• Trump, GOP Angry at Google
• Warren Gets a Bad Poll
• What Is Bloomberg Thinking?
• Obama Reportedly Doesn't Want Sanders to Get the Nomination
• I Am Not a Crook: A Look at History's Most Scandalous Scandals, Part II
Given that Congress is in recess due to the Thanksgiving holiday, it seemed likely that there would be something of a breather from the impeachment inquiry. Apparently not, as it turns out.
To start, House Democrats released the last two transcripts from their closed-door hearings, bringing the total (and, at least at the moment, final) number to 17. Mark Sandy, a career official in the Office of Management and Budget, said that in July, when the White House first ordered the military aid to Ukraine to be frozen, they offered no explanation for the move. Sandy and several other OMB officials were concerned about the legality of the order, and at least two of his colleagues resigned in protest. He said that the administration took until September to justify the move, and only under much pressure to do so. The explanation—that the White House was waiting for other countries to kick in their fair share of aid to Ukraine—rang hollow, in Sandy's view.
Meanwhile, Philip Reeker, the Acting Assistant Secretary of State in Charge of European and Eurasian Affairs, confirmed that the general understanding in his segment of the bureaucracy was that the Ukraine aid was being held on the orders of "Acting" Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. Reeker also spoke to the vendetta waged against former ambassador to Ukraine Masha Yovanovitch, and of his (and others') ultimately unsuccessful efforts to save her job.
In short, it was still more affirmation of one act of extortion, and one act of retribution. On top of that, The New York Times reported, based on several sources inside the White House, that Donald Trump was briefed on the whistleblower complaint in late August, shortly before he unfroze the aid to Ukraine in early September. That sounds an awful lot like the behavior of someone who knows he's been caught with his hand in the cookie jar, and is trying to put it back in his pocket before dad turns on the kitchen light.
So, the President looked even guiltier by the end of the day on Tuesday than he looked at the start, which is really saying something. In addition to releasing transcripts, House Democrats announced that the matter will now be handed over to the House Judiciary Committee, and its Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). This will give Nadler a chance to redeem himself after aggravating Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) by being a little too aggressive about moving forward with impeachment, and also after being outmaneuvered by Corey Lewandowksi when the latter testified before Congress. Nadler has invited Donald Trump and his lawyers to participate as he and his committee "decide" whether or not to adopt articles of impeachment. We're not sure which is more of a certainty: (1) that Trump's lawyers won't let him get within a country mile of a situation where he could shoot himself in the foot with his motor mouth, or (2) that after the Judiciary Committee "considers" the matter, they will decide that articles of impeachment are called for.
There were also two new polls released Tuesday that asked about impeachment, from Politico/Morning Consult and CNN. Both had nearly identical results: 50% of P/MC respondents favored impeachment and removal while 42% opposed, while CNN had it at 50% and 43%. On one hand, the public testimony given before the House does not appear to be moving the needle, which is good news for Donald Trump. On the other hand, the "throw the bum out" number for Trump is far higher than it ever got for Bill Clinton (29%), and it's getting close to the number that Richard Nixon pulled right before resigning (58% on Aug. 5, 1974). Further, it is hard to imagine supporting Trump's removal from office and then turning around and voting for him in 2020. So, the President is going to need not only the votes of his supporters, but also most of the votes from folks who have no opinion on impeachment, as well as the folks who disapprove of him but think that impeachment is a bridge too far.
And finally, let us note a very interesting editorial from the Chicago Tribune. They suggest that instead of impeaching Trump, the Democrats should instead censure him. That would make a strong statement, the Tribune argues, might get some Republican support (maybe even enough to pass the Senate, since it would take 60 votes instead of 67), and would leave Trump's fate in the hands of voters. This proposal might find some support among the members of the Party, though it's fair to wonder how happy the base will be with a de facto slap on the wrist, or how happy the party leadership will be giving vulnerable Senate Republicans like Susan Collins (R-ME) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) a plausible way out of the pickle in which they currently find themselves. (Z)
Last week, Google announced that they would not allow advertisers to engage in fine-grained targeting with political ads. The search engine will allow such ads to be focused based on gender, age, and rough geographical area (ZIP Code), but that's it. If you want to specifically reach folks, say, who have recently searched for white sheets, extra-large wooden crosses, and lighter fuel, sorry, you're out of luckkk.
Yesterday, the Trump 2020 campaign and the RNC both expressed outrage at the new policy, accusing Google of voter suppression, censorship, discrimination, and just about every other offense under the sun besides kicking puppies. Older readers—those above the age of 5—will recall a time when the GOP was the party of laissez-faire economics, and letting businesses conduct their business as they see fit. In fairness, though, the DNC has complained about the new policy, too, which suggests that maybe Google is doing something right. In any event, it's a clear acknowledgment from both major parties that televised political ads are no longer king, and that the future is online, where fine-tuning messaging is much easier (as is spreading propaganda and outright lies). (Z)
There is a new poll of the Democratic field from Quinnipiac, and it's pretty ugly for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Her support has dropped by 50% since Quinnipiac's last poll, putting her in third place behind Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend). Here are those results, along with those from the other three national polls that have been published this week (by Politico/Morning Consult, Emerson, and The Economist/YouGov):
It certainly appears that Warren is losing steam; note her third-place finish in three of the four polls. Exactly why that would be the case is not clear; it's not like she tanked the most recent debate, or has had some other slip-up. Meanwhile, Buttigieg clearly continues to rise in the polls, which is happy news for Michael Bloomberg (see below). And speaking of Bloomberg, he's been in the race for less than a week, and he has already got more traction than the other billionaire candidate, Tom Steyer. Maybe that is because Bloomberg is more centrist, or because he's actually held political office. Or, it could be a testament to the value of having $50 billion in the bank, as opposed to having a mere $1 billion. (Z)
Former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg surprised quite a few people when he decided to enter the Democratic presidential race. It's nice to have a lot of money, but that only goes so far, since it's illegal to buy votes (if it weren't, he could buy 70 million votes at $500 each, and he would still have $15 billion left over). Further, he's only nominally a Democrat, he left office with low approval ratings, and several key Democratic constituencies (like black and Latino voters) really dislike him. If that were not enough, he's got no intention of making a play for the early primary/caucus states, or of trying to make the stage for the next couple of Democratic debates.
What is going on here? Well, CNBC's John Ellis is very dialed-in when it comes to Bloomberg, and he explains that there is method to the madness. The path that the former mayor sees for himself is based on three assumptions:
- The moderate wing of the Democratic Party is ascendant, and will decide the nominee this year
- Pete Buttigieg will outpace Joe Biden in Iowa and New Hampshire, fatally wounding the former VP's campaign
- At that point, moderate voters will get buyer's remorse, as they think carefully about the electability of a gay millennial with limited political experience. They will begin casting around for a moderate alternative not named Biden, and will decide that Bloomberg is their man.
None of these things is impossible, we suppose, though it's quite a longshot that all three will come to pass. Another problem is that even if moderate voters are ascendant, a lot of the folks in that group are black and Latino. These folks, as noted, do not much care for Bloomberg, and are not likely to see him as preferable to the fellow who served as Barack Obama's sidekick for eight years. Still, that is Bloomberg's plan, such as it is. And he'll only have to hang around for a few months to see if it worked out or not. (Z)
Michael Bloomberg is not the only prominent person who worries what will happen if someone too far left gets the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. Apparently, Barack Obama is nervous, too. According to a new report from Politico, the 44th president is rather underwhelmed by the campaign that his former VP is running, and thinks that just might leave a path open for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). If it looks like that is coming to pass, Obama might make a public statement against the Vermont Senator, trying to stop him from getting the nod.
Needless to say, Obama isn't talking right now. Politico talked to one of his spokespeople, and that person did not confirm the report, but did not deny it, either. It is unlikely that the former president will ever need to make a decision, here, but if he did try to take down a leading-the-Democratic-field Sanders, it would make the animosities of 2016 look like Sunday at the park. Moderates would say, "See! Even Obama thinks he's unelectable!" while progressives would say "See! We told you the Party has it in for us!" It's hard to see how that schism would be survivable, though the GOP was pretty badly divided in mid-2016, and that worked out ok for them, so you never know. (Z)
We're running through the various scandals we've referenced in the past few weeks by adapting their names to describe the Ukraine fiasco. If you wish to read the first entry, it's here:
- Scandals, Part I: The XYZ Affair, the Caning of Charles Sumner, Crédit Mobilier
Generally speaking, we're doing them in chronological order. However, reader T.D. in Chicago correctly points out that we accidentally skipped one that should have appeared in yesterday's post. So, let's fix that.
- The Petticoat Affair, 1829-31 ("Ukrainecoat Affair"): 19th century Americans took
enormous—one might say obsessive—interest in the marriages of their fellow citizens. Divorce was frowned
upon, and was often very difficult to obtain, particularly for women. Men had an easier time of it in most states, so it
usually fell to them to initiate divorce proceedings in the event that a marriage failed.
One woman who got the short end of this particular stick was Rachel Donelson, who married Captain Lewis Robards in 1787. He drank, he was abusive, and he was not a very good provider, so the whole thing quickly turned sour. Eventually, the indebted Robards decided he was tired of trying to support a wife and announced he was skipping town and would be filing for a divorce. Rachel took up residence in her parents' home, where she became friendly with one of the boarders they had taken in, a dashing young fellow named Andrew Jackson. The still-young divorcée (she was 23) struck up a friendship with Jackson that blossomed into romance. They soon got married, in a ceremony held in Natchez, Mississippi, as that is where Andrew's military career had taken him.
It was at that point that a problem emerged. Several problems, actually. First and foremost, Rachel wasn't actually a divorcée. Oops! Although her first husband had filed the paperwork, he never completed the process. Further, when Rachel and Robards were married, it was under the auspices of the state of Virginia. However, the place where they resided, and where their wedding was held, had become part of the brand-new state of Kentucky by the time of the divorce. It was therefore not entirely clear which state government had the authority to dissolve the marriage. If that were not enough, Rachel and Andrew discovered that since Natchez was held by Spain at that time, only Catholic marriages there were legal. As the couple were Protestants, they were not included. All of this meant that Rachel was technically a bigamist, and that both of them were technically adulterers. Given what a mess it all was, legally speaking, it took four years to straighten it out, at which point the duo were married again, this time without complications.
The Jacksons' situation led to surprisingly little gossip or social reprobation, on the whole. That may be because people understood that the whole thing was an honest misunderstanding. Or it may be because any man who dared make the slightest mention of it in Andrew's presence would be challenged to a duel. It's not clear exactly how many duels there were; some put the figure as low as five, others put it as high as 100. What is certain is that there was at least one of them that ended in the death of the future president's opponent. That would be Charles Dickinson, an expert duellist whom Jackson faced on May 30, 1806, and allowed to take the first shot. The bullet struck near the heart (and thus could not be removed, meaning Jackson carried it in his body for the rest of his life). Honor demanded that Dickinson remain entirely still while Jackson cocked his weapon, took careful aim, and then landed a shot squarely in the chest. It took several painful hours for him to bleed to death.
Fast forward a little more than two decades, to the election of 1828, with Jackson as the Democratic nominee. It was a rough election, and the opposition—then known as the National Republicans, but soon to become the Whigs—saw fit to make more than a few references to the circumstances of the Jacksons' marriage. Duelling was not really an option, so Jackson merely seethed. He won the election, but shortly thereafter Rachel passed away. For the rest of his days, he blamed his political opponents for her death.
Jackson had only limited time to grieve, as his wife's health declined and ultimately failed, as he had to prepare to assume office. One of his supporters and closest friends during this time was John Eaton, a well-to-do U.S. Senator from Tennessee (who lied about his age, and thus at 28 became—and remains—the youngest person to serve in that body). Not long after his reelection to a second term (in 1824), Eaton had become involved in something of a love triangle. He grew smitten with Peggy O'Neill, daughter of the owner of Eaton's favorite tavern. The problem was that O'Neill was married, to a deeply indebted U.S. Navy sailor named John Timberlake. Eaton gallantly helped defray the debts, and used his political clout to secure a desirable posting for Timberlake on a navy vessel. While Timberlake was out of town, Eaton escorted O'Neill to social engagements. It may sound like there was some hanky-panky going on here, and that's certainly possible, but contemporary accounts insist it was all above-board.
Before he could return to the U.S., however, Timberlake died, which meant that Peggy O'Neill was now available. Eaton worried that it might be fishy to make a move under the circumstances, but Jackson encouraged his friend to avail himself of the opportunity that had presented itself. As it happened, the Eatons married on January 1, 1829, just over a week after Rachel Jackson passed away. There was much whispering about the circumstances, including a nasty rumor that Timberlake had committed suicide because his wife was cheating on him (in fact, he died of pneumonia). Although the circumstances of the Jacksons' marriage and the Eatons' marriage were not identical, they were close enough that the President's resentment of those who dared attack Rachel became resentment of those who dared attack Peggy Eaton. Jackson was warned not to maintain a relationship with John Eaton, who was seen by many as toxic. Entirely in character for him, he defied everyone, and appointed Eaton as Secretary of War.
Forgive the lengthy narrative, but it's not so easy to explain what was a rather complicated dynamic. And that's just the personal aspect; now we move on to the political context. Back then (even more so than today), the exigencies of presidential politics often required giving high-ranking jobs to political opponents, so as to keep the party unified. That meant that several prominent members of Jackson's administration did not see eye-to-eye with him, and some of them were outright enemies. Most significant among this group was Vice President John C. Calhoun of South Carolina. On paper, Calhoun and Jackson had much in common—both were Southerners, both were slaveowners, both were Democrats. However, Calhoun's loyalty was to his state first, and to his country a distant second. For Jackson, the priorities were most certainly reversed. On top of that, Calhoun was something of a weasel, who engaged in political machinations behind the scenes, and disguised his own involvement.
It's possible Jackson and Calhoun might have coexisted. After all, Calhoun really hated John Quincy Adams, too, and yet managed to make it through four years as his vice president. But it was during the start of the Jackson presidency that the relationship between North and South began to fray, specifically over the issue of high tariffs that South Carolina did not want to pay. We could easily spend another five paragraphs explaining this situation, but the short version is that Calhoun was publicly a prominent official of the federal government, but was privately egging on South Carolina's defiance, while Jackson furiously advised the South Carolinians that they better damn well pay, or else he would personally lead an army to the Palmetto State and hang the leaders of the mini-rebellion. Although Jackson could not prove Calhoun's involvement, he knew. And Calhoun knew he knew. That meant that, de facto, the President of the United States was threatening to execute the Vice President of the United States. Good times.
And this finally brings us to the Petticoat Affair. Calhoun's wife, Floride, was a proper Southern lady who thoroughly disapproved of Peggy Eaton. In part, this was due to the circumstances of the marriage to John, but it was also because she was not sufficiently feminine for Mrs. Calhoun's tastes. The other cabinet wives, who just so happened to be married to Jackson's rivals, felt similarly. So, they undertook a lengthy campaign of publicly smearing and snubbing Peggy Eaton at every turn. This of course, enraged Jackson—who, once again, basically felt they were also insulting his dear, departed wife. The only cabinet officers who did not participate in this intrigue were John Eaton (of course), and Secretary of State Martin Van Buren, who was (luckily?) a widower.
We must emphasize, again, that the moral and social dimension of this was real. But Mrs. Calhoun & Co. were also passive-aggressively advancing their husbands' political agendas, using Peggy Eaton as a way to punish the President for his nationalism and his harsh stance toward the South. And you thought Donald Trump's Cabinet was dysfunctional. Well, it is, but Jackson's was too. Eventually, Van Buren—whose skill at political tactics is criminally unappreciated—came up with a way out of the mess. He and Eaton resigned from the Cabinet on May 23, 1831, which—per the etiquette of that time—compelled the rest of the cabinet to resign. Jackson promptly sent Van Buren to the U.K. as ambassador, and later sent Eaton to the Florida territory as governor. All of the other cabinet secretaries were out of a job, and their wives were no longer a part of Washington society. Thus was the Petticoat Affair at an end. The President was stuck with Calhoun for another year or so, but dumped him from the ticket in 1832, and replaced him with...Martin Van Buren.
Though Andrew Jackson was in poor health during his time in the White House, a byproduct of heavy smoking and hard living, he lived for nearly a decade after leaving office. In 1845, with the end of his days drawing near, the former president's doctor asked him what his greatest regret was. Jackson reportedly sat up in bed, eyes blazing, and said: "I can tell you; posterity will condemn me more because I was persuaded not to hang John C. Calhoun as a traitor than for any other act in my life."
We are going to end there today, because that was nearly 2,000 words, and the next several scandals up are going to take some serious verbiage, too. The Whiskey Ring and the Dreyfus Affair will be covered in Part III. (Z)
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Nov26 Legal Blotter, Part I: The Congressional Subpoenas
Nov26 Legal Blotter, Part II: The Tax Returns
Nov26 Activist Group Says New Citizens Could Flip Swing States
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Nov26 I Am Not a Crook: A Look at History's Most Scandalous Scandals, Part I
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