• Russians Bragged About Compromising Trump
• Probe is Quickly Expanding
• Comey to Testify Before Senate
• Mueller's Probe May Impede Congressional Investigation
• Trump Begins First Trip Abroad
• Lieberman Would Face a Bitter Confirmation Battle in the Senate
Just in case anyone still believes that President Donald Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey because he wasn't nice to Hillary Clinton, The Donald pretty much eliminated that possibility himself yesterday. In a leaked document published by the New York Times, Trump is quoted as telling Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov: "I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off."
Why did Trump feel under pressure? If he has nothing to hide, why would there be any pressure? It certainly sounds like he was worried about Comey's looking into "the Russia thing," rather than his being upset about Comey's announcements about Clinton's emails. Further, if Trump is going to be brought up on obstruction of justice charges, the linchpin of the case is going to be whether or not he intended to interfere with Comey's investigation. The President may just have given a future prosecutor proof of intent, wrapped up in a nice, tidy package.
One government official tried to defend Trump by saying he was simply negotiating with the Russians. By saying that he was under pressure on account of his ties with Russia, they would feel obligated to make concessions on Syria, Ukraine, and other issues. Of course, the Russian view might be somewhat different, more like: "We handed you the election and you now think we owe you a favor?" (V)
When it comes to Donald Trump and the Russians, it turns out that the President isn't the only one with loose lips. CNN is reporting that US intelligence officials intercepted communications in the months after the presidential election in which high-ranking Russian functionaries bragged about how badly they had compromised Michael Flynn. They believed that Flynn would be a useful tool for influencing Donald Trump and his team. "This was a five-alarm fire from early on," said one Obama administration official. Undoubtedly, Sally Yates and others were aware of this information when they warned Donald Trump against hiring Flynn as National Security Adviser.
Of course, Trump did hire Flynn. And then, was forced to fire him once the extent of Flynn's contacts with the Russians and with Turkey (along with the general's efforts to hide those contacts) became public knowledge. At the time, the White House's general posture was "we just didn't know." Now it is clear that they did know, and proceeded to move forward with Flynn anyhow. And the most remarkable part of this is not that the Trump administration thought they could get away with it, since they think they can get away with just about anything (see murder, middle of Fifth Avenue). No, the most remarkable part is that, with all that is now known, and with all that has happened, Trump is still defending the Flynn hiring, and believes that firing him may have been a mistake. Why? Because Flynn is a "good man." As far as politicians go, Trump unquestionably has many weaknesses. More and more, it seems that foremost among those is that he simply does not learn from his missteps. And, as Santayana observed (depending on whose account you trust), "Those who fail to learn from their mistakes are destined to repeat them." (Z)
The last time a special counselor was instructed to start poking around the White House, it was in connection with the Clintons' Whitewater real estate investments. That investigation ultimately turned up...Monica Lewinsky. And it did so, in part, because unfriendly members of the administration (namely Linda Tripp) had a convenient means to spill some dirt.
The point is, the investigation of Donald Trump could go in unexpected directions (particularly since this White House seems to be particularly well stocked with unfriendly staffers). Indeed, Robert Mueller has barely even gotten to work, and already two new avenues of inquiry have become evident. The first is that, according to individuals privy to a Friday briefing given by Rod Rosenstein, Mueller will be asked to look into whether White House officials have engaged in a cover-up. That is very bad news for Trump, since it is now possible that he could be in deep trouble even if his campaign didn't actually collaborate with the Russians, or did so without his approval. It's worth keeping in mind that Richard Nixon had no advance knowledge of the Watergate burglary and no particular culpability (legally speaking); what ruined him was his effort to make the story go away.
The other investigation-related bombshell comes from the Washington Post, which is reporting that the FBI is investigating a "senior White House adviser" and "someone close to the president" over their alleged interactions with Russia. The name of this person is currently unknown, but the Post's sources make clear that the interactions in question have not yet been publicly disclosed. Needless to say, all the pundits are trying to guess who it might be. A quick rundown of the most obvious possibilities:
- Jared Kushner or Attorney General Jeff Sessions:
We already know they've had contacts with the Russians, so if either of them is
the mystery person, it would mean those contacts were more extensive than
previously believed. Both are Trump ultra-loyalists, so it's certainly
believable that he (or a surrogate) would dispatch them on a particularly
delicate mission. If it proves to be either of them, their tenure at the White
House would presumably have to come to an end, since both have insisted that all
of their Russian interactions have already been disclosed. If it's Kushner, that
would be particularly bad news for the President, since his son-in-law is one of
the few people he actually trusts. Plus, if Kushner goes, who will bring peace
to the Middle East, solve America's opioid crisis, and re-invent the federal
- Steve Bannon: Other than Kushner, he may fit the
description given to the Post most closely, since most White House
insiders are "officials" and not really "advisers." Further, Trump campaign head
honcho #2, Paul Manafort, may have been talking to the Russians on behalf of his
candidate, so it's not beyond belief that honcho #3 would pick up where his
predecessor left off. This is about the only "evidence," though, at least at
- Rex Tillerson: By all accounts, Trump's offer of
the Secretaryship of State was a complete surprise, since Tillerson didn't know
The Donald, and had no public service on his resume. However, he did have a long
history with Vladimir Putin, due to negotiations conducted as CEO of Exxon. If
Tillerson was chosen so he could be some sort of secret Putin envoy, then the
pick makes a bit more sense.
- Ivanka Trump: There's absolutely no reason to
believe it's the President's daughter, but if it was, wouldn't that be a kick in
- The RNC Crew: Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, etc. do fit the description given to the Post, but it's hard to believe it's any of them. Remember that they held Trump at arm's length until very late in the process, well after any interactions with the Russians would have gotten underway. Further, they may be a bit sleazy and two-faced (like their DNC counterparts), but they know what "stupid and illegal" looks like, and are not likely to go there. Nor would Trump (or his surrogates) be likely to trust them to participate in any shady schemes.
Nothing in Washington seems to stay secret for very long these days, so we'll likely find out the identity of the mystery person sooner rather than later. The only question may be who gets it first—the New York Times or the Post. Robert Mueller is not yet involved with this particular strand of inquiry, but surely that's only a matter of time, since he's not likely to leave any stone unturned.
The upshot here is that the White House has a lot of reasons to be worried. And someone at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue appears to have gotten the message, since President Trump's lawyers are reportedly researching impeachment. This research shouldn't take too much time, since the Constitution is not terribly specific on this point. As Gerald Ford famously observed, "high crimes and misdemeanors" means whatever 218 members of Congress think it means. And there have only been 19 impeachments in the entirety of U.S. history (one senator, one cabinet secretary, two presidents, and 15 judges). In any event, though the administration describes impeachment as a "distant possibility," the fact that they are even looking into it makes clear that they know Trump could be in over his hair (more below). (Z)
It was only a matter of time until it became official, and now it has: James Comey will appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee to talk to them about his investigation into the Trump-Russia connection, along with his firing. The exact date of his appearance has not been set yet, but the week after next seems the likeliest possibility.
This sets the stage for a stare-down between the former director and his former boss. When Donald Trump was asked if he tried to slow down or stop Comey's investigation, the President was unequivocal: "No. No. Next question." Comey will surely contradict that version of events. In fact, on Friday, a close associate said that Comey absolutely believes Trump was trying to influence him. Given that, as well as Comey's irritation over his firing and the post-firing smear campaign, the only real question is exactly how delicate he will be when he calls Trump a liar.
This is not likely to work out well for Trump. In a "he said, he said," situation, there aren't going to be too many people who believe Trump more than they believe Comey. And if the Comey memo comes to light (or the alleged recordings that Trump tried to use as a threat do), then the President's position becomes even weaker. Who knew obstructing justice was so hard? (Z)
A possible complication of Robert Mueller's investigation of Donald Trump's ties to Russia is that it could interfere with the investigations that Congress is conducting and will continue to conduct. Mueller's job is to see if anyone committed a crime. Congress' job is to expose the truth, whether or not actual felonies were committed. The investigations could interact is unforeseen ways. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) yesterday described the investigation the Senate Judiciary Committee is doing by saying that Mueller's appointment "probably well shuts it down." Graham went on to explain what he meant: "How can you subpoena somebody to come to Congress when they're under criminal investigation? You can't."
Other Republicans see this as a golden opportunity to shut down the congressional investigations and blame that on the Democrats, since they were the ones calling for a special counsel. From their point of view, Mueller could take years to complete his investigation. He is careful and thorough. It would be fine with most Republicans if Mueller's report didn't come out until after the 2020 election. (V)
The Trump administration likely did not plan to use his first foreign trip as a distraction from his various troubles, since the trip was planned in advance of the worst two weeks any president has had in a long time. Still, the President and his team are surely hoping it works out that way.
Unfortunately for Team Trump, the President decided to shoot for the moon on his first foray abroad. Something fairly simple—say, a nice visit to Japan to shake hands with Shinzo Abe and to pose for some photo-ops—would be a fairly easy way to look presidential and get some positive press. But instead, Trump will be touring some of the world's hottest hotspots. Not helping matters is that he's not likely to get a great reception abroad. Foreign leaders will not show him up (probably), but the crowds along the way are going to be unfriendly. As Politico's Susan B. Glasser reports, people abroad have gone from fearing what Trump might do to viewing him as a "circus" and a "laughingstock." "The dominant reaction to Trump right now is mockery," said Jacob Heilbrunn, a conservative journalist in Germany.
And just in case Trump needed an even thinner tightrope to walk, his first major activity will be delivering a speech on Islam to the leaders of the Muslim world. Somehow he will need to convince those individuals that the U.S. is not their enemy, and that he is not hostile to Islam, despite his anti-Muslim verbiage and his Muslim travel ban. The speech with which he will try to make this case was written by Stephen Miller, the same guy who came up with the travel ban. So, this might not end well. Unfortunately for Trump, Ramadan will soon be upon us (May 26), and ISIS tends to ramp up its activities during that time. So, if the speech could go badly, it could easily look like the address led to terrorist acts, even if it's not actually true. Some are calling on Trump to cancel the talk; given the stakes, it would not be a big surprise if he heeds their advice at the last moment. (Z)
Donald Trump is not very good at judging how Democrats will react to his decisions. He thought they would welcome his firing James Comey; it turns out they had different ideas. Now he seems to be on the brink of nominating former senator Joe Lieberman for FBI director. He has no idea how much many Democrats detest Lieberman and even among those who don't, some think it looks bad for a former politician to be running the FBI. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) said: "I don't think there's going to be much excitement about that from our side of the aisle. Not because we don't respect Joe Lieberman. But we need a law enforcement professional, not someone who's run for office before." Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) said: "He has a history of angering Democrats and Republicans, which is probably a good experience for being FBI director. But my concern is about someone with a political background." Lieberman ran for the Senate four times, for vice president in 2000, and for president in 2004.
In his later years, Lieberman became very conservative. He endorsed Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in 2008, and after Barack Obama won, Lieberman opposed much of what he did. Among other things, he singlehandedly killed off the idea of "Medicare for all" in the Affordable Care Act. To some extent, that was legitimate because he represented Connecticut in the Senate, and that state is home to many insurance companies that were wildly against the idea. Still, he made a lot of enemies among other Democrats by doing that. (V)
Congress may or may not eventually pass a bill to replace the Affordable Care Act, but there are other ways to undermine it that don't require an act of Congress. Under the law, insurance companies that have an unusually large number of sick people get money from the government to compensate them for the fact that they are required to insure anyone who wants to buy insurance from them. Donald Trump wants to end these payments, something the executive branch can do on its own. Stopping them would almost certainly destabilize the insurance market as companies stopped offering plans on the ACA exchanges. Trump sees this as a way to force Democrats to support a replacement to the ACA.
But the idea could backfire. If suddenly there were fewer plans available and the ones remaining had higher premiums and higher deductibles, the Democrats would have a field day blaming the collapse of the insurance market on Trump. Until it happens though, it is hard to tell who would get the blame if the insurance market fell apart. (V)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
May19 Flynn and Other Campaign Staff had at Least 18 Contacts with Russia During Campaign
May19 Conservatives Are Beginning to Whisper "President Pence"
May19 What Did Pence Know and When Did He Know It?
May19 Democrats Should Not Be Demanding that Trump Be Impeached
May19 FBI Director...Lieberman?
May19 Gowdy Could Become Chairman of House Oversight Committee
May19 Former Israeli Spies Blast Trump
May19 Clarke Set to Accept Position in Trump Administration
May19 Roger Ailes Dies
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