The Fix's Ask Aaron: The week in politics

Dec 07, 2018

The Fix's senior reporter Aaron Blake chats with readers in his weekly politics chat series.

I'm convinced we won't learn a whole heckuva lot, but you never know!

What is on your mind? Barr? Nauert? Mueller? 2020? Tillerson?

Let's do it.

Does the President's promise of a Counter Report, already begun, concede that the Mueller Report will be public?

That's an interesting point! I've always thought there's really no way it stays secret. There would be too big an outcry, and someone could just leak it.

I also think the idea of a "Mueller report" might be a misnomer. He seems to be making his case in these filings, to some degree. While the information is redacted, it's all in the legal record now and in the hands of the judges. We also might see a series of reports rather than just one.

How long until Trump tweets that the dip in the economy and stock market is Obama's fault?

I think it's more likely he just blames it on China for not meeting his demands yet.

But you do have to wonder if it makes his position a little more wobbly, now that the market has dipped into negative territory for the entire 2018 calendar year.

Are you a payed analysts or contributor by the network?

I am not!

Isn't there any kind of a basic job description for this job (and others) that a nominee has to meet? Are these really only "President likes you so here you go" jobs? I find that so scary.......

In a word: No. There is never really a list of requirements. It's all up to the president. But as The Post's Worldviews team notes, every ambassador on the U.N. Security Council since 1985 has served in their country's foreign service.

It's an unorthodox pick, at best. But perhaps Trump is trying to send a message about what he thinks of the U.N.

It was disappointing that even the Post could not lay off criticizing the President through their coverage of the funeral. Don't you, as the media strawman, understand this helps drive the media's numbers lower?

I wrote a whole piece on this, after I got some criticism for a tweet.

I recognize people will disagree, but I tried to be thoughtful about it, and I would love to hear your feedback.

Inverse of the usual question on who's running... who would you put money on of the names buzzing around will ultimately not run?

Biden is the one that leaps to mind. I've been wrong before, though.

Just guessing who wins the breathing liberal or staid centrist? With CA going early my bets going with the fire breather.

I'm not sure "fire breather" is it necessarily, but certainly not an understated candidate like Hickenlooper, Bullock, Klobuchar, etc. Whoever it is will have to show some fight and some pizzazz.

Then, are you a "paid" analyst for any network?

Nope! Usually if you have a contract with one, that's the only one you appear on.

What makes up the media? I've long since written off cable news as entertainment so my definition is different then others. I think some people consider Democratic leaning late night television hosts as media. How do you define media?

All of the above. But the news media doesn't include the late-night hosts. And when I write about "media," it's usually to mainstream press, cable news and broadcast nightly news.

Is talk of this just another distraction from the herd of elephants in the room?

There is no way the Kelly news overshadows these Mueller reports. Heck, we're now finding out he apparently has talked to Mueller.

This is only thickening the plot, methinks.

Being from nearby Minnesota, how do you explain western Iowa's support of Steve King? I actually thought these people were nice when I visited several times.

I've interviewed Steve King. He's very engaging. I can see how he'd do well in a conservative-leaning district. We see lots of colorful characters who survive thanks to retail politics and polarized districts. Also, as 1 of 435, you're usually only dealing with local media.

Can Trump see the redactions on any of Mueller's recent filings? Is he able to view or learn about upcoming filings? I never hear anyone talk about this. Thanks, great stuff!

I can't imagine there's any scenario in which he would -- unless Whitaker gets a preview and somehow shares it with him. I imagine that would not be ethical, though.

So we've got about 30-40 people who have publicly acknowledged they are considering a run for the Democratic nomination. Is there anyone else that we're not talking about (or isn't talking themselves), but should be?

There's this guy named Beto O'Rourke. Most haven't heard of him, but he almost beat Ted Cruz!

Joking aside, there is such a premium on getting some of the limited universe of staff right now. I think if you have any intention, you have to put your name out there.

So the President lying to public and covering for the Saudi Crown Prince and Secretary of State lying to congress to back up the President's fiction is now off the news cycle because of William Barr?

That characterization aside (I'm not sure "lying" is apt so much as misleading and ignoring his own intel community), this story is not going away. GOP senators are pressing the issue. It's not over. There can be more than one major story.

The NY Times wrote that Elizabeth Warren thinks she made a mistake with the DNA test. The starch does seem to have gone out of her sails these days. Do you think she knows she won't be the Democratic nominee?

Two years is a long time. I think it's telling that the Globe told her not to run. But there is a reason she got this out early -- hoping whatever heat came with it would pass. Perhaps that hasn't happened yet.

Do you think the redactions in Mueller's remarks could be about an investigation into Tony Podesta (who, like Manafort, was lobbying for a foreign government without having registered)?

It's possible! The more likely possibilities, to me, are the apparent investigation into Turkey's lobbying efforts (which is what Flynn lied about), and the latter one could simply be the obstruction probe, in which Flynn's firing was a main event because Trump asked for leniency for him (per Comey).

Let's say, hypothetically, that the Mueller report comes in and lays out a detailed report that shows that the Trump campaign and Trump worked with Russia and has financial ties to Russia---basically the worst case for the report from Trump's perspective. What happens then?

A lot of GOP senators will be faced with a very serious questions about whether this is 1) a crime and 2) disqualifying. There are so many particulars, though, that it's impossible to say what they'll decide.

Texas goes blue Minnesota goes red

Minnesota goes red.

Would you be shocked if Clarence Thomas decided to retire this year? If seen some twitter chatter that he may walk away to let Trump solidify a conservative court for the next 2 decades.

It's not out of the question. I have heard some chatter about that. If you are Thomas and you think you might be done soon -- and you want a conservative replacement, for sure (which shouldn't be part of the calculus, but...), then 2019 is kind of your window.

Is this really going to be the week that Kelly resigns/ is fired? It has been rumor mongered for such a long time, I just don't know if I believe any of the reports anymore until there is a tweet.

As someone who wrote a piece of analysis 12 months ago when he was supposedly out that still hasn't run, I have some healthy skepticism right now.

Some legal-talking man has said that Manafort is allowed to see his papers unredacted so that effectively means Trump knows what's in those

Again, anything is possible. We didn't know Manafort's team was still talking to Trump's until a while ago.

It's also possible even the redacted stuff doesn't give away a whole lot at this point.

Why call someone "individual 1" if everyone in the world knows who it is?

My favorite is when they use words like that, but then add "who is president of the United States" or something like that. I think it's just what they do when they have to mention someone who isn't a target of the investigation, to avoid making them look like they took part in a crime.

How much negative feedback do you get about the articles you write and how do you not let it affect (effect?) your work?

Some days are worse than others. It comes with the territory, and you shouldn't be in the arena if you don't have thick skin.

It hurts the most when they actually have a point about something, which happens.

Do have a version "cab driver on the way to airport"? Meaning a kind of metric, even just anecdotal, you use as a way of measuring which stories you cover are breaking through to the hoi polloi?

Most of my friends and some close family members are not all that into politics. People I meet in public -- the person who cuts my hair. There's no design, but being from the Midwest and living outside the beltway helps to some degree.

And If Clarence Thomas resigns in December 2019, less than a year before the election, does the Senate follow the "Biden rule?"

It's a good question! Grassley (the Judiciary chairman) and McConnell are kinda split on that, with Grassley saying no confirmation in 2020 and McConnell saying he'd move forward.

Given that Fox News (at least the opinion side) had an agenda before Trump became a thing, is it possible that Carlson's comments about Trump in the foreign press are a signal that the network is moving away from the Trump brand?

I tend to think not. Carlson has occasionally offered some criticisms. This was much more full-throated, and I'm not sure why. But perhaps he let loose in a foreign interview in a way he otherwise wouldn't have. That can happen.

How do you think this funding war will play out?

I still think there's a chance Trump might force a shutdown -- given this could be his last, best chance at wall funding before Dems take over the House. It would be a good way to change the story, too, if Mueller stuff is prevalent. 

All of that said, maybe he'll just want to go on Christmas break like everyone else. 

I'm waiting for Heather Nauert to declare it "the height of" US-Japanese relations.

Pay the man, Shirley.

Do you know any red Minnesotans?

I come from a long line of them (redheads, not communists).

If the meeting between former Pres. Obama and Beto O'Rourke being read into too much? Is there anything to read into it?

Two things:

1) Obama has met with others too, including Warren and I think Mitch Landrieu

2) If you look at how Obama talked about O'Rourke to David Axelrod a couple weeks ago, it was clear that he saw himself in him, at least to some degree. It's one thing to say, "He's good." It's another to say, "He's Obama-esque" (if you're Obama).

Your story this morning on Barr was pretty tough. OTOH, he has a reputation of being much more centrist than most possible Trump appointees. Given this dynamic, can he get confirmed by the Senate, and is he more likely to be opposed by Dems, or hard right Reps?

His background makes him more confirmable. Even Leahy suggested he would get Democratic support. But I imagine he'll get a real grilling on how he'd handle the Mueller probe first. Some of his past comments seem to warrant explanation -- mostly the idea that there should be more Clinton investigations.

Sheldon White House alluded to all of that today:

“Barr is an experienced and able lawyer.  I will have questions about his record and positions on pressing issues facing the Department of Justice, particularly his willingness to defend the Department’s investigations—including Bob Mueller’s—now looking at the Trumps and Trump cronies.  Barr’s strange calls for the Department to investigate fringe conspiracy theories involving the Clintons raise questions, both about his partisanship and judgment.  His confirmation will require close scrutiny in the Senate, and I look forward to getting answers in the coming weeks."

If Trump fires Pence, would GOP Senators waver on a Guilty vote during an impeachment trial for fear of President Pelosi?

Whoa. I was not ready for this game theory.

Appreciate all your great questions. I will be out next week but back for more on the 21st. I'll see you guys then!


In This Chat
Aaron Blake
Aaron Blake is a senior political reporter, writing for The Fix. A Minnesota native and graduate of the University of Minnesota, Aaron has also written about politics for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and The Hill newspaper. Aaron lives with his family and trusty dog, Mauer, in Northern Virginia.
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