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Trump Visits Capitol Hill

Donald Trump was scheduled to make a pair of high-profile appearances on Tuesday. The first was at the annual meeting of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, where the President was supposed to give an address on, well, small businesses. What the attendees got, however, was a strange and rambling commentary on all manner of issues, but particularly focusing on how evil Latino immigrants/Democrats are, as they are engaged in a conspiracy to allow MS-13 to overrun the United States. The performance ended with Trump literally hugging the American flag that was located next to the podium:

We mention this because the speech turns out to have been a pretty good preview of what was coming during the second stop on Trump's itinerary.

That second stop, of course, was Capitol Hill, where Trump was theoretically supposed to huddle with members of Congress and make some progress on the border mess the President has created for himself. According to attendees at the hour-long meeting, Trump's contributions included:

  • A lengthy monologue about North Korea and Kim Jong-Un
  • Bragging about the economy and the tax bill
  • Bragging about his electoral victory; the one that happened more than 18 months ago
  • Several insults directed at Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC), who was not present
  • A shot at Jose Diaz-Balart, the brother of Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), who was present
  • Occasional vague comments on immigration
  • An angry outburst in which Trump slammed Senate Republicans, in particular, for their unwillingness to pay for his Mexican wall, and said that he might just shut down the government in September if they don't fall in line. Because nothing is more helpful for a political party, of course, than triggering a government shutdown six weeks before a midterm election.

Notice that the list above does not say anything about negotiating, or dealmaking, or progress of any sort. Trump was there to hold forth on whatever subjects held his interest, not to work with his colleagues on the Hill. Those present said that he talked for the full hour, and that he answered no questions and was not interested in comments. "The hour was not on immigration," said Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV). "The hour was on the last 24 months." Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) said he found it "hard to follow everything [Trump] says," because "He's kind of like a bouncing ball."

As a consequence of Trump's lack of focus and his lack of interest in discussion, the "greatest dealmaker ever" failed to move Congressional Republicans any closer to a resolution on immigration. As one lawmaker put it, the meeting "didn't move the ball," while another said it was "a total miscue from the administration." Trump did make clear that he wants a bill to sign, but little beyond that was certain. Afterward, there was disagreement among those in attendance as to whether the President did or did not say he was willing to sign the two compromise bills that are about to be put before the House. They were pretty sure, however, that he did not voice a preference for one over the other. Some might describe all of this as a total lack of leadership.

As Trump left his meeting on Capitol Hill, he was heckled by members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, who held signs that read "Families Belong Together" and who shouted "Stop separating our families!" The President was visibly peeved at the demonstration, which he tried (fairly unsuccessfully) to ignore.

The President's performance on Tuesday, and indeed his behavior for the last several weeks, has caused speculation about his mental health to return. Trump managed to silence most of the whispering on this subject after he passed his physical with flying colors, but that involved a now-discredited physician (Ronny Jackson) using an inappropriate test to judge the Donald's mental fitness, and also fudging other parts of the results (for example, giving the President an extra inch worth of height so he would not qualify as obese). Further, even if Trump was ok in January, it's a tough, stressful job, and six additional months of it could be enough to push someone over the line and into dysfunctional territory.

Another possibility, one that could well co-exist with mental dysfunction, is that Trump is being Trump. In particular, Trump is very self-centered. It's possible that he does not care if the GOP takes a beating in the midterms, as long as the base is happy (and they are), such that he's well-situated for 2020. Most presidents would not take such a narrow view of things, but Trump is not most presidents.

Whatever is driving Trump, Republican leaders on the Hill are getting the message that Trump's border policy is going to become the main issue in the fall, and are getting nervous about it. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) is planning to add a provision to a "compromise bill" that will forbid splitting families up. While that provision is popular, the rest of the bill is fairly punitive and almost every Democrat and many Republicans are expected to vote against it. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has already denounced it.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is also pondering a legislative solution. On Tuesday, he said, "I support, and all of the senators of the Republican conference support, a plan that keeps families together." He also said that, "My assumption is in order to fix this problem you can't fix all the problems." Translation: "I know we need to do something, but I really have no idea what that is going to be." The problem that McConnell and Ryan have is that their party is badly split on immigration. There is no solution that has even close to a majority of support in the House. And if something does somehow get through the lower chamber, it is likely to be too far-right to get past the upper chamber, with its 50-49 GOP majority, and several GOP Senators (Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Jeff Flake, et al.) who are very moderate on immigration. This is the kind of sticky situation where a little presidential arm-twisting can be invaluable, but the current president is MIA, apparently not realizing how all of this might very well come back to haunt him. (Z & V)

Separating Families Could Be Trump's Katrina

So far, Donald Trump has survived every (self-inflicted) crisis with flying colors. His approval rating is up and no problem seems to stick to him (and to think they called John Gotti "Teflon Don"). But it is just possible that ripping children from their parents could be Trump's "Katrina moment," that is, the tipping point when everything starts to go downhill. When supporters as staunch as Franklin Graham and Anthony "The Mooch" Scaramucci start leveling criticism at the President, it is beginning to get serious. The Mooch said you can't simultaneously maintain that:

  • Family separation isn't happening
  • It is intentional and being used as a deterrent
  • The Bible says it is OK
  • It is the Democrats' fault

The Koch network also opposes Trump on this one, and has made clear that anti-immigrant candidates won't get their support in the midterms. The Wall Street Journal, which has been pretty reliably pro-Trump, is warning that if the GOP doesn't get this straightened out promptly, it could cost them both the House and the Senate. Fox News hasn't really flipped yet, but they are barely covering this story, as if it might just go away if they ignore it long enough.

The problem for Fox, Trump, and the GOP is that it's not going away. The thing that sunk George W. Bush (other than his not bothering to visit the site of the hurricane so that he could attend John McCain's birthday party in sunny Arizona) was the set of photos from the flooded areas. Photos (and videos) make a bigger impression than words, and images of terrified toddlers being ripped from their mothers are powerful. Even more so in campaign ads with the caption "Your congressman refused to vote to stop this."

The longer this goes on, the worse it gets. CNN has a story from an Arizona shelter worker who quit his job after being instructed to separate petrified siblings who were hugging each other in a shelter, crying for their mother. Do Republicans really want him to be making ads for the Democrats in the fall?

Michael Avenatti, not one to hide from the media, also got into the act. He has taken on clients who have been separated from their children at the border. Yesterday, he shared a letter from a mother whose six-year-old son was taken from her 2 weeks ago. She is terrified. Avenatti is a smart cookie. Many people don't like porn stars (like his other client, Stormy Daniels, nee Stephanie Clifford) or their lawyers, but doing work (presumably pro bono) for frightened mothers whose children have been taken from them could change some people's minds about him and his motives (V).

U.S. Quits U.N. Human Rights Council

On Tuesday, the United States formally withdrew from the UN Human Rights Council, with UN Ambassador Nikki Haley declaring that, "the Human Rights Council has been a protector of human rights abusers, and a cesspool of political bias." The Trump administration has been complaining about this particular arm of the United Nations (not to mention the UN in general) for months, so the move is not unexpected.

As with so much that this administration does, though, its "official" story is basically a lie. The real source of irritation is not the Council's inaction, but its actions. Specifically, its denunciation of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, and its Monday statement calling for an end to the separation of families at the Mexican border. Unless it's just a big coincidence that the Council dared criticize the Trump administration, and that the U.S. quit less than 24 hours later.

Whatever Team Trump hoped to accomplish with this diplomatic temper tantrum, they certainly seem to have shot themselves in the foot again. It is probable that nobody would have known about the Council's criticism, but now it's on the front pages everywhere that Donald Trump is on one side of an issue and the world's foremost advocate for human rights is on the other side. Meanwhile, if the other nations of the world needed more motivation to give up on the Trump administration, this certainly provided it. (Z)

Whoever Wins Immigration Debate, Nielsen Has Already Lost

On Tuesday night, after a long day of making excuses for the President, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen decided to eat out. And, in a decision that speaks to a remarkable level of tone deafness, she picked...a Mexican restaurant. Protesters descended upon the eatery, and she decided to leave before dinner was served. Apparently, heckling is not good for the appetite.

What this story illustrates is that Donald Trump has once again managed to make an underling the face of one of his unpopular policies. Although the decision was the President's, and was presumably undertaken for his benefit, she was the one who ended up before the press corps on both Monday and Tuesday trying to defend it (and failing pretty badly).

Quite a few folks, most notably Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), are calling for Nielsen to resign. While the Secretary undoubtedly recognizes a little political grandstanding when she sees it, there is nonetheless reason for her to think seriously about doing so. At the moment, Nielsen is absolutely toxic, and likely to find that her future in either the public or private sector is not promising. If she resigns in protest immediately, she can (partly) pass the buck back to the President, and can be the person who (eventually) stood up against family separation, even at the cost of her job. If she stays on, however, this will be with her for the rest of her career, if she has one. (Z)

John Kelly Doesn't Care Any More

Politico has most forcefully observed that Kirstjen Nielsen is now the face of Donald Trump's immigration policy. And as an adjunct to its reporting on that matter, it also notes that her mentor and former boss, Chief of Staff John Kelly, has effectively checked out of his job. Kelly has privately told friends that he no longer cares what Donald Trump does, or if the President is impeached. In fact, he says he is just looking forward to the time when this chapter of American history comes to a close. Not surprisingly, given this attitude, he and Trump are, per Politico, "barely tolerating one another."

This news hardly comes as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention, particularly to Donald Trump's Twitter account. When Kelly replaced Reince Priebus, he temporarily managed to impose some level of Twitter discipline on the President. Over time, that has waned, and more recently, Trump's tweeting has been absolutely unhinged. He is on Twitter more frequently than ever before (19 tweets on Sunday alone!), his tweets come at all hours (as opposed to just the morning), and his statements are more and more outlandish (and grammatically unsound).

In any event, the circumstances that Kelly and Nielsen find themselves in mean that either, or both, could be short timers. Indeed, it's well within the realm of possibility, given their relationship, that they could resign simultaneously. Given how much this administration likes to bury news on the weekend, Friday is the day to keep an eye out for a possible twofer. (Z)

Cohen Is Apparently Willing to Sing Like a Canary

Last week, Rudy Giuliani said that former Donald Trump fixer Michael Cohen was not going to cooperate with federal prosecutors. To nobody's surprise, that statement has no basis in fact. According to people close to Cohen, he's about to hire Guy Petrillo, an experienced trial lawyer who knows a little something about plea bargains. Those same friends also said that, "[Cohen] knows a lot of things about the President and he's not averse to talking in the right situation."

What Cohen is saying, of course, is that, "I know you don't actually care about me, Robert Mueller, and that you're after a much bigger, orange-colored fish. I'm more than willing to send that fish up the river to save my own skin." And this is before Mueller has even truly begun to put the screws to Cohen who—unlike Paul Manafort—isn't even in jail yet. It's undoubtedly not a coincidence that the deadline Judge Kimba Wood set for the review of all the files seized from Cohen's office, hotel room, etc. passed just a couple of days ago. The only real question appears to be exactly how much Mueller needs Cohen to flip. It may be that, with all the material seized from Cohen, Mueller will have all the evidence he needs without any further assistance.

Nevertheless, if the investigators find that say, $150,000, was transferred from a newly formed Delaware corporation to some woman previously not in the picture, they might want the rest of the story. Also, Cohen himself is deeply embedded in the world of Russian and Ukrainian immigrants (he is married to a Ukrainian woman and so is his brother and he grew up in that milieu), so he might know things about Trump's Russia connections, especially on the financial side. Finally, Mueller might want to ask him a simple question with a potentially long answer: "I know you were Trump's fixer. Please tell me about all the problems you were asked to fix." We should know fairly soon, once Petrillo is officially on the job. (Z)

Russians Bought Trump Properties for over $100 Million in Cash

In 2008, Eric Trump said: "We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia." McClatchy is now reporting that "a lot" means "at least $109 million," all of it in cash and mostly using shell companies designed to hide the name of the real buyer. While buying a couple of Trump condos for, say, $4.35 million in cash—as Leonid Zeldovich, a businessman with ties to Russian-annexed Crimea, did—is certainly legal if the money is clean, buying expensive real estate for cash raises a huge red flag to prosecutors pursuing money-laundering cases (yes, you, Andrew Weissmann). This revelation is yet another tie between Trump and Russians. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee and himself a former federal prosecutor, responded to the McClatchy story by saying: "The size and scope of these cash purchases are deeply troubling as they can often signal money laundering activity." Schiff's fear is that the kompromat that Russian President Vladimir Putin may possess is not a naughty movie, which would be slightly embarrassing to Trump for a week and then blow over, but proof of a massive money laundering scheme that could put Trump in prison for the rest of his life. If Putin is capable of putting you in prison for the rest of your life, you might naturally want to keep him as your buddy.

Glenn Simpson, co-founder of Fusion GPS—which hired former British spy Christopher Steele, author of the now-infamous "Steele dossier"—told the House Intelligence Committee last November that he had uncovered a pattern of buying and selling real estate that was suggestive of money laundering at Trump-branded properties. Gil Dezer, who manages six Trump-branded properties in Sunny Isles Beach, FL, a favorite spot for Russians, said that Russians are attracted to the Trump name. He also noted that from 2008 to 2013, when mortgages were hard to get, basically all their sales were to Russians for cash. It is widely understood that any Russian with millions of dollars in cash is probably an oligarch and mostly likely has close ties to Putin. That's how things work in Russia.

The McClatchy story linked to above goes on and on. At this point there is a tremendous amount of circumstantial evidence that Trump has been engaged in large-scale money laundering with Russians, Ukrainians, and others from the former Soviet Union for years. Last year, Trump said that Mueller would cross a "red line" if he began looking into his (Trump's) personal finances. He also said that he had no income from Russia and no business with Russia. If one takes that literally—that Trump has no income from the Russian government—that might be true, but there is increasing evidence that he has been deeply involved with wealthy Russians who bought expensive properties from him for cash, and at the very least, that raises a lot of red flags. This may well be the key to his love of all things Russian. (V)

Donald Trump Could Be Done in by a Club Sandwich

Of the various lawsuits against Donald Trump, the only one that has proceeded to the discovery phase is the one by former Apprentice contestant Summer Zervos, who has accused Trump of sexual assault. She has given a detailed description of their short, but memorable, encounter in which she claims he kissed her aggressively, touched her breasts, and rubbed his genitals against her body. She also noted that when the billionaire invited her to dinner, what that meant in practice was not a swanky restaurant, something that Los Angeles has no shortage of, but a single shared club sandwich in his room at the famous Beverly Hills Hotel. Trump has denied it all and called her a liar. Her response was to sue him for defamation.

That lawsuit has proceeded to the discovery phase and that club sandwich may soon become the most famous $24 club sandwich in the world (for that price, French fries are included). Zervos' lawyer has now subpoenaed the famously discreet Beverly Hills Hotel, demanding a list of every time Trump stayed there from 2005 to 2009 and what he ordered from room service each time. If the hotel produces a bill showing that Trump rented one of the bungalows and indeed ordered a single club sandwich at the time Zervos said he did, that would be very strong evidence that she is telling the truth. How else would she know that if she were making it all up? If a court were to formally find that he had committed sexual assault, even in a civil case like Zervos', it could cost him the votes of some wavering Republican women in 2020. (V)

Gillibrand: Trump Is Doing the Devil's Work

Talk about chutzpah. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is already working on her general election campaign for 2020, and she hasn't even won reelection this fall (which is, admittedly, a formality) or gotten the Democratic presidential nomination (which is definitely not a formality). She is now quoting the Book of Ephesians and saying that Donald Trump's policy of ripping children from their mothers' arms is the work of the devil. She is casting her fight against Trump's immigration policies in Biblical terms, with her on God's side and Trump on the Devil's side. Is she aware that Trump got a larger percentage of the evangelical vote than even George W. Bush (who actually is an evangelical)? In the immortal words of Sarah Palin: You betcha. Gillibrand is a very smart and very calculating politician who knows that many evangelicals are uncomfortable with Trump for many reasons. She also knows that Hillary Clinton was not viewed as terribly religious and that may have hurt her with evangelicals, so if she can quote the Bible enough and repeatedly make the case that she is on Team God and Trump is on Team Devil, she might be able to pick up a few thousand votes in a couple of swing states. That's all it might take in a close election.

Is Gillibrand genuinely religious? One never knows with politicians, especially those who are very smart and have national ambitions. She was raised as a Catholic and attends Bible-study classes on the Hill, mostly with Republican colleagues. Is she doing this so she can point it out in 2020? Is she doing it to learn lines from the Bible to add to her stump speech? Who knows? She is undoubtedly aware that in 2000, then-senator Joe Lieberman, an orthodox Jew who was Al Gore's running mate, was very popular with evangelicals because although he believed in only half of the Christian Bible, no one doubted for a second that he was seriously religious (unlike Gore, who worshipped trees). So maybe Gillibrand is really religious or maybe she is not—only she knows for sure—but putting political issues in religious terms and claiming to be working for God while Trump is working for the other guy can't hurt. So far she hasn't pointed out that first son-in-law Jared Kushner's prime piece of real estate is 666 Fifth Avenue, but the 2020 general election isn't upon us quite yet. She still has time. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jun19 Trump Doubles Down on Separating Families at the Border
Jun19 Let the Trade Wars Begin
Jun19 Supreme Court Dodges the Gerrymandering Issue
Jun19 North Carolina Moves Forward, Kansas Backward, on Voter ID Laws
Jun19 Trump Signs "Space Force" Directive
Jun19 Claw Back Looks Unlikely
Jun19 It Takes a Village--to Elect Rick Scott
Jun18 Strzok Is Willing to Testify before Congress
Jun18 Roger Stone Met with a Russian Offering Dirt on Clinton
Jun18 All Hell Will Break Loose When Mueller Issues His Report
Jun18 Trump Encourages WaPo Staff to Strike
Jun18 First Ladies Blast Trump on Border Separations
Jun18 Steve King: Ryan Might Be Removed
Jun18 Trump's Approval Has Dropped in All 50 States
Jun18 Poll: Too Early to Judge if Singapore Summit Was a Winner
Jun17 Trump Makes Immigration Mess Even Messier
Jun17 Trump Taps Unknown to Lead Consumer Bureau
Jun17 Pruitt Might Finally Be in Real Trouble
Jun17 Giuliani Bloviates Some More
Jun17 Breitbart is Flailing
Jun17 Sanders Won't Endorse His Son
Jun17 There Aren't Going to Be Three Californias
Jun16 Trump Imposes Tariffs on China
Jun16 Manafort Goes to Jail
Jun16 Giuliani: Trump Won't Sit for an Interview with Mueller
Jun16 What's Going on with Immigration, for Christ's Sake?
Jun16 Prosecutors Reconstruct 16 Pages of Cohen's Shredded Documents
Jun16 Senate Democrats Look Safe in Four Trump States
Jun16 McConnell Gets Serious about Reelection Bid
Jun15 New York Attorney General Sues Trump
Jun15 Justice Department Report: Comey Had Poor Judgment on Clinton E-mail Case
Jun15 Trump Officially Approves $50 Billion in Tariffs
Jun15 Kim? Check. Next Up? Maybe Putin
Jun15 Trump Probably Lied about Parents of Korean POWs
Jun15 Republicans Embrace the "Cult" of Trump
Jun15 Bill Nelson Has a Latino Problem
Jun14 Michael Cohen and His Lawyers Part Ways
Jun14 Trump Runs More Victory Laps
Jun14 Trump's Claims about the North Korea Deal Don't Align with the Facts
Jun14 Trump Will Play a Big Role in the Dreamer Feud
Jun14 Sanders Looks to Be on Her Way Out
Jun14 Pruitt Could Be On His Way Out, Too
Jun14 Las Vegas and Charlotte Are the Leading Contenders for the 2020 GOP Convention
Jun14 Pence Ruffles Baptists' Feathers
Jun14 McCaskill's Private Plane Has Become a Campaign Issue
Jun13 Takeaways from the North Korea Summit
Jun13 Five More States Vote
Jun13 Sanders Defends Endorsement Record
Jun13 Team Obama Announces Midterm Targets
Jun13 House Republicans Possibly Avoid Ugly Fight over Immigration