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Divided We Stand

Divided We Stand
New book about the 2020 election.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Trump Sides With Murderous Dictator, Again

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

Josh Dawsey at WP:
President Trump on Thursday defended North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over the death of American college student Otto Warmbier, whose family says he was “brutally tortured” while imprisoned in North Korea and died in 2017 after being flown back to United States in a coma.
The president condemned the “brutality of the North Korean regime” following Warmbier’s death at 22 years old, but he took a softer stance toward Kim at the conclusion of their second summit.
“I don't believe he would have allowed that to happen,” Trump said. “It just wasn't to his advantage to allow that to happen.”
Trump said that he spoke to Kim about the death of Warmbier — whose family has called it a murder — and that Kim “feels badly about it.” He said the North Korea leader, who rules the country with an iron grip, knew about the case but learned about it only after the fact because, Trump suggested, “top leadership” might not have been involved.
“He tells me he didn't know about it, and I take him at his word,” Trump said.
Trump’s defense of Kim mirrors his willingness to take the word of autocrats in other cases despite the findings of his own government or experts, particularly when confronting the leader is not what Trump sees as in his political interest.

Trump Put Cohen at Risk of Violence in Prison

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

Matthew Choi at Politico:
"I know it's painful going to prison. I know it's gotta be painful being called rat. A lot of people don't know the significance of that, but I live in the inner city of Baltimore, and when you call somebody a rat that's one of the worst things you can call them because when they go to prison, that means a snitch. I'm just saying," Cummings said. "The president called you a rat." 

Cohen: Trump Does Not Love Our Country

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

The sad fact is that I never heard Mr. Trump say anything in private that led me to believe he loved our nation or wanted to make it better. In fact, he did the opposite.
When telling me in 2008 that he was cutting employees’ salaries in half – including mine – he showed me what he claimed was a $10 million IRS tax refund, and he said that he could not believe how stupid the government was for giving “someone like him” that much money back.
During the campaign, Mr. Trump said he did not consider Vietnam Veteran, and Prisoner of War, Senator John McCain to be “a hero” because he likes people who weren’t captured. At the same time, Mr. Trump tasked me to handle the negative press surrounding his medical deferment from the Vietnam draft.
Mr. Trump claimed it was because of a bone spur, but when I asked for medical records, he gave me none and said there was no surgery. He told me not to answer the specific questions by reporters but rather offer simply the fact that he received a medical deferment.
He finished the conversation with the following comment. “You think I’m stupid, I wasn’t going to Vietnam.” 
I find it ironic, President Trump, that you are in Vietnam right now.

Trump and College Records

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

When I say conman, I’m talking about a man who declares himself brilliant but directed me to threaten his high school, his colleges, and the College Board to never release his grades or SAT scores.
As I mentioned, I’m giving the Committee today copies of a letter I sent at Mr. Trump’s direction threatening these schools with civil and criminal actions if Mr. Trump’s grades or SAT scores were ever disclosed without his permission. These are Exhibit 6.
The irony wasn’t lost on me at the time that Mr. Trump in 2011 had strongly criticized President Obama for not releasing his grades. As you can see in Exhibit 7, Mr. Trump declared “Let him show his records” after calling President Obama “a terrible student.”
Scot Jaschik at Inside Higher Ed:
A spokesman for Fordham released this statement to Inside Higher Ed: "The university received a call from someone on the Trump campaign as now President Trump was gearing up for his run. We told the caller that Fordham is bound by federal law, and that we could not/would not reveal/share any records (as we would not reveal any student records) with anyone except Mr. Trump himself, or any recipient he designated, in writing. Fordham received a follow-up letter from one of Mr. Trump's attorneys summarizing the call and reminding us that they would take action against the university if we did, in fact, release Mr. Trump's records. Our stance remains the same: we obey federal law and don't release student records to anyone but the student/graduate or anyone that the student designates, in writing."

"Mr. Trump is a Conman"

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

Michael Cohen testimony to the House Oversight Committee:
Mr. Trump is a conman.
He asked me to pay off an adult film star with whom he had an affair, and  to lie to his wife about it, which I did. Lying to the First Lady is one of my  biggest regrets. She is a kind, good person. I respect her greatly – and she  did not deserve that.
I am giving the Committee today a copy of the $130,000 wire transfer from me to Ms. Clifford’s attorney during the closing days of the presidential  campaign that was demanded by Ms. Clifford to maintain her silence about  her affair with Mr. Trump. This is Exhibit 4 to my testimony. 
Mr. Trump directed me to use my own personal funds from a Home Equity Line of Credit to avoid any money being traced back to him that could negatively impact his campaign. I did that, too – without bothering to consider whether that was improper, much less whether it was the right thing to do or how it would impact me, my family, or the public.
I am going to jail in part because of my decision to help Mr. Trump hide that payment from the American people before they voted a few days later. As Exhibit 5A to my testimony shows, I am providing a copy of a $35,000 check that President Trump personally signed from his personal bank account on August 1, 2017 – when he was President of the United States –  pursuant to the cover-up, which was the basis of my guilty plea, to reimburse me – the word used by Mr. Trump’s TV lawyer -- for the illegal hush money I paid on his behalf. This $35,000 check was one of 11 check installments that was paid throughout the year – while he was President.

"Mr. Trump is a Cheat."

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

Michael Cohen testimony to the House Oversight Committee:
Mr. Trump is a cheat.
As previously stated, I’m giving the Committee today three years of President Trump’s financial statements, from 2011-2013, which he gave to Deutsche Bank to inquire about a loan to buy the Buffalo Bills and to Forbes. These are Exhibits 1a, 1b, and 1c to my testimony.
It was my experience that Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes, such as trying to be listed among the wealthiest people in Forbes, and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes.

"Mr. Trump Is a Racist"

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

Mr. Trump is a racist. The country has seen Mr. Trump court white supremacists and bigots. You have heard him call poorer countries “shitholes.”
In private, he is even worse.
He once asked me if I could name a country run by a black person that wasn’t a  "shithole.” This was when Barack Obama was President of the United States. 
While we were once driving through a struggling neighborhood in Chicago, he commented that only black people could live that way. And, he told me that black people would never vote for him because they were too stupid

William Cummings at USA Today:
After Rep. Mark Meadows defended himself against allegations of racism during a House committee meeting Wednesday, critics resurfaced two 2012 videos of the North Carolina Republican in which he vowed to send then-President Barack Obama "home to Kenya."

Trump Had Advance Knowledge of the Wikileaks DNC Release

 In Defying the Odds, we discuss Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

Michael Cohen testimony to the House Oversight Committee:
A lot of people have asked me about whether Mr. Trump knew about the release of the hacked Democratic National Committee emails ahead of time. The answer is yes.
As I earlier stated, Mr. Trump knew from Roger Stone in advance about the WikiLeaks drop of emails.
In July 2016, days before the Democratic convention, I was in Mr. Trump’s office when his secretary announced that Roger Stone was on the phone. Mr. Trump put Mr. Stone on the speakerphone. Mr. Stone told Mr. Trump that he had just gotten off the phone with Julian Assange and that Mr. Assange told Mr. Stone that, within a couple of days, there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Mr. Trump responded by stating to the effect of “wouldn’t that be great.”

How Trump Lies: Mafia Style

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

Michael Cohen testimony to the House Oversight Committee:
Mr. Trump did not directly tell me to lie to Congress. That’s not how he operates. In conversations we had during the campaign, at the same time I was actively negotiating in Russia for him, he would look me in the eye and tell me there’s no business in Russia and then go out and lie to the American people by saying the same thing. In his way, he was telling me to lie. There were at least a half-dozen times between the Iowa Caucus in January 2016 and the end of June when he would ask me “How’s it going in Russia?” – referring to the Moscow Tower project. You need to know that Mr. Trump’s personal lawyers reviewed and edited my statement to Congress about the timing of the Moscow Tower negotiations before I gave it. To be clear: Mr. Trump knew of and directed the Trump Moscow negotiations throughout the campaign and lied about it. He lied about it because he never expected to win the election. He also lied about it because he stood to make hundreds of millions of dollars on the Moscow real estate project.

Trump Approval by State

In Defying the Odds, we discuss views of Trump.     The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

President Donald Trump's job approval rating varied widely across the U.S. states in 2018, with 17 states giving him ratings of 50% or higher, and 16 states giving him ratings below 40%. The states most approving of Trump were generally in the South and Mountain West areas of the country, while he fared most poorly in New England and on the West Coast.
Map. President Trump Job Approval by State, 2018. Divided into 50%+ approval, 40%-49% approval, less than 40% approval.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Demographic Gaps in Trump Approval

In Defying the Odds, we discuss demographic gaps in the 2016 election.     The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

At the Public Religion Research Institute, Maxine Najle and Robert P. Jones report on survey data:
After two years in office, the public’s view of President Trump remains negative. As of late December 2018, when this survey was conducted, only 36% of Americans reported that they held a favorable view of President Trump. Six in ten (60%) of the general public said their view of the president was unfavorable.
Perspectives on the president are deeply divided by political affiliation. An overwhelming majority (81%) of Republicans have a positive view of Trump, compared to 31% of political independents and only seven percent of Democrats. Republican support for Trump has remained steadfast over the course of Trump’s presidency, and Democratic support has remained low. Just before the 2016 election, 76% of Republicans had a favorable view of Trump, compared to only 6% of Democrats.[1]
Among religious groups, white evangelical Protestants continue to be Trump’s strongest supporters and remain the only major religious group in which a majority holds a favorable view of the president. More than two-thirds (68%) of white evangelical Protestants have a favorable opinion of the president, compared to 48% of white mainline Protestants, 35% of Catholics (and 47% of white non-Hispanic Catholics), 21% of nonwhite Protestants, and 21% of religiously unaffiliated Americans. Support for Trump among white evangelical Protestants has risen since September 2016 (61%), when he still was a presidential candidate. Over the course of Trump’s presidency, support from white evangelical Protestants has remained consistently high, with roughly two-thirds to three-quarters of white evangelicals holding a favorable view of Trump.
White Americans are, overall, more likely than nonwhite Americans to have a favorable view of Trump. Nearly half (47%) of white Americans have a positive view of Trump, compared to 22% of Hispanic Americans and only seven percent of black Americans. However, there are some noteworthy divisions in views of the president among whites. White Americans without a college degree have a higher opinion of the president than white Americans with a four-year college education: half (53%) of whites without a college education have a favorable opinion of Trump, compared to 35% of whites with a college degree. These levels of support among whites without a college degree have largely remained steady since September 2016, when 47% of white working-class Americans had a positive view of then-candidate Trump.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Pompeo Caught in a Lie

In  Defying the Oddswe discuss the people surrounding Trump (The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.)
The choice of servants is of no little importance to a prince, and they are good or not according to the discrimination of the prince. And the first opinion which one forms of a prince, and of his understanding, is by observing the men he has around him; and when they are capable and faithful he may always be considered wise, because he has known how to recognize the capable and to keep them faithful. But when they are otherwise one cannot form a good opinion of him, for the prime error which he made was in choosing them.
-- Machiavelli
JAKE TAPPER, CNN: Do you -- do you think North Korea remains a nuclear threat?


TAPPER: But the president said he doesn't.

POMPEO: That's not what he said.

I mean, I know -- I know precisely...
TAPPER: He tweeted: "There's no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea."
POMPEO: Right. What -- what he said is that the -- what he said was that the efforts that had been made in Singapore, this commitment that Chairman Kim, may have substantially taken down the risk to the American people.

It's the mission of the secretary of state and the president of the United States to keep the American people secure. We're aiming to achieve that.

TAPPER: OK. I mean, that's just a direct quote, but I want to move on.

Fearful Symmetry: Mod Dems Have to Answer for Leftists

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the Sanders candidacy and the leftward drift of the Democratic Party.     The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

Catie Edmondson and Emily Cochrane at NYT:
Last week, home for the first district workweek of their term, moderate Democrats got to see firsthand how the raised voices of a small but vocal number of lawmakers such as Representatives Tlaib, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York are reverberating in far more marginal districts. Some, like Representative Andy Kim of New Jersey, were asked to account for the “uptick of negative rhetoric” coming from the freshman class.
“My job is to focus in on you. I don’t know how other members of Congress are making their decisions about what to say,” Mr. Kim told constituents in the coastal township of Berkeley, “but I’ll certainly stand up and disagree whenever there is something out there I disagree with.”
Just two months into the new Congress, Republicans have begun an all-out assault painting Democrats as extremists — even bigots — and trying to tar moderates with their more liberal freshman counterparts’ beliefs. Their talking points appear to be resonating with some voters the Democrats will need next year if they are to keep their majority — and the voters determined to flip the districts back.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Mueller: Manafort is Bad

In  Defying the Oddswe discuss Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign.    The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

Mueller's office did not go easy on Manfort in its sentencing memo:
Based on his relevant sentencing conduct, Manafort presents many aggravating sentencing factors and no warranted mitigating factors. Manafort committed an array of felonies for over a decade, up through the fall of 2018. Manafort chose repeatedly and knowingly to violate the law—whether the laws proscribed garden-variety crimes such as tax fraud, money laundering,obstruction of justice, and bank fraud, or more esoteric laws that he nevertheless was intimately familiar with, such as the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). His criminal actions were bold, some of which were committed while under a spotlight due to his work as the campaign chairman and, later, while he was on bail from this Court. And the crimes he engaged in while on bail were not minor; they went to the heart of the criminal justice system, namely, tampering with
witnesses so he would not be held accountable for his crimes. Even after he purportedly agreed to cooperate with the government in September 2018, Manafort, as this court found, lied to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), this office, and the grand jury. His deceit, which is a fundamental component of the crimes of conviction and relevant conduct, extended to tax preparers, bookkeepers, banks, the Treasury Department, the Department of Justice National Security Division, the FBI, the Special Counsel’s Office, the grand jury, his own legal counsel, Members of Congress, and members of the executive branch of the United States government. In sum, upon release from jail, Manafort presents a grave risk of recidivism. Specific deterrence is thus at its height, as is general deterrence of those who would engage in comparable concerted criminal conduct...
Nothing about Manafort’s upbringing, schooling, legal education, or family and financial
circumstances mitigates his criminality.
In a separate memo on the Virginia case, the government noted two weeks ago that "given the breadth of Manafort’s criminal activity, the government has not located a comparable case with the unique array of crimes and aggravating factors."

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Survey of Democrats: Liberalism and Electability

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the Sanders candidacy and the leftward drift of the Democratic Party.     The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

At Gallup, Lydia Saad, Jeffrey M. Jones, and Megan Brenan report on decades of survey data:
As Democrats assume more power in Washington and start the process of choosing their standard-bearer for 2020, several factors reviewed here could be important to future Democratic unity.
  • Increased liberalism has been more pronounced among white than among black or Hispanic Democrats, and white Democrats are now majority liberal.
  • An increase in college education among Democrats, particularly white Democrats, may be a major contributor to the party's liberal shift.
  • Majorities of liberal, moderate and conservative Democrats share similar outlooks on corporate and upper-income tax rates, gun control, the human role in global warming and labor unions.
  • Democrats diverge by ideology on a variety of issues, such as doctor-assisted suicide, abortion, defense spending and government-run healthcare.
Taken together, these findings suggest that proposals to shrink the wealth gap, strengthen labor unions and address climate change could have broad appeal in the party. At the same time, Democrats risk alienating center-right elements of the party should they move far to the left on certain social issues, government-run healthcare or defense spending.
The Democrats' grand unifier, however, stands outside the party. Despite differing ideologies and opposing views on some issues, on average last year, 82% of conservative Democrats, 91% of moderate Democrats and 96% of liberal Democrats disapproved of the job President Donald Trump was doing as president. That suggests few Democrats would back Trump in 2020, even if their party lurches far to the left. The bigger risk would be dampening voter enthusiasm and turnout among centrist and right-leaning Democrats. That can be avoided by treading carefully on issues where strong intraparty divisions persist.
But Charles Cook warns against exaggerating the magnitude of the leftward shift:
There is some evidence that the leftward shift in the Democratic Party may not be quite as big as advertised. A Jan. 9-14 national survey by the Pew Research Center asked a sample of Democrats and independents who lean Democratic the question, “Would you like to see Democratic leaders in Washington move in a more liberal direction or a more moderate direction?” Forty percent of respondents chose the more-liberal response, 54 percent picked more moderate. If you are curious, when the parallel question was asked among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, 57 percent said they wanted GOP leaders in Washington to move in a more conservative direction, 39 percent more moderate.
My hunch is that we are seeing two other things happening. First, the single most unifying force in the Democratic Party is Trump, who is every bit as vilified among Democrats as Obama was among Republicans during his tenure in the White House. That disdain for Trump is causing a level of pragmatism that is offsetting a more broad leftward tilt in the party. A Jan. 25-27 national poll by Monmouth University, spotlighted by David Leonhardt in The New York Times this week, asked Democrats and those independents who lean Democratic, “Which type of candidate would you prefer if you had to make a choice between: a Democrat you agree with on most issues but would have a hard time beating Donald Trump or a Democrat you do NOT agree with on most issues but would be a stronger candidate against Donald Trump?”
From the poll:
In considering who should be their party’s standard bearer, a majority of 56% prefer someone who would be a strong candidate against Trump even if they disagree with that
candidate on most issues. Just 33% say they would prefer a nominee who they are aligned with on the issues even if that person would have a hard time beating Trump. Democratic women (61%) are more likely than men (45%) to say they would put their policy positions aside in order to get a nominee who could beat Trump.

Friday, February 22, 2019

The Trump White House Makes Interns Sign NDAs

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's management style.   The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

Asawin Suebsaeng at The Daily Beast:
When the Trump White House welcomed its newest batch of interns earlier this year, the director of the internship program, Zoe Jackman, did what administration officials normally do when fresh blood arrives: She warned them against being “leakers.”
Soon enough, according to three sources familiar with the process, a representative from the White House counsel’s office materialized to greet the newcomers, and to demand what the Trump White House has required of so many other interns and senior officials.
Upon orientation, the interns signed their very own non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), with the envoy of the counsel’s office warning them that a breach of the NDA—blabbing to the media, for instance—could result in legal, and thus financial, consequences for them. Interns were also told that they would not receive their own copies, these sources said.
This was all a standard facet of the Trump intern orientation process, billed as an “ethics training”—underscored by implicit legal threats from President Donald Trump’s in-house lawyers.
White House spokespeople and Jackman did not provide comment on the record for this story.
To veterans of other administrations, the act of compelling interns to sign these types of NDAs would seem odd, if not downright unenforceable or legally dubious. To this White House, it’s standard operating procedure.

Trump v. California

In Defying the Odds, we discuss state and congressional elections as well as the presidential raceThe update  -- just published -- includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.  California is an important part of the story.

Susan Milligan at US News:
In January, he threatened to cut off Federal Emergency Management Administration funds to fight wildfires in the state, saying California wasn't managing forest fires properly. He tried to withhold certain funds from jurisdictions that have declared themselves "sanctuary cities" friendly to undocumented immigrants. California responded by declaring the entire state a sanctuary and by suing in court, so far successfully.
Most recently, the Trump administration stunned California officials by announcing it would not deliver $929 million in grant money for a troubled bullet train project Newsom had already scaled back, and threatening to claw back $2.5 billion in federal dollars the state has already spent on the project. Also this week, federal officials halted negotiations with California over a waiver the state has allowing it to impose stricter fuel economy rules than the rest of the nation. The state has had the waiver since 1963, and it has been credited with instigating a host of changes to reduce pollutants.

The president prior to that had signed a tax law that punishes residents of high-tax states, like California, by limiting the amount of state and local taxes people can deduct from their federal returns. In December, the administration moved to deport Vietnamese refugeesmany of whom have lived in California for decades.
Mike Allen at Axios:
And a brief list of areas where California has sued Trump, per Axios' Stef Kight:
  • The border wall
  • The border emergency
  • DREAMers
  • Child separation
  • Sanctuary cities
  • Immigration questions on the 2020 census
  • Trump's attempt to ban transgender troops
  • Birth control
  • The Affordable Care Act
  • Ozone rules
  • Federal coal leasing
  • Methane release on public and tribal land
  • 3D guns
Go deeper: The bad blood between Trump and California

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Trump, Saudi Arabia, and Nuclear Technology

In  Defying the Oddswe discuss  Trump's record of scandal
A release from the House Committee on Oversight and Reform:
Today, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, issued an interim staff report after multiple whistleblowers came forward to warn about efforts inside the White House to rush the transfer of highly sensitive U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia in potential violation of the Atomic Energy Act and without review by Congress as required by law—efforts that may be ongoing to this day. The report states:
“The whistleblowers who came forward have expressed significant concerns about the potential procedural and legal violations connected with rushing through a plan to transfer nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia. They have warned of conflicts of interest among top White House advisers that could implicate federal criminal statutes. They have also warned about a working environment inside the White House marked by chaos, dysfunction, and backbiting. And they have warned about political appointees ignoring directives from top ethics advisors at the White House who repeatedly and unsuccessfully ordered senior Trump Administration officials to halt their efforts.”
The report warns that that White House efforts to transfer sensitive U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia may be accelerating after meetings last week at the White House and ahead of a planned visit to Saudi Arabia by the President’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner:
“The Committee’s investigation is particularly critical because the Administration’s efforts to transfer sensitive U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia appear to be ongoing. On February 12, 2019, the President met with nuclear power developers at the White House about sharing nuclear technology with countries in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia. In addition, next week Mr. Kushner will be embarking on a tour of Middle Eastern capitals—including Riyadh—to discuss the economic portion of the Administration’s Middle East peace plan.”
The report highlights concerning events involving Saudi Arabia, including the brutal murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, which was met with equivocation by President Trump and other top Administration officials, and the refusal by the White House to submit a report on Mr. Khashoggi’s killing that was requested on a bipartisan basis by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
The report indicates that there is now serious, bipartisan concern with the Trump Administration’s efforts to transfer sensitive U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia. For example, on October 31, 2018, Republican Senators Marco Rubio, Todd Young, Cory Gardner, Rand Paul, and Dean Heller sent a letter to President Trump urging him to “suspend talks related to a potential civil nuclear cooperation agreement between the United States and Saudi Arabia” due to “serious concerns about the transparency, accountability, and judgment of current decisionmakers in Saudi Arabia.”
The report describes new documents and communications between White House officials, including former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, former Deputy National Security Advisor K.T. McFarland, and former NSC Senior Director for Middle East and North African Affairs Derek Harvey, as well as with Thomas Barrack, President Trump’s personal friend of several decades and the Chairman of his Inaugural Committee, and Rick Gates, President Trump’s former Deputy Campaign Manager and Deputy Chairman of the Inaugural Committee who has now pleaded guilty to financial fraud and lying to investigators.
Today, Cummings also sent letters to multiple entities involved with promoting this plan, including the White House; the Departments of Commerce, Defense, Energy, State, and Treasury; the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Central Intelligence Agency; Flynn Intel Group; IP3; ACU Strategies; Colony NorthStar; and Mr. Barrack.
Click here to read the interim staff report.
Click here to read the documents released with the report.
Click here to read the letter to the White House.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Trump v. the Rule of Law

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's dishonesty and his record of disregarding the rule of law.  In our forthcoming update, we bring the story up through the 2018 election.

Mark Mazzetti, Maggie Haberman, Nicholas Fandos and Michael S. Schmidt at NYT:
As federal prosecutors in Manhattan gathered evidence late last year about President Trump’s role in silencing women with hush payments during the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump called Matthew G. Whitaker, his newly installed attorney general, with a question. He asked whether Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York and a Trump ally, could be put in charge of the widening investigation, according to several American officials with direct knowledge of the call.
Mr. Whitaker, who had privately told associates that part of his role at the Justice Department was to “jump on a grenade” for the president, knew he could not put Mr. Berman in charge because Mr. Berman had already recused himself from the investigation. The president soon soured on Mr. Whitaker, as he often does with his aides, and complained about his inability to pull levers at the Justice Department that could make the president’s many legal problems go away.
 The story of Mr. Trump’s attempts to defang the investigations has been voluminously covered in the news media, to such a degree that many Americans have lost track of how unusual his behavior is. But fusing the strands reveals an extraordinary story of a president who has attacked the law enforcement apparatus of his own government like no other president in history, and who has turned the effort into an obsession. Mr. Trump has done it with the same tactics he once used in his business empire: demanding fierce loyalty from employees, applying pressure tactics to keep people in line and protecting the brand — himself — at all costs.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) was a collaborator:
“Do I think it’s right that our work in the Congress has aided in the president’s defense?” he asked, before answering his own question.
“Yeah, I think it is right.”
Steve Collinson at CNN:
Then, in an interview with CNN, former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe -- who was instrumental in opening an obstruction inquiry against Trump -- made his strongest claim yet that he was fired hours before his scheduled retirement as a result of an internal investigation rigged against him at the instigation of the President.
The revelations appear to fit into a consistent pattern of attempts by Trump to influence investigations in which he may be implicated and a constant campaign of public and private pressure on the officials involved.
Even in his public remarks, the President has often left the impression that top law enforcement officers had a duty to protect him -- like a personal lawyer -- rather than to the neutral administration of justice and to the Constitution.
Fired FBI Director James Comey said Trump tried to establish a mob-like relationship of patronage with him. Trump also repeatedly berated his former Attorney General Jeff Sessions over his failure to rein in the Russia probe.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

No Refund for You, or The Revenge of Behavioral Economics

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the tax issue in the 2016 campaign.  Our forthcoming update will explain why the Trump tax cut backfired on Republicans in 2018.

The IRS reported Thursday that the average tax refund as of the second week of filing season was $1,949, down 8.7 percent from the year earlier. The total number of refunds is down 16 percent.
Experts caution it is too early to draw conclusions about a tax season that ends in April. Plus, the number of returns — 27 million as of Feb. 8 — is down 10 percent from a year ago, due in part to the partial government shutdown. The picture will become much clearer as more filings are processed, refunds are issued and the IRS gets back up to full speed.
All the same, the initial results have surprised early filers and worried those who haven't yet tackled their taxes.
Part of the problem centers around how employees and employers adjusted (or didn't adjust) withholdings from paychecks to account for the law's changes. The government issued updated withholding guidelines to help employers determine how much to set aside from an employee's paycheck to cover taxes. Withhold too much and you get a refund at tax time; too little and you owe.
It is at best, an estimate. But it's an estimate that grew drastically more difficult to make under the new law.
The Government Accountability Office estimated in a report last summer that about 30 million workers had too little withheld from their paychecks, which made their take home pay bigger but increased their tax liability. That's about 3 million more workers than normal.
David Dayen at The Intercept:
In theory, people should be happy about a lower refund: that means they didn’t give the government an interest-free loan throughout the year. But normal humans don’t think that way, and the lack of a refund would feel like a loss, tax experts agreed. “Ask people how much they paid in taxes, nobody knows. Ask them how much they got in their refund, people know,” said Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow with the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. “Everyone focuses on size of the refund, and it does affect perception.”