Dem 48
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GOP 52
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New polls:  
Dem pickups vs. 2012: (None)
GOP pickups vs. 2012: (None)

Top Intelligence Officials Refuse to Tell What Trump Asked Them

Four top intelligence officials testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday. When the senators wanted to know if President Donald Trump asked them to stop investigating his connection to Russia, they refused to answer, using various subterfuges. The officials were Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, NSA head Adm. Michael Rogers, Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. No matter how hard the senators pushed, they didn't bite. They did say they didn't feel pressured, though people in positions like those are usually pretty good at resisting pressure and not feeling much of it.

Typical responses to the senators' questions went like this:

  • Coats: "I'm not prepared to answer your question today."
  • Rogers: "I'm not going to discuss the specifics of discussions with the President of the United States."
  • McCabe: "My response was then and is now that the FBI investigated and continues to investigate [Russia]."
  • Rosenstein: "If anybody obstructs a federal investigation, it would be a subject of concern, I don't care who they are."

Needless to say, it would have been very simple to state directly that Trump had not asked them to end the investigation. Such a clear denial would not reveal any classified information. But none of them made such a declaration. All of them were under oath and clearly understand that saying "no" when the answer was "yes" would be perjury, and given how badly Washington leaks these days, there is a fair chance the truth will come out sooner or later. It is even conceivable that Trump might fire one of them and say he did it for insubordination, that is, refusing to obey his order to stop the investigation.

It is also clear that the officials simply didn't want to give a direct "yes" or "no" due to the (political) consequences, not some legal issue. When asked if there was a legal basis for declining to answer the senators' questions, Coats said: "I'm not sure I have a legal basis." (V)

Comey Will Accuse Trump of Asking Him to Back Off Flynn

Former FBI Director James Comey will testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee today. He will deliver a seven-page opening statement that has been released already. The statement has something in it for both parties. The Democrats will cheer at Comey's affirmation that Trump did ask him to back off on Flynn, which they will surely see as an obstruction of justice, the charge that led the articles of impeachment that was drawn up for Richard Nixon. The Republicans will cheer at Comey's statement that he told the President that he was not under investigation, thus confirming what Trump has been saying all along. The media are likely to say: "See, both sides are right," but that is misleading. In essence, the Democrats will be saying that Trump committed a felony while Republicans will be saying Trump told the truth once. They are not exactly equivalent.

In his statement, Comey makes it clear that the conversations with Trump made him uncomfortable. At one point he froze, not sure what to do or say when Trump demanded his loyalty. Comey confirmed that at one meeting, Trump asked everyone else present to leave and when they did, immediately said: "I want to talk about Mike Flynn." What happened next will no doubt be a major part of what the senators ask. Comey was so shaken by Trump's behavior that after the first meeting he began taking detailed notes after each contact.

Another subject that is likely to come up is the amount of contact that Trump has had with Comey. Comey notes that he had exactly two meetings (and no phone calls) with Barack Obama in 4 years. The first was to discuss law-enforcement policy and the second was simply to say goodbye to him at the end of Obama's term. In contrast, starting Jan. 6, 2017, Trump contacted Comey nine times and a major theme of the conversations was Trump's request for loyalty. Trump saw the relationship as basically that of a feudal lord and his vassals: Comey could keep his job as long as he was loyal (meaning: following Trump's orders). That is not the relationship between the president and employees of the Justice Dept. The Justice Dept. is supposed to be completely free of political interference. (V)

Trump Names Wray as FBI Director

Donald Trump named his pick to be the successor to James Comey yesterday. It is Christopher Wray, who was an assistant attorney general in the administration of George W. Bush. At various points since James Comey was shown the exit, Trump has flirted with naming a politician to run the Bureau, but in the end decided to go with someone who has a strong background in law enforcement.

While many people in Washington approved of the choice, that doesn't mean Wray is home free. After leaving the Justice Dept., Wray went into private practice as a defense lawyer. One of his clients was Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), who had to defend himself when three lanes of the George Washington Bridge were suddenly closed on Sept. 9, 2013, to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, NJ, for not supporting Christie's reelection bid. Christie claimed to know nothing about the closures, which almost no one believes. Nevertheless, Wray served his client well, as former Deputy Executive Director of the Port Authority Bill Baroni and Christie's aide Bridget Anne Kelly have been convicted of various crimes related to the closure and Christie got off without even an indictment. During his confirmation hearing, Wray will no doubt be asked about the entire affair and will no doubt proclaim Christie's innocence, which the GOP senators will pretend to believe. (V)

Trump Does a 180 on Qatar

It's been about 24 hours since Donald Trump took to Twitter to lambaste Qatar and to celebrate the decision by eight Middle Eastern nations to isolate the Qataris. That means that we're due for a new Trump policy on Qatar, and like clockwork, we've got it. He called the nation's Emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, and offered to help broker a peace agreement, perhaps even by hosting a meeting at the White House. Thus far, the Emir has not accepted the President's olive branch.

There is little doubt here that one or more of Secretary of Defense James Mattis, National Security Adviser Herbert McMaster, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke to Trump and impressed upon him that the U.S. military base in Qatar is essential to the nation's air campaign against ISIS, which means that it's important to play nice with the Qataris. It is good news for the country that the grown-ups still have this kind of influence, though it would be nice if they were able to exercise it before the President picks up his smartphone at 4:00 in the morning. (Z)

Trump Approval Rating Hits Its Lowest Point

The new Quinnipiac poll is out, and it's grim for the President. His approval rating checked in at 34%, which ties his worst showing in that category, as he also pulled a 34% in an IBD/TIPP poll in late March. In the IBD/TIPP poll, however, he had a 56% disapproval rating, while in the new Quinnipiac it's at 57%, so this is—by a whisker—his worst showing in any poll to date.

And the news is actually worse than that for Trump. To begin with, he couldn't get that low without a sizable chunk of his base defecting, perhaps as much as 15% of them. Quinnipiac's survey also showed that only 32% of voters think the President did nothing wrong vis-a-vis Russia, and only 24% think his advisers did nothing wrong. 63% find Jared Kushner's White House role to be "inappropriate," while 73% approve of the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel. He's also underwater on every specific issue Quinnipiac asked about, including the environment (63% disapprove, 30% approve), immigration (60%, 37%), the economy (53%, 39%), and terrorism (48%, 46%). In short, as Quinnipiac's Tim Malloy observed, "There is zero good news for President Donald Trump in this survey, just a continual slide into a chasm of doubt about his policies and his very fitness to serve." (Z)

Like Father, Like Son

Forbes magazine, not exactly known as an organ of the Democratic Party, published a story about the Trump family on Tuesday. For the last several years, the Eric Trump Foundation has hosted a golf tournament to raise money for cancer research, with the golfing taking place at the Trump National Golf Club. Over and over, donors have been assured that the Trump National was providing its facilities and its services free of charge. What Forbes discovered is that the Trumps were not being truthful on this count, such that more than $1.2 million of the charity's money has found its way into the pockets of the Trump family. The magazine showed its work, and knows a little something about finance, and so there's no reason to doubt its reporting.

The publication of this story put a real bee in the bonnet of young Trump, who was already scheduled to appear on Fox News Tuesday night. And so, once the cameras were rolling, he let loose with both barrels. After declaring the Forbes story to be a falsehood, Trump set his sights on the real enemy: The Democrats. He announced:

I've never seen hatred like this. To me, they're not even people. It's so, so sad. Morality's just gone, morals have flown out the window and we deserve so much better than this as a country.

Trump also slammed DNC Chair Tom Perez: "You see the head of the DNC, who is a total whack job. There's no leadership there."

It was really a remarkable performance. The old chestnut tells us the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, and the Trumps certainly appear to have proven that to be the case. Eric Trump managed to display his father's casual disregard for the truth, poor command of his emotions, willingness to utterly demonize his enemies, and profound lack of self-awareness in one fell swoop. As Michael D'Antonio, author of a book on the Trumps, observes in a column for CNN:

[W]e run immediately into his declaration that his father's critics aren't really people and that morality has been evicted from the public arena. Nothing in these words, or his expression, suggested that Eric recognized anything ironic about dehumanizing substantial numbers of people in one breath and complaining about the moral climate in another. And then there's the question of just who might be responsible for the moral decay that bothers young Trump so much.

Eric Trump has always been the most loyal of The Donald's children, comparing his father to Winston Churchill and Theodore Roosevelt without blinking an eye. However, he may have just handed the Democrats their "deplorables" moment; it would not be a surprise to see the footage of him declaring that Democrats are not people making a return during campaign season next year. (Z)

Democratic Turnout in New Jersey Was Way Up

Phil Murphy's victory in the New Jersey Democratic primary on Tuesday was not surprising. Nor was Kim Guadagno's victory in the Republican primary. What was surprising was the turnout. Here are the numbers for 2017, 2013, 2009, 2005, and 2001 rounded to thousands:

Year Democrats Republicans
2017 494,000 241,000
2013 197,000 224,000
2009 200,000 334,000
2005 236,000 303,000
2001 262,000 337,000

Three things are noteworthy here. First, as a percentage of the electorate, turnout was low. Hillary Clinton got 2.1 million votes in 2016 and Donald Trump got 1.6 million. Only 12% of the state's eligible voters (735,000) bothered to vote Tuesday. Second, Republican turnout from 2001 to 2013 was higher than Democratic turnout, even though there are 800,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans in New Jersey. Not surprising, since Democrats tend not to show up for anything except presidential elections. Third, not only did more Democrats show up this time than Republicans, but the Democratic turnout was more than double the average of previous gubernatorial primaries since 2000.

New Jersey Democrats are not terribly fond of Chris Christie, but he wasn't on the ballot. Nor was Donald Trump. They were turning out to choose who they wanted to run against the Republican gubernatorial candidate in November. While there was a spirited campaign, there wasn't a huge ideological difference between the main Democratic candidates. Phil Murphy is a progressive who was supported by the establishment, the unions, and many environmental groups. His slogan was: "I don't owe the special interests anything." John Wisniewski ran the 2016 primary campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in New Jersey. His slogan was: "This is a grassroots campaign fueled by you." Jim Johnson, who is black, was assistant treasury secretary under Bill Clinton. His slogan was "Taking on the Powerful for the People." So the extraordinary turnout wasn't because this was a rerun of Bernie vs. Hillary. It was more Bernie-1 vs. Bernie-2 vs. Bernie-3. Still, the energy on the Democratic side is clear. It will be interesting to see how it goes in Virginia next week, which is slightly more like Bernie vs. Hillary. (V)

Northam Has Twice as Much Money as Perriello in Virginia Race

Virginia Democrats are going to choose their gubernatorial candidate next week. Establishment favorite Ralph Northam entered June with twice as much money as insurgent Tom Perriello, who has been endorsed by Bernie Sanders. Both Northam and Perriello strongly oppose Donald Trump and have made that part of their campaigns, but Perriello is clearly the more progressive of the two. The primary is June 13. (V)

Not Your Father's Breitbart

Don't look now, but Breitbart News is in a bit of a tailspin. The site's traffic has dipped 53% since November, which is about twice the dip that most other politically-oriented sites have experienced in that time. Their advertisers are also fleeing in droves—in March they collected money from 242 different advertisers; by May is was down to a mere 26.

What's going on? Well, there appear to be a number of factors in play. To start, it tends to be more interesting when you're the opposition, which is why Rachel Maddow's ratings are up and Sean Hannity's are down. Put another way, Breitbart readers prefer anti-Obama propaganda to pro-Trump propaganda. In addition, the site lost its founder two years ago (to a fatal heart attack) and its chairman six months ago (to the White House). Another problem, one which explains much of the advertising loss, is that an online group called Sleeping Giants has had much success in pressuring advertisers to drop their support. Also at issue is that Breitbart is hemmed in on both sides. Readers who prefer right-leaning news, but without the racism and conspiracy theories, go to Fox. And for readers who crave the racism and conspiracy theories, sites like Alex Jones's InfoWars are out-Breitbarting Breitbart.

The result of all this is that the site has been pretty openly trying to clean up its act, and to achieve Fox-level legitimacy. Superstar rabble-rouser Milo Yiannopoulos was sent packing after video of him endorsing pedophilia turned up. Editor Katie McHugh was canned this weekend after tweeting that, "There would be no deadly terror attacks in the U.K. if Muslims didn't live there." Apparently Ms. McHugh has not heard of a friendly little group called the IRA. Breitbart has also scrubbed many stories of the sort that were once the site's calling card, like "Five Devastating Facts About Black-on-Black Crime," and "Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew," and "Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy."

Breitbart, of course, was enormously valuable for Trump, not only in terms of promoting him and his populist agenda, but also in terms of bringing together more mainstream Republicans with the fringe elements of the party. If the site becomes Fox News v2.0, then that bridge might be lost, which could be very bad news for a president who has very little margin of error. (Z)

Britons Head to the Polls

Today, British voters are casting their ballots for a new parliament. Prime Minister Theresa May called an election three years earlier than necessary because she wanted more conservatives in the House of Commons, and thus more maneuvering room as she negotiates the Brexit. When she called the "snap" election, the strategy was a sound one, as Labour was getting drubbed in the polls, due in particular to the unpopularity of party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Now, however, May might be wishing she had a do-over. In the last month, of course, the U.K. has been the target of two high-profile terrorist attacks, one in Manchester and one in London. Many Britons are not thrilled by May's response to the attacks, nor to the fact that she cut the number of policemen in the country by 20,000 while she was home secretary. Polls now suggest that the conservatives could take a bit of a drubbing, with an outside chance of a hung parliament in which no party has a majority. If that were to happen—with the caveat that British pollsters have been having a rough time of it in the last few years—then it could theoretically cost May her job. More likely she would retain the premiership, but she would be forced to give Labour more of a voice in the Brexit, which would mean the maintenance of some ties between the UK and the EU. In any event, polls close at 5:00 EDT, so the results will be in before most Americans go to bed tonight. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jun07 Trump Twitter Chronicles, Volume IV
Jun07 ABC News: Comey Won't Accuse Trump of Obstructing Justice
Jun07 Four Top Law Firms Refused to Defend Trump
Jun07 Sessions Offered His Resignation to Trump
Jun07 New Jersey, Los Angeles Hold Elections
Jun07 California Republicans Struggle to Justify AHCA Vote
Jun07 Trump's Plan to Privatize the FAA Will Hurt His Base
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