Top GOP Donor Demands Action on Assault Weapons

Al Hoffman, a prominent Republican political donor, “demanded that the party pass legislation to restrict access to guns, and vowed not to contribute to any candidates or electioneering groups that did not support a ban on the sale of military-style firearms to civilians,” the New York Times reports.

Said Hoffman: “For how many years now have we been doing this — having these experiences of terrorism, mass killings — and how many years has it been that nothing’s been done? It’s the end of the road for me.”

Trump Lashes Out After Mueller Indictment

President Trump lashed out on Twitter at suggestions that Russia helped him win the presidency, reiterating that a new federal indictment showed no evidence of collusion between his campaign and the Kremlin.

Said Trump: “Funny how the Fake News Media doesn’t want to say that the Russian group was formed in 2014, long before my run for President. Maybe they knew I was going to run even though I didn’t know!”

According to the Los Angeles Times, Trump traveled to New Hampshire in January 2014 to speak at a breakfast series for possible presidential candidates.

Facebook Was Tool of Choice for Russians

New York Times: “While the indictment does not accuse Facebook of any wrongdoing, it provided the first comprehensive account from the authorities of how critical the company’s platforms had been to the Russian campaign to disrupt the 2016 election. Facebook and Instagram were mentioned 41 times, while other technology that the Russians used were featured far less. Twitter was referenced nine times, YouTube once, and electronic payments company PayPal 11 times.”

“It is unprecedented for an American technology company to be so central to what the authorities say was a foreign scheme to commit election fraud in the United States.”

McConnell Urges Trump to Get Behind Romney

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told the New York Times that President Trump “should rally behind the Senate candidacy of Mitt Romney despite his blistering criticism in 2016, arguing that Mr. Romney’s potent bid was an illustration of the Republican Party’s improving fortunes entering a challenging midterm campaign.”

Said McConnell: “I can’t imagine that he’s not. We don’t want to lose the seat, and this looks like a pretty formidable candidate.”

Just Another ‘Infrastructure Week’

“Another bitter week that took Washington to the brink of exhaustion landed Donald Trump at the epicenter of more tragedy, scandal and rancor than a conventional president would hope to face in a full year,” CNN reports.

“The White House was sent reeling by the Florida school massacre, new indictments in the Russia probe, its own mishandling of domestic abuse claims against a top staffer, allegations that Trump covered up extra-marital affairs and another huge immigration fail.”

“All of this unfolded when the administration hoped to focus on infrastructure — when the big headlines would involve the President pushing his next big agenda item.”

Inside the Russian Effort to Bamboozle Florida

“The scathing indictment unsealed Friday by special counsel Robert Mueller outlines a multi-state scheme to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. But the document makes clear that the operation in Florida, the nation’s largest swing state, was in a class by itself,” Politico reports.

“The indictment is packed with details of how Russian nationals duped Donald Trump campaign volunteers and grass-roots organizations in Florida into holding rallies they organized and helped fund with foreign cash… During the heat of the 2016 race, Trump campaign officials in Florida said they were surprised by all the grass-roots support for the president — which seemed entirely organic at the time.”

U.S. Must Fight Russian Meddling Without a Leader

New York Times: “After more than a dozen Russians and three companies were indicted on Friday for interfering in the 2016 elections, President Trump’s first reaction was to claim personal vindication… He voiced no concern that a foreign power had been trying for nearly four years to upend American democracy, much less resolve to stop it from continuing to do so this year.”

“The indictment secured by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, underscored the broader conclusion by the American government that Russia is engaged in a virtual war against the United States through 21st-century tools of disinformation and propaganda, a conclusion shared by the president’s own senior advisers and intelligence chiefs. But it is a war being fought on the American side without a commander in chief.

“In 13 months in office, Mr. Trump has made little if any public effort to rally the nation to confront Moscow for its intrusion or to defend democratic institutions against continued disruption.”

Garcetti Deserves a National Hearing

George Will profiles Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (D) as a possible presidential candidate, who he says “is a generation younger than some progressives’ pinups (Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden). And living far from Washington, he is positioned to deplore the Beltway, within which his party has been concentrating power for a century.”

“California’s presidential primary, which usually has been a June irrelevancy, will occur in March 2020. This might benefit Kamala Harris, the state’s freshman U.S. senator, too. Anyway, Garcetti deserves a hearing. America could do worse, it usually does and in 33 months it probably will.”

McMaster Says Evidence of Meddling Is ‘Incontrovertible’

White House National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster said evidence of Russian meddling in the 2016 election is “now really incontrovertible,” CNN reports.

McMaster has said previously it had been difficult to say definitively because “technically it was difficult” but “also you didn’t want to divulge your intelligence capabilities.”

He added: “But now that this is in the arena of a law enforcement investigation it’s going to be very apparent to everyone.”

It Just Got Much Harder to Fire Robert Mueller

Jonathan Swan: “It will now be even harder for Trump to fire Mueller. Capitol Hill already would have gone crazy if Trump tried that. But after Mueller has done such substantive work — even earning the lavish praise of Trump lawyer John Dowd — it’s impossible to imagine Trump getting away with firing him.”

“The fact that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein gave a press conference is significant. It was a major vote of confidence in the Mueller probe: This is Rosenstein saying he’s proud of this work, and fully supports it.”

“It’s also a notable show of independence by Rosenstein — a Heisman to the White House.”

Flashback of the Day

From the transcript of the final debate of the 2016 presidential race when the candidates were asked about Russian president Vladimir Putin trying to influence the U.S. election:

CLINTON: Well, that’s because he’d rather have a puppet as president of the United States.

TRUMP: No puppet. No puppet.

CLINTON: And it’s pretty clear…

TRUMP: You’re the puppet!

CLINTON: It’s pretty clear you won’t admit…

TRUMP: No, you’re the puppet.

The Thriller That Predicted the Russia Scandal

Politico notes that The People’s House by David Pepper is “a quick, lively thriller full of labyrinthine scandal and homey Rust Belt touches—reads like a user’s guide to the last two years in U.S. politics.”

“And Pepper wrote the book before any of it actually happened.”

“The People’s House centers around a Russian scheme to flip an election and put Republicans in power by depressing votes in the Midwest. Pipeline politics play an unexpectedly outsize role. Sexual harassment and systematic coverups in Congress abound. But it’s no unimaginative rehash. Pepper released the book in the summer of 2016, just as the presidential contest between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was heating up—and before Russia’s real-life campaign to influence the election had been revealed. In fact, the heart of the story had been written for three years when Russian government sent hackers to infiltrate the Democratic National Committee and sent their trolls to influence the election on social media. The Putin-like oligarch Pepper portrays as pulling the strings of U.S. politics had been fleshed out for two.”

Mueller Knows Much More Than He’s Shown

Lawfare: “The indictment is yet another reminder of something that’s been made clear over the past several months repeatedly: Mueller and his team know much more than is public, and they are unusual in Washington in being fully capable of keeping secrets.”

“The special counsel’s office not only appears to be decidedly leak-resistant, everything that has emerged of the investigation so far suggests that the special counsel’s office has information well beyond that which it has made public. This is another reason to avoid making predictions about the innocence of the Trump campaign—or its guilt, for that matter—based on the limited scope of the indictment. Nobody knows how much more to come there is, and anyone pretending to, either by way of claiming vindication for those not yet indicted or by way of asserting confidently what the next shoe to drop will be, deserves a healthy measure of skepticism.”

New White House Policy Could Impact Kushner

“White House Chief of Staff John Kelly announced that beginning next week, the White House will no longer allow some employees with interim security clearances access to top-secret information — a move that could threaten the standing of Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law,” the Washington Post reports.

“Kushner, a senior adviser to the president, has been able to see some of the nation’s most sensitive secrets even as his background investigation has dragged on for more than a year.”

“White House officials have privately discussed concerns that Kushner’s clearance faces obstacles… Among the potential problems: repeated amendments that he had to make to a form detailing his contacts with foreign officials. Two U.S. officials said they do not expect Kushner to receive a permanent security clearance in the near future.”

Mueller Says Manafort Also Committed Bank Fraud

“Special counsel Robert Mueller’s office has told a federal judge it has found evidence that Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, committed bank fraud not addressed by the indictment last October in which he was charged with money laundering and failure to register as a foreign agent,” Politico reports.

“As legal wrangling continues over a $10 million bail package for Manafort, prosecutors this week accused him of submitting false information to a bank in connection with one of his mortgages.”