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Monday, July 23, 2018
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National Intelligence Director Dan Coats during his Thursday Apsen Institute interview with NBC's Andrea Mitchell.
National Intelligence Director Dan Coats during his Thursday Apsen Institute interview with NBC's Andrea Mitchell.
Saturday, July 21, 2018 4:32 PM

INDIANAPOLIS – A high-ranking Indiana Republican once asked me what my problem was with President Trump. My response was two-fold: He lies all the time, and this White House operations is amateurish. After this week, that assessment has changed. The White House from the Oval Office to the West Wing is “rank amateurish.”  Exhibit A occurred in Washington and Aspen on Thursday, a continuum of one of the worst-executed weeks in presidential history.

A steely West Wing would have realized Thursday afternoon that National Intelligence Director Dan Coats was speaking at the Aspen Institute, which had already been generating headlines with interviews with FBI Director Christopher Wray. 

Coats took the stage with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, who cut into the course of her questioning with Breaking News: President Trump was planning a second summit at the White House with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It wasn’t just breaking news, it was astounding news that blindsided Coats given that Trump and the White House were still cleaning up the mess from Helsinki on Monday, the walk-back on Tuesday, and the even more muddled course correction on Wednesday. 

Thursday’s full-frontal staff breakdown was that this news broke with Coats completely unaware. His reaction: "Say that again?” Followed by, “OK. That's gonna be special,” was in line with many Americans who watch this White House with a combination of amusement, bewilderment, horror and depression. It was a “say what?” moment of incredulity. Trump’s submission to Putin on the question of whether he believed Coats and his intel establishment over Russian strongman on the 2016 and 2018 election assaults, and the cock-eyed “incredible offer” from Putin on a joint U.S./Russia cyber probe, generated widespread speculation of astounding proportion: Was Trump in Putin’s pocket? The word “treason” broke into a vastly wider dialogue and lexicon.

The Washington Post  quoted a senior White House aide as complaining that Coats had “gone rogue.” Politico  reported “further angst” about Coats in Trump’s inner circle. Another described it as a Trumpian “meltdown.” But if anyone or any entity had “gone rogue,” it was President Trump himself and his shoddy staff.
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    INDIANAPOLIS –  It’s about time. 

    On July 11, the U.S. Senate Committee on Social Security, Pensions and Family Policy held a landmark hearing on paid family leave. This hearing was long overdue and extremely critical to working families’ health and economic security. The U.S. is one of the only developed countries that does not offer some form of paid leave for family caregiving or serious illness, and just 15% of working people in the U.S. have paid family leave through their employer. Here in Indiana, only 37% of working people have access to and can afford the unpaid leave provided under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.  This means that nearly one in four women in the United States return to their cubicles, factory floors, or storefronts within two weeks of giving birth. It means that seriously ill children are left alone in hospital beds while their parents feel compelled to remain at their desks or cash registers.
    MARTINSVILLE – Hyper headlines about trade, tariffs, and treaties are really nothing new, and neither are the terrified commentaries about what is going to happen to the U.S. economy. The history of trade debate is part of our country’s crazy quilt of political shifts and turns in policy. Just a quick look at history can calm us and provide a better context for the current trade debate.  Today’s low U.S. tariff levels are the product of a (mostly) bipartisan consensus in favor of progressively freer trade that dates back to the post-World War II era. But that consensus was emphatically not the case for the first 150 years or so of the nation’s history: Tariff policy was the subject of fierce disagreement between Republicans (and earlier, Whigs) who favored high rates to protect American industries from foreign competition, and Democrats who by and large argued that any tariffs higher than necessary to fund the federal government unfairly taxed the many to benefit the few. To be clear, we have learned lessons from the Smoot-Hawley tariffs. I do not suggest we should repeat that experience.  
    INDIANAPOLIS – The United States can withstand almost any mean-spirited or just plain bad domestic policy in the near term, but foreign policy is another matter entirely. It is no understatement to claim that stakes are extraordinarily high. Hoosier steelworkers get it. Hoosier farmers get it.  Hoosier moms get it, and Hoosier teenagers get it too.  Whether people care about trade, their paycheck, military conflict, or other violence in the broader world, tension is again ratcheting up all over. While we may not agree who they are, we likely will agree that we are living in a world suddenly full of James Bond villains.  What our president says truly matters; there are no throw-away comments by the leader of the free world. The world is always listening – friends, enemies and frenemies too, whether for reasons of economic competition or balance of power.  The past week was remarkable for many reasons that directly relate to our standing in the world, but one comment continues to trouble me. It reveals that we are not attending to either history or the parameters of our present strategic alliances.  President Trump declared that he found that the European Union “is a foe, what they do to us in trade. Now you wouldn’t think of the European Union but they’re a foe.”
    INDIANAPOLIS  – What did President Trump and Russian President Putin talk about for two hours and 10 minutes when they were alone at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki Monday while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Ambassador Jon Huntsman, National Security Advisor John Bolton, and Chief of Staff John Kelly nervously waited outside? It’s something we may never know. Or, perhaps, we will in snippets as Putin sees fit. Asked whether the Russians recorded the Trump/Putin meeting sans aides (but, perhaps with a mic in Putin’s cufflinks), former CIA Director John O. Brennan said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, “In some manner, yes.” Did the Americans? “I have no idea,” Brennan responded. “I think whatever Mr. Trump said in that meeting with Mr. Putin is now memorialized on Russian tape and it will be used when necessary by Mr. Putin against Mr. Trump. I am sure he was told that. Whether he accepts what he is told by the men of the CIA and intelligence community, I don’t know.”
    KOKOMO – After studying politics and politicians for the entirety of my adult life, I’ve noticed the propensity of our elected leaders to want it both ways. This can be seen across a variety of issues.  Sen. Max Deerjaw has grown adept at arguing for the sanctity of life when it comes to the issue of abortion, but he can launch an equally lucid rationalization for the death penalty. Rep. Tad Earwax hops on the stump and attacks the inherent evil of property tax increases and in the next breath can advocate jacking up the gas tax. No, turning and twisting facts, statistics and emotions to get the response you want from the voting public is nothing out of the ordinary when it comes to politicians of both political parties in Indiana. I guess it should come as no surprise that Attorney General Curtis Hill should make the attempt to eat off of both sides of the plate when it comes to his disastrous problem with the sexual assault allegations. Hill’s initial claims of being denied due process and an opportunity to tell his side of the story made him somewhat of a sympathetic figure to many people. 
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  • Atomic! Trump blindsides Coats; Twitter teeter; 14% kids reunited
    By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Indianapolis
    1. Dan Coats and ‘He said what?’Here are your final power lunch talking points for the week: Was Dan Coats’ 2016 quote to the NWI Times’  Doug Ross – “I wake up every morning and the first question I ask is, ‘What did he say last night?’ – that featured in Thursday’s Howey Politics Indiana’s  lead story still ringing in your ears? Because that was just the preface to the astounding and bizarre events  Thursday. There was National Intelligence Director Coats doing an interview with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, who informed him that President Trump was planning a Washington summit with Russian President Putin this fall. "Say that again?” Coats asked, then after a pause, “OK. That's gonna be special.” Coats told Mitchell that he starts his mornings by asking his staff, “Tell me the bad things that happened  since I fell asleep."
  • HPI Interview: Lugar says compromised Trump 'conceivable'

    INDIANAPOLIS – Former Senate Foreign Relations chairman Richard Lugar said in an Howey Politics Indiana Interview that it’s “conceivable” President Trump has been compromised by the Russians, wants National Intelligence Director Dan Coats to “stay where he is” and believes the tariffs are a “disaster.” Lugar’s comments come in the wake of President Trump’s controversial summits with the NATO allies, Great Britain and Russian President Putin over the past week. HPI conducted this interview around 3 p.m. Tuesday, just as President Trump appeared to be walking back some of the comments he made during his press conference with Putin on Monday. Our first question was whether Trump was “fit” for office. Lugar also touched on Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, saying a war on the peninsula would be a “humanitarian disaster.” Lugar represented Indiana the U.S. Senate for 36 years before he was defeated in the 2012 Republican primary. Since then he has headed the Lugar Center, which advocates bipartisanship.

  • HPI Analysis: Coats at center of Trump's maelstrom

    INDIANAPOLIS – The evolution of Dan Coats from a senator preparing to ease into retirement after a career in Washington and Berlin to that of a critical underpinning for President Trump’s intelligence team was a gradual one, coming over a two-year period. Coats was originally for Sen. Marco Rubio in the 2016 presidential race. He watched the Trump phenomenon sweep across Mike Pence’s amber waves of Indiana grain and hand-delivered a letter of concern from his wife, Republican National Committeewoman Marsha Coats, to the newly minted nominee at a Fort Wayne event. He became a critical confidante to Pence as the Indiana governor joined the Trump team with a spot on the national ticket. The evolution could be fitful, particularly during the pre-nomination era, with Coats confiding to NWI Times columnist Doug Ross, “I wake up every morning and the first question I ask is, ‘What did he say last night?’”
  • Coats gives Indiana GOP delegation cover on Trump

    WASHINGTON – When Donald Trump was elected president, Republicans in the Indiana congressional delegation who had doubts about him were likely comforted by the fact that a well-known Hoosier politician would play a prominent role in the administration and might be a source of stability during storms the volatile chief executive might cause. A former Hoosier political figure has indeed provided shelter for the Indiana GOP – but it’s not the one they were expecting. While Vice President Mike Pence has loyally bobbed up and down with Trump during the tempest following Trump’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, it’s Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats who has been the rock to which the Indiana GOP has clung. Thanks to Coats risking his job by pushing back when Trump took Putin’s side regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election, Indiana Republicans could also stand against Russia without having to criticize Trump. It’s an option that Pence didn’t give them.
  • Horse Race: Dem CD candidates find money traction

    INDIANAPOLIS – Democratic challengers in two potential competitive Indiana congressional races and one outlier continue to post impressive FEC totals. Ninth CD nominee Liz Watson reported $501,065. Watson has raised $1,072,696 for the cycle and reported an ending balance of $471,347. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth raised $228,942 for the second quarter and $1,150,272 for the cycle, and had $608,575 cash on hand. The 9th CD has a +13 Republican on the Cook Partisan Index. HPI Horse Race Status: Likely Hollingsworth.
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  • Hoosiers rally around Coleman family
    “Janet and I are stunned and heartsick over the Missouri duck boat tragedy. To lose so many loved ones in an instant is horrifying. I ask my fellow Hoosiers to join me in offering prayers and condolences.” - Gov. Eric Holcomb, reacting to the news that nine members of the Coleman family of Indianapolis were among 17 killed in a duckboat accident near Branson, Mo., on Thursday. U.S. Rep. André Carson said on Twitter, “My heart breaks and my prayers go out to the all the families who lost loved ones in the boat accident near Branson this week. An awful tragedy.” And U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks added, “The unexpected and tragic loss of members of the Coleman family from Indianapolis is heartbreaking. Their loved-ones are in my prayers, as well as all who were killed or injured during the devastating duck boat accident in Branson, Missouri.”
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  • Time for Trump and Putin to cut a deal
    Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov wants Maria Butina back in Moscow, saying the federal charges against her for illegally lobbying the NRA, U.S. Treasury and CPAC as an unregistered foreign agent are “fabricated.”

    With President Trump and President Putin getting along so swimmingly, and with both having a penchant for the “art of the deal” (Putin tends to use tanks in his artful deals) perhaps one is in order here. We send Butina back to Moscow. In exchange, Putin puts former CIA/NSA employee Edward Snowden on a jet to Washington. On June 21, 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice unsealed charges against Snowden of two counts of violating the Espionage Act of 1917 and theft of government property. Snowden lives in Russia, where the Moscow girls make him sing and shout, on temporary asylum. 

    So let’s make a deal! Perhaps Vlad can bring Snowden along with him to the White House in October. He could then party down with the sexy Butina on the way back to Sheremetyevo. -
    Brian A. Howey, publisher.
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