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

Cohen Was Paid over $500,000 by Top Lobbying Firm

Donald Trump's former fixer Michael Cohen may not have gotten the White House job he wanted, but he managed to parlay his association with the President into some nice money. In addition to the payments from AT&T, Novartis, and a Russian oligarch that were reported last week, Politico is now reporting that Cohen was riding the gravy train in more ways than one. After Trump's election, few lobbying shops on K Street had any connection to Trump and they all began looking furiously for one. Squire Patton Boggs, one of the biggest, decided Cohen was their man.

One of the top lobbyists at the firm, Edward Newberry, was warned in advance about hiring Cohen. One person described him as a "bull in a china shop," while a second said he was the next Jack Abramoff. But Squire hired him anyway, with a retainer of $500,000 and a cut on any business he brought in. Cohen also got a nice office in Rockefeller Center. After that office was raided by the feds last month, Squire decided that maybe he wasn't such a great asset after all (even though he did bring in five clients) and cut him loose. The Wall Street Journal has reported that U.S. Immigration Fund, a Florida-based outfit, was one of the five and paid Squire $370,000 in fees last year.

It now appears that Cohen cheated on Squire. He used his office in Rockefeller Center to run his own little side business without the firm's knowledge. The company has not publicly expressed regret about working with Cohen, but it does regret the hit it is taking on account of all this, showing that even full-blooded swamp creatures care about their image. (V)

About that Russian Oligarch...

It was revealed, a couple of weeks back, that Columbus Nova was one of the firms that paid money to Michael Cohen's shell corporation Essential Consultants, LLC. This $580,000 transaction raised more than a few eyebrows, since Columbus Nova's main client is Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, who is close to Vlad Putin. When the payment was first made public, everyone involved insisted that it was all a big coincidence, and that there was no connection between Vekselberg and the Trump campaign.

Now, it turns out—brace yourself—that was not true. Both CNN and the New York Times are reporting that, in fact, Vekselberg met with Cohen at Trump Tower in early January 2017. That's just weeks before Donald Trump's inauguration, and just days before the payment to Essential Consultants was made.

It is possible that this whole thing was legitimate, but the timing looks very fishy. And the fact that everyone involved denied it, up until video footage proved they were not telling the truth, is pretty damning. At this point, we know for certain that at least four prominent Russians dropped by Trump Tower during or immediately after the campaign: lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, ambassador Sergey Kislyak, banker Sergey Gorkov, and Vekselberg. That's an awfully large number for a campaign that is suspected of colluding with the Russians. In fact, it's an awfully large number for any campaign; Hillary Clinton's total was approximately zero. It would seem that whatever Robert Mueller concludes, he's going to have plenty of evidence to work with. (Z)

Trump's Foreign Policy Is a Mystery, Probably Even to Him

Pop quiz: Is Donald Trump going to meet with Kim Jong-Un next month? The answer is: "Maybe." Actually, the better answer is probably: "Who Knows?" Certainly not the President. On Friday, just 24 hours after calling the whole thing off via a very public breakup letter, Trump told reporters that the meeting might go forward after all, perhaps even on June 12, as originally scheduled. "We'll see what happens. It could even be the 12th. We're talking to them now," he said. "They very much want to do it. We'd like to do it." Undoubtedly, South Korean president Moon Jae-in, who had to drag himself and his staff out of bed Thursday night after being given no warning that Trump was canceling, is pulling his hair out.

Of course, it's not just Moon who can't figure Trump's foreign policy out. It's foreign leaders across the globe, not to mention most politicians and foreign policy experts in the United States. There have certainly been attempts to distill the Donald's philosophy down to some core principle, like "America First" or "peace through strength." But then we learn that, for example, Trump is planning to move forward with his plan to bail out Chinese telecomm giant ZTE, because that's what Xi Jinping wants. It does not apparently matter to the President that most of the rest of his party, not to mention the Democrats and the entire intelligence community, wants the sanctions on ZTE to remain in place. In any event, how can such a policy possibly be considered "America first" or "peace through strength"?

Trump's foreign policy is no policy at all. Some presidents try to think months ahead, others years ahead, and a few even tried to plot out the next several decades. Trump does none of this; he doesn't even bother to think one day ahead, in most cases. By all evidences, he runs on pure instinct: Whatever feels right today is today's foreign policy, and maybe tomorrow it will be something entirely different. That is the only possible way to get to the place where the Trump administration is. Not only the wildly-oscillating approaches to Syria, or North Korea, or Iran, or Russia, but also the pieces of the puzzle that don't particularly fit together. For example, helping out ZTE will please China, but meeting with Kim will aggravate the Chinese. The two maneuvers, both happening within hours of each other on Friday, don't make sense together. It is like a car driver hitting the gas pedal and brakes as hard as possible at the same time.

At this point, there are three questions worth considering. The first is: Will Trump's approach yield results? There is something to be said for shaking things up at times; perhaps the Donald's unorthodox approach will disrupt one or more statuses quo that have held for decades or generations. The second is: Will Trump's approach blow up in his face? Actually, there's no question that it will, the price of playing high-stakes poker in an ultra-aggressive fashion is that sometimes you lose big. It's really just a question of when and how: A terrorist attack? A bomb strike? A major international treaty made without American participation? Trade wars? It's all possible. The third question, somewhat related to the second, is: How long will the other leaders of the world play Trump's game according to Trump's rules? Thus far, the Theresa Mays and Angela Merkels and Moons Jae-in of the world have been willing to bow to his mercurial approach. But the more obvious it becomes that is a fool's errand, and the more they reach the conclusion that the U.S. is no longer worth partnering with, the less they will cooperate with him. And when and if that moment arrives, Trump will start to learn that even the world's greatest military and economic power sometimes needs friends. (Z)

McConnell Supports Mueller's Investigation

After receiving classified briefings on special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russiagate and a separate probe into the FBI's actions in 2016, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said: "I support both of them, and I don't really have anything to add to this subject based upon the Gang of Eight briefing that we had today, which was classified." The "gang of 8" consisted of the congressional leaders of both parties and the chairmen and ranking members of the two intelligence committees.

McConnell is notoriously tight-lipped about everything, so it wasn't to be expected that he would blab all about what he learned at a classified meeting. Still, he said nothing about witch hunts and gave no indication that he felt the investigations should be shut down, something Donald Trump says almost every day. (V)

Quick Question: Is It Bernie vs. Hillary All over Again for the Democrats?

Quick answer: No. Many Democrats were scared witless of a rerun of Bernie vs. Hillary in the primaries (and many Republicans were drooling at the possibility), but the primaries so far haven't played out like that at all. Some examples: In Georgia this week, a black woman who is a progressive darling, Stacey Abrams, beat an establishment candidate for the nomination for governor. At the same time, a former Marine fighter pilot, Amy McGrath, another progressive, won the nomination in a Kentucky House primary. Score two for the very blue team. But in Texas, a House candidate backed by "Our Revolution," the group of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), was crushed by the establishment favorite Lizzie Fletcher. In Pennsylvania a week earlier, two of Sanders' favorites went down to defeat at the hands of establishment candidates.

The key here, though, is not that some centrists won and some progressives won, it's that the elections have not generally been acrimonious the way that Hillary vs. Bernie was. In some cases, in fact, the candidate who won had the support and endorsement of both wings of the party. Abrams and McGrath, for example, managed the trick.

In short, while Democratic politicians tend to think in terms of Bernie vs. Hillary, the voters are not doing so. They are picking the candidate who best fits the state or district. Georgia is the state with the third highest black population (31.4%), so nominating a black woman is arguably a plausible strategy given that nearly every black voter is likely to vote for her. It gives her a solid base to build on. In Texas, by contrast, any progressive candidate has a very steep hill to climb. Even a conservative Democrat there is an underdog, but has somewhat more of a chance than a progressive candidate. (V)

Menendez Barely Leads Hugin

Sen. Bon Menendez (D-NJ) escaped conviction on corruption charges due to a hung jury and went back to the Senate. But the whole sordid affair did him no good. A new Fairleigh Dickison University poll puts him only 4 points ahead of the likely Republican nominee, former pharmaceutical executive Bob Hugin, 28% to 24%. Poll director Krista Jenkins said that incumbents normally cruise to reelection, but Menendez is going to have to work like he never has before, even in Blue Jersey. In 2012, he won by a 28-point margin against an unknown Republican. In 2006 he beat a well-liked former Republican governor by 9 points. (V)

Rohrabacher Shoots Himself in the Foot

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) is one of the most endangered members of Congress; his district (CA-48) has a PVI of R+4 and was won by Hillary Clinton by 1.5 points. If that was not enough, Rohrabacher is Vladimir Putin's #1 friend in Congress and this, if you had not noticed, is not a good time to be a friend of Putin. Consequently, Democrats see this as one of their very best pickup opportunities, and the DCCC will lavish money on whoever their nominee is (probably biologist Hans Keirstead or businessman Harley Rouda).

As he fights for his political life, Rohrabacher was at a meeting last week with a realtors' group whose endorsement he was seeking. The Congressman was asked about the possibility of legal protections for LGBT homebuyers, and he said, "Every homeowner should be able to make a decision not to sell their home to someone (if) they don't agree with their lifestyle." He further added that, "We've drawn a line on racism, but I don't think we should extend that line."

Presumably, Rohrabacher said this because it was a closed-door meeting and because he thought it was what the realtors wanted to hear. However, it was a huge, huge mistake. First of all, the realtors promptly withdrew their endorsement, so he clearly misread the room. Beyond that, this is going to hurt him in his reelection bid. Homophobia is, in general, not a winner these days. To the extent that it's a winner among Republicans, it's not going to go over well with the Republicans whose votes Rohrabacher needs on June 5, when California holds its primaries. One of us (Z) grew up in CA-48, and most of the Republicans there are the exact sort of suburbanite Republicans the blue team is trying to flip: fiscally conservative, socially more liberal. Anti-gay rhetoric might be helpful in TX-13, or GA-09, or NE-03, but not in Orange County. Even if the final round ends up with two Republicans—due to California's jungle primary system—this misstep will make it easy for Democrats and independents to hold their noses and vote for the other Republican. In short, Rohrabacher's chances of keeping his job just took a major hit. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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