• Russian Hacking Much Worse than Previously Thought
• Could the Georgia Special Election Next Week Be Hacked?
• Virginians Choose Northam, Gillespie
• Not Achieving Much? Fake It
• How Trump Could Fire Mueller
• Longitudinal Study Gives Insight into the Obama-Trump Voters
• Good News for Democrats
• Muslim Travel Ban v2.0 Is in Big Trouble
• Trump Calls House Healthcare Bill "Mean"
• Democrats Will Sue Trump over Emoluments
When James Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week, it was compared to the Super Bowl. By contrast, Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III's appearance felt much more like a boxing match. Still, that makes it apropos once again to speak in terms of winners and losers:
- Sessions: You don't have as long a career in
politics as he's had without learning a few tricks. He managed to avoid dropping
any real bombshells, or to say anything that might get him fired by Donald Trump
on Wednesday morning. That's a win for the AG. He also defended his
reputation with a ferocity that will play well with the base, declaring that, "I
was your colleague in this body for 20 years, and the suggestion that I
participated in any collusion, that I was aware of any collusion with the
Russian government to hurt this country that I have served with honor for 35
years, to undermine the integrity of our democratic process, is an appalling and
- James Comey: While Sessions managed to protect his
own skin, and quibbled with some details of Comey's narrative, the former FBI
Director's narrative of events remains essentially uncontroverted.
- Sen. Angus King (I-ME): It's probably apropos that
the independent senator was the one who did not come off like he was trying to
score points for one side or the other. He earned much praise for his probing
questions about Sessions' claims of executive privilege.
- Sen. John McCain (R-AZ): McCain managed to ask
some useful questions that did not have anyone worrying about his health, or
speculating that the old man has finally lost his marbles. It probably
that the Diamondbacks did not play Monday night.
- Robert Mueller: Not only did the special counsel get some of his deposition work done for free by U.S. Senators, he also got a vote of confidence from Sessions, which is going to make it that much more perilous for The Donald to fire him.
- Sessions: While the AG won the battle, he may have
lost the war. To get through Tuesday's hearing, he relied a lot on tricks like
"I don't recall" or invoking executive privilege (a claim that is of
merit). The problem is that Robert Mueller will be prepared to counter Sessions' bag of tricks whenever he gets around talking to
the AG. Jennifer Rubin, the Washington Post's conservative columnist, is among those
that Sessions will fare much worse on that day than he did today. Another
problem is that, through his equivocation, Sessions failed to put to rest the
notion that he met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak a third time. If the
FBI finds he did, it will look very bad for ol' Jeff.
- Trump: As noted above, there was nothing
said on Tuesday that will light the President's fuse. On the other hand, there
was nothing said that improves his positions vis-a-vis Russia or James Comey. And
given how bad those positions are, it's a de facto loss for Trump.
- Democratic Senators: None of the members of the blue team
managed to land a haymaker on the AG, and so they lost a golden opportunity to score
political points. Kamala Harris (CA) and Al Franken (MN) were particularly underwhelming.
Elizabeth Warren (MA) went on a Twitter rampage
the hearing that came off as a little contrived, and even pre-written, so she
fumbled as well.
- Republican Senators: They didn't all have a bad day, but many of them did. That includes Tom Cotton (AR), who seemed sleazy and dishonest, Susan Collins (ME), who seemed far too deferential to her longtime colleague, and Jim Risch (ID), who seemed like he needed a nap.
So, that is where it stands for now. The Intelligence Committee made clear that they plan to summon Sessions again (a rematch?), and he's definitely going to have a nice, long chat with Robert Mueller. So, this story isn't over quite yet. (Z)
The Russian hacking of the 2016 election entailed far more than dumping emails from the DNC and John Podesta. Investigators have found evidence that the attackers tried to delete or alter voter data. They also hit software intended to be used by poll workers on Election Day. The attacks were present in 39 states. Attacks made before the voting started couldn't change votes, but it could certainly remove registrations of voters in zip codes known to be Democratic strongholds. At the very least, the hackers could have caused the legitimacy of the election to be thrown into doubt.
The Obama administration was so concerned about the hacks that it used the Moscow "hotline" for the president to warn the Kremlin that he knew about the attacks and that they were risking a much broader conflict. The Russian hacking of the state voter databases concerned the Obama administration far more than the emails that were released. There was a spirited discussion within the White House about whether to announce what was known about the hacking of the voter databases, but ultimately Obama decided not to say anything in public, for fear that people would not see the election results as legitimate, which would give Vladimir Putin what he wanted.(V)
Last August, a cybersecurity researcher named Logan Lamb wrote a quick and easy script that downloaded 15 GB of sensitive George election data, nicely organized by county, while he was out to lunch one fine day. Lamb said: "I was like whoa, whoa ... I did not mean to do that. ... I was absolutely stunned, just the sheer quantity of files I had acquired." Lamb and other security researchers are very concerned about the security of next week's special House election pitting Jon Ossoff (D) against Karen Handel (R) for Secretary of HHS Tom Price's old seat. Georgia is planning to use voting machines in the election and there is a danger that they could be hacked without anyone being able to detect it. The Rocky Mountain Foundation sued the state last month to prevent it from using the voting machines, but the state basically shrugged off the complaint.
Among other goodies that Lamb's script downloaded while he was enjoying lunch was the database containing the registration records for the state's 6.7 million voters, instructions for poll workers and the passwords they need to log into the election servers. Lamb also noted that the state was using an ancient version of the Drupal content management system that had a vulnerability known as "Drupageddon" that has been known since 2014. A patch has been available for two years but wasn't applied.
It is not known if any hackers have already penetrated the system or changed any software or data, but it is already crystal clear that all voting machines should be immediately decommissioned and all votes recorded on paper ballots, which can be optically scanned to get a first approximation to the vote but which can be manually recounted one by one in the event of a close election. Vladimir Putin may have wanted to compromise American elections, but maybe he was wasting his time as Americans are doing the job themselves. (V)
The voters of Virginia went to the polls yesterday to choose nominees for state office, most importantly the candidates who will vie for governor's mansion. On the Democratic side of the aisle, Lt. Gov. Ralph S. Northam squared off against former congressman and Obama administration official Tom Perriello. Northam was backed by the Democratic establishment, while Perriello—who entered the race quite late—had the support of the progressive wing of the party, including endorsements from Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT). In the end, Northam scored an easy victory, 56% to 44%. That means that once again, to the chagrin of the Bernie Bros., a Sanders-backed candidate failed to seal the deal.
On the Republican side of the contest, former RNC chair Ed Gillespie worked hard to be all things to all Republicans, and so did not push Donald Trump away, but did not hold him close, either. He ended up in a much tighter than expected race, but eked out a victory over Trump acolyte Corey Stewart, 43.7% to 42.5%, with outsider Frank Wagner claiming the other 13.8% of the vote.
Virginia is, of course, a bellwether state, but it's difficult to generalize too much from Tuesday's results, because Virginia has an open primary, and so there may have been strategic cross-party voting. The one instructive data point may be this: The last time the Democratic gubernatorial primary was competitive, in 2009, 320,000 Democrats showed up to vote. This year, it was over 540,000 (compared to about 365,000 Republicans). So, it certainly suggests enthusiasm on the left side of the aisle. (Z)
There is a famous story—we've mentioned it before—of the time that "60 Minutes" did a segment on the difference between Ronald Reagan's rhetoric and his actions. The producers thought it was pretty hard-hitting, but then they got a call from Reagan's people thanking them for the 15-minute commercial. Reagan knew better than just about any occupant of the Oval Office that looking and sounding presidential are often an excellent substitute for actually getting things done.
Donald Trump—whose mantra could be "Who knew being president was so hard?"—is now taking Reagan's insight to extremes. Yesterday, of course, there was this declaration at the first cabinet meeting of The Donald's term:
Never has there been a president....with few exceptions...who's passed more legislation, who's done more things than I have.
As we pointed out yesterday, and as anyone who has followed the news (non-Breitbart division) is well aware, this is laughable. Despite his party having control of both houses of Congress, there has been virtually no progress on the President's legislative agenda (unless he desperately wanted to rename the Nashville federal building after Fred Thompson and didn't tell us). To the extent that Trump has gotten anything done, it has been through executive orders. That's not nothing, but it isn't much, since the next Democrat in the White House will overturn everything, anyhow. Further, even XOs have been a mixed bag for Trump (see travel bans, Muslim).
It is clear that Tuesday's declaration is far from a one-time thing, though. As the challenges of dealing with Congress have become evident, and as Democrats have had success in stymying the President, and as the Russia scandal has ground everything to a halt, the Trump administration appears to have given up on actually doing things, and has adopted a clear strategy of faking it.
Pop quiz—what's happening in this picture?
Looks like Trump is signing a bill into law, right? Or, at very least, an executive order? In fact, he was signing a letter to Congress asking them to privatize the nation's air traffic controllers. The letter means almost nothing, especially since there is zero chance Congress will act upon it. Still, Trump got the picture into newspapers and onto websites, paired with declarations about making airports more efficient. It certainly looks like he got something important done.
In a similar vein, consider the $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia. Some may question the wisdom of sending that much materiel to a country that has backed terrorist groups in the past, but in any case, the mega-pact is currently one of Trump's signature achievements. He even got a medal from King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. The problem is that the whole deal is smoke and mirrors—it doesn't actually exist. What exists is $110 billion worth of proposals to the Saudi government, none of which have been accepted or funded. Just because there are people wandering around the used car lot doesn't mean that the salesman can start spending his commissions. And even if we want to count those $110 billion in proposals as meaningful in some way, they all originated while Barack Obama was in office.
And how about the 50,000 jobs in the coal industry that Trump has supposedly created, according to Scott Pruitt during his appearance on "Meet the Press" this week? The correct number is actually a tad less than that—more like 400. In fact, the entire American coal industry supports about 51,000 jobs, of which only 15,000 are miners. So, "50,000 coal jobs created" is pure fantasy, as many thousands of unemployed coal miners surely know. And as a sidebar, Slate's David Plotz observes how odd it is that Trump is so focused on a job held by only .00004% of the population, while never mentioning professions that employ far more Americans, like drywall installer (127,000), event planner (100,000), flight attendant (98,000), or personal trainer (279,000).
Early in Trump's term, people laughed at Kellyanne Conway when she talked about "alternate facts." Now it is clear that was just the first salvo, and that the Trump administration, finding itself with no apparent alternative, is constructing an entire alternate reality. One wonders if Ronald Reagan is spinning in his grave over what has become of the presidency, or smiling fondly upon his unexpected protege. (Z)
Politically, it would be extremely unwise for Donald Trump to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, since that would be a repeat of the Saturday Night Massacre and give the Republican-controlled House the excuse it needs to arrange for Mike Pence (who nearly all Republicans prefer to Trump) to become president. Nevertheless, Trump is impulsive and rarely considers the consequence of his actions, so he might do it anyway. Philip Bump of the Washington Post has produced a flowchart of how he could proceed. There are many options. To start with, Trump, could just call up Mueller and say "You're fired." That is illegal, but that hasn't bothered him in the past. If Mueller goes to court and wins, we are back at square one; if Mueller loses, it's over (unless Congress hires him).
Assuming Trump doesn't just fire Mueller or loses in court, the next question is whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions un-recuses himself. If he does, that action is likely to be challenged. If Sessions wins and fires Mueller, game over. If Sessions stays recused, then Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein gets a whack at the ball. If he can find cause, he can fire Mueller. If he can't find cause and refuses to fire Mueller or resigns (most likely), then we go further down the totem pole.
If Rosenstein exits the picture, then #3 in the Justice Dept., Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand, gets the hot potato. If she doesn't especially want it, Assistant Attorney General Dana Boente will be called up to fire Mueller. If he's not interested, the order of succession runs through the U.S. Attorneys, the first of whom happens to be Dana Boente. If nobody wants to be the one who goes down in the history books as the person who did the deed, then either Trump does it himself (which the courts might reject), or Mueller stays on the job.
A number of Republicans have warned Trump that firing Mueller would be a huge mistake. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said: "It would be a disaster." Susan Collins said it would, "certainly be an extraordinarily unwise move." But Trump rarely takes advice, even from key players on his own team. (V)
While Internet polls raise numerous questions about how representative they are, one thing they are very good for is longitudinal studies. Since the email addresses of the respondents are known, they can be contacted multiple times to see how their attitudes change over time. A new study based on 8,000 Americans surveyed in 2011, 2012, and again in 2016 gives some insight into why some people who voted for Barack Obama in 2012 switched to Donald Trump in 2016.
First, what didn't matter: trade and the economy. What did matter: feelings toward blacks and especially towards Muslims. The study showed that 37% of white Obama voters had a negative view of Muslims and 33% said illegal immigrants were "mostly a drain" on society.
Another paper using the data showed that white respondents who felt the economy was getting worse had negative views of Muslims and thought immigration should be made more difficult.
Finally, a third paper used all the data to divide Trump voters into five categories: staunch conservatives (31%), free marketeers (25%), American preservationists (20%), anti-elites (19%), and the disengaged (5%). The conclusion here is that there is no single prototype for a Trump voter. (V)
It may be Donald Trump's birthday today, but all the good returns are headed in the Democrats' direction right now. To start, analysis after analysis indicates that the blue team is maintaining its anti-Trump enthusiasm, and is turning out in numbers far in excess of what we would generally expect, as appears to the the case in Virginia. The former analysis, by the New York Times' Nate Cohn, takes things one step further and compares 2018 (as it is currently shaping up) to 2006, which is the last time the Democrats took control of the House. The numbers are quite similar, with things maybe looking just a little rosier this time around.
Beyond that, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight is persuaded that Trump's base is crumbling. His argument, and it's a pretty compelling one, is that a person is unlikely to go from "strongly pro-Trump" to "anti-Trump" overnight. Instead, the process would go something like "strongly pro-Trump" to "moderately pro-Trump" to "kinda pro-Trump" to "neutral" (and beyond). While Trump's base may appear to be holding at about 40% of the electorate, Silver argues that the underlying numbers are much softer, as enthusiasm for him wanes. That could well portend a wave of defections in the short- to medium-term. Those voters might not start voting Democratic again, but if they just stay home on Election Day, that's a win for the blue team.
Finally, The Daily Beast's Matt Lewis notes something from the latest Quinnipiac poll: Young voters (that is, between 18 and 34) really don't like Trump. Only 19% approve, while 67% disapprove. Even among those who identify as Republican, only 35% approve. The conventional wisdom is that peoples' political preference tends to become pretty firmly set by the time they enter their fourth decade, and if so, the GOP could be looking at the permanent loss of the large majority of Millennials. That would be very difficult to overcome, especially since that is projected to be the single-largest generation of voters soon, perhaps as early as 2020. (Z)
Monday's big news, at least in the travel ban category, was that the Ninth Circuit upheld a district court injunction on Muslim travel ban v2.0. What didn't get quite so much attention, however, was the Ninth Circuit's reasoning. While other courts, like the Fourth Circuit, have objected to the ban on constitutional grounds, the Ninth Circuit issued a fairly exhaustive opinion objecting on statutory grounds. Put briefly, the three-judge panel concluded that Donald Trump exceeded the powers granted him by the Immigration and Nationality Act, explaining that he, "does not provide a rationale explaining why permitting entry of nationals from the six designated countries under current protocols would be detrimental to the interests of the United States." In other words, it is not enough for Trump to suspect that citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen pose a danger to the U.S., he has to prove it.
As a consequence of the Ninth Circuit's ruling, the travel ban now faces a double whammy when it gets to the Supreme Court. For it to be upheld, the justices would now have to decide that two completely different arguments, emerging from five different courts, are spurious. That's going to be a huge hurdle for the administration's attorneys to overcome, which means that v2.0 of the travel ban is very likely to join v1.0 in the circular file. (Z)
In a meeting with Republican senators yesterday, Donald Trump called the AHCA healthcare bill passed by the House "mean." This is in contrast to what he said last month about it: "This is a great plan." It hard to determine from what he says what he thinks about it. Does he like it or not? Does he think it is cruel, but he approves of that? In a sense, that is irrelevant. What matters is what he will do if Congress passes it and puts it on his desk.
The Senate is working on its own bill, but Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said that it will be about 80% the same as the House bill. Other senators, led by Sen. John Thune (R-SD), would like to increase tax credits a bit for low-income and older people. It is hard to know what is in the bill since the group of senators writing it is holding it under wraps and intends to continue to do so until just before it is voted on. If Cornyn's remark is true, then the basic structure of the Senate bill is likely to mirror the House bill, but with slightly more generous subsides and a slower phase out of the Medicaid expansion.
Also on the subject of the healthcare bill, a new report from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services actuary paints a picture different from that of the earlier CBO report. It says that only 13 million people will lose insurance if the House bill becomes law, much lower than the 23 million the CBO estimated. That is "good" news for Republicans, but the report also says that net premiums would rise by 5% and the amount of cost sharing would skyrocket by 61%. (V)
Those pesky emoluments are back again. Only 24 hours after Maryland and D.C. announced a lawsuit that attempts to get Donald Trump to stop taking gifts from foreign kings, princes, and states, as required by the Constitution, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and 195 other congressional Democrats are also planning to sue Trump. What the suit asks is that the courts order Trump to stop taking any benefits foreign states without permission from Congress.
A big hurdle for the lawsuit is to convince the courts that Congress has standing to sue. In other words, Blumenthal is going to have to convince a judge that he was damaged by Trump's actions. With that said, congressional lawsuits have been accepted before, most recently when Republicans in Congress sued the Obama administration over the ACA, despite the fact that they all had excellent health insurance and were not damaged personally by the ACA.
The big threat to Trump here is not that the Democrats win the case, which is unlikely, but the discovery process. If the case is accepted, the Democrats are likely to subpoena Trump's tax returns to see what businesses he owns so they will know how foreign states might try to pass him money. Nobody expects a foreign official to show up at the White House with a suitcase full of reals, riyals, or rupiahs, but renting all the rooms at a Trump hotel for a week and holding a lavish party with crates of the best caviar and barrels of the finest champagne might qualify as a gift. Both the Maryland/D.C. and congressional lawsuits are long shots, but all it takes is one judge to get the ball rolling. (V)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jun13 Trump Holds First Cabinet Meeting
Jun13 Sessions Will Testify in Public before the Senate Intelligence Committee Today
Jun13 Questions for Sessions
Jun13 Secret Service Knows of No Recordings
Jun13 Plurality of Voters Think Trump Obstructed Justice
Jun13 Senate Has a Bill to Put More Sanctions on Russia
Jun13 Four Members of Mueller's Team Have Donated to Democrats
Jun13 Trump Reportedly Considering Firing Mueller
Jun13 Gorsuch Makes His First Ruling
Jun12 Maryland and D.C. Sue Trump over Emoluments
Jun12 Schumer Invites Trump to Testify before the Senate
Jun12 Democrats Want Sessions to Testify in Public
Jun12 Could Trump Fire Mueller?
Jun12 Mueller Hires Top Criminal Lawyer
Jun12 Trump to Address Tapes Next Week
Jun12 Trump Orders Priebus to Drain the Swamp by July Fourth
Jun12 No Trump Visit to the U.K. Anytime Soon
Jun12 Sheldon Adelson Is Planning to Create a New Super PAC for 2018
Jun12 Is Romney Really Running?
Jun12 Puerto Rico Votes to Become the 51st State
Jun11 Trump's Lawyers Are Aghast at His Offer to Testify for Mueller
Jun11 Sessions Will Testify before Senate Committee on Tuesday
Jun11 Everyone Wants the Comey Recordings
Jun11 When Will Trump Staff His Administration?
Jun11 Trump Has No Relationship With Barack Obama
Jun11 Putin Blew It
Jun11 Schneiderman Is Investigating Eric Trump's Foundation
Jun11 Democrats Woo Black Voters in GA-06
Jun11 Germany: Global Warming Will Heighten Terrorism
Jun10 How the Newspapers Covered Comey
Jun10 Comey Draws 19.5 Million Viewers
Jun10 Trump Has No Interest in Proving that Comey Lied
Jun10 The Pushback on Comey Has Barely Begun
Jun10 Trump's Lawyer Will File a Complaint about Comey Leaking
Jun10 Kasowitz's Clients Have Close Ties to Putin
Jun10 Trump Says He's Willing to Testify Under Oath
Jun10 Bettors: Trump Will Probably Be Impeached or Resign
Jun10 House Votes to Repeal Dodd-Frank
Jun10 Ossoff Opens a Big Lead in Newest Poll
Jun09 Will No One Rid Me of This Meddlesome Cop?
Jun09 While Washington Watches Comey, Trump Addresses the Faithful
Jun09 Sanders: Trump Absolutely Has Confidence in Sessions
Jun09 Gowdy Will Chair House Oversight Committee
Jun09 Ossoff Sets Another Fundraising Record
Jun09 Tories Fail to Get a Majority
Jun08 Top Intelligence Officials Refuse to Tell What Trump Asked Them
Jun08 Comey Will Accuse Trump of Asking Him to Back Off Flynn
Jun08 Trump Names Wray as FBI Director
Jun08 Trump Does a 180 on Qatar