Battle Royale Edition
APPROVAL ALERT AT PRESS TIME:
FiveThirtyEight Poll: 42% — down from 42.4% last week
Rasmussen Poll: 45% — down from 49% last week
Welcome to Trumplandia, a place where with a bit of wit and snark, we keep the world caught up on all of the tasty Nuggets-O-Trump you may have heard about but were too busy to care. Because most of this minutia occurs just below the massive headlines about the POTUS, it’s in a land of its own. Here, an infusion of social media, video clips and print media meld with our outdated political views to make more delicious “Fake News” about our Commander-in-Chief.
So just like the president, we start it all with a little tweet like this:
Stonewalling Like Jackson
The week of our Trump — May 11, 2019: The Trump Administration took a more bellicose stance this week while at the same time continuing its ongoing battle with Congress, the Justice Department, the rule of law, Chinese imports and the Iranian government.
Led by Attorney General William Barr, the Trump administration continued its strategy of investigating the investigators and not furnishing Democratic members of Congress with any of the documents they’ve requested despite being legally bound to do so.
After all, Congress has been awaiting an un-redacted version of Robert Mueller’s report into Russian interference in the 2016 election since it was released in March.
In what has become a familiar chain of events, Congress makes a request for information, waits and gets a big nothing-burger in return. This week they got a side of smug from Barr, who has grown nastier and more brazen in his efforts to protect President Donald Trump since he was held in contempt of Congress and was shown to have lied during previous testimony.
On May 15, the White House continued its stonewalling tactics by giving a big blanketed “no” to a request for information from the House Judiciary Committee on a range of topics tied to the 2016 presidential election. A letter from White House Counsel Pat Cipollone said:
“The White House will not participate in the Committee’s ‘investigation’ that brushes aside the conclusions of the Department of Justice after a two-year-long effort in favor of political theater pre-ordained to reach a preconceived and false result.”
In March, committee chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) sent document requests to 81 people and entities requesting records into the alleged “obstruction of justice, public corruption and other potential abuses of power by Trump or members of the administration, including family members, aides and other key individuals.”
Some requests involved documents from anyone with direct or indirect contact with the Russian Federation and its officials, agents, intermediaries, and/or instrumentalities. In addition, documents were requested for anyone tied to the Trump Organization related to the company and its efforts to advance the Trump Tower project in Moscow.
Nadler’s requests were called a disgraceful “fishing expedition” in March of 2019, but most recently have been called duplicative to the report filed by Mueller.
Nadler said the White House claims it is willing to cooperate with the requests “while at the same time refusing to work with Congress.” He criticized the stonewalling tactic and vowed to press forward with his further investigation of the Mueller findings. In a statement, Nadler wrote:
“This flies in the face of the American idea that no one is above the law, and I reject it. Our investigation into this as well as other troubling conduct by this Administration will continue.”
Some have called the stalemate a constitutional crisis.
The president sees the Mueller report as a document that cleared him of colluding with Russia and obstructing justice. However, correspondence between Mueller and his boss, Barr, has increased speculation that Mueller intended that an investigation of Trump for obstruction be left to Congress.
Matters came to a head earlier this month when Barr was called before Congress to discuss his four-page summary of the mammoth Mueller report and provide an unedited version of its findings.
Barr has refused to provide Congress with the un-redacted report or any of the supporting evidence it has requested. Slated to appear before Senate and the House of Representatives, the attorney general chose instead to speak only to the Republican-dominated Senate and skipped his visit to the House.
The House Judiciary Committee voted last week to hold Barr in contempt for not handing over the un-redacted copy of the Mueller report. Nadler’s committee had expected to have Mueller testify before the committee about his two-year investigation, but that effort too has been held up by Barr.
On May 16 Barr told the Wall Street Journal it was up to Mueller as to whether he planned to testify before Nadler’s committee. Ironically, the statement came the day after early reports placed the special counsel in front of the House committee on May 15.
At press time, no date has been set for when or if Mueller would testify.
As the stalemate continues, exchanges between the two branches of government have been terse and along party lines, with one of the snippier exchanges occurring between Barr and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) during a ceremony for the National Peace Officers Memorial Service on May 15.
During the event, Barr reportedly joked about whether Pelosi brought her handcuffs to arrest him for being in contempt. Pelosi was said to have informed Barr that the sergeant of arms was nearby and could be pressed into action.
Earlier in the week, Barr named U.S. Attorney for Connecticut John H. Durham to investigate the origins of the Russia investigation. Durham joins Inspector General Michael Horowitz who is looking into wiretapping applications and whether their use was biased. John Huber, the U.S. Attorney General in Utah is also investigating the investigation.
To make matters worse, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin yesterday surprised no one in refusing to meet the congressional demand for six years of Trump tax returns, a violation of the 1924 Hatch Act. Mnuchin had until May 17 to comply with the request from Congress. Mnuchin’s failure to comply will most definitely end in federal court.
To date, only former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, Trump inauguration chairman Tom Barrack and the National Rifle Association have complied with Congress’ requests.
It is still unclear whether former White House counsel Don McGahn will attend a hearing before Nadler’s committee scheduled for May 21. Nadler subpoenaed McGahn to appear before the committee last month. Last week, McGahn’s attorney said he would not comply because he “continues to owe certain duties and obligations to the president which he is not free to disregard.”
If McGahn is a no-show before the House Judiciary Committee, like Barr, he too will also be held in contempt.
Trade Wars are Good and Winnable
This week the trade war with China heated up after more tariffs on Chinese goods were levied by the tariff-happy Trump administration. The news fueled a drop in the Dow of more than 600 points, but news of the dip only excited Trump, who has stated on more than one occasion the he is a “tariff man.”
Trump’s boasting of the virtues of tariffs always seems to leave out a basic understanding of how they work. He seems to think higher tariffs force China to pay more to import its goods, when in fact those costs are passed onto the U.S. companies that import them and then pass increases to the consumer.
Higher tariffs largely equal higher prices on imported goods.
Trump mused on Twitter last weekend that the impasse is largely because China expects to hold out until after the 2020 election in the hopes that he will lose. He believes a Democratic administration would not hold China accountable and would continue to let the Chinese manipulate currency as well as violate intellectual property laws in this country. Trump tweeted on May 11:
“I think that China felt they were being beaten so badly in the recent negotiations that they may as well wait around for the next election, 2020, to see if they could get lucky & have a Democrat win – in which case they would continue to rip-off the USA for $500 Billion a year. The only problem is that they know I am going to win (best economy & employment number in U.S. history, & much more) and the deal will become far worse for them if it has to be negotiated in my second term. Would be wise for them to act now, but love collecting BIG TARIFFS!”
Despite the president’s glee, economic adviser Larry Kudlow had to admit that tariffs are actually paid for by U.S. consumers. A week ago, tariffs imposed on Chinese goods increased from 10 percent to 25 percent, making the cost of those items costlier for U.S. consumers.
Kudlow said the term “trade war” should be avoided and the ongoing taxes on goods should be viewed as negotiating tactics. He conceded on a Sunday morning news program that “both sides will suffer on this.”
Trade tensions with China have increased since last year when Trump placed tariffs on hundreds of billions of Chinese imports. China responded by targeting taxes on a number of U.S. goods. Crowing about the ease in which trade wars are won and how China has been taking advantage of America for decades, the administration began trade negotiations with Communist giant.
Last weekend when trade talks came to a halt, the White House raised tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese imports. Due to take effect on June 1, the new tariffs would add up 25 percent to the cost of the goods. Earlier in the week, China imposed $60 billion in retaliatory tariffs.
U.S. farmers are among the hardest hit by the negotiation tactic. Many relied on China to purchase large quantities of soybeans. The Trump administration has subsidized the U.S. agriculture sector to the tune of $12 billion in U.S. taxpayer funds.
Don Jr. Calls a Truce
After days of saber-rattling by his father’s GOP supporters in Congress, Donald Trump Jr. this week agreed to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee against the advice of his dad.
Dubbed too dumb to collude with Russians, Don Jr. was blindsided by a subpoena from the Senate committee chaired by Richard Burr (R-N.C) last week. The document requested Trump Jr. to again appear before the committee in light of alleged anomalies in his previous 2017 testimony.
Burr’s has required Don Jr. to testify to clear up his concerns, but in keeping with the family tradition of obstruction, he at first refused. The media speculated that Don Jr. would continue to follow the family playbook.
Facing a May 13 deadline, Don-Don was expected to answer the subpoena or face his own contempt of Congress charge, but it was reported the next day that the two sides had reached a deal and Don Jr. had agreed to appear in mid-June before the Senate committee, but behind closed doors.
According to Axios, Junior’s lawyers drafted a letter to Burr stating they would not agree to an open-ended interview. It also classified Michael Cohen, who pointed out when and how Don Jr. had lied to Congress, as a proven liar, and referenced the president’s son’s cooperation with the investigation, pointing to his previous 20 hours of testimony before three congressional committees.
The sudden change of heart for Don Jr. followed a week of angry threats against Burr from his fellow Republicans, who mocked their colleague and in one case seemed to threaten him.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky) openly questioned the request by his fellow senator, while the likes of Sen. John Cronyn (R-Tx), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.), Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) all joined in to lodge objections.
One anonymous senator even told Axios: “We’re drawing battle lines; if you touch Don, we’ll come after you.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R- S.C.), the leading Trump sycophant, went against the rule of law by urging Don-Don to not comply with the congressional subpoena. “I would tell him, ‘You don’t need to go back into this environment anymore,’ ” the Senatorial dandy told Fox News Channel last weekend.
White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said subpoenaing Trump Jr. was bad form. “I have no difficulty with bipartisanship, but to subpoena the president of the United States’ son and to not at least get a heads-up,” he told CBS News
Despite the threats of his colleagues, Burr said the subpoena came at the end of a period of negotiation with Don-Don, who had been aware he needed to appear before the Senate committees since December 2018. Burr said the president’s eldest had already agreed to provide the committee with new testimony about his 2017 testimony, but never showed.
No date for Don-Don’s testimony has been set.