• Trump's Campaign Has Paid Michael Cohen's Legal Fees
• White House Staff Not in Agreement About Trump's Intelligence
• Trump Was Warned about Jackson
• Lawsuits Piling Up at a Furious Pace
• Richard Painter Will Challenge Tina Smith for Al Franken's Old Senate Seat
• Ideological Warfare Erupts in Republican Special Election Primary in Ohio
• Millennials Are Moving Away from the Democrats
Special Counsel Robert Mueller would like to talk to Donald Trump. Trump is not so sure about that, particularly since Michael Cohen's office was raided by the FBI. It's not at all clear which side will win out, but thanks to the New York Times, we know now what questions Mueller wants to ask. On the list are 25 or so questions, and they center on four basic subject areas. Here are those areas, with a few examples of questions from each:
Former NSA Michael Flynn
Former FBI Director James Comey
- What did you know about Sally Yates's meetings about Mr. Flynn?
- How was the decision made to fire Mr. Flynn on Feb. 13, 2017?
- What did you know about phone calls that Mr. Flynn made with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, in late December 2016?
Attorney General Jeff Sessions
- What was your opinion of Mr. Comey during the transition?
- What was the purpose of your Jan. 27, 2017, dinner with Mr. Comey, and what was said?
- Regarding the decision to fire Mr. Comey: When was it made? Why? Who played a role?
Collusion with Russia
- What did you think and do regarding the recusal of Mr. Sessions?
- What efforts did you make to try to get him to change his mind?
- What was the purpose of your July 2017 criticism of Mr. Sessions?
- When did you become aware of the Trump Tower meeting?
- What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding Russian sanctions?
- What involvement did you have concerning platform changes regarding arming Ukraine?
The list of questions gives us more insight into Mueller's investigation than anything else that has thus far become public. It is clear that the Special Counsel is looking carefully at potential obstruction of justice, as well as possible collusion with the Russians. Similarly, Mueller obviously wants to give Trump enough rope to hang himself, if the President will take it. Many of the questions are a little vague, or a little open-ended, and invite the Donald to engage in some of his trademark stream-of-consciousness rambling. There's no reason to think, incidentally, that these are the only issues in which Mueller is interested. No, these are just the ones where he thinks the President might say something useful. There is little point, for example, in asking something like, "So, how much money have you laundered in Cyprus?"
And now, let us engage in some supposition. It is highly unlikely that these questions "leaked" without Mueller's approval. He's running a pretty tight operation, and if there was a leaker within, that person surely would have shown their hand long before this. If Mueller did indeed want these questions made public, then the next question, of course, is "why?" Two explanations suggest themselves. The first is that this is essentially negotiation-by-newspaper with the President; by revealing the questions, Mueller may hope to assuage some of Trump's lawyers' concerns, and so make it more likely the President agrees to sit for an interview. The second, and more likely, possibility is that this is a preemptive PR strike. Following the release of the "case closed" report from House Republicans last week, this could be Mueller's way of announcing, very publicly, "case is most certainly NOT closed," (so you better not fire me).
There is another possibility, though there's a good chance that it's just a variant on the first. It may be that someone in the White House or on Trump's legal team did the leaking. If so, then it raises the twin questions of "who?" and "why?" And the most probable answers are (1) Trump's lawyers, and (2) To try to get him to see how deep he's in it and/or to stop him from impetuously firing Mueller. If this is what is going on, Mueller may still be the puppetmaster. He knows that this White House leaks like a sieve, and that anything he provides to them is likely to go public, sooner or later. If so, it remains the case that having the questions out there may goad Trump into sitting for an interview (or responding via Twitter), while also making a public case that this investigation needs to be brought to a proper conclusion, by the special counsel, and not the hasty conclusion that the Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee would prefer. (Z)
Yesterday, we noted that Donald Trump's fixer Michael Cohen might have to flip because he can't afford the enormous legal fees a full defense would entail. Donald Trump's campaign also realized that Cohen's finances could be a reason for him to flip, so to encourage him not to do so, it has paid nearly $228,000 to his lawyers, sources have told ABC News.
However, the payments could themselves cause problems. Legal experts have said that if the payments relate to the Russia investigation, they might be legal, but if they relate to other matters, such as paying off porn stars and Playmates, they would be illegal. A complication here is that Cohen's own attorney, Stephen Ryan, is representing Cohen in both the Russia investigation and the hush-money investigation.
Another aspect of the raid on Cohen's office (other than what the defense lawyers will cost) hasn't gotten much attention, but could be important down the road. It's the old "Be careful what you wish for, you might get it" angle. Trump has invoked attorney-client privilege in an attempt to keep prosecutors from using the contents of Cohen's computer against either one of them. As a direct consequence, Judge Kimba Wood has hired a special master, former judge Barbara Jones, to inspect the computer to determine what is privileged and what is not. Now imagine (hard to do, but try) that there are incriminating documents on the computer. Absent Jones, if they were later introduced as evidence in court, Trump and/or Cohen could say they were fake, fabricated by the deep state to frame Trump. But now that Jones has to vet every document before turning it over to the feds, that strategy won't work because there is now a credible witness (Jones) who can testify in court that she saw the original document on Cohen's computer. (V)
It appears that there is a spirited debate going on within the White House. On one side is the Rex Tillerson school of thought, which argues that Donald Trump is a moron. That would give the President an IQ between 51 and 70. A second school of thought, allegedly being led by Chief of Staff John Kelly, holds that such an assessment is too generous, and that Trump is actually an idiot (IQ 0-25). Perhaps the two sides can eventually reach a consensus, and settle on imbecile (IQ 26-50).
Kelly, of course, denies that he ever said such a thing. He also denies that he and Trump have "grown tired" of each other, and that his departure from the White House is imminent. Perhaps he's telling the truth, although the reports are awfully believable, and this administration isn't really entitled to the benefit of the doubt any more. Whatever the case may be, this story tells us one of two things about Trump. Either the people who work most closely with him think he's stupid, or else he's surrounded himself with people who dislike him so much that they're not only willing to leak, they're willing to make up vicious lies about him. Either scenario isn't a good look for the President. (Z)
Very little stays secret in the White House these days. And so, it's hardly a surprise that more and more information continues to leak out about failed VA Secretary nominee and (apparently) former presidential physician Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson. CNN is reporting that Team Trump was warned about bad behavior by Jackson last September, in the form of three memos from Vice President Mike Pence's physician. Briefly, the memos allege that Jackson shared confidential information about Second Lady Karen Pence without permission, and that when he was confronted about this by Pence's doctor, grew threatening and resorted to physical intimidation.
It's hard to imagine that Mike Pence's physician randomly chose to smear Jackson for no good reason. And the allegations certainly jibe with other things that have been said about the Admiral, namely that he's full of himself, has low regard for medical ethics, and has anger management issues. And if these reports are indeed true, it says—or, more accurately, reiterates—a couple of things about Donald Trump. First, as he expressed outrage last week that Jackson was an innocent man being torn down for not reason, and as he called for Sen. Jon Tester's (D-MT) head on a platter, he was lying through his teeth. Of course, that's par for the course for Trump, who blew past the 2,000-presidential-lie mark months ago. More remarkable is that Trump not only made the nomination with no vetting, he made it knowing full well that Jackson had serious skeletons in his closet. Has he learned nothing in his 15 months in Washington? Given all the reporters looking for a scoop, and the Democrats looking to score political points, and leakers in the White House looking to do...whatever it is they're doing, this stuff never remains secret. It certainly makes it easy to conclude that maybe Rex Tillerson and John Kelly (see above) have the right of it. (Z)
Another day, another lawsuit. Well, two lawsuits, actually. In California, Michael Avenatti filed suit on behalf of his porn star client Stormy Daniels (nee Stephanie Clifford), alleging that Donald Trump is guilty of defamation. In Alabama, meanwhile, former judge and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore filed suit against three women who accused him of sexual improprieties, alleging that they engaged in a "political conspiracy" against him, and asking for compensatory and punitive damages.
Both of these suits are nothing more than PR stunts. In the former case, the logic is clear—Avenatti is a shrewd user of the law and the media to serve his ends, and he wants to keep Daniels' name in the headlines, given that her primary lawsuit against Michael Cohen has been postponed for at least 90 days. In the latter case, the logic is less clear. Moore has zero chance of prevailing, and he clearly realizes it. He keeps talking about the lie detector test he took, a piece of information that can only be for public consumption, since the test would never be admitted in actual court. The judge didn't always pay terribly close attention to the law, particularly when separation of church and state was involved, but he certainly knows that. The question is: Who is Moore's audience for this show? Surely, the general public has reached its conclusions about Moore, one way or another, and even if they haven't, he's not going to run for office again. The greatest likelihood is that he's doing it to assuage his wife, who is listed as a co-plaintiff. Or maybe he's trying to convince himself he didn't do anything. Whatever the case may be, the lawyers representing Moore are committing highway robbery when they cash his checks. They'll be lucky if they don't get nailed for filing a frivolous lawsuit. (Z)
Is it ethical for a Republican to run for the Senate as a Democrat when that looks like an easier path? Go ask Richard Painter, a Republican who served as the chief ethics counsel in George W. Bush's White House. Yesterday, he announced that he will mount a primary challenge to Sen. Tina Smith (DFL-MN), who was appointed to Al Franken's Senate seat when Franken resigned under pressure after it became known that he had patted one too many women on their rear end.
As an ethics expert, Painter probably knows whether it is ethical to run in the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, even though he used to be a Republican. More practically, he knows he has zero chance of getting the Republican nomination, given that he has been a loud, consistent, and vehement critic of Donald Trump's ethics, roughly since the day the Donald was inaugurated. Given Trump's popularity with most Republicans, Painter would probably lose to anyone—even Hillary Clinton—in the Republican primary.
On the Democratic side, he has three things going for him. First, Smith is an appointed senator, and generally speaking, they don't have a great track record of getting elected on their own (less than 40%). Second, Smith was lieutenant governor before being appointed, and if the vice presidency is not worth a bucket of warm piss, a lieutenant governorship is probably not worth a barrel of it (or should that be a glass of it?). Third, Painter's long and consistent record of calling out Trump when he was still a Republican is sure to endear him to many Minnesota Democrats, especially if his campaign is about how he will oppose Trump with every ounce of strength he has and promises to vote for his conviction if he is impeached. While turncoats are generally not popular in politics, his very strong anti-Trump track record might just do the trick.
Of course, Minnesota is a fairly blue state and people are going to ask him about same-sex marriage, abortion, and all the hot-button issues, and if he flubs the test, his anti-Trump positions may not be enough. After all, Smith is no Trump fan either, and she is an actual Democrat. (V)
Pat Tiberi resigned from the House in January, nominally to become a lobbyist for an Ohio business group, but in reality because when Paul Ryan (R-WI) became speaker, Tiberi was passed over for the chairmanship of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. His resignation triggered a special election in OH-12, an R+7 district east of Columbus that has been in Republican hands since 1920, excepting an 8-year stretch in the 1930s and 2 years in the 1980s. Although it has many suburban and rural voters far from Columbus, it also includes heavily black neighborhoods in the city, and as such could fall to the Democrats this year.
The battle for succession is well under way. The co-founder of the House Freedom Caucus, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), is heavily backing Trump supporter and businesswoman Melanie Leneghan. Tiberi is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars from his campaign war chest to back state senator Troy Balderson, who is not as far right as Leneghan. Many Republicans feel that Leneghan is too extreme for the district, and that her nomination would basically hand another Republican seat to the Democrats. Former Ohio GOP Chairman Matt Borges said: "We're looking at a situation where every seat counts to hang on the majority. We don't need any self-inflicted wounds." A national Republican strategist put it this way: "If she wins, the seat's probably gone."
On the Democratic side, seven candidates have signed up. Franklin County Recorder Danny O'Connor is the establishment favorite. He is carefully mimicking Conor Lamb's successful campaign in PA-18 earlier this year. The primary is a week from today. (V)
A new online poll of 16,000 registered voters between the ages of 18 and 34 done for Reuters shows that support among this group for Democratic candidates for Congress has dropped from 55% to 46% over the past two years, while support for Repulicans has increased from 27% to 28%. Two-thirds of the millennials dislike Donald Trump, but that does not necessarily carry over to the rest of his party. The shift is most pronounced among white men, who preferred Democrats in 2016 by a margin of 48% to 36% but now favor Republicans 46% to 37%. (V)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr30 Democrats May Make a Play for Rural Districts
Apr30 Jackson Likely Won't Get His Old Job Back
Apr30 More Fallout From Wolf's Performance at Correspondents' Dinner
Apr30 Trump to Speak at NRA Convention
Apr30 Tenuous Financial Situation May Force Cohen's Hand
Apr30 Harris Running the Dean-Obama-Sanders Playbook
Apr29 Trump Rallies; Correspondents Dine
Apr29 Progress in Korean Talks
Apr29 When it Comes to Trump Interview, the Ball Is in Mueller's Court
Apr29 Pence to Tour "Wall Construction"
Apr29 Trump's EPA May Roll Back Fuel Efficiency Standards
Apr29 Trump Vote Prompted by Cultural, Not Economic, Issues
Apr29 Senate Polls Mostly Coming Up Roses for Democrats
Apr28 Natalia Veselnitskaya Has Worked with Russia's Top Prosecutor
Apr28 House Intelligence Committee Issues a Report on Russiagate
Apr28 Judge Throws Out Manafort's Civil Suit
Apr28 Ryan Fires House Chaplain
Apr28 Montana Senate Race Heats Up
Apr28 Some Republicans Stock Up on Red Meat
Apr28 Meehan Resigns from Congress Immediately
Apr28 Texas Voter ID Law Is Back On
Apr27 Judge Kimba Wood Appoints a Special Master in the Michael Cohen Case
Apr27 Pompeo Confirmed
Apr27 Senate Judiciary Committee Passes a Bill to Protect Mueller
Apr27 Another Bad Day for Pruitt
Apr27 Trump Wants to Get Rid of the Electoral College
Apr27 Democrats Are at Each Other's Throats (Again)
Apr27 Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball Changes 15 House Ratings
Apr26 Macron Delivers État de l'Union Speech to Congress
Apr26 New Allegations about Ronny Jackson Emerge
Apr26 Senate Republicans Want to Smooth the Path for Confirming Trump Nominations
Apr26 Most Voters Haven't Seen Pay Boost from Tax Cut
Apr26 Cohen to Plead the Fifth
Apr26 Republicans Are Running a Pro-Mueller Ad on Fox News
Apr26 A Worrisome Poll for Trump
Apr25 Democrats Get Mostly Good News in Yesterday's Elections
Apr25 Federal Judge: No DACA? No Bueno
Apr25 Supreme Court Appears Split Along Ideological Lines on Texas Gerrymandering Case
Apr25 Trump Pivots 180 Degrees and Praises Little Rocket Man
Apr25 VA Nominee is a Dead Man Walking
Apr25 Pelosi Rejects Litmus Tests
Apr25 The Dow Jones Is Grumpy
Apr24 Pompeo Is Approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Apr24 Jackson Nomination in Trouble
Apr24 Trump Is Using His Cell Phone More to Evade Kelly
Apr24 Two Key Elections Will Take Place Today
Apr24 Six-Term Republican Congressman May Be Kept Off the Ballot
Apr24 GOP Midterm Campaign May Be Built Around Ghosts of Clintons Past
Apr24 Mueller Has Not Contacted Natalia Veselnitskaya