• Trump Makes Trade Deal with EU
• Republicans Move to Impeach Rosenstein
• Emoluments Case Against Trump Can Go Forward
• Trump Won't Meet Putin This Year
• White House Appears to Be Rewriting History
• Sabato Says Democrats Are Now Favorites to Take the House
On Tuesday, Donald Trump's former fixer Michael Cohen released an audio tape in which the two men discussed payoffs to Playboy model Karen McDougal. If the tape is real, it means Trump knew about the payoffs months before the story became public and that when it did, he lied repeatedly about it, claiming he knew nothing about any payoffs. Tuesday, Trump's television lawyer Rudy Giuliani claimed that the tape exonerates Trump, but nobody is seriously buying that defense, so Trump has now come up with a new one: The tape is doctored. Trump also asked: "What kind of a lawyer would tape a client?" The answer to that is pretty straightforward: A lawyer who has been instructed to commit a crime by his client and wants proof that it wasn't his idea.
Trump presented zero evidence that the tape was doctored. CNN, perhaps anticipating this defense, had already hired an audio expert to listen carefully to the tape. He found no evidence of doctoring, and also said he does not believe that Trump said "Don't pay with cash." Trump will no doubt find another excuse today or tomorrow. However, given Cohen's dicey legal situation, it would seem unlikely that he would tamper with evidence that special prosecutor Robert Mueller is surely going to examine closely. If Cohen were going to doctor it, he would undoubtedly have changed it to say something like:Trump: Let's pay off that bimbo
Cohen: Sir, we can't do that. It would be an illegal campaign contribution.
Nothing like that can be heard on the tape, so most likely it is real.
One thing the whole tape incident makes clear is that Cohen is not going to stonewall and wait for his pardon. At this point, it is inconceivable that Trump would pardon Cohen, whom he now sees as someone who betrayed him. Whether Cohen will cooperate with Mueller is a different story, but we are probably getting closer to that moment, certainly after federal prosecutors have digested the thousands of documents taken from Cohen's computers and phones in April and want some explanations of the things they found. (V)
It looks like there won't be a trade war with the European Union, at least not for now. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is in Washington right now to meet with Donald Trump, and they managed to hammer out a mini-deal. The Europeans will import a few billion dollars more worth of US soybeans and liquefied natural gas, the U.S. won't slap European cars with a 25% tariff, and the two sides will work together in the future to try and achieve a tariff-free relationship.
Trump already took a victory lap, of course. More than one, actually:
Great to be back on track with the European Union. This was a big day for free and fair trade!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2018
European Union representatives told me that they would start buying soybeans from our great farmers immediately. Also, they will be buying vast amounts of LNG!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2018
With that said, this is a fairly minor agreement. A tariff that did not yet exist will continue to not exist, while the soy and gas the Europeans import (if they actually do) will be a relatively minor drop in the bucket compared to a trade war with China. Meanwhile, there is no particular reason to think the next round of negotiations will go well. Trade negotiations are long and boring, two things Trump hates, and at any point he could get tired of the current plan and lash out at the Europeans. Meanwhile, the Europeans aren't likely to give too much ground while the steel and aluminum tariffs remain in place, and Trump has shown no inclination to back down on those tariffs.
Wednesday's news also leaves Trump with some interesting questions to answer, like "What is the goal here, again?" If the goal is free trade, then why did Trump impose tariffs in the first place? And if the goal is to impose tariffs and correct trade imbalances, then how does it make sense to work toward a tariff-free relationship? If there is any method to this madness, it is hard to discern. (Z)
Anyone who bet that impeachment articles would be filed in the House of Representatives sometime between January 20, 2016, and January 20, 2020, is a winner, because it happened on Wednesday. The target is not Donald Trump, however, but Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein.
The two members who took the lead on this matter are both Freedom Caucusers, namely Mark Meadows (R-NC) and Jim Jordan (R-OH). Their specific complaint is that Rosenstein is deliberately withholding documents they have asked for. "Rod Rosenstein has been in charge of the Department of Justice as the agency has made every effort to obstruct legitimate attempts of congressional oversight," said Meadows in a statement. The Deputy AG has denied this, and since the Freedom Caucus has a bit of a history of requesting vast quantities of documents so they can fish for dirt, he almost certainly has the right of it.
In order for Rosenstein to be removed from office, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) would have to bring the articles up for a vote in the House. Then, a majority of the House would have to vote affirmatively. And then, after a trial in the Senate, 2/3 of the members would have to vote for conviction. None of these three things is likely to happen, but the last one is particularly improbable, since roughly 15 Democrats would have to decide to do a big favor for Donald Trump. Meadows and Jordan are (presumably) clever enough to know this; this is all for the sake of political theater. It allows the duo (and their allies) to simultaneously kiss up to the Donald, undermine the Mueller investigation, and please their pro-Trump constituents as election season heats up. Political theater is pretty much the only thing that the Freedom Caucus is good at, actually, besides maybe gumming up the works of Congress. (Z)
U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte yesterday ruled that the attorneys general of Maryland and D.C. may proceed with their case that Donald Trump has violated the Constitution's emoluments clause. That clause says that the president may not receive gifts from foreign governments but there is little jurisprudence on the matter. The AGs are asserting that foreign governments are holding big expensive events in the Trump International Hotel in D.C. to curry favor with Trump, and their doing so has hurt hotels in the District and Maryland. They are also claiming that since the hotel makes a profit on all its events and since that profit goes directly into Trump's pocket, by accepting the business he is taking gifts from foreign powers in violation of the Constitution.
Messitte wrote a 52-page opinion explaining his reasoning. Trump's lawyers had argued that the emoluments clause was intended to prevent a president from taking bribes, not from doing normal business, but the judge didn't buy it. The plaintiffs are certainly going to ask for all kinds of interesting information during discovery. In particular, they are almost certainly going to subpoena hotel records and Trump's tax returns to see how much profit he made from the events paid for by foreign governments.
If the suit goes all the way through and Trump loses in the end, he will either have to divest himself of the hotel or ban foreign governments from holding events there. Legally, he could give the hotel to his children, but that would incur a massive gift tax, so his accountant is likely to advise against that.
This lawsuit is not the only one Trump is dealing with. Former "Apprentice" contestant Summer Zervos is suing him for defamation and Stormy Daniels (nee Stephanie Clifford) is suing him to get out of a nondisclosure agreement. Trump can't claim that civil suits against the president can't go forward. The Supreme Court ruled 9-0 in Clinton v. Jones that private citizens can indeed sue the president and now Messitte has ruled that AGs can do so on behalf of businesses as well. (V)
After inviting Russian President Vladimir Putin to come to D.C. to talk some more, Donald Trump changed his mind and said that he will wait until the witch hunt is over. Of course, that means it will be Robert Mueller, not Trump who controls the calendar. Most likely Trump's change of plans has nothing to do with Mueller but very much to do with the extremely negative reaction he got from just about everyone—including right-wing media—after the press conference with Putin in which he stuck up for Putin and pooh-poohed the unanimous findings of the U.S. intelligence community on the matter of Russian information warfare during the 2016 election.
It is also possible that Putin was the one who called off the meeting. Trump did publicly invite Putin, but the Russian president has not accepted. It is possible that Putin doesn't feel he needs another meeting. It is also possible that he is worried about the CIA flavoring his morning borscht with a dash of polonium. He knows how sometimes stuff like that just happens.
The canceling of the meeting doesn't mean that Trump and Putin can't talk. There has been a hotline between Washington and Moscow for 50 years and if Trump and Putin wanted to discuss something face to face, the CIA could probably figure out how to set up a Skype connection. If either of these options is used, the American people will be in the dark, as the White House has stopped announcing the President's phone calls to foreign leaders. Also, there is a G20 summit in Argentina scheduled for November, and both of them could show up there and talk all they want to. (V)
Whenever the president has a press conference, the White House releases an official transcript. These documents are used by reporters in their coverage, and are also consulted by historians in subsequent years and decades. They are, quite literally, the historical record.
When the White House released the official transcript of Trump's (disastrous) press conference with Vladimir Putin this week, many people noticed a key omission. Here is the original exchange between a reporter and Putin:
Reporter: President Putin, did you want President Trump to win the election? And did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?
Putin: Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal.
The omission is the first part of the reporter's question. Since this was the first time that Putin said, on the record, that he wanted Trump to win, that's a pretty big omission.
Needless to say, mistakes are sometimes made in these transcriptions. However, they are generally fixed very quickly. Not only has this issue gone un-fixed, but the White House has declined to explain what the problem is. That, in turn, makes it look like the administration is trying to rewrite the record, and to try and eliminate evidence of pro-Trump meddling. If that is indeed what they are trying to do, it's kind of silly. Given that this was the single-most quoted thing that Putin said, and that the clip of him saying it played on newscasts around the globe, there is no way to disappear this, Orwell-style. Still, it would hardly be the first time that Team Trump attempted to deny reality, even when the truth is easily verifiable. (Z)
Larry Sabato has released the latest update to his House ratings. Specifically:
- 5 seats (IA-04, IN-02, IN-09, PA-16, TX-31) moved from "Safe Republican" to "Likely Republican"
- 3 seats (AR-02, FL-16, NM-02) moved from "Likely Republican" to "Leans Republican"
- 8 seats (IA-03, IL-06, KY-06, MI-08, OH-01, OH-12, TX-07, WV-03) moved from "Leans Republican" to "Toss Up"
- 1 seat (FL-13) moved from "Likely Democratic" to "Safe Democratic"
That's 17 seats moving in the direction of the blue team. None were moved in the direction of the red team.
Sabato says that the Democrats are now "a little better than 50-50 to win the House." That's the first time he's swung the balance in their direction. Overall, he now has 41 GOP-held seats in play, compared to just 16 Democratic-held seats. (Z)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jul25 Trump Claims to Be Worried that Russians May Help Democrats in 2018
Jul25 Giuliani Has New Demands for Trump Interview
Jul25 Cohen-Trump Recording Leaks
Jul25 Georgians Go to Polls
Jul25 Republican Leaders Renege on Immigration Promise
Jul25 White House Will No Longer Announce Calls with Foreign Leaders
Jul25 Majority of Americans Think Putin Has Something on Trump
Jul24 Trump in the Midst of a Meltdown
Jul24 Rand Paul Still Undecided about Kavanaugh
Jul24 Judge Delays Manafort's Trial
Jul24 Number of Cohen Recordings: 12
Jul24 Republicans Are Already Starting Oppo Research for 2020
Jul24 Wilkie Confirmed to Lead VA
Jul24 Democrats' Chances Improving in Gubernatorial Races
Jul23 Trump Engages in War of Words with Rouhani
Jul23 Mariia Butina Got Funding from Russian Oligarch Close to Putin
Jul23 Carter Page: I Advised the Russian Government
Jul23 Trump's Meeting with Putin Didn't Move the Needle Much
Jul23 Progressive Democrats Are Not Doing Well in New York and California
Jul23 Democratic Governors Are Testing the 2020 Waters
Jul23 How Is the Senate Looking?
Jul22 Cohen Tapes Plot Thickens
Jul22 Did Trump Give Away Crimea?
Jul22 Congress Won't Talk to Trump's Interpreter
Jul22 Does GOP Have an Alger Hiss Problem?
Jul22 Is Will Hurd the New Whittaker Chambers?
Jul22 FBI (Sort of) Releases Carter Page Warrant Applications
Jul22 Tariffs Will Have Predictable Effects, Starting at the Worst Possible Time for the GOP
Jul21 Cohen Secretly Recorded Trump
Jul21 McConnell Threatens Democrats over Kavanaugh
Jul21 Trump Threatens Tariffs on $500 Billion in Chinese Goods
Jul21 Mueller Wants to Chat with "Manhattan Madam"
Jul21 Charlotte to Host 2020 RNC Convention
Jul21 Dan Coats Could Be Next to Go
Jul21 Post-Helsinki Polls Are Starting to Roll In
Jul20 Trump Wants a Rematch
Jul20 What Did Trump Agree To?
Jul20 Be Careful What You Wish For, GOP, You Just Might Get It
Jul20 White House Morale Is in the Gold-Plated Toilet
Jul20 Trump Fed Up
Jul20 NRA Is Getting What it Paid For
Jul20 Jason Lewis Sticks to His Slutty Guns
Jul19 Trump Administration Does Damage Control...Badly
Jul19 Is Russian Meddling Overblown?
Jul19 White House Considering Russian Proposal
Jul19 MS-13 Scare Tactics Are Working
Jul19 The Kneeling Isn't Going Away
Jul19 Rep. Jason Lewis Is in Hot Water
Jul19 California Will Remain a Single State