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Trump Gives Classified Information to the Russians

Another day, another self-inflicted cannon blast in the foot for Donald Trump. During the campaign, there was a fair bit of ink spilled over concerns that the then-candidate could not be trusted with highly sensitive information, given his tendency to say whatever happens to come into his head. It appears that such concerns were very much justified. The Washington Post is reporting that during last week's meeting with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak, Trump shared some highly classified information about the Islamic State.

Is this really a big deal? After all, the president is America's chief diplomat, and is empowered to decide the best way to partner with the nations of the world. So, if Donald Trump decides the Russians need to know something, he's entitled to tell them, right? Not so much. The information came from a foreign source, one secret enough that the source's nation of origin remains unknown. Because this information risks exposing the source, it was not shared with America's closest allies, and was kept under tight wraps even within the U.S. intelligence establishment. The source most certainly did not give permission to share their information with the Russians, and if it has been anybody but the President who spilled their guts, they would have broken the law and they might well be facing criminal charges right now.

Because he's president, Trump is probably in the clear from a legal standpoint, but that doesn't mean that he didn't do extensive damage with his loose lips. Intelligence officials are reportedly furious, as the breach may alienate the secret source (not to mention other sources), who may decide not to share any further information with the United States. Trump's fellow Republicans are furious, too, as he has delivered another huge blow to their ability to implement their agenda. "Can we have a crisis-free day?" said Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) "That's all I'm asking."

The White House is in full denial mode, describing the Post's report as "false." But, based on the remarks offered by National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and others, it would seem that the administration is not denying that classified information was shared, per se, and is merely arguing that the Post is wrong in portraying the leak as a big deal. "The president only discussed the common threats that both countries faced," said Dina Powell, deputy national security adviser for strategy. This spin does not pass the smell test, however. It does not explain, for example, why it was necessary for administration officials to make emergency phone calls to the CIA and the NSA shortly after Trump's meeting with the Russians ended. Further, there is abundant evidence that, among other things, Trump named the city in which the mystery source resides. That is probably enough for the Russians to find the individual in question, and to either disrupt their activities, or to unravel the United States' techniques for collecting intelligence, or both. Making things worse is that Trump apparently shared this information for no other purpose besides to show off what "great intel" he gets.

Throughout Trump's candidacy, and now his presidency, there has been a tendency by pundits to see a method to the madness. Trump gets in trouble for X, so he distracts attention by making a big story out of lesser issue Y. It's hard to believe that's happening here, though. Trump surely couldn't determine that the best way to distract attention from James Comey and the investigation into the President's maybe-too-close ties with Russia was to turn around and share sensitive information with the Russians. Maybe the time has come to stop giving Trump so much credit, and to simply accept that he's got the impulse control of a 10-year-old. Perhaps when Barron Trump, who is 11, moves into the White House in the summer, he can teach his father to control himself better. (Z)

Spicer Won't Say Whether Trump Will Give Recordings to Congress

Many members of Congress want to know if President Donald Trump recorded his January conversations with former FBI Director James Comey. And if he did, they want the recordings turned over to Congress to see if Trump pressured Comey to halt his investigation of Trump's ties to Russia. Such pressure would almost surely be considered obstruction of justice, an impeachable offense. When asked about the recordings yesterday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer stonewalled and refused to provide any information about any such recordings. Most likely, Spicer doesn't actually know if the recordings exist. It would make no sense for Trump to tell him, knowing full well that he was going to be asked about them.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) said that if the recordings exist, Congress is going to subpoena them, so it is to Trump's advantage to either deny they exist or keep Spicer in the dark. If Congress subpoenas the recordings and Trump refuses to provide them, Congress will go to court on this to preserve its investigative power. The case will probably be filed in D.C., which means that the Chief Judge of the D.C. Court of Appeals, Merrick Garland (yes, that Merrick Garland), will get to express his thoughts on the matter. Then the Supreme Court will get its say. But we already know how it will rule, since the Court ruled on exactly the same issue in 1974 in United States v. Nixon. That 8 to 0 decision, written by Chief Justice Warren Burger—a Nixon appointee no less—said that Nixon had to turn over the subpoenaed tapes. Trump may or may not remember that case, but his lawyers most certainly do. (V)

Rosenstein to Brief the Senate Thursday

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will hold a closed-door briefing for all 100 U.S. senators on Thursday afternoon. In a memo he wrote, Rosenstein said that James Comey had to go due to the way he handled Hillary Clinton's e-mails. Nobody in D.C. believes that for a millisecond, and the senators are surely going to ask him about it. They are also going to ask him about appointing a special counsel or prosecutor to investigate the Trump-Russia connection. Rosenstein has already made it clear that he doesn't want to do that. The Democrats are no doubt going to ask him why they should have any faith in his leading the investigation after he wrote a memo that is transparently false and which he probably doesn't believe himself. The meeting is not open to the public, but with 100 senators present, it is not likely that what is said remains secret for more than, say, 15 minutes. (V)

Supreme Court Refuses to Hear North Carolina Voter-ID Case

In 2013, North Carolina enacted a law that was carefully designed to disenfranchise black voters. The state was immediately sued by civil rights groups and the Obama administration. The district judge said the law was fine, but the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, VA, disagreed and struck down five parts of the law:

  • A requirement that voters show a valid photo ID
  • A rollback of early voting from 17 days to 10 days
  • The elimination of same-day registration
  • Ending pre-registration of 17-year-olds who will be 18 on election day
  • A ban on counting votes cast in the wrong precinct

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case, leaving the Fourth Circuit's ruling in place, but only for Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North and South Carolina.

Lest liberals breathe easier, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case on procedural grounds. The problem was who was authorized to make the appeal. Lawyers for North Carolina's governor wanted the case dropped. Lawyers for the state legislature wanted it heard. The Supreme Court basically said: "Make up your minds. Do you want us to hear the case or not?" Until that issue is settled, most of the law will be thrown out in North Carolina and the other four states in the circuit can't pass similar laws. (V)

GOP Senators Are Not Enthusiastic about Cornyn as FBI Director

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) is one of the most touted names for FBI director. On paper, he is clearly qualified, having served on the Texas Supreme Court and as Texas attorney general. However, his possible appointment is getting resistance from an unexpected quarter—his Republican colleagues in the Senate. Cornyn is personally popular among Republican senators and they think he is doing a fine job as the #2 in their caucus, but they see problems on the horizon. For one, the Democrats would make a huge stink about having a very partisan politician running the FBI. The confirmation hearings would be a huge distraction to getting any of their agenda through the Senate. For another, there would be a shakeup in the Republican lineup, possibly with fights over the #2, #3, and other positions.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is far from enthusiastic about Cornyn running the FBI, Actually, McConnell is never enthusiastic about anything. It is his nature. But when he sent his former chief of staff Josh Holmes to Fox News to second Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT)'s idea of having Merrick Garland be the new director, it was clear he is wildly against the idea. Among other things, there would be a special election in Texas for Cornyn's seat and that would cost the GOP millions, even if the odds are in its favor. If Trump were to nominate Garland, there is no way he would give up a lifetime appointment as chief judge of the nation's second most powerful court to serve at the pleasure of a mercurial president. Garland is definitely a gentleman, so he would need an "excuse" to get out of the job if it were offered. Imagine what would happen to his chances if during the job interview he said: "A condition of my taking this job is that the FBI gets an additional $50 million so I can do a good job of investigating you." At the moment, former congressman Mike Rogers is probably the favorite. (V)

Republicans Are Already Handicapping 2020

Donald Trump hasn't been in office 4 months yet and already Republicans are analyzing the 2020 Democratic field of presidential candidates. The RNC meeting in California this past weekend was full of talk about who will challenge Trump in 2020. It is a bit premature, given that in politics a week is a long time and 3 years is 100 times the age of the universe, but that is what politicians and political activists do. Interviews with dozens of GOP operatives and strategists suggest there are five categories of possible challengers to Trump, most with several potential candidates, as follows:

  • Rising stars like Kamala Harris and Cory Booker
  • Outsiders like Mark Cuban and Mark Zuckerberg
  • Progressives like Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Amy Klobuchar
  • Moderates like John Hickenlooper, Mark Warner, Andrew Cuomo, and Kirsten Gillibrand
  • Joe Bidens like, well, there is only one Joe Biden

Rising stars like Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) could try to reconstruct Obama's winning coalition. On the other hand, to the extent that Trump's victory is at least partly due to the revenge of the white voters, maybe that isn't so good. Trump is an outsider, so maybe the ticket is another outsider. But probably Trump is sui generis. Besides, if he fails miserably, what does that say about outsiders' being able to govern? The Democratic base would love a fiery progressive like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) or Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), but they are very polarizing. Someone like Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) is just as progressive but less likely to fire up Republicans than Warren or Sanders. Another approach is "be normal," odd as it may sound. Democrats have lots of somewhat-left-of-center governors and senators. These wouldn't fire up the base so much, but wouldn't repel as many Republicans as would the progressive favorites.

Joe Biden is considered a category unto himself. He is no spring chicken, but neither is Trump. The base loves him and he comes across as folksy and friendly. If Trump makes a mess of things, Biden can make the case that maybe government experience isn't such a bad thing after all, and he has 40 years of it. Still, he would be 83 at the end of his first term. (V)

Trump's Curious Theory on Exercise

Many successful entrepreneurs made their fortunes by challenging the conventional wisdom. Consider, for example, Apple (and PIXAR) co-founder Steve Jobs. Over the course of nearly 30 years, he had a long string of ideas that "experts" considered crazy: taking on IBM, selling computers to the masses, the iPod, the iPad, the Apple Store, and so forth. He had so many successes swimming upstream that we can forgive some of the failures (i.e., the Apple Lisa). Then, Jobs was diagnosed with a form of cancer that was treatable if handled immediately. He decided that he knew better than the experts, and tried to treat himself with alternative medicine. By the time Jobs concluded that maybe the conventional wisdom was right when it came to cancer treatment, it was too late.

Donald Trump is another successful entrepreneur, and another person who has profited from challenging the convention wisdom, particularly in his rise to political prominence. It should not surprise us, then, that he has some ideas that most of us would consider, well...kind of kooky. On Monday, for example, we learned the details of The Donald's thinking about exercise. He doesn't do it, of course, but now we know why. He believes that human beings are like batteries, born with a finite amount of energy. In his view, exercising has no particular benefit, and merely serves to deplete the body's energy supply needlessly. This way of thinking is at odds, of course, with mountains of research on human physiology.

Now, what the President believes about exercise is not terribly consequential, except in what it reveals about his thought process. Most presidents consume information, much of it contradictory, and try to reach a reasoned conclusion. Trump, given his personality and his background, appears to prefer a very different approach. The problem is that sometimes, the conventional wisdom is actually correct. And "rebels" who cannot identify the occasions when that is true are setting themselves up for disaster. (Z)

Ford Announces Layoffs

In 2015, Ford Motor Co. reached an agreement with the United Auto Workers to keep 700 jobs in the U.S. (instead of sending them to Mexico) and to add an additional 130 jobs here. Late in 2016, Ford officially announced that the plan was moving forward. Donald Trump had nothing to do with these developments, but this did not stop him from taking credit:

On Monday, the news wasn't quite so good, as Ford announced that they would be cutting 10% of their workforce in Asia and North America. Ford employs 30,000 people in the U.S., so this presumably means that 3,000 Americans will be getting pink slips. A little back-of-the-envelope math tells us we have a net total of -2,170 Ford jobs for Americans since Donald Trump was elected, though we probably should not be expecting a Twitter update from the POTUS. Really, what this shows is that it's a fool's errand for the president to get involved in job creation/salvation at this level, since there's simply not enough time in the day, week, and month for him to counteract the constant churn of jobs that is characteristic of the U.S. economy. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
May15 Trump Considers a Major Shakeup
May15 Flynn Subpoenas Could Lead to a Constitutional Crisis
May15 Few People Approve of Comey's Firing
May15 Former Intelligence Honchos Slam Trump
May15 A Special Prosecutor Is a Dumb Idea
May15 Schumer Proposes Trade: FBI Director for Special Prosecutor
May15 Mike Lee Backs Merrick Garland for FBI Director
May15 Up to 300,000 People May Have Been Disenfranchised in Wisconsin
May15 The Kennedy Name Isn't Enough Any More
May15 Brooks Expected to Announce Senate Run Today
May15 Did Tim Allen's Show Fall Victim to a Liberal Conspiracy?
May14 Trump Supporters Are Standing by Their Man
May14 What to Watch for in the Comey Story
May14 Comey Furious with White House
May14 Trump Likes to Make Secret Recordings
May14 FBI Agents' Group Endorses Mike Rogers for FBI Director
May14 Trump Says New FBI Director Could Be Hired Quickly
May14 Super PAC Money Flooding Special Elections
May14 The Republican National Committee Meets--Nervously
May14 O'Reilly Launches "Woe Is Me" Tour
May13 Trump Keeps Talking about Comey
May13 Trump Really Stepped in it with Threat to Comey
May13 Search for Comey Replacement Underway
May13 Trump's Tax Lawyers Say He Has No Income or Debts in Russia
May13 Black Voters' Turnout Fell Sharply in 2016
May13 Sessions Wants Harsher Sentences
May13 Cheri Bustos Can Show Democrats How to Win Rural Areas
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
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