The Open Thread for August 4, 2017

Special Counsel Robert Mueller “has impaneled a grand jury in Washington to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections, a sign that his inquiry is growing in intensity and entering a new phase,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“The grand jury, which began its work in recent weeks, is a sign that Mr. Mueller’s inquiry is ramping up and that it will likely continue for months.”

“Grand juries are powerful investigative tools that allow prosecutors to subpoena documents, put witnesses under oath and seek indictments, if there is evidence of a crime. Legal experts said that the decision by Mr. Mueller to impanel a grand jury suggests he believes he will need to subpoena records and take testimony from witnesses.”

Reuters reports grand jury subpoenas have been issued related to June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Russian lawyers and others.

“Federal investigators exploring whether Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian spies have seized on Trump and his associates’ financial ties to Russia as one of the most fertile avenues for moving their probe forward,” CNN reports.

“Sources described an investigation that has widened to focus on possible financial crimes, some unconnected to the 2016 elections, alongside the ongoing scrutiny of possible illegal coordination with Russian spy agencies and alleged attempts by President Trump and others to obstruct the FBI investigation. Even investigative leads that have nothing to do with Russia but involve Trump associates are being referred to the special counsel to encourage subjects of the investigation to cooperate.”

“President Trump made building a wall along the southern U.S. border and forcing Mexico to pay for it core pledges of his campaign. But in his first White House call with Mexico’s president, Trump described his vow to charge Mexico as a growing political problem, pressuring the Mexican leader to stop saying publicly that his government would never pay,” the Washington Post reports.

According to a transcript, Trump “made clear that he realized the funding would have to come from other sources but threatened to cut off contact if Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto continued to make defiant statements.”  Said Trump: “Believe it or not, this is the least important thing that we are talking about, but politically this might be the most important to talk about.”

He said the funding “will work out in the formula somehow,” adding later that “it will come out in the wash, and that is okay.” But “if you are going to say that Mexico is not going to pay for the wall, then I do not want to meet with you guys anymore because I cannot live with that.”

Jonathan Chait: “The transcript of Donald Trump’s discussion with Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull obtained by the Washington Post reveals many things, but the most significant may be that Trump in his private negotiations is every bit as mentally limited as he appears to be in public.”

“At issue in the conversation is a deal to settle 1,250 refugees who have been detained by Australia in the United States. I did not pay any attention to the details of this agreement before reading the transcript. By the time I was halfway through it, my brain could not stop screaming at Trump for his failure to understand what Turnbull was telling him.”

David Frum: “Leaking the transcript of a presidential call to a foreign leader is unprecedented, shocking, and dangerous. It is vitally important that a president be able to speak confidentially—and perhaps even more important that foreign leaders understand that they can reply in confidence”.

“Thursday’s leak to The Washington Post of President Trump’s calls with the president of Mexico and the prime minister of Australia will reverberate around the world. No leader will again speak candidly on the phone to Washington, D.C.—at least for the duration of this presidency, and perhaps for longer. If these calls can be leaked, any call can be leaked—and no leader dare say anything to the president of the United States that he or she would not wish to read in the news at home.”

A new Quinnipiac poll finds American voters say by a 68% to 27% margin, including 55% to 39% among voters in military households, that transgender people should be allowed to serve in the military.

Republicans oppose transgender service, 60% to 32%, but every other party, gender, education, age or racial group supports transgender service by margins of 22 percentage points or higher.

A new Quinnipiac poll finds Democrats leading Republicans in the generic congressional ballot by 14 points, 52% to 38%.

A new Public Policy Polling survey in Arizona finds Sen. Jeff Flake’s (R-AZ) approval rate at just 18%, with 62% disapproving.  If the 2018 election were held today, Flake would lose to a generic Democrat, 47% to 31%.

Murray Waas: “Shortly after the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller in May, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe told several of the highest-ranking managers of the bureau they should consider themselves possible witnesses in any investigation into whether President Trump engaged in obstruction of justice.”

“Two senior federal law enforcement officials have told me that the new revelations illustrate why they believe the potential case against Trump is stronger than outsiders have thought.”

First Read: “As the Senate prepares to skip town for August recess, it’s worth noting that the upper chamber looks like it may break a record this cycle: the least retirements ever. In fact, it’s conceivable that NO senator will retire at all this cycle. Even the two who have been the subject to most speculation about retirement — Utah’s Orrin Hatch and California’s Dianne Feinstein — so far appear to be making moves to stay on the job.”

“Yes, it’s early, and it’s very possible the landscape will change as the summer goes on. But it’s still VERY unusual to see this lack of movement in the Senate. In fact, according to Jennifer Duffy of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, half of all Senate retirements since 2006 (with one exception in 2008) had been announced by the end of March of the year before the election. The average number of Senate retirements over the past 20 cycles has been about 6.5; the lowest number has been three, back in 1982.”

“New White House chief of staff John Kelly, in one of his first acts in his new post, called Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reassure him that his position was safe despite the recent onslaught of criticism he has taken from President Trump,” the AP reports.

“Kelly called Sessions on Saturday to stress that the White House was supportive of his work and wanted him to continue his job.”

“Kushner Cos., the New York property development business owned by the family of White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, has been subpoenaed by New York federal prosecutors regarding its use of an investment-for-immigration program,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“It isn’t clear what potential violations are being probed by the U.S. attorney.”

Alan Abramowitz: “We are a long way from November 2018, so national conditions could change. Still, Republicans will have so many seats at risk in next year’s gubernatorial elections that they are almost guaranteed to suffer a net loss of seats.”

“Of course, the quality of the respective party candidates and campaigns will be important as Republicans seek to limit potential Democratic gains. Still, based on recent generic ballot results, the GOP loss could be rather substantial. According to the FiveThirtyEight weighted average of recent polling results, Democrats currently hold a lead of about eight points on the generic ballot. A lead of that magnitude in early September 2018 would predict a net Democratic gain of around nine governorships with a two-thirds probability that the gain would be between six and 12 seats.”

“Republican congressional leaders are quietly preparing to pass a ‘clean’ debt ceiling increase, according to multiple senior GOP sources — setting the stage for a high-risk showdown with rank-and-file Republicans this fall,” Politico reports.

“Trump administration officials, led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, are imploring Congress to raise the $19.8 trillion debt limit with no strings attached by the end of September. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker Paul Ryan — well aware they need Democrats to pass any debt bill through the Senate — are on board, albeit begrudgingly so.”

The Hill: “For Republicans, September is shaping up to be a month of bitter pills.”

“Two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are moving to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s job, putting forth legislation that aims to ensure the integrity of current and future independent investigations,” CBS News reports.

“Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) plan to introduce the legislation Thursday. The bill would allow any special counsel for the Department of Justice to challenge his or her removal in court, with a review by a three-judge panel within 14 days of the challenge.”

President Trump “is facing growing resistance from Republican lawmakers who are both turned off by his chronically chaotic style and increasingly unafraid of his ability to punish them politically as the President’s poll numbers plummet,” CNN reports.

“Trump’s diminishing influence was on stark display last week when his top priority — the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act — failed dramatically in the Senate. Emboldened congressional Republicans are also pushing back on a range of issues including Russia, transgender rights, health insurance subsides for low income Americans, and even whether to reform Senate rules to make it easier for the GOP to pass his agenda.”

James Hohmann: Trump’s stumbles are undercutting executive power, which may be healthy for America.

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8 comments on “The Open Thread for August 4, 2017

  1. As noted the Republicans would do well to leave the ACA alone, I expect numerous “plans” and a token effort, Trump or not. However I do expect them all to jump on the tax cut band wagon ( also falsely known as “tax reform”) with glee and mad abandon. Hoping that the trickle down game has run it’s course and they get a very negative reaction to making the rich richer. The debt ceiling will be passed at some point, “clean” or not, you would expect the Republicans to welcome a clean bill but some will use it as a stage for far right posturing, the “Freedom Caucus” comes to mind. I suspect Kushner & Co. have a lot to fear from an investigation, growing up on Long Island New York Real Estate Developer was code for high flying crook.

    • They know they have to raise the debt ceiling. Their best bet would be to do it quietly and cleanly so their base doesn’t notice (since their base has been trained to flip out over this). A public R vs R fight would be incredibly stupid. I’ll go stock up on popcorn now!

      • The “Freedom Caucus” is already making assorted noises, no doubt they assume the power is theirs to do as they like. As stated they’d be best to shut up and get ‘er done. Popcorn and perhaps a glass of wine. Perhaps two or just kill the bottle.

  2. This:

    Jonathan Chait: “The transcript of Donald Trump’s discussion with Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull obtained by the Washington Post reveals many things, but the most significant may be that Trump in his private negotiations is every bit as mentally limited as he appears to be in public.”

    Adding that, Trump views power as he views the country club set. He spoke to world leaders as if they would do him a solid since he’s part of the club. He’s the weakest, most uninformed President in the history of the US.

    • snewton929

      Unfortunately he has not quite challenged James Buchanan (the guy who actually let the Civil War start) for “weakest, most uninformed President in the history of the US,” but it did take “Old Buck” a full four years (the war started when he was a lame duck) to get there, and Trump has provided serious competition for the title in only eight months. So he is a legit contender to win the title eventually.

  3. @snewton: I would argue that, while Buchanan was weaker, Trump is the more uninformed.

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