Monday, July 16, 2018


"Art of the Deal" co-author Tony Schwartz, who turned against Trump well before the 2016 election, was asked Sunday how he could have so erroneously predicted that Trump would succumb within a year of becoming president and resign. He stated  “You’re right, I completely missed it. I think I underestimated the enormous attachment he would have to being in that office. I think he likes meeting all of these people and he particularly likes dominating these people.”

One of those people is NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, whom Greg Sargent reports on Thursday

was talking about how NATO members had agreed to boost their contributions to NATO defense costs, as insisted upon by Trump, who claims the United States is getting ripped off. But then Trump demanded Stoltenberg give him credit for it...

After Stoltenberg noted that NATO members had boosted their spending recently, Trump asked: “Why was that?” Stoltenberg took Trump’s cue and said it was “because of your leadership.” Trump then gestured to the press and said, “They won’t write that.” Stoltenberg then supplied Trump with the additional praise he wanted, even claiming that “your message is having an impact.” It was after Stoltenberg extolled the virtues of our alliance that Trump launched into the diatribe about Russia, Germany and energy — and again claimed the United States is being treated unfairly.

What’s remarkable here is Stoltenberg’s active effort to get Trump to take credit for getting his own way at NATO. European officials badly want Trump to do this, because they are hoping it will mollify him. The Post reports that diplomats are worried that Trump’s commitment to the organization might weaken to a crisis point, which would “send the alliance into a tailspin, damaging security by opening the question of whether NATO’s most powerful member is still willing to defend its allies if one were attacked.” On top of that, they fear this will play into the hands of Vladimir Putin, with whom Trump is also set to meet.

And so, to avert this crisis, European officials “would love nothing more than for Trump to take a victory lap and claim credit for them boosting their defense spending,” Jonathan Swan recently reported.

Stop prostrating yourself, Jen.  Donald Trump subsists on being the alpha dog or, as Schwartz observed, "dominating" people.  Capitulation to an authoritarian typically will boomerang. Yglesias adds

The trouble is that Trump won’t even acknowledge what our allies are actually doing in this regard. He keeps claiming that other NATO countries have fallen short of their defense budget commitment, but this is false: In fact, this target is a future one that NATO members agreed upon.

In that context, this exchange with Stoltenberg underscores the point. Stoltenberg gave Trump a big moment for domestic consumption, particularly for his base: The power of Trump’s “America First” message is forcing the Euro-weenie elites to stop fleecing the U.S. and pony up! They’re not laughing at us anymore, dammit! America is respected again! Or as one administration official recently described the Trump Doctrine: “We’re America, b—h!”

Yet the takeaway from the episode has to be that Trump is far from satisfied. But what would satisfy him?

Even granting him Venezuela probably wouldn't mollify him- not even if it were the Sudentenland. That didn't work previously and probably wouldn't now, either.

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Sunday, July 15, 2018

Colorblind Police Violence

Black Lives Matter: relax.  President Trump: celebrate.

The introductory page of the website of Black Lives Matter reads

The Black Lives Matter Global Network is a chapter-based, member-led organization whose mission is to build local power and to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes....

We affirm the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, undocumented folks, folks with records, women, and all Black lives along the gender spectrum. Our network centers those who have been marginalized within Black liberation movements.

We are working for a world where Black lives are no longer systematically targeted for demise.

It's a call to end discrimination, and police violence against, blacks. All others take a number. It's very simple.

So, too, was President Trump when on July 28, 2017 he recommended police brutality to a group of law enforcement officers in Suffolk County, Long Island, NY:

Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over? Like, don’t hit their head and they’ve just killed somebody—don’t hit their head. I said, you can take the hand away, O.K.?

Trump excels in pandering to a crowd or an individual, but in July 2016 he similarly had tweeted "shooting deaths of police officers up 78% this year. We must restore law and order and protect our great law enforcement officers."

Donald Trump and Black Lives Matter agree on one thing: if brutality is directed against someone not black, it's of little concern (and in Trump's view, unimportant no matter the victim's race). (For an unscientific, possibly staged yet somewhat humorous experiment, see video below.) So you may not have heard

State police went grossly overboard in their pursuit of a marijuana suspect whose body was found under a bulldozer that authorities used to search for him in thick brush, a pot advocacy group said Thursday.

Officials with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws blasted state police for calling in a helicopter and commandeering a Pennsylvania Game Commission bulldozer as they tracked Gregory Longenecker, 51, who'd fled law enforcement on state game lands about 10 miles from his hometown of Reading.

Police said they found 10 marijuana plants at the scene.

"We simply cannot understand how a man is dead over an investigation involving 10 cannabis plants," said Patrick Nightingale, executive director of NORML's Pittsburgh chapter and a former Allegheny County prosecutor. "The whole investigation was ridiculous. I've seen law enforcement take down major heroin traffickers that haven't engaged in this level of aggression."

A man can be killed over an investigation involving 10 cannabis plants because it is now three days later and there has been relatively little coverage by the media. 

We know law enforcement thus far is not covering the matter up because

A state police internal investigation is underway. The unidentified trooper who rode the bulldozer has been placed on administrative duty pending the outcome, said a state police spokesman, Cpl. Adam Reed, who declined further comment.

The chase developed Monday morning after a game commission worker who had been clearing brush spotted a parked car he thought looked suspicious and called local police, who, in turn, contacted state police.

One suspect was arrested by the Bernville police chief, but Longenecker eluded capture.

A state police helicopter spotted him in the underbrush, and the game commission worker, with a trooper aboard, used the bulldozer to blaze a trail in pursuit. The chopper lost sight of him, and the trooper told the worker to stop the machine, according to a state police account. That's when they spotted his body.

This is no minor issue. There is racial bias in law enforcement, about which our President is completely unconcerned and Black Lives Matter is obsessed. There also is overzealous policing which- separated from race- garners little concern.

The executive director of the Lehigh Valley chapter of NORML maintained

"I doubt they were even planning to sell this on the street. If you're a consumer of marijuana, 10 plants is nothing. Ten plants isn't even going to get you through the year." It is, however, enough to get you killed and earn the silence of Black Lives Matter and of the President of the United States of America.

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Saturday, July 14, 2018

When Two Wrongs Would Have Made A Right

Plagued by an unusual degree of probity, Peter Strzok made a very serious mistake, one which probably will harm this nation for years, if not decades, to come.

 That wasn't in Thursday's nine-hour marathon in front of the House Oversight Committee, nor was it in texting a colleague and girlfriend nasty things about the corrupt businessman who would become President of the United States of America. Following the hearing, NBC News reported- nine paragraphs into its article-

Strzok noted that he was one of a very small number of people with knowledge of the fact that the FBI had launched a counterintelligence investigation involving the Trump campaign.

“This information had the potential to derail, and quite possibly, defeat Mr. Trump. But the thought of exposing that information never crossed my mind,” he said.

If it didn't, it should have.  Strzok had the opportunity to blow the whistle on Donald Trump's campaign, to remind the American people that Hillary Clinton wasn't the only major presidential candidate being investigated.

But he didn't. He says he didn't think of doing it, but that probably is a case of modesty, and not one of false modesty or humblebrag.  More likely he did not want to go down the Comey road, violating Justice Department guidelines by informing Congress eleven days before the 2016 presidential election that the inquiry into Hillary Clinton emails was being re-opened.

Two wrongs don't make a right, according to folk wisdom. However, in this case, balance would have been more appropriate than adhering strictly to rules violated by FBI director Comey- not once, but twice.

While announcing there was insufficient cause for criminal charges, James Comey handed Donald Trump a potent campaign issue by judging Hillary Clinton "extremely careless" in her handling of emails. Four months later, he gave the Republican another gift when he advised that a batch of  H. Clinton emails- later found to be ones previously reviewed- had been found on the laptop of Anthony Weiner, husband of Clinton aide Huma Abedin.

Bypassing CNN's Jim Acosta in favor of taking a question from Fox News' John Roberts at a news conference with UK Prime Minister Teresa May on Friday, President Trump remarked “CNN’s fake news, I don’t take questions from CNN. CNN is fake news, I don’t take questions from CNN."

Roberts later issued a statement defending former colleague Kristen Welker of NBC News, as well as CNN against the "blanket condemnation of the network as 'fake news."  However, that was not before Jake Tapper, noting "other networks came to the defense of Fox News WH correspondents during the Obama years," cogently observed “Lesson for the kids out there: no one should ever try to do the right thing with the expectation it will ever be reciprocated.”

It is a lesson FBI agent Peter Strzok, armed with information which probably would have sunk the Trump campaign in a very close campaign, never learned.  Otherwise, we may have been spared election of a far-right, demagogic nationalist determined to tear apart both the nation and the Atlantic Alliance. Ironically, we then would have been spared the rantings and ravings of jackals determined to convince voters (against all evidence) that Strzok actually was trying to impede the election of their hero, Donald J. Trump. 

Guided by remarkable professionalism and integrity in 2016, Peter Strzok's decision not to violate standard procedure may have devastating repercussions for the nation and the world. Or as Jake Tapper surely understands, no good deed goes unpunished.

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Friday, July 13, 2018

Peter Strzok's Day

Had the roughly 22 GOP members of the House Committee onOversight and Government Reform each brought into their hearing with Peter Strozk a glove, they would have left with those 22.

No one laid a glove on him.  Strzok calmly and confidently batted away questions and comments from Team Russia as the congressmen vainly attempted to prove that the FBI agent had acted in a biased manner in the investigation headed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Most telling was the response (beginning at approximately 12:52, quoted portion at 13:10, below) to chairperson Trey Gowdy, who had angrily charged that Strzok had been removed from the investigation because of "bias." Strzok maintained that instead it was because of the perception of bias in his text messages to girlfriend and fellow agent Lisa Page. He eloquently described the texts as

in response to a series of events which included then-candidate Trump insulting the immigrant family of a fallen war hero and my presumption based on that horrible, disgusting behavior that the American population would not elect someone demonstrating that behavior to be President of the United States. It was in no way, unequivocally, any suggestion that me, the FBI, would take any action whatsoever to improperly impact the electoral process for any candidate. So I take great offense and I take great disagreement to your assertion of what that was or wasn't....


Strzok continued the beat-down for a few seconds but most of the damage was done. He not only defended the honor of a family whose son sacrificed his life in war but also gave voice to what many of us expected of the upcoming presidential election- that the American public was sufficiently wise not to elect someone so crude, rude, and unpatriotic.

We were wrong.  

Somewhat, too, wre Democrats on the committee Thursday.  Much of their defense of the witness was on target and they constantly called out the Republicans for conducting a hearing intended to give as much cover to Donald Trump as impossible.

Still, they were a little over-the-top in their praise of Strzok, the FBI, and law enforcement generally. As Chris Hayes pointed out last night *beginning at approximately 12:20, below), what Strzok and Page did is what investigatory agencies do. They bad-mouth the individuals they are investigating; often and sometimes vociferously. They might have elicited that admission from the witness had they asked him why he was comfortable with the virulently anti-Trump text messages he sent.

Surely Republicans are aware that biased remarks are routinely made privately (or semi-privately) during the the course of an inquiry. As they make them, professionals proceed in a vigorous and unbiased manner to perform their jobs as expected. Democrats may assume that this is widely understood among voters- but there are many who are unaware because it is not a factor in their line of work.

It is likely that Strzok would have refused to answer one or two queries in this line of questioning. Nevertheless, he should have been asked why he was comfortable sending those messages when he could have expressed the sentiments over the phone or in-person, thereby avoiding the possibility of anything being placed on the public record.  If he had conceded such conversations were common, it would have been revelatory; had he cited departmental instructions not to respond, that would have been intriguing, if not itself revelatory.

Of course, little of this matters, especially because Thursday's hearing has been thrown off the figurative front page by the indictment of twelve Russian military intelligence officers for allegedly hacking the computer systems and email of Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Democratic National Committee.  Nonetheless, it was heartening to see Peter Strzok, with a minor assist from the Democratic minority, for at least one day own congressional Republicans.

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Thursday, July 12, 2018

Rhyming with a Tiny, Brittle Witch

I'm Shocked! Shocked to find out that the swagger is gone when he's face-to-face with an adversary. On Tuesday The Washington Post reported

The U.S. president began a remarkable day of transatlantic diplomacy by attacking Germany as “captive to Russia,” later called on NATO countries to double their previous commitment to defense spending and then effectively renounced the gathering altogether.

“He could declare victory . . . and ride off in a blaze of glory as leader of the West,” said Alexander Vershbow, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO and to Russia who met with officials on the sidelines of Wednesday’s summit. “But he’s rubbing salt in the wounds.”

Behind closed doors, Trump was cordial and even magnanimous at times with his European counterparts, according to officials who interacted with him. And at dinner, where the leaders mingled as an acrobatic dancer performed, floating in the air, Trump said it was “a very good day at NATO.”

Publicly, however, Trump bristled and bickered, interrupted and impeded — making clear to the world he is impatient and annoyed with an alliance that he says takes advantage of the United States.

“Everything in the room was fine,” Dalia Grybauskaite, the president of Lithuania, said in an interview. But outside the room, she said, Trump was less productive, with his “outspoken rhetoric.”

Publicly, however, Trump bristled and bickered, interrupted and impeded — making clear to the world he is impatient and annoyed with an alliance that he says takes advantage of the United States.

“Everything in the room was fine,” Dalia Grybauskaite, the president of Lithuania, said in an interview. But outside the room, she said, Trump was less productive, with his “outspoken rhetoric.”

During a closed-door working session of all the leaders, Trump was relatively reserved, according to attendees. He repeated the same arguments he made earlier in public that NATO member states needed to up their defense spending and that Germany is too dependent on Russia for natural gas. But he also stressed the common security threats all NATO allies face, according to a senior diplomat who was in the meeting.

This is Donald J. Trump.  Lacking an inner core of belief, he's all bluff and bluster in public while unable to confront anyone directly. Think of it as "The Apprentice" turned upside-down.  Gabriel Sherman reveals that former Fox News vice-president Bill Shine, who has become White House deputy chief of staff for communications, has rapidly become a favorite of the President. There now is

intensified speculation in the West Wing that the president’s long-suffering chief of staff and nemesis, John Kelly, will soon be departing. Kelly opposed the hiring of Shine and has seen his role continue to be diminished, sources said, sometimes in humiliating ways. “They’ve basically stopped telling Kelly when meetings are. People leave him off the calendar,” one administration official told me. “When he finds out, he storms into the room and is like, ‘What’s going on?’” A Republican close to the White House told me that Trump hopes Shine’s expanding role will encourage Kelly to quit. “Trump is too chickenshit to fire Kelly himself,” the source said. The strategy is reminiscent of the president’s decision to hire Anthony Scaramucci as communications director in July 2017 to drive out then-chief of staff Reince Priebus. “This is a more subtle version of Scaramucci,” an outside adviser to the White House told me.

This isn't the first time there has been a big rift, widely reported, between  John Kelly and the President, and not the first time that the firing of Kelly has appeared to be right around the corner.  But Trump hasn't fired the former general for three reasons: 1) Kelly is a former general; 2) Trump can't fire anyone directly; and 3) Trump can't fire anyone directly.

Donald Trump is a windbag. The entire premise of The Apprentice was stagecraft.  John Kelly, who reportedly is unsatisfied with a continental breakfast, may leave the White House, possibly soon.  His job appears to be excruciating and his ticket has been punched for a lucrative, post-White House career on cable or broadcast television news, a conservative think tank, or wherever a reliable conservative is needed.

Nonetheless, he won't be fired, any more than Trump will go toe-to-toe with Angela Merkel and tell her what he really thinks about her and Germany. Back in a more hopeful time, 36 months ago, Bill Maher already had Donald Trump pegged:

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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Selective Outrage

After White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was booted from Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, Representative Maxine Waters stated in part at a Los Angeles rally  “If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere."

Besides the predictable over-reaction and incitement to violence by the President of the USA

“The people who claim tolerance seem to be the most intolerant in this process,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said during a Fox News interview, adding, “We need civility in this country, but the idea that you’re asking people to go forward, that becomes very dangerous and it becomes a risk inside our country as well.”

House Majority Leader Paul Ryan has also asked Waters to apologize for the remarks, and said that there’s just “no place for that in our public discourse,” even as he skirted critiquing Rep. Steve King for his promotion of a neo-Nazi.

It was, well, uncivil and intolerant and it does little good to point out that many individuals on the right, most of them not coincidentally supporters of Donald Trump, are far more brazen, to wit:

The lack of "civility" conservatives discovered when Mrs. Sanders was denied dinner at the restaurant of her choice took a violent turn when 91-year-old Rodolfo Rodriguez, a Mexican citizen in Willowbrook, Los Angeles County to visit relatives

was walking to a nearby park on Wednesday when he passed a woman and a little girl. Without warning, the woman assaulted him, he said, hitting him with a concrete block and enlisting a group of men to join in beating him.

"I didn't even bump into her kid," Rodriguez said. "I just passed her and she pushed me and she hit me until she was done."

Police are looking for "a female suspect and three to four male suspects" in the assault, the LA County Sheriff's Department said in a statement Monday night.

Authorities don't know at this time if any weapons were used or what the motive might have been, the statement said.

"We are concerned, especially with the type of crime they committed," Sheriff's Deputy D'Angelo Robinson told CNN affiliate KTLA. "There was what appears to be a 4-year-old child there who witnessed the entire thing. We can't have these kind of people like that out in the streets."

Misbel Borjas was driving by when she saw the woman hitting Rodriguez repeatedly in the head with a concrete block, she said.

"I heard her saying, go back to your country, go back to Mexico," she told CNN by phone. "When I tried to videotape her with my cell phone, she threw that same concrete block, tried to hit my car."

An elderly man is attacked allegedly because he is Mexican and the calls for "civility" are ... absent. Still, there will probably be little impact, with only Mr. Rodriguez and members of his family affected. Not so in one state, where according to Rewire. News

Planned Parenthood is closing its clinic in Fort Wayne, Indiana, because of a coordinated intimidation and harassment campaign by anti-choice activists.

The closure of the reproductive health-care clinic comes amid a massive surge in violent actions against abortion providers. There were three times as many incidents of trespassing, obstruction, and blockades of abortion clinics in 2017 than in the previous year, according to a report by the National Abortion Federation (NAF).

Christie Gillespie, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky (PPINK), said in a statement Monday that Fort Wayne patients and providers have been subjected to harassment and attacks from those who oppose abortion rights.

“I am putting Allen County Right to Life, and all anti-women’s groups, on notice: You have intimidated and harassed us for the last time in this community,” Gillespie said. “We will be back, stronger than ever before. Because our supporters know that we provide lifesaving, high quality health care to the thousands of Hoosiers in the Fort Wayne community. No matter what.”

Maybe, and hopefully, but the outrage about the lack of "civility" demonstrated by forced-birth fanatics toward a clinic in Indiana is unsurprising. This sort of thing has been going on a long time amid little anger or attention, despite its enormous impact upon women. 

In the interests of full disclosure, note that

Cathie Humbarger, executive director of Allen County Right to Life, denied the allegations made by PPINK, and said the group does not “practice or condone intimidation,” reported the Associated Press.

If Humbarger's denial is valid, the campaign probably is not organized by a group but is merely the product of less-organized thugs of the forced-birth movement. Generally the most civil of Americans, Midwesterners describe the targeting of individuals and their families for violence as "not how decent, compassionate people behave." Rewire adds

Gillespie said in a press conference that the anti-choice activists harassed local businesses to ensure they didn’t partner with the clinic. “This harassment goes well beyond the ritual protesting. It includes publicly sharing personal information, including home addresses of staff,” she said.

“This is not how decent, compassionate people behave,” she added.

Ironically, "Anti-choice activists targeted the clinic with protests even though the Fort Wayne facility did not provide abortion care." Intimidating innocent persons for evidently political reasons to compel a change in behavior once was called "terrorism." Evidently, when the target is reproductive freedom, that label would be an affront to "civility."

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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Con Game Begins

You can be forgiven if, watching the judge's speech last night, you imagined President Trump's nominee to replace Anthony Kennedy as wearing a t-shirt reading "I'm Brett Kavanaugh. Friends call me Panda Bear."

Judge Kavanaugh gave a shout-out to blacks, remarking “My mom was a teacher." (No man has a "mother" anymore; it's always "mom" because I'm an aw-shucks kind of guy.) He added "In the 1960s and 70s, she taught history at two largely African American public high schools in Washington, D.C. — McKinley Tech and H.D. Woodson. Her example taught me the importance of equality for all Americans.”

Well, except if those Americans want to vote. Ari Berman points out

As a judge on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, Kavanaugh voted in 2012 to uphold a South Carolina voter ID law that the Obama administration said would disenfranchise tens of thousands of minority citizens. The Justice Department blocked the law, which required government-issued photo identification to vote, in late 2011 for violating the Voting Rights Act.....

South Carolina didn’t present any cases of voter fraud to justify its law, but Kavanaugh wrote that such laws were constitutional despite an absence of evidence of fraud.

Of course he did. But Kavanaugh's pander was most in display when he directed his comments to the pivotal, female senators from Maine and from Alaska. Following his reference to mom the teacher, according to the Washington Post's Aaron Blake

The nominee's introductory speech was remarkably political. Over and over again, Kavanaugh returned to the women in his life and the diversity of those around him. It was almost as if he was campaigning for a Democratic nomination in some random House district.

He continued: “One of the few women prosecutors at that time, she overcame barriers and became a trial judge. The president introduced me tonight as Judge Kavanaugh. But to me that title will always belong to my mom.”

And: “My law clerks come from diverse backgrounds and points of view. I am proud that a majority of my law clerks have been women.”

At other times, Kavanaugh slipped in anecdotes about coaching his daughters in basketball — and even attending this year's women's Final Four. “Our favorite memory was going to the historic Notre Dame-UConn women’s basketball game at this year’s Final Four. Unforgettable.”

Blake observed also

The nominee's introductory speech was remarkably political. Over and over again, Kavanaugh returned to the women in his life and the diversity of those around him. It was almost as if he was campaigning for a Democratic nomination in some random House district.

Message: I love all the women I have ever known, and not in a way that would embarrass Mike Pence.  The only exception, unsurprisingly, would come when they want to make their own decisions about something important such as, oh, about having children. "The Cut" notes

Just last year, he infamously ruled against an undocumented teenager in a detention facility who had petitioned for the right to access an abortion. At one point during the hearing, Kavanaugh suggested that allowing the young woman go through with the procedure would make the government “complicit” in something that is morally objectionable. In addition, in 2015, he argued in a dissent that Barack Obama’s contraception mandate infringed on the rights of religious organizations.

According to Kavanaugh himself, he is a humble religious boy, lover of both the fair sex and of the poor, who "forty years ago" was "an altar boy for Father John" and who now "help(s) him serve meals to the homeless at Catholic Charities." He has "two spirited daughters, Margaret and Liza. Margaret loves sports, and she loves to read. Liza loves sports, and she loves to talk." He boldly proclaimed that Mrs. Kavanaugh "has been a great wife and inspiring mom. I thank God every day for my family."

In a win-win, he got to hint that he is a great basketball coach while simultaneously joking about the ludicrous comparison of himself and the greatest of all college basketball coaches:

I have tried to create bonds with my daughters like my dad created with me. For the past seven years, I have coached my daughters’ basketball teams. The girls on the team call me Coach K.

I am proud of our Blessed Sacrament team that just won the city championship.

This guy's humblebrag is truly spectacular, and he won't be easy to defeat. Yet, he has a long paper trail and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who knows a thing or two about confirming Supreme Court judges, reportedly urged President Trump not to nominate Kavanaugh. If Senate Democrats can squeeze from him a moment of sincerity- a daunting task- his approval will be in serious jeopardy.

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"Art of the Deal" co-author Tony Schwartz, who turned against Trump well before the 2016 election, was asked Sunday how he c...