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Mueller Indicts 12 Russians

Given Donald Trump's trip abroad, it seemed certain that the big news of the day on Friday would come out of Europe. But no, it actually came from behind a podium in Washington, where Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein announced that, at the instigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, 12 Russians have been indicted on 11 criminal counts related to interference with the 2016 elections.

Even before Friday, there really should have been no doubt that the Russians worked hard to help defeat Hillary Clinton. But just in case any doubt still lingered, it's gone now. The indictments make clear that Russian hackers—using many fake names and accounts, and paying bills with bitcoin in order to cover their tracks—targeted over 300 Democrats, most prominently Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. They also poked their noses into voter databases in at least three states (Florida, Georgia and Iowa), stealing 500,000 voters' names, addresses, and drivers' license numbers.

Shortly after Rosenstein made his announcement, the White House declared victory. "Today's charges include no allegations of knowing involvement by anyone on the campaign and no allegations that the alleged hacking affected the election result," said White House spokesperson Lindsay Walters. There isn't much else they can do but paint things in the most positive light possible, but this is nonetheless master-level spin. First of all, even the administration is now compelled to effectively concede that they had help from the Russians in winning one of the most razor-thin victories in presidential election history. Further, the White House response is obscuring the unpleasant fact that the Russians literally began working to hack Democrats' e-mails on the exact same day that then-candidate Trump called on them to do so. Even if that is a coincidence, it's not a good look for the President. And finally, Friday's indictment is not the "final" word on Russiagate, which Rosenstein himself pointed out while speaking to the press. In fact, there are a number of unnamed Americans mentioned in the indictments, and each of them may well find themselves targeted by Mueller at some point in the not-too-distant future. That includes Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone, who admitted that he is "probably" one of the unnamed individuals. The point is that Mueller still has cards to play, and probably many decks' worth of cards.

Although the indictments were secured by Mueller's team, they are now going to be handed off to National Security Division of the Dept. of Justice. There is very little, of course, that the DoJ can do, since they cannot arrest a dozen folks who are outside their jurisdiction. Unless, of course, they were to be extradited to the U.S., something that would likely take some direct arm-twisting of Vladimir Putin by Trump.

Conveniently, and as you may have heard, those two men have a meeting scheduled for Monday. That makes the timing of Friday's indictments...very interesting. Rosenstein insisted that filings like these are made whenever they happen to be ready, but it's very hard to believe that there was no relationship between next Monday's meeting and Friday's announcement. Certainly, Trump supporters in Washington feel that way; one of them described it as "a big FU from Mueller."

In any event, whether the Special Counsel's and/or Rod Rosenstein's timing was deliberate or not, the indictments are now the backdrop against which the Trump-Putin summit will occur. And they have put Trump into a real corner. He wants to schmooze with the Russian president, and he absolutely hates confrontations (which is why, outside of his TV show, he lets underlings do all the firings). On the other hand, if Trump doesn't take an aggressive posture with Putin, he's going to be excoriated back in the United States, possibly even by some of the base. It's a situation that even presidents who were seasoned diplomats—FDR, or Dick Nixon, or George H. W. Bush—would find challenging. What an amateur like Trump will do with it is anyone's guess. (Z)

Trump Makes Waves in the U.K.

Speaking of Donald Trump's diplomatic skills, he's created quite a stir during his visit to the United Kingdom. It must be tough for him there, given that he doesn't speak the language. In any case, depending on whom you believe, his relationship with PM Theresa May is either very bad, or has never been better.

The sense that the two leaders are not so cozy comes from the interview Trump did with The Sun, in which he criticized May's leadership, said she had "wrecked" the Brexit, threatened to curtail trade with the UK, and implied that Boris Johnson would be a better prime minister. On Saturday, by contrast, Trump was in full damage control mode; he praised May, said that he had apologized to her for any hurt feelings his words might have caused, and said that ties between the U.S. and the U.K. are at the "highest level of special."

Despite the fact that he admitted to apologizing, Trump never really takes responsibility for anything, which means that he had to find some way to escape his ill-considered remarks to The Sun. His solution: He denied ever saying anything about May, and called the newspaper's reporting "fake news." "I didn't criticize the prime minister," he declared, and suggested that if there were only recordings of the interview, so that he could prove it, then he would be vindicated. The problem is that there are indeed recordings, which The Sun was happy to post to its website, and they make clear that Trump is lying through his teeth.

After his fiction-laden press conference, the President visited the queen, and partook in other sorts of functions, and managed to avoid making too many more of the wrong kind of headlines (though he did keep Her Majesty waiting for 15 minutes, neglected to bow when meeting her, and breached protocol by walking ahead of her). All the while, protesters made clear that they would like to see him depart as soon as possible. He will do so on Sunday; hopefully the U.S. and the U.K. will still be allies by the time he leaves. (Z)

House Republicans Preparing Articles of Impeachment against Rosenstein

Friends of Donald Trump in Congress, particularly the members of the House Freedom Caucus, would very much like to get rid of Rod Rosenstein. If they do, then they know Trump will do his best to appoint a more friendly person to that post, which in turn would likely cripple (or end) Robert Mueller's investigation. To that end, Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows (R-NC) is busy putting the finishing touches on articles of impeachment against the Deputy AG. It is possible they will be filed as soon as Monday.

The articles of impeachment are not related to the indictments that Rosenstein announced on Friday (see above), though that certainly did not improve the Freedom Caucusers' feelings for him. No, Meadows & Co. have been fishing around for dirt on FBI officials, and Rosenstein has chosen not to turn over some of the millions of pages of documents they want, so the impeachment is based on that. It is very unlikely that the case against the Deputy AG will go anywhere, as it is not clear that 218 members will concur that he has committed "high crimes and misdemeanors." In fact, it is not clear that 50 members will concur on that point. Especially since the timing, in view of Friday's indictments, would make the impeachment appear to be politically-motivated. Which, to be fair, it is.

And speaking of politically-motivated attacks on the Mueller investigation, former FBI lawyer Lisa Page took her turn being grilled by House Republicans on Friday, one day after her paramour Peter Strzok got the same treatment. In an apparent acknowledgment that Strzok's hearing got out of hand, and encouraged grandstanding on both sides of the aisle, Page's hearing took place behind closed doors. There was reportedly very little nastiness, particularly compared to Strzok's appearance. And Page's answers were consistent with Strzok's, so the pair was not caught in any lies or distortions. That suggests that this phase of Operation Undermine Mueller has reached its end, which is probably why the GOP has moved on to a new target in Rosenstein. (Z)

Cohen Plot Thickens Just a Bit More

Former Donald Trump lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen appears to be in a lot of trouble, such that any additional revelations feel like piling on. Nonetheless, on Friday Senate Democrats released a report claiming that Cohen's relationship with pharmaceutical giant Novartis was far more substantial than previously admitted.

It was already acknowledged by all involved that Cohen had a six-month, six-figure consulting contract with the drugmaker. If the Democrats' report, based on information from the Senate Finance and HELP committees, is correct, then the relationship actually lasted six months longer than that. Further, although Cohen and Novartis both claimed that they barely interacted during the period of his retainer, the Democratic report says that he pitched executives on investing in a pharmaceutical company backed by investment firm Columbus Nova. Columbus Nova, in turn, is backed by Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.

In addition, the Democrats' report alleges that despite his protestations otherwise, Cohen lobbied the Trump administration on behalf of Novartis, and that a number of their ideas found their way into the President's plan for "addressing" the price of prescription drugs. A plan that, it should be noted, does fairly little to increase competitive pressure on pharmaceutical companies.

The new report isn't getting a lot of attention. Maybe that is because the blue team had the bad luck of releasing it on the same day as Robert Mueller's much juicier indictments. Or maybe it is because Cohen is already in it so deep. Still, the apparent fact that both Cohen and Novartis lied, and coordinated in doing so, suggests there may be some serious fire here, so this news could prove to be much bigger than how it is playing. (Z)

Administration Says 57 Children Have Been Reunited with Their Parents

They blew two deadlines, but the Trump administration says they have now reunited 57 children under the age of 5 with their undocumented immigrant parents. As far as the government is concerned, this part of the process is at an end, since they claim the other 46 children in custody belong with parents who have already been deported, or who pose a safety risk to their kids.

Judge Dana Sabraw appears to be satisfied that his orders are being followed to the best of Team Trump's ability. Although, as we have pointed out before, the tools he has for punishing the administration may be somewhat limited. The real test will come on July 26, the judge's deadline for reuniting another 2,900 children between the ages of 5 and 18 with their parents. On that day, it should be clear whether or not the administration really is complying. And if they are not, then Sabraw might get out the big guns, whatever those might be. (Z)

Pelosi Pushes for Democratic Leadership Election to Be Delayed

On Friday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) sent a letter to her colleagues in which she said that they should delay the Democratic caucus' next leadership elections. Normally, those would take place shortly after the midterms (circa November 15), but Pelosi wants to push them until after the Thanksgiving holiday (circa December 1). "I believe it is important that we follow the schedule for leadership elections that the Caucus set last cycle, allowing additional time for freshmen to get oriented," she wrote.

That sounds good, but it has nothing to do with Pelosi's real motivation. In fact, the notion of delaying the leadership elections was something that Pelosi's rivals wanted to do, and they were organizing support for that. They want to have as much time as possible, once the midterm dust has settled, to potentially identify and rally support for challengers to Pelosi and the other members of her leadership team (well, except fourth-ranked House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley, D-NY, who is already on his way out due to having been primaried by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez). In any event, why would Pelosi throw her weight behind a plan meant to help dethrone her? Because she knows that the delay is likely regardless of what she does, and that it looks better if it seems to be her idea, as opposed to her rivals' idea. Pelosi is a wily veteran, and you don't spend as much time in the driver's seat as she has without knowing how to crush a challenge or 10. Still, this is another reminder that the members of the caucus are restless, and that this could just be the fight Minority Leader finally loses. (Z)

Wilbur Ross: Mistakes Were Made

Ok, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross didn't use those exact words—those were Nixon's. But he certainly did seem to channel Tricky Dick when he admitted to "inadvertent errors" this week regarding his claims to have divested himself of assets when he had not actually done so.

As folks in his position tend to do, Ross hid behind the complexity of his assets in attempting to explain himself. This despite the fact that claiming to have sold everything, as he said he did, is rather unambiguous. Similarly, while serving as Secretary, Ross shorted shares in Navigator Holdings after learning of a negative story about the company that was coming from the New York Times. It is hard to understand how someone "inadvertently" places an order like that with their broker. Perhaps he thought he was talking to his florist. If he had placed the order with his florist to short tulips during the tulip mania speculative bubble of 1637, when a single bulb could cost more than 10x what a skilled craftsman could earn in a year, sure, but that investing opportunity ended rather spectacularly over 300 years ago. In any event, Ross says he has definitely sold all of his assets now, and that this time he means it. The Office of Government Ethics apparently feels there is nothing else for them to do at this point, so another swampy chapter appears to have reached its close. Until Ross makes a few more "inadvertent" errors, that is. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jul13 Foreign Policy, Trump-style (Part I)
Jul13 Foreign Policy, Trump-style (Part II)
Jul13 Strzok Battles with GOP Members of the House
Jul13 Spicer: Manafort Was a Key Player
Jul13 Dershowitz: SCOTUS Could Overturn Impeachment
Jul13 Trump Claims to Be More Popular than Lincoln
Jul13 Another Chapter Added to Stormygate Saga
Jul12 Collins and Murkowski Are Probably "Yes" Votes on Kavanaugh
Jul12 The First Kavanaugh Muck Has Been Raked
Jul12 Senate Rebukes Trump...Sort Of
Jul12 Markets Tumble on Wednesday
Jul12 Pence Heads Home to Do Damage Control
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