The Morning Dispatch: Stone Sentenced

Plus, a closer look at Richard Grenell’s promotion to acting director of national intelligence.

Happy Friday! “What the hell was that all about?” That’s what Trump asked his rally goers in Colorado Springs last night on the subject of Parasite winning Best Picture at the Academy Awards. (It’s an excellent movie, by the way.) Coincidentally, it’s also what your Morning Dispatchers often find ourselves asking whenever we wrap up a conversation with Jonah. But we digress.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone was sentenced to 40 months in prison for obstructing Congress, lying to investigators, and witness tampering.

  • More details emerged surrounding President Trump’s decision to make Richard Grenell acting director of national intelligence. According to The New York Times, intelligence officials briefed House lawmakers last week that Russia is attempting to interfere in the 2020 campaign to reelect Trump. The president is worried Democrats will use this against him. 

  • Some 2020 election numbers: Tuesday’s debate was the most-watched Democratic contest of all time, with nearly 20 million viewers tuning in. Elizabeth Warren has raised more than $5 million since the debate, while the Trump campaign reported $200 million cash on hand at the end of January.

The Criminal Justice System: ‘Get Me Roger Stone’

After an uproar over the Department of Justice's revised sentencing recommendation, Judge Amy Berman Jackson sentenced Roger Stone to three years and four months in prison.

Last November, a jury found Stone guilty on seven counts of obstructing Congress, lying to investigators, and witness tampering. The evidence presented at trial was overwhelming that Stone had tried to thwart the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election because, in his own words, the truth would have “looked terrible” for President Trump. In doing so, he repeatedly lied to the Republican-controlled committee, denying that he had spoken to anyone associated with the campaign about his contacts with Wikileaks:

In one of the trial’s most revealing moments, [deputy campaign manager Rick] Gates recounted a July 31, 2016, phone call between Mr. Stone and Mr. Trump, just days after WikiLeaks had released a trove of emails embarrassing the Clinton campaign. As soon as he hung up with Mr. Stone, Mr. Gates testified, Mr. Trump declared that “more information” was coming, an apparent reference to future releases from WikiLeaks that would rattle his political rival.

While some of Stone's ardent defenders, including the president, have pointed to the jury forewoman's "significant bias" because of her association with the Democratic Party, our own David French has provided a lengthy analysis of why this argument doesn't hold much legal water and a fellow juror has said "[w]ithout her in the room, we would have returned the same verdict, and we would have returned it more quickly and without looking as deeply into the evidence." Regardless, as French noted, "[t]he question isn’t whether Hart is a Democrat, it’s whether she hid facts that would have provided a valid basis to challenge her presence on the jury."

In its initial sentencing recommendation, Justice Department prosecutors asked for seven to nine years based on several aggravating factors, including threats Stone made against a witness he sought to block from testifying to Congress, Randy Credico, and his dog. (In his grand jury testimony, Credico testified that he was not living at home and had taken to wearing a disguise out of fear but later said he did not feel threatened by Stone's comments.) 

The next day, however, the department filed another, softer sentencing recommendation signed by the acting chief of the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s office criminal division, John Crabb. It stated that the initial calculation of 87 to 108 months was "excessive and unwarranted under the circumstances" and did "not accurately reflect the Department of Justice's position" because the enhancements "disproportionately escalate" the sentence. Although it did not definitively provide a new recommendation, it suggested that a sentencing range of 37 to 46 months was "more in line with the typical sentences imposed in obstruction cases." 

This prompted all four of the prosecutors on the case to withdraw their appearances and one of them to resign from the department entirely. And, naturally, there were some presidential tweets during all of this. 

But for anyone who has enjoyed a few (or in this Dispatcher's case, all) episodes of Law & Order knows, prosecutors don't decide sentences. In federal court, the judge must correctly calculate the proper range based on the sentencing guidelines—with or without contradicting DoJ memos—but then is free to depart from that range. (The guidelines used to be mandatory, but the Supreme Court struck down that part in 2005.) 

And so entered Judge Amy Berman Jackson Thursday morning. 

The first part of the hearing was dedicated to calculating the correct range under the guidelines. This included an interesting (and it appears unresolved) legal question about whether a victim's "subjective understanding" of the threat—in this case whether Credico took Stone's words seriously—is relevant to whether the enhancement should apply. Crabb stuck by the initial sentencing memo's recommendation. In fact, he appeared to support all of the initial enhancements, including the ones that the supplemental memo tried to walk back "for the reasons set forth in the original sentencing memorandum.”

This raised a lot of eyebrows—inside and outside the courtroom—as to why there had been such a fuss over the original sentencing recommendations at all. As Aaron Blake put it, "[i]f the Justice Department was just going to argue the same points from the first recommendation, why overrule the sentencing recommendation and make it look like Trump was dictating how his Justice Department prosecuted his ally?" Indeed.

In the end, Judge Jackson split the difference between the two memos based on her own calculations and adopted a sentencing range of 70 to 87 months.

Next, Judge Jackson addressed the sentencing memo debacle with Crabb, which he in turn blamed on "a miscommunication between the attorney general and the United States attorney." He confirmed that the initial memo had been consistent with DoJ policy and that it had been submitted after consultations with Main Justice (this is the shorthand used for the Offices of the Deputy Attorney General and Attorney General). He would not, however, answer whether he wrote or was instructed to write the second memo that he signed. 

The judge went on to say that "the government’s initial memorandum was thorough, well-researched and supported" and rejected “any suggestion that the prosecutors in this case did anything untoward.” She continued, however, that she would have believed that seven to nine years was too long regardless of the memo controversy, and while she found the president's comments "entirely inappropriate," she would not be influenced by them or hold them against Stone.

Just before pronouncing the sentence, she finished by saying:

“[Stone] was not prosecuted, as some have claimed, for standing up for the president. He was prosecuted for covering up for the president. ... The defendant lied about a matter of great national and international significance. This is not campaign hijinks. This is not just Roger being Roger. ... There was nothing unfair, phony, or disgraceful about the investigation or the prosecution. ... The truth still exists. The truth still matters. Roger Stone’s insistence that it doesn’t [poses] a threat to our most fundamental institutions, to the very foundation of our democracy. ... The dismay and disgust at the defendant’s belligerence should transcend party.”

And with that, she sentenced Stone to 40 months, ending months of theatrics. But the drama at DOJ may just be beginning.

Trump’s ‘Acting’ Cabinet

President Trump provoked cries of protest on Wednesday from Democrats and many intelligence professionals when he announced that he would replace his acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, with Richard Grenell, who currently serves as Trump’s ambassador to Germany.

The move initially raised eyebrows because Maguire, who took over the acting job after Dan Coats’ term ended last August, had been considered likely to be nominated to fill the post for a full term. A former vice admiral in the Navy and director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Maguire had years of intelligence experience under his belt. Grenell, by contrast, is a career communications professional with no such experience: Prior to his ambassadorship, he worked as a spokesman at the United Nations for the Bush administration and had a stint on Fox News.

So why’d Trump make the switch? Reporting yesterday from the Washington Post and New York Times indicated that Trump decided to axe Maguire after he became concerned about his loyalty. Maguire’s offense? A Maguire deputy had warned the House Intelligence Committee last week that Russia was planning to meddle again — on behalf of Trump — in the 2020 election. Trump, the Times reported, was angry that the DNI shared that information with Democrats who could use it as a weapon against him.

There is no serious dispute that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections. “I am confident that the Russians meddled in this election, as is the entire intelligence community,” said then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo. “This threat is real.” Top national security officials of both parties have supported this conclusion.

Some of the problems here are obvious. If the reporting is accurate, removing Maguire for Grenell shows that Trump still puts a higher premium on personal loyalty than on having the proper qualifications for even the most sensitive government jobs; the DNI is a Cabinet-level position that oversees America’s 17 intelligence networks. It shows that he remains testy about acknowledging the fact that Russia has interfered in U.S. elections on his behalf and seems likely to do so again; a president whose instinct is often to cast doubts that such interference is occurring or to minimize its impact is unlikely to be a president who works diligently to prevent or punish such interference.

Yet the bigger problem is more subtle—and more systemic. Why is it that Trump is able to turn on a dime, fire Maguire, and promote Grenell, all totally unilaterally? Because Maguire was himself only serving in an acting capacity, never having undergone the process of Senate review and approval that top-level administration officials must undergo to be fully instated in their offices.

A look across the executive branch shows that Maguire—now Grenell—is not alone in this. Following the resignation of Kirstjen Nielsen as secretary of homeland security last April, President Trump assigned the role to Customs and Border Protection commissioner Kevin McAleenan. Under federal law, an acting Cabinet secretary can serve only 210 days, but Trump never nominated McAleenan to the full post; rather, when McAleenan’s time was up, he resigned, and Trump appointed another acting secretary—Chad Wolf—in his place. Other agencies currently headed by acting officials include Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Citizenship and Immigration Services. Even Mick Mulvaney, who has served as Trump’s chief of staff for more than a year, is still merely the acting chief of staff.

Relying on acting officials suits Trump’s ad-hoc managing style. “It’s easier to make moves when they’re acting,” Trump told CBS News last year. “I like acting because I can move so quickly. It gives me more flexibility.”

But it also strips a key aptitude and suitability check on appointees—the necessity of passing muster in the Senate—out of the executive branch. The president, of course, is entitled to have the people he wants running the executive branch running it; if he wants loyalists, he’ll have loyalists. But the Constitution requires loyalists who’ve gotten approval from the Senate, in this case a GOP-controlled Senate.

As Grenell himself clarified yesterday, Trump has no plans to install him in a permanent role as director of national intelligence. Rather, he’ll serve in the role until Trump gets around to finding someone else to nominate. But time will tell if Trump decides this is a status quo he can deal with after all.

Worth Your Time

  • Bernie Sanders insinuated in Tuesday’s Democratic debate that some of the “Bernie Bros” wreaking havoc on the internet on his behalf might be Russian bots attempting to influence the election. Read Isaac Stanley-Becker and Tony Romm in the Washington Post on why experts aren’t so sure that’s the case.

  • Some of the best writing out there pairs a subject that’s an utterly mundane, uninterrogated part of our lives with an author who’s fanatically devoted to that subject, knows everything there is to know about it, and is absolutely dying to share that fandom with you. Which is why you ought to take a minute to read this essay from Bon Appétit’s Alex Beggs, about potato chips, Frito Lay, and the creation, marketing, and cultural takeover of the culinary concept of “crisp.” 

  • We don’t know why, but writing that last entry sparked a recollection in us of one of the greatest and goofiest little essays Andy Ferguson ever wrote for The Weekly Standard, way back in 2001, on “Self-Distraction.” It’s short and amazing; we advise against reading it in the bathroom or a board meeting or anywhere else where it would be inappropriate to laugh aloud.

Presented Without Comment

Presented With One Comment

Elizabeth Warren has been decrying super PACs and candidates who benefit from them the entire campaign.

Presented Without Comment: White House Chief of Staff Edition

Something Fun

New Westworld. March 15. We’re ready.

Toeing the Company Line

  • A Morning Dispatch/Remnant crossover! Andrew joined Jonah on the podcast yesterday to discuss the Democratic debate, movie references that go over Andrew’s head, and Midwestern charm.

  • A bonus Vital Interests newsletter from Thomas Joscelyn a devastating takedown of an op-ed the New York Times ran from Sirajuddin Haqqani. Not disclosed in the op-ed: “Sirajuddin Haqqani has been designated as a terrorist by both the U.S. and the United Nations. He leads a designated terrorist organization, the Haqqani Network, which is an integral part of the Taliban. Other Haqqani Network leaders have been designated as terrorists as well.” And while the al-Qaeda-linked leader claimed yesterday to want peace, a video from the Haqqani network last month praised suicide bombing that kill “Crusader invaders.” Subscribe to Vital Interests here.

Let Us Know

McDonald’s announced a limited-edition set of Big Mac-scented candles. Question No. 1: How great is America? Question No. 2: What other foods deserve the candle treatment?

  • Wendy’s spicy chicken nuggets

  • Cinnabon’s … cinnabon

  • Subway’s bread

  • Ben & Jerry’s Americone Dream

  • Krispy Kreme’s glazed donut

  • Lou Malnati’s deep dish pizza

  • Wild Wing Cafe’s Atomic Meltdown wings

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Sarah Isgur (@whignewtons), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).

Photograph of Roger Stone by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

The Morning Dispatch: Bloomberg Stopped, Frisked

Plus, why are our political parties being taken over by people who don’t belong to them?

Happy Thursday! Normally we like to come up with a quick joke here, but we are filing this newsletter very late after watching the Democratic debate last night, and we sunk what’s left of our remaining brainpower into that excellent subject line.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • President Trump named Richard Grenell, currently ambassador to Germany, as acting director of national intelligence.

  • Members of several other 2020 campaigns are criticizing frontrunner Bernie Sanders for not releasing more medical records after he suffered a heart attack on the campaign trail last year. The Sanders campaign protests that they have already released as many health records as any other candidate.

  • After a thorough internal review, The Hill found that John Solomon “failed to identify important details about key Ukrainian sources” in his columns that were used by Rudy Giuliani and others as evidence of Joe Biden’s alleged impropriety in Ukraine.

  • John Rood, the undersecretary of defense for policy, announced he will leave his post at the end of February after President Trump asked for his resignation. Rood told Congress last year that Ukraine had made the reforms necessary to justify sending security aid, undermining part of President Trump’s impeachment defense.

  • The Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, filed for bankruptcy following dozens of claims of sexual abuse.

  • Ryan Newman, the NASCAR driver who suffered a horrific crash at the Daytona 500 earlier this week, has been released from the hospital.

The Gloves Come Off

The Nevada Democratic debate has come and gone, and it looks like everyone’s decided it’s about time to start getting mean. Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar sniped back and forth over whether forgetting the name of a world leader is a presidential dealbreaker, or whether the real dealbreaker is being too smug onstage. Mike Bloomberg and Bernie Sanders squabbled over whether a democratic socialist should own three homes.

But most of the real venom came from Elizabeth Warren against Bloomberg, and Warren landed every hit. In short order, she savaged his record on New York’s stop-and-frisk policy, his presumptuousness in trying to buy the presidency, and—most damningly—the women who have brought charges of sexual harassment and gender discrimination against his companies. 

“The mayor has to stand on his record, and what we need to know is exactly what is lurking out there,” Warren said. “He has gotten some number of women—dozens? Who knows?—to sign non-disclosure agreements both for sexual harassment and for gender discrimination in the workplace. So, Mr. Mayor, are you willing to release all these women from their non-disclosure agreements so we can hear their side of the story?” 

“We have a very few non-disclosure agreements,” a stone-faced Bloomberg replied. “None of them accuse me of doing anything other than maybe they didn’t like a joke I told… They signed those agreements and will live with it.” The crowd booed. 

The performance was bad enough that some onlookers predicted it was the beginning of the end for the Bloomberg campaign. But Andrew has a piece up on the site today arguing that it’s too early to count Bloomberg out on the back of one debate clunker, given that his campaign is specifically structured to try to make events like debates superfluous: 

From the beginning of the primary, Democrats were determined not to repeat the same mistakes they made in 2016 by appearing to prejudge the race in favor of or to exclude any particular candidate. As such, they bent over backward to keep things inclusive throughout 2019. Nowhere was this more obvious than in the debates, where month after month the DNC fielded crowded stages of candidates, slowly tightening the qualification thresholds and doing little to eliminate candidates with only the barest whisper of support.

This strategy ensured that Democratic voters wouldn’t have choices taken away from them by the party brass. But it also helped to create the circumstances Democrats found them in late last fall: Still heavily divided, with no commanding frontrunner, and with voters feeling less spoiled by their choices than paralyzed by them. Despite the sound and fury of a year of campaigning and dozens of hours of debates, a remarkable number of voters remained undecided about who they would support. And they were increasingly tuning out from the events designed to help them pick: the 18 million who tuned into the first Democratic debate last June had dwindled to a third of that by November.

Enter the Bloomberg rope-a-dope: Skip all that mess, then swoop in and scoop up voters who were tuning out by giving them a vision of an entirely different, much simpler primary. Positively saturate them with ads making a simple case: Donald Trump is a wretched president, and Mike Bloomberg can beat him. Ignore the fact that other candidates are making the same argument. Ignore the other candidates altogether. Trust only in the fact that you can buy more ads more often and in far more places than anybody else, and hope that voters will default to you rather than face the daunting task of trying to pick a candidate on the merits.

So far, it’s an unproven strategy. But it’s hard to see how one bad debate performance sets it back much. After all, the voters Bloomberg is targeting are the ones least likely to have seen that performance at all.

The Incredible Shrinking Political Party

Pete Buttigieg said something in the debate last night that deserves some additional attention. “Let's put forward somebody who's actually a Democrat,” the former South Bend mayor argued in a not-so-subtle shot at two of the frontrunners for his party’s presidential nomination. “We shouldn't have to choose between one candidate who wants to burn this party down and another candidate who wants to buy this party out.”

For the site, Declan took a look at the declining influence of political parties, and why both Democrats and Republicans have been susceptible to hostile takeovers in recent years. Read the whole thing, but you can check out this snippet below.

For most of the 20th and early-21st century, Democratic and Republican presidential nominees devoted decades of their lives to the parties, toiling away at other levels of government and biding their time. Richard Nixon was first elected as a Republican to the House of Representatives in 1946; he later spent eight years as Dwight Eisenhower’s vice president before twice receiving the Republican nomination. John McCain spent nearly 30 years in the House and Senate—not to mention his several decades in the military—before being anointed the GOP standard bearer in 2008. Even Jimmy Carter, who at the time was considered the ultimate outsider, served in Georgia state politics for years—first as a state senator, then as governor—before winning the Democratic nomination in 1976.

No longer is that kind loyalty required. Jonathan Rauch—a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who has researched the parties extensively and written a book on the subject—helped explain why.

Rauch finds the Democratic party’s succumbing to Sanders—like the Republican party’s to Trump in 2016—a bit strange. “It's proved difficult for the party establishment to coalesce behind a candidate, or to clear the lanes for a candidate, or to vet candidates,” he told The Dispatch. “And the result of that is this very peculiar fragmented campaign, which includes one person who's not even a Democrat being the apparent frontrunner, that's just bizarre.”

“The parties have lost a lot of their influence as organizations, even as partisanship and party brands have increased,” he said. “And the result of that is that you can be Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders, someone with weak or non-existent organizational ties to the party, but if you're able to usurp the party brand—that is, use the party as a vehicle for yourself—you get all those voters because you're running as the Republican or you're running as the Democrat.”

Worth Your Time

  • Sonia Nazario’s family has escaped persecution in Poland, Syria, and Argentina. “By giving us a home, the United States saved our lives,” she writes in The New York Times. Read the full piece to get a sense of the real-world consequences of the Trump administration cutting the maximum allowable number of refugees per year from 110,000 to 18,000.

  • The Atlantic’s Edward-Isaac Dovere published a remarkable piece of reporting claiming that Bernie Sanders came within a hair’s breadth of running against Barack Obama in 2012, and that it required the personal intervention of then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to talk him out of it. A spokesman for Sanders has since denied some of the details, but Obama and Reid officials have not. The piece offers a fascinating look at the fraught relations between the renegade left wing and the liberals of the Democratic Party, which burst into the open in the 2016 election but were simmering out of sight well before. Read it here.

  • Each of us can only hope for a career peak so high that we can glide off of it for decades to come. For The Ringer, Winston Cook-Wilson details the legacy of Harrison Ford. “Sure, he’s Han Solo, Indiana Jones, and Rick Deckard, but in the 21st century, he’s also unmatched in his ability to care as little as humanly possible.”

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Okay, a quick comment: Boneless “wings” aren’t “wings,” even in the broad definition that includes mini-drummies. Boneless wings are chicken tenders.

Really Presented Without Comment

See also: “How Bill O’Reilly Silenced His Accusers

Something Fun

There’s a chance we’ll find out in a few days that this was planned ahead of time, but until then, enjoy the incredible spontaneity of this moment.

Toeing the Company Line

  • Wednesday’s Dispatch Podcast featured Sarah, Steve, Jonah, and David diving into President Trump’s recent clemency spree and previewing the upcoming Nevada caucuses. Be sure to download, rate, and subscribe here!

  • In Thomas Joscelyn’s latest Vital Interests newsletter, he covers recent developments in the “original 9/11 conflict,” asking, “are we headed toward an ignoble end in Afghanistan?” Read the whole thing here.

  • What’s that? A Wednesday G-File? You don’t say! In this midweek edition, Jonah takes a look at Oren Cass’ new political organization, American Compass, that is hoping to combat “libertarian fundamentalism” within the GOP. “Their task will be more difficult if they actually believe what they say and act as if they are battling a capitalism that sits on a throne rather than one that stands quite fettered,” Jonah argues. Give it a read here.

Let Us Know

Which rivalry within the Democratic presidential primary is most likely to break out into a shoving match in the next debate?

  • Elizabeth Warren vs. Mike Bloomberg

  • Bernie Sanders vs. anyone in the audience with more than $40 in their wallet

  • Amy Klobuchar vs. Pete Buttigieg

  • Mike Bloomberg vs. everything he’s said and/or done in the past

  • Tulsi Gabbard vs. Hillary Clinton

  • Tom Steyer vs. fashion

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Sarah Isgur (@whignewtons), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).

Photograph by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

The Morning Dispatch: Pardon Me?

Plus, an update on the primary election in Wisconsin’s 7th District.

Happy Wednesday! Now that we (and LeBron) got Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred to apologize, we can return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The ninth Democratic presidential debate will be held in Las Vegas tonight at 9 p.m. ET. Six candidates qualified, including, for the first time, former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

  • The Washington Post reported that Attorney General Bill Barr “has told those close to Trump he is considering quitting over the president’s tweets about Justice Dept. investigations.” A spokeswoman for Barr responded, saying he “has no plans to resign.”

  • Afghan President Ashraf Ghani officially won a second term after a five-month dispute over the election results. His opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, also declared victory and said he would form his own government.

  • Sen. Chris Murphy confirmed he met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif over the weekend, writing that he thinks “it’s dangerous to not talk to your enemies.” President Trump questioned whether such a meeting was a violation of the Logan Act.

Trump Goes on a Clemency Spree

President Trump signed executive grants of clemency for 11 people on Tuesday, including Michael Milken, the famous “junk bond king” who pleaded guilty to racketeering and securities fraud charges in 1990; Bernie Kerik, the former New York Police Department commissioner who pleaded guilty to multiple charges of tax fraud and lying to officials in 2010; and Rod Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois who was convicted of wire fraud and soliciting bribes in 2011. 

Milken and Kerik were pardoned after serving their time and both pardons were supported by Rudy Guiliani and a handful of other friends of the president. In the statement released by the White House, both were praised for their charitable work since re-entering society—Kerik "as a passionate advocate for criminal justice and prisoner re-entry reform" and Milken for giving "hundreds of millions of dollars in critical funding to medical research, education, and disadvantaged children." 

While both pardons may underscore the unfortunate importance of having politically powerful friends, the pardons themselves were largely ceremonial—the debt to society having already been paid. The pardon, for example, will not affect Milken's lifetime ban from working in the securities industry according, to the White House. And in 2015, many had come to view Milken as a "more benign figure" who had become "a prominent philanthropist and supporter of public health and medical research," as one story on CNBC put it.

Blagojevich, eight years into his 14-year sentence, is a different matter entirely. 

In 2008, Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office after being charged with racketeering, bribery, wire fraud, and attempted extortion in what then Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald called "a political corruption crime spree." The charges were related in part to Blagojevich's attempts to sell former Sen. Barack Obama's seat. In a recording made by the FBI, the former governor was heard to say, "I've got this thing, and it's f---ing golden. ... It's a f---ing valuable thing, you just don't give it away for nothing. If I don't get what I want ... I'll just take the Senate seat myself." Other charges, though, included attempts to extort the president of a children's hospital "in exchange for a Medicaid rate increase for pediatric specialists" and a horse racing executive in exchange for the "timely signing of a bill that benefited the horse racing industry."

He was convicted in 2011 on 17 counts. Prosecutors at the time asked for a 15 to 20 year sentence, citing "extensive corruption in office, the damage he caused to the integrity of Illinois government, and the need to deter others from similar acts" in a state where four of the previous nine governors had also been sent to jail. His defense attorneys argued that he was "a rambling man who didn't mean the comments heard on wiretap tapes." (Also, probably, trying to make a living and doing the best he can.)

The judge sentenced him to 14 years saying, "whatever good things you did for people as governor, and you did some, I am more concerned with the occasions when you wanted to use your powers ... to do things that were only good for yourself."

Since then, the case had gone through a series of appeals and rehearings. In 2015, the 7th Circuit overturned Blagojevich's conviction on five of the 17 counts but wrote "the evidence, much of it from Blagojevich’s own mouth, is overwhelming." The judge resentenced him to continue serving the original 14-year sentence, rejecting the distinction offered by his defense attorneys between "someone who enriches himself, and someone who … tries to raise funds to advance a political agenda." 

In 2018, Blagojevich appealed his conviction to the Supreme Court. His team argued that any quid pro quo corruption must be "explicit" under the law and cited the Supreme Court's unanimous decision to overturn the conviction of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell stating that the law was now unclear on "the location of the line between lawful campaign solicitation and felony extortion." 

The Justice Department under Attorney General Jeff Sessions filed an opposing brief bluntly rejecting those arguments: "petitioner’s argument is without merit and this would be a poor case to address the argument in any event."

After the Supreme Court rejected the appeal, Blagojevich's wife appeared on Fox News to make her case to the president: "I see that the same people that did this to my family, the same people that secretly taped us and twisted the facts and perverted the law that ended up my husband in jail, these same people are trying to do the same thing they did to my husband, just on a much larger scale."

Shortly after, President Trump said publicly that he was "thinking very seriously" about commuting the remainder of the sentence. "I thought he was treated unbelievably unfairly. He was given close to 18 years in prison, and a lot of people thought it was unfair, like a lot of other things. And it was the same gang—the Comey gang and all these sleazebags—that did it," he said at the time. 

Of course, it may be worth noting that Comey had been in the private sector since 2005 and did not become FBI director until 2013—two years after Blagojevich was convicted. Then again, given that the president today commuted the remainder of his sentence saying that he "watched his wife on television," maybe not.

The Illinois Republican congressional delegation reacted to Trump’s decision with dismay. “Blagojevich is the face of public corruption in Illinois,” Reps. Darin LaHood, Adam Kinzinger, John Shimkus, Rodney Davis, and Mike Bost wrote. “Not once has he shown any remorse for his clear and documented record of egregious crimes that undermined the trust placed in him by voters.”

A Wisconsin Update 

In last Thursday’s Morning Dispatch, we gave you a sneak preview of this week’s special election Republican primary in Wisconsin’s rural 7th District, which pitted Tom Tiffany, a longtime state legislator and Scott Walker ally, against Jason Church, a veteran and lawyer whose military career was cut short by an IED blast in Afghanistan and who positioned himself as the race’s Trumpier, more smashmouth alternative.

Well, the results are in: Tiffany carried the district handily, 57 percent to 42 percent, and winning 21 of the district’s 26 counties.

Tiffany will go on to face Democrat Tricia Zunker, a law professor, in the special election on May 12.

In a way, the primary’s outcome was not unexpected: Tiffany had long represented many in the district as a popular state assemblyman and senator, and had collected a number of important endorsements, including those of Walker and Sean Duffy, the district’s outgoing congressman.

But Church was a strong challenger, with a personal history that commanded respect and a coherent narrative behind his candidacy. While both candidates portrayed themselves as eager allies of the president, it was Church who, as Andrew reported last week, seemed to grasp more fully the zeitgeist that made the president so appealing to working-class voters in such districts in the first place.

In many ways, the ascendance of the Trump GOP has been a rebuke of the legacy of politicians like Scott Walker, who made their bones pushing policies—free markets, balanced budgets, union-busting—that Trump has ignored or actively subverted. Yet results like the one in WI-07 last night add a quirk to that narrative: For many Republican voters, it seems, there’s no real disconnect between Walker-style and Trump-style conservatism at all. 

Worth Your Time

  • At The Cut, Rebecca Traister has a deep look at Maine Sen. Susan Collins, and how she has adapted to the Trump era. “Collins has gone from pleasing an unusually high number of people, at least some of the time, to pleasing vanishingly few people almost never.”

  • At the Washington Post, Greg Jaffe writes about how the war in Afghanistan shattered Joe Biden’s faith in American military power. “Biden talks about America in grand, almost Reaganesque, terms. It’s ‘an idea stronger than any army, bigger than any ocean, more powerful than any dictator or tyrant,’ he has said. But inside the Obama administration Biden was a consistent voice of caution.”

  • Alex Burns, Nicholas Kulish, and a killer graphics team put together this New York Times piece mapping out Mike Bloomberg’s philanthropy and what it’s bought him. “Since leaving City Hall at the end of 2013, Mr. Bloomberg has become the single most important political donor to the Democratic Party and its causes,” the piece reads. But those donations often come with strings attached—either implicit or explicit. 

Presented Without Comment

Okay, one comment: This is how you win Declan’s business.

Something Fun

Soccer isn’t the sport of choice for any of your Morning Dispatchers. (Editor’s note: It’s a close second to hockey for one of the editors, however, and Atletico Madrid’s gritty upset of Liverpool in the Champions League yesterday afternoon was one for the ages.) This clip from a pro match in Turkey got us thinking: Is that just because there aren’t enough dogs involved?

Toeing the Company Line

  • David’s latest French Press dives into the campus free speech debate and why legal victories aren’t everything. "Just as college students are gaining freedom from the speech codes and official censorship of years past, many students feel under siege. They are free, but they don’t feel free."

  • If you enjoyed our review of Tevi Troy’s new book, Fight House, last week—great news! Troy joined Jonah on The Remnant to discuss intra-White House rivalries even further.

  • You might have missed the news that Trump extended the national emergency so as to take more funds from the Pentagon to build his wall, but Andrew has a breakdown as well as reaction from congressional Republicans.

  • Michael Mazza details China’s many human rights abuses—against its own people—and suggests an extreme but potentially effective move from the United States and the Western word: skip the 2022 Winter Olympics scheduled for Beijing.

Let Us Know

Who should Trump pardon next?

  • Bernie Madoff: When one of your Morning Dispatchers saw Bernie Kerik’s name in an email he misread it as this, and it made total sense.

  • Baby Yoda: He (she?) knows what he (she?) did.

  • Hillary Clinton: Taking the “you can’t fire me I quit” approach to his failure to Lock Her Up.

  • Pilot Pete: While technically not illegal, his decision to give a rose to Victoria instead of Kelsey on The Bachelor this week was borderline criminal.

  • Roger Stone and Paul Manafort: Why keep delaying the inevitable?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Sarah Isgur (@whignewtons), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).

Photograph of Rod Blagojevich by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

The Morning Dispatch: Breaking Down the Astros’ Sign-Stealing Scandal

Plus, presidential trivia!

Happy Tuesday! As we continue to experience the slightest of lulls in the political news cycle, we thought it worth turning for a moment to another big national story: cheating in baseball. In recent years, we’ve seen Americans’ faith in our institutions erode considerably, with scandals affecting the standing of the U.S. intelligence community, the Catholic Church, the financial sector, major news outlets, etc. Baseball has weathered its problems with steroids, but now faces a new test with this sign-stealing scandal and the league’s incompetent handling of it.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The global outbreak of coronavirus has already been taking a human and diplomatic toll; the virus’s spread is now being felt economically, too. Apple announced Monday it expects to miss its revenue projections this quarter, as iPhone production is complicated and demand shrinks in China. 

  • Just two weeks after the Iowa caucuses fiasco, Nevada Democrats are bracing for the possibility of a similar meltdown this Saturday amid concerns that caucus volunteers have not received sufficient training for their duties. 

  • Former National Security Adviser John Bolton spoke at Duke University on Monday, but played hard-to-get in questions about his role in Trump’s Ukraine impeachment scandal. Asked if the call was “perfect,” Bolton responded that “you’ll love Chapter 14” of his forthcoming book.

  • The Boy Scouts of America filed for bankruptcy amid a series of lawsuits alleging sexual abuse.

  • NASCAR driver Ryan Newman is in serious condition after a crash in the final lap of the Daytona 500. Our prayers this morning go out to him and his family.

Houston, We Have a Problem

The temperature in Chicago reached a balmy 38 degrees last night, which can mean only one thing: Baseball season is nearly upon us.

But pitchers and catchers migrating to spring training in Arizona or Florida are returning to a game rattled by the worst cheating scandal since the Mitchell Report uncovered hundreds of players’ steroid use nearly 15 years ago.

Just a few months after someone at the White House blew the whistle on a certain “perfect” phone call, another whistleblower was preparing to turn the baseball world upside down. 

“That’s not playing the game the right way,” former Houston Astros pitcher Mike Fiers told Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic in November, detailing an elaborate system set up by his old team in 2017 to relay pitch signs and eliminate opposing teams’ ability to preserve a sense of ambiguity about which pitches were coming, and when.

Here’s how it worked: During home games, a camera above the centerfield fence zeroed in on the opposing catcher’s signals. Team employees would watch the feed on a television monitor near the team’s dugout, decode the signs, and bang loudly on trash cans to warn batters of upcoming curveballs or changeups, allowing them to adjust their timing. Twitter user @Jomboy broke down the system in action:

MLB offseasons are notorious for their monotony. But once Fiers blew the Astros’ cover, chaos reigned. Commissioner Rob Manfred promised to conduct a “really, really thorough investigation” of the situation. Players around the league began to level allegations at one another—both subtly and not. A Twitter account purporting to belong to the niece of an Astros player claimed the cheating extended after the 2017 season and that two of the team’s best hitters—Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman—wore “buzzers” under their jerseys that transmitted signs even more quickly. A resurfaced video of Altuve telling his teammates not to rip his jersey off in celebration after a game-winning home run only added to the suspicions.

Dropping The Hammer?

And then came the punishment. Manfred announced the results of MLB’s investigation into “the banging scheme” in mid-January, confirming nearly all of Fiers’ charges. No individual players were penalized (Manfred granted them immunity in exchange for their cooperation), but the commissioner concluded that “virtually all of the Astros’ players had some involvement or knowledge of the scheme.” 

Manfred also absolved Astros owner Jim Crane of any wrongdoing: “Jim Crane was unaware of any of the violations of MLB rules by his club.”

Rather, Manfred aimed his prosecutorial power at the team and its front office leaders. The Astros had to forfeit both $5 million—a relative pittance, but the maximum fine leviable by the league—and their top two draft picks in both 2020 and 2021. Manager A.J. Hinch and General Manager Jeff Luhnow were both suspended without pay for one season. For completely unrelated reasons (taunting female journalists by praising an Astros player arrested on domestic violence charges), the Astros’ former assistant general manager Brandon Taubman was also banned from the game for a year.

That incident spurred Manfred to include a more sweeping condemnation of the Astros’ organization as a whole: 

“The culture of the baseball operations department, manifesting itself in the way its employees are treated, its relations with other Clubs, and its relations with the media and external stakeholders, has been very problematic. At least in my view, the baseball operations department’s insular culture—one that valued and rewarded results over other considerations, combined with a staff of individuals who often lacked direction or sufficient oversight, led, at least in part, to the Brandon Taubman incident, the Club’s admittedly inappropriate and inaccurate response to that incident, and finally, to an environment that allowed the conduct described in this report to have occurred.”

Crane fired Hinch and Luhnow that afternoon.

The scandal has since claimed two more scalps—Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora, a bench coach for the Astros in 2017, and New York Mets manager Carlos Beltran, an Astros outfielder that season, were both fired from their new clubs after Manfred’s report exposed their role in scheme.

‘I Lost Respect for Those Guys’

Astros players and management publicly addressed their transgressions last week, issuing very narrow and contradictory apologies at a press conference that could perhaps be most generously described as … imprudent.

But with spring training getting underway, players from the other 29 teams are speaking out.

“I thought the apologies were whatever,” Los Angeles Dodgers star and 2019 National League MVP Cody Bellinger said. “I thought Jim Crane’s was weak. I thought Manfred’s punishment was weak, giving them immunity. I mean, these guys were cheating for three years. … I know personally I lost respect for those guys. I would say everyone in the show, in the big leagues, lost respect for those guys.”

“What a disgrace that was,” Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant told reporters. “Watching their apology yesterday too, there’s no sincerity, there’s no genuineness. … A lot of the apology yesterday was a lot about 2017, 2017. It’s like, I’m pretty sure it was going on in 2018 and 2019 too.”

Even Mike Trout, the famously soft-spoken Los Angeles Angels superstar, pulled no punches. “I don’t agree with the punishment, the players not getting anything,” he said Monday. “It sucks, because like you said, guys’ careers have been affected, a lot of people lost jobs, it was tough.” (Trout was likely referring to pitchers like Mike Bolsinger, who, after one rough game against the Astros in 2017, was cut from his team and never pitched in the majors again.)

Baseball is in some ways a self-policed game. Infringements of various “unwritten rules” are typically met with a 90-plus mile an hour fastball between the shoulder blades. But the past few days have revealed an astonishing lack of faith among players in Manfred to keep the game from being corrupted. 

Many within baseball believe the commissioner approached his investigation into the Astros with a “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” mentality. His office, for example, had heard whispers of the Astros’ scheme for years, but acted only after Mike Fiers spoke out. And then Manfred decided to take the Astros’ denials about the longevity of the scheme at face value. He has refused to entertain the idea of stripping Houston of their 2017 World Series championship, saying “the idea of an asterisk or asking for a piece of metal back seems like a futile act.”

Dodgers infielder Justin Turner was appalled by that last comment from the commissioner. “The reason every guy's in this room, the reason every guy is working out all offseason, and showing up to camp early and putting in all the time and effort is specifically for that trophy,” he said. “So for him to devalue it the way he did yesterday just tells me how out of touch he is with the players in this game.”

“In a perfect world,” Manfred said in an interview with ESPN, Astros players “would have been punished.”

So why weren’t they?

“I think if you watch the players, watch their faces when they have to deal with this issue publicly, they have paid a price,” he argued. But he also admitted it would have been exceedingly difficult to discern how much blame to place on each individual, and that, with the MLB Players Association’s ability to appeal punishments, “we didn't think we could make discipline stick.”

That may very well be true. But the entire saga has severely diminished the credibility of Manfred—and the league as a whole. The drama and intra-MLB sniping may provide a short-term ratings boost as fans tune in to see how opposing teams deal with the Astros. But with the national pastime’s popularity continuing to nosedive, the integrity of the game cannot continue to sustain the bruising it’s taken in recent weeks.

Bloomberg and Sanders Go Low

Michael Bloomberg is the latest Democrat to take on Bernie Sanders directly, with a new video highlighting the incivility of some of Sanders’ most aggressive followers. In so doing, Bloomberg is giving voice to complaints we’ve heard from traditional Democrats for months.

Over at Commentary, Noah Rothman has a smart, even-keeled look at how Bloomberg is trying to execute this attack and what complications he brings to the effort. On the one hand: “Let’s stipulate that Bloomberg is among the worst ambassadors for this message” given his own “willingness to get down in the mud.” On the other: “While Sanders has made rhetorical overtures toward civility, he’s also surrounded himself with people who cultivate a very different atmosphere. His campaign has taken on a slate of formal surrogates who have a conspicuous habit of engaging in anti-Semitic rhetoric and who reserve the most caustic vitriol for their fellow Democrats—at least, those who do not display a sufficiently zealous commitment to his ‘revolution.’”

At Sanders’ events over the past several weeks, top surrogates have led the booing of Hillary Clinton and offered sharp critiques of the Democratic National Committee. And online, they’ve amplified conspiracy theories about a rigged process and threatened supporters of other candidates.

The back-and-forth between the two campaigns intensified when Bloomberg campaign manager, Kevin Sheekey, released a statement accusing Sanders of Trump-like tactics after the Sanders campaign put out video from 2016 in which Bloomberg appears to downtalk farmers. Sanders responded by tweeting a photo of Bloomberg golfing with Trump.

It’s hard to imagine many voters following the blows of this particular middle-school back-and-forth among the leading Democrats—or becoming a supporter of either candidate as a result. But Bloomberg has shown a knack for picking fights that result in abundant media coverage—free airtime that supplements the more than $400 million he has reportedly spent on paid media.

But now he and Sanders can air out their differences face-to-face instead of squabbling on Twitter via surrogates. It turns out that Bloomberg has qualified to be onstage at Wednesday’s debate in Las Vegas.

Worth Your Time

  • In today’s information environment, the pressure to remain “plugged in” at all times is immense. In The Atlantic, Talmon Joseph Smith writes that “it’s okay to leave your headphones at home.” Going for a run recently, Smith realized “this was the first time in weeks (or was it months?) that I had actually been alone with my thoughts for more than 12 minutes.”

Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • In the latest episode of Advisory Opinions, Sarah and David discuss the Department of Justice’s decision to not prosecute Andrew McCabe, the eye-opening interview Harvey Weinstein's attorney gave, and which novels have most impacted them. Download and subscribe here!

  • Perhaps you’re not the kind of person who thinks that “3,000 words about federal architecture regulations” is your idea of a good time. Well, neither are your Morning Dispatchers, but we loved every word of Sherri and Robert Tracinski’s opus on the White House’s proposal to mandate “classical” architecture in federal buildings, up on the site today.

  • Up on the site, Samuel J. Abrams has a lovely piece about the joys of local parks, both dog and human: “Friendships and communities are formed on the playground thanks to the very nature of the space. That might not sound like much, but in an era where we are not only increasingly polarized but also actively isolating ourselves thanks to technology, civic leaders are seeking effective and cost-effective ways to strengthen communities and bring people together.”

  • In a different look at how “acting locally” matters, Avi Woolf points out that conservatives have become far too focused on the goings on in Washington, D.C., and lays out some suggestions for how to get the movement back to its roots.

Let Us Know

In honor of Presidents’ Day on Monday, we pinged our readers for their favorite tidbits of presidential esoterica. Here are some of our favorites of your favorites:

  • From reader David: “James and Dolley Madison were known to serve bowls of oyster ice cream at official government functions.” 

  • From reader Linda: “George Washington actually has two birthdays: Feb. 11, 1731 and Feb. 22, 1732. The reason? Due to Protestant foot-dragging, the British Empire waited a couple hundred years to replace the Julian calendar with the more accurate Gregorian calendar (named for Pope Gregory). In 1752, September 2 was followed by September 14 (no doubt creating havoc for financial arrangements like wages and rents). To accurately reflect his age, Washington used the ‘new style’ calendar to determine his birthday: February 22, 1732.”

  • From reader Alex: “Harry Truman was the last president to not have a college degree. Ronald Reagan is the most recent president to not have an Ivy League degree.”

  • From reader Oliver: “John Tyler, the 10th president of the U.S., had grandsons living in 2018.”

  • From reader Kevin: “Dwight D. Eisenhower lobbied to have a tree cut down on the 17th at Augusta National. They told him to buzz off, kept the tree, and it was mockingly named after him. Just in case you were wondering if it’s harder to defeat Germany or get Augusta to change its layout.” 

  • From reader Alex: “Lincoln was the first president with facial hair; Taft was the last. Every president with facial hair served in the 52 year period (1861-1913) spanning their presidencies. (This does ignore the fact that Truman occasionally grew a beard on vacation while president.)”

  • From reader Brandon: “Eisenhower enjoyed (and had a knack for) cooking.” (Here is his eggnog recipe.)

  • From reader Nash: “John Quincy Adams approved a trip to the North Pole because he was convinced that the Earth was hollow and there was a hole at the North Pole which lead to the center of the Earth.”

  • From reader Raymond: “Martin Van Buren was the only U.S. president whose native tongue was not English (he was raised in a Dutch speaking household in upstate New York).” And from reader Alex: “Martin Van Buren was technically the first president to be a natural born citizen, as he was the first born after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.”

  • From reader Thomas: “Richard Nixon is the only VP-turned-POTUS not to succeed the president he served under as VP.”

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Sarah Isgur (@whignewtons), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).

Photograph of Astros owner Jim Crane reading a prepared statement during a press conference on February 13, 2020, by Michael Reaves/Getty Images.

The Morning Dispatch: Where the Democrats Stand

Plus, how compromised is William Barr, really?

Happy Monday! We’ll try to keep today’s Morning Dispatch brief so you can spend as much time as possible soberly reflecting on ... the presidents.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Former FBI official Andrew McCabe will not be charged with lying to investigators, the Trump administration’s Department of Justice announced on Friday. 

  • Attorney General William Barr assigned an outside prosecutor to look into the charges against Michael Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser.

  • Bill de Blasio—mayor of New York and former presidential candidate—endorsed Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination.

It’s Nevada Week!

With Iowa and New Hampshire in the rear-view mirror, we’re now in the first small breather of the primary season for the Democratic presidential candidates. The eleven-day hiatus between New Hampshire last Tuesday and Nevada this Saturday is the longest stretch between primaries the candidates will enjoy until mid-April. With the candidates busy stumping in Nevada, peering ahead to South Carolina, and bracing for the madness of Super Tuesday—now just two weeks away!—today is a good opportunity to take a quick look at how each of the major remaining contenders is faring.

Bernie Sanders

There’s not much to say about Bernie Sanders that hasn’t been said already: At this point, he’s the undeniable frontrunner, with a core movement of dedicated supporters who aren’t glancing twice at other candidates, two primary wins under his belt (going by the popular vote, anyway), and thanks to the collapse of Joe Biden, a newfound first-place showing in the national polls.

It’s been frequently observed that, while Sanders captured the most voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, the so-called moderates of the race—Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, and Amy Klobuchar—netted a far greater share between them. This has led many to speculate that, once the moderates coalesce behind a single candidate, that candidate will beat Sanders handily.

But Sanders got one piece of reassuring news on that front this weekend, in the form of a Yahoo News/YouGov poll of likely Democratic voters. The poll found that, in a series of hypothetical head-to-head matchups between Sanders and the other top Democratic contenders, Sanders had the edge against each. A single poll isn’t dispositive, of course. But it should serve as a warning to his challengers that just sitting back and waiting for the voters to come to them might not be the best strategy for dealing with him.

Pete Buttigieg

For a 38-year-old former mayor, Pete Buttigieg has put himself in an incredibly strong spot coming out of New Hampshire—a spot where his fans can, with some justification, look up at where we called Sanders the frontrunner and get a bee in their bonnet about it. Buttigieg is, after all, the race’s current delegate leader, thanks to a few lucky bounces in Iowa. His strong showings in the first two states have given a boost to poll numbers that had been sagging since last November. And he raked in some enemy-of-my-enemy energy from Democrats over the weekend, after radio host Rush Limbaugh insisted that “America’s still not ready to elect a gay guy kissing his husband on the debate stage president.”

Pete’s main trouble remains that he’s entirely reliant on momentum. He remains far behind Sanders, Biden, and even Michael Bloomberg in national polling and still has not managed to move the needle with black voters; he’s counting on late-breaking voters seeing his earlier wins and moving his way. If a few of those tougher states—like Nevada and South Carolina—end up as hard losses, it’s hard to see where he goes to get his mojo back.

Amy Klobuchar

Much of the same could be said of Amy Klobuchar, who’s in an odd spot right now: Riding a surge of momentum out of New Hampshire, having raised a hefty $12 million since last week, but staring at a number of states where she’s had little time to campaign and seen little movement so far in the polls. Klobuchar’s New Hampshire success came largely on the back of an extremely strong performance in that week’s Democratic debate; exit polling showed that 7 in 10 who voted for her had decided to do so in the days immediately before the primary. She’ll need to repeat that performance at this Wednesday’s debate in Nevada to have a shot. But that could be complicated by a gaffe Klobuchar made campaigning in Nevada over the weekend: During a Telemundo interview, Klobuchar, who served on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on border security and immigration, was unable to recall the president of Mexico’s name. (If anyone asks: it’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador.) Klobuchar has taken repeated shots at Buttigieg’s experience in previous debates; he may try to return the favor in Nevada.

Elizabeth Warren

After spending much of 2019 trying to race Bernie Sanders to the left, Elizabeth Warren has pivoted in recent months to focus on a message of party unity. That message landed her third in Iowa and fourth in New Hampshire. The trouble appears to be that Warren, by trying to straddle both wings, has ended up alienating both: “all of the Bernie people think she’s a neoliberal shill and all of the centrists think she’s a raging Maoist,” one analyst told NBC News.

The latest poll in notoriously difficult-to-poll Nevada has her in third behind Sanders and Biden; any finish higher than Buttigieg and Klobuchar would at least stem the bleeding. But things are looking grim for the senator who just six months ago seemed to be emerging as a consensus frontrunner.

Joe Biden

The best thing that can be said about Joe Biden’s month is that at least he’s made it to Nevada. The original theory of the Biden campaign was that these next states—Nevada to South Carolina and on through Super Tuesday—would push him to a commanding delegate lead on the strength of his support among minority voters throughout the South.

But that theory didn’t reckon with a few things: One, how anemic Biden’s showing would be in Iowa and New Hampshire, and two, how dramatically the entrance of Michael Bloomberg into the race would eat into Biden’s support in national polls.

Biden has been forced to implement a slightly more aggressive strategy in Nevada. In a Sunday interview on Meet the Press, Biden scolded Sanders for not reining in his supporters after members of Nevada’s powerful Culinary Union complained they’d suffered abuse from Sanders loyalists on social media. “He may not be responsible for it, but he has some accountability,” Biden said. “You know me well enough to know if any of my supporters did that, I’d disown them. Flat disown them. The stuff that was said online. The way they threatened those two women who are leaders in that Culinary Union. It is outrageous.”

Michael Bloomberg

Bloomberg’s upward trajectory to third in the RealClearPolitics polling average is mirrored almost perfectly by Biden’s plummet. If he sticks around to win some delegates and keep up his momentum, his candidacy will be fodder for political scientists to study for generations.

The former NYC mayor said in January that he was willing to spend up to $1 billion of his $62 billion fortune to beat Trump. So far, according to Kantar/CMAG, which tracks political ad spending, Bloomberg has spent more than $400 million just on ads so far.

The DNC has changed its debate rules so that Bloomberg, who is not accepting donations, has a chance to appear onstage. As of late Sunday, it was uncertain whether he would make the cut for this week’s Nevada debate. At least one of his opponents would like to see him there. “I am also an advocate for him coming on the debate stage,” Amy Klobuchar said. “I know that I'm not going to be able to beat him on the airwaves, but I can beat him on the debate stage.” 

Can Barr Walk the Tightrope? 

Over at the site today, Jack Goldsmith has a good look back at some of the things Attorney General William Barr has done right over the first year of his tenure—and of the ways in which he has made the business of the Justice Department harder for both himself and his subordinates by failing to silo it off fully from the president’s partisan rhetoric and attempted interference: 

Barr acted within his authority to change the sentencing recommendation from a prescribed sentence to merely no formal recommendation at all, and the judge in the case, Amy Berman Jackson, has complete discretion to do whatever she wants. It may well be that Jackson will impose a sentence of less than seven to nine years; even the career prosecutors noted factors cutting against their recommendation. But the actions by Trump and Barr put her in an exceedingly awkward position that is hardly helpful to Stone. The main point is that the matter remains in the judge’s hands and the fair administration of justice will not be impacted. 

And yet Barr’s actions and non-actions since his confirmation as attorney general a year ago have increasingly contributed to the perception that the Justice Department is making politicized decisions.

...

[T]the attorney general of the United States—the person charged with ensuring that the department does its work (in Barr’s words) “with integrity”—should not be slinging partisan mud. And he especially should not be doing so when the president has for more than three years soiled the department with unprecedented attacks and interventions. Such rhetoric from the attorney general, especially in the Trump presidency, makes it impossible for at least half the country to have faith in any of Barr’s decisions, especially controversial ones related to investigations of the president’s friends or enemies.

Worth Your Time

  • Two smart analyses on Bloomberg’s candidacy from The New York Times: First, Ross Douthat argues Bloomberg profiles as a more dangerous version of Donald Trump. “Trump jokes about running for a third term; Bloomberg actually managed it, bulldozing through the necessary legal changes. Trump tries to bully the F.B.I. and undermine civil liberties; Bloomberg ran New York as a miniature surveillance state.”  Next, Charlie Warzel writes that Bloomberg is “hacking our attention,” employing Trumpian tactics to ensure—through good press or bad—his name remains top-of-mind. “What the Bloomberg campaign seems to have bought into is that, when you lean into the potent combination of content creation and shamelessness, any reaction it provokes is a good reaction. This strategy provides a certain amount of freedom to a candidate when you don’t care what people think of you—as long as they’re thinking of you.”

  • In The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf dives into the campus free speech wars, and reports on some disturbing findings. “Roughly 92 percent of conservatives said they would be friends with a liberal, and just 3 percent said that they would not have a liberal friend. Among liberals, however, almost a quarter said they would not have a conservative friend.”

  • Jack Goldsmith, who wrote a piece on William Barr for the site last week and the aforementioned piece today, published a touching obituary in Lawfare of his stepfather—Charles Lenton O’Brien—a former associate of Jimmy Hoffa who Goldsmith believes has been wrongly maligned as having a role in the death of the Teamsters Union leader. “Chuckie’s life was full of tragedy and disappointment. But he had an enormously big heart, and everyone who knew him loved him despite his foibles. He was funny, often hilarious; he was generous to a fault; he was a talker; and he was friendly with everyone. And despite setback after setback over the decades, and despite a great deal of anger, frustration and disappointment, he had an upbeat, even cheerful presence.” Goldsmith has written an an entire book laying out the often jaw-dropping details of the story of his life with Chuckie, called “In Hoffa’s Shadow.” It is very much “worth your time.” Our condolences to Jack.

Presented Without Comment

Something Fun

Santana is not dead, but if he were, this Pete Buttigieg “cover” of “Black Magic Woman” would have him spinning in his grave.

Toeing the Company Line

  • David’s Sunday French Press asks the question on many Christians’ minds right about now: How should they vote? David introduces his two-pronged test—which he deployed with Bill Clinton back in the ‘90s and he continues to judge Trump by today—and makes a case against the lesser-of-two-evils approach to voting. “One does not cure cultural moral cancer with more cancer,” he writes. “We preserve nothing. Instead, we hasten the decay.” Give the whole piece a read here

  • Jonah’s latest G-File unpacks “the mess the Democrats are in” and the perils of Bernie Sanders’ litany of “mass grassroots movements.” Check it out here

  • Declan’s latest Dispatch Fact Check took a look at the conspiracy floating around the internet (and Trump’s Twitter feed) that Sen. Mitt Romney’s impeachment vote was swayed by a former campaign aide’s seat on Burisma’s board of directors. There’s no evidence this is the case.

  • Jonah was joined by National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar on The Remnant podcast to engage in some rank punditry around the 2020 election. Download, rate, and subscribe here!

Let Us Know

In honor of the holiday, pass along your favorite tidbits of presidential trivia. We’re talking “Millard Fillmore married his teacher”-levels of obscurity. Our favorites will be featured in tomorrow’s TMD.

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Sarah Isgur (@whignewtons), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).

Photograph of Bernie Sanders by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

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