Dem 49
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GOP 51
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New polls:  
Dem pickups vs. 2012: (None)
GOP pickups vs. 2012: (None)

FBI Fires Peter Strzok

Yesterday the FBI fired Peter Strzok, an agent who was involved with investigating both Hillary Clinton's emails and Russiagate. His "crime" was sending numerous anti-Trump emails to his lover, another FBI agent. The FBI office that normally handles employee discipline had decided that Strzok, a 22-year veteran of the Bureau, should face only a demotion and a 60-day suspension. However, FBI Deputy Director David Bowditch caved to political pressure and terminated Strzok instead of following the normal procedure.

FBI agents, like all law-enforcement officers, are entitled to have their personal political opinions, but are expected to keep them separate from their work. Although Strzok didn't like Trump, he also didn't like Hillary Clinton. In fact, he was the author of the letter that then-FBI-director James Comey sent to Congress 11 days before the election announcing "More emails!" Some political observers think that this announcement cost Clinton the election.

Since the firing was done by the deputy director, it is unlikely that there is any way for Strzok to get his job back. Still, he's going to try, it would appear. Shortly after news of his firing broke, a GoFundMe page was established to help him cover his legal costs and lost income. In the first 16 hours, it raised more than $200,000.

Strzok is not the first FBI official to be fired for political reasons. Earlier this year, former deputy director Andrew McCabe was fired the day before his scheduled retirement, a move that cost him much of his pension. And then there is James Comey, of course, who was the first high-profile FBI firing of the Trump administration. Up until this year, the FBI managed to keep above politics, but those days are apparently over now. The new (Nixonian?) model is that law enforcement is expected to protect the president and go after his enemies. (V)

Prosecution Rests Its Case in the Manafort Trial

The last of more than two dozen prosecution witnesses testified yesterday in the Virginia trial of Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort. The final witness was James Brennan, an executive at Federal Savings Bank, who testified that the bank got false documents when Manafort applied for a loan. He was opposed to the loan, but the bank's CEO, Stephen Calk, overruled him and granted it, likely because Manafort had floated a possible cabinet position or ambassadorship in front of Calk. Calk even sent Manafort a list of potential "Perspective rolls" (sic) that he might fill in the Trump administration, including Secretary of the Treasury, Commerce, or Defense, or Ambassador to the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, China, or the United Nations. In short, Calk was open to any of the 10 or so most plum postings the U.S. government has to offer.

Together, the prosecution's witnesses painted a picture of someone who earned millions for helping pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians, stashed the cash in 31 off-shore bank accounts (mostly in Cyprus), and failed to pay taxes on at least $16 million of it. Manafort used the money by having it wired directly to stores where he bought tailored suits, cars, antique rugs, ostrich jackets, and other luxury goods, as well as real estate. When the well ran dry, Manafort took to falsifying documents to get loans from banks.

Once the prosecution wrapped up its case, the defense promptly asked that some of the charges be dismissed, arguing that Calk's bank could not have been defrauded if Calk himself wanted Manafort to have the loans. This kind of "Hail Mary" pass is common at this phase of criminal trials, and is not often granted. Judge T.S. Ellis will make his decision first thing Tuesday morning.

Only defense counsel knows what their plans are, but it's possible they will call no witnesses at all, and will just hope that they managed to do a good job of undermining the prosecution's witnesses. Even if they do call witnesses, it is unlikely that Manafort will be one of them. If he takes the stand, he would get raked over the coals by the prosecution as they asked him to account for all of the funny business they presented over the last two weeks. Further, anything Manafort said would be used against him in his second trial.

If the defense does not call any witnesses of its own, then it will be time for closing statements. Both sides want two hours, which Ellis granted, while warning them that length is pushing the bounds of acceptability, and that there is a reason that television shows are 30 minutes long. So, it is possible the case could go to the jury as early as this afternoon. (V & Z)

Stone Says He Won't Testify Against Trump

Special Counsel Robert Mueller operates in secrecy, as well he should. Nonetheless, there are certain details about his activities that are publicly known, primarily things revealed in court filings. And, based on the available evidence, it is fairly clear that one of the current targets of the investigation is Roger Stone, friend and confidant to Donald Trump, and the alleged connector between the campaign and Wikileaks.

Stone talked to CNN on Monday, and said that if he does end up in the Special Counsel's crosshairs, he might be willing to have a chat, but he will never testify against the President in court:

There is no circumstance in which I intend to be pressured in order to testify against the president. First of all, I have nothing that I could say about him that would be negative. Secondarily, I'm just not going to do that. I wouldn't rule out cooperating with the special counsel if I can be helpful in some area, but there's no circumstance under which I would testify against the president.

At the moment, this means next to nothing. There's no downside for Stone when it comes to doing a little posturing, and there's no particular pressure on him to flip right now. If and when he finds himself in hot water, and once he has a better sense of what the evidence is against him, and if and when he's potentially staring at a lengthy prison sentence, then we shall see what his position is. He could stick to his guns, a la Paul Manafort, but the list of Trump loyalists who proved to be not so loyal once the heat was on is a long one. (Z)

Omarosa Keeps Dishing

Speaking of former Trump loyalists, Omarosa Manigault Newman is making sure to keep her name in the headlines as her book goes on sale. It's currently #1 in its category on Amazon, which is, interestingly enough, "Russian & Former Soviet Union Politics."

On Tuesday, the ex-Trump staffer released another brief recording, this one reportedly of the President's response to her firing. Trump says, "Omarosa, what's going on? I just saw on the news that you're thinking about leaving?" When she explains that Chief of Staff John Kelly had already cashiered her, Trump responded, "You know, they run a big operation, but I didn't know it, I didn't know that. Goddamn it!" Assuming that the recording is what Manigault Newman says it is, then either Trump has little idea of what is happening with his own staff, or he was lying to avoid taking responsibility for the termination.

In any case, the book and the publicity tour have clearly gotten under the President's skin, because he unloaded on Twitter on Monday:

These three tweets, which would seem to run contrary to Trump's promise that he only hires "the best people," came fairly early Monday. They were followed by two more just before bedtime:

Clearly, the President will have visions of Omarosa dancing in his head as he sleeps tonight. Perhaps his over-the-top insistence of his innocence has a positive impact on the base, though they probably don't need any encouragement to choose Trump over Manigault Newman. For everyone else, though, the tweets just serve to give the whole story more oxygen, and to make the President look guilty. Either he does not realize that, or he does not care.

It's very possible we have heard all the recordings that Manigault Newman has to offer. Thus far, it certainly looks like she only started pushing 'record' on her iPhone after she knew the ax was about to fall. Still, she's very good at generating publicity, so the story will live on for a while longer. Especially if she's telling the truth that Special Counsel Robert Mueller wants to talk to her.

Meanwhile, there is much paranoia in the White House, from Trump on down, that other folks may also have made a recording or ten. Normally, a president's staffers would never consider doing something so sleazy, but this is not a normal situation. And even if folks were not previously making recordings, the "inspiration" of Michael Cohen and Omarosa may just put the idea in their heads (although most White House employees these days are reportedly required to surrender their cell phones when they get to work). In short, a workplace that was already a pressure cooker just had the temperature turned up a bit more. (Z)

Team Trump Decides on a New Flynn Narrative

One day, a very interesting book will be written about the relationship between Donald Trump and his legal team, particularly his television lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. Perhaps Giuliani is a grand master of manipulation, expertly muddying the waters, and making it hard for anyone to pin anything to his client. Or maybe he's an aging, out-of-practice former prosecutor and politician who knows a little bit about managing the political fallout from scandals, but little about managing the legal fallout, and even less about mounting an actual criminal defense.

In any event, Giuliani spoke to CNN's Jake Tapper and unveiled a brand-new version of the events surrounding former NSA Michael Flynn, and Trump's alleged efforts to get then-FBI director James Comey to back off his investigation of Flynn:

There was no conversation about Michael Flynn. The President didn't find out that Comey believed there was until about, I think, it was February when it supposedly took place. Memo came out in May. And in between, Comey testified under oath, in no way had he been obstructed at any time. Then all of the sudden in May he says he felt obstructed. He felt pressured by that comment, 'you should go easy on Flynn.' So we maintain the President didn't say that.

This runs rather contrary to Comey's version of events. A version that, let us not forget, he made a point of telling colleagues about and documenting in a memo immediately following his meeting with Trump.

There are really only two questions that it would be nice to see Giuliani answer in response to this new revelation: (1) Why did it take over a year for the President to "remember" this version of events? and (2) If there is a situation where a jury or a judge is being asked to decide who is telling the truth in a "he said, he said" situation, are they more likely to believe the decorated former FBI director who carefully documented his version of events, or the fellow who is about to tell his 5,000th lie as president? (Z)

Florida Might Have a Red Tide Instead of a Blue Wave

Daniel Smith, a political scientist at the University of Florida who studies the state's voter rolls, has looked at the data and concluded that so far, there is no evidence of an emerging blue wave in the Sunshine State. In particular, the Democrats were hoping that many more Democrats, especially Latinos and young voters, would register in large numbers prior to the state's Aug. 28 primary. The data show that it hasn't happened. In a way it is not surprising, since Democrats are notorious for not voting in midterm elections. Since Florida does not allow last-minute registrations, the results are final, at least for the primary.

At the moment, 37% of registered voters in Florida are Democrats and 35% are Republicans. About 17% of Democrats are Latino, a 1-point increase since 2016, despite the fact that something like 300,000 Puerto Ricans now live in Florida, many of them recent arrivals after the hurricanes that devastated the island. Registration of black voters is down a point from 2016 at 28% of the total. In contrast, Florida Republicans are overwhelmingly (83%) white. Republicans are also older than Democrats, and older voters have a much higher turnout percentage than younger voters. In short, Florida is becoming Alabama.

As of yesterday, 47% of the 572,000 absentee ballots cast in the primary were from Republicans and 39% were from Democrats. This 8-point margin for the GOP is 2 points better than it was 15 days before the 2016 election. However, on election day, the turnout tends to favor the Democrats because many Republicans have cast early ballots.

After the primary is over, both parties will start massive voter registration drives. There, the Democrats have an advantage because there are so many potential Democrats in the state who are not registered. A much larger percentage of Republicans are already registered, so there is less room for growth. Nevertheless, getting people registered and to the polls has always been the Democrats' Achilles heel in midterm years. For example, typically 20-25% of Democrats under 30 who could vote actually do. (V)

Political Spending at Trump's Properties Is $3.5 Million Since His Inauguration

During the entire 2-year 2014 election cycle, candidates and political groups spent a grand total of $35,000 at all of Donald Trump's properties, including hotels, golf clubs, and more. Since he was sworn in as president, political spending at his properties has jumped to $3.5 million. That is an increase of 10,000%. Alan Zibel, the research director at Public Citizens Corporate Presidency Project, said that the spending is effectively tribute to the head of the Republican Party. Such spending by Americans is ethically questionable but probably legal. Spending by foreign governments, however, might violate the Constitution's emoluments clause. A lawsuit by the attorneys general of D.C. and Maryland is accusing Trump of precisely that, but is only in its early stages.

The Trump properties that have taken in the most political spending are Trump's hotel in D.C. and the Trump National Doral in Miami, each with $1 million this cycle. The Mar-a-Lago club in Florida has taken in $370,000 in political spending. The biggest spenders are the Republican Party committees, including the RNC, NRSC, and RGA, as well as Trump's campaign. The legality of the latter is questionable, since when the campaign spends money at a Trump property, effectively donors' money is going into Trump's pocket, which is illegal.

Republican candidates have also gotten into the act, spending money at Trump's properties. The top three are Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), Rep. Roger Williams (R-TX), and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR). Whether their patronage has led to their getting any special favors from Trump is not known. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Aug13 Omarosa: Trump Is a Racist
Aug13 Hawaii Chooses the Democrats Who Will Be Elected in November
Aug13 Four States to Vote on Tuesday
Aug13 A Year Later, What Is the Lesson from Charlottesville?
Aug13 Charlottesville, Part II Fizzles
Aug13 Over 100 Newspapers Will Fight Back on Trump's Attacking the Media
Aug13 The Trump Jr. Follies Continue
Aug12 Omarosa Was Telling the Truth about the Hush Money
Aug12 Charlottesville Back on Deck Today
Aug12 Chris Collins Will End Re-Election Bid
Aug12 Today's Swamp News, Part I: Wilbur Ross the Grifter
Aug12 Today's Swamp News, Part II: Who's Really Running the VA?
Aug12 Realignment Was on Full Display in Ohio Special Election
Aug12 Paul Ryan Nears the End of the Line
Aug11 Sarah Huckabee Sanders Slams Omarosa Manigault-Newman's Not-Yet-Published Book
Aug11 Manafort Trial: Judge's Errors, Mystery Conference
Aug11 Trump Uses Market Pain to Get His Way around the World
Aug11 Unfortunately, Market Pain Doesn't Work with North Korea
Aug11 Judge Holds Roger Stone's Aide in Contempt of Court
Aug11 Trump vs. NFL Enters Year Two
Aug11 National Republicans Want Trump to Endorse Martha McSally
Aug11 Cruz Is Getting Nervous
Aug10 Devin Nunes: GOP Has to Keep the House to Protect Trump
Aug10 Pence Announces "Space Force" Proposal
Aug10 Kobach's Lead Is Cut in Half
Aug10 Morrisey Is Struggling against Manchin
Aug10 Democrats Still Don't Get the White Working Class
Aug10 Time for Pelosi to Go?
Aug10 Bill Nelson Claims that Russians Have Penetrated Florida Voter Registration Systems
Aug10 "Chain Migration" Is Alive and Well
Aug09 Takeaways from Tuesday's Elections
Aug09 Gates' Testimony Concludes, Bank Fraud Likely to Be Next Up in Manafort Trial
Aug09 Michael Cohen Isn't the Only One with a Tape Recorder
Aug09 China Makes Tit-for-Tat Official
Aug09 Trump Administration Hits Russia with More Sanctions
Aug09 As Many as 66 Republican Districts Could Flip
Aug09 Why Trump Wants to Talk to Mueller
Aug09 Republican Congressman Is Charged with Securities Fraud
Aug09 Republicans Are Worried about Losses in State Legislatures
Aug09 Which Trifectas Are Within Reach for the Democrats?
Aug08 Overall, a Solid Night for the Democrats
Aug08 Gates Continues to Dish on Manafort
Aug08 Next Round of Tariffs on Chinese Goods Revealed
Aug08 Cohen Is Under Investigation for Tax Fraud
Aug08 Trump Has Raised $135 Million, Much of it for His Reelection
Aug08 Corporations Have Discovered the Democrats
Aug08 Nearly Half of Republicans Want the President to Be Able to Ban News Outlets
Aug07 Gates Levels Manafort from the Witness Stand
Aug07 Trump Reinstates Some Sanctions on Iran
Aug07 Trump Endorses Kobach