October Surprise Watch: Robert Mueller, Michael Cohen and Allen Weisselberg

The most significant scoop in the past few days broke on CNN on Thursday night: according to sources, Michael Cohen is alleging that then-candidate Donald Trump knew in advance about the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in which Russians were offering damaging information about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, authorized the meeting, and Cohen is willing to tell this to Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

The significance of this bit of information is that, if it can be verified by other witnesses, documents, or other methods, might not be the smoking gun for collusion but would be a hugely consequential piece of evidence that contradicts much of the existing defense that has been offered by President Trump and others close to him. Why? Look at this tweet from House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff:

Schiff’s timeline leaves out a lot of events (there’s only so much you can do with 280 characters), but the basic implication of his sequence of events is correct: Donald Trump’s alleged advance knowledge of the Trump Tower meeting changes everything we thought we knew at the time, as well as everything he said and did after the meeting: every time he said “No collusion,” every time he tried to float another suspect for the DNC hacks, the time he called for Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails, his decision to fire Jim Comey, Donald Jr’s testimony to the congressional committees investigating Russian election interference…  all of those events and comments become suspicious with the benefit of hindsight. If prosecutors can prove this advance knowledge, it could also have a significant impact on Mueller’s obstruction of justice investigation into the president.

Curiously, the Trump legal team’s defense hasn’t been to deny the allegation, but to attack Michael Cohen’s credibility as a potential witness for the government. (President Trump denied the story in a Friday morning tweetstorm.) Of course, what Giuliani does not address in that barb is the fact that Donald Trump hired Michael Cohen to work for him, and to take care of sensitive and unsavory matters like paying off Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal to effectively buy their silence during the 2016 election.

Besides the president, the person who is possibly most at risk from this revelation is Donald Trump Jr. based on the released transcript of his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in September of 2017.  Note this exchange on page 29, which he said to the committee under oath that would directly contradict what Cohen is alleging:

Don Jr Transcript

Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell have both alleged that witnesses lied during their testimony to the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee, though it is not clear if either of them have spoken of the president’s son in this context. If the Democrats win control of the House in November, this explosive issue could be revisited in the new year, culminating in possible prosecutions. In the meantime, the controversy could wind up sidelining Donald Trump Jr. as a surrogate campaigning and fundraising for Republicans for midterms.

As far as the other people who were present for the Trump Tower meeting, we don’t know what – if anything – Jared Kushner may have said about it.  Paul Manafort’s criminal trial in Virginia begins next week, so there may be a chance of this subject coming up.

This is coming up in the context of the special master allowing access to more evidence seized by federal agents during the raids on Michael Cohen’s home, office and hotel room last April, although it is not clear in what context this allegation surfaced. Now that prosecutors have access to at least some of the evidence, it would be fair to assume that they are that much closer to getting an indictment against Cohen.

If this information about the Trump Tower meeting surfaced as part of the evidence collected for the investigation handled by the Southern District of New York, then it becomes highly relevant to Robert Mueller’s separate and more expansive investigation. In other words, the two legal storylines are beginning to converge over this one hugely explosive issue.  Lanny Davis – who provided CNN the audio recording of the Trump-Cohen phone call – denied that the leak came from Cohen’s end.

Perhaps the most consequential and ultimately dangerous revelation of the Trump-Cohen recording is Cohen’s mentioning of Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer.  The Wall Street Journal reported that Weisselberg has been called to testify as a witness before the grand jury that is hearing the Southern District of New York’s criminal case against Cohen. According to experts, Weisselberg, who was first hired as an accountant by Donald Trump’s father in the 1970s, has intimate knowledge of the family and organization’s finances, including the president ’s net worth.  To paraphrase a cliché being used by Trumpologists on television networks, Weisselberg is a man who knows where the bodies are buried. And now, he will have to answer questions about the president and the company’s finances under oath.

Youth Voter Registration Surges in Aftermath of Parkland Shooting

vote-button

Young voters historically tend to be one of the least reliable demographic groups when it comes to turning out to vote regularly in elections. However, there is preliminary evidence to indicate this year’s election will be an exception to the rule. Survivors of the Parkland shooting have been vocally active in gun control and voter registration efforts during the past seven months, and their efforts might be starting to show results, according to findings from the Democratic-aligned data firm TargetSmart. Based on a review of voter registration data for 18-29 year-olds in 39 states, the organization found:

  • The share of youth voter registrants nationwide has increased by 2.16 percent since February 14, 2018 – the date of the Parkland shooting.
  • How that surge in youth voter registration breaks down states that have key elections this November:
    • Arizona: +8.16 points
    • California: +3.37 points
    • Florida: +7.99 points
    • Indiana: +9.87 points
    • Minnesota: +4.68 points
    • Montana: +3.81 points
    • Nevada: +6.62 points
    • New York: +10.7 points
    • Ohio: +5.95 points
    • Pennsylvania: +16.14 points
    • Tennessee: +3.82
    • Texas: +0.12
    • Virginia: +10.49
    • Wisconsin: +5.64
  • In contrast, youth voter registration dropped in only four states and the District of Columbia.
    • District of Columbia: -2.99
    • Iowa: -0.3
    • South Dakota: -1.4
    • West Virginia: -11.52
    • Wyoming: -7.1

The numbers for competitive swing states like Arizona, Florida, Nevada and Pennsylvania are particularly stunning. New York and Virginia are safely Democratic states for their statewide candidates on the ballot this year, though the real beneficiaries of that increased turnout might be downballot Democratic candidates and ballot initiatives. In a close election, the slightest margin could make all the difference.

Another data point worth keeping in mind: according to the U.S. Census, only 46.1 percent of 18- to -29-year-olds voted in the 2016 election, but this group reported a 1.1 percent increase in turnout from 2012.  According to exit polls, Hillary Clinton won this age group 55-37. Why is this important? Because if TargetSmart’s 2.16 percent nationwide calculation is correct, it means that youth voter turnout increase in 2018 may double what it was two years ago.

In summary, if this data is correct and more young people are registering to vote, it means that Democrats are expanding their base of voters, which was a crucial element to Barack Obama’s political success in 2008 and 2012.

Trump, Republicans Down in Poll of Crucial Midwest States

US Capitol at Night

Because of the constitutional quirks of the Electoral College, Donald Trump was elected president because of approximately 80,000 voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. A newly released NBC News/Marist poll of two of those three states does not bode well for the president nearly two years before he runs for re-election.

In Michigan, the president’s approval rating is 36-54.

In Minnesota, the president’s approval rating is 38-51.

In Wisconsin, the president’s approval rating is 36-52.

In contrast, only about one third of voters in all three states say President Trump deserves re-election.

The poll was done mostly after the President’s widely criticized summit and press conference with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on July 16. A majority of voters in all three states were in favor of a Democrat-controlled Congress: 45-36 in Michigan, 48-36 in Minnesota, and 47-39 in Wisconsin. A majority of voters in all three states said the message of their vote in November would be that more Democrats are needed in Congress to act as a check and balance on the president.

Besides House congressional races, all three states also have governor and U.S. Senate races as well.

Kansas Democrats Add Amy Klobuchar to Convention Lineup

Following up on this story from a few weeks ago, the Kansas Democratic Party has added Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) to the bill for its Demofest convention, set to take place in Wichita in late August.  Klobuchar is also rumored to be considering a 2020 presidential run.

Poll: House Democrats Up By 12

Capitol Hill

Democrats lead a hypothetical matchup for the House of Representatives 51-39 according to a new Quinnipiac University poll. The findings of the poll are generally good news for the party out of power. Some of the other highlights:

  • Republicans are only narrowly ahead among male voters, 46-44.
  • White voters narrowly favor Democrats, 46-45.
  • Democrats win all other demographic groups by double digits:
    • Women favor Democrats by a 57-32 margin.
    • African Americans favor Democrats 78-16.
    • Latinos favor Democrats 66-23.
  • Voters disapprove of both parties in Congress: Republicans 66-27, Democrats 63-30.
  • Voters are split about Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. 40 percent say he should be confirmed, 41 percent say he should not. (Historical comparison: the same poll found majority support for Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation 50-35.)
    • Men support Kavanaugh 50-35.
    • Women oppose Kavanaugh 46-32.
    • Whites support Kavanaugh 46-38.
    • African Americans opposed Kavanaugh 61-15.
    • Latinos split 37-38.
    • A 62-27 majority of voters think Roe v. Wade will likely not be overturned in the next few years.
    • A 66-23 majority of voters think overturning Roe v. Wade would be a bad thing.
    • A small 48-39 majority of Republicans is the only demographic to think overturning Roe v. Wade would be a good thing.

 

The conclusions from this poll three months before Election Day:

  • House Democrats are in a good position on the generic ballot. As long as the underlying dynamics of the race remain the same, their odds of winning control of the House of Representatives look good.
  • Republicans have seemingly alienated almost every demographic that isn’t white or male. This does not bode well for their performance in ethnically diverse states like California, Virginia, and Texas.
  • The White House and Senate Republicans have a lot of work to do to gin up support for Brett Kavanaugh. However, Democrats’ attempt to make the Kavanaugh nomination a referendum on abortion rights is seemingly not working, as most voters in this poll say they don’t think the landmark case will be overturned.

 

Reading the 2020 Tea Leaves

A look at what prospective Democratic presidential candidates are up to: