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Political Wire logo Trump Adviser Wishes He Would Tell the Truth
House Democrats Seek Trump’s Former Russia Adviser
Whistleblower Never Worked for Political Candidate
Trump Tests Bounds of GOP Support on Syria
Trump Looks to McConnell to Keep GOP Together
Pence to Release Transcripts of Ukraine Calls
TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Impeachment Battle Lines Harden
      •  U.S. to Pull Out of Another Treaty
      •  A Little Grift, Campaign-Style
      •  Let's Just Start Calling it the Trump National Committee
      •  Warren Learning About Life with a Big Target on Your Back
      •  Polling Update
      •  Almost Half the Country Wants Trump Removed from Office
      •  Fifth Debate Details Are Set

Impeachment Battle Lines Harden

The impeachment drama continues to be the big news story, which means that a radical change in Syria policy barely bought Donald Trump one news cycle's worth of distraction. Next time he throws longtime American allies under the bus, hopefully he will get at least two cycles' worth of distraction. In any event, as the story continues to unfold, everyone on both sides is digging their heels in.

To start, nearly every day, there is new information that makes the administration's position on the infamous Ukraine phone call more tenuous. Tuesday's revelation, courtesy of CNN, was that as early as May, Trump instructed Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and various State Department employees to work with TV lawyer Rudy Giuliani in order to put pressure on Volodymyr Zelensky. That means that the whole scheme was underway just weeks after Zelensky's election. It also makes clearer the extent to which federal government staffers were being compelled to conduct business through the President's private attorney.

Meanwhile, Team Trump appears to finally be taking this whole thing seriously. It seems he really believed this was a tempest in a teapot, and would go away. But now, the President's allies have apparently persuaded him that he's in some serious trouble here. So, the President is now looking for outside counsel to help him with this matter, as opposed to giving the job to, say, Corey Lewandowski. Of course, Trump values loyalty and a willingness to go on TV and say anything, no matter how ridiculous, above actual legal talent. So, it's not too much of a surprise that the lawyer he is seriously considering is former representative Trey Gowdy, he of the numerous Benghazi investigations.

In addition, the White House fired a shot across the Democratic bow on Tuesday. Gordon Sondland, Trump's ambassador to the European Union, was very much involved with the Zelensky machinations, and was scheduled to testify before the House on Tuesday. The Ambassador went to the trouble of flying in from Belgium, and had given every indication that he intended to cooperate. However, the administration put the kibosh on his appearance at the last minute; the Democrats are going to respond by issuing a subpoena. It's not clear if Sondland is a loyalist who will only be dragged into the Capitol kicking and screaming, or if he's merely waiting until he gets the subpoena, so he can plausibly say he had no choice but to testify. For what it's worth, he's making a point of remaining in Washington; if he was expecting a long legal fight, he would presumably have returned to Europe. In any event, we will presumably find out what's going to happen with him this week.

In addition to muzzling Sondland, at least temporarily, the White House also sent a letter on Tuesday to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA), House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Eliot Engel (D-NY), and House Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings (D-MD), signed by White House Counsel Pat Cipollone. It's pretty long (8 pages), and has 29 footnotes, but the gist is: "Take your impeachment and shove it." The letter describes the whole matter as "illegitimate" and "dangerous," and vows that the administration will fight the Democrats every step of the way.

Politico's headline on Tuesday, immediately after Sondland was silenced and the letter was made public, was "Trump's all-out blockade threatens Democrats' impeachment drive." This is a little curious, because it seems to imply that the administration's intransigence is an unexpected and difficult roadblock that the blue team has to deal with. That's clearly not the case; Pelosi & Co. weren't born yesterday, and they have definitely been paying attention for the last three years. They knew full well that full-court obstruction was coming, and they have plans to deal with it. In case there was any doubt on that point, Schiff—who is serving as the Democrats' point person when it comes to impeachment—had a chat with the Washington Post, and made clear that the American people will be informed about anything his committee learns, and that he is making preparations to do what is necessary to compel cooperation from members of the administration. Schiff is very shrewd, and is a former prosecutor, so he's a formidable foe for Team Trump.

Schiff is not the only thing the administration needs to worry about, though. Significant pushback from certain elements of the conservative establishment is starting to bubble up. Among the members of the media, the Washington Post's conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin wrote three (!) anti-Trump op-eds on Tuesday alone, while the recently founded anti-Trump conservative site The Bulwark has been turning the screws, too. Their lead story yesterday, for example, referred to this as "The Col. Jessup Presidency," a reference to the corrupt Marine Corps colonel Nathan Jessup in the play and movie A Few Good Men. He engages in illegal behavior, tries to get his underlings to cover it up, and then ruins himself when he blurts out proof of his guilt during a temper tantrum. One can only imagine why the good people at The Bulwark thought that parallel might be salient. And, in addition to The Bulwark, former National Review staffer Jonah Goldberg just announced the creation of another anti-Trump conservative site, The Dispatch, which has just published its first posting.

Of course, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, Trump hopes to have the conservative media on his side, but he must have the conservative members of the Senate. After all, they will be the deciding votes for his hypothetical future judgment. Thus far, they are largely behind him, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) even wants to host Giuliani before his committee, so as to give Trump's lawyer/fixer a high-profile platform in order to peddle his version of events. Given how openly, and how brazenly, Graham plies his trade, he really ought to be charged with solicitation. In any case, though Trump's position in the Senate is currently strong, there was a very interesting piece in Vanity Fair that asserts, with significant evidence, that Sen. Mitt Romney's (R-UT) game all along has been to make himself available to marshal Republican votes for impeachment. Romney would not admit that, of course, and even if it is his plan, this is not the time to make a move. Still, he could prove to be an Achilles' heel for the White House. And, as FiveThirtyEight's Lee Drutman reminds us, if Senate Republicans do desert the S.S. Trump, it is likely to happen very rapidly.

In short, things are not going so well for Trump and his team right now. He's dodged every bullet so far, and so he might also dodge this one. However, none of his previous disasters created as deep a hole as this one seems to have done. So, the President is probably wise to start taking this seriously. (Z)

U.S. to Pull Out of Another Treaty

Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have little use for treaties, particularly those negotiated by Trump's predecessors. The Treaty on Open Skies allows the 34 signatories, which include most of the major countries of Europe, plus the U.S. and Canada, to conduct unarmed surveillance flights over one another's territories. It's basically a "we have nothing to hide, and feel free to check if you don't believe us" kind of arrangement. The treaty was actually the work of a GOP administration, but that administration was the first Bush administration, and we all know how Trump feels about the Bushes. Anyhow, the U.S. is going to opt out.

This White House does not generally explain decisions like this very well, and this one was no exception. In fact, they've offered no explanation at all. One effect of the decision, when coupled with Trump's abandonment of the Reagan-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, is that it's going to be a little easier (or even a lot easier) for the Russians to build the sort of nukes that can reach Europe and the Middle East. Whether that is a bug, or a feature, only Trump knows. (Z)

A Little Grift, Campaign-Style

Tomorrow, Donald Trump will travel to Minneapolis and will hold his first rally since the whistleblower scandal became public. It may be interesting; we suspect that the phrases "witch hunt" and "Shifty Schiff" will come up a few times. Whatever happens, the lead-up to the event has shone a light on a seamy underside to presidential campaigning that generally results in cash-strapped municipalities being looted to the tune of six figures (or more).

The issue, in brief, is security. Obviously, presidents need a lot of it, and while the U.S. Secret Service carries some of the load, local police have to do the rest. This, in turn, generally requires that off-duty officers perform extra duty, which means overtime pay. There are other costs, too, like cleanup, shutting down streets, and the like. Add it all up, and tomorrow's rally stop will force Minneapolis to make an outlay of $530,000, which is typical. Obviously, the campaigns should pay these costs, because they are being incurred in the course of a campaign event. However, cities often submit bills for reimbursement, and then get stiffed. The Obama campaigns were sometimes guilty of this, too, although the two Trump campaigns have been particularly enthusiastic about taking advantage, in part because of Trump's love of rallies (which are very expensive, security-wise), and in part because of Trump's love of grift.

Anyhow, Mayor Jacob Frey (DFL) of Minneapolis decided that his city does not have half a million bucks to "donate" to the Trump campaign, and so announced that the city wanted payment in advance, or the event would be canceled. That's a pretty standard arrangement when dealing with customers who are in the habit of skipping out on their bills. However, the Trump campaign claimed they were being discriminated against because they are Republicans, and were being blackmailed, and that they would sue if Frey tried to follow through on his threat. After a couple of days, Frey backed down, and agreed to allow the rally to proceed without the advance payment.

So, there goes more than $500,000 of Minneapolis' hard-earned money. Here's hoping they did not have a pressing need to, for example, hire a dozen new teachers. It's not a great look for the Trump campaign, particularly given how much bragging they've done about the $100 million-plus they have in the bank. And maybe there will be some blowback from voters who don't much like it when their cities are forced to subsidize political events without their consent. But probably not, which is why the practice continues. (Z)

Let's Just Start Calling it the Trump National Committee

The, we mean, the RNC has been a fully owned subsidiary of Donald Trump for quite a while now. That's not unusual, per se, in that the national committees always work closely with (and generally defer to) a president of their party while he or she is in the White House. What is unusual, however, is the extent to which Team Trump has used its influence to try to eliminate even the faintest hint of opposition to the President within the Party. There are all of the canceled primaries, of course. And now we learn that Trump's campaign is working hard to change the rules in states that do hold a primary so that they are more Trump-friendly.

Because each state party has slightly different rules and procedures, it's a bit of work to do what Trump's campaign is trying to do. Still, there are two basic end goals: (1) to make as many states winner-take-all as is possible (though many state GOP organizations already do that), and (2) in those states that are not winner-take-all, to raise the threshold needed to qualify for delegates. In total, 37 states have changed their rules this year in order to favor Trump.

All of this is being done with an eye toward Bill Weld, Joe Walsh, Mark Sanford, and any other candidate who might dare to challenge Trump for the nomination. They are not actually going to be competitive, but they do hope to put a few dents in Trump's armor, and one good way to do that would be to have some delegates at the Republican Convention who could do some rabble-rousing. That would be inconsistent with what Team Trump is thinking; as one campaign insider puts it, they want to make sure the Convention "is a four-day television commercial for 300 million Americans, and not an internal debate among a few thousand activists." Not a bad assessment, though if he thinks 300 million people will be tuning in, he may want to take a glance at the Nielsen ratings for a decade after the 1980s. In any event, it's another way that the GOP is all-in on a candidate who has some rather serious baggage weighing him down at the moment.

One irony here is that the chair of the RNC is Ronna Romney McDaniel, Mitt Romney's niece. While Uncle Mitt is saying that Trump's behavior is appalling, Niece Ronna is going all out to help Trump. If either one invites the other for Thanksgiving dinner, they should have some interesting conversation. Of course, Kellyanne Conway and George Conway have this every day. James Carville (a Democratic strategist) and Mary Matalin (a Republican strategist) have been married for years but never talk about politics at dinner. (Z)

Warren Learning About Life with a Big Target on Your Back

As we have noted previously, running second at this point in the presidential election cycle is actually a pretty good place to be, as you can campaign, and raise money, and build your name recognition, while the frontrunner gets to deal with the harshest spotlight, and tends to receive most of the critical coverage and other flak. After all, it's not like Donald Trump has been conspiring with the leaders of other nations to get dirt on Amelia Warren Tyagi or Alexander Warren.

These days, however, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is surging, while the frontrunning Joe Biden is sagging a little. The result is that they are dangerously close to becoming co-frontrunners (more below). And as Warren's profile grows, along with her chances of becoming the Democratic nominee, the target on her back gets bigger, the attacks on her get more frequent and more pointed, and the search for skeletons in her closet gets more intense. For what it is worth, PaddyPower, the Irish bookie is offering 5/6 odds on Warren getting the nomination (55%) and 7/2 odds on Biden getting it (22%).

Yesterday, we mentioned the attempt by incompetent GOP ratfu**er Jacob Wohl to persuade everyone that Warren likes to procure male prostitutes for violent sexual escapades. Some right-wing media outlets ate that one up. Today, we note another story that actually has some basis in truth, and which the right-wing media outlets also ate up. In short, one of Warren's standard stump stories is about the occasion she got pregnant while working as a schoolteacher, and was eventually forced out of her job. That was legal at the time (1972), though it would cease to be so a few years later. The Senator uses this anecdote, of course, to illustrate that she knows what it's like to be discriminated against unfairly. The right-wing Washington Free Beacon (a.k.a. the same publication that launched the Steele dossier) decided to look into the matter, and found the school-board minutes from the district and year in question. The minutes say that the board renewed Warren's contract about halfway through her pregnancy, and then "reluctantly" accepted her resignation several months later. Consequently, crowed the Beacon, Warren has just been caught in a lie.

One can never be certain if "journalists" like this really don't know what they are talking about, or if they are being disingenuous. No public entity would actually document discrimination like this, even if it was technically legal at the time. Lots of teachers, over the years, have been forced out because of their race, or gender, or sexual orientation, or the like, and yet you can search long and hard and you will not find school-board minutes that say, "We fired Mr. Johnson for teaching while black." So, the documents that the Beacon dug up are not a reliable source. On top of that, even if a person technically resigns, that is not in any way dispositive. If the workplace had become noticeably hostile, or if Warren was told that she would be given no maternity leave and that her job would not be held for her while she recovered, then that is a firing in all but name. In fact, that is actually the Senator's explanation; she was advised that she was out of a job when the next school year started, and so the only choice left to her was to hold on for a few more weeks until the very minute she went into labor, or to throw in the towel and spend a few weeks getting ready for the new arrival.

Anyhow, these sorts of stories about Warren are going to be commonplace for as long as she is a near-frontrunner, an actual frontrunner, or is the Democratic nominee. As the Washington Post's Paul Waldman points out, GOP operatives, and their friends in the press, hope that they can find the skeleton in the closet that really haunts the Senator, as the e-mails did for Hillary Clinton. And, at very least, they hope to generate a case of death by a thousand cuts, where no particular story damages Warren all that much, but as a whole they combine to create a general impression of dishonesty and untrustworthiness. Again, the same was done to Clinton, and with her it obviously worked. Will it work with Warren (and, for that matter, Joe Biden, who is also getting the treatment)? That will be one of the big questions of 2020. (Z)

Polling Update

There have been five national polls of the Democratic field in the last week, from Quinnipiac, Politico/Morning Consult, IBD/TIPP, Monmouth, and Economist/YouGov. Here are the results for all the candidates who exceeded 1% in at least one poll:

Candidate Quinnipiac Politico IBD/TIPP Monmouth Economist
Elizabeth Warren 29% 21% 27% 28% 28%
Joe Biden 26% 33% 26% 25% 22%
Bernie Sanders 16% 19% 10% 15% 13%
Pete Buttigieg 4% 5% 7% 5% 7%
Kamala Harris 3% 6% 3% 5% 6%
Andrew Yang 3% 3% 3% 2% 3%
Cory Booker 2% 2% 0% 1% 2%
Amy Klobuchar 2% 1% 1% 1% 1%
Beto O'Rourke 1% 3% 2% 1% 3%
Michael Bennet 1% 1% 0% 0% 2%
Tulsi Gabbard 0% 1% 1% 0% 2%

A few thoughts:

  • Warren leads Biden in four of the five polls. She is now, or soon will be, co-frontrunner
  • Sanders is sinking, and it looks like Warren is getting most of her gains from him
  • We're back to three tiers: (1) Biden/Warren, (2) Sanders, and (3) everyone else
  • What are the folks in the third tier telling themselves? Especially the ones with all zeroes, ones, and twos?
  • Tom Steyer may have made the fourth and fifth debate stages through state polls, but he can't even register in national polls. How much of his money does he want to blow through tilting at windmills? He might flatter himself that he's getting himself a seat at the table and a voice in the discussion, but he's really not. Someone like Sanders has some leverage. But not someone like Steyer.

Anyhow, that's a pretty good snapshot of where things stand as we head into the fourth debate on Tuesday. (Z)

Almost Half the Country Wants Trump Removed from Office

The Quinnipiac University poll cited above also directly asked the question: "Do you think that President Trump should be impeached and removed from office, or don't you think so?" It's actually very poorly worded because you should say "yes" if you favor either of the alternatives (remove or don't remove). But most people probably understood what Quinnipiac meant and 45% want him removed from office and 49% do not. In the Sept. 25 Q-poll, it was 37% for removal and 57% for keeping Trump in the White House, so in 2 weeks, support for removal is up 8 points.

In the crosstabs for the Q-poll, a few things stand out. For example more women (51%) want Trump removed from office than men (39%). Whites with college degrees want him out (48%) more than whites without degrees (33%). Age doesn't seem to be a factor, though.

There was a new Washington Post/Schar School poll out on Tuesday, and it too had worrisome news for the President. The main finding is that a solid majority of Americans, 58%, now support an impeachment inquiry, compared to just 38% who don't. Among independents, 57% support an inquiry, while among Republicans, the number is up to 30%. What that means is that since July, support for an impeachment inquiry has increased 25 points among Democrats, 20 points among independents, and 21 points among Republicans. And, in just the last month, support has increased about 3 points among Democrats (since it was already sky-high), 11 points among independents, and 8 points among Republicans. This poll didn't ask about removal from office. (V & Z)

Fifth Debate Details Are Set

Speaking of the debates, the DNC announced the location of the fifth matchup, scheduled for November 20. It will be in (or near) Atlanta, GA, and will be hosted by MSNBC and the Washington Post. The exact venue has not yet been determined, but since there tends to be a preference for universities, particularly those that connect with a specific Democratic interest group, Morehouse College is a pretty good guess. The blue team could also choose Emory University, and bring out faculty member Jimmy Carter for a brief appearance, just to remind everyone that Georgia does sometimes vote for Democrats.

Also on Tuesday, the Quinnipiac poll linked above qualified Andrew Yang for a spot on stage in Atlanta. That means that there will be at least eight candidates on stage: Yang, Joe Biden, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tom Steyer, and Elizabeth Warren. They will likely be joined by Beto O'Rourke and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN), each of whom are just a couple of polls away. So, it will be another large group of participants. Perhaps the DNC will channel their inner Scrooge in advance of the December debate, and ratchet the qualifying numbers up more aggressively. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct08 Tail, Meet Dog
Oct08 China to Trump: Your 2020 Campaign Is None of Our Business
Oct08 Judge to Trump: Fork 'em Over
Oct08 Barbara Res Predicts Trump Will Resign
Oct08 Brace Yourself for 2020, Part I: Trump vs. Biden
Oct08 Brace Yourself for 2020, Part II: Ratfu**ing
Oct08 Warren Hires Texas State Campaign Director
Oct07 There Are Now Multiple Whistleblowers
Oct07 Trump Blames Perry for Call to Zelensky
Oct07 Most Republicans Still Back Trump
Oct07 The DNC Is Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Oct07 Is Dirt a Thing of Value?
Oct07 Will Trump Be Done in by a Lack of Toadies?
Oct07 Biden Donors Are Worried
Oct07 Democrats Are Worried about Who Tulsi Gabbard Will Attack Next
Oct07 Sanders Had a Heart Attack
Oct07 The Senate Races Are Becoming Nationalized
Oct07 Make Sure to Register
Oct06 Sunday Mailbag
Oct05 Saturday Q&A
Oct04 Digging the Hole Deeper, Part I: Ukraine
Oct04 Digging the Hole Deeper, Part II: China
Oct04 Digging the Hole Deeper, Part III: The IRS
Oct04 Let the Table Pounding Begin
Oct04 Biden's Q3 Fundraising Is Underwhelming
Oct04 Warren Making Inroads with Black Voters
Oct04 Lieberman Running for Senate
Oct03 House Democrats Will Subpoena White House Documents
Oct03 Pence Was Involved in Pressuring Ukraine
Oct03 State Dept. Inspector General Spoke to Congressional Committees Yesterday
Oct03 Support for Impeachment Is Growing
Oct03 Trump's Impeachment Inquiry Will Be More Divisive than Nixon's or Clinton's
Oct03 Justice Dept. Tells White House to Preserve Records
Oct03 Poll: Only 40% of Republicans Believe Trump Discussed Biden with Ukrainian Leader
Oct03 Judge Upholds Iowa's Voter ID Law
Oct03 Sanders Has Heart Stents Inserted
Oct03 Yang Pulled in $10 Million in the Third Quarter
Oct02 Pompeo to Democrats: Shove It
Oct02 A Preview of What's to Come?
Oct02 How Might Senators Vote in an Impeachment Trial?
Oct02 Trump Administration Has a Good Day in Court
Oct02 The Farmers Are Restless
Oct02 Q3 Fundraising Numbers Are Trickling In
Oct02 Lewandowski Pooh-Poohs Senate Run
Oct01 A Bad Day for Team Trump
Oct01 A Bad Poll for Team Trump
Oct01 Maybe Trump Really Doesn't Get It
Oct01 Two Lies and One Truth
Oct01 Three Democratic Campaigns in Trouble
Oct01 "The Body" for President?