• Supreme Court Sustains Political Gerrymanders Yet Again
• Trump's Hands Are Tied on DHS
• State Department Concludes that Hillary Clinton Did Not Break the Law with Her E-mails
• You Can't Make This Up
• Trump Likely to Lose a Close Ally...
• ...But He Gets to Keep A Nemesis
Impeachment, as we and so many others have pointed out, is a political process, not a legal one. And in view of that, many House Democrats would like to put together a nice, tight, impeachment case that the voting public can easily understand, and that is tried while public concern about Donald Trump's dealings with Ukraine is running high. Some members of the blue team apparently were, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) claimed, hoping to have the case pieced together by Thanksgiving, and tried by the Senate before Christmas.
Now, however, it is becoming clear that Thanksgiving is just not realistic. The main problem is that every witness that House Democrats talk to seems to bring up multiple leads and multiple additional witnesses that must be looked into. So, it's going to take some time for them to get their ducks in a row. Further, the blue team is only going to get one chance to cook Trump's goose, as two impeachments in a single year would be very bad optics. So, if there's something non-Ukraine related that deserves an article of impeachment (or two or three), they've got to figure that out now. That means anywhere from five to—well, who knows how many—weeks of playing political chicken, with Donald Trump squawking and grousing and tweeting the whole time. He may even cry fowl.
See, both parties realize that an extended impeachment process carries with it certain risks, and it is not at all clear which side would be harmed more if this drags into January or February or March. The Democrats, for their part, are not only concerned that a broader inquiry could lose focus, and with it salience to the average voter, but also that they would kind of like to spend the months leading up to the primaries talking about their ideas and their platform. Further, if right-wing rhetoric really starts to take hold, independent-leaning voters could come to see impeachment as a witch hunt, and as an abuse of power by the blue team. On the other hand, Republicans are nervous about the possibility of an extended process, too. They would also like to spend the months and weeks leading up to primary season talking about their ideas, whatever those might be these days, and not dealing with touchy questions about quid pro quos. Further, every day this drags on is another day that Trump, or one of his underlings, could shoot themselves in the foot yet again by saying something unwise and incriminating. Heck, "Acting" Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney seems to average about one such slip-up a day these days, all by himself.
In any event, in the short term, all the Democrats can do is plug away. Today, they will talk to Bill Taylor, who is currently running the U.S. embassy in Ukraine. He is no Trump loyalist, and came out of retirement out of a sense of duty when ambassador to Ukraine Masha Yovanovitch was recalled. Taylor is among the authors of the text messages released by Kurt Volker. He was also the participant in those conversations who declared most forcefully that he smelled a rat in the ongoing negotiations with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, most obviously in this Sept. 9 message to Ambassador to E.U. Gordon Sondland: "As I said on the phone, I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign." It is expected, then, that Taylor is going to do a fair bit of damage to Team Trump when he testifies.
There is a long list of witnesses already queued up after Taylor, though a few of them were (predictably) rescheduled in order to allow House Democrats to attend Elijah Cummings' funeral on Thursday. Meanwhile, there isn't a lot that Republicans can do except twiddle their thumbs and wait. The GOP members of the House did try to ram through a motion of censure targeting House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA). But, as you may have heard, the Democrats are in the majority in the House, and the motion was swatted down on a party-line vote. Trump, for his part, continued to rage on Tuesday, demanding more support from the members of his party, threatening to expose the whistleblower if he can figure out who it is, and holding a meeting with his badly-depleted Cabinet where he managed to crank out one lie roughly every five minutes. If he keeps training, he may break the four-minute lie one of these days. (Z)
In June, the Supreme Court upheld grossly gerrymandered maps in North Carolina and Maryland (with the former favoring Republicans and the latter Democrats), admitting that political gerrymandering is "incompatible with democratic principles," but declaring that this is a problem for the politicians, not the judiciary. It's like saying that it's the fox's job to figure out who keeps getting into the damn henhouse. Anyhow, on Monday, SCOTUS vacated a lower court ruling that overturned Michigan's equally gerrymandered map, and told the three-judge panel to take another look at the case.
It is rather clear, then, that as long as the current Court retains its seats, any future federal cases of this sort are futile. This has been one of the main themes of Chief Justice John Roberts' jurisprudence; he simply does not see the federal government as the protector of people's voting rights, hence his looking the other way on things like political gerrymanders and voter ID laws, as well as his disdain for things like the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Since he's the "swing" justice, to the extent that one exists right now, that means his views are decisive.
That said, for those who would like fairer maps, all hope is not lost. In some cases, including North Carolina, the wonky maps run afoul of state law, and have been set aside by state courts. In other states, primarily in the West, politically independent commissions have been given full or partial authority to draw district maps (click here for a map that shows how each state does it). There are also several ballot initiatives next year that would expand the list of states using independent commissions. And for those who are left-leaning, the blue team learned something from the shellacking they took at the state and local levels in 2010, and has organized to fight back in 2020, so they can redraw as many district maps as is possible after the next census. If we get to the point that gerrymanders help the Democrats more than they help Republicans, it will be interesting to see if any of the nine Supreme Court justices' opinions on the matter begin to "evolve." (Z)
Donald Trump would very much like to have an anti-immigration zealot running the Department of Homeland Security. Ken Cuccinelli and Mark Morgan, who both currently occupy acting roles in the lower ranks of the DHS bureaucracy, would probably fit the bill nicely, as they—particularly Cuccinelli—have occasionally said things that make Stephen Miller look like Emma Lazarus. Both are probably a little too far out there to get past the Senate, but it's no problem, because one of them can just be appointed to the job on an "acting" basis, right?
Wrong. Recently, and much to his consternation, Trump was advised by the folks who actually read the rules that he cannot award that particular promotion to either of the pair. In essence, neither is high-enough ranking to be moved automatically to the top spot, and neither has been in their current jobs long enough to be eligible to jump those above them. Trump could try to get them through the Senate, but Cuccinelli would almost certainly fail, while the less-outspoken Morgan might also come up short. And even if Morgan does get confirmed, he could prove to be less of an attack dog than Trump wants. The President would dearly love a fire-and-brimstone xenophobe who would make lots of base-pleasing headlines in an election year, but he may just have to settle for someone who is a little more restrained. (Z)
Hillary Clinton's e-mail server has undoubtedly been scrutinized more closely than the Mona Lisa, the Zapruder film, or the scene in the Wizard of Oz that supposedly shows a suicide (it's actually a very-much-alive bird). In any event, the Mike Pompeo-led State Department decided to look into the e-mail server once again. And after a thorough investigation and who knows how many more millions spent, they concluded...brace yourself...that there were no laws broken, and that there is nothing to see here. It is instructive that these findings were quietly released on Saturday night, a.k.a the deadest part of the news cycle.
The fundamental problem has been exactly the same since way back in 2015, when it was then-Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) looking for dirt. Even if the e-mails on the server were classified (and most or all were not), and even if Clinton was very foolish to use a private server, it is not illegal to inadvertently expose classified information. The law is written that way so that a federal employee who has their computer stolen, or who accidentally leaves their phone at a restaurant, is not looking at a prison sentence. To rise to the level of criminal malfeasance, the person has to knowingly and deliberately share classified information with someone who is not supposed to have it. There was no way that Clinton—who, again, might rightly be called careless, or foolish, or naive—did that. So there was never going to be a prosecution, much less any "locking her up." Reflecting on the whole matter, the Washington Post's Paul Waldman wrote on Monday that the Clinton e-mail story has finally come to an end. One would certainly like to think he's right, although given the experience of the past four years, you never know. (Z)
Well, actually, you can make it up, because these men did. Two high-profile Republicans have been caught with their hands in the cookie jar in the last week, both pretending to be someone else in an effort to burnish their own public image.
The much more famous of the two is Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT). Recently, he admitted that he had created a Twitter account under a fake name in order to keep tabs on what is going on (translation: to spy on Donald Trump without being found out). The problem for Romney is that he isn't that technically literate, and he did not realize that the relatively small amount of detail he gave was enough to identify the burner account. It turns out that the Senator's alter ego is...Pierre Delecto.
The French-sounding name was part of the reason that Romney's secret was revealed; he did his Mormon mission in Paris, and he speaks fluent French. He appears to be making a pun on "in pari delicto," a legal term that means something like "both are at fault." The implication is that the Senator doesn't approve of the President's tweeting, but also feels some guilt himself for being an audience member. And although Romney claimed he was just a "lurker" (someone who reads tweets but does not send them), he actually tweeted about a dozen times over the course of the last several months. The primary theme of his tweets? What a standup guy with a great "moral compass" that Senator Romney is. You can't see the proof for yourself anymore though, because Pierre...er, Mitt has taken the account private.
And then there is the case of Donald Trump's senior adviser Peter Navarro, who counsels the President on China-related matters. In order to support his interpretations of events, both in meetings and during TV appearances, he regularly quoted a scholar who studies China, and whose name is Pierre Delecto. Oh, wait, no. That's not it. The alleged expert's name is actually Ron Vara. Many psychologists say that, on some level, crooks want to be caught. Well, apparently Navarro is in that crowd, because nobody can find a living person (much less an academic expert on China) named Ron Vara. However, after pondering on that mystery for a minute or two, pretty much everyone notices that "Ron Vara" is an anagram of "Navarro." A tad bit clumsy, no?
Of course, the occupant of the White House is himself quite familiar with these sort of shenanigans. When he was just a hungry young businessman looking to make a name for himself, he would regularly do telephone interviews under false names, including John Barron, John Baron, David Miller, and David Dennison, in which he warned newspapers to keep an eye on that Donald Trump, because that fellow was definitely going places. Few editors were fooled, of course, and it became quite the running joke in New York City.
One wonders if Romney or Trump is horrified that they each ran the exact same embarrassing scam. In any case, it's a reminder that in the digital age, in particular, some news really is fake news. (Z)
Few world leaders are closer to Donald Trump than Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu. Their leadership styles are similar, and each has been willing to do things that help the other, politically. In the recent Israeli elections, the second set held this year, Netanyahu had slightly more supporters in the Knesset than his rival, Benny Gantz (55 to 54). After several weeks of trying to put together a coalition government, however, Netanyahu conceded on Monday that he just can't pull it off.
What that means is that the ball is now in Gantz' court. Inasmuch as 54 is fewer than 55, Gantz does not appear to have the support needed to form a government, either, though nobody knows for sure until he tries. If he succeeds, then Netanyahu will be out as prime minister after 10 years and, given his age (70) and upcoming criminal trials, he likely wouldn't make a return. If Gantz fails, then the Israelis could have their third election this year. Perhaps Bibi would prevail where he has twice failed this year, but the odds are surely against him, and Likud may shift to new leadership in an attempt to break the impasse. Another possibility is that Gantz and Netanyahu could agree to take turns as prime minister, though if that happens everyone agrees that Bibi would have to step aside while his trial is underway. Add it all up, and Trump is looking very likely to lose one of the few world leaders with whom he is simpatico, for at least part of the time, if not all of it. Oh well, at least he still has Vlad Putin, Kim Jong-Un, and Mohammed bin Salman. (Z)
Ok, it's probably not quite correct to refer to Canadian PM Justin Trudeau as Donald Trump's nemesis. After all, Trudeau is a grown-up, and will deal responsibly with any president that Americans see fit to elect. That said, there is no doubt that Trudeau and Trump don't see eye to eye on all that much, and the Prime Minister is pointedly unwilling to be cowed by Trumpian aggression or threats, as Trudeau famously made clear the first time he and Trump shook hands in 2017.
Anyhow, the folks to the north cast ballots yesterday, and the polls predicted a cliffhanger for Trudeau, whose Liberal Party has disappointed many Canadians, and whose personal scandals (i.e., several photos of him in blackface coming to light) have been none-too-helpful, either. Nonetheless, when all the ballots were counted, Trudeau kept his job. The Liberals are no longer the majority party, merely the largest minority party, which means the PM will have to negotiate with one or more smaller parties anytime he wants to get something done. Still, it means he'll be around until the end of Trump's first term, at the very least, including next year's G-7, wherever it might be held. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct21 What's the Current Version of the Administration's Story?, Part II: The G-7 and Doral
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Oct19 Saturday Q&A
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Oct18 "Mick the Knife" Stabs Trump in the Back
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Oct17 Trump's Inner Circle Could Be in Big Trouble
Oct17 Trump Is Betting That Isolationism Is a Winner
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Oct17 ProPublica: Trump May Have Committed Financial Fraud
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Oct16 Democratic Debate Tour Stops in Ohio
Oct16 Kent: "Three Amigos" Ran Ukraine Policy
Oct16 No Formal Vote on Impeachment Inquiry, for Now
Oct16 Ocasio-Cortez to Endorse Sanders
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Oct15 Fiona Hill Piqued By Giuliani's Behavior
Oct15 Trump Sanctions Turkey
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Oct15 Hunter Biden Tries to Quell the Storm
Oct15 Warren Gets Three Good Polls on the Eve of Debate #4
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Oct14 It's a Real Mess in Syria
Oct14 Schiff: Whistleblower May Not Testify
Oct14 Tomorrow's Debate Could Be Crucial
Oct14 CBS Early States Poll: Warren 31%, Biden 25%, Sanders 17%
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Oct13 Sunday Mailbag
Oct12 Three-Judge Panel: Surrender the Tax Returns
Oct12 Yovanovitch Appears Before Congress
Oct12 Giuliani Won't Work on Ukraine-related Matters Anymore