October Surprise Watch: The Russia Investigation

Amid all the hoopla about the Supreme Court in the past several days, it’s easy to overlook the fact that there has been some movement in the Russia investigation. Here is a list of events that are already known and set on the calendar, scheduled to happen before the election:

  • July 25: Paul Manafort Virginia trial begins.
  • August 24: Mueller will update the court on sentencing hearing for Michael Flynn.
  • September 7: George Papadopoulos sentencing hearing. (Could be postponed to October, depending on judge’s availability)
  • September 17: Paul Manafort DC trial begins.
  • November 6: Election Day

Trials can be messy affairs – witness examination and cross-examination, as well as presentation of evidence by both sides virtually guarantees that a lot of Paul Manafort’s dirty laundry will be aired out in public for the world and a grand jury to see. While the charges focus on Manafort’s work as a lobbyist for a pro-Russian political clients in Ukraine, it is entirely possible that facts and allegations about Manafort’s time as Donald Trump’s campaign chairman come out during the trial.

Keep in mind, these are events we know about, based on court filings and public statements.  It is entirely possible Mueller could drop another bombshell or two. For example: a subpoena to get the president’s testimony, or the long-expected indictment surrounding the email hacks that caused so much chaos during the 2016 election. The thinking is Mueller will indict Russians who were involved in the hacks in the same way he indicted Russian individuals and organizations in connection with the social media efforts. If this is the case, the potential wildcards are if he indicts WikiLeaks as an organization, Julian Assange as an individual and the head of that organization, and if any Americans are named or indicted as well.

All of this does not take into account any potential developments in the Michael Cohen case, which may or may not overlap with the Russia investigation. (Reminder: it was Mueller’s office who referred the case to the Southern District of New York) When the FBI raided his home, office and hotel room, they seized more than 3.7 million items which federal prosecutors could potentially use as evidence. As of this writing, the judge overseeing the case has ordered that a review of documents and data files seized as evidence in the case must be finished by the first week of July.  (Reminder: federal agents seized eight boxes worth of documents, approximately 30 cell phones, iPads and computers, and the contents of a shredder)

The court-appointed special master has for the most part rejected claims of attorney-client privilege by Cohen.  According to a court document from earlier this month, out of nearly 300,000 items reviewed, only 161 were privileged and seven of them were conversations between Cohen and a legal client containing legal advice. This means that the vast majority of the evidence seized in the raids is fair game for prosecutors.

There has been reporting that Cohen is leaning toward cutting a deal and collaborating with a government but no concrete evidence of that yet. There has also been reporting that Cohen has had a falling out with his former boss and the Trump family, which might make him more willing to talk to federal investigators – whether it by the Southern District of New York or Robert Mueller’s office.

Watch this space.

Doug Jones Sends Out Fundraising Email for Arizona Senate Race

Voter ID Constitutional Amendment Qualifies for North Carolina Ballot

North Carolina voters will decide next fall whether voter ID requirement should be part of the state constitution.  The Republican-controlled state Senate approved the measure, which would bring back photo ID requirements that were part of a 2013 state election law that was later struck down by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2016. The ruling concluded, “the new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision,” and called it, “the most restrictive voting law North Carolina has seen since the era of Jim Crow.” Amendments do not require the approval of the governor, in this case Democrat Roy Cooper.

Governor Cooper released a statement earlier this month saying, “Here they go again. After being stopped by the Courts for discriminating against African Americans with ‘surgical precision,’ this Republican legislature is once again reducing access to the ballot box. We should be making it easier for people to vote, not harder.”

In a statement, Let America Vote president Jason Kander said, “North Carolinians who believe in a free and fair democracy now must stand up and fight to defeat this amendment so that this un-democratic policy is not enshrined in the state constitution. Let America Vote stands with voting-rights champions to make sure that political consequences exist for politicians who suppress the vote.”

According to North Carolina Republican Party executive director Dallas Woodhouse, the State Executive Committee will meet in Charlotte on August 4 to formally endorse the amendments that will appear on the ballot, and work to ensure their passage. Because the amendments were passed by a Republican-controlled legislature, they would presumably help drive Republican turnout in the 2018 election with no governor or U.S. Senate race on the ballot this cycle. Voter ID will be one of six constitutional amendments on the North Carolina ballot this November. Only two states currently have voter ID requirements in their constitutions.

Alabama House Member Considering Run Against Senator Doug Jones in 2020

Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) told The Hill he was considering a run against Democratic Senator Doug Jones, who is up for re-election in 2020. He rated his chances of getting in the race as “greater than 50 percent.”

Jones won what was considered a safe Republican seat in a special election last December, defeating former Chief Justice Roy Moore who was politically weakened after a series of allegations that he made advances on teenage girls as a 30-year-old man.  He is currently serving the remainder of former senator Jeff Sessions’ six-year term, which expires in 2020. He would likely be one of the most endangered Senate Democrats in that cycle.

Biden Endorses Kyrsten Sinema

Former vice president Joe Biden has endorsed Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, the Democratic candidate running for Arizona’s U.S. Senate seat. In an email sent out from Sinema’s Senate campaign, Biden said:

“I am proud to support my friend Kyrsten Sinema in her campaign for Senate. Kyrsten understands the challenges and opportunities that Arizona families face every day and will make a great Senator.

I’ve seen first-hand how Kyrsten gets things done for Arizona. She was indispensable to our work to strengthen the landmark Violence Against Women Act and brought a unique perspective, having worked in communities and schools. Together with Kyrsten, we expanded protections against domestic abuse and sexual assault.

Kyrsten also cares deeply for the brave men and women who wear our nation’s uniform. From standing up for our active duty service members to her work to ensure all veterans get the care they deserve, Kyrsten is tenacious in delivering results.

Kyrsten is as hard-working and principled as they come. She has the rare ability to cut through the political games and work across the aisle to get things done. These qualities can be tough to find today, but are as important as ever to solve our nation’s toughest challenges. We need more people like Kyrsten in the U.S. Senate.”

Arizona’s primary election is scheduled for August 28. Both Larry Sabato and the Cook Political Report project the Arizona Senate race as a tossup.

Both Candidates in Nevada Senate Race Fundraising Off Kennedy Retirement

That didn’t take long.

Rosen Kennedy email June 27 2018.jpeg

BREAKING: Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy Announces His Retirement

Hugely consequential development four months out from Election Day.

UPDATE: Statement from Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez

“If there was ever any question whether the November elections would be the most important of our lifetime, Justice Kennedy’s retirement should remove all doubt. Democrats and Republicans should reject any nominee who won’t uphold our constitution and our basic human rights, and who would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. We must make our voices heard at the ballot box for the millions of American families who are counting on us.

“So if you believe immigrant families belong together, vote for Democrats in November.

“If you believe in a woman’s right to choose and a worker’s right to bargain, vote for Democrats in November.

“If you believe health care is a right for all, vote for Democrats in November.

“If you believe a Muslim ban is fundamentally un-American, vote for Democrats in November.

“If you believe in full equality for LGBTQ people in all areas of our society, vote for Democrats in November.

“If you believe Dreamers should be able to stay and contribute to the only country they call home, vote for Democrats in November.

“If you believe climate change is an urgent threat to our economy, our environment, and our children’s future, vote for Democrats in November.

“If you believe our leaders should put people before corporations, vote for Democrats in November.

“If you believe we should make ​it easier for people to vote, not harder, vote for Democrats in November.

“Elections have consequences. The last Supreme Court vacancy was brazenly stolen by shameless Republican leaders with no respect for American democracy. We cannot let that happen again. In November, you won’t just be deciding the next Congress, you will be deciding the direction America goes in for the next half-century. If the last year and a half has made you angry, organize for Democrats, vote for Democrats, and elect Democrats up and down the ballot – from the school board to the Senate.”

UPDATE II: He’s not a flaming ideologue or alarmist, but CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin really puts the enormity of the stakes of this upcoming Supreme Court fight into perspective: