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Trump Twitter Chronicles, Volume IV

There will eventually come a day when we do not lead this blog with President Donald Trump's tweets. That day is not today. The latest tweetstorm involves the Middle Eastern nation of Qatar, which is currently at the center of the most significant crisis to hit the Middle East in several years. At the root of the crisis—which is very complicated—are two major points of contention. The first is the perception held by many Middle Eastern states that Qatar supports the Muslim Brotherhood (which Qatar does not dispute) and that the Brotherhood is a terrorist organization (which Qatar does dispute). The second is the belief that Qatar and Iran have grown too close, to the point of scheming with one another against the other nations of the Middle East.

Tensions have been simmering, then, for a while. What lit the fuse was an interview reportedly given by Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim Al Hamad Al Thani and posted to Qatari-controlled Al Jazeera's website, in which he lauded Iran as an "Islamic Power" and also slammed Trump's policies towards Tehran. This broke the camel's back, as it were, and has led eight nations (as of Tuesday night) to sever all ties with Qatar: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, Mauritius and the Maldives. Flights between countries have been canceled, trade has been suspended, diplomats have been recalled, and Qatari citizens living in those eight nations have been given 14 days to leave.

This is where Trump and his Twitter account enter the picture, stage right. Upon awakening Tuesday morning, he responded to the news with glee, issuing forth with three tweets on the matter:

Putting aside the silly notion that sanctioning a single Middle Eastern nation could possibly be "the beginning of the end" to terrorism, Trump has once again cut his staff off at the knees. It is true that Qatar is guilty of fomenting radicalism. On the other hand, they are also a key ally in the Middle East, and home to a massive U.S. military base where 11,000 personnel are stationed. Similarly, Saudi Arabia is guilty of fomenting radicalism, and is home to an even larger number of military personnel, spread across five bases. The point it's that it's not as simple for the U.S. as "Qatar bad, Saudi Arabia good." Trump may not realize this, but Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis do. They both spent much time and energy on Monday and Tuesday trying to smooth things over, and now their efforts have been significantly undermined by their boss. Tillerson and Mattis also realize that the nations of the Middle East cannot be working together to fight terrorism if they are too busy infighting with one another. So, far from taking credit for this week's events, Trump should be making apologies, since his recent trip does not appear to have achieved its goal of bringing the Middle East closer together. "[This] demonstrates how superficial his achievements were," said Henri Barkey, a former State Department official and expert on Middle Eastern affairs.

But today's episode of "As the Donald Turns" does not end there. In case there wasn't enough drama and intrigue already, news broke on Tuesday afternoon that the interview with Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad, the one that launched this whole kerfuffle is likely...fake. And who was behind the fake report? You guessed it—Russian hackers. You just can't make this stuff up. The CIA is still trying to confirm, and to determine if the hackers work for the Russian government, but it is certainly looking that way. Which means that Vladimir Putin is likely having a good laugh and an even better bottle of vodka right now, while it just got that much harder for Donald Trump to pretend that this whole Russia business is "fake news." (Z)

ABC News: Comey Won't Accuse Trump of Obstructing Justice

ABC News is reporting that when former FBI Director James Comey testifies before a Senate committee tomorrow, he will make President Donald Trump uncomfortable but won't accuse him of obstructing justice. This is hardly surprising. If Comey were to say Trump obstructed justice, that could interfere with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. That is not something Comey wants to do. On the other hand, he will not corroborate Trump's claim that Comey repeatedly told him he was not under investigation. FBI procedure is never to tell targets whether or not they are under investigation. Comey knows that very well. Another subject that is likely to come up is that Comey reportedly implored Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to leave him alone with Trump, in hopes of avoiding something untoward happening. If true, and there's no reason to believe otherwise, the story gives more credence to the notion that Comey was trying to behave ethically, while Trump was trying to do the opposite.

Meanwhile, the White House has known that this day was coming for weeks, and yet it doesn't have a media strategy in place. White House Counsel Don McGahn drew up a plan for responding to Comey's revelations, whatever they may be, but the administration has not managed to get the right people in place. Or, as Axios' Mike Allen puts it, "Trump's war room has no soldiers." Consequently, it looks like they will try an ad hoc approach. To distract everyone from Comey's testimony, Trump plans to give a speech tomorrow and may even live tweet during the testimony. This state of affairs does not please Republicans on Capitol Hill, where one top GOP operative said, "People are running out of patience. He's in a very tenuous position, where it wouldn't take a lot more bad news for things to come crumbling apart. Their complete inability to get ahead of the Russia story is so strange to people." (V & Z)

Four Top Law Firms Refused to Defend Trump

Donald Trump has hired his long-time lawyer Marc Kasowitz to represent him in the upcoming battles with Congress, special counsel Robert Mueller, the media, and probably others. While it was a safe choice—Kasowitz has worked for Trump for decades—it was a bit odd because Kasowitz is a civil litigator, not a defense attorney. But now, the reason for Trump's picking Kasowitz has come out: Trump approached four of the country's most prestigious law firms and they all refused to work for him.

The firms in question are Williams & Connolly; Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; Kirland & Ellis; and Sullivan & Cromwell. All were worried about whether Trump would follow their advice. Another concern was their fear he wouldn't pay them, given his long track record of stiffing companies he has dealt with. One lawyer close to the situation framed their hesitation bluntly as: "The guy won't pay and he won't listen." Some of the firms also feared that working for Trump would kill recruitment, because many lawyers don't want to be associated with a president who insults judges and has little respect for the law. (V)

Sessions Offered His Resignation to Trump

Private attorneys are not the only ones who are not fond of President Trump these days. It appears that Monday's stories about the relationship between Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions turning sour were on target. Several insiders have confirmed that Trump has been openly hostile to his onetime close ally ever since the Attorney General recused himself from the Russia investigation. This has resulted in several shouting matches between Trump and Sessions and, reportedly, an offer from Sessions this week to resign his post. While the President did not accept the resignation, as yet, the White House is also refusing to say whether or not Trump still has confidence in his attorney general.

This is not a situation that is sustainable long term. If Trump cannot accept that Sessions really had no choice but to recuse himself, and continues to vent, then either a firing or a resignation is inevitable. Really, it wouldn't be surprising if it came sometime later this week, perhaps with an eye toward pushing some of the Comey headlines off the front page. Of course, if Trump dumps Sessions, it will be another black eye for the administration. Plus, there's no telling what the AG knows about the whole Russia situation, and what he might be willing to share with his former colleagues in the Senate. The upshot is that Trump's best play here would be to let bygones be bygones, and to mend fences with Sessions. However, that is not his style, so the AG probably shouldn't hold his breath. (Z)

New Jersey, Los Angeles Hold Elections

They kind of flew under the radar, since neither had a clear-cut "Trump sustained"/"Trump repudiated" angle, but there were two elections on Tuesday. To start, New Jersey held its primary, with voters choosing the candidates who will face off against one another for the various state-level offices on November 7. The most significant result is that Philip D. Murphy (D) will do battle with Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno (R) for the right to succeed Gov. Chris Christie (R).

Murphy is a former Goldman Sachs executive whose net worth is in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Politically he is very left-wing, though the only public office he's held is the Ambassadorship to Germany during Barack Obama's first term. Guadagno, like her boss, began her career in public service as a U.S. Attorney. She also served as sheriff of Monmouth County. Like most officeholding Republicans in New Jersey, Guadagno is very moderate—though she favors lower taxes and less regulation of business, she is also pro-choice and anti-gun. She's got a few scandals on her resume, and won't benefit from her association with the now-unpopular Christie. She is going to have her work cut out for her; early polling projects that Murphy will win in a 25-point landslide.

The other election was in CA-34, to choose a replacement for former Representative Xavier Becerra, who resigned his seat to become the state's attorney general. The smart money was on the Democrat to win, in part because CA-34 is very blue, but mostly because California's jungle primary system resulted in both candidates being members of the blue team. State Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez won an easy victory, taking 60% of the vote to the 40% collected by L.A. attorney and political newcomer Robert Lee Ahn. The result was not a surprise, as Gomez had the backing of Los Angeles' political elite, including mayor Eric Garcetti, and CA-34 is 65.4% Latino and has been represented by members of that ethnic group since 1983.

Next up on the election calendar is Virginia, which will hold primaries next week. Then, a week later, South Carolina and Georgia will pick new members of Congress. Everyone will be watching the latter contest to see if Democrat Jon Ossoff can capture HHS Secretary Tom Price's former district, which would definitely be a repudiation of Donald Trump. (Z)

California Republicans Struggle to Justify AHCA Vote

Speaking of California's Congressional delegation, newly minted representative Jimmy Gomez may have a lot more company on the Democratic side of the aisle next year. Every single Republican from the Golden State voted in favor of the AHCA, including seven who come from districts won by Hillary Clinton. Predictably, those seven are getting an earful from their constituents.

David Valadao, who represents a district that Clinton won by 15 points, is in the hottest water, and spends multiple hours each day he is in his home office justifying his vote to constituents. Not much better off is Darrell Issa, who won his last election by a mere 2,000 votes, and who has been booed at more than one town hall. Some, like Steve Knight, have resorted to, well...lying. Knight told his constituents that they would not lose Medicaid, even if the AHCA becomes law, which is simply not true. Mimi Walters, Jeff Denham, Dana Rohrabacher, and Ed Royce have also had their issues, and all have already drawn serious opponents.

If there is to be salvation for these seven, it will come due to some combination of three factors. First is the advantages that come with name recognition and incumbency. Second is that 18 months might be enough to blunt constituents' anger, particularly if California moves forward with plans to adopt a single-payer healthcare system for all. Third is that the backlash against these largely-moderate Republicans might cause Democrats to support very left-wing candidates, who could struggle to win in what are largely-moderate districts. Still, the odds are that some of the seven endangered Republicans, particularly Valadao, are out of a job next November. (Z)

Trump's Plan to Privatize the FAA Will Hurt His Base

Donald Trump has proposed to turn the FAA into a private corporation, which would then be charged with modernizing the U.S. air traffic control system, something that has been needed for years. If the President gets his way, the new corporation is likely to behave like every other corporation and go where the money is. Flights between JFK and LAX will be a high priority, but flights between ANI (Aniak) and SLQ (Sleetmute), not so much. More generally, small airports in rural areas, where many of Trump's supporters live, would become an afterthought as the corporation focused on big urban airports with lots of passengers, flights, and money. If people in rural areas lose scheduled air service, well, they can just drive a few hundred miles to a big city airport.

Members of Congress understand this danger quite well, and are not at all shy about opposing FAA privatization. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS), who represents a state with few big cities, put it this way: "Proposals to privatize air traffic control threaten the reliable transportation options provided by small airports and the general aviation community for millions of Americans."

The big airlines have supported privatization for years. They understand very well that improving service on major routes with many flights a day works well for them, even if it means abandoning small rural airports that don't bring in much money. This is yet another example of Trump proposing policies that work against the interests of his supporters, generally without them really being aware of it. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jun06 Trump Twitter Chronicles, Volume III
Jun06 Trump Won't Block Comey's Testimony
Jun06 Where is Sean Spicer?
Jun06 Sessions May Be on Thin Ice
Jun06 Team Trump Blindsided by NATO Speech
Jun06 Russia Hacked a U.S. Voting Machine Manufacturer
Jun06 NSA Leaker Arrested
Jun06 Mueller Is Assembling an All-Star Team
Jun06 Majority Opposes Paris Accord Exit
Jun06 Senators Don't Think a Healthcare Bill Is Possible
Jun06 Trump's Legislative Agenda Is Dead
Jun06 Supreme Court Strikes Down Another North Carolina Gerrymander
Jun05 London Attacks: Trump Keeps Tweeting
Jun05 Comey's Thursday Testimony Is Consuming Washington Already
Jun05 Democrats Want Hillary Clinton to Shut Up and Go Away
Jun05 Russiagate is More Like Iran-Contra than Like Watergate
Jun05 Putin Denies Having Any Kompromat
Jun05 Is Marc Kasowitz the Right Person to Defend Trump in Russiagate?
Jun05 Deutsche Bank Denies Democrats' Request for Trump Information
Jun04 London Bridge Attacked; Trump Tweets
Jun04 Trump Is Not Making Progress Finding an FBI Director
Jun04 Haley: Trump Believes in Climate Change
Jun04 White House Will No Longer Honor Requests for Information from Democrats
Jun04 Mueller Will Investigate Manafort
Jun04 Trump Will Not Link Tax Reform and Infrastructure
Jun04 Next Week Is Infrastructure Week
Jun04 Montana Attorney General Will Not Challenge Tester
Jun03 Trump Is Gambling on His Base
Jun03 Winners and Losers
Jun03 Bloomberg Pledges $15 Million for Dealing with Climate Change
Jun03 Trump Pressed Obama State Dept. to Ease Russia Sanctions
Jun03 Did Sessions Meet with the Russians a Third Time?
Jun03 Keep an Eye on Al Franken
Jun03 Are Democrats Barking Up the Wrong Tree?
Jun02 U.S. to Withdraw from Paris Climate Accord
Jun02 Will Trump Try to Block Comey's Senate Testimony?
Jun02 Trump Will Appeal Travel Ban to the Supreme Court
Jun02 White House Grants Ethics Waivers to 17 Appointees
Jun02 Trump Breaks Promise and Will Keep U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv
Jun02 Why Kushner Is in Jeopardy
Jun02 Senate Races with an Incumbent Republican
Jun01 Trump's Window for Passing Laws Is Closing
Jun01 Trump Likely to Exit Paris Accord Today
Jun01 Trump Is Running a Bake-off for Chief of Staff
Jun01 Trump Is Having Trouble Hiring Senior Officials
Jun01 Trump's Approval Ratings Continue to Erode
Jun01 Why Russiagate Is Not Watergate
Jun01 Republicans Are Already Gunning for Elizabeth Warren
Jun01 CNN Cans Kathy Griffin
Jun01 More Senate Races