• Trump: Only "Stupid" People Oppose a Good Relationship with Russia
• Sessions Not a Civil Rights Activist, After All
• Cabinet Nominees May Be Confirmed Before Ethics Reviews Are Finished
• Kushner Has His Own Conflicts of Interest
• Monica Crowley Plagiarized Large Parts of Her Book
• A New Era of Muckraking is Upon Us
• Get Ready for More Bathroom Bills, Other Anti-LGBT Legislation
President-elect Donald Trump pledged to drain the swamp, but he needs to move quickly, as some of his former aides have already caught Potomac Fever. Trump insiders can go to lobbying firms on K Street and get starting salaries of at least $450,000. If they are good at getting special treatment from Trump and his cabinet, the sky's the limit. The most recent former Trump insider to go for the gold is Stuart Jolly, Trump's first national field director. He has taken a position as president of a boutique lobbying firm called SPG. He's not the first to go, though. Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and former political director Jim Murphy beat him to K Street. Trump's Pennsylvania state director, David Urban, and top fundraiser David Tamasi, are also working for K Street lobbying firms. The potential for corruption is obvious.
In contrast, the 4,000 or so people in the current administration who serve at the president's pleasure are all going to be out of work in 2 weeks. So will U.S. ambassadors all over the world, not to mention the thousands of people who worked on Hillary Clinton's campaign. No company on K Street wants anything to do with any of them, of course, and since there are so many, there will be a lot of competition for the few slots where Democrats might be welcome. In addition to the difficulty in finding a job, most of these people are still shell-shocked. They all expected nice positions in Clinton's administration. After every election, people on the losing side are discouraged, but this time it is much worse for the Democrats because they really expected that their team would win White House and probably the Senate, and they got neither. (V)
Donald Trump had something very important to say on Saturday. How do we know? Because he took 420 characters to say it. That's right, it was the rare triple-tweet (treet?). So, what was worthy of such an extended discourse? Russia, of course. Here's what The Donald had to say:
Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. Only 'stupid' people, or fools, would think that it is bad, We have enough problems around the world without yet another one. When I am President, Russia will respect us far more than they do now and both countries will, perhaps, work together to solve some of the many great and pressing problems and issues of the WORLD!
Trump presumably does not think much about the implications of his words, but this particular announcement has two pretty big ones. The first is that, apparently, there are a lot of stupid people in America. Not just Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and most Democrats, but also a number of very prominent Republicans, like Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and John McCain (R-AZ). Maybe these people are foolish or irrational, but maybe they have a reason for thinking the way they do.
The second, and more profound, implication is that Trump would seem to be arguing for better relationships with all of the countries of the world. After all, if it is "smart" to have a good relationship with Russia, isn't the same true of, say, Iran? Or Palestine? Or North Korea? Or China? Or Cuba? And if it is not true, then what exactly is it that argues for cultivating good relations with Vladimir Putin, but keeping the others at arm's length? Of course, hard questions like these are why Trump makes his pronouncements via social media, as opposed to a forum where he might be subjected to cross-examination. (Z)
In the least surprising news of the day, it turns out that Attorney General-designate Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) may have exaggerated his pro-civil rights record just a tad. Knowing full well that he was once turned down for a federal judgeship due to having made numerous racist remarks, Sessions' application file for the attorney generalship emphasized the key role he played in four major civil rights cases while serving as the U.S. attorney for Alabama during the 1980s. If true, it would certainly go a long ways towards countering charges that he is a racist. Turns out, however, that there's a problem: He had virtually no role in the cases whatsoever.
Unfortunately for the Senator, most of the attorneys he worked with during that era are still alive. And three of them—J. Gerald Hebert, Joseph D. Rich and William Yeomans—have written an op-ed explaining what actually happened with those four cases (three of which were handled by the authors themselves). The upshot:
We can state categorically that Sessions had no substantive involvement in any of them. He did what any U.S. attorney would have had to do: He signed his name on the complaint, and we added his name on any motions or briefs. That's it. ... Sessions has not worked to protect civil rights. He worked against civil rights at every turn. Sessions knows that his real record on race and civil rights is harmful to his chances for confirmation. So he has made up a fake one.
Given the GOP majority in the Senate, plus the skilled arm-twisting of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY; see below), it's hard to predict how many of Trump's nominees will fail. But if you had to pick one whose chances are looking tenuous, it would be Sessions. (Z)
Mitch McConnell plans to ram most of Donald Trump's cabinet nominees through the Senate so fast that there isn't enough time for the normal ethics reviews. Seven nominees will have their confirmation hearings Tuesday or Wednesday and ethics officials say they are overwhelmed by the complexity of some of the cases and haven't had enough time to vet the nominees properly. That is unlikely to stop McConnell, however, since he wants the cabinet fully approved by Inauguration Day.
The director of the Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub, Jr., is not amused, saying that some of the nominees have not completed the ethics review and may have unknown conflicts. He added: "I am not aware of any occasion in the four decades since OGE was established when the Senate held a confirmation hearing before the nominee had completed the ethics review process." Ethics experts from both parties were dismayed at the possibility of the Senate confirming cabinet officials who have not been completely vetted. Nevertheless, it is very rare for the Senate to reject any of a president's choices for the cabinet, absent a smoking gun.
There is a downside to rushing the process and having the Senate confirm nominees without knowing much about them. Reporters will continue to dig after they are confirmed and embarrassing details may show up after they have started their jobs (see below for more). Battles about an official's past may erupt and distract the person from doing his or her job. (V)
Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is expected to play a major role in the new administration, possibly an unpaid informal one to get around anti-nepotism laws. However, just like his father-in-law, he has a vast maze of businesses, many of which present their own conflicts of interest. His family's business has participated in $7 billion in acquisitions in the past decade, many of them involving foreign lenders and investors. While the web of companies and interests is not as large as Trump's, it certainly involves dozens of companies and projects. Kushner has said he will resign as CEO of Kushner Companies and will divest himself of some of his assets. But he has the same problem as Trump: A lot of his money is tied up in large real estate deals and they are not easy to sell quickly. Nor can they be put into a blind trust, because the trustee will also have trouble selling them quickly, which means Kushner will still know exactly what he owns.
Like Trump, Kushner built on the fortune earned by his father. However, unlike Trump's father, Kushner's father was put in prison (by then-U.S. attorney Chris Christie) for tax evasion, witness tampering, and illegal campaign donations. It is not clear when the younger Kushner took over the business from his father, probably some time between 2008 and 2012. Since Jared took over, the company has acquired at least 120 properties, including 666 Fifth Avenue, which cost $1.8 billion, the most ever paid for an office building in the United States. There have also been purchases in the hundreds of millions of dollars. In short, Kushner has a lot of potential for conflicts of interest, both at home and abroad. (V)
Donald Trump chose conservative author Monica Crowley to be senior director of strategic communications for the National Security Council, possibly because he liked her best-selling book What the (Bleep) Just Happened?. If that was the real reason for his selecting her, he might want to rethink that decision, since CNN has discovered that she plagiarized large pieces of it. The network found more than 50 examples of material in the book that were lifted from other sources without citation, including Fox News, various think tanks, Wikipedia, and Investopedia, not to mention the New York Times,, Politico,, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, the BBC, and Yahoo News. At least she is very well read. The CNN story gives dozens and dozens of quotes from her book next to the original source, making it very clear that large parts of her book were stolen from other people's work.
This isn't the first time Crowley has plagiarized material. In 1999, Slate caught her cribbing an article from a 1988 article in Commentary. Old habits die hard. (V)
The latter years of the Gilded Age (i.e., the 1890s and early 1900s), bear a striking resemblance to our own time in many ways: Technological change, newly-emerging global threats, angry white workers, large-scale immigration, political corruption, unhappiness with Wall Street, etc. Among other things, this gave rise to a form of journalism called muckraking. Though that term has taken on some negative overtones over time, it primarily refers to journalists who sought very aggressively to uncover and expose corruption in America's leaders and institutions.
Looking at some of the items we have today (and other days), it is evident that we're on the verge of what might be regarded as a new era of muckraking. That is to say, we can expect journalists to spend the next four (or eight) years being particularly aggressive when it comes to uncovering scandals, corruption, and other kinds of nefarious information. A (non-exhaustive) list of some of the reasons:
- Changes in the media: The infamous Watergate
scandal got lots of coverage, of course, and that was when there were just
newspapers and three major television networks. Now, there are also talk radio
shows, blogs and websites, cable news stations, social media sites, and
countless other outlets, all of them competing with one another for attention. There
are also increasingly vicious rivalries within particular mediums, such as
Breitbart vs. Daily Kos, or Fox vs. MSNBC. Juicy scandals are excellent fuel,
indeed, for these various media.
- Lots of material: By all evidences, thanks to
their background and/or lack of vetting and/or lack of public service, the
members of the Trump administration look to have an unusually large number of
skeletons in their respective closets.
- No secrets: As the DNC learned the hard way, it's
not so easy to keep secrets in the computer age. There's hacking, of course, but
also easy access to archives, databases, and other computer tools. Consider, for
example, Monica Crowley's plagiarism (see above). 20 years ago, it might well
have gone undetected. But now, an exhaustive check of her work is a ten-minute
process. Any professor who uses essay assignments could have warned Crowley that
all it takes is to download the e-book, convert to text, and submit the file to
turnitin.com. If Donald Trump's tax returns and "Apprentice" footage remain
secret for the next four years, he should consider that a minor miracle.
- An unusually unpopular president: The people who
consume The New York Times, The Washington Post, HuffPo, MSNBC, etc.
have—as a whole—exceedingly negative views of Donald Trump. They
will be delighted to consume negative coverage of his administration (and may
even get angry at anything else; consider the fallout if the Times
somehow endorsed Trump in 2020).
- A media-hostile president: The independent press (that is to say, not funded by political parties) really began to emerge around the time of the Civil War. And starting with Abraham Lincoln, presidents have been frustrated at coverage they considered to be critical or unfair, but at the same time they recognized a need to "play ball" so as to have some influence over the headlines. The media have responded in kind; while the fourth estate has always been willing to go negative, the need for access serves to rein in those impulses, to an extent. Trump, by all evidences, has no interest in playing ball with most of the mainstream media, and—given the already sparse access he grants—they may have little need to play ball with him. So, it looks to be open season.
The most scandal-ridden president in American history may well have been George W. Bush, who certainly fell victim to several of the tendencies listed above. A crude barometer of this is the Wikipedia page "George W. Bush administration controversies," which has 176 pages (that's about one controversy every 2 weeks). By contrast, George H. W. Bush's entry has 9 pages (one controversy every 23 weeks), Bill Clinton's entry has 52 pages (one controversy every 8 weeks), and Barack Obama's entry has 58 pages (one controversy every 7.5 weeks). For the reasons outlined above, not only is Donald Trump likely to leave that quartet in the dust, he might well do so by the end of his first year in office. (Z)
One might have thought that North Carolina's bad experience (controversy, political strife, a Republican governor getting his head lopped off, hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue lost) would have taught other states that anti-gay rights legislation does not pay. And, one would be wrong, it seems. At least six other states are set to consider a "bathroom bill" (you have to use the bathroom that matches the gender on your birth certificate) or other forms of anti-LGBT legislation in 2017: Alabama, Missouri, South Carolina, Virginia, Texas and Washington.
In some of these cases, we're likely talking about a rogue GOP legislator who is just trying to score points, with the proposal going nowhere. Deep blue Washington, for example, seems highly unlikely to sanction anti-LGBT discrimination. But there's no question that at least some of these states are deadly serious. In Texas, for example, the charge is being led by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), who said, "This issue is not about discrimination—it's about public safety, protecting businesses and common sense. The left and the liberal media who oppose this legislation don't understand it."
So, will these states suffer the same fate as North Carolina? That's very hard to say. South Carolina and Alabama are very red, and are not particularly tied into the national economy, so they can probably get away with whatever they want (at least, until the courts weigh in). By contrast, Virginia and Missouri are both purplish, and so voters there could punish leadership in the same way that they sent North Carolina governor Pat McCrory (R) packing. Those two states are also fairly closely tied to the national economy, and could suffer the same sorts of boycotts that North Carolina did (e. g., concerts being canceled, sports events being moved, left-leaning corporations taking their business elsewhere).
Texas is the most interesting case study. It's red, of course, and is an economic powerhouse. Would Pearl Jam or Bruce Springsteen or Maroon 5 be willing to forego the revenues from concerts in Dallas and San Antonio and Houston and Austin and Fort Worth and El Paso? That's six of the 20 biggest cities in America. Similarly, North Carolina has only three professional sports teams (the NBA's Carolina Hornets, the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes, and the NFL's Carolina Panthers). Texas has seven, including the mighty Dallas Cowboys, whose owner Jerry Jones would presumably fight the league tooth and nail if it tried to withdraw any events from the Lone Star State. Similarly, can companies afford to turn their backs on the tech hubs that are Austin and Dallas? The odds are good that we're going to find out. (Z)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan05 Obama Strategizes with Democrats
Jan05 Barack Obama: Another John Quincy Adams?
Jan05 Trump's Tax Policies Would Be a Windfall for Him
Jan05 What Will Trump's Biggest Test Be in 2017?
Jan05 Trump Turns to Assange to Bolster His Case
Jan05 Wall Street Lawyer to Oversee Wall Street
Jan05 Tillerson's Retirement Package: $180,000,000
Jan04 Oops! House Reverses Ethics Decision
Jan04 Trump Blasts Intelligence Agencies
Jan04 Obama to Transfer Gitmo Detainees
Jan04 McConnell Is the Dog that Caught the Car
Jan04 House Adopts Anti-Sit-in Rule
Jan04 Trump Is Already Working on His Second Supreme Court Appointment
Jan04 Bushes, Clintons to Attend Inauguration
Jan04 Schumer Will Be Very Different from Reid as Senate Minority Leader
Jan04 Megyn Kelly Jumps to NBC
Jan03 Pence Will Meet with House Republicans Today
Jan03 House Votes to Gut Office of Congressional Ethics
Jan03 No Hacking Revelations, After All
Jan03 What to Watch about Trade
Jan03 Trump Reportedly Picks Trade Representative
Jan03 Battle Over Sessions Has Begun
Jan03 Obama Will Give His Farewell Address on Jan. 10 in Chicago.
Jan03 Another Secretary Position May Need to Be Filled
Jan02 Trump Says He Will Reveal New Information about the Russian Hacking This Week
Jan02 Trump Likes Schumer Best?
Jan02 Trump Will Keep Tweeting
Jan02 Democrats Will Target Eight Cabinet Nominees
Jan02 Congress Will Start Repealing the Affordable Care Act Tomorrow
Jan02 House, Senate Likely to Butt Heads on Medicare
Jan02 Coal Miners Expect Trump to Deliver
Jan02 Top Wall Street Journal Editor Is Leery of Saying that Trump Lies
Jan01 Be Careful What You Wish For, You Might Get It
Jan01 Vermont Utility Hit By Same Hackers as DNC
Jan01 Trump Pooh-poohs Russian Hacking, Says Computers Can't Be Trusted
Jan01 Trump Just Can't Help Himself
Jan01 The Larger Meaning of the Inaugural Snubs
Jan01 Which Senators Will Throw in the Towel in 2018?
Jan01 How Will Democrats Handle Supreme Court Vacancy?
Dec31 Obama's Final Moves to Stymie Trump
Dec31 Obama Meeting with Congressional Democrats to Strategize on Obamacare
Dec31 McConnell Will Play a Key Role in 2017
Dec31 Trump Praises Putin
Dec31 Trump Planning to Keep Private Security Force
Dec31 Spend New Year's Eve With the Trumps for Under $600
Dec31 Inauguration Planning Keeps Leaving Egg on Trump's Face
Dec31 North Carolina Judge Temporarily Blocks New Republican Laws
Dec30 America Retaliates against Russia
Dec30 Trump May Be Bad News for Israel