The Open Thread for May 24, 2018

Michael Cohen “received a secret payment of at least $400,000 to fix talks between the Ukrainian president and President Trump,” sources in Kiev close tell the BBC.  “The payment was arranged by intermediaries acting for Ukraine’s leader, Petro Poroshenko, the sources said, though Cohen was not registered as a representative of Ukraine as required by US law.”

“The meeting at the White House was last June.”

“Cohen was brought in, he said, because Ukraine’s registered lobbyists and embassy in Washington DC could get Poroshenko little more than a brief photo-op with Trump. Poroshenko needed something that could be portrayed as “talks”.  This senior official’s account is as follows – Poroshenko decided to establish a back channel to Trump. The task was given to a former aide, who asked a loyal Ukrainian MP for help.  He in turn used personal contacts in a Jewish charity in New York state, Chabad of Port Washington. This eventually led to Michael Cohen, the president’s lawyer and trusted fixer. Cohen was paid $400,000.”

“Our presidency has been debased by a figure who has a seemingly bottomless appetite for destruction and division and only a passing familiarity with how the Constitution works. And our Article I branch of government, the Congress is utterly supine in the face of the moral vandalism that flows from the White House daily.” — Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), quoted by the Daily Beast, in an advanced copy of the commencement address for Harvard School of Law.

Rudy Giuliani switched gears Wednesday, saying that he would prefer the president grant an interview to special counsel Robert Mueller’s office and that a decision would be made within “the next couple weeks,” the Washington Post reports.  Said Giuliani: “I guess I’d rather do the interview. It gets it over with it, it makes my client happy. The safe course you hear every lawyer say is don’t do the interview, and that’s easy to say in the abstract. That’s much harder when you have a client who is the president of the United States and wants to be interviewed.”


A new Gallup poll finds that approval for same-sex marriages hit an all time high of 67% — a near mirror image of public opinion on the issue just 22 years ago.

Washington Post: “Jared Kushner has had two interview sessions with the special counsel’s team. The first set of questions in November centered largely around former national security adviser Michael Flynn… Then, in mid-April, Kushner sat for six to seven hours of questions that covered many topics, including his work on the Trump campaign, the transition and in the White House and about Trump’s decision in May 2017 to fire Comey.”

“The special counsel’s questioning focused only on Kushner’s work with Trump and did not include topics such as Kushner’s personal finances or those of his family business, Kushner Companies.”

Meanwhile, Kushner “has been granted his permanent security clearance… ending a period of uncertainty that had fueled questions about whether Mr. Kushner was in peril in the special counsel investigation,” the New York Times reports.

“Mr. Kushner’s F.B.I. background checks had dragged on for a year. White House officials were adamant that the lengthy process was not unusual for a government official who has a complicated financial history and many foreign contacts. But the delay became a distraction and, with the special counsel investigating some of Mr. Kushner’s meetings with Russian officials, it left open the question of whether investigators had uncovered evidence that made him a security threat.”

“NFL players will be allowed to stay in the locker room during the national anthem, but their teams will be fined by the league if they go onto the field and kneel, according to new rules adopted by owners on Wednesday in an effort to defuse an issue that escalated last season into a national debate catalyzed by President Trump,” the New York Times reports.

New York Jets chairman Christopher Johnson told Newsday that he will pay the fines for players on his team who protest during the national anthem, hours after the NFL announced a new policy penalizing players who do so.  Johnson said that he never wants “to put restrictions on the speech of our players.”


A new Navigator Research survey finds that 59% of Americans believe that special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation has not yet uncovered evidence of crimes, even though Mueller has already obtained five guilty pleas and 17 criminal indictments.

Matthew Yglesias: “That suggests that the press as a whole has not done a good job of actually conveying factual information to our audience, that Democrats’ messaging on the investigation has not been clear enough on the most damning point (Trump, even if otherwise innocent, is guilty of hiring crooks and trying to prevent an investigation into their activity), and that Trump’s counterstrategy of muddying the waters around the investigation has been fairly successful.”

Josh Marshall makes a good point in suggesting that we should stop talking about Trump breaking “norms.”

““Norms” aren’t laws for a reason. They are like bumpers on the roads of our civic and political life which are there to keep people of basically good faith from crossing lines they shouldn’t cross. They can also be warning posts so others can see when someone is either going down a bad path or needs to be brought back into line.

One reason that “norms” aren’t laws is that sometimes new or unique sets of facts create situations in which they do not or cannot or should not apply. But the problem with almost everything President Trump is doing today is not that he’s violating norms. The problem is that he is abusing his presidential powers to cover up his crimes and his associates’ crimes. Full stop. That’s the problem. The norms are just the orange rubber cones he knocked over when he drove out of his lane and headed for the crowded sidewalk.”


Political scientist David Hopkins notes that so far this year, 43% of the Democratic nominees for the U.S. House are women.  If sustained through the remainder of the primary season, this would be the highest share of female congressional nominees in history for a major party so far. The current record is 29%, set by the Democrats two years ago.

Jonathan Chait: “Trump may be forming an even more radical theory. Gabriel Sherman reports that Trump’s team ‘is attempting to build the case that anti-Trump forces in the F.B.I. entrapped his advisers using informants to plant evidence about Russian collusion.’ Let this roll around in your mind for a moment. Trump is not merely accusing the FBI of planting a spy, but of planting evidence.”

“Planting evidence? Multiple spies? Obama political operatives? You might think this is all so unhinged Trump could not possibly believe it, but then, you would have to explain Trump’s longtime infatuation with the conspiracy theories he imbibes in his binge-watching of Fox News, where hours of air time can pass by without the appearance of anybody who is hinged. And you might also think Trump could not get his party to go along with this theory, to dismiss all the evidence of culpability as having been fabricated by a pro-Obama cabal in the FBI. But then you would be ignoring how far down the Trump rabbit hole the Republican Party has gone so far.”

Playbook: “There is no question June is going to be absolutely brutal for the speaker, given the Republican leadership’s curious decision to elevate immigration as an election-year issue after more than a decade of division on the topic.”

“If Ryan is to be removed, Republicans have two choices: try to oust him on the House floor, or find a candidate with 218 votes to tell him he’s gotta go. Neither option is viable at the moment, even according to Ryan’s most fervent detractors. That doesn’t mean it won’t be at some point. That means today, May 23, neither option is viable.”

Washington Post: “Multiple Republicans said this week that the only factor that could accelerate Ryan’s departure is intervention from Trump, who is caught between his friendship with McCarthy and conservative allies who want to force a race. For now, the White House is not convinced that Ryan staying as speaker through the end of this term is a tenable situation.”

Donald J. Trump, Jr. lied to Congress.

Q: We’ve talked a lot about Russia. So I have some broader questions about other foreign governments. Did other foreign governments offer or provide assistance to the Trump campaign?

TRUMP JR: None that I’m aware of.

Q: Did other foreign nationals offer or provide assistance to the Trump campaign?


When those who respect the rule of law and are loyal to America are back in charge of the Congress, Junior will be arrested and jailed.

New York Times: “The vice president’s political clout was tested on Tuesday night in Texas, where he backed Bunni Pounds, a conservative activist, in a Republican primary for the Dallas-area House seat that Representative Jeb Hensarling is vacating. Mr. Pence stepped in at Mr. Hensarling’s request, endorsing Ms. Pounds in a tweet after President Trump declined to get involved in a low-profile nomination contest.”

“But despite the unusual intervention of the nation’s second-highest officeholder, Ms. Pounds was defeated on Tuesday night, losing the Republican nomination to Lance Gooden, a former member of the State Legislature. Ms. Pounds boasted repeatedly of Mr. Pence’s support, and it was not enough.”

A new Politico/Morning Consult poll finds just 36% of voters say they would vote for President Trump over a generic Democratic candidate in 2020, compared with 44% who would pick the Democrat, the poll shows. One in five voters, 20%, are undecided.

A new JMC Analytics poll in Texas finds Sen. Ted Cruz (R) leading challenger Beto O’Rourke (D) in the U.S. Senate race, 47% to 40%.

A new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll in California shows Gavin Newsom (D) leading the gubernatorial race with 21%, but with the race between John Cox (R) and Antonio Villaraigosa (D) for second place unpredictable and volatile.

“With the second slot up for grabs and a substantial bloc of undecided voters two weeks from the election, Newsom’s campaign has unleased a barrage of ads in an attempt to manipulate the primary vote. The strategy aims to influence who he’ll face in the general election, with Cox — a conservative out of step with California’s left-leaning voters on many issues including immigration policy — among his top choices.”

A wildcard: 39% are still undecided.

Delaware politics from a liberal, progressive and Democratic perspective. Keep Delaware Blue.

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