groups.
“It’s rather disingenuous for a campaign to say before the election, I’m going to target these people early and these people late because I know their histories, and then after the election say, ‘Oh my God there’s some conspiracy,’ ” said Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data, a firm that specializes in California elections.
In the 44 House races pitting a Republican against a Democrat, the GOP candidate dropped an average of 2.6 percentage points as ballots were counted in the weeks after election day.

Hailstorm

In  Defying the Oddswe discuss  Trump's record of scandal.  In a plea deal, Michael Cohen implicated Trump in criminal activity.

Victoria Clark et al. at the Lawfare blog:
In short, the Department of Justice, speaking through the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, is alleging that the president of the United States coordinated and directed a surrogate to commit a campaign finance violation punishable with time in prison. While the filing does not specify that the president “knowingly and willfully” violated the law, as is required by the statute, this is the first time that the government has alleged in its own voice that President Trump is personally involved in what it considers to be federal offenses.
And it does not hold back in describing the magnitude of those offenses. The memo states that Cohen’s actions, “struck a blow to one of the core goals of the federal campaign finance laws: transparency. While many Americans who desired a particular outcome to the election knocked on doors, toiled at phone banks, or found any number of other legal ways to make their voices heard, Cohen sought to influence the election from the shadows.” His sentence “should reflect the seriousness of Cohen’s brazen violations of the election laws and attempt to counter the public cynicism that may arise when individuals like Cohen act as if the political process belongs to the rich and powerful.”
One struggles to see how a document that alleges that such conduct took place at the direction of Individual-1 “totally clears the president.”
John Kelly is out as chief of staff. Robert Costa and Philip Rucker at The Washington Post
Trump remains headstrong in his belief that he can outsmart adversaries and weather any threats, according to advisers. In the Russia probe, he continues to roar denials, dubiously proclaiming that the latest allegations of wrongdoing by his former associates “totally clear” him.

But anxiety is spiking among Republican allies, who complain that Trump and the White House have no real plan for dealing with the Russia crisis while confronting a host of other troubles at home and abroad.

Facing the dawn of his third year in office and his bid for reelection, Trump is stepping into a political hailstorm. Democrats are preparing to seize control of the House in January with subpoena power to investigate corruption. Global markets are reeling from his trade war. The United States is isolated from its traditional partners. The investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into Russian interference is intensifying. And court filings Friday in a separate federal case implicated Trump in a felony.
The Star Wars version of the above paragraph.

The White House is adopting what one official termed a “shrugged shoulders” strategy for the Mueller findings, calculating that most GOP base voters will believe whatever the president tells them to believe.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Almost As If SDNY Were Talking About Trump

In  Defying the Oddswe discuss  Trump's record of scandal.  In a plea deal, Michael Cohen implicated Trump in criminal activity.

Document: U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York and Special Counsel's Office File Michael Cohen Sentencing Memo

The document suggests that  Trump committed felonies.
During the campaign, Cohen played a central role in two similar schemes to purchase the
rights to stories – each from women who claimed to have had an affair with Individual-1 – so as to suppress the stories and thereby prevent them from influencing the election. With respect to both payments, Cohen acted with the intent to influence the 2016 presidential election. Cohen coordinated his actions with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls, about the fact, nature, and timing of the payments. (PSR ¶ 51). In particular, and as Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1. (PSR ¶¶ 41, 45). As a result of Cohen’s actions, neither
woman spoke to the press prior to the election. (PSR ¶ 51).
In October, the New York Times documented Trump's long history of cheating on his taxes.
The need for the sentence to promote respect for the law and to afford adequate deterrence further supports imposition of a significant sentence of imprisonment. Congress provided for strong criminal sanctions as a general deterrent to tax evasion, false statements to financial institutions, and campaign finance violations. Given the magnitude and brazenness of the conduct in this case, the interests of deterrence are best served by the imposition of a substantial term of imprisonment.

Cohen’s years-long pattern of deception, and his attempts to minimize certain of that  conduct even now, make it evident that a lengthy custodial sentence is necessary to  specifically deter him from further fraudulent conduct, whether out of greed or for power, in the future. Certainly, Cohen has no prior convictions, and is well-educated and professionally successful. Generally, such characteristics suggest that a defendant is unlikely to re-offend in the future. But where, as here, the nature, multitude, and temporal span of criminal behavior betray a man whose outlook on life was often to cheat – an outlook that succeeded for some time – his professional history and lack of prior convictions are not a significant mitigating factor.

For much the same reasons, the time-served sentence that Cohen seeks would send precisely the wrong message to the public. General deterrence is a significant factor here. Campaign finance crimes, because they are committed in secret and hidden from the victims, are difficult to identify and prosecute. Nonetheless, they have tremendous social cost, described above, as they erode faith in elections and perpetuate political corruption. Effective deterrence of such offenses requires incarceratory sentences that signal to other individuals who may contemplate conduct similar to Cohen’s that violations of campaign finance laws will not be tolerated. Particularly in light of the public interest in this case, the Court’s sentence may indeed have a cognizable impact on that problem by deterring future candidates, and their “fixers,” all of whom are sure to be aware of the Court’s sentence here, from violating campaign finance laws.

Additionally, a significant sentence of imprisonment would also generally deter tax evasion and other financial crimes by sending the important message that even powerful individuals cannot cheat on their taxes and lie to financial institutions with impunity, because they will be subject to serious federal penalties. This is particularly important in the context of a tax evasion prosecution. Hundreds of billions of dollars are lost annually because people like Cohen – who otherwise take full advantage of all that taxes bring, such as schools, paved roads, transit systems, and Government buildings – shirk their responsibilities as American taxpayers.

Friday, December 7, 2018

The Blue Shift in California

In Defying the Odds, we discuss state and congressional elections as well as the presidential race

Carl Marinucci at Politico:
“We have not yet been able to figure out how to effectively communicate and get significant numbers of votes from non-whites,’’ said former state Sen. Jim Brulte, who’s held the job of state GOP chair since 2013 and will retire in February.

Despite trend lines that show the “the entire country will be majority minority by 2044,’’ he said, the GOP has failed to confront the reality of those changes — or recognize the possibility that the recent "blue tsunami" midterm election in California was a harbinger of what lies ahead for the national party.
Brulte said he‘s repeatedly warned that the party’s overwhelmingly white and male candidates must “figure out how we get votes from people who don’t look like you.’’
But he said those warnings about the changing political and ethnic landscape have gone unheeded.
“And that’s why I have said that I believe California is the canary in the coal mine — not an outlier,’’ for the GOP in the coming cycles, he told POLITICO.
...

Brulte told POLITICO he categorically rejects the notion that voting irregularities may be the source of the party’s historic beating in the 2018 midterms in California, where Democrats flipped seven House seats and left the party with just seven members in the congressional delegation, the lowest number since the 1940s. He said Republicans were repeatedly informed of ways that Democrats were marshaling new and effective ways to get out the vote — but campaigns failed to take action.
...
 While Democrats used ballot harvesting with great success in a collection of key races here where mail ballots made up the margin of success, “we’ve not been able to find Republicans having a lot of success anywhere related to ballot harvesting,’’ he said.
“Would we have lost most of these races if ballot harvesting wasn’t legal?“ Brulte said.
“Yes.”
Adam Nagourney at NYT:
The California Republican Party — a once dominant power in the nation’s largest state, the party of Earl Warren, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan — is teetering on the brink of irrelevance.

The Democratic sweep of Orange County congressional seats drew national attention on Election Day. But the Republican losses there were a symptom of the broader collapse of a storied political organization.

Republicans now hold just seven seats in the state’s 53-member congressional delegation after what shaped up to be a devastating midterm for the party. There was more bad news on Thursday when Representative David Valadao, a Central Valley Republican, conceded to T.J. Cox in what had been the one still-undecided district. Democrats are now likely to take 40 seats from Republicans as they decisively capture control of Congress.

Democrats captured three-quarters of the seats in the State Assembly, the biggest margin in over 100 years. The governor, lieutenant governor, both United States senators, the attorney general and the secretary of state are all Democrats. As of September, there were fewer registered Republican voters in California than Democrats or independents.
 At The American Prospect, Kevin O'Leary provides important background on the bluing of Orange County.
When Santa Ana, located in the center of Orange County, became one of the most Latino cities in the nation, the time was ripe for the upset victory of Loretta Sanchez over Bob Dornan in 1996. Additionally, a post-industrial boom transformed the county’s economy into one of the most dynamic in the nation. For decades, wealthy real-estate developers such as Donald Bren (of The Irvine Company) had been the power behind the throne, picking and choosing who would serve on the Board of Supervisors and who would be the Republican nominee for governor. But OC also hosted the U.S. headquarters of pharmaceutical giant home Allergan and dozens of medical device companies, and was home to Quiksilver, Obey, and the surfwear industry. The bond giant PIMCO, the design teams of world’s leading automotive companies, and a growing tech industry also called Orange County their home. When then Irvine-based chipmaker Broadcom burst onto the scene in 1998 with an IPO that made its cofounders billionaires (whose wealth surpassed even Bren’s), it was clear that economic and social change was afoot. Currently home to 3.19 million people, Orange County has become one of the nation’s economic hubs; led by Costa Mesa, Irvine and Newport Beach, OC now has more commercial office space than San Francisco.
Joel Kotkin:
In my own Orange County district, Elizabeth Warren acolyte Katie Porter outspent, out-hustled and out-thought our listless Congresswoman Mimi Walters. Porter canvassers, young and enthusiastic, visited our house three times, but we never saw anyone from Walters’ campaign. Porter’s well-done ads, following the approved script of health care and opposition to Trump, appeared on popular websites and sports events, while Walters’ were virtually non-existent. In the end Walters’ addled handlers tried to win by waving the bloody shirt of potential tax returns and calling Porter a liberal; those old tactics failed miserably.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Election Fraud in North Carolina

In Defying the Odds, we discuss congressional elections as well as the presidential race

Khorri Atkinson at Axios:
An unfolding investigation by election officials into allegations of "concerted fraudulent" absentee mail-in ballots in North Carolina has roiled one of the country’s last unresolved midterm House races, increasing the possibility that a new contest could be ordered.
The big picture: The allegations leveled against the campaign of Republican Mark Harris, who holds an unofficial 905-vote lead over his Democratic opponent Dan McCready, run counter to the baseless claims of rampant voter fraud by Democrats often trumpeted by President Trump and other Republican officials.
Show less

What we know: The investigation by the North Carolina Board of Elections comes after it declined not to certify results for the 9th congressional district race last month, citing "claims of numerous irregularities and concerted fraudulent activities related to absentee by-mail ballots."
  • Leslie McCrae Dowless, who worked for Harris' campaign as a contractor, is reportedly at the center of the probe. He has been accused of collecting and filling out hundreds of voters’ absentee ballots — illegal in a state that mandates all absentee ballot envelopes must be signed by two witnesses and dropped off by voters or their close relatives.
  • Reports from WSOC and Popular Information revealed an unusual number of returned ballots in Bladen County signed by the same witnesses. One woman who signed 28 ballots as a witness told WSOC that Dowless paid her $75 to $100 a week to pick up absentee ballots. She said he didn’t inform her the practice was illegal.
  • Dowless has denied any wrongdoing, though the AP reports that Bladen's elections board has recorded that he submitted over 500 ballots.
Harry Enten at CNN:
The North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics last week voted against certifying Republican Mark Harris' 905 vote win over Democrat Dan McCready in the state's 9th Congressional District.
In the days since, allegations of election fraud involving absentee mail-in ballots have been made public.
The case for election fraud appears to be strong. That's because it's doesn't rely on just one or two pieces of evidence. Rather, it's a slew of evidence. This means that even if one part of the case were to fall apart, there would be still be reason to believe that the election wasn't on the level.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Washington, Trump, and Posterity

In  Defying the Oddswe discuss Trump's character and impact on America.

George Washington's Farewell Address:
As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible, avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it; avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertions in time of peace to discharge the debts which unavoidable wars have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burthen which we ourselves ought to bear.
Asawin Suebsaeng and Lachlan Markay at The Daily Beast report that Trump aides have warned him about the federal debt.
Sources close to the president say he has repeatedly shrugged it off, implying that he doesn’t have to worry about the money owed to America’s creditors—currently about $21 trillion—because he won’t be around to shoulder the blame when it becomes even more untenable.

The friction came to a head in early 2017 when senior officials offered Trump charts and graphics laying out the numbers and showing a “hockey stick” spike in the national debt in the not-too-distant future. In response, Trump noted that the data suggested the debt would reach a critical mass only after his possible second term in office.

“Yeah, but I won’t be here,” the president bluntly said, according to a source who was in the room when Trump made this comment during discussions on the debt.