The poster boy
Brett Kavanaugh's "life is shattered," President Donald Trump told a rally in Mississippi Tuesday night. “Think of your son. Think of your husband,” warned the president, stirring up visions of men cut down in a pandemic of sexual assault allegations for which they are “guilty until proven innocent.”
But win or lose on Kavanaugh, Trump sees opportunity — an issue that could help Republicans close the enthusiasm gap in the approaching midterm elections even as the fight deepens the gender gap that favors Democrats. It may be working. An NPR/PBS News Hour/Marist poll found the Democratic advantage built on anti-Trump fervor has crumbled, down from 10 points in July to 2 points.
"I see it each time I go out to Rallies in order to help some of our great Republican candidates," the president tweeted Wednesday. "VOTERS ARE REALLY ANGRY AT THE VICIOUS AND DESPICABLE WAY DEMOCRATS ARE TREATING BRETT KAVANAUGH! He and his wonderful family deserve much better."
His professed sympathy for Kavanaugh aside, Trump did him no favors as he mimicked, mocked and ridiculed the leading accuser, Christine Blasey Ford. The MAGA-hat crowd laughed. (Click here for video.) Back in Washington, senators were aghast, including those trying to get the judge across the finish line. "I don't like what the president said last night," remarked Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has stridently defended Kavanaugh. “I wish he would just stay out of it,” said Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).
The White House tried to spin Trump's attack as merely "pointing out factual inconsistencies" — meaning Ford's memory gaps. “She’s been treated like a Fabergé egg by all of us, beginning with me and the president," said senior adviser Kellyanne Conway. Even Trump's breakfast-time companions on "Fox & Friends" weren't buying it.
More critically, Trump's attack played poorly with three undecided Republicans who could decide Kavanaugh's fate. "Absolutely, wholly unacceptable,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Asked if Trump’s remarks could affect her vote, she said: “I am taking everything into account." Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said, "The president’s comments were just plain wrong." Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona said, "it’s kind of appalling.”
For more, see Newsday's story by Candice Ferrette and Tom Brune.
The envelope, please
Sight unseen, the FBI's investigative report of the sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh is a focus of intensifying partisan warfare.
Republican leaders say it will only be shown to senators, not the public. Democrats complained the report, which senators will begin reading on Thursday, was too rushed and too limited in scope. "We have no idea if the FBI is doing a real investigation or simply preparing a fig leaf — at the direction of the White House — for Republicans to vote yes,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Among those yet to be interviewed as of Wednesday was Ford, according to her attorneys. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell defended the investigation and set a crucial procedural vote for Friday. See Brune's story for Newsday.
Janison: Foot, meet mouth
Trump says "I have the best words," but he doesn't really. Neither does Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who has positioned himself as the anti-Trump in his re-election campaign, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.
It happened again Tuesday when his campaign posted a clip of Cuomo standing before a cheering group to hail the coming not of a "blue wave" but a "red-white-and-blue wave" at the polls. His windup? "This is an anti-American wave that wants their country back!"
Given the context, that wasn't what he meant. Minutes after this question was raised, the video clip vanished from the @andrewcuomo account.
Back in August, Cuomo had another verbal misadventure when he countered Trump's "Make America great again" slogan with, "We're not going to make America great again. It was never that great."
What's love got do with it?
When Trump remarked Tuesday that Graham has been "a friend of mine, at least for the last six months," maybe he was sensing the South Carolina senator won't pass his BFF test.
Not, it turns out, when Graham describes his revulsion watching Trump gush about how he and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un "fell in love."
"I’m telling President Trump: ‘Enough with I love you,' " Graham said at a Washington event. "From my point of view, this love crap needs to stop. There's nothing to love about Kim Jong Un." Added Graham: “I’m worried that we are being played here.”
Trump has been hoping for a second summit with Kim. In the meantime, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is heading back to North Korea on Sunday.
'Witch hunt' hiatus
For reasons that aren't clear, Trump hasn't hate-tweeted about the Russia investigation since Sept 18. Rudy Giuliani has also gone quiet. Trump's decision on the future of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees special counsel Robert Mueller, remains on hold.
Mueller is still out there, but two prosecutors assigned to his team for the past year are returning to their duties elsewhere in the Justice Department, a sign that parts of the investigation are winding down, CBS News reported. As usual, Mueller's team isn't talking about what's still to come.
Story of owe?
Though President Donald Trump insists he did nothing wrong on his taxes, he and his siblings could be on the hook for tens of millions of dollars in civil fines if state and federal authorities substantiate a New York Times report that found they cheated the IRS for decades, according to experts interviewed by The Associated Press.
Civil fraud charges for intentionally underpaying taxes, as the Times alleged the Trump family did, could include a penalty of up to 75 percent of the unpaid federal taxes and double the unpaid state amount, the report said.
The Times report also brought renewed attention to another long-standing question: Does the president owe the American public a look at his tax returns? Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she was not aware of any such plans and trotted out the boilerplate explanation that some of the returns are "still under audit" by the IRS.
Trump attacked the story on Twitter as a “very old, boring and often told hit piece,” but there was no rebuttal on any of the specifics.
What else is happening:
- Sanders' White House news briefing was her first since Sept. 10, which was the only one in the month of September.
- A federal judge in California on Wednesday blocked the Trump administration from removing temporary protected status for immigrants from Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti and El Salvador.
- The Senate passed on a 98-1 vote and sent to Trump for his signature a final version of a sweeping package to fight opioid addiction.
- Melania Trump walked out of the infamous "Door of No Return" at a onetime slave-trade outpost in Ghana Wednesday through which millions of Africans were sent in chains on voyages for lives of servitude. She called it "a solemn reminder of a time in our history that should never be forgotten."
- The Trump administration terminated a 1955 treaty affirming friendly relations between the U.S. and Iran. The move was largely symbolic, as relations were shattered in 1979 when revolutionaries took power and the U.S. Embassy staff in Tehran was taken hostage.
- Trump told the Tuesday night rally that Saudi Arabia and its king would not last "two weeks" in power without American military support and appeared to call on the country to pay more for its own defense.
- A U.S. Navy veteran in Utah was arrested in connection with suspicious envelopes that were sent to Trump and top military chiefs. The envelopes were once thought to contain deadly ricin and later found to be castor seeds, the substance from which the poison is derived.