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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Why Did Don McGahn Stop Trump from Firing Mueller?
      •  Five Takeaways from McGahngate
      •  Trump Turns His Sights on Rosenstein
      •  Six Words That Could Sink Trump
      •  Trump Delivers Two Messages at Davos
      •  Trump's Immigration Plan Hits Strong Resistance
      •  Today's Sexual Misconduct News
      •  It's War in the State Department

Why Did Don McGahn Stop Trump from Firing Mueller?

After the New York Times bombshell that Donald Trump ordered White House counsel Don McGahn to arrange for special counsel Robert Mueller to be fired but McGahn refused, the Washington Post confirmed the story and so did CNN. At this point, there is almost no doubt that Trump did try and fail to get rid of Mueller last June, even though Trump denied it yesterday. So the next question is: "Who leaked the story?" followed by "Why did McGahn refuse to carry out Trump's order?"

We don't know who was the leaker, but this is not the kind of thing that gets discussed in cabinet meetings. Most likely, Trump simply called McGahn into the Oval Office and gave him the order. There is a pretty good chance that only a handful of people knew about it, with McGahn a strong candidate for being the leaker. But why was the information leaked? Jeremy Stahl at Slate has several theories:

  • McGahn wanted a huge firestorm to prevent Trump from trying again, since he (McGahn) knows the consequences
  • Possibly McGahn was signaling Mueller that he is willing to cooperate, although this is a bit far-fetched
  • Steve Bannon might have known and has plenty of reasons to want to damage Trump

And then we get to the question: "Why would McGahn, a long-time Republican lawyer, want to save Mueller?" Some possibilities:

  • McGahn might have thought that firing Mueller would lead to certain impeachment and conviction
  • He might have thought we would get a constitutional crisis that could be unmanageable
  • McGahn might actually believe in the rule of law and not want to go down in history as the villain in this story
  • He might have been afraid that if he did it, some day he would be indicted for obstruction of justice

We don't know now but maybe we will some day. One thing for sure is that when the movie of this sordid affair is made some years hence, McGahn won't be played by Robert Redford because Redford is 81 and McGahn is 49. (V)

Five Takeaways from McGahngate

James Hohmann at the Washington Post has five takeaways from this still-developing story:

  • The botched firing helps Mueller: Robert Mueller is certainly examining a possible obstruction of justice charge against Donald Trump but that requires proving a "corrupt intent." There is no smoking gun, as far as we know, but as the pieces fall into place, the case gets stronger. Trump told former FBI Director James Comey to lay off Flynn, then he fired Comey, then he tried to fire Mueller. It all adds up. The fact that McGahn threatened to resign probably means McGahn thought Trump wanted to obstruct justice and he didn't want to play a role in it.

  • No reporter will believe anything from the White House any more: Last August, when asked if he was considering firing Mueller, Trump said he hadn't thought about it. That was a flat-out lie. Also in August, Kellyanne Conway told ABC's George Stephanopoulos: "The president is not discussing firing Bob Mueller." Another lie. Trump's lawyer John Dowd answered a question in August about Trump firing Mueller and said: "This has never been on the table." False. In December, another Trump lawyer, Ty Cobb, said: "As the White House has consistently said for months, there is no consideration of firing the special counsel." Clearly not true. The credibility of everyone close to Trump is now basically zero.

  • Congress might think about protecting Mueller: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and multiple Democrats sponsored a bill last year to protect Mueller, basically by stripping the Justice Dept. of the authority to fire Mueller and giving it to the courts, and then only for just cause. The bill went nowhere, but the sponsors might revive it now that it is clearly needed. However, the first reaction of the Republican leadership in Congress was to shrug the whole thing off.

  • McGahn showed that staffers can say "no" to Trump: McGahn is no hero given some of the other things he has done, but he can be a role model for other White House staffers who are confronted with a clearly illegal order. They can refuse and Trump might well back down rather than fire the person and have to endure a media firestorm.

  • Managing Trump is a Herculean task: Chief of Staff John Kelly is trying very hard to manage Trump but it isn't easy. He has cut off many people from seeing Trump, reduced the number of issues he brings to Trump, and tried to limit Trump's access to people or ideas that might cause him to make a blunder. Trump often sits in his office alone, because Kelly has blocked everyone else from entering. This is one of the reasons Trump has so much "executive time" in the residence: to be free of Kelly's restrictions.

One thing that this whole incident brings up is the basic question: "Why is Trump trying so hard to stop Mueller?" What is he afraid Mueller might discover? If Trump were accused of having a private email server, like you-know-who, he would surely cooperate to the fullest since he would be confident that the final report would exonerate him completely. The thing he is very worried about might be collusion with the Russians, but it could also be something else, like extensive money laundering in the past. For example, after the U.S. banks cut him off, he might have gotten loans from Russian banks, but why would they take risks that U.S. banks wouldn't? Did he promise to launder money for them as part of the deal? Whatever it is, Trump is clearly nervous about something Mueller might discover. (V)

Trump Turns His Sights on Rosenstein

Donald Trump is prone to angry outbursts. He's very anxious about Russiagate. He likes to fire people (or, at least, have people fired on his behalf). Consequently, nobody with even a vague connection to the Mueller investigation should let their resume get out of date. The latest target of The Donald's ire: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is the direct supervisor of Mueller, thanks to Attorney General Jeff Sessions' having recused himself from the Russia investigation. According to numerous White House sources, the president regularly muses about firing the DAG, and has to be talked out of it by those who observe it wouldn't accomplish anything.

The advisors are certainly right about that, though "wouldn't accomplish anything" doesn't quite do it justice. Getting rid of Rosenstein, replacing him, and then getting the replacement to fire Mueller would be a tenuous process and, at this point, Congress might step in anyhow and stop Trump from trying.

Until a successor to Rosenstein is approved by the Senate, Assistant Attorney General Rachel Brand would be in charge of Mueller. She is 44 and has been apppointed to high office by George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump. She is clearly extremely good and no doubt envisions a long career in law enforcement. She knows very well that firing Mueller would be the end of her promising career and would almost certainly resign rather than wield the hatchet, increasing the ferocity of the storm.

Meanwhile, if Don McGahn was willing to resign to protect Mueller, then presumably firing Rosenstein would also trigger a resignation from McGahn, and from other counsel (and staff) as well. Then, there would be massive political fallout, not to mention another piece of evidence for Mueller's obstruction case.

Given these downsides, Rosenstein probably doesn't need to be too nervous about losing his job. That said, the President has fired an FBI director in James Comey and threatened to fire Sessions, Rosenstein, and Mueller on numerous occasions, while also trying to get Assistant FBI Director Andrew McCabe to resign. If the President's advisors manage to keep him from lopping anyone's head off, and to allow the investigation to run its course, then they will be earning their salaries, indeed. (Z)

Six Words That Could Sink Trump

When Donald Trump faces Robert Mueller in a few weeks, Mueller could really put Trump in the hot seat by having an FBI agent present ask Trump a simple six-word question: "Did you try to fire Mueller?" If Trump says "yes," he is on the hook for obstruction of justice. If he says "no," the charge could be lying to an FBI agent. If he says he doesn't remember, the talk about the 25th Amendment will be the news of the day. There is no easy way out for Trump if he gets asked this. (V)

Trump Delivers Two Messages at Davos

In his carefully-prepared speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Donald Trump was calm and coherent and reassured everyone that they need not fear him. After the speech, he took a couple of questions and the real Trump came out. He attacked Hillary Clinton, boasted how good he was at building things, and attacked the press as fake. The audience groaned at that. The planned boycott of his speech did not materialize, but the only applause came from the first rows, where Trump's staff and guests were seated.

The general take on his performance is that he met the extremely low expectations but is clearly unaware how low "Brand America" is sinking in the world. One thing that the business leaders did genuinely appreciate is the huge corporate tax cut passed into law last year, although surely all of them realize that the person who gets the credit for that is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), not Trump. (V)

Trump's Immigration Plan Hits Strong Resistance

The one-page immigration plan Trump released yesterday is running into powerful headwinds. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called it the wish list that anti-immigrant hardliners have advocated for years. Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) panned it as well.

Surprisingly, so did many on the right. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) said: "Illegals have no right to be here & have ALL violated our laws." Freedom Caucus member Rep. Scott Desjarlais (R-OH) said: "There should be no amnesty for anyone who broke the law to come here." Heritage Action called it a nonstarter because it "expands the amnesty-eligible population." In short, the plan has some rough sledding ahead if it is to become law. (V)

Today's Sexual Misconduct News

While Harvey Weinstein is a liberal Democrat and Steve Wynn is a conservative Republican, the two men have a fair bit in common. They're both iconic figures in the entertainment industry, and dominant players in their respective hometowns (Los Angeles and Las Vegas). They both collect fine art, and have more money than they can spend in dozens of lifetimes. They even have very similar names, since Wynn's real last name is Weinberg. But the only connection that people will think of from here on out is that they are both incorrigible leches who spent decades taking advantage of vulnerable women. This week, Wynn's misdeeds were laid out in great detail by the Wall Street Journal. The list reads exactly like the one we saw for Weinstein a few months ago: compulsory naked massages, masturbation in front of unwilling women, sex under duress (that is, rape), and so on.

Politically, this is bad news for the GOP. Recall, first of all, this tweet from the RNC back in October:

Chagrined by this, and other such pointed observations, Democratic politicians and the DCCC did indeed return Weinstein's money, while the DNC donated his contributions to charities that help abused women. While Wynn has donated to both parties, as is common for billionaires (including Donald Trump), he has overwhelmingly favored the Republicans. That means the GOP will have to give back that money, or else look very hypocritical. But it gets worse, because—unlike Weinstein—Wynn is an RNC functionary. Specifically, he is the Party's current finance chairman. That means that he's linked, on some level, to every single dollar the GOP has raised since he assumed that post in early 2017. They are obviously not going to return a whole year's worth of fundraising, so they will be even further exposed to pointed observations about how serious the Party is about sexual abuse of women. As if they were not already in enough difficulty on that front, given their support for Roy Moore, as well as pu**ygate, and all of the GOP members of Congress who have been compelled to retire—Pat Meehan (R-PA), Blake Farenthold (R-TX), Joe Barton (R-TX), etc.—but chose not to resign, in contrast to Democrats Al Franken and John Conyers Jr.

Speaking of the Democrats, they too had some bad news on the sexual misconduct front on Friday. Burns Strider, who served in 2008 as Hillary Clinton's faith adviser, also turns out to be a lech. Not at the Wynn/Weinstein level, but he is plausibly accused of unwanted touching and inappropriate e-mails. Clinton was warned about his behavior—which continued at, and cost him, his next job—and she chose not to fire Strider (though she did dock his pay, send him to counseling, and transfer his victim away from him). Not good, of course, but the news is likely to get drowned out by the much more serious, and much more salacious, Wynn coverage. Plus, Clinton is not a current Democratic functionary, and Strider has been effectively exiled from the Party for years. So, the Democrats took considerably less damage on this front this week than did the Republicans. (Z)

It's War in the State Department

Not the usual kind of war the State Department deals with. They're pretty good at those, give or take the occasional Vietnam. No, this one is more of a civil war, and pits the folks who currently lead the Department—particularly Secretary of State Rex Tillerson—against the career staffers within the department.

It is not a secret that the Trump administration has a low opinion of the State Department in general, and of Obama-era appointees and projects in particular. A pretty clear pattern has now emerged wherein key Obama-era players are being given menial or mundane tasks, presumably with an eye towards causing them to quit (it's not easy to fire government employees). For example, Ian Moss has compiled a sterling record during his five-plus years at State; his last evaluation described him as a "SUPERSTAR" and lauded his "brilliant" advice to two U.S. presidents. He is now handling Freedom of Information Act requests and doing data entry. Those are jobs usually performed by people 10 or more levels below his rank of GS-14.

This is yet another case of the Trump administration failing to anticipate the consequences of their actions, because Moss and several other staffers have hired counsel and are preparing to sue. So, it's another needless headache for Team Trump, and whatever money they save on departed staffers is going to go to paying government lawyers. Unfortunately for the State Department, there are already some long-time staffers who have bowed to pressure and thrown in the towel, and undoubtedly others who will follow. Those folks won't be easy to replace whenever the U.S. next elects a non-"America First" president. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan26 Trump Tried to Fire Mueller in June
Jan26 Trump Will Speak at Davos
Jan26 Trump Is Now Open to Citizenship for Dreamers
Jan26 Tax Cut? What Tax Cut?
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Jan25 Azar Confirmed as Secretary of HHS
Jan25 Trump Will Send Immigration Framework to Congress on Monday
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Jan25 Mueller Will Interview Bannon within a Week
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