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GOP 51
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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Wynn Steps Down from RNC
      •  Cheatergate Payment May Have Been Illegal
      •  Walker Decides that Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures
      •  Destination Bangor, Maine? Better Bring Your Passport
      •  Obstruction or Not?
      •  PA-18 May Be in Play
      •  Koch Network to Spend Nearly Half a Billion Dollars in 2018
      •  Dutch Intelligence Service Hacked Cozy Bear

Wynn Steps Down from RNC

To nobody's surprise, casino magnate Steve Wynn—enmeshed in a sexual misconduct scandal that rivals that of Harvey Weinstein in terms of its seriousness—on Saturday submitted his resignation as the chair of the RNC finance committee. So ends Act I of Wynngate.

And now we move on to Act II. Wynn donated vast sums of money to the GOP, and to many different current Republican officeholders. Further, as finance chair, he was nominally connected to every single cent the Party raised in the last year. And he was handpicked as chair by Donald Trump, something Wynn bragged about as recently as last week—while giving a speech at Mar-a-Lago. So while we will see how hard the GOP works to separate itself from Wynn, it will be difficult—if not impossible—to make a complete break. That means that in Act III, every member of the Party who is running in 2018 could find themselves with twin Roy Moore-Steve Wynn anchors hanging around their necks as they try to win over women voters. (Z)

Cheatergate Payment May Have Been Illegal

He who lives by the lawsuit dies by the lawsuit. Donald Trump has spent his entire adult life as one of the most sue-happy businessmen in the country, and now the shoe is on the other foot. Anytime he does anything, there are dozens of organizations searching for a possible basis for a lawsuit. When it comes to the six-figure payoff allegedly made to porn star Stormy Daniels on the President's behalf, liberal activist group Common Cause thinks they've found one. The argument that Common Cause is making is that the money given to Daniels, as it was designed to advance Donald Trump's presidential aspirations, was a campaign expense. Therefore, whoever paid the money made a donation, one that was not disclosed. If so, that would be a pretty serious violation of federal campaign laws.

Common Cause's case certainly has some teeth to it; former senator and vice-presidential candidate John Edwards was prosecuted for the same thing (though he avoided conviction due to a hung jury). And the odds are that the organization isn't concerned about winning, as much as they are making sure that the case goes the distance. That would subject Donald Trump to a very unpleasant discovery process, as well as many months of not-too-fun headlines. Given the Edwards precedent, it's hard to see how Team Trump's lawyers are going to be able to make this one go away quickly. And even if they do, surely one of these legal "hail mary" passes, whether about emolument or campaign misconduct or money laundering or influence peddling, is going to hit one of these days. (Z)

Walker Decides that Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures

Wisconsin is the very definition of a "purple" state, evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats (each party has 42% of the Badger State's registered voters). However, since the Republicans gained control of the state legislature and the governor's mansion in the 2010 wave year, they have aggressively promoted their party's welfare through dubious means. That includes one of the most gerrymandered maps in the nation (so much so that the Supreme Court is going to take a look at it this year), as well as Voter ID laws and other techniques designed to suppress Democratic votes. These tactics have been enormously successful; the GOP controls the state's congressional delegation 6-4, the Wisconsin State Senate 20-13, and the Wisconsin Assembly by a staggering 64-35 margin.

Now, however, the evidence is that Wisconsin could be hit by a Democratic wave. Every election held in the last six months has seen the Democrats far outperform their numbers from the past decade, most notably the special election for Wisconsin's 10th legislative district, where Democrat Patty Schachtner flipped a district that went for Donald Trump by 26 points, winning an easy 11-point victory. With a shift like that, there's no such thing as a "safe" Republican district right now. That includes the 1st and 42nd legislative districts, both of which were recently vacated by Republican legislators. According to state law, Gov. Scott Walker (R) is supposed to call new elections to fill the seats. Faced with the possibility of handing two more wins to the Democrats, however, he has declined to do so. He says that special elections are not worth the money, because he thinks the assembly won't be all that busy this year.

Complaints are being registered, and lawsuits are being filed, but these things are not likely to change the situation before the midterms later this year. So, in the short term, Walker and the GOP are going to "win." However, it's highly questionable as to whether or not the victory is worth the cost. After all, the legislature is already in the Governor's pocket, and 62-37 is not all that different from 64-35. On the other hand, if this choice—along with all the others—serves to galvanize the Democrats and to get them out to the polls in November, then it could get very ugly for the GOP. Every single statewide office in the entire state is up, except for half the state senate and one of the two U.S. senate seats. The Republican trifecta in the state could very quickly turn into a Democratic trifecta. (Z)

Destination Bangor, Maine? Better Bring Your Passport

When Roger Miller sang about traveling around the country as a hobo, there was no need for him to worry about Immigration and Customs Enforcement (or its predecessor, INS). Not any more, though, as ICE has begun boarding buses from Maine to Florida, demanding that (selected) passengers provide proof of citizenship.

Legally, ICE has the authority to conduct such checks within 100 miles of any of the United States' national or coastal borders. That means the entire state of Maine, as well as all (or mostly all) of Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. Most of America's big cities—including nearly all of the so-called "sanctuary" cities—also fall under their purview. The timing of these enforcement actions, as well as the manner in which they are conducted, have raised suspicions that the Trump administration is doing an end run around rules against racial profiling. The ACLU is looking into the matter, but the wheels of justice turn slowly, and the Trump administration is not likely to make the organization's requests for information a top priority. (Z)

Obstruction or Not?

There is little doubt that, back in June of last year, Donald Trump toyed seriously with the possibility of firing special counsel Robert Mueller. What's less clear is how this affects the case against him for obstruction of justice: Did he approach the line, barely cross the line, or leave the line way in the rearview mirror? Politico talked to a dozen legal experts and got their opinions. The executive summary:

  • Asha Rangappa, associate dean at Yale Law School: At this point, there is certainly a compelling pattern of evidence for Mueller to piece together to demonstrate that President Trump had "corrupt intent" when he fired James Comey.

  • Laurence Tribe, professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School: The president's foiled effort to rid himself of the Mueller investigation in June 2017, and his now-exposed invention of patently phony excuses for doing so—much as he had invented fake reasons for firing Comey before admitting his actual Russia-related reason on national television—eliminates any possible defense that Trump was clueless about the relevant rules. Together with the plethora of other evidence bearing on Trump's corrupt motives in making these (and at least a dozen other) moves to derail or undermine the pending investigation, this attempt to pull off an even worse version of Nixon's Saturday Night Massacre leaves no reasonable doubt that Trump's motives throughout have been as illicit as if Putin had directly bribed him to attempt to end the investigation into the way Russia helped Trump become president. That makes pursuing obstruction of justice charges against the president, whether by criminal indictment or by referral to the House Judiciary Committee or both, not just appropriate but obligatory.

  • Alan Dershowitz, emeritus professor of law at Harvard University: A president cannot be accused of obstruction for merely exercising his constitutional authority regardless of his motive.

  • Norm Eisen, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution: [O]bstruction cases have been brought—and won—on less evidence than what we already know here. In terms of other outcomes, because the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel has concluded (incorrectly in my view) that a sitting president cannot be indicted, Mueller is not likely to go that route. He may treat the president as an unindicted co-conspirator; or seek to communicate the grand jury's findings regarding obstruction to Congress; or prepare an impeachment report to Congress.

  • Jennifer Taub, professor of law at Vermont Law School: Placed in context, this reported order by Trump to have Mueller fired sure smells like obstruction of justice. But a mere whiff of impropriety does not necessarily form a solid criminal case. As outsiders, we simply do not know the entirety of evidence the special counsel possesses, some of which may be exculpatory.

  • Laurie Levenson, professor of law at Loyola Law School: While interesting, I don't think the Times' revelations necessarily show that there is enough evidence at this point to seek an obstruction of justice charge against the president.

  • Bradley Moss, private practice D.C. lawyer: It goes without saying that this is only what the public knows so far, and that Mueller's team likely is aware of additional relevant information that the special counsel will want to raise with the president in the "clash of the titans" interview that will most likely occur in the coming weeks. At this point, though, all signs point to Mueller concluding in his report that the president engaged in obstruction of justice and that Congress should consider potential action in a manner consistent with its own constitutional authorities and duties.

  • Josh Blackman, constitutional law professor at the South Texas College of Law: The question here is if the president could be punished for something he didn't do. That is, could the fact that Trump sought Mueller's termination, but changed course after his White House counsel threatened to resign, strengthen the case for obstruction of justice? The answer is no.

  • Robert Weisberg, professor at Stanford Law School: [A]s with almost everything else about a possible obstruction charge for firing either Comey or Mueller (or maybe pardoning someone targeted by Mueller), it's all a matter of guessing how courts would interpret vague doctrinal terms in circumstances that have never (quite) arisen in the courts.

  • Marty Lederman, professor at the Georgetown University Law Center: Because criminal indictment of the president is so unlikely, I doubt that Mueller is focused on whether Trump has technically violated any criminal obstruction statute. Nothing of practical importance turns on that question. It's much more likely that Mueller's primary goal is simply to spell out all the facts for Congress, and the public, in a comprehensive, objective report, a principal focus of which will be on the need to prevent further Russian efforts to affect U.S. elections.

  • Alex Whiting, professor at Harvard Law School: Here then emerges a pattern of behavior: repeated attempts to stop the investigation accompanied by lies and false statements. What will Congress do when all of this evidence drops in its lap? Will they find some way to avoid drawing the obvious conclusions?

  • Kathleen Clark, professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis: The rules of professional conduct prohibit a lawyer from knowingly assisting a client in a crime. If McGahn knew that firing Mueller would constitute obstruction of justice, then assisting Trump in that firing could have exposed the White House counsel to criminal liability as well as professional discipline.

So, did the President commit obstruction? Taken as a whole, the answer from these 12 experts is a firm...maybe. However, the other main theme of their comments is that Mueller is not likely to pursue a criminal case against the president, and is vastly more likely to present all the evidence to Congress for them to do as they see fit. At that point, it will be as much a political decision as a legal one. And under those circumstances, no one on Earth can really predict what will happen. (Z)

PA-18 May Be in Play

Republican Tim Murphy was compelled to resign when it was revealed that he had an extramarital affair and then—in marked contrast to the political rhetoric that got him elected—pressed his pregnant mistress to get an abortion. On March 13, an election will be held to choose a replacement in PA-18, with Republican and state legislator Rick Saccone facing off against Democrat and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Conor Lamb.

The election should be a cakewalk for Saccone, as Donald Trump won the district by 20 points, and the Cook PVI is R+11. And yet, the latest poll gave the Republican just a 3-point lead, 41% to 38%, with 21% still undecided. So, the GOP has decided to open their coffers, with the NRCC purchasing $1 million in TV ads, along with a promise that more expenditures are coming. The DCCC has also dropped some cash, making $236,000 in ad buys for the final week of the election.

Losing this election would, of course, be another big setback for the GOP, and would amp up partisan anxiety heading into the midterms. There is little question that the Republicans' money is meant specifically to avoid such an embarrassment. The winner will hold the seat for only six months before there's another election, and by then the district will be redrawn. Right now, the Democrats appear to be using their money to force the Republicans to burn through their capital, and do not seem to be making all that serious an effort to help Lamb. However, if he continues to poll competitively, they could certainly open the checkbook. (Z)

Koch Network to Spend Nearly Half a Billion Dollars in 2018

The Kochs and their friends know that the GOP brand is not in great shape right now, and that a Democratic wave appears to be building. They also want to keep their tax cut, and know that it could be a very short-term cut if the blue team is swept into office, particularly with the kinds of numbers that imply a mandate. So, Team Koch plans to drop at least $400 million on advertising during the midterms, far and away the most they've ever spent during one cycle (in 2016, by contrast, they spent $250 million).

The Kochs are certainly dialed in to what's going on, and how it affects their bottom line. They also have nearly unlimited funds. However, they are also—to be blunt—getting a bit long in the tooth (82 and 77 years of age). Some folks of that age have managed to keep up with the times (see Sanders, Bernie), but one wonders if the Kochtopus is not stuck in the politics of the Reagan era. There was a time when a $400 million ad buy had the potential to really move the needle, but commercials grow less and less effective every year and, if Donald Trump has taught us anything, it is that social media is the ascendant force in American politics. Undoubtedly, Team Koch will choose its battles carefully, and will invest its money as wisely as is possible, but the great likelihood is that most of that money is going to go to waste. (Z)

Dutch Intelligence Service Hacked Cozy Bear

The Russian group that hacked the DNC and generally meddled in the U.S. election is known as Cozy Bear. He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword. Cozy Bear was itself hacked—by the Dutch intelligence service AIVD. The Dutch completely penetrated Cozy Bear and were not only able to obtain documents from its computers, but even took over the surveillance cameras at its headquarters in a university building off Red Square in Moscow, so they could see images of all the hackers.

The Dutch turned their findings over to the CIA and NSA during the 2016 election. Those agencies, in turn, warned the DNC that they had been infilitrated, but the DNC did nothing. It is thought that the reason the CIA and NSA have said there is no doubt that the Russians meddled in the election is the evidence given to them by the AIVD. The report of the counter-hack was published in the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant; the AIVD itself hasn't commented on the matter. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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