Dem 49
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GOP 51
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New polls:  
Dem pickups vs. 2012: (None)
GOP pickups vs. 2012: (None)

Trump May Not Understand His Legal Jeopardy

After a list of questions that special counsel Robert Mueller would like to ask Donald Trump leaked and was published in the New York Times, Trump lashed out at the leak (which may well have come from his side):

The tweet is manifestly wrong in several ways. First, Trump claims there are no questions on collusion. While it is true the word "collusion" (which is not a legal term) does not appear in the list, there were plenty of questions about a possible "conspiracy" (which is a legal term). For example:

  • When did you become aware of the Trump Tower meeting?
  • What do you know about a 2017 meeting in Seychelles involving Erik Prince?
  • During the campaign, what did you know about Russian hacking, use of social media, or other acts aimed at the campaign?

Trump also seems to be under the impression that there can only be an obstruction of justice if there is an underlying crime. That is also not true. If federal investigators are looking into the possibility that a crime was committed, it is a federal felony to obstruct the investigation, even if it later turns out that what the investigators found did not rise to the level of a crime. In any event, Trump's repeated attempt to gain leniency for former NSA Michael Flynn was very likely obstruction of justice in an investigation in which there was an underlying crime (Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI).

Incidentally, the issue of exactly who leaked these questions has become a question of some interest. The New York Times cleaned up the style and grammar, but the original version had misspellings and other typos. Michael Zeldin, a former aide to Mueller, argues that the imprecise, non-lawyerly nature of some questions, along with the typos and other errors, indicates that the Times' scoop came from inside the White House. And if so, then guess what? That could strengthen Mueller's obstruction of justice case. Former Richard Nixon counselor John Dean says that if the purpose of the leak was to disrupt the investigation or to tip off a witness, then it suggests obstruction. Perhaps one of these days, Trump & Co. will finally figure out how deep the doo-doo already is, and will stop actively giving Mueller more ammunition. Don't hold your breath, though. (V & Z)

Things Are Tense Between Team Trump and Team Mueller

There are two things right now that are pushing the Donald Trump chapter of Robert Mueller's investigation toward its denouement. The first is that if the Special Counsel is going to demand an interview with the President, he needs to make a decision pretty soon. The second is that Rudy Giuliani just joined Trump's legal team, and he undoubtedly wants to make a splash to show that there's a new sheriff in town. Or a new mayor, at least.

On Tuesday, the Washington Post added a bit more detail to the picture, reporting on a March meeting between the two sides. At this meeting, Mueller hinted at the nuclear option: If Trump does not sit for an interview voluntarily, then he might just find himself on the receiving end of a grand jury subpoena. This is the first known instance of Mueller making that threat, a threat that somewhat implies he has decided a Trump interview is not optional.

When the threat was made, then-lead counsel John Dowd reacted angrily, and declared that "This isn't some game. You are screwing with the work of the President of the United States." But that was apparently just posturing. Behind the scenes, Trump's lawyers wrestled with how to respond to the situation, a battle of wills that led to Dowd's exit not long thereafter. Now, the equally strong-headed Giuliani is calling the shots, and yesterday's leak of Mueller's questions is presumably not a coincidence. There's no knowing how all this will play out, only that it's about to get much more interesting. (Z)

Rosenstein: I Won't Be Intimidated

A rump group of House Freedom Caucus members is trying to draft articles of impeachment against Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing Robert Mueller's investigation. The idea is that if he can be gotten rid of, Donald Trump can appoint a new Deputy AG who will either fire Mueller or at least rein him in. Rosenstein is clearly aware of this effort and commented on it yesterday:

There are people who have been making threats, privately and publicly, against me for quite some time. I think they should understand by now the Department of Justice is not going to be extorted. We're going to do what's required by the rule of law.

The charge against Rosenstein is that he won't give internal documents to members of Congress who are interested in the FBI's probe of Hillary Clinton's email server. Rosenstein said that releasing those documents could result in a violation of privacy or other laws and that Congress cannot just "rummage through" anything the Justice Dept. has.

It is extremely unlikely that the House could find 218 members to vote for impeaching Rosenstein and out of the question that it could get 67 senators to vote for his conviction since that would require having 16 Democratic senators vote for it. Most likely, the Freedom Caucus members know this very well, so they are just grandstanding in an attempt to intimidate Rosenstein. From his statement, it is clear it won't get them anywhere. (V)

Bornstein Turns on Trump

Donald Trump really ought to invest in a good book about the Watergate scandal. Ok, he doesn't read books, but maybe he could make it through the comic book version. If so, he might just learn a valuable lesson: While some of the people you throw under the bus will allow themselves to be rolled right over (G. Gordon Liddy, for example), others will spill their guts to anyone who wants to listen (John Dean, for example).

Case in point: Harold Bornstein, the (presumably) former personal physician to Donald Trump. The good doctor earned notoriety back in 2015 as the signatory on a ridiculous letter about the then-candidate's health. There was zero chance that a medical doctor would make flabby, imprecise declarations like, "laboratory test results were astonishingly excellent" and "If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency." However, Bornstein dug his heels in and insisted the letter was his. Strong suspicions are not proof, so the story stood.

Now, like so many others, Bornstein has soured on Trump. This may have something to do with the fact that Trump's former bodyguard Keith Schiller and his lawyer Alan Garten showed up at the doctor's office last year and forcibly (and almost certainly illegally) seized the President's medical records. Bornstein told NBC News that he felt, "raped, frightened and sad," and that the incident was apparently prompted by his admission to the press that he had been prescribing hair regrowth drugs to Trump for years. The doctor surely could not have been surprised that the Donald was irked to have that news become public, although the only shocking thing about the revelation is that Trump is still bothering with pharmaceutical solutions that clearly aren't working.

On Tuesday, Bornstein had a chat with the folks at CNN, and dished just a little more dirt, confirming that the obviously phony letter from 2015 is, indeed, phony:

He dictated that whole letter. I didn't write that letter. I just made it up as I went along. That's black humor, that letter. That's my sense of humor. It's like the movie 'Fargo': It takes the truth and moves it in a different direction.

Bornstein also said that he did veto a few things to which he wasn't willing to sign his name.

At this point, the news that Donald Trump concocted an elaborate lie for public consumption barely causes one to bat an eyelash. After all, it was just last week that it was all over the news that he falsified his net worth to make the cut for the inaugural Forbes 400 back in 1984. The more interesting issue here, and possibly the more significant one, is: What is he hiding? We now have two testaments to Trump's robust physical and mental health. One of those testaments was a fraud, and the other came from a doctor whose professional conduct has been called into serious question. Trump is very vain; it's possible that he's just hiding something garden variety, like his hair loss or his weight gain. On the other hand, there may be something very serious being covered up here—heart issues, or diabetes, or perhaps a stroke. The latter would certainly explain the apparent difference in cognitive ability between the Trump of 10 years ago and the current Trump. In any case, if there really is something, it's likely we won't know unless it manifests itself in a debilitating way. (Z)

This Week in Scott Pruitt Corruption

Recently, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt took a trip to Morocco that cost the U.S. government over $100,000. Why, exactly does the head of the EPA need to be dropping six figures to galavant around North Africa? To work on a trade agreement, of course. And why, exactly, is the EPA negotiating trade agreements, which are actually the province of Commerce or State? That question does not seem to have an answer.

In short, even if Pruitt did not have a bunch of other shadiness on his record, this would not look good. But, of course, he has all kinds of skeletons that have come to light, from renting a room from lobbyists at a bargain-basement price, to traveling first class on the government's dime, to giving his staff unapproved raises and lying about it, to misusing his security detail. And on Tuesday, some additional concerning details about the Morocco trip came to light. It turns out that the logistics of the trip were worked out by Pruitt's friend Richard Smotkin, who guessed it, a lobbyist. And shortly after the trip, Smotkin registered as a foreign agent and then landed a fat new contract to conduct lobbying on behalf guessed it, the Moroccan government.

The least damning version of these events is that Pruitt chose his friends poorly. The more damning version is that he opened himself and his agency up to being compromised by a foreign government. The most damning version is that Pruitt was in on the plan, and he used his office and his agency to help Smotkin land the contract by creating the impression that the lobbyist is an "insider."

In any other presidential administration in U.S. history, even Dick Nixon's, Pruitt would have been shown the door by now. But he remains employed, allowing him to give the urban bosses of the Gilded Age a run for their money, corruption-wise. Now we wait to see if either the President or current Congress has any limits for this behavior. Maybe somebody should draw some cartoons. (Z)

Rubio: Workers Get Little Benefit from Tax Law

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) undercut the Republicans' main midterm campaign theme yesterday when he told the Economist magazine that there is "no evidence whatsoever" that the new tax law benefits workers at all. He noted that corporations have used the windfall to buy back their shares (thus raising the price of their stock) and pay executives bonuses, but he saw no signs of investment or hiring or anything that would benefit workers, as opposed to stockholders and top executives.

This is not the message Republicans want to be touting for the midterms, and they certainly don't want it coming from a well-known Republican and potential future presidential candidate. Making it even worse, this message is likely to resonate because a recent poll shows that more than half of registered voters haven't noticed any pay increase. So when a voter hasn't seen a pay increase, a prominent Republican senator says that few workers have gotten pay increases, and the Democrats say that all the benefits of the new law went to the ultra-rich and big corporations, what are the Republicans going to talk about in the fall? (V)

No Tax Cut? GOP May Run on Impeachment

What are the Republicans going to talk about in the fall? If the tax bill isn't impressing voters, and isn't even impressing the GOP members of the Senate, then they've definitely got to find something else. And, as they have hinted at previously, the Trump brain trust—campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, former deputy campaign manager David Bossie, and the apparently resurgent Steve Bannon—is pushing to make that something impeachment. As in, "Elect Republicans, and save the President from getting impeached." Not quite as catchy as "I Like Ike," but there it is.

While the GOP admittedly has to run on something, this is a really bad idea. First of all, anything Corey Lewandowski is advocating for is pretty much by definition a bad idea. Second, Trump barely prevailed in an election when his base was enthusiastic and the opponent's base was not. That scenario is not likely to be replicated in 2018, and if the message is "When the Democrats win, they will impeach Trump," that carries a serious risk of stoking the blue team's enthusiasm and handing them a mandate to begin impeachment proceedings the day the new session of Congress begins. Finally, any Republicans running in a district bluer than, say, R+10 are never going to gamble their political future by turning their race into a referendum on Trump's future. So, the Republicans better go back to the drawing board. (Z)

Outsider Upends Indiana Senate Primary

Sen. Joe Donnelly is one of the most endangered Democratic senators, winning in 2012 with 50.04% of the vote in large part because his Republican opponent, Richard Mourdock, said that when a woman gets pregnant as a result of being raped it is God's will. Theologians and other experts on God's will weren't so sure. Two standard-issue Indiana Republican representatives, Todd Rokita and Luke Messer have been duking it out for months for the right to challenge Donnelly in November. The GOP leadership was fine with this situation, since both Rokita and Messer are experienced, conservative Republicans, and either of them was expected to be able to beat Donnelly easily.

What the leadership hadn't counted on was a wealthy third candidate, former state representative Mike Braun, entering the race and then donating $6 million of his own money to his campaign. He has been flooding the airwaves with a message that he is Trumpier than Trump. This ad has gotten a lot of buzz:

In the ad, Braun walks around with cardboard cutouts of Rokita and Messer and shows them to voters, who proclaim they can't tell them apart. The message is that Braun, like Trump, is a rich outsider who will help Trump shake up Washington.

For most of the primary, Rokita and Messer have been throwing mud at each other, largely centered around the other's alcohol-related misdeeds in the past. Now both representatives have noticed that Braun is getting a lot of attention on account of his saturation advertising, so at the final debate on Monday, they both switched over to hitting on Braun, who is probably the favorite now. That is not certain, though, because there has been almost no public polling, despite the importance of the race.

There has been no polling of the general election either, but so far in special elections in 2017 and 2018, being pro-Trump hasn't been some kind of magic talisman that guarantees victory, in part because what Trump voters like about him is his style and personality, rather than his positions, and that doesn't transfer to other candidates. As a consequence, the inexperienced Braun is more likely to make a mistake in the general election and is probably the weakest of the three candidates, but absent any polling, it is hard to say. Meanwhile, Donnelly is lying low, but will no doubt come out swinging once the primary is over. It will be held on Tuesday.

One complication is that Indiana does not register voters by party, so Democrats are free to show up on Tuesday, ask for a Republican ballot, and then vote for the candidate they consider the weakest. (V)

Trump Has Told over 3,000 Lies While in Office

All presidents lie from time to time, but Donald Trump has turned it into an art form, with 3,001 false or misleading claims since his inauguration. If Trump's nose had grown 1 mm for every lie, it would now be 10 feet long.

It is hard to put this in a context that most people can understand, but CNN's Chris Cillizza put it this way: Trump lies about 6-7 times a day (although in the past 2 months, the number of lies per day has jumped to about 9). Health experts say that you should pee 6-7 times a day. So every time you go to the bathroom, you should realize that Trump just lied again. It's not quite, "Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings," but it gets the job done. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
May01 New York Times Has Mueller's Questions for Trump
May01 Trump's Campaign Has Paid Michael Cohen's Legal Fees
May01 White House Staff Not in Agreement About Trump's Intelligence
May01 Trump Was Warned about Jackson
May01 Lawsuits Piling Up at a Furious Pace
May01 Richard Painter Will Challenge Tina Smith for Al Franken's Old Senate Seat
May01 Ideological Warfare Erupts in Republican Special Election Primary in Ohio
May01 Millennials Are Moving Away from the Democrats
Apr30 Congressional Leaders Are Worried about Trump's Impact on the Midterms
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