WASHINGTON — If you turn on your TV news, scroll through your newspapers and thumb through your tweets, this might seem like just another normal week in the Trump era. The president’s former lawyer/fixer was sentenced to three years in jail; Trump got rid of his chief of staff but has no replacement lined up; and the government appears hurtling toward a possible partial government shutdown.
Boring. Ho-hum. Same old, same old.
But let’s snap out of it. It’s a HUGE deal that another person close to the president or his 2016 campaign was sentenced/indicted/pleaded guilty for wrongdoings. It’s a HUGE deal that there’s so much internal chaos in the White House that it’s too much for a four-star general, and that the odds-on favorite to replace him as chief of staff didn’t want the job. It’s a HUGE deal that the president has threatened to shut down the government if he doesn’t get his border wall. “I am proud to shut down the government for border security,” he said on Tuesday.
And it’s a HUGE deal that the president of the United States has been identified as INDIVIDUAL-1 in prosecutors’ legal filings.
We get the temptation of how these stories can become numbing — to the public, to the journalists covering them, and to Washington at large.
But remember, any of these stories this week would be a five-alarm political fire for any other presidency.
Yes, this might *seem* like a normal week in the Trump era. But let’s also don’t forget how abnormal it all is.
National Enquirer publisher admits hush money was about the 2016 election. That’s significant
President Donald Trump has insisted that the money paid to silence his alleged mistresses was a private transaction — not something used to influence the 2016 presidential campaign.
“So now the Dems go to a simple private transaction, wrongly call it a campaign contribution,” Trump tweeted earlier this week, referring to the news from former lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen’s sentencing memo. “[W]hich it was not (but even if it was, it is only a CIVIL CASE, like Obama’s - but it was done correctly by a lawyer and there would not even be a fine. Lawyer’s liability if he made a mistake, not me). Cohen just trying to get his sentence reduced. WITCH HUNT!”
But on Wednesday, federal prosecutors announced they had previously reached a non-prosecution agreement with AMI, the publisher of the National Enquirer, over that hush money. And AMI admitted it had to do with the 2016 campaign.
“‘As a part of the agreement, AMI admitted that it made the $150,000 payment in concert with a candidate’s presidential campaign, and in order to ensure that the woman did not publicize damaging allegations about the candidate,’ according to a statement by the U.S. Attorney's Office in New York,” per NBC’s Tom Winter and David K. Li.
And as NBC’s Ken Dilanian flagged, former federal prosecutor Mimi Rocah said on MSNBC yesterday that this development essentially skewers the “John Edwards defense” — Trump’s argument that these payments were NOT about the election.
In the Edwards case — the only time this theory of campaign finance fraud was brought into court — the benefactors who paid his mistress argued that they were not intending to influence the election, Dilanian says. In the Trump case, everyone involved says it was about the election except Trump.
NBC News: Trump tells friends he’s concerned about impeachment
This story, by NBC’s Carol Lee, Kristen Welker and Nicolle Wallace, isn’t normal news, either:
“Despite President Donald Trump's public declaration that he isn't concerned about impeachment, he has told people close to him in recent days that he is alarmed by the prospect, according to multiple sources. Trump's fear about the possibility has escalated as the consequences of federal investigations involving his associates and Democratic control of the House sink in, the sources said, and his allies believe maintaining the support of establishment Republicans he bucked to win election is now critical to saving his presidency.”
More: “‘The entire question about whether the president committed an impeachable offense now hinges on the testimony of two men: David Pecker and Allen Weisselberg, both cooperating witnesses in the SDNY investigation,’ a close Trump ally told NBC News.”
Pelosi reaches deal to secure Dem votes to be speaker
“House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced Wednesday that she had reached a deal with dissidents who have been pushing for new Democratic leadership that ensures the California Democrat has the necessary votes to be elected speaker next month,” per NBC’s Alex Moe, Kasie Hunt and Rebecca Shabad. “Under the agreement, members serving in the top spots in House Democratic leadership would only be allowed to serve in their roles for three terms before needing a two-thirds majority in the caucus to be elected to a fourth term. Leaders are currently not subject to term limits and only require a simple majority to win election.”
Castro announces exploratory White House bid
In 2020 news, former San Antonio Mayor and HUD Secretary Julian Castro announced on Wednesday that he was forming a presidential exploratory committee, and that he’ll make a formal announcement next month.
“I’m exploring a candidacy for president of the United States in 2020. I’ll be talking with folks over the next several weeks, and we’ll make an announcement about my plans on January 12, here in Texas,” he said in a video.
May survives no-confidence vote, but her Brexit plan is still in trouble
NBC News: “Prime Minister Theresa May survived an effort to oust her as head of Britain's ruling Conservative Party on Wednesday, leaving her standing but wounded as the government scrambles to negotiate Brexit just months before the U.K. is due to leave the European Union.”
But the New York Times adds, “While Mrs. May survived to fight another day, the future of her stalled plan to leave the European Union looked bleaker than ever. She still lacks the votes in Parliament to pass it. She stands little chance of winning the concessions from Europe that she needs to break the logjam. And the surprisingly strong vote against her within her own party underscores the difficulty she faces in winning approval for any plan for Britain to leave Europe, or Brexit, as the deadline for withdrawal looms.”