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Why the Papadopoulos Guilty Plea Is Dangerous for Trump

It will be weeks or months before we can assess the full damage the guilty plea of George Papadopoulos is going to do to Donald Trump, but political writers are starting to count the ways. A piece in the New York Times lists five problem areas for the President

  • Collecting dirt: Papadopoulos was actively trying to gather dirt on Hillary Clinton from Russian sources. This is the essence of any future claim of collusion between the campaign and the Russians. And now we know it happened at least twice, once by Papadopoulos and once at a meeting in Trump Tower with Natalia Veselnitskaya. It is much harder to brush off as an out-of-control kid when Donald Trump Jr. did the same thing a few months later. Now it is much easier to prove to the House of Representatives that the campaign was actively trying to get dirt on Clinton from the Russians. That is clearly illegal. In an impeachment hearing, Trump could defend himself, of course, by saying: "Look, you know I am a totally incompetent manager. I had no idea what people in my campaign were doing, not even my son." But that is generally not his style.

  • Following the money: Although the lobbying, money laundering, and tax evasion that Paul Manafort and Rick Gates did was before they were associated with the campaign, it shows that special counsel Robert Mueller's team (specifically, prosecutor Andrew Weissmann) is quite capable of following the money trail around Eastern Europe, Cyprus, and the Grenadines and striking pay dirt. There have long been rumors that Trump himself has engaged in shady financial practices and perhaps has dabbled in a bit of money laundering. It could be that the Manafort/Gates project was merely a warm-up exercise for Weissmann and the real fun will begin when he goes after Trump's business dealings. The way the special counsel's office went after Manafort and Gates (especially the no-knock raid on Manafort's home in July) has Weismann's fingerprints all over it. On a scale of 1 to 10 measuring prosecutorial boldness, Weissmann is an 11. He's a real pit bull and not to be trifled with.

  • Wired chats: A paragraph in the plea bargain indicates that the plea was sealed so Papadopoulos could act as a "proactive cooperator." What does that mean? A lot of people in Trump's orbit may now be thinking: "Was that idiot wearing a wire last time I talked to him?" It wouldn't be a bit surprising if Mueller made a deal with Papadopoulos of the form: "You wear a wire and have a nice chat about the Russians with some folks you know, get some good sound, and we'll ask the judge to sentence you to a $50 fine and no jail time."

  • E-mails again: The plea makes it clear that the campaign knew that the e-mail account of Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, John Podesta, was hacked a month before that fact was publicly known. How did the campaign come by this valuable information? Did a little birdie fly in the window of Trump Tower and drop a note announcing it? Or maybe someone in the campaign was talking to the Russians and got it from them? In the end, it doesn't matter if it was Papadopoulos, Manafort, Roger Stone, or somebody else, but there is a very good chance Papadopoulos knows who the source was. And that means that Mueller knows who the source was. And if Papadopoulos went to talk to that person while wearing a wire, that could be a bit of a problem for that person.

  • Reaction to meeting: We have known for months that when Natalia Veselnitskaya floated the idea of giving dirt on Clinton to Junior, his reaction was: "I love it." When Papadopoulos told the "campaign supervisor," now known to be Sam Clovis, the reaction was "Great work!" That means that two people high up in the campaign reacted with great joy when told the Russians were going to provide dirt on Hillary Clinton. That doesn't look good.

In short, there are a number of ways the guilty plea could cause a lot of trouble for Trump, and Mueller is sure to make maximum use of them. (V)

White House Takes Credit for Papadopoulos Arrest

Any White House who finds itself under attack from a special counsel is going to do what they can to spin the problem as best they can. That is particularly to be expected with this White House, where the basic necessities of existence are food, water, air, shelter, Twitter, and spin. But even by Trump administration standards, they came up with quite a whopper on Tuesday: That they should be given credit for George Papadopoulos' arrest and subsequent guilty plea.

Huh? It's true that if the campaign never hired Papadopoulos, then he couldn't have engaged in shady behavior, lied about it, and then gotten arrested. But that is not what Trump & Co. mean. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders presented the White House's argument:

Papadopoulos is an example of actually somebody doing the wrong thing while the president's campaign did the right thing. All of his emails were voluntarily provided to the special counsel by the campaign, and that is what led to the process and the place that we're in right now is the campaign fully cooperating and helping with that. What Papadopoulos did was lie, and that's on him and not on the campaign, and we can't speak to that.

Nice try, but there are two problems here. First, surrendering documents to someone who has subpoena power is not really an act of honesty. It's an act of "We're probably better off not irritating this guy needlessly." Second, the Washington Post reports that the e-mails were surrendered in August, well after Papadopoulos had been arrested. So the White House had nothing to do with bringing him to justice. If anything, this news just shows that the administration should not have been as surprised as they were about his being pinched. Did they think Mueller wanted the e-mails so he'd have some light reading while drinking his morning coffee? (Z)

Ten Takeaways from Mueller's Bombshells

Just about every political outlet is going to make a list of takeaways from Monday's announcements. The Washington Post has one with 10 items in it, briefly summarized as follows.

  • Multiple members of team Trump were enthusiastic about getting dirt on Clinton from the Russians
  • Sam Clovis is about to be in the hot seat. Will Trump support him?
  • We still don't have an idea of how much Papadopoulos knows and how he is helping Mueller
  • The timeline in the plea raises new questions about what Trump knew and when he knew it
  • Mueller is playing hardball with Manafort and Gates in an effort to flip them
  • Mueller is sending a message to everyone in Trump's orbit not to mess with him
  • Unsealing the Papadopoulos plea makes it politically difficult for Trump to fire Mueller
  • The events of Monday will instill fear in the White House and make it harder for Trump to work
  • Naming Democrat Tony Podesta in the indictment shows that Mueller is not partisan
  • The indictments show the kind of people Trump surrounds himself with

It is hard to argue with any of these points. (V)

Clovis Nomination in Trouble

Donald Trump, wanting to reward Sam Clovis' service to the presidential campaign, nominated him to be the Department of Agriculture's chief scientist. This despite the fact that Clovis is not a scientist, and does not have a background relevant to that post (his degrees are in political science and public administration). In a case of really bad timing (at least, for him), Clovis is scheduled for his confirmation hearings next week. Given that he's now at the center of Russiagate, his prospects are not looking good.

Democrats, of course, already opposed Clovis, in part because he's totally unqualified, in part because he's Trump's nominee, and in part because he's a conservative firebrand. Which of those concerns is most significant, the blue team isn't saying. And their opposition doesn't matter, anyhow, as long as the Republicans remain on board with the pick. By all indications, Clovis' lack of qualifications was a non-concern for them. But now, he is at best an incompetent manager who brought dubious people on board with the Trump campaign without proper vetting, and at worst a Russian collaborator. He could also be indicted by Robert Mueller at any time. These things being the case, Senate Republicans would presumably prefer not to give their stamp of approval to him, for fear of ending up with egg on their faces. And Donald Trump presumably would prefer to avoid a public rejection of his nominee, particularly this nominee, since it would imply that the GOP senators believe there's some truth to Mueller's allegations. Add it up, and the odds are pretty good that Clovis discovers some other commitment in the next few days, and "regretfully" withdraws his name from consideration. (Z)

Republican Senators Won't Cut Off Mueller's Funding

Robert Mueller has a large staff, so his investigation is an expensive operation. Breitbart executive chairman Steve Bannon and others have suggested that if Donald Trump won't fire Mueller, then Congress should cut off Mueller's money supply. Currently, it is funded out of a permanent Treasury Dept. account, but Republicans could add an amendment to some must-pass bill to change the funding to some other account and then appropriate very little money for that account.

However, remarks from several Republican senators indicate that is unlikely to happen. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who is no friend of Trump, said of the plan to defund Mueller: "I would not support that. He needs to continue to investigate. I have confidence in Bob Mueller." Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has been a constant critic of Trump. He said yesterday that he would oppose defunding Mueller. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) also said "I'm not for it." Even Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said: "The special counsel has his job to do." So it sounds like a bill to change Mueller's funding wouldn't be able to get even 50 votes in the Senate, let alone the 60 it would need. (V)

Trump Campaign Uses Mueller Indictments to Raise Money

Lots of people are talking about Richard Nixon these days, for obvious reasons. One thing he never did, though, was use the Watergate scandal to raise money for his political war chest. Clearly, he was a rank amateur, because trying to cash in on Robert Mueller's indictments was one of the first things Team Trump did as soon as they were unsealed on Monday.

With the subject line "Still standing," and over the signature of Eric Trump, the campaign sent out an e-mail just over an hour after the Manafort news broke. It begins thusly:


There's new opposition against my father and this Administration every day. The mainstream media continues to play politics, creating division and turning the American people against one another.

But as a loyal supporter of our movement, I know you know the truth.

My father has spoken out time and time again against those who have tried to bring this country down, and will always do so to protect hardworking Americans whose values have been forgotten by Washington.

Lots of buzzwords there—friend, values, movement, loyal—but no explanation of how a special counselor filing criminal charges is a media creation. Nor any comment on why it is wrong for the media to create divisions, but OK for young Trump to celebrate his father's doing so just 15 words later. In any event, it's a rare politician who sees a burgeoning scandal as a moneymaking opportunity, but then again, most of them were never billionaire reality TV stars. (Z)

Tax Bill Will Not Allow State Income Taxes to Be Deducted

House Republicans had originally planned to release their tax bill today, but due to the commotion around Robert Mueller's announcements on Monday, the release will be delayed. Originally, the bill was said to eliminate the deduction for state and local taxes, but that drew so much opposition, the bill has been revised. It is interesting to see how it was revised, since that reflects where the real power lies in Congress and what the leadership thinks it can do. The elimination of property taxes was strongly opposed by the real estate industry, home builders, and banks that issue mortgages, since this section of the tax code makes home ownership cheaper, something these sectors love. They won and the new bill allows local property taxes to be deducted.

State income taxes are a completely different story. They are mostly felt by people (not necessarily home owners) in high tax states, nearly all of which are deep blue. So eliminating the deduction for state income taxes would be a way for Republicans in Congress to punish blue states for having high taxes to pay for good education, health care, infrastructure, etc. A potential problem in the Senate is that Republican senators from high-tax states like California, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois would be put in a tough position having to vote for a bill with the state tax deduction eliminated. Fortunately for Mitch McConnell, though, none of these states have any Republican senators.

The House, however, is a different story. Together, these four states have 35 Republican representatives, far more than enough to sink any tax bill they don't like. The breakdown by state is California (14), New York (9), New Jersey (5), and Illinois (7). Thus, if the House leadership insists on eliminating the deduction for state taxes it is setting itself up for a problem. If most of these 35 Republicans vote no, the bill won't pass. But if they vote yes, many of them could be defeated in 2018 and the Democrats could take back the House.

Of course, the leadership could solve the problem by keeping the deduction, but that creates another problem: money. In order to make the tax cut permanent, Senate rules require it to be close to budget neutral. Given the large cuts expected for the top rate and for corporations, revenue has to be found somewhere to fill the hole. If deductions for state and local taxes are off the table, where is the money going to come from? (V)

Pruitt Continues to Dismantle EPA

One upside to the Manafort-Papadopoulos mess for the administration is that the heavy coverage of the situation everywhere (except Fox) gives cover to sneak a few controversial moves in under the radar. So it is at the Environmental "Protection" Agency, where administrator Scott Pruitt announced Tuesday that he's canning all of the scientific advisers he inherited from the Obama administration, and replacing them with folks who hold "more diverse views" (Translation: "0.5% of scientists are global warming skeptics, and we WILL find them.").

Pruitt's specific plan is to hire only scientists who are "financially independent from the agency." What he means is that he will not utilize anyone who has gotten a grant from the EPA, or who may get a grant from the EPA in the future. Inasmuch as the vast majority of scientists get their research money from either the government or from private corporations, and Pruitt has just taken the government-funded researchers off the table, that lets us know exactly what kind of people he'll be hiring. Perhaps that is why he's had 120 meetings with energy-industry executives, so that he could collect recommendations for which researchers are already in the, are worthy of consideration. (Z)

What's Up with the Virginia Governor's Race Polls?

In one week, Virginians will choose a new governor. And while most polls of the race suggest that Democrat Ralph Northam has a small but consistent lead of about four points, there have been some wild outliers. Like the Quinnipiac poll last week that had Northam up by 17. Or the Hampton poll two weeks ago that had his Republican opponent, Ed Gillespie, up by eight.

Politico has taken a look at the matter, and has a pretty good answer as to what's going on. The majority of the polls screen respondents on some level, making sure (at very least) that they say they are likely to vote. Some pollsters go so far as to accept responses only from people who have voted in at least two of the last four statewide elections. This seems prudent, since non-presidential turnout is smaller and often idiosyncratic. The outlier polls, by contrast, all rely upon random-digit dialing (RDD), wherein they call phone numbers at random and speak to any adult who answers. Quinnipiac's Doug Schwartz defends the approach, declaring that "RDD is still considered the gold standard." Maybe so, if by that we mean that RDD is the cheapest approach, and therefore the standard way to avoid spending too much gold. Anyhow, we can now be very confident that those outliers can be discarded, and that Northam really is up by 3-4 points. (Z)

Hensarling to Retire

Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), one of the dozen or so most powerful members of the House of Representatives, announced Tuesday that he will not stand for re-election. In contrast to some of his other colleagues who have thrown in the towel, Hensarling will do the good people of TX-05 the favor of finishing his term (his eighth) before exiting.

TX-05 has a Cook PVI of R+16, so there's no way a Democrat is winning there unless the Republican candidate gets caught in bed with a live boy, a dead girl, and Paul Manafort. Nonetheless, Hensarling's retirement continues a not-promising-for-the-GOP trend that has become evident in the era of Trump. Already, 21 House Republicans have announced their retirements, for various reasons, compared to only 10 Democrats. Expect more in the next month or two on both sides of the aisle; those who are jumping ship need to give their party time to find a replacement. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct31 Former Trump Campaign Adviser Lied to the FBI and is Now Cooperating with Mueller
Oct31 Manafort Indicted for Money Laundering, Tax Evasion, and Conspiracy
Oct31 Trump Responds As Expected
Oct31 What Do Yesterday's Events All Mean?
Oct31 Is the Papadopoulos Story Really That Important?
Oct31 John Kelly is All-In; Other Republicans, Not So Much
Oct31 Trump's Approval Rating Hits Historic Low
Oct31 Northam Leads Gillespie by 17 Points in Virginia Gubernatorial Race
Oct31 Facebook Tries to Save Its Bacon
Oct30 Manafort Issued Suspicious Wire Transfers Linked to His Offshore Companies
Oct30 Some Thoughts on the Possible Indictments
Oct30 Trump, Republicans Go on the Offensive
Oct30 Major Business Group Plans to Defeat the Tax Bill
Oct30 Is it "Pants" or "Cookie Jar"?
Oct30 Long-Term Trend for Trump's Approval is Downward
Oct30 Kasich Is Laying the Groundwork for a 2020 Presidential Run
Oct30 No Gubernatorial Run for Garcetti
Oct30 Trump Organization Breaks Promise of "No New Foreign Deals"
Oct29 Mueller Indictments: No Comment from White House, Much Activity by Lawyers
Oct29 Energy Contract Heading into Scandal Territory
Oct29 GOP Seems Determined to Repeat Obamacare Failure With Taxes
Oct29 It's Trump's Republican Party, at Least for Now
Oct29 Fusion GPS to Hand Over Financial Records to House Intelligence Committee
Oct29 New-School Democratic Presidential Hopefuls Run New-School Playbook
Oct29 Could CNN End Up Under Trump's Thumb?
Oct28 The First Indictments Are In
Oct28 Russian Lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya Coordinated Meeting Plans with Kremlin
Oct28 Trump Points Fingers Everywhere
Oct28 Trump Blasted for JFK Documents Semi-Release
Oct28 Nine Democratic Primaries to Watch Next Year
Oct28 Democrats Lack Candidates in Some Key House Districts
Oct28 The Atlantic: Hatch Will Retire and Romney Will Run for His Seat
Oct27 House Passes Budget
Oct27 Six Things That Could Kill GOP's Tax Scheme
Oct27 Trump Declares Opioids a Public Health Emergency
Oct27 Trump's Short List for Fed Chair Has Two People on It
Oct27 Enthusiasm Gap May Help Democrats in 2018
Oct27 Democrats Introduce Preemptive Strike Bill
Oct27 Schweikert Not Likely to Run for the Senate
Oct27 Many JFK Files Released
Oct26 McConnell's Allies Go after Bannon
Oct26 Tax Cuts Have Gotten Even More Important This Week
Oct26 Trump Campaign Analytics Company Tried to Get Clinton E-mails from Wikileaks
Oct26 Mueller is Zeroing in on Manafort
Oct26 Trump's Lawyer Made $20 Million in Profit in Cash Deals
Oct26 Trump Talks Only to Fox News
Oct26 Bad Polls for Trump
Oct26 Gillespie Is Leading Northam in New Poll
Oct25 Corker Calls Trump a "Serial Liar"
Oct25 Flake Will Retire