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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Takeaways from Stormy Daniels Interview
      •  Trump Ignores Daniels
      •  Daniels Expands Her Lawsuit to Include Cohen
      •  What Is Gates Telling Mueller about Trump?
      •  Does Team Trump Really Threaten to Rough People Up?
      •  No Trade War? Wall Street Is Thrilled
      •  Trump's Approval Is Climbing
      •  Citizenship Question To Be Included on 2020 Census
      •  Is Sean Hannity an Idiot?

Takeaways from Stormy Daniels Interview

As usual, after a major news event, we are starting to get lists of takeaways. Here are some of them about Anderson Cooper's interview with Stormy Daniels (actually, Stephanie Clifford):

Washington Post
  • Daniels is well aware of why people might doubt her story
  • She says she was physically threatened while in a parking lot in 2011
  • She won't say if she has text messages, photos, or videos to back up her story
  • Unlike Karen McDougal, Daniels was not attracted to Trump
  • She said the sex was consensual and she does not want to be part of #MeToo
The Hill
  • The bit about spanking and the comparison of a porn star to Ivanka will be embarrassing to the thin-skinned Trump
  • Daniels says she was physically threatened to keep quiet
  • She said the encounter was consensual because she put herself in a bad position and was then stuck there
  • Questions will persist for Trump's fixer, Michael Cohen
  • Trump has remained silent and Melania is doing a slow burn in Florida
  • Daniels does not see herself as part of the #MeToo movement
  • Trump consented to Daniels spanking him with a magazine
  • Trump didn't use a condom
  • Trump and Melania had separate bedrooms at the time of the affair
  • Daniels was threatened in a parking lot by an unknown man

It is hard to see at this point which of these items (or others) becomes the major one down the road. While some media outlets are making a big deal about the "spanking," that was clearly a joke and both of them understood it that way. The physical threat potentially could be a big deal, but only if Daniels can prove it. It is unlikely video surveillance footage is available from more than 10 years ago. On the other hand, Michael Cohen could be in big trouble for violating election law. Undoubtedly special counsel Robert Mueller will want to have a chat with him sooner or later. Cohen has been extremely loyal to Trump his whole career, but whether that extends to losing his law license and going to prison is something we don't know yet.

These are some of the known unknowns. But the biggest unknown unknown is how Melania is taking all this. She can't be happy, but will she take any action? It is virtually certain that Trump forced her to sign a pre-nuptial agreement when they got married, but did he also force her to sign an NDA? What happens if she has had it and decides to file for divorce? Since Trump is known to be a tightwad, most likely the pre-nup gives Melania several million dollars in the event of a divorce, but not tens of millions. Suppose she threatens to write a tell-all book to supplement the settlement in the pre-nup? So far she has not given any sign of wanting a divorce, but she is surely feeling totally humiliated by now. (V)

Trump Ignores Daniels

Sometimes, silence is strong evidence. In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's story "Silver Blaze," Sherlock Holmes solves a mystery because a watch dog doesn't bark when an intruder comes to a stable at midnight to steal a prize race horse. Holmes concluded that the dog must have known the intruder well. Despite the implications of Stormy Daniels' interview on Sunday (that either Donald Trump or his lawyer, Michael Cohen, violated federal election law), Trump has not tweeted anything about the interview. He has often tweeted about accusations women have made about him, typically calling them liars. Why the radio silence this time? Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti, applied Occam's razor to the case yesterday and came up with a straightforward explanation of why Trump has been silent: "Because it's true."

Nevertheless, not everyone kept quiet. Cohen's own lawyer, David Schwartz, said: "There is lying all over." Avenatti questioned whether Cohen would have paid Daniels $130,000, out of his own pocket, to keep mum about an affair that never happened.

As has been said before, it's not the crime, it's the cover-up that gets them in the end. The facts here are not in dispute. Cohen set up a Delaware corporation just before the 2016 election and used it to pay Daniels $130,000. If this was an attempt to avoid hurting Trump's campaign, it is a federal crime, since the payment was not reported. If it wasn't hush money, what was it and why did Cohen use his own money? No one has come up with a plausible explanation yet, other than the obvious one: It was (illegal) hush money. (V)

Daniels Expands Her Lawsuit to Include Cohen

Yesterday, Stormy Daniels expanded her lawsuit to include Michael Cohen as a defendant. She is accusing Cohen of defamation for insinuating that she is a liar. Neither Cohen nor his lawyer, nor Trump's lawyer Charles Harder was willing to comment on the change. The amended suit claims that private arbitration would hide an illegal act and violate public policy by suppressing speech on a matter of enormous public concern. (V)

What Is Gates Telling Mueller about Trump?

It is a given that former Trump aide Rick Gates has already ratted on his former business partner, Paul Manafort, who ran Donald Trump's campaign in the spring of 2016. But did Gates also have valuable information on Trump? Neither Gates nor Mueller is talking, but Politico talked to 15 current and past Trump associates to try to find out what Gates might have known about Trump. One Republican consultant called Gates one of the top five insiders and said: "He saw everything." One of Trump's lawyer's said Gates' pleas has caused palpable alarm in Trumpworld.

Manafort was in the news more than Gates, but Gates actually spent much more time with Trump. Furthermore, while Manafort parachuted out of the campaign in August 2016, Gates stayed on until the end, was part of the transition team, and even continued in Trumpworld during the early months of his presidency. Consequently, he may know much more about Trump than many people have assumed.

Worst of all for Trump, Gates is not family and doesn't have a long history with The Donald, so he is far less likely to hold back key facts, as Donald Trump Jr. or Manafort will surely do/have surely done when talking to Mueller. Finally, Gates is only 45 and has young children, so he is especially motivated to tell Mueller whatever he wants to know to avoid a long prison sentence. All in all, the fact that Gates was with Trump a lot in 2016 and desperately wants to avoid a long sentence, is not good news for Trump, even if Manafort has been in the limelight much more than Gates has. (V)

Does Team Trump Really Threaten to Rough People Up?

As noted above, one of the keys to Stormy Daniels' story is whether or not she's telling the truth about having been threatened by a Trump-affiliated goon. To help get to the bottom of the matter, the folks at Buzzfeed have done the yeoman's work of collecting some of the stories from folks who claim they have been physically threatened by one or more members of Team Trump:

  • A bankruptcy attorney who sued The Donald says he received a call advising him that, "If you keep f***ing with Mr. Trump, we know where you live and we're going to your house for your wife and kids."

  • A New York City housing commissioner filed a complaint with the NYPD that his life was threatened when he declined to grant a $20 million tax abatement for the construction of Trump Tower.

  • Trump lawyer Michael Cohen reportedly told a reporter at the Daily Beast he would "mess your life up" if the reporter published a story unfriendly to The Donald.

  • Daut Bajrushi, who worked for Trump, reportedly found evidence of financial improprieties by the Trump Organization and threatened to blow the whistle. He says he mysteriously became ill, sent his wife and son to retrieve possessions from his office, and while there they were accosted by security guards who threatened the 12-year-old and then held both wife and son against their will for 90 minutes.

It is certainly possible that all of these folks, along with Stormy Daniels, are lying. After all, someone with hundreds of millions or billions or dollars is undoubtedly a lawsuit magnet, as folks do what they can to grab a share. On the other hand, only one of these folks (Bajrushi) actually filed a lawsuit, and there are some recurring themes across the various narratives, like threatening children. On the whole, these cases probably serve to give more credence to Daniels' story. (Z)

No Trade War? Wall Street Is Thrilled

Late Sunday, the Wall Street Journal reported that American and Chinese officials were talking behind the scenes about Donald Trump's threatened tariffs, and perhaps trying to find a solution satisfactory to both sides. If things continue on this path, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin may soon travel to Asia to facilitate further negotiations. There does not generally seem to be method to Trump's madness, but if all the tariff talk was ultimately just a bluff to get the Chinese to the bargaining table, then it would certainly be a major success for the President on the dealmaking front—his first, really.

Wall Street is apparently persuaded that this is for real, and was very pleased with the news, as the Dow jumped 669 points on Monday—its third biggest jump by points in its history. This is after suffering its fifth biggest drop, by points, on Thursday of last week. The good news for Trump is that Monday's very good day effectively canceled out the terrible week that the market had last week. The bad news is that the last time the market set numerous records for both points lost and points gained in a short period of time was during the 2008 financial crisis. So while Monday's news was positive, the market is not quite in a healthy place yet. (Z)

Trump's Approval Is Climbing

Despite all the negative news, or possibly on account of all the negative news, Donald Trump's approval rating is moving up. A new CNN poll puts him at 42% approve, 54% disapprove, his best rating in 11 months. Of course, this is just one poll, but it is certainly possible that his supporters are digging in their heels to defend their man in the face of weeks of bad news.

The poll also asked whether people believe the allegations of affairs. A whopping 63% believe the women and only 21% believe Trump. This may appear inconsistent with Trump's improving job performance rating, but it could easily be that many people don't actually care about the affairs but do care about the tariffs on China. (V)

Citizenship Question To Be Included on 2020 Census

On Monday, the Commerce Department—which oversees the U.S. Census—announced that a question about respondents' citizenship status will be included on the next iteration of the census. Their official explanation is that they are doing it at the request of the Justice Dept., so as to make it easier to enforce the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

This explanation is so laughable that it's remarkable the administration can say it with a straight face. It was a GOP-dominated court that gutted the Voting Rights Act, and it has been GOP-controlled legislatures that have done everything within their power to restrict voting by minorities, including Voter ID laws, reduced voting hours, fewer polling places in poor communities, purges of voter rolls, and the like. Anyone who believes that AG Jeff Sessions has suddenly become a crusader for voting rights, we have a handsome bridge in San Francisco available for purchase at a bargain price.

Now, the GOP and the Trump administration envision two benefits from this policy. The first is that it can be used to rally the base, because now the President is "doing something" about these persnickety undocumented immigrants. Indeed, Trump's re-election committee has already sent out an e-mail blast on the subject:

The President wants the 2020 United States Census to ask people whether or not they are citizens. In another era, this would be COMMON SENSE...but 19 attorneys general said they will fight the President if he dares to ask people if they are citizens. The President wants to know if you're on his side.

Fortunately, you can let the President know you're on his side for as little as $5.

The second potential benefit to the policy, if the administration can make the decision stick, is that the citizenship question will undoubtedly cause undocumented immigrants to be undercounted, as some (probably large) number of them will decline to respond to the census for fear of being deported. Kind of like army veteran Miguel Perez, who did two tours in Afghanistan, was on Sunday. Since population figures are used to determine all sorts of things, most obviously representation in Congress and funding levels for various federal programs, undercounting undocumented immigrants will weigh heavily on the states where they happen to reside in large numbers. Which is to say, mostly blue states, particularly California.

Of course, making the decision stick is going to be a tall order. California's AG, Xavier Becerra, and secretary of state, Alex Padilla, have already announced plans to sue; the AGs of New York, Illinois, Hawaii, and Washington will presumably join them. They will argue that the Constitution quite clearly envisions the counting of all residents, not just citizens (recall the Three-fifths clause, which was negotiated 90 years before slaves became citizens). So, the Trump administration will have a tall order when it gets its day in court. Of course, even if they lose, they will still have collected plenty of five dollar bills from the base. (Z)

Is Sean Hannity an Idiot?

A useful idiot, that is. Which is to say, he is an unwitting accomplice of the Russians, and their efforts to undermine the American democracy. At least, we certainly hope it's unwitting.

What is the basis for this assertion? Well, Mother Jones has been working with the nonpartisan Alliance for Securing Democracy to track a network of Russian trolls, as they spread misinformation and propaganda across American websites and social media platforms. In the past three months, Hannity's website has risen up the ranks, to the point that it is now the trolls' favorite source for links and other references. It certainly must save a lot of time and money if, instead of producing your own propaganda, you can just wait until the enemy produces the propaganda for you. The Putin administration has been amusing itself by trolling the United States this week; if Vlad really wants to stir the pot, he'll announce that Hannity has been awarded the Order of Lenin for services to Russia. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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