Steve King claims ‘better insight’ into Jesus’ suffering after Congressional censure

Congressman Steve King said Tuesday his that his recent ostracization by his House colleagues for defending white supremacy has made him identify with the strife a more famous leader went through some 2,000 years ago: Jesus Christ.

The exchange took place at a town hall event in Iowa, when one attendee stood up to tell the nine-term Republican that in her view, “Christianity is really being persecuted, and it’s starting right here in the United States.”

In his response, King told her that after being formally censured by the House and stripped of his committee assignments, he had gleaned insight into what Jesus went through before his crucifixion, referring to his House colleagues as “accusers.”

“It’s been, for all that I’ve been through, it seems even strange for me to say it, but I’m at a certain peace, and it’s because of a lot of prayers for me,” he said. “And when I had to step down to the floor of the House of Representatives and look up at those 400-and-some accusers — you know, we’ve just passed through Easter and Christ’s Passion — and I have a better insight into what he went through for us, partly because of that experience.”

King continued, saying the experience made him thankful for the fellow Christians in his district and had opened his eyes to how it’s possible to draw biblical parallels in the modern day.

“I’m grateful that we are the people we are and we not only — we have a strong Christian ethic here and a high percentage of people that are true believers, we have all of that going for us, but it’s also in our culture," he said. "And we don’t think about it very often, how much the Christian faith echoes through who we are as a people.”

King was roundly rebuked in January when he asked, in an interview with The New York Times, how terms like “white nationalist” and “white supremacist” became “offensive.” The House overwhelmingly passed a resolution condemning his comments, with King voting in favor of the measure as well.

The congressman has a history of using racist and denigrating rhetoric about minority groups and immigrants, and has amplified the voices of personalities on the right fringe where much of that rhetoric can be traced back to. His rhetoric on race had been mostly tolerated by his colleagues until the Times interview earlier this year.

But the congressman, despite trying to distance himself from his comments to the Times and claiming he’d been misquoted, asserted later that “I have nothing to apologize for.” He’s resisted calls even from his own colleagues and party leaders to step down and has maintained that he will run for reelection again in 2020.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine


Ukraine’s New President Just Won the First Ever Successful Virtual Campaign

KYIV—Volodymyr Zelensky, who was elected president of Ukraine by a landslide on Sunday, is probably the least prepared individual to head a democracy in world history.

Until this weekend, his main experience in politics was playing a schoolteacher who becomes the president in a satirical television program. He ran with no party affiliation. Until two days before voting began, he had no clear team of expert advisers—not even on foreign policy and national security, the president’s key constitutional responsibilities. And, remarkably, Ukraine’s nearly four-month long election campaign did little to provide answers as to who Zelensky is and what he truly thinks.

This is because Zelensky ran the world’s first successful presidential campaign that was entirely virtual. He not only traded on the image of a complete outsider, he also did no face-to-face campaigning, made no speeches, held no rallies, eschewed travel across the country, gave no press conferences, avoided in-depth interviews with independent journalists and, until the last day of campaigning, did not debate.

And now this virtual candidate is about to become the president of a country at the epicenter of a hybrid war that could easily ignite into a major European conflict.

Before he ran for office, Zelensky was omnipresent on Ukraine’s most popular TV network, 1+1, filling hours of weekly programming with his variety shows, comedy talent contests and his series about an outsider elected president, “Servant of the People.” When he announced his candidacy in a New Years’ 2019 video greeting, after opinion polls showed him to be among the favorites, many assumed he would run a typical celebrity campaign—full of public appearances and stump speeches.

He didn’t. Unlike President Donald Trump, who staged regular rallies and appeared in Town Halls and in televised debates, Zelensky avoided human contact with his electorate. He addressed voters through short YouTube and Instagram posts and appearances on TV. (One of his online videos, calling for a debate he postponed until the last minute, garnered 14 million views.) Instead of preparing for the presidency and holding substantive public meetings, he traveled with his comedy troupe and performed in variety shows. He also spent much of the first month of the campaign producing the next three episodes of his TV series.

After winning a first-round election that required a runoff—Zelensky played table tennis at his campaign headquarters with a reporter, made a vague one minute statement laced with platitudes and followed by just three minutes of Q and A. As the election continued, a 15 minute interview on his home TV station, and a softball interview of his wife and him at home, were the most detailed press scrutiny he faced.

Zelensky’s virtual-first strategy allowed him to run his campaign on general themes and vague promises and to avoid issuing detailed positions on policy issues. His political messaging focused on discontent with the way things are—and lambasting Ukraine’s business and political elites for making them that way. Some voters even appear to have conflated him with his TV persona, a high-school teacher whose viral Youtube rant against corruption and government incompetence gets him elected Ukraine’s president.

Those searching for detailed policy positions searched in vain. While he solicited advice from voters on a campaign website, his platform published online contains only a few anodyne sentences each on key issues of security, the economy, health care, education and the fight against corruption. Throughout the campaign, short video blogs showed Zelensky interacting with a range of informal advisers, usually well-regarded reformers or NGO leaders who over the course of three months explained to the public what they thought the candidate might believe. But many had no official status in his campaign until three days before voters went to the polls. His inner circle seems to be mainly made up of longtime colleagues from show business, partners in his comedy troupe, and a handful of lawyers linked to his main backer, the Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoysky, who is accused by the Ukrainian government with defrauding Ukraine’s banking system of $5.6 billion.

When outsider celebrities, sports heroes and entertainers typically run for office, they usually try to allay fear about their inexperience by showing a command of the issues. Zelensky did the exact opposite. While trading on his celebrity, he also embraced his inexperience, suggesting this meant he was open to fundamentally new approaches. He called on the public to help him devise his platform virtually and, scarily, preached plebiscitary direct democracy.

In many ways, Zelensky’s campaign eerily resembled an episode from the Netflix Series Black Mirror-entitled “The Waldo Moment”—in which an animated blue bear satirizes and degrades politicians competing in a British by-election, and eventually joins them in the quest for office, campaigning semi-virtually from a video display on a truck that interacts with voters on the hustings.

The big difference is that the bear came in second. Zelensky won. In the end, the Ukrainian public proved so tired of the status quo, characterized by slow growth, widespread poverty and significant corruption, that the voters of a country partly under Russian occupation and subject to regular military attacks rejected an experienced incumbent—President Petro Poroshenko, who had rebuilt Ukraine’s military and competently marshalled international aid and diplomatic support—and took a chance on a political novice. Plus, Zelensky’s vague and laconic platform meant that he was able to appeal to both the Ukrainian-speaking West and Center and the to the Russophone East and South, to rural and urban voters, and rich and poor, alike.

But now, Zelensky, who has since launched a new political party named after his TV program, must deal with a whole new challenge: Governing. His base of support is likely to narrow as soon as he starts making clear policy choices. And while he captured nearly three-quarters of all votes in the presidential runoff, he had the backing of only 30 percent of voters in round one, the lowest level of support for a first round leader in any of Ukraine’s seven presidential contests. He is unlikely to create a working majority in Ukraine’s parliament. That leaves him the option of trying to force a snap election this summer or waiting until late October, when the current legislature’s mandate expires. Meanwhile, his lack of knowledge about personnel and policy could lead to early missteps, especially in the spheres of defense, national security and foreign policy.

All this makes Zelenky’s assumption of power full of potential peril. The entire architecture of Europe’s defense and security rests on a stable Ukraine. An unsteady and inexperienced leader in Ukraine could tempt Russia to escalate its military actions in a bid to restore Ukraine to its sphere of influence or control.

A Ukraine back in Russia’s sphere of influence would give new impetus to Russia’s global ambitions, would enhance the Kremlin’s capacity to project power regionally, and interfere in and further disrupt the politics of the U.S. and the West. As Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote, “Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be an empire, but with Ukraine suborned and then subordinated, Russia automatically becomes an empire.”

That said, there is also huge potential upside in Zelensky’s election. A novice politician, especially one willing to shed some of his oligarch patrons, can be more open to implementing fundamental reforms that can accelerate Ukraine’s transition into a transparent and stable market economy. A leader from outside the existing political system might be able, with some assistance, to assemble a capable team of reformers.

Given this, as well as the ongoing military threat from Russia and Putin’s likely interest in testing Zelensky’s mettle early in his tenure, the U.S. and the West must do all they can to help an unprepared politician rapidly transform rapidly into a competent and self-assured commander-in-chief. U.S. policymakers and their European colleagues should offer to Zelensky and his nascent team a program of technical assistance that could accelerate their learning curve and enable them to govern competently and intelligently.

Ukraine’s wide array of think tanks and globally networked reformers should also join this effort. And the West should encourage the experienced hands present in Ukraine’s government—which include reformist ministers running finance, transportation, education and health care, as well as competent defense and foreign ministers—to cooperate constructively with the new president, at least until parliamentary elections scheduled for late October yield a new political configuration.

By taking these steps, the U.S. and the West can help ensure that the choice Ukrainian voters have taken in electing an ambitious but untested political newcomer pays off, and doesn’t plunge Europe into an accelerating conflict with Russia.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine


Larry Hogan derides Trump as ‘dear leader’

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan continued to needle President Donald Trump Tuesday, derisively referring to him in a New Hampshire speech as "dear leader," the sycophantic title given to Kim Jong Il, the father of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Hogan, who’s weighing a challenge to Trump in the 2020 Republican primary, said he’s unafraid to stand up to the president but is in no rush to jump into the race.

Contrasting himself with the nearly two dozen Democrats running for president, Hogan said he’s got plenty of time to decide on a 2020 bid. The deadline to get on the first-in-the-nation primary ballot in New Hampshire is in November.

"People have asked me to give this serious consideration, and I think I owe it to people to do just that," Hogan said during a speech in Manchester on Tuesday. "I’ve been to 10 states in the past few months and I have 16 more on my schedule."

Hogan‘s New Hampshire visit comes on the heels of a March visit to Iowa, another early presidential voting state. And in February, Hogan slammed the Republican National Committee for trying to protect Trump from a primary challenge after the RNC passed a resolution giving the president its “undivided support” ahead of the 2020 election. The White House has kept careful watch on Hogan’s moves for months as a result of his criticisms and heightened national profile.

The two-term governor opened his remarks by saying he wasn’t at St. Anselm College to make any official announcements regarding a challenge to Trump, but nevertheless delivered a speech that criticized the president’s leadership and called for more optimism and bipartisanship in politics.

“I still believe what unites us is greater than what divides us,” Hogan said. “My last four years have blessed me with optimism, not burdened me with dread."

Addressing special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, Hogan said the redacted document reveals "unsavory stuff" about Trump that didn’t make him proud of the president, and that the report "did not completely exonerate the president." But Hogan asserted Congress should not begin impeachment proceedings because they would not be productive. Hogan also contrasted himself with Republicans in Washington and across the country in their approach to Trump.

"There are a number of my colleagues, both governors and senators, members of the House, who will say privately that they’re very concerned. They won’t say it publicly and I think it’s because they’re afraid. There are no profiles in courage here. They’re afraid of being primaried, they’re afraid of being tweeted about. Very few of us are willing to stand up and do the right thing," Hogan said. "I don’t think there should be Democratic overreach and I also don’t think there should be a cover-up from the administration."

Acknowledging the difficulties of challenging a president who remains popular with the party base, Hogan said he would not run without proven support, and would not go up against Trump just to damage him.

"I’m not going to launch some kind of suicide mission," Hogan said. "I care about the future of my party, I care about the country, but I would not run just to be a spoiler to the president. I’ve got a state to run."

If he does run, Hogan sees a path forward in states that hold open primaries, where Democrats and independent voters can cast whichever ballot they choose. The strategy is similar to the one pursued by GOP presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, who hopes to garner support among independent voters rather than Republicans who staunchly support the president.

A day before his stop at St. Anselm College, Hogan had lunch with Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, another blue-state Republican who is popular among independent and Democratic voters. Like Hogan, Baker has been critical of some Trump administration policies and did not vote for Trump in 2016. Both governors, who face considerable Democratic legislative majorities, have kept the national party at arms’ length, calling instead for bipartisanship and a no-drama approach to governing

"We just had lunch. He gave me good advice. We’re good friends," Hogan told reporters after the speech. "I don’t want to discuss an exact private conversation with him." But asked whether they talked about the 2020 presidential race, Hogan said "a little bit."

Baker served as a cabinet secretary in the Weld administration in the 1990s.

“Bill Weld called me just before he announced," Hogan said. “I thanked Bill Weld for stepping up. I think others ought to consider it.”

Trump continues to hold strong support among Republican voters. In New Hampshire, the president has an 80 percent approval rating among Republicans likely to vote in the primary. He’s also raised $30 million in the first quarter of the year. Hogan said it’ll take time to introduce himself to early-state voters and get his poll numbers up, and pointed to polling data that indicates even Republican voters want to see a primary challenge to the president.

"I’m pretty good at retail politics, and that’s how I won my state with no money," Hogan said. "Who knows."

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine


How the Intercept Is Fueling the Democratic Civil War

Captain Mark Kelly, the former astronaut, has a picture-perfect political résumé: the Space Shuttle commander and veteran of the U.S. Navy became a gun control advocate after his wife, former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, was shot and suffered a severe brain injury.

For a broad swath of Democrats, a Kelly campaign is precisely what the party needs. He’s a patriotic, mediagenic, center-friendly liberal who has a rare chance to turn the longtime Republican stronghold of Arizona into a state with two Democratic U.S. senators.

But on March 5, a missile came for Kelly—launched, improbably, from the left. Reporter Akela Lacy revealed that Kelly, who like many progressive hopefuls claimed he was running a campaign free of corporate PAC donations, had made at least 19 paid corporate speeches in front of audiences including Goldman Sachs. A follow-up story dinged Kelly for another swampy tradition: a planned appearance at a fundraiser hosted by lobbyists from Capitol Counsel, a major Washington firm.

The stories were published by the Intercept, the five-year-old left-leaning online news outlet, and they stung. The state’s largest paper, the Arizona Republic, waded in. CNN began asking questions. Initially dismissive, the Kelly campaign returned the $55,000 he was paid for a speech in the United Arab Emirates. In the interest of transparency, the Kelly camp also published the transcript of a typical paid speech. (A spokesperson for Kelly declined to comment for this article.)

For the Intercept, it was another notch on an increasingly crowded belt—mostly decorated with attacks on Democrats.

Founded in 2014 by muckraking national security journalists Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill, the Intercept is still best-known for its first incarnation as an obsessive anti-surveillance reporting enterprise, and an activist voice for privacy and civil liberties—more anti-government than partisan. It built its reputation by publishing stories based on top-secret National Security Agency documents leaked by Edward Snowden; it also exposed the controversial U.S. drone strike program and revealed how a British intelligence agency sought to digitally surveil every Internet user.

But in the past few years, and especially in the aftermath of the 2016 campaign, the Intercept has taken a sharp turn into party politics. With a hard-charging Washington bureau chief, Ryan Grim, driving its political coverage, the Intercept has taken a more classic “gotcha” approach to campaign reporting, and landed in a unique spot in the media ecosystem—as the loudest voice attacking Democrats from the left.

As the party grapples with fractures emerging in its coalition, the Intercept is a crowbar working those fractures apart, probing hard at fault lines like criminal justice reform, “Medicare for All,” the “Green New Deal,” racial justice and corporate funding of candidates like Kelly. The outlet has become a routine headache for the Democratic establishment and its leadership. It published a leaked recording of then-House Democratic Whip now-Majority Leader Steny Hoyer pressuring a progressive Colorado primary candidate to drop out of a race. By far its favorite target has been the party organization that works to elect Democrats to the House, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which the Intercept has repeatedly pilloried for seeking to kneecap a new wave of insurgent lefties. In a March story, the Intercept hammered the DCCC for moving to blacklist consultants working with primary challengers to Democratic incumbents.

The Intercept has also offered a platform to the candidates it favors. During the 2016 presidential primary, the site was one of the few outlets to take Bernie Sanders seriously early on, and its coverage of the 2018 midterms helped to promote progressive outsiders like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib.

In today’s fast-moving media environment, seemingly every election elevates a new publication to the center of the conversation. In 2008, there was the Huffington Post and Politico; 2012 saw the rise of BuzzFeed; in 2016, Breitbart transformed the conservative media landscape. As 2020 approaches, some see the Intercept as the political site of the moment, a disruptive force focused on one of the most important political stories of our time, the Democratic identity crisis.

“I think they have played an extraordinary role in covering issues that don’t often get attention from other outlets, and they are often ahead of the curve in identifying issues that may resonate with other progressive voices,” says Congressman Ro Khanna, a progressive who has been on both sides of the Intercept treatment.

But as it gears up for 2020, the Intercept faces some big questions. One is whether its owner supports the war it is waging. The Intercept is almost totally funded by a single billionaire backer, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, who supports the site through parent organization First Look Media. Omidyar, who through a spokesperson declined to comment for this story, appears to live in a different political reality from his own publication. Intercept links are noticeably absent from his Twitter feed, which is filled with reflections on a supposed Trump-Russia conspiracy—pitting Omidyar against Intercept co-founding editor and columnist Greenwald, a deep skeptic of the media’s coverage of the Russia scandal. And unlike the heroes of the Intercept’s political coverage, Omidyar isn’t some left-wing outsider; he’s a mainstream Democratic donor and was even a supporter of the conservative “Never Trump” super PAC. Several people I spoke to—sources inside the company and other media observers—are now asking: How much longer will the billionaire patron bankroll a news outlet so clearly at odds with his own politics?

The Intercept faces a political question, as well: As the Democratic Party strives to mount a coherent attack against a president it loathes, will the site’s belligerent strategy be effective, or will it handicap the only Democrats who have a serious chance of capturing the White House? Depending on whom you ask, the Intercept is either cleansing the Democratic Party and pushing it to be more accountable to voters and regular people—or it is a Breitbart of the left, trafficking in drive-by hit pieces, an approach that will ultimately undercut the larger goals the site supports. Says one Democratic operative, frustrated with the Intercept’s relentless attacks on the Democratic center: “Grim apparently doesn’t ever want to win an election again and is dead set against anyone who does.”


Much of the Intercept’s recent shift can be traced to Grim’s arrival. A HuffPost veteran hired in 2017, Grim took a site with strong gadfly tendencies and nudged it in a more aggressive and political direction. He’s pugnacious on Twitter, and occasionally in real life—he became a kind of folk hero among the left for scrapping with Fox News host Jesse Watters in a caught-on-tape fistfight at a 2016 White House Correspondents’ Dinner afterparty.

From the Intercept’s Washington bureau, kitty-corner from the White House, Grim leads the site’s nine-person political team. He sees himself less as a partisan warrior than a serious journalist whose politics and understanding of the left helped him to train his sights on particularly important targets. “The first goal is to break news,” he said in an interview, “but where we focus is where other outlets are afraid to go.”

For some in the media world, it’s a shock that the Intercept made it to its fifth birthday at all. Since its founding as mostly a home for the Snowden archive, it has published some massive, deeply reported scoops and developed a reputation as a hub for serious national security wonks. But it has been as notable for its internal dysfunction, finding itself the subject of flaming first-person takedowns by ex-staffers over the years. One of its early seminal investigations was a deep dive into its own newsroom and how journalist Matt Taibbi, who was hired to launch an ill-fated satirical digital magazine, left the company on extremely messy terms.

In 2016, Intercept reporter Juan Thompson was fired from the site for fabricating quotes and sources, and he was later convicted for making bomb threats to Jewish community centers. The Intercept has also been embarrassed even on its supposed area of expertise; its mishandling of leaked documents helped get a source, whistleblower Reality Winner, thrown in prison. This past March, the company laid off members of its research staff and—in a move that prompted a fresh round of anguish from the Intercept’s original true believers—decided to stop managing the enormous archive of leaked Snowden documents.

Along the way, however, the site also managed to build expertise in progressive domestic politics. Part of that move was deliberate: Early staffers say the Intercept was never meant to be exclusively a niche national security site, and from its younger days the publication covered topics like criminal justice, technology and politics. But there was also an editorial drift. The 2016 election, and Donald Trump, gave rise to intense reader interest in politics and a new energy on the progressive left, and the Intercept’s political outfit had already built a stable of left-savvy journalists, like Lee Fang, a well-known bomb-throwing reporter.

As the Bernie Sanders vs. Hillary Clinton ideological chasm became clearer to the rest of the media in 2016, those in the Intercept’s newsroom saw an opportunity. “A lot of the mainstream media was definitely operationally closer to the Democratic establishment,” says Betsy Reed, the Intercept’s editor-in-chief since 2015. “It seemed we had an opening to cover aggressively the divide within the Democratic Party.”

After the election, Reed hired Grim to take over in D.C. Since 2009, Grim had worked in HuffPost’s D.C. bureau, departing the publication as that newsroom’s leadership shifted in the wake of Arianna Huffington’s exit. Grim was—and is—seen in Washington as hardworking, talented and, depending where you sit, something of a left-populist attack dog. “A lot of the legacy liberal media was basically in the establishment Democratic tent,” says Zaid Jilani, a former Intercept reporter. “Ryan was a [Ralph] Nader voter. It’s probably unique to have someone like that running your shop.”

Under Grim, the Intercept more clearly carved out its terrain on the political map. Today’s Intercept melds together a collection of policy interests that feels almost unique in today’s media, providing a one-stop-shop for progressive welfare state enthusiasts, anti-interventionists and surveillance paranoids. “There’s always been some element of left media that had both an interest in growing the capacity of the state to take care of people and to address social concerns, while also being skeptical of state power when it comes to police and immigration enforcement,” Grim told me. “That’s not necessarily new, but what’s new is that there’s now a mass audience … for that perspective.”

The site has enjoyed a flurry of political scoops in recent months, like Grim’s revelation that the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee had requested to view a “document” related to Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court—a story that set in motion the gripping public testimony of Christine Blasey Ford. Grim and Intercept reporter Alleen Brown also landed a mammoth White House scoop when they (along with the Daily Mail) reported that former Trump aide Rob Porter’s ex-wives both alleged that he had physically abused them.

The Intercept’s fans credit the outlet with dedicating resources to covering big issues that often get little attention elsewhere or emerge later in the mainstream media, from Yemen to Saudi Arabia to the “Abolish ICE” movement. Some of the site’s biggest wins go under the radar, like in March, when the Federal Election Commission handed out its third-largest financial penalty in history in the wake of an Intercept report into foreign money used in support of Jeb Bush’s 2016 presidential candidacy. The FEC fined the pro-Bush super PAC and a Chinese-owned corporation after Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit, filed a complaint that cited the Intercept’s reporting of the donation.

Intercept headlines tend toward the flashy, with stories that are hyperaggressive toward those the publication deems too moderate. That approach can lead to clumsiness, as when the site last year had to walk back a story that originally reported as fact that DCCC-backed candidate Gil Cisneros had left a message on the answering machine of his competitor saying he was about to go negative. The Intercept also dedicated plenty of favorable coverage to a host of progressive candidates who lost their primaries or—perhaps more damaging to the party—lost winnable races to Republicans in 2018 (Intercept haters often point to Kara Eastman in Nebraska and Dana Balter in New York). Grim says it’s not the Intercept’s job to guess winners, and that he likes to cover interesting races that have the potential to be close.

The Intercept has, however, picked some victors, and its top claim to progressive credibility can be summarized in three letters—AOC. In May of last year, reporter Aída Chávez and Grim wrote a long story with a bold headline: “A Primary Against the Machine: A Bronx Activist Looks to Dethrone Joseph Crowley, The King of Queens.” For many readers in Washington, it was the first they had heard of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. That story kicked off more assertive Intercept reporting on her long-shot campaign, and the Intercept published a series of punishing stories about AOC’s competitor, incumbent Democrat Crowley. (Sample headline: “How People Close to Joe Crowley Have Gotten Rich While the Queens Boss Has Risen in Congress.”)

Waleed Shahid, communications director for Justice Democrats, the progressive political action committee that backed AOC, says the Intercept was crucial to Ocasio-Cortez’s election. What makes the Intercept important, Shahid says, is that it has an outsider, accountability approach, but also “[occupies] the space where they are actually part of the Washington media scene.”

To some readers on the left, the Intercept’s expertise gives it a competitive advantage. “It’s a very rare media organization that understands and cares to understand the progressive perspective and, at the same time, is taken seriously in Washington,” says Cenk Uygur, founder of progressive YouTube staple The Young Turks, where Grim is a contributor. Bhaskar Sunkara, founder of socialist magazine Jacobin, adds: “I often feel like when it comes to this space, Jacobin and the Intercept are the only reliable places that left politicians have—which is funny because neither of us existed 10 years ago.”

Khanna, the progressive congressman and frequent recipient of positive Intercept coverage, says he first heard about AOC through an Intercept story. But in the primary, he hedged his bets, choosing to endorse both her and Crowley. In a long article about his decision, the Intercept wrote that it would “leave a mark on Khanna as he navigates his future in Congress and within the progressive movement.” Khanna said he thought the story was fair, and he now calls the double endorsement a mistake: “If I had read more of their AOC coverage, I may have endorsed her earlier and may have avoided endorsing Crowley.” He also offered his colleagues a piece of advice: Read the Intercept to stay ahead of “spotting the progressive flash points.”

For some on the left, it’s a point of pride not to worry about what the Intercept has coming. “Superficial talking points are not going to get you through—in fact [Intercept journalists] are often jumping on those and carving those up,” says Faiz Shakir, 2020 campaign manager for Sanders. Other Democratic staffers for candidates who have been on the receiving end of the Intercept treatment question whether it’s all that influential. “I think they have a singular and very influential purpose. They drive attention and money to challengers in different races,” says one aide to an establishment Democrat who has been on the receiving end of the Intercept treatment. This aide doesn’t much see the Intercept moving the needle among people making “power decisions,” but rather thinks the site functions chiefly to “torpedo candidates.”


That’s a charge many political operatives echoed to me—if offered a chance to do so off the record. The Intercept’s “out for blood” approach, some Democrats argue, is totally wrong for a moment where the party’s sole focus should be on beating Donald Trump in 2020. “The Intercept at its best is when it’s doing the hard work that others will not do, and it’s not an oppo drop,” says one Democratic operative. “The Intercept at its worst is when it’s ideology with a little work.”

Even progressive voices in the trenches have their doubts. “The sort of antagonistic style of journalism that you have to do to report on surveillance abuses and police abuses, I think, doesn’t necessarily translate as well when you’re doing intra-Democratic Party things,” says Sean McElwee, co-founder of progressive think tank Data for Progress, and a lefty warrior frequently in the mix on intramural Democratic squabbles. “Democratic voters don’t think that Kamala Harris is the equivalent of the surveillance state. I think a lot of people are concerned about her prosecutor record, but they still like her.”

Fang, a longtime reporter at the Intercept covering influence peddling and policy, says he thinks most of the Democratic criticism of the Intercept is unfair. “The same people who want to vilify us for championing progressive causes and holding business-friendly candidates under close scrutiny are at the same time happy to use our investigations to pummel Republicans,” he says.

Although some Intercept staffers find the site’s political turn inspiring—“We have found our sweet spot,” says Maryam Saleh, a reporter and editor in the Intercept’s D.C. bureau—others worry the site is becoming too much a tool of the emergent Sanders-AOC-Elizabeth Warren left, particularly given that the Intercept was founded on an editorial ethos explicitly antagonistic to any sort of power. “When I worked there, I also felt like I was taking a side more than I wanted to, looking back at it,” says Jilani, the former reporter who left the publication last year and now works as a writing fellow at University of California, Berkeley. “The editorial leaning has become so strong.” (In response to Jilani’s accusations, Grim chuckled and said, “I love Zaid.”)

If the Intercept had a fairly clear hero and villain in the 2016 Democratic primary, 2020 is already proving to be more complicated. Or at least more crowded. Warren is most certainly on the site’s good side, whereas candidates like Beto O’Rourke and Cory Booker have received tougher coverage. Kamala Harris and Joe Biden—a former prosecutor and a onetime opponent of school busing, respectively—have no shot at winning the Intercept primary. The publication has criticized Senator Kirsten Gillibrand for defending the filibuster, published a 35-minute leaked recording of Booker speaking with activists from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and dove into Harris’ first race in San Francisco, where she campaigned on a tough-on-crime platform.

As in 2016, Sanders is a clear Intercept favorite. In March, Briahna Gray, a columnist and senior politics editor for the site, joined the Sanders campaign as national press secretary—no surprise to anyone reading her Intercept coverage. (Her final column was headlined, “Bernie Sanders Asks the Right Question on Reparations: What Does It Mean?”) But the publication has also picked its moments to go after the senator, like a recent story by Grim calling on Sanders release his tax returns, which the senator ultimately did.


Much of the inherent distrust of the Intercept among the mainstream Democratic apparatus stems from the long shadow of the publication’s co-founder, the singular Glenn Greenwald. Today, he functions as a columnist—both Greenwald and the editorial staff agree that he has no control over the news reporting. But he remains the Intercept’s best-known personality, thanks to his high public profile and his routine hits on Fox News. Greenwald has also been a large line-item on the site’s budget; as the Columbia Journalism Review recently noted, citing the site’s publicly available financial disclosure forms, he took in $1.6 million from 2014 to 2017.

As one of the leading voices pooh-poohing special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation into the Trump campaign and condemning the media frenzy around it, Greenwald has been on a Twitter victory lap to his more than 1 million followers in recent weeks, provoking eye rolls from not only much of the Democratic left but also many of his colleagues in the Intercept newsroom.

Reed and Grim argue that the Intercept can—and does—credibly cover the Russia story, even if the site’s most famous employee is also one of the most vocal Russia skeptics on the Internet. He’s an island, the defense goes, and letting your employees openly disagree is a more transparent approach than at most other outlets. “We used to joke early on that we were Glenn Greenwald’s blog, but I think we have graduated from that,” Reed says. “He respects that he is not in management, and he’s not an editor here.”

But internally, some employees say Greenwald’s presence undermines the site’s work. “People assume Glenn’s tweets reflect some sort of internal consensus, but the truth is I don’t think there’s a single other person here who agreed with him on Trump/Russia,” says one Intercept staffer. “I’d hope people don’t view us as less legitimate just because of one guy.”

Greenwald himself says the internal disagreement is healthy. “By and large, the Intercept is now perceived as a serious midsized news outlet that definitely does have its own identity separate and apart from me,” he says. When it comes to his hits on Fox News with Tucker Carlson, he says, “Three million people still watch Fox News, and I believe that if you believe in things you’re saying and believe in the power of reason and dialogue—which I do—you should want to maximize the number of people you’re speaking to.”

As a counterbalance to Greenwald, the Intercept in 2017 brought on veteran New York Times national security reporter James Risen, who has written about the Mueller investigation from the opposite perspective. The site has even hosted debates between the two. Under the circumstances, it’s fairly cordial. Greenwald says Risen is one of his journalistic heroes. Risen told me: “Not to be too flip, but there were lots of op-ed columnists at the New York Times that I disagreed with, but I continued to do my own job.”


Just as the Intercept has come into its newfound political identity, it is also facing questions about its long-term viability. The Intercept is still a relatively small site, averaging about 4 million unique visitors a month, according to a company spokesperson. It is currently housed under First Look Media Works, the nonprofit arm of Omidyar’s media business. The nonprofit also operates Field of Vision, a documentary film unit, and the Press Freedom Defense Fund, which offers legal support to reporters and whistleblowers. (The broader First Look also operates two other properties, the visual storytelling site Topic and the Nib, a comics publication).

Reed says she speaks with Omidyar—who, according to Forbes, is worth $12.4 billion—once or twice a year. “He’s very much focused on making sure the overall institution is healthy, but he doesn’t get involved at all in any way in any editorial matters,” she says.

According to tax filings recently highlighted by CJR, Omidyar poured $87 million into First Look from 2013 to 2017. When the Intercept had its splashy launch, he promised to invest $250 million of his personal fortune into the enterprise—which suggests it still has some running room, though his generosity won’t be unlimited. Recently, like many media outlets in search of new revenue streams, the site began a paid membership program, which a company spokesperson says has reached 22,000 members. Still, Omidyar contributes the vast majority of the site’s funding, and the site’s future is almost wholly linked to his continued interest.

“We are grateful for the ongoing financial support of Pierre Omidyar, who founded FLMW with the mission of fostering, promoting and strengthening independent journalism,” the company spokesperson says.

Five years on, the Intercept is growing other parts of its business—a more robust opinion section and a podcast unit—to bring in a bigger audience. In 2017, the publication hired Mehdi Hasan as a columnist, and his role has expanded to hosting “Deconstructed,” an interview-format podcast and a complement to the site’s other podcast, hosted by Scahill. “Deconstructed,” like other liberal podcasts such as “Pod Save America,” has quickly become a stopping point for candidates trying to reach a young, progressive audience. So far, Hasan has interviewed Warren, Sanders and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg as they embark on their early 2020 media tours.

Still, the recent March layoffs—a 4 percent cut in staff—coupled with the decision to ditch the Snowden archive have raised fears inside the Intercept about the future of the company. In this the Intercept isn’t unique; there is deep uncertainty across the entire media spectrum, and the Intercept’s newsroom is among a wave of digital publishers that have unionized in an effort to protect employees. Now that it is clear there are “budget constraints,” as Reed described the situation to me, some in the company wonder what would happen, for instance, if Omidyar decided to pull the plug. Would the Intercept survive?

Reed says Omidyar is completely committed to the site’s mission and editorial independence. When it comes to the cutbacks, Reed says the publication still has researchers on staff; she adds that the company devoted lots of resources to the Snowden archive over the past five years, but the nature of the news cycle has meant that it had yielded a diminishing return over time.

With Grim as bureau chief, the Intercept’s Washington office has become a more typical, fast-paced D.C. newsroom, eclipsing the slower, magazine-like investigative operation in New York, where the majority of the site’s 54 employees are based. Some staffers told me they have begun to wonder if a new Intercept has taken shape—one focused more on politics than its national security DNA. Reed says the site is still “totally committed to national security reporting,” and that the company has revised its guidelines for whistleblowers, to prevent future leakers from suffering the fate of Reality Winner.

The Intercept has clearly gone all-in on the 2020 race, however, placing itself at the center of a major story on the left, as the Democratic Party redefines itself in a changing America. As for the future of the site itself, Grim is at least somewhat sanguine.

“I always assume that the world is going to fall apart the next day,” Grim says. “And that every day you’ve got is a gift.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine


Mueller’s done. But Trump’s still offering evidence.

Special counsel Robert Mueller may be done, but President Donald Trump and his team are still adding to an already hefty record of evidence that could fuel impeachment proceedings or future criminal indictments.

Team Trump’s bellicose tweets and public statements in the last few days are potentially exposing Trump to fresh charges of witness intimidation, obstruction of justice and impeding a congressional investigation — not to mention giving lawmakers more fodder for their presidential probes — according to Democrats and legal experts.

Already, a fusillade of verbal assaults aimed at former White House counsel Don McGahn, a star witness in the Mueller report, have sparked questions about obstruction and witness intimidation as Democrats try to get McGahn to testify.

“This is risky,” said William Jeffress, a prominent Washington defense attorney who represented President Richard Nixon after he left the White House. “I find it surprising because he’s taking these shots at witnesses who gave information to Mueller, and I think he’s got to be careful because there’s an explicit federal statute punishing retaliation against witnesses.”

It’s a lesson some thought Trump would have learned during the Mueller investigation.

Examples litter the special counsel’s 448-page report describing how the president ignored the advice of his lawyers and senior staff by tweeting about the Russia probe and discussing sensitive material with other White House aides and even the FBI director. Mueller made clear that those statements and tweets can be used as evidence to support a criminal charge.

But Trump and his lawyers haven’t hit the mute button.

The president has tweeted about the Russia probe more than 50 times since last Thursday’s release of a redacted version of the Mueller report. And attacks in recent days have turned forcefully against McGahn, who is mentioned more than 500 times in the Mueller report and who delivered damaging testimony about Trump’s attempts to shut down the Russia investigation. Democrats have subpoenaed McGahn to appear next month before the House Judiciary Committee.

The months ahead are also littered with a bevy of opportunities that could entice Trump to offer more barbed opinions — and more material for his investigators. His longtime associate Roger Stone goes on trial this November, tempting Trump to weigh in like he did during Paul Manafort’s trial, when the president posted tweets that were later cited in the Mueller report as evidence of obstruction.

And allies of Manafort and Michael Flynn, Trump’s brief national security adviser who faces prison time for lying to the FBI, are likely to amp up the calls for Trump to issue pardons or commute the sentences for the president’s former aides, each of which Democrats would interpret as additional obstruction evidence.

“A bank robbery is just as much a robbery if everyone sees it, as if nobody sees it,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, told POLITICO.

“The president and his team may think that the Mueller report represents the sum total of what’s in play with Congress,” Raskin added. “But from our perspective, the Mueller report just sets the table for an analysis of what’s been taking place.”

On Capitol Hill, Democrats have more leeway than in the courtroom to introduce evidence if they pursue impeachment. For now, the party’s leaders are urging a go-slow approach, fretful that an unsuccessful attempt to remove the president would only help him win re-election in 2020.

But the president’s taunts and missives directed at their investigations — and the potential witnesses they may call — could end up serving a double purpose: goading Democrats into taking the plunge on impeachment and also delivering them evidence to support the case.

“It is unrealistic to expect that the president is going to suddenly change his behavior or suddenly manifest respect for the rule of law,” said Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), another Judiciary Committee member. “The president ought to be accountable for any additional conduct that may constitute an attempt to impede or interfere.”

“We ought to consider not only the full contents of the Mueller report but any subsequent conduct,” Cicilline added.

Trump’s allies say the president feels emboldened by the Mueller probe’s conclusions and doesn’t fear potential legal implications going forward.

“I don’t think he’s afraid of anything,” said Michael Caputo, a longtime Trump associate and former 2016 campaign aide who thinks Trump is indeed engaged in a “briar patch strategy trying to tempt the Democrats into a suicidal venture of impeachment.”

“After enduring the beating he’s endured for two years and watching it crumble into rubble, he sees this as a risky opportunity to do exactly what he’s doing,” Caputo said.

Joe diGenova, an informal Trump legal adviser, also shrugged off the potential legal exposure that comes with the president swinging away at the events depicted in the Mueller report and any of the witnesses whom Democrats are interested in calling.

“The president is doing exactly the right thing,” he told POLITICO, before amplifying Trump’s recent calls for a sweeping investigation into the origins of the Mueller probe. “This narrative is going to be overtaken by the largest scandal in the history of this country, and it ain’t about Trump.”

Legal experts disagree, and many see the president’s continuous chatter as ripe material for federal prosecutors if they decided to take the monumental step of pursuing Trump after he’s out of office.

While Mueller nodded to longstanding Justice Department legal opinions that a sitting president can’t be indicted as he explained his decision not to conclude whether Trump obstructed justice, he also included a footnote near the end of his report highlighting the risks that Trump nonetheless faces in both Congress and the courts.

“A possible remedy through impeachment for abuses of power would not substitute for potential criminal liability after a President leaves office,” Mueller wrote. “Impeachment would remove a President from office, but would not address the underlying culpability of the conduct or serve the usual purposes of the criminal law.”

Essentially, legal experts say, Mueller is signaling that Trump could face criminal charges even if he was impeached.

Any prosecutors who indict Trump after he’s out of office would be working with a five-year statute of limitations on obstruction of justice cases. That means the president could only be exposed for any behavior during his first term if he doesn’t win re-election next November. But anything Trump does from here on out would keep restarting that five-year clock, meaning a second term wouldn’t make him bullet proof.

“I don’t think Trump ought to be relying on the statutes of limitations at the moment,” Jeffress said.

To bring an obstruction case against Trump after leaving office, the Justice Department would need to prove both his intent and knowledge of an existing criminal probe.

Trump is certainly aware of the various tendrils of Mueller’s criminal investigations, which have spawned numerous probes in federal offices in Washington, D.C., New York and Virginia. And as for intent, Mueller’s report lays out granular detail about much of the president’s mindset over the past two years.

“Yeah, you’d be monitoring what he’s saying and doing and what his interactions are with potential witnesses,” said a former prosecutor from the Southern District of New York, the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan that continues to examine Trump’s campaign, business and inauguration.

Mueller’s team has also already made the legal argument for using Trump’s tweets as potential evidence for obstruction of justice and witness tampering. He specifically pointed to Trump’s effort to intimidate his former attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, in a way that would prevent him from testifying on Capitol Hill earlier this year.

“No principle of law excludes public acts from the scope of obstruction statutes,” Mueller wrote.

Mueller’s prosecutors also laid out a template for the pursuit of witness tampering charges. For example, one of the charges against Stone alleges that the longtime GOP operative pressured a witness, radio host Randy Credico, to mislead lawmakers.

A House Intelligence Committee Democratic source argued that the panel is “uniquely positioned” to investigate obstruction of its own probes should the commentary continue.

“It’s clear that the White House plans to obstruct all legitimate congressional oversight, just like Trump obstructed in Mueller’s probe at every turn and witnesses previously obstructed our committee,” the source said.

Despite the risks, Trump has continued to use his preferred social media platform to blow off steam and blast his political opponents and journalists. He has tweeted dozens of times to his nearly 60 million followers his thoughts — or retweeted others’ — since the redacted Mueller report’s public release last week. The posts range from benign criticisms of the news media to encouragements to investigate members of the Obama administration.

But it’s Trump’s veiled references to McGahn — he complained on Twitter about “people that take so-called ‘notes,’” which McGahn memorably told Mueller he had done extensively — that have caught lawyers’ attention.

Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, also leveled his own direct charges at McGahn this week, telling the New York Times that he questioned the former White House counsel’s motives and memory.

“This is a cross examination a law student could perform — by the time he’s finished, you would come to the conclusion he’s hopelessly confused,” Giuliani said. “We have no choice to attack because the Democrats say there is impeachable material here.”

In a text message to POLITICO on Tuesday, Giuliani called it “ridiculous” to consider the president’s comments about the Mueller report as new evidence that could harm Trump.

“President’s tweets merely repeat and emphasize points made in report,” he wrote.

McGahn “has two or three versions of the conversation regarding Mueller,” Giuliani added. But Trump and his former personal counsel, John Dowd, “have a different but singular recollection” that runs counter to what McGahn told Mueller, he said.

Caputo, the former Trump campaign aide, brushed off the notion that Trump could face legal liability in his post-White House years.

“To the people who want to take on the president after he’s served out his term, my advice to them is pack a lunch because they’re in for the fight of their lives,” he said. “This kind of analysis is designed to intimidate lesser men and the president is unintimidatable.”

But the president’s critics welcome the Trump team’s double-down approach.

“I’m pleading with Rudy Giuliani. Please stay on television,” said Lanny Davis, the former Bill Clinton White House scandal manager who now represents Trump’s ex-lawyer, Michael Cohen.

Added Julian Epstein, a chief counsel for House Judiciary Committee Democrats during the Clinton impeachment fight, “They’re acting like a scene out of ‘America’s Dumbest Criminals.’ They just keep fueling a fire that has been the bane of their two years in the White House.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine


Mueller fails to detonate for endangered Republicans

DENVER — The Mueller report is no Access Hollywood tape.

While the 2016 bombshell sent Republicans sprinting away from then-candidate Donald Trump, special counsel Robert Mueller’s explosive findings that the president may have committed obstruction of justice is causing a far more muted reaction from Republicans.

Not even the most vulnerable Republicans who have pledged to support Trump have abandoned the president. And there is no sign any will.

“Look, it’s clear there were no merit badges earned at the White House for behavior,” said Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) in an interview downtown here. “You have to focus on the heart of this conclusion, which is there is no collusion, no cooperation. That’s where the focus ought to be and how we prepare for the next elections to protect us from Russian intrusion and interference.”

Sure, at-risk GOP lawmakers don’t love the portrayal of Trump’s repeated attempts to kill the probe into pro-Trump Russian interference in the 2016 campaign.

But beyond conceding there are some embarrassing details, Republicans don’t feel the need to create any new space between them and the president. The desire to stay in Trump’s good graces and keep his supporters appears to override any interest in using the episode to appeal to swing voters.

Democrats believe Gardner is perhaps the most endangered incumbent senator given Democrats’ sweeping wins in Colorado in 2018, Trump’s loss here in 2016 and Gardner’s own narrow victory in 2014, a GOP wave year. But Gardner is showing no signs of distress with having Trump at the top of the ticket.

In fact, he said he’d be happy to campaign alongside Trump next year as the president seeks to make the Rocky Mountain State a battleground.

“He’s going to campaign here. Every state matters, every voice should be heard. I mean look what happened when Hillary Clinton didn’t campaign,” Gardner said, explaining why supporting Trump is not a difficult call. “This is not a socialist country and that’s what [Democrats] want.”

Gardner’s position as a relatively conservative lawmaker running for reelection in Clinton Country is a unique one, but his view of the Mueller report is not.

Republican operatives working on Senate races say that if House Democrats move to impeach Trump it will activate conservative voters. And if Speaker Nancy Pelosi gets her way and Trump avoids impeachment, then the Mueller report’s effect on 2020 politics will likely be underwhelming, they argue.

Those factors are driving Republicans up for reelection to take the report seriously, but not make waves over it. Vulnerable Republicans in the House are taking a similar tack.

“This is a fair report. And I’m not going to criticize Bob Mueller for the report,” Gardner said, in a striking contrast to Trump’s attacks this week on “the worst and most corrupt political Witch Hunt.”

Fellow battleground Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) said people should be “very pissed” that the Russians interfered in the election but had little to say to a local Fox television station in Arizona about the president’s potential obstruction. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who has not endorsed Trump for reelection, said on Maine Public Radio that Trump’s orders to aides to end the Mueller report resulted merely in an “unflattering portrayal of the president.”

A spokesman for swing state Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina said Tillis believes “pursuing the path of endless investigations and impeachment would be a bitterly partisan move that would further divide the country.” And Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said she doesn’t view hearings with Mueller as necessary and only barely conceded the report paints a “brash” portrayal of the president.

“We all know how the president is,” she told reporters in the Capitol on Monday.

In 2016, it’s not clear Republicans who bailed from Trump’s campaign won any edge, and some strategists believe it cost them by deflating the GOP base. Former Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Nevada candidate Joe Heck both lost close races after abandoning Trump.

This time around, the harshest words about Mueller’s conclusions have come from newly-elected Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who was “sickened” by the report’s details. But he has the advantage of never having to run alongside Trump. Those who do could face Trump’s wrath in a primary, leaving little political upside for Republicans to focus on Mueller as they fight to keep their seats.

“Republicans should put the Mueller report behind them and move forward. They should get to work on tightening cybersecurity and election protections so they have real accomplishments to point to on protecting elections from outside interference,” said Dan Eberhart, a top GOP donor.

That’s exactly what Gardner is pledging to do — alongside calls to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terror and increase sanctions.

“What we have to move onto is to make sure we are protecting this country’s elections. We have a country (Russia) that is hell bent on the demise of the West. And we can’t stand for that,” Gardner said. “Some are going to push for impeachment and do everything they can to strike that revenge; we need to protect people in this country.”

The subtext to many of Gardner’s comments is that the president has his own view, and he has his. Even as he refuses to break with Trump over the Mueller report, Gardner said he will occasionally be at odds with the administration; he helped derail Herman Cain’s appointment to the Federal Reserve and has pushed for more muscular stances toward Russia and North Korea.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also sought to put the Mueller report behind him.

“I think the American people would like to move on from this,” the GOP leader said in Kentucky on Monday. “They’ve learned quite enough about it.”

In the House, the GOP has been even more reluctant to break ranks with Trump. Mueller’s findings hadn’t been publicly released yet before most House Republicans were gleefully declaring victory and telling Democrats that it was time to move on.

Some vulnerable House Republicans — who are back home in their districts for the Easter recess and far away from prying reporters in the Capitol — have largely avoided the post-Mueller media spotlight. Several members said they were too busy for an interview or directed POLITICO to boilerplate statements that were put out right after the report’s release.

"The less that Republicans say about the Mueller report the better it is for their re-election chances,” said Alex Conant, a former adviser for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

But other endangered Republicans have forcefully defended the president, emphasizing that Mueller determined there was no collusion with Russia.

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), who represents Long Island, said that Trump isn’t perfect, but argued that the president didn’t obstruct justice because he didn’t actually end up firing Mueller.
“Is it ideal? Donald Trump is not a saint. Nobody ever said he is,” King said in a telephone interview. “But… he never did stop the investigation.”

And centrist Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) predicted that if Democrats end up impeaching Trump, it could galvanize the GOP heading into 2020. “It’s sort of Machiavellian,” Davis said, “but it could help Republicans and the president.”

GOP senators had warned the president not to stop Mueller’s investigation, and the fact that he ultimately didn’t may have buoyed Trump from further criticism from the likes of Collins and Gardner, who are likely to need split-ticket voters to put them over the top next year.

But like the rest of the 2020 class of GOP senators, Gardner, a former National Republican Senatorial Committee chair, is going to shy away from blunt rhetorical barrages against Trump. A full-frontal attack over Mueller’s findings would upset what Gardner backers say is a delicate balance.

“Among people that are strong Trump supporters, they know that Cory is beneficial to the president,” said conservative state Sen. Paul Lundeen (R-Colo.). And “he’s capable of inviting other people into the party, people that might be from the center of the political spectrum, in a really meaningful way.”

Melanie Zanona reported from Washington. James Arkin and Marianne LeVine contributed to this report from Washington.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine