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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Levies Tariffs on China; Market Tanks
      •  Trump's Lead Lawyer Quits
      •  McMaster Out, Bolton In
      •  Congress Passes $1.3 Trillion Spending Bill
      •  McDougal Dishes on Trump
      •  Trump Hit with Emoluments Summons
      •  Trump Threatens to Beat Up Biden

Trump Levies Tariffs on China; Market Tanks

Yesterday, Donald Trump authorized tariffs on $50 or $60 billion worth of Chinese imports. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has 15 days to propose a list of products that will be hit by the tariff. Trump also said that this was only the first step, and promised that there will be more.

The stock market took notice. The Dow Jones index closed down 724 points, its biggest drop in 6 weeks, and its fifth-biggest drop, by points, in its history. Boeing shares were off more than 5%. The Asian markets also took a big hit in Friday trading, with each of the major indices dropping between 3% and 4%, and billions in value evaporating.

Numerous industry groups and companies, including Walmart and Amazon, have warned Trump that a trade war would hurt the stock market and the economy and raise prices for consumers. China's ambassador to the U.S., Cui Tiankai, said: "If somebody tries to impose a trade war on us, we will certainly fight back and retaliate." China can do more than just raise tariffs on Boeing aircraft and other imports. It could sell a few hundred billion dollars worth of U.S. Treasury bonds and bills, which would spook the market and raise U.S. interest rates, probably starting a recession.

There was one thing Trump did on trade yesterday that was widely applauded. He announced that his previous tariffs on steel and aluminum would not apply to U.S. allies, such as the European Union, Australia, and South Korea. Still, the market summed up the good news and the bad news and decided the bad greatly outweighed the good. (V)

Trump's Lead Lawyer Quits

John Dowd, Donald Trump's lead lawyer in the Russiagate affair, unexpectedly quit yesterday. On the way out the door, he said: "I love the president and wish him well." Dowd was the one handling negotiations with special counsel Robert Mueller. The trouble was that Dowd was constantly being frustrated by Trump's pulling the rug out from under him. Dowd understands all too well that if Trump gets into a freewheeling session with Mueller, under oath, he will probably perjure himself once a minute. Dowd was trying to negotiate a deal that would limit Trump's exposure, for example, by limiting the areas Mueller could ask about. Ideally, the questions would be in writing and Dowd could just write the answers himself without involving the President, but it is unlikely Mueller would have accepted that. Still, Dowd was trying to do everything he could to protect his client, but the client kept getting in the way all the time. In the end, Dowd couldn't take any more of it and threw in the towel.

Trump wants this whole process over, and fast. That is a big part of the reason he keeps chomping at the bit, and trying to use Twitter to move things forward. What he almost certainly does not realize is that the departure of Dowd will bog the whole process down in a big way. Dowd has been the main negotiator with Mueller and is well versed in the tens of thousands of pages of documents that the White House has given Mueller. He is also familiar with the dozens of witnesses Mueller has interviewed. Any new lawyer will take months to get to that level.

It appears that with Dowd's departure and the recent addition of Joseph diGenova to Trump's legal team, Trump has decided to take a more combative approach to Mueller. One of this first lawyers, Marc Kasowitz, wanted to go down that road but was later sidelined. It is possible that Kasowitz will make a comeback now. According to several sources, Dowd and diGenova got into a heated argument over strategy almost as soon as diGenova was hired.

Trump has been expressing displeasure with his whole legal team for weeks now. According to rumors, Trump has frequently considered firing one of his key lawyers, Ty Cobb, while Cobb has frequently considered quitting. Trump has also tried to hire some of the biggest names in Washington legal circles, including former US Solicitor General Ted Olson; Emmet Flood, who has worked for multiple presidents including representing Bill Clinton during his impeachment hearings; and Robert Bennett, who represented Clinton in the Paula Jones litigation. Thus far, none has agreed to go to work for Trump, in part because they don't want to work for a client who won't follow their advice.

It appears that Trump wants to be surrounded by lawyers who will do things his way, rather than the way their professional instincts and experience tell them they should be done. He also likes having yes-men around him. There is a saying among lawyers that goes like this: "A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client." That could well be applicable here.

Another problem is that Trump seems to view the Mueller investigation as a PR problem, not a legal problem. That is partly true in that impeachment is a political act, not a legal one, and members of Congress are very unlikely to impeach and convict him unless a large majority of the public wants that. On the other hand, now that Mueller is looking into Trump's finances, there is a danger that Mueller could discover money laundering, tax evasion, or other financial crimes. Those are legal problems, not PR problems. Trump either doesn't understand this or doesn't care. (V)

McMaster Out, Bolton In

Not much stays secret in Washington these days, given that both the White House and the Capitol leak like a sieve. Even by that standard, one of the worst-kept secrets in town was the fact that National Security Adviser Herbert McMaster was living on borrowed time. On Thursday, the axe finally fell, with McMaster sent packing, to be replaced by former U.N. ambassador John Bolton. The transition will be official on April 9.

Everyone, of course, is saying all the right things about the decision being "mutual," and there being no hard feelings, and the like. Don't believe it—there is plenty of animosity on all sides, and no chance that things are as kumbayah as claimed. And while McMaster's firing is not a surprise, per se, the President apparently sped up the timeline considerably after meeting with Bolton on Thursday afternoon, resulting in yet another firing-by-Twitter:

Among those who were caught by surprise was Chief of Staff John Kelly, who was reportedly at work on an announcement of several terminations, with the thinking being that the damage would be reduced if several heads rolled at once. It would appear that the President's itchy trigger finger gave a reprieve to Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, and possibly HUD Secretary Ben Carson, and maybe even one or two others. Perhaps these folks will be fired today (it is "firing Friday," after all), or maybe next week, or maybe not at all. With this White House, you never know. Meanwhile, for McMaster's part, he will retire from the military and become a private citizen.

Trump's selection of Bolton hardly comes as a surprise, as he checks all the boxes. First of all, he's popular with the base, and in Trumpworld the base is king. Second, he's a Fox News personality, which means he looks good on television and that he's effectively been interviewing for the job for months. Most significantly, he and Trump see eye-to-eye when it comes to their foreign policy visions. In other words, he's going to be an enthusiastic yes man.

What are the two men's areas of agreement? Well, first of all, Bolton is an unabashed unilateralist, and sees little value in cooperation with the other nations of the world. He dislikes the U.N., which he sees as basically a sham, and has said he would strongly prefer it if the Security Council had just one member—the United States. Bolton is also a big proponent of the use of military force as a solution to all ills, and is practically the only person remaining who believes that American intervention in Iraq was a good idea. He's also a hardliner on North Korea and on the Iran nuclear deal. And like Trump, Bolton managed to avoid going to Vietnam. He says that his failure to serve was the fault guessed it, Ted Kennedy, who apparently singlehandedly "made it certain we could not prevail." Who knew the war was secretly being run out of the Russell Senate Office Building? It is interesting that the most hawkish folks—Bolton, Trump, etc.—are generally the ones who have never seen combat or put their lives at risk. Probably just a coincidence.

Trump is lucky that the NSA does not require Senate approval, because that would be an uphill battle. The last time Bolton tried to get confirmation, as George W. Bush's U.N. Ambassador in 2005, he flamed out spectacularly and had to be sent to New York as a recess appointment. This time around, he surely would not get any Democratic votes, which would mean he'd need every GOP Senator. Although Republicans are being publicly effusive about the appointment, in part because they are terrified of aggravating Trump and his base, they too are surely leery of Bolton's hawkishness and his well-established reputation for temper tantrums and abusive behavior. In fact, here is a pop quiz—all of these quotes came from the NSA-designate's failed 2005 confirmation hearings; which ones were spoken by Republicans?

  • "He's an ideologue, and fosters an atmosphere of intimidation. He does not tolerate disagreement. He does not tolerate dissent."

  • "As to [Bolton's] quote, 'brilliance,' unquote, I didn't see it. I saw a man who counted beans, who said, '98 today, 99 tomorrow, 100 the next day,' and had no willingness, and, in many cases, no capacity, to understand the things that were happening around those beans."

  • "I've never seen anybody quite like Secretary Bolton...I don't have a second, third or fourth in terms of the way that he abuses his power and authority with little people."

  • "[Bolton has] a tendency to act without regard for others, and without respect for the chain of command...The United States can do better than John Bolton."

  • [Bolton seems unaware that] "diplomatic speech should never be undertaken simply to score international debating points to appeal to segments of the U.S. public opinion or to validate a personal point of view."

The answer, of course, is that they all came from Republicans, with the first three the words of folks who worked with Bolton in the State Department and testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the latter two the words of GOP Senators on the committee (Chuck Hagel and George Voinovich). The committee also received a letter signed by 59 ambassadors, both Democratic and Republican, urging them not to confirm. Reportedly, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice also lobbied against Bolton behind the scenes.

18 months in, it is clear that nobody—attorneys, cabinet secretaries, advisors—can get Donald Trump to do anything he doesn't want to do. So, it is improbable that Bolton will singlehandedly effect in any change in the administration's foreign policy. However, it is also clear that Trump is emboldened by those who egg him on, and who encourage his pre-existing tendencies. Bolton will most certainly play that role, and so there is little question that the United States inched a bit closer to the use of military force on Thursday. The only thing that is unclear is "where?" (Z)

Congress Passes $1.3 Trillion Spending Bill

Early Friday morning, with about 24 hours to spare before another government shutdown, Congress approved a $1.3 trillion spending bill that will cover the rest of FY 2017-2018. In past generations, coming within 24 hours of the deadline would have been considered too close for comfort. With this Congress, on the other hand, that is way ahead of schedule.

As late as Thursday evening, it was not clear that a shutdown would be avoided. Though the House passed the bill Thursday morning, there were a number of GOP Senators that balked at the price tag, or who had other objections. Loudest among these was Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who attempted to do something that, apparently, no person walking the Earth has done: actually read the whole 2,230-page bill. He live-tweeted his comments and criticisms while reading; for example:

Around page 600, Paul finally concluded that his point was made, and he stopped reading. He also decided not to take advantage of his ability to stall a vote on the bill, explaining himself thusly:

There were other Senators who expressed objections, though none so visibly as Paul. In the end, a handful of budget hawks on the right and a handful of "we must fix DACA" folks on the left voted "nay," with the result that the bill passed 65-32. It will head to the White House for a signature, and Donald Trump has signaled that he will sign, even though he's somewhat unhappy with the bill.

We now have roughly six months until this debate begins anew. The next time that Congress will have to worry about funding is at the end of September—five weeks before the midterm elections. The odds that that occasion produces a stop-gap bill that punts any real decision-making until after the election are roughly equal to the odds that the sun rises tomorrow. (Z)

McDougal Dishes on Trump

Over the years, Donald Trump has had quite a few paramours—some while he was single, some while he was married. The latter group are going to be making some headlines this weekend, as porn star Stormy Daniels will be interviewed by "60 Minutes" on Sunday, while Playboy model Karen McDougal chatted with CNN on Thursday, and had quite a bit to say.

Among the details that McDougal shared were that she had a 10-month fling with Trump, during which they had relations "many dozens of times." This would be at precisely the same time as his alleged affair with Daniels, and around the time Melania Trump was pregnant with son Barron. McDougal said that she would travel to wherever The Donald was, and he would pay her travel expenses, ostensibly to eliminate any paper trail. On at least one occasion, Trump tried to give McDougal cash after their liaison, apparently forgetting which ones were his girlfriends and which ones were professionals. And speaking of girlfriends, McDougal says that she thought she was the only one. "I didn't know he was intimate with other ladies," she declared, revealing a rather high level of naiveté about the sort of fellow Trump is.

Anyhow, this concludes today's episode of Trump-related smut. Tune in Monday for the next installment. (Z)

Trump Hit with Emoluments Summons

On Thursday, Donald Trump sat for an interview with CNN, and was asked what advice he would give his 25-year-old self. He said, "Don't run for president." Given his tone, and his wry laugh, the line was supposed to be a joke. But, as they say, there's a grain of truth in every joke. In this case, perhaps more than a grain. There is plenty of evidence that Trump does not like being president, and if so, he would hardly be the first person to regret assuming the office. In fact, nearly every president of the 19th century grew to hate the job. Since Trump is, in many ways, a president out of the 19th century, his feelings perhaps make sense.

Undoubtedly, one of the things that The Donald is most unhappy about is that every nook and cranny of his existence is being probed for evidence of bad behavior. When he's not dealing with Russiagate, he's being asked about his business practices, or his extramarital affairs, or his pseudo-university. Then there's his alleged violation of the Constitution's emoluments clause, an issue that reared its head again on Thursday, as the President received a summons from the attorneys general of Washington, D.C. and Maryland, advising him that he is being sued in his "official capacity and in his individual capacity."

This is not the first time Trump has been sued on this basis, but past suits have been dismissed because the plaintiffs did not have standing. That is, they could not persuade a judge that they were personally being injured by Trump's behavior. Thursday's lawsuit claims broad damages to a large number of Washington and Maryland citizens and businesses, who have allegedly lost money due to foreign dignitaries choosing to patronize Trump properties over non-Trump options.

Trump's lawyers have three weeks to respond to the summons, which could be enough time for his whole legal team to turn over (see above). Whether this emoluments suit will stick is anyone's guess; perhaps Trump can dance out of trouble once again. His chances are probably pretty good. The odds that he dances out of every one of the legal issues he faces, on the other hand, are very, very low. (Z)

Trump Threatens to Beat Up Biden

Former vice president Joe Biden has always been known for his rough-hewn, blue-collar style and his willingness to shoot from the hip. And so, it's in keeping with that style that Uncle Joe told a crowd on Wednesday (for at least the second time) that if he and Trump were in high school together, he would have taken Trump out behind the gym and roughed him up.

This is a rather unbecoming thing for a former vice president to say. It is even more unbecoming for a president to respond. But, as Biden knows well, there was little chance that Trump would let the insult pass. And so it was on Thursday morning, when The Donald responded in kind:

First of all, anyone who uses such hyperbole to describe how easily they would "win" a fight is almost certainly a bully/coward who would be unable to live up to their braggadocio. More significantly, however, it is worth imagining what would have happened if Dick Cheney had threatened Barack Obama, and Obama had fired back in this way. It would have been front-page news for days, or weeks, and would have lingered until the end of Obama's term and beyond. Heck, people are still talking about Obama's tan suit, and that was five years ago. It certainly says something that, with Trump, a threat to do bodily harm to a high-ranking member of the previous administration is barely a blip on the radar, pushed down the page by the economic brinkmanship, and the firings, and the lawsuits, and the adulterous affairs, to be forgotten by the time the next wave of tweets hits on Friday evening or Saturday morning. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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