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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Kim: No More Nuclear Tests
      •  Trump Defends Cohen
      •  How Helpful Will Giuliani Be?
      •  More Skeletons Emerge from Pruitt's Closet
      •  Greitens Indicted, Hawley Flailing
      •  Romney Finishes Second at Utah GOP Convention, Will Face Primary

Kim: No More Nuclear Tests

As his planned summit with Donald Trump draws nearer, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un made a seemingly major announcement Friday: "[W]e no longer need any nuclear tests, mid-range and intercontinental ballistic rocket tests, and that the nuclear test site in northern area has also completed its mission." Kim also made clear this week that he can tolerate cooperation between the American and South Korean militaries, and that he does not require that US troops leave the Korean Peninsula.

On the surface, this appears to be a pretty big step forward, and a pretty big concession from Kim. How are we to make sense of this new development? A number of theories present themselves:

  • Trumpboat Diplomacy Works: The most flattering interpretation of events is that Donald Trump's blustery diplomacy-by-Twitter, along with the occasional secret visit to North Korea by Mike Pompeo, is working. Kim is either spooked, or at least thinks that this is an administration he can work with.

  • China: This one might actually be labeled "Trumpboat Diplomacy Works, Part II." Everyone knows that China is propping Kim up and keeping his regime viable. Possibly, Trump's willingness to launch a trade war with China has discomfited them, and their "please don't hit us with tariffs" offering to the Trump administration is to throw Kim under the bus.

  • PR Battle: Earlier this week, Trump made a point of announcing that he is willing to walk away from the negotiating table if things aren't going well. The only purpose of this was to minimize the PR damage if he has to do just that in May (or June). "Hey, I was willing to talk," Trump will say. As dictator-for-life, Kim does not have to worry about voters. However, he does have to worry about international opinion a little bit, particularly the opinion of the aforementioned Chinese. So, there's a good chance that Kim's announcement was a preemptive PR strike in case the negotiations go south. "Hey, I was willing to make concessions," Kim will say.

  • Desperation: Everyone also knows that the North Korean economy is a mess. Instructive fact: Their annual GDP is one-quarter that of...the city of Los Angeles. Kim may finally be weary of trying to keep his barely-an-economy economy viable.

  • Gotcha!: Trump and Kim are making nice right now, and the President really seems to believe that these world leaders are his friends. They are not, and that is particularly true of Kim, who is just months removed from slurring Trump as the "dotard in chief," among other things. It's not likely that this whole summit thing is a put-on, but it is at least plausible that if things don't work out, Kim's backup plan could be to use the occasion to embarrass Trump. Imagine the PR damage the Donald would take, for example, if Kim conducted a nuclear test while the summit was still underway. And it's not too likely that Kim's Chinese benefactors would be all that upset about it. The other countries of the world wouldn't be willing to talk to Kim for a decade or more, but they already won't talk to him, so no major loss there.

These things are not mutually exclusive; it's possible that several of them are on or near the mark. However, it is worth noting that despite how things might appear, Kim hasn't actually given up all that much. The U.S. is going to keep troops in South Korea whether or not Kim approves, so he might as well concede the point. And North Korea hasn't conducted any nuclear tests since November, so he's "suspending" a program that was already suspended. Meanwhile, "no more nuclear tests" is not the same as "no more nuclear bombs," and no expert seriously believes Kim is going to be willing to give up the nukes he already has.

Meanwhile, those same experts expect that Kim is going to want some big concessions from the Trump administration. Like, a proper peace treaty with the U.S. (as opposed to the current arrangement, which is just an armistice). And full diplomatic recognition by Washington, along with generous economic and trade concessions. Trump might give these things, just to be able to proclaim a "win." On the other hand, he surely would grasp that the details will come out quickly, and that the base would not be happy with such concessions. So, nobody really knows what will happen, least of all the President. (Z)

Trump Defends Cohen

The big story of the week was Michael Cohen. And the weekend is when Donald Trump pitches fits on Twitter. Those two facts predictably resulted in this outpouring:

There's a line from the latest "Star Wars" film that we've already borrowed once or twice before because it could be the official motto of Trump's Twitter account: "Amazing. Every word of what you just said was wrong." Not everything in the tweets is disprovable, per se, but there's no question that the President is in "pants on fire" territory. Even if he misspelled her name in the original version of the tweet, Trump most certainly does talk to Haberman. He's done a number of high-profile interviews with her and, in fact, she's famously one of his favorite journalists to talk with. The "drunk/drugged up loser" is Sam Nunberg, who has indeed considered counseling for alcohol abuse. Whether it is appropriate or accurate to slur someone with alcohol issues as a drug addict and a loser is up to each reader to decide for themself.

Of course, the thrust of the tweets is that Trump has always liked and respected Cohen, and that reports of abusive and disrespectful behavior are off base. That is not as easily disprovable as the claim about Haberman. However, for Trump to be telling the truth, then two things would have to be the case: (1) Trump insider Roger Stone, who was the source for much of that information, was lying or else doesn't know what he's talking about, and (2) Trump, who treats every other underling (besides relatives and Hope Hicks) like crap, somehow made Cohen the one lackey he treats with respect. Not only that, Cohen is a lawyer, and a great many people—from AG Jeff Sessions to John Dowd—can attest to the Donald's tendency to be particularly hard on his lawyers.

In sum, the most plausible way to read these tweets is that Trump is scared to death, is regretting the way he treated Cohen in the past, and now is desperately trying to smooth things over. So desperate that he couldn't even wait until Barbara Bush's funeral—which he promised to watch from the supposed "Southern White House"—was over. Assuming that this reading is correct, then it must feel strange for Cohen to have the shoe on the other foot, and to be the one who is receiving rather than giving the rear-end kissing. However, he would have to be a very unusual man for a few tweets to make the difference between "I'm flipping on Trump" and "Sure, I'll be happy to do 20 to life." In other words, the ship has surely sailed when it comes to Cohen's true feelings about Trump, whatever they may be. (Z)

How Helpful Will Giuliani Be?

The other big news on the Donald Trump legal front this week, beyond Michael Cohen's ongoing woes, was that the President managed to hire several new attorneys, most notably Rudy Giuliani. The former New York mayor is certainly a big name, and his hiring made some headlines, but it's hard to see how he will actually be able to do much to help Trump.

The first problem, which we have already noted, is that Giuliani is not really qualified to provide the service that Trump needs. The former mayor is a former prosecutor, and not a former defense attorney. And that was 30 years ago. The only real "qualification" that Giuliani brings to the table, beyond being a Trump loyalist who is willing to go on TV and say just about anything, is that he has a friendly relationship with special counsel and former co-worked Robert Mueller. The concept is that Rudy can get coffee with Bob, and while they are drinking their iced blonde cold foam cappuccinos, persuade him to wrap this whole thing up pronto. Some are calling this plan a "Hail Mary pass" by the President, but that isn't quite right, because Hail Mary passes sometimes work. The real word for this plan is "delusional." You don't serve as FBI Director for 12 years without getting really good at detecting and ignoring this kind of manipulation. Particularly when hundreds of millions of people are watching your work. Even the Trump administration has accepted this, their preliminary budget for next year covers Mueller's team through the end of 2019.

The other problem with Giuliani, and arguably the bigger one, is that he's got conflicts of interest up the yin-yang. At the very least, as a key member of the Trump campaign and a Trump insider, he's going to be a person of interest for Mueller's investigation. In particular, the special counsel will likely want to know how Giuliani had access to insider information about Hillary Clinton's e-mails before it became public. In fact, it's not impossible that Giuliani could end up being indicted. The former mayor also has his fingerprints all over the Michael Flynn-Turkey situation, and depending on how carefully Mueller is looking at that, it could be another area of conflict. So the odds are that if and when Giuliani and Mueller meet, the special counsel is going to say something like, "Can't help you, old buddy, and—by the way—we really shouldn't be talking at all while the investigation is underway." (Z)

More Skeletons Emerge from Pruitt's Closet

There are a few politicians in American history whose venality was so great that they have become enduring symbols of corruption. Dick Nixon, of course. "Boss" William Magear Tweed. George Washington "Honest Graft" Plunkitt. Albert "Teapot Dome" Fall. And these days, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is doing his very best to join the list.

Pruitt, of course, has already been linked to all manner of bad behavior. Renting a room from husband-and-wife lobbyists who had business before the EPA. Illegally spending more than $30,000 on a soundproof booth for his office. Arranging and then misusing a 24-hour security detail. And now, some particularly shady dealings from the Administrator's past have come to light. Back in 2003, when he had a lightly-trafficked law practice and a seat in the Oklahoma state senate that paid $38,400 a year, he managed to purchase a luxury house in the posh part of Oklahoma City, including all of the antique furnishings. The seller, in what was surely a complete coincidence, was a telecommunications lobbyist with extensive business before the state legislature. The transaction was so clearly legitimate, and on the level, that Pruitt set up a shell corporation to make the purchase, and then did it in the name of one of his friends from law school. Clearly, he had nothing to hide.

That's all in the past, though, right? Not exactly. The friend whose name Pruitt used to buy the house—Kenneth Wegner—is now a high-ranking official with the EPA. Meanwhile, the banker who handled the transaction and approved the mortgage on the house, whose name is Albert Kelly, was eventually barred from working in the finance industry because of repeat violations of finance law. That means he needed a job, so—naturally enough—he is also a high-ranking employee of the EPA these days. It would certainly appear that the Administrator's mantra is, "You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours."

In any other administration, Republican or Democratic, Pruitt would have been out of a job by now. With Donald Trump, on the other hand, it's just a test case of exactly what the limits of his tolerance are. Clearly they haven't been reached; the question is if they will be before Pruitt is forced to leave his job—in handcuffs. (Z)

Greitens Indicted, Hawley Flailing

Embattled Missouri governor Eric Greitens, who is enmeshed in the mother of all sex scandals, and one of the rare sex scandals that could result in actual prison time, has been indicted. Not for his sexual habits, however, but for his misuse of a mailing list he effectively stole from a veterans' charity. Normally, being indicted is a very bad sign for a politician. And Greitens is almost certainly a dead man walking—within the next six months, he will likely resign, be impeached, or be imprisoned. However, the indictment is much more about another politician, namely Attorney General Josh Hawley, who issued it.

As we noted yesterday, specifically in the case of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), it's not easy for a Republican to run in a state like Texas or Missouri, where some GOP voters really love Trump, and others (along with most independents) really hate the President. Cruz, for his part, is trying to pretend he's on both sides. Hawley, by contrast, seems to have decided that he's just going to run against the unpopular Greitens. Whether that will work is anyone's guess, though Hawley's Democratic opponent, Sen. Claire McCaskill, is not likely to let him hold Trump (or Greitens) at arm's length.

Meanwhile, Hawley's fundraising situation is a mess. McCaskill outraised him 2-to-1 in Q1 2018, and she has more than five times as much money in the bank ($11.5 million) as he does ($2.1 million). Hawley has just retooled his entire fundraising team, bringing in former Trump aide Katie Walsh. However, up against a sitting senator in a potential wave year, that gap might be insurmountable, particularly if the NRSC decides Hawley is a lost cause. (Z)

Romney Finishes Second at Utah GOP Convention, Will Face Primary

When Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) announced his retirement and Mitt Romney threw his hat in the ring, just about everyone was ready to swear in Sen. Romney right then. Not so fast, as it turns out. The Utah GOP is holding its convention this weekend, and not only did they decide not to give Romney the 60% of their votes needed to avoid a primary contest, they didn't even give him the most votes. He finished a close second to Utah state representative Mike Kennedy.

According to insiders, this result was primarily an expression of party activists' irritation with Romney. In a dispute that somewhat mirrors the Democrats wrestling over superdelegates, the Utah GOP is deciding whether or not to nominate candidates in convention (i.e., party insiders), or via the collection of signatures (i.e., regular voters). Romney pursued both paths, and apparently aggravated some party insiders with his signature-collecting. So, they punished him by withholding their support.

Still, finishing in second place and needing to win a primary (in 60 days) is not a good thing for a one-time presidential nominee. Further, he's got an even worse version of the problem that Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz face (see above). Although the Beehive State is ruby red, Donald Trump's approval ratings are all over the place. He was at 58% approve, 31% disapprove in January, giving him a net of +17%. Now, he's at 45% approve, 51% disapprove, for a net of -6%. What does Romney, who is already not known for having a spine, do with that? The answer is that he's going to adopt a Ted Cruz-style "have it both ways" approach. In an interview with CNN, Romney said that he basically approves of Trump's policies, but not his approach, and that when it comes to supporting Trump in 2020, "I will make that decision down the road."

It would be a strange world in which Utah's Senate seat is in play, and we are certainly not there yet. But there is now a sequence of events that makes that plausible. If Kennedy holds Trump close, and Romney flip-flops around and costs himself the nomination, then the anti-Trump Utahns might have to decide which poison is worse: another pro-Trump senator, or a moderate Democrat. For what it's worth, the likely Democrat is Jenny Wilson, who is a Mormon and is well known in Salt Lake City, given her service on the city council. Just maybe, this one could get interesting. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr21 DNC Sues the Trump Campaign, Russia, and Wikileaks
Apr21 Sessions: If Rosenstein Goes, I Might Too
Apr21 Trump Treated Cohen Like Garbage
Apr21 Cohen Reportedly Owes Back Taxes
Apr21 Why Did Trump Hire Giuliani as a Lawyer?
Apr21 Daniels and McDougal's Former Lawyer Cooperating with Cohen Probe
Apr21 Could Trump Be Defeated in the 2020 Primary?
Apr21 Cruz Walks a Thin Line
Apr20 Comey Memos Released
Apr20 Trump Finally Has a New Lawyer
Apr20 Trade War Continues to Develop
Apr20 Trump Says He's Willing to Walk Out on Kim
Apr20 Democrats Are Getting Involved in the West Virginia Senatorial Primary
Apr20 House Democrats Are Raising More Money Than House Republicans
Apr20 Independent Candidate Shakes Up Illinois Governor's Race
Apr19 McConnell Won't Bring Up Legislation to Protect Mueller
Apr19 Schneiderman Is Asking for a Change in the Law So He Can Prosecute Pardonees
Apr19 Cohen Might Not Take a Bullet for Trump
Apr19 Democrats Get Good News in Senate Races
Apr19 Republicans Are Trying to Save McCain's Seat
Apr19 McDougal Is Free to Tell Her Story
Apr19 Melania Trump to Attend Bush Funeral
Apr18 Pompeo Met with Kim
Apr18 Nikki Haley Isn't Jeff Sessions
Apr18 Republicans Book the First $48 Million Worth of Ads for House Races
Apr18 Joe Crowley Would Like to Be Speaker of the House
Apr18 Charlie Dent Will Retire from the House
Apr18 More Trouble for Greitens
Apr18 What Would Francisco Do?
Apr18 What Would Francis Do?
Apr18 Barbara Bush Dead at 92
Apr17 Cohen, Hannity Have a Bad Day in Court
Apr17 Tensions Rise in House Due to Ryan's Refusal to Step Down Immediately
Apr17 More Trouble for Pruitt
Apr17 Joe Biden: Yoo Hoo, I'm Still Here and Maybe I'm Running in 2020
Apr17 Republicans Are Gaining in Generic House Poll
Apr17 Democrats May Flip House Seats in New Jersey
Apr17 Another Top Lawyer Turns Down Trump
Apr16 Comey Unloads on Trump
Apr16 RNC Will Spend $250 Million to Keep the House Majority
Apr16 Secret Super PAC Attacks Blankenship in West Virginia Senate Primary
Apr16 Trump's Approval Is Back Up
Apr16 Trump's Fundraising Is Going Well
Apr16 Pence's NSA Pick Withdraws
Apr16 Cohen's "Fixing" Appears to Be a Family Affair, Especially for Family Affairs
Apr16 What Could the Democrats Do If They Decided to Play Dirty in the Future?
Apr15 Syria: The Aftermath
Apr15 Comey Thought Clinton Was Going to Win
Apr15 Consumer Protection Bureau Not Doing Any Protecting
Apr15 Cohen: I've Never Been to Prague