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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  A Bad Day for Team Trump
      •  A Bad Poll for Team Trump
      •  Maybe Trump Really Doesn't Get It
      •  Two Lies and One Truth
      •  Three Democratic Campaigns in Trouble
      •  "The Body" for President?
      •  Two More GOP Congressmen to Exit

A Bad Day for Team Trump

Donald Trump, and a number of underlings, could not have been happy with the whistleblower-related headlines on Monday. And just in case there was any doubt on that point, the President confirmed his anger and dismay with a number of remarks and tweets that were unusually unhinged, even by his not-terribly-hinged standards.

To start, the Democrats fired quite a few shots across the bow of the S.S. Trump on Monday. Perhaps most importantly, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) confirmed that there is a deal in place so that the whistleblower may testify before his committee. No date has been set, but the appearance is likely to be sooner rather than later. On top of that, the Democrats also filed court documents that assert that Donald Trump lied in his (written) testimony for former special counsel Robert Mueller, and that they want access to previously sealed documents so that they can prove it, and also to aid with the Ukraine investigation. And finally, if that were not enough to send Donald Trump's blood pressure into the stratosphere, House Democrats also subpoenaed documents related to the administration's dealings with Ukraine from Trump TV lawyer/fixer Rudy Giuliani. He has until October 15 to comply before the blue team hauls him into court.

Now that Giuliani has been subpoenaed for Ukraine-related information, he joins a club that already had Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as a member, since Pompeo got his subpoena three days ago, while also being ordered to schedule depositions for five State Department employees. If that were not enough for the Secretary to worry about, news broke on Monday that he was among the folks listening in on the now-infamous phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. That, of course, makes him a material witness to whatever took place, including the ellipsized portions of the conversation that still remain a mystery.

If we had to guess, we would say that Giuliani will not flip on Trump under any circumstances, perhaps even counting on a presidential pardon, should it come to that. Pompeo is a more interesting case, though. He's much younger than Giuliani (55 to 75), and considerably less wealthy (less than $350,000 versus more than $10 million). Point is, Pompeo has a heck of a lot more to lose if his career is derailed by a conviction and/or a prison sentence. He's also extremely aggravated that Giuliani keeps appearing on TV and giving up incriminating evidence. The Secretary might just reach a breaking point and decide to flip while the flippin's good. In fact, he might just decide to quit the administration altogether and run for the open Senate seat Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) is leaving behind after his retirement in Jan. 2021.

Meanwhile, as we noted, Trump did not take these developments well. He is absolutely gunning for Schiff, and was furious that the Representative's somewhat comic paraphrasing of the Ukraine call made Trump look extra-bad. So, the President declared that he would like to see Schiff arrested and charged with treason. Trump also reiterated his hatred for the whistleblower, despite not yet knowing who the person is. And the President also tweet-quoted an evangelical who implied that if Trump is removed from office, there could be a civil war:

Even some Republicans, like Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), found that to be beyond the pale.

One does not want to overdo it with the Watergate comparisons, especially so early in the process. That said, in his final days in office, Richard Nixon was drinking heavily, and his underlings were so concerned that he might do something dangerous that Defense secretary James Schlesinger told the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to get his approval (the normal chain of command) before following any "unusual" presidential orders (Translation: "No nuclear attacks without running it by me first."). It never came to that, of course, but the concern that Nixon might lash out and do some actual harm to the nation played some role in winning GOP senators over to the idea that the President had to go. Trump, unlike Nixon, does not drink. On the other hand, Nixon, unlike Trump, never hinted that his supporters might want to turn to armed violence in order to keep him in office. So, it's possible that the Donald could get to the point where he's more trouble for Republicans than he's worth. (Z)

A Bad Poll for Team Trump

The current impeachment fervor has been going on for a week or so, which is long enough for a number of polls of the question to have been produced. The latest is from CNN/SSRS, and covers the timespan from Sept. 24-29, which means that the substantive allegations against Trump were publicly known for the entire run of the poll. It may well be the worst poll for the President yet, when it comes to his current crisis, as 47% of respondents say they support impeachment and removal from office, as compared to 45% who don't feel that way.

The silver lining for Trump, such as it is, is that this poll has consistently put his "should be impeached and removed" percentage in the mid-30s to the mid-40s. That includes one other occasion where the number reached 47%, namely in early September 2018, which was in the midst of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, and was also the week that the "anonymous resistance" NYT op-ed was published. So, it's possible that this result is just a spike, and that some percentage of people will lose enthusiasm for impeachment and removal, as happened a year ago.

On the other hand, there seems to be plenty of Ukraine-related dirty laundry still to air, and the President is operating with a fairly small margin of error, most likely. On the day that Richard Nixon resigned, the number of Americans who felt he should be impeached and removed was...57%. If we assume that Trump has a little extra leeway because of the hyperpartisan nature of our times, and the number of Congressional Republicans who are willing to take bullets for him, then he may be able to survive if that number climbs into the low sixties, maybe. But even if that's so, well, he's only 15% or so away. (Z)

Maybe Trump Really Doesn't Get It

Bear with us, as we try to connect two different news items that nobody else seems to be connecting in this way.

The first of these stories is reporting on Monday that members of the Trump administration, notably AG Bill Barr, had discussions with officials in many different countries—Australia, the UK, Italy, and as-yet-unknown others—in search of proof that the origins of the Russiagate probe were somehow nefarious. Now, this may sound shady—and maybe it is—but it's probably legal. Although this investigation is a fishing expedition, and even more of a Hail Mary pass than the Benghazi probes, the federal government is allowed to investigate what it wants, provided that the work is done by actual government employees, and in service of some plausible goal that serves the public good.

The second story, meanwhile, comes from unnamed Trump allies, who worry that he doesn't really grasp how much trouble he may be in. Yes, he spent the weekend making angry phone calls, sending angry tweets, and playing angry golf, but he's not doing much of anything besides venting. There has been little effort to coordinate a response to the whole mess, nor much in the way of consistent messaging. Probably not helping on this front is that the most obvious candidate for handling this, "acting" Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, is currently in the doghouse.

And now, let's try to make the connection between these two stories. Consider:

  • Trump and AG Barr, who acts an awful lot like the president's fixer, are pressing foreign governments for information that might be used against the President's enemies and opponents from 2016.

  • Trump and personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, who acts an awful lot like the president's fixer, are pressing a foreign government for information that might be used against the President's enemies and opponents in 2020.

The first is, as noted, probably legal because it involves federal government personnel, and also an election that already happened. The second, on the other hand, looks to be way outside the bounds of the law, because it involves non-government personnel, and also a future election. The latter circumstance makes asking for information from a non-American illegal, and it makes actually receiving that information even more illegal—twin violations of federal election law.

And so, to those who see nuance—and the law is commonly about nuance, of course—it is clear that one of these situations is much more likely to have crossed a bright red line than the other. Trump, however, doesn't do nuance. And the two are similar enough in detail, and in his dealings with the various underlings, that he very likely sees them as basically identical. If so, then he probably really is mystified as to why the Ukraine situation is blowing up as it is. Trump might well be thinking: "If it is OK to ask Australia about the 2016 election, why can't I ask Ukraine about the 2020 election?" And that, in turn, might explain why he's lashing out (which is par for the course for him), but he's not treating Whistleblowergate like the existential crisis that it looks to be. (Z)

Two Lies and One Truth

Admittedly, the old party game is actually "Two Truths and One Lie," but when it comes to the excuses that Donald Trump and other Republicans are attempting to use in order to cover the president's rear end, the script is flipped:

  • Lie 1: The whistleblower lacks credibility. The notion here is that the whistleblower is just repeating secondhand gossip and rumors, and has no actual knowledge of the events he or she claimed to be blowing the whistle about. Quite a few GOP Senators have been raising this issue, including Lindsey Graham (R-SC). The President also got in on it, via Twitter:

    Trump also repeated this to reporters on Monday.

    There are at least two problems with this claim. The first is that it is not true. In fact, the person who wrote the report had firsthand knowledge of some of the events that he or she wrote about, and the rest met the evidentiary standards appropriate to any internal government document. Quite often, people summarize what they have heard, and had confirmed, from multiple sources. On Monday, Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson went so far as to issue a statement reminding people that he had deemed the report to be credible, and that attacking it as "hearsay" is simply incorrect.

    The second problem, meanwhile, is this: Much of what the whistleblower said has already been proven true. And, presumably, more of the claims will be sustained in the coming weeks and months. At that point, attacking the messenger ceases to be any sort of defense at all. One would think that Team Trump would be focused instead on asserting that the President did nothing wrong, not on how poor a witness the whistleblower is. Furthermore, although Trump may not have even read the complaint carefully, his lawyers surely have and they are undoubtedly smart enough to know that someone who quoted section numbers of the U.S.C. and E.O. repeatedly is not some dummy who wrote down stuff he or she heard around the water cooler.

  • Lie 2: The rules on whistleblowing were "conveniently" changed recently to allow secondhand reports. This one builds on the previous lie, while adding more than a smidgen of deep state conspiracy theorizing. Needless to say, there are few things that Donald Trump likes more than a good conspiracy theory:

    The ALL CAPS are certainly an interesting touch.

    In any case, this tweet is based on "reporting" from The Federalist. That outlet noticed that the whistleblowing form was changed in 2019, and they either inadvertently or willfully misunderstood the change, so as to make it seem as if there was a conspiracy afoot. In fact, the rules are the same as they have been for years, and have not been changed.

  • Truth: Volodymyr Zelensky says he did not feel pressure to dig up dirt on Joe Biden. This one is more of a semi-truth. It is indeed the case that Zelensky said this last week. However, that comes with a number of qualifiers. First, Zelensky has already kissed the rear end of Trump—as indicated by the phone transcript—and has motivation to keep doing so. So, he may just be saying what the President wants to hear. Second, other Ukrainians named in the complaint, who have less motivation to stay on Trump's good side, say they understood exactly what was going on. Third, even if Zelensky did not perceive pressure and/or did not believe there was a quid pro quo going on, it doesn't actually matter that much. As noted above, the simple act of asking for dirt is likely a violation of federal election law. Further, given that Trump put a freeze on aid to Ukraine, he could very well be found guilty of having corrupt intent, whether or not Zelensky was aware of it.

So, this is what the friends of Trump have been coming up with so far. Given how badly the President appears to have exposed himself, and how little guidance he's giving, his defenders have a hard row to hoe. That was particularly evident when House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) went on 60 Minutes this weekend, and participated in this conversation:

Scott Pelley: What do you make of this exchange? President Zelensky says, "We are almost ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes." And President Trump replies, "I would like you to do us a favor though."

McCarthy: You just added another word.

Pelley: No, it's in the transcript.

McCarthy: He said - "I'd like you to do a favor though?"

Pelley: Yes, it's in the White House transcript.

As CNN's Chris Cillizza points out in the linked article: "Oops." In his attempt to exonerate the President, the Minority Leader managed to draw all kinds of attention to the key word that suggests there was indeed a quid pro quo. With friends like that, who needs enemies? (Z)

Three Democratic Campaigns in Trouble

Whether it was the goal or not, and whether it's best for the Party or not, the pressure acting to narrow the Democratic presidential field is getting pretty intense. On Monday alone, three of the second-tier campaigns showed serious signs of weakness.

We start with Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who said he was running out of money, and that if he couldn't raise $1.7 million by Sunday night, he would drop out. On Monday, his campaign announced that they had just barely made it, clearing the $1.7 million bar with a little over three hours to spare. "Phew!", right? Or maybe not so much. This certainly has the feel of a crisis cooked up in order to light a fire under supporters, not unlike Oral Roberts' old warnings that if he didn't raise $1 million by Sunday, the Lord would call him home. Either way, though, it doesn't look too good for Booker. Either he really did come within hours of pulling the plug, or things have grown so desperate that he has to manufacture drama to scrape some cash together.

Meanwhile, the brief period of time when Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) was on the rise came to an end months ago, and she's now in crisis mode, too. Perhaps she's not quite as short of money as Booker is, but she's got significant organizational issues. Specifically, the campaign has had a two-headed leader in the form of Campaign Manager Juan Rodriguez and Campaign Chair Maya Harris, who is also the Senator's sister. This led to many staffers feeling like there was a lack of direction, and there was no clarity as to exactly where the buck stopped. Harris has decided to bring her Senate Chief of Staff Rohini Kosoglu and senior adviser Laphonza Butler in as dual deputy campaign managers. Presumably the Senator knows what she's doing, though from a distance it looks like she's solved the problem of two cooks spoiling the broth by hiring two more cooks for the kitchen.

And finally, there is Julián Castro, who debates well, but hasn't made a dent in the polls, even in places with lots of Latinos (like Nevada). It's hard to understand what path he sees, with so many people above him in the polls. And now, many members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus are lobbying Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) to convince his twin to drop out of the race and run for the Senate instead. One suspects that the candidate is T-minus-1 debate from taking their advice, though we will see for sure in a couple of weeks, when several candidates—including Castro—will make what could well be their last appearance on the debate stage. (Z)

"The Body" for President?

Perhaps, when you peruse your presidential ballot, you are not happy to be limited to only one WWE hall of famer to choose from. Maybe you aspire to carefully consider multiple inductees into the real hall of fame for a fake sport. If so, your wish may soon be granted, because former wrestler and Minnesota governor Jesse "The Body" Ventura is thinking about running for president in 2020 as an independent.

Ventura does not much care for his fellow WWE hall of famer Donald Trump, and is particularly upset by the trade wars and by the President's avoidance of service in Vietnam. The Body believes that it is essential that he run, to keep the Donald from being reelected. Appearing on a local Fox station, Ventura said: "If I do it, Trump will not have a chance. He knows he can never out-talk a wrestler, and he knows I'm the greatest talker wrestling's ever had."

It is very difficult to predict the impact of a wildcard like Ventura, and polls won't be all that much help, as they are notoriously imprecise when it comes to judging third-party candidates. However, if we had to guess, he would probably steal away a few more GOP votes than Democratic votes. That won't matter so much in Ventura's home state, but even a small impact in Michigan could flip that state. Further, if the real plan is to sling mud at Trump and get under his skin, perhaps allowing the Democratic nominee to remain above the fray and to keep their hands clean, that could definitely work to the blue team's benefit.

Meanwhile, it's worth thinking for a moment about the party that is the biggest threat to siphon votes away from the Democrats—namely, the Greens—and what they might do in 2020. Joe Biden is not their cup of tea, of course, but Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has much to recommend her, from the environmentalists' perspective. And most people would accept the logic of "It's better to have someone I'm 75% on board with in office, rather than someone I'm 100% on board with out of office." So, if she (or Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT) is the nominee, it's not impossible that some sort of fusion arrangement is made, wherein Warren (or Sanders) is also the Green nominee. That would allow the Party to protect its identity and its ballot access (in some states), but would also increase the odds that they replace a president who is very anti-environment with one who is very pro-environment. This sort of arrangement often happened in New York State with the Liberal Party running the Democratic nominee and the Conservative Party running the Republican nominee, with both parties asking supporters to vote for the candidate on their ballot line to preserve their ballot access for the next election. (Z & V)

Two More GOP Congressmen to Exit

Another pair of GOP congressmen announced on Monday that their time in office will be coming to an end soon, although under very different circumstances for each of them.

First up was Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), who is the ranking member of the powerful Armed Services Committee. He said that after 12 terms, he's reached the end of the line, and he will not run for reelection in 2020. Though he did not offer any specific reason for the retirement, he's about to lose his committee seat due to GOP rules that require assignments to be rotated among members of the caucus. It's no fun to have no power and to be in the minority.

Thornberry's departure means there will be only one Republican left in the HOuse elected as part of the GOP's 1994 "Contract with America" wave: Ohio Rep. Steve Chabot (although there are also a few senators left who began their Congressional careers as part of the wave). Thornberry becomes the 6th Texas Republican, and the 17th Republican overall, to throw in the towel this cycle. His seat is not going to be in play, though—TX-13 is the reddest Congressional district in America, at R+33. Donald Trump won it in 2016 by 80 points, and Thornberry won his last two elections by 83 (2016) and 65 (2018) points. Although this isn't a pickup opportunity for the Democrats, it does serve as further evidence that House Republicans are reading the tea leaves and predicting (at least) two more years in the wilderness for them.

The second Republican congressman to announce his exit on Monday is Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY), who will be moving from the People's House to the Big House. He was credibly charged with insider trading last year, claimed it was all nonsense, and decided to run for reelection despite the ongoing criminal case. On Monday, he conceded that maybe it wasn't nonsense, and said he was going to accept a plea bargain and resign from the House.

Collins' district, NY-27, is R+11, and should be a safe seat for the GOP. That said, seats that red and redder have flipped in the last two years, and Collins won his reelection bid by just over 1,000 votes (which, in fairness, could have been a reaction to Collins being a crook). There will have to be a special election later this year, and several of those have turned into barnburners since Donald Trump became president, of course. Then, in the regular election next year, the Democrat who nearly knocked off Collins (Nate McMurray) will be back for another shot, as will several credible Republicans. So, it's worth keeping an eye on. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Sep30 Pelosi Anoints Schiff
Sep30 Whistleblowergate Shakes Up the Trump Administration
Sep30 Many People May Have Heard Trump's Call to Zelensky
Sep30 Poll: Nearly Two-Thirds of Americans See Whistleblowergate as Serious
Sep30 Poll: Majority Approve Impeachment Inquiry
Sep30 Poll: It's Biden & Sanders in Nevada, Biden in South Carolina
Sep30 Impeachment Inquiry Is Shaking Up the Democratic Race
Sep30 Two Republican Governors Back Impeachment Inquiry
Sep30 If Trump Is Impeached, There Will Be a Trial
Sep30 State Dept. Is Investigating Hillary's E-mails
Sep30 Democratic Debate in October Will Be on One Night
Sep29 Sunday Mailbag, Impeachment Edition
Sep28 Saturday Q&A, Impeachment Edition
Sep27 Thar She Blows!
Sep27 Maguire Speaks Much, Says Little in Testimony before House Intelligence Committee
Sep27 Support for Impeachment Is Growing
Sep27 Wanna Bet Trump Gets Impeached?
Sep27 While You Weren't Looking
Sep27 Issa to Challenge Hunter in California
Sep27 Tom Price May Be Back
Sep26 Is This a Smoking Gun?
Sep26 The Historian's Perspective
Sep26 Whistleblower Complaint Sent to Congress
Sep26 Senate Republicans Express Disdain for Impeachment Articles
Sep26 Is This 1974 or 1998?
Sep26 Warren Leads Nationally
Sep26 Warren Leads in California
Sep26 Progressive Candidates Announce Progress
Sep25 An Im-Peachy Day in Washington
Sep25 Trump Distractions Aren't Very Distracting
Sep25 Democratic Debates Lurch Forward
Sep25 The State of the State Polls
Sep25 Bevin Hires New Campaign Manager
Sep24 Whistleblowergate Picks up Steam
Sep23 Ann Selzer: Warren Leads in Iowa
Sep23 Trump Admits That He Discussed Biden with Ukrainian Leader
Sep23 Pennsylvania and Wisconsin Have Lost Factory Jobs This Year
Sep23 Democrats Will Target 26,000 Local Races
Sep23 Alaska Cancels Republican Primary
Sep23 What Are the Candidates Worth?
Sep23 Bill de Blasio Calls It Quits
Sep23 Booker Is Close to Calling It Quits
Sep23 Rand Paul Tries to Block Liz Cheney's Senate Ambitions
Sep21 Saturday Q&A
Sep20 The ?-gate Plot Thickens
Sep20 McConnell Now Wants $250 Million for Election Security
Sep20 Trump's Tax Returns Are Keeping the Courts Busy
Sep20 Withdrawn FEMA Nominee's Issue: He Got into a Bar Fight
Sep20 Harris All-in on Iowa
Sep20 National Polls Say the Democratic Race Is as Easy as 1, 2, 3