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Donald Trump, Jr., Releases Potentially Devastating Emails

Like father, like son. Donald Trump, Sr., never consults with his lawyer before sending out tweets that might later be "Exhibit A" in his criminal trial. Maybe he should. Yesterday he tweeted a series of emails that describe the lead-up to a meeting he had last June with a Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, who has ties to Vladimir Putin. Trump, Jr., said he was doing so in the name of "transparency," although he was only transparent in the sense of "I'm tweeting these now, because the Times is releasing them to the public in five minutes." So, maybe taking to a lawyer wouldn't have helped so much in this case. Either way, the Trumps will soon rue this day, because the emails are bad news for the family.

One of the emails, from President Trump's associate Rob Goldstone, says that the "Crown Prosecutor of Russia" (a nonexistent position, at least since the Romanovs were politely asked to stop ruling Russia) had "official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father." Donald, Jr., responded by saying, "I love it."

These two emails alone establish beyond any doubt that the purpose of the meeting with Veselnitskaya (also attended by Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort) was to obtain damning information about Clinton from an official Russian government source. Soliciting contributions from foreign citizens to U.S. political campaigns is a crime and that includes contributions in kind, and not just cash. Campaigns frequently hire outside investigators to do oppo research and pay them well for their work, so giving a campaign free oppo research isn't so different from giving them money to buy oppo research. Trump, Jr., attended the meeting with the clear expectation of getting oppo research for free, so his planning a meeting to get an illegal in-kind contribution could be construed as a conspiracy to commit a crime. That Veselnitskaya didn't deliver the goods doesn't matter. Conspiracy to commit a crime is a crime, even if the plan fails. If you conspire with others to rob a bank or blow up a plane, but fail to pull it off, the conspiracy is still a crime.

The New York Daily News, ran this front page yesterday.

NYDN front page

The News endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016 but Mitt Romney in 2012. (V)

The Top Six Problems for Trump, Jr., in the Emails

CNN's Chris Cillizza has compiled a list of the six most troubling parts of the email exchange between Donald Trump, Jr., and Rob Goldstone:

  • The references to the "crown prosecutor" and "official documents" mean Trump, Jr., knew what to expect
  • The emails also mention the Russian government's support for Trump in the campaign
  • The emails say the material is so sensitive that even the president's personal assistant can't see it
  • Trump, Jr., said "I love it," so he can't claim he had no idea what the meeting was about
  • Trump, Jr., makes it clear he wants to talk to Goldstone ASAP, so the info is clearly of great importance
  • Goldstone told Trump, Jr., that he would meet with a "Russian government attorney," not some random freelancer

It has not been reported which email server all this communication went over, but it doesn't matter if it was a private server, Gmail, Yahoo, or some other one. The emails are devastating. If special counsel Robert Mueller reads any newspaper a cut above the East Cupcake Middle School News or has access to a TV set (and apparently he does, since he says he will look into the matter), then Trump, Jr.'s, goose is cooked. He has effectively pleaded guilty to at least one serious crime. A key question now is whether his father will pardon him, and if it is before he is indicted and convicted, will the Supreme Court accept a pardon issued before someone is found guilty in court? If advance pardons are valid, what is to prevent a president from issuing a pardon to an associate and then ordering him to commit a crime? (V)

The Five Biggest Unanswered Questions about the Emails

The Hill also has a list, this one of the five most serious questions the emails raise.

  • What did the president know about all this and when did he know it?
  • Why did Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort attend the meeting?
  • Were there any meetings after the one in June, and if so, who attended?
  • What is Natalia Veselnitskaya's relationship with Vladimir Putin?
  • Did Trump, Jr., break any laws?

Robert Mueller is going to be having a little chat with Trump, Jr., pretty soon and probably Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) is going to send off a little invite as well. The House might want some of the action, too. In fact, various Senate and House committees are already in competition about which one will get him first.

As noted, the real reason for posting his emails is that he knew that the New York Times had them and he thought his posting them would be better than having the Times do it. But maybe he should have waited for the media to release them and then yelled: "FAKE NEWS." Now, he can't do that. As a consequence, he is in deep doo-doo. (V)

Politico: Trump, Jr., Delivers "Smoking Gun" to Mueller

Politico has summarized the current situation with the above headline. Their article says that Trump, Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner are all now at serious risk of being indicted for attempting to get items of value from a foreign national for Trump's campaign. They could also be indicted for conspiracy to defraud the United States. Former Justice Dept. prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg said the email exchange "certainly shows an intent to collude with the Russian government." In cases like this, "intent" is critical. If Trump, Jr., had gone to a meeting thinking it was about Americans adopting Russian orphans and then the dirt on Hillary was sprung on him unexpectedly, that is not a crime. But he knew in advance what he was supposed to get and indicated that he wanted it very much. There's the "intent" part wrapped up with a nice bow.

Another former prosecutor, Samuel Buell, has pointed out another big problem. Members of Congress are not stupid. Whether they want to talk about it or not, they all know exactly where this is heading. They also know that people who defend Trump with all this already out there are probably not going to come out of this smelling like roses. So support for Trump from the Republican leadership is likely to be close to nonexistent from here on out. (V)

Politicians React (or Don't React) to Emailgate (and Not Hillary's)

Republican politicians are dumbfounded about how to react to the revelation that Donald Trump, Jr., enthusiastically wanted to meet with a Russian lawyer close to Vladimir Putin in order to collect dirt on Hillary Clinton. Most of them are remaining silent and hoping to avoid getting personally entangled in the mess. Richard Burr walked through a wall of reporters stonefaced and refused to say anything. When followed by reporters, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) hid behind a closed door. Almost every other member of Congress just avoided the media. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) did point out that Trump, Jr., is not part of the administration, although that is unlikely to help much.

One exception was Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). He talked to a reporter and said: "You're being very persistent, and I suppose that's your job. But let me point out the American people want the president to succeed."

Democrats were mostly silent, too, as one of the basic rules of politics is: "When your opponent is busy shooting himself in the foot, don't interfere." Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) was one of the few who commented yesterday:

Maybe there are no more shoes to fall, but no one on Capitol Hill is holding his or her breath. (V)

Democrats Call for Kushner's Clearance to Be Revoked

Though Democrats largely kept silent about Russiagate on Tuesday, there was one specific point that several of them brought up: Jared Kushner's security clearance should be pulled.

There are two different arguments for why this should be done. First, Kushner has shown poor judgment, and very possibly a willingness to put his needs above those of the U.S. government. That's pretty much the polar opposite of the kind of person who should be trusted with national secrets. Beyond that, even if this judgment of Kushner is too harsh and he's basically an honest and loyal fellow, he has potentially been compromised by his actions, and may be targeted by blackmailers.

At the moment, the White House is refusing to confirm or deny that Kushner still has his clearance. That could just be stubbornness, but given that the Trump administration doesn't like black eyes, and regards transparency as being akin to having a debilitating disease, it could be that this is their way of yanking the clearance without attracting undue attention. (Z)

Trump Family Renews Push to Dump Priebus

There are, in essence, four camps in the Trump White House. There's the family (Melania, Ivanka, Jared Kushner, etc.). Then there are the rabble-rousing alt-right populists (the two Steves). There's the businessmen (Steve Mnuchin, Rex Tillerson, etc.). And there's the GOP establishment (Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, etc.). None of the four camps is in love with the other three, though the most acrimonious rivalry might be the family vs. the establishment.

That particular rivalry has heated up again, as the entire trio listed above is pushing the President hard to clean house in the West Wing, starting with Priebus. Because that, of course, will solve everything. Trump has been reluctant to get rid of the pros, who have their value, but it will be hard for the President to resist a triple-team, particularly since he's surely eager to do something to mix things up and distract attention from Russiagate.

From Priebus' standpoint, it might be wise to resign before his head can roll. First, because that looks a little better than being fired. Second, because this administration is looking more and more like a sinking ship. If he's hoping to have any sort of future in this profession, he might be better off putting some distance between himself and Team Trump. (Z)

Sanctions Bill Is Stalled in the House

The Senate passed a bill by a vote of 97 to 2 imposing new sanctions on Russia and stripping the president of the power to lift them without congressional approval, but the bill is currently stalled in the House. Part of the reason is that the White House has been lobbying very hard against it. The White House legislative director, Marc Short, said yesterday "Our concern is that the legislation, we believe, sets an unusual precedent of delegating foreign policy to 535 members of Congress." Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) is worried that the House Republican leadership will cave and bring up a watered-down bill. (V)

Republicans Promise New Health-Care Bill Tomorrow

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced yesterday that he will unveil the next iteration of a health-care bill tomorrow. He plans a vote on it next week. However, it is far from sure that the votes are there, so he could pull the vote at the last minute.

One bit of information that has leaked out is that the ACA's 3.8% tax on investment income will be maintained. The 0.9% Medicare surtax will also survive. Keeping these taxes will help eliminate the bad optics of a bill that takes health insurance from over 20 million Americans while giving very wealthy people a big tax cut. However, by keeping the taxes, McConnell may be making the bill less attractive to conservatives, which could cost him some votes.

Another possible item that might be in the bill is Ted Cruz's plan to allow insurance companies to offer low-cost plans that cover very little as long as they offer at least one plan that meets the ACA requirements. Health-insurance experts oppose this idea because many young healthy people may choose such plans in order to get low premiums. But if the only people buying "real insurance" are older or sicker people, the insurance system will enter a death spiral. (V)

Obamacare Exchanges are Stable

In case Mitch McConnell did not have enough hurdles to overcome, a new one presented itself this week. The nonpartisan Kaiser Family released a study of the Obamacare insurance exchanges conducted in the first quarter of 2017, and their conclusion is that they are essentially stable. Insurers are now profiting, and the pool of insured is not getting less healthy. These conclusions mirror an earlier study produced by the CBO, and undermine a key GOP taking point about how Obamacare is collapsing.

That said, the stability of the exchanges is, to use one analyst's description, "fragile." Uncertainty surrounding the GOP's health-care bill(s) may cause some insurers to jump ship, even if they are not losing money. Further, some markets (mostly rural counties) do not have Obamacare plans available. These issues are resolvable, should Congress decide they want to improve the current situation as opposed to trying to reinvent the wheel. In the end, the party who happens to control the legislature right now is going to have to decide what's most important to them. (Z)

Congress May Be Ready to Fund the Border Wall

House Republicans' plan to put a line item of $1.6 billion in the budget to start construction on Donald Trump's border wall. Democrats wildly oppose the idea and their opposition could lead to a government shutdown. Budget Director Mick Mulvaney believes that a government shutdown that could be blamed on the Democrats is a good thing, so Republicans may be willing to take the risk. (V)

Sessions Wants to Bring Back D.A.R.E.

We have written previously about the role of faith (of various types) in politics, and how many politicians allow their beliefs to override hard, cold, factual evidence. There may not be a member of the Trump administration, outside of the President himself, who is more susceptible to this than Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Throughout his career, Sessions has always known what's "right," facts be damned.

This being the case, it should not surprise us that the Attorney General—who is also, of course, a Reagan fanatic—wants to revive the Reagan-era anti-drug program D.A.R.E. (short for Drug Abuse Resistance Education). Under this program, which was the pet project of Nancy Reagan when she wasn't busy with her astrologer, police officers visit classrooms to talk to students about the downsides to doing drugs and the upsides to remaining sober.

The problem is that, according to study after study, it doesn't work—students who participated in the D.A.R.E. program were not any less likely to use drugs than students who did not. Part of the problem is that kids recognize propaganda when they see it, and tend to tune the "education" out. An even bigger issue is that scare tactics don't actually address the root causes of drug use and abuse. The lesser-known "keepin' it REAL" program, developed with the assistance of addiction specialists, actually did have a positive effect. But recognizing that would require Sessions to embrace evidence and facts, and we know how he feels about those. (Z)

Two Democrats Elected to Oklahoma Statehouse

Two members of the Oklahoma legislature were forced to end their time in office prematurely. State Rep. Dan Kirby (R) had a nasty habit of making unwanted sexual advances toward female members of his staff, while State Sen. Ralph Shortey (R) allegedly had an even nastier habit of paying for sex...with children. So, they're both out.

On Tuesday, Sooner State voters went to the polls to choose replacements and, in a surprise, both seats went to Democrats. Michael Brooks will replace Shortey, having taken 54% of the vote, while Karen Gaddis will succeed Kirby after collecting 52% of the vote. It's hard to say how meaningful these results are, given that these were local elections with limited turnout, and also given that the two Republicans who resigned were both deviants. Still, Oklahoma may be the reddest state in the country; the only one where Barack Obama never won a single county. So, the fact that Democrats are winning there certainly can't make the GOP feel good. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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