THE MORNING PLUM:
You know it’s not a good day for President Trump when his first morning tweet declares that a former senior member of his administration should ask for immunity from prosecution in exchange for truthful testimony in an investigation into his own campaign’s conduct. Yet this is exactly what just happened:
Mike Flynn should ask for immunity in that this is a witch hunt (excuse for big election loss), by media & Dems, of historic proportion!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 31, 2017
On Thursday night, it was reported that Flynn has offered to testify to congressional committees examining potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Flynn, a member of Trump’s campaign, resigned as national security adviser last month after it became public that he misled Trump administration officials about his contacts with the Russian ambassador. Some have speculated this could mean Flynn worries that he’s legally vulnerable. Flynn was at the center of discussions involving whether the Trump administration would lift sanctions on Russia, following a campaign in which Trump praised Russian President Vladimir Putin and in which Russia allegedly meddled to help Trump win.
Trump is now saying that Flynn should pursue immunity. In one sense, this inadvertently undercuts Trump’s own position. After all, as Ed Morrissey asks, why should Flynn need immunity to testify truthfully (it remains unclear what he is offering to testify about), if this whole probe is nothing but a “witch hunt”?
But there is a certain logic to Trump’s tweet. The only problem is that Trump’s reliance on this very logic itself shows what a precarious political position he currently finds himself in.
Here’s the logic at work: Trump thinks his tweet lends support to the justification that Flynn has offered for seeking immunity, and thus plays down the significance Flynn’s request has for the probe into his own campaign’s conduct. In a statement last night, Flynn’s lawyer explained the request for immunity this way: “No reasonable person, who has advice from counsel, would submit to questioning in such a highly publicized, witch-hunt environment without assurances against unfair prosecution.”
In other words, Flynn’s request for immunity is not an admission of legal vulnerability. It’s merely a safeguard against a process that has become hopelessly unfair. Trump is trying to bolster this argument: He’s saying Flynn’s request for immunity can naturally be explained by the fact that the probe is nothing but a witch hunt orchestrated by his enemies — Democrats, the media and so forth. So of course Flynn should seek immunity, since no treatment of him (or Trump’s campaign and administration) could possibly be fair.
But missing from Trump’s tweet is the fact that law enforcement agencies, not the media and Democrats, are conducting the official probe into his own campaign’s conduct, as FBI Director James Comey revealed the other day. Additionally, Republican-controlled congressional committees — the Senate and House intelligence committees — are conducting investigations. Trump is so determined to make those facts disappear — or at least to render them politically irrelevant — that it has led him stumbling into a convoluted argument that ends with him urging a former senior official to ask for immunity as part of a process that is investigating his own campaign’s conduct.
But Trump cannot make all of these facts disappear. Recall, Trump did nothing for weeks to remove Flynn as national security adviser, even though he knew Flynn had misled his own administration about his contacts with the Russian ambassador. As Adam Schiff (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, put it this morning:
The question for you, Mr. President, is why you waited so long to act after you learned Flynn (through your VP) had misled the country?
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) March 31, 2017
Here is the bottom line. We don’t know whether the probes will ever produce any serious revelations of collusion. They very well may not. But we do know that the White House is doing all it can to discourage a full accounting into what happened, even though this accounting is also supposed to establish the full extent of what, precisely, Russia did to undermine our democracy, something Trump and Republicans should want to establish. Thus today’s tweet, which casts this entire investigative effort as nothing but a “witch hunt.” We also know that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) is now going to absurd lengths to hamstring his own investigation, apparently to protect Trump.
But Senate Republicans are now beginning to take this way more seriously, and such efforts to frustrate a full accounting are growing increasingly untenable. The absurdity of Trump’s tweet today neatly captures that.
* ANOTHER POLL FINDS TRUMP’S APPROVAL IN THE TOILET: A new Associated Press poll finds Trump’s approval rating at a weak 42 percent:
That’s an unusually poor rating by historical standards for a still-young administration. By contrast, at this point in their presidencies, Barack Obama’s approval rating was above 60 percent in Gallup polling and George W. Bush’s was above 50 percent.
Also: More than 6 in 10 disapprove of Trump’s handling of health care — and this poll was taken during the climax of the debate over Trumpcare.
* TAX REFORM MAY BLOW UP DEFICIT: Bloomberg Politics reports that in the wake of the health-care debacle, Republicans are reevaluating the chances of passing permanent tax cuts, as they would like, and instead are eyeing a temporary, 10-year version. Here’s why:
Under a Senate budget procedure known as the Byrd Rule, permanent changes to the tax code can only bypass the chamber’s standard 60-vote threshold if they’re projected not to add to the federal deficit after 10 years. But Republicans, who control only 52 seats in the Senate, disagree on how to raise revenue in order to balance the corporate and individual tax-rate cuts they want. But if lawmakers accept temporary tax cuts, they can add to the deficit within that 10-year window, reducing the need for politically painful compromises.
If Republicans cut taxes in ways that balloon the deficit, after having treated the deficit as a dire threat to American civilization for years under President Barack Obama, it would be a really shocking outcome.
* DEMOCRATS IN TRUMP COUNTRY DON’T FEAR HIM MUCH: Politico talks to a number of House Democrats in districts that Trump carried and finds they don’t feel any real pressure to work with him:
Trump’s polarizing agenda and early stumbles have stiffened the resolve of moderate Democrats once spooked by his success in their districts. Though most say they’re willing to work with Trump if he’s sincere about seeking common ground, they’re also not rushing to his side. And his recent overtures toward bipartisanship, they say, are falling flat.
Translation: Even lawmakers in Trump territory are calculating that they have little to fear from bucking such an unpopular and incompetent president.
* REPUBLICANS RELUCTANT TO SABOTAGE OBAMACARE — FOR NOW: The New York Times reports that Republicans are now saying that they will not try to pressure the Trump administration into stopping so-called “cost-sharing subsidies” from flowing to insurers. If stopped, those subsidies — which offset lower-income people’s out-of-pocket costs — would help cause the individual markets to melt down.
The House GOP lawsuit to block the subsidies will continue, but that is for institutional reasons. And some Republicans — such as Rep. Greg Walden (Ore.) — are quoted saying that Congress should appropriate the money. It’s unclear what the Trump administration will do, and it could still sabotage the Affordable Care Act in other ways, but the subsidies will continue, which is good news.
* REPUBLICANS SCRAMBLE TO SAVE HOUSE SEAT: The Washington Examiner reports that the Congressional Leadership Fund, the super PAC aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), will spend millions of dollars against the Democrat, Jon Ossoff, in the April 18 special election for the GOP-held House seat in the Atlanta suburbs. The National Republican Congressional Committee is also sinking money into the race.
If Ossoff can break 50 percent against a crowded field of Republicans, he won’t face a runoff. The Republican money will apparently also fund get-out-the-vote efforts, a sign Republicans fear that Democratic turnout could be energized, which might be a good sign for Democratic prospects in the midterms.
* TRUMP SOLD COAL COUNTRY A BILL OF GOODS: Paul Krugman argues that Trump played on misguided cultural nostalgia in promising to bring coal jobs roaring back by scrapping environmental and climate-change regulations:
But when it comes to energy and environmental policy, we’re not talking about mere cultural affectations. Going backward on the environment will sicken and kill thousands in the near future; over the longer term, failing to act on climate change could, all too plausibly, lead to civilizational collapse. So it’s incredible, and terrifying, to think that we may really be about to do all of that because Donald Trump successfully pandered to cultural nostalgia, to a longing for a vanished past when men were men and miners dug deep.
We can only hope that the administration won’t make too much headway in rolling back efforts to fight climate change, thanks to its incompetence.
* AND THE QUOTE OF THE DAY, GOP-OVERSIGHT-IS-A-SHAM EDITION: Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) actually defended House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes’s botched handling of the Russia probe this way:
“You’ve got to keep in mind that he works for the president. He answers to the president,” said Florida Rep. Ted Yoho on MSNBC on Thursday. In fact, Nunes and Yoho both work for the legislative, not the executive, branch of the federal government.
Doesn’t “he work for the constituents of his district?” MSNBC host Craig Melvin asked.
“Well, you do both,” Yoho said.
Actually, not only is Nunes a member of the legislative branch, but also, that branch to which he belongs is also supposed to exercise oversight on the executive branch, not “work for the president.” Revealing…