Fair and Unbalanced

img
Mike Littwin

"The pump don't work 'cause the vandals took the handles."

Let’s give everyone the benefit of the doubt and agree that Rudy Giuliani’s bombshell pronouncements to Sean Hannity were actually part of a plan.

What else could it be?

The redoubtable Robert Costa of The Washington Post tweets that White House aides were “bewildered” watching Giuliani tell Sean Hannity that Trump himself had paid back Michael Cohen for the Stormy Daniels hush money. They were similarly stunned to watch Giuliani admit to Hannity that the reason Trump fired Jim Comey was because the then-FBI director wouldn’t publicly say that Trump was not a target of the investigation.

Assuming this was a plan, it was one so tightly held that they didn’t even let the toady Hannity in on it. Hannity was, as one observer rightly pointed out, entirely gobsmacked by the entire interview. It was so tightly held that you have to wonder whether Trump was even in on it.

Like the rest of us, Hannity couldn’t believe what he was hearing — which was Giuliani conceding that Trump had lied about Comey and Stormy and Cohen and, we are left to presume, probably everything else. OK, we already knew that, but now we know that.

If you accept that it was a plan, what was the purpose? It couldn’t have been just to bury the bizarre story about Trump’s doctor saying Trump aides raided his office, which had to be embarrassing for Trump but which basically sounded like a Peter Sellers movie plot. The smart people explain that Trump was under such political and possible-criminal heat that he desperately needed another story. And maybe the truth, or at least another stab at the truth, was what was required.

So, Giuliani-tells-Hannity is the perfect way to do this.

Whatever he’s saying and wherever he’s saying it — Giuliani also predictably told Hannity that both Hillary Clinton and Jim Comey should be in jail — Giuliani is always unabashed and unembarrassed. Hannity, meanwhile, is dependably credulous and would, as Michael Cohen once said, take a bullet — at least a figurative one, possibly on 5th Avenue — for Trump, meaning there would be no examination of the implications of Giuliani’s attempt at offhandedly delivering all that explosive news.

I was taken in. It looked to me as if Giuliani had gone off the rails because, let’s face it, he’s fully capable of doing that. As I might have tweeted myself, maybe Trump should have paid Rudy the hush money.

But then you start putting it together. Rudy tells us of the “stormtrooper” raid of Cohen’s papers — yeah, the FBI-agents-as-Nazis meme — and we have to understand what the raid must have yielded. We can imagine that Cohen’s papers would show that Trump had paid him back for the hush money, meaning that Cohen had lied and that Trump — who would have you believe his lawyer paid out the $130,000 hush money to Stormy and that he repaid the lawyer for the hush money to Stormy without him knowing anything about Stormy — had lied.

The failure to report the Cohen hush money — which must be reported if he used it to help the campaign, and why else would Cohen have shut Daniels up just before the election? — would be a campaign finance violation. Those lawyers who don’t work for Trump are saying that Trump’s failure to report the Cohen money is still a violation whether Trump paid back what amounts to a loan. According to Giuliani, he paid back the $130,000 with hundreds of thousands  of dollars to spare, which leads us to wonder who else was being paid off. The finance violation is not a huge thing in and of itself, unless, of course, someone lied about it to the wrong people. Which may be why Trump won’t be talking to Robert Mueller.

Then there’s the Comey issue. One of the issues Mueller is apparently exploring is whether Trump’s firing of Comey amounted to obstruction of justice. We remember that the White House’s first explanation was that Comey was fired for having treated Hillary Clinton unfairly. Funny, right? Michelle Wolf wouldn’t have had the nerve to make that joke. So, not long after, Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt the firing was about the “Russia thing,” which left Trump admitting he fired Comey to get him off his back about the Russia probe. Obstruction, right?

To resolve the obstruction angle, Giuliani says Trump fired Comey out of, well, personal pique because Comey had refused to publicly let Trump off the hook. 

Here’s Rudy: “He’s entitled to that. Hillary Clinton got that, and he couldn’t get that. So he fired him, and he said, ‘I’m free of this guy.’”

That’s their story. Or their latest one. He fired Comey because he’s “free of this guy,” which may not the best way to end the obstruction story, but it’s apparently the best they could come up with.

But my favorite part of the Rudy affair came Thursday morning, the day after, with Giuliani’s appearance on – where else? — Fox and Friends, during which he tried to clean up the reasoning behind why the Stormy Daniels hush money shouldn’t be considered a campaign contribution.

“If we had to defend this as not being a campaign contribution, I think we could do that,” Giuliani said. “This was for personal reasons. The president had been hurt personally, not politically, personally so much and the first lady by the false allegations.”

So, this wasn’t about politics?

Well, here’s what he said moments later: “However, imagine if that came out on October 15, 2016, in the middle of the last debate with Hillary Clinton. Cohen didn’t even ask. Cohen made it go away. He did his job.”

So, this was about politics?

As Giuliani said, Cohen did his job. And as now seems clear, Giuliani, as Trump’s new lawyer, was trying to do his. When he wasn’t explaining away all of Trump’s lies, he was explaining why Trump probably wouldn’t sit down to answer Mueller’s questions.

“What they’re trying to do is trap him into perjury,” Giuliani said, “and we’re not suckers.”

They don’t think they’re suckers. But do you ever get the feeling that they’re pretty sure the rest of us are?

 

Photo by Gage Skidmore, via Flickr: Creative Commons

So the hedge-fund vultures at Alden Global Capital got my friend, Dave Krieger, who was the esteemed editorial page editor at the Boulder Daily Camera until they fired him.

In other words, he’s still esteemed — maybe even more so now — but no longer the editor and no longer employed.

There is no mystery here. Krieger wrote an editorial about the Alden vultures that the vultures wouldn’t publish because it told the truth about them — and how they’re destroying journalism in Colorado and elsewhere in America. It’s not a new truth. I’ve written it myself many times. (In fact, Krieger tried to publish one such column of mine in the Camera, but it was, uh, killed.) Denver Post editorial page editor Chuck Plunkett wrote it when the vultures cut the Post newsroom by a third, to fewer than 70 employees. Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan described the hedge fund’s approach to journalism as  “strip-mining” and worse.

They killed the column, and Krieger, because he’s Krieger and because he sees editorial interference from owners as censorship, published it in a blog so people would know what had gone down — and that the Camera owners couldn’t handle the truth.

It was a brave thing to do. It was a principled thing to do. It was the only thing that Krieger being Krieger, headstrong and tough-minded and entirely in the right, could do.

And, of course, it got him fired. He knew it was coming. Everyone knew it was coming. It was the Camera publisher who did it. He told Krieger he was being “terminated,” which, Krieger notes, could suggest a fate worse than losing a job. You can read all about it here in a follow-up blog explaining exactly what had happened to him and why. He wrote it with typical Krieger wit and with a not-so-typical Krieger show of heartbreak.

I won’t try to rewrite his story. He’s written it well enough. But I will give you the money shot (or one of several) in his take on publisher Al Manzi and executive editor Kevin Kaufman and what he calls “the classic collaborator’s defense”:

“Anyway, over time, Al and Kevin have gotten used to this process. It’s human nature. You adapt. They’ve laid off people who broke down and sobbed, who became enraged, who asked them what they should do now. They’ve moved the business from the Camera’s longtime downtown headquarters to an office building in east Boulder, to today’s offices in a nondescript office park farther east. The way they see it, they have no choice. If they don’t do it, DFM will find somebody who will. The only difference will be that the two of them won’t have jobs. This is true as far as it goes, but it’s also the classic collaborator’s defense. We are allegedly serving the community with our newspaper. At what point do the community’s interests enter the equation? Ever?”

Like me, Krieger is basically a lifer. The hedge-fund vultures couldn’t care less that they’re taking, temporarily at least, that part of his life away or that Camera readers will be much poorer for it. Krieger had a few colorful jobs in his youth, but mostly it’s been newspapers and radio (where, you’ll remember, he was a star on KOA) and magazines and wherever journalism could be done. We worked together for years at the late, great Rocky and for a few years at the Denver Post, and all I know now is that wherever he lands next, he’ll have a righteous story to tell.

Photo by Henrique Pinto via Flickr: Creative Commons

 

 

Illustration by Mike Keefe

Now that the last in a seemingly endless series of GOP petition-signature SNAFUs has been resolved— the last in the governor’s race anyway— we move on to … what?

Face it folks, we’re looking at a brief lull here— call it the post-assembly, pre-TV-ad-barrage phase of the race— in which the remaining candidates begin to pull together their strategies for the home stretch, which is closer than you think.

The good news is that it gives those of us at the Littwin gov panel headquarters the opportunity to clear up some lingering issues. Such as:

1. How big a role will the unaffiliated voters— now, for the first in Colorado, allowed to participate in primary races— actually play? (My guess: bigger than many think, particularly on the Dem side.)

2. Is the signature-petitioning system screwed up (it’s unanimous: yes), but if it’s the system, why do the problems seem to be only on the Republican side? And, for that matter, why does anyone care whether the circulators are Colorado residents? I mean, shouldn’t the signatures be the issue, not the collectors of signatures?

3. Can anyone reasonably challenge Walker Stapleton, the establishment favorite, and Tom Tancredo’s new best friend, now that Cynthia “At Least I Never Got a DUI” Coffman is out of the race?

We’ll start with Stapleton. The answer is probably no, unless, of course, you remember all the way back to 2010 when Scott McInnis had the nomination all wrapped up before that plagiarism scandal hit, and Dan Maes, to the embarrassment of every Republican, won the primary. Panelist Cinamon Watson remembers and asks plaintively, “Why would you remind us of that?”

Panelist Josh Penry, briefly a candidate in that long-ago McInnis-Maes race, says he expects the 2018 election to heat up quickly and for “Robinson and Mitchell to start throwing punches any time now” — not that such a strategy worked for Coffman. Panelist Alan Salazar thinks Mitchell has an outside chance, “if he gets voters, and not dogs, to pay attention.”

As for unaffiliated voters, no one knows the answer, but guessing the answer is what the pros are paid to do. Penry thinks it’s pretty clear. “Anyone who says the Indies aren’t going to be a big-ass deal doesn’t know jack hooey. These are all votes on the margin. Literally, new votes. A virgin forest ready for a clear cut. (Sorry, couldn’t resist the chance to offend your tree-hugging readers.)

“With mail ballots, it isn’t terribly difficult to identify and turn out those votes either. Figure out what messages pop. Mail ‘em a bunch. Dump a bunch of digital on ‘em. They’ll see your TV ads, too. Boom – those voters are yours.”

OK, maybe it’s not quite that easy. And it’s certainly not going to be inexpensive. That’s all we need — more money in these races. Speaking of which, in any conversation with Jared Polis, he brings up unaffiliated voters more or less constantly.

Meanwhile, Salazar puts us on irony alert— a rare beast in a primary race— noting that “The irony is that this law was supposed to moderate the extremes, particularly in the GOP, but Trump’s dysfunctional presidency is on trial with voters this year. So that will mean unaffiliated voters flock to the Dem banner in 2018.” It could also mean that the potential for cross-over vote— see Lynne, Donna— may not be a successful selling point.

OK, now the signatures. Let’s start with the incompetence involved here. “Rules are rules,” Watson says. “Play the game.” And the rules may be cumbersome, they may be archaic, but they aren’t all that hard to understand. And yet. And yet.

Silverii also thinks the rules are rules and has to laugh when relating how the game is played out in the GOP primary so far. The people who got the Walker Stapleton signature-gathering scandal going were Doug Robinson’s signature-gathering people — called the Signature Gathering Company — who, it turned out, couldn’t gather enough signatures themselves, meaning Robinson had to go to court to get on the ballot. Silverii: Maybe the company “should have spent more time, you know, Gathering Signatures, and less time playing Spy vs. Spy.”

Salazar defers slightly, wondering why “in the era where these ‘grassroots’ efforts are largely paid for and handled by professional operators,” anyone should care so long as the signatures are valid. He adds, though, that “I will stand corrected if (attorney extraordinaire) Mark Grueskin feels differently.”

And so on to the standings.

REPUBLICANS

1. Walker Stapleton. He’s got everything going for him. Money, endorsements, money. OK, there is the signature foul-up and the Stapleton name thing, meaning the KKK connection. But I’m not going to blame Stapleton for his grandfather’s politics. There’s enough to blame Stapleton for his own politics.

2. Doug Robinson. He’s on the ballot. He won the first debate (which Stapleton dodged). He’s got the folksy thing working. Uncle Mitt will come to campaign for him, which may or may not be a plus.

3. Victor Mitchell. The panel was undecided between Mitchell and Greg Lopez for the third spot. I cast the deciding vote out of guilt for the dog-commercial jokes (which, however, we’ll keep using until they’re no longer funny).

4. Greg Lopez. The assembly is over. Lopez was the big surprise there. But for Lopez is to have a chance, he has to keep the excitement going. We’re waiting.

DEMOCRATS

1. Cary Kennedy. Well, there were 10,000 or so teachers marching on the Capitol, and teachers, you might know, sit in the front row of any Kennedy cheering section. So, following her assembly win, that has to be a good thing.

2. Jared Polis. Kennedy won the base at the assembly, which doesn’t mean she’ll capture the base in the primary. But Polis is definitely on the trail for the unafilliateds. Penry explains the importance: “It is entirely possible that a candidate could win traditional Democratic primary voters by 5 or more points and still lose the primary.”

3.  Mike Johnston. 

His biggest problem may be with teachers or maybe it’s more a problem with the teachers’ union. In any case, Johnston was at the big rally Thursday. Here’s the photo and tweet from Joe St. George:

And as Chalkbeat’s Erica Meltzer noted, “If you read the comments on Chalkbeat’s Facebook page, you would think Mike Johnston would be eaten alive at a teacher rally. Yet here he is, unscathed.”

4. Donna LynneShe needs an issue. Or an ad push. Or something.

 

Panelists: Big-shot GOP strategist Josh Penry, principal at EIS; long-time Dem strategist and Hancock chief of staff Alan Salazar; ProgressNow progressive Ian Silverii; GOP strategist, and always good quote, Cinamon Watson, principal at Blueprint Strategies— and, of course. me.

Which is the bigger scandal — that yet another investigator has concluded that Randy “Boob Grabber” Baumgardner is a serial sexual harasser or that Senate Republican leaders may have hidden the results of the second damning report at the time of the vote on whether to expel him?

Most of us learned nothing much from the new report, except to expand the range of female body parts that most interest Baumgardner. We knew from the first report, which Senate President Kevin Grantham and Majority Leader Chris Holbert dismissed as inaccurate, inconsistent or biased, that Baumgardner had repeatedly grabbed and slapped a legislative aide’s buttocks.

In this report from a different investigator, one that no one has yet called inaccurate, inconsistent or biased, we learn that Baumgardner inappropriately hugged staffers in a “tight and/or clingy” manner, inappropriately brushed against their breasts, earned the nickname Boob Grabber and, furthermore, is a very bad man to work for. For consistency’s sake, he was also accused of leering at buttocks.

As you’ll recall, most of the arguments during the hastily-called expulsion hearing were about the report rather than the behavior. Defender after defender came to the microphone to question the work and validity of the investigator. And all but one Republican stayed in line, meaning the vote against Baumgardner fell well short of the two-thirds required.

Kicking out a senator, overturning the will of the voters, is a serious matter, of course. So is sexual harassment.  When Steve Lebsock was kicked out of the House for sexual harassment, it was the first such expulsion in more than a century. 

Here’s the thing. The Baumgardner vote was taken on April 2. According to yet more great reporting from KUNC’s Bente Birkeland — who has owned this story of the Capitol scandal  — the second report was received by Senate Secretary Effie Ameen on March 30, three days before the vote. It was Good Friday, meaning the report might not have been registered until Monday, the day of the vote.

In explaining why the expulsion vote was taken before the second report could be considered, Holbert said the Senate calendar was controlled by Ameen, the Senate secretary. That is not exactly true. Leadership controls the calendar. The secretary, as longtime legislature reporter Charles Ashby points out, merely maintains the calendar.

Was Holbert, the majority leader, throwing Ameen under the bus to protect his own hide — or was it to protect Baumgardner’s hide?

Meanwhile, on Monday, Grantham said that despite the information in the new report, he wouldn’t ask Baumgardner to resign. He also said he wasn’t sure what punishment might be appropriate because he hadn’t had time to thoroughly study the report.

Here’s the thing: Right now, we have no idea when Ameen told Grantham and Holbert about the report, but how many people out there think Ameen is the problem? Who thinks that nobody mentioned to Grantham, the Senate president, that the report was in? Did Holbert not look at the second report before he called the vote? If the results had been positive, do we really think that Baumgardner’s defenders wouldn’t have wanted them out there before the vote?

And exactly how many investigators would need to come back with a negative report on Baumgardner before Grantham would call for him to resign?

Does anyone see any good answers here?

Birkeland does say that when the report was given to Ameen, the investigation was still open because Baumgardner, to that point, had refused to sit down for an interview with the investigator. The investigation closed April 11. It’s possible, I guess, that leadership was out of the loop. But you’d have to guess really, really, really hard.

Grantham also said he had never heard rumors of Baumgardner’s ill behavior, which seems, well, surprising. One female senator told me that Baumgardner’s reputation was well known to all women working in the Senate. And Birkeland reported that in 2012, when Bill Cadman was Senate majority leader, he allegedly told Baumgardner he could no longer hug staffers while at the Capitol. But Grantham was apparently in the dark, meaning he has no idea what’s going on around him in the Senate or, well, I’ll leave the other possible conclusion to you.

So, here’s what we have. Let’s agree that if the second investigator’s report had been made available before the expulsion vote, everything would have been different. No longer could Republicans claim bias because Senate leadership had, in fact, chosen the second investigator. The only plausible defense for Baumgardner would have been that his egregious behavior wasn’t sufficiently egregious for Senate Republicans to expel him despite the many accusers who had come forth.

That would have been a tough call in the #MeToo era, even for, as I might have written before, the #NotUs Republicans.

It’s too late for a resolution now. The deadline has passed. The legislative session is nearly at an end. But the story isn’t over.

If Baumgardner doesn’t resign before the next session, the Baumgardner report will almost certainly be brought up again. And with only a one-vote margin and facing a possible Democratic wave in the November elections, Senate Republicans have to be worried about staying in control.

After all, it’s not only Baumgardner who would be an issue in November. It’s also Republican leadership. It must be clear to everyone by now that Baumgardner has to go. Grantham is term limited, so he’s going anyway. The question is where that leaves the rest of the party.

Photo of Sen. Randy Baumgardner by John Herrick
Illustration by Mike Keefe

Let’s get straight to the big news. For the first time in the brief, if glorious, history of the Littwin Official Unofficial #C02018 gov rankings, we have a new leader.

It’s not on the GOP side, of course, where Walker Stapleton survived his fraudulent-signature disaster to win the top line at the state assembly and keep the top spot in our rankings. That was just the sideshow.

The main event at the Republican assembly was the complete meltdown of Cynthia Coffman, who was knocked out of the race and out of the Littwin standings but into the hearts of everyone who has a soft spot for — to quote our president — a complete loser. Yes, that’s a cruel word, but it’s a cruel world when getting booed in your speech to the assembly is the high point of your weekend.

The main event in the days after the primary was the news that the new No. 2, Doug Robinson — possibly fated to be always known as Mitt Romney’s nephew — didn’t get enough signatures in CD 2 to qualify for the ballot. He fell 22 signatures short, and you know what that means. It’s lawsuit time again, and Republicans, who have so little good to say about courts, will be back again. It’s 2016 Redux, which was always the way to bet.

My guess is that Robinson will make the ballot. For Coffman, though, no guessing is required. Coffman did the near-impossible, coming to the assembly as the state’s attorney general and leaving with only 6 percent of the vote from her party’s delegates. A candidate needs 30 percent to qualify for the ballot. If you’re a public official who has won statewide office, I’d say you need at least 10 percent not to get laughed off the stage.

So, what happened?

There are many theories. Panelist Alan Salazar says Republicans he trusts tell him Coffman was sandbagged by a deal between Stapleton and Justin Everett, who came first at the assembly in a tight, four-way race for state treasurer. Coffman’s hit-Stapleton-on-his-long-ago-DUI speech was, of course, a disaster. Doug Bruce, because he’s Doug Bruce, was passing out nasty anti-Coffman fliers. Tom Tancredo brought the, shall we say, wing-nut crowd with him to vote for Stapleton.

But I think panelist Ian Silverii got it right when he said, “What happened to Cynthia Coffman is what happens to any politician who abandons her values and record in order to appeal to a narrow, extreme political base. No one believed her, so she lost the few moderates she did have, and wasn’t authentically hard-right enough for the real crazies in the GOP assembly.”

Abandoned by the moderates and disdained by the right, Coffman had nowhere to go, except away.

There was yet another surprise on the GOP side in Greg Lopez, who had raised $23,000 prior to the assembly — half of which came from his own bank account. And yet he got 33 percent of the vote to qualify him for the ballot. He gave a good speech — but nothing like Darryl Glenn gave in 2016 — but I’m thinking his vote can be seen either as an anti-Stapleton or an anti-Coffman vote as much as a pro-Lopez vote.

Oh, one other thing. So long to Barry Farah. It was fun. Really.

On the Dem side, the story was very different. Nothing unexpected happened except this: After Cary Kennedy’s big win at the state assembly, the panel has moved her slightly ahead of Jared Polis into the No. 1 spot. But you might want to hold the balloons. Or as panelist Alan Salazar puts it, if being the frontrunner at this point meant sure victory, we’d still be talking about Sen. Gene Nichol and Gov. Mike Feeley.

Kennedy is winning the base, winning with the teachers, winning in the only votes that have been taken. It will be interesting when new polling comes out if all that winning is actually real. And then she still has to translate that early success into wooing the rest of the Democratic primary voters and, in this wildcard year, unaffiliated voters who are now eligible to vote in primary races.

Polis has spent a lot of money modeling unaffiliated voters. That takes a lot of money, and we know that Polis, who has a lot of money, is willing to spend it. We’re waiting to see when and how Mike Johnston spends his money. But Kennedy, who has done quite well in the last two fundraising quarters, assures me she will have the money needed to compete with both.

On to the rankings (updated to include one lagging panelist who shall remain anonymous):

REPUBLICANS

1. Walker Stapleton. Give him credit. He survived the signature fiasco, came in late to the assembly and won, while also knocking out his prime rival. To do that, though, he went hard right, embracing Tancredo, who gave his nominating speech. Is that how you win in November? (Hint: No.) But panelist Josh Penry says to give him credit.  “There isn’t any way to way to sugar coat it. Walker went from electoral goat rodeo to the political equivalent of the Winners Circle at the Kentucky Derby in 96 hours.”

2. Doug Robinson. Who knows. He looked like No. 2 before Friday. Now he looks, well, lost. He was the one who got the Stapleton signature problem rolling. Now he’s stuck with one of his own. Where have we seen this story before?

3. Greg Lopez. As panelist Cinamon Watson points out, he’d been working the delegates for months, leading to the question, hadn’t Coffman been doing the same? After his speech, he got a standing ovation, which is better than being booed. Watson: “Somewhere, deep in the bowels of a basement, will live hundreds of Coffman for Governor fedoras. Someone will be a hit when they pull them out for a nostalgic display at a 2030 Lincoln Day Dinner.”

4. Victor Mitchell. The good news is that Mitchell made the ballot. The bad news is you can still google his campaign video with the dogs.

DEMOCRATS

1. Cary Kennedy. Like the rest of us, Silverii is waiting for the polling to know if we can believe our eyes. Polling, he says, “is the only way we’ll know if Cary’s momentum has burst out of the Democratic insider world and into the general population.” We don’t really know if Polis, Johnston and Lynne have been making headway with anyone else while Kennedy was cleaning up at the assembly.” Or as Penry put it, “And so the question is, can Kennedy parlay an assembly win into a million dollar fundraising quarter? If she can’t, even in spite of the good 90 days she’s had, her road is steep and narrow.”

2. Jared Polis. The arrow is only slightly down. Kennedy deserves the top slot, but I think if there were a betting line, Polis would still be No. 1.

2. Mike Johnston. Johnston’s campaign will tell you he’s the candidate Republicans most fear. I think that’s true. First, though, he has to find a way to match Kennedy’s buzz.

4. Donna Lynne. She made the ballot Friday, but the consensus is she’s lagging. Salazar says she still has a shot: “Her general election appeal might be a factor if she gets on the air.” Of course, Johnston has general election appeal, too, and he will be on the air.

Panelists: Big-shot GOP strategist Josh Penry, principal at EIS; long-time Dem strategist and Hancock chief of staff Alan Salazar; ProgressNow progressive Ian Silverii; GOP strategist, and always good quote, Cinamon Watson, principal at Blueprint Strategies— and, of course. me.