Primer: Trump Is Thinking About Firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and Other Things You Need to Know Today | News

Primer: Trump Is Thinking About Firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and Other Things You Need to Know Today

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Happy Tuesday, everyone. There’s a lot in the news, and we’ll get to it straightaway. But first, may I ask a favor? Our first Primer seemed to go well; the response was overwhelmingly positive. But if you are experiencing any problems or have any suggestions about how we can make this newsletter more readable—e.g., if the formatting looks wonky on your computer or device—please pass them along to jbillman@indyweek.com. This is a new venture, and we’re learning as we go. So with that said, let’s go. —Jeffrey C. Billman

1. HE WOULDN’T DARE. (WOULD HE?)
THE GIST:
According to one of President Trump’s closest friends, Newsmax Media CEO Christopher Ruddy, the president is considering firing special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating alleged links between Trump associates and the Russian officials who interfered in the election on Trump’s behalf last year. Already, prominent Trump supporter Newt Gingrich has taken to Twitter to impugn Mueller’s integrity, saying, “Republicans are delusional if they think the special counsel is going to be fair.”
  • Nut graph, from The New York Times: “The idea that the investigation is illegitimate and politically motivated has been gaining currency on the political right for months. Conservative writers, radio hosts and cable personalities—emboldened by the president himself, who has called it a witch hunt—have repeatedly sought to discredit the inquiry, its investigators, the mainstream news accounts of it, and the lawmakers on Capitol Hill who are demanding more answers.”
  • This is new: “In the PBS interview, Mr. Ruddy said Mr. Trump had considered replacing [ousted FBI director James] Comey with Mr. Mueller, who served as F.B.I. director during the George W. Bush and Obama administrations. A senior White House official confirmed that the president had interviewed Mr. Mueller for the F.B.I. post in the Oval Office the day before [deputy attorney general Rod] Rosenstein tapped him to be the special counsel in the Russia investigation.”
WHAT IT MEANS: This would be an audacious move, to say the least—recalling Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre even more than his termination of James Comey did. There’s reason to think it’s a bridge too far even for Trump. Jim Acosta of CNN tweeted last night that a “source close to Trump says the president ‘is being advised by many people’ NOT to fire” Mueller, which is good advice. The firestorm would be unimaginable; Trump has to know that. It would be seen as an admission of guilt—to something—to everyone but his most die-hard supporters. And yet, Acosta’s reporting seems to confirm that this option is being discussed, which is remarkable in and of itself.

WHAT'S NEXT: While Mueller is primarily investigating the Russia connections, there are a few branches from that tree that could potentially land POTUS in hot water: obstruction of justice, obviously, but potentially also the Trump Organization’s financial dealings with foreign governments. So even if Trump doesn’t invoke this nuclear option now, it’s not difficult to imagine him doing so in the future if he doesn’t like where this is headed. The question, as always, will be how far congressional Republicans will be willing to let him go before they decide they’ve had enough.

Related: Attorney General Jeff Sessions will testify in an open session before the Senate Intelligence Committee today.
Also related: Russian hackers breached voting systems in thirty-nine states. In Illinois, “investigators found evidence that cyber intruders tried to delete or alter voter data.”
Sort of related: At a Cabinet meeting yesterday, Trump had his cabinet members praise him: “Mr. Trump transformed a routine meeting of senior members of his government into a mood-boosting, ego-stroking display of support for himself and his agenda.” Or, as CNN’s Chris Cillizza put it, “Donald Trump just held the weirdest Cabinet meeting ever.”

2. SENATE GOP CRAFTS HEALTH CARE BILL IN SECRET.
THE GIST: Senate Republicans are nearly finished with their version of the American Health Care Act, the controversial—and, if you believe the polls, nearly universally despised—effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. But the senators working on the bill have no plans to release it to the public. First they’ll send it to the Congressional Budget Office to be scored, a two-week process. Then they hope to vote on the bill before the July 4 recess, which means it’ll be a rush job.
  • Money quote: “We aren’t stupid.” —Senate GOP aide.
WHAT IT MEANS: The CBO’s score of the House version was disastrous, and the AHCA currently polls around 20 percent. Senate Republicans want no part of that. Nor do they want to spend all summer hearing from angry constituents. In short, they’re worried that the longer this bill sits in the public square, the less popular it will be. That’s smart politics, perhaps. But the fact is, right now, the insurance lobby is helping craft legislation that the rest of us aren’t permitted to see, because Republicans are terrified of how we’ll react when we see it.

3. COOPER CALLS FOR SPECIAL ELECTION.
THE GIST:
Last week, the General Assembly rebuffed his call for a special session to draw new legislative districts. Now, as the state awaits a federal court’s timeline for resolving this gerrymandering mess, Roy Cooper is back with a new, equally unlikely demand: a special election with new districts before the legislature’s 2018 session, which starts in April.
  • Money quote: “North Carolina shouldn’t hold another session or have another budget voted on by an unconstitutional legislature. Maps should be drawn this month and an election held before next year’s legislative session. If the legislature doesn’t do its job soon the courts should.” —Governor Cooper.
WHAT IT MEANS: Nothing. The legislature has made clear that it isn’t going to act until the court orders it to act. If the court orders new elections, there will be new elections. If it doesn’t, there won’t be.
WHAT'S NEXT: We wait.

4. ORANGE SCHOOLS TO BAN CONFEDERATE FLAG.
THE GIST:
Last night, the Orange County School Board voted to revise the system’s dress code to prohibit students from wearing “clothing, buttons, patches, jewelry or any other items with words, phrases, symbols, pictures or signs that are indecent, profane, or racially intimidating.” The move comes more than six months after parent LaTarndra Strong founded the Hate Free Schools Coalition in response to the presence of Confederate flags on T-shirt, backpacks, and hats on campus.

WHAT IT MEANS: This move comes amid a national discussion over the propriety of Confederate monuments, which in North Carolina are protected by state law. And while there are those who say students are entitled to express themselves, the school system appears to be on solid legal ground. Numerous federal courts have ruled that students’ free speech rights are trumped by the “disruptive” nature of this sort of speech in a campus environment.

WHAT'S NEXT: Monday’s vote was preliminary. The board must vote again before the policy becomes official.

Sort of (but not really) related: A New Jersey school is catching hell after editing pro-Trump messages out of its yearbook.

5. SOUTHPOINT MALL TO TOW PARK-AND-RIDERS.
THE GIST:
Last week, Streets at Southpoint put fliers on cars in GoTriangle park-and-ride spaces warning that they could be towed if they parked there outside of the hours of six a.m. to six p.m. The city of Durham’s planning director responded by saying that would be illegal, because the mall didn’t have the appropriate signage. So over the weekend, the mall put up signs. It can tow you now.

WHAT IT MEANS: City council members may not be happy about it—Charlie Reece tweeted three angry faces in response to the news—but there’s not much they can do. As Reece pointed out on Twitter, “there’s nothing in the [city’s agreement with the mall] that prevents them from towing cars after 6 PM.”


WHAT'S NEXT: At a council work session last week, some council members, including Reece, said they’d like to revisit that agreement with the mall, which was last amended in 2008. GoTriangle, meanwhile, says it isn’t clear how the mall will determine which cars belong to park-and-riders and how the mall with deal with unfortunate souls who end up on late buses.

6. WAKE GRAPPLES WITH SCHOOL FUNDING.
THE GIST:
It’s a basic problem, really. Wake schools want more money than most county commissioners want to give, especially since giving the schools want they want would require a bigger tax hike than the commissioners are willing to levy. But county commissioners all campaigned on a pro-education platform. And so, conflict. Even so, it appears that the all-Democratic board isn’t likely to improve much on county manager Jim Hartmann’s $16 million funding recommendation, even though the school system requested three times as much money.
  • Money quote: “It’s very simple: we either reduce costs or increase revenue.” —Wake County manager Jim Hartmann.
WHAT IT MEANS: It’s unclear what will be cut, though the school system’s requested increase in social workers and funding for academically gifted students seems first on the block. After the meeting, Wake County commissioners took to Twitter to lay blame on the legislature. John Burns: “The problems with school funding in North Carolina begin and end on Jones Street. Results are felt everywhere, but the cause is right there.” Greg Ford: “Gotta wonder how Leandro's ‘sound basic education’ standard applies here as #NCGA's GOP further defunds public education in NC.” (“Leandro” refers to a 1994 court case in which the N.C. Supreme Court ruled that all children in North Carolina have a fundamental right to the “opportunity to receive a sound basic education.”)

7. RALEIGH PASSES BUDGET, TAX HIKE.
THE GIST:
The Raleigh City Council yesterday unanimously approved a $919 million budget yesterday, which will increase pay for most of the city’s four thousand employees and will raise the city’s property tax rate by 0.7 cents for every $100 in valuation (an extra $13.68 a year for the owner of a median Raleigh home). This comes on the heels of a decision last week to place a $206.7 million bond referendum on the ballot this fall, which would incrementally raise property taxes by 1.3 cents to pay for road and sidewalk projects.

WHAT IT MEANS: Probably the most significant fact about this tax hike is that no one on the council opposed it, and it generated very little controversy. The only opponent The News & Observer quoted was Joey Stansbury, a conservative activist who recommended doing away with police body cams and the free R-Line to pay cops more. In short, Raleigh’s residents understand that the city is growing and it’s government needs to keep up, and they seem OK with that.

8. ODDS & ENDS

Primer this week is sponsored by Beer Camp on Tour, in Raleigh on June 17. Click the image below for tickets.




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