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Trump's FBI Story Collapses

When President Donald Trump fired FBI director James Comey, he claimed it was because Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy Rod Rosenstein told him that was needed. Yesterday, Trump admitted that story was bogus. He had decided to fire Comey on his own, no matter what the AG and deputy AG wanted.

Trump also had another excuse for firing Comey: the rank and file FBI agents had lost faith in him. Yesterday, Acting FBI director Andrew McCabe shot that down as well. McCabe said that Comey was enormously respected by the FBI agents and that they had absolutely not lost confidence in him. McCabe was backed up by the president of the FBI Agents Association, Thomas O'Connor, who said His [Comey's] support within the rank and file of the FBI is overwhelming,"

Republicans are scrambling to find ways to deal with the fact that Trump obviously lied in his announcement of Comey's firing. When confronted with Trump's original statement (saying he just following Sessions' advice) and his own statement Thursday (saying it was his own idea), Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) said: "I understand that appears to an inconsistency in the stories."

The truth, of course, as reported by multiple media outlets, is that Trump was very concerned about the FBI's continuing investigation of his ties with Russia. He understands very well that if the Bureau discovers that he was in cahoots with Vladimir Putin during the campaign, that would be the end of his presidency, so the investigation had to be stopped. The rest is all smoke and mirrors. (V)

Sessions, Trump May Be in Serious Legal Trouble

Firing James Comey—and then lying about the reason—could come back to haunt Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions politically. Or, maybe not. However, the risks don't end there. The pair may also have some more concrete issues, of a legal nature. To start, a little over a month ago, Sessions recused himself from any and all Russia-related inquiries and investigations. Now, he has become deeply involved in what is clearly a matter that is Russia-related. Unless he has one heck of an explanation, he is guilty of a serious breach of legal ethics. It's more than enough to justify a complaint with the bar, and could well cost Sessions his law license. That, in turn, would make continued service as AG tenuous at best, and would presumably force him to resign.

The trouble does not stop there, however. Federal law has a four-part definition of obstruction of justice. Put briefly, the government must prove: (1) "Corrupt" intent, (2) Interference with a pending judicial proceeding, (3) A material impact on that proceeding, and (4) Knowledge of that proceeding. Trump and Sessions obviously knew that Comey was conducting an investigation. And, firing him will interfere with that investigation in a materially impactful fashion. So, the only real question is whether the actions of Trump and Sessions fulfilled the first condition—was it actually their intent to interfere with Comey's investigation? We now know that it almost certainly was. Consequently, according to the legal experts consulted by both the Washington Post and CNN, it is probable that the President and the AG are guilty of obstructing justice. This was, it should be noted, the very first item of impeachment filed against Richard Nixon.

Of course, it doesn't matter if Trump and Sessions broke the law if there's nobody in a position of power willing to do something about it. So, is there someone who might make an issue of this? Well, there's Rod Rosenstein, who still enjoys a reputation for independence and integrity, and who is reportedly so angry at being used as the scapegoat for this whole mess that he almost resigned on Thursday. There is, as they say, none so dangerous as one who has nothing to lose. (Z)

For Conservatives, the Big Comey Story is the Left's Outrage

Democrats are outraged by Donald Trump's firing FBI Director James Comey but the President's supporters view the story completely differently. For them, the main takeaway is the Democrats' refusal to accept that Donald Trump won the election, is now president, and gets to do the things presidents do, including choosing their own team. Conservative media have repeatedly pointed out that Bill Clinton also fired the FBI director he inherited (while omitting the detail that Clinton fired him because he had misused an FBI airplane for private use, whereas Trump is clearly trying to kill an investigation of himself). But the bottom line is clear: For millions of Trump supporters, Trump is their voice and they see attacks on him by the left as attacks on themselves, something they perceive as a decades-long saga.

When Barack Obama was president, Democrats told conservatives that they should shut up and respect the results of the election, even though he was doing things they hated. Now the tables are turned and the conservatives naturally see it as perfectly fair to tell the Democrats to shut up. Democrats have a lot of trouble understanding where conservatives are coming from. The conservatives don't see the issue of Trump trying to kill off an investigation as central. They see lack of respect for their president as the big issue. (V)

Like a Leopard, Trump Can't Change His Spots

A week ago, it would have been hard to imagine that media coverage of Donald Trump (non-Breitbart and Fox division) could get much more negative. But then the Comey firing happened, and it's become clear that we haven't reached the limit yet. In particular, both Politico and CNN currently have blistering analyses that cut to the very core of Donald Trump's psyche.

The central theme of both pieces is that Trump the businessman, and Trump the reality star, and Trump the president are the same exact person. What he did in his past careers, he does in the White House, regardless of whether it is effective or appropriate. He has always worked only for himself, and has always been concerned only with himself, and he retains that approach as president. As Politico's Michael Kruse writes in his piece, entitled "He Doesn't Give a Crap Who He Fires":

A strategically incoherent, predictably unpredictable, private-sector lord who ran his family business by doing what he wanted when he wanted and with limited consideration for consequences stretching beyond his own immediate interests and gratification, Trump has spent the first not quite four months of his presidency running headlong into the constitutional checks and balances of American democracy. The system of safeguards against dictatorial intemperance has flummoxed him. Where there has been objective failure, Trump as usual has proclaimed historic success. In instances, though, in which executive power is sufficient for actual action, he has been nobody but his imperious, impetuous, spiteful self. And here...Trump made a fraught, monumental, republic-rattling decision the way he's always made decisions—quickly—and for the same central reasons—vengeance and self-interest.

Kruse also quotes several former Trump associates who agree entirely with this assessment. For example, former publicist Alam Marcus pithily observes that, "His whole pattern of conduct is exactly what he did here—ready, fire aim. He just doesn't stop and think. It's not ready, aim, fire. It's ready, fire, aim."

Interestingly, however, for the man whose catchphrase is "You're fired!," Trump does not actually like to fire people. Doing so is an admission of failure, which Trump hates more than just about anything; this is why he drags his feet on people like Corey Lewandowski, Sean Spicer, and Michael Flynn when time has come for them to go. Further, it is consistent with a bully's personality to talk big, but be unwilling to act on that talk. And so, when Trump does have to fire someone, he usually assigns the unpleasant duty to a lieutenant. That is how we end up in a situation where the Director of the FBI is terminated by the President's personal bodyguard (well, he was supposed to be, if he hadn't gotten the news on TV first). In any case, it's grown increasingly clear that being in the White House is not going to change Trump, the occasional grown-up address to Congress notwithstanding. The Comey situation is just another nail in that coffin. (Z)

Trump Picks Kris Kobach to Be Vice Chairman of the Voter-fraud Committee

After the election, Donald Trump said that Hillary Clinton got almost 3 million more votes that he did due to millions of undocumented immigrants voting for her. Despite virtually all the secretaries of state saying that voter fraud is exceedingly rare, Trump has persisted in this view and has vowed to set up a committee headed by Vice President Mike Pence to investigate. The AP is now reporting that the vice chairman of the committee will be the Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has pressed for extremely aggressive measures to make it harder to vote. It is unlikely that the committee will report back that millions of illegal votes were cast (because there is zero evidence for that), but with Kobach as vice chair, the committee is likely to report back that although we dodged the bullet in 2016, it could happen in 2020, so we need tough new laws that make voter fraud even more difficult. In particular, Kobach is a big supporter of requiring voters to present approved voter ID to vote, knowing full well that about 10% of the population, mostly poor people and minorities, lack this ID.

States that have voter-ID laws always make the ID cards available for free (otherwise they would have a de facto poll tax, which is unconstitutional), but they require a birth or naturalization certificate to get the free voter ID card. Birth certificates are never free and in some states must be obtained in person at offices open only a small number of hours in the middle of the working day. In some states, the ID cards that are valid for voting have been carefully chosen to make it hard for Democrats to vote. In Texas, for example, a gun permit is allowed but a student ID card issued by the state university is not. With Kobach as vice chair of the committee, we can expect more recommendations of this sort, giving state legislatures cover for trying to suppress the vote.

Election-law expert Prof. Rick Hasen has a different take: He thinks the end game here is for Congress to repeal the NVRA (motor-voter law), which requires states to allow people to register to vote when they apply for or renew a driver's license. That would sharply reduce voter registration, especially of marginal voters. (V)

Senate Approves Lighthizer as U.S. Trade Representative

In an 82-14 vote, the Senate approved Robert Lighthizer as U.S. Trade Representative. Lighthizer has worked for decades as a lawyer representing U.S. companies on trade issues, especially companies that feel they have faced illegal competition from foreign firms clandestinely supported by their government.

Donald Trump has made renegotiating NAFTA one of his key agenda items and this will largely be on Lighthizer's plate. However, as he will soon discover, that will not be so easy since many U.S. companies have come to depend on NAFTA, and will fight changes to it tooth and nail. (V)

California Ground Zero in Battle for Congress

California may be the largest state in the Union, but the more than 39 million people who live there are used to being largely irrelevant in national politics. It is, has been, and will continue to be a blue state, so presidential candidates only come to the Golden State to eat In-N-Out burgers and collect wheelbarrows full of campaign contributions. Most of the state's 53 congressional districts aren't usually competitive, and the two Senate seats have been held by Democrats for decades, so there isn't too much drama there, either.

In 2018, however, that is set to change. The state's Democrats loathe Donald Trump, and are fired up and are ready to give their time and money in mass quantities. That matters a lot in a state with many expensive media markets. Also helping the blue team are the fact that many of the state's most Republican districts (i.e., the ones in Orange County) aren't so Republican any more, and a large number of vulnerable GOP representatives voted in favor of the Obamacare repeal. The election is still more than 18 months away, and Democratic groups are already running commercials bashing the pro-AHCA voters.

Of course, the Republican Party is not going to take this lying down. They're raising money, too, and it also helps that some of the most vulnerable members happen to be some of the richest. Darrell Issa, for example, is worth between $300 million and $750 million (depending on whose numbers you believe), and can outspend his opponent by just opening his checkbook. Still, the DCCC likes their prospects in the state so much that they have relocated their Western regional political office from DC to Irvine, California (right in the middle of Orange County). They are going to have eight full-time staffers working on the competitive contests the Party thinks it can win. The upshot is that GOP representatives in California, particularly the seven of them who represent districts won by Hillary Clinton, should be making sure their resumes are up to date. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
May11 Republicans Resist Calls for a Special Prosecutor
May11 Just Before He Was Fired, Comey Asked for More Money to Expand the Russia Probe
May11 Trump's Biggest Mistakes
May11 Do We Have a Constitutional Crisis?
May11 Senate Intelligence Committee Subpoenas Flynn
May11 Old Senate Custom for Confirming Judges Could Be on its Way to Extinction
May11 Sean Spicer Could Be on His Way to Extinction
May11 Four Potential Deal-breakers that Could Kill the Senate Healthcare Bill
May11 Betting Markets Grow Bearish on Trump
May10 Trump Fires Comey
May10 Flynn Subpoenas Issued
May10 McConnell Downplays the Absence of Any Women in the Healthcare Group
May10 Trump Talks Mostly to Rich White Republican Men
May10 Democrat Fills in for Absent Republican
May10 South Korea Elects New President
May09 Yates Tells the Senate that Flynn Could Have Been Blackmailed by the Russians
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