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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Tax Cut: Womp, Womp, Womp

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the tax issue in the 2016 campaign.  The update  -- recently published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms. and explains why the Trump tax cut backfired on Republicans.

From the Congressional Research Service:
.The 2017 tax revisionP.L. 115-97, often referred to as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, and referred to subsequently as the Act, substantially revised the U.S. tax system ...The Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) estimated that these changes would reduce tax revenue by $1.5 trillion over 10 years.
In 2018, gross domestic product (GDP) grew at 2.9%, about the Congressional Budget Office's (CBO's) projected rate published in 2017 before the tax cut. On the whole, the growth effects tend to show a relatively small (if any) first-year effect on the economy. Although growth rates cannot indicate the tax cut's effects on GDP, they tend to rule out very large effects particularly in the short run. Although investment grew significantly, the growth patterns for different types of assets do not appear to be consistent with the direction and size of the supply-side incentive effects one would expect from the tax changes. This potential outcome may raise questions about how much longer-run growth will result from the tax revision.
CBO, in its first baseline update post enactment, initially estimated that the Act would reduce individual income taxes by $65 billion, corporate income taxes by $94 billion, and other taxes by $3 billion, for a total reduction of $163 billion in FY2018. Corporate revenues were about $40 billion less than projected whereas individual revenues were higher, with an overall revenue reduction of about $9 billion. From 2017 to 2018, the estimated average corporate tax rate fell from 23.4% to 12.1% and individual income taxes as a percentage of personal income fell slightly from 9.6% to 9.2%.
Real wages grew more slowly than GDP: at 2.0% (adjusted by the GDP deflator) compared with 2.9% for overall real GDP. Such slower growth has occurred in the past. The real wage rate for production and nonsupervisory workers grew by 1.2%.
Although significant amounts of dividends were repatriated in 2018 compared with previous years, the data do not appear to show a significant increase in investment flows from abroad. While evidence does indicate significant repurchases of shares, either from tax cuts or repatriated revenues, relatively little was directed to paying worker bonuses, which had been announced by some firms.
Although the legislation contained a number of provisions that discouraged inversions (shifting headquarters of U.S. firms abroad), these inversions had apparently already been significantly slowed by regulations adopted in 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Trump Admits Russia Helped Him Get Elected

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


"Russia didn’t help me. Russia did not help me." Donald Trump, NY Times, 2/1/19


Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Mueller Speaks

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

Richard L. Hasen at Slate:
Special counsel Robert Mueller issued a final statement on Wednesday before resigning from the Department of Justice, which clearly appeared aimed at one person: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Mueller’s simple message to Pelosi is that it is the constitutional duty of Congress—and her sworn duty as speaker of the House—to begin an investigation of the president and seriously consider impeaching him.
Unlike Attorney General William Barr’s early characterization of the Mueller report’s decision not to find criminal behavior on the part of the president as having nothing to do with the Department of Justice policy against indicting a sitting president, Mueller’s statement made clear the special counsel’s office believes “it was bound” by department policy not to indict the president—or even accuse him. “It would be unfair to potentially accuse somebody of a crime when there can be no court resolution of the actual charge accuse him of committing a crime,” Mueller said, reemphasizing something he had already directly stated in his report.

But coupled with this statement from Mueller were three points aimed at Pelosi: First, given DOJ policy, “the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.” That process is impeachment, though Mueller was again oblique about this. Second, “as set forth in the report, after that investigation, if we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.” Third, “when a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of their government’s effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.”

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Culture Over Economics?

 In Defying the Odds, we talk about the social and economic divides that enabled Trump to enter the White House. The update  -- recently published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

National surveys now routinely find a huge falloff between the share of Americans satisfied with the economy and the percentage that approve of Trump's performance as President. And new academic research has concluded that attitudes about the economy were much less powerful in driving voters' decisions in 2016 and 2018 than their views about fundamental cultural and social changes, particularly race relations and shifting gender roles.
Each of these dynamics underscores how the economy's role in politics may be shifting as the basis of each party's political coalition has evolved. Increasingly, the parties are bound together less by class than by culture. As I've argued, the fundamental dividing line between the parties has become their contrasting attitudes toward the underlying demographic, cultural and economic changes remaking American society.
...
Brian Schaffner, a Tufts University political scientist, says a bad economy can still threaten a president and his party, as it did when the financial crash helped Barack Obama breeze to the presidency after President George W. Bush's two terms in 2008. But a good economy, he believes, may no longer be enough to dislodge the entrenched battle lines over these underlying cultural preferences.
"One thing you see in the two most recent presidencies, the Obama and Trump presidencies, is neither of them get much credit for good economies," Schaffner said in an interview. "They had different ceilings (of support), but they both had ceilings."
...
In a study of the 2016 election using data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, a large-scale pre- and post-election national survey, Schaffner and two co-authors found that economic satisfaction and dissatisfaction was much less important in predicting support for Trump or Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton than attitudes about race and gender relations. The more likely voters were to believe that racial discrimination is not a systemic problem and that women complaining about sexism were actually seeking unfair advantage over men, the more likely they were to support Trump. (That pattern was as powerful among women as it was among men.)
...
In a paper published last month, Schaffner found these trends intensified in the 2018 election.

Monday, May 27, 2019

More Pollution at the Water's Edge

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

"We must restore America's honorable tradition of partisan politics stopping at the water's edge, Republicans and Democrats standing united in patriotism and speaking with one voice as responsible trustees for peace, democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law." -- Ronald Reagan

President Donald Trump once again upended convention during a formal state visit to Japan over the weekend, repeatedly blasting Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden throughout the trip. The president latched onto an insult hurled at Biden by North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and told an international audience he agreed with the dictator.
"Kim Jong Un made a statement that Joe Biden is a low IQ individual. He probably is, based on his record,” Trump told a news conference in Tokyo with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday.
Trump's remarks echoed a tweet earlier in the trip in which he questioned the former vice president's intelligence while misspelling his last name. Taken together, the remarks put U.S. political divisions front and center on the world stage and broke with a tradition in which U.S. presidents left domestic politics aside when traveling abroad.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

The Water's Edge

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

Trump Sides with Dictator

In Defying the Odds,we discuss Trump's approach to governing. The update --recently published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.



Axios:
Speaking from Tokyo in her first "Meet the Press" interview ever, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told NBC's Chuck Todd that President Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un "agree in their assessment" of former Vice President Joe Biden, who Trump called a "low IQ individual" in a tweet Monday evening.
TODD: "Can you explain why Americans should not be concerned that the president of United States is essentially siding with a murderous authoritarian dictator over a former vice president in the United States?”
SANDERS: "Chuck, the president's not siding with that. But I think they agree in their assessment of former Vice President Joe Biden. Again, the president's focus in this process is the relationship he has and making sure we continue on the path towards denuclearization. ... The president watched [Biden] and his administration with President Obama fail for eight years. He's come in in two and a half, he's cleaned up a lot of the messes that were left behind. We shouldn't even be in the position that we're in to have to deal with North Korea at the level we are if they had done their job in the first place."
Why it matters: This is not the first time that Trump has taken the word of a foreign authoritarian over Americans that he deems his political enemies. As Axios has previously reported, Biden has been in Trump's head for months. His advisers take the former vice president very seriously and see him as Trump's biggest threat to re-election — and have been surprised to see him dominating early in a primary that was expected to be steered by left-wing activists.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Trump v. the CIA

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's record of ethical laxity and carelessness about state secrets. The update -- recently published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

Julian E. Barnes and David E. Sanger at NYT:
President Trump’s order allowing Attorney General William P. Barr to declassify any intelligence that led to the Russia investigation sets up a potential confrontation with the C.I.A. It effectively strips the agency of its most critical power: choosing which secrets it shares and which ones remain hidden.

Mr. Trump said on Friday that he wanted Mr. Barr to “get to the bottom” of what the intelligence agencies knew about the investigation into his campaign. He promised, “We’re exposing everything.”
...
Traditionally, the C.I.A. has been effective at intramural governmental fights, in large measure because its power comes from its information and its closely guarded secrets. By taking that power from the intelligence agencies, Mr. Trump and Mr. Barr may have weakened the C.I.A.

Sonam Sheth at Business Insider:
"There's a reason why the CIA is so vigilant about guarding its sources," one former CIA covert operative, who requested anonymity to freely discuss how the agency handles sensitive information, told INSIDER. "It's because lives are on the line. The AG is either ignorant of that fact, or he doesn't care. Either way, it's horrifying."
The politicization of sources and methods could also have far-reaching effects on agencies' ability to gather intelligence in the first place.
"Why would a source want to cooperate with us if we cannot protect his or her identity?" former FBI agent Frank Montoya Jr., who retired in 2016, told INSIDER. "Or, just as importantly, the information they share with us? It will endanger the lives of sources if their identities or that information becomes public."
Asha Rangappa, a former FBI special agent, largely agreed.
"Make no mistake: If Barr discloses the identities of CIA and [counterintelligence] sources providing information on Russia he is disabling our intelligence capacities to Russia's advantage," Rangappa wrote. "It puts sources providing intelligence in danger and cripples the [intelligence community's] ability to recruit new sources."

Friday, May 24, 2019

Trumpista Doctored Video

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

Ben Mathis-Lilley at Slate:
This one takes a few seconds to set up but it’s worth it! So, right-wing social media users have been circulating doctored videos of Nancy Pelosi, who is in their targets right now because she 1) said the president was engaging in a “cover-up” by refusing to honor congressional oversight requests and 2) described him as having a “temper tantrum” who needs “an intervention” when he subsequently declared that he won’t speak to congressional Democrats until they end all of the investigations into his conduct. In an echo of bogus accusations against Hillary Clinton that were made in 2016, the videos of Pelosi that are going around have been altered to make her seem drunk/senile.
Phil Helsel at NBC:
President Donald Trump on Thursday night tweeted out an edited video showing Nancy Pelosi stumbling over her words, escalating the personal attacks he has made against the Democratic House Speaker.
The video, apparently from a segment on Fox Business' "Lou Dobbs Tonight," features portions of a 20-minute news conference Pelosi held Thursday in a montage that lasts about 30 seconds. It shows her tripping over her words. At one point in the video, a moment is repeated several times.
 Rudy also needs an intervention:

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Deep State

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

Lobotomy at the Ag Department

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

Liz Crampton at Politico:
The Agriculture Department is moving nearly all its researchers into the economic effects of climate change, trade policy and food stamps – subjects of controversial Trump administration initiatives – outside of Washington, part of what employees claim is a political crackdown on economists whose assessments have raised questions about the president’s policies.
Since last year, employees in the department’s Economic Research Service have awaited news of which members of their agency would be forced to relocate, after Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue stunned them by declaring he was moving most of the agency to a location outside the capital. The announcement sparked claims that Perdue was trying to pressure economists into leaving the agency rather than move their families.

On March 5, the department began notifying people who were allowed to stay in Washington, but didn’t provide a comprehensive list, only telling employees in person if they made the cut.
But current and former employees compiled one anyway, covering all 279 people on staff, 76 of whom are being allowed to stay in Washington.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

New York Twofer

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

Jesse McKinley at NYT:
Even before he was elected president, Donald J. Trump had steadfastly refused to release his federal tax returns, bucking years of tradition among presidential candidates. His intransigence deepened once he entered the White House, defying a congressional subpoena for the tax records.
Now, however, a nine-page workaround by the New York State Legislature may serve as a way for Congress to get its hands on a trove of Mr. Trump’s tax information.
On Wednesday, the Democratic-led Legislature passed a bill that would permit New York State tax officials to hand over Mr. Trump’s state returns to any one of three congressional committees. Such returns — filed in New York, the president’s home state and business headquarters — would likely contain much of the same information as the contested federal returns.
Also Jesse McKinley at NYT:
The New York State Assembly passed a bill on Tuesday that would allow state prosecutors to pursue charges against any individual granted a presidential pardon for similar federal crimes, closing a loophole that lawmakers said could be exploited by President Trump in a bid to indemnify former associates.
The bill, which has already passed the State Senate and has the support of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, would exempt the state’s so-called double jeopardy law from cases involving presidential pardons, something supporters say is necessary to stave off a possible abuse of Mr. Trump’s pardon power.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Casualties of Trade War

 In Defying the Odds, we talk about the social and economic divides that enabled Trump to enter the White House. The update  -- recently published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

 Jake Sherman, Anna Palmer and Daniel Lippman at Politico: 
WHAT WALL STREET THINKS ... As the trade war rages on, one hedge fund manager points out the irony of how Trump's policies are playing out in the heartland:

-- "TRUMP SEEMS TO FEEL EMBOLDENED by the resilience of the market since he started the trade war. But under the hood the market is telling a different story. All the Rust Belt sectors that were initially helped by the tax cut have been by far the hardest hit since the trade war started.

-- "THE U.S. STEEL INDUSTRY that tariffs were supposed to help is down 30% since tariffs began, unwinding all the tax gains. CATERPILLAR and JOHN DEERE, two industrial heartland companies, have been hit hard. They are 20 and 30% from the highs they reached before the trade war. SOYBEAN PRICES have collapsed and hurt the agricultural sector as a result of China's retaliation to the trade war. ...

-- "SO WHY IS THE MARKET SO STRONG? Because tech titans are paying less tax and people are hiding in their stocks to avoid the decimation of the economy Trump says he is trying to protect. Since the onset of the trade war, the internet companies are all up at least 25% because they are not affected by tariffs.

-- "SO WHILE TRUMP'S TRADE WAR is supposed to help blue-collar America, it seems it's helping to increase the wealth divide and make the rich richer!"

Monday, May 20, 2019

Trump, Deutsche Bank, and Russia

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

David Enrich at NYT:
Anti-money-laundering specialists at Deutsche Bank recommended in 2016 and 2017 that multiple transactions involving legal entities controlled by Donald J. Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, be reported to a federal financial-crimes watchdog.
The transactions, some of which involved Mr. Trump’s now-defunct foundation, set off alerts in a computer system designed to detect illicit activity, according to five current and former bank employees. Compliance staff members who then reviewed the transactions prepared so-called suspicious activity reports that they believed should be sent to a unit of the Treasury Department that polices financial crimes.
But executives at Deutsche Bank, which has lent billions of dollars to the Trump and Kushner companies, rejected their employees’ advice. The reports were never filed with the government.
...
 “You present them with everything, and you give them a recommendation, and nothing happens,” said Tammy McFadden, a former Deutsche Bank anti-money laundering specialist who reviewed some of the transactions. “It’s the D.B. way. They are prone to discounting everything.”
...
 In the summer of 2016, Deutsche Bank’s software flagged a series of transactions involving the real estate company of Mr. Kushner, now a senior White House adviser.
Ms. McFadden, a longtime anti-money laundering specialist in Deutsche Bank’s Jacksonville office, said she had reviewed the transactions and found that money had moved from Kushner Companies to Russian individuals. She concluded that the transactions should be reported to the government — in part because federal regulators had ordered Deutsche Bank, which had been caught laundering billions of dollars for Russians, to toughen its scrutiny of potentially illegal transactions.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Amash Thread

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's dishonesty and his record of disregarding the rule of law.   The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.  Representative Justin Amash (R-MI) has become the first Republican to call for Trump's impeachment.





And of course, the response:

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Bullock in Iowa

Defying the Odds, we discuss the early stages of the 2016 campaign, when many candidates were unknowns.  The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.  We are now in the early stages of the 2020 race.

Jeff Zeleny at CNN:
Steve Bullock knows he's late to the 2020 dance, but nothing he's seen so far has scared him away from joining the party.
"Voters in Iowa and everywhere else don't want to make a fast decision, they want to make the right decision," Bullock said as he set off across the state to introduce himself as one of the newest Democratic presidential hopefuls.
With Bullock, the governor of Montana, in the race, along with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, the party's field of candidates is now large enough to suit up a football team of offense, defense and one player to spare.
For Bullock and many contenders, even though they may be reluctant to say so out loud, it's Iowa or bust. Their candidacies will either break out or be broken by the Iowa caucuses less than nine months away.

"Iowa is important to everyone's campaign," Bullock said in an interview Friday as he bounced from stop to stop on his first visit to the state since declaring his candidacy earlier this week. "Iowa has always played that traditional starting out role, but it's certainly significant to mine."

Friday, May 17, 2019

Case Not Closed

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

Katelyn Polantz at CNN:
Michael Flynn told special counsel Robert Mueller that people connected to the Trump administration or Congress had contacted him, potentially attempting to influence his willingness to help prosecutors, newly unsealed court records show.
Flynn, President Donald Trump's one-time national security adviser, gave Mueller a voicemail recording of one of the conversations. A federal judge has ordered that the voicemail's transcript, transcripts of Flynn's calls with Russian officials and potentially redacted parts of the Mueller report related to Flynn be made public, setting up the likelihood that even more details will be made public in the coming weeks.
The communications, from "persons connected to the Administration or Congress," Mueller wrote, "could have affected both (Flynn's) willingness to cooperate and the completeness of that cooperation."
"In some of those instances, the (Special Counsel's Office) was unaware of the outreach until being alerted to it" by Flynn, the newly unsealed court record from the Justice Department said.

The revelations raise the possibility that others around the President may have attempted to obstruct justice with the outreach to Flynn. However, Mueller, in both the Flynn court filing and his final report, did not go into detail on that possibility.
(Two days after the election, Obama did warn Trump about Flynn.)

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Republicans and the Rule of Law

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

Chris Jackson and Mallory Newall at Ipsos:
While some have advocated for delaying the 2020 elections due to the Russia investigations, just 16% of Americans agree with this. Republicans largely drive support (31%, compared to 12% of Independents and 9% of Democrats). Americans also reject the notion that President Trump should ignore the results of the 2020 election and stay in office if he loses; just 7% think he should do this.
Six in ten Americans (61%) believe that Trump does not respect the customs or traditions of the presidency. Views on this are highly partisan; while 86% of Democrats and 61% of Independents agree, only 29% of Republicans feel the same way. A majority of Americans also think Trump does not respect the laws of the U.S. (56%), with Democrats again driving sentiment (83%). Most Republicans think that President Trump achieved many of his goals in his first two years in office (75%) and that there is a “deep state” trying to undermine his presidency (77%). Finally, less than a third of Americans (30%) think the Mueller investigation prevented President Trump from achieving significant portions of his agenda. Over half of Republicans (60%) agree, compared to only a quarter of Independents (26%) and ever fewer Democrats (14%).

Go deeper:

Percent agreeing with "To fix America, we need a strong leader willing to break the rules."

Democrat......23
Independent..26
Republican....52

Beto's Bust

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the early stages of the 2016 campaign, when many candidates were unknowns.  The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.  We are now in the early stages of the 2020 race.

The most obvious reason for Beto’s boom-and-bust media cycle is that running against a reviled Republican in Texas is a far cry from running in a Democratic primary against a bevy of qualified opponents, many of whom have devoted followings in various corners of the left. “It’s not good enough to not be Ted Cruz anymore,” said Republican media strategist Matt Gorman. “In a state, you have a baseline of party support that’s with you no matter what if you’re running against a Republican. Not in a primary. He needs to make an identity for himself. When he is on that debate stage, what’s the rationale against Kamala [Harris] or Mayor Pete or Joe Biden? Why Beto?” Force of personality is not enough to carry a campaign without an underlying reason for running, Gorman said, especially in a Democratic Party flush with options. But having a clearly defined reason to run for president—that simple thing called “a message”—is what carries a campaign forward, inoculating a candidate from the daily traps and potholes of the presidential media storms. Buttigieg is one of only a handful of Democratic candidates who is using his campaign to tell a story—his is about generational change—and it’s allowed him to parry attacks and mostly avoid stepping in mud. Even though it’s doubtful that a Harvard-educated polyglot who can name every Radiohead B-side since The Bends doesn’t know who Alfred E. Neuman is, Buttigieg brushed off Trump’s name-calling this week with a simple, youthful aside: “I had to Google that.” Next question.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Trump Likes Chinese Dictatorship

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

Yesterday he said that his "respect and friendship with President Xi is unlimited."

From the 1990 Playboy interview with Trump:
What were your other impressions of the Soviet Union?
I was very unimpressed. Their system is a disaster. What you will see there soon is a revolution; the signs are all there with the demonstrations and picketing. Russia is out of control and the leadership knows it. That's my problem with Gorbachev. Not a firm enough hand.
You mean firm hand as in China?
When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength. Our country is right now perceived as weak ... as being spit on by the rest of the world—
George H.W. Bush was president at the time. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Hail, Caesar

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

LLoyd Green at The Daily Beast:
Donald Trump thinks Congress has as much clout as a potted plant.

William Consovoy, the president’s personal lawyer, told a federal judge on Tuesday that Congress was powerless to hold the president’s feet to the fire, and that the Watergate and Whitewater hearings exemplified congressional overreach. As for a House committee’s subpoena to Trump’s accountants, Rep. Elijah Cummings and all those damn Democrats might as well pound sand. The Oval Office was out of bounds for congressional oversight—even in the face of presidential corruption.

Hail Caesar! Hello praetorian. As Consovoy saw things: “That is law enforcement… Are you complying with federal law?… I don’t think that’s the proper subject of investigation as to the president.”
According to Cosovoy’s Kafkaesque syllogism, Congress is barred from investigating the president because that is a proper function of law enforcement, not Congress, and in turn, law enforcement may not investigate President Trump because he is immune from prosecution.
Confused? That’s the point.
After the court hearing, our constitutional democracy stands at the precipice of being transformed into an updated version of ancient Rome, helmed by a leader who demands unaccountability for himself and tribute from the rest of us. As for Congress in this script, think part rubber stamp, part tax collector, and part tourist attraction.
Andrew Desiderio and Kyle Cheney at Politico:
A federal judge raised pointed doubts Tuesday about arguments by President Donald Trump’s legal team that a Democratic effort to subpoena Trump’s financial records was an invalid exercise of congressional power.
Amit Mehta, a U.S. District Court judge in Washington, indicated that he would have trouble ruling that Congress’ goal in accessing the president’s records was unconstitutional — as Trump’s lawyers have argued — and he underscored that he believes Congress has a significant “informing function” that doesn’t necessarily require an explicit legislative purpose to justify an investigation involving the president.Does Congress have to do that — do they have to identify a bill in advance? The Supreme Court has said the opposite,” Mehta said during a round of questioning with Trump’s attorney William Consovoy during a hearing.
Consovoy argued throughout Tuesday’s hearing that Congress has no basis for investigating whether Trump’s financial disclosures are accurate, contending that it’s a “law enforcement issue” that’s not tied to a specific legislative agenda.
Mehta cast serious doubt on those claims, suggesting at one point that investigations of such financial violations are “strictly” under Congress’ purview and that the courts have “very little, if any” discretion over Congress’ asks.
Bart Jansen at USA Today:
Mehta didn't indicate whether he found those reasons sufficiently persuasive to block the House subpoena. But he suggested history might not be on the president's side, saying courts had not found that Congress overstepped its subpoena authority since 1880 and questioning Trump's lawyers about the basis for previous investigations of presidents.

...

At one point, Mehta asked whether Congress could investigate if the president was engaged in corrupt behavior in office.

“I don’t think that’s the proper subject of investigation as to the president,” Consovoy said, although executive agencies could be investigated.

Mehta sounded incredulous, asking whether Congress could have investigated Watergate, which led to President Richard Nixon's resignation, and Whitewater, which led to President Bill Clinton's impeachment. Consovoy initially said he’d have to look at the basis for those investigations.

“They were inquiring as to violations of criminal law,” Mehta said. “It’s pretty straightforward – among other things.”

Consovoy said the question is whether the legislation the committee cited was a valid reason for the subpoena.

“That is still law enforcement," Consovoy said.

But Douglas Letter, the general counsel for the House, argued that Congress has broad investigative authority.

“His main client, President Trump, has taken the position really that Congress and particularly the House of Representatives is a nuisance and we’re just getting in his way when he’s trying to run the country,” Letter said. “The problem with that is that this is a total and basic and fundamental misunderstanding of the system that is set up by the Constitution.”