THE MORNING PLUM:
The Trump Tower meeting. Trump Jr. is expected to face questioning about his June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with a Kremlin-connected lawyer, NBC News reports. We have now learned from NBC’s reporting that the lawyer has claimed that at the meeting, which was also attended by son-in-law Jared Kushner and former campaign chair Paul Manafort, Trump Jr. asked the lawyer for information about illegal donations to the Clinton Foundation. It wasn’t forthcoming.
The lawyer claims she was not operating at the behest of the Russian government. But we know from Trump Jr.’s own emails that he took this meeting in the full expectation that it would yield dirt on Hillary Clinton that had been provided by Russia, which was trying to tip the election to his father. We don’t know much about what happened at this meeting, however, such as whether any other exchanges of information were discussed or whether it was communicated to the Trump team how Russia might go about releasing or transferring any such Clinton dirt in the future. Which brings us to …
The DMs with WikiLeaks. Trump Jr. is also expected to face questioning today about his exchange of direct messages with WikiLeaks during the campaign, ABC News reports. In those October 2016 DMs, Trump Jr. asked WikiLeaks for an update on a WikiLeaks data dump of hacked Democratic emails that was rumored to be forthcoming. WikiLeaks — which according to U.S. intelligence obtained hacked information from Russia — also asked Trump Jr. to draw attention to data the group had just released, something the president did 15 minutes later.
Those DMs, by themselves, don’t tell us that much. We still need stronger public confirmation that the WikiLeaks data dumps actually were supplied by the Russians. We need to know more about how the Trump campaign viewed the dumps. We know (see above) that Trump Jr. and top campaign officials were eager to accept any help from Russia against Clinton that it might offer. Did they understand — or had they been led to expect — that this would be delivered via WikiLeaks? That’s a big outstanding question, and it’s still being investigated.
The president and the false statement about the Trump Tower meeting. One of the most significant events in this story remains the fact that the president personally helped dictate the original statement from Trump Jr. that misled the country about the rationale for the Trump Tower meeting. Presumably Trump Jr. will face questioning today about the process that led up to this statement. Why did he — and his father — originally lie about this meeting?
This takes on new significance, now that former national security adviser Michael Flynn is said to be cooperating with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Flynn lied to the FBI about his own contacts with the Russian ambassador during the transition. (These contacts were reportedly directed by top Trump officials or Trump, and themselves constitute potentially serious misconduct.) One big question is whether Flynn was instructed by campaign higher-ups — or even Trump himself — to lie to the FBI about those contacts.
As lawyer Bob Bauer explains, the broad pattern of lying is the issue here — why did Trump and/or his advisers feel the need to lie both about the campaign’s eagerness to collude with Russia and about the contacts with Russia during the transition? Trump’s direct involvement in the falsification of the rationale for the Trump Tower meeting is a piece of that puzzle.
Brian Beutler rightly points out that much of what we already know amounts to both collusion and to a scandal. Right now, we’re just trying to figure out how serious the misconduct really was.
* TRUMP ‘CHAOS’ COULD DAMAGE GOP IN MIDTERMS: The New York Times reports that many Republicans worry that the “chaos” emanating from the top guy is already crippling GOP efforts to organize for the midterm elections:
The scheduled meetings between the White House, the Republican National Committee and the House and Senate campaign committees stopped months ago. Congressional officials find it difficult to get presidential signoffs for even small requests … Some top strategists involved with the midterm elections, including officials with the pre-eminent Republican Senate “super PAC,” say they have yet to set foot in the White House for political planning sessions.
As one senior GOP strategist put it: “You have this feeling that no one is fully in charge of Republican politics.” #FineTunedMachine
* GOP TAX WRITERS STRUGGLE WITH MATH: The Post reports that Republicans are exploring ways of relaxing their plan’s provision ending deductions for people in high-tax states, a sticking point with GOP lawmakers from those states. But there’s a problem, per Rep. Kevin Brady:
Making any of those work within the larger plan could be difficult. Brady said all of the options cost “significant” amounts of revenue, and the overall plan cannot cost more than $1.5 trillion over the coming decade.
The melded House and Senate bill still has to fit within that Senate deficit window. The math gets tough when you’re giving corporations a large permanent tax cut while claiming it’s a middle-class tax cut.
* REPUBLICANS WONDER WHY THE TAX PLAN IS A HARD SELL: Jeremy Peters talks to GOP operatives who admit that the GOP tax plan is deeply unpopular, but they blame their messaging for it:
“We Republicans get into the weeds and talk about technical tax policy and the budget process, and for the average American, that ends up sounding like the adults on the old Charlie Brown cartoon — wah, wah, wah,” said David McIntosh, president of the Club for Growth, which has been among the groups pushing for tax cuts. “And the Democrats are messaging: ‘This is not fair to the middle class and the poor.’”
Nope — the problem is the plan itself. Large majorities understand that it “favors the rich at the expense of the middle class,” and they’re rejecting it.
* TRUMP SPEECH COULD SPARK INTERNATIONAL ‘FURY’: Trump is expected to announce today that the United States recognizes “united” Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, while perhaps deferring the actual moving of the U.S. Embassy to Tel Aviv. Ishaan Tharoor explains:
While that is happy news for some of his core supporters … the proposed move risks … attracting the fury of the international community. … The confused maneuver would create a “situation that leaves us in a half-pregnant state,” Dan Shapiro, a U.S. ambassador to Israel under the Obama administration, told Today’s Worldview. “It creates big controversy for little gain. Our broader goal of achieving two states is not advanced, and what this achieves for either side is unclear.”
As experts also told Tharoor, this will make it a whole lot harder to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, notwithstanding the shrewdness and expertise Jared Kushner will bring to the task.
* MANY REPUBLICANS BACK SHUTDOWN FOR BORDER WALL: A new Politico-Morning Consult poll finds that 63 percent of voters oppose a government shutdown at all costs. And:
Only 20 percent of voters say it is definitely worth shutting down the government in order to secure funding to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a priority of President Donald Trump. More than a third of Republicans, 43 percent, supporting shutting down the government to build the border wall, but only 13 percent of Democrats and 13 percent of independents agree.
We doubt Trump will go through with this, but apparently the fact that he shouted this threat at rallies has had an impact on GOP opinion.
* PUTTING A HUMAN FACE ON CONSUMER PROTECTION: The Progressive Change Institute is launching a new ad on Fox, MSNBC and CNBC featuring an elderly woman who tells the story of being pressured by a big bank to pay off her deceased daughter’s debts until she requested the help of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
The ad represents an effort to humanize the agency at a time when Trump appears set to gut it from within with his choice to run it, who has said it should no longer exist.
* AND MOORE WOULD FACE IMMEDIATE ETHICS PROBE: The Washington Examiner reports that if Roy Moore wins, the Senate Ethics Committee can vote on its own to probe Moore, and passage is all but assured. Then:
The probe, likely to be rigorous, would be carried out behind closed doors by the Senate Ethics Committee’s professional, nonpartisan staff. It could take months, and might come up empty or conclude with an “admonishment” — essentially a slap on the wrist. The committee could also recommend that the full Senate vote on a motion to “censure” Moore or expel him from Congress.
This is a reminder that if Moore wins, his saga will continue staining the GOP, and Democrats are already planning ways to spread that stain to other GOP Senate candidates.