Monday, February 19, 2018

Last Call For It's Mueller Time, Con't

Over the weekend the news broke that Rick Gates has flipped and is willing to testify against former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort.  If you want to know how terrified the Trump regime is of the Mueller investigation right now, and of Mueller's indictments on Friday of 13 Russian nationals in a conspiracy to influence to 2016 election, it seems once again that Trump supporters are floating trial balloons of mass pardons to derail the Mueller probe once and for all.

After months of criticizing special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, President Donald Trump’s supporters are issuing increasingly bold calls for presidential pardons to limit the investigation’s impact. 
“I think he should be pardoning anybody who’s been indicted and make it clear that anybody else who gets indicted would be pardoned immediately,” said Frederick Fleitz, a former CIA analyst and senior vice president at the conservative Center for Security Policy.

The pleas for mercy mainly extend to the four former Trump aides who have already been swept up in the Russia probe: former campaign manager Paul Manafort, former deputy campaign manager Rick Gates, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos. But they don’t stop there. 
“It’s kind of cruel what’s going on right now and the president should put these defendants out of their misery,” said Larry Klayman, a conservative legal activist. “I think he should pardon everybody — and pardon himself.” 
Klayman and Fleitz spoke before Mueller indicted thirteen Russian nationals on Friday for staging an elaborate 2016 election interference operation in the United States. Democratic leaders said the hard evidence of Russian meddling underscores the importance of letting Mueller’s investigation run its course. 
But many conservatives note that the new indictment shows no evidence of collusion between Trump associates and the Kremlin. That reinforces their view that Mueller’s real target, if any, should be Russian President Vladimir Putin — not Trump’s circle. “[H]ow long will the leftist witch hunt against @RealDonaldTrump continue,” the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., tweeted hours after the indictment’s release.

Trump's running out of time.  Once Gates starts singing on Manafort -- and Trump -- things get a lot more complex.  It shows how utterly terrified Trump's people are over the events of the weekend.  The only out they see is mass pardons for everyone involved, including Trump himself.  It's self-serving and awful, but it worked for Dubya and Scooter Libby and kept him out of prison.

The fact that the Trump people wasted no time going straight to pardons this week shows how shaken they are by this.  They know full damn well more indictments are coming.  Lots of them.  Trump's people are going down and hard.

So why the pardon talk now?  Trump may be more receptive to it.  After all, people are beginning to openly question the legitimacy of his presidency after this weekend.

Mueller’s indictment details a well-financed propaganda campaign, undergirded by identity theft, wire fraud, and illegal subversion of U.S. election law, which involved the recruitment of unwitting American political activists, and the creation of thousands of troll accounts on social media. We know that this is just one compartment of the Russian government’s efforts to help Trump win, because it excludes charges related to the theft of Democratic emails, and it is silent on the multiple other channels Russia had available to them to harm Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, including propaganda outlets like RT and Sputnik, and a partnership with Wikileaks. 
Whatever Trump’s specific awareness at the time of the facts alleged in the indictment, we know Trump and his most senior aides were aware that the Russian government was involving itself in the campaign on his behalf, and endeavored to encourage and conceal the meddling. 
The fact that the election turned out to be so close is perhaps the crowning achievement of the conspiracy. With a budget of over $1 million a month to target swing state voters with disinformation on social media, multiple troves containing thousands of stolen emails, “news” outlets at your fingertips, the complicity of a major party political nominee, and impunity from American law, could you move 80,000 votes in three states? 
It’s clearly not crazy to believe the answer is yes, and thus that the crimes that made the election unfair also determined its outcome. In an election so close that many individual factors were decisive, a major foreign espionage attack surely could have been as well. The difference is that the other factors were seemingly legal, and internal to American politics. 
There is no mechanism in American politics to annul a corrupted election, and a congressional majority determined to prop up a president who cheated his way to power can assure he serves out his term. But a question mark like the one that now hangs over Trump’s victory is a potent political fact unto itself, and acknowledging it is perhaps our best means of stigmatizing the bad deeds Trump engaged in to win the presidency. We can’t ignore it because it feels uncouth, or even because those who want to undermine American democracy are surely thrilled that an argument over whether the election was stolen for Trump is now inevitable.

You have to admit, issuing blanket pardons would definitely change the narrative, because right now the narrative is becoming lethal for Trump and the 2018 chances for the GOP in the midterms.

Stay tuned.

It's About Suppression, Con't

The Pennsylvania congressional map saga is far from over as the state's Supreme Court is expected to issue a newly-redrawn map today. State Republicans are immediately expected to challenge the new map in federal court with the intent of tying up the proceedings for months, if not years.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is set to release a new congressional district map on Monday, after weeks of political and legal fighting following its ruling that the map adopted in 2011 was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander
But whatever the map looks like, don’t expect it to end the battle. 
Republican lawmakers have vowed to resist the court’s order, saying they will seek a federal challenge to whatever map is selected.

“This issue has grown bigger than the map,” Drew Crompton, chief of staff to Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson) and top attorney for Senate Republicans said last week. “I don’t know what the court’s going to do, I really don’t. But it’s not like we’re planning a lawsuit only if certain things happen — we don’t know what’s going to happen. We’re working on every sort of gyration.” 
Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R., Centre) said Republicans would likely seek an injunction in federal court
It would continue a nasty fight that has only intensified in the weeks since state high court last month ruled the congressional map unconstitutional and ordered a new one drawn in time for the primary election in May. Republicans immediately attacked the justices as partisan and accused the court of overstepping its bounds.

Scarnati and House Speaker Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) have made several attempts to block the court’s ruling, including a request that the U.S. Supreme Court intervene, which Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. denied. They also attacked a state Supreme Court justice as biased in an attempt to get him disqualified; the justice declined to recuse himself, saying he had not crossed any lines. Scarnati has refused to comply with court orders to share data intended to help the justices draw a map, and a rank-and-file Republican lawmaker is seeking cosponsors to sign onto an attempt to impeach the court’s Democratic justices. 
As those fights raged, the deadline loomed: The state Supreme Court had given the Republican-controlled legislature less than three weeks to draw a new map and send it to Wolf, a Democrat. Pennsylvania’s congressional map is normally enacted as legislation, going through the normal process of passing through the legislature and being signed by the governor. When it became clear the legislature had run out of time, Scarnati and Turzai drew their own map and sent it directly to Wolf
Wolf rejected that map last week, joining a growing consensus that the map was still a partisan gerrymander.

I don't think it'll be hard for the GOP to find a federal judge who will block the map itself, saying the state Supreme Court somehow overstepped its authority in authoring it.  When that happens, the fight will be brutal, but the practical upshot is that I expect the new map to be tied up in court for months, to the point where the US Supreme Court will block any new map from going into effect for the 2018 election saying that changing the map that close to an election would do more harm than good.

It'll be "regrettable" of course, but really the GOP is in the position where they can wait out the clock on this and win by default. If the map never actually gets changed, then the GOP wins by default.

The new map came out earlier this afternoon:

The clock begins ticking today.  Remember, a map like this would put something like 5 or 6 safe Republican seats into play overnight, and that many seats would be enough to make the difference in turning a blue wave that crashes against a solid GOP gerrymander wall into Speaker Nancy Pelosi in January. 

They will fight this every millimeter of the way.  Trust in that.

The Blue Wave Rises, Con't

If Democrats are going to take back the House in 2018, one of the districts they'll need to win is PA-18, where a special election next month to replace disgraced Republican Tim Murphy (who left the House over an affair and abortion scandal involving his mistress) is a dead heat.  Democrat Conor Lamb is running a tight campaign against Trump-supporting Republican state Rep. Rick Saccone, but this is definitely rural red state Pennsylvania, and the voters here that turned on the Democrats over the last eight years did so with a vengeance.  Lamb has a plan to win them back, but it's not exactly endearing him to Democrats outside the state.

Lamb, the Democratic candidate in a neck-and-neck special election on March 13, has to hope the people of Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District will likewise listen to what he has to say before judging him by his party affiliation. In this part of the state, where highway billboards sport Bible verses and the start of deer hunting season is a holiday, Democratic politicians tend to flunk doctrinal tests. Even though registered Democrats technically outnumber Republicans here by 70,000, Trump won the district by nearly 20 percentage points. Mitt Romney and John McCain posted similar margins. Former Rep. Tim Murphy, the outspoken anti-abortion Republican whose seat Lamb is running to fill—Murphy resigned after reports that he encouraged his married mistress to get an abortion after a pregnancy scare—won eight straight elections, the first six by double-digit margins and the last two uncontested.

Lamb, a square-jawed 33-year-old Marine Corps officer who resigned from his job as a federal prosecutor in Pittsburgh to run, has a chance to upend the district’s politics—as long as he can avoid being labeled a liberal without discouraging the district’s not inconsiderable Democrat base from turning out. A devout Catholic, Lamb is pro-union and pro-gun, backs bipartisan deals for fixing Obamacare and the nation’s infrastructure, wants more job training and less college debt, and says he’s pro-fracking but pro-environment, too. And he’s betting that this mix of economic populism and moderate social politics can win the predominantly blue collar district. (Full disclosure: Lamb and I both played rugby at the University of Pennsylvania. We overlapped his senior year, 2005-06.)

Lamb’s opponent, state Rep. Rick Saccone—best known for sponsoring a bill that would have required posting “In God We Trust” on every school in the Commonwealth—has a simpler message: He was “Trump before Trump was Trump,” and is an enthusiastic supporter of the president’s agenda. But there are signs the president’s popularity is waning here. A Monmouth University poll showed 42 percent of voters in the 18th strongly disapprove of his performance, compared with just 37 percent who strongly approve. When asked if they support the president’s efforts in office, 48 percent said yes, 47 percent said no. Trump’s endorsement of Saccone made 5 percent of respondents say they were more likely to back Saccone; it made 8 percent say they were more likely to support Lamb.

Given these shifting politics, political observers say Lamb has a tight, but plausible, path to victory in March. He needs suburban women with college educations and moderate social views—both Democrats and Republicans wavering in their party allegiances post Trump—to back him big (which is probably why he praises nurses and teachers in the same breath as veterans and cops). He also needs the district’s 86,000 union households to vote their economic interests, and for enough of the rural, working-class Republican base to find him sufferable to stay home.

The Republican Party sees this path too—and is pouring resources, both money and manpower, into this Pennsylvania district ahead of March 13. So far, Republican super PACs have thrown millions into the race, opening canvassing offices and flooding Pittsburgh’s airwaves with ads calling Lamb a liberal. Trump himself made a visit to support Saccone—as have Ivanka Trump and Vice President Mike Pence—and says he will return.

After all, the stakes are enormous. As the polls narrow—the latest has Lamb just 3 points behind Saccone—this race is being closely watched by political seismologists for early tremors of an oncoming blue tsunami in the November midterms. If Lamb, a virtual unknown five months ago, can win this once seemingly impregnable Republican stronghold—one that so overwhelmingly supported Trump just 16 months ago, then other Democratic candidates across the country can do the same.

For Lamb to be anywhere close in a district that Trump won by 20 points really says something.   But Lamb is very careful to say over the weekend that he doesn't believe in new gun control legislation, and doesn't support it, and says that Democrats should replace Nancy Pelosi as House leader.  It's a careful path to victory here in a 93% white district.

What the Lamb race is going to do is test the theory that Democrats need to abandon "identity politcs" in favor of winning back more conservative white union voters in heavily white districts where there simply aren't enough black, Latino, and Asian voters to win.  I've said before that it's a devil's trade.

We'll see if I'm right pretty soon.


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