Good Friday Morning! I’m off the road this week and getting back into the groove of writing. And not a moment too soon! We’re heading into the weekend with two bombshell stories on our hands this week: The report from the Wall Street Journal that Special Investigator Robert Mueller has opened a grand jury in his investigation, and the Washington Post’s leaked transcripts of Donald Trump’s discussions with world leaders. Given the scope of both, I’d expect more fallout in the coming days.
Given the scope of both stories, I’d expect more fallout in the coming days. The leaks involving this administration just never seem to stop.
I’ll start first the Grand Jury investigation and explain, for my non-lawyer readers, what that means. I’ll also go into why the leaked transcripts from Trump’s phone calls are a big deal and will have long term repercussions moving forward. Must read links follow – and I highly recommend the pieces by Kevin Williamson and Peggy Noonan. They both went viral among conservative circles and impacted the discussion of Trump’s leadership.
New this week at the Conservative Institute
This essay is the first, of what I hope is many, long-form analysis pieces for the Conservative Institute. It’s a primer and history for conservatives on why they should oppose Vladimir Putin and why Trump’s attempts to work with Putin are a fool’s errand. I cover everything from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the present day.
This article is the second long form piece I wrote for the Conservative Institute. This one covers campaign finance reform – specifically looking at the Citizens United decision and how it impacts every day Americans. I also cover how campaign finance restrictions are used to attack private citizens for their beliefs.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller impanels a Grand Jury and issues subpoenas concerning Donald Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer
There’s no other way to put this: it’s a huge quagmire. From the Wall Street Journal:
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, according to people familiar with the matter.
The grand jury, which began its work in recent weeks, signals that Mr. Mueller’s inquiry will likely continue for months. Mr. Mueller is investigating Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 election and whether President Donald Trump’s campaign or associates colluded with the Kremlin as part of that effort.
Impaneling a grand jury doesn’t mean anything is wrong, a crime was committed, or someone is going to jail right now. For a Special Counsel, the Grand Jury is about establishing prosecutorial powers, namely: gaining the power to subpoena documents and witnesses and getting testimony under oath.
But it does mean that Mueller is opening a criminal investigation with this probe. Counterintelligence investigations don’t require a grand jury – a criminal probe does.
Mueller’s intent is to begin gathering documents, forcing people to testify, and build a case, if there is one. He can’t do any of those things without the broad powers of the Grand Jury.
If you’re a defender of the administration, what should worry is that the pressure of dealing with a grand jury will make Trump officials act stupid. If you haven’t noticed, the current administration is one long succession of unforced errors. The problem now is that Mueller has subpoena powers – meaning those mistakes matter now. And as David French sagely notes, Trump will get heavy pressure from far-right pundits to fire Mueller.
The top worry for Trump’s legal team right now is one of his lower ranked officials committing perjury. This team can’t keep their story straight on simple stories, which means testimony under oath will be a rollercoaster ride for the lawyers.
The second worry for Trump’s legal team: his Twitter feed. Navigating a special counsel or an ordinary judicial investigation is hard enough. Doing that with a client lighting the world on fire via social media is a near impossible task.
Trump has entered an incredibly difficult minefield. He needs discipline now more than ever.
The Grand Jury and Investigation still doesn’t appear to target Trump
Reuters added this important tidbit about the Grand Jury investigation:
Grand jury subpoenas have been issued in connection with a June 2016 meeting that included President Donald Trump’s son, his son-in-law and a Russian lawyer, two sources told Reuters on Thursday, in a sign that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is gathering pace.
From this report, it looks like Mueller’s team is focusing first on the Donald Jr. meeting with a Russian lawyer, who allegedly claimed to have negative news regarding Hilary Clinton. Most of the recent news on that has centered around who wrote Don. Jr.’s press statement.
It’s nearly impossible to tell right now what happened at that meeting. All the stories and evidence I’ve seen is contradictory. But it is an obvious place to start for Mueller’s team.
The most critical point here is: Donald Trump doesn’t appear to be the focus of the investigation. That’s what his legal team focuses on, it’s what James Comey reiterated, and it’s what all experts seem to agree. The probe appears to focus on his associates and potentially family members like Don. Jr.
Mueller’s team is probably trying to ascertain whether they could bring obstruction charges, or whether they can dig anything up in Trump’s finances (the financial/white crime expertise of Mueller’s team suggests this). They have broad prosecutorial powers beyond Russia. But nothing leaked shows Trump is an objective.
All of this remains true for now. Any of this can change at a moment’s notice. Donald Trump has entered a whole new legal minefield. He can ill afford the clumsy/haphazard White House he’s enjoyed up until now.
I wrote at the beginning of the year that I believed Trump faced the prospect of a failed impeachment over his odd Russian connections. I still think that’s a distinct possibility – especially if Democrats retake the House in 2018. If Democrats have a new majority in the House, you can guarantee they’ll push for impeachment, the Senate will hold a trial, and Mitch McConnell will have to save Trump.
If it comes to that scenario, the $1 million question is: What incentive does Mitch McConnell have to defend Trump? He’d probably prefer to work with Mike Pence…
Washington Post leaks Trump phone call transcripts with foreign leaders
I’d recommend reading the entire Washington Post story. I’m not going to walk through the whole thing – except to say that it seems that Trump understands that most of his campaign promises are politically impossible. He’s not the amateur politician people make him out.
Reading transcripts of these phone calls is shocking. It’s even more shocking to see how brash and incompetent Trump is in this job. It’s not safe for the trajectory of our country if these types of calls continue.
What’s most concerning, however, is that transcripts of these phone calls were leaked and made public. Leaked calls severely hamper the United States ability to negotiate and talk frankly with other countries and their leadership.
If a foreign leader suspects that his phone call or conversation with Donald Trump will leak to the news media, they’re unlikely to talk candidly with American leadership. That’s not a short term problem either – it can hamstring the entire tenure of the administration.
Of all the classified leaks that have happened thus far, these are the most dangerous for Trump politically. It not only damages him domestically, but it harms his ability to work with our allies. His administration needs to clamp down on these leaks most of all.
Must read links from the past week
Death of a F***ing Salesman – Kevin D. Williamson, National Review Online
Trump Is Woody Allen Without the Humor – Peggy Noonan, The Wall Street Journal
When Progressives Embrace Hate – Bari Weiss, The New York Times
Why Doesn’t Trump Just Unmask the Unmasking? – Andrew C. McCarthy, National Review Online
Targeting Meritocracy: A defense of the meritocracy system in America – Scott Alexander, Slate Star Codex
The Emerging Democratic Minority? If Democrats can’t take advantage of Trump’s troubles in next year’s midterms, they could be out of power in Congress for a long time. – Josh Kraushaar, The National Journal
How Do Americans Feel About Their Finances? It Depends On Whether You Mention Trump. The president’s name has a polarizing effect in polls. – Ariel Edwards-Levy, The Huffington Post
Anti-Gun Activists Lead a Couple to Ruin – Jay Caruso, National Review Online
What if the South had won the Civil War? Four sci-fi scenarios for HBO’s ‘Confederate’ – Allen C. Guelzo, USA Today
Satire piece of the week
WESTON, CT—Since her first day on the job in October 1976, Keith Richards’ housekeeper Rosemary Velasquez, 64, has mentally and emotionally prepared herself every single day to find the hard-living Rolling Stones guitarist lying dead somewhere in his home.
“Each morning before I leave for work, I look in the mirror, take a deep breath, and think to myself, ‘Rosemary, you could very well find Keith Richards’ dead body today,” Velasquez told reporters Thursday, adding that from the moment she was first hired by a “nearly comatose” Richards, she began steeling herself for the inevitable discovery of the guitarist’s wiry corpse in his bedroom or kitchen. “It’s never been a question of if I would find him dead, but where and how soon.”
Thanks for reading!