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Political Wire logo Trump Touts Border Wall In City That Has None
Trump Divides Republicans with New Border Proposal
Rove Warns Senate GOP Not to Only Focus on Base
Pelosi Rejects Trump’s Shutdown Proposal
BuzzFeed Doubles Down on Report
Democrats Dismiss Trump Shutdown Offer

TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Cohen Soap Opera Takes Some Twists and Turns
      •  Trump to Speak to the Nation Today
      •  Pelosi Says Trump Put Her in Danger
      •  Second Trump-Kim Summit Is On
      •  President Hogan?

Cohen Soap Opera Takes Some Twists and Turns

These days, we're posting on the weekends only if there's pretty big news. And there certainly was on Friday, as Cohengate developed in some unexpected directions throughout the day.

The original atom bomb—BuzzFeed's report that Donald Trump instructed his former fixer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress—broke fairly late on Thursday. And so, the first order of business on Friday for most pundits was to produce piece after piece after piece after piece trying to ascertain what it all means. The general consensus that came out of these analyses was that: (1) If the story is true, Trump is guilty of suborning perjury and other crimes; (2) In turn, that would make impeachment all-but-unavoidable; and (3) Trump certainly seems like he was working to expand his business empire, and not win the White House, during the 2016 campaign, which would explain why he dillied and dallied with Trump Tower Moscow far past the danger point, corruption-wise, and thus created a mess for himself that he then tried to escape.

With that said, everyone who covered the BuzzFeed item, including us, added that "If the story is true" caveat. There are some very good reasons to be skeptical. Among them:

  • The source for the piece was two unnamed law enforcement officers who are allegedly part of the Cohen investigation. Given that Team Mueller and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, the two entities who are known to be investigating Cohen, have both been airtight so far, the sudden leak was a bit surprising.

  • Whatever the motivation of these two folks might have been, it would seemingly be best served by talking to a major outlet like the Washington Post or CNN. BuzzFeed is an odd choice.

  • One of the two reporters on the piece, Jason Leopold, has done some good reporting in the past, including on Russiagate. However, he was also accused of plagiarism and misrepresenting his sources while reporting on the George W. Bush administration.

  • Cohen quickly confirmed the other salacious news that was reported on Friday (that Trump used him to rig online polls), but had no comment on BuzzFeed's story.

On Friday afternoon, it became clear that skepticism was indeed warranted, as something unprecedented happened: Special counsel Robert Mueller's office issued a statement disputing BuzzFeed's reporting. It read:

BuzzFeed's description of specific statements to the Special Counsel's Office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen's Congressional testimony are not accurate.

Previously, the only way the public heard from Team Mueller was through the un-redacted portions of court filings. This is the first time his office has directly responded to reports in the media.

Not surprisingly, Donald Trump quickly decided that the dishonest, unreliable, witch hunting special counsel might be worth listening to on this occasion. The President took several victory laps on Twitter, including this:

There were nearly a dozen tweets besides this one, most of them retweets from such luminaries as Ronna Romney McDaniel, Dan Bongino, and Geraldo Rivera.

The special counsel's statement was so brief, it's hard to say exactly how much of a victory for Trump this really was, however. Clearly, there was something seriously awry with the BuzzFeed report, or else Mueller wouldn't have spoken up. On the other hand, as BuzzFeed pointed out on its site, Mueller did not necessarily controvert the entire story, he merely said it was inaccurate. And Cohen and his spokesmen pointedly refused to comment on Friday, one way or another. Further, it is clear that while Team Mueller might generally remain quiet, they are clearly keeping an eye on coverage of the whole situation. The fact that they have not spoken up before implies that most of the other reporting we've seen so far was basically accurate, even if it turns out BuzzFeed was full of it.

In any event, barring something unexpected, this story is in a holding pattern until Cohen testifies before Congress on February 7. But when that day comes, it's going to be the most watched congressional hearing since...well, Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh. (Z)

Trump to Speak to the Nation Today

Although most of Donald Trump's tweets on Friday were about BuzzFeed, there was also this:

At first glance, this certainly makes it seem like Trump is going to pull the trigger and declare a national emergency. In fact, it's likely that he consciously tried to give that impression, so as to heighten the drama. However, White House sources said on Friday evening that he's merely going to call for wall funding again, and offer "concessions" to the Democrats in hopes of making that happen.

It is extremely unlikely that the speech brings the government any closer to reopening. First of all, Trump has done no negotiating; he's just going to toss out whatever bargaining chips sound good to him. That is hardly a skilled demonstration of the art of the deal. Beyond that, however, the President continues to fundamentally misunderstand the Democrats' position here. If they give him his wall without getting something incredibly juicy in return, their base will kill them. Perhaps even more important at this point, however, is that they do not want Trump to learn the lesson that if he shuts down the government, he will eventually get what he wants. Their position is that they want to reopen the government and then discuss border security. That is clearly not what Trump plans to offer in today's address. If he was amenable to those terms, he wouldn't need to make a speech at all, he could just instruct Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to pass the spending bills the House has already passed, and to send them to the White House to be signed.

In short, whatever it is that Trump plans to offer today is almost certainly not enough, because it's likely that no concession he could offer at this point would be enough. And that's before we consider that he's likely to offer something worthless, like an aluminum wall instead of a concrete wall. (Z)

Pelosi Says Trump Put Her in Danger

Donald Trump's speech announcement was the big shutdown-related news coming from the White House on Friday. From the other side of the conflict, meanwhile, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also made the news with a claim that, if true, would be rather troubling. She said that when the President denied her (and several other members of Congress) the use of a military plane for their trip to Afghanistan, they made alternate arrangements for a commercial flight. However, his snippy public letter revealed the trip to the whole world, put Pelosi & Co. in danger, and forced her to cancel.

The odds are pretty good that Pelosi is telling the truth. First, while she's got a gift for spin characteristic of a veteran politician of her stature, she is not known for telling outright lies. On the other hand, the President is known for being careless about others' classified information, particularly when doing so serves his needs. On top of that, the White House declined to deny Pelosi's claims on the record. Add it all up, and it certainly looks like the President of the United States was willing to put the Speaker of the House of Representatives in danger just to score political points.

Although Trump did not controvert Pelosi's story, he did respond to her on Twitter:

His question is easy to answer: Pelosi was willing to leave the country because Congress is not in session this week, anyhow, and she and her caucus have already put in place legislation that would reopen the government on the terms they are willing to accept. Any alternative, at this point, is probably unacceptable (see above), and besides that, Trump doesn't actually negotiate anyhow. So, there isn't actually much for Pelosi to do in Washington right now.

As to the second part of the tweet, nobody seems to have any idea what that means. It's probably a reference to H-1B visas, which allow people to come to the U.S. to work, including on vineyards like the one the Pelosis own. It may even be a preview of what Trump plans to offer in his speech today. In any case, we're clearly still in the mudslinging phase of the shutdown. (Z)

Second Trump-Kim Summit Is On

In addition to sparring with BuzzFeed and Pelosi, the White House also conducted a little bit of actual business on Friday: They announced that Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un will hold a second summit in February.

Anyone who has been paying attention, and most of those who have not, recognizes that this is just an attempt to get some positive PR and to change the narrative a bit in the face of the ongoing shutdown. First, because that is what this White House does. Other White Houses too, of course, but this one is particularly obvious about it. Second, because the two nations haven't actually worked out any details of the meeting yet, like exactly what date it will happen, or where. The latter question is a particularly tricky one, and very nearly derailed summit #1. So, the fact that plans were made public without that issue being resolved makes very clear that the White House badly wanted to make an announcement as quickly as was possible.

In the end, the nitty-gritty will probably be worked out, if only because Trump really needs something he can brag about. And when and if that does come to pass, the odds are very good that the confab will be just as devoid of substance as the first one was, inasmuch as the two sides fundamentally disagree about their endgames, and Kim remains an untrustworthy liar. That this is almost certainly 100% theater is why this news, while worth mentioning, is nonetheless the least important item of the day. (Z)

President Hogan?

Yeah. Hogan. As in Lawrence Joseph Hogan Jr. His election would continue the (short) tradition of first ladies who are not natural-born citizens, as Hogan's wife, Yumi Kim Hogan, was born in South Korea. All this Hogan-for-president stuff started with a story in Politico that Gov. Hogan (R-MD) is thinking of challenging Donald Trump in the Republican primary in 2020. The 62-year-old cancer survivor just won a blowout reelection victory in very blue Maryland and is no fan of Trump. Under normal conditions, a relatively unknown governor from a blue state who has moderate to liberal positions on abortion, guns, immigration, and other issues wouldn't be much of a threat to a sitting Republican president who is enormously popular with Republican voters. But current conditions are anything but normal. The walls are closing in on Trump from many directions, and if Trump did suborn perjury (see above), even if some of the details of the Buzzfeed story are wrong, and Mueller brings out a damning report, Trump could be so weakened by 2020 that a primary challenger might have an outside chance.

For Hogan, who is term limited in 2022, if he wants another job in politics, 2020 has to be his year. Both of Maryland's senators are Democrats and both are very popular. But most likely, Hogan isn't thinking about his need for future gainful employment. Like Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), he is worried about the future of the Republican Party and wants to bring it back to being the party of Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan, not the party of Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity. Hogan has scheduled a trip to Iowa in March, and will probably have a better idea of whether a run makes any sense at all after talking to Republicans there. Probably this bubble will burst and he won't run, but if things continue to deteriorate for Trump, well, who knows? (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan18 Tit, Meet Tat
Jan18 Cohen Plot Thickens
Jan18 Trump Surprised by Barr-Mueller Friendship
Jan18 Giuliani Tries to Walk Back Collusion Remarks
Jan18 Rep. Tom Marino Resigns
Jan18 Schumer Recruits Gallego for Arizona Senate Race
Jan18 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Jay Inslee
Jan17 Pelosi Asks Trump to Delay the State of the Union Address
Jan17 Nancy Pelosi Knows How Politics Works
Jan17 Schiff Hires Seven New Staffers to Investigate Trump's Connections to Russia
Jan17 Giuliani: Ok, Maybe There Was Collusion
Jan17 Money Isn't Everything
Jan17 Why the Shutdown Won't End Anytime Soon
Jan17 Majority of Americans Are Fine with a Marginal Tax Rate of 70%
Jan17 Thursday Q&A
Jan16 Barr Walks a Fine Line
Jan16 A Day of Shutdown Theater from Trump
Jan16 Mueller Filing Confirms Kilimnik Connection
Jan16 Gillibrand Makes It Official
Jan16 Gabbard Has Anti-LGBTQ Skeletons in Her Closet
Jan16 House Vaguely Rebukes King
Jan16 Brexit, May Both in Trouble
Jan15 Polling Continues to Be Grim for Trump
Jan15 Engineering 101: Why a Wall Is a Bad Idea
Jan15 GoFundMe Campaign for Wall Falls Apart
Jan15 Congressional Republicans Strip King of Committee Assignments; Some Demand His Resignation
Jan15 Abrams Exploring Senate Bid
Jan15 TV Ads No Longer a Priority for Priorities USA
Jan14 Americans Blame Trump for the Government Shutdown
Jan14 Barr's Confirmation Hearing Will Be All about Mueller
Jan14 Why Manafort's Polling Data is a Big Deal
Jan14 The Don and Vlad Show, Part I: Trump Hid What He Said to Putin from U.S. Officials
Jan14 The Don and Vlad Show, Part II: FBI Suspected Trump Might Be Working For Russians
Jan14 Giuliani Thinks Mueller's Report Will Be Horrific, But Has a Plan
Jan14 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1...Liftoff
Jan14 Monday Q&A
Jan11 Shutdown, Day 19: Much Theater, Little Progress
Jan11 Trump Campaign Had Over 100 Contacts with Russians
Jan11 Cohen to Testify Before Congress
Jan11 White House Thrilled by Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Health Problems
Jan11 Steve King Can't Figure out When "White Supremacist" Became Offensive
Jan11 Crowded Presidential Field Could Imperil Democrats' Chances at Retaking the Senate
Jan11 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Kirsten Gillibrand
Jan10 Trump Storms Out of Meeting with Democrats
Jan10 House Democrats Use Health Care to Pressure Republicans
Jan10 White House Wants to Expand Trump's Tariff Powers
Jan10 Barr Met with Senators Yesterday
Jan10 Rosenstein Plans to Leave the Justice Dept. after Barr is Confirmed
Jan10 Romney Gets a Chilly Reception in the Senate
Jan10 Steyer Will Not Run in 2020