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

Murray and Alexander Are the Key Players in the Obamacare Repeal Bill

The Republicans' last ditch effort to repeal the ACA, cleverly called the Cassidy-Graham-Heller-Johnson bill (CGHJ), could run afoul of negotiations going on between the Senate HELP Committee chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and the ranking member, Patty Murray (D-WA). The two are said to be close to a deal to repair and stabilize the ACA. This is important because two key Republican senators, John McCain (AZ) and Lisa Murkowski (AK), are publicly rooting for the current law to be repaired. If they think that Alexander and Murray can agree on how to repair it, they won't vote for CGHJ. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is already on record that he will vote against it, so if McCain and Murkowski are also "no" votes, it won't pass. Consequently, if Alexander and Murray can come to an agreement before the Senate votes on CGHJ, the repeal effort won't make it. If they can't reach agreement, then what happens is anyone's guess, though there's been no indication that McCain and Murkowski are any happier with CGHJ than they were with the previous bill placed before the Senate. Also, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) is probably still against repealing the ACA as she was never a big fan in the first place. (V)

Manafort Is in Deep Trouble

Before this week, we already knew that Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was badly exposed in terms of facing criminal prosecution. The evidence for this assertion is that the FBI got a search warrant to search Manafort's house. That means the FBI convinced a judge that there is good reason to believe that Manafort committed a crime and there was evidence of it in his house (documents, computer files, etc.).

On Monday, however, two new bits of information came to light, and they are both very bad news for Manafort. The first is that he was twice wiretapped by U.S. investigators, once in 2014, and once from 2016-2017. In both cases, the wiretaps were conducted under a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant, which requires approval from high-ranking DoJ officials, as well as a judge who has been presented with compelling evidence that the subject is acting as an agent of a foreign power. It is unknown exactly when the second wiretap started, though it certainly was in place during Manafort's time as Trump's campaign manager. If the wiretapping began before Manafort joined the campaign, that's certainly much better news for the President, since it suggests that the triggering event—whatever it was—was unrelated to Russia collusion. On the other hand, if the second FISA warrant was issued during Manafort's time working for Trump, that could be big trouble for The Donald, indeed.

The second bit of news on Monday is that, in case there was any doubt, Robert Mueller has already told Manafort that an indictment is coming. This warning came shortly after the FBI raid on Manafort's apartment, which suggests that whatever the agents got on that day is just the icing on the cake, and that Mueller already had enough information—perhaps from the second FISA wiretap—to move forward.

In the short term, it would not be surprising to see Donald Trump declare victory as a result of Monday's news. The President once claimed, of course, that Barack Obama ordered him wiretapped. Now it turns out that people working in the federal government while Obama was president ordered wiretaps of a person working for Trump. Not quite the same thing, but Breitbart is already glossing over the difference, and it's likely Trump will do the same. In the long term, however, the President should be very worried. Mueller is known to move fast, and he's clearly chosen his first quarry. We could literally be just days or weeks away from Manafort's having to choose between a long trial and a longer imprisonment, or flipping on his former boss.

The moment when the indictment is handed down is the starting shot for the 3D chess game to follow. In principle, Trump could issue an immediate pardon to preclude Manafort from spilling the beans. Unless, of course, Mueller has thought of this and has one or more state attorneys general ready to file state charges when he gives the signal. Presidents do not have the power to pardon people accused of state crimes. Or Trump could tell Manafort to keep quiet with the pardon coming later. Or any one of multiple other scenarios. (Z & V)

What Is Mueller Really Up to?

Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti has written a piece examining what is publicly known about special counsel Robert Mueller's activities and where they may be leading. He starts out by noting that, as a prosecutor, Mueller is not interested in general themes like "Trump's campaign colluded with the Russians." He is interested in whether any specific individuals violated any specific statutes. Mariotti expects any charges to be against individuals, rather than groups, unless the charge is conspiracy.

The person in the most danger is Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. Mueller clearly thinks he has the goods on Manafort (see above). The crime might not have been related to Russia. It could be something more mundane, like making false statements on some official form or failing to register as a foreign agent. These are much easier to prove and could help flip Manafort to get him to tell what he knows, especially if he can be charged with a state crime, for which the president can't pardon him.

The same is true of former NSA Michael Flynn. He, too, could be charged with failing to register as a foreign agent. He may also have lied on official forms and may have evaded tax on payments he got from Russia.

Another area that Mueller seems to be very focused on is obstruction of justice. The centerpiece here is the firing of former FBI director James Comey. One of the things that stands out here is how fiercely Trump has reacted to Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from the case. This strongly suggests that Trump is deeply afraid of what Mueller may find, and wants the investigation stopped at all costs. This could help prove that Trump's intent in firing Comey was corrupt, which is necessary for an obstruction charge. If Trump fired Comey because he demanded that Comey wear only Trump-branded ties and Comey refused, that is perfectly legal. But firing him because Trump was afraid Comey might uncover a crime Trump (or someone in his circle) had previously committed is obstruction and a felony.

The meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort with several Russians in Trump Tower in 2016 is also an area Mueller is clearly looking at. To bring charges, Mueller would have to prove there was a conspiracy to commit a crime. Agreeing to perform an official act (such as lifting sanctions) in return for something of value (such as information) is a crime. So is receiving stolen property (such as hacked information).

Finally, there is the whole money laundering investigation. Mueller has four prosecutors on his team whose focus is money laundering. Money laundering is difficult to prove and the banks through which it was done tend not to be very cooperative, but Mueller is clearly looking very hard at the issue. Whether he can find enough hard evidence to convince a jury is not known yet. In any event, Mueller would look foolish in charging people who are later found not guilty by a jury, so he is likely to be somewhat conservative and bring charges only when he is confident he can get a conviction. (V)

Trump Wants Military Parade on Fourth of July

As part of this week's meet and greets at the U.N., Donald Trump had a chat with French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday. The last time they met, it was in Paris, and Trump was present to witness a huge military parade in honor of Bastille Day, and of the 100th anniversary of the United States' entry into World War I. Trump can't stop talking about the parade, and told Macron and his aides on Monday that he wants to do the same in Washington next Fourth of July. The French President laughed merrily, but it was clear to observers that Trump—who is obsessed with displays of military strength—wasn't joking.

Thus far, the leaders of the Department of Defense have had no comment about Trump's wishes, though it is fairly clear they are not enthused. One likely concern is logistics; there aren't enough military personnel stationed in and around Washington to execute Trump's vision, unless they want to start dragging people out of their beds at Walter Reed, and putting the civilians at the Pentagon in uniform. So, getting the necessary number of soldiers and sailors to D.C. would be difficult and costly.

They might also be concerned about the optics of something like this; it's a certain kind of leader that wants parades like this (Hint: It's not a coincidence that the first scene of Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will is a military parade). Kim Jong-un has been known to enjoy a nice military parade as well, and so did Benito Mussolini. It's true that France is not led by a crazy dictator at the moment, but when the Bastille Day parade started in 1880, the French were desperately trying to show off their military might after being trounced by the Germans in the Franco-Prussian War. Point is, the parade is not a great idea, so expect Defense Secretary James Mattis to steer the President toward a nice Fourth of July barbecue and round of golf at his resort in New Jersey, or something else a bit less...fascist. (Z)

Clinton Won't Rule Out Challenging the Legitimacy of Trump's Victory

When Hillary Clinton was asked yesterday if she would challenge Donald Trump's victory in 2016 if Robert Mueller showed beyond a doubt that the Russians corrupted the election, she answered that she would not rule out such a challenge. But she also said that legally "I just don't think we have a mechanism for a challenge of the 2016 election's legitimacy."

Needless to say, if Mueller can show that the Russian interference in the election was enough to change the results, that would bring the U.S. to the verge of a full-fledged constitutional crisis. The proof would have to be of the form that, absent the Russian interference, Clinton would have won. For example, Trump won Michigan by 11,000 votes. If Mueller could demonstrate that Russian hackers deleted 20,000 voters from the Michigan rolls in precincts that voted 90% for Clinton, that would be statistical evidence that the Russians changed the net results by 16,000 votes in Trump's favor, and thus handed him Michigan's 16 electoral votes. If he could show that for Wisconsin and Pennsylvania as well, that would be clear evidence that the Russian interference changed the election results. Of course, this is an extremely tall order for Mueller, and it is not known whether he is even looking at this. Even if he is and could show that Trump's election was completely tainted, what then? Once Congress has counted and certified the electoral votes, there is no mechanism to change the results, short of Congress impeaching and convicting both the president and vice president and installing Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) as president. And that would be extremely difficult to do unless Mueller could show that both Trump and Pence had committed crimes aiding the Russians. (V)

Democrats Fear that Relitigating the Primary Will Hurt Them in 2020

With the publication of Hillary Clinton's book, the battle between her supporters and those of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has become close to an all-out war, and may hurt the Democrats going forward. Clinton said: "He didn't get into the race to make sure a Democrat won the White House, he got in to disrupt the Democratic Party." In her view, Sanders' sin was not moving quickly to unify the party once it was clear he couldn't get 50% + 1 of the delegates to the convention. On Sunday, Sanders fired back with: "I worked as hard as I could after endorsing Hillary Clinton." That is objectively true. In the final week of the campaign, he appeared at 17 events in 11 key states for Clinton.

Some people, including Prof. Julian Zelizer of Princeton, say it is a good thing for the Democrats to be dealing with this bitterness now rather than in 2020. When crafting their program for 2018 and 2020, they can put in items that please both camps. But it is very unlikely that the 2018 or 2020 party platform will be a copy of either Sanders' platform or Clinton's. The party is still too divided for that, and neither side can force its will on the other one. And if it could, the losers would probably just go off and sulk. (V)

Did Moore Have a "Macaca" Moment?

The good thing about campaigning is that it allows a candidate to pick up a few more votes, votes that could be the difference between a win and a loss. The bad thing is that it affords plenty of opportunities for a candidate to really step in it. The risk of the latter is particularly great if the candidate has limited experience as a politician and/or a public speaker, and if he has some less-than-savory ideas rolling around in his head, just waiting to slip out. Richard "rapes are a part of God's plan" Mourdock, Todd "legitimate rape" Akin, and George "macaca" Allen are among the politicians who threw away winnable elections with a slip of the tongue.

Roy Moore, now running for the Senate in Alabama, is a prime candidate for this kind of screw-up. He's ultra-conservative and is, shall we say, not exactly a progressive on things like race and gender issues. He's also spent his entire professional career as a judge, a job in which he could pretty much say anything he pleased, and had no need to edit himself. So, it's unsurprising that he managed to insert foot squarely in mouth at a campaign rally on Monday, declaring:

Now we have blacks and whites fighting, reds and yellows fighting, Democrats and Republicans fighting, men and women fighting. What's going to unite us? What's going to bring us back together? A president? A Congress? No. It's going to be God.

The theology here is a bit of a head-scratcher, of course, since it's unclear (1) why God would step in and heal the country in 2018 when he chose not to do so in 2017 or 2016, and (2) why the voters should send Moore to Congress, since Congress apparently doesn't matter, anyhow. But, of course, the theology isn't the real problem here, it's the bit about "reds and yellows" fighting. If Moore had gone with "reds and whites," he might have semi-plausibly argued he was talking about various types of communists. But that particular pairing, particularly right after "blacks and whites," certainly suggests he meant Native Americans and Asians. Which, if correct, means that he has just used words that have been considered offensive racial slurs since right around the time John Wayne stopped making movies. It also means that Moore is apparently aware of conflict between the two ethnic groups that has escaped the notice of everyone else in the country.

Already, Moore is trying to excuse himself, except that his explanation may actually make things worse. He says he was not taking about race, and instead was riffing on a religious song called ""Jesus Loves the Little Children." That song was written 150 years ago, and the lyric that Moore borrowed is "Jesus loves the little children/ All the children of the world/Red, brown, yellow/Black and white." That is even worse than Moore's formulation, and if he's claiming he did not understand that the original song was using archaic language to reference different races, then he's either a liar or he is so naive that he has no business in the U.S. Senate.

Of course, it doesn't matter if a bunch of pinkos in blue states are purple with rage about a politically green white man like Moore using "red" and "yellow" and "brown" in a manner that really should be a black mark on his record. Only the voters of Alabama matter; we'll see what they think in seven days. (Z)

Menendez Trial Proceeding at a Snail's Pace

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) is on trial for fraud and corruption right now, and things are moving very, very slowly. The reason they are moving so slowly is that the Senator's lawyers are finding every excuse to drag things out. For example, they argue for hours about whether particular items of evidence should be admitted. They have also managed to secure adjournments for Jewish holidays, an interesting concession for the Catholic Menendez. Inasmuch as the fall is prime-time for Jewish religious observances, that alone will extend the trial by a couple of weeks. Already, Judge William Walls and the members of the jury are both showing their impatience with the various stalling tactics.

The game being played by Menendez's lawyers is evident, and it's not about generating as many billable hours as is possible (although that's undoubtedly a bonus for the councillors). The longer they can drag this out, the longer it will be until there is a verdict, and then an appeal (if necessary). The fuzzier that Menedez's future is, the harder it will be for the Senate to take action against him, including expelling him. As long as he can hold on to his seat (no pun intended) until January 16, then his hypothetical replacement will be chosen by the next governor of New Jersey, and that is likely to be Phil Murphy (D), who is currently leading in polls by 20-25 points. Indeed, one wonders if Menendez's lawyers are sending their bills straight to the DNC. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Sep18 Trump Voters Want Him to Tell U.N.: America Comes First
Sep18 A New Travel Ban Is Likely Coming
Sep18 So Much for Trump's Twitter Discipline
Sep18 Trump's Lawyers Aren't Getting Along
Sep18 The Customer Base of Trump's Businesses Is Changing
Sep18 Trump's Immigration Policies Could Wreak Havoc in Idaho
Sep18 Rex Tillerson: The Loneliest Ranger
Sep18 Emmys Have a Strong Anti-Trump Flavor
Sep17 Trump's Decisions Not Exactly Etched in Stone
Sep17 Trump Won't Get Most of His Budget Cuts
Sep17 Pence Loses His Press Secretary
Sep17 It's Definitely Trump vs. Bannon in Alabama
Sep17 Don't Tell the President Which Washington Rally Had the Higher Attendance
Sep17 Trump Associates on Their Own When it Comes to Legal Costs
Sep17 California Declares Itself a "Sanctuary State"
Sep16 Trump: Build the Wall Later
Sep16 Trump is Successfully Killing Obamacare
Sep16 Republicans Still Pushing Their Hail Mary on Health Care
Sep16 Hatch: Tax Reform Is harder than Health Care
Sep16 Trump Lashes Out at ESPN
Sep16 California Wants Trump's Tax Returns
Sep16 McCain Is Acting Mavericky
Sep16 The Heat is on Facebook
Sep16 Mueller Hires Another Lawyer
Sep15 Trump and Democrats Confirm They Reached a Deal on the Dreamers
Sep15 Trump May Need a Couple of Democrats for Tax Reform
Sep15 Trump Administration a Tad Bit Dysfunctional
Sep15 Why Is Trump Trolling Conservatives?
Sep15 Trump Still Believes Both Sides in Charlottesville Had Bad Dudes
Sep15 Trump Denounces Sanders' Single-Payer Bill
Sep15 Roy Moore Suggested 9/11 Was Divine Punishment
Sep14 Mueller's Focus on Social Media is Red Hot
Sep14 The Flynns Are Pretty Hot, Too
Sep14 Conservatives Now Worry about Chuck & Nancy & Steve & Gary
Sep14 Trump, Democrats Reach DACA Deal...Or Not
Sep14 Mnuchin, Sanders Both Step in It
Sep14 Flake Is in Deep Trouble
Sep14 Federal Government Will Stop Using Russian Security Software
Sep14 Clinton Hits a Dozen People in Her Book
Sep14 Spicer Gives First Interview, to Jimmy Kimmel
Sep13 Lawyers Are Telling Trump Aides to Tell the Truth
Sep13 Flynn to Senate Intelligence Committee: Thanks, But No Thanks
Sep13 Trump Tries to Win Over Three Democrats on Tax Reform
Sep13 Sanders to Release His Single-Payer Health-Care Bill Today
Sep13 Graham and Cassidy to Make One Last Try at Obamacare Repeal Today
Sep13 Trump's Voter-Fraud Commission Comes Under Fire in New Hampshire
Sep13 Congress Passes Resolution on White Supremacy for Trump to Sign
Sep13 Ryan and Pelosi Working Together on DACA
Sep13 Democrat Wins in Oklahoma
Sep12 Sanctions for North Korea