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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Revenge of Suburban Women

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the demographic divides of the 2016 campaign.

To be sure, outlets have reported a handful of high-profile indicators of nationwide civic rumblings: big turnouts to hundreds of Women’s Marches in January 2017, and again a year later, as well as the emergence of a flood of Democratic congressional challengers for 2018, with a record-breaking proportion of women. But there’s a deeper and broader shift powering these indicators, and those who see only nationally visible events may miss it entirely. Far from the bluest strongholds, a huge demographic swathe of forgotten Americans is remaking politics, and it is not the one getting most of the press. The new upsurge is not centered in the progressive urban enclaves where most national pundits live; nor is it to be found among the grizzled men in coal country diners where journalists escape to get out of the bubble. Neither of those poles looks much like most of America anyway. About half the country lives in the suburbs, twice the number who live in either fully urban or rural settings. More than half of Americans are also women— and of those, half are in their thirties to sixties. It is in this Middle America, and among these Middle Americans, that political developments since the November 2016 election have moved fastest and farthest.
...
The protagonists of the trends we report on are mainly college-educated suburban white women. We tell their stories not because college-educated white women are the most Democratic slice of the electorate (they aren’t) or because they are the most progressive voices within the Democratic Party (they aren’t) or because they have a special claim to lead the left moving forward (they don’t: nor do they pretend to). Rather, what we report here is that it is among these college-educated, middle-aged women in the suburbs that political practices have most changed under Trump. If your question is how the panorama of political possibility has shifted since November 2016, your story needs to begin here.
...
 Again, these local stories have been similar across the country. Regular citizens bitterly disappointed with the 2016 results emerged from what many call a “period of mourning” to start planning activities, coordinated by pairs or trios or handfuls of self-appointed leaders. Some of these sparkplugs already knew one another, while others connected on buses to the 2017 Women’s Marches or “met” online, sometimes facilitated by the PantSuit Nation Facebook group that connected hundreds of thousands of women in anticipation of the first female President. Although men are certainly involved in the local groups that have taken shape since the election, women are indeed very much in the vanguard making up about 70 percent of the participants and most members of the leadership teams.

"The Best People," continued

In  Defying the Oddswe discuss  Trump's record of  scandal
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
Officials in at least four countries have privately discussed ways they can manipulate Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports on the matter.

Among those nations discussing ways to influence Kushner to their advantage were the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel and Mexico, the current and former officials said.

It is unclear if any of those countries acted on the discussions, but Kushner’s contacts with certain foreign government officials have raised concerns inside the White House and are a reason he has been unable to obtain a permanent security clearance, the officials said.
At NYT, Katie Rogers and Maggie Haberman report on the announcement that Brad Parscale would head Trump's reelection campaign:
The 2020 campaign announcement, as is common in Trump world, didn’t quite go off without a hitch: For starters, it initially alarmed ethics experts, who said its description of Mr. Kushner as “senior adviser and assistant to the president, and President Trump’s son-in-law,” was in violation of the Hatch Act, which prohibits political activities by government employees. The announcement was later edited to remove “senior adviser.”
“We’ve got a campaign that’s obsessed with campaigning and doesn’t even know what the Hatch Act rules are around Jared Kushner,” Richard W. Painter, who served as a White House ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush administration, said in an interview. “They don’t have any idea what the rules are, and they really don’t care.”
The timing of the announcement also came hours before the disclosure that Mr. Kushner’s security clearance level had been downgraded.
AP reports:
The political strategist and online guru who was named President Donald Trump's 2020 campaign manager Tuesday has a close financial relationship with a penny-stock firm with a questionable history that includes longstanding ties to a convicted fraudster, according to an Associated Press investigation.
Brad Parscale, who played a key role in Trump's 2016 election victory, signed a $10 million deal in August to sell his digital marketing company to CloudCommerce Inc. As part of the deal, Parscale currently serves as a member of California-based company's management team.
Glenn Thrush at NYT:
Department of Housing and Urban Development officials spent $31,000 on a new dining room set for Secretary Ben Carson’s office in late 2017 — just as the White House circulated its plans to slash HUD’s programs for the homeless, elderly and poor, according to federal procurement records.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

February Ends on a Blue Note

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

Jennifer Agiesta at CNN:
Democrats once again hold a wide advantage in a generic congressional matchup, according to a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS, backed by a base of supporters who are more enthusiastic than Republican partisans and more motivated by core issues.
The poll finds 54% of registered voters say they back a Democrat in their congressional district, 38% say they back a Republican. That's a shift in favor of the Democrats since January, bringing their advantage in a hypothetical generic matchup to about the same level as early 2006, a year in which the party won control of both the House and the Senate.
Read the full poll results
Agiesta also reports:
President Donald Trump's approval rating in a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS stands at 35%, down five points over the last month to match his lowest level yet.
The slide follows a January bump in approval for the President, a finding that appeared connected to a bullish stock market and strong reviews for the economy. His new rating matches a December poll, which marked his lowest approval rating in CNN polling since taking office in January 2017.
Republicans had been thinking that the tax law would help them. They might think again. Brian Faler at Politico:
The glitches in the new tax law are starting to pile up.
One inadvertently denies restaurants, retailers and others generous new write-offs for things like remodeling.

Another would allow wealthy money managers to sidestep a crackdown on lucrative tax breaks that allows them to pay lower taxes on some of their income than ordinary wage earners. A third creates two different start dates for new rules that make it harder for businesses to shave their tax bills.
There are dozens of other snafus, hitting everything from real estate investments to multinational corporations to farmers.
It’s hardly surprising there would be bugs in the sprawling new law H.R. 1 (115), but some experts say the sheer number is unusual, and blame the breakneck pace at which the legislation was pushed through Congress.
“This is not normal,” said Marty Sullivan, chief economist at the nonpartisan Tax Analysts. “There’s always this kind of stuff, but the order of magnitude is entirely different.”
Michael Malbin finds that Democratic are financially competitive:
It is clear from this table that Democrats are focusing where the political opportunities are. They have challengers with more than $100,000 in more than 90 percent of the seats that lean Democrat, or that lean Republican by 5 points or less. In open-seat races (where incumbency is not a factor working against them) the Democrats are also contesting 86 percent of the seats that lean Republican by 6-10 points. Thus, the Democrats are not only targeting the most obvious races with an underlying Democratic partisanship. Sticking to these races would not give them a chance to gain 24 seats. Instead, they are also reaching into their opponents’ territory, looking to pick up districts that normally swing Republican.

Monday, February 26, 2018

San Francisco, We Have a Problem


Seema Mehta and Phil Willon at LAT:
California Democrats overwhelmingly decided not to endorse Sen. Dianne Feinstein this weekend, an embarrassing rebuke of a party icon who has represented California in the Senate for a quarter-century.

Nearly two-thirds of the party's delegates voted against backing her campaign for a fifth full term, a reflection of the dissonance between an increasingly liberal state party and the moderation and pragmatism that have been hallmarks of Feinstein's political career.
 The lack of support could simply be a speed bump on Feinstein's path to reelection in November. But many Democrats gathered in San Diego for their annual convention said they were looking for a flamethrower who would more aggressively confront President Trump and viewed Feinstein as a creature of the nation's capital who has lost touch with her California roots.
Feinstein's opponent, state Senate leader Kevin de León of Los Angeles, won 54% of the delegates' votes Saturday, just shy of the 60% needed to secure the endorsement. Feinstein received 37%.

"I have never seen her ever at a convention until she finally realized, 'I've got a challenge on my hands,'" said Mark Gonzalez, chairman of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party. "People are frustrated…. She's the most senior member and we value that, but as the most senior member, you've got to give it to Trump. She has the power to challenge him, and she doesn't always do that."
Scott Shafer at NPR:
Before U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein could finish her speech at the California Democratic Party convention Saturday, the music began playing to indicate she had used her allotted time.

She kept talking. The music got louder. "I guess my time is up," Feinstein conceded as what sounded like a 1940s movie score continued playing.

Without missing a beat, supporters of her opponent, state Sen. Kevin de León echoed her statement in a chant: "Your time is up! Your time is up!" — a not-so-subtle reference to Feinstein's 25 years in the U.S. Senate.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Trump and the Decline of Conservatism

In  Defying the Odds, we explain that Trump has renounced the conservatism of Ronald Reagan.

Mona Charen at CPAC:
I’m disappointed in people on our side for being hypocrites about about sexual harassers and abusers of women who are in our party, who are sitting in the White House, who brag about their extra-marital affairs, who brag about mistreating women. And because he happens to have an “R” after his name, we look the other way — we don’t complain. This is a party that was ready to endorse Roy Moore for the Senate in the state of Alabama even though he was a credibly accused child molester. You cannot claim that you stand for women and put up with that.



Security guards had to protect her as she exited.

She then wrote in NYT:
I spoke to a hostile audience for the sake of every person who has watched this spectacle of mendacity in disbelief and misery for the past two years. Just hearing the words you know are true can serve as ballast, steadying your mind when so much seems unreal.

For traditional conservatives, the past two years have felt like a Twilight Zone episode. Politicians, activists and intellectuals have succumbed with numbing regularity, betraying every principle they once claimed to uphold. But there remains a vigorous remnant of dissenters. I hear from them. There were even some at CPAC.

A substantial number of people applauded. And as I was hustled out of the building by security, various supporters gave me the thumbs up sign.

Just before I reached the exit, a woman approached me and called my name. “That was so brave!” she told me.

She was one of my fellow panelists. I hope she’s encouraged. I am.
Richard Brookhiser at NRO:
[W]hether from design, or simply because it is the way things work, Trump’s conservative admirers have had to abandon and contradict what they once professed to hold most dear.
The most egregious example is the religious Right. The religious Right is the latest version of an old model of American politics, variously incarnated by Puritans, abolitionists, and William Jennings Bryan. It, like its predecessors, has argued that America and individual Americans need to have a godly or at least moral character to thrive. Now the religious Right adores a thrice-married cad and casual liar. But it is not alone. Historians and psychologists of the martial virtues salute the bone-spurred draft-dodger whose Khe Sanh was not catching the clap. Cultural critics who deplored academic fads and slipshod aesthetics explicate a man who has never read a book, not even the ones he has signed. Followers of Harry Jaffa, the most important Lincoln scholar of the last 60 years, rally round a Republican who does not know why the Civil War happened. Straussians, after leaving the cave, find themselves in Mar-a-Lago. Econocons put their money on a serial bankrupt.
Admiring Trump is different from voting for him, or working with him. Politics is calculation; “to live,” Whittaker Chambers told Buckley, who quoted it ever after, “is to maneuver.” But to admire Trump is to trade your principles for his, which are that winning — which means Trump winning — is all.

In three years (maybe seven), Donald Trump will no longer be president. But conservatives who bent the knee will still be writing and thinking. How will it be possible to take them seriously?
 Max Boot at WP:
The career of Dinesh D’Souza is indicative of the downward trajectory of conservatism. He made his name with a well-regarded 1991 book denouncing political correctness and championing liberal education. Then he wrote a widely panned 1995 book claiming that racism was no more, and it was all downhill from there. In 2014 he pleaded guilty to breaking campaign finance laws. Now, as the Daily Beast notes, he has become a conspiratorial crank who has suggested that the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville was staged by liberals, that Barack Obama is a “gay Muslim” and Michelle Obama is a man and that Adolf Hitler, who sent 50,000 homosexuals to prison, “was NOT anti-gay.” He managed to sink even lower last week by mocking stunned Parkland school-shooting survivors after the Florida legislature defeated a bill to ban assault weapons: “Worst news since their parents told them to get summer jobs.”

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Gates and Rohrabacher


Rick Gates has flipped, entering a guilty plea in return for telling what he knows about Trump and Manafort.

Allegra Kirkland at TPM:
Buried in the plea agreement documents released Friday for former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates was one remarkable detail. Just this month, Gates lied to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team and to the FBI about what transpired during a spring 2013 meeting held by his longtime boss and fellow Trump campaign veteran Paul Manafort.
Per the court filing, Gates on Feb. 1 knowingly and falsely testified that “there were no discussions of Ukraine” at a March 19, 2013 meeting between Manafort, “a senior Company A lobbyist,” and “a Member of Congress.”

Though the document does not name the other two participants, their identities can be pieced together from contemporaneous news reports and recent filings with the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
The member of Congress appears have been Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), jokingly nicknamed “Putin’s favorite congressman” for his strong pro-Russia stance. Manafort’s June 2017 FARA filing– which acknowledges that his firm, DMP International, LLC, conducted millions of dollars in business with the pro-Russia Ukrainian Party of Regions –notes that he met with Rohrabacher on that day. Three days later, Manafort donated $1,000 to Rohrabacher’s congressional campaign.

The lobbyist appears to have been Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman who now works for Mercury Public Affairs, a global PR giant. The meeting between the trio was disclosed on Mercury’s own retroactive FARA filing, submitted in April of last year.

Gubernatorial Stakes

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

Governors who take office after the 2018 elections will be on hand to sign or veto redistricting plans following the 2010 census.  At Politico, Doug Sosnik says:
This is the lost decade for Democrats. It was a lost decade because of our losses at the governors' races in 2010, and in order for us to have a much better shot at drawing fairer lines for the House of Representatives, we have to win these governors' races.
So, for me as a Democrat, there are 13 states in particular that I'm focused on in the 2018 governors’ races. But especially, these five: Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida. If Democrats can win the governorships in these states and hold the one in Virginia, then we have a seat at the table at the redistricting coming up—we can't be politically gerrymandered in these big industrial Midwest states and Florida.
So those five states are critical for Democrats to not be shut out in the process in the next decade like we were in this current. There are eight other states that have the potential for Democrats to actually take control of all aspects of reapportionment so that we can draw lines that are more favorable to Democrats. This is the last huge, big opportunity for Democrats to be able to undo for the next decade the damage that was done in this decade.

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Friday, February 23, 2018

Russiagate Figure Controls Mercenaries in Syria


 Ellen Nakashima, Karen DeYoung and Liz Sly at WP:
A Russian oligarch believed to control the Russian mercenaries who attacked U.S. troops and their allies in Syria this month was in close touch with Kremlin and ­Syrian officials in the days and weeks before and after the assault, according to U.S. intelligence reports.
In intercepted communications in late January, the oligarch, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, told a senior Syrian official that he had “secured permission” from an unspecified Russian minister to move forward with a “fast and strong” initiative that would take place in early February.
Prigozhin made front-page headlines last week when he was indicted by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III on charges of bankrolling and guiding a long-running Russian scheme to conduct “information warfare” during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.
He is known to have close ties to Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, forged when he was a restaurateur in St. Petersburg and expanded through what became Prigozhin’s wide-ranging business empire, including extensive contracts with Russia’s Defense Ministry.

Among his various enterprises, U.S. intelligence believes that Prigozhin also “almost certainly” controls Russian mercenaries fighting in Syria on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad. The mercenaries, employed by a company called Wagner, comprise ultra­nationalist Russians and military veterans, some of whom also fought in the Ukraine conflict, according to Russian news reports.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Trump Threatens California


KQED:
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.”

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Guns of the GOP

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

Anna Palmer, Jake Sherman, and Daniel Lippman at Politico:
MANY REPUBLICANS FEEL LIKE THEY GO HOME to their safely red district and interact with constituents who are gun-toting NRA members -- many of whom show up to barbecues, fundraisers and political events carrying a weapon. Multiple Republicans told us they have held events at high-end shooting ranges. Gabe Debenedetti: “AR-15 auction removed from McMorris Rodgers fundraiser” http://politi.co/2GwJiSp
FORGET THE MONEY that the NRA gives -- it’s relatively inconsequential compared to other industries, and it’s a lazy explanation for the position that many Republicans hold. But many GOP voters exist in a media environment where they read the NRA’s magazines, pay attention to their scorecards come election time and wonder if the long arm of the U.S. government will come get their guns.
MOST REPUBLICANS exist in a climate in which their only political fear is a primary challenger on the right. To these Republicans, national polls mean squat. Getting on the “wrong side” of the gun issue would be going soft on guns -- that’s the way to lose a primary election. Few of these Republicans believe they’ll lose an election by not supporting stringent gun regulations.

CONSIDER THIS: In the House -- the more conservative of the two bodies -- 36 lawmakers sit in seats that elect Republicans by an average of 20 points or more. If you start looking wobbly there on any core issue -- which lawmakers say is immigration, abortion and gun rights -- you could be looking for a new job.
THEN THERE’S THEIR ARGUMENT that new gun laws wouldn’t do much. Ban assault weapons? Well there are plenty on the streets now. And if you ban assault weapons and someone shoots up a school with a pistol, then what’s next? Will the government move to make pistols illegal. How about tightening background checks? Many Republicans will tell you the laws in place now aren’t being enforced as they should be. Why add new regulations?
THERE IS A CLEAR SPLIT AMONG TOP REPUBLICANS WE TALK TO.Many believe this shooting is a tipping point. Others say, “eh.” Remember, Republicans didn’t do anything after one of their own — House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) — was shot. And in 2011, they did nothing when Gabby Giffords -- then a member of the House -- was shot in the head meeting constituents outside a supermarket.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Pennsylvania Redistricting

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

Elena Schneider at Politico:
Democrats’ hopes of winning the House this fall got a boost Monday with the release of a new congressional-district map in Pennsylvania that could help the party pick up several seats in the battleground state.
Under the previous map, drawn by a Republican Legislature in 2011 and approved by the then-Republican governor, Republicans won 13 of the state's 18 congressional districts in 2016, when President Donald Trump carried 12 of the 18 districts.

But early estimates of the new, court-drawn map suggest there are now 10 Trump seats — opening the door for Democrats to inch closer to the House majority when voters go to the polls this November. The extra Democratic-leaning seats are primarily in the Philadelphia suburbs.
“This is pretty close to a Democratic wet dream,” Christopher Nicholas, a Republican consultant based in Pennsylvania, said of the new map.
Christopher Ingraham at WP:
Michael McDonald, an elections expert at the University of Florida, wrote that the new Pennsylvania mapshares characteristics with a court-drawn map in Florida. “We've now had two state Supreme Courts — FL and PA — order the creation of fairer congressional redistricting plans for their states that obviously are more compact and respect more political boundaries than the Republican gerrymanders they replace,” he wrote.

Dave Wasserman, House editor for the Cook Political Report, wrote that “the PA Supreme Court's map doesn't just undo the GOP's gerrymander. It goes further, actively helping Dems compensate for their natural geographic disadvantage in PA.”

Rick Hasen, an elections expert at the University of California at Irvine, wrote that “the early indications are that this is a much more competitive map which will help the Democrats compared to the gerrymandered maps drawn by the Republican legislature.”


Monday, February 19, 2018

Trump, Russia, and the Oath of Office

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's place in the American constitutional system.  His response to the Russia indictment -- which spelled out a cyber-attack on American democracy -- was not to plan a tough response or improve our defenses.  Instead, he faulted the FBI for spending too much time on the issue.


Article 2, Section 1, Clause 8 of the Constitution spells out the presidential oath: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Arguably, his failure to react to the attack is a violation of this oath.

But he is also breaking his oath on an even deeper level.

Madison wrote that the stability of the constitutional order depended on the veneration of its institutions "without which perhaps the wisest and freest governments would not possess the requisite stability."

Trump routinely attacks anything or anyone who gets in his way -- including Congress, the courts, and public servants. And his constant lying undermines respect for the presidency.

He is not preserving, protecting, and defending the Constitution.

He is damaging and deserting it.




Sunday, February 18, 2018

"Russia did not help me."


And by the way, folks, just in case you're, like, curious—no, Russia did not help me, okay? [Laughter] Russia. I call it the "Russian hoax." One of the great hoaxes. Actually, that's the thing I was thinking about. That's the thing that the Democrats did best. They lost the election, and they didn't know what happened, and they needed an excuse, so they said "Russia." And then they said, wait a minute, wait a minute, "Russia and Trump." Honestly, it's the thing they did best. They did a rotten job of running, but to convince people about this hoax, that was probably the thing that they did best. But it is one great hoax. No, Russia did not help me, that I can tell you, okay? Any Russians in the audience? [Laughter] Are there any Russians in the audience, please? I don't see too many Russians. I didn't see too many Russians in Pennsylvania. [Laughter] I didn't see too many Russians.
-- Donald Trump, September 22, 2017

And I have to say, the whole Russian thing is what it's turned out to be. This was the Democrats coming up with an excuse for losing an election. It's an election that's very hard for a Democrat to lose because the Electoral College is set in such a way that it's very hard to lose that election for a Democrat. They lost it. They lost it very badly and very easily.

I mean, you look at the votes; it was 306 to what -- 223 or something. They lost it by a lot. They didn't know what to say, so they made up the whole Russia hoax. Now it's turning out that the hoax has turned around. And you look at what's happened with Russia, and you look at the uranium deal, and you look at the fake dossier. So that's all turned around.
-- Donald Trump, October 12, 2017


Saturday, February 17, 2018

How the Russians Helped Trump

In  Defying the Oddswe discuss Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign




Philip Rucker at WP:
But Trump’s own Justice Department has concluded otherwise. A 37-page federal indictment released Friday afternoon spells out in exhaustive detail a three-year Russian plot to disrupt America’s democracy and boost Trump’s campaign, dealing a fatal blow to one of the president’s favorite talking points.
A Russia “hoax” this was not.
The indictment — signed by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and announced by Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, both of whom Trump has at times mused about wanting to fire — reveals that the scope of Russia’s alleged efforts to help Trump defeat Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was extraordinary.
From the indictment: 
Defendants, posing as U.S. persons and creating false U.S. personas, operated social media pages and groups designed to attract U.S. audiences. These groups and pages, which addressed divisive U.S. political and social issues, falsely claimed to be controlled by U.S. activists when, in fact, they were controlled by Defendants. Defendants also used the stolen identities of real U.S> persons to post on ORGANIZATION [the Internet Research Agency] -controlled social media accounts. Over time, these social media accounts became Defendants' means to reach significant numbers of Americans for purposes of interfering with the U.S. political system, including the presidential election of 2016.

5.Certain Defendants travelled to the United States under false pretenses for the purpose of collecting intelligence to inform Defendants' operations. Defendants also procured and used computer infrastructure, based partly in the United States, to hide the Russian origin of their activities and to avoid detection by U.S. regulators and law enforcement.

6.Defendant ORGANIZATION had a strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Defendants posted derogatory information about a number of candidates, and by early to mid-2016, Defendants'' operations included supporting the presidential campaign of the -candidate Donald J. Trump ("Trump Campaign") and disparaging Hillary Clinton. Defendants made various expenditures to carry out those activities, including buying political advertisements on social media in the names of U.S. persons and grassroots entities and U.S. persons, and without revealing their Russian identities and ORGANIZATION affiliation, solicited and compensated real U.S. persons to promote or disparage candidates. Some Defendants, posing as U.S> persons and without revealing their Russian association, communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities

...
33.ORGANIZATION employees, referred to as "specialists," were tasked to create social media accounts that appeared to be operated by U.S. persons. The specialists were divided into the day-shift and night-shift hours and instructed to make posts in accordance with the appropriate U.S. time zone. The ORGANIZATION also circulated lists of U.S. holidays so that specialists could develop and post appropriate account activity. Specialists were instructed to write about topics germane to the United States such as U.S. foreign policy and U.S. economic issues. Specialists were directed to create "political intensity through supporting radical group, users dissatisfied with [the] social and economic situation and oppositional social movements."
34.Defendants and their co-conspirators also created thematic group pages on social media sites, particularly on the social media platforms Facebook and Instagram. ORGANIZATION-controlled pages addressed a range of issues, including: immigration (with group names including "Secured Borders"); the Black Lives Matter movement (with group names including "Blacktivist"); religion (with group names including "United Muslims of America" and "Army of Jesus")' and certain geographic regions within the United States (with group names including "South United" and "Heart of Texas"). By 2016, the size of many ORGANIZATION-controlled groups had grown to hundreds of thousands of online followers.
35.Starting at least in or around 2015, Defendants and their co-conspirators began to purchase advertisements on online social media sites to promote ORGANIZATION-controlled social media groups, spending thousands of U.S. dollars every month. These expenditures were included in the budgets the ORGANIZATION submitted to CONCORD.
36.Defendants and their co-conspirators also created and controlled numerous Twitter accounts designed to appear as if U.S. personas or groups controlled them. For example, the ORGANIZATION created and controlled the Twitter account "Tennessee GOP," which used the handle @TEN_GOP. The @TEN_GOP account falsely claimed to be controlled by a U.S. state political party. Over time, the @TEN_GOP account attracted more than 100,000 online followers.


Thursday, February 15, 2018

Culture of Corruption, Mid-February

 In  Defying the Oddswe discuss  Trump's record of scandal

Carol E. Lee, Mike Memoli, Kristen Welker and Rich Gardella at NBC:
More than 130 political appointees working in the Executive Office of the President did not have permanent security clearances as of November 2017, including the president’s daughter, son-in-law and his top legal counsel, according to internal White House documents obtained by NBC News.
Of those appointees working with interim clearances, 47 of them are in positions that report directly to President Donald Trump. About a quarter of all political appointees in the executive office are working with some form of interim security clearance.
White House officials said Wednesday they would not comment, as is their policy, on the nature of security clearances. CNN also reported on the clearances earlier Wednesday evening. It is unclear whether some employees have had their clearance levels changed since mid-November.
EPA on Wednesday retracted its claim that Administrator Scott Pruitt has received a “blanket waiver” to fly first class whenever he travels, after POLITICO pointed officials to federal travel rules that appeared to bar such arrangements.
Pruitt has been routinely flying first class at taxpayers’ expense after securing what EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox had described as "blanket waiver,” POLITICO reported Tuesday. But the General Services Administration says federal rules require agencies’ oversight staffers to sign off on officials’ first- or business-class travel "on a trip-by-trip basis ... unless the traveler has an up-to-date documented disability or special need.”

Wilcox changed his explanation after POLITICO pointed out that section of the regulations. GSA does allow first-class travel for security reasons, but only if agencies request a waiver for each trip.
Lisa Rein at Politico:
Veterans Affairs Secretary David J. Shulkin’s chief of staff doctored an email and made false statements to create a pretext for taxpayers to cover expenses for the secretary’s wife on a 10-day trip to Europe last summer, the agency’s inspector general has found.
Vivieca Wright Simpson, VA’s third-most-senior official, altered language in an email from an aide coordinating the trip to make it appear that Shulkin was receiving an award from the Danish government, then used the award to justify paying for his wife’s travel, Inspector General Michael J. Missal said in a report released Wednesday. VA paid more than $4,300 for her airfare.
The account of how the government paid travel expenses for the secretary’s wife is one finding in an unsparing investigation that concluded that Shulkin and his staff misled agency ethics officials and the public about key details of the trip. Shulkin also improperly accepted a gift of sought-after tickets to a Wimbledon tennis match, the investigation found, and directed an aide to act as what the report called a “personal travel concierge” to him and his wife.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

"Big Fat Liar"

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's management style.

Chief of Staff John Kelly has lied about how wife-beater Rob Porter stayed on the White House staff. Ashley Parker, Philip Rucker and Josh Dawsey report at WP:
Kelly is “a big fat liar,” said one White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share a candid opinion. “To put it in terms the general would understand, his handling of the Porter scandal amounts to dereliction of duty.”
This portrait of the West Wing in turmoil is based on interviews with more than a dozen top White House officials and outside advisers and confidants, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared retribution.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Chaos Presidency

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's management style.

Peter Baker at NYT:
More than a year into his administration, President Trump is presiding over a staff in turmoil, one with a 34 percent turnover rate, higher than any White House in decades. He has struggled to fill openings, unwilling to hire Republicans he considers disloyal and unable to entice Republicans who consider him unstable. Those who do come to work for him often do not last long, burning out from a volatile, sometimes cutthroat environment exacerbated by tweets and subpoenas.

To visit the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, the granite, slate and cast iron edifice across West Executive Avenue from the White House where most of the president’s staff works, at times feels like walking through a ghost town. The hallways do not bustle as much as in past administrations. The budget director is doing double duty as the acting head of the consumer protection agency. The personnel director is doing triple duty, also overseeing the offices of political affairs and public liaison.
We have vacancies on top of vacancies,” said Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who has studied White House turnover over the last six administrations. “You have initial vacancies, you have people who left in the first year and now you have people who are leaving in the second year.”
According to a report by Ms. Tenpas, Mr. Trump’s 34 percent turnover rate in his first year is more than three times as high as President Barack Obama’s in the same period and twice as high as President Ronald Reagan’s, which until now was the modern record-holder. Of 12 positions deemed most central to the president, only five are still filled by the same person as when Mr. Trump took office.
...
Beyond those leaving, many positions have never been filled nearly 13 months after the inauguration. Some of those vacancies stem from the glacial pace of background investigations and the Senate confirmation process, which has grown worse with each successive president. But in many cases, the Trump administration has still not identified candidates.
According to the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit organization that tracks appointments along with The Washington Post, the Trump administration has made the fewest nominations, not counting those that have failed, and has had the fewest confirmed by this point of any of the last five administrations. At the State Department, nominees have yet to be made for three under secretary positions and 10 assistant secretary positions, senior-level jobs that have traditionally been crucial to managing foreign policy
There are consequences. David Nakamura at WP:
More than a year into Trump’s administration, the president has yet to nominate an ambassador to Seoul. Last week, The Washington Post reported that the White House had dropped Trump’s original choice, Victor D. Cha, a former George W. Bush administration official, for undisclosed reasons — and without informing the South Koreans.
Normally, an ambassador would help a VP prep for a visit.
Yet the small indignities continued to pile up, even as Pence arrived in Seoul. As the vice president disembarked Air Force Two, his aides told reporters that he would be greeted by Ahn Ho-young, whom they described as the South Korean ambassador to Washington.
Only hours later, after Pence arrived at his hotel for the evening, did his office issue a correction. The man who greeted the vice president was Cho Yoon-je, who had replaced Ahn in November
 

Monday, February 12, 2018

DLCC

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

At Politico, Edward-Isaac Dovere writes of Democratic efforts to gain state legislative seats.
At the center of those efforts is the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, mostly forgotten in the 25 years since it was founded as the D.C. hub for state legislative campaigns, but now working to coordinate efforts and partners, and along the way double its spending for the cycle to $35 million in strategic investments.
Realistically, most people working on state senate or assembly campaigns are young and don’t know what they’re doing. Often, it’s their first campaign, and many times, their only campaign. That can be true of the candidates, too, and certainly of the volunteers.
Over the phone and during regular check-in visits in person, the DLCC has been moving in with its experienced staff of operatives to get staffers and elected officials up to speed.
“The thing that’s surprising to them is they’ve known us forever, but now we’re able to show up to the table with a lot more resources,” said Jessica Post, who came on board as the DLCC’s executive director last year as part of an effort to expand the organization in the current environment. “Part of what we’re having to do is orient [local Democratic leaders] to say, ‘Play big, create big competitive maps, we’ll help you fund the infrastructure, and we’ll come in and invest with our partner groups.’”
The burst of voter interest and money in statehouse races and gerrymandering has shocked Democrats, including those working with former Attorney General Eric Holder at the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (on whose board Post sits). Planned Parenthood is getting involved, as are the League of Conservation Voters and other groups. The new Forward Majority super PAC has promised to put $100 million into state races. The Democratic National Committee has pitched in with infrastructure and staff in several races.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Senate Democratic Fundraising is Going Well

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

Kevin Robillard and Maggie Severns at Politico:
Republicans started the election cycle with designs on expanding their Senate majority, but the GOP's candidates are far behind Democrats in fundraising going into 2018.
The numbers are stark: No Republican running for a Democratic-held seat raised more than $1 million from contributors in the fourth quarter of last year, but two Democrats running for seats held by Republicans did. By contrast, of the 10 vulnerable Democrats up for reelection this year in states President Donald Trump carried in 2016, all but West Virginia’s Joe Manchin raised more than $1 million.

Dean Heller (R-Nev.), the only Republican seeking reelection in a state Hillary Clinton won, raised only $821,000 —an amount that was nearly doubled by his likely Democratic challenger.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Insecurity at the White House

In  Defying the Oddswe discuss  Trump's record of  scandal
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
White House staff secretary Rob Porter had to quit this week because his ex-wives told the media that he beat them.  Chief of staff John Kelly screwed up the situation royally, as Chris Cillizza explains at CNN:
Let's review the facts here. Porter's ex-wives told the FBI in January 2017 that he had abused them verbally and physically. Thirteen months later, Porter still had no permanent security clearance due to the questions regarding these incidents. That, coupled with the fact that Kelly had come to learn at least some of the allegations against Porter last fall, make Kelly's urging Porter to stay on the job all the more appalling.
At no point in the past year did Kelly not think to ask why Porter's security clearance hadn't come through? After all, Porter was one of the people who spent the most time with President Trump on a daily basis -- and someone who was, effectively, the gate-keeper of all information that Trump saw. Upon hearing the allegations -- or part of them -- against Porter last fall, Kelly never felt like it was his job to find out more? And, after learning more of the details earlier this week, Kelly thought it made sense to put out a fulsome statement praising Porter -- a statement that was crafted at least in part by White House communications director Hope Hicks, who was romantically involved with Porter?
Also at CNN,  Jim Sciutto, Gloria Borger and Zachary Cohen report:
Thirty to 40 White House officials and administration political appointees are still operating without full security clearances, including senior adviser to President Donald Trump Jared Kushner and -- until recently -- White House staffer Rob Porter, according to a US official and a source familiar with the situation.
The White House claims that the backlog of interim security clearances is a procedural consequence of the review process carried out by the FBI and White House Office of Security, which can take time to complete.
But several sources, including intelligence officials who have served previous Democratic and GOP administrations, describe the backlog as very unusual and make clear that the process should have been completed after a year in office.
Eliana Johnson at Politico:
“The concept of interim clearances was created for somebody in a position of importance to be able to come on board and start working right away while the investigation ran its course,” said Bradley Moss, an attorney who specializes in security clearance law. “I’ve never heard of somebody just being allowed to sit on an interim clearance indefinitely. It runs contrary to the entire concept of the clearance process."
That’s why Kelly concluded that White House aides whose backgrounds would preclude them from receiving full clearances would have to go, according to the senior administration official.
However, Moss added, the president himself holds the ultimate authority over the clearance process, which he can alter by executive order – though it would be unprecedented. “If he wants individuals like Jared Kushner and Rob Porter to just sit with interim clearances for three years, he can do that,” Moss said.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Not There on Impeachment

 In  Defying the Oddswe discuss Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign and other scandals.

One week after the State of the Union address and the president’s call for national unity, America remains no less divided and President Trump has since branded the Democrats as treasonous amidst a stock market meltdown. Almost on cue, a Quinnipiac poll released on Tuesday revealed a country riven by politics, nowhere more so than if the president fires Robert Mueller, the special counsel.

By a whisker-thin 47 percent to 46 percent, the public opposes Trump’s impeachment and removal from office if special counsel Robert Mueller gets the boot. Separately, over in the Sunshine State, opponents of impeachment hold a six-point lead. Surprising? Not at all.