The Briefing, Vol. VII, Issue 3
- Pop goes the impeachment buzz
- Democrats headed for a massive clown-car primary
- Steve King will face a serious primary chalenge
Mueller investigation: Well, they sure had Trump this time. BuzzFeed reported last week that according to information obtained by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Trump had told his attorney, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress.
This would have been the first honest-to-goodness unambiguously illegal act that Trump has been accused of committing. The story created a day and a half of pandemonium in the cable punditocracy, as MSNBC and CNN talking heads discussed the increasing likelihood of Trump’s impeachment.
And then…well, it turns out that the whole was completely wrong. False. Fake. Written by Jason Leopold, the same journalist, it turns out, who reported the “scoop” that Karl Rove was going to be indicted — and that wasn’t even his first big apparent fabrication of a source.
Here’s the thing: Prosecutors don’t usually come forward to deny things that are reported in the press. If they did, they’d give too much away. And so this creates an opportunity for journalists who are especially daring and unscrupulous. You can report something based on a hint, a hunch, or just a wish, and nobody in the know is going to contradict you.
Until someone does. Mueller’s office took the unusual and apparently even unprecedented step of releasing a statement denying the story on Friday night. The denial caused something of a panic, and hilarity for those who have noticed the pattern of sloppy reporting connected to everything related to the Russia investigation.
Although some in the media tried to downplay Mueller’s denial, it amounted to a flat, unambiguous and categorical statement that the story was false. It denied BuzzFeed’s categorization of what the Special Counsel’s office has learned from testimony, documents and statements, which basically covers everything.
For some reason, the media have gone into “public shooting mode” over Mueller’s investigation, reporting every panicked and scurrilous rumor as fact. There is no point to this exercise. We’ll learn all about what the Special Counsel is doing soon enough. It probably isn’t nearly as bad for Trump as some people hope, and it probably does contain some very damaging facts about some of his aides, such as Paul Manafort, who apparently tried to take advantage of their proximity to Trump in order to make a quick Russian buck.
But again, this is also speculation. If this view is wrong, we’ll know it when Mueller decides to tell us.
Democrats in: Officially or all-but-officially in the race for president in 2020: Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., former Rep. John Delaney, D-Md., and former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, D-Tex.
Still mum or pretending that there’s any question: Former Attorney General Eric Holder, Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Cory Booker, D-N.J., Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Kamala Harris, D-Calif., former Vice President Joe Biden, former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, and former Rep. Robert O’Rourke, D-Tex.
We could list a lot of other names, but it’s already clear that this year’s Democratic primary will be the most crowded since at least the 2016 Republican primary. Democrats evidently believe that Trump is ripe for the picking, and they’re not hiding their ambition. They view this as their big chance. Expect to see a clown-car primary, complete with large-stage undercard debates and one of the wildest Iowa caucus processes in many years. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
Georgia: Unsuccessful 2018 gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams met with Chuck Schumer and the DSCC hierarchy a week and a half ago in Washington. They’d like to persuade her to take on Republican Sen. David Perdue next year.
Since Republicans took over the state in 2002, Georgia has slowly shifted back toward Democrats, but never quite enough for them to win statewide. This might seem like an enticing opportunity for Abrams, especially given President Trump’s relative underperformance in Georgia in 2016.
Still, a win or a loss would preclude a rematch against Kemp, who is probably still the GOP’s weakest link for statewide office.
Kansas: Kansas has gotten more Republican than it was in the 1990s, and its Republican Party has shifted more conservative as well. But that doesn’t mean that just any Republican or conservative can win there.
Republicans there have lately shown some serious weaknesses. The disastrous and self-inflicted loss by former Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach for governor last year shows that next year’s Senate contest could become a real race — and potentially a big distraction — if Republicans don’t stay on top of things and find a serious, suitable candidate. (Kobach, by the way, said Friday he is thinking of running for Senate.)
Republicans can put away the seat of retiring Sen. Pat Roberts early if they succeed in candidate recruitment. They have a lot of other races to be concerned about, so this is an early priority for the Senate leadership right now.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has become even more determined to get Secretary of State Mike Pompeo into the race. McConnell has been very persuasive when he’s had to be with GOP recruitment (note the presence of Cory Gardner and Rick Scott in the Senate) — the only challenge is to persuade Pompeo to leave the Secretary of State post early. It could be hard, especially if there is any progress on North Korea. If he wants to scare all opposition out of the primary, he’ll want to quit about a year from now and post incredible fundraising numbers in the first quarter of 2020. e’d have to bail out within a But he isn’t by any means the only Republican who could turn the race into a snooze-fest.
Also considering a run is third-term Attorney General Derek Schmidt, R, who has solid ratings from Kansans for Life and the NRA but fares poorly compared to Pompeo with the Kansas chapter of Americans for Prosperity. Former Gov. Jeff Colyer, whom Kobach defeated in last year’s GOP primary, is also mulling a run, and Treasurer Jake LaTurner is running.
West Virginia: Republicans could have another bite at the apple in the Mountain State — it’s not clear exactly when — if Sen. Joe Manchin, D, decides to run for governor in 2020. He is already pondering this idea, and he has every reason to give it a shot.
Republican Gov. Jim Justice, who switched from the Democratic Party, is suffering from poor approval ratings at the moment and looks like a nice target. And Manchin’s near-defeat in last year’s Senate race illustrates the difficulty he faces in serving two masters with diametrically opposed priorities and beliefs — his constituents on the one hand, and Chuck Schumer and Senate Democrats on the other.
As governor, Manchin could be his own man. On the other hand, this seat will likely go to a Republican at the first opportunity if Manchin vacates it. Note that the state legislature, in the past, voted to require an expedited special election for an open Senate seat, but the law they passed at the time only applied to the 2010 cycle. This time, Republican legislators could pass a new law and force a quick special election in the event of a Manchin victory for governor.
Iowa-4: Rep. Steve King, R, who nearly lost his safe Republican western Iowa seat in 2018, has put a big target on his back with his recent shift toward white nationalist ideologues, ideas and rhetoric. Several Republicans are already planning to take him on.
Earlier this month, Republican state Sen. Randy Feenstra has announced that he’ll be challenging King in the primary. He is trying to set himself apart as the Republican candidate aligned most closely with President Trump. Story County Commissioner Rick Sanders, R, (from the most Democratic county in the district) and retired businessman Bret Richards (former mayor of a rural one-horse town) may run in a GOP primary as well.