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It’s Not Collusion, It’s Corruption

By Russell Berman

Democrats are planning to make the scandals surrounding President Trump a key part of their pitch to recapture the House majority this fall. But the one that’s overshadowed all others—Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian collusion—is the presidential controversy that Democratic leaders view as the least politically potent on the campaign trail.

The party sees corruption, not collusion, as the scandal-related message that will resonate most in the midterm elections—a way to connect the seemingly daily controversies of the Trump administration with the Republican Congress’s policies on health care and taxes that polls show are unpopular with the electorate.

“Instead of delivering on his promise to drain the swamp, President Trump has become the swamp,” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said as she stood alongside other Democratic leaders on the steps of the Capitol last month to unveil a new anti-corruption plank in the party’s 2018 platform. “Republicans, the White House, and the Congress are cravenly beholden to big money interests, and the American people are paying the price.”

“Drain the swamp” is a familiar refrain not merely because Trump commandeered it on his way to the White House two years ago; it was a rallying cry for Pelosi when Democrats last retook control of Congress in 2006. And in terms of targets for controversy, the Trump administration has given Democrats an embarrassment of riches. Everyday seems to bring a new allegation of graft or other wrongdoing against Scott Pruitt, the embattled administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Trump’s first health and human services secretary, Tom Price, resigned after acknowledging that he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money to fly across the country in private planes. And the Department of Housing and Urban Development was found to have spent $31,000 on a new …read more

Via:: The Atlantic

      

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‘Cult’ or Not, Trump’s Grasp on the Republican Party Is Stronger Than Ever

By David A. Graham

The last week has been one of the most consequential in the Trump presidency. From foreign affairs to the economy, domestic policy to law enforcement, the volume of important developments has been even higher than the standard, already overwhelming flow of news during this administration.

That includes the fractious G7 meeting in Canada; President Trump’s summit in Singapore with Kim Jong Un; increasing attention to the separation of families at the southern border; consequential primary-election results in Virginia and South Carolina; the release of a Justice Department Inspector General’s report into the Hillary Clinton email investigation; and, finally, the jailing on Friday of onetime Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.

What unites these moments is that nearly every case shows fresh evidence of how Donald Trump has consolidated his grasp on the Republican Party. While not every Republican official or voter agrees with him on all or every case, these events show how dissenters are marginalized and Trump’s vision reigns supreme.

Take each of these episodes in order, beginning with the G7 and North Korea. The GOP spent the Barack Obama years protesting that the president was busy turning his back on America’s allies—remember the fracas when Obama dared to even relocate a bust of Winston Churchill?—and naively conferring with America’s nemeses, especially Iran. Obama was assailed as a traitor at worst and a bumbling fool at best for bowing to foreign dignitaries (and even a robot).

Some of these critiques are more valid than others, but regardless, nearly all of them apply to Trump this week. At the G7, he deepened a rift with top U.S. allies by refusing to budge on tariffs he’s levied on them. As he left the summit, he opted not to sign a joint communique …read more

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Southern Baptists Call Off the Culture War

By Jonathan Merritt

It was immediately clear that change was afoot in Dallas. I’ve attended the annual gatherings of the Southern Baptist Convention dozens of times, but walking around the convention center this week, I was struck by how unfamiliar it all felt. When I was a child, the convention hall was a sea of silver combovers and smelled of denture paste. While the older, more traditionalist crowd was still present in Dallas, the younger, fresh-faced attendees now predominated.

“The generational shift happening in the SBC has thrust the group into the middle of an identity crisis,” says Barry Hankins, chair of the department of history at Baylor University and co-author of Baptists in America: A History. “The younger generation thinks differently than the old guard Christian right about culture and politics, and they are demanding change.”

To enact this change, young Baptists nominated 45-year old pastor J.D. Greear from North Carolina to be president of the denomination. In a campaign video, Greear called for “a new culture and a new posture in the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Refusing to cede power without a fight, fundamentalist Baptists nominated Ken Hemphill as an opposition candidate. But Greear won with nearly 70 percent of the vote, becoming the youngest SBC president in 37 years.

Greear has promised to lead the denomination down a different path, which, he has said, must include efforts both to repent of a “failure to listen to and honor women and racial minorities” and “to include them in proportionate measures in top leadership roles.” If the meeting in Dallas is any indication, his vision is resonating with a large number of the next wave of Baptist leaders.

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In 1967, at New Orleans’s historic Café du Monde, a young seminary student named Paige Patterson and Texas Judge Paul Pressler met over …read more

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The Atlantic Politics & Policy Daily: Locked Up

By Lena Felton

Written by Lena Felton (@lenakfelton) and Taylor Hosking (@Taylor__Hosking)


Today in 5 Lines

  • A federal judge ordered former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort to jail to await trial, citing witness-tampering charges lodged by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

  • The Trump administration announced that it will move forward on imposing $50 billion worth of tariffs on Chinese products. Shortly after, China’s Ministry of Commerce announced its own retaliatory tariffs on American products that would be “of the same scale.”

  • In a wide-ranging, hour-long exchange with reporters on the White House lawn, President Trump said he won’t sign a “moderate” immigration bill put forth by House GOP leaders. Lawmakers are expected to vote on immigration legislation next week.

  • About 2,000 children have been separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border from April 19 through May 31, according to Department of Homeland Security figures obtained by the Associated Press.

  • The Democratic National Committee announced that its next presidential nominating convention will take place from July 13–16, 2020.


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Mueller’s Targets Keep Digging Deeper Holes

By Natasha Bertrand

George Papadopoulos. Michael Flynn. Alexander van der Zwaan. Paul Manafort. Some of the most high-profile men caught up in the Russia investigation all have one thing in common: They’ve learned firsthand that the cover-up can also be a crime.

All four men have either decided to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller or have been sent to jail—not because it was proven that any of them colluded with Russia or attempted to obstruct justice, but because they lied to the FBI or tried to influence the outcome of the investigation in some significant way. Their fates could send a clear signal to the president, who is weighing whether or not to sit down with Mueller for an interview: If you lie to federal agents, there will be consequences.

Papadopoulos, a foreign-policy adviser on President Trump’s campaign, and Flynn, a top campaign surrogate who went on to serve as Trump’s national-security adviser, both pleaded guilty within months of one another to lying to the FBI about the nature of their contacts with foreign nationals. Van der Zwaan, a lawyer who helped produce a report friendly to Ukraine’s ousted President Viktor Yanukovych at Manafort’s behest, went to jail for a month after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about his contact with two former Manafort associates. And Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman, was sent to jail on Friday—not as a result of the original charges against him, which included money laundering, bank fraud, and tax fraud, but because he engaged in witness tampering and tried to obstruct justice, according to prosecutors.

It was strike two for Manafort, who had tried to clear his name months before via a ghost-written op-ed in violation of a court gag order. And “judges have no patience for witness tampering,” Jacob Frenkel, a white-collar criminal-defense attorney, told …read more

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Why Can’t Democrats Give Trump Credit on North Korea?

By Peter Beinart

For congressional Democrats, it’s payback time. Ever since 2015, when Barack Obama struck a nuclear deal with Iran, prominent Republicans—including Donald Trump and his top foreign policy advisers—have accused Obama and his Democratic supporters of, in Mike Pompeo’s words, “surrender.” They’ve accused Obama of signing a deal that doesn’t meaningfully restrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions and, by seeking a warmer relationship with its regime, of betraying Iran’s long-suffering people.

The irony, therefore, is nearly irresistible. In his nuclear summit this week in Singapore, Trump gave up more—and got less—than Obama did with Iran. He flattered Kim Jong Un in ways Obama never flattered Hassan Rouhani or Ayatollah Khamenei. And so, having been offered a free shot on goal, congressional Democrats are taking it. It’s satisfying to expose your political adversaries as frauds.

But the Democrats are wrong. They’re not wrong that Trump proved a weaker, dumber negotiator than Obama. They’re wrong to suggest that makes the Singapore summit a failure. In their desire to prove themselves savvy and tough, Democrats are proving myopic. And they’re making themselves de facto allies of ultra-hawks like John Bolton, who may try to derail the Trump-Kim peace process, and revive the threat of war.

The Democratic criticism of Trump’s behavior in Singapore has two main parts. The first is that Trump made big concessions and got little in return. “What the United States has gained is vague and unverifiable at best,” scolded Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. “What North Korea has gained, however, is tangible and lasting.” What Schumer means is that Trump agreed to meet North Korea’s leader, something other presidents have not done, and to suspend military exercises with South Korea while Kim agreed to only ambiguous, unspecific language about denuclearization.

But by looking at the summit in isolation, Schumer is missing the larger tradeoff. …read more

Via:: The Atlantic

      

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Trump’s Remarkable Admission About Dishonesty

By David A. Graham

For some reason, there remains a public debate about whether the president of the United States is honest or inclined toward autocracy. There’s a certain logic to this: Voters don’t want to believe they elected a chronic liar or a skeptic of democracy and rule of law, and the traditional conventions of press coverage prevent mainstream media from stating otherwise plainly.

Yet on a regular basis, Donald Trump speaks publicly and makes clear both his dishonesty and autocratic impulses. Friday was an especially clear demonstration.

The president strode out from the White House in the morning, first appearing on Fox and Friends alongside Steve Doocy, and then taking some questions from reporters on the lawn of the executive mansion. While he covered a range of topics, and went through many of his greatest hits, the most notable elements were his praise for the totalitarian rule of North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, his own declarations of criminal behavior by political opponents, and a series of easily disprovable statements about immigration law and a Justice Department inspector general’s report released Thursday.

While Trump has shown surprising deference and affection for autocratic rulers in the past, including effusive praise for Kim after the summit earlier this week, Friday’s comments were still unusual.

“He is the head of a country and I mean he is the strong head,” Trump said. “Don’t let anyone think anything different. He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.”

I want my people to do the same. It ought to go without saying that the reason that North Koreans react that way to Kim is that he is a brutal dictator who runs enormous prison camps and a repressive state. Lest anyone believe that Trump is simply naive and unaware of …read more

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How Trumpworld Is Spinning the FBI Report

By Natasha Bertrand

In a long-awaited report, the Justice Department’s inspector general concluded that the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation was not influenced by political bias, and that any hostility certain officials may have felt toward then-candidate Donald Trump didn’t affect their handling of that probe.

But for Trump and his allies, that may not matter: While the overarching report undercut key parts of their conspiracy theories around the email probe, they’ve seized on one finding to fuel unfounded suspicions of a “deep state” scheme to undermine Trump’s candidacy. By focusing on this one aspect of the report, they’re able to keep arguing that the FBI has had it in for Trump from the start—no matter what the IG says.

Trump allies have honed in on a text-message exchange between two FBI officials that was revealed for the first time in the report. In the messages, FBI agent Peter Strzok told former FBI lawyer Lisa Page that “we’ll stop” Trump from becoming president. “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” Page wrote to Strzok in August 2016, according to copies of their texts that were included in the report. “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it,” Strzok replied. At the time, both were working on the investigation into Russia’s election interference, and Strzok would later join Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team. Both had also worked on the Clinton email probe.

Strzok told investigators that he did “not mean to suggest that he would do something to impact the investigation,” and the IG itself concluded that no such impact registered. Trump and his supporters, however, have fixated upon Strzok and Page’s communications ever since they were first released to select reporters by the Justice Department’s Office of Public Affairs in December. The texts, which included multiple negative …read more

Via:: The Atlantic

      

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Maine Voters Overrule Their Leaders

By Russell Berman

For the past two years, Maine voters have been at war with their legislature and Governor Paul LePage over the way the state’s elections should be run.

In 2016, Mainers approved the use of ranked-choice voting in a referendum, becoming the first state in the nation to adopt the so-called instant runoff method. The following year, however, the legislature voted to delay the new system for five years, until 2022, citing concerns about whether ranked-choice voting conflicted with the state constitution. The courts declared that the system would be in place for this year’s primaries, allowing voters to test out ranked-choice voting and simultaneously decide whether to keep it.

And so on Tuesday, the people of Maine overruled the politicians they elected to represent them, voting in yet another statewide ballot initiative to maintain the system they had already approved and veto the law delaying it. In a boost to advocates who want to expand ranked-choice voting nationwide, the most recent ballot measure passed with a larger margin—nearly nine points compared to four points in 2016—than the first referendum did.

“Enough is enough,” Kyle Bailey, campaign manager for the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, told me in a phone interview. “We’re going to decide how we’re going to elect our politicians. The politicians aren’t going to decide that for themselves.”

The debate over the new system has been mired in legal challenges and a calcifying partisan edge. Republicans, at first lukewarm on the idea, fought bitterly against it this time around. “It’s the most horrific thing in the world,” LePage, the hyperbole-prone conservative governor, told a local television station the day before the vote. The GOP candidates to replace the term-limited incumbent all railed against ranked-choice, complaining that it was confusing, legally questionable, and sought to fix a traditional first-past-the-post voting …read more

Via:: The Atlantic

      

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The Fight to Define Romans 13

By Lincoln Mullen

On Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions defended the Trump administration’s policy of separating immigrant children from their families at the border by referencing the New Testament. “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13,” Sessions said, “to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders summed up the same idea: “It is very biblical to enforce the law.”

Those remarks by Sessions were aimed at what he called “our church friends”—religious leaders who had criticized the policy of breaking up families. Sessions seemed to be speaking both as a public official as an insider to Christianity. By invoking Romans 13, Sessions was bringing to bear one of the most significant biblical passages in American history, but one which is a “two-edged sword” of conflicting interpretations—and the interpretation that Sessions chose to stress has a troubling history.

Romans 13 is significant to American history because it played a critical role in the American Revolution. Loyalists who favored obedience to King and Parliament quoted Romans 13 for obvious reasons. “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers,” the text read in the language of the time. A phrase later on in the passage has entered the English language: “The powers that be are ordained of God.” Law, order, and loyalty to an imperial government were all bound up in that phrase.

But surprisingly, political and religious leaders who favored the American Revolution were even more eager to quote Romans 13. Their reasoning turned on the justification that Paul gave for obeying government. Sessions said that government was created “for the purpose of order,” but Revolutionary clergy quoted Paul directly: “Rulers are not a terror to good works, …read more

Via:: The Atlantic

      

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