The Morning Jolt

White House

BuzzFeed’s Bombshell-or-Bust Story

Michael Cohen exits the United States Court house in Manhattan after his sentencing December 12, 2018. (Jeenah Moon/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: BuzzFeed has either a presidency-defining bombshell story or they’ve stepped in it again; Beto O’Rourke starts to wander the earth like Caine or David Banner, raising some serious questions about how serious the Democrats’ 2020 primary is going to be; a surprising voice speaks out against the Women’s March leaders; and hurrahs for a new edition of the pop-culture podcast.

Suborning Perjury Is Serious, Right? Or Did We All Change Our Minds on That?

If the big report in BuzzFeed is true, then President Trump suborned — persuaded someone to commit — perjury . . .  and there was widespread belief in the Republican party that suborning perjury was an impeachable offense back in 1998.

President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter.

Trump also supported a plan, set up by Cohen, to visit Russia during the presidential campaign, in order to personally meet President Vladimir Putin and jump-start the tower negotiations. “Make it happen,” the sources said Trump told Cohen . . .

The special counsel’s office learned about Trump’s directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents. Cohen then acknowledged those instructions during his interviews with that office.

Let me guess: Pro-Trump Republicans will now argue that the Clinton impeachment in 1999 proved that suborning perjury is not sufficient to remove a president from office, while Democrats will scream that Republicans are hypocrites, or that suborning perjury about affairs is defensible but suborning perjury about real-estate deals is not.

We all have to live by one set of rules; we can’t have one set of lenient laws that apply to one group of people and another stricter set of laws that apply to another group of people. We’ve amended the Constitution to make that explicit.

There is always the possibility that BuzzFeed got the story wrong. Erick Erickson notes that John Santucci of ABC News responded to the BuzzFeed revelations, “in all our reporting, I haven’t found any in the Trump Org that have met with or been interviewed by Mueller.” Could something like that have been kept quiet? Theoretically. But that’s an extremely big deal to keep under wraps for a long time.

And of course, this is BuzzFeed, who ran the Fusion GPS dossier making unsavory claims about Trump. Our David French — the opposite of a cheerleader for Trump — called publishing the dossier without any verification of its claims “perhaps the worst example of journalistic malpractice I’ve ever seen.”

Then there’s the not-quite-reassuring statement from Anthony Cormier, one of the BuzzFeed reporters, telling CNN that he had not personally seen the evidence that he describes in his report. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, but . . . that report would be a lot stronger if Cormier had seen those emails, text messages, and documents himself. Cormier’s co-author, Jason Leopold, has his own botched stories from a decade or so ago.

As French concluded last night:

The alleged order to lie was about the immensely important matter of a presidential candidate’s reported desire to secure an extremely lucrative business deal from arguably our nation’s chief geopolitical foe — a foe that was even then attempting to interfere with an American presidential election. This is a serious matter. It’s vital that we learn promptly whether this report is supported by meaningful evidence. If Robert Mueller has the goods, we need to see them. Soon.

You’re Evaluating Candidates All Wrong, America

Beto O’Rourke recently shared his visit to the dentist’s office on Instagram and is writing travel-journal entries on Medium:

Have been stuck lately. In and out of a funk. My last day of work was January 2nd. It’s been more than twenty years since I was last not working. Maybe if I get moving, on the road, meet people, learn about what’s going on where they live, have some adventure, go where I don’t know and I’m not known, it’ll clear my head, reset, I’ll think new thoughts, break out of the loops I’ve been stuck in.

I realize I’m pushing on a rope (or insert your preferred metaphor for futility here), but America, you’re evaluating your potential presidents the wrong way.

O’Rourke’s dental hygiene, or choice to spend some time wandering the earth like Caine or David Banner,* is not going to tell us anything useful about what kind of a president he would be. Nor do we learn all that much from how they joke around on Stephen Colbert’s show, drink a beer in their kitchen live on social media, or dance with Ellen DeGeneres. They’re not promoting a new show on Netflix. They’re asking for the opportunity to be commander-in-chief and head of state.

A president can shape the country and our laws in a lot of ways, but as President Obama is painfully learning, executive orders and unratified treaties can be easily undone by a successor. If you want a change to be permanent, you have to change the law through legislation. This means you need a like-minded majority in the House of Representatives and, as long as the filibuster exists, 60 votes in the Senate. (Although there are a few opportunities to work around a filibuster, most notably budget reconciliation and trade-deal approval.)

Senate Republicans are extremely unlikely to get rid of the filibuster. It requires at least 50 votes to do that, and at this point only half the Republicans support this idea. If the Democrats win control of the Senate, they could nuke the filibuster for legislation, but it’s far from clear that 50 or more would agree to do that. Some of them are actually talking about restoring it for Supreme Court nominees. The fact that the Senate is closely divided, and is likely to remain closely divided for at least the next few cycles, means whichever party is in the majority could find themselves in the minority next cycle. (Party control of the Senate has changed in 1994, 2001, 2002, 2006, and 2014.)

This means a president needs to be able to persuade at least a small portion of the other party’s senators to vote for legislation that he supports. Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump all think of themselves as extremely persuasive leaders. All of them found persuading the other party much harder than they expected.

On paper, Trump could have built his own aisle-crossing majority of 60 senators. He’s far from a traditional Republican, and aligns with Democratic-leaning unions on trade and infrastructure spending. He doesn’t care about deficits and doesn’t want to touch entitlements. But the Democratic party’s base believed from day one that Trump was Beelzebub, and Trump relishes fighting with the opposition party. Trump had the option of either working with red-state Senate Democrats or trying to beat them in the midterms, and he chose the latter. With the exception of Joe Manchin in West Virginia, it worked out for Trump.

Maybe this is just the silly part of the Democratic presidential primary, the political equivalent of preseason football — a lot of attention on and analysis of people you’ve never heard of before, and will probably never think about again. But if O’Rourke and the other Democrats want to be taken more seriously, they need to start behaving more seriously.

*Yes, I know he’s Bruce Banner in the comics. The character played by Bill Bixby was named David Banner on the television series.

You’re Not Going to Believe Who Just Denounced the Leaders of the Women’s March

Raise your hand if you expected a blisteringly tough op-ed about the leaders of the Women’s March from . . . Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

While I still firmly believe in its values and mission, I cannot associate with the national march’s leaders and principles, which refuse to completely repudiate anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry. I cannot walk shoulder to shoulder with leaders who lock arms with outspoken peddlers of hate.

Faced with two choices, staying silent while refusing to join the national march, or speaking out, I choose to speak out. Women have been forced to stay silent for too long, and we must demand the same principles from our movement as we do from our society. We must fight oppression and bigotry in all its forms. Otherwise, what — or who — are we marching for?

Sentences I did not expect to ever write: Bravo, Debbie Wasserman Schultz; this took courage and you’re probably going to get grief over this from allies (or maybe they’re in the process of becoming former allies). Most Democrats are averting their eyes and ducking the questions of the Women’s March leaders praise for the Nation of Islam. Bill Clinton didn’t mind sharing the stage with Louis Farrakhan in September at the funeral service for Aretha Franklin.

ADDENDUM: Will wonders never cease! Mickey and I found time to tape another episode of the pop-culture podcast, the second in two weeks. We go deep into that horrific tale of the kidnapping of Jayme Closs; I vent a bit about the Jets hiring Adam Gase and Gregg Williams; Mickey vents about the endless drama surrounding Antonio Brown; we discuss what’s on Netflix and the joys of belatedly discovering shows like AMC’s Turn: Washington’s Spies and some of those infamous Cardi B. videos.

You know how every podcast host says, “Don’t forget to subscribe, and don’t forget to leave a review for us on iTunes”? Look, I’m not going to nag you. If you can do it, great. If not, you’re busy, we understand.

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