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Special Master Quickly Turning Into Special Disaster for Trump

Judge Raymond Dearie, the special master appointed to go through the materials seized from Mar-a-Lago by the FBI, is a no-nonsense fellow (as is often the case with federal judges). And yesterday, he made a 7-page filing that definitely isn't going to warm the cockles of Donald Trump's heart. (We assume he has cockles, though they are probably small cockles.)

The new filing contains three significant bits of information, which is actually quite a bit for 7 pages. Usually, it takes lawyers 10 pages just to clear their throats. Anyhow:

  1. Timeline: Dearie is running a tight ship, time-wise, and set forth a timeline that would result in the completion of his duties by the end of October. Team Trump was hoping to drag things out a bunch more than that, ideally well into the new year.

  2. A Call to the Bullpen: Dearie doesn't want to try to do all the work himself. So, he's going to tap his longtime colleague James Orenstein for assistance. Orenstein is a veteran of the FISA court, and has a security clearance as well as experience with the various issues involved with this case. The appointment of Orenstein will help Dearie stay on schedule, to the chagrin of the former president. Perhaps even more painful for Trump: He has to pay the special masters' invoices. Dearie is still collecting a government paycheck, and so the time he spends will be on Uncle Sam's dime. But Orenstein is retired, and Dearie wants him to be paid $500/hour.

  3. Tampering?: Between his inability to control his temper and his desperation to come up with some sort of defense, Trump has suggested multiple times that the fix is in, and that the FBI planted incriminating evidence among the stuff they took from Mar-a-Lago. Dearie is giving Team Trump until the end of September to "raise any factual dispute as to the completeness and accuracy of the Detailed Property Inventory" of materials taken from the residence. In other words, put up or shut up. Oh, and note that lying in a court filing is perjury.

Remember, once again, that Dearie was nominated for the job by Trump's legal team. He has yet to make a single decision, or even to utter a single word, that has been in the former president's favor.

And since we are on the Trump legal beat, let us also note that the insta-response to Wednesday's developments (i.e., the lawsuit from New York AG Tish James and the ruling from the Eleventh Circuit) has been in near-total agreement that this week was a disaster for Trump. A selection of comments:

These are all from center or center-left sources because the right-wing outlets are basically pretending that we just skipped from Tuesday to Thursday, and that nothing newsworthy happened on Wednesday. If only the Eleventh Circuit had used Hunter Biden's laptop to type up its ruling! Oh, well. In any event, it's clear that folks who know the law and folks who know politics think that Trump is in doo doo so deep he may not be able to climb out. (Z)

C.I.A. Losing Informants at an Alarming Rate

Here's a story that's not at all political, and yet may end up being very political, indeed. In short, the CIA admitted last year that it's losing a "troubling" number of informants in other countries, with some of them captured and others killed outright. The agency has transmitted an urgent message to its frontline operatives warning them of the problem and reminding them to be cautious at all times.

What seems to be the problem? Well, there are all manner of theories. Some experts believe that as the CIA has shifted its emphasis to things like cyberwarfare and paramilitary operations, it's gotten flabby when it comes to more traditional espionage activities. Others think that the shift is due to the advent of technological tools that make it much easier to track and expose covert operatives.

And that leads us to the 800-pound gorilla in the room. Neither the CIA nor The New York Times is making any direct accusations, but both note that the uptick in operative captures/deaths has been primarily in the last couple of years. That, of course, coincides with the tail end of the Trump presidency, and the roughly 18 months he's been out of office, keeping classified documents in his desk drawer at Mar-a-Lago.

As reader J.G. in San Diego observes, "Can you Imagine? If the FBI can draw a straight line from even one document Trump lost control of (or sold) that leads to [the dead/captured CIA operatives]?" And even if the government doesn't try to get that specific, they could make the case that it has been/will be much harder to recruit operatives once the word is out that Trump so carelessly and casually handled highly classified information, including information about human assets.

Ultimately, the point here is this: It's a crime to mishandle classified documents because of the damage that might be done, even if none is. That has been the focus of the Mar-a-Lago coverage thus far. But it gets much worse if actual damage is done. There is nothing publicly known on this point, because even if the feds knew of such damage, they would keep it under their hats. Still, it's very possible that such harm was done. And so, this could go from (already) bad to worse for Trump. (Z)

Where Is the Save America PAC Money Going?

We had a question this past Saturday about Donald Trump's Save America PAC, and what he's doing with all that money. In view of that, we thought we'd fisk the latest monthly FEC filing for the PAC, which was submitted earlier this week and was made available yesterday. Here are 10 items of interest:

  1. Though the election cycle is upon us, the PAC is spending very little to promote Republican candidates. In fact, no individual candidate received money from Trump. There was a $150,000 contribution to the Wyoming Values PAC, which we assume was "defeat Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY)" money. There were also $5,000 outlays to three Republican county organs in Wisconsin (the GOP committees of Chippewa, Florence, and Langlade counties). Perhaps those were nods to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI).

  2. Trump is also charging it to the PAC when he hits the road to campaign for Republican candidates. For example, he billed over $4,000 for lodging in Alaska when he held a rally on behalf of Sarah Palin. We're surprised it's possible to run up that kind of tab in one night in a state like Alaska, which is not known for being home to five-star hotels.

  3. Many folks in Trump's orbit are being paid generous salaries. Stephen Miller gets over $8,000 a month. Christina Bobb gets over $12,000. Dan Scavino gets close to $10,000. Since the PAC does so little, it's hard to believe they are really doing thousands of dollars a month in PAC work; maybe they're just riding the gravy train, or maybe they are doing other work and the PAC is just footing the bill.

  4. The PAC's biggest expense, by far, is lawyers. It spent nearly $4 million on "legal consulting," which was doled out to 15 different firms.

  5. That nearly $4 million sum includes one lump-sum payment of $3 million. However, it was not to Chris Kise, it was to the firm of Critton, Luttier & Coleman, which does not currently count Kise, and never has counted Kise, as one of their attorneys. Nobody involved is willing to explain what is going on here.

  6. No expense is too small for Trump to pass it on to the PAC. For example, he's letting the PAC pick up the $10/month tab for a subscription to USA Today.

  7. It wouldn't be Trump if there wasn't some self-dealing. For example, over the course of the month of August, the PAC wrote over $30,000 in checks for lodging at Trump Tower in New York.

  8. Also on the self-dealing front, the PAC gave $18,000 to Hervé Pierre Braillard for "Strategy Consulting." Braillard, who uses only his first and middle name professionally, is Melania Trump's favorite fashion designer.

  9. You gotta spend money to make money, and Trump certainly is. The PAC had outlays of more than half a million dollars to companies whose job it is to help raise money. For example, nearly $200,000 of that went to Tmone, which is a telemarketing firm.

  10. On the other hand, Trump is also quite expert in spending money and yet not making any money at all. Despite half a million dollars in "help me raise money" outlays, the PAC took in a fairy tiny amount of money in August, just $22,805. Maybe that reflects some sort of bookkeeping trick, but July and June saw low totals, as well. Meanwhile, the outlays for August were $6,196,422.28. You don't need to be Donald Trump to know that if you've got a burn rate in excess of $6 million a month, bankruptcy isn't far in the future (the PAC has $92,788,822.06 left in the bank, or roughly $6 million x 15).

Some of these expenses are clearly problematic, but if anyone wants to go after Trump in court for his profligate spending, they will have to get in line. A long line. Meanwhile, maybe the PAC's anemic fundraising is another sign that Trump's moment in the sun is coming to a close. (Z)

McCarthy: A Man with a "Plan"

Yesterday, we had an item about how House Minority Leader and would-be Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) wants to be the new Newt Gingrich, up to and including a legislative plan modeled on the "Contract with America." We pointed out that Gingrich's original contract was essentially meaningless claptrap, focusing largely on minor inside-baseball-type matters and on things that are not within Congress' power to accomplish. We suspected that McCarthy's plan, which he calls the "Commitment to America" would be much the same when he released it on Thursday.

As it turns out, we were right. You can read the whole thing here, if you wish. It's divided up into four parts, under the headings "An Economy That's Strong," "A Nation That's Safe," "A Future That's Built on Freedom" and "A Government That's Accountable." You would struggle mightily to find something in there that is remotely new. Everything in the plan falls into one of three basic categories:

The only purpose of this exercise is to give Republicans running for the House some pre-set talking points to work with. And maybe it will help; the original Contract with America did wonders, despite being a big pile of nothingness. That said, the 2020s are a different time than the 1990s, and voters may just be a bit more cynical. Further, pre-set talking points—at least, the ones unveiled by McCarthy yesterday—provide no answers to the question: "Do you want to outlaw all abortions?" (Z)

Whither Cheney?

It will be interesting to see how Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) reacts to McCarthy's plan. Right now Democrats love her. But if she embraces the plan heart and soul, particularly the deep-red planks, there goes the love. Maybe she won't comment on it quickly as she is too busy tearing Donald Trump from limb to limb. In a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, she attacked Republican leaders for treating him like a king, and putting him above the law. She complained that elected leaders of her party are now condemning the FBI and Dept. of Justice and pretending that keeping top-secret SCI documents in an unsecured desk drawer in Florida, with Chinese spies all over the place, is not a problem. She also revealed that on Jan. 6, 2021, just before many House members objected to the electoral votes from multiple states, one (unnamed) Republican came over to her and said quietly said: "The things we do for the orange Jesus."

Now that it is certain that Cheney will not return to the House in January, everyone is looking at her next move. She tried to get Democrats to vote for her in the Wyoming primary, but that fizzled out. Getting them to vote for her in the 2024 Republican presidential primary probably depends on Joe Biden. If he runs, the Democratic primary will be very boring and many Democrats might be willing to reregister as Republicans where it is needed in order to vote against Trump. However, if Biden opts out, the Democrats will have a free-for-all and no Democrat will want to miss that.

In her speech, Cheney emphasized that she still believes in limited government and a strong national defense and opposes radical liberalism and wokeness. It's just that she sees Trump as a bigger menace to democracy than the Democrats. That's not really going to win over a lot of Democrats, even if they agree with her on the menace part. Nevertheless, Cheney is useful to the Democrats now and they don't mind her going around the country giving speeches like the one on Monday.

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) said: "I admire her, but when I'm voting for president, I'm voting for someone who shares my economic views and my foreign policy views. I think she has tremendous appeal because Washington is not a place where there's a lot of profiles in courage. Yet she has demonstrated what that looks like."

That leaves Cheney in no-woman's-land. The Democrats won't actually vote for her due to her policy views (and to some extent, her support of her dad's actions in Iraq a couple of administrations ago). Republicans despise her because she doesn't worship "the orange Jesus." And it is not even clear that a Cheney bid for the White House would hurt Trump. Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review and no fan of Trump, is afraid that if she were on the general-election ballot, either as an independent or as a third-party candidate, she would allow Republicans who hate Trump to vote for her and not feel guilty rather than holding their noses and voting for the Democrat. This could siphon off grudging votes for the Democrat, and a grudging vote counts for 1.00, exactly the same as an enthusiastic vote. It would an interesting system if you could split your vote and vote for, say, 0.70 Democrat and 0.30 Republican, but that's not the system.

If Trump looks weak in 2024, other Republicans may jump in and some of them straddle the Trump/not-Trump line better than Cheney. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo can point out that he served Trump, but now it is time for younger leaders. And he could do this without actively dissing Trump, which would make him more acceptable to the Trumpist wing of the Republican Party than Cheney is. The upshot is that if she wants to rise from the ashes, the Representative is probably going to have to cool her jets for a cycle or two or three, and hope that Trumpism subsides substantially. It also wouldn't hurt if she found a new state to call home. She was born in Wisconsin, for what it's worth. (Z)

Everybody Hates Kyrsten

Now that we've talked about a Republican member of Congress who is disliked by her fellow partisans, let's talk about a Democratic member who is in the same position. That would be Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D?-AZ), who has regularly served a as a fly in the ointment that is the Democrats' political program. The same is true of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), of course, but Manchin has considerably more justification for behaving as a radical centrist given the way his constituents feel about the Democrats. Also, he is willing to explain himself to the media, and he does roll up his sleeves and try to put actual legislation together. Those things aren't true of Sinema.

In any event, whatever Sinema was going for, politically, is not working. AARP has been polling up a storm lately, and just released the poll of Arizona the organization commissioned. Here are the approval numbers for Sinema, overall and by demographic:

Sinema is -17 overall,
-19 with voters 18-49, -16 with voters 50+, -20 with Democrats, -10 with independents, -18 with Republicans,
-17 with women, -16 with men, -18 with white voters, -22 with his Latino voters

This is really quite a profile. Usually, a politician's base likes them, and everyone else either hates them or else is agnostic. But Sinema is underwater with everyone. Age, ethnicity, gender, political affiliation—doesn't matter, all are disdainful of the Senator. There's really not even a demographic she's noticeably stronger with, giving her something to build upon.

Of course, Sinema was elected a U.S. Senator and we were not, so maybe she's playing a game of 3-D chess we can't discern. Maybe she's going to tack left in the next year or two. Or maybe she's betting that liberal Arizonans will hold their noses and vote for her, reasoning that even a semi-Democrat is better than a Republican. Although even if this is what she is thinking, there is the small problem of the Arizona primary. When Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) sees the numbers in the table above, it's certainly not going to do anything to dissuade him from launching a challenge.

If there is no method to the madness, politics-wise, then that leaves us back with the theory that Sinema was bought and paid for, and that she's just setting up her next career as a highly paid consultant, or lobbyist, or corporate board member, or token "Democrat" on Fox. Certainly, there is plenty of evidence that could be the case, as she's been taking generous campaign contributions from a number of corporate sources. (Z)

This Week in Schadenfreude: Don't Be a D**k

As a general rule, xenophobic political movements—and pretty much every country has at least one—tend to attract a lot of di**s. That makes all the sense in the world; every nation has problems, and it's the coward's way out to lay most or all of them at the feet of the newest arrivals.

In Germany, the famously xenophobic party is the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). Although AfD used to be a run-of-the-mill right-wing party, it has increasingly embraced racism, climate change denial, and isolationism. Earlier this year, the chair of the party, Jörg Meuthen, quit his post because he said that AfD was no longer a democratically inclined organization, and instead had become pro-totalitarian. Hmmm, this storyline sounds somehow familiar, though we can't quite put our fingers on why...

In any event, reader M.D. in the Poconos gave us the heads up on a little PR effort that AfD attempted to undertake. Here is what the Party's logo looks like:

It says AfD, and has a curved red arrow underneath

AfD leadership thought they might put a kinder, gentler face on the party, and might make some inroads with the kiddies, if they commissioned some gummy candies inspired by the party logo. Here's how the gummies turned out:

The gummies clearly resemble penises with testicles

Whoops! We wonder if the candy maker did that on purpose. It certainly wouldn't be the first time a German pulled off a stunt like that. Some readers might be familiar with the story of the occasion in the 1930s, when Nazi Party officials went to photographers around Berlin and demanded copies of baby pictures the photogs had taken. The goal was to find a picture of the "ideal" Aryan child. This picture was the one chosen:

A black and white baby photo

That shot was used on all sorts of Nazi propaganda—posters, magazine covers, pamphlets, etc. It wasn't until it was far too late that it was discovered the photographer who submitted the photo was staunchly anti-Nazi, and so only submitted photos of... Jewish children. (The subject of the photo, Hessy Levinsons Taft, is still alive, by the way.)

Anyhow, whether the gummies were deliberately sabotaged, or it was just a happy accident, the AfD has done us all the favor of providing a visual reminder that xenophobic political movements are, once again, made up of a bunch of di**s.

This Week in Freudenfreunde: Don't Be a Tucker

Speaking of people who are—well, let's just say candidates for AfD membership if they lived in Germany—Tucker Carlson never met an opportunity for punching down that he was unwilling to take.

Several weeks ago, there was a dustup on social media between several notable folks in the country music community. Brittany Kerr Aldean, who is an influencer and is the wife of country singer Jason Aldean, took to Instagram to say: "I'd really like to thank my parents for not changing my gender when I went through my tomboy phase. I love this girly life." Jason jumped in to second the sentiment. Then, fellow singer Cassadee Pope objected, and fellow singer Maren Morris seconded the objection, writing: "This isn't political. We're calling someone out for being transphobic and thinking it's hilarious. It isn't."

Tucker Carlson was offended by Morris' contribution to the discussion. Or, at least, the "journalist" character that Carlson plays on Fox pretended to be offended, And Carlson thinks nothing of the optics of unleashing a tide of hatred in the direction of someone who is a woman, is much younger than he is (Morris is 32), and who doesn't have his platform with which to fight back. So, he put up this chyron:

Maren Morris with the chyron 
'Lunatic Country Music Person.'

He also went on an extended rant about... whatever the hell it is he likes to blather about. Truth be told, we couldn't make it through 10 seconds of the YouTube video.

As her social media accounts began to fill with vitriolic messages, Morris and her management team decided to fight back. But rather than stoop to Carlson's level (which is an excellent way to throw out your back, since you have to bend so much), they put t-shirts up for sale on Morris' website that have her name, the phrase, "Lunatic Country Music Person," and the phone number for the Peer Support & Crisis Hotline for trans youth (877-565-8860). The proceeds are being split between the Transgender Media Program and Trans Lifeline, and have totaled more than $150,000 thus far.

So, to Maren Morris we say: Way to take lemons and make lemonade! And to everyone else, we say: Have a good weekend! (Z)

Today's Senate Polls

Eventually, some of the Republicans who don't like Mehmet Oz are going to come home to the GOP banner. However, we don't think there will be enough of them to save him. Meanwhile, we never really believed Colorado or Washington were in danger for the blue team, despite Republican outlays there. The polls suggest we were right. And finally, we will point out that Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) is a windbag who spends more of his time worrying about Mike Lee than he does about Utah. The people of the Beehive State would get far more value out of electing Evan McMullin, we think, even if he doesn't formally join a caucus. (Z)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Colorado Michael Bennet* 46% Joe O`Dea 36% Sep 18 Sep 19 Emerson Coll.
New Hampshire Maggie Hassan* 49% Don Bolduc 41% Sep 15 Sep 19 U. of New Hampshire
Nevada Catherine Cortez_Masto* 43% Adam Laxalt 46% Sep 20 Sep 20 InsiderAdvantage
Pennsylvania John Fetterman 49% Mehmet Oz 44% Sep 13 Sep 16 Muhlenberg Coll.
Utah Evan McMullin (I) 34% Mike Lee* 36% Sep 03 Sep 21 Dan Jones
Washington Patty Murray* 50% Tiffany Smiley 38% Sep 12 Sep 15 Elway Research

* Denotes incumbent

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