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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump, Jr., Digs a Bigger and Bigger Hole
      •  Trump Slams Comey, Likely Without Cause
      •  Pence 2020?
      •  Electoral Integrity Commission Waves the White Flag
      •  Christie May Not Be Dead Yet
      •  Breitbart May Lose Status

Trump, Jr., Digs a Bigger and Bigger Hole

When the New York Times' report of the meeting between Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and Donald Trump, Jr. (accompanied by Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner) first broke on Saturday, Trump, Jr.'s, original explanation was that the meeting was about Russian orphans. That story wasn't particularly believable when he first issued forth with it—why would three high-ranking campaign officials be needed for such a meeting?—and it became completely untenable when the Times followed up with a report that the actual topic of discussion was dirt that the Russians claimed they had on Hillary Clinton. At that point, Trump, Jr.'s, story changed. He admitted Clinton was indeed the topic of conversation, but he insisted he didn't know that going into the meeting. That wasn't much more believable—again, do three high-ranking campaign officials make time for a meeting when they don't even know the subject of said meeting? And in case our own common sense is not enough to dismiss explanation v2.0, the Times has ridden to the rescue again. Their latest report, based on information from three different sources, is that Trump, Jr. was advised via e-mail exactly what it was that Veselnitskaya wanted to discuss.

Trump, Jr., is officially in big trouble, legally speaking. Now that explanation v2.0 is shot, he has moved on to v3.0, which is that nothing of value was learned in the meeting, so it's a moot point. Given that he's already told baldfaced lies about this situation, there's no particular reason to believe that is true. However, even if it is accurate, it likely doesn't matter. For a member of a campaign to try to accept something of value from a foreign citizen, including information, is a violation of federal campaign law, even if the commodity in question is never delivered. Further, the mere fact that Trump thought he was going to get dirt on Clinton speaks to his mindset, and goes much of the way, and perhaps even all the way, toward building a conspiracy case. The President's son has already lawyered up, which may be the first smart decision he's made in this whole mess, since he's going to need the help.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is also in a lot more trouble than they were three days ago. Thus far, we have not been given any sort of explanation for all the meetings between Trump campaign members and the Russians, not to mention the attempt to set up a secure comm line in the Russian embassy. Thanks to this weekend's news, we now know that the campaign had evidence of Russian tampering in the election on June 6 (the date of the Veselnitskaya meeting), if not before that. So, that means that all of the Russian interactions after that point took place with that knowledge available. Even if there was some legitimate reason to meet with the Russians (not likely), awareness of the conspiracy should have brought all contacts to an end, and should have triggered a phone call to the FBI.

Finally, it's worth noting how the Times played all of this. It seems rather unlikely that they learned this news in three pieces, particularly over the course of a weekend. Much more probable is that they deliberately revealed it in three stages, knowing (and maybe even hoping) that the Trumps would hang themselves. Perhaps the time has come for the administration to take the media seriously, instead of blasting them for being fake news on Twitter. (Z)

Trump Slams Comey, Likely Without Cause

It was like clockwork. On Sunday, news broke that some of the seven memos that James Comey wrote about Donald Trump were classified. On Monday morning, "Fox and Friends" reported the story incorrectly, declaring—without evidence—that the memos Comey leaked to his friend were classified. Minutes later, Trump was on twitter with this:

One would think he would at least learn to wait an hour or two, so it's not quite so obvious where he's getting his information from.

In any case, as we learn more details, it certainly looks like Comey is in the clear. The friend who served as go-between for the former FBI director, Columbia law professor Daniel Richman, says that none of the material he got was marked classified. Since he did not receive the full set, it's entirely possible that all he saw were unclassified documents. It's also possible that the memos were classified after the fact, in an effort to embarrass Comey. Whatever the case may be, it's highly unlikely that a veteran government bureaucrat like Comey would make this error. He knows how to write a memo that does not trigger a need for classification, and he also knows that if you leak classified information, your guilt will eventually come to light. And so, we must reach the conclusion that Donald Trump has gone off half-cocked. Again. (Z)

Pence 2020?

Normally, the job of the vice president is to wake up in the morning, call the White House to confirm that the president is still alive, and then to enjoy the rest of his day off. Mike Pence, on the other hand, has been a busy little beaver. In fact, on a near-daily basis, he meets with Republican power brokers and donors, usually at his residence, and generally under the radar (the meetings are not listed on his official schedule). Pence has also created his own super PAC, the Great America Committee.

None of this is typical behavior for a vice president, at least not six months into an administration. It's possible that Pence is such a Trump loyalist that he, like the President with his rallies, wants to get to work on their reelection campaign right now. Except that Pence is not showing much evidence of being a Trump loyalist in any other way; he's not at the forefront of defending the administration against Russiagate, he's not using his meetings to rally support for health care legislation or Muslim bans or other administration programs.

Adding it up then, there's only one explanation that seems to make sense: Pence has concluded that The Donald is likely to be out of office or else unelectable by 2020, and is laying the groundwork for his own presidential election ambitions (or re-election ambitions). He had better be careful, though. If Trump connects the dots (or, more likely, "Fox and Friends" connects them for him), then, as someone who loathes disloyalty, he will be furious. The president can't fire the vice president, but Trump could certainly poison the well with the base. Pence is nearly unelectable under the best of circumstances, and without the full-throated support of the Trumpeters, he's dead in the water. (Z)

Electoral Integrity Commission Waves the White Flag

When Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach demanded copies of the 50 states' voter rolls, in his capacity as a member of Donald Trump's Electoral Integrity Commission, he clearly had no idea what he was doing. First came the denials, from both red states and blue. In some cases, state officials were constrained by state law. In others, they objected on the grounds that this represented a gross overreach of federal powers. And in many, the issue was that officials recognize an effort to suppress votes when they see one.

Once the states had almost unanimously weighed in, then it was time for the lawsuits. The Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a suit attacking the manner in which the Commission planned to receive the data, namely via unsecured e-mail transmission. They argue, justifiably, that such sloppy protocol violates the E-Government Act of 2002. The ACLU also filed, and in their case they are focusing on the commission itself, arguing that its purpose, its procedures, and its very existence all run afoul of federal law, particularly the Federal Advisory Committee Act. And these aren't even the only lawsuits, they're just the ones being waged by the big boys.

In view of these developments, the Commission has paused their data-collection efforts, at least until the lawsuits are resolved. Given that they are likely to lose both of the suits described above, and given also that the states remain intransigent, it seems well within in the realm of possibility that the "pause" will be permanent, and maybe even that the Commission itself will quietly disband. After all, commission leader Mike Pence has better things to do with his time (see above). (Z)

Christie May Not Be Dead Yet

Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) is the least popular governor in America right now, and one of the least popular in U.S. history. His once-stellar reputation has been wrecked by Bridgegate, Beachgate, his disastrous presidential run, his service as Donald Trump's lapdog, and a host of other issues. Any right-thinking person would conclude that his political career is over. But Christie is not a right-thinking person, he's a politician. So maybe he sees things differently than the rest of us.

One possibility for a politician who seems to have reached the end of the line is to pull a full Nixon. After a crushing defeat in the presidential race of 1960, and another in the California gubernatorial election of 1962, Tricky Dick told everyone they wouldn't have Nixon to kick around any more, disappeared for five years. He networked, raised money, and slowly rehabilitated his image, from "Commie-chaser" to "senior statesman and foremost expert on foreign policy." His political career was revived, affording him the opportunity to kill it again with the Watergate scandal.

If Christie thinks public office is still in his future, he could try to run the Nixon playbook. However, he may have found a different option. Popular WFAN sports talker Mike Francesa is "retiring" this year (not voluntarily, by all accounts), and Christie is auditioning to take over the job. In the first day of his on-air trial run on Monday (how lucky that the governor has so many days off!), he did battle with many callers, calling one a "Communist" and another a "bum." This is pretty much par for the course for sports talk these days.

Anyhow, a sports talk radio show, if he gets the gig, will keep Christie in the public eye. And, given the tone and tenor of that medium, his high unpopularity will be an asset, as he plays the heel, to use a wrestling term. Which means that instead of running the Nixon playbook, he might instead be following in the footsteps of another politician, namely Jesse "The Body" Ventura. The upshot is that, one way or another, it looks like we will continue to have Chris Christie to kick around for a while longer. (Z)

Breitbart May Lose Status

Lots of reporters, and also lots of "reporters," want access to the movers and shakers in Washington. Consequently, that access is pretty carefully managed, in part by the White House, and in part by the Congressional Standing Committee (CSC), and in part by the White House Correspondents' Association (WHCA).

The WHCA is, not surprisingly, not a fan of the style of "journalism" practiced at Breitbart News. And so, they are taking steps to effectively expel Breitbart from the organization. Specifically, the WHCA is considering a rule that members must be credentialed by the CSC. Since Breitbart is not, at least at the moment, they would be out.

The WHCA does not actually control credentialing at the White House; that's the job of the president's staff. And, at least as long as Steve Bannon is on board, Breitbart will have a seat in the executive mansion. Being excluded from the WHCA is tantamount to being expelled from a labor union—Breitbart would lose status, and the benefits of WHCA advocacy on their behalf, and a few other privileges. Not fatal, but certainly embarrassing, and a pretty public reminder that they are not really a news source. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jul10 Trump, Jr., Reportedly Tried to Get Dirt on Clinton from Russian Lawyer
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