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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Russian Media Still Love Trump, Like Gabbard, Hate Biden

 In Defying the Oddswe discuss social mediafake news, and Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign  The update  -- recently published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

The historic impeachment proceedings against President Trump are big news in Russia. And there is little question which side the government — or the influential TV networks it controls — is on.

Asked about the impeachment hearings, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov coyly replied: “It’s none of our business, we would prefer not to comment.” But he then immediately contradicted himself by attempting to discredit the inquiry: “Let’s just say that there are a lot of far-fetched things, various scandalous stories, where Russia was mentioned, where, in fact, there are very few — negligibly few — facts that have any relation to truth and reality. We’re not going to comment on everything happening right now with the impeachment.”

Kremlin-funded Russian state television has openly sided with Trump throughout the Ukraine scandal and even during the events that led up to it. For months on end, Dmitry , the host of a Sunday news show called “Vesti Nedeli” (or “The Weekly News”) on state-controlled television station Rossiya-24, encouraged Trump’s push for a Ukrainian investigation of former vice president Joe Biden and his son, as well as the groundless theory that Ukraine — not Russia — interfered in U.S. presidential elections in 2016.
Clint Watts at the Foreign Policy Research Institute:
To understand Russia’s upcoming influence and interference activities, I offer an alternative approach: read and listen to what Russia says publicly first before scouring piles of social media data in search of their trolls. Whether it’s 2016 or 2020, the Kremlin doesn’t hide its opinions on who it’d like in the White House. Analysis of overt foreign propaganda provides essential reconnaissance for searching out covert social media influence. Collation of Kremlin talking points about candidates also helps to distinguish international disinformation from domestic disinformation and misinformation.

To understand where, why, how and for whom Russia might interfere in the 2020 presidential election, the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s (FPRI) Foreign Influence Election 2020 (FIE 2020) Project has assembled a research team to read, analyze and report on what Kremlin state-sponsored news outlets say with regards to the 2020 U.S. election and the presidential candidates.

The FIE 2020 Project’s first batch of analysis examines the following question:
“What does Russian state media say about the Democratic candidates?”

The research team analyzed 1,711 Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik News articles from January 1 to November 10, 2019 that pertained to the 2020 presidential election (705 RT stories, 1,006 Sputnik News stories). Those 1,711 stories hosted 2,772 mentions of either the president, Republican candidates or Democratic candidates for president in 2020. More than half of those mentions referenced President Trump, which will be analyzed in a separate upcoming post. The team also logged an additional 319 mentions of former presidents and presidential candidates, which will be analyzed separately as well. Mentions were evaluated as “neutral,” “favorable” of the candidate or “unfavorable” of the candidate. (For more on the FIE 2020 methodology, see here.)
Russian outlets clearly do not like former Vice President Biden
  • Of the 331 times Biden surfaced in RT and Sputnik News, 53% of the mentions were negative.
  • Biden received the most mentions of any Democratic candidate and is the only candidate in the entire presidential field to receive more negative mentions than neutral mentions, or than neutral mentions and positive mentions combined.
  • For Russia thus far, Biden is to 2020 what Hilary Clinton was to 2016.
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is the overwhelming favorite of Kremlin news outlets
  • Since January 1, 2019, Gabbard has been mentioned 61 times, ranking sixth in total mentions just behind O’Rourke.
  • Gabbard is the only candidate assessed to receive more positive mentions (28) than negative mentions (6), and more positive mentions (28) than neutral mentions (27).

Monday, November 18, 2019

Trump on Torture and War Crimes

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

During the campaign, Trump endorsed torture.

Last May, then-White House counsel Don McGahn wanted to withdraw Gina Haspel's nomination for CIA director. McGahn told colleagues that Haspel's role in the CIA's controversial "enhanced interrogation" program could kill her in her Senate confirmation.
Driving the news: President Trump disagreed. Trump actually liked this aspect of Haspel's resume, according to three sources who spoke to the president at the time. In fact, Trump told aides that Haspel's support for "torture" or "waterboarding" (Trump uses these words interchangeably in his private conversations) was an asset, not a liability.
  • Trump told advisers that he asked Haspel her opinion on whether waterboarding works. In Trump's telling, Haspel replied to him that she was "100%" sure it works, a source who spoke to Trump about it told me.
  • "He seemed impressed with how sure she was about something so controversial," the source said. "That she did not bat an eye, did not sugarcoat it, that it works. When it comes to national security, she does not hesitate."
President Trump intervened in three cases involving war crimes accusations on Friday, issuing full pardons to two soldiers and reversing disciplinary action against a Navy SEAL despite opposition raised by military justice experts and some senior Pentagon officials.

The White House said in a statement Friday night that Trump, as commander in chief, is “ultimately responsible for ensuring that the law is enforced and when appropriate, that mercy is granted.”

“For more than two hundred years, presidents have used their authority to offer second chances to deserving individuals, including those in uniform who have served our country,” the statement said.

The service members were notified by Trump over the phone late Friday afternoon, according to lawyers for Army Maj. Mathew L. Golsteyn and former Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, the SEAL. Golsteyn faced a murder trial scheduled for next year, while Gallagher recently was acquitted of murder and convicted of posing with the corpse of an Islamic State fighter in Iraq.
 The third service member, former Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, was expected to be released Friday night from prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. He was convicted of second-degree murder in 2013 and sentenced to 19 years for ordering his soldiers to open fire on three men in Afghanistan.
Golsteyn and Lorance received full pardons, while the president will direct the Navy to restore Gallagher to his previous rank before he retires, the White House said. His demotion marked the only significant penalty he received following his acquittal on the murder charge.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Louisiana and Blue Suburbs

In Defying the Odds, we discuss state and congressional elections as well as the presidential race. The update -- recently published -- looks at political and demographic trends through the 2018 midterm.  Last night, Democrat John Bel Edwards won reelection as governor of Louisiana.
Before the results came in, Jonathan Martin wrote at NYT:
[The] traditional regional divide is giving way to an urban versus rural political chasm that is shaping elections across the country. Republicans are dominating the countryside across much of the state, while Democrats are running up large margins in the cities in both the north and south while gaining strength in the suburbs.
Remarkably, his strong showing [in last month's first-round vote] included Jefferson Parish, which is the largest locality in suburban New Orleans and was where modern Republicanism first took root in the state. But with an influx of Hispanic, Vietnamese-American and African-American voters, and with the drift of college-educated whites away from the Trump-era G.O.P., the parish has become more friendly to Democrats.
“These suburbs used to be reliably Republican,” said former Senator Mary Landrieu, a Democrat. “But now you’ve got some moderate Republican women who find what’s going on in the White House appalling.”
Mr. Edwards received 53 percent of the vote in Jefferson Parish in the October primary. In 2003, when Bobby Jindal, a Republican, was making his first bid for governor, he captured nearly 63 percent of the vote there even as he lost statewide.
Even as recently as 2008, when John McCain was being routed nationally, he still managed to capture 65 percent of the vote in Jefferson Parish. But by 2016, Mr. Trump was winning only 55 percent there as he easily carried the state.
“McCain was the kind of Republican who could put together the crazies and country clubbers,” observed Roy Fletcher, a longtime political strategist here.
Yesterday, Edwards got 57 percent in Jefferson Parish and about 90 percent in Orleans Parish (New Orleans). 

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Trump Calls Kiev

Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's dishonesty and his record of disregarding the rule of law.     The update  -- recently published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms. Impeachment is becoming likely -- and became even likelier on November 15.

David Holmes a career Foreign Service Officer serving as Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv.  In a statement to the Intelligence Committee, he recounted a July 26 phone call that he overheard.
During the lunch, Ambassador Sondland said that he was going to call President Trump to give him an update. Ambassador Sondland placed a call on his mobile phone, and I heard him announce himself several times, along the lines of "Gordon Sondland holding for the President." It appeared that he was being transferred through several layers of switchboards and assistants. I then noticed Ambassador Sondland's demeanor change, and understood that he had been connected to President Trump. While Ambassador Sondland's phone was not on speakerphone, I could hear the President's voice through the earpiece of the phone. The President's voice was very loud and recognizable, and Ambassador Sondland held the phone away from his ear for a period of time, presumably because of the loud volume.

I heard Ambassador Sondland greet the President and explain that he was calling from Kyiv. I heard President Trump then clarify that Ambassador Sondland was in Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland replied, yes, he was in Ukraine, and went on to state that President Zelenskyy "loves your ass." I then heard President Trump ask, "So, he's gonna do the investigation?" Ambassador Sondland replied that "he's gonna do it," adding that President Zelenskyy will do "anything you ask him to." Even though I did not take notes of these statements, I have a clear recollection that these statements were made. I believe that my colleagues who were sitting at the table also knew that Ambassador Sondland was speaking with the President.

The conversation then shifted to Ambassador Sondland's efforts, on behalf of the President, to assist a rapper who was jailed in Sweden, and I could only hear Ambassador Sondland's side of that part of the conversation. Ambassador Sondland told the President that the rapper was "kind of f----d there," and "should have pled guilty." He recommended that the President "wait until after the sentencing or it will make it worse," adding that the President should "let him get sentenced, play the racism card, give him a ticker-tape when he comes home." Ambassador Sondland further told the President that Sweden "should have released him on your word," but that "you can tell the Kardashians you tried."

After the call ended, Ambassador Sondland remarked that the President was in a bad mood, as Ambassador Sondland stated was often the case early in the morning. I then took the opportunity to ask Ambassador Sondland for his candid impression of the President's views on Ukraine. In particular, I asked Ambassador Sondland if it was true that the President did not "give a s—t about Ukraine." Ambassador Sondland agreed that the President did not "give a s—t about Ukraine." I asked why not, and Ambassador Sondland stated that the President only cares about "big stuff." I noted that there was "big stuff" going on in Ukraine, like a war with Russia, and Ambassador Sondland replied that he meant "big stuff" that benefits the President, like the "Biden investigation" that Mr. Giuliani was pushing. The conversation then moved on to other topics.


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

Some pundits said that the Wednesday hearings lacked drama. The Friday hearing delivered it. Trump tweeted an attack on Marie Yovanovitch, arguably committing a federal crime

Friday, November 15, 2019


In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's character and record of bigotryThe update -- recently published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms. This past summerhe told several Democratic congresswomen to "go back" to their countries. Impeachment is becoming likely.

From Pelosi's November 14 press conference:
But yesterday, you heard an appointee of the President speak in very unambiguous terms. A courageous public servant. The devastating testimony corroborated evidence of bribery uncovered in the inquiry and that the President abused power and violated his oath by threatening to withhold military aid and a White House meeting in exchange for an investigation into his political rival. Clear attempt of the President to give himself the advantage in the 2020 election. Doing so, as I said, to the President, ‘You jeopardize our national security, undermine our national security, jeopardizing integrity of our electoral system, violate your oath of office."
Q: You talked about bribery a second ago, and that's a very serious charge. What's the case of bribery?

Speaker Pelosi. Well you know, we’re talking Latin around here. ‘E Pluribus Unum,’ from many one. Quid pro quo, bribery, bribery, and that is in the Constitution attached to the impeachment proceedings.

Q: So what was the bribe here?

Speaker Pelosi. The bribe is to grant or withhold military assistance in return for a public statement of a fake investigation into elections. That's bribery. Yes.

Q: Will you be looking at article of impeachment?

Speaker Pelosi. I don’t know that. We haven't made a decision to impeach. That's what the inquiry is about, and when the committees decide that, and they will decide what the articles are. What I am saying, that what is – the President has admitted to and says it’s perfect. I said it's perfectly wrong. It's bribery.
And a bit of trolling:
Speaker Pelosi.  Well, all of this milieu is it seeking of the truth.  It's called an inquiry, and if the President has something that is exculpatory – Mr. President, that means if you have anything that shows your innocence – then he should make that known, and that's part of the inquiry, and so far we haven't seen that, but we welcome it, and that's what an inquiry is about. 

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Trump: Erdogan "Has a Great Relationship with the Kurds"

In Defying the Odds, we discuss foreign policy issues in the 2016 campaign.  The update  -- recently published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.  Trump's betrayal of the Kurds could be an issue in 2020.

Trump, with Erdogan:
And, by the way, I think the President, he may have some factions within the Kurds, but I think the President has a great relationship with the Kurds. Many Kurds live currently in Turkey. And they’re happy and they’re taken care of, including healthcare — we were talking about it before — including healthcare and education and other things. So that’s really a misnomer. But our relationship with the Kurds has been a very good one.
Jonathan Swan at Axios:
 An Oval Office meeting yesterday with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan took a dark turn when Erdoğan pulled out his iPad and made the group watch a propaganda video that depicted Kurds as terrorists, according to three sources familiar with the meeting.

Trumpista Bigotry

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's character and record of bigotryThe update -- recently published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms. This past summerhe told several Democratic congresswomen to "go back" to their countries. Impeachment is becoming likely.

Antisemitism, check:
Anti-immigrant bigostry, check:

Day One of the Hearings

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

Elise Viebeck at WP:
A top diplomat on Wednesday tied President Trump more directly to the effort to pressure Ukraine to probe his political opponents, describing a phone call in which Trump sought information about the status of the investigations he had asked Ukraine to launch one day earlier.
William B. Taylor Jr., the acting ambassador to Ukraine, told lawmakers that the phone conversation between the president and E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland in Kyiv was overhead by one of his aides. Afterward, Sondland told the aide that Trump cared more about investigations of former vice president Joe Biden than other issues in Ukraine, Taylor said.
The startling testimony revealed a new example of Trump’s personal involvement in the Ukraine pressure campaign that touched off the ongoing impeachment inquiry. The probe has produced volumes of information about the actions of top Trump advisers to push Ukraine to pursue the investigations as U.S. security assistance was held up. But the exact role of the president himself has remained an open question.
Lloyd Green at The Guardian:
By the time the impeachment hearing had adjourned, Donald Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors were plain to see. Bill Taylor, the acting ambassador to Ukraine, and George Kent, a state department official charged with oversight of European and Eurasian affairs, delivered damning new evidence of the president’s abuse of power. US foreign policy was, in fact, being held hostage to Trump’s whims.
Yet the limits of the president’s defense and Democrats’ power of persuasion were visible too. Eric Trump tweeted that the hearing was “horribly boring,” Representative Mark Meadows of the deep-red House Freedom Caucus opined “everyone has their own impression of what truth is,” and Ohio’s Jim Jordan sat predictably coatless and snarling.
For Republicans, belief in Trump has congealed into an article of faith. No one will ever confuse Devin Nunes with the late Howard Baker. For Nunes, Inspector Clouseau is way more likely.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019


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

First, the transcripts show how Rudy Giuliani pursued objectives in Ukraine for the benefit of his business partners, as well as the political interests of his client, President Trump. These activities lead to the president being fed bad information over a long period of time and they ultimately result in the meritless dismissal of Yovanovitch, as well as to a concerted attack on Deputy Secretary of State George Kent.
Second, against the backdrop of the election of a new president in Ukraine, the transcripts show the development of an irregular channel for achieving Trump’s objectives in that country—a channel that was not always playing by the usual rules of diplomacy or bureaucratic lines of communication. The transcripts show the members of both the regular and irregular channel trying to figure out what was really going on and how to navigate the unprecedented situation of Giuliani’s influence on Trump, in order to help the new Ukrainian president solidify a relationship with the United States—a relationship that is crucial for Ukraine’s continued existence as a fully independent sovereign country.
Third, in this broader context, the transcripts tell a specific story of the development of conditionality regarding a White House meeting between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. What began as a mere hostility on the part of Trump toward Ukraine and an unsubstantiated conviction that the Ukrainians had interfered in the 2016 election, came to involve demands to investigate that theory. And it came as well to involve demands that the Ukrainians investigate Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, and his connection to the Ukrainian national gas company, Burisma, on whose board the younger Biden sat. Those demands, over the course of the summer, came to be linked to the desire of the new Ukrainian government for a White House meeting between Zelensky and Trump.
Finally, the transcripts tell a related story of how the provision of military assistance to Ukraine similarly came to be conditioned on U.S. demands—because what Ukraine ultimately needs is U.S. support in an ongoing military conflict with a more powerful neighbor that is occupying its territory. The narrative is ultimately one of how an irregular actor’s behavior—circumventing the normal policy process and feeding bad information and conspiracy theories to a president—led to that president demanding political smears of an embattled, struggling democracy as a condition of U.S. support.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Health Care, Harris, and Warren

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the health care issue in the 2016 campaign.  the update  -- recently published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

Carla Marinucci and colleagues at Politico:
New Hampshire’s primary could be a first-class embarrassment to Harris, if the latest Quinnipiac University poll is any indication. It shows the senator’s formerly top-tier run has disintegrated, putting her at the back of the pack with just 1 percent support in New Hampshire. It adds some context to her announcement last week that she was closing all her campaign offices there.

“She’s been going downhill since the very first debate — and at an accelerated pace,’’ Quinnipiac University polling analyst Tim Malloy tells Playbook. “The question is why.” His take: “She did reverse her stance on Medicare for All,’’ appearing in the start to support ending private insurance and then walking that back. “Health care is big with Americans, and it hit a hot button,’’ underscoring the perception she was trying to straddle big issues.
“And coming out of the blocks in that first debate, she made a huge impression going after the frontrunner, Joe Biden... maybe she wasn’t forgiven,’’ Malloy says. “A lot of people thought she went over the line.” Finally, her lane was crowded by Sen. Elizaberh Warren’s progressive moves on the left, and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s moderate surge on the right.
Jon Greenberg at PolitiFact:
Elizabeth Warren faced increasing heat for not saying how she’d fund the health care overhaul that Medicare for All would bring. Then, she unveiled a funding plan, and the flames got even hotter.
Set aside the dismissals from Republicans. Her Democratic presidential primary foes offered plenty of their own.
Bernie Sanders, the original author of the legislation, said her plan would "have a very negative impact on creating jobs."

Joe Biden said "she’s making it up." Pete Buttigieg talked about Warren’s "aggressive math," and that "we don't need to spend tens of trillions of dollars in order to address this problem."

Monday, November 11, 2019

Peter King Retires

In Defying the Odds, we discuss state and congressional elections as well as the presidential race. The update -- recently published -- looks at political and demographic trends through the 2018 midterm.

Ashlyn Still and Kevin Uhrmacher at WP:
Twenty House Republicans have already announced they will retire or run for another office at the end of the current congressional term, compared with only eight Democrats who have done so.

Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) is the latest to retire, bringing the tally to 28 House members heading for the exits at the end of 2020. (Others have resigned and will be replaced by then.) King won New York’s 2nd District by 6 percentage points in 2018, and Donald Trump carried the district by 8.9 in 2016.
For many retiring Republican members, the often unspoken reason for their departure is frustration with President Trump and his grip on the party.
“Did any member of this conference expect that their job would start out every morning trying to go through the list of what’s happening in tweets of the day?” Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-Mich.) asked The Post’s Rachael Bade, referring to Trump’s Twitter habits. “We’re not moving forward right now. We are simply thrashing around.”
In 2018, King's margin was his smallest since he first won the seat in 1992.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Virginia Blue

In Defying the Odds, we discuss state and congressional elections as well as the presidential race. The update -- recently published -- looks at political and demographic trends through the 2018 midterm.

In 2000, the GOP had unified control of Virginia government.  As of the 2019 elections, the Democrats do.

 Sabrina Tavernise and Robert Gebeloff at NYT:
Once the heart of the confederacy, Virginia is now the land of Indian grocery stores, Korean churches and Diwali festivals. The state population has boomed — up by 38 percent since 1990, with the biggest growth in densely settled suburban areas like South Riding. One in 10 people eligible to vote in the state were born outside the United States, up from one in 28 in 1990. It is also significantly less white. In 1990, the census tracts that make up Mr. Katkuri’s Senate district were home to about 35,000 people — 91 percent of them white. Today, its population of 225,000 is just 64 percent white.
It’s not just Virginia. From Atlanta to Houston, this pattern is repeating itself — a new kind of suburbanization that is sweeping through politics. The densely populated inner ring suburbs are turning blue, while the mostly white exurban outer ring is redder than ever. Elections are won and lost along that suburban line, and in some places — like Atlanta, Denver, and Riverside County, Calif. — Democrats have begun to breach Republicans’ firewalls.
Around the advent of the modern immigration system, in 1965, foreign-born people made up only about five percent of the American population. Now they are nearly 14 percent, almost as high as the last peak in the early 20th century. The concentrations used to be in larger gateway cities, but immigrants have spread out considerably since then.
Some went South. In 1980, 56 percent of adults eligible to vote in Virginia were born in the state. Today, that’s down to 45 percent.
Lakshmi Sridaran, who heads South Asian Americans Leading Together, said that about a third of South Asians in the United States now live in the South. The South Asian population in the South nearly tripled from 2000 to 2017, to 1.4 million.
Of the 10 metro areas that had the largest South Asian growth, five are in the South, said Ms. Sridaran, who was born in Atlanta, after her father took a teaching job at Morehouse School of Medicine in the early 1980s.


Saturday, November 9, 2019

Trump Must Pay Damages for Phony Charity

 In  Defying the Oddswe discuss  Trump's record of scandal The update  -- recently published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

New York Attorney General Letitia James today announced that the New York Supreme Court ordered Donald J. Trump to pay $2 million in damages for improperly using charitable assets to intervene in the 2016 presidential primaries and further his own political interests. The award is part of Attorney General James’ lawsuit against the Donald J. Trump Foundation and its directors — Mr. Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump, and Eric Trump.
As part of the settlement, Attorney General James also announced that her office entered into multiple stipulations with the Trump Foundation and its directors to resolve the remaining claims in the lawsuit. Chiefly, Mr. Trump admits to personally misusing funds at the Trump Foundation, and agrees to restrictions on future charitable service and ongoing reporting to the Office of the Attorney General in the event he creates a new charity. The settlements also include mandatory training requirements for Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump, and Eric Trump. Finally, the settlements name the charities that will receive the remaining assets of the Trump Foundation as part of its dissolution.
“The Trump Foundation has shut down, funds that were illegally misused are being restored, the president will be subject to ongoing supervision by my office, and the Trump children had to undergo compulsory training to ensure this type of illegal activity never takes place again,” said Attorney General James. “The court’s decision, together with the settlements we negotiated, are a major victory in our efforts to protect charitable assets and hold accountable those who would abuse charities for personal gain. My office will continue to fight for accountability because no one is above the law — not a businessman, not a candidate for office, and not even the President of the United States.”
The lawsuit against the Donald J. Trump Foundation was filed in June 2018 — charging the Foundation’s directors with ignoring their oversight duties under New York’s charity laws and demonstrating how Mr. Trump repeatedly used Foundation money for his own personal, business, and political interests, including the unlawful coordination with his 2016 presidential campaign. In the first half of 2016 — at the height of the Republican primaries — Mr. Trump used Foundation money, raised from the public, to demonstrate his purported generosity and attract votes. Mr. Trump and his campaign doled out $500,000 at a campaign rally in the days leading up to the first primary election in the nation, the Iowa caucuses, then took credit for all $2.8 million in grants the Foundation made.
In her decision ordering Mr. Trump to pay $2 million, Justice Saliann Scarpulla said, “…Mr. Trump breached his fiduciary duty to the Foundation and that waste occurred to the Foundation. Mr. Trump’s fiduciary duty breaches included allowing his campaign to orchestrate the Fundraiser, allowing his campaign, instead of the Foundation, to direct distribution of the Funds, and using the Fundraiser and distribution of the Funds to further Mr. Trump’s political campaign.”
In total, the Office of the Attorney General has entered into four stipulation agreements as part of this settlement.
Last year, in December 2018, following a court decision in favor of the Attorney General’s Office, the first stipulation took effect when the Trump Foundation agreed to shutter its doors and dissolve under court supervision. In October 2019, the Office of the Attorney General entered three additional stipulations. One stipulation ensures that the Foundation’s remaining assets will go to reputable charities approved by Attorney General James and that have no connection to Mr. Trump or his family members.
Another stipulation ensures that Donald Trump, Jr., Ivanka Trump, and Eric Trump received training on the duties of officers and directors of charities so that they cannot allow the illegal activity they oversaw at the Trump Foundation to take place again.   
The third stipulation includes 19 paragraphs of factual admissions by Mr. Trump and the Foundation of illegal activity. Mr. Trump admitted that the Foundation’s board of directors — of which he was chair — failed to meet, failed to provide oversight over the Foundation, and failed to adopt legally required policies and procedures. He also admitted that these failures “contributed to the Foundation’s participation” in seven related party transactions described in the settlement document and in the Attorney General’s lawsuit. 
Mr. Trump and the Foundation have admitted key facts about their illegal political coordination with the Trump campaign, including that a purported Foundation fundraiser in January 2016 was in fact a campaign event, and that Foundation gave the Trump campaign complete control over the timing, amounts, and recipients of the $2.8 million raised through that event. Mr. Trump further admits that he and his campaign took credit for the grants that the Foundation made with funds that had been raised from the public. Justice Scarpulla noted in her decision that “Mr. Trump’s campaign, rather than the Foundation: (1) ‘planned’ and ‘organized’ the Fundraiser; and (2) ‘directed the timing, amounts, and recipients of the Foundation’s grants to charitable organizations supporting military veterans.’”
Additionally, Mr. Trump admitted a number of key facts about the other self-dealing transactions he initiated as chair — specifically, that he used Foundation funds to settle legal obligations of companies he controlled, and that the Foundation paid for a portrait of Mr. Trump that cost $10,000. As separate piece of the settlement Donald Trump Jr. reimbursed the Foundation for the cost of the portrait. The settlement also requires the Foundation to be reimbursed $11,525 for sports paraphernalia and champagne purchased at a charity gala.
Finally, the settlement agreement imposes a regime of restrictions on any future service by Mr. Trump on a charity’s board of directors, including a total ban on any self-dealing. Any charity he joins as a director must have a majority of independent directors, must engage counsel with expertise in New York not-for-profit law, and must engage the services of an accounting firm to monitor and audit the organization’s grants and expenses. If Mr. Trump forms a new charity, such an organization must comply with these requirements, and also report to the Office of the Attorney General for five years.  
The $1.78 million in assets currently being held by the Trump Foundation, along with the $2 million in damages to be paid by Mr. Trump, will be disbursed equally to eight charities: Army Emergency Relief, the Children’s Aid Society, Citymeals-on-Wheels, Give an Hour, Martha’s Table, United Negro College Fund, United Way of National Capital Area, and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. The charities — which were required as part of the resolution to be entities that did not have any relationship with Mr. Trump or entities he controlled — were approved by the Office of the Attorney General and the court.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Trump: Autocrats, Aye; Rule of Law, Nay

In Defying the Oddswe discuss Trump's crush on autocrats, and Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign  The update  -- recently published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

Josh Lederman at NBC:
A senior U.S. diplomat told Congress that he was briefed on conversations President Donald Trump had with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban in which the two foreign leaders talked Trump into a negative view about Ukraine and its new leader.
George Kent, a senior State Department official responsible for Europe, told House investigators that Putin and Orban, along with Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, had “shaped the president’s view of Ukraine and (President Volodymyr) Zelenskiy.” He said Trump’s conversations with the two leaders accounted for the change in Trump’s view of Zelenskiy from “very positive” after their first call on April 21 to “negative” just one month later when he met with advisers on Ukraine in the Oval Office.

In the interim, Trump spoke by phone with Putin on May 3, and hosted Orban at the White House on May 13.

From Kent's deposition:
I do not believe the U.S. should ask other countries to engage in politically associated investigations and prosecutions. … As a general principle, I don’t think that as a matter of policy the U.S. should do that period, because I have spent much of my career trying to improve the rule of law. And in countries like Ukraine and Georgia, both of which want to join NATO, both of which have enjoyed billions of dollars of assistance from Congress, there is an outstanding issue about people in office in those countries using selectively politically motivated prosecutions to go after their opponents. And that’s wrong for the rule of law regardless of what country that happens.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Impeachment Hardball

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

Casey Burgat at
[T]he Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over impeachment in the House, inserted an interesting twist into the proceedings when its chairman, Jerry Nadler, D-NY, released his committee’s internal procedures for impeachment moving forward. Among other things, the procedures detail the president’s rights in any impeachment proceedings. The three-page document is a signal that House Democrats may be ready to play hardball with the administration should it continue to stonewall the investigation inquiry.
Specifically, section F of the Judiciary procedures creates a loophole for Democrats to take away the president’s ability to call witnesses or question witnesses that otherwise will appear before the panel “should the president unlawfully refuse to make witnesses available for testimony… or produce documents requested” by the any of the House’s investigative committees.
The provision appears to be an attempt by House Democrats to force compliance by an administration that has issued blanket orders for witnesses to stonewall the House’s subpoenas to testify and produce relevant documents. In short, it stipulates, “Don’t respect the committees and your rights to participate in your own impeachment proceedings will be stripped.”

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Off-Year Blues

In Defying the Odds, we discuss state and congressional elections as well as the presidential race. The update -- recently published -- looks at political and demographic trends through the 2018 midterm.

Catherine Lucey at WSJ:
President Trump tried an 11th-hour rally, a battery of tweets and a personal plea for help. But, as he acknowledged in a tweet late Tuesday, his efforts didn’t appear to be enough to get a Republican running for governor in Kentucky over the finish line late Tuesday, suggesting some limitations to his political pull at a key moment for his presidency.

Just three years after Mr. Trump won the state with wide margins, Democrat Andy Beshear declared victory over incumbent Republican Gov. Matt Bevin Tuesday night, though Mr. Bevin didn’t immediately concede and the Associated Press has yet to call a winner. Republicans prevailed in other statewide races in Kentucky and won the governor’s race in Mississippi, another red state where Mr. Trump campaigned, but suffered losses in Virginia, where Democrats seized control of the statehouse.

Patrick Wilson at The Richmond Times-Dispatach:
Fueled by President Donald Trump’s unpopularity, Virginia voters on Tuesday handed control of the state’s General Assembly to Democrats, setting up the most progressive legislature in modern times.

Democrats have not held both the state House and Senate and the governor’s mansion in 26 years, and Tuesday’s results give them power to pass an agenda and allow Gov. Ralph Northam to sign his party’s bills into law.
Democrats celebrated across the state Tuesday night. Their momentum began two years ago when Democrats flipped 15 seats in the House of Delegates. They outraised Republicans this year to finish the job, doing well in Northern Virginia and the Richmond suburbs. Results were mixed in Virginia Beach, where Republicans held some key seats.
At Roll Call, Nathan Gonzales says that Trump probably helped Bevin more than he hurt him, but...
Suburbs continue to be a problem for Republicans. Tuesday’s results continued to demonstrate GOP problems in the suburbs since Trump took office. The latest was in northern Kentucky in the Cincinnati suburbs, where Bevin won in 2015 and Beshear won in 2019. Or in northern Mississippi, in the Memphis suburbs where the GOP margin in DeSoto County dropped from 61 points to 20 points, according to Ryan Matsumoto, a contributing analyst to Inside Elections. These are just the latest pieces of evidence after Democrat Dan McCready’s overperformance in the Charlotte suburbs from 2018 to the 2019 special election in North Carolina’s 9th District. It should be particularly concerning for President Trump in his efforts to win Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona, Georgia, and Texas in 2020.