Buckle up, he's got 54 billion bucks
With President Donald Trump's conversion to a Florida man, the field of 2020 candidates was lacking a New York billionaire. Now the biggest of them all, Michael Bloomberg, is making a move toward jumping in.
Bloomberg hasn't come to a final decision, according to advisers. But he's taking a larger step than in his previous presidential flirtations with plans to get on the ballot in Alabama’s Democratic presidential primary, ahead of an early deadline.
Why now, at age 77? Aide Howard Wolfson said the former New York mayor is worried that the current crop of Democratic presidential candidates is “not well positioned” to defeat Trump. "If Mike runs he would offer a new choice to Democrats built on a unique record running America’s biggest city, building a business from scratch and taking on some of America’s toughest challenges as a high-impact philanthropist," Wolfson tweeted.
Between the lines, the decision, or half-decision, seems to reflect lagging faith among the Democratic donor class that Joe Biden's center-leaning candidacy can go the distance and their growing anxiety over Elizabeth Warren's rise from the soak-the-rich Democratic left. Some Democratic strategists fear Warren plans like "Medicare for All" could turn off enough voters in swing states to hand Trump a victory.
Bloomberg can be expected to spend freely and massively from his $54 billion fortune, as he did to win three terms as mayor — first as a Republican, then an independent. He registered as a Democrat last year. Where he'd find enough Democratic primary voters looking for a billionaire-on-billionaire battle against Trump is another matter.
Biden's current status as the top choice of moderates rests in part on strong support from black Democrats. As mayor, Bloomberg antagonized black and Latino New Yorkers with police stop-and-frisk policies. That doesn't play well to the left either, even as Bloomberg has scored points with a broad spectrum of Democrats for writing big checks to advocate for gun control and liberal environmental policies.
A Monmouth University poll in March found that Bloomberg was disliked by just about as many Democrats (26%) as liked him (27%), with nearly half saying they had no opinion or hadn’t heard of him. Charisma and a common touch have never been Bloomberg's strong suits.
Finagle with a smear
Rudy Giuliani coined the phrase "truth isn't truth," earning first place for 2018′s most notable quote from the author of the "The Yale Book of Quotations."
The way another impeachment inquiry witness accused Giuliani of waging a monthslong "campaign of lies” to force out former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, it sounded as if Giuliani could be nominated for the smear of the year.
George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state responsible for Ukraine, testified Oct. 15 in a deposition released Thursday that Giuliani schemed with "corrupt Ukrainians," and that his “assertions and allegations against former Ambassador Yovanovitch were without basis, untrue, period.” Among the claims were that Yovanovitch had spoken against Trump.
As for the agenda Giuliani was pushing for investigations targeting the Bidens and a conspiracy theory about Ukraine election interference, Kent recalled a discussion with another State Department official.
"That goes against everything that we are trying to promote in the post-Soviet states for the last 28 years, which is the rule of law.” (Read the House transcript of Kent's deposition.)
Janison: Policy rackets
The most basic question to consider when key witnesses appear at public House impeachment panel hearings next week is what the Ukraine scandal means for how our government works these days and for whom, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.
When Trump on July 25 asked Volodymyr Zelensky for a "favor," he was clearly seeking foreign help on behalf of his candidacy and his party rather than the nation.
If we had an autocracy, Trump's promotional interest and his nation's would be deemed one and the same. We don't — and they aren't. But Zelensky easily could have gotten a different impression.
Not only was U.S. credibility at risk. The secret self-interested deal could have given Zelensky a tool to use as blackmail against Trump.
Bolton: I'll talk if you make me
Former national security adviser John Bolton, who railed to other officials at the White House about Giuliani's scheme, is willing to defy the White House and testify in the House impeachment inquiry, The Washington Post reported.
But there's a big and possibly insurmountable if. People familiar with his news said he'll do so only if a federal court clears the way by deciding that lawmakers' rights to subpoena him outweigh White House objections.
House Democrats said they are awaiting a key test case involving former White House counsel Donald McGahn, in which a decision by a district court could come by the end of this month. But the broader fight over subpoenas could end up in the Supreme Court and drag on until next year. That could be too long a wait for House Democrats who are aiming for an impeachment vote by Christmas, according to CNN.
Still, having Bolton as a witness is an enticing prospect for Democrats. As national security adviser, he would have spoken directly with Trump about U.S. foreign policy objectives in Ukraine. His testimony would likely be “damaging” to Trump, a person familiar with the matter told the Post.
Almost got quo for quid
In September, Zelensky came to an agonizing decision. He would give Trump what he wanted — a public announcement of the investigations, The New York Times reports.
The Ukraine president and most of his aides decided that the danger of losing nearly $400 million in U.S. military aid was worse than the risk of getting involved in partisan U.S. politics. Wording was discussed, and Zelensky’s staff planned for him to make an announcement in a Sept. 13 interview with Fareed Zakaria, the host of a weekly news show on CNN.
But then word of the aid freeze leaked out. There was an uproar in Congress, and the Trump administration caved, releasing the aid two days before the scheduled interview. Zelensky's office quickly canceled the appearance.
The Times said new details of Ukraine's internal deliberations came from interviews with government officials, lawmakers and others close to the Zelensky government, as well as testimony in the impeachment inquiry.
In the spirit of giving up
When the New York attorney general charged in 2018 that Trump misused his charity foundation for political and business interests, Trump claimed the "sleazy New York Democrats" were pushing the lawsuit and tweeted: "I won't settle this case!"
In a settlement made public on Thursday, a New York State judge ordered Trump to personally pay $2 million to an array of nonprofit groups. Judge Saliann Scarpulla also signed off on an agreement to close the Donald J. Trump Foundation.
As part of the settlement, Trump admitted personally misusing foundation funds to, among other things, improperly arrange for the charity to pay $10,000 for a 6-foot portrait of himself.
State AG Letitia James called the resolution of the case a "major victory in our efforts to protect charitable assets and hold accountable those who would abuse charities for personal gain." For more, see Yancey Roy's story for Newsday.
What else is happening:
- Trump misses hosting "The Apprentice" and has had discussions with its creator, Mark Burnett, about getting back into the reality show business after his presidency, the Daily Beast reports. They've spitballed about "The Apprentice: White House” but haven't fleshed out a concept.
- A Bernie Sanders tweet after the news about Bloomberg came out: "The billionaire class is scared and they should be scared."
- Trump denied a Washington Post report (also corroborated by The New York Times and ABC News) that he wanted Attorney General William Barr to hold a news conference declaring Trump broke no laws with the Zelensky call. See Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
- The Justice Department has been resisting the freeing of inmates serving long sentences for drug offenses under the bipartisan First Step Act that was signed and celebrated by Trump, The Washington Post reports.
- InfoWars far-right ranter Alex Jones is broadcasting attacks on the jury at the trial of Roger Stone, his ally and a longtime Trump confidant. He aired a name (wrong) and photo (also wrong) of a woman he claimed was a juror at the trial and called her a “minion” of anti-Trump forces, according the Daily Beast.
- Speaking at a Louisiana rally Wednesday night, Trump warned that if he isn't reelected, “You will have a depression the likes of which you’ve never seen before,” he said.
- China said Thursday that it has agreed with the U.S. to roll back tariffs as part of an eventual “phase one” trade agreement, but questions remained over how much ground — if any — the Trump administration had agreed to give, The Wall Street Journal reported.