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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  The Last Piece of the Puzzle?
      •  Washington Waits for Chauvin Verdict
      •  Greg Abbott Is in Trouble
      •  Republican Cranks Are Cranky
      •  Kyrsten Sinema Has a Message for...Someone
      •  Rep. Steve Stivers Will Step Down
      •  Walter Mondale Is Dead at 93

The Last Piece of the Puzzle?

We held off on this news, which broke late last week, because we assumed there would be significant reaction on the Sunday morning news shows. There wasn't, and indeed, the story appears to have fallen off the radar screen. Nonetheless, we would be remiss if we did not note the revelation of another, rather large link in the chain between the Donald Trump campaign and the administration of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Before last week, two things were already known:

  1. Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates provided inside campaign information, including internal polling and notes on strategy, to Russian-linked intelligence operative and friend-of-Manafort Konstantin Kilimnik.

  2. Kilimnik passed that information on to several Russian oligarchs.

Since Russian oligarchs tend to be in bed with the Russian government, it wasn't too hard to imagine that the information that Manafort gave to Kilimnik ended up in the hands of Putin. However, now we know for sure, because the new revelation is that Kilimnik also gave the information directly to Russian intelligence agents.

This means there is now a complete, and verified chain of custody from the Trump campaign to the Russian government. It is possible that Manafort did not know of Kilimnik's plans, but that's like giving steak to a dog and being surprised that he decided to eat it. Similarly, it is possible that Trump was ignorant of the whole arrangement. However, that also seems rather unlikely. All of this said, we may never know the rest of the story, since none of the players involved is likely to speak up. Manafort might have done so, when the legal pressure was on, but he's now been pardoned, so his lips are presumably sealed.

Exactly what the Biden administration will do about all of this is both already known and a mystery. Ultimately, it is a problem of foreign diplomacy (what to do about Team Putin?) and one of domestic justice (what to do about Team Trump?). The diplomacy part is the responsibility of Joe Biden, presumably in consultation with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and others. And, as we know, they decided on sanctions that have been described as being anywhere from "a slap on the wrist" to "absolutely devastating." The domestic justice part is the responsibility of AG Merrick Garland, who is being given a wide berth by Biden, so that any decision that is made does not appear to be political. The AG has revealed nothing of his thinking or his plans, and so, we wait. (Z)

Washington Waits for Chauvin Verdict

Speaking of waiting, everyone in Washington is also waiting for a verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial. The prosecution and defense have both made their closing arguments, and the jury has begun deliberations, thus far without result.

Even prior to its conclusion, the trial has already become a giant political football. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) was in Minnesota over the weekend to address protesters in Brooklyn Center, and as part of her remarks, she told the audience to "get more confrontational" if Chauvin is found not guilty. This prompted Chauvin's lawyers to ask for a mistrial on Monday, which was denied, although Judge Peter Cahill criticized Waters and conceded that her remarks may have provided the basis for a successful appeal. The basic idea is that she may have influenced and pressured the jurors by causing them to believe that a not guilty verdict would lead to violence.

Republicans, of course, are outraged by all of this. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) plans to introduce a motion to censure Waters, though it's not likely to go anywhere because Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said that the Congresswoman has nothing to apologize for. Quite a few Republicans, both officeholders and pundits, wondered why Waters' words were ok, but Donald Trump's remarks to the crowd on Jan. 6 were not. These folks are either ignorant or dishonest, because the legal distinction is crystal clear. Beyond Trump's words being considerably more direct and inflammatory, the key is that such egging on is only illegal, and is not covered by the First Amendment, if it encourages imminent lawless action. So, for example, "There's Bob standing over there. You should shoot him," is illegal. "Someone should shoot Bob sometime," on the other hand, is ok. This was established in Brandenburg v. Ohio.

The White House, for its part, is less concerned about this sort of sniping than it is about the possibility of things turning ugly. The administration is trying to prepare for all eventualities, while not appearing too willing to deploy armed force. The President is expected to give a brief address once the verdict is rendered, and there have been conversations between federal authorities and those in Minnesota. Beyond that, however, everything is up in the air.

There is one small bit of good news for those who hope to avoid violence, though presumably few have noticed it. It's going to be cold, cloudy, and sometimes rainy in Minneapolis over the next few days. That sort of weather tends to work against outbreaks of violence; nearly all of the really big disturbances take place in the summer, or on hot spring days. That includes the Astor Place Riots, the New York City Draft Riots, the San Francisco Riots, the Watts Riots, the Rodney King riots, and the original George Floyd protests that turned ugly. So, just maybe, it will be Mother Nature who keeps the peace. (Z)

Greg Abbott Is in Trouble

There is a new poll of the Texas gubernatorial race out from The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler. And it's not good news for Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX), who sure would like to win a third term next year. It would seem that, among likely voters, he is badly Matthew McConaughey, 45% to 33%.

This does not mean that McConaughey will need to get measured for a new suit and a big cowboy hat quite yet. He's not even a candidate yet, and hasn't come particularly close to becoming one. Further, not unlike The Rock, he's a blank slate onto which everyone can project whatever they want. Once he starts staking out his positions on issues, much of that 45% would melt away.

On the other hand, this is not good news for Abbott. For an incumbent governor with near-universal name recognition to be the preferred choice of only one voter in three, and to be trailing a political novice by 12 points? There is just no good way to spin that. Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) is surely having a good laugh at Abbott's expense. After all, when it was Cuomo's turn to face an alum of "Sex and the City," he won the election easily. (Z)

Republican Cranks Are Cranky

Next week, Joe Biden is scheduled to speak to a "joint session" of Congress. However, the session will be a little light on, you know, members of Congress. The House will not actually be in session next week; they're scheduled to be off and doing committee work and/or constituent services. Further, Nancy Pelosi wants to keep the invite list short in view of the ongoing pandemic. So, even for those members who will be in town, seats will be in short supply, and not all will be accommodated.

This has left some Republican members unhappy, and on Monday a group of them sent Pelosi a sharply worded letter demanding that the address be rescheduled and that every member of Congress be allowed to attend. "Scheduling this address for a day when the House is not in session and prohibiting Members of Congress from attending would be unprecedented and undermine the very spirit of our representative, constitutional Republic," the missive declares. Among the signatories are Reps. Claudia Tenney (NY), Lauren Boebert (CO), Louie Gohmert (TX) and Madison Cawthorne (NC).

There is very little chance Pelosi bows to their demands. First of all, she rarely responds to sharply worded letters from anyone, much less from members of the other party. Further, the chosen date has a symbolic importance, as it's the day before Biden reaches the 100-day mark. Perhaps most importantly, however, is that the Speaker undoubtedly noted that several of the most stunt-inclined members of the GOP conference just so happened to sign the letter (it's surprising they did not also get the signatures of fellow cheap tricksters Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan, and Marjorie Taylor Greene). These members care nothing for Biden's speech, and even if they did, it will be on every TV channel. They want to be in the gallery to, at very least, be able to show their disdain for Biden on camera for all to see. And, at most, they want to try to do something to trip him up, like shouting "You lie!" Pelosi's been at this since most of these folks were in high school (or before they were born, in Cawthorne's case), and she's not going to be outmaneuvered like that. (Z)

Kyrsten Sinema Has a Message for...Someone

It's not just Republican members of Congress who sometimes seem to put undue emphasis on the performative aspects of their jobs, as opposed to the governance aspects. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) has a well-deserved reputation for being a flamboyant and flashy dresser. That's all well and good, but it's become a rather sizable part of her political identity, especially since she rarely speaks to the media directly. And in the last few months, she seems to be really leaning into the "enigmatic Senator" bit.

The latest chapter came this weekend, when the Senator posted this image to Instagram. See if you can identify the eyebrow-raising portion before we point it out:

Sinema is looking into the distance, drinking
a sangria, wearing a pink cab driver hat and fuchsia glasses, and is quite clearly displaying a ring on her right ring finger that says
'fuck off'

The hat and glasses are loud, and the earrings are very dangly, but they are so on-brand for Sinema that nobody would have noticed, if not for the ring that is clearly the focal point of the image, and that reads "Fu** Off."

Again, because Sinema rarely explains herself, it's not entirely clear who her ring is speaking to, although it's abundantly clear that she meant it as a message to someone. You don't take that photo in that way, and you don't post it to your Instagram, without intent. Progressives are persuaded that it's a swipe at them, and more specifically a follow-up to her vote against the $15/hour minimum wage.

We do not know if the progressives are right; it gets harder and harder each day to figure out what is going on with the Senator. What we do know is that the picture is very tacky, and below the dignity of her high office. A doctor would never wear such a thing in a hospital, nor would a judge in a courtroom, or a teacher in a classroom. Surely someone whose profession is U.S. Senator should be held to at least as high a standard? Politically, perhaps Sinema is playing 3-D chess, but it's fair to wonder if her current tack—which most of her Republican colleagues love, by the way—will cost her with the voters she needs in the primaries and in the general when she runs for reelection. (Z)

Rep. Steve Stivers Will Step Down

Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH) has been in Congress for a little over a decade. Apparently that is enough for him, as he announced on Monday that he's going to resign in a few weeks to become the president and CEO of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. He did not explain what prompted this sudden departure, just a couple of months into his sixth term.

Stivers' district, OH-15, is R+7, which means it will be nominally in play whenever Gov. Mike DeWine (R-OH) calls a special election to fill the seat. That said, the most Republican district currently in Democratic hands is ME-02, which is R+6, and is represented by Jared Golden. The main effect of Stivers' departure, at least in the short term, is that Nancy Pelosi's margin of error just got a tiny bit less razor-thin. The longer term effect is that the Republican field for the Senate seat about to be vacated by Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) will be a little less loaded; Stivers was regarded as one of the favorites for the nomination, had he chosen to pursue it. (Z)

Walter Mondale Is Dead at 93

Walter "Fritz" Mondale, whose long career included stints as AG of Minnesota, U.S. Senator from Minnesota, vice president, Democratic nominee for president, and United States Ambassador to Japan, has passed away at the age of 93.

Part of a bygone generation of politicians, Mondale was very well liked by folks on both sides of the aisle in Washington. The e-mail he composed, to be sent to current and former staff upon his passing, helps make clear why:

Well my time has come. I am eager to rejoin Joan and Eleanor. Before I Go I wanted to let you know how much you mean to me. Never has a public servant had a better group of people working at their side!

Together we have accomplished so much and I know you will keep up the good fight.

Joe in the White House certainly helps.

I always knew it would be okay if I arrived some place and was greeted by one of you!

My best to all of you!


Joan was Mondale's wife, Eleanor his daughter. Both died of brain cancer, which caused Walter to spend much of his retirement raising funds for neurological research. He was recognized with an award by the American Academy of Neurology for this work.

For more casual politics-watchers, Mondale will presumably best be remembered as the first presidential candidate to choose a woman as his running mate. The Mondale-Ferraro ticket suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of Ronald Reagan, but a glass ceiling was broken nonetheless. After the news of Mondale's passing broke, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris paid tribute, specifically noting what Mondale-Ferraro did to make Biden-Harris possible.

For more devoted students of American politics, Mondale will be remembered as the prototype for the modern "partner" vice-president. Before him, nearly all VPs spent their terms in the bullpen, performing the occasional ceremonial duty (like attending state funerals), and casting the occasional tiebreaking vote, but otherwise learning firsthand what John Adams meant when he said, "My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived." He reportedly also said the job wasn't worth a "spitoon of warm cat-lap," but we are having trouble verifying that.

Anyhow, when Jimmy Carter was elected in 1976, having not a whit of Washington experience, and with little in the way of beltway connections, he needed someone to be his teacher, guide, and point person. And so, he made Vice President Mondale into a fully-fledged member of the White House team, with particular focus on congressional liasoning. Nearly every VP since, excepting Dan Quayle and—to an extent—Mike Pence, has followed in Mondale's footsteps. Jimmy Carter issued a statement on Monday that referred to his former VP as an "invaluable partner" and "the best vice president in our country's history." Not that there's a whole lot of competition for the latter honor.

For our part, Mondale's passing reminds us of Minnesota's outsized role in national politics—a function of its long standing as a Midwestern swing (or swing-ish) state. No Minnesotan has ever won the presidency, but two of them (Mondale and Hubert H. Humphrey) landed the Democratic nomination, while another half-dozen others, including Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN), Eugene McCarthy, Harold Stassen, and Michele Bachmann were serious candidates for the White House. The Gopher State has also done much to populate other high government offices, particularly the Supreme Court, having given us Chief Justice Warren Burger and Associate Justices William O. Douglas, Harry Blackmun, and Pierce Butler.

With Mondale's passing, six VPs still walk among us: Quayle, Al Gore, Dick Cheney, Pence, Harris, and...someone else whose name is escaping us. Whoever it was who served alongside Barack Obama. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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