Good morning. Here’s your Early Warning for Wednesday, 22 August 2018. (All times Eastern.)
The President is scheduled to have lunch with Secretary Mattis and then present the Medal of Honor (posthumously) to Air Force Tech Sergeant John Chapman, who in 2002 was killed in action in Afghanistan.
NOTES: Yesterday was not a good day for President Trump. Speaking briefly to a pool of reporters, the president expressed his sympathy for his friend Paul Manafort. Manafort was found guilty on eight of 18 charges in another win for the Mueller team. Additionally, the president’s former attorney Michael Cohen took a plea deal for campaign finance violations and bank fraud.
Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) was the first congressman to endorse then-candidate Donald Trump for president, and he was recently indicted on insider trading. Additionally, the second congressman to endorse candidate Trump, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), was indicted yesterday on campaign finance violations, wire fraud, and other crimes.
Nothing that came out yesterday bolsters the case of Russian collusion — one half of the original purpose for the Mueller team — and we’re not sure yet what the president’s legal implications are in either the Manafort or the Cohen cases. But the people who surrounded the president are being picked off.
And that leaves media pundits playing ‘connect the dots’. John Sipher, a retired CIA officer who worked in the National Clandestine Service, has been particularly vocal in casting aspersions on Trump, essentially saying that if the president is surrounded by so many crooks, then it’s just a matter of time before Mueller zeroes in on Trump himself.
I maintain my belief, from what I’ve seen, that there was no Russian collusion. I do believe that the meetings arranged between Russian officials and Trump campaign staffers was part of a set up — there’s actually more evidence of that than of collusion. From my perspective so far, Mueller is creating a lot of smoke in the absence of an actual fire (none of the charges so far have anything to do with collusion). Unless Mueller has or finds evidence of actual collusion, his recourse is to publish a report that documents evidence of obstruction of justice or perhaps some white collar crimes from years ago. Based on what’s been leaked or released, that seems to be the most plausible way forward if Mueller doesn’t want to come up empty handed.
Still, all these convictions, indictments, and guilty pleas aren’t a good look for President Trump. They’re bound to result in impeachment proceedings if Democrats take the House in November’s elections, and we could be looking at an even bigger mess on our hands. (Former Trump teammate Steve Bannon was quoted as saying, “Today clarifies that November is a referendum on impeachment — an up or down vote… Every Trump supporter needs to get with the program.”)
That said, President Trump minced no words this morning as he attacked his former attorney. In a tweet, President Trump said:
“If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!”
Secretary Pompeo: Nothing significant to report.
Of note: The Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security is on travel from 12-26 August to Indonesia, Vietnam, and Australia. In Indonesia, U.S. officials will meet to discuss expanding defense trade and regional security issues. All three meetings are likely central to the U.S. Indo-Pacific security strategy to prevent China’s dominance of the entire region.
Defense Secretary Mattis has no publicly scheduled events.
SECDEF is scheduled to be in the Indo-Pacific in September and will then travel to Europe.
The Carl Vinson (CVN-70) was last reported as having returned to port in San Diego.
The John Stennis (CVN-74) was last reported back as participating in an exercise off the coast of southern California.
The Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) was last reported in port at Norfolk.
The Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) was last reported as taking part in a bilateral exercise with the Japanese navy.
The George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) was last reported as having returned to port in Norfolk.
Conflict requiring a Carrier Strike Group does not appear imminent.
Significant House Activity:
- Nothing significant to report.
Significant Senate Activity:
- Nothing significant to report.
* Reporting will appear in the Strategic Intelligence Summary or National Intelligence Bulletin.
– Yesterday, the S&P 500 made a record as the longest bull market in history, quadrupling since hitting lows in 2009.
– Chinese officials are in talks with their U.S. counterparts to bring an end to the trade war. As a result, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross says that he’s delaying the next recommendations for new tariffs (although on Thursday, additional tariffs on $16bn worth of goods are still set to be implemented both ways). From what’s being reported, it does not appear that the Trump administration is particularly interested in making a deal with China unless significant behavior is first modified. Trump wants an end to intellectual property theft and commercial/industrial espionage, currency manipulation, and unfair Chinese trade practices. Short of achieving that, the Trump administration may pursue a course of action that includes having China kicked out of the World Trade Organization.
– The Federal Reserve’s annual symposium in Jackson, Wyoming kicks off tomorrow. I expect them to continue course on interest rates — their policy is that rates need to be raised to prevent economic overheating — and characterize the U.S. economy as strong, which should bolster the Trump Bump. The president has expressed displeasure at Fed Chair Jerome Powell, however, over raising interest rates.
The National Hurricane Center has nothing significant to report, however, Hurricane Lane may be on track to hit Hawaii directly. Lane is now a Category 5 hurricane and is forecast to pass through the Hawaiian islands from Thursday to Sunday.
REMINDER: This hurricane watch section will remain in this report through the end of the season. I check the latest from the National Hurricane Center each morning and will provide details as necessary.
Drought conditions persist across much of the Southwest. This map is updated every Thursday.
What I’m Looking at this Morning
“Today clarifies that November is a referendum on impeachment — an up or down vote… Every Trump supporter needs to get with the program.” – Steve Bannon, as quoted by Bloomberg