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Trump, Jr., Reportedly Tried to Get Dirt on Clinton from Russian Lawyer

A lot of people had a short workweek last week, thanks to the Independence Day holiday. Not the reporters of the New York Times, however, who managed to come up with a rather sizable bombshell this weekend: Donald Trump, Jr., joined by then-campaign manager Paul Manafort and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner met in June of last year with Kremlin-connected Russan lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who promised them that she had dirt to deliver on Hillary Clinton.

News of the meeting was reported on Saturday morning, while the subject matter of the meeting first came to light on Sunday evening. In the 36 hours between the two stories, Trump, Jr., managed to commit to two different versions of what happened. His first statement said that he met with Veselnitskaya to discuss the adoption of Russian children in the United States. Given that it's hard to imagine why three high-ranking campaign officials would be needed for such a conversation, Trump, Jr., quickly abandoned that story and moved on to explanation v2.0, in which he says that he was meeting with Veselnitskaya for campaign purposes, but did not know what kind of information she was offering until they actually sat down together. This is not a lot better than explanation v1.0, since there has yet to be any indication of exactly what kind of information the Trump campaign was expecting to get from a Russian operative if not information about Hillary Clinton.

In short, then, we now have the smokingest gun we've gotten when it comes to Russiagate. This story either shows that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians, or at least that they tried to do so. Former Bush administration ethics lawyer Richard Painter, among others, has heard enough to declare that the situation "borders on treason." We don't know yet if Veselnitskaya actually communicated meaningful information and, if so, what it was. However, there's a good chance that revelation is coming, and that it's not going to look good for Team Trump. As TalkingPointsMemo's Josh Marshall points out in a perceptive analysis of this weekend's news, the Times' reporting was based on no less than five sources inside the White House. That suggests the "leak" was actually coordinated. And with something as damaging as this, the only purpose for doing so would be to get out ahead of an even more damaging story. If we look at things through this lens, then Don, Jr.'s, post of a video this weekend in which his father "shoots down" a plane with the CNN logo certainly appears to be a classic Trump-style attempt to create a distraction.

And speaking of classic Trump style, the administration is already in damage-control and finger-pointing mode. Don, Sr., says he had no knowledge of this meeting, in which all three of his most trusted lieutenants participated. The President has also lashed out, as he always does, against the Democrats, saying that the whole thing is their fault because they set up the meeting. And if anyone believes either of these assertions, we have some magic beans for sale, along with a nice selection of bridges.

So, whatever the successes of the G19 plus Trump were, they are now pushed off the front pages and out of mind (more below). Russiagate is back in force, while special counsel Robert Mueller now knows what he'll be doing this week. And with each revelation, it gets harder and harder to see how Team Trump is going to maneuver their way out of this mess. (Z)

U.S. and Russia Not Likely to Collaborate on Cybersecurity

For a day or so, Donald Trump was rather proud that he had reached an agreement with Vladimir Putin to work together on cybersecurity. It did not occur to him, apparently, that such an arrangement is rather like working with the fox to secure the henhouse. It did, however, occur to everyone else who was not born yesterday, Republican and Democrat alike. "It's not the dumbest idea I have ever heard but it's pretty close," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Obama's secretary of defense, Ash Carter, concurred: "This is like the guy who robbed your house proposing a working group on burglary."

It would appear that Trump has taken heed of the criticism, since he now says he wasn't serious about the collaboration:

Trump does not speak like a man who is actually convinced that working with Putin on this issue is a bad idea. And he also evinces no awareness that if Putin's word is unreliable on other subjects, he's also unlikely to abide by the Syria cease-fire as soon as it no longer serves his needs. (Z)

Trump Weighing 'Severe' Options for North Korea

North Korea continues to conduct ballistic missile tests and to take other actions that poke the bear. Well, maybe not the bear, per se, since Russia doesn't much care what Kim Jong-un does. But that poke the Uncle Sam, and the Tiger (South Korea), and maybe even the dragon (China).

This has given Donald Trump a headache, one that he would prefer he didn't have. And so, he says he is considering "severe" options for getting North Korea in line. A brief overview of those options, as well as their downsides:

  1. Sanction Chinese Banks: What makes North Korea's nuclear program possible is that the Bank of China (and other Chinese banks) help them to launder the money they use for funding. Trump could cut off the Chinese banks' access to the United States, and freeze their assets within the country. However, this could trigger a trade war with China.

  2. Interdict North Korean Ships: The U.S. navy could board North Korean ships with an eye towards identifying and seizing weapons being (illegally) sold to Iran and other countries. Such actions would be justified under U.N. resolutions, not to mention the fact that the U.S. and North Korea have technically been in a state of war since 1951. However, boarding North Korean ships would be tantamount to poking Kim in the eye, and could trigger a nasty response.

  3. Arrest Chinese Nationals: Again, the Chinese are the enablers here, making possible much of Kim's bad behavior. Instead of hitting Chinese banks, the U.S. could issue warrants for Chinese nationals who aid the North Korean military. This would aggravate the Chinese, undoubtedly, though experts point out that their hands are at least somewhat tied, since they need the United States more than the U.S. needs them when it comes to trade. The other problem is that arresting (or trying to arrest) a few Chinese folks is a legalistic and diplomatic maneuver that could be effective, but that isn't the kind of dramatic action that Trump prefers.

  4. Negotiate: Diplomacy would seem to be the first course of action here, as it presumably should be in all international conflicts. However, Trump is not particularly interested in talking to Kim and, in the President's defense, the North Koreans usually don't abide by their agreements anyhow.

  5. Invade: This, presumably, would be the "try only if everything else has failed" option, because it's a pretty bad alternative. It would be hard for the U.S. military to develop a useful plan of action, since North Korea has few viable military targets. Meanwhile, Kim would almost certainly strike South Korea, thus visiting devastation on one of America's most important allies.

In short, it's a tough place for the President to be, choosing between a list of bad options. Too bad that he hasn't yet appointed someone to head the State Dept.'s Office of Korean Affairs. (Z)

Health-Care Debate Demoralizes Republicans, Emboldens Democrats

When it comes to health care, there's little question that the GOP is in disarray right now. Senate Republicans return from their break with little chance of resolving the conflicts that forestalled a vote on the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) last week. On Sunday, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) officially became a "no" vote, going so far as to say that she's more than willing to be the 51st vote that kills the legislation. Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) opined that, "[In] ny view is it's probably going to be dead," while Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) said that he thought the BCRA's chances were 50-50.

Meanwhile, over in the House of Representatives, Republican morale is very low. Members of the red team recognize that their version of the health-care bill, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), is as dead as Francisco Franco, and that hopes are dimming that they'll ever get anything from the Senate to consider. In turn, this has put the rest of the Party's agenda in jeopardy, since they were planning on using the savings from killing Obamacare to fund the rest of their program.

On the other side of the aisle, by contrast, the Democrats are feeling pretty good about things. Not just about their belief that Obamacare is likely to survive, though. Many members of the blue team are interpreting the response to the BCRA and AHCA as evidence that Americans are ready to consider single-payer healthcare. What was once a talking point of the far-left fringes of the Party is now becoming mainstream: a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll shows that 53% of voters now support a single-payer system. It is not a coincidence that Rep. John Conyers, Jr.'s, (D-MI) single-payer Medicare for All bill has 113 co-sponsors, well more than double the number he got in the last session. Expect the Democrats to make a lot of noise about this idea, as well as the enormous inefficiencies built into the pay-for-service system, in 2018. (Z)

New Details about Comey Memos Come to Light

It is interesting that this went this long without being leaked, but in any case, two new bits of information about former FBI director Jame's Comey's now-infamous memos came to light this weekend, one good news for President Trump, the other not so good.

The bad news for the President is that we now know exactly how many memos there are: seven. That number makes it pretty hard to argue against the veracity of the documents. If it was one or two memos, then they might be explained away as being written in a moment of pique, or maybe after a misunderstanding. But seven memos is overwhelming documentation, particularly if they reiterate the same basic point over and over, that Trump was putting uncomfortable and inappropriate pressure on Comey.

Now, the good news for the President: Four of the seven memos have been deemed to contain classified information. It's not entirely clear when and how these determinations were made, but it's enough to let Trump argue that Comey deliberately shared information he should not have, with people he should not have. That, in turn, would mean that he put his personal interests above those of the nation. Such an assertion may or may not actually be true, but truthfulness generally matters little to the President, particularly when he's been given such a juicy opportunity to advance his campaign of character assassination against his former director. (Z)

Obama Gets Back Into the Game

After George W. Bush retired in 2009, he largely disappeared to his Texas ranch. Only a few peeps have been heard from him since then, and most of those were accompanied by a painting. By that standard, Barack Obama's return to the political arena has been very rapid, indeed.

The occasion of the former president's first return to the fray will be a private fundraiser for the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC), which will also be attended by NDRC Chair and former attorney general Eric Holder as well as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). This is consistent with the plan of action Obama laid out before leaving office, namely that he said he would be focusing on helping the Democratic Party to reinvigorate itself at the local and state levels.

It will not be long, however, before Obama's involvement in politics becomes more palpable than appearing at a private fundraiser. He intends to hit the campaign trail on behalf of prominent Democratic candidates, most prominently Ralph Northam, who is running for the governorship of Virginia. Many Democrats are hoping that this will lead Obama to assert himself more loudly and frequently as a leader of the anti-Trump forces. Such a role would not be in keeping with the general traditions of the presidency, as Bush-style silence is the norm for ex-chief executives. Nor would it be characteristic of Obama, personally. On the other hand, no sitting president has ever taken so many potshots at their predecessor, so precedent has already gone out the window. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jul09 G19 Plus Trump Comes to an End
Jul09 Maybe Putin Was Telling the Truth
Jul09 Paul Ryan Finds Excuse to Hide
Jul09 Latest Trump Official to Face an Ethics Complaint: Tom Price
Jul09 Trump Approval Rating Upside-Down in the Worst Sort of Way
Jul08 Presidents Meet; Advantage Putin
Jul08 Another Day, Another Strange Tweet from Trump
Jul08 Wheels Coming Off Senate Health Care Effort
Jul08 Trump Will Likely Get to Pick Judge for the DC Circuit
Jul08 Electoral Integrity Commission Getting Nowhere Fast
Jul08 Good News, Bad News on Jobs for Trump
Jul08 Arpaio May Soon Learn About Life on the Other Side of the Bars
Jul07 Trump Underwhelms in Poland
Jul07 All Eyes Are on Trump-Putin Meeting
Jul07 Russia Ratchets up the Spying
Jul07 Ethics Czar Resigns
Jul07 McConnell Says GOP May Be Stuck "Patching Obamacare"
Jul07 Moran Facing Pressure on Health Care Bill
Jul07 Business is Booming for Newt, Inc.
Jul06 Trump Is on a Collision Course with the World at the G20 Summit
Jul06 Protesters Show Up in Force to Hound Lawmakers
Jul06 Cruz Amendment Could Ease Passage of the Health-Care Bill
Jul06 Why Is Health Care So Expensive in the First Place?
Jul06 Why Does Trump's Voter Commission Want Data It Can't Have?
Jul06 Twitter Condemns the Declaration of Independence
Jul06 Poll: Americans Support Muslim Ban
Jul06 All the President's Lawyers
Jul06 Voters May Feel the Bern Again in 2020
Jul05 U.S. Military Confirms that North Korea Fired Missile
Jul05 Democrats Get a Mulligan--in Greater Sammamish
Jul05 Kansas Gubernatorial Race Forces Democrats to Make a Choice
Jul05 Kamala Harris Is Raising Lots of Money for Senate Democrats
Jul05 Trump and the Psychology of Cyberbullying
Jul05 Democrats Trust CNN; Republicans Trust Trump
Jul05 A Tale of Two Retractions
Jul04 Court Rules against EPA
Jul04 Trump Will Meet with Merkel but Not May
Jul04 Trump May Meet with Putin This Week
Jul04 Trump CNN Video Originated with Racist Anti-Semite
Jul04 Wagner Won't Challenge McCaskill
Jul04 Electoral Integrity Commission Not Going as Planned
Jul04 Trump Has Learned at Least One Thing About Politics
Jul04 Christie Racing to the Bottom
Jul04 Fourth of July: The Original Fake News
Jul03 Trump Tweets Fake Video of Him Wrestling with CNN
Jul03 Rand Paul: Health-Care Bill a "Christmas Tree Full of Billion-Dollar Ornaments"
Jul03 Senate Republicans Trying to Work the CBO
Jul03 Tuesday Group Fighting the Freedom Caucus on Taxes
Jul03 Bannon Wants to Raise Taxes on the Rich
Jul03 Obama Is Actively Trying to Rebuild the Democratic Party