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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.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Trump v. Flake

Another example of how institutional interests create friction between congressional Republicans and Trump.  Out of personal pique, he is willing to put a marginal GOP Senate seat at risk.  Alex Isenstadt reports at Politico:
The White House has met with at least three actual or prospective primary challengers to Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake in recent weeks, a reflection of Donald Trump’s strained relations with the senator and the latest sign of the president’s willingness to play hardball with lawmakers who cross him — even Republican incumbents.
Flake, a longtime Trump critic who refused to endorse the president during the 2016 campaign, is one of a handful of undecided Republican votes on the Obamacare repeal effort. He’s also one of the most vulnerable Republicans up for reelection in 2018.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Obamacare Beats Trumpcare

As the U.S. Senate continues to debate their plan to repeal and replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act, the latest Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll finds the public souring on the effort with a growing majority opposed to the plan.
This month’s poll finds 61 percent of the public now hold an unfavorable view of the Congress’ plan, up slightly from 55 percent in June. The opposition is also growing more intense, with 44 percent of the public now viewing the plan “very” unfavorably, up from 38 percent in June. In contrast, relatively few view the plan favorably (28%), including just one in 10 (9%) who view it “very” favorably.

At The Washington Post, Philip Bump has the latest WP-ABC poll data:

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Fake Tocqueville Rides Again

In  Defying the Odds, we discuss the conservative media.

Breitbart has an article attacking a papal adviser.  At one point, it quotes Tocqueville.
And in one of the most famous passages of that same work, the Frenchman described what he believed to be the source of America’s “greatness” (his term).
I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers – and it was not there . . . in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there . . . in her rich mines and her vast world commerce – and it was not there . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution – and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.
This quotation is fake.  As I have been pointing out for 22 years, Tocqueville never wrote any such thing.  Many politicians -- including Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Ben Carson -- have used the fake quotation. Hillary Clinton alluded to it in her acceptance speech.

It  apparently started many years ago. In his 1940 farewell speech (Congressional Record, September 11, 1940, 11902.) , Senator Henry Ashurst (D-Arizona) attributed the first several lines of that passage to Tocqueville, then offered the last line as his own summation. Barry Popik has pointed to even earlier sources -- but not Tocqueville.  Sherwood Eddy used it in a 1941 book on the American dream, and Eisenhower quoted it (without attribution to Tocqueville) in 1952 speech.

Again, Tocqueville did not write it.

There Are No "Former" Russian Agents

Ralph Peters, late of Army Intelligence, writes that American intelligence officers really do retire, unlike their Russian counterparts.
We also have robust firewalls between intelligence agencies, the rest of government, the private sector, the media, NGOs and so forth. In Russia, there are no firewalls. You can be a businessman, a propagandist, a human-rights lawyer (I love that one) and a spy simultaneously. You can be a billionaire cruising the Greek islands on your mega-yacht, but if Putin’s dogsbody rings your cell with a task, vacation’s over.

Russia is, in the end, Putin Incorporated.

But when we know that a Russian has formally worked as a “former counterintelligence agent” — as we learned Friday about an additional person present at the now-famous meeting last year between Trump family members and Russians promising dirt on Mrs. Clinton — we can mentally drop that "former."

And to claim that a meeting with the Russian equivalent of a mob lawyer and a “former” Russian counterintelligence officer is business-as-usual for any American political campaign is utterly untrue.

(Yes, the Clintons have had more ugly connections than there are rats in Manhattan. But shabby as they are, the Clintons never sought campaign collusion with Russian intelligence agents. The Clintons prefer being bought over being fooled.)

Friday, July 14, 2017

"A faith that makes losing a sin will make cheating a sacrament."

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

After media scrutiny forced Donald Trump Jr. to reveal the email chain that showed President Trump’s top advisers met with a Russian lawyer to gain information about Hillary Clinton from the Russian government, the Trump camp adopted the retroactive spin that Trump Jr. had actually shown admirable transparency about this meeting. Trump Jr. went on Sean Hannity’s show to do damage control, leading the president to exult: “He was open, transparent and innocent.”
But this new scoop from NBC News will make that posture a lot harder to sustain: [a previously-undisclosed Russian-American lobbyist took part in the collusion meeting.]
The Associated Press has identified the lobbyist as Rinat Akhmetshin. It is not yet clear what the significance of this is, in terms of what it says about what exactly transpired at the meeting. Trump Jr. has dismissed the meeting as insignificant, because no “meaningful information” came of it, but this news invites more scrutiny of that claim. As NBC News notes, such matters will be of great interest to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and congressional investigators.
Jennifer Rubin goes after my former party:
Out of its collective sense of victimhood came the GOP’s disdain for not just intellectuals but also intellectualism, science, Economics 101, history and constitutional fidelity. If the Trump children became slaves to money and to their father’s unbridled ego, then the GOP became slaves to its own demons and false narratives. A party that has to deny climate change and insist illegal immigrants are creating a crime wave — because that is what “conservatives” must believe, since liberals do not — is a party that will deny Trump’s complicity in gross misconduct. It’s a party as unfit to govern as Trump is unfit to occupy the White House. It’s not by accident that Trump chose to inhabit the party that has defined itself in opposition to reality and to any “external moral truth or ethical code.”
 Michael Gerson:
The ultimate explanation for this toxic moral atmosphere is President Trump himself. He did not attend the meeting, but he is fully responsible for creating and marketing an ethos in which victory matters more than character and real men write their own rules. Trumpism is an easygoing belief system that indulges and excuses the stiffing of contractors, the conning of students, the bilking of investors, the exploitation of women and the practices of nepotism and self-dealing. A faith that makes losing a sin will make cheating a sacrament.
C.S. Lewis posited three elements that make up human beings. There is the intellect, residing in the head. There are the passions, residing in the stomach (and slightly lower). And then there are trained, habituated emotions — the “stable sentiments” of character — which Lewis associated with the chest.
In the realm of political ethics, voters last year did not prioritize character in sufficient numbers, during the party primaries or the general election. Now we are seeing the result. “In a sort of ghastly simplicity,” Lewis said, “we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Tracy Sefl's Oppo Experience Is a Lot Like Mine

In  Defying the Oddswe discuss opposition research.

Tracy Sefl at The Washington Post:
I confess I quickly learned that the day-to-day reality of opposition research wasn’t always quite that tidy. Here’s why: When people are invested in your candidate, they want to participate. They have ideas, suggestions, “hot tips.” Phone calls to the main line of the campaign get routed … to research. Generically addressed letters and emails get routed … to research. Friends of friends of your second cousin’s neighbor’s mail carrier somehow get your mobile number. (I never saw a serial killer-style missive written with letters cut from a magazine, but some came close.) However strange the source, everything was read, every voice mail listened to. Occasionally, a staffer might fall prey to a blocked number and be trapped listening to a long, fantastical story, offering only benign “mmhmm”s while colleagues offered sympathetic looks. You might even say researchers, however maligned, are unfailingly polite.
As the extraordinary news unfolded this week of the meeting Trump Jr. had with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya last June — and especially after he released the astonishing email chain showing that he agreed to the meeting after being told he could get documents that “would incriminate Hillary” as “part of Russia and its government’s support” for Trump’s father’s campaign — a friend and I checked our consciences. “If someone ever reached out to us like that, we’d have … called our lawyers. Called the FBI. Right?” “Without question.” The prospect of responding the way Trump Jr. did is out of the realm of possibility, improbable, absurd. Meeting with a Kremlin-linked attorney for the purposes of receiving incriminating information about an opponent? Um, yes, that seems shady. It would never have happened in any campaign I’ve worked on, or any of the best ones I’ve worked against.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Inaccurate Spelling of "Inaccurately"

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's way with words.  He and his underlings have made many mistakes.

Oppo and the Media

In Defying the Odds, we discuss opposition research in the 2016 campaign.

At The New York Times, Jonathan Martin uses the Kremlingate story to reflect on the relationship between oppo and the media:
The back-and-forth between news source and reporter over opposition research can recall adolescent flirtation: initial awkwardness, then apprehension over whether there is mutual interest — and neither party wants the world to find out the details of the courtship.
A reporter would rather not be identified as being spoon-fed information. Most sources do not want their dirty work to splash back on their candidate or party. So both parties have an interest in keeping a story’s genesis under wraps.
Typically, a campaign or government official approaches the journalist. This often begins with a request for anonymity, or in the parlance of the business, “No fingerprints.” The more sensitive the information, the more likely the pitch is made in person or on the telephone. Most political actors — not, apparently, Donald Trump Jr. — fear creating an email trail, at least before guarantees of anonymity have been offered.
After a reporter agrees not to reveal the identity of the source, the reporter and his or her editors or producers will confer about whether they are interested in pursuing a story about the material on offer.
If the news organization is interested, there is one last issue: how to identify the source. References can be made to “a rival candidate’s campaign” or more obliquely “a source familiar with the dirt” or even the bare-bones “sources say.”
Two things.  First, reporters often ask campaigns for the information.  (I have seen it happen.) Second, if the oppo consists of primary-source documents, reporters will often cite the dox without saying who pointed them out.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Donald Jr. Knew He Could Collude with the Russian Government

In  Defying the Odds, we discuss Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign.

New York Times:
The June 3, 2016, email sent to Donald Trump Jr. could hardly have been more explicit: One of his father’s former Russian business partners had been contacted by a senior Russian government official and was offering to provide the Trump campaign with dirt on Hillary Clinton.
The documents “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,” read the email, written by a trusted intermediary, who added, “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
If the future president’s elder son was surprised or disturbed by the provenance of the promised material — or the notion that it was part of a continuing effort by the Russian government to aid his father’s campaign — he gave no indication.
He replied within minutes: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
Four days later, after a flurry of emails, the intermediary wrote back, proposing a meeting in New York on Thursday with a “Russian government attorney.”

Donald Trump Jr. agreed, adding that he would most likely bring along “Paul Manafort (campaign boss)” and “my brother-in-law,” Jared Kushner, now one of the president’s closest White House advisers.
Earlier in The New York Times:
Before arranging a meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer he believed would offer him compromising information about Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump Jr. was informed in an email that the material was part of a Russian government effort to aid his father’s candidacy, according to three people with knowledge of the email.
The email to the younger Mr. Trump was sent by Rob Goldstone, a publicist and former British tabloid reporter who helped broker the June 2016 meeting. In a statement on Sunday, Mr. Trump acknowledged that he was interested in receiving damaging information about Mrs. Clinton, but gave no indication that he thought the lawyer might have been a Kremlin proxy.
Mr. Goldstone’s message, as described to The New York Times by the three people, indicates that the Russian government was the source of the potentially damaging information. It does not elaborate on the wider effort by Moscow to help the Trump campaign.
There is no evidence to suggest that the promised damaging information was related to Russian government computer hacking that led to the release of thousands of Democratic National Committee emails. The meeting took place less than a week before it was widely reported that Russian hackers had infiltrated the committee’s servers.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Donald Jr. and the Scent of Collusion

In  Defying the Odds, we discuss Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign.

Mike Allen at Axios:
On Saturday, N.Y. Times had disclosed that the Trump Tower meeting last June with "a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin" had been convened by Don Trump Jr., the president's eldest son, and included son-in-law Jared Kushner and campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
A day later, the bombshell: The meeting was not primarily about adoption policy, as Trump Jr. had suggested in a statement. Don Jr. had been "promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton."
The NYT's Maggie Haberman pointed out on Twitter: "This meeting took place at a pivotal moment for Trump, winning Indiana but facing delegate slog prospect."
Under the for-history headline of "TRUMP TEAM MET RUSSIAN OFFERING DIRT ON CLINTON," The Times says: "The accounts of the meeting represent the first public indication that at least some in the campaign were willing to accept Russian help."
Scott Bixby reports at The Daily Beast:
But the Trump team’s initial strategy of dismissing the Veselnitskaya meeting as an introductory chat about adoption quickly evolved to speculating something far more sinister: that the president’s most trusted advisor, the chairman of his campaign, and the man in charge of running his extensive business interests were all duped by the Russkis, the result of a nefarious Democratic operation meant to use Kremlin operatives to sink the Trump campaign.
“We have learned from both our own investigation and public reports that the participants in the meeting misrepresented who they were and who they worked for,” Mark Corallo, spokesperson for Trump’s outside counsel, said in a statement released a few hours after the original New York Times story published.
“Specifically, we have learned that the person who sought the meeting is associated with Fusion GPS, a firm which according to public reports, was retained by Democratic operatives to develop opposition research on the president and which commissioned the phony Steele dossier,” Corallo continued, referring to the strategic intelligence firm hired by anti-Trump Republicans, then by Democrats, to do opposition research on the candidate.
If it were a setup, however, why did they never use it during the campaign?

Sunday, July 9, 2017

People Trust Media More Than They Trust Trump

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's use of mass media.

Mike Allen at Axios:
A stark poll by Survey Monkey finds that 89% of Republicans view President Trump as more trustworthy than CNN, and 91% of Democrats think the opposite. Among all adults, trust for CNN is 7 points ahead of Trump. Among independents, CNN wins by 15 points....
Asked whether they trust Trump or the WashPost/NYT more, the newspapers won by 9 points among all adults. Asked about Trump vs. ABC/CBS/NBC, the networks were judged more trustworthy by an 11-point margin. Republicans had a similar disproportionate trust in Trump.
The online poll of 4,965 adults, taken June 29 to July 3 (error estimate: +/- 2.5 points), found:
  • 33% of Republicans say they get their news only from Fox.
  • 64% of all adults disapprove of Trump's use of Twitter (89% Dems, 38% Republicans).
  • Describing his tweets (all adults): undignified 47% ... mean 34% ... entertaining 26% ... presidential 7%.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Kamala Harris 2020?

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the early stages of the 2016 campaign, when many candidates were unknowns.  It is already time for the 2020 unknowns.

Matt Flegenheimer writes at The New York Times:
Like the Senate newcomers Barack Obama or Marco Rubio before her, Ms. Harris — a 52-year-old former prosecutor with a profane streak, a lawyerly aversion to “false choices” and an affection for the rapper Too Short — has insisted that national aspirations are far from her mind. 
Like those men, she has not exactly ruled out the possibility, either. 
Unlike those men, she is not a man, a fact that has figured prominently in her introduction to mass audiences in a recurring (and highly rated) television series: Senate Intelligence Committee Hearing Into Possible Trump Ties to Russia.
Calbuzz is...skeptical
Weeks before the imperious Queen Kamala took office – relying as she does on bad advice from the craven whisperers around her — we warned that this shallow narcissist would start looking in the mirror and seeing a future president. 
Old-school political reporters used to say there are two kinds of pols: work horses and show horses. Take a wild guess which of California’s two U.S. Senators is which 
While it’s true that her recent smart, aggressive and gone-viral questioning of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was rudely interrupted because, well, she’s a black woman, the bottom line on Harris is this: (with apologies to Gertrude Stein and the fine people of Oakland) There’s not much there there. Nor does it help her cause that her long-ago lover, former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, has openly suggested she wouldn’t be where she is today if it weren’t for him. (“We had been very close” — wink-wink, nudge-nudge — Brown wrote in a kissy-kissy Chronicle column two weeks ago. 
Once she’s represented California for a couple of terms and can show some policy and political chops, Harris may well be someone to take seriously. But for now she’s just the flavor of the week among the big brains in the Beltway.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Watch the Generic Ballot

At Crystal Ball, Alan Abramowitz says that the September preelection generic ballot test is a good predictor of seat change in the House.
Democrats will need a lead of at least five points on the generic ballot in early September of 2018 in order to gain the 24 seats that they need to take control of the House. Based on the results of recent national polls, that number appears well within reach. On average, based on calculations from FiveThirtyEight, Democrats hold an adjusted lead of close to seven points on the generic ballot, mirroring that of the RealClearPolitics average. A lead of that magnitude would result in a predicted Democratic gain of close to 30 House seats, more than enough to regain control of the chamber. Given the model’s standard error of 11.6 seats, that forecast would give Democrats about a two-thirds chance of regaining control of the House.
So keep an eye on the generic ballot polling for 2018. If Democrats maintain a lead in the high single digits, that probably indicates they will have a decent chance to win the House or at least significantly cut into the Republicans’ majority. A bigger Democratic lead, into the double digits, would make a takeover more likely, while a smaller Democratic lead — or a GOP advantage — would put Republicans in a clearer position to preserve their majority.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

GOP Senate Recruitment Difficulty

At The Washington Post, Amber Phillips notes that the Senate GOP has had difficulty in midterm candidate recruitment.  Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO) recently opted out of a race against McCaskill.
  • In Wisconsin, Rep. Sean P. Duffy (R) decided not to run to challenge Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D). There are at least six possible GOP candidates who could try to challenge Baldwin.In Indiana, Rep. Susan Brooks (R) decided not to run against Sen. Joe Donnelly (D), possibly the most vulnerable Senate Democrat. Her colleagues, GOP Reps. Luke Messer and Todd Rokita, do look like they'll run, and they've already started attacking each other in pretty dramatic ways, like accusing the other of planting negative stories or making “unhinged” comments.
  • In Pennsylvania, Rep. Patrick Meehan (R) decided not to run against two-term Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D). Now there are at least four Republicans who have launched campaigns, from state representatives to a real estate developer and an energy executive. Pennsylvania Republicans tell National Journal they'd feel better about the race if either U.S. Reps. Lou Barletta or Mike Kelly decided to run. (Both have said they're thinking about it.)
  • In West Virginia, a state Trump won by more than 40 (!) points, U.S. GOP Rep. Evan Jenkins is running to try to unseat Sen. Joe Manchin III (D). But a super PAC recently jumped into the race in favor of likely GOP candidate Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and attacked Jenkins as a Manchin “mini me.”In Ohio, state Treasurer Josh Mandel (R) is the leading candidate to challenge two-term Sen. Sherrod Brown (D). But a wealthy investment banker and GOP donor decided to run, too.
  • And Montana Republicans lost their top recruit, Ryan Zinke, after Trump picked him to be his interior secretary. Attorney General Tim Fox (R) also said no thanks to challenging two-term Sen. Jon Tester (D), which has left the state auditor as the biggest name among half a dozen potential candidates.
  • Finally, in North Dakota, Republicans don't have a candidate yet to challenge Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D), another state Trump won by double digits (20 points).

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Rejecting Trump's Voter Fraud Panel

CNN reports:
Forty-four states and the District of Columbia have refused to provide certain types of voter information to the Trump administration's election integrity commission, according to a CNN inquiry to all 50 states.
State leaders and voting boards across the country have responded to the letter with varying degrees of cooperation -- from altogether rejecting the request to expressing eagerness to supply information that is public.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, vice chairman of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which President Donald Trump created by executive order in May, sent a letter to all 50 states last Wednesday requesting a bevy of voter data, which he notes will eventually be made available to the public.

The order came months after Trump claimed without evidence that millions had voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election. When states began to express concerns about the legality of his administration's efforts to investigate voter fraud, Trump called them out on Twitter on Saturday, questioning whether they were hiding something.
 "Numerous states are refusing to give information to the very distinguished VOTER FRAUD PANEL. What are they trying to hide?" Trump tweeted.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Trump v. The Founding

In  Defying the Odds, we explain that Trump has renounced the conservatism of Ronald Reagan.
He usually dismissed high ideals by reducing them to crude material terms. Consider for instance, America’s foundational proposition that all men are created equal. “The world is not fair,” Trump said in a 2006 video.  [see below] “You know they come with this statement `all men are created equal.’ Well, it sounds beautiful, and it was written by some very wonderful people and brilliant people, but it's not true because all people and all men [laughter] aren't created [equal] … you have to be born and blessed with something up here [pointing to his head]. On the assumption you are, you can become very rich.” Similarly, Trump did not think of “American exceptionalism” as a way of thinking about the nation’s role as a beacon for equality and liberty. As he said in 2015 [see video below] , it was all about the Benjamins.
I want to take everything back from the world that we’ve given them. We’ve given them so much. On top of taking it back, I don’t want to say, “We’re exceptional, we’re more exceptional.” Because essentially we’re saying, “We’re more outstanding than you. By the way, you’ve been eating our lunch for the last 20 years, but we’re more exceptional than you.” I don’t like the term. I never liked it.
Trump’s disdain for these ideas put him at odds with a major strain of conservative thought that revered the Declaration. It surely set him apart from conservatives who loved to quote Reagan’s rhetoric of a “shining city on a hill” and who faulted President Obama for seeming to belittle American exceptionalism. Trump just did not care very much for conservative ideology. In May of 2016, he said: “This is called the Republican Party. It’s not called the Conservative Party.” Trump pollster Tony Fabrizio told a post-election conference: “One of the problems is many people tried to look at the Donald Trump phenomenon through the ideological lenses which had defined previous Republican presidential nominating contests. Donald Trump is post ideological. His movement transcends ideology.”
An important Weekly Standard article by Daniel Krauthammer:
The only way to discern what President Trump's nationalism truly represents is to examine his words and actions—something the New Nationalists generally avoid. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the president's brand of nationalism is the lack of anything uniquely American about it. Unlike every president (and presidential candidate) in living memory, Donald Trumpalmost never employs the ideas and language of the Founders. Try to think of a time you have heard him extol liberty, freedom, democracy, rights, equality, justice—or even utter the words. His speechwriters from time to time insert a few token phrases into his prepared speeches. But in Trump's unprepared remarks at rallies, in debate performances, TV interviews, press conferences, tweets, they barely appear. Clearly, they do not preoccupy him. Our ideals and their fulfillment are not, in his view, what made America great.

Monday, July 3, 2017

"The Men He Has Around Him," continued

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
Poor Christians opened their wallets to a religious nonprofit run by Donald Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow. In turn, Sekulow hired one of his own teenage sons—straight out of a Nickelodeon internship—and named him a “director” of the charity, where the son subsequently earned nearly a million dollars.
Authorities in New York and North Carolina are investigating Sekulow’s charity, Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism, following reports that the nonprofit doled out millions to Sekulow and his immediate family. On Tuesday, The Guardian revealed that the so-called charity led an aggressive telemarketing campaign, asking impoverished Christians to “sacrifice” their money, or warning them that “Islamic extremists are headed in your direction, and you are most likely the main target.”

Over $886,000 of those donations from CASE and its related organizations was paid out to Logan Sekulow, Jay’s son, who was first named a CASE “director” when he was just 18.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Fake President, Fake Violence

David Nakamura reports at The Washington Post:
— A day after defending his use of social media as befitting a “modern day” president, President Trump appeared to promote violence against CNN in a tweet.
Trump, who is on vacation at his Bedminster golf resort, posted on Twitter an old video clip of him performing in a WWE professional wrestling match, but with a CNN logo superimposed on the head of his opponent. In the clip, Trump is shown slamming the CNN avatar to the ground and pounding him with simulated punches and elbows to the head. Trump added the hastags #FraudNewsCNN and #FNN, for “fraud news network.”

CNN Statement:
It is a sad day when the President of the United States encourages violence against reporters. Clearly, Sarah Huckabee Sanders lied when she said the President had never done so. Instead of preparing for his overseas trip, his first meeting with Vladimir Putin, ‎dealing with North Korea and working on his health care bill, he is instead involved in juvenile behavior far below the dignity of his office. We will keep doing our jobs. He should start doing his.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

CA Republicans Are in Rough Shape

In Defying the Odds, we discuss state and congressional races as well as the presidential election.

Seema Mehta and Phil Willon report at the Los Angeles Times that San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer will not run for governor of California.
Both House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) and state Republican Party Chairman Jim Brulte had urged Faulconer to run.

A strong GOP top-of-the-ticket candidate would be expected to increase Republican turnout next fall. Faulconer’s decision not to run could impact some hotly contested congressional races in California, and potentially affect Republican efforts to retain control of the House of Representatives.
If a Republican gubernatorial candidate fails to make the general election, creating a Democrat-on-Democrat race in November 2018, that could depress GOP turnout and affect those targeted congressional races.
“It leaves the Republicans without an obvious front-runner that the donors would have confidence in,” said GOP strategist Rob Stutzman, who previously advised former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and 2010 GOP nominee Meg Whitman. But “it still depends on the nature of the race next November. It’s too early to say.”
Faulconer probably would have lost. Republican leaders knew that he was an underdog, but they hoped that his showing would be decent enough to prevent a downticket blowout. Now the likeliest outcomes for the GOP are 1.  A very weak general-election candidate, or 2. No candidate at all.

The stench of Trump does not help, either.