Welcome to this week’s edition of the D.C. Memo, which — for optimal enjoyment — we recommend reading out loud in the manner of Theranos CEO/fraudster Elizabeth Holmes and her (possibly/probably) fake voice. This week in Washington: The world awaits the Mueller report; Trump goes on a Twitter bender; and Beto blitzes his way into the presidential campaign.
Before we get to all that good stuff, however, let us just take a brief moment to remind you that this here Memo is part of the MinnPost journalistic universe, which exists because of the goodwill and generosity of members. So if you like, love or even just sort of tolerate this newsletter (or any of the other great stuff MinnPost does) please consider becoming a member today. Thanks.
So now let’s get on with it.
Three big things
Waiting for Mueller: This week Washington is abuzz about the maybe, probably, for-sure-this-time possible release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s long awaited investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 election. Given that the Mueller team has been unusually disciplined about not talking to the media, nobody really knows anything about what it will say, who it will implicate, or even if it will, in fact, be released soon. Of course, none of that has stopped anyone from cranking out stories about what it might say, whom it might implicate or when it will be released.
“Any day now, Attorney General William Barr is expected to announce the conclusion of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe,” Politico notes in its piece, “Your guide to the end of the Mueller probe.” “When that happens, the heated interest in the investigation into whether President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign conspired with the Kremlin will boil over.”
For its part, USA Today turns down the heat — no boiling over here — but keeps the instructional theme going with: “Your guide to what you can and can’t expect from Robert Mueller’s final report on Trump, Russia investigations.” While the Washington Post went with something totally different (not really) with “What to expect from the Mueller report — a primer,” before changing the headline of the same story to: “3 possible outcomes for the release of the Mueller Report.”
If three questions seem a little paltry, don’t worry. NBC is here with: “The Mueller report: Here are 10 questions that remain unanswered in the Russia probe.” While the L.A. Times goes in the opposite direction with the highly unspecific: “When will Robert Mueller file his report? (And other burning questions)”
Worth remembering is that for all the hype, the completion of the report may not yield much actual news, at least in the short term. As the Post’s Aaron Blake explains, “One of the strange realities of the long-awaited Mueller report is this: It could be one of the most anti-climactic moments in modern politics. We will know when the report has been sent to the Justice Department. And that could be about it, unless it comes with indictments.”
The airing of grievances: That said, one of telltale indicators of the Mueller probe’s impending arrival is the behavior of the Trump administration’s mercurial headliner. In times of crisis, after all, the president has been known to create a bit of counter-programming, which is perhaps why it did not exactly come as a surprise this past weekend when Trump starting tweeting. And kept tweeting. And tweeting. Over the course of two days and more than 40 tweets, Trump attacked (in no particular order): Google, France; Fake News; General Motors; Christopher Steele; Fox News anchors (no, really); Democrats; Republicans; Hillary Clinton; a rerun of “Saturday Night Live”; and a former senator/presidential candidate/war hero who’s been dead for seven months.
(For the Memo’s money, the Twitter bender reached peak weirdness with Trump’s decision to blame the closure of the GM plant in Lordstown, Ohio, on GM workers themselves. You can decide for yourself, though: New York Magazine’s Intelligencer has a nice roundup of the complete list of targets.)
Not surprisingly, the McCain stuff got the most attention, especially after Trump continued to attack the Arizona Republican — who is, again, very much dead — throughout the week. Per the Post:
President Trump on Wednesday escalated his unrelenting attacks on the late senator from Arizona and former GOP presidential nominee John McCain, who even in death has remained one of Trump’s top targets for abuse as fellow Republicans have repeatedly begged him to stop.
In a five-minute diatribe during an appearance at a General Dynamics tank factory in Lima, Ohio, Trump argued that McCain, a lifelong Pentagon booster and former prisoner of war in Vietnam, “didn’t get the job done” for veterans while also grousing that he did not receive proper gratitude for McCain’s funeral last September.
“I gave him the kind of funeral he wanted, which as president I had to approve,” Trump said inaccurately, an apparent reference to allowing the use of military transport to carry McCain’s body to Washington. “I don’t care about this, I didn’t get a thank-you, that’s okay. We sent him on the way. But I wasn’t a fan of John McCain.”
Astoundingly, that wasn’t even Trump’s most bizarre pissing match of the week. That prize goes to his war of 280 characters with George Conway, husband of presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway. After Conway (George, that is) repeatedly suggested Trump had a mental disorder, Trump called him a “total loser,” then followed that by saying Conway is “VERY jealous of his wife’s success & angry that I, with her help, didn’t give him the job he so desperately wanted. I barely know him but just take a look, a stone cold LOSER & husband from hell!”
Not to be deterred, George tweeted this morning: “He’s worst kind of dumb.” So, fun times in the Conway household!
Chasing Amy: the Four Pinocchios edition. On the presidential campaign trail this week, Sen. Amy Klobuchar faced a round of heavy scrutiny over her record as Hennepin County prosecutor. First, CNN’s Jake Tapper pressed Klobuchar about what she did to reduce racial disparities in the office, given a 2001 study that showed, near the start of her term, the ratio of black Minnesotans sent to prisons compared to whites was the highest in the country. It also revealed 70 percent of Hennepin County drug cases were tied to black defendants.
Klobuchar responded in part by saying she pushed to diversify her own ranks and led an effort for videotaped interrogations, a move that garnered some national attention at the time, to prevent bias and unfair treatment. She also said incarceration of black Minnesotans dropped 65 percent from the beginning of her time in the office until she left. The Washington Post gave her four pinocchios for the claim, their worst rating, after finding the data Klobuchar cited was misleading and flawed, and Politifact also gave her a ‘false’ rating for the statement.
The Post followed that up with a long story published Thursday detailing Klobuchar’s time as prosecutor, including her support for so-called “broken windows” policing and times when she declined to prosecute police who, in the line of duty, killed black men. “Klobuchar’s positions were largely mainstream, coming after a historically violent period for Minnesota and the nation,” wrote Post reporters Elise Viebeck and Michelle Ye Hee Lee. “But views have shifted sharply since then.”
Klobuchar was subject to stinging criticism in the Post story, including by state Sen. Jeff Hayden, a DFLer from Minneapolis, who said race relations “hasn’t been something that’s been her focus in Minnesota.”
The questions surrounding Klobuchar’s résumé as a prosecutor are not likely to help her in a Democratic primary in which roughly 40 percent of the electorate is made up of people of color. Winning over nonwhite voters hasn’t been a strength of Klobuchar’s either, even in her big Minnesota Senate wins, according to a story from FiveThirtyEight.
Still, Klobuchar isn’t the only candidate getting heat for time spent as a prosecutor. California Sen. Kamala Harris has faced questions over her stint as the state attorney general, and Yahoo News this week spotlighted the time she declined to investigate Herbalife, “a nutritional supplement company that has been accused of fraudulent marketing practices.”
But Harris, unlike Klobuchar, also got some really good news this week. She came in third in a CNN poll this week behind Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.
In that same poll, Beto O’Rourke came in fourth, and it seems like he’s recovered from his less-than-optimal campaign rollout, mostly by scooping up giant bags of cash. The former congressman raised a staggering $6.1 million in donations in his first 24 hours on the trail and at least one story pointed out voters on the ground seem to have far less criticisms of O’Rourke than people on Twitter or the layabouts who work for rival campaigns.
Also, everyone is just waiting for Biden.
Finally, in This Week in Dumb Campaign News (or as we like to call it around Memo HQ: TWIDCN): Beto proposed to his wife Amy on April Fools and may have once put baby poop in a bowl to prank her. Time Magazine put its investigative skills to use by outing Cory Booker for telling the same (bad) joke over and over; And the Atlantic reports Bernie hired a speechwriter who had been secretly working with his campaign while trashing Sanders’ opponents in columns for The Guardian.
The week in takes
- Former George W. Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer: TECHNICALLY, we didn’t lie about Iraq’s WMD
- Splinter Senior Writer Hamilton Nolan: Pizza Ranch is America
- Writer Peter Groynom: Instagram ruined coffee shops
- Hmm Daily editor Tom Scocca: Hudson Yards is needlessly scary to acrophobes
- America’s teens: Mike Gravel 2020
Your weekend read
In the Atlantic, Adam Serwer takes on a topic that has become much talked-about in the wake of the killings in Christchurch, New Zealand: “white genocide” or “The Great Replacement,” a conspiracy theory that posits the terminal decline of white people due to a combo platter of alt-right obsessions. As it happens, the origins of such nutbar ideas are thoroughly American, as Serwer writes in “White Nationalism’s Deep American Roots”:
The concept of “white genocide”— extinction under an onslaught of genetically or culturally inferior nonwhite interlopers — may indeed seem like a fringe conspiracy theory with an alien lineage, the province of neo-Nazis and their fellow travelers. In popular memory, it’s a vestige of a racist ideology that the Greatest Generation did its best to scour from the Earth. History, though, tells a different story. King’s recent question, posed in a New York Times interview, may be appalling: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization—how did that language become offensive?” But it is apt. “That language” has an American past in need of excavation. Without such an effort, we may fail to appreciate the tenacity of the dogma it expresses, and the difficulty of eradicating it. The president’s rhetoric about “shithole countries” and “invasion” by immigrants invites dismissal as crude talk, but behind it lie ideas whose power should not be underestimated.
The seed of Nazism’s ultimate objective—the preservation of a pure white race, uncontaminated by foreign blood—was in fact sown with striking success in the United States. What is judged extremist today was once the consensus of a powerful cadre of the American elite, well-connected men who eagerly seized on a false doctrine of “race suicide” during the immigration scare of the early 20th century. They included wealthy patricians, intellectuals, lawmakers, even several presidents. Perhaps the most important among them was a blue blood with a very impressive mustache, Madison Grant. He was the author of a 1916 book called The Passing of the Great Race, which spread the doctrine of race purity all over the globe.
Grant’s purportedly scientific argument that the exalted “Nordic” race that had founded America was in peril, and all of modern society’s accomplishments along with it, helped catalyze nativist legislators in Congress to pass comprehensive restrictionist immigration policies in the early 1920s. His book went on to become Adolf Hitler’s “bible,” as the führer wrote to tell him.