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Donald Trump Jr. just blew apart his father’s “no collusion” case.

The most striking thing about the story that has dominated the news for the last three days—that Trump Jr. met with a Kremlin-connected attorney after being promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton in an email—is just how dumb it is. Young Donald’s story changed drastically with every new revelation, as if he had forgotten that there was an email in his inbox backing the whole story up. The fact that Trump Jr. would leave an electronic paper trail for an at least mildly treasonous meeting suggests a level of naivety and/or privilege unmatched in recent American political history. More importantly, even if nothing came of this meeting, Trump Jr. has destroyed his father’s repeated insistence that there was no collusion between the campaign and the Russian government during the election.

To a large extent, this has always been an absurd argument, given how much Trump and his campaign did to amplify material released by the Russian hacks. (You will recall that Trump even publicly called for more hacks.) But Trump’s own son, who played an outsized role in his campaign, has now been shown to have set up a meeting about information he thought had been acquired by the Russian government for the expressed purpose of aiding his father’s campaign. The Trump campaign’s plausible deniability was never all that plausible to begin with, but these revelations have smashed it to dust.

This is a big problem, and Trump and his allies don’t yet know quite what to do about it. After vociferously defending his daughter Ivanka’s right to sit in his chair during a conference of the G-20, Trump has been notably silent about his son’s actions. That may reflect the very obvious favoritism that defines the Trump family’s relationships, but it also suggests that Trump doesn’t know what to say about the story that has defined and profoundly damaged his presidency. Over the last few days, Trump Jr. and some of the administration’s flacks have tried on a new narrative: 

In other words, who wouldn’t meet with a foreign power promising damaging information on an opponent? That’s a terrible argument for obvious reasons, but it might be the only one they have left.  

August 08, 2018

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Gretchen Whitmer’s win in Michigan primary shows the enduring power of mainstream Democrats.

Whitmer, a long-time lawmaker, won a handy victory to be the Democratic nominee in Michigan, getting  50.3% of the vote. This put her far ahead physician Abdul El-Sayed (who got 33.3%) and businessman Shri Thanedar (who got 16.3.). Whitmer’s triumph showed the robustness of the old school Democratic Party in the face of insurgent challenges. El-Sayed ran as a progressive candidate and got a ringing endorsement from Bernie Sanders. Thanedar’s self-financed campaign also used progressive themes. 

Whitmer’s great advantage was she had the backing of the party’s infrastructure, getting the endorsement of almost every Democratic official in Michigan and the strong support of labor unions. Unlike her outsider rivals, Whitmer was a party candidate who emphasized her legislative track record, notably her success in getting medicaid expansion.

Whitmir was decidedly less progressive than her rivals. Unlike them, she opposed state-level single-payer health insurance and opposed doing away with Charter Schools (which she did want to regulate more)

But, as the Huffington Post notes, “Whitmer also supports a host of traditional progressive priorities. She wants to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, provide state residents two years of debt-free college or trade school and roll back the state’s right-to-work law.” 

Her victory strengthens the general trend of 2018 being a “year of the women” for Democrats. Indeed, as journalist Amy Sullivan noted, Whitmer will be heading a team of impressive female candidates vying for high office in Michigan. 

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Labor unions win the day in Missouri.

Voters emphatically rejected right-to-work legislation on Tuesday evening, making Missouri the first state to overturn such a law by public referendum.

A vote in favor of Proposition A tonight would have blocked both Missouri’s private and public sector unions from collecting fees from non-union members, even though unions are legally obligated to represent everyone in a unionized shop.

It’s the end of a hard-fought campaign for labor organizers and their allies in this conservative state. Activists for the “No” campaign collected twice the required number of signatures to put the legislation to a vote after then-Governor Eric Greitens signed it into law in 2017. In one of his final acts as governor, Greitens acquiesced to conservative demands and moved up the date for the referendum to August 7. As I previously reported for The New Republic, right-to-work supporters had hoped the earlier date would depress voter turnout.

Tuesday’s vote is a landmark victory for organized labor, which is still reeling from the Supreme Court’s verdict in Janus v. AFSCME, which prohibits public sector unions from collecting fees from non-members. At its core, the result is a sign that even voters in red states can be persuaded of the importance of organized labor to worker prosperity.

August 07, 2018

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South Carolina learns that trade wars are not good or easy to win.

The State, a South Carolina newspaper, is reporting that Fairfield County is about to lose 126 jobs as a consequence of the tariffs imposed by the Trump administration. Elements Electronics, a TV-maker, is letting go of the employees. In a letter to the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce, Element wrote “the layoff and closure is a result of the new tariffs that were recently and unexpectedly imposed on many goods imported from China, including the key television components used in our assembly operations in Winnsboro.”

The new layoffs hit a region that is already economically depleted, having lost a textile mill last year.

“When you think you’ve reached rock bottom, to get kicked in the gut like this, you didn’t think anything more could happen,” state Senator Mike Fanning told the newspaper.

As The State notes, South Carolina as a whole has been suffering from the new trade regime. “Trump’s tariffs already have made an impact in manufacturing-heavy South Carolina,” the newspaper observes. “Swedish automaker Volvo has said it may have to break its promise to hire 4,000 employees for a new plant in South Carolina. And German automaker BMW recently wrote U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross saying the tariffs could jeopardize 45,000 S.C. jobs, including 10,000 at its Spartanburg plant and 35,000 at BMW suppliers.”

Trump won South Carolina handily in 2016, although he lost Fairfield County. But however Fairfield voted, the situation of South Carolina as a whole supports the idea that Trump’s trade wars will hurt his supporters as the most.

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The United States turns a blind eye as Saudi Arabia allies with al-Qaida in Yemen.

The official story is that the United States is supporting Saudi Arabia in a two-front war in Yemen against both a group called al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Houthis (Iranian-backed Shiite rebels). But a blockbuster report from the Associated Press Tuesday contradicts this official story. Instead, the AP reports, Saudi Arabia regards the Houthis (and Iran) as a far bigger threat, so have adopted the policy of co-opting al-Qaida fighters and forming a de facto alliance with AQAP. The American military is well aware of this alliance but has decided to ignore it.

According to AP, the Saudi-led coalition “cut secret deals with al-Qaida fighters, paying some to leave key cities and towns and letting others retreat with weapons, equipment and wads of looted cash.” Also, hundreds of al-Qaida fighters “were recruited to join the coalition itself.” The report argues “These compromises and alliances have allowed al-Qaida militants to survive to fight another day — and risk strengthening the most dangerous branch of the terror network that carried out the 9/11 attacks. Key participants in the pacts said the U.S. was aware of the arrangements and held off on any drone strikes.”

Michael Horton, a fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, observes that “Elements of the U.S. military are clearly aware that much of what the U.S. is doing in Yemen is aiding AQAP and there is much angst about that.”

This is not the first time the United States has found itself supporting a de facto alliance with al-Qaida and Saudi Arabia. An earlier version of this alliance in the 1980s resulted in the Taliban take-over of Afghanistan, 9/11, and the Global War on Terrorism.

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Is the current commerce secretary “among the biggest grifters in American history”?

The Trump administration is already a rogue’s gallery of corruption on a scale unseen in American public life since at least Warren G. Harding’s presidency in the early 1920s. The President’s hotels are profiting from the patronage of foreign governments eager to curry favor, former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt resigned amid repeated accusations of ethics violations including using government staff as personal servants, and former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned for similar reasons including spending more than $300,000 on jet travel. These are only some of the examples.

But it could be that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross outdoes them all. After interviewing 21 people, Forbes claims they’ve found a striking pattern. “Many of those who worked directly with him claim that Ross wrongly siphoned or outright stole a few million here and a few million there, huge amounts for most but not necessarily for the commerce secretary,” Forbes reports. “At least if you consider them individually. But all told, these allegations—which sparked lawsuits, reimbursements and an SEC fine—come to more than $120 million. If even half of the accusations are legitimate, the current United States secretary of commerce could rank among the biggest grifters in American history.”

Most of these allegations are prior to Ross becoming Commerce Secretary. But he’s continued the same troubling pattern in office by not divesting himself of holdings even though they create conflicts of interest. “In June, two senators and a congressman asked the Securities & Exchange Commission to launch an insider trading investigation of Ross, based on revelations that Ross shorted at least $100,000 in Putin-linked Navigator Holdings, soon after being told about a forthcoming exposé on his connection to the company,” Forbes notes. “The minuscule scale—the trade seemingly bolstered Ross’ wallet by $3,000 to $10,000—makes the blunder that much more vexing.”


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Firefighter on the biggest blaze in California history: “That just doesn’t happen.”

The wildfire season is only half over, but it’s already breaking records. On Monday, the Mendocino Complex fire, 130 miles northwest of Sacramento, became the largest wildfire in the state’s history. The fire—which formed when two separate fires combined into one massive behemoth—spans 443 square miles, almost the size of Los Angeles. It’s only 30 percent contained.

The Mendocino fire is burning mostly in remote areas, which is why no one has died and the damage has been relatively limited. (The ongoing Carr fire in Redding, California, has killed six people and is the seventh most destructive in California’s history.) But firefighters, who have been stretched thin since last year’s historically destructive season, are struggling to contain the massive blaze, which threatens at least 11,000 structures.

Now, as 17 blazes rage across the state, the 14,000 firefighters battling them are confronting two terrifying possibilities: One, that this year’s season could be a repeat of last year’s, and two, that every season moving forward might be this destructive due to climate change.

“I can remember a couple of years ago when we saw 10,000 to 12,000 firefighters in the states of California, Oregon and Washington and never the 14,000 we see now,” Scott McLean, a deputy chief with state firefighting agency Cal Fire, told the Associated Press. To The Los Angeles Times, he expressed disbelief at how quickly the Mendocino fire became a record-breaking inferno. “That doesn’t happen,” he said. “That just doesn’t happen.”

It does now.

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Democrats want to focus on Brett Kavanaugh’s mentor’s history of sexual harassment.

Politico is reporting that Senate Democrats are planning on asking Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee about “his decades-long relationship with former Judge Alex Kozinski, who was forced into retirement last year by a mounting sexual harassment scandal.”

Senator Mazie Hirono told Politico that, “Given Judge Kavanaugh’s close relationship with former Judge Alex Kozinski, the subject of numerous harassment complaints, we need to know what Judge Kavanaugh knew and his views on this serious problem.”

In the #MeToo era, this is a line of inquiry that could resonate. There was some worry about Kavanaugh’s potential #MeToo problem within Republican circles. As Politico observes, “Critics of Kavanaugh previously raised the Kozinski connection in an opposition research document passed around to try to persuade Trump not to nominate him to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.” Concern that this issue needs a pre-emptive response might explain the sudden spate of op-eds testifying to Kavanaugh’s personal character and mentorship of women.

While this is a worthy topic of exploration, Democrats might be framing the issue too narrowly. Aside from his relationship with Kozinski, there is a broader question of how Kavanaugh will handle issues of particular interest to women such as reproductive rights and workplace harassment law. Democrats would do well to focus not just on legitimate concerns about personal conduct but also the specific impact Kavanaugh’s conservative jurisprudence will have on women’s legal rights.

August 06, 2018

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The Rick Gates-Paul Manafort show: everyone cheating everyone.

Paul Manafort’s former long-time deputy delivered damning testimony in a Virginia courthouse where Donald Trump’s onetime campaign chairman is being tried on charges of money laundering and conspiracy. As described by Gates, he and Manafort were accomplices but Manafort was also Gates victim.

Gates was asked by prosecutor “Did you commit crimes with Mr. Manafort?” Gates replied, “yes.”

As The Washington Post reports:

Presented with a copy of the plea agreement he signed in federal court in Washington, Gates said he conspired with Manafort to falsify Manafort’s tax returns. Gates said he and Manafort knowingly failed to report foreign bank accounts and had failed to register Manafort as a foreign agent.

Andres, the prosecutor, asked Gates whether he understood that his lies to Manafort’s accountants and omissions were illegal.

“Yes,” Gates said.

When asked why he had lied, Gates said he had done so at Manafort’s request.

Separately, Gates explained that Manfort had directed him to report money wired from his foreign bank accounts as loans, rather than as income, in order to reduce Manafort’s taxable income. By reporting it as a loan, Gates explained, Manafort could defer the amount of taxes he owed.

On the issue of why Manafort needed so much money, previous reports pointed to his habit of spending freely on suits.

But Gates’s testimony made clear there was another factor: Gates himself was stealing massively from Manafort.

As The Post notes:

Gates said he had authority on some of Manafort’s Cyprus accounts, which were set up by a law firm in that country. “I added money to expense reports and created expense reports” that were not accurate, he said, to pad his salary by “several hundred thousand” dollars.

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Some at Fox News are tired of the Trump-cheering.

Former White House advisor Sebastian Gorka has one big fan: President Donald Trump loves seeing Gorka on Fox News. There are plenty of opportunities to do so, since Gorka is a fixture on shows like Hannity and Fox & Friends. Last March, the president invited Gorka for dinner, because, according to aides, he “couldn’t get enough of [Gorka] on TV.”

But despite having the president’s seal of approval, Gorka is very unpopular with the hard-news side of Fox, which has increasingly tense relations with editorial shows like Hannity and Fox & Friends.

As The Daily Beast reports, “according to a review of transcripts compiled by television-monitoring service TVEyes, Gorka has not appeared on a Fox News hard-news program since at least February 2018.”

This exclusion is deliberate. The hard-news side of Fox regards Gorka as a “clown.” According to The Daily Beast, a Fox News producer believes Gorka “could offer nothing more than his typically unabashed, unconditional cheerleading for Trump.” Another Fox staffer told The Daily Beast that “we will take other counterterrorism experts. We will not take Seb. Ever.”

When asked for comment by The Daily Beast, Gorka responded, “Seriously? You are such a loser. Get a life.”

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Trump’s trade war is benefitting the duopoly power of big steel companies.

The Trump administration promised to save American jobs by raising tariffs on steel imports, but the real beneficiaries are the two big steel companies, Nucor and United States Steel, whose monopolistic stranglehold on the American market has only deepened. As The New York Times reports, “Two of America’s biggest steel manufacturers — both with deep ties to administration officials — have successfully objected to hundreds of requests by American companies that buy foreign steel to exempt themselves from President Trump’s stiff metal tariffs. They have argued that the imported products are readily available from American steel manufacturers.”

Writing in The New Republic in January 2018, David Dayen warned that trade war could lead to “a duopoly in domestic steel production that, if empowered as the two major suppliers to the U.S. market, would have an enormous impact on what Americans build and eventually what they buy.”

The Trump administration’s willingness to shape policy to meet the demands of the big two steel companies confirms Dayen’s concern about creating “domestic steel monopolies.”

The steel companies have objected to 1,600 requests for exemption. “To date, their efforts have never failed, resulting in denials for companies that are based in the United States but rely on imported pipes, screws, wire and other foreign steel products for their supply chains,” the Times notes. “The ability of a single industry to exert so much influence over the exclusions process is striking even in Mr. Trump’s business-friendly White House, given the high stakes for thousands of American companies that depend on foreign metals.”