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Political Wire logo Giuliani Says Some Have Sought Pardons
Trump Blasts DNC for Barring Fox News from Debates
Harris, Sanders Condemn Effort to Rebuke Ilhan Omar
Leaked Documents Show Feds Tracking Journalists
White House Prepares for Mueller Report
Lawyers Claiming Ties to Giuliani Approached Cohen

House Enthusiasm for Investigating Trump Matched by Senate's Lack of Enthusiasm

On Tuesday, several different senators talked to reporters about the possibility of investigating Donald Trump's hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. They were, to a man, not interested. Among the senators who noted their lack of enthusiasm were Ron Johnson (R-WI), who chairs the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, and John Cornyn (R-TX) and John Kennedy (R-LA), who are both members of the Judiciary Committee.

The charitable explanation for their low interest is that this matter is already being looked into by special counsel and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. This was, for example, Johnson's justification. "We'll let the justice system work its way," he said. "I want to see the definitive information as opposed to show-trial type testimony at congressional hearings." A less charitable interpretation would observe that Johnson, in particular, had no such concerns when it came to his investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mails, and that Senate Republicans in general were delighted to launch investigations that duplicated what the FBI and other committees were doing when it was a Democrat in the White House. Looked at this way, it makes it appear that their real concern is that they don't want to suffer any of the political damage that might come from holding Trump accountable for his actions, and not that they don't wish to waste time/effort/money.

Of course, the other chamber is controlled by a party with very different goals. Whether House Democrats are motivated by doing their duty and keeping the executive branch accountable, or by the opportunity to score some political points with their base, or both, it all points to looking under every Trump-branded stone and behind every Trump-branded bush. House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) released a list on Monday of all the Trump-related people and organizations he wants to put under the microscope. We looked at it in terms of the various groupings that were represented (campaign managers, Trump family members, etc.). TPM, by contrast, broke it down in terms of the issues Nadler clearly plans to examine. Here's their list:

  • The Flynn Episode
  • Jim Comey's Time With Trump, And His Removal
  • A Quixotic Attempt To Fire Jeff Sessions And Other Top Law Enforcement Officials
  • Pardons For Those Targeted By Robert Mueller
  • Why Was Former Hot Tub Salesman Matthew Whitaker Named Acting Attorney General?
  • Michael Cohen's Fraudulent Testimony To The House Select Intelligence Committee
  • Contacts Between Russian Officials And The Trump Campaign
  • Russian Financing Of Trump, His Eponymous Org, And Immediate Family
  • Attempts To Develop A Trump Tower Moscow During The 2016 Campaign
  • The June 2016 Trump Tower Meeting
  • Contacts Between The Trump Campaign And Wikileaks
  • Sharing Or Receiving Election Data With Foreign Countries During The Campaign
  • Paul Manafort And Rick Gates's Contacts With Ukrainian Oligarchs (And Maybe A Russian Spy) During The 2016 Campaign
  • What Negotiations Were Going On With Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, And Russia During The Campaign And Transition
  • Hush Money Payments And 'Catch-and-kill'
  • Michael Cohen's $1 Million Deal With Andrew Intrater And His Russian Oligarch Cousin
  • How Did The Trump Inaugural Committee Raise $107 Million?
  • Emoluments, Domestic And Foreign
  • The 2016 Republican National Convention's Platform Change Over Arming Ukraine
  • Trump's Summits With Vladimir Putin, Held Off-Record And Away From Prying Eyes
  • A Potential Deal To End Sanctions On Russia After Trump Took Office

In short, Nadler sees a lot of different kinds of smoke, and he's going to find the fire, if it's there to be found.

If the Chairman is going to make much progress, however, he's going to need at least a few cooperative witnesses, since it is a lot harder for him to do what special counsel Robert Mueller does and to trade reduced prison sentences in exchange for dirt. Once Nadler gets a few insiders to spill their guts, then he'll be in a better position to put pressure on Trump loyalists. And on Tuesday, he may have gotten his first taker, in the form of Sean Spicer. The former White House Press Secretary, whose name is among those on Nadler's list, said he will cooperate with the investigation. On one hand, Spicer has been pretty uncritical of Trump since getting fired, and he even wrote a flattering book, so his testimony might be a lot of stonewalling and obfuscating. On the other hand, he has no long-term connection to Trump and no obvious affinity for the President, and he may be worried about the consequences of non-cooperation. So, he may indeed spill his guts, to the extent that he has something to spill. Undoubtedly, he'll be visiting the Hill soon, and then we will know. (Z)

Trump Rammed Through Ivanka's Security Clearance, Too

Speaking of issues that House Democrats will be looking into (although this is more an Intelligence Committee issue than one for the Judiciary Committee), the security clearances that were granted to the immediate members of Donald Trump's family have raised some red flags. Last week, we learned that First Son-in-Law Jared Kushner failed to qualify for a clearance, and that the President ordered that he be given one anyhow, over the objections of then-Chief of Staff John Kelly and others. On Tuesday, it was reported that the same is true of First Daughter Ivanka Trump.

The new reporting on this story adds an additional detail, beyond the fact that Ivanka's clearance was also involved. That additional detail is that Trump tried to get Kelly or former White House counsel Don McGahn to "decide" to give the kiddies their clearances, and that they both steadfastly refused, because they did not want any part of it. This means that the President was crystal clear that the clearances were problematic, from both a political and a legal standpoint, and that he pressed forward anyhow. That, in turn, makes this a very obvious subject for a lot of attention from the House Intelligence Committee. Trump may come to regret his antagonism of Committee Chair Adam "Shifty" Schiff (D-CA) (a.k.a. "Little Adam Schitt"), who will undoubtedly dig into the clearances with great enthusiasm. (Z)

Mueller Is "An American Hero"

There are quite a few people in Washington who are very pleased with the work that Robert Mueller is doing. If one of those folks were to hail Mueller as an "American hero," and they happened to have a (D) or an (I-VT) after their name, then nobody would pay much attention. After all, that's a "dog bites man" kind of story. But if the person complimenting Mueller had, say, "former Trump lawyer" after their name, then we're well into "man bites dog" territory.

And so it is that Ty Cobb—the lawyering one, not the baseball-playing one—was back in the headlines on Tuesday. Sitting for an interview with ABC News, the former presidential counselor had many flattering things to say about Mueller. Beyond noting the Special Counsel's status as a combat veteran and "American hero" with a "backbone of steel," Cobb said that the investigation is most certainly not a witch hunt. Undoubtedly, Trump haters will be delighted to hear such things coming from the President's former lawyer. They will be less happy about some of Cobb's predictions, like that there won't be much in Mueller's final report that is not already known, in view of the detailed sentencing memos that have already been released, and that it's unlikely to have a "silver bullet" that can be used for an impeachment. Given that Cobb is the closest person to the investigation who is speaking openly, and that he does not seem to have an ax to grind in any particular direction, his predictions—whether one likes them or not—should probably be taken seriously. (Z)

Stone Likes to Live Dangerously

Judge Amy Berman Jackson is a no-nonsense kind of jurist, even by federal judge standards. Everyone who appears before her seems to have figured this out, with the possible exception of Roger Stone. He was put under a fairly restrictive gag order, and nonetheless decided to post a picture of Jackson to Instagram that featured a gun sight directly above her head (implying that he wanted her killed). The Judge was not too happy about this, and imposed an even stricter gag order on Stone. Since then, he has managed to test the limits of that order, and of Jackson's patience, in three different ways.

The first of those, and possibly the most problematic, was an Instagram post this weekend:

Who framed Roger Stone?

A play on the title of the 1988 noir comedy "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," this seems to come dangerously close to violating the judge's prohibition against comments on the case. Enough so that Robert Mueller's office sent her a memo bringing the matter to her attention. On top of that, Stone has also been peppering media outlets with e-mails proclaiming his innocence, and a book he co-wrote about the "myth of Russian collusion" is going to be re-issued this week. Stone's lawyers have already prepared a four-page memo explaining why they forgot to mention the book re-release to the Judge. She has not yet responded to that, nor to the e-mails or the Instagram post. However, if the one-time Trump campaign advisor is not in jail by the time the week is out, he should thank his lucky stars, and then promptly zip his lip until his trial date. (Z)

ACA Premiums Getting Out of Reach for Many

A new analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that, ten years in, the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) is not so affordable for a lot of Americans. In particular, people with incomes too high to qualify for subsidies, but whose health care needs equate to expensive policies, are having trouble. For a person in their sixties with an income of $50,000, particularly if they are a rural dweller, insurance costs can eat up 20% or more of their earnings.

This news is a reminder of something that every politics follower already knew: Healthcare will be a major issue in the 2020 elections. The Democrats' basic position is either that the ACA should be reformed in order to correct for some of the obvious problems that have presented themselves, or (if they are from the progressive wing of the Party), that the time has clearly come for Medicare-for-All, or some other socialized approach. The GOP's basic position, and this includes Donald Trump, is that insurers should be allowed to make "skinny" insurance policies available, which cost far less than the policies offered under the ACA, but also cover far less (or have much higher deductibles, or both). The weakness in the Democratic position is that fixing the ACA (or replacing it with Medicare-for-all) won't be easy or cheap. The weakness in the GOP position is that people eventually try to use their skinny policies, and find out that they're not so great. Broadly speaking, the blue team ended up getting the better of this argument in 2018. We will see what happens in 2020, with two more years of the ACA functioning less than optimally (albeit in part due to Republican efforts to undermine the legislation). (Z)

Merkley and Bloomberg Are Out

We are still more than 600 days from the election, and yet Democratic presidential candidates are dropping like flies. Early in the day on Tuesday, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) advised that he was not going to run for the White House so that he could focus on his Senate reelection campaign. This decision was likely influenced by his poor chances of winning the presidency, as well as the fact that Oregon law currently does not allow candidates to run for more than one office at a time. Unable to persuade the state legislature to change the law, and unwilling to throw away a lifetime job in the Senate for a longshot bid at the big job, he made his choice.

Meanwhile, Michael Bloomberg has apparently decided that America does not want a(nother?) billionaire president. Actually, the polling he did this month, which said his path to the White House was exceedingly narrow, decided for him. And so, the former New York City mayor announced Tuesday afternoon that he was out, too, and that he would spend his time and money supporting anti-Trump candidates across the land. With Hillary Clinton officially foregoing a run on Monday, that makes three prominent Democrats who pushed "eject" in the span of about 36 hours.

Sometime soon, we are going to reorganize our candidate profiles page to indicate each candidate's status. However, for now, here's a brief overview of the field, as we see it:

Frontrunners who have declared/formed exploratory committees: Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)

Will join the above list if they declare: Stacey Abrams, Joe Biden, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Beto O'Rourke

Longshots who have declared/formed exploratory committees: Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend), Julián Castro, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), John Hickenlooper, Jay Inslee

Will join the above list if they declare: Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT), Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City), Terry McAuliffe, Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA)

Ultra-longshots who have declared: John Delaney, Marianne Williamson, Andrew Yang

In other words, if you are offered the opportunity to wager some money that the Democrats' candidate will be a U.S. senator, you should probably take that bet. That could prove a little problematic for the blue team, as senators take lots of tricky votes on complicated legislation that could come back to haunt them in attack ads, and also take lots of money from various donors, which could also come back to bite them in the rear (see below). (Z)

Many Democratic Frontrunners Got Money from the Trumps in the Past

We have seen abundant evidence that Donald Trump's number one, overriding principle is always "do what is best for Donald Trump." His family has also embraced that mantra, to a fair extent. Consistent with that, and as is the case for many wealthy people who want to have some strings to pull with the politicians, the various members of the Trump family have made quite a few donations over the years to candidates on both sides of the aisle.

Politico's Eli Okun has dug into the matter, and found that Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Joe Biden, John Kerry, and Terry McAuliffe, among possible Democratic candidates, have at least one Trump donation in their pasts. He proposes that this could be a problem for those folks in an election where everyone will be pitching themselves as the most anti-Trump candidate of them all.

With the caveat, courtesy of The American President, that, "the American people have a funny way of deciding on their own what is and what is not their business," we are somewhat skeptical that donations made before the Trumps were a political family, and to politicians who obviously don't personally double-check every donation, will really be all that big a problem for Democratic voters. If they do become a problem, the candidate who is most likely to feel the pain is Booker, who has collected vastly more Trump money than any other candidate (approximately $50,000), and who did so by virtue of appearing at fundraisers held by Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump (so, Booker can't exactly claim ignorance of where his money was coming from). However, if the source of a candidate's past fundraising really does become a major issue in 2020 (and it could), Booker has considerably larger problems than the $50K in Trump money, as he's also been happy to take money from banks, pharmaceutical companies, and other corporate interests that don't sit well with Democratic voters. (Z)

Is McConnell Triangulating for 2020?

In theory, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) should be safe when he runs for reelection in 2020. After all, he's one of the most prominent Republicans in the nation, he's won six previous U.S. Senate elections, and Kentucky is quite red. However, the Democrats are gunning for him, and may persuade a solid challenger in Amy McGrath to jump into the race. Further, the Majority Leader's approval ratings back home are quite anemic, generally hovering in the high 20s or low 30s.

Consequently, The Hill's Alexander Bolton suggests that McConnell is now in the position of kowtowing to two politicians who are both more popular in the state of Kentucky than he is, namely Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Donald Trump, both of whom are 15-20 points above the Majority Leader when it comes to the approval of the state's voters. Of course, Paul and Trump are about as different as two Republicans can be, so if McConnell really does have to triangulate in this way, remaining in the good graces of both men, it will be quite the balancing act.

We are not so convinced that the opinion of one senator from a state matters all that much in the election of the other senator. But there is no question that Trump's opinion matters, in part because he's more than willing to share the names of people he's irked with, and because his name will be on the same ballot with McConnell's. Further, the biggest danger to the Majority Leader might actually be a primary challenge from the right, and Trump could absolutely give a person like that a fighting chance with his endorsement. All of this is to say that anyone waiting for McConnell to get fed up with the President and to decide that he's had enough is going to have to wait, at the bare minimum, until November 4, 2020. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Mar05 Trump Is Headed for Certain Defeat in the Senate
Mar05 House Judiciary Committee Is Going to Talk to Everyone
Mar05 Trump Will Sign Executive Order Requiring Colleges to "Support Free Speech"
Mar05 GOP Activists Are Worried Trump Has No 2020 Strategy
Mar05 Hickenlooper Is In
Mar05 Clinton Is Out
Mar05 O'Rourke Is High
Mar04 Fourth Republican Senator Will Vote against Trump's Emergency Declaration
Mar04 House Judiciary Committee Will Start Investigating Trump
Mar04 Schiff: There is Already Evidence of Collusion
Mar04 Plurality of Voters Believe Michael Cohen
Mar04 CPAC Attendees Are Worried about Biden
Mar04 Voters Don't Want a Socialist President
Mar04 A Ranking of the Democratic Candidates
Mar04 A First Look at the Electoral College
Mar04 Three States Replace Vulnerable Voting Machines--with New Vulnerable Voting Machines
Mar04 Roger Stone's Trial Will Take 5 to 8 Days
Mar04 Monday Q&A
Mar02 All Kinds of Trouble for Trump
Mar02 Washington Governor Is In(Slee)
Mar02 Saturday Q&A
Mar01 Following Cohen Testimony, Members of Congress Make Their Next Moves
Mar01 GOP Senators to Trump: Drop the Emergency
Mar01 Trump Sides with a Strongman Again
Mar01 RNC Chair Tacitly Threatens Potential Trump Challengers
Mar01 Wheeler Confirmed to Lead EPA
Mar01 Netanyahu Indicted on Corruption Charges
Mar01 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Jeff Merkley
Feb28 Cohen Channels His Inner Dean
Feb28 Collateral Damage from Cohen's Testimony
Feb28 Takeaways from the Cohen Hearings
Feb28 The View from the Right
Feb28 Summit Ends with a Thud
Feb28 O'Rourke's Plans Come Into Focus
Feb27 House Votes to Kill Emergency Declaration, 245-182
Feb27 Cohen Testifies
Feb27 Background Checks Bill on Deck
Feb27 Trump Meets with Kim Today
Feb27 2020 Won't Be 2016 Redux for Democrats
Feb27 Hogan Clearly Prepping for a 2020 Primary Challenge
Feb27 Harris Is Out in NC-09
Feb27 Next Mayor of Chicago Will Be a Black Woman
Feb26 Congress Prepares for Vote on National Emergency
Feb26 Warren: No Sucking Up to Wealthy Donors for Me
Feb26 Former Klobuchar Staffers Come to Her Defense
Feb26 New York Goes After Trump's Taxes
Feb26 Former Campaign Staffer Sues Trump for Unwanted Kiss, Discrimination
Feb26 White House to Set Up Anti-Climate Change Panel
Feb26 Trump Takes the Oscar Bait
Feb25 Schiff: I Will Have Mueller Testify