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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Feds Subpoena Records from Trump Inaugural Committee
      •  Trump Set for State of the Union Address
      •  Democratic Turmoil in Virginia
      •  Trump Tries to Keep Evangelicals Happy
      •  Senators Concerned About Unfilled Posts
      •  Trump to Get Physical
      •  Patriots Will Avoid White House

Feds Subpoena Records from Trump Inaugural Committee

One of Donald Trump's many Achilles heels, and one that has gotten somewhat limited attention, is his inaugural committee. It raked in vast sums of money from some questionable sources, and cannot account for tens of millions of dollars of that take. The lack of attention is not going to continue, however, as federal prosecutors in New York's Southern District have subpoenaed vast quantities of records so they can take a careful look.

Team Trump gets an awful lot of bad news these days, and this is squarely in that category. There is, first of all, the significant exposure here. As we have learned in the past two years, something like obstruction of justice or conspiracy can be tricky to prove. On the other hand, it's much easier to follow the paper trail when it comes to financial transactions. In fact, in this case, the lack of a paper trail would also be a serious problem, since the committee is legally required to carefully document its accounts receivable and payable.

Another problem here is Mike Pence. He might not have been involved with some of the other crimes and misdeeds that Trump & Co, are accused of. Or, at very least, he might have plausible deniability. However, he was very much involved with the inaugural committee, including its fundraising and its planning efforts. So, this could take him down, even if he avoids trouble on other fronts. It's worth remembering that Nixon VP Spiro Agnew had nothing to do with Watergate, and yet he got run out of town a year before Tricky Dick did because of financial misconduct.

And perhaps the biggest deal here is who is doing the filing. Note that it is not Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is allegedly wrapping things up, but instead the U.S. Attorney's Office for Southern New York. Unlike Mueller, these folks will not be packing up anytime soon, and will be around long after Trump becomes an ex-president (whenever and however that happens). Further, Mueller is somewhat limited by his mandate, but the U.S. Attorneys are not. So, if there is anything here to be gotten to the bottom of, then they will get to the bottom of it.

What it all amounts to is that there are few people in this administration who can feel completely safe, and that no matter how long his term lasts, it is unlikely that Trump will spend any more days in office where he's not being investigated by someone. (Z)

Trump Set for State of the Union Address

Tonight is the night that Donald Trump will deliver his second State of the Union Address. It was delayed, of course, by the partial shutdown of the federal government. The White House has been keeping a pretty tight lid on what the President will say, but here are some of the storylines to watch for:

  • Immigration: This is the President's last, best opportunity to call for unity and to try to give a boost to the negotiations being conducted in Congress right now over border security funding. He's not going to seize that opportunity. His immigration-related tweets in the past couple of days have been particularly strident, and he's going to have Debra Bissell, Heather Armstrong and Madison Armstrong in the audience. Their relatives, Gerald and Sharon David, were killed last month by an alleged undocumented immigrant from El Salvador. So, get ready for some nativist fire and brimstone. Trump is not likely to use this opportunity to declare a national emergency, but it's possible.

  • Immigration, Redux: Trump would prefer that this not be a part of the night's events, but it's beyond his control. Recently, the Trump Organization fired 18 longtime employees of the President's golf clubs (particularly Mar-a-Lago) who were all undocumented. Most of these folks were in Trump's employ for over a decade; his management claims they just discovered their paperwork is phony. Perhaps that is true, but the timing is awfully curious. And if it is not true, then it makes Trump look heartless, or like he never really cared about immigration until it became politically expedient, or both. In any event, several of the terminated employees will be in attendance on Tuesday, guests of various Democratic members of Congress. Expect the cameras to linger on them several times.

  • North Korea and China: Trump is certainly going to brag about his "progress" on these two fronts. It is likely he will give specifics for his upcoming summit with Kim Jong-Un, and he might do the same for a planned meeting with Xi Jinping.

  • AIDS: This is something of a curveball for Trump, policy-wise, but according to Politico he is going to announce a goal of ending HIV transmissions in the U.S. by 2030. A noble goal, but the devil, of course, is in the details. We shall see how he proposes to achieve something that has confounded scientists and physicians around the globe for decades.

  • The Democratic Response: We mean this on two levels. As we've already noted, Stacey Abrams is going to give the Democratic response (in English; California AG Xavier Becerra will do the Spanish-language honors). This will be her first opportunity to impress (or wilt) under a national spotlight. Beyond that, however, and perhaps equally as interesting, will be how Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) responds to the address on a blow-by-blow basis. She will be directly over the President's shoulder, so her feelings will be plain for all to see.

The fun begins at 9:00 p.m. EST tonight. The address will be broadcast by all of the networks and cable news channels, and will be live-streamed on the websites of C-SPAN, USA Today, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and others. So, for those who wish to watch, there will be no shortage of options. (Z)

Democratic Turmoil in Virginia

What's worse for a politician today: An accusation of racism, or an accusation of sexual assault? Virginia Democrats may be about to answer that question, because Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has been hit with the former, and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) has been hit with the latter, in close succession.

There's no question that Northam is in deep trouble. On Friday of last week, it came to light that there is a photo, printed on his page of his medical school yearbook, that either shows him in blackface or in KKK robes (there are two people in the picture, which was clearly taken on Halloween). Northam originally claimed he could not recall which of the two costumed is him, then later decided he isn't in the picture at all, and that he got confused with another occasion on which he wore blackface makeup, in order to play Michael Jackson. Needless to say, "No, that's not the time I wore blackface," is not exactly a great defense, and Democrats far and wide have called for the Governor's resignation.

In Fairfax's case (and in his defense), the allegations against him are less solid. They came to light on Monday, and stem from a 2004 encounter that he says was consensual, and that his female companion says was not. On one hand, women don't generally lie about these things (depending on whose stats you believe, only 2%-7% of sexual assault allegations are false). On the other hand, the accuser took a very long time to come forward, and when she did so to the Washington Post, the paper investigated and decided they could not run with the story. It ended up being published by the right-leaning website Big League Politics, which is nowhere near as big league as the Post. Fairfax says the allegation is, "not only from left field, it was from planet Mars, because it didn't happen."

It's possible that the timing of these two revelations, coming on either side of the weekend, is just a remarkable coincidence. Or, maybe not. Virginia politics is known for being quite partisan and quite dirty, and it's possible that the state GOP gave an assist (or more) here. In general, of course, what is bad for Democrats is good for Republicans. Further, if the Governor and the Lieutenant Governor are both forced to resign in close order, then Attorney General Mark Herring (D) would take over. If, somehow, some way, he also finds himself in trouble (did his law school have a yearbook?), then the next in the line of succession is Speaker of the Virginia House Kirk Cox (R). At the moment, this is idle speculation, but if Herring-related dirt pops up in the next few days, be suspicious.

The alternative conspiracy theory is that Northam leaked the Fairfax story in order to get the heat off of himself. That's what Fairfax thinks, and he was happy to say so publicly on Monday. Needless to say, this has not done wonders for the relationship between the two men. And not helping things, in view of the allegations against Northam, is that Fairfax is black.

There are very few states, if any, where the Democrats would more like to avoid this kind of turmoil. They are one seat away in each house of the Virginia assembly from the trifecta, and they are counting on the state's electoral votes in 2020, and on it becoming a reliable blue state from there on out. Regardless of how much truth there is to the allegations against Fairfax, and to the competing conspiracy theories that are flying around, it's not good news for the blue team. Meanwhile, Northam is probably fatally compromised, and Fairfax might be as well. If either or both of them remain in office, then for the next several years it will introduce doubt in a state that the Democrats were not planning on having to worry about. (Z)

Trump Tries to Keep Evangelicals Happy

In terms of money donated and votes delivered, there aren't too many segments of Donald Trump's base that he needs more than the evangelicals. And their support is waning a little bit, perhaps due to the shutdown, or maybe due to the trade wars, or possibly because they are tired of being asked, "How can you support a commandment-abusing, false witness-giving, non-churchgoing, thrice-divorced serial philanderer?"

In view of this, Trump has spent the last week or so throwing a few bones in the evangelicals' direction. For example, he might not know the difference between John, Matthew, Mark, and Luke on one hand, and John, Paul, George, and Ringo on the other, but he nonetheless took to Twitter to express his support for Bible study in schools:

It's not clear if Trump actually knows what he's endorsing here; the odds are good that he does not. It's already legal to teach the Bible in American schools, as long as it's treated academically and neutrally. What's euphemistically called "Bible literacy" is really something more like mandatory education in the core tenets of certain theologically conservative flavors of Christianity. In any case, as long as it's what the evangelicals want, the President is happy to climb on board.

In a similar vein, Trump's Department of Health and Human Services just announced that, in view of the Supreme Court's decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, a federally funded South Carolina foster-care agency is now free to discriminate against would-be parents on the basis of religious belief. So, if they want to turn down same-sex couples, or Muslims, or Jews (and they do), then that is now a-ok. Other religiously oriented adoption agencies are expected to follow suit, now that they have been given carte blanche.

It's inevitable that the ACLU and others will challenge the new adoption rules in court, and will also tackle the Bible literacy courses if they become law. Perhaps they will win, although with Brett Kavanaugh ensconced in his seat for the next few decades, maybe they won't. In any case, the evangelicals may have made a devil's bargain, but they are definitely reaping the rewards. (Z)

Senators Concerned About Unfilled Posts

This has been an ongoing story for the Trump administration, and it's resurfacing once again. The President is now past the two-year mark, and a significant number of positions in his administration are unfilled or are only filled with temporary appointees. In fact, he's put people in only 54% of the jobs he's supposed to fill, and though Trump blames the Democrats for that, he hasn't even made a nomination for 20% of the posts the Senate has to confirm. Some departments are particularly understaffed, including the EPA (only 57% of posts filled), HUD (54%), Labor (43%), Justice, and Interior (both 41%). Quite a few GOP senators have spoken up about this state of affairs in the last week. For example, Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), who is generally a reliable Trump ally, but who said, "It's a lot. It's way too many."

Though the Republican Party is ostensibly the party of small government, they definitely don't like it this small. The problem is that many responsibilities and powers are delegated only to properly approved appointees. This has put a lot of underlings and acting appointees in the position of doing things they are not legally allowed to do. Consequently, Lankford, et al. are worried that the Trump administration is setting itself up for (successful) legal challenges to much of what it does. For an administration that particularly relies on exercising power through deregulation, that's problematic. And now that we are in an era of mixed government, that means of exercising power will presumably be used even more. So, a push to get a lot more jobs staffed is likely imminent, though finding people who are willing to serve and can get the proper security clearances will remain an issue. (Z)

Trump to Get Physical

As president, Donald Trump gets at least one physical exam a year. This year's is scheduled for Friday, and is scheduled to be conducted by Commander Sean Conley, who succeeded Adm. Ronny Jackson as the physician to the President.

The first question this story raises: Will Trump make the results public? It would be pretty hard for him not to, politically speaking, but it's also hard for a president to refuse to release his tax returns, and we all know what happened on that front. The second question is: If they are released, will they be fudged at all? The last two occasions where Trump has made reports about his health available, outright falsehoods were ultimately uncovered. Dr. Harold Bornstein's glowing letter, in which he proclaimed that Trump would be the "healthiest president ever" was not remotely believable, and the doctor eventually conceded that he didn't write it. Jackson's report on Trump's health, released a year ago, massaged the numbers (giving Trump additional height) in order to keep him just below the "obese" range of the BMI scale.

As we've noted several times, it's not unheard of for presidents to play games with their health reports, though few of them (outside of FDR) took it quite as far as Trump has. (Z)

Patriots Will Avoid White House

No, not the James Mattis and John Kelly-type of patriot, though they don't seem to have much interest in this administration, either. The Super Bowl-winning type. The New England Patriots took a very long time to score a touchdown on Sunday, but many of them took not long at all afterward to announce that they would forego a White House visit, if invited. Some players even went so far as to say that they would like to follow in the Golden State Warriors' footsteps and visit Barack Obama instead.

The last time the Patriots won the Super Bowl, all the way back in 2017, they did visit Donald Trump in the White House, and there were quite a few no-shows. The 2018 champion Philadelphia Eagles, who were more vocal in their lack of enthusiasm, were invited and then blackballed (pun intended). This time, it's probable that an invite will be made, and a contingent from the Patriots will make the trek to D.C., if only because Trump and team owner Robert Kraft are BFFs. However, it's likely that contingent will be even smaller than the one in 2017, making for a less-than-stellar photo op. Maybe Kid Rock and Ted Nugent can come by in order to fill out the crowd. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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Jan31 Trump Orders Conference Committee to Fund the Wall
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Jan31 Thursday Q&A
Jan30 Coats Breaks with Trump
Jan30 Stone Pleads Not Guilty
Jan30 Abrams, Becerra to Give Responses to Trump SOTU
Jan30 GOP Hasn't Staffed House Intelligence Committee Yet
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Jan30 Tulsi Gabbard's Campaign is Flailing
Jan30 Some Democrats Are Talking About a Primary Challenge for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Jan29 Mueller Probe Reportedly Nearing Its End
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Jan29 Harris Veers Hard Left
Jan29 Clinton Keeps Door Open on 2020 Run
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Jan29 Shooting Yourself in the Foot, Part II: The California GOP
Jan28 Stone Might Not Stonewall
Jan28 Mulvaney: Trump Will Use Executive Power to Build the Wall
Jan28 The Last Shutdown Might Be the Last Shutdown
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Jan28 President Coulter?
Jan28 Monday Q&A
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