What Motivates Mitch McConnell?

The Senate majority leader has become one of the few unambiguous winners of the Trump presidency so We look at whether his gains have come with a cost.

.. Over the past decade, the Senate Republican leader has emerged as a skilled legislative warrior, obstructing President Barack Obama’s agenda and enabling President Trump’s. But what does Mitch McConnell himself actually believe in?

 

.. Background reading:

Trump Adviser Roger Stone Charged as Part of Mueller Investigation

Roger Stone appears in federal court in Florida and is released on $250,000 bond

A longtime political adviser to President Trump, Roger Stone, was arrested in Florida early Friday on charges of lying to Congress about his contacts with the website WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign, in the latest indictment from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

In an indictment returned in Washington on Thursday, Mr. Stone was also charged with obstructing an official proceeding and trying to persuade a witness to lie to investigators.

In a CNN interview Friday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said of the indictment, “This has nothing to do with the president and certainly nothing to do with the White House.” She declined to respond to questions about whether Mr. Trump had directed a campaign official to contact Mr. Stone about what releases WikiLeaks had planned.

.. The 24-page indictment accuses Mr. Stone of lying to the House intelligence committee in May 2017 when he testified he had no documents or records relevant to the panel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and later when he testified in September 2017.

.. Mr. Stone had numerous emails and text messages dated to 2016 in which he discussed information possessed by WikiLeaks, the website U.S. officials say was the primary conduit for publishing materials stolen by Russia, according to the indictment and documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Mr. Stone had also discussed his efforts to contact Julian Assange

.. The indictment alleges that on July 22, 2016, after WikiLeaks released a trove of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee, a senior Trump campaign official “was directed to contact” Mr. Stone about any further releases the website had planned and to learn “what other damaging information” the organization had about the Clinton campaign. The indictment doesn’t specify who directed the official to contact Mr. Stone.

Five days later, Mr. Trump made a public plea: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” referring to Mrs. Clinton’s email server

.. According to the indictment, on Oct. 3, 2016, Mr. Stone sent an email to a “supporter involved with the Trump Campaign” that read: “Spoke to my friend in London last night. The payload is still coming.”

.. That same day, a reporter at Breitbart, whose chairman was also Trump campaign chief executive Steve Bannon, emailed Mr. Stone to ask about Mr. Assange’s plans. The reporter asked, “What’s he got? Hope it’s good.” Breitbart isn’t identified by name in the indictment, but a person familiar with the emails confirmed the exchange.

.. Mr. Stone replied, “It is. I’d tell [Mr. Bannon] but he doesn’t call me back.” In the indictment, Mr. Bannon is referred to as a “high-ranking Trump Campaign official.”

The next day, according to the indictment, Mr. Stone responded to an email from Mr. Bannon and told him that WikiLeaks would release “a load every week going forward.”

On Oct. 7, when WikiLeaks released the first set of emails on the same day that the Washington Post published the “Access Hollywood” tape recording of Mr. Trump making lewd comments about women—an associate of Mr. Bannon texted Mr. Stone: “Well done,” according to the indictment.

Later, Mr. Stone claimed credit in conversations with Trump campaign officials for “having correctly predicted” the Oct. 7 release, the indictment said.

The indictment alleges Mr. Stone had asked two people to pass on a request to Mr. Assange for documents potentially damaging to the Clinton campaign.

In one July 2016 email, he asked his contact to “get to” Mr. Assange and “get the pending” emails, the indictment said. The Wall Street Journal has previously reported Mr. Stone sent such an email to conservative activist Jerome Corsi.

Trump’s claim that he didn’t violate campaign finance law is weak — and dangerous

The case against the president would be far stronger than the case against John Edwards was.

This all suggests Trump could become a target of a very serious criminal campaign finance investigation. In response, Trump has offered up three defenses. His first was to repeatedly lie. For quite some time, he flatly denied knowledge about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels. But now he seems to be acknowledging that he knew (since his personal company reimbursed Cohen for the payment, he ought to). Now Trump and his acolytes have turned to two other excuses: They point to an earlier case involving former senator John Edwards to argue that what Trump did wasn’t a crime; and they say, even if it was a crime, it wasn’t a biggie — there are lots of crimes, so what, who cares.

The former is a very weak legal argument, and the latter a dangerous one. Indeed, the campaign finance violations here are among the most important ever in the history of this nation — given the razor-thin win by Trump and the timing of the crimes, they very well may have swung a presidential election.

Begin with the Edwards case. The former senator from North Carolina and two-time Democratic presidential candidate was charged in 2011 with multiple campaign finance felonies in connection with payments that one of Edwards’s supporters made to a woman with whom Edwards had an extramarital sexual relationship. Prosecutors alleged that this money was paid, with Edwards’s knowledge, to influence the election, and therefore that the payments were illegal campaign contributions. When the case went to trial, the jury hung on most counts and acquitted on one, which Trump’s defenders point to for support.
But the case is actually harmful for Trump — especially what the judge ruled. Edwards repeatedly argued that the payments were not campaign contributions because they were not made exclusively to further his campaign. The judge rejected this argument as a matter of law, ruling that a payment to a candidate’s extramarital sexual partner is a campaign contribution if “one of” the reasons the payment is made is to influence the election.

As a legal matter, that aspect of the Edwards case is what matters now — and it’s damning for Trump. It provides a precedent that other courts could follow in any prosecution arising out of the hush-money schemes Trump paid: The president could face criminal charges for conspiring with Cohen to make the payments because the evidence shows the payments were made, at least in part, for campaign purposes. As for what the jury concluded in the Edwards case, there’s good reason to believe that the evidence in a criminal case against Trump would be much stronger.

Edwards argued that he didn’t know anything about the payments and that, regardless, the payments in his case were intended to keep news of the affair and pregnancy from his wife — not to keep the information from voters. Trump tried the first tactic, but Cohen’s tapes eviscerated that argument. There is no reason to think that Trump’s attempt to paint these as personal payments is any less of a lie than his attempt to say he didn’t know about them.
.. Unlike with Edwards, prosecutors have noted evidence that Cohen “coordinated with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls, about the fact, nature, and timing of the payments.” If Cohen had made the payments as a purely personal matter for Trump, separate and apart from Trump’s candidacy, Cohen would not have consulted with the campaign about doing so. Further, Trump was first aware of threats to publish information about this affair in 2011, when his youngest child had just been born to his new wife and at the time made no offers of money to keep the news quiet. What was different in 2016 was the election.

In the Edwards case, there was a paucity of evidence. A key witness, Bunny Melon, was 101 years old and too frail to show up at trial. There were no written legal agreements providing money in exchange for silence, as there are in Trump’s case, and no threats by the mother of the child to go public immediately if the funds were not received. That’s why one juror told the media that the evidence wasn’t there to show even that Edwards intended the money to go to Rielle Hunter. In contrast, in a bombshell disclosure this week, the public learned that AMI, the parent corporation of the National Enquirer, is cooperating with the prosecution and has stated that the payments were made to influence the 2016 election. And even more worrisome for Trump, reports emerged Thursday that Trump was the third person in the very room where Cohen and David Pecker (the head of AMI) discussed the hush money payments — making it very hard for Trump to assert a non-campaign-related purpose.

Finally, all the money that changed hands in the Edwards case came from an individual. In the scheme to prevent Karen McDougal from talking about an affair she says she had with Trump, some payments originated from a corporation — AMI. The use of corporate funds to make a contribution to a presidential campaign has been illegal for decades. That makes the offense in Trump’s case significantly more serious than the charges against Edwards, or even the already serious charges Trump could face for conspiring with Cohen to make illegal and unreported individual contributions. And because the source of the payments can ultimately be traced back to the Trump Organization, prosecutors have many robust sources of evidence to comb. Those sources already suggest there were false payments (which would likely violate federal and state tax laws) and “grossing up” of Cohen’s money to account for his personal taxes. All of this may amount to consciousness of guilt and may also be a path for prosecutors to discover who authorized the payments in the first place (likely “Individual-1” or one of his children). The evidentiary record is going to reveal how involved Trump and his family was in these payments — a corporate record that was completely nonexistent with Edwards.

Trump’s legal adviser Rudy Giuliani has argued that the jury in the Edwards case vindicated Edwards, but, in fact, the jurors acquitted him on only one criminal charge and deadlocked on the others. And at any rate, as Giuliani (a former federal prosecutor before he was mayor of New York) should know, criminal jury verdicts are not legal precedents. The Edwards jury, applying the law to the particular facts of that case, did not find Edwards guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This is 100 percent irrelevant to whether Cohen’s guilty plea proves that Trump broke the law based on very different facts.

The final Trump defense being floated, that everyone breaks the law, fares no better. As its chief expositor, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), put it, “I don’t care” if the law has been broken, “all I can say is he’s doing a good job as president.” He added, “The Democrats will do anything to hurt this president. Anything.”

As individuals who have devoted their lives to nonpartisan enforcement of the law, we cannot think of a more dispiriting statement. Hatch is wrong about every aspect of this statement. The accusations against Trump come from career prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (otherwise known as Trump’s own Justice Department). But the more important point is this: We will rue the day a senator trotted out such callousness about federal felonies.

The whole idea of our criminal justice system is to enumerate those offenses that are so egregious that they demand serious jail time. Those felonies are the bread and butter of our criminal justice system. Of course, every criminal defendant seeks to minimize his crimes. But such defendants don’t have a cheering squad composed of United States senators. If Trump wants to argue he didn’t commit the crimes, as he used to assert in April, fine. He’s entitled to that defense. But the grievous minimization of serious campaign finance violations by members of Trump’s political party further corrode our commitment to our age-old ideal of being a “government of laws, and not of men.” If Hatch thinks too much activity has been criminalized, he is in a welcome position to change the laws as a member of the Senate. He shouldn’t denigrate the law in the process. After all, the campaign disclosure requirements at issue here were enacted by Congress (as key post-Watergate reforms after President Richard Nixon’s personal lawyer Herbert Kalmbach went to prison for paying hush money to potential witnesses out of secret cash campaign contributions).

The bad arguments being floated in Trump’s defense are emblematic of a deterioration in respect for the rule of law in this country. The three of us have deep political differences, but we are united in the view that our country comes first and our political parties second. And chief among the values of our country is its commitment to the rule of law. No one, whether a senator or a president, should pretend America is something less.

Show How You Feel, Kavanaugh Was Told, and a Nomination Was Saved

When White House aides raised the issue with Judge Kavanaugh, he adamantly denied it and told them he did not even remember her.

.. They did what had never been done in a Supreme Court confirmation and put him on television to be interviewed, choosing Mr. Trump’s favorite network, Fox News.

Judge Kavanaugh, joined by his wife, seemed flat and mechanical as he retreated to the same talking points denying the allegations. Mr. Trump, who styles himself a master of television, thought his nominee came across as weak. Getting the clip of him denying the charges into the media spin cycle was important, but it was not enough.

.. The tide seemed to turn, oddly enough, when a third woman emerged with even more extreme allegations. Michael Avenatti, a brash and media savvy California lawyer who has been careening from one Trump administration brush fire to another, produced a statement from a woman alleging that Judge Kavanaugh in high school attended parties where women were gang raped. The woman, Julie Swetnick, said she was herself gang raped at one such party, though not by the judge.

Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, rushed to the floor to insist that “Judge Kavanaugh should withdraw from consideration.”

Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a key swing Republican, was so troubled that she took a copy of Ms. Swetnick’s statement, highlighted and marked up, to a meeting of Republican committee chairmen. Senator John Cornyn of Texas went through it point by point with her to debunk it.

.. The Republican senators got into a lengthy conversation about Mr. Avenatti and how he could not be trusted and concluded that Ms. Swetnick’s claims did not add up. Why would she as a college student repeatedly go to high school parties where young women were gang raped? No one came forward to corroborate the allegation, and news reports surfaced about past lawsuits in which Ms. Swetnick’s truthfulness was questioned.

“This was a turning point,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. “That allegation was so over the top, it created a moment that was scary, quite frankly. But that moment was quickly replaced by disgust.

The involvement of Mr. Avenatti, who represents Stephanie Clifford, the former porn star known as Stormy Daniels, particularly galvanized Republicans, reinforcing the idea that the allegations against Judge Kavanaugh were a political setup. One Republican congressional official called Mr. Avenatti’s involvement “manna from heaven.” From the other side, a Democratic congressional official called it “massively unhelpful.”

the notion that Mr. Avenatti tipped the scale was “wishful thinking” by Republicans who were bent on confirming Judge Kavanaugh at all costs.

.. credited Ms. Swetnick’s story with forcing Republicans to request an abbreviated F.B.I. investigation. “If it would have just been Dr. Ford,” he said, “I don’t think the investigation takes place.”

.. But Judge Kavanaugh’s angry outburst rallied Republicans. He went so far in expressing rage that he blamed the allegations on a plot to take “revenge on behalf of the Clintons” and he sharply challenged two of the Democratic senators about their own drinking.

During a break, Mr. McGahn told him he had to dial it back and strike a calmer tone. When he returned to the committee room, Judge Kavanaugh moderated his anger and apologized to one of the senators.

.. When Mr. Durbin asked Judge Kavanaugh to turn around and ask Mr. McGahn to request an F.B.I. investigation into the charges against him, Mr. Graham erupted in a ferocious, finger-wagging lecture. Other Republican senators began channeling their inner Trump and lashing out on Judge Kavanaugh’s behalf as well.

.. Ms. Collins said she would find it hard to vote yes without a sworn statement from Judge Kavanaugh’s friend Mark Judge denying that he saw what Dr. Blasey described.

.. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the Judiciary chairman, got a fresh statement from Mr. Judge within three hours to satisfy her.

.. the three joined other Republican senators in Mr. McConnell’s office to discuss what the F.B.I. investigation should look like. The three undecided Republicans settled on four people they wanted to hear from

Ms. Ramirez, Mr. Judge and two others identified by Dr. Blasey as being elsewhere in the house at the time she was allegedly assaulted.

.. That night Mr. Graham went to dinner at Cafe Berlin with Ms. Collins, Mr. Flake and Ms. Murkowski. They discussed whether a limited F.B.I. investigation might assuage them.

The list of four witnesses they selected, however, later struck Democrats as so constrained that they demanded a more expansive investigation. In the end, the F.B.I. interviewed 10 people, but not many others Democrats recommended.

.. Ms. Murkowski was struggling with what to do. She asked the committee staff to question Judge Kavanaugh’s friends about their understanding of terms from his yearbook like “boofing” and “Devil’s Triangle” to see if they matched his.

.. “The tactics that were used completely backfired,” said Mr. McConnell. “Harassing members at their homes, crowding the halls with people acting horribly, the effort to humiliate us really helped me unify my conference. So I want to thank these clowns for all the help they provided.”

.. Less helpful may have been Mr. Trump’s decision to mock Dr. Blasey during a rally in Mississippi

.. White House aides insisted that the president’s outburst fortified Republicans.

.. Trump and other Republicans accused sex-crime victims protesting Kavanaugh as protesters paid by George Soros
.. The GOP Senate whip, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), called the victims a “mob” and echoed the bogus claim that they were paid protesters. They deny victims’ very existence; they are non-persons — props sent by opponents to ruin a man’s life.
.. Graham snorted that he’d hear what “the lady has to say” and then vote Kavanaugh in.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he’d “plow right through” (more like plow over) Ford’s testimony and confirm Kavanaugh.

Republicans’ defense of Kavanaugh — that Ford and others were props of a left-wing plot and therefore lacked agency of their own — evidences the party’s attitude toward women.

.. You cannot say a party that embraces a deeply misogynistic president who bragged about sexually assaulting women and mocked and taunted a sex-crime victim; accepted a blatantly insufficient investigation of credible sex crimes against women in lieu of a serious one that the White House counsel knew would be disastrous; repeatedly insulted and dismissed sex-crime victims exercising their constitutional rights; has never put a single woman on the Judiciary Committee (and then blames its own female members for being too lazy); and whips up male resentment of female accusers is a party that respects women.

.. What’s worse is that Republicans who would never engage in this cruel and demeaning behavior themselves don’t bat an eye when their party’s leaders do so. Acceptance of Trump’s misogyny — like their rationalization of the president’s overt racism — becomes a necessity for loyal Republicans.

..  One either agrees or ignores or rationalizes such conduct, or one decide it’s a small price to pay (“it” being the humiliation of women) for tax cuts and judges. It’s just words, you know.

.. The Republican Party no longer bothers to conceal its loathing of immigrants, its contempt for a free press, its disdain for the rule of law or its views on women. Indeed, these things now define a party that survives by inflaming white male resentment. Without women to kick around, how would they get their judge on the court or their guys to the polls?