• Contempt for Congress, Part II: The Tax Returns
• SDNY Subpoenas Trump Inaugural Committee Records
• Trump Chatted with Putin about "The Russian Hoax" This Weekend
• Trump Laments Kentucky Derby Result
• Massachusetts GOP Wants to Protect Trump
• Buttigieg Hit Job Fails
Last week, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) sent a subpoena to Attorney General William Barr in which he demanded the unredacted version of the Mueller report, along with copies of the underlying evidence, by 9:00 a.m. Monday morning. Barr said he wasn't going to comply, and it turns out he wasn't bluffing. The deadline came and went with no movement from the direction of the Dept. of Justice. So, Nadler is now preparing to hold the AG in contempt of Congress; that vote could come as soon as Wednesday.
It could take many months for the Nadler-Barr spat to work itself out (very likely in Nadler's favor, once all is said and done). That's the good news for Donald Trump. However, delaying the release of the unredacted report does nothing to delay Robert Mueller from testifying before Congress, something that is still on course to happen in just over a week. Trump wants to stop that, as well, but his hands may be tied. While the President was equivocating on that matter over the past several months, he put the decision in Barr's hands, and Barr gave his approval. That makes it hard for the administration to change course and forbid Mueller from talking to Congress, even if they had the power to do so (which they probably don't). This is presumably why several Trump allies are trying to walk back the President's threat to stop Mueller from testifying—they know it's a fight he's likely to lose.
Interestingly, it is not only House Democrats who would like to talk to Mueller, it is also House Republicans. Of course, both sides want him to appear because they think he will provide testimony in support of their version of events. The Democrats want to hear the special counsel say that he thinks the President probably obstructed justice, while the Republicans are mostly interested in asking questions about FBI surveillance of Trump's campaign, and whether there was anything shady on that front.
Assuming Mueller does appear, as scheduled, we will see whether either side gets what it's looking for. Only the special counsel knows for sure what he is and is not willing to say, but one unhappy sign for Team Trump came in the form of a statement released Monday, and signed by 566 former federal prosecutors as of Monday evening. It says:
We are former federal prosecutors. We served under both Republican and Democratic administrations at different levels of the federal system: as line attorneys, supervisors, special prosecutors, United States Attorneys, and senior officials at the Department of Justice. The offices in which we served were small, medium, and large; urban, suburban, and rural; and located in all parts of our country.
Each of us believes that the conduct of President Trump described in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report would, in the case of any other person not covered by the Office of Legal Counsel policy against indicting a sitting President, result in multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice.
Once, when describing the House of Representatives, Thomas Jefferson said, "That one hundred and fifty lawyers should do business together ought not to be expected." It is instructive that nearly four times that many lawyers have reached a consensus on this matter. And these are career federal attorneys, much like Mueller, so if anyone can speak to his mindset, it's presumably them. Maybe he will be too circumspect to agree wholeheartedly with their conclusions when he does appear before Congress. However, anyone in the White House who is hoping for him to loudly disagree that Trump committed obstruction, well...that ought not to be expected. Which, of course, is why the President so badly wants to muzzle him. (Z)
Bill Barr was not the only cabinet secretary to defy House Democrats on Monday. No, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was also in the club. Mnuchin formally denied the demand that House Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal (D-MA) made for Donald Trump's tax returns. In a letter to Neal, Mnuchin declared:
In reliance on the advice of the Department of Justice, I have determined that the committee's request lacks a legitimate legislative purpose, and pursuant to section 6103, the department is therefore not authorized to disclose the requested returns and return information.
This is not a great look for the Secretary or the administration on many levels. First, given the extent to which the Justice Dept. appears to be running interference for the President on the Mueller report, it's not helpful that they are also doing the same on his tax returns. Second, the 1924 law that Neal invoked has absolutely no provision about whether the purpose is "legitimate," it just says that the Chairman can have the returns. In theory, if Neal said he wanted them because he needs something to line his birdcage with, the IRS would have to surrender them. And third, even if there was some need to consider the purpose or the intent, it's quite the presumption for Mnuchin to say that he knows better than the House itself which of their activities are or are not legitimate.
In any event, Neal will respond aggressively to Mnuchin, just as Jerry Nadler is going to respond aggressively to Barr. Neal actually has two options: he could go the subpoena-then-contempt-of-Congress route (as Nadler is going to do), or he could just sue the Treasury Secretary for noncompliance with the 1924 statute. George K. Yin, who is now a law professor at the University of Virginia, but who used to work for the Joint Committee on Taxation, argues that Neal should choose the latter option. Yin suggests that if Neal goes the subpoena route, then questions about the legitimacy of his request could become an issue, since legitimacy is the major question that is addressed in court battles over subpoenas. That would mean the Chairman was playing the game by Mnuchin's (and Trump's) rules.
By contrast, if Neal sues under the terms of a law that, once again, says not one word about "legitimate" purposes or any other restrictions, then Team Trump would be in a much weaker position. Their only real angle would be to go after the 1924 law itself, which is a tough legal hill to climb. First, because the law has been on the books for nearly a century, and has been sustained by the courts before. Second, because the law exists to make sure that Congress remains coequal to the executive branch, by giving them the same access to tax returns that the president has (since the president, as the "boss" of the IRS, can legally demand copies of anyone's tax returns at any time).
Undoubtedly, Neal has many clever lawyers at his disposal who will point this out to him. Lawyers very much like George K. Yin, in fact. So, the smart money says that a lawsuit against Mnuchin is coming, probably sometime later this week. (Z)
Team Trump is doing what they can in order to fight the good fight, and to protect the President from...well, himself. But there is so much going on, and on so many fronts, can they really hold it all off until after next year's election? The odds are not good. And on the same day that both Bill Barr and Steve Mnuchin told high-ranking members of Congress to go pound sand, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) reared its head, subpoenaing vast amounts of records from Donald Trump's inaugural committee.
The subpoena is chock full of bad news for the President, as it makes clear that SDNY is looking into a long list of crimes, including conspiracy against the US, false statements, mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, inaugural committee disclosure violations, and violations of laws prohibiting contributions by foreign nations and contributions in the name of another person. Obviously, federal prosecutors do not issue subpoenas like this unless they have seen a fair bit of smoke, and have strong reason to believe there's fire to be found.
It is not going to be easy for Trump & Co. to push back against SDNY. First, the folks who ran the inaugural committee are associates of Trump (usually well-heeled ones). They do not currently work for him, as Bill Barr does, and they are probably not interested in falling on their swords for him. On top of that, the administration may be able to raise some questions about Congress' power to issue subpoenas, and thus to drag things on that front out a bit. But can they really go before a judge and argue that a federal prosecutor doesn't have the right to issue subpoenas? Hard to see a judge buying that line of reasoning. Trump (or Barr) could also try to "clean house" at SDNY, and fire the attorneys responsible for Monday's subpoena. However, they are surely aware that firing unfriendly attorneys willy-nilly was disastrous for Richard Nixon. Furthermore, Trump (whenever he leaves office) and Barr (right now) are already walking a dangerous line in terms of exposing themselves to obstruction of justice charges. If either of them were to can one or more federal prosecutors who had the temerity to, well, do their job, then their exposure would grow exponentially.
In the end, it appears that the S.S. Trump is quite the leaky ship, indeed. Bill Barr may be able to plug one hole when it opens up, and Steve Mnuchin might be able to plug another, but the hull is so full of vulnerable spots that they can't all be plugged. If so, then it's just a matter of time until the ship goes the way of the Titanic. (Z)
Just in case things weren't eventful enough for Donald Trump on Monday, there was also news that he chatted on the phone this weekend with Vladimir Putin. During their conversation, the (American) President neglected to warn his counterpart not to mess with the 2020 election, and also joked about the "Russian hoax" from 2016.
Trump appears to have avoided conspiracy charges, primarily because Robert Mueller could not find enough evidence. However, the President also seems determined to keep the possibility alive, just in case. Putin, former KGB spy that he is, is always on the lookout for signs of weakness. And so, at best, Trump's remarks are naive, and tell the Russian that the door is wide open for him to do his worst in 2020, since the Donald is unconcerned about it. At worst, Trump's remarks are calculated, and are deliberately meant to communicate to Putin that he is welcome to interfere once again. Either way, we are a long way from the days of Republicans like Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan, who thought of Russia as a hostile foreign power and not a buddy. (Z)
Donald Trump had his fingers in many pies this weekend, and when he wasn't conducting "diplomacy," he was displaying his heretofore unknown expertise in thoroughbred horse racing. Responding to this weekend's Kentucky Derby, in which original winner Maximum Security was disqualified for interfering with other horses on the track, the President tweeted:
The Kentucky Derby decision was not a good one. It was a rough & tumble race on a wet and sloppy track, actually, a beautiful thing to watch. Only in these days of political correctness could such an overturn occur. The best horse did NOT win the Kentucky Derby - not even close!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 5, 2019
In the original version, he actually misspelled "Kentucky" as "Kentuky." He later fixed it, presumably after a phone call from Rand Pal, or Itch McConnell.
Horse racing experts are in agreement that: (1) The foul, while unintentional, was definitely a foul; and (2) It would have been called very quickly in any other horse race, the only thing that made it unusual here was that it was in the highest-profile race of the year. So, Trump's assessment is in error. However, the more interesting question is: What set him off? And, as follow ups to that: Why was he so upset, why did he feel that his base would want to hear about it, and how did he conclude that this was an example of "political correctness"?
All of these questions are intriguing, and nobody has quite been able to figure the answers out. If Gary West, the owner of the disqualified horse, was a Trump supporter/donor, then it would make sense, but West has actually been critical of the President. Or if the winning jockey had kneeled during the national anthem, then all would be clear. But the best theories anyone's got so far are: (1) Trump is sensitive about any situation where someone wins on a technicality (like, say, because of the Electoral College), or (2) He's to the point where he just throws anything and everything at the wall to see if it sticks. (Z)
As we've noted several times, California (and other states) are working on laws that would require presidential candidates to submit their tax returns if they want to be on the ballot. Donald Trump does not wish to do this, of course, and if he's succesful in fighting off Richard Neal, he could potentially be setting up a situation where hundreds of GOP delegates are there for the taking for any Republican candidate who is willing to share their tax returns.
In Massachusetts, Trump has a slightly different problem. There's no indication that the legislature there is planning to demand his tax returns, or that Gov. Charlie Baker (R-MA) would sign the law if they did. However, Bay State Republicans do award delegates proportionally in their primary. That means that Bill Weld, who used to be Massachusetts' governor, and who is currently Trump's only declared opponent, is in a position to grab a big chunk of delegates from the President.
Or, at very least, Weld was in a position to grab a chunk of delegates. However, MassGOP is now being run by Jim Lyons, a devoted Trump supporter. And he pulled the necessary strings such that any candidate who takes 50.01% of Massachusetts' GOP primary votes automatically gets all of the state's Republican delegates in 2020. So, he solved Trump's Weld problem for him. Or, at least, he solved 1/50th of it. (Z)
Jacob Wohl is very good at generating publicity, but comically bad (and reprehensibly dishonest) at everything else. He first got attention as a 17-year-old hedge fund manager, which led to interviews on Fox News, CNBC, and the like. However, it turned out that he was defrauding investors of their money, and running (in essence) a pyramid scheme. So, he's now banned for life by most securities exchanges.
With his financial career in ruins, Wohl then transitioned into the role of political operative. He created an "investigative" firm, whose "staff" was actually just pictures Wohl pulled from the Internet (including one of actor Christoph Waltz, whom Wohl apparently did not recognize). The firm's phone number was, in fact, Wohl's mother's cell phone. And the now-18-year-old attempted to find someone to (falsely) charge Robert Mueller with sexual assault. The scam failed, and Wohl was left with much egg on his face.
"If at first you don't succeed," as they say, "Then try, try again." And so, in the last two weeks, Wohl attempted to repeat the Mueller scam, except this time targeting Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend). Wohl and his sometime accomplice Jack Burkman recruited a young, gay Trump supporter named Hunter Kelly, and posted an accusation of rape against Buttigieg to social media in Kelly's name. Far-right sites like InfoWars and The Gateway Pundit ate it up, but for most outlets the story did not pass the smell test. And it was not long before Kelly went public, and made clear it was a con job that he never wanted any part of.
So, what is the lesson here? Well, first of all, that there is some segment of Trump's base that feels Buttigieg is a big threat to his reelection hopes. Second, that while false accusations of sexual assault are pretty rare, there are clearly some folks who have no compunctions about weaponizing them to hurt their political opponents. So, in the event that any of the leading Democratic contenders are so accused this year, keep in mind the old Russian proverb: "Trust, but verify." (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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Apr26 Biden 2020 Launches
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