Trump Impeachment: A Week in Review

Minneapolis 3/26/18 Edition –  There wasn’t much impeachment news in the past week bearing directly on the Mueller Investigation.  However, several developments – in some cases related to that investigation, were significant.  In the wake of widespread criticism of Facebook, based on how Cambridge Analytica exploited its data with “psy-ops” during the 2016 campaign, the company’s stock has lost 13% of it’s value over ten days – compared to a net drop of 3% for the Dow Jones Average during that time.  The Stormy Daniels 60 Minutes interview was broadcast, reaching more viewers than any episode of that show for over 10 years; and informing viewers that Daniels claims her actions were based partly on a physical threat to her safety by an unidentified man in Los Vegas, who warned: “Leave Trump alone. Forget the story.”  An alleged “hush money” payment to Daniels less than two weeks before the 2016 election could be a campaign finance law violation, and could become part of Mueller’s investigation. The reported a recent poll showed “Overall, just 28 percent of respondents answered 'yes' to the idea of wanting to see Trump seek a second term.”  More details of the Cambridge Analytica scandal emerged, including financial links between a PAC run by that company, National Security Advisor designee John Bolton, and Republican Hedge Fund billionaire Robert Mercer.  It also emerged that dozens of people from Cambridge Analytica were foreign nationals who appeared to have done illegal work for U.S. political campaigns in the year 2014.  Finally, the NY Times reports: “As President Trump heads into one of the most critical phases of the special counsel’s investigation, his personal legal team has shrunk to essentially just one member, and he is struggling to find any top lawyers willing to represent him.  Working for a president is usually seen as a dream job. But leading white-collar lawyers in Washington and New York have repeatedly spurned overtures to take over the defense of Mr. Trump, a mercurial client who often ignores his advisers’ guidance.”

To Impeach… or not to Impeach…   

The Hill reports: "Former President [Jimmy] Carter said Sunday that he would prefer President Trump not be impeached, even if special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation exposes wrongdoing on the part of the president. Carter told CBS's 'Sunday Morning' that he believes the oversight of Congress and the Supreme Court is enough to adequately check Trump's actions in the White House, and removing the president would likely not be necessary. 'But my own preference would be that he not be impeached, but that he be able to serve out his term, because I think he wants to do a good job' [Carter] said. 'And I'm willing to help him, if I can help him, and give him the benefit of the doubt.'”  Carter added: “'And if [Trump] has violated the law, that ought to be revealed [by Mueller] as well.'"

Writing for The Nation, and considering a scenario that appears to be more and more possible if not likely, John Nichols offers an opposite perspective to former President Carter: "Were Trump to fire Mueller—or in some way engineer the removal of the man who is leading the inquiry into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election—that would not spark a constitutional crisis. That would be a constitutional crisis... The deliberately vague term ‘other high Crimes and Misdemeanors’ was designed to address constitutional crises of the sort that arise when a president removes the veteran law enforcement man who is investigating allegations of wrongdoing by that president and his inner circles. It answers the questions posed by George Mason as the Constitutional Convention was deliberating on the question of presidential accountability. ‘No point is of more importance than that the right of impeachment should be continued,’ Mason explained. ‘Shall any man be above Justice? Above all shall that man be above it, who can commit the most extensive injustice?’ The impeachment power was established to prevent lawless presidents from abusing the powers of their position in order to place themselves above justice. Donald Trump has been abusing the powers of his position since the day he took office. But any attempt to remove Mueller—as the president’s recent tweets suggest is a real prospect—would represent a next stage of abuse that could not be neglected or denied.”

Trump Affairs

Overnight data reported by Deadline Hollywood shows the 60 Minutes Stormy Daniels interview by Anderson Cooper had the highest viewership for any 60 Minutes broadcast since at least an interview with President-elect Barack Obama shortly after his historic Presidential election victory in 2008.  According to Nielson metered market data, the Daniels interview may have had slightly more viewers than even the just-elected Obama.

The NY Times reports pornographic film actress Stormy Daniels was "worried about her safety and that of her young daughter" when she agreed to accept $130,000 in return for her silence about her alleged affair with Trump less than two weeks before the 2016 election. In her 60 Minutes interview with Anderson Cooper, Daniels recounted: "a threat she received in 2011 from a man who approached her in Las Vegas. She said the threat came after she sold her story about Mr. Trump for $15,000 to Bauer Publishing, which finally published the interview in its magazine InTouch early [in 2018]… 'I was in a parking lot going to a fitness class with my infant daughter,' she told Cooper.  'And a guy walked up on me and said to me, "Leave Trump alone. Forget the story." And he leaned around and looked at my daughter and said, "That's a beautiful little girl, it would be a shame if something happened to her mom."'" Daniels did not report the threat to police, telling Cooper: "’I was concerned for my family and their safety.’"  Aside from any reflection on Trump's character, the alleged affair may be significant both because the apparent hush money paid by Trump's attorney, Michael Cohen, may be an illegal "in kind" campaign contribution, and because Cohen may be implicated in other issues being investigated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Trump’s 2020 election prospects -- The Inquisitr reports on a recent YouGov poll of 1,100 adults, showing: "Most Americans don’t want to see President Donald Trump on the ballot for re-election in 2020, including 18 percent of Republicans."  The poll shows 87% of Democrats and 51% of independents don't want him to run.  This poll question has not typically been asked for previous re-election eligible presidents, who have not faced a significant threat of impeachment in their first term.  According to the Inquisitr:  "Overall, just 28 percent of respondents answered 'yes' to the idea of wanting to see Trump seek a second term, led by GOP voters who swung that way at a clip of 65 percent."  Trump has already announced he plans to run, and has an active, organized campaign.

Mueller Investigation / Psy Ops / Facebook / Stock Markets

A Google stock graph shows there is no bottom is yet in sight for Facebook stock since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke. The stock was at 185.09 as of March 16th, but plummeted 6.8 percent the following Monday. As of early afternoon of 3/26 the stock had at one point dropped as low as 149.67 -- down almost 21% from March 16th, before rebounding to close at 160.12, still down 13% from March 16th – even as the Dow surged 669 points and 2.8% for the day… the biggest one-day gain since 2008.  From March 16th to March 26th Facebook’s market value has dropped 10% further than the Dow’s 3% drop for that 10-day period.  If the essence of Facebook's business model is to package an individual's personal data, and data of their friends, for microtargeting marketing, revelations from the Cambridge Analytica scandal could be an existential threat to the company.

The NY Times reports links between new National Security Advisor designee John Bolton, Cambridge Analytica, and individuals associated with Cambridge are longstanding and deep. The Times reports: "In the two years that followed, Mr. Bolton’s super PAC spent nearly $1.2 million primarily for 'survey research,' which is a term that campaigns use for polling, according to campaign finance records.  But the contract between the political action committee and Cambridge, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, offers more detail on just what Mr. Bolton was buying. The contract broadly describes the services to be delivered by Cambridge as 'behavioral microtargeting with psychographic messaging.... The data and modeling Bolton’s PAC received was derived from the Facebook data,' said Christopher Wylie, a data expert who was part of the team that founded Cambridge Analytica. 'We definitely told them about how we were doing it. We talked about it in conference calls, in meetings.'”  Republican hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer was both the major owner of Cambridge Analytica, and contributed $5 million to Mr. Bolton's PAC between April 2014 and September 2016.

The Washington Post reports: "Cambridge Analytica assigned dozens of non-U.S. citizens to provide campaign strategy and messaging advice to Republican candidates in 2014, according to three former workers for the data firm, even as an attorney warned executives to abide by U.S. laws limiting foreign involvement in elections.... U.S. election regulations say foreign nationals must not 'directly or indirectly participate in the decision-making process' of a political campaign, although they can play lesser roles... Cambridge Analytica and SCL Group were overwhelmingly staffed by non-U.S. citizens — mainly Canadians, Britons and other Europeans — at least 20 of whom fanned out across the United States in 2014 to work on congressional and legislative campaigns, the three former Cambridge workers said.  Many of those employees and contractors were involved in helping to decide what voters to target with political messages and what messages to deliver to them, the former workers said."  One possible consequence may result from the use of inaccurate immigration documents for Cambridge personnel sent to the U.S. -- showing people were not going there to work, when in fact they were going to work on U.S. political campaigns.

A perspective on media, and “fake” vs “reality”

NY Times columnist Ross Douthat offers up some needed perspective on the impact of Cambridge Analytica and Russians during the 2016 election -- as compared to old standbys, including "earned media" (news coverage, especially TV coverage,) and the enormous asset Trump brought to his candidacy from years of TV stardom, first in The Apprentice and later in The Celebrity Apprentice.  Douthat writes: “Start with the fake news that laid the foundation for Trump’s presidential campaign — not the sort that circulates under clickbait headlines in your Facebook feed, but the sort broadcast in prime time by NBC, under the label of reality TV…  across most of its run [The Apprenticeshowed] a much-bankrupted real estate tycoon portrayed, week after week and season after season, as a titan of industry, the for-serious greatest businessman in the world. Where did so many people originally get the idea that Trump was the right guy to fix our manifestly broken government? Not from Russian bots or targeted social media ad buys, but from a prime-time show that sold itself as real, and sold him as a business genius. Forget unhappy blue collar heartlanders; forget white nationalists and birthers: The core Trump demographic might just have been Republicans who watched “The Apprentice,” who bought the fake news that his television program and its network sponsors gladly sold them.” Here's a little supplemental research for Douthat’s column: Consider that the original The Apprentice averaged over 13 million viewers per show for its first six years.  After a continuing drop to a seventh-year low of 4.7 million, The Celebrity Apprentice rebounded to average of over 8 million viewers per show for another seven years.  That’s a 13 year average of about 10.5 million viewers each week – equal to 75% of Trump’s total of 14 million Republican primary votes in 2016.  Here’s another important fact: the total 2016 Republican primary vote was 12.5 million votes higher than in 2012 – numerically that’s pretty darn comparable to the 10.5 million people who watched Trump each week for 13 years. Douthat also provides a link to an earlier NY Times article, showing the overwhelming tilt of “earned media” during the 2016 election’s primary season.  As of March 15th, the “market value” of Trump’s “earned media” – meaning news coverage, and dominated by TV coverage, was already approaching about $2 billion – about twice as much as the total dollars spent by the most expensive Presidential campaigns from the earliest primary through the general election.  In short, Douthat’s article and data make clear that Trump’s ability to “leverage” his celebrity status --  and to many that meant (to paraphrase Douthat) "a reputation as the for-real world’s greatest business man” – his ability to dominate “earned media” coverage, and his apparent ability to bring millions of his fans into Republican primaries as new voters – is the real story how Trump won the 2016 election.

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