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Information Trump Gave to the Russians Came from Israel

The New York Times is reporting that the highly classified information President Donald Trump passed to the Russians came from Israeli intelligence, which has a special intelligence-sharing procedure with the U.S. alone. Israel is very afraid that the Russians by now have passed it on to Iran, Israel's worst enemy.

The Israelis may be aghast, but they are not surprised. In January of this year, newspapers in Israel were reporting that American officials were warning their Israeli counterparts not to give certain information to the Trump administration because it could be leaked to the Russians (and then to Iran). This is precisely what happened.

This episode could have far-reaching consequences. If Israel collects more valuable information about ISIS, will it share with the U.S. and take the risk of having its spies within ISIS be captured, tortured, and executed because Trump blew their cover? The question almost answers itself. What about the British, the French, and other countries that collect valuable intelligence? Will any of our allies share valuable information any more? By blabbing to the Russians, Trump may have sacrificed a tremendous amount of valuable intelligence, especially about ISIS, thus making the battle against terrorism that much more difficult. Trump will be visiting Israel next week, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may be thinking of some choice words on the subject of mouth control and those words he might be willing to share with Trump (but little else).

Republicans in Congress are starting to get antsy about Trump. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said: "The reports that the president shared sensitive intelligence with Russian officials are deeply disturbing." Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said the release of classified information, "has the potential to jeopardize sources and to discourage our allies from sharing future information vital to our security." Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) said: "As an intelligence officer by training, I know firsthand the life and death implications of safeguarding classified information." Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA) called the reports "highly troubling." The dam is beginning to spring leaks, and if more comes out about the damage Trump's remarks have caused, he may be in real trouble in Congress. (V)

Trump Reportedly Pressured Comey to Drop Russia Investigation

Since the day he decided he was a politician, Donald Trump has made unforced error after unforced error, and yet has largely avoided serious consequences. On Tuesday, however, his luck may have run out. The New York Times is reporting that during a February Oval Office meeting, Trump asked everyone—including Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Vice President Mike Pence—to leave the room so that he could speak with then-FBI Director James Comey one-on-one. Once they were alone, Trump apparently tried to get Comey to end his investigation into Michael Flynn. "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go," the President reportedly said. "He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go."

That is pretty close to the textbook definition of obstruction of justice. As we noted previously, there is a four-part test for that particular crime: (1) "Corrupt" intent, (2) Interference with a pending judicial proceeding, (3) A material impact on that proceeding, and (4) Knowledge of that proceeding. Trump obviously knew about the investigation, so #4 is fulfilled. Shutting it down, or trying to do so, is clearly interference (#2), and has a material impact (#3). And interfering was certainly Trump's intent, pursued in his own self-interest. So, that's a check by #1. Obstruction is a hard verdict to win, but on paper, Trump blew it, badly.

At this point, since there were only two people in the meeting, Trump could try to fall back on a "he said, he said" defense, and to claim that Comey is mistaken or is lying and that no pressure was ever applied. In fact, that is the basic tack the White House is already taking, issuing a statement late Tuesday:

The president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end an investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn ... This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey.

There are some enormous problems with this approach, however. To start, Trump is not likely to win a "whom do you believe?" battle of dueling integrities. Further, if the President did not say anything troublesome, why did he ask Sessions and Pence to leave the room? Worst of all, however, is the fact that Comey is a career bureaucrat. That means he's practically a professional memo-producing machine. And he was so put off by Trump's presumption that he reportedly returned to FBI headquarters and wrote everything down in memo form, sharing it with other FBI honchos. The Times has not seen the memo, but says an FBI insider read a copy over the phone. Assuming the memo does exist, it is dangerously close to being a smoking gun. Especially given that, you know, Trump fired Comey under obviously false pretenses last week.

The House of Representatives, with Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) leading the way, wants to see the memo. They will also likely have some more questions about Trump's hypothetical Oval Office recordings, which could put the President in the position of implicating himself, or of trying to hide evidence, or of admitting he was full of BS when he made that threat. Already, at least one congressman, Rep Joaquin Castro (D-TX), says impeachment is "likely" if the memo exists.("Likely = 25%—see below)

Is Castro right, though? After all, nothing goes forward unless the Republicans say so. At the moment, most are taking a "wait and see" approach when it comes to the new revelations. At some point, however, the Republican representatives (and then the senators) have some tough calculations to make. On one hand, they stick with Trump and keep his base—which is considerable—happy, and they have someone in the White House that will pretty much sign anything. But, in that case, they keep the Democratic opposition energized, alienate swing voters and many moderate Republicans, and spend another year or two or three in a constant state of anxiety, waiting for the next reckless tweet, half-cocked firing, outrageous threat, intelligence leak, or baldfaced lie. The alternative is to get rid of Trump and all his baggage and replace him with Mike Pence, a grown-up who actually plays the game by the rules. But then Trump's base would be furious, the Party would sustain serious damage, and the Democrats would probably still be energized. One would hope that the good of the government, the Constitution, and the country would also come into play as the GOP weighs their options, but that might be asking too much of a bunch of politicians. (Z)

White House Atmosphere Is Poisonous

Donald Trump's behavior isn't just whipping the Democrats into a frenzy and irritating Congressional Republicans, it's also upsetting those closest to him. Many of his friends, for example, are at the ends of their ropes. "I always thought that once he understood the weight of the office, he would rise to the occasion," said one, who has known The Donald for years. "Now I don't." Another says he's distancing himself from "that mess," and that he's tired of giving advice, only to have it be ignored.

Perhaps even worse, however, is what's happening with the White House staff. As we have noted, Trump is furious about the various disasters that have befallen his administration. He's lashing out and blaming anyone and everyone. Well, anyone and everyone except Donald Trump. That means that staffers are in the awful position of waiting for the latest disaster, trying to explain it to the press and the world, having the President cut them off at the knees by telling some entirely different story, and then getting the blame for the whole thing. And anyone who dares stand up to the President—think Sally Yates, Preet Bharara, James Comey—gets canned, so there's really no check on his behavior. The mood is described by one insider as "disconsolate." This insider also observed that, "These are the real loyalists. These are the people who truly care about Donald Trump." Unwilling and unable to challenge their boss, and not wanting the be the target of a tirade, many have taken to avoiding him as much as possible. This heightens his sense of isolation, and makes his behavior even more erratic.

In short, it's a toxic situation, and we're not even 120 days into the Trump presidency. Further, nearly 90% of appointed jobs have not been filled yet, in part due to a lack of willing candidates. The more miserable it is to work for Trump, the worse that problem will get, as well; already it has reportedly caused at least one candidate for FBI director—Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX)—to decline. This whole situation seems headed for one of three possible outcomes. Option one is that the only two bulletproof White House staffers—Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner—somehow rein in their father/father-in-law. This seems unlikely, however, since if they had that power, why wouldn't they have exercised it already? Option two is that the bubble bursts, and there is a mass White House exodus, either due to firings or resignations. And option three is that the Trump presidency ends before matters come to a head. We will likely learn fairly soon which one it's going to be. (Z)

Big-Name Trump Opponents Stepping Up Their Game

As if the news had not already been bad enough for the Trump administration this week, on Tuesday we learned that two Democratic big guns are locked, loaded, and ready to blast away. The first is Trump nemesis Hillary Clinton. After taking some time to lick her wounds, she announced her new project: Onward Together. The organization will raise money, recruit candidates for office, and provide logistical support with an eye towards—you guessed it—resisting Donald Trump.

And then there's George W. Bush nemesis Michael Moore, who is kind of the propagandist of the Democratic Party. On Tuesday, he announced a deal with the Weinstein Company to distribute his nearly-completed new documentary "Fahrenheit 11/9." The title is a reference to Moore's earlier hit, "Fahrenheit 9/11," as well as to the date that Trump was elected president. It will be, as you can imagine, a rather critical look at the 45th president. Given that Moore is himself a white male voter from the Midwest (Flint, MI), he tends to be rather dialed in to what people are thinking there. So, it would be hard for a film to be worse news for Trump, unless it was the oft-rumored "Apprentice" footage with Trump firing off racial slurs. (Z)

Democrats Have Double-Digit Lead in Generic House Poll

A new PPP poll asking people which party they prefer to run the House gives Democrats a 49% to 38% lead. It's still very early, of course, and in real elections people vote for specific candidates, and not a generic candidate. Nevertheless, if Democrats beat Republicans by 10 points in the overall House vote, that is probably enough to overcome the gerrymandering and capture the lower chamber.

The poll also showed that the AHCA is a total disaster for the Republicans. Only 25% of the voters support it, while 52% oppose it. By a 20-point margin, voters say they are less likely to vote for a candidate who voted for it. This means trouble for the 218 Republicans who voted for it and is surely going to make those senators up for reelection in 2018 think twice about voting for any bill to replace the ACA.

Another bad development for the Republicans is that by a margin of 62% to 28%, voters want an independent investigation of Trump's ties to Russia. Most want a special prosecutor.

There is also some good news and some bad news for Donald Trump. His approval rating is at 40%, with 54% disapproving. For most presidents, that would be disaster, but for Trump it shows that he is holding steady and his base is not deserting him. On the other hand, 48% want him impeached and only 41% oppose impeachment. Also, by an 8-point margin, the voters say they would prefer Hillary Clinton as president, and by a 16-point margin, they prefer Barack Obama to Trump. To top it off, in matchups against the top Democratic potential contenders in 2020, every Democrat crushes him. And all of this data, of course, was collected before this week's disastrous developments. (V)

McConnell: Tax Plan Has to Be Revenue Neutral

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) yesterday said that any tax reform plan would have to be revenue-neutral and can't add to the budget deficit. This means the bill can cut some taxes, but it has to add or increase other taxes to compensate for the revenue loss. This puts McConnell at odds with Donald Trump, who wants a net tax cut. If McConnell doesn't want a net tax cut, there will be no net tax cut, no matter what Trump wants.

One potential source of revenue—probably a trillion dollars of it over 10 years—is a border adjustment tax, something Paul Ryan is a big fan of. Oops. That is also a problem. While McConnell didn't come out and say he is personally against such a tax, he did say that he doesn't believe such a tax could pass the Senate. McConnell noted that big retailers, like Walmart, are wildly opposed to such a tax, and that Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Walmart) and Sen. John Boozman (R-Walmart) are certain "no" votes on that. All it would take is one more defection to kill the tax reform bill. Maybe Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Home Depot) or Sen. Rob Portman (R-Kroger).

So where are we? McConnell wants a bill that is revenue neutral, but he doesn't believe the potential biggest source of new revenue has a chance. McConnell hasn't given up on tax reform by any means, but what comes out of the Senate may be very different from what Trump wants or Ryan wants. Most likely, tax reform is going to make healthcare reform look easy. (V)

Bookie: Chances of Trump's Impeachment This Year at 25%

Irish bookie PaddyPower is now offering 3/1 odds on Trump being impeached by the House this year. This comes out to a probability of 25%. The odds of the impeachment being next year are 6/1 (14%). Note that the bet is simply on impeachment (a vote by the House), not on conviction by the Senate. If you are not a U.S. citizen and like betting on political outcomes, PaddyPower is also giving you the opportunity to bet on why he is impeached. The top choices are treason (23%), tax evasion (20%), perjury (12.5%), and bribery (9%). Obstruction of justice isn't in the list (yet). It says something about the administration that we have come to the point that betting the president will be impeached for treason is on the table. (V)

Republican Senatorial Primary in Alabama Could Be Important

Let's start with the basics. There will be a Republican senatorial primary in Alabama on Aug. 15, 2017, possibly a runoff on Sept. 26, 2017, and a general election on Dec. 12, 2017. In all scenarios, the Republican candidate will be elected senator from Alabama. But this time, it matters a lot which one it is. The current senator, Luther Strange, was appointed to fill Jeff Sessions' seat under questionable circumstances (a possible quid pro quo to kill a corruption investigation into then-governor Robert Bentley). Two other Republicans have already filed to run against Strange (the filing deadline is today). The two challengers are Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), and former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, he of the Ten Commandments fame. He didn't get the Commandments originally; Moses did that. But Moore had them posted in his courtroom and refused to obey a federal judge who told him to take them home or something, but get them out of there. He lost his job over this, then was re-elected, then ran afoul of the federal government again when he ordered Alabama clerks to refuse marriage licenses to gay couples.

President pro tem of the Alabama state senate, Del Marsh, may also jump into the race today. If he does, it will be almost certain that a runoff will be needed.

So, why does this all matter? Strange is a perfect junior senator. He speaks only when spoken to and votes the way Mitch McConnell tells him to vote. Brooks is a member of the House Freedom Caucus and doesn't take orders from the leadership. Moore is a loose cannon. McConnell can afford to lose only two senators on any vote. If Brooks wins, there is a chance that Brooks, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) will form a Senate Freedom Caucus and begin driving McConnell up the wall, the same way the House Freedom Caucus bedevils Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI). Their three-vote caucus would be big enough to completely gum up the works and make it impossible for the Senate to function. For this reason, the entire Republican establishment is pulling out all stops to have Strange win the primary. This includes threatening any Republican consultants who work for Brooks and more. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
May16 Trump Gives Classified Information to the Russians
May16 Spicer Won't Say Whether Trump Will Give Recordings to Congress
May16 Rosenstein to Brief the Senate Thursday
May16 Supreme Court Refuses to Hear North Carolina Voter-ID Case
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May15 Flynn Subpoenas Could Lead to a Constitutional Crisis
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May15 A Special Prosecutor Is a Dumb Idea
May15 Schumer Proposes Trade: FBI Director for Special Prosecutor
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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
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