• Flynn Subpoenas Issued
• McConnell Downplays the Absence of Any Women in the Healthcare Group
• Trump Talks Mostly to Rich White Republican Men
• Democrat Fills in for Absent Republican
• South Korea Elects New President
In a move reminiscent of the Saturday night massacre, President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey Tuesday. In Massacre v1.0, Richard Nixon ordered his attorney general (Elliot Richardson) to fire the special prosecutor (Archibald Cox) who was investigating the Watergate affair. Richardson resigned rather than carry out the order. So did his deputy (William Ruckelshaus). Nixon eventually found someone (Robert Bork) who was willing to do the job, but it was too late to save the President.
The parallel is not perfect, so whether this event gets labeled the "Tuesday night massacre" remains to be seen, but the key commonality is that in both cases a high-ranking government official (Cox then, Comey now) was investigating the president and clearly getting too close for comfort. In Comey's case, it is the Trump-Russia connection, and with smoke all over the place, Comey may have figured out where the fire is.
The move by the Trump administration was either foolish or venal (or both). Let's start with the foolish part of the equation first. There is a legitimate argument to be made in favor of cashiering Comey. Though he was once respected on both sides of the aisle, securing confirmation as FBI Director by a vote of 93-1 (with only Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY, voting against), his star has dimmed in recent months. Thanks to his gross mishandling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail situation (while at the same time keeping any Trump-Russia information under his hat), Comey made himself seem incompetent, and made it appear as if the FBI—which is supposed to be apolitical—had become politicized. Consequently, the Director had made many enemies in Washington while leaving himself with relatively few friends. That's a problem for someone who is the face of his department, and who needs to interact with the town's movers and shakers.
So, again, there's a case to be made. The problem is that the Trump administration, in explaining their decision, did not make this case very well. In fact, the letter sent to Comey by Trump, coupled with the statements by Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III and (especially) Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, gave the impression that Comey's "error" was in choosing not to prosecute Clinton and not in his overall handling of the affair. That is not a reasoning that will please most voters. Given that the decision to lop off the Director's head has been under discussion for a week, the administration had plenty of time to fine-tune their messaging, and they blew it. They compounded the error by bringing virtually nobody into the loop. While Trump continues to think that he is a law unto himself, that is not how Washington works. Whether the leaders of Congress get a "vote" or not, it's still wise to bring them in on the process. Even worse, it did not seem to occur to anyone in the White House to come up with a compelling answer to the obvious questions: "Why now? What do you know today that you didn't know a week or a month ago?" Even the actual firing itself was botched. Trump sent longtime bodyguard Keith Schiller to the FBI headquarters to deliver the news, but Comey wasn't even in Washington. He was in Los Angeles, and learned of his ouster when televisions in the room where he was speaking to FBI agents showed the breaking news reports. Point is, the termination appears to have been handled in a clumsy and foolish fashion, making it seem that even after 110 days on the job, Donald Trump is still a rookie.
Now let's move on to the venal part. A lot of the issues outlined above start to make more sense if we operate under the assumption that Comey's termination had nothing to do with e-mail, and everything to do with Russia. If that is the case, then keeping non-insiders in the dark—since they might ask uncomfortable questions—may have been necessary. Similarly, we don't know much about the Comey e-mail fiasco today that we didn't know previously, but it's entirely possible that Comey learned a few new things about Russia in the past week or two or three, particularly given how much information Sally Yates has shared. This may all sound speculative, but it's not. Keeping in mind that the White House leaks like a sieve, insiders have already come forward to confirm that Trump has been fuming about Comey for the past week, and asking anyone and everyone why the FBI Director's investigation could not be shut down.
Given the length of Comey's enemies list, the White House reportedly expected a muted response. How they could possibly have reached that conclusion is a mystery, but they were, of course, way off. Members of the Clinton campaign, who have about as much reason to hate Comey as anyone, reacted with dismay, fearing what this means for the government and its integrity. Said former Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook:
I was as frustrated, concerned and disappointed as anyone with Director Comey's handling of the email investigation, but President Trump just fired the man investigating how Russia meddled in our election and whether members of his campaign were involved, an investigation President Trump called 'charade' only 24 hours ago. It's equally concerning that our attorney general, who lied about his own meetings with the Russians, approved Director Comey's firing.
Other Democrats were equally unhappy. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called the firing a "big mistake," while ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee Mark Warner (D-VA) said Comey would still be called to testify. Congressional Republicans were mostly displeased as well. Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) said, "I am troubled by the timing and reasoning of Director Comey's termination." Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Bob Corker (R-TN) seconded the sentiment. Members on both sides of the aisle are calling for the appointment of an independent prosecutor, and Freedom Caucuser Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI)—who harbors no love for Donald Trump—said he would introduce legislation toward that end. Trump did have a few GOP supporters lining up behind him, including Rep. Tom Garrett (R-VA), who said that the President's behavior is "small potatoes compared to Nazi Germany." Apparently Garrett did not get the memo about Nazi analogies, but in any case, "He's not as bad as Hitler" is a pretty low bar.
Trump, then, should be worried that firing Comey is going to backfire, and actually ratchet up the Congressional intensity. That's certainly a parallel with the Nixon years—Congress did not start to take a serious interest in the Watergate scandal for many months, but once they did, they got very interested. Something else that should make Trump nervous is that the staff of the FBI is very unhappy about Comey's termination. Presumably, Comey did not (and will not) keep what he's learned to himself, and now the agents may now be extra motivated to investigate the Trump-Russia issue. This is another possible parallel with Nixon—he learned the hard way that you don't aggravate the FBI. After all, Deep Throat, who leaked all of Nixon's dirty secrets to the press, was a spurned FBI agent (W. Mark Felt).
In the end, surely Team Trump knew they were taking a gamble: Suffer some heat now, in hopes of avoiding the long-term damage that the Russia scandal might inflict. Thus far, the early returns suggest that the gamble is not going to pay off any better than Nixon's gambles paid off more than 40 years ago. (Z & V)
The ink on James Comey's termination letter was not even dry when we got our first indication that the Russia investigation isn't going away anytime soon. News broke late Tuesday that a federal grand jury in Virginia has begun subpoenaing records and witnesses related to former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Nobody is saying much about exactly what the grand jury is looking for. However, this marks the first time that the judicial branch has gotten directly involved in the Trump-Russia issue. And it probably won't be the last, particularly if the grand jury comes up with something, and decides to recommend that charges be filed. (Z)
When the House sent its healthcare bill over to the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tossed it into the paper shredder and set up a group of 13 senators to write a new bill from scratch. All 13 are men and McConnell was roundly criticized for not including any women in the group. Yesterday he said the omission isn't so important, really. He did not elaborate on that point, however.
It isn't that there are no women available. Five Republican senators are female: Lisa Murkowski (AK), Joni Ernst (IA), Susan Collins (ME), Deb Fischer (NE), and Shelley Moore Capito (WV). He could obviously put at least one of them in the healthcare panel. Or he could try, at least, though at least one of them—Collins—said she would not serve even if asked. A PR failure like this is surprising since McConnell always thinks very carefully before saying or doing anything. Democrats have pounced on him for this omission and for not admitting a mistake and adding one or more of the Republican women to the group. (V)
Politico has compiled a database of whom Donald Trump talks to and it is largely (63%) white men. The database is incomplete since Trump (unlike Barack Obama) refuses to release logs of who he meets with. Trump has met with at least 270 business executives, such as Jamie Dimon, Indra Nooyi, and Oscar Munoz. Of these, 75% are white men, although in fairness to Trump, anyone wanting to talk to top business executives is going to have to talk mostly to white men since 96% of the Fortune 500 CEOs are men, almost all of them white.
During the campaign, Trump talked about "draining the swamp," but since taking office, he has hobnobbed mostly with the business and entertainment elite. Not a lot of coal miners have made it to the Oval Office. What Trump discussed with the business leaders is unknown, but most CEOs are pretty good at making elevator pitches for things that would help their company and industry. That's more like feeding the alligators than draining the swamp.
Trump has also talked to at least 47 world leaders, with Angela Merkel and Shinzo Abe tied for first place with seven interactions each. He has also talked to leaders in the Middle East multiple times, and has talked to Vladimir Putin three times (that we know of). In addition, Trump has talked to 250 Republican politicians and 92 Democratic politicians. (V)
Only 17 Republicans have scheduled a town hall event during the current recess. The reason is obvious: They don't want to face huge crowds of people angry about the AHCA. Better to hide or, at most, do a radio interview with a friendly host. In particular, Rep. John Faso (R-NY) of NY-19 didn't want to face furious constituents, so he didn't schedule any public events, thus creating a vacuum in his district. Since nature abhors a vacuum, Rep. Sean Maloney (D-NY), from the adjacent NY-18 district a bit farther south than Faso's, said he would hold a town hall in Faso's district and explain to the people what the AHCA was going to mean for them. Maloney said if Faso doesn't like the idea of another representative poaching his district, maybe he ought to be holding town halls himself. It will be interesting to see if Maloney's idea catches on and other Democrats fill in for Republicans missing in action. (V)
With their previous president, Park Geun-hye, in jail awaiting trial, South Koreans headed to the polls on Tuesday to choose a new president. The winner is Moon Jae-in, the son of North Korean refugees. Moon is an Obama-like center-left politician who is wildly popular with young people and is loathed by his political opponents. There is no transition period in South Korea, so he will take office today.
Given his profile, Moon may seem like someone who will have trouble working with Donald Trump. Not so fast, however. At the moment, both men are saying much the same things about the North Korea problem, namely that the time has come for negotiation and bargaining. Moon also wants South Korea to take a more active role in its own defense. Given that he's not a hardliner like Park was, Moon's election affords Trump a wider range of options, and will likely serve to calm tensions between North and South. So, his win would appear to also be a win for the White House, and for anyone who does not desire the outbreak of a war in Asia. (Z)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
May09 Clapper Says Russians Wanted to Help Elect Trump
May09 Wagon Circling Has Already Begun
May09 Why Did Trump Persist in Hiring Flynn?
May09 Court of Appeals Has Tough Questions over Muslim Travel Ban v2.0
May09 EPA Fires Half of Its Scientific Advisers
May09 Manchin Gets a Republican Challenger
May08 AHCA Could Have Many Unintended Consequences
May08 Russia Investigation Will Resume Center Stage This Week
May08 Border-Adjustment Tax Is Dead in the Senate
May08 Republican Leads in Montana Special House Election
May08 Next Test for Muslim Ban v2.0 Comes Today in Virgina
May08 Kusnher's Sister Offers Green Cards to Chinese Investors Who Invest in Her Business
May08 Obama Unveils Plans for Presidential Library
May08 Macron Crushes Le Pen to Become President of France
May07 Trump to Make First Trip Abroad
May07 Democrats May Contest 90 House Districts
May07 The GA-06 Special Election Is the Most Expensive House Race in History
May07 Get Ready for the AHCA Blowback
May07 Five Ways the Senate's Healthcare Bill May Differ from the House's
May07 Trump's Relationship with McConnell Will Be Sorely Tested in the Months Ahead
May07 Paul Asks if He Was Spied on by Obama
May07 Non-Lobbyist Lewandowski Quits Lobbying Firm
May06 Trump Was Deeply Involved in Getting the AHCA Bill Passed
May06 Senate Names Health Care Team
May06 Congressman Savages Health Care Legislation
May06 Democratic Groups Raise Millions after AHCA Bill Passes
May06 We Have Our First Healthcare Political Ad
May06 Secretary of the Army Pick Withdraws, Again
May06 Unemployment Is at the Lowest Level in 10 Years
May06 Bullock Gives Democrats Some Advice: Go West
May06 Judge Reopens Voter Registration for GA-06 Runoff
May06 Macron Hacked
May05 House Narrowly Passes a Bill to Repeal the ACA
May05 Fourteen Vulnerable House Republicans Voted for the AHCA Bill
May05 The Woman Who Could Decide the Future of Health Care for Millions of People
May05 House Bill Could Affect All Health Plans
May05 GOP Representatives Go off Script
May05 Trump Signs Meaningless Executive Order
May05 Can Rosenstein Rein in Sessions?
May05 French Head to the Polls Sunday
May04 Upton Flips Again
May04 California Republicans May Swing AHCA Vote
May04 Tuesday Group May Fire MacArthur
May04 Details of AHCA Reveal GOP Priorities
May04 Kushner Finances Under Scrutiny
May04 Comey Defends His Decision to Bring Up Clinton's E-mails Days Before the Election
May04 Trump May Issue an Order Allowing Churches to Support Candidates
May04 Pelosi and Perez Disagree on Abortion
May04 Chaffetz Gunning for Obama's Pension