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Political Wire logo Why Barr Can’t Whitewash the Mueller Report
Trump Allies Push Story on Biden Conflicts of Interest
Justice Department Makes Case to Strike Down Obamacare
It’s Not Obstruction of Justice If It Works
Barr Refuses to Testify Before House Judiciary
Barr Didn’t Even Pretend He’s an Honest Broker

TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Mueller Not Happy with Barr
      •  Trump and Dems Agree on Infrastructure "Plan"
      •  Emoluments Suit Moves Forward
      •  Moore's a Dead Man Walking
      •  The Polling Gods Giveth, and They Taketh Away
      •  Is the Senate Slipping Away for Democrats?
      •  NC-03 Round 1 Is Complete

Mueller Not Happy with Barr

Former special counsel Robert Mueller, his instincts honed by years in the Marine Corps, and even more years working for the FBI, is discreet. Perhaps too discreet, even, as his unflattering conclusions about Donald Trump were presented so diplomatically they allowed the President and his allies to (falsely) claim total vindication. That group includes AG William Barr, who tried furiously to spin things in Trump's favor with his initial four-page summary of the report, and then tried again in his press conference the morning the report became public.

Barr's behavior has Mueller steamed. First, as an FBI careerist (remember, the Bureau's motto is "Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity"), and second as a guy who just spent more than a year of his life trying to do a difficult and thankless job, only to see his work trampled upon by the AG. Mueller could have gone on a weekend morning talk show (or, even, a weeknight talk show). He could have talked to the New York Times or the Washington Post. Heck, he's important enough that even we would probably have taken his call.

However, doing things in public is not Mueller's style. Instead, he sent a sharply worded letter to Barr. The key passage:

The summary letter the Department sent to Congress and released to the public late in the afternoon of March 24 did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this office's work and conclusions. There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation. This threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the Department appointed the Special Counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations.

Coming from no drama Robert, those are some pretty strong words. And it does not help Barr that he got that letter on March 27, which is two weeks before he told a Congressional committee that he did not know whether Mueller agreed with his interpretation or not.

Things aren't going to get better for the AG today, as he is scheduled to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee. This will be his first appearance before Congress since the report was released. Don't count your eggs until he actually shows up, but assuming he does, he's going to face some tough questions about the initial report he released, as well as his preemptive decision to declare that there was no basis for charging obstruction (a clear attempt at spin, since the DoJ doesn't indict sitting presidents anyhow, and impeachment for obstruction is Congress' prerogative), and his apparent testimonial falsehoods three weeks ago. Lying to the public is fine and dandy. Lying to Congress is somewhat less so. It is called perjury.

That said, it won't all be bad for Barr. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who might be the least principled member of the Senate (ok, second least principled) is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and is undoubtedly going to lob up some softballs for Barr related to the alleged spying on the Trump campaign that needs to be looked into. So, if Barr really is in the bag for the President—and there's every indication he is—then he'll have a chance to demonstrate that once again. (Z)

Trump and Dems Agree on Infrastructure "Plan"

The biggest non-Mueller news out of Washington on Tuesday was the story that Donald Trump sat down with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and agreed in principle to invest $2 trillion in America's crumbling infrastructure.

Everybody loves the idea that, just maybe, the folks in Washington will put their differences aside and get something done for the benefit of the American people. However, it is impossible to take this news seriously, for at least two reasons. The first is that any verbal promises made by Donald Trump are not worth the paper they are written on. He's pulled this song-and-dance before, including with Schumer and Pelosi. All it takes is one person to get in his ear about how bad the idea is (Chief of Staff Mick "the Knife" Mulvaney?) and it's done.

The second problem is that, in their discussion, the partisan pooh-bahs neglected to discuss the minor issue of where the money is going to come from. It could come from tax increases, or cutting military spending, but those are nonstarters for Republicans (who are already signaling their lack of support for the proposal). The money could also come from cutting entitlement programs, like Social Security and Medicaid, but that would be a nonstarter for Democrats. The money could come from extra borrowing, but the deficit is already at $1 trillion and rising. It could also come from trickery, like matching state infrastructure projects dollar-for-dollar, but then it's not actually $2 trillion that is being spent on the problem. It could also come from giving big tax breaks to the Donald's friends in the construction industry, as in: "You spend $100 million fixing these highways and we'll give you a $200 million tax break." That would effectively mean the government is spending $200 million in a sneaky way to get $100 million worth of work done while giving Donald's friends a $100 million gift. What's not to like about that?

Put another way, "I want to spend money on infrastructure" is not a political position any more than "I like puppies" is. Everybody likes infrastructure, and (most) everybody likes puppies. The political position comes when you take a stand on what you'll sacrifice in order to build that infrastructure. Neither Trump nor the Democrats answered that question, and so they might as well have spent their 90-minute meeting on Tuesday playing with puppies. At least that would have made for some good YouTube videos.

What was the point of Tuesday's kabuki theater, then? It was so that both sides can claim that they are willing to reach across the aisle, and that they're trying their little hearts out to get something done. The $2 trillion figure is the dead giveaway, since that's such an immense number that it can only be for show. When a politician approaches this problem slowly and methodically, starting with a more realistic figure like $50 billion or $100 billion, then it might be time to get one's hopes up. (Z)

Emoluments Suit Moves Forward

It is quite likely that Donald Trump is violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution, which forbids presidents from getting any "present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever" from a foreign state. The fact that he still owns the Trump Organization, which does business with all sorts of foreign governments, is problematic enough. But some of the things that have gone on since, like several of the multi-million dollar donations to the inauguration committee, and the dramatic hike in membership fees at Mar-a-Lago and other Trump clubs, just add to the weight of the evidence.

The biggest issue in exploring this legal problem, and getting to the bottom of it, was finding someone with standing to sue. It would appear we have a winner: House Democrats. On Tuesday, a federal judge allowed their emoluments case to proceed. We may eventually have a second winner, as a suit brought by the attorneys general of Washington, D.C. and Maryland is working its way through the courts.

This is bad news for a president who admittedly gets a lot of it. A lawsuit means discovery. And given that the lawsuit has already been in the works for months, and that the rules and laws governing discovery are already pretty well hashed out, the delay-delay-delay strategy favored by Trump and his lawyers is not likely to work. So, the Democrats may get their hands on his financial records, after all, even if they are stymied on other fronts. Beyond that, because there is a paper trail, financial misdeeds are generally easier to prove than other, more abstract crimes. What that means is that Trump might just skate on collusion with the Russians, and even on obstruction of justice, only to get nailed on the less damaging and less sexy, but far more provable, crime of emoluments violations.

There is a complication here, however. Trump will argue that doing business with foreign governments and charging them market rates is not a gift. It is a normal business transaction. As long as the foreign governments paid the same price for goods and services as everyone else, the courts could easily rule that there was no gift, hence no violation of the emoluments clause. There is no real relevant jurisprudence here, so anything is possible. (Z)

Moore's a Dead Man Walking

As more and more (Moore and Moore?) comes out about the past remarks of Donald Trump Fed nominee Stephen Moore, the less plausible his confirmation becomes. Not only does he dislike the thought of women refereeing (and maybe even attending) men's sports events, he also thinks it's harmful if a wife earns more than her husband. More and more GOP senators are signaling their lack of enthusiasm for him, and none (other than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY) seems to support the pick. Assessing the situation, one highly placed Republican senator said (off the record) that "I don't imagine he can get the votes."

We obviously don't need to do an item every day that Moore spends twisting in the wind before the all-but-inevitable end comes, and we probably won't write about him again until he withdraws, complete with a feeble cover story like, "Oh, I didn't realize the Fed meets in Washington. Can't do it, what with my asthma." However, it is worth commenting a little bit on what the fundamental problem is here. While it's true that Trump, in general, has trouble coming up with high-quality nominees (or even medium-quality nominees) for high posts, that's not really what's going on with the Fed. It's not only a very distinguished posting, it's also far removed from the President once the nomination is made, and the term could continue long after Trump's gone. In other words, a Fed governor isn't really a part of the Trump administration (or the Obama administration, or the Bush administration, etc.). Consequently, there are plenty of rock-solid, right-leaning economists who wouldn't touch the current Commerce Dept. or Treasury Dept. with a ten foot pole, but who would certainly accept appointment to the Fed.

The problem is that Trump doesn't just want a conservative nominee, he wants a toady who will do his bidding. That means finding someone who is so ignorant about the Fed that they don't know how inappropriate that is (Herman Cain), or is such a partisan hack that they don't care (Moore). People like that are going to struggle to get through the Senate, even when it is controlled by members of their own party. The current GOP senators are willing to play along with Trump on a lot of things, but even they are leery of delegitimizing the Federal Reserve, and of handing the keys to the economy to a Presidential stooge for the better part of two decades. Moore's ill advised comments are largely just providing cover, so that the Republican senators don't have to poke Trump in the eye directly. This means that unless Trump fundamentally changes his approach, he's going to run into this exact same problem with whatever nominee he picks to replace Moore (and Cain). (Z)

The Polling Gods Giveth, and They Taketh Away

Now that the Democratic field has come into focus (give or take the odd Montana governor, here or there), the pollsters are gearing up and are producing surveys by the bushel. The early winner is definitely Joe Biden. We were not impressed by his launch, but apparently we were in the minority. He shot up 11 points in CNN's monthly poll, attracting the support of 39% of respondents. He got similar results in other polls, including Quinnipiac (where he's at 38%) and Morning Consult (where he's at 36%). The three polls give him leads of 24, 26, and 14 points on the second place candidate (Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, in all three cases).

The other candidate who has to be pleased with recent polling is Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who rose in all three polls, including doubling her support in the CNN poll since March. She's now in third place in all three, knocking Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend) down to fourth. Obviously, she would trade places with Biden if she could, but this is a pretty good place to be at this point in the marathon.

Meanwhile, the candidate who had the worst month polling-wise is probably Buttigieg. He's stagnating, or maybe even slipping a bit. However, the really bad news is the second-level numbers. As CNN's Harry Enten points out, he's not doing well with nonwhite, working class, or moderate voters. Any Democrat who wants the nomination is going to need enthusiastic support from at least one of those three groups, and any Democrat who wants to win the election will probably need enthusiastic support from two of the three. So, the fact that the Mayor appears to be making headway primarily with white, urban progressives who see nominating a gay man as a big win all by itself is not a good sign.

Of course, any discussion of polls right now comes with the usual caveat that it is a long time until the election. There's also the caveat that Biden, in particular, is being carried, in part, by his wide name recognition. Nonetheless, he's in the lead, as of this moment. (Z)

Is the Senate Slipping Away for Democrats?

In the last few weeks, the blue team has not had much luck recruiting their ideal candidates for the 2020 Senate races. Rep. Cindy Axne (D-IA) was not interested in challenging Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA). Beto O'Rourke preferred to run for president, rather than take on Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX). Stacey Abrams decided on Monday that she'd rather work on voting access than take on Sen. David Perdue (R-GA). Amy McGrath might challenge Mitch McConnell, but she's definitely taking her time in deciding, and she may decline as well.

What's the problem here? Roll Call took a crack at explaining the apparent low interest in Senate seats, but what it really boils down to is this: Running for the Senate is tough. It's grueling, expensive, and non-appointed incumbents have a better than 90% reelection rate (since, by definition, they've already won a statewide election). And then, even if a candidate wins, the immediate rewards are pretty small. Real power in the upper chamber takes 15-20 years to acquire, so unless a senator is merely using their seat as a launching pad for higher office (i.e., JFK, Richard Nixon, Barack Obama), then it's multiple elections (and decades) before a person sees some real returns on their hard work (or, in the case of Marco Rubio, R-FL, their moderate-but-not-too-taxing work).

In any event, given how many high-profile candidates have taken a pass, are the Democrats in trouble on the Senate front? Maybe not so much. Retaking the Senate will be an uphill battle, no doubt, but that battle will be as much about demographic changes (in Iowa, Maine, Georgia, Colorado, etc.) and about Donald Trump's coattails as anything else. And it's true you can't beat somebody with nobody, and that the blue team would like the extra oomph a rock-star candidate can deliver. However, you know who was virtually unknown, outside a small part of the country, one year ago? Cindy Axne, Beto O'Rourke, Stacey Abrams, and Amy McGrath. So, there's still time for the Democrats to find strong candidates, even if those folks' identities are not currently obvious. (Z)

NC-03 Round 1 Is Complete

The death of Rep. Walter Jones Jr. (R-NC) triggered a special election in NC-03, the first round of which was held yesterday. On the Democratic side, former Greenville mayor Allen Thomas was able to take 50.0% of the vote, which allows him to avoid a runoff. On the considerably more crowded Republican side, State Rep. Greg Murphy (R-NC) and non-politician Joan Perry finished in the top two spots, with 22.5% and 15.4% of the vote, respectively. Both are physicians, interestingly enough, though Perry is the more conservative of the two. They will do battle again on July 9, while the general election will be Sept. 10.

In case you are wondering about NC-09, the other Tarheel State district that is currently open (due to voter fraud), the schedule there is set. The primary is in a couple of weeks, on May 14. Democrat Dan McCready will be unopposed, while 10 Republicans, most of them amateurs, will duke it out on the other side of the contest. If at least one of those 10 gets 30% or more of the vote, then the NC-09 general will also be on Sept. 10, along with NC-03. If, as is more likely, none of the Republicans clears the 50% threshold, then the runoff will be on Sept. 10 and the general will be Nov. 5.

Incidentally, we have a bit of anecdotal evidence that North Carolina election officials have not taken what happened in NC-09 to heart, and so have not tightened up the training of polling place workers. A reader, who was voting in NC-03, reports that when he asked for his ballot, the volunteer who gave it to him clucked disapprovingly and asked if he's actually read his party's platform. This is, at the very least, electioneering, and is, at worst, voter intimidation. Either way, it's illegal. If this happens to you, you can file a complaint with the DoJ here, or you can call 1-866-OUR-VOTE. You can also contact the office of the county clerk where you are voting, and speak to them. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr30 This is What a Besieged President Looks Like
Apr30 It's (Not Exactly) the Economy, Stupid
Apr30 U.S. Envoy Says Trump Agreed to Pay $2 Million for Warmbier
Apr30 Rosenstein to Leave Justice Dept. May 11
Apr30 Now That Cain's Out, Just One Moore to Go
Apr30 This Is When Things Get Ugly for the Democrats
Apr30 No Senate Run for Abrams
Apr29 Barr Might Not Appear before the House Judiciary Committee
Apr29 The Democratic Primaries Move to the Next Phase
Apr29 Democrats Haven't Made Up Their Minds Yet
Apr29 Biden Raised $6.3 Million in the First 24 Hours
Apr29 Some Democrats Are Inching Back to the Center
Apr29 A Possible Economic Platform for the Democrats
Apr29 The Des Moines Register Is in Trouble
Apr29 McGrath Hasn't Ruled Out Challenging McConnell
Apr29 Monday Q&A
Apr26 Biden 2020 Launches
Apr26 Sanders Had a Rough Day, Too
Apr26 Trump Is Contemptuous of Contempt of Congress
Apr26 Senate Republicans Are Bleeding Support
Apr26 Trump Allies to Trump: Shut Up
Apr26 North Korea Situation Deteriorates Even Further
Apr26 Friday Q&A
Apr25 The Bunker Mentality Is Setting In
Apr25 Biden Throws His Hat in the Ring
Apr25 Trump's Reelection Team Confronts Reality on the Ground
Apr25 Don't Mention Russia to Trump
Apr25 FEC Is a Mess
Apr25 Financial Impact of Global Warming Is...Substantial
Apr24 The Gauntlet Has Been Thrown Down
Apr24 Trump Lashes Out
Apr24 Trump to Formally Nominate Kelly Knight Craft to the U.N.
Apr24 SCOTUS Appears Ready to Allow Citizenship Question on Census
Apr24 Buttigieg Will Do Fox News Town Hall
Apr24 Iowa's Longest-serving GOP Lawmaker Switches Parties
Apr24 Wednesday Q&A
Apr23 The Subpoena Wars Have Commenced
Apr23 Team Trump Losing the Battle of Spin
Apr23 Trump: Nobody Disobeys My Orders
Apr23 Social Security Trust Fund Will Be Tapped Out by 2035
Apr23 One Fed Nominee Down. One to Go?
Apr23 Democratic Candidates Jockey For Position
Apr23 SCOTUS Will Consider Census Citizenship Question Today
Apr22 Following Mueller Report's Release, Everyone Makes Their Next Moves
Apr22 Trump Administration Wants to Kill Iranian Oil Exports
Apr22 Biden Will Make it Official This Week
Apr22 For Many Young Christians, Jesus is Alright, but not Mike Pence
Apr22 Shaheen Wants to Derail New Hampshire Voter Residency Law
Apr22 United States Now Among the Most Dangerous Countries for Journalists
Apr22 Monday Q&A