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Trump Claims He Is a Victim of the Greatest Witch Hunt in American History

When the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel was announced on Tuesday, President Donald Trump took it in stride. Yesterday, he began to realize what was about to happen and tweeted, "With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special councel [sic] appointed." A few minutes later he sent out a second tweet: "This is single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history." Then he added that there was no collusion between him and the Russians.

While it is true there were no special counselors investigating Clinton and Obama, there was no shortage of congressional investigations of them. But it is beside the point now whether there were investigations of the Obama administration or the Harding administration or any other administration. There is a serious investigation of the Trump administration now, and no amount of tweeting is going to make it go away.

Maybe there is a lot of smoke here and no fire (but see below). Still, an innocent person would probably welcome an investigation by a universally respected counsel whose final report saying "The president and his associates have done absolutely nothing wrong" would end the matter forever. Most likely Trump knows that the report is not going to say that. (V)

Flynn and Other Campaign Staff had at Least 18 Contacts with Russia During Campaign

Reuters is reporting that Michael Flynn and other advisers to Donald Trump had at least 18 calls and emails with high-placed Russians during the election campaign. These contacts were previously undisclosed. The FBI is now looking at them. Six of them were calls to the Russian ambassador, Sergei Kislyak. What they talked about has not been disclosed. The other 12 calls and emails were between Trump's campaign advisers and top Russian officials. Also contacted was Ukrainian oligarch and politician Viktor Medvedchuk, who has denied that he had any contact with anyone on Trump's team.

While it is not illegal, per se, for members of a campaign to talk to Russian officials, it is unusual. Richard Armitage, a former deputy secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration, said: "It's rare to have that many phone calls to foreign officials, especially to a country we consider an adversary or a hostile power." (V)

Conservatives Are Beginning to Whisper "President Pence"

Although most Republican politicians are still supporting Donald Trump in public, in private they are wetting their pants. Not only do they run the risk of being attached to him if things get worse, but they also know while the scandals mount, there is little chance for getting their agenda through Congress. To many conservatives, a President Pence looks like a lifesaver. Not only is he thought to be squeaky clean (though see below), he is much more focused and knows how to govern. With him in the Oval Office, Republicans in Congress could possibly get their agenda carried out.

Nevertheless, in the event that Trump ceases to be president, by whatever means, Pence would still be tainted by the fact that he supported Trump through thick and thin. He might also have to deal with a last minute demand from Trump on his way out the door: "Hey, Mike. I want a pardon." Pence knows very well what happened to Jerry Ford after he pardoned Richard Nixon: He lost his election bid in 1976. If Pence granted the pardon, Democrats would instantly hate him as much as they hate Trump. If he didn't grant the pardon, Trump's supporters would be furious with him. There is no easy way out for him if it comes to this. If forced to choose, he would probably grant the pardon since he is better off in 2020 having alienated Democrats than Republicans. (V)

What Did Pence Know and When Did He Know It?

The New York Times has reported that former NSA Michael Flynn told the Trump transition team's chief lawyer, Donald McGahn, on Jan. 4 that he was under federal investigation as an unregistered paid foreign agent. In March, Vice President Mike Pence said that he had just learned of Flynn's work as a Turkish agent. Josh Marshall, of Talking Points Memo, tries to connect the dots here. Pence was the head of the transition team, and McGahn reported to him.

Marshall raises the question of whether McGahn relayed this bit of information to his boss, Pence, or kept it a secret, even though he knew Flynn was in line to get one of the most sensitive positions in government. If McGahn didn't tell his boss that the person about to be named NSA was a foreign agent, he is guilty of gross malfeasance, or worse. This seems somewhat unlikely, however. If he told Pence about it immediately, which is more probable, then Pence lied in March when he said he had just learned about it. If Robert Mueller ever gets Pence and McGahn under oath, he might want to inquire about the matter. (V)

Democrats Should Not Be Demanding that Trump Be Impeached

While the Democratic base is demanding Donald Trump's scalp, from a political standpoint that is a terrible idea. A piece by Jeff Alson makes that very clear, laying out a variety of reasons.

  • Trump is not a real Republican: On many issues, such as immigration, walls, trade, Russia, and Social Security, Trump is not a conventional Republican. His positions on these issues are far from those of Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI). For Democrats, having a president who is not interested in passing Ryan's agenda is actually a plus.

  • Trump is incompetent: While Democrats don't agree with Trump on many issues, they can take heart in knowing that he is not very good at carrying out his own program. He can send out tweets that drive Democrats crazy, but he is unlikely to build a wall on the Mexican border, impose a 45% tariff on goods imported from China, or ban all Muslims from entering the country. Sometimes incompetence is a virtue.

  • The Republican brand: It's tough being a Republican politician now, but getting rid of Trump would help the Republican brand immensely. It would be foolish for Democrats to remove the albatross from around the Republicans' collective necks.

  • President Pence: Although Mike Pence has a calm demeanor, he is extremely right wing and a capable administrator who knows how to work with the legislative branch. He would try to help Ryan to pass his program, plus some things dear to his own heart, such as voter-ID laws. Pence would also get a long and peaceful honeymoon period in which public opinion would favor him.

  • Losing white voters: If the Democrats take the lead in getting rid of Trump, the white working-class voters who put him in the Oval Office will be furious with the Democrats and make it impossible to win them back. If the Democrats sit back and do nothing, letting the Republicans impeach Trump, then those voters will be furious with the Republican establishment, not with the Democrats. Subsequent Democratic appeals to them on economic grounds—say, the program of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)—might have a chance.

In short, be very careful about what you wish for. You might get it. (V)

FBI Director...Lieberman?

Donald Trump very much wanted to have a new FBI Director in place by the time he left for his first foreign trip today. So, he has been interviewing candidates at a feverish pace. On Thursday, we learned that one of the late entries—and, by many accounts, the favorite to get the job—is former senator and vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman.

Trump's thinking here is plain enough. First, he reportedly had a good interview with Lieberman, and was happy about their rapport. Further, he presumes that a former Democrat and former senator will attract confirmation votes that other nominees might not, both from current Democratic senators, and from friend-of-Lieberman but foe-of-Trump Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). The appointment might also curry favor with Jewish voters, which is a plus. Finally, it would be an "outside the box" appointment, and Trump likes those.

And now, the problems. Lieberman is 75, which is rather advanced in age to be taking on such a substantial job, even if he does not serve the full 10-year term. Further, the assumption that Democrats will support "one of their own" is dubious—they largely regard him as a traitor these days, thanks to his near-run for VP as a Republican and his attacks on Barack Obama. He's also got limited law enforcement experience; only his service as attorney general of Connecticut 30 years ago. And he would be the first politician to lead the Bureau, which might jeopardize the institution's reputation for being apolitical. This would likely aggravate the FBI's rank-and-file.

Evidence suggests that Trump was ready to pull the trigger on Lieberman, but his staff pleaded with him to reconsider, or at least to take some time before making such a critical decision. They are very much hoping the bloom comes off the Lieberman rose very quickly, and that by the time Trump returns to the U.S., a more traditional candidate will have caught The Donald's eye. We should know how it turns out by the end of next week, at the latest. (Z)

Gowdy Could Become Chairman of House Oversight Committee

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) has announced that he will resign from Congress on June 30. At the moment, he is chairman of the House Oversight Committee, which is investigating Donald Trump's connection to Russia. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) is already lobbying for his job. Gowdy has a great deal of experience running investigations. For more than 2 years he hounded Hillary Clinton about Benghazi in a way that puts Inspector Javert to shame. Whether he would pursue Trump with the same zeal remains to be seen.

Gowdy could stop the House investigation cold in its tracks if he wanted to, saying that Robert Mueller has the ball on this one, so his work is not needed. But that would be a falsehood. Mueller is running a criminal investigation. He is charged with discovering if anyone committed a crime, and if so, indicting that person. He is not charged with getting the truth about the Russian involvement with the election out. If he discovered that Vladimir Putin massively interfered with the election for the purpose of electing Donald Trump, but no Americans helped him, he would close his case with no indictments and no story. To some extent, Chaffetz's task was to get the truth out. That said, if Gowdy becomes committee chairman and shuts down the investigation, there is still one going on in the Senate, run by Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC). (V)

Former Israeli Spies Blast Trump

The Israeli government does not have the liberty to publicly condemn the president of the United States—they have to play nice, given their dependence on American military and financial support. And currently-active Israeli spies are similarly constrained; they don't want to blow their covers or embarrass their government. However, retired Israeli spies have no such concerns. And, as the Times of Israel reports, many of them are steaming over Donald Trump's leak of highly-classified information.

Shabtai Shavit, for example, led the Mossad (the Israeli intelligence agency) in the 1990s. Asked for comment, he said, "If tomorrow I were asked to pass information to the CIA, I would do everything I could to not pass it to them...If some smart guy decides that he's allowed to leak information, then your partners in cooperation will be fewer or just won't be at all." Another former head of the Mossad, Danny Yatom, agreed: "We need to punish the Americans, it's possible, so that we don't put Trump in a position where he is again tempted, we need to abstain from transferring information to him, or to only give him partial information so that he can't endanger any source." A third spy, who asked that his name be withheld, said, "We have to reevaluate if we should pass along information and what information we should pass along to the Americans." Obviously, none of these people are currently in a position of authority. However, if they are saying what the rest of the Mossad is thinking, that would be a serious problem for American intelligence. (Z)

Clarke Set to Accept Position in Trump Administration

David A. Clarke, Jr., is the top law enforcement official in Milwaukee, Wis. and styles himself "The People's Sheriff." In other words, he uses his officially nonpartisan office as a personal platform to promote himself and his political views. In that way, he has much in common with "America's Toughest Sheriff," Joe Arpaio (who is now "America's Toughest Former Sheriff," since voters tossed him out of office last year). The two men have other similarities: They are both ultraconservative, strongly pro-Trump, disdainful of prisoners and immigrants, and find the Constitution (outside of the Second Amendment) to be something of an annoyance to be circumvented as often as is possible.

This week, news leaked that Clarke is about to be hired by the Department of Homeland Security to head up the Office of Partnership and Engagement, which coordinates activities between the federal government and local and state law enforcement. It's not a surprise that Clarke is looking for work, because he is unlikely to be re-elected as sheriff when his current term is up. He is currently the target of numerous lawsuits alleging mistreatment of prisoners at his jail. He also threw a passenger off a plane for looking at Clarke in the wrong way, and then took to Facebook to threaten the man. The Sheriff is also a militant Islamophobe, and has suggested that anyone who disagrees with him on this point should be arrested and imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay without benefit of trial. And these are just the highlights; Clarke has ruffled feathers dozens of additional times with various declarations and policy decisions. In fact, he is often so busy rabble-rousing that he doesn't actually have time to show up for work. In one six-day period in 2015, for example, he managed to make 14 media appearances and zero appearances at his office.

In short, Clarke is a pretty terrible hire. Even if one is not bothered by his litany of controversial actions, an administration with so many legal issues really should not be hiring someone who comes with so much legal baggage of his own. If this is an indication of what type of people are still willing to consider President Trump's job offers, it's no surprise that nearly 90% of his appointments have not yet been made. (Z)

Roger Ailes Dies

Roger Ailes, the man who built Fox News, and who may have done more to create the modern American political landscape than any non-officeholder (him or Karl Rove), has died at the age of 77. In less than one year, he went from being the king of the conservative news world, to losing his job over numerous sexual harassment suits and accusations, to being dead. It was a steep fall from grace.

Given the scandals that engulfed the final months of Ailes' Fox tenure, few people are going to be willing to write the kind of sunshine and rainbows obituary that we normally see in the case of prominent deaths. Well, unless they are also serial harassers, like, say, Bill O'Reilly. In an obit penned for USA Today, the former "O'Reilly Factor" host rated his ex-boss as being only slightly less remarkable than Jesus Christ, Abraham Lincoln, and Albert Einstein. He also said that, "Roger Ailes experienced...hatred and it killed him." O'Reilly did not explain how this could be the case, since Ailes died from a head injury sustained in a fall last week. Perhaps we will learn more in "Killing Roger," soon to be available at booksellers everywhere. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
May18 Former FBI Director Robert Mueller Appointed as Special Counsel
May18 Who Is Robert Mueller?
May18 Senate Intelligence Committee Wants Comey to Testify
May18 Why Are Republicans Sticking with Trump?
May18 Trump Denounces the Media as Unfair to Him
May18 Democratic Leaders Try to Quiet Impeachment Talk
May18 Wall Street Losing Faith
May18 Obama Never Had Faith
May18 Bad Poll for Trump
May17 Information Trump Gave to the Russians Came from Israel
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