Mikhail Metzel/Getty Images

The Trump campaign is suggesting Hillary Clinton is too close to Vladimir Putin—no, really.

The Trump team has issued a press release headlined: CLINTON’S CLOSE TIES TO PUTIN DESERVE SCRUTINY. This strange accusation supports the theory of Tony Schwartz, who ghostwrote Trump’s The Art of the Deal, that Trump often engages in projection. As Schwartz once tweeted, “Something I saw early on w/ Trump: most negative things he says about others are actually describing him.”

Given this habit of projection, we can expect future press releases like these from the Trump campaign:

CLINTON’S FOREIGN POLICY IS A BIZARRE MISHMASH OF ANTI-INTERVENTIONISM AND BELIGERENCE

CLINTON’S RACIST COMMENTS ABOUT MUSLIMS SHOULD BE CONDEMNED

CLINTON OFTEN ENGAGES IN CHILDISH NAME-CALLING

CLINTON’S SEXUAL COMMENTS ABOUT HER DAUGHTER ARE HIGHLY DISTURBING

CLINTON IS A LOUD, ANGRY MAN WITH SMALL HANDS, A HAIR WEAVE, AND AN ORANGE TAN

April 25, 2018

Why it’s nearly impossible for Trump to kill the Russia investigation.

While fears that President Donald Trump might oust Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and special counsel Robert Mueller have ebbed in recent days, concerns remain about the long-term fate of the Russia investigation. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow argued last night that Mueller has taken steps to make sure it could continue without him.

It’s not clear if Mueller’s actions are a conscious effort to entrench the investigation beyond the special counsel’s office. Given the investigation’s scope, there are legitimate reasons for him to liaise with the National Security Division and other key offices in the Department of Justice. The Manafort investigation also has deep roots in the federal prosecutor’s office in eastern Virginia that precede Mueller’s appointment.

The Russia investigation is not immortal, but it is very hard to kill. Whether and how it would die depends on the whims of the president and the integrity of DOJ personnel who respond to them. Former FBI Director James Comey made a similar point in an interview with Maddow last week.

“If somebody did want to end the Mueller investigation, how would they do it?” she asked him.

“I actually don’t think you could accomplish that by firing Director Mueller,” he replied. “I think you’d have to fire everybody in the FBI and the Justice Department to accomplish that in practice, given the commitment of the people in those organizations.”

Jack Goldsmith, a former DOJ official in the George W. Bush administration, argued in January that DOJ’s culture of independence would make it hard to find a willing executioner for the Russia investigation, and that even pardons wouldn’t be able to halt its progress. “They wouldn’t stop the Justice Department from reporting Mueller’s findings to Congress under the special counsel regulations,” he wrote. “They wouldn’t stop related state prosecutions. And they would be political dynamite that would destroy Trump’s presidency.”

Even if Trump succeeds in purging the Justice Department, he can’t force Rosenstein and Mueller to unlearn whatever they’ve learned so far. There’s always the risk that Mueller could simply tell Congress and the American people what he found out if he’s fired prematurely. And Comey’s book tour underscores that some Justice Department personnel could do far more political damage from the outside than from within.

April 23, 2018

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Jonathan Chait is wrong to conflate suffering with victimhood.

The New York magazine writer worries that female Democratic politicians risk falling into a “victim trap” if the media focuses too much on their experiences with sexism or harassment. “On the left, victimhood is a prime source of authority, and discourse revolves around establishing one’s intersectional credentials and detailing stories of mistreatment that reinforce them,” Chait wrote in a post on Sunday. The danger, he said, is that a “heavy emphasis on a politicians’ suffering might undercut their ability to project an image of strength and competence.”

But are stories about suffering inherently demeaning? Can’t suffering also be a sign of strength?

Consider the way that successful male politicians are often portrayed by the media. Bill Clinton, the son of a single mother, came from a hardscrabble childhood. Barack Obama overcame racism (and in a famous 2008 speech on racism, he detailed microaggressions that Chait warns against discussing). George W. Bush became a born-again Christian, helping to save him from alcoholism. Even Donald Trump has a tale of woe: He rose from the ashes of bankruptcy to become even more rich and famous than before.

Politicians tell these stories, and the media repeats them, because suffering provides a ready narrative of redemption and perseverance. It humanizes them. The same is true of the stories about Kirsten Gillibrand being sexually harassed and Kamala Harris being interrupted by male colleagues. In fact, these stories may be even more politically powerful because of how many people can relate to them—about half of the country, to be exact.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty

“This is a serious situation.”

That’s what Richard Painter, former ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, told me about the allegations facing Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt. On Saturday, The Hill reported that Pruitt conducted official EPA business with the fossil fuel lobbyist whose wife rented Pruitt a $50/night room in the couple’s condominium on Capitol Hill in D.C. The lobbyist, Steven J. Hart, had previously denied doing business with the agency in the past two years. Pruitt had also previously said that “Hart has no clients that have business before this agency.”

Painter, an outspoken critic of the Trump administration’s ethical lapses, told me this news could open Pruitt to criminal charges. “I think [Pruitt] is already in violation of the gift rules, because $50 a room a night in D.C. is a gift,” he said. “But when you meet the gift-giver and sit down and conduct official business with him, you make yourself vulnerable to prosecution under the bribery statute.” Painter also noted, however, that it’s difficult to convict politicians on bribery charges, and that it’s unlikely Trump’s Department of Justice would go after Pruitt. (Painter is exploring a run for U.S. Senate.)

Pruitt has been under fire for nearly a month due to myriad ethical scandals, mostly surrounding excessive spending on travel and security. But Painter said Pruitt’s dishonesty about meeting with Hart does the most potential harm to the public. “I don’t like him wasting taxpayer money—a $43,000 phone booth, I don’t appreciate it,” he said. “But trashing the planet for energy companies is far, far worse.”

This isn’t the first time Pruitt has been caught in a contradiction lately. He told Fox News that he didn’t know about large pay raises given to his top aides, but The Atlantic uncovered an email that suggests he personally approved it.

Updated on April 23 at 1:01 p.m.

April 20, 2018

MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty Images

The DNC’s Russia lawsuit goes where Mueller hasn’t (yet).

The Democratic National Committee’s new lawsuit accuses the Trump campaign and Moscow of working in concert to undermine Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid, releasing embarrassing documents stolen through cyberattacks. It’s a familiar claim to those who’ve followed the Russia investigation for the past 18 months, but it’s also one that special counsel Robert Mueller hasn’t made—so far.

Mueller has been pretty busy, of course. He’s brought indictments against multiple people in President Donald Trump’s inner circle on charges largely unrelated to Russian meddling. Some defendants, including former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates, have taken plea deals for lying to investigators. In February, Mueller’s team filed quasi-symbolic indictments against Russian intelligence operatives who used social media sites to spread disinformation.

But the special counsel’s office hasn’t yet taken action publicly on the seminal act of Russian interference: cyberattacks against the DNC and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta in 2015, followed by the releases of stolen files at key moments during the campaign. The embarrassing contents helped topple DNC chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz on the eve of the convention and damaged Clinton’s standing among Democrats who supported Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

The party’s 66-page complaint, filed on Friday in a federal court in Manhattan, tries to fill the gap left by Mueller to date. It draws from news reports and Mueller’s indictments so far to draw connections between Trump, his inner circle, WikiLeaks, and a constellation of Russian officials and oligarchs, all to accuse the president of committing “an act of previously unimaginable treachery.”

Taking a president and his campaign to court for criminal activity isn’t without precedent: The DNC sued Richard Nixon’s campaign for the break-in at the party’s Watergate headquarters, eventually receiving a $750,000 settlement in 1974.

April 16, 2018

NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

Michael Cohen’s mystery client is none other than Sean Hannity.

The Fox News host is infamous for his zealous defense of President Donald Trump against all manner of foes and scandals. The bond between the two men now appears to be more than ideological: Cohen’s lawyers revealed in a federal court in New York City on Monday that Hannity is the previously unnamed third client of the president’s longtime personal lawyer (the other two are former RNC official Elliott Broidy and Trump himself). The legal matters on which Hannity received counsel from Cohen are currently unknown.

The revelation comes as Cohen and Trump try to convince a judge to shield their communications from federal investigators, who carried out a surprise raid on Cohen’s office, home, and hotel room last week for evidence in a criminal investigation. That probe began with a referral from special counsel Robert Mueller to the federal prosecutor’s office in Manhattan. That office is now reportedly looking into potential bank fraud and campaign-finance violations by Cohen.

Hannity is the Russia investigation’s most persistent and misleading critic, using his nightly television perch on Fox News to accuse Mueller and other Justice Department officials of acting as a “deep state” working to illegitimately bring down Trump’s presidency. Trump occasionally urges his supporters via Twitter to watch the show when it airs. During his first episode after the raid last week, Hannity described the search of Cohen’s office in similarly bombastic terms.

This is an unprecedented abuse of power,” Hannity warned in his opening monologue. “It needs to be countered and countered immediately.” Later, he declared that it was vital to “investigate [Mueller’s] team of partisan witch hunters” for “trying to overturn a duly elected president.” At no point did Hannity note that he had also sought and received legal advice from Cohen, or that his own legal affairs could be caught up in the investigation.

Updated on April 16 at 5:21 p.m. ET

April 13, 2018

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Trump’s politicized pardons are the rule, not the exception.

The president on Friday pardoned Scooter Libby, a former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney who was convicted in 2007 for lying to the FBI and a federal grand jury about leaking an undercover CIA operative’s identity. (George W. Bush had partially commuted Libby’s sentence, sparing him jail time, but rebuffed pressure from Cheney and other conservatives to issue a full pardon.)

Trump’s decision fits a distinct pattern. While George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and other presidents all used the constitutional power of mercy to benefit their political allies from time to time, Trump almost exclusively uses pardons to favor his supporters and infuriate his adversaries, not to alleviate injustices.

This trend began last August with the pardon of Joe Arpaio, an Arizona sheriff and enthusiastic political supporter of Trump who had defied a judge’s order in a racial-profiling lawsuit. Last month, Trump wiped away the sentence for Kristian Saucier, a Navy sailor convicted of illegally photographing a nuclear submarine’s top-secret propulsion system. Trump invoked Saucier’s case on the campaign trail to criticize Hillary Clinton, whom he also accused of mishandling classified information. Only Trump’s decision last December to commute a life sentence for an Iowa meatpacking executive enjoyed bipartisan support.

Friday’s pardon of Libby also sends a thinly veiled message of support to Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller in the Russia investigation. Wiping away Libby’s conviction for lying and for obstruction of justice during a special prosecutor’s high-profile inquiry is hardly a subtle move.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The president is in a rage over James Comey’s book.

A Higher Loyalty drops on Tuesday, but, in keeping with longstanding publishing tradition, the good bits have already been selectively leaked to outlets in advance. We’ve learned that the former FBI director compares Trump to a mafia boss, that Trump’s “leadership is transactional, ego driven, and about personal loyalty,” and that Comey admits that the widespread belief that Clinton would become president may have played a role in his decision to announce that the FBI was reopening an investigation into her use of a private email server less than two weeks before the election.

We also learn that Trump was obsessed with the “pee tape,” the most salacious allegation in the infamous Steele Dossier. Comey writes that Trump “strongly denied the allegations, asking—rhetorically, I assumed—whether he seemed like a guy who needed the service of prostitutes. He then began discussing cases where women had accused him of sexual assault, a subject I had not raised. He mentioned a number of women, and seemed to have memorized their allegations.”

Trump took the bait, sending out two tweets attacking Comey on Friday morning.

But of course, Trump admitted, only days after Comey’s dismissal, that he really fired Comey over the Russia investigation.

Scott Heins/Getty Images

The backlash to the teachers’ strikes has arrived.

The Guardian reported on Thursday that a network of right-wing think tanks has released a how-guide to undermining teachers’ strikes. The State Policy Network, which is financed in part by the DeVos family, has long been antagonistic to teachers’ unions, an agenda reflected in its new messaging. “Top of the list of talking points is the claim that ‘teacher strikes hurt kids and low-income families.’ It advises anti-union campaigners to argue that ‘it’s unfortunate that teachers are protesting low wages by punishing other low-wage parents and their children,’” The Guardian reports.

The manual continues:

Rock star teachers deserve rock star pay. But the truth is, teachers’ unions and associations (name your state’s) fight policies that would allow good teachers to get paid what they deserve.

Forcing teachers onto the same pay scale, and basing that scale solely on the number of years teaching, means that our very worst teachers make just as much as our very best teachers. And it means that young teachers—even if they are the most effective teachers in a school district—make the least. That doesn’t make any sense. We should find a way that teachers and policymakers can agree to measure teacher effectiveness and pay good teachers what they deserve.

In fact, in states where teachers have recently walked out—that’s West Virginia, Kentucky and Oklahoma, for now—new teachers were already paid least, and veteran teachers still weren’t making a living wage. Merit had nothing to do with it.

April 12, 2018

Scott Pruitt borrowed a few paintings from the Smithsonian. Here they are.

The EPA administrator has some museum art hanging in his office in Washington. That was perhaps the most benign detail in two letters released by congressional Democrats on Thursday that contain dozens of new allegations of excessive spending by Pruitt. Nonetheless, I decided to find out what they are.

The letters allege that Pruitt has been “paying leases for art on loan from the Smithsonian Institution” in order to decorate his office. That’s not true, according to Linda St. Thomas, the Smithsonian Institute’s chief spokesperson. She told me that the government has had a loan program for “I don’t know how long—forever,” and that “we do not charge.” Paintings and sculptures not on view in the museums are routinely loaned to members of Congress, the Supreme Court, and the White House, she said. The latter, for example, currently has a bronze sculpture of Martin Luther King, Jr. on display. “I believe there’s a Kennedy portrait as well,” St. Thomas said. She confirmed that President Barack Obama’s EPA administrators also loaned paintings from the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

St. Thomas said Pruitt currently has three works of art on loan: A landscape from the Smithsonian American Art Museum and two portraits from the National Portrait Gallery. The landscape is a 1854 oil painting from William Lewis Sontag titled Mountain Landscape. It looks nice. (I don’t know a lot about art.)

William Louis Sonntag’s “Mountain Landscape” (1854)Smithsonian American Art Museum

The two portraits hanging in Pruitt’s office are of President James Monroe and former Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall. Monroe is a relatively uncontroversial choice: founding father, lawyer, namesake of the Monroe Doctrine. Marshall is more indicative of Pruitt’s style, since the justice was, in the words of the conservative Heritage Foundation, “responsible for proclaiming the power of ‘judicial review,’ the authority of the Supreme Court to declare the decisions of other institutions of government unconstitutional.” (Pruitt sued the Obama administration’s EPA more than a dozen times to overturn regulations, often arguing that they ran afoul of the Constitution.)

The Monroe painting in Pruitt’s office in by James Herring, dated 1834, St. Thomas said. The Marshall painting is James Reid Lambdin, done after 1831.

Herring’s portrait of James Monroe (left) and Lambdin’s portrait of John MarshallNational Portrait Gallery

I’m not sure what these paintings say, if anything, about Pruitt’s taste. But they have nothing to do with his spending problem.

Win McNamee/Getty

Another bomb just dropped on Scott Pruitt—from a Trump ally.

A former top political aide to the Environmental Protection Administrator who describes himself as a Republican and loyalist to President Donald Trump is coming out swinging against his former boss. His newly public allegations of excessive spending, retaliation, and overall shady behavior at EPA could represent the most significant threat to Pruitt’s job yet.

The New York Times had previously reported that Kevin Chmielewski, Pruitt’s former deputy chief of staff for operations, was placed on unpaid administrative leave after refusing to approve Pruitt’s requests expensive office furniture and first-class flights. Chmielewski has now confirmed this story in a wide-ranging conversation with congressional Democrats, the contents of which were published in letters Democrats sent to Pruitt and Trump on Thursday. Chmielewski also provided a wealth of new details about Pruitt’s myriad scandals—including one tense situation that culminated in Chmielewski filing a police report against the head of Pruitt’s security team.

Those details are contained within the letters published below, but a few notable ones: Chmielewski, who was among the first employees of Trump’s presidential campaign before he joined Pruitt’s office, said that he believes Pruitt retaliated against him for raising concerns about excessive spending on security, office decor, and first-class flights. (The decor, apparently, included art leased from the Smithsonian.) He said he overheard Pruitt speaking with Stephen J. Hart, the energy lobbyist who rented part of his condo to Pruitt for $50 per night, about concerns that Pruitt wasn’t paying his rent. Chmielewski said he had evidence that Pruitt knew about the huge raises given to his top aides in defiance of White House orders, despite Pruitt repeatedly claiming he had no idea about them. He also said he cooperated with the inquiry from Democrats because “regardless of political party, ‘right is right, and wrong is wrong,’” according to the letters.

4.12.2018 Letters to Trump and Pruitt from Democrats by Emily Atkin on Scribd

The significance of these claims stems from Chmielewski’s close relationship to Trump, who is the only reason Pruitt still has a job. During a campaign rally in April 2016, Trump personally called Chmielewski to the stage to praise him. “Where the hell is Kevin?” Trump said. “He’s a star.” He’s also not the only Republican raising concerns. Trey Gowdy, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said on Wednesday that Pruitt has not been adequately cooperating with his investigation of Pruitt’s scandals.