Pompeo Secretly Met Russian Foreign Minister
Prosecutors Continue Probe Into Giuliani
Roger Stone Asks for New Trial
Bonus Quote of the Day
The Benefits of Being Joe Biden’s Brother
DNC Schedules March Debate
• Donald Trump, Man of Steel
• Senate Pushes Back
• It's Crunch Time for Bloomberg
• Nevada Unveils New Caucus Procedures
• Nevada Polling Update
• Doug Jones Is in Deep Trouble
• Virginia Assembly Approves NPVIC
Barr Lashes Out?
Attorney General William Barr is, apparently, very cross with Donald Trump. Sitting for an interview with ABC News, he complained about the difficult corners he's been painted into by the President's public comments and tweets, and declared: "I think it's time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases."
Let us start by stepping back and pointing out that the following sequence of events is not in dispute:
- Trump friend/associate Roger Stone was convicted by a jury on seven of seven felony counts
- Federal prosecutors asked for a sentence of 7 to 9 years
- Trump complained loudly about the "unfair" sentence on Twitter
- Hours later, someone at the Justice Department filed a brief asking for a much lesser sentence
- That someone certainly wasn't the four prosecutors assigned to the case
- All four prosecutors withdrew from the case as a result, and two of them resigned
- Taking note of all this, plus other potential transgressions, the House Judiciary Committee summoned Barr to account for himself; he is scheduled to appear before them on March 31.
In his Thursday interview, Barr said that his department was already planning an amended filing in the Stone case, and that Trump just so happened to send the tweet right before they filed it. The AG also claimed that the filing wasn't as "nuanced" as he expected.
There would seem to be two basic readings of all of this. The first is that the Barr-Trump relationship has soured a bit, and that the AG is traveling down the path that so many others have traveled before him. Former AG Jeff Sessions, former Chief of Staff John Kelly, former lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen, and former NSA John Bolton are among those who moved from the catbird seat to the doghouse.
The second reading is that Barr is getting a little nervous about exactly how far he's stuck out his neck on behalf of Trump and, recalling that folks like that tend to end up under the bus, he's decided to give himself a little cover. Heck, it's even possible that Trump himself is concerned about the optics of the whole situation, and that the President and the AG sat down and cooked up this bit of political theater to give themselves both some cover. Given how often Barr has been willing to do Trump's dirty work, and given that he got the job in the first place because of all the manure he toted on behalf of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush after Iran-Contra, our money is on the interpretation that Barr isn't actually upset. We should know pretty soon, though. When Trump administration insiders fall from grace, they tend to fall fast. (Z)
Donald Trump, Man of Steel
Donald Trump is feeling like Superman right now. Ok, he may not be faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, or able to leap the tallest buildings in a single bound, but he is basically invincible. And, unlike Superman, there does not appear to be any Trump kryptonite. The President can brag about pu**y grabbing, compliment white supremacists, insult military veterans, lie about anything and everything, try to extort foreign leaders, or use his powers to punish the people on his enemies list, and yet suffer no consequences. This being the case, it's no surprise that the President is planning to take advantage of his newly unfettered status in a number of ways.
To start, Trump has always preferred to be surrounded by loyalists/stooges/cronies/yes-men and -women/toadies (feel free to choose your favored synonym). On Thursday, news came that longtime employee Hope Hicks is returning to the White House. When she quit initially, the general consensus was that she feared the legal exposure that came from continued association with the administration. Now, she will be protected by an all-but-invulnerable force field. So, no more reason to stay away. Other longtime orbiters of Trump are also expected to be promoted and/or installed in key positions, like former personal assistant Johnny McEntee, who will now oversee the office that identifies candidates for key federal posts.
Meanwhile, the reason that Trump got in trouble for trying to extort Ukraine was that some of his staff listened in on the call to Volodymyr Zelensky, or else talked to folks who had listened in on the call, and got queasy. One possible way to avoid a repeat of this would be to not extort any other foreign leaders, but that's not exactly Trump's style. And so, he suggested on Thursday that he might just implement the other possible solution: forbidding anyone else from listening in on his conversations with other world leaders henceforth.
Speaking of Ukraine, the President knows he no longer has anything to worry about on that front, so there's no longer any need to keep spinning tales that make him look less guilty. Previously, he had insisted until he was blue in the face that he did not send his TV lawyer/fixer Rudy Giuliani to Ukraine on his behalf. One wonders if anyone, even the members of the base, believed that. Would Giuliani really freelance like that, given the risks involved? Anyhow, the President has decided not to bother with pretenses anymore, and told "journalist" Geraldo Rivera on Thursday that not only did he dispatch Giuliani, but that the former New York Mayor is a "crime fighter." So, it would appear we have Superman and Batman in the same White House. Who knew?
And finally, the administration also announced on Thursday that it was diverting another $3.8 billion in Pentagon funds toward the President's border wall. Obviously, this isn't the first time this has been done by Trump, but the new transfer takes things one extra step further. Previous cases of raiding the piggy bank involved redirecting funds from military construction projects to wall construction (which was spun as just another military construction project, in view of the "national emergency" that exists at the border). This time, the administration is taking money earmarked for equipment, specifically fighter jets and ships, for wall construction. Obviously, the more frequently and aggressively that funds are repurposed, the less relevant the actual contents of the budget become.
When Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) tried to explain the seeming inconsistency between her view that the president had "done wrong" in the Ukraine affair and her votes for acquittal, she said that she was confident he had learned his lesson, and that he would fly right in the future. That was laughable, even then, and now that we are a couple of weeks out, it has become abundantly clear just how wrong the Senator was. Or how right she was; Trump definitely did learn a lesson from his acquittal, just not the one that Collins said he would learn. Everything we note in this item took place on just one day; we can only imagine what the next nine months of Trump unleashed will bring. (Z)
Senate Pushes Back
During the impeachment, the GOP members of Congress largely rolled over, and did their best impression of the three monkeys who see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil. Well, those congressional Republicans who did not actively aid Donald Trump in subverting the process, that is. Are some of these folks starting to regret that? Maybe so; they pushed back against the President in a few different ways on Thursday.
To start, and most noticeably, the Senate passed a new Iran War Powers resolution that aims to limit the President's power to, well, make war against Iran. The good news is that it was a rare act of bipartisanship, with eight Republicans joining the 45 Democrats and two independents to pass the measure, 55-45. The bad news is that 55 is far short of a veto-proof majority. So, after specifically warning the senators not to pass the resolution, Trump will veto it, and that will be that.
Meanwhile, Trump's most recent nominees to the Federal Reserve, Christopher Waller and Judy Shelton, are both in some trouble, as three Republican members on the Senate Banking Committee are not sure they can vote to support the duo. Shelton, in particular, is problematic as she has expressed some very...unorthodox ideas, like returning the United States to the gold standard. Although Shelton disavowed this position during her Senate testimony, the senators certainly know that may not represent an actual shift in viewpoint.
There are, of course, a great many experienced economists and/or bankers in the country who would be quite worthy of a spot on the Fed, but the great majority of them believe that slashing interest rates even further would be unwise. That leaves Trump with out-of-the-mainstream types, like Shelton. She has previously supported pushing interest rates into the negatives (which is possible, but generally unwise), although she has disavowed that position during the hearings, as well (for what it's worth). We will soon learn if the President gets the kooky economist du jour through the Senate, having already failed on several previous attempts.
And finally, at least a few Republicans in Congress are cranky about the President's plans to convert planes and ships into border wall (see above). Most notably, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), who is the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, and who said "The re-programming announced today is contrary to Congress's constitutional authority."
It is certainly possible that Congressional Republicans have hopped on Amazon and placed a bulk order for spines. After all, they surely must recognize that a totally unfettered Trump could become a very dangerous Trump. And at least some of them have to face voters in nine months, some of whom are very angry about the "three monkeys" impersonation. On the other hand, Thursday's pushback was largely pretty minor. Further, Congressional Republicans have appeared ready to stand up for themselves before, only to melt like an ice cream cone in the Sahara. So, don't count your chickens until we see more substantive evidence of a change in approach. (Z)
It's Crunch Time for Bloomberg
Michael Bloomberg's name will not appear on a presidential ballot for about three more weeks. Nonetheless, we are now at the point where the rubber meets the road for him. There are two basic reasons for this, one of them internal, and one external.
Let's start with the internal reason. Bloomberg's strategy rests heavily on Super Tuesday on March 3. He will skip all primaries/caucuses prior to that point, and will likely forego the debates as well. He's hoping that two things will take place on that date: (1) He will make a big dent in the vote totals, and (2) that moderate Democrats, disheartened by their other options, will be impressed by his results and will rally to his banner.
In order to bring his plan to fruition, the billionaire is spending piles of money—$350 million and counting. There are the vast number of television commercials he's running in Super Tuesday states, of course. Further, he's offering salaries and benefits packages that dwarf those paid by other campaigns, allowing him to populate his staff of more than 1,000 with some of the best and brightest political operatives in the country. He also stages lavish campaign events for voters, where the wine flows like water (as does the fancy cheese, and other snacks), and folks are invited to help themselves to armfuls of t-shirts.
Among the more interesting Bloomberg initiatives is a scheme being spearheaded by a group known as Meme 2020. Obviously choosing their timing carefully, they released a coordinated wave of Instagram posts on Wednesday that were designed to look like memes created by Bloomberg himself, but that were not quite right because he's ostensibly a little out of touch. Here's an example:
It is hard to guess how these somewhat surreal attempts at humor will be received, but one thing that is certain is that they will be widely viewed, as Meme 2020 is paying prominent Instagrammers to repost them.
In short, when it comes to unfurling Bloomberg's campaign strategy, the foot is now squarely on the gas pedal, and it's full speed ahead until Super Tuesday.
And now, the external reason that it's crunch time. One of the byproducts of Bloomberg's rising profile as a candidate is that the target on his back is growing larger and larger. And so, while his time on actual ballots is still weeks away, his trial by fire is already underway. As we noted on Tuesday, someone dug up an audio recording of Bloomberg, likely from 2015, in which he defends the stop-and-frisk policy that he implemented during much of his time as New York mayor. His verbiage in that clip could easily be read as racist, and it was in defense of a policy that is often regarded as racist. So, not a good look.
Pretty clearly, Bloomberg anticipated that something like this was imminent, and so he had a fairly effective card to play, announcing endorsements from three moderate members of the Congressional Black Caucus on Wednesday. Undoubtedly, that helped blunt the problem, at least some. Unfortunately for him, yet another troublesome clip from 2008 came to light on Thursday. In the new clip, which includes video, Bloomberg was asked about the financial crisis that was then unfolding. He said:
It all started back when there was a lot of pressure on banks to make loans to everyone. Redlining, if you remember, was the term where banks took whole neighborhoods and said, "People in these neighborhoods are poor, they're not going to be able to pay off their mortgages, tell your salesmen don't go into those areas." Congress got involved, local officials as well. They said, "Oh that's not fair, these people should be able to get credit." And once you started pushing in that direction, banks started making more and more loans where the credit of the person buying the house wasn't as good as you would like.
The problem is that redlining was, much more often than not, implemented based on race, as opposed to class. Consequently, one could read Bloomberg's remarks as saying something like: "Working too hard to help minorities attain home ownership is why the economy melted down." Maybe that's a fair reading of his words, and maybe it's not. Maybe that's an accurate reading of his words, and maybe it's not. However, voters are most certainly not bound to discover or adhere to the most fair and accurate interpretation of what a politician says. So, this could hurt.
Naturally, Team Bloomberg is pushing back against the notion that the remarks were racist, although they've offered the rather flabby explanation that what the then-mayor meant to communicate is that sometimes a good thing (the end of redlining) is followed by a bad thing (the meltdown). You can read his words for yourself above; it's very hard to see how he could possibly have intended that particular meaning.
In any case, this is and always has been part of the game when it comes to presidential politics. Every serious presidential candidate, except George Washington, has been subject to efforts to unearth skeletons from their past (both real and imaginary). And if there is any lesson to be taken from the Trump presidency, it's that the ability to dodge scandals may be the single most important political skill of them all in the 21st century. We will soon learn how thick a coating of teflon Bloomberg actually has, especially if more of these sorts of recordings see the light of day. (Z)
Nevada Unveils New Caucus Procedures
The people who run the Nevada Democratic Party wish to avoid the embarrassment in Iowa that just cost the Iowa Democratic Party chair his position. To that end, they have jumped ship on the infamous app the Iowans used, and have unveiled a new system that utilizes pre-programmed, party-owned iPads. The new system requires only simple inputs, which are transmitted to a secure Google spreadsheet.
The good news is that the new system is extremely stripped down, and has gotten the thumbs up from several computer scientists who reviewed it. The bad news is that it's being thrown together just over a week before the caucuses, which means exceedingly little time for stress testing, and for probing for possible security holes. There also seem to be a lot of moving parts that could misbehave—iPads, software on iPads (which some would call an "app"), wireless networks, Google spreadsheets, and so forth. Oh, and Nevada also has about 30% more Democratic voters than Iowa, and will be allowing people to vote early. So, DNC Chair Tom Perez is not going to be able to rest easy until the results are actually announced next Saturday night. Assuming that they are announced on Saturday night. (Z)
Nevada Polling Update
Pop quiz: With the Nevada caucuses just over a week away, do you know which candidate is atop the polls? The answer is: No, you do not, because nobody does. Since November of last year, only three polls of Nevada voters have been conducted, and the most recent of those was published in the second week of January. Here are the results, such as they are, from Myers Research, USA Today/Suffolk, and Fox News:
We often point out that in politics, a week is a lifetime, which means these numbers are about four lifetimes old. That's suggested, for example, by the fact that not only is Andrew Yang still included, so too is Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). Since these polls were taken, there have been two debates, two primaries, an impeachment trial that you may have read about, multiple setbacks for Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), an early February surge for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Pete Buttigieg, and an even more recent Klobucharge. In short, these figures are about as reliable as the ones on a Donald Trump loan application.
Why has there been so little polling, especially since we were already knee-deep in polls at this point in the process for Iowa and New Hampshire? We don't really know. Caucuses, of course, are extremely difficult to poll, which is the same thing as saying they are expensive to poll. Quite often, the main sponsors of statewide polls are the state's major newspapers, but Nevada only has one big one, and that's the Las Vegas Review-Journal. It is owned by Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson, so maybe he has issued orders not to waste the paper's time and money on the Democrats. It is also the case that Nevada has only been doing caucuses for a few cycles, which means that there has been no real opportunity for a pollster to establish themselves as an authority, as Ann Selzer has in Iowa.
Presumably, this will change next week, and we'll have some indication of what is to come on February 22. But for now, it's a bit of a mystery. (Z)
Doug Jones Is in Deep Trouble
Although nobody is bothering to poll Nevada right now, The Alabama Daily News/Mason-Dixon decided to poll Alabama, despite its primary still being a few weeks away (Super Tuesday, Mar. 3). It's a tad unusual to poll this far out, since polls are expensive and the weeks leading up to an election are generally pretty volatile, but they did the poll nonetheless. And the main takeaway is that Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) shouldn't be signing any long-term leases in Washington.
The question that is of most interest, short-term, is which Republican candidate will win the right to face Jones in November. Former Alabama Senator and deposed Donald Trump AG Jeff Sessions is the slight favorite there:
To advance straight to the general election in November, a candidate needs to win 50% of the vote. Failing that, the top two finishers will face off on March 31.
The only candidate that Jones has any real chance of beating is credibly accused child molester Roy Moore, who, as the numbers make clear, has no chance of winning the nomination on Mar. 3, or even of advancing to the second round. And in case there was any question about Jones' chances in November, the pollster tested all of the plausible matchups. Here are those numbers:
|Candidate||Jones Pct.||Opponent Pct.||Margin|
|Jeff Sessions||41%||54%||Sessions +13|
|Tommy Tuberville||42%||50%||Tuberville +8|
|Bradley Byrne||42%||51%||Byrne +9|
There's still some time until the election, of course, but those are pretty grim numbers, particularly since Donald Trump figures to have coattails in a deep-red state. Jones really needs to hope for a miracle of the sort that got him elected in the first place. We doubt there's a yearbook out there where an adult Sessions wrote a message to an underage girl. But a yearbook with a picture of him in blackface? Certainly possible. Does he know Justin Trudeau? (Z)
Virginia Assembly Approves NPVIC
Taking advantage of their newly won trifecta, Virginia Democrats have been taking care of some long-unfinished business. They passed the ERA, of course, a move that may (but probably won't) make that amendment a part of the Constitution. And this week, the state's House of Delegates adopted a bill, voting basically along party lines, that would sign Virginia up for the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC). It now heads to the Virginia State Senate, where the blue team holds a 21-19 edge, and where passage is more likely than not (but is not certain).
Should the bill gain approval from the State Senate and from Gov. Ralph Northam (D-VA), it would bring the total number of electoral votes pledged to the NPVIC to 209. The good news, for supporters, is that is 77.4% of the total needed for the NPVIC to take effect. The bad news is that only blue states have gotten on board, and there are nowhere near enough of them left to make up the 61 additional EVs that would be needed. That means that some swing states would need to sign up, which is improbable since they would be ceding their outsized influence on the process, or some red states would need to do so, which is improbable since the GOP has only won the popular vote once in the last seven presidential elections. And then, even if the additional 61 EVs were somehow found, there would be inevitable legal challenges. So, the NPVIC still looks like a long-shot, at least in the near future. On the other hand, it seemed an impossibility when it was first drawn up in 2006, so you never know. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb13 Where to From Here?
Feb13 Wall Street Doesn't Fear Sanders as Much as It Did
Feb13 Culinary Union Trashes Sanders
Feb13 The Accidental Rivals Face Off
Feb13 Patrick Throws in the Towel
Feb13 Stone's Case May Affect Giuliani's Fate
Feb13 Georgia Senate Race Turns Nasty
Feb12 New Hampshirites Head to the Polls
Feb12 New Hampshire Claims Two Victims
Feb12 DOJ is 100% in the Pocket of DJT
Feb12 Bloomberg's Achilles Heel Shows Itself
Feb12 Powell Issues Warning to Congress
Feb12 CIA Scheme Finally Sees the Light of Day
Feb12 AOC Has a Primary Challenger
Feb11 Things Are Getting Interesting in New Hampshire
Feb11 Today's Ratfu**ing News
Feb11 Bloomberg Ascending?
Feb11 Iowa Results Are Finalized...Maybe
Feb11 Smear Campaign Against Romney Commences
Feb11 Update on All the President's Crooks
Feb11 RBG: No ERA
Feb10 Sanders Leads in New Hampshire
Feb10 Democrats Are Worried that the Nevada Caucuses Will Also Be a Disaster
Feb10 Steyer Surges in South Carolina
Feb10 Klobuchar Raised $2 Million Since Friday
Feb10 Giuliani Is Still Digging for Dirt on the Bidens
Feb10 Trump Blew Up the Electoral Map
Feb10 Which Political Theory Is Right?
Feb10 Trump Abandons Promise on the Deficit
Feb09 Sunday Mailbag
Feb08 The Reaping Has Begun
Feb08 Friday Night Lights
Feb08 Life Hasn't Been Good for Walsh
Feb08 Saturday Q&A
Feb07 Final Iowa Results Are In...Kinda
Feb07 In Spiking Poll, Selzer Made a Wise Decision...and a Mistake
Feb07 If You're A Presidential Candidate, Don't Believe Your Hype
Feb07 Sanders, Buttigieg Polling Well in New Hampshire
Feb07 Warren Gets Unhappy News in Nevada
Feb07 Democrats Debate Tonight
Feb07 Trump Commences Victory Lap
Feb06 Senate Acquits Trump
Feb06 Nadler: House Likely to Subpoena Bolton
Feb06 Will Anyone Ever Honor a Congressional Subpoena Again?
Feb06 Iowa Results Are Still Dribbling In
Feb06 Pelosi Dumps on Trump in a Private Meeting after SOTU
Feb06 Sanders Leads in New Hampshire Poll
Feb06 New Hampshire Becomes Even More Crucial Now
Feb06 Biden Still Hasn't Addressed His Son's Job at Burisma