• Who Is Robert Mueller?
• Senate Intelligence Committee Wants Comey to Testify
• Why Are Republicans Sticking with Trump?
• Trump Denounces the Media as Unfair to Him
• Democratic Leaders Try to Quiet Impeachment Talk
• Wall Street Losing Faith
• Obama Never Had Faith
• Bad Poll for Trump
Late Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein bowed to the seemingly inevitable and appointed a special counsel to look into allegations that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. Rosenstein's choice was former FBI Director Robert Mueller. He will have broad discretion and unlimited funds to look into anything and everything he thinks is of interest.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle praised both the decision, and the specific choice of Mueller, who has a reputation for integrity and professionalism. Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), who is heading his own investigation into the Trump campaign's Russian ties, said "I think it's a positive move by the acting attorney general." Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), James Lankford (R-OK), and Ben Sasse (R-NE) also had good things to say, as did many GOP representatives. Though the Republicans had largely opposed a special counsel until recently, there was a growing consensus that the appointment was an inevitability and even a necessary step for moving forward. Democrats, of course, are delighted. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (R-NY) declared, "A special counsel is very much needed in this situation and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein has done the right thing. Former Director Mueller is exactly the right kind of individual for this job." Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Chris Coons (D-DE), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) also weighed in to express similar sentiments. Undoubtedly, the Democrats also know that Mueller and James Comey have a close relationship, having worked side-by-side during Mueller's term as director. So, the recently-fired Director will get his day in court, in a manner of speaking.
Reportedly, although he was blindsided by the news, President Trump took it in stride. He neither yelled nor screamed (admittedly, a low bar for "good behavior"), and instead told his assembled staffers that they had nothing to hide. Not long thereafter, the White House issued a statement in Trump's name: "As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know—there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity. I look forward to this matter concluding quickly."
Measured response or not, life is about to get harder in the already-difficult White House. Politico's Darren Samuelsohn spoke to veterans of past White House scandals, and they agreed that an ongoing investigation ratchets up the tension level, creating additional work for already-harried staffers, and causing everyone to look over the shoulders constantly. Rosenstein's decision is also bad news for the Republicans' legislative agenda. The investigation gives Democrats a built-in excuse for foot-dragging. Meanwhile, it could linger for months, or even years, with any new revelation potentially throwing a wrench into whatever the GOP is trying to do that week.
Short-term, then, Trump and his party just experienced a pretty serious setback. But what about long term? That, of course, depends on what Mueller turns up. Given how badly the impartiality of the Senate and House investigations into Trump have already been compromised, Mueller may be the only person who can exonerate the administration and have partisans on both sides accept his verdict. So, if he comes up empty, it will be a big win for Trump. However, if Mueller plows through all the smoke—and, boy, is there a lot of it—only to discover some fire, then Trump is in big trouble. He can hardly blame Hillary Clinton, or Barack Obama, or the New York Times for the conclusions of a well-respected former FBI Director appointed to that office by his own hand-picked deputy attorney general. Whatever the case may be, Trump is just 115 days into his term, and he's already under an official investigation. That's fast enough to make even Richard Nixon's head spin. (Z)
A lot of attention is about to be focused on Robert Swan Mueller III now, so a brief biography might be helpful to get an idea of who he is. He was born into a wealthy family in New York City in 1944 but grew up in Philadelphia. He attended an elite prep school in Concord, NH, where he was a star athlete. Then he went on to get a bachelors degree from Princeton and a masters degree from NYU in 1967. After he graduated, he enlisted in the Marine Corps and served as an officer in Vietnam. Upon returning to the U.S. he got a law degree from the University of Virginia in 1973.
His first job was as a litigator in San Francisco, after which he worked in U.S. attorneys offices for 12 years. After a stint back in the private sector, he joined the Justice Dept. where he oversaw prosecution of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega and mobster John Gotti. Then it was back to the private sector, where he worked for 2 years until he came back to the U.S. attorney's office, this time in D.C. He was named U.S. Attorney of the Northern District of California in 1998 and worked there until 2001, when George W. Bush chose him as FBI director. The Senate confirmed him 98 to 0. He assumed the office on Sept. 4, 2001. A week later, the bottom fell out and he had the job of assigning 4,000 agents to investigate thousands of leads about the Sept. 11 attack, sending them to 30 countries. A year later he decided to change the FBI's focus from ordinary crime to terrorism.
In 2004, he threatened to resign if then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales' plan to carry out warrantless wiretapping went through. When Bush overruled Gonzales, he stayed. Barack Obama asked him to stay on for an additional 2 years beyond his 10-year term and he agreed. The Senate confirmed his extension by a vote of 100 to 0. After the two years, he joined the law firm of WilmerHale and also became a consulting professor at Stanford University, with a special interest in cyber-security. In short, he has a tremendous amount of experience, covering the private sector, the public sector, and the military. He is married and has two daughters. (V)
Chairman Richard Burr of the Senate Intelligence Committee sent a request to former FBI director James Comey to testify in public before the committee, which is investigating President Donald Trump's ties to Russia. Comey has already said he is willing to testify if it is in public. If Comey shows up and says that Trump told him back off investigating former NSA Michael Flynn, some committee member is bound to ask: "Do you consider that to be obstruction of justice?" If he says "yes," Trump has a big problem. It will be tough for Republicans to brush off a former FBI director stating point blank that the president committed a serious crime.
Comey's testimony is not the only thing Burr wants. He sent a letter to Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe yesterday asking him for notes or memos Comey wrote after talking to Trump. It is widely believed that after he spoke to Trump, Comey wrote a memo describing in detail what was said at the meeting, and distributed copies to various people within the FBI. McCabe undoubtedly can find the memos. Trump will probably say the memos were made up, but in the past, courts have admitted memos and letters written right after some event and distributed to third parties as valid evidence. In any case, if it comes down to a credibility contest between Trump and Comey, that is probably not going to work out well for Trump.
Of course, the appointment of Mueller may change the situation, especially if Mueller asks Congress to stop investigating to avoid getting in his way. As mentioned above, Comey and Mueller have worked together before, so Comey is likely to do whatever Mueller asks him to do. If Comey's motive at this point is to stick it to Trump, his is going to tell Mueller everything he knows at the first opportunity. (V)
So far, despite a small amount of mumbling from some backbenchers, Republicans by and large are sticking with President Donald Trump despite his well-publicized troubles. At some point they may start throwing in the towel, but so far, they are still on his side. Why? Carl Hulse has ventured ventured some guesses as to why they are hanging on to him:
- There is no evidence that he colluded with the Russians
- Ongoing investigations should be allowed to finish and come to conclusions
- Republicans hate to give in to any demands from the Democrats
- They are scared of alienating Trump's base
- They see the media working to undermine Trump and don't trust it
- Many of them are happy with his efforts on immigrations, trade, deregulation, and his appointments
- A special counsel could go after all kinds of stuff and drag it on past the midterms
- Many Republicans think Congress can do all the heavy lifting and just need Trump to sign their bills
Of course, all this could change in a heartbeat. If Burr or Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) subpoena and get all of James Comey's memos and they are deadly, all bets are off. Similarly, the special counsel ship has already sailed (see above). (V)
While speaking to a class of graduating Coast Guard cadets yesterday, Donald Trump said life is not always fair. As an example, he said: "Look at the way I've been treated lately." Then he added: "No politician in history—and I say this with great surety—has been treated worse or more unfairly."
It didn't take long for Jake Tapper to respond, pointing out that were they alive, Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, and Jack Kennedy probably wouldn't agree. All four were assassinated. Most likely Trump said that because a good part of his base feels like victims and can easily relate to him being a victim as well. (V)
House and Senate Democrats have been remarkably restrained about calling for Donald Trump's impeachment so far. They know their base wants to impeach Trump, and the sooner the better, but they are not going there yet. There are several reasons for their caution:
- Lack of evidence: If Trump is impeached in the House, there will be a trial in the Senate and it will take 67 votes to convict him. Democrats
have 48 of them, so they will need 19 Republican senators to vote for conviction. Trump's voters aren't going to like that, so there had better
be overwhelming evidence that Trump broke multiple laws. Better to continue the investigations to collect that evidence.
- Better let the Republicans go first: If the Democrats start yelling for impeachment, Republicans will start opposing it, just because the
Democrats want it. If the Democrats start saying that the House cafeteria should serve only hamburgers on Mondays, Republicans will demand only pizza.
It is a far better strategy to let the Republicans call for the impeachment and have the Democrats go along for the ride.
- Maybe they prefer Trump to Pence: Suppose Trump is impeached and convicted, then it is "Hello, President Pence." What the base doesn't know but the Democratic politicians know very well is that if Trump is up to his ears in scandals for 2 years, he won't get any legislation passed. If the Democrats retake the House in 2018, then he won't get any legislation passed at all. On the other hand, if Pence becomes president, he, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will have breakfast together every Monday morning to discuss which bills they want to pass that week. With Pence as president, there are not likely to be any more scandals and the Republicans may be able to pass their entire agenda. Democratic politicians can't tell their base: "Be thankful for Trump; he's incapable of getting anything done," but they know it, of course.
The Democratic leaders also see impeachment as an unlikely and distant issue. Their main concern now is stopping the Republican effort to repeal the ACA. All the impeachment talk is just a distraction. (V)
When Donald Trump was elected, many Wall Street muckety-mucks were elated, and went to bed with visions of sugarplums and tax cuts dancing in their heads. Now, however, they are tempering their expectations. They recognize that all the goodies they were looking forward to—deregulation, reduced corporate taxes, increased trade—are not likely this year, and prospects for 2018 are only marginally better. At this point, they are just keeping their fingers crossed and hoping that there won't be any economy-disrupting disasters—a government shutdown, or a foreign policy crisis, or the like.
The markets reflected this lack of enthusiasm on Wednesday, as the Dow Jones took its biggest hit in 8 months: 373 points. Gold prices are also spiking, which is generally a sign that investors are fleeing towards higher, safer ground. This is not in any way definitive yet; the Dow, S&P 500, and NASDAQ are all still up on the year (4%, 5%, and 12%, respectively). Still, it's not a good sign for the Trump administration, particularly given that the President's economic agenda rests on the presumption of unparalleled economic growth. (Z)
When it comes to Donald Trump, Wall Street looks like it may be in "sell" mode. By contrast, former president Barack Obama was never a buyer in the first place. He was polite towards President-elect Trump, engaged in all the niceties, and offered his advice, if needed. But Obama's disdain for The Donald was really not much of a secret.
Obama has generally avoided public comment on his successor, because that is the customary thing for an ex-president to do. However, Obama's friends are not ex-presidents, and so the custom does not extend to them. And at least two Obama intimates have shared some of #44's unrefined thoughts about #45 with People magazine. For example, after Trump made a courtesy call to Obama on election night, the President told his friends that, "He's nothing but a bullsh***er." And how has Obama's opinion evolved since then? "Well," said one Obama confidant, "it hasn't gotten any better." The unnamed friends' best guess is that Obama will largely honor the custom of remaining silent, but that he may speak out when extreme circumstances warrant it. It seems fair to guess that he may also pass along a few choice remarks through some unnamed friends. (Z)
Politico/Morning Consult released their latest weekly poll on Wednesday, and it was pretty grim for Donald Trump. In fact, it has bad news, worse news, and then the worst news.
The bad news is that Trump pulled his lowest approval rating to date in this poll—42%—and tied his highest disapproval rating—50%. The 38% who strongly disapprove outnumber the 19% who strongly approve by a margin of 2-to-1. Generally speaking, Politico/Morning Consult has produced slightly above-average numbers for Trump relative to other polls, but now he's dropped 9 points in just the last month.
The worse news is that Trump's base is showing slight signs of wavering. He took office with a 56% "strongly approve" rating among those individuals who voted for him. He's now down to 42% in that metric. That's not fatal by itself, but it's a very bad trend line. Eventually, he could reach a tipping point, and see his support shift from "slowly fading" to "sinking faster than the Titanic."
And that, finally, leaves us with the worst news. The new poll was conducted entirely before this week's twin revelations—the Comey memo and the Israel leak—became public knowledge. That means that next week's poll is all-but-certain to be even grimmer; the only question is how much grimmer. Trump's probably not quite to Nixonian Depths (25% approval rating, at his worst), but he could begin to give Jimmy Carter a run (31%, at his worst). (Z)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
May17 Trump Reportedly Pressured Comey to Drop Russia Investigation
May17 White House Atmosphere Is Poisonous
May17 Big-Name Trump Opponents Stepping Up Their Game
May17 Democrats Have Double-Digit Lead in Generic House Poll
May17 McConnell: Tax Plan Has to Be Revenue Neutral
May17 Bookie: Chances of Trump's Impeachment This Year at 25%
May17 Republican Senatorial Primary in Alabama Could Be Important
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
May16 GOP Senators Are Not Enthusiastic about Cornyn as FBI Director
May16 Republicans Are Already Handicapping 2020
May16 Trump's Curious Theory on Exercise
May16 Ford Announces Layoffs
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