• A Quick Guide to the Political Firestorm over Comey’s Firing. What matters and why. What Democrats and Republicans will argue

    Donald Trump’s decision to fire James Comey has set off a firestorm, mostly along party lines, but not entirely. Some Republicans have expressed concern, too, and more will wring their hands in the next few days if the Democrats’ narrative takes hold.

    How long the fire lasts and how much it consumes depends, crucially, on information that will emerge out over the coming days, as media organizations pump their sources and Comey defends himself.

    Here are the basic messages you will hear from Democrats and Republicans, starting immediately.

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    The Democrats’ message is remarkably disciplined. They are speaking with one voice, Chuck Schumer’s.

    They will repeat two key words: Nixon and Watergate.

    Their meaning is clear: Comey was fired to cover up Trump’s crimes.

    Here is their message:

    • Trump, not some underlying, is the person who fired Comey.
    • Trump fired Comey because the FBI was getting to close to uncovering malfeasance by the Trump campaign and transition.
      • This is focused on Russian collaboration with Trump and usually implied rather than asserted directly. Why?
        • First, the intelligence agencies agree that Russia actively meddled in the US campaign, sought to harm Hillary Clinton, and favored Trump.
        • We know that some Trump advisers had connections of various sorts to Russian entities. The most important is Michael Flynn, who was briefly the National Security Adviser. There are reports that he and his associates are now under investigation by a grand jury. Some questions have also swirled around Paul Manafort, head of Trump’s campaign in the summer, and Carter Page, a lower-level figure.
      • Key question: Do the connections between the Trump team and Russia rise to the level of collaboration? If so, that would be a huge scandal and lead to calls for impeachment. If such evidence were found and were convincing, many would consider it a “high crime and misdemeanor.”
        • So far, no evidence of such collaboration has been found. Senior figures of the intelligence community, associated with the Obama Administration, have specifically said that they have looked and that there is no such evidence.
    • Because Trump “interfered” with the FBI, which was investigating the Russia issue, we cannot leave this investigation to the Congress or Department of Justice.
      • Key claim: We are now seeing a Watergate-style coverup by the Trump Administration since they cannot fairly investigate themselves and we cannot count on the FBI, the DOJ, etc.
      • Key demand: We must have an independent special counsel to investigate
      • This demand will receive unanimous backing from Democrats, I expect, and has already received a lot of vocal support from them.
      • The demand will succeed politically if the public thinks there is a coverup and enough Republicans agree that an independent counsel is needed.
    • What’s missing from the Democrats’ argument?
      • None of them actually defend Comey or say he should have been kept in the job. They can hardly make the affirmative case since they have repeatedly called for him to be fired.
      • They simply say “the timing is bad” or “looks suspicious.” But they would have said that if Trump had fired Comey on Day 1. They would have said Trump is trying to stop an on-going investigation.
      • They have not produced any evidence that the firing was actually related to the coverup of a crime, which was the essence of the Watergate firing of Archie Cox and his associates.
      • They have not explained why the firing of Comey impedes the Senate investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
    • What to expect?
      • Democrats will keep pushing hard to get an independent counsel and, if possible, stop Trump’s policy agenda by tying up the Congress and undercutting public support for him.
      • Hearings, of course. Lights, camera, preening. The goal of public hearings is to push agendas, not discover information. And the Democrats have a perfect opportunity here.
      • huge fight over whoever Trump picks as the new FBI director. The fight will be less intense if the nominee is a highly-regarded, career professional, but the Democrats will still use the selection and confirmation hearings to slash and burn the Trump administration.

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    What are Republicans saying?

    They have said, or will say,

    • Comey deserved to be fired for cause, totally unrelated to any Russian investigation.
    • Rank-and-file FBI agents had lost confidence in Comey, making it impossible for him to lead the agency.
    • Senators from both parties had already expressed their lack of confidence in Comey.
    • There is zero evidence, so far, of collusion between Trump and the Russians, much less that Trump was trying to stop any investigation (the obstruction of justice charge against Nixon).
    • If you D’s think Comey is so great, why did you call repeatedly for him to be fired? That is, R’s will try to get D’s to defend Comey, an untenable position, and move them away from simply attacking Trump and the Republicans.
    • The acting director at the FBI is a dreadful candidate to lead the agency, even in the interim. Why? Because his wife, an unsuccessful candidate for local office in Virginia, was handsomely funded by Clinton confidante, Terry McAuliffe. At the very least, that was a horrible judgment, given the FBI’s interest in the Clinton machine.

    Significantly, I expect Republican activists to demand a fresh start to several failed investigations Comey led.

    They think Comey botched them and that the DOJ blocked them under Lynch and Holder. Besides thinking that’s true–and wanting to get evidence that it is–they would be happy to distract attention from incoming fire.

    • Why, they ask, were all Hillary’s aides given immunity without an indictment in prospect for the bigger fish, the one with the private, unsecured server? Why was no Grand Jury empanelled? Why didn’t the FBI interview Hillary under oath? Why wasn’t the Clinton Foundation seriously investigated?
    • They will want a major investigation of the Obama Administration’s alleged spying on Americans, including members of Congress, the Trump team, and so on. If such spying really did take place, and if it was directed against political opponents, that is a scandal as big as anything since Watergate.
    • They want to know exactly who ordered all the unmasking of names, which should be readily available, and they will want to know the purported national security purposes for the large number of such requests from the White House. They will note that Obama’s National Security Adviser, Susan Rice, has already refused to testify voluntarily on that issue.
    • They know the leaking of Flynn’s name was a felony, and they want to see an indictment in that case.

    My guess: if the Democrats look like they might get a special prosecutor for the Russia issue, the Republicans will want one for the Obama spying.

    The Republicans in Congress know–or ought to know–that if Trump’s firing of Comey takes firm root as a major scandal, an attempted coverup by the White House, then the GOP’s grip on power will slip away.

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  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . . Sunday, Nov. 20

    Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
    Linked articles in bold purple

     

    ◆ Get ready for a LOT more of this: Norway’s planned donations to the Clinton Foundation for next year are down 90% from their peak. (Daily Caller)

    clinton-foundation-300px-no-marginsComment: Utterly predictable. When the donations are mainly to cultivate your future power-in-office, then they will decline sharply when your political future dies.

    Comment: Speaking engagements now open!

    clinton-speakers-bureau-300px-no-margins

     

    ◆ IowaHawk has the best comments on the cast of Hamilton lecturing Mike Pence:

    iowa-hawk-hamilton3

    ◆ How Japan filled a huge, giant, enormous sinkhole–65 feet deep–in the middle of a city within a week.  (Wired) Chicago officials scoffed, noting that “in our city, 3 potholes can provide steady employment for city workers for 13 years.”

    isis-200px-w-right-margin◆ ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, seems a tad worried he might be targetted by the US. Refuses to sleep without a suicide vest. (Fox News) Also, demands the flowers, hard candy, and Tempur-Pedic bed in his hotel suite.

    ◆ An interview with Steve Bannon. (Hollywood Reporter) Make up your own mind.bannon-steve-300px-no-margins

    I’m not a white nationalist, I’m a nationalist. I’m an economic nationalist . . . Like [Andrew] Jackson’s populism, we’re going to build an entirely new political movement. It’s everything related to jobs. The conservatives are going to go crazy. I’m the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. –Steve Bannon in the Hollywood Reporter

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Tom Elia
     for IowaHawk
    ◆ Michael Lipson for Japanese sinkhole

  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . . Friday, Nov 11

    Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
    Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ November 11: Veterans Dayveterans-day-300px-no-margins

     

    A serious analysis of why the polls got it wrong. 

    zd-polling-201px-w-marginsThe author, Milt Rosenberg, is known by millions for hosting one of the country’s most interesting talk shows. But his “day job” was always as a professor of social pyschology, with special expertise on polling bias. His analysis emphasizes “evaluation apprehension,” in which respondents fail to report their views accurately to pollsters for fear they will be judged negatively. (American Spectator)

    ◆ ‘Not my president’: Thousands protest Trump in rallies across the US (Washington Post)

     NY Daily News, which hates Trump, runs this headline: President-elect Donald Trump complains about ‘unfair’ protesters

    clinton-foundation-300px-no-margins◆ IRS sued for Clinton Foundation Documents (Fox)

    Comment on the Foundation: The Clinton Foundation is extremely vulnerable to a thorough, honest investigation by a neutral DOJ. But it is vital that a Trump Administration act with probity. If this investigation looks like vengeance or retribution, it will be as bad as the Obama DOJ.

    Comment on the Clintons’ Personal Enrichment: For anyone who thought it was not influence buying to hire Bill and Hillary for speaking fees of $400k-$750k, or hiring Bill as an “honorary chancellor” of a private university for $16 million, ask yourself this:

    Is anybody willing to pay the Clintons those astronomical rates now? Why not? Because the Clintons are out of power for good. Not temporarily. They are never coming back.

    No investor buys an option that will expire worthless. And people paying them those fees were “investing” in the Clintons. (Charles Lipson comment)

    energy-composite-solar-coal-nat-gas-oil-fracking-labeled-300-no-margins◆ What will a Trump Presidency Mean for Energy? Good News for Oil and Gas. Bad News for Solar  (Buffalo News, republished in GovTech) Growth was already slowing in the solar industry, but Trump’s recognition that low BTU prices mean economic growth translates into pro-oil and gas policies, not subsidies for higher cost renewables.

    ◆ Thanks to so many of you for reading my op-ed at Real Clear Politics: What Happens After the Electoral Earthquake?

     

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  • Wall Street Journal on heated dispute between FBI and Dept of Justice over Clinton Foundation Investigation

    The best reporting, by far, on the investigation comes from the Wall Street Journal. (The NYT and Washington Post have been pitiful.)

    Today’s WSJ report by Devlin Barrett and Christopher M. Matthews is headlined:

    Secret Recordings Fueled FBI Feud in Clinton Probe

    Agents thought they had enough material to merit aggressively pursuing investigation into Clinton Foundation

    Here’s the heart of the report:

    Secret recordings of a suspect talking about the Clinton Foundation fueled an internal battle between FBI agents who wanted to pursue the case and corruption prosecutors who viewed the statements as worthless hearsay, people familiar with the matter said.

    Agents, using informants and recordings from unrelated corruption investigations, thought they had found enough material to merit aggressively pursuing the investigation into the foundation that started in summer 2015 based on claims made in a book by a conservative author called “Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich,” these people said.

    The account of the case and resulting dispute comes from interviews with officials at multiple agencies. –Wall Street Journal