Plus, the wild DOJ story and a Tangle exclusive.
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Today’s read: 8 minutes.
Bernie wins New Hampshire, the insane Roger Stone case and DOJ controversy, a Tangle exclusive interview (with good news for Democrats) and some wild election numbers.
Bernie Sanders waves to a crowd. Photo: Gage Skidmore | Flickr
To everyone who took the time to respond to yesterday’s poll. After collecting a lot of feedback, I have decided that I will keep the core, Monday through Thursday newsletter free. I’ve ultimately realized that this is a valuable resource for a lot of people who want to learn more about politics, and I don’t want to create a barrier of entry for new subscribers. That being said, I do plan to paywall some exclusive content, Friday editions, and additional material (like a podcast) down the road. It’s all a few months away, but I wanted to give everyone an update — and thank the overwhelming majority of you who said you’d be excited to support the newsletter with a paying subscription (I’m still going to take you up on that!). As for the tagline, let’s just say I’ve got a lot of thinking to do…
Democratic field thins.
Last night, Andrew Yang and Sen. Michael Bennett both dropped out of the presidential race. Yang said he could no longer solicit donations in good faith and Bennett simply never got traction. The field of Democrats is down to nine. Here is a fun tweet with their full names:
What D.C. is talking about.
Bernie Sanders has won the New Hampshire primary. Last week, Sanders essentially split a victory in Iowa with Pete Buttigieg (Sanders won the popular vote but Buttigieg won the delegate count). Last night was a tad bit more decisive, but not much; Sanders won 75,690 (25.7%) votes to Buttigieg’s 71,999 (24.4%) of the vote with 292 of 301 precincts reporting. That means Sanders and Buttigieg will split the earned delegates at nine apiece. It’s the closest New Hampshire Democratic primary in modern history. The victory puts Sanders, who is leading national polls and expected to perform well in Nevada (the next state to vote), in the strongest position yet to win the Democratic nomination. For Buttigieg, it was another impressive night. The South Bend, Indiana mayor totally dominated the moderate lane in the first two contests and left in better position than most people expected. Still, he has continuously struggled with non-white voters in the polls, and that means he’s expected to underperform as the Democratic primaries move to states that are more representative of the party as a whole (read: more diverse). Amy Klobuchar had perhaps the buzziest night of anyone, far outperforming her polling average and finishing in third with 58,376 votes — ahead of Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden.
For the latter, Iowa and New Hampshire amount to a disaster. Biden was the presumed frontrunner in the race but has now fallen behind in national polls and is yet to earn a single delegate — though his campaign is stronger in South Carolina than anyone (South Carolina votes in 17 days). Warren was expected to perform well in New Hampshire given its proximity to her home state of Massachusetts, but instead, she ceded almost the entire progressive lane to Sanders. Unexpectedly, she also underperformed in the most liberal and affluent places in the state, areas where Buttigieg dominated.
What the right is saying.
Now that Bernie looks more viable, it’s knives out from a lot of moderate Republicans. Townhall editor Guy Benson noted that “Bernie Sanders’ agenda is insane.” Washington Examiner Executive Editor Seth Mandel said, “If Bernie is a frontrunner he’s a damned weak one. If anything tonight he’s validating Dems’ fears of nominating him.” Trump supporters are pointing to the way the media seems to cut Bernie down or ignore him at every chance and are heaping gasoline on the burning fire his supporters have over the way the establishment is treating him. A lot of conservatives were also pointing to the Klobuchar-Buttigieg rise, which accounted for far more votes than Sanders-Warren, and noted that they did it without the celebrity status or household name recognition the other two enjoy. In the meantime, President Donald Trump also had a great night — he received more than 119,000 votes in the Republican primary, far more than President Barack Obama received (49,000) as an incumbent in 2012. There was still no massive turnout explosion in Iowa or New Hampshire, Republicans say (more on this in ‘My take’) but Trump demonstrated his own level of enthusiasm that should strike fear into the hearts of his opponents. There’s also a gleeful joy spreading in the Trump camp about the perceived implosion of Joe Biden, who was dragged into the impeachment scandal and is still yet to earn a single delegate in any primary he’s ever run in.
What the left is saying.
There are a lot of feelings. Bernie’s supporters are enraged despite the victory because so many people in the press refuse to make the story about his strength. MSNBC and CNN panelists spent the night talking about how shocking Klobuchar’s rise was. Some focused on Pete Buttigieg’s strong showing despite being a gay mayor of a small city in Indiana. But very few spent time talking about how Sanders is now best positioned to win the nomination. There’s also growing consternation from the establishment wing. Warren and Biden didn’t qualify for a single delegate in New Hampshire, and both are preferred by more traditional Democrats than Buttigieg or Sanders. There’s excitement around Klobuchar — who had a great showing despite spending little time or money in New Hampshire — but there’s also a sense that the moderate wing is totally fractured. Right now, Klobuchar, Buttigieg and Biden are splitting support of more moderate Democrats while Sanders is taking over the progressive wing. If that continues, and nobody drops out, Sanders could waltz to showdown with Michael Bloomberg on Super Tuesday (March 3rd, the day the greatest number of states vote in a single 24 hours). Divisions were clearly on display last night, too. Sanders warned of the candidates in the race being funded by billionaires while his supporters chanted “Wall Street Pete!” In the meantime, Buttigieg congratulated Sanders on a strong showing, but took the tone of a victor and urged his supporters to reject a political approach that demanded a revolution or nothing.
Iowa and New Hampshire account for 24 delegates in the Democratic National Convention. To win the nomination, a candidate needs 1,990. From that perspective, it’s wise to pump the breaks and not overreact to two predominantly white states. At the same time, I wrote two months ago about how Bernie could win the nomination. I was ridiculed pretty heartily online, accused of being a “Bernie Bro” (I did write favorably about Sanders in 2016) and was told it was absurd to think he had a shot. At the time, Biden was still way ahead nationally, he was ahead in Iowa, and Buttigieg had a nice lead in New Hampshire. Two months later and Sanders can claim a clean sweep of the first two states even if he did lose the delegate count to Buttigieg in Iowa. He heads into Nevada, a state with a huge Latino voting population, as the favorite in the polls. A win there — in a state with a lot of nonwhite voters — would put him ahead of the track I thought he needed to be on to win the nomination.
I also spent last night in the suburbs of Philadelphia watching the votes come in with my mother on MSNBC. Television is not my preferred method of getting the news, but I will say I was struck by the undertones of panelists and pundits driving the conversation toward what a great tonight it was for Klobuchar and Buttigieg. Undoubtedly, they had impressive showings — and both have at least some path to the nomination. But the story here is absolutely that another populist candidate with the best grassroots game of any candidate, the most money on hand (besides Bloomberg) and the lead in national polls could have a 3 for 3 claim on the first three states to vote in the next two weeks. What happens to an already ascending Sanders campaign with an injection of confidence and momentum?
Finally, a small but important note: both the right and the left seemed convinced that the voter turnout wasn’t as high as expected when everyone went to bed last night. But this morning, MSNBC pollster Steve Kornacki reported that with 97% of the vote in, 283,400 people turned out. NYT had that number up to 294,566 by noon. In 2016, it was 250,983. In 2008, it was 287,557. That means there was bigger turnout last night than there was with Obama on the ballot. Of all the signs for Democrats so far, few are more encouraging than that.
Your questions, answered.
Q: I’d be curious to read a Tangle section about what the four prosecutors’ resignation in the Roger Stone case is all about. I don’t really get what’s happening — could you explain it?
- “Skinny G,” Brooklyn, NY
Tangle: First off, I just want to say that this is probably the biggest story of yesterday. Despite the fact the New Hampshire primary is dominating the news, I think this is one of the crazier developments of Trump’s presidency.
Here is the basic outline of events: Roger Stone, one of Trump’s closest confidantes and a longtime political operative famous for “dirty tricks,” was on trial in the wake of the Russia collusion investigation. Stone was charged and convicted on all 7 counts he was charged with, including lying to Congress and witness tampering related to Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russia’s interference in the election. We’d been waiting to hear what his sentencing would look like after he was convicted in November. On Monday, we got an answer: the Department of Justice prosecutors suggested 7 to 9 years in prison. "Roger Stone obstructed Congress' investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, lied under oath, and tampered with a witness. And when his crimes were revealed by the indictment in this case, he displayed contempt for this Court and the rule of law. For that, he should be punished in accord with the advisory Guidelines," prosecutors wrote on Monday.
For a 67-year-old political operative, some viewed the sentencing as unusually harsh. First-time offenders for lying to Congress are typically given a few months of jail time, while witness tampering carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. Stone’s defense attorneys were advocating for no incarceration at all or a sentence of 15 to 21 months. But what happened next was rather remarkable. First, Donald Trump tweeted his contempt for the sentencing (there have been rumors for the last year that Trump will end up pardoning Stone regardless):
Letters began pouring in from friends and family of Stone, even some who are on the left, advocating for a more lenient sentence. Then, not long after Trump’s tweet on Tuesday, the Justice Department withdrew its recommendation and told the court it would be following up with a new sentencing suggestion. This is what set off alarm bells. It’s very unusual for the Justice Department to reverse course like this, as it typically follows a strict set of rules when laying out a sentencing guideline. When the reversal became public, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Kravis withdrew from the case and resigned his post. Kravis, remember, was working for the federal government (i.e. President Trump) in prosecuting this case. Then three other federal prosecutors followed suit and withdrew from the case. This was an obvious protest and meant to catch everyone’s attention.
A Justice Department spokesperson said the team was already considering revising its recommendation on Monday night, before Trump’s tweet. One Justice Department official told The Wall Street Journal it was simply clarifying that it believes a lesser sentence could still serve justice. But then things got even weirder.
Attorney General William Barr, who was appointed by Trump and is widely considered far too loyal to the president, had named Timony Shea as a U.S. attorney in D.C. Shea was replacing a woman named Jessie Liu, who went on to be nominated for a senior position in the Treasury Department. But in order to take over that post, Liu needs to go through a Senate confirmation hearing. While all this madness was going on, the White House withdrew Liu’s nomination. She was scheduled to have her confirmation hearing on Thursday and the withdrawal was totally unexpected. The obvious connecting of the dots is that the White House knew she would be asked about Stone’s case, whether the president was stepping over the sacred Justice Department line and why the sentencing revision happened. It certainly seemed like an attempt to cover up the details of what went down. Here is the left framing of it:
Barr is also being hammered because the very same morning he took over the case and helped recommend a different sentence for Stone, he had given a speech criticizing progressive District Attorneys seeking out lesser sentences for their crimes, claiming they were ignoring the rule of law. To make things even nuttier, the president basically said the quiet part out loud on Twitter:
On the other side, conservatives are basically taking the tact they have with Trump: he’s the president, the Department of Justice is led by a Trump appointee who is a part of the Trump cabinet which is part of the executive branch that Trump leads. So pretending Trump doesn’t get some say here is absurd. There’s also the fact we just had the Inspector General (who vets federal agencies like the DOJ and FBI) tell us the Justice Department executed abusive surveillance and lied to the courts in its investigations of Trump. Stone was a part of those investigations so it’s totally reasonable for there to be some pumping of the breaks here. That argument looks like this:
To contextualize all this, consider another moment in recent history. In 2016, while Attorney General Loretta Lynch was investigating Hillary Clinton’s email, she and Bill Clinton had an infamous run-in on the tarmac of a Phoenix, Arizona airport. Lynch and Clinton both maintained the encounter was a coincidence and awkward, something I (and others) struggle to believe. But the simple optics of it were news for days. Conservatives said the case was compromised. Law experts on the right practically imploded with indignation. The takeaway was simple: Bill clearly pushed her to be lenient on Hillary for violating laws related to handling classified info.
Compare that to this moment. Instead of a former president, we have the current president. Instead of a private email server scandal, we have witness tampering and lying to Congress in one of the biggest investigations of the 21st century. Instead of a supposed influence of the case, we have a clear and direct push by Trump to change the sentencing. And instead of wondering what happened, we have Barr openly taking over the case, the DOJ withdrawing its previous sentencing recommendation, and four U.S. attorneys withdrawing from the case in protest. Plus the White House withdrawing a nominee for a Senate-confirmed position in the Treasury Department to presumably prevent her from testifying. To say the goalposts have been moved would be quite an understatement — we’re just playing a totally different game. For folks who could care less about “norms” or who view the entire Russia investigation as B.S., this is just Trump being Trump. But for institutionalists on the left, it’s a five-alarm fire.
Ultimately, the judge in the case — Amy Berman Jackson — will have final discretion on how to sentence Stone. She’ll also get to question the remaining DOJ lawyer on why the federal prosecutors changed the sentencing guidelines. All of that could bring some major fireworks. I’ll be keeping an eye on it. If you want some down the middle reporting on this, The Wall Street Journal has the best presentation of what happened.
A story that matters.
Yesterday, I spoke to Rachel Bitecofer, an election forecaster who is making waves with her unorthodox methods for predicting election outcomes. In 2018, Bitecofer nearly pinpointed how many seats House Democrats would pick up (she guessed 42, they got 41) five months before the election. Other pollsters struggled to nail it down even a couple weeks out. And in 2020, Bitecofer has another message you’re not hearing much: Democrats are a near-lock to beat Trump, could grab a few more House seats and actually have a shot to retake the Senate. She also thinks that the pick for Vice President, which is often dismissed as unimportant, will be one of the most significant moments in the 2020 election. You can read my exclusive interview with her, why she’s got good news for Democrats and what she thinks can go wrong against Trump in 2020. It was fascinating. All of it is here. Click.
- 8.2%. The spread between Amy Klobuchar’s polling in New Hampshire (11.7%) and her vote percentage (19.9%), the largest of any Democratic candidate.
- 9%. The percentage of the vote Bill Weld picked up in the Republican primary race against Trump.
- $2.5 million. The amount of money Amy Klobuchar raised in the hours after the New Hampshire primary ended.
- 40%. The percentage of Hispanics in New Hampshire who voted for Sanders, according to exit polls reported on by ABC News.
- 70%. The percentage of New Hampshire voters with an income of less than $50,000 a year who support Medicare for All.
- 2 of 3. The number of New Hampshire Democrats who said they would prefer a meteor hitting the earth and wiping out civilization to Donald Trump winning re-election.
- 4.9 million. The average number of viewers who tuned into Fox News the week of Trump’s acquittal in the Senate.
- 39 of 40. The number of most-watched programs on basic cable last week that belonged to Fox News.
Have a nice day.
30,000 pounds of leftover Super Bowl was saved from a landfill and donated to charity. The program was executed by Food Rescue U.S., Centerplate Hospitality and the NFL Green Initiative. Often times, major events like this leave behind unthinkable amounts of food waste. But this time, there was a plan. 30,000 pounds of food was collected and distributed to Miami shelters with the help of countless volunteers, MSN reported. “Beef tenderloins, barbecue chicken, wings, ribs and charcuterie plates are just some of the food that were rescued,” according to ESPN. You can read more about it here.