Thursday, April 25, 2019

It's Biden's Nomination To Lose

So it's official. Joe Biden is in. The man who's been running for president since Reagan was in office has finally announced his candidacy to become the 46th President of the United States. To say this was anticlimactic would be putting it mildly. Face it, if you thought for one moment that Biden was going to punt on what would likely be his last, best chance to realize his life-long dream, you are to politics what Monday-morning quarterbacks are to the NFL.

Two things immediately jump out. First, he enters the race as the prohibitive favorite to win the Democratic nomination; only Bernie Sanders is within striking distance. Second, he's also the prohibitive favorite to beat Trump in 2020. There's not a single poll that doesn't show him ahead in the presidential race. Look, I understand it's still early - at this point in the 2008 presidential election both Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton were the favorites to win the Republican and Democratic nomination respectively, and we all know what happened in that election. It also bears noting that going into the summer of 2015, Trump was polling at 5 percent and Jeb Bush was the clear frontrunner. So, yes, anything can happen.

All that aside, the demographics bode well for Biden. For starters, he's the only establishment / moderate candidate in the field, which means he won't have to worry about splitting the vote with other like-minded candidates. So far as I can tell, about the only competition Biden has could potentially come from Amy Klobuchar, Tim Ryan and, maybe, John Hickenlooper. Currently, all three are polling at a collective 3.2 percent according to RCP. Compare and contrast that with Bernie, who has to contend with the likes of Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg - my current dark horse favorite - Kamala Harris and Beto O'Rourke, all of whom are polling at a combined 28.6 percent, 5 points higher than Sanders' overall total. In other words, every vote that goes to one of those four is one less vote Bernie gets. The longer they stay in the race, the harder it is for him to win the nomination.

Biden's biggest strength comes down to geography. Let's face it, Trump ran an inside straight through the Rust Belt states. He won the presidency by edging out Clinton in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania with a combined margin of less than 80 thousand votes. The candidate who wins the Democratic nomination MUST make sure that doesn't happen again. That means the eventual nominee must have a message that resonates with this part of the country, and Biden, if nothing else, is popular with blue-collar workers, the very voters who put Trump in the White House.

But I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that for all his strengths, Biden has a couple of fairly large hurdles to overcome. The largest of these also happens to be his biggest strength. The man has been around forever. When you look up the word establishment, there's a picture of him right next to it. He makes Hillary look like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. And while, according to Gallup, about 50 percent of registered Democrats identify as either moderate or conservative, the other 50 percent identify as liberal. And a lot of those liberal Democrats are looking for someone considerably younger and more progressive than Uncle Joe.

And then there's the other hurdle: women voters. The recent revelation that Biden, on more than just a few occasions, got a little too familiar with his fellow female politicians, though not necessarily disqualifying, is nonetheless problematic. While nobody is accusing him of being Roy Moore or Harvey Weinstein, he's also not exactly Mr. Rogers either. The guy doles out hugs about as frequently as a baby soils his diaper. And his non-apologetic explanation after the fact has apparently not gone over too well with the very demographic he will need in a head to head matchup with a man who routinely snuck into the dressing rooms of his beauty contestants while they were naked. If this issue ends up coming down to a coin flip next November, we're fucked. Clearly, Biden has some fence mending to do here.

But overall, Biden has, in my opinion, the best chance of making Trump a one-term president. He's not too far to the left that centrist Democrats and even some moderate Republicans (yes, they're out there and they're looking for an excuse not to vote for Trump) won't find him attractive. And he's liberal enough so that he can get at least a plurality of primary votes. In this very crowded field, if Biden continues to poll around 30 percent, he'll win the nomination. Like I said earlier, only Bernie can compete with him.

I know what you're thinking - yes, I'm that good. What about his age? What about it? If both Trump and Bernie can run for president, and both are well into their 70s, why can't Biden? It's absurd to think that in this day and age, a man with as impressive a resume as Biden's isn't up to the task of running the country simply because of the year he was born. Given that the current occupant of the Oval Office spends more than half his time watching Fox News and playing golf, Biden could sleep through the first two years of his term and still accomplish more.

Just think about it: a ticket of Biden and Buttigieg would be quite formidable in 2020. Two men who actually know a thing or two about blue-collar workers and who could make a compelling argument for why the part of the country that overwhelmingly went for Trump four years ago, should reconsider that decision and vote blue this time around.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Mueller Provides A Roadmap

This was no four-page summary; nor was it a lame attempt at a press conference from an attorney general who sold his oath of office to curry favor with his boss. This was 448 pages of damnable material that clearly makes the case that Donald Trump, while in office, obstructed justice; and were it not for the fact that he is a sitting president, he most likely would have been indicted and would now be facing criminal prosecution.

Let's put aside, for the moment, all the people associated with Trump's campaign that have either pleaded guilty to or been convicted of a crime. Suffice to say, next to this motley crew, the Nixon White House was comprised of singing nuns. Just reading the table of contents in Volume II should send chills down one's spine. After going through the report, the only logical conclusion that a reasonably rational person can come to is that this man is unfit for the office for which he was elected. Consider the following:

1. Mueller's hands were tied from the beginning. On page 2 of Volume II, he writes, "The Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) has issued an opinion finding that 'the indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting president would impermissibly undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions' in violation of 'the constitutional separation of powers.'" In other words, per DOJ guidelines, Trump was never in legal jeopardy. He knew it and so did his attorneys.

2. Trump was not exonerated as both he and William Barr have been maintaining. Far from it. "The evidence we obtained about the president’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that would need to be resolved if we were making a traditional prosecutorial judgment. At the same time, if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."

3. Mueller examined ten instances where possible obstruction of justice took place, beginning with the firing of then FBI Director James Comey for not dropping the Michael Flynn investigation - a decision he later blamed then Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for making; to later admitting publicly in an interview with NBC's Lester Holt that he fired Comey "because of the Russia thing"; to directing White House counsel Don McGahn to have Mueller fired; to instructing members of his communication staff to lie about the infamous Trump Tower meeting; to asking CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats to intervene on his behalf in the Russia investigation; to his attempts to have then Attorney General Jeff Sessions unrecuse himself, and when that failed, replace him with someone more loyal.

4. Trump clearly had corrupt intent with regard to his obstruction. Regarding the infamous White House meeting in which Trump asked Comey whether he could "see his way" to ending the Flynn investigation, Mueller writes, "The President's decision to clear the room and, in particular, to exclude the Attorney General from the meeting signals that the President wanted to be alone with Comey." Corrupt intent is the smoking gun with respect to obstruction and it proves conclusively that Trump knew that what he was doing was wrong.

5. Trump attempted to influence the testimony of both his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his former personal attorney Michael Cohen. In the case of the former, by dangling the possibility of a pardon; in the case of the latter, by paying Cohen's legal fees through the Trump Corporation and by reassuring him through his legal counsel that "he had his back." But when Cohen decided to cooperate fully with the Southern District of New York, Trump turned on his former lawyer and threatened him with disclosures about his family. He also referred to him in a Tweet as a "rat." In analyzing Trump's conduct regarding Manafort, Mueller writes, "There is evidence that the President's actions had the potential to influence Manafort's decision whether to cooperate with the government." Regarding Cohen, Mueller writes, "There is evidence that could support the inference that the President intended to discourage Cohen from cooperating with the government because Cohen's information would shed adverse light on the President's campaign-period conduct and statements."

6. Contrary to what William Barr said in his press conference, there is evidence that the Trump campaign colluded - the legal term is conspired - with the Russians. In Volume I, Mueller writes that "the Trump campaign showed interest in WikiLeaks's releases of hacked materials throughout the summer and fall of 2016." The hacked materials in question were the emails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, which painted an unfavorable picture of both Hillary Clinton and her campaign. And then there's that meeting at Trump Tower in which Donald Trump, Jr. and Jared Kushner attended. The purpose of the meeting was to get information on Hillary Clinton that would help Trump, Sr. win the election. It matters not that the information proved to be useless. If you break into a bank and discover there's no money in the vault, you're still guilty of breaking into a bank. The fact that Mueller felt he could not prove conspiracy beyond a reasonable doubt does not mean a conspiracy did not exist.

7. Trump is not out of the woods legally. While he may not face the consequences of his actions while in office, he will undoubtedly face them in 2021, should he not win reelection. That's because the protections his office affords him will not be there when he is a private citizen. And to be sure, Mueller has established in his report more than ample evidence that Trump broke the law and that he knew it. To put it another way, innocent men do not behave in the manner with which this president has behaved.

8. Now it's up to Congress. Whether the Democratic-controlled House moves forward with an impeachment proceeding or not, it is imperative that every part of Trump's administration and his financial empire be thoroughly investigated. Mueller has given Dems a clear and precise roadmap of where they should go. Trump went to great lengths to impede a legitimate counter-intelligence investigation. The question is why. It is up to the Committee chairs to see to it that we get the answers. I have maintained from day one that the thing Trump fears most is that the source of his income might be disclosed. On more than one occasion he or a member of his family has let slip that the bulk of their money comes from Russia. Should it be revealed that Russian oligarchs - and by extension Vladimir Putin - have leverage over him, it would be the end of his political career and, with it, his business empire. He will go to any lengths not to let that happen, even breaking the law.

In summation, Robert Mueller did a most thorough job of detailing for the American public the high crimes and misdemeanors of this president. We can lament that he could not, given DOJ guidelines, indict him. But let no one think for even a nanosecond that a failure to indict is synonymous with guiltlessness. What he has done, though, is given those entrusted with safeguarding this democracy the tools necessary to mete out the proper and just punishment.