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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Stormy Rains on Trump's Parade
      •  Trump's New Lawyers Quit
      •  More White House Personnel Changes Are Likely
      •  Gun Advocates, Manufacturers Are Feeling the Pinch
      •  Cambridge Analytica Scandal Deepens
      •  Democrats Discover the State Legislatures

Stormy Rains on Trump's Parade

Stormy Daniels' interview with "60 Minutes" aired on Sunday night, and it gave everyone—including the resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue—plenty to chew on. While the porn star and former Donald Trump paramour did not spill everything, it is nonetheless the case that the President's position was much worse at 9:00 p.m. EDT than it was at 8:00 p.m.

Let's start with the salacious stuff, and get that out of the way. Daniels, who apparently no longer feels constrained by her nondisclosure agreement, said that she and Trump had sex only once, that she didn't enjoy it, and that unlike Playboy model Karen McDougal, she was not attracted to the then-businessman. She also revealed that Trump only really started to get interested in her when she took a magazine with his picture on the cover, rolled it up, and spanked him with it. Thereafter, he reportedly said, "Wow, you--you are special. You remind me of my daughter. You're smart and beautiful, and a woman to be reckoned with, and I like you. I like you." The Freudians will be unpacking that sequence of events for months.

Now on to the more significant stuff. "60 Minutes" also talked to Daniels' lawyer Michael Avenatti and to Trevor Potter, former chairman of the Federal Election Commission. Together, they painted a pretty compelling picture that the President has gotten himself into some deep trouble, legally speaking. Potter's exact words were "enormous legal mess." He believes the money paid to Daniels was very likely an illegal campaign contribution, particularly given the timing of the payment (two weeks before the election). That will make it hard for Trump to borrow the argument that John Edwards successfully used, namely that the payment to his mistress was meant to save his marriage and not his political career, and so was a private business transaction.

Meanwhile, Avenatti dropped a minor bombshell (and one that's probably not getting quite as much attention as it should). We already knew that while Trump lawyer Michael Cohen claimed to be negotiating with Daniels on behalf of a non-Trump shell corporation called "Essential Consultants," he was using his Trump Organization e-mail address. What Avenatti added on Sunday night was a copy of the letter that Daniels' then-attorney Keith Davidson sent to Cohen to complete the transaction. That letter was sent to Trump Tower, and addressed to "Michael Cohen, Executive Vice President and Special Counsel to Donald J. Trump, The Trump Organization." In short, it is now almost impossible for Cohen to argue that he was not working in an official capacity on behalf of the then-candidate.

So, a criminal violation of election law almost certainly occurred. If that is not enough, Cohen has also exposed himself to significant liability, and to possible disbarment. Consequently, as Potter observed, a "wild card" in all of this is that Cohen might well have some knowledge of Trump's dealings with the Russians. And as everyone knows by now, special counsel Robert Mueller loves to nail someone on a slam dunk criminal offense, so as to get them to squeal on their bosses in order to save themselves. Thus, Cohen might soon be traveling the same path that Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, and George Papadopoulos have traveled. And depending on exactly what Cohen did, and in what capacity he did it, attorney-client privilege may not apply. Or, if Cohen's law license is dead in the water anyhow, and his goal is to avoid prison, he might choose to waive privilege. Either way, it's yet another headache for the President.

And that's not all. We haven't even gotten to the part of the "60 Minutes" interview that is dominating all the headlines. At this point, it is worth observing that the President cheating on his wife might make for good gossip, but is almost entirely a private matter and has little relevance to his ability to govern. The real issue here is not that Trump is a philanderer. Instead, as Avenatti very effectively put it:

This is about the cover-up. This is about the extent that Mr. Cohen and the president have gone to intimidate this woman, to silence her, to threaten her, and to put her under their thumb. It is thuggish behavior from people in power. And it has no place in American democracy.

And that sets the stage for the night's biggest revelation. As Daniels explained, just weeks after she told her story to In Touch magazine in May 2011, she was approached by a man in a Las Vegas parking lot. "Leave Trump alone. Forget the story," he reportedly demanded. "And then," Daniels explained, "He leaned around and looked at my daughter and said, 'That's a beautiful little girl. It'd be a shame if something happened to her mom.' And then he was gone."

The clip is available at the first link above (scroll down to #3, "The Threat") and is well worth watching, since it is only 51 seconds. But it is very believable. The structure of her narrative, her body language, the level of detail (not too much, but not too little) all suggest someone who is telling the truth. And if so, this represents an egregious abuse of power and privilege by Trump, from a man and a President who has a long history of abusing his power and his privilege, particularly when it comes to women. Oh, and he also has documented dealings with the Mafia, who seem like the folks that might have been charged with this particular task. So, it is no wonder that this is the segment that everyone is talking about.

And that concludes the bad news for Team Trump, right? Not quite. Daniels and Avenatti both implied that they have more evidence of her liaison with Trump, but that they are not sharing it because now is "not the time." It's possible that they are bluffing. However, there are also some very plausible explanations as to why they might not want to share right now. One possibility is financial—"60 Minutes" does not pay for interviews; it could be that Sunday night was the apertif, and that sleazy photos/footage of the President will be what lands Daniels a big payday with TMZ, or the Daily News or some less discriminating outlet. Another possibility is leverage—having this to dangle over the President's head puts Daniels in a better position when it comes to resolving the spat over the NDA. Still another is payback; Avenatti and Daniels might want to make Trump squirm so that he can be the one who feels what it's like to be powerless, for once. After all, he can fire cabinet officials left and right, but he can't fire former mistresses.

Finally, as Vox's Matthew Yglesias astutely points out, whatever else Daniels might know, there are two things she couldn't possibly know: (1) How many other women have been paid (or threatened) for their silence? and (2) What foreign intelligence services know about these arrangements? It is possible that Daniels and McDougal are the only affairs Trump ever had, and nothing like this happened ever again. However, that is not consistent with what we know about human behavior, nor of what we know about Donald Trump. Similarly, it's possible that the Russians, and the Chinese, and the Saudis, and the Israelis, and all of the other highly-skilled intelligence agencies that would like to have leverage over the United States have not managed to dig up a single shred of information about this, but it's not likely. And all of this is before we consider the fact that there's already evidence that America's enemies have dirt on The Donald, namely the Steele dossier. Not to mention Steve Bannon's claims that there are "hundreds" of other women.

So, to review: That's a creepy spanking, an almost certain violation of campaign finance law, the potential for the President's counsel to be indicted and to flip, an abuse of power, the possibility that more dirt is coming, and the likelihood that all of this is a budding national security crisis. Sarah Huckabee Sanders is definitely going to earn her paycheck this week. (Z)

Trump's New Lawyers Quit

Donald Trump's top lawyer, John Dowd, quit last week. But have no fear, the President hired two new ones, Joseph diGenova and Victoria Toensing, last Monday. They are married to each other and look great on television, a key criterion for Trump when choosing staff. Unfortunately, they didn't quite make it to the one-week mark. Yesterday, one of Trump's other lawyers, Jay Sekulow, announced that neither of them would be joining the Trump legal team after all. That is nothing to be ashamed of. Other top conservative lawyers, including Ted Olson and Emmet Flood, have also decided they aren't interested in defending a client who wants to be his own lawyer and won't follow what his paid counsel tells him.

A short term problem that Trump now has is: "Who is negotiating with special counsel Robert Mueller about my impending interview?" Dowd was trying to minimize Trump's exposure. Trump doesn't seem to understand that when you lie on Twitter, nothing bad happens, but when you lie under oath to a special prosecutor, you can end up in prison for perjury.

Trump still has Michael Cohen, but he is more of a fixer than a defense lawyer. Trump's long-time personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, is a litigator, which is great when Trump is suing someone, but not so great when Trump is the defendant. Finally, Trump needs one or more lawyers with different skills, since handling Mueller is one thing, but handling the three women who have sued him (Stormy Daniels, Karen McDougal, and Summer Zervos) is something quite different. Maybe he will be his own lawyer in those cases as well.

In contrast to Trump, who seems to be having trouble acquiring and keeping legal talent, Stormy Daniels has raised almost $300,000 for her case against Trump, so Michael Avenatti will pocket over a quarter million dollars for his work, not to mention getting publicity worth many times that (move over, Gloria Allred). It is hard to see him dropping out any time soon, especially since his client does what he tells her to do. (V)

More White House Personnel Changes Are Likely

Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy, a long-time friend of Donald Trump, yesterday said there will be one or two more changes in the government soon. VA Secretary David Shulkin is most likely on the hit list, but according to Ruddy, HUD Secretary Ben Carson is not.

Ruddy also said that Trump was surprised the media are reporting that the White House is in a perpetual state of chaos. Trump thinks the White House is operating like a smooth machine. Additionally, Ruddy noted that Trump thinks the "Stormy Daniels stuff" is a political hoax made up by his opponents to hurt him. He also doesn't have a high opinion of her lawyer, Michael Avenatti. (V)

Gun Advocates, Manufacturers Are Feeling the Pinch

As we noted yesterday, it looks like gun control is on its way to being a major issue in the midterm elections. And gun manufacturers are already being hit hard by the backlash. Sales are way down, in part because of the negativity currently surrounding guns, and in part—ironically enough—because having an NRA-backed Republican in the White House has taken away an incredibly potent marketing tool, namely: "Buy guns now, before Obama/Hillary takes them away forever." The nation's oldest gunmaker, Remington, announced on Sunday that it had filed for bankruptcy protection, and other manufacturers may follow.

The anti-gun trend is not just on the retail level, either. Quite a few corporations and banks—First National Bank of Omaha, FedEx, Enterprise, Alamo, Hertz and Budget among them—have decided to stop giving NRA discounts, or issuing NRA-branded credit cards. There is also enormous pressure on Amazon to get rid of NRA TV from its streaming service, at risk of losing tens of thousands of Prime members. Further, institutional investors are thinking about removing gun manufacturers from their portfolios. Investment management firm BlackRock, for example, has over $6 trillion in assets, and is the largest shareholder in gunmakers Sturm Ruger, American Outdoor Brands (aka Smith & Wesson), as well as the second-largest shareholder in Vista Outdoor (which manufactures guns and ammunition under the brand names Bushnell, CCI Ammunition, Federal Premium, Gunmate, and about 20 others). In a statement Thursday, BlackRock said that it was going to investigate these manufacturers' responses to the recent school shootings. This news contributed to the almost 10% drop in stock prices that all three companies have suffered in the last month.

The remarkable recent success of anti-gun folks, particularly the teenagers from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, is also reflected in the increasing desperation of the pro-gun folks. Former GOP senator Rick Santorum, for example, was on CNN this weekend, and suggested that if the protesters really wanted to do some good, they would put down their signs and take a CPR course. His exact words:

How about kids instead of looking to someone else to solve their problem, do something about maybe taking CPR classes or trying to deal with situations that when there is a violent shooter that you can actually respond to that... Those are the kind of things where you can take it internally, and say, 'Here's how I'm going to deal with this. Here's how I'm going to help the situation,' instead of going and protesting and saying, 'Oh, someone else needs to pass a law to protect me.'

Santorum is, to be very blunt, not the sharpest knife in the drawer. The odds are pretty good that somewhere he heard that more kids die for want of proper CPR than from school shootings, and that he inadvertently mangled that into what you read above. Naturally, he was derided roundly for suggesting that rather than stop the shootings, all you can really do is prepare to clean up the mess afterward.

Similarly, the aforementioned NRA TV was back on the beat on Sunday. For example, host Grant Stinchfield offered up a frothing-at-the-mouth commentary on the matter:

In just the first minute, he managed to work in a veritable greatest hits of NRA talking points. In order:

  • The Democrats are socialists
  • They don't have any interest in "solutions"
  • We must "harden" our schools
  • The kids leading the protests are pawns
  • Unconstitutional!
  • Blame George Soros and Michael Bloomberg (aka the Jews)
  • The lying media
  • It's censorship!
  • They hate our country

If only he'd had a little more time, maybe he would have been able to work in Crooked Hillary, fluoridation of water, the Illuminati, and the JFK assassination. In any case, it's worth noting that the "they're just pawns being used by some shadowy kingpin" accusation has been lodged against every activist group in America for 150 years, from the black folks who fought back against the Klan during Reconstruction, to the suffragettes, to the Civil Rights Movement, to the Vietnam War movement. It's also worth noting that Frederick Douglass began his public career at the age of 20, Victoria Woodhull at 18, Martin Luther King Jr. at 24, Abbie Hoffman at 16, and Mario Savio at 20. Sometimes the world does produce a young person who is highly charismatic and shrewd beyond their years.

In any case, in the end, these things do not happen in a vacuum, and are not independent of one another. The more that the gun lobby and the gun industry are on their heels, the greater momentum the activists will have, and the higher the likelihood they will be able to keep this issue at the center of the nation's consciousness. That, in turn, makes it much more likely that Democrats will embrace gun control as an issue in the midterms, with an enthusiasm that we have not thus far seen from the Party. (Z)

Cambridge Analytica Scandal Deepens

There are so many scandalous things going on these days that some potentially very serious ones are flying under the radar a bit. So it is with the Cambridge Analytica data mining scandal, which seems to worsen every day.

The newest revelations, reported in the Washington Post, center on something called "Project Ripon," which was cleverly (or incriminatingly) named for the city where the Republican Party was founded in 1854. The purpose of the project was to use Cambridge Analytica's (CA) data to get Republicans elected to Congress in 2014. Of course, your average politician/staffer is not going to have any idea how to use that data, particularly in the sophisticated ways that CA was trying to execute. So, CA provided "advisers" from Europe and Canada. As whistleblower Christopher Wylie explained to the Post, "Its dirty little secret was that there was no one American involved in it, that it was a de facto foreign agent, working on an American election."

This is very possibly a violation of American election law, which says that foreign nationals "may not directly or indirectly participate in the decision-making process" of a campaign. Needless to say, this is still a story that is unfolding, so it is hard to guess what the FEC might do with all of it. However, those Republicans who benefited from CA's possibly illegal services surely must know that they are exposed. It's very plausible that knowledge, coupled with fears of a looming blue wave, could push a few more GOP members of Congress into retirement than would otherwise have been the case. (Z)

Democrats Discover the State Legislatures

While Republicans have focused on winning state legislatures for years, Democrats never really bothered. The result: Republicans completely control 32 state legislatures, Democrats control 13, and 4 are divided. Nebraska's unicameral legislature is officially nonpartisan, but de facto, Republicans control it as well. As a consequence, in recent years, Republican-controlled legislatures have gerrymandered district maps and passed restrictive voter-ID laws in an effort to stay in power. Since 2010, 23 states have placed new restrictions on voting, 11 have made it harder to register, and 6 have cut back on early voting, which is disproportionately used by minorities and poor people, who often hold jobs that don't allow them time off on Election Day.

During the Obama administration, Republicans picked up nearly 1,000 seats in the state legislatures and the Democrats barely noticed and didn't fight back. Here are the maps showing control in 2009 and in 2017. Democrats have clearly been walloped in the Midwest, the South, and the Northeast. Only the West Coast has held for them.

state legislatures

Now that is changing. Democrats have flipped 39 state legislative seats since Jan. 2017 while the Republicans have flipped only 4. Democrats are also making a serious effort to at least field a candidate in all of the 6,066 state legislative seats that will be on the ballot in 87 of the 99 chambers this fall. In the past, Democrats didn't bother fielding candidates in vast numbers of races, but the 39 flipped seats plus Conor Lamb's upset win in a congressional district that Trump won by 20 points has awakened them to the basic fact that you can't beat somebody with nobody.

With control of 32 state houses, the Republicans are within spitting distance of their holy grail: A constitutional convention. It takes only 34 states (two-thirds of the states) to call one. Such a convention could rewrite the Constitution from scratch. It could also just write a couple of amendments, for example:

  • 28th Amendment: "Performing an abortion shall be considered first-degree murder and punished accordingly"
  • 29th Amendment: "Voting shall be restricted to white males who have been citizens at least 20 years"
  • 30th Amendment: "Congress shall have the power to restrict immigration based on race, religion, and nationality"
  • 31st Amendment: "Each state shall have four senators"

Who knows what other pet projects might come out of a constitutional convention, but it is doubtful Democrats would like most of them. The new constitution would have to be ratified by 38 states, but if Republicans can get to 34, 38 is only a hop, skip, and a jump away. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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