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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Who Would Jesus Vote For?
      •  Impeachment Never Sleeps
      •  Money for Trump That Isn't Actually for Trump
      •  Khashoggi's "Killers" Sentenced
      •  Does Obama Have His Candidate?
      •  Republicans Have Always Engaged in Voter Suppression
      •  I Am Not a Crook: A Look at History's Most Scandalous Scandals, Part VIII

Who Would Jesus Vote For?

Tomorrow is when Jesus' birthday will be celebrated (even though he wasn't actually born on December 25). Anyhow, it's probably just a coincidence, but a lot of Christians are having a very public argument right now about whether or not Donald Trump should be their candidate.

The starting point for all of this was the op-ed in Christianity Today, the evangelical magazine founded by Billy Graham, that called for Trump to be removed from office. The magazine said that the piece was very well received, and that while they lost some subscribers, they gained three new customers for every one that canceled.

Trump, of course, was not pleased. He lashed out, slamming Christianity Today as a "far-left magazine...which has been doing poorly." Neither of those things is true, of course: the magazine has a wide reach and a right-leaning editorial policy. In the same tweet, Trump also wrote: "The fact is, no President has ever done what I have done for Evangelicals, or religion itself!" That's probably much more true, although not in the way Trump thinks it is. He's certainly got a lot of people thinking about how many of America's Christians are not so much following the religion as they are using it to justify their politics.

On that point, nearly 200 evangelical Christian leaders published an open letter on Monday trashing Christianity Today for its op-ed and arguing, in effect, that a twice-divorced philanderer who bears false witness on an hourly basis is unquestionably a better embodiment of Christian ideals than a Christian magazine that's been in print for more than 60 years. The most prominent signatories to the letter were folks who are well known for blurring the lines between religion and politics, including Jerry Falwell Jr., Tony Perkins, Ralph Reed, and Paula White Cain (who literally works in the Trump White House).

In short, the evangelical community is divided on Trump these days. That even extends to the Graham family, where some members have praised the Christianity Today op-ed and others have condemned it. For what it is worth, that was not the only high-profile anti-Trump statement from a Christian group last week. Mormon Women for an Ethical Government (MWEG) published a statement in which they drew attention to the seriousness of the charges against Trump, and called for the Mormon members of the Senate (Mitt Romney and Mike Lee, both R-UT, Mike Crapo, R-ID, and Tom Udall, D-NM) to take their responsibilities as jurors seriously. MWEG played it closer to the vest than Christianity Today did, perhaps because the Mormon Church is more passive than the evangelicals are, or maybe because they don't want to poke the Trump administration in the eye too hard, given last week's revelations that the Church has a $100 billion slush fund that appears to run pretty far afoul of IRS rules.

As you can probably tell, both from this item and from many others we've written, we are skeptical that Trump embodies, in any way, the spirit of Jesus of Nazareth. There are many, many ways to make this case, but the Internet has only so many bytes of storage space, so we will limit ourselves to one of the teachings that was at the heart of Jesus' ministry, namely the Silver Rule. Nearly every religion has a version of the Golden Rule, commanding adherents to "do unto others as you would have others do unto you." That is, in effect, an instruction to engage in positive action. The Silver Rule, by contrast, commands believers "not to do to others what you would not have them do to you." In other words, it's an instruction to refrain from negative action. This idea was circulating among Jewish rabbis when Jesus came along, so He didn't invent it. But He did emphasize it, which is not the case in many of the world's religions. Needless to say, Donald Trump engages in plenty of negative actions—personal attacks, mockery of physical appearance, failure to show gratitude, withholding money, etc.—that infuriate him when he is the recipient. He does not live by the Golden Rule, and he really does not live by the Silver Rule.

In other words, if Jesus was casting a ballot in 2020, He would not be voting Trump/Pence, in our view. Which pretty much leaves the Lamb of God voting Democratic. But who among the Democratic field would be His candidate? Well:

  • Jesus was an outspoken Jewish guy who attracted a loyal cadre of (mostly male) followers, and who was kept at arm's length by most everyone else. So maybe He would vote for...Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

  • On the other hand, Jesus pushed back against the patriarchy of His day, and insisted that people of all genders be treated with respect. In fact, at least one theologian has argued that He was the first feminist. So maybe He would vote for...Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

  • As a carpenter, Jesus was among the blue-collar workers of his day. He came to prominence thanks to His association with, and service to, an even more prominent and more powerful guy. So maybe He would vote for...Joe Biden.

  • Jesus tended to attract youthful followers, and His personal favorite was a young fellow named Peter. When Jesus was executed, He turned control of the movement over to Peter, who became the first pope. So maybe Jesus would follow that template again, and give His support to another young fellow named Peter...namely Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend).

We could do this for any of the Democratic candidates, if we wanted to keep going. Well, with the possible exception of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI). Given her apparent support for murderous strongmen like Bashar al-Assad, it's a little hard to see how Jesus would pull the lever for her.

What is the point of all this? Just this: One can go through the New Testament and make a case for any candidate, maybe even Donald Trump, as the candidate Jesus would want. But actually trying to figure out how a fellow who lived 2,000 years ago, in a radically different historical context than our own, would feel about modern American politics is...dumb. It doesn't matter that we feel that way, of course. But if sizable numbers of evangelical Christians start to think like that—and theologian Jay Parini argues that the Christianity Today op-ed is just the beginning—then that is bad news for both the President and the GOP. (Z)

Impeachment Never Sleeps

Congress is currently adjourned, and won't be in session until next year. That doesn't mean that the impeachment story is on the back burner, however, as it's still entirely possible for individual players to take actions and/or to make public pronouncements. And so, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) sent out a letter on Monday to each of his 99 colleagues laying out the documents he wants before Donald Trump's impeachment trial begins. His main arguments are: (1) Trump hasn't turned over a single document in response to Congressional subpoenas, and (2) the newly released e-mail from White House budget official Michael Duffey, which makes clear that only 90 minutes passed between the Trump-Zelensky phone call and the freezing of Ukraine aid, tells us there is still much to be learned, fact-wise. Of course, Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has already pooh-poohed Schumer's demand, although McConnell isn't really the audience here. Swing-state senators like Susan Collins (R-ME) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) are.

Meanwhile, House Counsel Douglas Letter made a filing in federal court on Monday in which he said that, should new evidence present itself, Donald Trump could be impeached a second time. Inasmuch as Letter is not an elected official, he can say (or write) such things without fearing political blowback. However, there is zero chance that he made that assertion without Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) signing off. The very clear message to the Trump administration is: You better give us what we want now, or we could be back for another round later. Put another way, Team Schumer and Team Pelosi are working in concert to put the screws to the Republicans, and to get the documents and witnesses they want. This will be their primary task for the next three weeks. (Z)

Money for Trump That Isn't Actually for Trump

Yesterday, we had an item about how much money the RNC is raking in thanks to Donald Trump. But they are not the only ones collecting cash hand over fist in Trump's name. The upside to Citizens United, for those who like that decision, is that super PACs can gather unlimited amounts of money for candidates, largely without regulation. The downside is that super PACs can gather unlimited amounts of money for candidates, largely without regulation. And so it is that a gaggle of ostensibly pro-Trump super PACs have collected $46 million in donations, using Trump's name, words, and image.

There are many problems with this, from the vantage point of Trump 2020. To start, the campaign has no control over these groups, many of whom are sucking up vast number of donors, while also muddying the campaign's messaging. Many of them are selling merchandise, particularly MAGA hats, which cuts into the sales of "official" merchandise. Worst of all, from Trump's perspective, is that many of these groups are spending limited money on his reelection, and vast amounts of money paying handsome salaries to themselves. For example, Tea Party PAC was founded by, and is led by, a Wyoming man named Steve Eichler. The PAC has raised $607,790 this year, and has spent little on advertising. It did pay $357,900 to a company called Retromedia LLC, however, which is owned by...Steve Eichler.

This certainly seems to be a case of "As ye sow, so shall ye reap." Donald Trump has made a business career, and a political career, of taking advantages of loopholes in the system in order to benefit himself. It's hardly a surprise that he's attracted a lot of like-minded people to his banner. Trump 2020 has appealed to federal election officials to step in and clean up the mess, but they are handcuffed by Citizens United, as well as the fact that the Federal Elections Commission has too few members to make a quorum, because of a lack of appointments Donald Trump. (Z)

Khashoggi's "Killers" Sentenced

There is, and always has been, a theatrical element to politics. Solon of Athens, Qin Shi Huang, Augustus Caesar, Musa I of Mali, Charlemagne, Elizabeth I, Napoleon, Antonio López de Santa Anna, and Winston Churchill, among others, would be happy to confirm that, if they were still walking the Earth. Today, political theatre seems to be particularly ubiquitous; perhaps that is the product of social media, or polarization, or short attention spans, or all of the above.

It is regrettable when people have to die for purposes of such a performance, however. But that is exactly what is going to happen in Saudi Arabia, as five men were sentenced to death on Monday, with another three receiving prison sentences, for the brutal killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi. There is little question that these eight men were involved in the actual killing (albeit very tangentially, in several cases). However, the trial also produced the conclusions that the murder was spontaneous and not premeditated, and that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his adviser Saud al-Qahtani, among other high-ranking officials, were not responsible for Khashoggi's death.

Naturally, few are buying what the Saudis are selling. Everyone who has taken a careful look at the matter, including the CIA and a special UN investigative team, has concluded that the execution was on bin Salman's orders, and that he most certainly bears responsibility. Outside of Saudi Arabia, the only prominent entity to line up behind the tribunal's conclusions was, of course, the White House, which praised the Kingdom of Saud for seeing to it that justice was done. In other words, given his desire to maintain close ties with bin Salman, either for political reasons or personal ones, Donald Trump is happy to play his role in this little drama. And given that nobody else has any real power to hold the Crown Prince's feet to the fire, he will therefore suffer no real consequences for his crimes. The only minor annoyance he may experience is the next time he wants an enemy assassinated, it may be a bit tougher to find volunteers for the project. (Z)

Does Obama Have His Candidate?

Barack Obama is the most popular Democrat in the land. However, he's also a fellow who respects the traditions of the American democracy. And so, like other former presidents, he's not making a public endorsement in the Democratic primaries. This is a custom, by the way, that you can expect to fall by the wayside once president #46 is in office.

Anyhow, just because #44 is not taking a public stance does not keep him from speaking up in private. And, according to The Hill, Obama has had quite a bit to say when talking to big-time Democratic donors behind closed doors. Specifically, he's told them that he has great confidence in Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), that she is most certainly a viable candidate, and that they better be willing to get out their checkbooks, even if they don't like her anti-business rhetoric.

There are two ways to read this. The first is that Obama favors Warren over any of the other candidates, including his former vice president, and he's doing what he can to see to it that she is the nominee. That was the impression that at least some of the donors who heard his pitch were left with. The second is that Obama, being a man of vision, has foreseen the various obstacles that each of the viable Democratic candidates face, and is doing advance work in order to smooth over as many of those obstacles as he can. That is the position taken by Team Obama, which insists that the former president is not making an endorsement at this time. Whichever interpretation it is, it suggests that the man who knows Joe Biden best is not 100% sold on him, whether it's on the notion that he's destined to be the nominee or it's on the notion that he's the best nominee. (Z)

Republicans Have Always Engaged in Voter Suppression

That is not our opinion. Nope, it's the opinion of Justin Clark, a senior political adviser and senior counsel to Donald Trump's re-election campaign. Embracing the recent Republican tradition of forgetting that everyone has a recording device on them these days (i.e., cell phones), and that "record" could be on, even at a closed-door meeting of ostensible supporters, Clark declared:

Traditionally it's always been Republicans suppressing votes in places. Let's start protecting our voters. We know where they are ... Let's start playing offense a little bit. That's what you're going to see in 2020. It's going to be a much bigger program, a much more aggressive program, a much better-funded program.

When Clark was called out for his remarks, he claimed the quote had been taken out of context, and that he was paraphrasing the criticisms that have been lodged against the GOP, and not embracing voter suppression. Uh, huh.

Actually, while we said this is Clark's opinion, it's also our opinion. We direct your attention to the 1858 letter that Abraham Lincoln wrote to Norman B. Judd shortly before Illinois voters would choose a new legislature (which, if a majority Republican, would then have chosen Lincoln as U.S. Senator over Stephen A. Douglas). Forgive us for quoting the whole letter, but it's reasonably short, and is instructive:

Hon. N. B. Judd Rushville, Oct. 20, 1858

My dear Sir: I now have a high degree of confidence that we shall succeed, if we are not over-run with fraudulent votes to a greater extent than usual. On alighting from the cars and walking three squares at Naples on Monday, I met about fifteen Celtic gentlemen, with black carpet-sacks in their hands.

I learned that they had crossed over from the Rail-road in Brown county, but where they were going no one could tell. They dropped in about the doggeries, and were still hanging about when I left. At Brown County yesterday I was told that about four hundred of the same sort were to be brought into Schuyler, before the election, to work on some new Railroad; but on reaching here I find Bagby thinks that is not so.

What I most dread is that they will introduce into the doubtful districts numbers of men who are legal voters in all respects except residence and who will swear to residence and thus put it beyond our power to exclude them. They can & I fear will swear falsely on that point, because they know it is next to impossible to convict them of Perjury upon it.

Now the great remaining part of the campaign, is finding a way to head this thing off. Can it be done at all?

I have a bare suggestion. When there is a known body of these voters, could not a true man, of the "detective" class, be introduced among them in disguise, who could, at the nick of time, control their votes? Think this over. It would be a great thing, when this trick is attempted upon us, to have the saddle come up on the other horse.

I have talked, more fully than I can write, to Mr. Scripps, and he will talk to you.

If we can head off the fraudulent votes we shall carry the day. Yours as ever, A. Lincoln

In this context, "Celtic gentlemen" = Irishmen = Democratic voters, and "detective class" = undercover police. What Lincoln is saying, in other words, is that he fears that people who are not legal residents of Illinois are going to cast ballots and will cost the Republicans the election, and that the GOP should counter by using whatever means at their disposal to stop those Democrats from voting. Perhaps this sounds familiar. In any event, Old Abe is definitely talking about voter suppression here. And since he was the first Republican president, and was proposing this scheme in the second-ever election to feature Republican candidates, then it is entirely accurate to say that Republicans have always engaged in voter suppression. What's even more accurate is to say that voter suppression is a key tool used by whatever political party happens to be the conservative one and/or the one in the minority (which means sometimes Republicans, sometimes Democrats, sometimes both).

Of course, there are some differences between Lincoln's scheme and what is happening today. The first is that Lincoln was absolutely correct; there really were fraudulent ballots being cast in that year's elections. On the other hand, the modern GOP has never provided a shred of evidence that widespread voter fraud on the part of the Democrats is taking place today. More significantly, Lincoln was a private citizen proposing that his political party use other private citizens in service of their plans. Not an honorable thing to suggest, of course, but also not terribly effective (after all, the GOP did not capture the legislature in that election and so Lincoln was not elected) nor terribly scalable (you can hire only so many men of the "detective class.") By contrast, modern-day Republican voter-suppression schemes use the power of the government itself to take the vote away from many people of color, immigrants, women, students, poor people, etc. That is both very effective (see the South, circa 1890-1965), and eminently scalable. Anyone who has been paying attention to politics for the last 20 years (and, especially, the last 4 years) knew that wide-ranging attempts at voter suppression by the GOP would be a part of the story in 2020. Clark has just done us the favor of confirming it. (Z)

I Am Not a Crook: A Look at History's Most Scandalous Scandals, Part VIII

Between this item and the previous one, it's two history lessons for the price of one today. Such a bargain! We put the scandals series on the back burner for a short while, because impeachment provided so very much news, while we knew that this week and next would have relatively little news. But now, the scandals are back. Here are the previous entries in the series, if you wish to read (or re-read) any of them:

Today, it's a scandal that really should be better known, particularly since it was adapted into a very successful movie (American Hustle).

  1. ABSCAM, 1978-81 ("UkraineSCAM"): ABSCAM began life as a fairly standard sting operation. The FBI became aware that a significant underground economy in stolen artwork had emerged in New York City, and they decided to break it. So, they recruited a con artist named Melvin Weinberg and his girlfriend Evelyn Knight to help them out. Weinberg and Knight were choosing between helping the FBI or going to prison, so it was an easy call. Weinberg and Knight cooked up the idea of having FBI agents pose as a pair of Arab sheiks, Kambir Abdul Rahman and Yassir Habib, who were interested in purchasing the stolen art through their company Abdul Enterprises (actually a shell company set up by the Bureau).

    Exactly how the name ABSCAM came to be is a matter of some dispute. Originally, the FBI said it was a portmanteau of "Arab Scam." However, when that explanation raised some hackles, particularly in the Arab-American community, the FBI changed its story and said the name was actually based on the name of the fake company. In other words Abdul Enterprises + Scam = ABSCAM. Whatever the truth is, the whole scheme relied on pretty aggressive use of Arab stereotypes. So, either way, the late 1970s FBI was not exactly a font of cultural sensitivity.

    Anyhow, the FBI was very successful in recovering the stolen art in New York. ABSCAM quickly became something much bigger, however, after an offhand remark by one of the many crooks the FBI's "sheiks" did business with. This particular crook, whose specialty was forgery, observed that if the sheiks had so much money to burn, they should consider investing in a casino in New Jersey, where a license could be had by greasing the palms of the appropriate politicians. Once the sheiks had their license, they would be guaranteed to rake in the profits. After all, nobody loses money running a casino in Atlantic City.

    And so, what had become a stolen art sting was transformed into a wide-ranging investigation into political corruption. Weinberg, Knight, and the "sheiks" developed a scheme wherein bribes would be paid to politicians, and in exchange the politicians would help with casino licensing and also with paperwork that would allow friends and family of the "sheiks" to immigrate to the United States. They did not have difficulty finding politicians willing to take their money, at both the federal and municipal levels. Most of the "deals" were struck in a townhouse in Georgetown, a yacht, and hotel rooms in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, all of which had been outfitted with cameras by the FBI. This was actually the first time that politicians were nailed for bribery thanks to evidence collected by a hidden camera.

    Ultimately, one senator (Harrison A. Williams, D-NJ), six representatives, the mayor of Camden, NJ, and several members of the Philadelphia city council were put on trial. They attempted a wide variety of defenses. One (Williams) claimed that since the stock he had accepted in payment was fake, he hadn't actually received a bribe. Another (Richard Kelly, R-FL) accepted the money and spent some of it, but claimed he was actually running his own investigation into the scam, and that was the only reason he took the money. The lawyer of a third (John M. Murphy, D-NY) argued that his client's participation in the scheme was so amateurish and ham-fisted, it didn't count as a crime. Several (Raymond Lederer, D-PA, and John Jenrette, D-SC, among them) argued that they had been entrapped by a corrupt FBI, and that the whole thing was really the Bureau's fault.

    Perhaps some of those excuses will sound familiar. In any event, the lesson is that almost no politician, no matter how red-handed they are caught, ever says, "Yup! You got me." None of the excuses actually worked, though. All of the accused were ultimately convicted, and the ones that did not have the decency to resign (which was most of them) were expelled from office. Meanwhile, the most prominent person to refuse a bribe was Penthouse publisher and casino owner Bob Guccione. In other words, a pornographer showed more moral fiber than more than a dozen politicians combined.

    There was at least some merit to the complaint that the FBI had pushed the limits of their authority; several of the judges who rejected entrapment defenses nonetheless had some very pointed remarks about the Bureau's behavior. And so, the primary long-term effect of ABSCAM was not steps taken to curb political corruption, but instead steps taken to curb the FBI's investigative powers. AG Benjamin Civiletti issued "The Attorney General Guidelines for FBI Undercover Operations" in 1981, and the Senate Select Committee to Study Undercover Activities issued a report in 1982. Since that time, another three sets of general guidelines for undercover investigations have been promulgated, the most recent under AG Janet Reno. Put another way, even when the post-J. Edgar Hoover FBI was at its most Wild West-level of unfettered aggressiveness, it was still operating within the bounds of the law (if only barely). Today, the Bureau plays by much more stringent rules, and anyone who argues otherwise is—in the absence of clear evidence to the contrary—just trying to pass the buck for their own bad behavior, much like those crooked politicians did back in the early 1980s.

Next in the series: The Iran-Contra Affair. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec23 Poll: Small Majority Still Wants Trump Removed from Office
Dec23 Graham: There Are No Republican Votes to Compel Witnesses
Dec23 The RNC Has Vastly More Money than the DNC
Dec23 Roberts Is on the Hot Seat
Dec23 Jeff Flake Says Republican Senators Are on Trial
Dec23 Doug Jones May Put Country Above Party
Dec23 Trump Is Filling the Liberal Ninth Circuit with Conservatives
Dec23 A Christmas Gift List
Dec22 Sunday Mailbag
Dec21 Saturday Q&A
Dec20 Democrats Debate in Los Angeles
Dec20 Senate Doesn't Have a Deal on Impeachment Rules
Dec20 Mulvaney Looks to Be a Short-Timer
Dec20 To Avoid Conviction, Trump Needs Only 15% of the Country
Dec20 Senate Republicans Are Praying that Trump Won't Tweet During the Trial
Dec20 Christianity Today Calls for Trump's Removal
Dec20 House Passes USMCA
Dec20 Mark Meadows Will Not Run for Reelection
Dec19 House Impeaches Trump
Dec19 Trump Wanted to See George W. Bush Impeached
Dec19 Giuliani Pal Lev Parnas Received $1 Million from Ukrainian Oligarch
Dec19 Things to Watch in the Democratic Debate
Dec19 Trump Will Use Transgender Rights as a Weapon in 2020...
Dec19 ...And Democrats Will Counter with Healthcare
Dec19 Good News and Bad News for Paul Manafort
Dec19 Collins Will Run for Reelection
Dec18 Tuesday's Impeachment Maneuvering
Dec18 What Senators Are Most Likely to Buck Their Parties?
Dec18 House Passes $1.4 Trillion Spending Bills
Dec18 Georgia Follows Wisconsin's Lead
Dec18 Anti-Trump Republicans form Anti-Trump Super PAC
Dec18 Democratic Debate Is On
Dec18 Gates, Meet Walls (and Bars)
Dec17 Schumer Makes His Impeachment Counter-Moves
Dec17 Van Drew Loses Staff, Gains Two Admirers
Dec17 About that 4%...
Dec17 Thursday Debate in Serious Jeopardy
Dec17 Beware of Stereotype-Driven "Analysis"
Dec17 Some States Spend on Census, Some Don't
Dec17 Not So Fast on NAFTA 2.0
Dec16 How Trump Wins in 2020
Dec16 Booker Asks DNC to Soften the Rules for Qualifying for the Debates
Dec16 Bloomberg: Boris Johnson is the Canary in the Coal Mine
Dec16 Democrats Have Found Their 2020 Campaign Issue
Dec16 Biden Is Counting on Texas
Dec16 Fox News Poll: Half the Country Wants Trump Removed from Office
Dec16 Judge Orders 234,000 Wisconsin Voters to Be Purged from the Rolls
Dec16 New Voters Are Not Like Old Voters
Dec16 Pompeo Opens a Personal Twitter Account
Dec16 Jefferson Takes a Stand