• Mueller Probe Just Getting Started
• Congressional Democrats Want to Talk to Priebus
• Trump Fires Rest of AIDS Council
• Pence Urged to "Make America Gay Again"
• Top Five Trump Sycophants
• Russiagate Is Not Watergate
The New York Times is working hard to unravel as much of the Russia puzzle as they can. Its latest report illuminates one of the very earliest pieces of the puzzle. In May of 2016, Donald Trump's campaign adviser George Papadopoulos had drinks with Alexander Downer, Australia's emissary to Great Britain. During the meeting, Papadopoulos dropped a bombshell: The Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton, in the form of hacked e-mails. Through channels, Downer passed this information on to the FBI, and that is likely what launched the Bureau's probe into Russian meddling into the 2016 election (and not the infamous Christopher Steele dossier, as Trump's allies have claimed).
This is pretty big news, for a few reasons. The first is that it makes clear that contact between the Trump campaign and the Russians began very early, well before Trump was the GOP nominee. Beyond that, it further undermines the administration's assertion that Papadopoulos—who has turned state's evidence—was a minor player in the campaign. And finally, this new information suggests that by May of last year, Team Trump had a compelling reason to believe that the Russians really did have juicy stuff on Clinton. That puts the infamous meeting at Trump Tower with Natalia Veselnitskaya (in June 2016) and Peter Smith's attempt to acquire the Clinton e-mails (in July 2016) in a much darker light. Of course, special counsel Robert Mueller certainly knew all of this long before the Times did. Undoubtedly Papadopolous told him this (and possibly more) as part of his plea deal. (Z)
Speaking of Robert Mueller, there are many people in Washington who are pressing him to wrap up his investigation quickly. Those who are watching the tea leaves closely say that isn't happening, and that the available clues we have all suggest that Mueller will be at work well into 2018.
To start, Mueller empaneled a grand jury with the usual term of 18 months (which can be extended in 6-month increments, as needed). He's only 5 months into that 18-month term, and his staff is still engaging regularly with the jury. Just last week, for example, prosecutor Jeannie Rhee was seen entering the courthouse. Generally speaking, the grand jury is a starting point for various enforcement actions, like indictments and warrants. In other words, Mueller may have a few fish already in his net—a Yellowfin Flynn, a Rainbow Manafort, a great white Papadopoulos—but he's clearly gunning for more.
Further, even among the fish that Mueller does have, he's not moving particularly quickly. Mike Flynn, for example, isn't scheduled to make another court appearance for a month. Clearly, Team Mueller is doing a lot of other things with their time, and is (probably) also wanting to allow a Jared Kushner or a Donald Trump Jr. to marinate for a little while, as they wait for the other shoe to drop.
Needless to say, it is within the power of Donald Trump to throw a giant wrench into the investigation, and to move the U.S. directly into constitutional crisis mode, by getting someone in the Justice Dept. to fire Mueller. But if that does not happen, then this story is going to linger well into 2018, and maybe into 2019. (Z)
Way back in 1981, during New Jersey's gubernatorial election, the Republican Party hired armed off-duty law enforcement officers, gave them armbands, and told them to challenge black voters' right to vote. The Ballot Security Task Force, as the RNC called it, was credited for giving a narrow victory to Republican Tom Kean. It also led to an outcry, and to a 1982 judicial order that said that for the next 35 years, the RNC was forbidden from engaging in "ballot security" or monitoring polling places in subsequent elections.
That order was set to expire on December 1st. However, on election night 2016, the Trump campaign was monitoring polling places from the fifth floor of Trump Tower. That is legal under the terms of the 1982 order, as long as the party apparatus isn't involved. But then, Sean Spicer and Reince Priebus wandered down to the fifth floor and spent some time where they should not have, since they were RNC members at that point. Spicer was deposed last week, and admitted the violation, but said he didn't see any of the four large signs telling him to stay away from the fifth floor. Now, congressional Democrats want to talk to Reince Priebus, and to ask him how he managed to miss the signs (and, as RNC chair, how he was unaware of the rules, signs or no).
The Democrats' stated goal here is to cause the original 35-year order to be extended. Their unstated goal, undoubtedly, is to draw attention to the notion that Republicans—past and present—have a habit of disregarding the rules governing peoples' right to vote, and also a habit of blocking minority votes. Whether or not Priebus is compelled to testify, and whether or not the 1982 order is extended, is in the hands of U.S. District Court Judge John Michael Vazquez, an appointee of Barack Obama (Z).
The Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) was formed by President Bill Clinton in 1995 in order to suggest policy initiatives that might help combat the AIDS crisis. Back in June, six of the 10 members resigned, with all six signing an open letter that declared, "Trump doesn't care about HIV." Now, Trump has terminated the appointments of the remaining four members, with a press release explaining that the administration will hire 10 new people in 2018 so they can "bring in new voices."
It is very unlikely that Trump's concern is that the remaining four members (or the other six who resigned) were not outspoken and/or activist enough. That suggests that one of two things is about to happen. One possibility is that PACHA is about to be packed with an assortment of AIDS-deniers, pharmaceutical bigwigs, or gay conversion therapy advocates. In other words, something like what's happened with the EPA. The thinking, if this is the course of action, would be something along the lines of, "If the council isn't doing anything anyhow, might as well score some points with the base."
The other possibility is that PACHA is about to be shut down, and the administration is expecting that people won't notice when new members are not appointed. Given that the White House has already shuttered its Office of National AIDS Policy, and scrubbed every reference to AIDS from the White House's website, this seems to be the likely outcome. This would not be the first time something like this has happened; the George H. W. Bush administration shut down Ronald Reagan's President's Commission on the HIV Epidemic, while the George W. Bush administration essentially ignored the PACHA, sometimes scheduling as few as two meetings per year. (Z)
The brilliant thing about Donald Trump's MAGA is that it is the ultimate 21st-century sound bite. It can be fit easily onto hats and shirts and posters, and into tweets and text messages and Instagram posts. The downside is that it is extremely easy to appropriate and to parody. This is something that Vice President Mike Pence is learning firsthand this week as he vacations in Aspen, Colo. One of his neighbors has hung a large rainbow banner adorned with the phrase "Make America Gay Again." It's not exactly clear what would be entailed in making America gay again, though it's unlikely that the rabidly homophobic Pence is going to do it.
MAGA parodies are also abundant on Twitter, particularly among the tens of thousands of responses that every tweet from Donald Trump generates. Among the more common variants:
- Make America Gullible Again
- Many A**holes Getting Arrested
- Making Americans Go Abroad
- Morons Are Governing America
- Making All Groping Acceptable
- Mueller Ain't Going Away
- Moronic A**hole's Golfing Again
- Mexican American Grocers Association
The last one is actually a real organization. Presumably, nobody has told the President that a group of Mexican immigrants in Los Angeles were MAGA 40 years before his political career began. (Z)
RedState is a conservative website, but many of its contributors are NeverTrumpers, or else have grown disenchanted with Donald Trump over the course of his first year in office. In the latter group is "Carl Arbogast" (presumably a nom de plume inspired by the movie Sneakers), who prepared a helpful guide to the five biggest Trump sycophants in the country. The highlights:
- Jacob Wohl (Twitter): "You'll find Wohl replying to
nearly every Trump tweet, usually within minutes with a statement of support no
matter what Trump says...You can almost hear him in the Smeagol voice saying,
'My Trump. My preciousssss.'"
- Sean Hannity (Fox News): "Have we ever witnessed a
person who walked the establishment conservative line for so long go down the
path of Trumpism so fast? Hannity didn't just get on board The Trump Train. He
was ready to lie down in front of it, shouting, 'I LOVE YOU DONALD!!!' as the
train plowed over him and turned him into a corpse. Even in death, Hannity would
be yelling, 'MAGA!' Hannity ditched conservatism to gain favoritism in the eyes
of Cheeto Jesus."
- Jack Posobiec (Twitter): "If there were ever a more
pathetic Trumper than Posobiec, you'd be hard-pressed to find one...Posobiec
made his bones playing footsie with the alt-right like his knuckle-dragging
Gorilla Mindset lisping goon, Mike Cernovich. Posobiec was happy to play kissy
with white nationalists such as Richard Spencer. He, like Cernovich, built their
large following catering to the Pepe Frog crowd with talk of 'white genocide'
and adhering to kook conspiracy theories such as Seth Rich and Pizzagate.
Posobiec then wanted to gain some credibility and hilariously tried to distance
himself from his past. It didn't work. But he still humps Trump's leg."
- Matt Boyle (Breitbart): "Boyle, by virtue of being
a part of the Bannonbart operation became a Trump leg-humper by default. But he
quickly started sucking down the Trump Kool-Aid and became a true believer.
Boyle, who uses so many adjectives and adverbs in his 'reporting' it would cause
most editors to jump out a window, is another person who feels Trump can do no
- Sebastian Gorka (former Breitbart editor, former White House staff): He's such a douche that he blocks anybody on Twitter critical of him or Donald Trump. It is hard to keep track of all the idiotic statements he's made and lies he's told in defending Donald Trump or attempt to cast blame on every Trump failure on Barack Obama.
Note that the wording above is theirs, not ours. Looking at his archive, there is no question that Arbogast is a conservative, one who loathes Rosie O'Donnell, Jimmy Kimmel, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). His list reminds us that there is a significant portion of the GOP faithful that finds Trump and his base reprehensible. What these folks will do with their votes will be a big story in 2018 and 2020. (Z)
Yesterday, we had a piece about Richard Nixon's "Saturday Night Massacre," and how some of the things that were fatal to Tricky Dick are not true for Donald Trump. Most obviously, Trump does not record his White House conversations (so, no "smoking gun"), and he is not facing a Congress dominated by the opposition party (at least, not at the moment).
Now, let's look at the other side of the equation, and several of the ways in which Trump's position is weaker than Nixon's was:
- Two Crimes vs. One: The original crime in the
Watergate case, the burgling of the DNC headquarters in the Watergate complex by Nixon lackeys, was a low-level
offense, and nobody seriously thinks Nixon was directly involved. Where Tricky
Dick got into trouble was that he tried to cover up that crime, thus laying the
groundwork for an obstruction of justice charge. In Trump's case, he may also
have obstructed justice. However, the original crime that launched
Russiagate—conspiracy with the Russians—is, if proven, vastly more
serious than a second-rate burglary. And Trump's non-involvement is not yet
certain. So, The Donald has two significant crimes where he may be exposed,
rather than one.
- Nixon Kept His Mouth Shut: Yes, Nixon had a serious
case of loose lips when he was in the White House, and given the tape recording
system, that came back to haunt him. However, as a former lawyer, he was clever
enough not to make public statements that handed evidence to special prosecutor
Archibald Cox in a package so tidy it might as well be gift wrapped. The same is
not true for Donald Trump, a non-lawyer who creates all manner of headaches for
his counselors with his public statements. Just this week, for example, The
the New York Times that, "I have absolute right to do what I want to do
with the Justice Department." Not only is this untrue, it's also dangerously
close to declaring, "I'm allowed to obstruct justice." Undoubtedly, Robert
Mueller clipped a copy of that interview for his files.
- Staff Loyalty: Richard Nixon had pretty good luck
with staffers remaining loyal to him; conspirator G. Gordon Liddy famously
stand on a street corner on Washington D.C. so he could be killed and then
blamed for everything. Still, there are many people who know a president's
secrets, and the betrayal of just a few of them—most notably Mark Felt
(aka "Deep Throat") and John Dean—was key to the President's downfall. The
Trump White House, by contrast, leaks like a sieve, and just months into the
investigation, numerous former loyalists—who apparently weren't so loyal—have
agreed to throw The Donald under the bus.
- Approval Ratings: Richard Nixon had a very
successful first term, ending the Vietnam War, improving the economy, taking
steps to protect the environment, and normalizing relations with China, among
other things. His
when Watergate first broke were in the 60s, and they remained in the 50s for the
first nine months thereafter. Trump, by contrast, is in the high 30s right now.
This matters a lot, because impeachment is a political decision as much as it is
a prosecutorial decision. The lower a president's approval rating is, the higher
the chance he gets impeached. If Nixon dropped 35 points once evidence of his
involvement in a crime began to leak out, what will happen to Trump's approval
once Robert Mueller lays his cards on the table?
- The Nixon Precedent: Perhaps the single-biggest advantage that Nixon had over Trump is that Nixon did not follow Nixon. When Tricky Dick took office, he inherited what scholars call "the imperial presidency." Like a king or queen, the President was assumed to be a better sort of person than mere mortals, and believed to be above such things as swearing or lying outright or engaging in shady behavior. Put another way, Nixon benefited a great deal from the fact that it took the American people a long time to notice, and to accept, that maybe the emperor wasn't so imperial. Since Watergate, by contrast, everyone is on the lookout for venal behavior from the president, and everyone is much more likely to believe that such behavior may have taken place.
The lesson here is that while Watergate and Russiagate are very similar, sometimes eerily so, there are also some major differences. Some of those differences work to Donald Trump's benefit and some of them most certainly do not. (Z)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec30 Trump's New Targets: The USPS and Amazon
Dec30 Trump Outlines Immigration Demands
Dec30 Russia Snubs a Senator, Senators Snub Back
Dec30 DHS Is Making States Wait 9 Months Before Helping to Secure Their Voting Systems
Dec30 No, Trump's Approval Rating Has Not Equaled Obama's
Dec30 Lessons from the Saturday Night Massacre
Dec29 Alabama Certifies Doug Jones' Victory in Senate Race
Dec29 Alabama Reveals Roy Moore's Fellow Losers
Dec29 Virginians Thought Another Gore vs. Bush Couldn't Happen in Their State
Dec29 Ducey to Arizona Republicans: Stop Jockeying for McCain's Senate Seat
Dec29 Nearly Half of Republicans Believe that Trump Repealed "Obamacare"
Dec29 Trump Does Not Seem to Understand Global Warming
Dec29 Trump Does Not Understand International Trade
Dec29 Newton's Third Law Also Applies to Politics
Dec29 Trump Hits 46% Approval in Rasmussen Poll
Dec29 Trump Physical Scheduled for January 12
Dec28 Trump's Lawyers Plan to Call Flynn a Liar
Dec28 Moore Claims Fraud in Alabama
Dec28 Blue Staters Rush to Pay Property Taxes
Dec28 McConnell and Ryan Are Not on the Same Page on Entitlement Reform
Dec28 Obama Beats Trump as Most Admired Man of 2017
Dec28 How Some Political Predictions Turned Out
Dec28 No, Trump Has Not Signed More Laws Than Any Other President in His First Year
Dec28 Bannon Cuts Ties with Nehlen
Dec28 China Dogs Trump
Dec27 Congress Actually Passed Nearly 100 Laws in 2017
Dec27 Trump's Next Goal: Infrastructure
Dec27 D.C. Court of Appeals Rejects Challenge to Trump's Voter Fraud Panel
Dec27 Universities Are Preparing for a Violent Year Ahead
Dec27 Royal Wedding Could Become Political
Dec27 Virginia Elections Headed to Court
Dec27 Another Bad Poll for Republicans
Dec26 Democrats Are Going to Run in Almost Every House District in 2018
Dec26 The Top 10 House Races to Watch in 2018
Dec26 To Impeach or Not to Impeach, That Is the Question
Dec26 Menendez Isn't Drawing Serious Competition
Dec26 Who Is Kirsten Gillibrand and What Is She Up to?
Dec26 Utah Paper Blasts Hatch
Dec26 A Really, Really Bad Poll for Republicans
Dec25 Trump Reportedly Told Friends "You All Just Got a Lot Richer"
Dec25 Trump Has Visited His Properties over 100 Times This year
Dec25 Why Wasn't Black Turnout in Alabama Much Lower?
Dec25 Judge Deals Setback to Voter Fraud Commission
Dec25 An Analysis of Doubleheaders
Dec25 Flake For President?
Dec25 Haley Appears to Have Been Pranked
Dec25 Trump Killed Christmas
Dec24 Trump Builds His Wall, But out of Red Tape
Dec24 Trump Takes Shots at FBI