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The First Indictments Are In

On Friday, a grand jury approved the first indictments requested by special counsel Robert Mueller. They are currently under seal, on orders from a federal judge. The secret isn't going to last for long, however, as the first arrest or arrests are expected to take place next week, perhaps as early as Monday.

Given the judge's order, not to mention the risk that a suspect might be tempted to flee, everyone involved is keeping their lips sealed. However, it would be a huge surprise if Paul Manafort isn't a target, most likely on money laundering charges, or possibly for tax evasion. What other charges might be filed, and whatever other individuals might find themselves in custody, if anyone, is anyone's guess. If the indictments somehow reach into the White House, the likeliest victim is Jared Kushner, whose actions—between attending the meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya (more below) and his efforts to set up a secret communications line to the Russians—have left him pretty exposed.

With that said, it's very possible that Donald Trump's inner circle won't be ensnared in Mueller's net quite yet. In his time in law enforcement, Mueller tended to start on the periphery, using the threat of prison time as inducement to get the henchmen to turn on the kingpin. Once we learn exactly what indictments the grand jury has returned next week, there may very well be nothing that directly implicates the President, or anyone currently working for him. However, The Donald certainly knows what secrets are out there, and who knows them, so he could be in for a lot of sleepless nights in the near future even if he's publicly claiming vindication.

One wonders—and we'll likely never know for sure—if Mueller made a point of expediting this process, so that he could get the jump on the investigations being conducted by Congress. Their probes are expected to be wrapped up in the next month or two, and to be somewhat inconclusive. If they announce "there's nothing to see here," and then Mueller issues forth with indictments, it would set Trump up to make all kinds of claims about fake news and witch hunts and the like. Now that Mueller has made the first move, he has effectively seized control of the narrative.

And finally, it is worth remembering that grand jury indictments come very early in the process, and that they are not particularly indicative of guilt, since grand juries tend to be very liberal in granting prosecutors' requests. So, we will get a few more pieces of the puzzle next week, but really this is just the first step on what will be a long journey.

As Yogi Berra once put it: "You can observe a lot by just watching." In this case, at the time we posted today's blog (06:00 EDT), CNN was reporting the indictments, along with The Hill and the Wall Street Journal. But the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Politico had nothing on it. Could it be that editors there thought this story was no big deal? Probably not. Could it be they were not aware of the story? Not very likely. All their reporters were snug in their beds? Don't count on it. Almost certainly they were desperately trying to get independent confirmation of its veracity but they couldn't find anyone who was willing to talk to them, even on deep background. While this is only circumstantial evidence, it does suggest that major publications won't go with a story unless their own reporters have verified it. Nevertheless, with all their contacts, they are bound to chime in on the story one way or another within a few hours at most. (Z & V)

Russian Lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya Coordinated Meeting Plans with Kremlin

Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya has long said that she was operating on her own when she dangled damaging information about Hillary Clinton in front of Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner. Now, it turns out that she coordinated with a high-ranking Russian official, Russia's Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika. One does not expect honest people like Vladimir Putin's cronies to lie about things like this, but it does happen.

It turns out that the information that Veselnitskaya planned to share was a memo claiming that a couple of high-flying Clinton donors tried to use stock purchases in Russia to avoid paying Russian taxes. Chaika's office gave the memo to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) two months before the infamous Trump Tower meeting and Rohrabacher, though no friend of Clinton, didn't see much that he could do with it. The Veselnitskaya confab, then, represented the second attempt to peddle the same dirt, and apparently with the same result. For all the Russians' skill in rabble-rousing, they seemingly did not grasp that "people close to Clinton didn't pay enough taxes in Russia" is not exactly the stuff from which American political scandals are made.

While this is probably not quite as bad for Team Trump as the indictments (see above), it's still pretty bad. The new details divulged on Friday put to rest most of the stories and excuses used to justify the meeting, like the assertion that it was really about Russian orphans, and/or that Clinton-related dirt was a minor sidebar or an afterthought. It's probably just a coincidence that this story broke on the same day that the first indictments came down, but it's possible we may learn next week that it was no coincidence at all. (Z & V)

Trump Points Fingers Everywhere

Starting on Thursday, and continuing through the day Friday, Donald Trump did his best impression of an octopus, pointing fingers in so many directions that it was almost as though he had eight arms.

First of all, there was the Obama-Clinton uranium deal that has been on every Republican's lips for the last week or so. On Friday morning, the White House dispatched Kellyanne Conway so she could appear on CNN and demand that the FBI informant who made the issue public be freed from his gag order and allowed to tell his story. "[President Trump] believes, as many others do, frankly, that the FBI informant should be free to say what he knows," pronounced Conway.

That was not the only reminder that it's really the Democrats who were working with the Russians, however. The infamous dossier, which began as a Republican project to derail then-upstart candidate Trump, and then became a Democratic project to defeat then-Republican nominee Trump, was a popular subject of discussion at the White House on Friday. Sarah Huckabee Sanders made it a central focus of her daily press briefing, and also went on Fox News to declare that, "I think that this further proves if there was anyone that was colluding with the Russians to influence the election look no further than the Clintons and the DNC." The President got in on the fun via Twitter, with several tweets along these lines:

This is despite the fact that we learned on Friday exactly which GOP outlet started the dossier in the first place (the conservative Washington Free Beacon). And on Thursday, Robert Litt, the former top lawyer for the office of the Director of National Intelligence declared unequivocally that the dossier has nothing to do with the decision to investigate Trump, calling it "a mere sideshow that should not distract from a comprehensive investigation."

Of course, as long as we are relitigating Hillary Clinton's reported misdeeds, there has to be some mention of the e-mails. On Friday, the White House let it be known that Trump wants whatever unreleased e-mails of hers that the State Department still has, so he can make them public. The odds are pretty good that there are no such e-mails, and that if they do exist, they contain classified information. So, this is unlikely to produce anything new. But it does get "Clinton" and "e-mail" back into the headlines.

Hillary Clinton wasn't the only woman to find her way into the crosshairs on Friday, though. The subject of all the women who accused Trump of sexual harassment and other misconduct came up, conveniently enough, and Sanders reiterated the administration's position that all of them—two dozen or so—are liars. As recently as last week, Trump himself spoke on the matter: "All I can say is it's totally fake news, just fake. It's fake. It's made-up stuff, and it's disgraceful what happens, but that happens in the world of politics." It's worth noting, perhaps, that Harvey Weinstein offered much the same explanation, and yet was drummed out of his marriage, his business, and his profession.

The last big target on Friday was Tom Steyer, who is investing $10 million in an effort to get Trump impeached. Steyer arranged for the ad to air on Fox News on Friday morning, suspecting—correctly—that the President would see it. Reaching for his phone so quickly that it must have caused a sonic boom, Trump tweeted:

It's not clear what that last part means—it's true that Steyer has never won an election, but it's also true that he's never run for office. He's also never summited Mt. Everest, never scored a touchdown in the NFL, and never been featured as the guest artist on a song by Justin Bieber, for similar reasons.

It's not atypical for the Trump administration to fire salvos in many directions, but even by their usual standards, Friday was unusual in terms of the number of offensives launched. Surely, this is an attempt to muddy the waters on a day when two very bad pieces of news came down the pike (see above), and is thus a sign that Team Trump is much more worried than they might let on. (Z)

Trump Blasted for JFK Documents Semi-Release

Often, it seems that the Trump administration is capable of botching anything, no matter how simple it might be, or how much time they have to prepare. So it is with this week's release of the JFK documents, wherein the White House released several thousand pages of new information to make the public happy, but kept several hundred pages classified to keep the intelligence establishment happy.

So, what's the problem? Well, the CIA, FBI, etc. literally knew this day was coming for decades, and yet they flooded the White House with hundreds of last-minute requests for redaction. In other words, it looks like the intel pros (successfully) manipulated the President. As a result, he was slammed from many directions on Friday. For example, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) took to Twitter to call the delay "ridiculous" and to complain that the government had 50 years to pull things together (actually, 54 years). Similarly, the federal judge who oversaw the compilation of the records in the first place said the President's decision was "disappointing" and that, "I just don't think there is anything in these records that require keeping them secret now."

Of course, Trump is sensitive to criticism, and is more than willing to do a 180-degree turn on a dime. So, late Friday he made an announcement:

So, the people are going to get what they want. Assuming, of course, he doesn't change his mind again. (Z)

Nine Democratic Primaries to Watch Next Year

Breitbart executive chairman Steve Bannon is planning to primary every Republican senator up for reelection next year except Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is going to go all out to defend each and every Republican senator running for reelection. Expect lots of fireworks. But there is also some action on the Democratic side for various offices. CNN has compiled a list of nine Democratic primaries to watch, as follows:

  • California Senate: Technically there are no partisan primaries in California any more since the Golden State adopted the Louisiana jungle primary system, but the challenge to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is a lot like a Democratic primary. Feinstein is being challenged by state senate majority leader Kevin de León, who is far to Feinstein's left. If billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer also runs, they will split the vote and allow Feinstein to win the first round. She will probably also win the second one. Still, this could get interesting.

  • Illinois governor: Billionaire J.B. Pritzker, heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune, wants to replace billionaire Gov. Bruce Rauner (R-IL). So does Chris Kennedy, also a financial heavyweight and the son of Bobby Kennedy. The two will battle it out in an enormously expensive primary, but each has the resources to continue into an enormously expensive general election if he gets the nod.

  • Iowa governor: With the former Iowa governor now the ambassador to China (presumably because the Chinese like twice-cooked pork and Iowa has plenty of pigs for sale), the Democrats are going to put up a big fight for the the right to take on now-governor of Iowa Kim Reynolds (R). The main Democrats in the mix are Andrea McGuire, the former state party chairwoman, John Norris, who ran Jesse Jackson's 1988 Iowa campaign, and Cathy Glasson, a big fan of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Several others are also likely to jump in.

  • House district IL-03: Rep. Dan Lipinski (D), a conservative blue dog Democrat who is against abortion and voted against the ACA in 2010, is likely to get a serious challenger in Marie Newman, who has been endorsed by Daily Kos and is likely to get a lot of small-dollar donations. The district has a PVI of D+6 and Newman is going to say she represents the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.

  • Oklahoma governor: Before laughing, please note that five of the last eight Oklahoma governors have been Democrats, including the immediate predecessor of Gov. Mary Falin (R). Falin is term limited, so the Democrats have a real shot at the governor's mansion, and two of them are already running. These are former state Attorney General Drew Edmonson and former State Senator Connie Johnson, an unabashed progressive. Johnson is black, which adds another dimension to the race, though Oklahomans apparently don't care much for black Democrats, having been the only state to never give Barack Obama a single county.

  • New York governor: New York does not have term limits, so Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) is sure to run again in 2018. Many progressives dislike Cuomo, so there is sure to be at least one serious challenger. Actress Cynthia Nixon and former state senator Terry Gipson are possibilities. The race is important because if Cuomo has a tough time getting renominated in his own state, his chances of grabbing the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination will be greatly reduced.

  • Rhode Island lieutenant governor: Bernie Sanders supporter Aaron Regunberg is going after Rhode Island's current lieutenant governor, Dan McKee. Regunberg, 27, is a state representative. If he wins, he will serve under Gov. Gina Raimondo (D-RI), who is a Hillary Clinton supporter. Raimondo is basically a shoo-in for reelection.

  • Maryland governor: Lots of Democrats want to take a shot at Gov. Larry Hogan (R-MD) in this blue state, so the field is crowded already. Top candidates include NAACP president Ben Jealous and the wife of Rep. Elijah Cummings, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings. Prince George County Executive Rushem Baker also wants the job. Jealous was a major supporter of Bernie Sanders in 2016, so the race has clear ideological overtones.

  • Florida House district FL-07: Another left vs. center battle is shaping up in FL-07, where Air Force veteran Chardo Richardson is going after Rep. Stephany Murphy (D-FL), a refugee from Vietnam who came to the U.S. when she was 6 months old. She is a blue dog, while Richardson is a progressive.

Undoubtedly, other races will join the list, especially since we're 13 months out and we've already got nine barnburners. (V)

Democrats Lack Candidates in Some Key House Districts

Democratic candidates running against incumbent House Republicans have done a good job of raising money. In fact, in over 30 districts, at least one Democratic challenger has outraised the incumbent Republican. But Nate Cohn has pointed out a peculiar characteristic of the House races: Democrats are falling all over one another to run in well-educated districts, but are absent in many working-class districts, even swing districts. For example, Rep. Frank LoBiondo, a 71-year-old 12-term congressman from NJ-02—a district Donald Trump barely won, but which Barack Obama won twice—is not feeling any pressure to retire since his strongest opponent has the grand total of $9,486 in the bank. Similarly, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), who represents a blue-collar Philadelphia suburb, also seems to be getting a free pass.

There are 11 districts among the top 50 most competitive districts where no Democrat has raised even $100,000. On the whole, those districts are the least-educated districts that are potentially up for grabs. If Democrats aren't going to bother fielding strong candidates in blue-collar districts, they don't have much of a chance to take back the House, even if they have two or three strong candidates in each of the well-educated districts. Needless to say, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) knows this, and is working on the problem. (V)

The Atlantic: Hatch Will Retire and Romney Will Run for His Seat

The Atlantic is reporting that Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has told his friends that he will retire after this term, but that he doesn't want to announce it until a tax bill has been passed. Almost certainly, Mitt Romney will run for his seat and win it. Romney will first have to defeat Steve Bannon's candidate, Boyd Matheson, but Romney is so well known and respected that knocking off Matheson will be like shooting fish in a barrel. Especially since Utahns, and particularly Mormons, don't much care for Donald Trump's and Bannon's brand of Republicanism.

A more interesting question is what kind of senator Romney will be if he runs and wins. He has never been a big fan of Trump, so he might become Trump's #1 critic in the Senate since he wouldn't be up for reelection until 2024 (assuming that he would even stand for reelection at the age of 77). Of course, Romney could also try to cozy up to Trump in order to get things done. Who knows? (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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
Oct25 Rock Drops Out
Oct25 Americans Do Not Support a Tax Cut
Oct25 Senate, House Panels to Investigate Obama Uranium Deal
Oct25 Clinton Campaign and DNC Paid for Russia Dossier
Oct25 DACA Maybe, Bump Stocks No
Oct25 Senate Overturns Banking Law, with Help from Pence
Oct25 Trump the Least Powerful President in Recent Memory
Oct24 Trump: No Change to Your 401(k)
Oct24 Trump Feuds with Military Widow
Oct24 Republicans Don't Trust Trump as a Negotiator
Oct24 Democratic House Candidates Are Pulling in Serious Money
Oct24 Russians May Have Hundreds of Troll Networks Targeting the U.S.
Oct24 EPA Silences Scientists
Oct24 Feinstein Readies for Battle
Oct23 Trump Personally Interviewing U.S. Attorneys
Oct23 Khizr Khan Criticizes Trump and Kelly for Their Statements on the Niger Deaths
Oct23 Trump Administration Set to Create Another ACA Mess
Oct23 Is Mississippi the Next Alabama?
Oct23 Democrats Nervous about Virginia
Oct23 Another Republican Enters the Race for Corker's Seat
Oct23 Carter Wants to Go to North Korea
Oct23 McCain Keeps Poking the Bear
Oct22 Trump Unleashes Twitter Tornado
Oct22 Be Careful of Whom You Endorse, Mr. President
Oct22 Texas Democrats Liking Their Chances
Oct22 Trump Will Release JFK Documents After All, or Maybe Not
Oct22 Impeach Trump, Make $20 Million
Oct22 Alabama Senate Race Is Very Close. Or Isn't Close at All.
Oct22 Turmoil at Fox News
Oct21 Kelly Gets Sucked In
Oct21 Trump Working on Phone Calls to Soldiers' Families
Oct21 Congress Wants to Review Presidential War Powers