Feb. 09

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Things Go from Bad to Worse for Virginia Democrats

Earlier this week, we wondered whether credible accusations of racist behavior or credible claims of sexual misconduct were more poisonous to a politician's career. Virginia Democrats are now really putting that to the test, as a second woman has accused Democratic Lt. Gov. Jason Fairfax of sexual assault.

The new accusation dates back to Fairfax's days as a Duke undergraduate. The accuser (whose name is in the linked article, though we prefer to withhold it) was a fellow student, and says in no uncertain terms that she was raped by the now-Virginia Lieutenant Governor. She shared details of the incident with friends when it happened in 2000, and says she is not interested in money or anything else other than Fairfax's immediate resignation. At least one of the people the accuser talked to at the time, another student at Duke, has already come forward and confirmed the story.

Fairfax is now dead to rights. He continues to deny everything, but it is nearly impossible that this is all a smear job, with two different accusers, and corroborating witnesses to boot. Democrats across the country are now loudly calling for him to resign. Fairfax could attempt to dig in, but even if he does, he would be unable to perform his job properly, and he would also be a lame duck with zero future in politics. Further, he would almost certainly be targeted for recall. Virginia is one of two states (Montana is the other) that, once a qualified recall petition is submitted, sends the matter to the state courts rather than to the voters for resolution. However, any judge who hears the case is sure to conclude that Fairgfax is fatally compromised.

Among the storylines here is the question of why it took Democratic pooh-bahs so long to call for Fairfax's ouster. The charitable explanation is that the first accusation was shaky enough they were not certain enough of his guilt to condemn him. The Machiavellian explanation is that they did not want to lose a black officeholder, especially when the other two Democrats in the Virginia line of succession are both in trouble for being racists. Whatever it is, the Party has definitely turned against him now. It's also worth pointing out that there actually were some prominent Democrats who called for Fairfax to resign even before the new accusation came to light—former Democratic governor of Virginia Terry McAuliffe, for example.

And speaking of being in trouble for being a racist, Fairfax's woes appear to have given Gov. Ralph Northam (D) a (temporary?) reprieve. After all, a picture of him in blackface is bad, but surely it's not worse than committing a rape. And it's gotten a little more difficult for national Democrats to push him to step down, because if he goes, his fellow user of blackface—Virginia AG Mark Herring (D)—would also have to go, and then the blue team would have effectively handed the governor's mansion and a trifecta over to the GOP in a gift-wrapped package. However, a hail Mary play would be for Fairfax to resign, Northam to appoint a new lieutenant governor, and then resign. Presumably sensing Northam's somewhat strengthened position, the Governor told his cabinet on Friday that he has absolutely no intention of resigning.

Whether Northam hangs on remains to be seen. After all, he could be recalled too. If he does stay, however, he could be prioritizing short-term gain over long-term pain for the Democrats. The blue team badly wants to retake both houses of the Virginia State House in November, and they only need to flip one seat in each chamber to do it. The folks who are elected in November will likely be the ones who draw the state's next district map, and the Democrats would very much like Democrats to be in charge of that process. The Party is also counting on the state's electoral votes in 2020. Both the legislature and the EVs could be put at risk if Northam hangs around.

And just in case this wasn't drama enough, who should enter from stage right but...former FBI Director James Comey. It seems like he's doing penance for the sins of his last year in office, whatever he thinks they may be. In any case, he weighed in on the Northam/Herring situation in an op-ed for the Washington Post in which he says that everyone knew full well in the 1980s that blackface was racist. Comey also deplores the "river of oppression" that runs through Virginia and U.S. history, observing in particular that the folks who rush to honor Confederate generals with statues seem to invest all of their energy in honoring folks who embraced white supremacy before, during, and after the war (like, say, Jefferson Davis), and yet don't seem to have too much interest in extremely important generals who rejected and even fought against white supremacy after the war (like, say, James Longstreet). Comey's conclusion is that Confederate statues—for example, the enormous ones lining Richmond's "Monument Avenue"—have less to do with the history of the Civil War, and more to do with racial politics. So, he would like to see them all taken down. For what it is worth, there is not much here that our resident Civil War historian would disagree with. In any case, it would seem that even a white, Republican, 58-year-old former career bureaucrat can become woke. (Z)

Bezos-Enquirer Story Could Soon Get Political

At the moment, Amazon founder/CEO Jeff Bezos and National Enquirer owner/publisher David Pecker are in the midst of quite a tiff. In short, Bezos' marriage was falling apart, and he became involved in an extramarital affair that apparently involved steamy texts and photographs. Pecker laid hands on some of these materials, printed some of them, and allegedly tried to use others to blackmail the Amazon CEO. Rather than be cowed, Bezos decided to fight back.

At the very least, this story already gave us these front pages:

Bezos Exposes Pecker

Maybe we don't have a right to ask for anything more. But we may get more nonetheless, as it is entirely possible that this could get very interesting. The Amazon CEO, of course, has enormous power to propagate information over the Internet, and he did so, outing Pecker and his alleged scheme. But he also has enormous amounts of money; enough to hire an army of private investigators and the best lawyers billions of dollars can buy. So, he did that, too.

This is where Donald Trump (potentially) enters enters the story. At the very least, Trump is close friends with Pecker and loathes Bezos (primarily because Bezos owns the Washington Post, but probably also because of his greater success as a businessman). On top of that, however, Bezos' army of PIs has uncovered evidence that the leakage of his private materials may have been the result of hacking by a government agency, and also that there may also have been involvement from, of all things, the Saudi Arabian government. Needless to say, if that "government agency" part is true, and the agency in question is a U.S. government agency, then it would mean the Trump administration has gone full Nixon, enemies list and all. Meanwhile, Trump's extensive ties to the Saudi government and his unwillingness to punish them for murdering Jamal Khashoggi are both well known.

Thus far, this is a lot of smoke; the fire has not yet shown itself. However, if you bet on anything this year, bet that Team Bezos will get to the bottom of this. Not only does he have unlimited resources to pursue any grievance, desire, or whim, he has a duty to his shareholders to figure out where the leak in the dam is, in the event that any corporate secrets might also have seeped out through it. And if Pecker really is guilty of trying to extort Bezos, and/or any member of Team Trump had anything to do with this, then it's gotta be the most extraordinary demonstration of stupidity Washington has ever seen, with the possible exception of when 2019 SOTU designated survivor Rick Perry dines alone. (Z)

When It Comes to Mueller, Americans Wanna Know

There was a time when the slogan of the National Enquirer was "I wanna know." We can never be sure if Americans really want to know what Jeff Bezos looks like in the altogether, be we do know one thing: They want to know whatever it is that special counsel Robert Mueller comes up with.

At this point, two-plus years into Donald Trump's presidency, we know how the battle lines break down. Roughly 35% of voters approve of whatever he does, roughly 55% hate everything he does, and the other 10% float back and forth. That makes the results of a new CNN poll pretty staggering: Fully 87% of respondents say that a public report of the investigation should be released. That includes 80% of Republicans and of people who think the President is doing a whiz-bang job. Among Independents, it's 88%, and among Democrats it's 92%. So, if the President tries to bury Mueller's findings, he will not only further enrage the opposition, he might even do damage with the base. (Z)

White House in Even More Turmoil

Today's (extra) post has been just full of gossip and other salacious stuff. So, let's keep going. Stories about the horrors of life in the Trump White House have been commonplace in the last two years. And every time a Maggie Haberman or a Ronan Farrow comes out with an exposé, it seems like things are just about as bad as they could possibly get. Yet somehow, the decline continues. So it is with the latest insider account, this one from Farrow's Vanity Fair colleague Gabriel Sherman.

The broad point that the piece makes is that things in the White House are as awful as they have ever been. "Trump is hated by everyone inside the White House," reported one former official. "It's total misery. People feel trapped," said another. "Trump always needs someone to blame," added a third. That someone leaked three months' worth of presidential schedules last week, in an obvious effort to embarrass Trump by showing how little work he does, was an obvious sign that something was rotten in the state of Denmark. Sherman's reporting gives us a sense of how rotten it really is.

In terms of specifics, the piece tosses out a couple of details that are of interest. The first is that the White House has become a full subsidiary of the Trump Organization. In other words, it's now a family business, and if you're not family (i.e., Jared Kushner or Ivanka Trump), the President doesn't much care what you have to say. The second is that another exodus of top officials may soon be upon us. In particular, if OMB Director/Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney can't get an administration job that gets him out of the White House (e.g., Secretary of Commerce), then he will likely take a non-administration job that gets him out of the White House (he may be pursuing the presidency of the University of South Carolina). Also, National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow is apparently a short-timer who thinks that another six months is his upper limit. Anyhow, we could well be headed toward a cabinet made up of a majority of "acting" officials. (Z)

Trump "In Very Good Health"

Donald Trump had his annual physical on Friday, a process that lasted a total of four hours. Shortly after its conclusion, the new presidential physician, Dr. Sean Conley, declared that, "While the reports and recommendations are being finalized, I am happy to announce the President of the United States is in very good health and I anticipate he will remain so for the duration of his Presidency, and beyond."

While it is unlikely we will learn much more, this prognosis should be viewed with a great deal of skepticism. First, because on every other occasion where an announcement about the state of Trump's health has been made, the results were later found to have been either manipulated or outright faked. Second, because it takes time to complete blood tests and analyze the results. It's improbable that all of this work could have been finished in time for Conley's announcement, which means the good doctor is almost certainly just guessing when it comes to things like cholesterol levels. Finally, along the lines of the "healthiest president ever" bit, Trump could possibly be in the White House for six more years. No doctor worth his caduceus would commit, without reservation, to the notion that an overweight 72-year-old man who eats badly and does not exercise will maintain perfect health until he's nearly 80. Add it all up, and the likelihood is that the text of Conley's announcement was completed before the actual physical was. (Z)


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