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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Berman Firing Isn't Going Away
      •  China Trade Deal Is Definitely Off, Unless It's Not
      •  Trump Extends Immigration Restrictions
      •  Trump Will "Rally" In Phoenix Today
      •  Bolton Book Drops Today
      •  Trump Sticks His Foot Where the Sun Does Shine
      •  Today's Presidential Polls
      •  Today's Senate Polls

Berman Firing Isn't Going Away

When the Trump administration fired former U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman late Friday night, the goal was to minimize the amount of attention paid to a move that looks more and more underhanded by the day. It didn't work. In fact, it never works—all the administration manages to do with these Friday-night firings is heighten suspicion and cause anyone and everyone to deploy the phrase "Friday Night Massacre." After a dozen unsuccessful attempts to run the Richard Nixon playbook (which, by the way, didn't even work for Nixon, despite his not having a 24-hour news cycle or social media to deal with), you would think that Team Trump would try something new, like maybe Sunday at 11:00 a.m., or Monday at 3:30 a.m.

In any event, the Berman firing is four news cycles old and hasn't gone away yet. To start, the White House is struggling to answer very basic questions about the firing. For example, why was Berman fired? We all know that the real reason, at least in general terms, is that he wasn't following AG Bill Barr's lead and playing fixer for the President. Obviously, the White House isn't going to admit that, but you would think that before canning Berman, they would have come up with some sort of plausible alternative explanation. Nope, not this White House. At the moment, their official explanation is that they simply had to get the amazing Jay Clayton into the job, post haste. This fails the smell test in at least two ways. The first is that, given Clayton's total lack of prosecutorial experience, it's a little difficult to accept that the Southern District of New York (SDNY) simply couldn't be deprived of his services for one more minute. Second, and more important, is that Clayton can't take over until he's confirmed by the Senate, and until that time, there is no conflict between his nomination and Berman's continuing to serve.

The other question the White House has struggled to answer is: Who fired Berman? On Friday, Barr said Berman was leaving voluntarily. On Saturday, after Berman said that wasn't true, Barr said that Donald Trump had decided to fire Berman. That's within the President's power; the only problem is that the President said it wasn't the case and he wasn't involved. On Monday, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Trump definitely was involved, and signed off on the termination. Will that be the story the next time someone asks Trump about it? Your guess is apparently as good as theirs. But if Trump did indeed sign off, then why did he say he wasn't involved? Was he lying through his teeth? Did he not understand what he was ordering? Did he forget in a matter of hours (or possibly even minutes)? None of those is an explanation that reflects well on him.

Even once Geoffrey Berman's termination drops off the front pages, this headache won't be going away. House Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) announced that he and his committee would like to have a little chat on July 2 about what happened, and that Barr would be getting his invitation to that chat on Tuesday. Will Barr ignore the subpoena, thus returning the story to the front pages again, making it look even more like he has something to hide, and practically daring the House to impeach him? Or will he bow to it and try to do some damage control? Could go either way—place your bets.

In addition, replacing Berman with Deputy U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss appears to be, from the administration's perspective, a case of "out of the frying pan, into the fire." Whatever investigation or investigations that Barr and Trump were trying to derail by getting rid of Berman, they didn't do themselves any good by replacing him with Strauss. The New York Times has a profile of the new acting U.S. Attorney for SDNY, and it has four takeaways: (1) She knows what she's doing, having worked for SDNY off and on since the 1970s, (2) She has enormous respect from her colleagues, (3) In an office that has a reputation for being shrewd and skillful, her shrewdness and skill nonetheless stood out, and (4) She is utterly immune to political pressure, and to being influenced by political considerations. And so, if SDNY has the goods on Rudy Giuliani, or on members of the Trump family, or on Trump himself, or all of the above, then the piper is still going to be paid.

It is true that Strauss would be pushed aside at such point that Clayton is approved. However, there are three flies in the ointment. First, it is not clear that Senate Republicans, even though many of them stood behind Trump's right to terminate Berman, want to get their hands dirty by hastily approving a replacement. Second, even if they are willing to hastily approve a replacement, they may not be willing to approve Clayton, given his lack of relevant experience. Third, they're scheduled for a lengthy recess in a few weeks. Add it up, and the odds are high that Strauss remains on the job until after November's elections. (Z)

China Trade Deal Is Definitely Off, Unless It's Not

Donald Trump has relatively few concrete accomplishments to run on, particularly now that the economy is in recession and unemployment is in double digits. There's the wall, of course, but our staff mathematicians tell us that the 46 miles of fence that have actually been built is less than the 2,000 miles of wall that was promised. There's the tax cut, but that wasn't Trump's doing, and besides, bragging about that right now would be ill-advised. There's North Korea—the less said about that, the better. And there's the trade deal with China, which was limited, but at least it's something.

Unfortunately for Trump, and in a reminder that governing is hard, there are a few problems with the deal:

  1. The Chinese are not entirely adhering to their end of the bargain. At least in part, this is because they can't; if there isn't a market in China for things like American trucks, then there isn't a market.

  2. The Chinese have effectively annexed Hong Kong, and are using that to do an end run around the deal, since Hong Kong's trade terms with the U.S. are different from China's.

  3. Trump would like to scapegoat the Chinese for COVID-19 and punish them, and the best—and, to some extent, only remaining—way to do that would be to cancel the trade deal.

And so, it comes as no surprise that the deal is dead. Speaking to Fox News' Martha MacCallum on Monday, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said that the administration tried to stick with the deal as long as is possible, but the Chinese made it impossible, with the last straw being their lack of transparency on COVID-19. When MacCallum asked, point blank, if that meant the deal was over, Navarro replied: "It's over. Yes." That's unambiguous, and if anyone would know, it would be Navarro, since he is the trade adviser. The markets certainly took it that way, as they dropped noticeably after the interview.

It would appear that at least one person in the White House was not aware the deal is over, however. That would be the President, who used Twitter on Monday night to declare that Navarro is wrong:

Thereafter, Navarro backpedaled so hard you would think he was competing in the ecnarF ed ruoT, claiming that his words were taken out of context. You can view the video for yourself; we're not sure what additional context would have brought the Trade Adviser's declaration in line with the President's.

So, what is the truth? With this White House, you just never know. That said, it is clear that Navarro really thought the deal was dead; he would never have said so that definitely and that publicly otherwise. The best explanation we can come up with is that Trump, in a fit of pique (or several fits of pique) declared the deal to be dead, and then changed his mind after cooling down. Alternatively, Navarro convinced Trump the deal was dead, walked away thinking it was a done deal, and then someone or something else came along (Secretary of State Mike Pompeo? Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin? Senior Adviser Jared Kushner? Sean Hannity? A magic 8-ball?) and convinced Trump to make a 180-degree turn.

In any event, most presidential administrations, even if they get off to a rocky start, manage to improve their governance and messaging skills over time. Maybe we're imagining it, but this White House just seems to get worse and worse at the nuts and bolts of running a country. The buck stops nowhere; from personnel management to major policy issues, there is nobody in the entire administration who can reliably be counted on to know what's actually going on. (Z)

Trump Extends Immigration Restrictions

On Monday, Stephen, Donald Trump announced that previously announced restrictions on immigration visas will be extended at least until the end of the year. Targeted are roughly half a million jobs (administration estimate), primarily in the tech, landscaping, and forestry industries. Agricultural laborers, health-care workers, and food service employees are excluded. The reason that the extension is needed? COVID-19, of course.

We cannot help but notice that when it is useful to Trump for COVID-19 to exist, it is suddenly a serious pandemic, but when it is useful to Trump for COVID-19 to be eradicated, it immediately vanishes. Of course, it does not matter if we notice this, what matters is if the base notices. Doubtful that they will. On the other hand, viruses do not take orders, even from very powerful people. And so, the reality that the disease is most certainly still out there, and won't be stopped by tweaks to immigration policy, is going to keep intruding on Trump's world. (Z)

Trump Will "Rally" In Phoenix Today

And speaking of COVID-19 intruding on Donald Trump's world, the President has an event scheduled for today in Phoenix, AZ. He will deliver a speech at Dream City Church, addressing parishioners at the church, as well as members of a group called Students for Trump. This was planned before the Tulsa fiasco this weekend.

Some of the folks helping to organize the event are calling it a rally, but it's not entirely clear that term is apropos. To start, the church seats only 3,000 people, which is a pretty good-sized crowd these days, it would seem, but is pretty small by Trump's past standards. Further, the event is not being organized by the campaign. And consistent with that, you would barely know it was happening if you examined Trump's twitter account or the various websites associated with Trump 2020. Clearly, expectations are going to be kept low this time. If turnout is decent, and the photographs of the crowd look good, then we suspect a series of tweets crowing about a successful rally will be forthcoming.

Whether or not Trump gets some good PR from the event, and whether or not it is successful enough to wash away some of the embarrassment of Tulsa, he still might get to suffer the downside, namely responsibility for another superspreader event. On one hand, Phoenix requires masks for any gathering of this size, and the city's mayor, Kate Gallego (D), urged attendees to abide by that rule. On the other hand, the social pressure not to wear masks will be great. On top of that, two high-ranking officials of the Dream City Church, Senior Pastor Luke Barnett and Chief Operations Officer Brendon Zastrow, have announced that the COVID-19 issue is moot, because the church has installed a new air-purification system that kills 99.9 percent of coronavirus germs. They have thus solved a problem that has thus far confounded an army of biologists, virologists, and other researchers. Oh, and the company that makes this air-purification system? It just so happens to be owned by...Luke Barnett and Brendon Zastrow.

We'll soon know how many Arizona Trump supporters decide to play some Russian roulette based on social pressure and/or some rather-less-than-peer-reviewed scientific claims. Maybe the score is Air conditioning 1, Virus 0, but we're not sure yet. Meanwhile, signs of trouble from Tulsa continue to present themselves. Two more Trump campaign staffers who worked in Tulsa have tested positive for COVID-19 (bringing the total to 8), and so too have two Secret Service agents. We think it's safe to guess they won't be the last. (Z)

Bolton Book Drops Today

Over the weekend, Judge Royce Lamberth of the D.C. District Court declined the Trump administration's request that he halt the publication of former NSA John Bolton's book. Lamberth did not particularly bother to get into the legalities of the claim, instead pointing out that "the horse is out of the barn," and that blocking publication at such a late date was wholly impractical.

And indeed it was impractical. By the time the judge made his ruling, tens of thousands of copies of the book were already in the mail, on their way to people who paid for date-of-publication delivery. Hundreds, if not thousands, of copies of the book were in the hands of reviewers. Further, someone (or many someones) managed to make a PDF of the book, and it was disseminated widely on the Internet. We did a test and found over 1,200 copies available via the standard channels for these sorts of things, with a total search and download time of about 20 seconds.

So the book will be all over the place as of today, its official release date. Much of the juicy stuff has already been revealed, but you never know what will happen, particularly on social media, when tens of thousands of people are reading through the litany of damning claims, all at the same time. The public response will also influence House Democrats as they decide whether to try to haul Bolton before them for a visit. They don't want to look tone deaf, given that the nation's concerns are mostly centered on COVID-19 and racial justice right now. On the other hand, they also don't want to be the folks who looked the other way while Rome burned.

Meanwhile, the pushback has begun. In his book, Bolton has little positive to say about the negotiations between North and South Korea, and suggests that the President was being manipulated by the South Koreans into sticking his neck out. The South Koreans, who apparently also know where to get pirated PDFs, have already read what the former NSA had to say, and they are furious. They say that Bolton has grossly misrepresented what really happened, and that they most certainly did not manipulate Trump. The truth is probably somewhere in between; everyone here has motivation to lie, spin, or exaggerate, and so we don't particularly trust what anyone has to say.

The Trump administration, for its part, is doing what they can to silence coverage of the book. When a reporter presumed to ask a question about the book during a state department briefing conducted via Zoom, he was promptly muted. Team Trump has also moved on to trying to kill the upcoming book by presidential niece Mary Trump. The good news for the President is that the book isn't supposed to be published until late July, so there's more time for maneuvering. The bad news is that their best argument appears to be that Mary signed a non-disclosure agreement back in 2001. This is true, but undoubtedly Mary Trump was well aware of that NDA before she wrote the book. So she either wrote around it, or she doesn't care about the consequences of breaking it. Either way, it's not likely to stop the book from seeing the light of day. Or, failing that, the hard disks of thousands of software pirates. (Z)

Trump Sticks His Foot Where the Sun Does Shine

There are two inviolable rules of Florida politics:

  1. Never speak ill of social security
  2. Never speak well of socialists

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) decided to ignore the second rule this year, and the resulting defeat he suffered in the Florida Democratic primary could well be said to have broken the back of his presidential campaign. Donald Trump, who is not known for an ability to learn from his mistakes, or the mistakes of others, managed to make a version of the same error this weekend.

The specific issue is that Trump, in an interview with the website Axios, said he was open to a meeting with the (socialist) dictator of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro. "I would maybe think about that," the President said. "Maduro would like to meet. And I'm never opposed to meetings—you know, rarely opposed to meetings."

The problem here is that not only would Trump be meeting with a socialist, he would be meeting with a socialist whose legitimacy is in dispute. To most folks, the legitimate leader of Venezuela is President Juan Guaidó. That includes roughly 100.0% of the 400,000 or so Venezuelans in South Florida who fled the Maduro regime, and who recognize that a presidential meeting would serve to grant legitimacy to the dictator. Many of the 1.5 million Cuban-Americans in Florida are none too happy to hear such things, either.

The Sunshine State, of course, is a must-have for Trump if he hopes to win reelection, and elections there tend to be very close. Aggravating close to 2 million folks is not usually a winning strategy, especially when the polls already have you behind (see below). The President has already backpedaled, almost as quickly as Peter Navarro did on China (see above). However, as Sanders learned the hard way, folks with a visceral loathing of Maduro (or the Castros) don't forgive missteps easily. And it's fair to imagine that the President's words will find their way into a Spanish-language campaign ad or two this fall. (Z)

Today's Presidential Polls

That is 8 polls in a row where Joe Biden has outpaced Donald Trump in Florida, and the gap is growing. Oh, and all of that was before the President stepped in it with his remarks on Nicolás Maduro.

Meanwhile, that's 13 in a row in Michigan for Biden, where the gap is also growing. (Z)

State Biden Trump Start End Pollster
Florida 51% 40% Jun 09 Jun 11 TIPP
Michigan 51% 38% Jun 09 Jun 12 TIPP

Today's Senate Polls

Joe Biden, if he is elected president, will surely find a job in the Cabinet, or the U.S. Attorney's Office, for Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL). The Senator's been a good soldier, and is due some consideration once he's out of work.

Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) continues to look very safe, meaning that Alabama should be the Republicans' only Senate pickup. (Z)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Alabama Doug Jones* 36% Tommy Tuberville 50% Jun 13 Jun 16 Cygnal
Michigan Gary Peters* 47% John James 35% Jun 09 Jun 12 TIPP

* Denotes incumbent

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jun22 The Economy Is Back--and So Is COVID-19
Jun22 The Butt of the Joke
Jun22 Biden Outraises Trump in May
Jun22 Biden Is Nibbling Away at Trump's Evangelical Base
Jun22 Kentucky Primary May Be Chaotic
Jun22 New York City Area Also Has Competitive House Primaries Tomorrow
Jun22 Green Party Is Set to Nominate Hawkins
Jun22 Democratic Unity Is Fraying Already
Jun22 Sanders Got a Revolution--Just Not His
Jun22 Next Up: Faithless Electors
Jun22 Will the 2020 Polls Be Deja Vu All over Again?
Jun21 Trump Rallies...
Jun21 ...and Berman Yields
Jun21 COVID-19 Diaries, Sunday Edition
Jun21 Sunday Mailbag
Jun20 Barr Tries to Fire U.S. Attorney Investigating Giuliani
Jun20 Saturday Q&A
Jun19 SCOTUS Smacks POTUS...
Jun19 ...and So Too Do Social Media Platforms
Jun19 Trump Campaign Has No Safety Plan for Tulsa
Jun19 Trump Wants an Extra Debate
Jun19 House May Not Be Done with Bolton Yet
Jun19 Vote-by-Mail News
Jun19 Should Pence Go Rogue?
Jun19 Klobuchar Exits the Veepstakes
Jun19 Thanks, but No Thanks
Jun19 COVID-19 Diaries, Friday Edition
Jun19 Today's Presidential Polls
Jun19 Today's Senate Polls
Jun18 Bolton's Book Is Already Leaking
Jun18 Bolton Doesn't Exactly Come off Smelling Like a Rose Here
Jun18 COVID-19 Is Still Around, Despite What Pence Thinks
Jun18 Lincoln Project Hits Trump Where it Hurts
Jun18 Antonin Scalia Would Have Approved Bostock
Jun18 Biden's Lead Is More Stable than Clinton's Was in 2016
Jun18 Why Is the Government Always Gridlocked?
Jun18 McConnell is Not Planning to Step Down
Jun18 Progressive Democrats Have a Shot at Knocking Off Another Establishment Democrat
Jun18 Los Angeles Has Finally Figured Out Why There Were Massive Lines at Its Primary
Jun17 The Fallout Commences
Jun17 Next Up, Trans Voting Rights
Jun17 About that Nobel Prize...
Jun17 Trump Fails to Thread the Needle
Jun17 Trump Administration Sues to Block Bolton Book
Jun17 Georgia Is Looking Pretty Good for the Democrats
Jun17 House to Vote on Statehood for D.C.
Jun17 Today's Presidential Polls
Jun17 Today's Senate Polls
Jun16 We're Here, We're Queer, Live with It
Jun16 Trump Prepares Executive Order on Policing