Editor’s Blog

A Look Behind The Curtain

Two document dumps on the voting rights front this week. One gives us a window into what was going on at Trump’s voter fraud commission. The other further underscores that the addition of a question about citizenship to the Census didn’t initially have anything to do with DOJ efforts to enforce the Voting Rights Act, despite administration claims to the contrary.

Read about those, and more, in our weekly primer on voting rights and democracy (Prime access) →

BREAKING: Absurd Russia Shirt Controversy Solved

Okay, earlier we noted that the shirt those two Trumpers in Ohio were wearing at the rally over the weekend showed up on Russian TV as an example of rising Republican support for Russia and Russia collusion. This was a rabbit hole my colleague Matt Shuham and I couldn’t not go down. So what’s the story? Did they both order it off the same Trumper website? Did the Russians send it to the dudes in Ohio? Or did the Russians see it on social media and whip up their own? Well, I think we’ve solved this mystery. Read More

Probably Nuthin But …

This is probably nothing. But it got my attention. A few days ago two Trump supporters at the President’s rally in Ohio showed up in T-Shirts that read “I’d Rather Be a Russian Than a Democrat”. A reporter at the event asked them where they got it and one of the men said he’d printed them up himself. Then about a day later what appears to the be the same kind of shirt showed up in the hands of a Russian TV presenter.

Looking Deeper At What Happened at the Big Meeting

TPM Reader RM thinks TPM Reader JB is missing a key point. Here’s RM and then I’ll share a few thoughts at the end …

I think TPM Reader JB misses a key point of the Trump Tower meeting. Specific ‘collusion dirt’ was provided by the Russians in the Trump Tower meeting. The issue was that Junior didn’t like the ‘dirt’ that was offered and implied through his specific criticisms and subdued response that the Russians needed to bring better ‘dirt’, and that the Trump campaign left the door open to further explore matters should such ‘better dirt’ be provided. In addition, the Russians made a big deal of the Magnitsky Act and Bill Browder, indicating that they demanded something in exchange for the ‘dirt’ they were willing to provide to help the Trump campaign. That’s a quid pro quo: ‘we give you dirt, you consider our wish list’. Junior gave every indication of support for that concept in this meeting.

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High Risk, No Choice

Prosecutorial strategy in a financial crime case is not something I know anything about. What’s more, I haven’t been following the minutiae of the trial as closely as the other members of our team who are devoted to it for the duration (mainly Tierney Sneed, Caitlin MacNeal and David Kurtz, though most of the team is involved at least in a support role). But last week, as there was more and more evidence of high living, I did have a few moments where I wondered: ‘God, I really hope they don’t blow this.’ Subsequent testimony at the end of the week I think clarified the point of that earlier testimony and got on to the more factual part of the case. (To be clear, I think this was probably clear all along to more knowledgable trial watchers.) But it wasn’t until I say this note from TPM Reader JW that I really grasped the high risk nature of Manafort’s defense strategy …

Even at the earliest stages of trial, we are seeing how incredibly risky is for Manafort to blame Gates for criminal wrongdoing. The “blame Gates” strategy means that Manafort is effectively admitting that criminal conduct occurred at his firm and in his own name. Tax evasion? Money laundering? Yes, taxes were evaded and money was laundered, but it was all Gates! Manafort knew nothing! This is a train wreck of an argument.

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Assume Nothing

TPM Reader JB makes a very good point in this email. It’s still generally assumed that even if the Trump Tower meeting shows intense desire to collude, it was a bust. Nothing actually came of it. They tried to collude. But they couldn’t make it happen. Literally everything else that the Trump Team has told us about this meeting – including that it happened – has been a lie. It seems almost absurd to assume this one critical claim is true.

As it becomes more and more obvious that Donald Trump knew about the 2016 meeting between Don, Jr., Kusher, Manafort, and Veselnitskaya, we keep hearing again even in the mainstream media that the meeting was a bust, because Veselnitskaya produced no dirt on Clinton, which somehow figures into the exoneration story. Maybe the Trump team was trying to collude, but they didn’t actually collude.

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Ted 2018
Ted 2018

With a rising challenge from Beto O’Rourke, Ted Cruz is focusing on constituent service and the personal touch to win a second term as Texas Senator.

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Gettin’ To The Good Stuff

The first immunized witness to testify against Paul Manafort has finished her direct examination. They don’t give out immunity for nothing.

The Future of TPM #2

Yesterday I got my first look at the new front page publishing system I mentioned in this post over the weekend. It’s an amazing feat of coding skill, both from a technical perspective as well from a journalistic and aesthetic one. That pride and excitement is mainly an internal matter for our team. Most of you are rightly concerned not with the inner workings of the machine but the final product. But what really excites me about bringing this online is that I believe it will greatly enhance our ability to bring you the news, to do what we do. Read More

onstage during the 7th Biennial UNICEF Ball on April 14, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California.
‘Enemy of the People’

I struggle with how much we should delve into these rabbit holes. They are to a real extent simply conflagrations whipped up to serve the distraction interests of the White House. But this seems worth listening to and preserving. CNN’s Jim Acosta presses Sarah Sanders to agree that the press is not the “enemy of the people.” She responds with an anti-press tirade.

Video after the jump. Read More

That’s Unfortunate

Head of all US intelligence says he’s not sure what happened in Helsinki.

Could Not Agree More

From a former federal public corruption prosecutor …

I call BS on this [New York Times] story about Trump fighting against the advice of his lawyers to go ahead with an interview with the Special Counsel. It is truly laughable and I question the NYT’s judgment here in biting on this story hook, line and sinker. This is like the guy who picks a fight with the toughest kid on the playground, but tells his friends to make sure to act like they’re holding him back. Every criminal defense lawyer with a client that is going to assert the 5th and not agree to an interview says, “my client desperately wants to tell the government everything he knows, but I’m not going to let him go in.” Rudy is pretending to be the guy standing in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square trying to stop Trump from testifying. This is all a show. Rudy just doesn’t want to say that the President of the United States is going to invoke his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Do We Remember That Manafort Picked Pence?

Do we remember that Mike Pence was Paul Manafort’s choice for Veep? Trump was set on Chris Christie and didn’t seem terribly comfortable with Pence. But Manafort was dead set on it and even resorted to tricking Trump about mechanical problems on his plane to keep Trump in Indianapolis to seal the deal with Pence.

From a 2016 report from CBS … Read More

Rep. Jordan Pressures Coaches to Get His Accusers to Recant

Seems very clear that Jim Jordan pressured his his ex-boss, former head wrestling coach Russ Hellickson to get his accusers to recant. This is hardly surprising since Jordan is orchestrating a far-ranging cover up of his lies and role in the original case. He even has a website attacking his accusers and a full time conservative PR firm helping him manage the cover up. One of the accusers says Hellickson told him, “I will defend Jimmy until I have to put my hand on a Bible and be asked to tell the truth, then Jimmy will be on his own.” Read More

I Don’t Buy This Explanation

This afternoon ABC published a story which purports to explain what was going on in the background (as I speculated here) that made President Trump dramatically up the ante in his push to end the Mueller investigation. According to ABC, within the last day President Trump had learned that Mueller had agreed to limit the scope of the questions he would ask Trump in an investigatory interview but would focus his questions on obstruction of justice.

I don’t buy this. Read More

Capone is No Accident

People are either surprised, incredulous or laughing about President Trump defending his former campaign manager Paul Manafort by comparing him to the notorious gangland killer Al Capone. They shouldn’t. To Trump, Capone was a winner. He was rich. Everybody gave him respect. But he was brought down on BS charges, mundane financial crimes. He was treated very unfairly, to use the President’s signature phrase. This isn’t hyperbole or a mere attack. Over a forty-plus year career, Trump was deep in business with some of the most notorious and violent mobsters of the late 20th century. Trump managed not to get in to trouble first because he had the right friends but just as much because he kept the relationships largely passive. He laundered their money. His main overt act was willful obliviousness. Trump Tower itself was a notorious haven for all sorts of organized crime figures, mostly from other countries. Mostly from Russia and the former Soviet Union.

If you want to learn more about this I strongly recommend reading Seth Hettena’s Trump/Russia: A Definitive History. As the title suggests it’s mainly about the backstory of the Trump’s relationship with Russia. But that story is inseparable from his ties to organized crime. If you want to hear more before buying it you can listen to my conversation with the author here.

Something Big Is Happening in The Background

It’s easy to see President Trump’s tweet today, which says Jeff Sessions should fire Bob Mueller, as yet more of the cacophony of mania and aggression that spews forth from his Twitter account daily like water flowing over a waterfall. But I fear that may not be the case. President Trump has criticized Jeff Sessions many times. His anger at him is notorious. But I don’t think he has ever so clearly in public told Sessions to fire Mueller or given him such a specific “cause” for doing so. I do not think this is an accident or a random escalation.  Read More

Possibly Craziest Story Ever (New Innovations in Pol Revenge Porn)

2018 has been a year with constant new innovations in the field of politician revenge porn. First Missouri Governor Eric Greitens. Later St. Paul Minnesota City Council candidate David Martinez posted a semi-nude photo of his estranged wife to his campaign website after she got a restraining order against him. He then got arrested. But this new story out of Illinois makes these other incidents sound almost run-of-the-mill by comparison. Meet rising star State Rep. Nick Sauer from Illinois.

Two years ago Illinois state Rep. Nick Sauer began a relationship with a California woman who he met on the dating app Tinder. It was at first a long distance relationship. But she eventually moved to Illinois to be closer to him. The two broke up in March of this year when the girlfriend Kate Kelly found out Sauer was dating other women behind her back. So far, it’s your average story of a rotten boyfriend.

But there’s more. Read More

Coming Up: Next Witnesses In Manafort Trial

Caitlin MacNeal sends in this dispatch from the Manafort trial. The next witnesses expected to take the stand are Maximillian Katzman (an NYC menswear retailer), Ronald Wall (presumably a vendor Manafort used) and Daniel Opsut (comptroller of the Alexandria, Virginia Mercedes Benz).

More to come this afternoon.

Big Picture

I’m not sure whether or not it’s prejudicial as a technical matter. But I agree with the larger point from TPM Reader NB

I read Tierney Sneed’s account of judge Ellis arguing that the term oligarch was derogatory and he didn’t want it used in front of the jury with some shock and dismay.

“We’re not going to have this case tried that he associated with despicable people,” Ellis said, referring to Manafort.

“That’s not the American way,” Ellis added.

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What Is Up With Rudy?

So what’s up with Rudy? I tried to explain here.

Life Comes At You Fast