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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Keeps Talking about Comey
      •  Trump Really Stepped in it with Threat to Comey
      •  Search for Comey Replacement Underway
      •  Trump's Tax Lawyers Say He Has No Income or Debts in Russia
      •  Black Voters' Turnout Fell Sharply in 2016
      •  Sessions Wants Harsher Sentences
      •  Cheri Bustos Can Show Democrats How to Win Rural Areas

Trump Keeps Talking about Comey

Any PR expert worth his or her salt would tell someone in the middle of a crisis that he wishes would go away to try and change the subject. President Donald Trump doesn't seem to have gotten the message. Rather than talking about healthcare or tax reform or even his new voter-fraud committee, he doubled down on his firing of former FBI director James Comey yesterday, guaranteeing that it stays in the headlines for at least a few more days. First, he threatened to cancel media briefings, thus killing Sarah Huckabee Sanders' hopes of becoming his new press secretary. Second, he tweeted a warning to Comey that he had better hope there aren't any recordings of their private conversations, thus instantly bringing up the subject of Richard Nixon and his tapes. Given that his secret tape recordings are what ultimately brought Nixon down, maybe Trump should be the one worried about secret recording devices.

The warning in Comey's direction was in relation to Trump's assertion that Comey told him that he was not under investigation. It would be surprising for Comey to tell him this, since it would be a gross violation of FBI protocol to tell anyone that they were or were not under investigation. Comey has violated the protocol before, but he presumably is smart enough to learn from his mistakes and not repeat them.

The threat has not gone unnoticed, though. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) called Trump's tweet "witness intimidation," which is a federal crime. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), the #2 Democrat in the Senate, said the firing was dangerously close to obstruction of justice. He also said that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein must now either appoint an independent special prosecutor or resign. (V)

Trump Really Stepped in it with Threat to Comey

Every time we think President Trump can't possibly find a new and more effective way to inflict unnecessary damage on himself and his presidency, he surprises us. He could have convened a meeting of the country's best political minds, and given them a week to work, and they probably couldn't have come up with 140 characters more counterproductive than these:

As noted above, Trump effectively guaranteed that a troublesome news story remains in the headlines for another week or so, while at the same time helpfully connecting himself to Richard Nixon. He may also have broken the law. But the damage doesn't stop there. Trump also weakened his hand via-a-vis the Russian investigation. Presumably the President would not need to threaten Comey unless the former director actually has some information that Trump fears. And threatening Comey, while also dragging his name through the mud, is exactly the kind of thing that's going to encourage him to spill his guts. Further, even if Comey decides to keep things to himself, his friends and allies are going to leak away, something we've already seen happening this week.

The former director and his supporters are not the only ones whom Trump aggravated, however. The Senate Intelligence Committee is furious, not only about the firing, but also about the fact that they were not kept in the loop, and learned the news on TV like everyone else (including Comey). Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) have both made clear that they are going to redouble their efforts to get to the bottom of the Trump-Russia question, now that Comey is no longer working on the problem. Given that the investigation was, until this point, plagued by infighting and constant disagreements, this newfound unity is a huge step backwards for the President.

And the damage that Trump did does not end with the Russia problem. In fact, The Donald managed, in a significant way, to undermine the entire rest of his presidency. He may be recording what happens in the White House (and on the phone), and he may not be. But just the threat means that anyone who talks to him has to assume that (a) they are being recorded, and (b) those recordings could be used against them, as needed. Any politician or foreign leader worth his or her salt, then, will say nothing and commit to nothing when talking to the President on his home turf. Even Fox News is warning that Trump is playing a "dangerous game" with his credibility. Not a good situation for a supposedly great dealmaker. (Z)

Search for Comey Replacement Underway

Surely, there has not been this much interest in the hiring of a new FBI director since J. Edgar Hoover died in 1972. If Donald Trump chooses a serious, independent-minded career law enforcement officer, it will reduce the damage he did in firing Comey. However, if his pick appears to be highly partisan, and chosen primarily to kill the Russia investigation, then the wolves will pounce.

On Saturday, the first four candidates will sit for an interview. They are:

  • Andrew McCabe: The current Acting Director, McCabe is a 21-year veteran of the Bureau, and well regarded for his intelligence and his professionalism. He's a Democrat, and has already stood up to Donald Trump, so his nomination would assuage concerns about the firing of Comey, and would likely get bipartisan support. However, those same facts probably also mean he's dead in the water.

  • Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX): Trump knows that most of the nominees he sends to the Hill are going to have trouble getting confirmed, given the circumstances of Comey's firing. Nominating one of the Senate's own might allow the President to sneak a loyalist through the back door. However, it would also mark the first time that a career politician helmed the Bureau, and would leave the White House open to constant questions about the independence and integrity of the FBI. Further, at 65 years of age, Cornyn is getting a little long in the tooth to be starting a demanding new job that comes with a 10-year term.

  • Alice Fisher: She served as an assistant attorney general under George W. Bush, and is now a private practice litigator with the prominent Washington firm of Latham & Watkins LLP. A conservative Republican, she's not popular with Democrats given her role on overseeing detention policies at Guantanamo Bay. The general consensus is that her name is on the list for appearances only, and that she's a longshot to land the job.

  • Michael Garcia: A former United States Attorney, he is now Associate Judge of the New York Court of Appeals. He is a Republican, and is particularly known for his anti-terrorism investigations, so those will be selling points for Trump. He's also had a distinguished career, has kept his nose clean, and is a Latino. All these things would make it tough for the Democrats to take a stand against him. He's probably the wisest choice, then, from a political standpoint, and he's certainly the kind of guy that would have the support of a Reince Priebus. However, Trump is likely to want an unequivocal statement of loyalty from any candidate he does not already know, and Garcia is unlikely to give it. Further, it's a bit hard to believe that Donald Trump would choose a Latino as his top law enforcement officer.

It should be noted that this is just a preliminary list, and that it is expected that other names will be added. So, the final pick may not even be named above. On the other hand, it's also possible that Trump has already settled on a candidate (likely Cornyn), and that all of this is just for show. (Z)

Trump's Tax Lawyers Say He Has No Income or Debts in Russia

Yesterday, two of Donald Trump's tax lawyers released a letter saying that Trump's only income from Russia in the past 10 years was from the Miss Universe pageant in 2013, his sale of a Palm Beach mansion to a Russian businessman in 2008, and sales of condos to individual Russians. The letter also said he has no debt to Russian banks. No documentation was supplied to back up the assertions.

Experts say that even if the letter is literally true, Trump may still have extensive dealings with Russians. For example, deals with Russia are commonly done through shell companies controlled by Russians but legally established in other places, Cyprus being a popular one. He may also have gotten loans from Russian-controlled banks located in Cyprus or other places. Until Trump's tax returns are released, it will be impossible to determine how much business he has done with Russian-controlled entities, and even if they are released it may still be very difficult if shell companies are used as intermediaries. (V)

Black Voters' Turnout Fell Sharply in 2016

The Pew Research Center has just issued another analysis of the 2016 electorate. Overall turnout was 61.4% of all eligible voters, about the same as in 2012, but there were some notable differences. In particular, the turnout of black voters dropped sharply from 66.6% in 2012 (higher than the national average) to 59.6% in 2016 (lower than the national average). This is the largest drop for any racial or ethnic group since 1996. There were 765,000 fewer black voters in 2016 than in 2012. Some of it may be due to the 2012 Democratic candidate being black and the 2016 Democratic candidate being white, but voter suppression may also have played a role. Let's do a simple analysis as follows:

State Pct. black Lost black votes Trump margin
Michigan 3.60% 24,767 10,704
Pennsylvania 3.54% 24,366 44,292
Wisconsin 0.92% 6,352 22,748

The second column gives the percentage of each state's residents that are black. Now suppose we apportion the 765,000 missing black votes by state, giving 3.60% of them to Michigan, for example, and assume that 95% of them would have voted for Clinton and 5% for Trump. Then we get the numbers in the third column. In Michigan, it would have flipped the state to Clinton. Although it would have made Pennsylvania and Wisconsin closer, even with 2012-level black turnout, Trump would still have carried both of them. Thus, lower black turnout alone doesn't explain Clinton's loss.

The analysis also shows that Latino turnout dropped slightly from 2012 (0.4% less), but as a percentage of the electorate, Latinos went from 8.4% in 2012 to 9.2% in 2016 because the Latino population increased. The percentage of white voters declined slightly, from 72.7% to 73.3% (V)

Sessions Wants Harsher Sentences

There are currently about 2.3 million Americans in prison, which is close to 1% of the adult population. It's the largest prison population in the world, and the second highest incarceration rate (behind only Seychelles). This is, of course, very expensive. It also makes it difficult to properly punish the worst offenders, since there really isn't space to incarcerate an individual for 10 or 20 or 30 years. Consequently, the Obama administration issued guidelines in 2013 instructing federal prosecutors to try and reduce the penalties meted out to certain kinds of offenders. Specifically, prosecutors were told that in the case of drug offenses involving nonviolent individuals with no criminal history and no connection to organized crime, they should exclude mention of drug quantities from charging documents so as to avoid triggering automatic sentencing laws.

As of Friday, Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III put an end to the Obama administration's leniency. With an eye toward "enforcing the laws that Congress has passed," he wants federal prosecutors to aim for the longest possible sentence they can reasonably hope to procure. If they feel that mercy is warranted, they will now be required to document their reasoning and to secure approval from Justice Department officials in Washington. Remarkably, Sessions spun the new policy as a gift to prosecutors, declaring that, "They deserve to be un-handcuffed and not micromanaged from Washington."

Sessions is fighting something of an uphill battle here, however. There was a time in the not-too-distant past that "more prison time" was seen as a panacea for America's issues with crime, and even for other social ills. Now, the broad consensus is that such thinking was mistaken. Even the man who signed "three strikes" into law, Bill Clinton, has admitted it was an error. On Friday, Democrats were universally unhappy at the DoJ's change of direction. However, so too were many Republicans, from Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) to the Koch Brothers. It's fair to expect that if federal prosecutors think they have the cover to push back against the directive, they will do so. (Z)

Cheri Bustos Can Show Democrats How to Win Rural Areas

In 2016, Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL) did something no other Democrat in the House did: win a Trump district by a 20-point landslide. Bustos represents IL-17, which runs from the most northwesterly bit of Illinois straight down along the Iowa border to just beyond Canton. It is a rural, agricultural district, with few big cities. In other words, it is prime Republican territory, yet Bustos won big-time there, something Democrats need to do in other rural districts in the Midwest if they are to have any chance at taking the House back in 2018.

Politico Magazine has a long feature story on Bustos and how the 55-year-old former newspaper reporter won in a 7,000-square-mile district full of small towns and soybean fields. The answer is fairly straightforward, though. She spends a lot of time doing retail campaigning and listening to her constituents and their concerns. When she talks, it is about jobs and wages and not about gun control, abortion, and other divisive social issues. She is a pro-choice Catholic who favors some gun control, but she downplays these issues to economic ones, which resonate much better with the people in her district. She certainly doesn't spend all her time attacking Donald Trump, given that her constituents voted for him. What her message is, which the national Democrats ignore at their peril, is that the party can't have a message primarily tailored to affluent professionals in San Francisco and Boston, and expect to win House elections in rural areas. In a way, she is a throwback to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who nobody can claim was Republican-lite, but it might also be the way of the future for the Democrats if they are serious about taking back the House. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
May12 Trump's FBI Story Collapses
May12 Sessions, Trump May Be in Serious Legal Trouble
May12 For Conservatives, the Big Comey Story is the Left's Outrage
May12 Like a Leopard, Trump Can't Change His Spots
May12 Trump Picks Kris Kobach to Be Vice Chairman of the Voter-fraud Committee
May12 Senate Approves Lighthizer as U.S. Trade Representative
May12 California Ground Zero in Battle for Congress
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
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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
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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
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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
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May08 Russia Investigation Will Resume Center Stage This Week
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