Russian election meddling

The Difference a Day Can Make - Or Not.

Anyone can have a bad hair day. President Trump had a hair-on-fire day this week with two former associates headed to prison, an early congressional supporter indicted, the White House counsel talking to the special prosecutor and Facebook removing another trove of Russian fake accounts. [Photo Credit: Aaron P. Bernstein/Bloomberg]

Anyone can have a bad hair day. President Trump had a hair-on-fire day this week with two former associates headed to prison, an early congressional supporter indicted, the White House counsel talking to the special prosecutor and Facebook removing another trove of Russian fake accounts. [Photo Credit: Aaron P. Bernstein/Bloomberg]

Anyone can have a bad hair day. President Trump had a hair-on-fire day yesterday. His former campaign manager was convicted on bank and tax fraud charges, his personal attorney-fixer plead guilty to fraud and one of his first GOP congressional supporters was indicted for misuse of campaign funds.

Facebook announced it removed 652 fake accounts peddling misinformation that it said originated with Russian and Iranian sources. The New York Times reported White House counsel Donald McGahn has met in three interviews lasting 30 hours with Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigative team.

Most people would chalk that up as a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.” However, Trump spent last evening performing at another of his free-wheeling campaign rallies, inciting his West Virginia audience to chant “Lock her up!” – an ironic anthem on the day two of his associates started on the road to prison.

Trump’s spokesperson downplayed the Manafort conviction – “nothing to do with the President” – and Cohen’s plea – “he said what he did as part of a plea deal.” Democrats unleashed attacks about corruption in the Trump camp and began referring to the President as an “unindicted co-conspirator.”

Despite all the buzz, it remains doubtful anything will change. Mueller’s special investigation into Russian meddling will continue. Chances of Congress starting an impeachment process are close to nil. And Trump supporters seem unfazed.

The 47-page indictment of GOP Congressman Duncan Hunter and his wife for improperly using campaign funds could put his bid for re-election in his San Diego congressional district in jeopardy. In the wake of the indictment, House Speaker Paul Ryan stripped Hunter of his committee assignments, but Hunter still may win re-election in what a local San Diego newspaper calls a “very red district.”

Some Senate Democrats canceled meetings with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanugh, saying it is inappropriate to move forward on a confirmation process for someone nominated by Trump after he was implicated by Cohen in a federal elections law conspiracy. However, the confirmation hearings are slated to begin in early September and it appears Senate Republicans are congealing to support Kavanaugh, along with two or three Senate Democrats up for re-election in red states.

The Manafort conviction, Cohen plea and Facebook action on fake Russian accounts are unlikely to sway Trump supporters, though they may steel the resolve of Democrats to get out their vote to retake control of the House. Even that prospect is in doubt. Polling indicates as many as 74 House seats held by Republicans could be in play in the midterm election in November, but that number is likely to drop substantially as campaigns pick up steam in the fall.

Trump’s legal team, which appears to have convinced the President to avoid an interview with Mueller’s investigators, keeps egging the special prosecutor to wrap up his investigation before the November election. Trump’s lawyers believe – or hope – nothing will stick to the President in the final report. But even if the report points to obstruction of justice and some level of conspiracy with Russians on election meddling, there is no guarantee Trump’s supporters or even Republicans in general will be swayed. The same partisan divide will remain, with even deeper trenches.

At the end of the day, the hair-on-fire day for Trump may be just another comet news cycle that glows, then fades, replaced by new political brush fires.

 

Nation’s Capital Waiting, Watching for Deadlines, Shoes to Drop

Turbulent clouds hovering over the US Capitol are apropos for the bevy of big issues and decisions that are pending, and for the prospects of more unexpected shoes to drop.   Photo Credit: J. Scott Applewhite, AP

Turbulent clouds hovering over the US Capitol are apropos for the bevy of big issues and decisions that are pending, and for the prospects of more unexpected shoes to drop. 

Photo Credit: J. Scott Applewhite, AP

Washington, DC is full of apprehension as big events loom. More West Wing staff changes. An omnibus spending bill. President Trump’s message to Congress explaining his steel and aluminum tariffs. A pending deadline on the Iran nuclear deal. Anticipated face-to-face talks with North Korea. Possible gun violence legislation. And new developments in the Russian meddling investigation.

Last week saw a continuation of the revolving door for the Trump team and rumors persist that National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster may be the next to get the boot. Ousted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and McMaster have urged a more cautious approach toward Iran, which runs counter to what Trump wants. The President’s personal staff remains in flux, too.

Intensive bipartisan negotiations continue on a massive spending package, which Congress tasked itself with approving by this Friday as part of brokered deal last month to prevent another federal government shutdown. There was hope pieces of the $1.3 trillion spending measure would fall into place so it could be passed in something resembling normal order. That hope appears dashed, as disagreements persist on everything from women’s health to Trump’s border wall and from campaign finance to a major transportation project in New York and New Jersey. Negotiations are tricky because many House and Senate Republicans are expected to oppose the measure as fiscally reckless, which means it will fall to Democrats to approve it, so they have bargaining power to set the terms.

Trump’s abrupt decision to impose stiff tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. Within 30 days of when the tariffs go into effect, Trump must tell Congress formally why he imposed them – and whether and how he may exempt some nations from the tariffs. Many congressional Republicans aren’t keen on the tariffs because of their unintended effects on other parts of the economy and their potential to start a global trade war. Trump’s top economic adviser quit after Trump announced the tariffs. The European Union and some steel-producing countries have threatened trade retaliation, either through tariffs or shifting large purchases, such as commercial aircraft, from US to other suppliers. The tit-for-tat could result in one or more countries, including the United States, filing unfair trade complaints with the World Trade Organization.

The Tillerson firing (the former head of Exxon-Mobile learned he was canned while on the toilet, according to press reports) and the shaky status of McMaster are likely linked to the May 12 deadline Trump faces on whether to extend the waiver on Iranian sanctions lifted as part of the 2015 nuclear arms deal. Trump said he reluctantly waived sanctions in January, but has sounded more bellicose since then toward Iran. He has sided with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who views the deal as weak. Trump also has aligned with Saudi Arabia in a conflict in Yemen that is effectively a proxy war between the Saudis and Iranians, which both seek greater influence in Middle East.

Trump said he wanted a secretary of state closer to his mindset as he approaches personal negotiations with North Korea.

Leader Kim Jong-un sometime this spring. Trump chose CIA Director Mike Pompeo to replace Tillerson, but that nomination could face trouble in the Senate as two GOP senators have already said they would oppose his confirmation. There is uneasiness that Trump and his administration may not be prepared to deal with Kim, but the talks appear on the road to happening as North Korea and Sweden, which is the American shadow voice, explore ways to find a peaceful resolution.

The Parkland, Florida school shootings sparked a vigorous, student-led national push for gun violence legislation. Florida lawmakers and GOP Governor Rick Scott approved a measure over objections from the National Rifle Association. The NRA subsequently challenged the constitutionality of one provision in the bill raising the legal age to buy long weapons from 18 to 21 years old. Trump has bounced around on what he would support, including support for arming some school teachers, but there are hints of a building bipartisan consensus in Congress to strengthen background checks before gun purchases – and possibly take further steps. For his part, Trump has asked his administration to find a way to ban bump stocks, a device used in the Las Vegas massacre to turn a semi-automatic weapon into a virtual machine gun.

Despite boastful predictions by Trump and his team that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation would wrap up soon, the opposite appears true. Last week’s news included subpoenas issued to the Trump Organization for documents relating to its dealings with Russian financial interests. The firing of Andrew McCabe from the FBI just before he was set to retire, which was celebrated in Trump tweets, may have added more propellant to charges of obstruction of justice. While the firing of McCabe may have been inspired as a way to discredit him as a witness against Trump, but it also removed any shackles McCabe may have felt to tell what he knows about Trump attempts to blunt the Russia meddling issue.

If that wasn’t bewildering enough, there also is the Stormy Daniels spectacle. The former porn star and her new attorney are keeping the story about a sexual encounter and hush money front and center. Trump has denied having a fling with Daniels, despite pictures of the two of them together and negotiations on Trump Organization email between his fix-it attorney and Daniels that resulted in a $130,000 hush money payment just before the 2016 election. Last week, Trump’s team baffled observers by declaring Daniels owed $20 million for violating terms of the non-disclosure agreement.

There is never a dull moment in the nation’s capital, and probably never an empty bar seat.