Five Tantalizing Questions About Mueller’s Investigation

Several loose ends remain in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation amid signs that it’s possible the long probe could be winding down.

Here are five questions about the investigation as Mueller’s probe nears its two-year anniversary.

What will the end mean for Trump?

Perhaps the most consequential question is what Mueller’s report reveals about Trump and any knowledge he had of his campaign’s contacts with Russians.

Trump has long denied that his campaign colluded with Moscow to meddle in the election and regularly derides the investigation as a partisan “witch hunt.”

It’s no secret Trump is eager to have the investigation wrapped up; he wrote that the probe “must end” in an early morning tweet Friday, describing it as “so bad” for the country.

“So long as the Mueller report does not personally implicate Donald Trump, it’s a good thing that it comes out,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell.

“And the reason why is very simple: They want this albatross off their neck. They’ve been playing defense for two years. They want to play offense now and show the Democrats’ actions are all about getting Donald J. Trump, not actually finding out what happened about Russian interference during the 2016 election,” O’Connell said.

However, if the report reveals derogatory information about Trump, it could be politically damaging and produce new headaches for the White House. And it could serve as a roadmap for Democrats looking to investigate the president and possibly launch impeachment proceedings.

The conclusion of Mueller’s investigation will also not mean an end to the president’s legal woes. Prosecutors are still pursuing investigations related to the president in other districts, including the Manhattan probe into former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s campaign finance violations stemming from payments to women who alleged affairs with Trump before the election. 

Read more from Morgan Chalfant at The Hill

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Democrats, GOP Fight To Define ‘Medicare For All’ Message

The two most popular proposals for making the federal government the largest health insurer of Americans will be released next week and their details could pay a major role in the 2020 elections.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who joined the Democratic presidential nomination contest this week, and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) are expecting to release their “Medicare for All” bills separately at the end of February. Both see the idea of providing health insurance for every American by effectively replacing most of the private insurance market with a publicly run insurer as an aspiration the Democratic Party should rally around.

Their supporters say Americans are growing increasingly frustrated with the health-care industry and are more willing than ever to embrace the idea. Republicans and health-care industry groups are betting that Americans will reject a single-payer health insurance system after they hear how it’ll disrupt their lives by replacing their current coverage.

Whoever is correct could end up controlling more of the levers of government in 2021.

Most insured Americans, 156 million in 2017, get coverage through their employers and that type of coverage has long polled well among Americans, said Ford O’Connell, a political analyst and Republican strategist who has focused on health messaging.

“By putting out bills that end private insurance they’re opening themselves up to attacks that allow Republicans to turn the message around and say ‘now you’re taking away health care,’” O’Connell said. “This could level the playing field.”

Republicans in the House have been pushing Democratic leaders to hold hearings on the measure both to attack fault lines among Democrats and to start their own messaging campaign on the issue.

Read more from Alex Ruoff at Bloomberg Government 

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Smaller Tax Refunds Put GOP On Defensive

The Trump administration and key GOP lawmakers are playing defense after early data showed Americans are getting smaller tax refunds in the first filing season under the GOP tax law. 

The average refund size through Feb. 8 was 8.7 percent smaller than the same period last year, according to IRS figures. Democrats have seized on the numbers, arguing they prove that the 2017 tax-code overhaul by Republicans was a “scam” designed to help the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.

Republicans have pushed back, emphasizing that most people are seeing a reduction in their total tax liability and that smaller refunds are preferable because they mean taxpayers were paying a more accurate amount throughout the year via their paychecks.

“Critics of the tax cuts are squealing that lower refunds means that taxpayers are paying more in taxes. That argument is pure hogwash,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said in a statement Friday, as part of a Q&A document published by his office. 

Policymakers ought to know that is intellectually dishonest,” Grassley added. “What’s really happening is they are trying every which way to Sunday to sabotage the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.” 

The refund statistics have the potential to be the latest political setback for the GOP around the 2017 law. 

The Treasury official on Thursday said the administration expects about 80 percent of people to pay less in taxes for 2018, while 15 percent will see their tax liability stay about the same.

GOP strategists said it’s crucial for Republicans to get their message across because Democrats plan to make attacks on the tax law part of their path to defeating President Trump in 2020, arguing that the economy is problematic for the middle class.

“I think the Republicans need to be on guard to push back at every turn,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell.

Read more from Naomi Jagoda at The Hill

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One Year After U.S. School Shooting, National-Level Gun Legislation Remains Elusive

One year after a mass high school shooting that killed 17 students, there is no sweeping, federal-level U.S. gun legislation on the horizon, with experts saying the situation is unlikely to change.

On Feb. 14 last year, a gunman entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and opened fire on campus with an assault-style rifle, killing 17 students and educators within six minutes of hell.

Over the past 12 years, a number of mass killings have grabbed headlines: in 2007, a student at Virginia Tech killed 32 people; in 2012, a deranged gunman entered the Sandy Hook elementary school and murdered 28 people, including many children; in 2016, a gunman killed 49 people at a nightclub in Orlando; and in 2017, a total of 58 people were killed and hundreds wounded in the Las Vegas mass shooting.

A recent PBS News Hour/Marist/NPR poll found a slim majority of 51 percent of Americans favor stricter firearms-related legislation, down significantly from the poll's finding nearly one year ago after the Parkland killings, when 71 percent of Americans favored tighter gun laws.

Republicans and Democrats are at odds over the issue, with Democrats calling for more gun legislation, and Republicans fearing that more laws might not lessen the violence, but could infringe on rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.

According to the Giffords Law Center, lawmakers on both sides of the political divide in more than two-dozen states have enacted nearly 70 new gun laws, and the U.S. state of Washington voted to increase the legal age to purchase semi-automatic rifles to 21 from 18. But those are far from the sweeping federal gun laws that many gun control advocates favor.

"Whatever is going to take place on this issue is more likely to be on the state level than at the federal level, particularly with the divided Congress," Republican strategist and TV news personality Ford O'Connell told Xinhua. He added that Democrats in Congress may introduce bills, but they won't go far in a divided Congress.

Read more from Matthew Rustling at Xinhua

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Will He Or Won't He? Weld Sparks Presidential Intrigue With N.H. Visit

Could former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld be the candidate who can topple President Trump in the 2020 primary?

According to some Republicans, crazier things have happened.

Weld has stoked presidential speculation with his vocal criticisms of Trump, and by his recent decision to return to the Republican Party after spending several years as a registered Libertarian. In his speech, Weld isn't expected to pull any punches when it comes to his views of the president.

If he does declare his candidacy or announce the formation of an exploratory committee, Weld would become the first Republican to announce a primary challenge to Trump.

But Weld wouldn’t necessarily have to win the primary to topple Trump, strategists said. They point to a number of recent presidents who fended off serious primary challengers only to lose in the general election: Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush.

But Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said the analogies to Ford, Carter and Bush “don’t work with Weld in the equation.”

“I see this, like his 2016 Libertarian vice presidential nomination, as a way to keep his name in the news,” O’Connell said. “Unless something dramatically changes, Trump has a stranglehold on the 2020 Republican presidential nomination.”

Read more from Kimberly Atkins at WBUR

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Like Clinton's Emails, Doubts About Warren's Ancestry Claim Aren't Going Away

As Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., prepares to hit the road promoting her bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, her failure to definitively resolve long-standing questions about her dubious claims of Native American heritage has some critics declaring her campaign dead before it even begins.

“She’s done as a 2020 presidential candidate,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell.

Days before its official kickoff event in Massachusetts, Warren’s nascent presidential campaign was shaken Tuesday by a Washington Post report that she identified herself as “American Indian” on a 1986 Texas Bar registration form. A registration card obtained by The Post provided documentary confirmation that Warren asserted her contested Native American ancestry early in her legal career.

In field of more than 20 potential contenders for the Democratic nomination, O’Connell predicted Warren will never survive with this controversy around her neck.

“She may be a solid progressive but she’s damaged goods as a nominee,” he said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if the White House was praying she is the nominee.”

Supporters argue the revelation that Warren declared her race “American Indian” on a form that was meant to be confidential and had no bearing on her admission by the Texas Bar adds little to the narrative that was not already known. It appears to be consistent with her assertion that she believed she had Native American blood at the time.

O’Connell, who is also an attorney, argued a bar registration card carries significantly more weight than a legal directory listing.

“The bar card, as a lawyer, is really you attesting to yourself and really doing it by your own hand,” he said.

Warren acknowledged Wednesday there could be more documents out there on which she identified herself as Native American.

O’Connell rejected those complaints and suggested Warren’s ancestry claim is an even bigger detriment than Clinton’s emails because it undercuts the central narrative of her biography.

“Hillary Clinton didn’t build her backstory on her emails,” he said. “[Warren’s] whole narrative is, ‘I rose to the top.’”

Read more from Stephen Loiaconi at Sinclair Broadcast Group

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Sasse’s Jabs At Trump Spark Talk Of Primary Challenger

Conservative Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), a frequent critic of President Trump who said he could not support him during the 2016 cycle, is at risk of a significant primary challenge in 2020, according to GOP sources. 

A Nebraska Republican official told The Hill there are Republicans interested in running for Sasse’s seat, while a senior Republican aide predicted that Sasse will see a primary challenge. 

But the senator’s office brushes off the possibility that he could be challenged.

Sasse has a solidly conservative voting record and says he could raise $6 million for his reelection. He reported having $1.4 million in cash on hand in his campaign account at the end of December. 

Sasse had a 43 percent approval rating and 34 percent disapproval rating in Nebraska, according to a Morning Consult poll conducted from July 1 to Sept. 25. Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), who easily won reelection in 2018, had an approval-disapproval split of 42 percent to 39 percent in the same poll. 

Those are significant advantages. But they could be countered if Trump, who has a lock on the GOP base, decides to intervene in the 2020 Nebraska primary. 

Trump compiled an impressive record of endorsing GOP primary winners in 2018. According to an ABC News report, 49 of the 51 Republicans he endorsed in 2018 primaries were victorious.

“It should come as no surprise that he wields such power in Republican primaries,” Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist, said of Trump. “He’s in lockstep with the Republican base. If he wants to go after Sasse, the opportunity is there for him to do it.”

Read more from Alex Bolton at The Hill

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Democrats: The Party Of Illegal Immigration

So how is one to interpret the recent statements and actions of these prominent Democrats? The Democrats can talk until they are blue in the face about their support for stronger border security on the nation’s southern border, but when it comes to the issue of illegal immigration, not only do they have zero interest in getting it under control, they are in fact promoting and incentivizing people to come to the U.S. illegally.

The position of today’s Democratic Party on illegal immigration is a radical departure from its stance just a few years ago. In 2009, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that “illegal immigration is wrong.” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi took a similar position on illegal immigrants in 2008 by stating that “we certainly do not want any more coming in.” And there is former President Obama, who in his 2013 State of the Union address vowed to send illegal immigrants “to the back of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally.”

So what explains Democrats’ startling 180 on illegal immigration?

The lazy, short-term answer is that Donald Trump sits at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and a central promise of his 2016 campaign was building the wall. Yes, it is no secret that Democrats want to make him a one-term president by driving a wedge between Trump and his base on a key issue. They will stop at nothing to achieve this goal.

But there is a more sinister long-term answer for the Democrats’ whole-hearted embrace of illegal immigration.  A 2018 Center for American Progress (CAP) Action Fund memo sheds light on this. The memo, co-authored by former Hillary Clinton communications director, Jennifer Palmieri, argues that the Democratic Party needs to protect illegal immigrants brought here at a young age as a result of President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program because they are “a critical component of the Democratic Party’s future electoral success.”

This is an astonishing statement. It would seem that — as the Washington Times put it — “[w]ith declining support from white and older Americans, the Democrats have concluded that their future lies in importing a new electorate from south of the border.”

So it is full speed ahead on illegal immigration for the Democrats, and they don’t want Republicans gumming up the works even if their name is not Donald Trump. They will claim their position is rooted in compassion and in upholding American values when in fact it is primarily about naked politics and importing a new set of voters, as their ideas become increasingly too far-fetched for the citizens who currently reside legally within America’s borders.

Read more from Ford O'Connell at The Hill

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Trump Signals Wall Or Nothing Approach To Shutdown Negotiations

President Donald Trump probably won't be satisfied with any deal Capitol Hill negotiators come up with he admitted Thursday, even in the long-shot event lawmakers agree on a solution to defuse the immigration standoff that shut down the government.

Trump said he will likely go ahead and use his executive power to build his border wall anyway, in comments that could badly undercut compromise talks between lawmakers.

Trump called the consultations between Democrats and Republicans from the House and the Senate "a waste of time," in an interview with The New York Times published Thursday night.

"I've set the table. I've set the stage for doing what I'm going to do," Trump said, without specifically confirming that he plans to declare a national emergency and reprogram money already offered by Congress for other purposes.

Such a step, or some other executive action, would set off a constitutional showdown and a certain legal challenge over whether the President would be claiming power he does not have to usurp Congress's prerogative to appropriate funds.

Trump's warning came amid few signs of progress from the Capitol Hill talks and after he lashed out at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, accusing her of "playing games" because of her refusal to fund a wall he always said Mexico would pay for.

"It's not an issue for him in 2020 so long as the base of the Republican Party believes he's committed to border security," said Ford O'Connell, a Republican political strategist.

"You have to understand on this issue, regardless of how hyper-partisan and far apart the parties are, the bottom line is that they believe he is the last best hope to get illegal immigration under control," said O'Connell, who is also an adjunct professor at the George Washington Graduate School of Political Management.

This equation is the reason that the best political solution for the President may be to go ahead with a declaration of national emergency or some other executive action to reposition government money to build the wall.

"The national emergency solves a problem with respect to his base all being in lock step," said O'Connell.

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Despite Border Wall Funding Setback, Trump Fans Still Support Him

The no-wall deal that ended the government shutdown was a bitter pill for voters who sent President Trump to the White House, but they say they’re still backing him as the border security fight with Democrats enters Round Two.

Some conservative pundits blasted the president for “caving” to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, but voters contacted by The Washington Times said they aren’t holding the setback against Mr. Trump.

“I haven’t lost any confidence in him or faith in him,” said Brian McKenna, 73, a retired police officer in Stuart, Florida. “I’m dumbfounded that people in this country don’t see the problem down at the border. The whole issue is about somebody breaking the law and the Democrats defending it.”

Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said Mr. Trump’s support will remain intact as long as he keeps fighting for a border wall, whether in negotiations with Congress or in a court battle over a national emergency declaration.

“He might be taking a short-term hit with his base but really you have to withhold judgment until Feb. 15,” he said. “As long as Trump is seen as committed to border security and physical barriers at the southern border, it is not going to hurt him in the grand scheme of things.”

The deal, while chalked up as a win for Mrs. Pelosi, puts the burden on Democrats offer a border security plan.

“Democrats say over-and-over they care about border security at the U.S. southern border. Now we are going to find out just how serious they are,” Mr. O’Connell said. “Trump is making a good faith offer and trying to govern through the legislative process, and if Congress doesn’t pick up the ball, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him declare a national emergency.”

Read more from S.A. Miller and Dave Boyer at The Washington Times

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