And, as we suggested yesterday, it might even be before summer starts. Donald Trump does not want to yield to oversight from Congress in any way, and he certainly doesn't want them to have access to his taxes and other financial records. And so, he's forcing them to go to court, in an attempt to buy time. It didn't work very well for Richard Nixon, and it's not likely to work too well for Trump, either.
The administration got some bad news on Tuesday from Judge Amit Mehta. He is considering House Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings' (D-MD) demand for records from the accounting firm Mazars, which handles the President's taxes. And Mehta had some very sharp questions for Trump's lawyers, in regards to their argument that Congress does not have the power to investigate the members of the executive branch. It's always a little dodgy to predict rulings based on judges' questions, but Mehta was not buying what Team Trump is selling, observing that the Watergate and Whitewater investigations, among others, were conducted by Congress. Even worse, from the President's perspective, is that the Judge says he's heard all he needs to hear. He gave both sides until Friday to submit their final arguments, and promised (threatened?) that his ruling will come soon thereafter. Mehta specifically made clear that, however he rules, he has no intention of striking down Congress' right to conduct investigations.
This case illustrates the various problems that Trump and his lawyers face in terms of their current legal strategy. Not only do they have a fairly weak basis for their arguments, but those arguments are based on relatively clear and simple areas of the law. Lawsuits over things like the Keystone XL pipeline can take many years to resolve, as they raise several different kinds of thorny legal issues and require things like environmental impact studies. Not so for "Congress can't see my taxes." In addition, because the issues raised by these lawsuits are time sensitive and of "compelling public interest," it is likely that most or all of them will get fast-tracked. Indeed, it would not be a surprise if, once they have a few victories under their belt, House Democrats invoke Part III, Rule 11 of the rules of the Supreme Court, which allows them to skip the lower courts and go straight to the Supreme Court. SCOTUS does not generally grant such requests, but sometimes they do. They did in the case of the Watergate tapes, for example.
Presumably sensing that the current approach isn't going to be too fruitful, the Dept. of Justice (which is, again, acting as Trump's personal legal team these days) on Tuesday tried a different tack in one of the emoluments cases pending against the President, asking the judge for a lengthy postponement because Trump is "too busy" to deal with the matter. Leave aside, for a moment, that 99.9% of the work in a lawsuit like this is done by people other than the president, and also that this particular president has between 8 and 12 hours per day available for unstructured "executive time." What Trump's lawyers are arguing, in essence, is that we should not consider the possibility that he's profiting from the presidency, which may affect his actions as president, until he's done being president, at which point the matter will be moot. Any judge who buys that argument should immediately make an appointment with his or her physician, to repair the damage done from having fallen off the turnip truck yesterday.
Sooner or later, and probably sooner, Donald Trump is going to get an adverse ruling. Several adverse rulings, in fact. And it won't take long after that before all appeals and other possible delaying maneuvers will have been exercised and exhausted. It is at that point that the rubber will really meet the road. Either Trump can bow to the courts, as Richard Nixon ultimately did. Or, he can defy them, like Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and a handful of other presidents did. If the latter, then that is when the nation will truly be in Constitutional crisis mode. And then, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) & Co. will be forced to make a decision about where their loyalties truly lie. (Z)
Donald Trump has spent much of his presidency—actually, his whole presidency—in an adversarial relationship with the FBI, often publicly feuding with the Bureau's pooh-bahs. If Steve Bannon is to be believed, it didn't have to be that way. According to the former Trump campaign manager and senior adviser, he approached the FBI in 2017 with an offer of an alliance with the White House. Either he did not know, or did not care, that it's not the FBI's job to be the ally of the person in the Oval Office.
In any event, Bannon's proposal went nowhere, as acting director Andrew McCabe does know what the FBI's job is. McCabe was later fired, of course. The other FBI pooh-bah at that meeting, Bill Priestap, was also forced out. And now, the FBI is led by a Trump appointee, namely Chris Wray. So, all is well, right? Not so much. Still unable or unwilling to accept that the FBI is not his private security force, the President has railed this week against Wray, sending this series of tweets accusing him of being, in effect, another member of the "deep state":
“Just another abuse of power in a long series of abuses of power by the Democrats that began during the Obama Administration, continued through the Mueller FBI operation, & now the baton has been passed to Jerry Nadler to continue to abuse power to harass President Trump..— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 13, 2019
....and the Democrat National Committee-The Democrat Party apparatus-has been caught using donor Dollars to Collude with Russian Intelligence to attack a domestic political opponent (me). The FBI has no leadership. The Director is protecting the same gang.....that tried to....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 13, 2019
If we did not know that Trump is a teetotaler, we'd have to wonder about his sobriety when he sent those tweets. In any event, it is looking more and more probable that he will become the first president ever to fire two different FBI Directors. (Z)
Donald Trump Jr. does not want to speak to the Senate Intelligence Committee, but he doesn't want to go to prison, either, and he doesn't have quite as many protections as his father does. Committee chair Richard Burr (R-NC) doesn't want to allow his witnesses to dictate the terms of their testimony, but he also doesn't want the embarrassment of being rejected, and then seeing Mitch McConnell decide not to back him up. On Tuesday, the two sides reached a compromise, ending this particular game of chicken.
By the terms of the agreement, young Trump will appear before the Committee one more time, but never again. He will answer questions on five or six pre-agreed subjects over the course of two to four hours. The testimony will be behind closed doors. Burr & Co. are definitely going to ask him about the Trump Tower meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, and inconsistencies in his past statements on that subject. We shall see if anything comes of this scrutiny, and if the private testimony actually remains private. Trump Jr. will be in Washington sometime in mid-June. (Z)
There was little question that Alabama would follow Georgia's lead, and pass its own "heartbeat" bill, outlawing abortions once a fetus is six weeks old. Since most women aren't even aware they are pregnant at that point, such a restriction would effectively end all abortions. The only question about the Alabama bill was whether or not they would go further than Georgia, and eliminate exceptions for rape and incest. And on Tuesday, the Alabama Senate answered the question, passing the bill that had already cleared the Alabama house. If the bill is signed by Gov. Kay Ivey (R), who has not revealed her plans but has previously expressed strong anti-abortion sentiments, and if it somehow survives court challenges, it would make performing an abortion a felony that carries a prison term of up to 99 years. The only exceptions to the law would be if the unborn fetus poses a "serious health risk" to the life of the mother, or if it has a "lethal anomaly."
There is a certain logical consistency to the Alabama bill. That is to say, if one believes that a six-week-old fetus is a living person with rights, then conception due to incest or rape does not change that fact. Whether the Alabamians embraced this consistency for philosophical/theological reasons, or because they think it makes their legal argument stronger, we do not know. Exactly what will happen when this ends up in court, we do not know. But what we do know is that the GOP has handed the Democratic presidential candidates, particularly the women, a pretty compelling talking point. Something along the lines of, "Elect Republicans, and you could be forced to carry and deliver a baby conceived because you were raped." As a reminder, women now make up about 52% of the electorate. (Z)
We already knew, courtesy of the Mueller report, that one Florida county's computer network was hacked by the Russians in 2016. On Tuesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) admitted that it was actually two. He cannot reveal which counties it was, but the Governor says that the Russians didn't do anything besides look around, and that the results of the elections were not affected.
Without knowing more than we know right now, it's kind of hard to evaluate DeSantis' claims, though it is a bit hard to swallow that the Russians hacked into the two counties' networks only for their own amusement. So, as a thought exercise, let us imagine that Putin & Co. targeted Florida's two largest counties—Miami-Dade and Broward. 1,812,155 presidential votes were cast in those counties, and 634,689 of those went for a candidate other than Hillary Clinton. If 56,456 of those votes were Clinton votes that were fraudulently flipped to a non-Clinton candidate, that would have been enough to swing the state from Clinton to Trump.
So, could the Russians have flipped approximately 4.5% of Clinton's votes in those counties? That's a lot, but it's not impossible. It wouldn't have changed the overall outcome of the presidential race, of course, but it would have made it much closer (277 EVs to 261). In any case, the clear lesson is that Florida needs to tighten up its election security, pronto. Whether they act on that lesson is anyone's guess.
And if they do act, will they do it right? Experience from Georgia suggests they won't. There the issue was slightly different, but still instructive. The state's voting machines were replaced with new ones that print out a paper ballot with the names of the candidates the voter chose, so the voter can inspect them. Sounds good, right? Well, not quite. The printed ballot also contains a bar code that encodes the choices and is what the optical scanners actually read, not the printed names. So all a hacker has to do is make sure the printed names encode the choices the voter made and the bar code encodes the choices the hacker made. The voter is happy thinking his or her vote will count and the hacker is happy knowing that it won't. Easy as pie. The Florida and Georgia situations are superficially different, but the bottom line is that state legislatures (at least Republican ones) do not think that election security is important and are not willing to take real measures to improve it. (Z & V)
You probably haven't seen One America News Network (OANN). It's available only in U.S. households, and even then, in only about 20% of them, where it's generally buried in a higher tier, along with C-SPAN3, the Tennis Channel, and Baby First TV. On top of that, if you were an OANN watcher, you probably wouldn't be reading this site.
Still, OANN does exist, and its numbers are growing. Taking the position that Fox News isn't doing quite enough to promote the President and his agenda, the channel's mantra is "all Trump, all the time." In fact, former employees report that they were instructed to, "push Trump's candidacy, scuttle stories about police shootings, encourage anti-abortion stories, minimize coverage of Russian aggression, and steer away from the president's troubles." OANN's main selling point is that they show every single one of the President's rallies, uncensored and commercial free.
OANN has been getting quite a bit of free advertising lately, courtesy of—you guessed it—Donald Trump. He clearly became aware of their existence a couple of months ago, and has tweeted about them numerous times since. For example:
Also, congratulations to @OANN on the great job you are doing and the big ratings jump (“thank you President Trump”)!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 13, 2019
It's a remarkable thing when one can un-ironically promote oneself for one's success in promoting a network that promotes oneself.
What we have here, in any case, is a network that makes its money shilling for the President, and that is benefiting from him using his high office to shill for them in return. If that's not a state-supported propaganda operation, we don't quite know what is. And it's the reason that if this were any federal employee besides Trump (or Mike Pence), tweets like these promoting OANN would be illegal. (Z)
Speaking of Fox News, quite a few Democrats have accepted invitations to appear at town halls hosted by the channel, reasoning that they need to reach across the aisle, and get out of the echo chamber for a little while. Their thought process is understandable, but Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) isn't having any of it. She was offered a town hall slot on Fox, and she declined it, to say the least. Here are her exact words:
Here’s one place we can fight back: I won’t ask millions of Democratic primary voters to tune into an outlet that profits from racism and hate in order to see our candidates—especially when Fox will make even more money adding our valuable audience to their ratings numbers.— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) May 14, 2019
I’m running a campaign to reach all Americans. I take questions from the press and voters everywhere I go. I’ve already held town halls in 17 states and Puerto Rico—including WV, OH, GA, UT, TN, TX, CO, MS & AL.— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) May 14, 2019
I’ve done 57 media avails and 131 interviews, taking over 1,100 questions from press just since January. Fox News is welcome to come to my events just like any other outlet. But a Fox News town hall adds money to the hate-for-profit machine. To which I say: hard pass.— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) May 14, 2019
Tactically speaking, this is a pretty shrewd move by the Senator. She's not likely to get too many votes from Independents or from disaffected Republicans. First, because she's too lefty. Second, because she's a woman. There's still some pretty serious sexism in American politics, particularly on the right, and anyone who says otherwise was not paying attention in 2016. By poking Fox News in the eye, Warren affirms her status as an outspoken champion of the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party, which is the entirety of her base, anyhow. (Z)
The Democratic field grew larger by one on Tuesday, as Montana governor Steve Bullock (D) threw his cowboy hat into the ring. He's going to shoot for the same basic lane as Joe Biden, taking progressive stands on some issues, but very centrist stands on others, all the while talking about his ability to attract non-Democratic voters. In a vacuum, Bullock probably has a better chance of stealing votes from Donald Trump than Biden does, since the Montana governor is a populist and not a centrist, and so is actually more like a Joe Manchin than a Joe Biden. However, we do not live in a vacuum, and Bullock doesn't have a fraction of Biden's name recognition or his connections within the Democratic Party. So, his chances are not good.
In fact, quite a few high-ranking Democrats are unhappy with Bullock's entrance into the race. Not because there's a meaningful difference between 22 and 23 candidates, but because they really, really want him to take a shot at Sen. Steve Daines' (R) seat. Bullock's career as governor is going to end in 2021 due to term limits, so if he wants to continue his political career, he's going to have to find a new office to get elected to. If it becomes clear his presidential bid isn't gaining traction—say, after next month's debates—he may bow to pressure (and to reason) and take on Daines, after all.
Our profile of Bullock is here. (Z)