Sets The Table For Release Of Controversial Memo With Broadside Against His Own F.B.I. And Justice Department , Then “Backs It Up” By Quoting Notorious Spreader Of Legal Conspiracy Theories With Deep Ties To (Guess Who?!) Steve Bannon
Early this morning the President Tweeted:
Then, a 2nd Tweet. A quote: attributed to the President of “Judicial Watch”, a radical Right group dedicated to propagating legal conspiracy theories, mostly against Democrats. They’re also out to prove climate change is a government hoax. According to Wikipedia, in 2013 they produced Steve Bannon’s film, “District of Corruption”.
With the President’s Tweets this morning, we don’t see how this can be settled anymore without resignations, or firings, or strong action from Republican leadership in Congress that so far has not been forthcoming.
Trump Seems To Be Using “#releasethememo” To See How Hard He Can Push Against The Russia Investigation Without Repercussion
“#releasethememo”, “The Wall”, “Benghazi”, “MAGA”: Republicans and Trump have a skill at coming up with a single word or short catchphrase designed to invoke their heroic struggle against those who seek to undermine the American way of life. (Democrats just add -gate to everything, i.e. “Porn star-gate“, and it never sticks!)
Bottom line: Trump wants to #releasethememo. And it could be, as early as today, according to the Washington Post. Even thought the F.B.I. continues to say it has “grave concerns” about that. Partly because “the memo” relies on classified information, and partly because of “material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy“.
But part of the point to releasing it is for Trump to prove he doesn’t have to listen to the F.B.I., and even perhaps nurturing an implication the F.B.I. is out to get him. The New York Times explains this part of it really well.
What’s In “The Memo”?
We still don’t know exactly. It appears to be a neat few pages of pure spin, authored by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, who was active in the Trump campaign. What Nunes did was take a pile of documents and distill them down, focusing on alleged bias within intelligence agencies against Trump; even perhaps hinting at a secret plot to bring Trump down. It apparently centers on a request to a judge by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to surveil Trump campaign associate Carter Page, which was based on the disputed Trump dossier, except Rosenstein never said so to the judge. Vox took a stab at explaining it with diagrams: which doesn’t really make things any clearer, but it’s interesting anyway.
Is Nunes’ distillation an accurate one? We’ll never know, because we’ll never see the documents it’s based on, because they’re classified. Even if it is accurate, does it negate the validity of what Special Counsel Robert Mueller has been finding? (He does already have a couple of guilty pleas under his belt).
But to Nunes, Trump et. al., that doesn’t matter at all. “The memo” does not seem to be intended to refute charges that have come up in relation to the Trump/Russia investigation, rather it absolutely seems to be intended to attack the validity of the investigation itself, by saying it was launched on false pretenses. Which first of all is not necessarily true, since the “Trump dossier” has not been proven or disproven, and the Wall Street Journal reports Carter Page was on the radar of intelligence agencies as far back as 2013. No dossier back then.
How Much Damage Could It Actually Do To Mueller’s Investigation?
Depends on how successful Trump is at promoting it. Which the President is apparently keenly aware of, hence the early morning Tweets we just talked about. Without that, it could turn out to be a big dud, as Axios discusses here.
The more “the memo” is talked about, the more it’s likely to have an impact. Not on Mueller (unless he’s fired). But if Trump feels the memo is “gaining traction” as he apparently does right now, it might embolden him to take even more dramatic steps to quash the investigation. It might also give him an argument for refusing to testify in front of Mueller, even though last week he said he’s “looking forward” to it and that he’d do it under oath.
Fired F.B.I. Director James Comey suggested we view this through a wider lens:
Separately, the President, who has always been fond of conspiracy theories has apparently latched on to one that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein chose Mueller as Special Counsel out of spite: because he was angry Trump had not picked Mueller as F.B.I. Director. Which if nothing else is an interesting insight into Trump and what motivates him.
Republicans Think They Have A Winner In Tax Cuts
On his way to a speech at a Republican Party retreat at a resort in West Virginia, Trump gave away a big clue regarding Republicans’ strategy going into this fall’s Congressional elections: rewrite the narrative on tax cuts.
Vice President Mike Pence made the same point as he launched a multi-state tour to support “friendly” candidates.
Democrats were pretty good at messaging when the bill was passed, that it was mainly for the benefit of rich people and corporations (which is also what’s true). Still, the bill never attracted the grass roots opposition that led to the survival (mostly) of Obamacare.
Earlier this week, in his State of the Union Address, Trump heralded the new tax law’s nearly doubling the standard deduction. Except there’s the part Trump didn’t mention: it also gets rid of personal exemptions, and the higher standard deduction will actually make it more difficult for people to write off things like charitable donations. So in the end, for most non-super rich people, it will be pretty much a wash. But of course it won’t be presented that way. And many taxpayers won’t notice until tax season next year, way after the election.
And in our opinion, Democrats and mainstream media have spent too much time ridiculing Trump’s billionaire cabinet members for suggesting things like a family of 4 could use the additional $1,000 they might see this year to buy a new car, renovate their kitchen or maybe go to Disneyland. Or Nancy Pelosi characterizing amounts in that neighborhood as “crumbs”. Because the amount really doesn’t matter. If people start seeing even a tiny bit more in their paycheck because a tiny bit less is taken out in taxes, it’ll resonate as a sign Trump’s looking out for them.
Meanwhile, over at the Treasury Department…the government is taking in so much less in revenue since the new tax law went into effect, that the U.S. is expected to hit its borrowing limit much earlier than planned this year, and will have to ask Congress to raise that limit.
But this cannot be interpreted as a sign the tax cut isn’t working. If Trump is completely right about how it will work, tax revenues will start rushing in again soon as the economy booms.
From The “Of Course He Did” Department
You thought we were going to talk about Trump’s false claim his State of the Union Address had the “highest number [of viewers] in history” when it wasn’t even close. We’re not. Except to say it’s a worthy reminder of the fact that lying isn’t illegal. Unless you’re under oath, or unless you’re talking to federal investigators.
What we want to talk about is a Washington Post report that Trump’s completely dismantled the unit inside the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that made sure financial institutions didn’t discriminate against or overcharge minority borrowers. CFPB Chief Mick Mulvaney, who’s also White House budget director saying no one will be fired, but the employees of that unit will be reassigned to jobs centered around “advocacy, coordination and education”. The Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity was one of the most successful inside the bureau at winning and settling actions against banks.
Earlier this week, we told you Trump asked Congress to authorize Cabinet Secretaries to fire people they don’t feel are loyal enough. Target the people who are helping consumers the most with a high degree of success by shifting them into jobs they don’t want, and you might even not have to go to that extreme.