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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  John Bolton Is Complicating Things for Trump....
      •  ...And So Is Lev Parnas
      •  Nadler Will Miss Part of the Impeachment Trial Due to Wife's Cancer
      •  Pompeo Melts Down
      •  Sanders Is on a Roll
      •  Des Moines Register Endorses Warren
      •  Buttigieg Appears on Fox News

John Bolton Is Complicating Things for Trump....

There has been a lot of speculation about what former NSA John Bolton might say if subpoenaed in the impeachment trial. Now, there's a lot less mystery. The New York Times apparently got its hands on a draft of the book Bolton is writing, and it says that Trump personally told Bolton that Ukraine wasn't going to get any aid unless it investigated the Bidens. This is the first-hand smoking gun that Democrats were looking for. It is inconceivable that if called to testify, Bolton would say "Trump? I never talked to him" and would then write about the quid pro quo in the book. If he tried, no one would believe anything in the book, which wouldn't help sales much.

According to the Times, Bolton also implicated Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney as well. If all of these people testified under oath, the result could hurt Trump in November.

While few people in Trump's base read the Times, many Republican senators certainly do. Now that they know Bolton is going to be a giant headache if he testifies, they would really prefer that he not testify. On the other hand, they also know that Bolton's story is almost certainly going to come out before the election. If they all vote to block witnesses and later it turns out there is a witness or two who declare that Trump not only knew about the QPQ, but masterminded it, their flimsy attempt at a cover-up could result in defeating three or four senators and making Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) the majority leader.

On Sunday night, GOP insiders confirmed that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) effort to stop any witnesses from testifying is definitely in trouble. The Republican senators most likely to jump ship are Lisa Murkowski (AK), Susan Collins (ME) and Mitt Romney (UT). Murkowski is something of a moderate, at least upon occasion, and once won reelection without any help from the RNC, so she will be tough to control. Collins is in the fight of her life this year and is keeping her ear close to the ground. If she decides that voting against witnesses will doom her, she will do what it takes to save her own neck. If anyone ever writes a book about the Senate entitled "Profiles in Cowardice," Romney will get his own chapter, but it is just possible that his visceral dislike of Trump may push him to allow witnesses.

There is some chance that the 47 Democrats and Independents won't be on the same page, and that one of them will join with the Republicans in voting not to hear from witnesses. However, the Democrat most likely to flip is Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama, and he announced on Sunday that he wants to hear from Bolton, and, failing that, he wants the Senate to subpoena the book. So, it looks like he's still on board with Team Blue. If the Democrats stick together, they need a fourth defector beyond the folks listed in the previous paragraph. All eyes are on Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) as the possible fourth vote. He is 79 and is retiring next January. He is also sitting in the seat of the late senator Howard Baker, who during the Watergate hearings famously said: "What did the president know and when did he know it?" Alexander is painfully aware that if he votes to block witnesses, history will record that Baker put country above party but Alexander put party above country. This is probably not how he wants to be remembered.

Bolton reacted angrily to the leak, but it is hard to tell if he meant it or this was just pro forma. Certainly, someone with access to the draft had to be behind the leak. Further, there has been talk that the President's defense team will yield some sizable portion of their time, in part because they don't have much to say, and in part because they want to move this whole process along as quickly as is possible. What that means is that it is at least possible the defense could conclude today. There's even an outside chance the vote on witnesses could happen today. Consequently, if there is someone who had a copy of the draft, and who wanted to do everything possible to put pressure on the senators to let Bolton testify, they had to leak the draft this weekend to make absolutely certain that the information was out there before the witness vote takes place. So, the timing is...interesting, to say the least. (V & Z)

...And So Is Lev Parnas

Donald Trump has a longstanding pattern of finding loyalists (henchmen?) who are willing to do his dirty work for him, and then throwing them under the bus when they become problematic for him. There are countless examples, from Michael Cohen to Jeff Sessions to John Bolton.

As it turns out, though, there is a problem with developing a reputation for that sort of behavior: Today's sycophant may realize that they could be tomorrow's roadkill, and they may take steps to protect themselves. Omarosa Manigault Newman kept notes and made recordings. So did Cohen. Bolton was clearly prepping for this book long before he fell out of favor and lost his job as NSA (see above). And the latest member of the club is friend of Rudy Giuliani and former Ukraine Presidential go-fer Lev Parnas.

Parnas, like Bolton, has firsthand knowledge of the Ukraine shenanigans. And Parnas, like Bolton, has turned sour on Trump. The President has attempted to discredit Parnas by claiming that he never met Parnas, doesn't know him, and that everything Parnas has to say is just a tall tale. As it turns out, Parnas was prepared for this. On Friday, his lawyer released a brief recording, obviously from a surreptitiously activated cell phone camera, in which Trump expresses anger at the perceived disloyalty of Ambassador to Ukraine Marie ("Masha") Yovanovitch and orders his staff to "take her out":

He sounds a bit more like a member of La Cosa Nostra than the resident of La Casa Blanca.

As it turns out, Friday's release was only the appetizer. On Saturday, Parnas' attorney Joseph Bondy released the whole 90-minute recording, in which Trump and Parnas converse extensively. Bondy also hinted that he has many more recordings in his pocket (well, probably on his hard drive).

This is double trouble for Team Trump. First, because while it's not certain Parnas' attorney is telling the truth about the additional recordings, it's well within the realm of possibility. And if he leaks a little at a time, then he'll dominate many news cycles in a manner very unfavorable to Trump. Second, because the President's story on Parnas has been "I don't know him." That was barely plausible before this weekend, it's even more implausible now that we have a recording of a 90-minute conversation between them, and every additional proof of Parnas-Trump contact puts another nail in the coffin. In short, with the Parnas tape and the Bolton book draft (see above) coming out within 24 hours of each other, it just was not a good weekend for the President. (Z)

Nadler Will Miss Part of the Impeachment Trial Due to Wife's Cancer

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), one of the House impeachment managers, announced yesterday that his wife has pancreatic cancer and he will miss part of the impeachment trial.

While we wish Chairman Nadler and his wife, Joyce Miller, the best and hope for her speedy recovery, this development is a net plus for the Democrats. It means that the unambiguous leader of the House impeachment team will now be Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), who is far more sure-footed and a much better speaker than Nadler. He is also far better than Nadler at explaining complicated things in a way that most people can understand. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) knows this very well, but since Nadler is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, she was stuck with him. Now she can legitimately tell the other House managers that Schiff is in charge going forward. (V)

Pompeo Melts Down

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is really caught between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, he wants to keep his job, but that means bowing to the demands of a boss who demands absolute loyalty (and also, quite often, a disregard for both laws and ethics). On the other hand, he is pretty badly exposed on this Ukraine business, and could eventually face significant consequences, even prison time. Further, it's at least possible he could be ordered to appear before the Senate, at which point he will have to choose between his neck and the President's.

Under these circumstances, it is to be expected that he's wound a little tightly right now. And if there were any doubts, Pompeo confirmed it on Friday, with a performance that would likely have gotten a cabinet secretary in any other administration fired. Appearing on NPR, Pompeo was asked by Mary Louise Kelly if he owed an apology to Masha Yovanovitch for his failure to defend her. Pompeo blew his stack, and cut the interview off. Afterwards he berated Kelly for 10 minutes, making liberal use of four-letter words and also trying to prove that Kelly has no idea what she's talking about by insisting that she identify Ukraine on a map (which she did).

Needless to say, it's not so good when America's chief diplomat acts so...undiplomatic in public. And when it involves him haranguing and intimidating a woman who is considerably smaller than he is, it's a particularly bad look. Since the confrontation, Pompeo has doubled down, and insisted that Kelly is to blame because she misled him about the content of the interview. Maybe so; how could he possibly have known that impeachment, a major news story with which he is intimately involved, might come up? NPR, for its part, is standing behind Kelly. Meanwhile, Pompeo was already scheduled to make an awkward visit to Ukraine later this week; that visit just got much more awkward. It would not be a surprise for the trip to be canceled at the last minute. Meanwhile, one wonders how long Pompeo can manage the stress he's under until he decides it's just not worth it anymore. If he wants to, he can still run for the open Senate seat in Kansas. The filing deadline is in June. (Z)

Sanders Is on a Roll

In only 8 days, for the first time in the 2020 cycle, voters will get to say who they want. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is surging at just the right time in Iowa and also in New Hampshire, which votes a week after Iowa. Three Iowa polls were released during the weekend, respectively from The New York Times/Siena College, CBS/YouGov, and USA Today/Suffolk University. In addition, New Hampshire was polled by CNN/SSRS and NBC/Marist College. Here are the numbers for the candidates hitting 3% in either state:

  Iowa   New Hampshire
Candidate NYT CBS USA Today Average   CNN NBC Average
Bernie Sanders 25% 26% 19% 23.3%   25% 22% 23.5%
Joe Biden 17% 25% 25% 22.3%   16% 14% 15.0%
Pete Buttigieg 18% 22% 18% 19.3%   15% 17% 16.0%
Elizabeth Warren 15% 15% 13% 14.3%   12% 12% 12.0%
Amy Klobuchar 8% 7% 6% 7.0%   6% 10% 8.0%
Andrew Yang 3% 1% 3% 2.3%   5% 5% 5.0%
Tom Steyer 3% 1% 2% 2.0%   2% 3% 2.5%
Tulsi Gabbard - 0% 1% 0.5%   5% 7% 6.0%

If Sanders wins both Iowa and New Hampshire, three things will happen. First, Sanders will get an enormous boost and the headlines will all be reading: "Democrats love Bernie."

Second, the Democratic Party pooh-bahs will all have heart attacks, and much more serious ones than Sanders himself had in October. It is not so much that they can't stand his politics. Their worry is that Sanders will be crushed in the general election, just as progressive senator George McGovern was in 1972, when he won a single state (Massachusetts) to Richard Nixon's 49 states.

Third, they will seriously begin worrying that Joe Biden is over the hill and start looking seriously at former NYC mayor Mike Bloomberg. No job truly prepares someone for being president, but being mayor of fractious New York City for 12 years is at least a start. Also, the pooh-bahs know that if Bloomberg is the nominee, he will spend whatever it takes, certainly north of $1 billion and maybe north of $2 billion or even $5 billion. He will bludgeon Donald in the air war and the ground war like no candidate for any office in the history of the world has been bludgeoned. It will be brutal.

Keep in mind that the Iowa caucuses are notoriously unpredictable because bad weather can wreak havoc with turnout. Also, the 15% cutoff rule means that supporters of candidates eliminated in the first round get to vote again, and their votes could be crucial. Finally, with the raw votes being announced this year for the first time, the raw-vote winner and the delegate winner may not be the same person, allowing two people to claim victory.

Also keep in mind that in politics a week is a long time. If Sanders wins Iowa and New Hampshire but Biden comes back to win Nevada and South Carolina decisively, it's anybody's guess what will happen on March 3 (Super Tuesday). (V)

Des Moines Register Endorses Warren

Yet another complicating factor in Iowa is the Des Moines Register's endorsement of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Newspaper endorsements in general are slowly losing whatever value they once had, but the Register is highly respected in Iowa and its endorsement definitely carries some weight. In a close race, that may be enough to pull Warren over the critical 15% mark in some precincts, and to keep her from being eliminated in the first round. If the supporters of the eliminated candidates largely gravitate to her, she could even win Iowa, despite the polling numbers above. (V)

Buttigieg Appears on Fox News

While Democrats have generally shunned Fox News, Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend) jumped into the lion's den last night with an appearance on a Fox News town hall show with Chris Wallace. Buttigieg didn't pull any punches and clearly stated that he is pro-choice. But he also said that Iowa Republicans who are dissatisfied with Donald Trump can caucus next week and support him.

Buttigieg's main pitch is that he can unite the country, something the more liberal Democrats cannot do. He also hopes that if he comes off well from going on Fox, he can make the case that in the general election, he can pull in Republican votes. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan26 Trump Team Begins to Lay Out Its Case
Jan26 Sunday Mailbag
Jan25 Democrats Conclude their Case
Jan25 Saturday Q&A
Jan24 And the Beat Goes On
Jan24 Next Week, Trump Will Try to Change the Narrative...
Jan24 ...This Week, on the Other Hand
Jan24 Who Are the Vulnerable GOP Senators?
Jan23 Democrats Begin to Lay out Their Case
Jan23 Democrats Nix Witness Trade
Jan23 Poll: Slight Majority Wants to See Trump Removed from Office
Jan23 Poll: Sanders Moves into the Lead Nationally
Jan23 Clinton Walks Back Comment about Sanders
Jan23 Gabbard Sues Clinton
Jan23 Time to End Newspaper Endorsements?
Jan22 You Win Some, You Lose Some
Jan22 Clinton Slams Sanders
Jan22 SCOTUS Won't Hear Obamacare Case Until Next Year
Jan22 Under the Radar, Part I: A New Travel Ban
Jan22 Under the Radar, Part II: Andrew Peek
Jan22 Boy, Trump Really Is Unpopular
Jan21 McConnell Finally Reveals Impeachment Rules
Jan21 Emoluments? What Emoluments?
Jan21 About Trump's Popularity with Republicans...
Jan21 ...Which Leaves No Room for a "NeverTrump" Challenger
Jan21 And Then There's Trump's Popularity with Black Voters
Jan21 Biden Doing Well in Iowa
Jan21 Where Will the Trump Presidential Library Be?
Jan20 Battle over Impeachment Trial Witnesses Heats Up
Jan20 Trump Has His Defense Team
Jan20 Klobuchar and Yang Supporters May Be Kingmakers in Iowa
Jan20 White College-Educated Democrats Can't Make Up Their Minds
Jan20 New York Times Makes Double Endorsement
Jan20 Jayapal Endorses Sanders
Jan20 Supreme Court Meets the Electoral College
Jan19 Sunday Mailbag
Jan18 Saturday Q&A
Jan17 Impeachment Day 1 Goes Badly for Trump
Jan17 Ukraine Launches Investigation
Jan17 It Turns Out that There Were Casualties from Iranian Attack, After All
Jan17 Iowa Could Have Many Winners
Jan17 What Bloomberg's Path Looks Like
Jan17 Collins' Approval Rating Sinks Below McConnell's
Jan17 Cheney Won't Run for Senate
Jan16 House Votes to Send the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate
Jan16 Pelosi Names Seven Managers
Jan16 Senators Have Been Instructed to Pay Attention to the Trial
Jan16 The Voters Want to Hear from Bolton
Jan16 Democrats Will Send New Documents over to the Senate
Jan16 Trump Signs a Trade Deal