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Kavanaugh Investigation Begins to Take Shape...Maybe

The entire Brett Kavanaugh story has taken so many twists and turns that very little is ever certain. And even if something is certain right now, it might not be in 12 hours. So it is with the newly-reopened FBI investigation into Kavanaugh's's background. Early in the day on Saturday, the word was that FBI Director Christopher Wray would be strictly limited in terms of what he could look into. Specifically, he was given permission to explore Christine Blasey Ford's story, as well as that of accuser #2 Deborah Ramirez, but was forbidden to talk to accuser #3 Julie Swetnick. It would seem that on Saturday afternoon, someone pointed out to the GOP leadership that such restrictions were rather arbitrary, and would make it appear that the allegations against Kavanaugh were not being taken seriously. Consequently, early Saturday evening, Donald Trump announced that the Bureau has "free rein" to follow up on whatever leads it deems credible.

Who knows for sure how true that is, although the odds are pretty decent that with that public statement in his back pocket, Wray will conduct a vigorous investigation. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) may be willing to risk the House, and even the Senate, to fill that seat on the Court, but the Director is not likely willing to risk the Bureau's reputation. He has definitely already gotten to work, as Ramirez has already chatted with the FBI. So has Leland Ingham Keyser, who was allegedly at the party where Ford says she was assaulted. Swetnick has not talked to anyone with the Bureau, as yet, but that's probably imminent. Meanwhile, there will be no need to try and track down accuser #5 (the boat rape). That one didn't quite add up, since the tipster said he "knew" the victim (not that he "was" the victim) and that he was able to identify Kavanaugh from his yearbook photo (how, if you weren't there?). In any case, it turns out that story was false, and the fellow who made it up may now be facing criminal charges.

While the FBI does its work, it's going to get a fair bit of help from media on both sides of the aisle, whether the Bureau wants it or not. Outlets who are more friendly to Ford have been digging up former classmates of Kavanaugh. Most of those, like Liz Swisher, have been critical of Kavanaugh's testimony. Outlets who are more friendly to Kavanaugh have been digging up dirt on his accusers. Fox News, for example, is reporting that Swetnick was accused of misconduct and falsifying her resumé while working for an Oregon tech firm. She denied the allegations, through her attorney Michael Avenatti.

Meanwhile, the general consensus among legal experts is that it's going to be pretty hard for the FBI to confirm (or refute) any of the allegations that have been made against Kavanaugh. Somewhat more likely, however, is disproving some of the other things he said, which would make him guilty of perjury. So, that is probably his single-biggest worry this week. Assuming, of course, that he doesn't withdraw first, either of his own volition, or at the instruction of the GOP muckety-mucks. (Z)

"Saturday Night Live" Pokes Everyone in the Eye

If a person finds themselves on "Saturday Night Live's" radar, it is time for them to brace themselves. If that person is a political figure, this is all the more true, since political satire is the show's bread and butter. And the trifecta is if a political figure makes headlines right before the show comes back from a break, during which the cast and writers have had plenty of time to recharge their batteries and hone their jokes. So it was on Saturday, when the show featured an extended opening lampooning Thursday's hearings:

The Democratic senators came in for some gentle ribbing: Dianne Feinstein's stodginess, Cory Booker's mugging for the camera, Amy Klobuchar's nasally voice. The Republican senators got it a little worse; Chuck Grassley was played as a misogynistic buffoon, while Lindsey Graham was a redneck yokel. And, in one of SNL's favorite digs at friends of Trump, the South Carolinian was played by a woman (Kate McKinnon, who also plays Jeff Sessions).

And then there was Brett Kavanaugh, with actor Matt Damon making a special appearance to handle the portrayal. It's worth watching the sketch, because Damon hit every mark he was trying to hit. His Kavanaugh was sometimes outraged, sometimes reduced to tears, and occasionally forced to chug a beer to deal with the hearing. He also had a difficult time with not incriminating himself, like when he declared his intention to see the process through to the end, because "Brett Kavanaugh doesn't know the meaning of the word 'Stop'."

Of course, the subject also occupied a fair portion of the show's "Weekend Update" faux news segment. Anchor Colin Jost got off a number of bon mots, like, "I gotta say, you're not really helping yourself in a drunken assault case when you yell about how much you like drinking and how strong you were at the time" and "On an optics level, I get why Republicans [hired someone to ask Christine Blasey Ford questions], but if you're not the right person to ask questions at a Senate hearing...maybe you're not the right person to be a Senator." The latter line particularly brought down the house. Donald Trump seems to have abandoned his habit of tweeting on Sunday morning that SNL should be canceled, but this week's program might see a return of that. Meanwhile, the show will be weekly as Kavanaugh's fate is decided, so Matt Damon probably should keep his weekend calendar open. (Z)

Under the Radar No. 1: Democrats Can Sue Trump Over Emoluments

One wonders if Donald Trump is enjoying a few days where the microscope is trained on someone other than him. Certainly, it's allowed a few somewhat embarrassing stories to largely fly under the radar. One of these is a ruling that U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan issued on Friday, which says that a lawsuit that 200 Democratic senators and representatives filed against Trump, charging him with violating the Constitution's emoluments clause, can move forward.

This day was bound to arrive sooner or later, once Trump decided not to divest himself of his business holdings. Given how vague the emoluments clause is, along with the fact that it was written by 18th century men who could not have anticipated the nature of a 21st century multinational business, it is not clear that Trump has violated the Constitution. But it is also not clear that he hasn't. That makes it a matter for the courts; the only issue was finding someone who has standing to sue. Now, we've got that someone (and there's also a case filed by the Attorneys General of Maryland and D.C. that is likely to be allowed to proceed). So, we are going to find out exactly what the limits of the emoluments clause are (and, as a byproduct, Donald Trump's tax returns are likely to become a matter of public record). (Z)

Under the Radar No. 2: Michael Lewis Book

Michael Wolff's anti-Trump book did some damage, Omarosa Manigault Newman's did some more, and Bob Woodward's tome was particularly devastating (in part, at least, because it apparently prompted the anonymous New York Times op-ed). Michael Moore's anti-Trump film is currently in the process of bombing. Next up to take their shot is Michael Lewis, who may be America's most compelling nonfiction author, with books like Moneyball, The Blind Side, Liar's Poker, and The Big Short to his name.

Lewis' Trump book is called The Fifth Risk, and the teaser on the cover asks, "What are the consequences if the people given control over our government have no idea how it works?" The promotional machine has begun gearing up, and an excerpt from the tome was released this week, one covering the campaign, and how unprepared Trump was for his surprise victory. The portion that is getting the most attention is this one, which recounts the scene on the night of the election:

Chris Christie was sitting on a sofa beside Trump when Pennsylvania was finally called. It was 1.35am, but that wasn't the only reason the feeling in the room was odd. Mike Pence went to kiss his wife, Karen, and she turned away from him. "You got what you wanted, Mike," she said. "Now leave me alone." She wouldn't so much as say hello to Trump. Trump himself just stared at the TV without saying anything, like a man with a pair of twos whose bluff has been called. His campaign hadn't even bothered to prepare an acceptance speech. It was not hard to see why Trump hadn't seen the point in preparing to take over the federal government: why study for a test you will never need to take? Why take the risk of discovering you might, at your very best, be a C student? This was the real part of becoming president of the US. And, Christie thought, it scared the crap out of the president-elect.

If Karen Pence isn't careful, her husband might change his policy of never having dinner with other women. Meanwhile, it is clear that Chris Christie is a key source for the book, and so apparently is not much of a Trump loyalist anymore. In any case, while the book and the excerpt got a few headlines, the coverage was far less than Wolff, Manigault Newman, or Woodward got. Maybe Trump book fatigue is setting in, but more likely, Lewis had the bad luck (and Trump the good luck) that the release process began the same week as the Kavanaugh hearing. The book will actually be on sale on Tuesday; we will see if it starts to get more attention while everyone waits for the FBI to do its work. (Z)

Under the Radar No. 3: Meeting with Trudeau

Even though Donald Trump escaped a certain amount of bad press later in the week, as the nation's eyes were focused on Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, he did have a bad Monday and Tuesday, thanks to his disastrous appearance before the United Nations. Still, some of the fallout from that appearance has gotten limited attention, like the fact that Trump canceled his meeting with Canadian PM Justin Trudeau.

Now, that may not seem so bad, and might not even be worthy of coverage. After all, world leaders have busy schedules, and undoubtedly meetings get scheduled and rescheduled all the time. The reason this is a story (and the reason Trump should be glad that attention is elsewhere) is that he didn't actually have a meeting scheduled with Trudeau. Which means that either the President was just throwing a temper tantrum when he "canceled," or else that whoever keeps track of his schedule is of questionable competence. In any case, Trump will also not be meeting with Trudeau this week. The same is true of Theresa May, Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel, and, for that matter, Winston Churchill, Genghis Khan, Julius Caesar, and Santa Claus. (Z)

This Week's Senate News

Much of this week's Senate news, of course, was made in one chamber of the U.S. Capitol on Thursday. Even those senators who were not there made sure to weigh in, with nearly all the GOP senators and candidates supporting Brett Kavanaugh, and nearly all the Democratic senators and candidates supporting Christine Blasey Ford. That said, there are also some non-Kavanaugh stories:

  • The race in Arizona, between Reps. Martha McSally (R) and Kyrsten Sinema (D) has been nasty, with McSally in particular hitting voters with a steady diet of attack ads. The Arizona Star thinks that all the negativity could backfire on her.

  • Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) refuses to debate, and so her Democratic challenger Mike Espy won't debate either. That means the Oct. 4 confab will feature only third-party candidates. Should be entertaining, at least.

  • Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Democratic opponent Phil Bredesen had their first debate on Tuesday. Most observers had it as a draw.

  • Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) ended up with some egg on his face after sending out a tweet blasting challenger Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D) for saying that the Dallas officer who shot a black man dead in his own home should be disciplined. It would seem that O'Rourke had the right of it, because the officer was fired this week.

  • The folks at FiveThirtyEight, who know their number-crunching, say they think O'Rourke has a real chance of winning, better than most people think.

  • O'Rourke also rallied this week with country singer Willie Nelson, whose participation caused some conservative fans to throw away their Willie Nelson records. It apparently had not occurred to them that an outspoken advocate for fighting poverty, legal marijuana, alternative fuels, animal welfare, and gay marriage—and a man who has endorsed both Dennis Kucinich and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)—just might be a Democrat.

  • Eric Brakey is the Republicans' candidate in Maine, but is now openly telling anyone who will listen that he's really a Libertarian, and that he actually hates most of what the GOP stands for these days. That is not likely to help him beat Sen. Angus King (I), and it's definitely not going to get him any money from the NRSC.

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) became the latest target of a clumsy impersonation/mocking by Donald Trump. Someone might want to tell the President that "Donald Trump hates me" is almost as potent an endorsement in California these days as "Ronald Reagan loves me" was in Orange County in the 1980s.

  • Some folks in Florida are trying to use Sen. Bill Nelson's (D) age (76) against him. This is probably not the best line of attack. First of all, challenger Gov. Rick Scott (R) is not all that much younger (65). Second, 76 is middle-aged by the standards of a body that was rolling Strom Thurmond out to the floor and propping him up to vote until he was 101. Third, it's Florida—land of the free, and home of the elderly.

  • Meanwhile, Scott is getting hit for being a flip-flopper on many, many issues.

  • With 40 days to Election Day, almost no money in the bank, and far behind in the polls to Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Corey Stewart is trying to reinvent himself as, in essence, "not as racist as you think." Apparently, finding just the right amount of racism is not so easy these days.

  • Ron Curtis (R) has very little chance of knocking off Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) in the bluest state in the union. And it's not a good sign that nearly all google searches for him result in stories about Alabama football coach Nick Saban, who had an assistant coach named Ron Curtis—30 years ago. And when it's not Saban, it's the Carolina Panthers, who have a coach named Ron Rivera, and a player named Curtis Samuel.

  • Earlier this year, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said she would serve out her full term if reelected to the Senate. This week, she said she will "take a hard look at running for president" in 2020. Go sit on the fainting couch as you try to recover from the shock.

  • Donald Trump is holding John James, the Republican who is challenging Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), very close. This is because Trump thinks it makes him look inclusive to embrace a black candidate. Someone might mention to him that every racist has a black friend they point to as proof that they're not racist.

And so it goes. (Z)

Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Gavin Newsom

We've been on the East Coast for the last several weeks, so let's head west again in our series of Democratic presidential candidate profiles. As always, the pros and cons refer to the general election, and not the primaries.

Gavin Newsom
  • Full Name: Gavin Christopher Newsom

  • Age on January 20, 2021: 53

  • Background: A lifelong San Franciscan, Newsom had a challenging childhood and was an average student, due in part to being dyslexic. He attended Santa Clara University, partly on a baseball scholarship, but blew his shoulder out during his sophomore year and never played again. After graduating, he tried his hand at sales jobs of various types, from orthotics to real estate. He eventually partnered with several investors to open PlumpJack, which began as a wine shop, but is now a consortium of wineries, retail stores, and restaurants, and hotels.

  • Political Experience: He has just entered his third decade in politics, having served as a city supervisor in San Francisco from 1997-2004, then mayor of the city from 2004-11, and then lieutenant governor of California from 2011 to the present. He is currently running for governor, and will win the job easily.

  • Signature Issue(s): Newsom is best known for his early and vocal support of marriage equality, which is apropos for the mayor of the city where, as they say, the love that dare not speak never shuts up. Thanks to Obergefell v. Hodges, that's not really a current issue anymore (Brett Kavanaugh's appointment to the Supreme Court notwithstanding). Among the subjects currently on the national radar, Newsom is particularly outspoken about single-payer healthcare and access to education.

  • Instructive Quote: "You can love me or hate me and disagree with me, but you sure as hell know where I stand."

  • Completely Trivial Fact: Newson's first wife, Kimberly Guilfoyle, is now dating Donald Trump, Jr. That's quite a shift of gears.

  • Recent News: There is no question that Newsom is an excellent self-promoter; you have to be in order to get noticed in a state as big as California. But it still raised some eyebrows this week when many first graders, just returning to school for another year, cracked open their textbooks and found out that they would be learning about some of the great champions of freedom: Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, Martin Luther King Jr., and...Gavin Newsom.

  • Three Biggest Pros: (1) Few candidates have as much political experience, particularly in executive positions, as Newsom does; (2) Newsom speaks his mind, which Democrats might like after 20 years of "play it close to the vest" nominees; and (3) If progressives can't have their champion, Bernie Sanders, or their backup champion, Elizabeth Warren, Newsom is a pretty good consolation prize.

  • Three Biggest Cons: (1) There are few things that will make conservatives' blood boil more than an outspoken liberal from San Francisco, and so Newsom would certainly drive up turnout on that side of the aisle; (2) Outspoken candidates also tend to stick their feet in their mouth, particularly when under the harsh spotlight of a national presidential campaign (see Dean, Howard) ; and (3) Newsom has some serious skeletons in his closet, like carrying on an affair with the wife of one of his close friends.

  • Is He Actually Running?: He has to play things particularly carefully, since he hasn't even been elected governor yet. But he's been doing everything necessary to mount a run in 2020, not the least of which is building vast donor lists and fundraising networks.

  • Betting Odds: The books largely have him at 33-to-1, which gives him a 3% chance of getting the nod.

  • The Bottom Line: Newsom's time may come, but probably not now. He's young enough that he can spend a term or two governing California and building his national profile, and then can run in 2024 (if Trump gets a second term) or 2028 (if he doesn't). In the latter case, Newsom would still be only 61. Compared to this year's Democratic frontrunners, he'd still be a spring chicken.

The list of candidate profiles can be accessed by clicking on the 2020 Dem candidates link in the menu to the left of the map. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Sep29 Flake Demands--and Gets--FBI Investigation into Kavanaugh Allegations
Sep29 Kavanaugh-Ford Coverage Roundup
Sep29 Security Experts: Flaw in Popular Voting Machine Could Tip an Election
Sep29 Steyer to Spend $5 Million for Gillum
Sep28 Up First: Christine Blasey Ford
Sep28 Up Second: Brett Kavanaugh
Sep28 So, What Does It All Mean?
Sep28 Takeaways from Thursday's Hearings
Sep28 Rosenstein Meeting Rescheduled
Sep28 Today's Senate Polls
Sep27 And Then There Were Three...or Four...or Five
Sep27 Hearings Will Move Forward as Scheduled
Sep27 Democrats Prepare Hail Mary Passes
Sep27 Trump Gone Wild
Sep27 Rosenstein's Fate to Be Determined Today...Unless It's Not
Sep27 House Passes Spending Bill
Sep27 Democrats' Lead in Generic Ballot Is Growing
Sep27 Today's Senate Polls
Sep26 The World Laughs at Trump
Sep26 Kavanaugh's College Roommate Supports Ramirez
Sep26 Murkowski Warns Senate to Listen Carefully to Ford
Sep26 Mystery Questioner's Identity Quickly Leaks
Sep26 Trump Slams Ramirez
Sep26 Nelson Trails Scott Badly among Older Latinos in Florida
Sep26 Candidates Are Ignoring Cyber Security
Sep26 Today's Senate Polls
Sep25 Rosenstein Might Quit
Sep25 Kavanaugh Will Not Withdraw
Sep25 More Kavanaugh Accusations Coming Soon
Sep25 Trump Goes to the U.N.
Sep25 China Goes to Iowa
Sep25 GOP Favorability Reaches Seven-Year High
Sep25 Florida Congressional Candidate Passes Away
Sep25 Today's Senate Polls
Sep24 And Then There Were Two
Sep24 Ford Will Testify Thursday
Sep24 Trumpworld Split on When to Fire Rosenstein
Sep24 New Tariffs Take Effect
Sep24 House Republicans Desperately Want to Adjourn This Week
Sep24 Democrats Hold Double-Digit Lead in Generic House Poll
Sep24 Democratic Primary Turnout Shot Up More than Republican Turnout
Sep23 Kavanaugh Accuser Will Testify...Probably
Sep23 Trump Changes Course on Classified Document Dump
Sep23 This Week in Commercials
Sep23 Professor Who Unmasked Anonymous: It Was Mattis
Sep23 This Week's Senate News
Sep23 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Michael Bloomberg
Sep22 NYT: Rosenstein Wanted to Wear A Wire to Record Trump
Sep22 We Should Know Sometime Today if Ford Will Testify...Maybe
Sep22 With Tax Cuts Fizzling, Republicans Return to Culture-War Ads