• Atomic! What did Trump, Putin discuss alone? IN, Kremlin reaction
    By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Indianapolis

    1. What did Trump and Putin talk about alone?

    Here are your Tuesday power lunch talking points: The second news cycle topic after Monday’s jaw-dropping summit between Presidents Trump andPutin is what did they talk about for two hours and 10 minutes when they were alone? 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 (perhaps via Putin’s cufflinks), former CIA DirectorJohn 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.”

    Brennan observed, “Putin is a skilled and trained KGB officer, a master manipulator  who has decades of experience. Mr. Trump is way, way out of his depth when he goes one on one with Mr. Putin. U.S. intelligence capabilities are exceptionally precious but also exceptionally delicate. I don’t know if Mr. Trump said anything in that meeting that could have compromised or impacted those capabilities. I still don’t know why he didn’t trust  a John Bolton, a Mike Pompeo or a John Kelly to be in that meeting and to hear what he said, what Mr. Putin said.” 

    Putin was asked by AP’s Jonathan Lemire if he wanted Trump to win in 2016. "Yes, I did. Yes, I did,” Putin responded. “Because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal.” Asked if he had compromising information  on President Trump or his family, Putin sidestepped, saying, “Yeah, I did hear these rumors that we allegedly collected compromising material on Mr. Trump when he was visiting Moscow. Please disregard these issues and don't think about this anymore again.” Note: He didn’t confirm or deny. Putin smirked.

    2. Coats, Pence and Buttigieg weigh in

    National Intelligence Director Dan Coats reacted to President Trump’s siding with President Putin over U.S. intelligence assessments that the Kremlin assaulted the 2016 presidential election by releasing a statement reiterating what he warned of the “blinking warning lights” last Friday. Coats said, “We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling  in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security.” Vice President Pence tweeted: “Our @POTUS is now on his way home from a historic trip to Europe. And the truth is, over the last week, the world saw once again that President Trump stands without apology as the leader of the free world.” In a speech, Pence saluted Trump for his “deeply productive” dialogue and his use of “diplomacy and engagement,” adding, “Disagreements between our countries were discussed at length, but what the world saw, what the American people saw, is that President Donald Trump will always put the prosperity and security of America first.” South Bend Mayor Peter Buttigieg, a potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, called on Trump to resign, saying, “Today, friends of mine are risking their lives to serve the U.S. intelligence community, as I once did. For the U.S. president to say they are no more credible than the hostile foreign dictator standing next to him is a national security disaster. He must resign.” 

    3. Indiana delegation backs Coats

    The Indiana delegation largely supported Director Coats, but there was little specifically aimed at President TrumpU.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly said Trump “embraced Putin and abandoned our nation’s intelligence community.” U.S. Sen. Todd Young said, “Moscow invades and bullies its neighbors, disregards its treaty obligations, seeks to divide NATO, and props up the murderous Assad regime. To protect America’s national security interests, stand up for democratic values, and deter additional aggression by Putin, we must deal with Moscow from a position of strength and unity. I have no reason to doubt the clear conclusions of the intelligence community when it comes to Moscow’s attempts to undermine our democracy.” U.S. Rep. Jim Banks: “We need to hold Russia accountable for its aggression  and make it clear that America will protect our democratic institutions.” U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski: "Russia is not our ally, and Vladimir Putin is not our friend. As DNI Dan Coats reaffirmed this week, it is undeniable Russia interfered in our election and seeks to undermine our democracy." U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks: "I believe Russia, under Vladimir Putin's leadership, sought to sow confusion and undermine Americans' faith in our government and electoral process  with the further goal of tearing our country apart.” U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon: “I have extreme confidence in our intelligence agencies and the leadership of fellow Hoosier and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. It is absolutely critical that we protect our democracy and the citizens of the United States in the face of Russian aggression." And U.S. Rep. André Carson Tweeted, "Today's summit between President Trump & Putin was shocking. @realDonaldTrump refused to condemn Russian interference, instead blaming American victims.”

    4. Kremlin giddy

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the summit “Magnificent... Better than super.” The summit was “everything the Kremlin realistically could have hoped for,” said Mark Galeotti, a Russia scholar at the Institute of International Relations Prague. “Putin gets to look like the urbane grown-up, and presents Russia as peer power to USA.” But Russian GDP is half the size of California, ranks 30th in trade with the U.S. and the nation is in steep demographic decline. Putin is a kleptocrat, with his net worth estimated to be $200 billion, according to Bill Browder, the CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, once Russia’s top foreign investor.

    5. Hoosier gains and losses

    The Indiana Commission for Higher Education announced that 38.5% of Hoosier college students are graduating on time, up 13.9% over five years ago and 4% from a year ago. Indianapolis will host its ninth Men’s Final Four in 2026, the NCAA announced on Monday. The FCC is blocking the sale of Tribune Company TV stations to Sinclair, including Fox59 and CBS4 in the Indy market. And embattled Papa John’s barred ex-CEO and Jeffersonville native John Schnatter from its corporate HQ in Louisville on Monday. He is also being erased as the company’s icon.

    Thanks for reading folks, in these interesting times. It’s The Atomic!
  • Atomic: Trump sides with Putin over U.S. intel; Dems raise big bucks
    By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Indianapolis

    1. Trump believes Putin over U.S. intel, Coats

    Here are your Monday power lunch talking points: In his press conference with Russian President Putin, President Trump called the probe of Special Counsel Robert Mueller “ridiculous,” adding, “the probe has been a disaster for the country. There was no collusion and everybody knows it. There was no collusion. I didn’t know the president. There was no one to collude with.” Trump said he “spent a great deal of time talking about the election and President Putin may very well want to address it. He feels very strongly about it and he has an interesting idea." Putin proposed a bilateral U.S. Russian cyber security commission, which would essentially end the independent Mueller investigation. Putin explained, “You can trust no one. Where did you get this idea President Trump trusts me or I trust him? We should be guided by facts. Can you cite a single fact for collusion?”

    Asked by the AP’s  Jon Lemire if Trump believed U.S. intelligence services or Putin, Trump offered two thoughts: "All I can do is ask the question. My people came to me, Dan Coats and others, they said they think it's Russia. I have Putin, he just said it's not Russia. I will say this, I don't see any reason why it would be. I have great confidence in my intelligence people. But I will tell you President Putin was extremely strong in his denial.”

    This came three days after Mueller indicted 12 senior Russian GRU intelligence officials for assaulting U.S. political campaigns, the Democratic National Committee, and state election sites. Former CIA Director John Brennan: “Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanors.’ It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???” U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham called joint cyber commission "pretty close" to "the dumbest idea I've ever heard." U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio said partnering with Putin on cyber security unit "is akin to partnering with Assad on a chemical weapons unit.” Trump was asked if he requested the extradition of the officers, and he deferred to Putin. That’s when Putin suggested the bilateral commission.

    2. Coats says ‘warning lights’ blinking

    Friday’s head-spinning events had Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein dropping 12 indictments of senior Russian GRU intelligence officials. It takes the notion of Russian “election meddling” into the scope of a hostile military establishment attacking American political and election systems. National Intelligence Director Dan Coats told a Hudson Institute event on Friday that “warning lights” with Russia are “blinking again,” comparing the attacks to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks by al-Qaeda. Coats then overtly warned Putin: “If your goal is to strengthen Russia at the cost to us … we’re not going to get anywhere. President Putin, the decision is up to you. We know you run the shop. We know you’re making the decisions. But if you want to stay in this tit-for-tat, we’re going to beat you.” And former House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers, the Michigan Republican, tweeted, “Russia: Waged continuous & increasingly aggressive cyberattacks against us; interfered in our 2016 elections; annexed Crimea; shot down a civilian airliner; supports Assad in Syria; invaded our ally Georgia; murdered opponents in London. Should I continue?”

    3. Dem challengers raising big bucks

    Second quarter FEC reports are posting and Democratic challengers are finding real financial traction. Democratic 9th CD nominee Liz Watson, who will report $501,065 (compared to U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth who reported $228,942; 2nd CD Dem Mel Hall reported $611,240, compared to $418,264 for U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski; and 3rd CD Democrat Courtney Tritch who posted $168,786, compared to $165,849 for U.S. Rep. Jim Banks

    4. Hill complains about special prosecutor

    A week ago Attorney General Curtis Hill called for Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry to conduct an independent investigation – “where my constitutional rights are respected and protected” – into allegations he groped four women at a sine die party on March 15. Instead, Curry appointed a special prosecutor. But Hill’s legal team of James Voyles and Jennifer Lukemeyer have changed their tune, saying in court filings, "(The) appointment of a special prosecutor is premature and/or anticipatory, and does nothing more than create the impression and fuel the speculation that there was a crime committed or should be a criminal investigation.” The NWI Times  Dan Carden also reported that Hill is using campaign funds for online ads proclaiming his innocence and calling into question his four accusers. 

    5. House Dems call for Hill impeachment

    The small House Democratic caucus doesn’t have much clout, but three members raised the call for Attorney General Hill’s impeachment over the weekend, vowing to write a resolution to that point. State Reps. Ed DeLaney, Ryan Dvorak, and Matt Pierce called on House Speaker Brian Bosma to exercise its power to impeach Hill, pursuant to Article 6, Section 7, of the Indiana Constitution.

    Thanks for reading, folks. It’s The Atomic!
  • Donnelly calls for Putin summit to be canceled; Coats warns

    NASHVILLE, Ind. - On a head-spinning Friday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 12 senior Russian military intelligence officials for hacking the U.S. election. In the indictments announced by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is the fact that on that on July 27, 2016, these Russians made their first attempt to “spearfish” the Democratic National Committee’s computers. 

    That was the same day that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said in Miami, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

    Did Trump knowingly send a signal to the Kremlin to intervene on his behalf? At this point that is merely speculation. But with Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin scheduled to meet in a one-on-one summit in Helsinki on Monday, with only translators present, the indictments have opened a new chapter in what appears to be a systemic case that the Kremlin interfered in the U.S. presidential election. The 28-page indictment said that two of the 12 Russian intel officers conspired to "to hack into the computers of U.S. persons and entities responsible for the administration of 2016 U.S. elections, such as state boards of elections, secretaries of state, and U.S. companies that supplied software and other technology related to the administration of U.S. elections." Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson said that Indiana’s election system was not permeated or compromised.

    It prompted U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly to call for Trump to scuttle the summit. “The indictment against 12 Russian intelligence officials for interfering with the 2016 election is just the latest evidence of Russia’s deliberate efforts to disrupt our democracy,” Donnelly said Saturday. “I hope President Trump will cancel his meeting with President Putin and in doing so, make clear that efforts to undermine our elections, attack critical U.S. infrastructure, and act as a destabilizing force abroad will not be tolerated.”

    Donnelly wasn’t the only Hoosier to draw pause over the bizarre sequence of events. National Intelligence Director Dan Coats told a Hudson Institute event on Friday that “warning lights” with Russia are “blinking again.”

    “The Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, in coordination with international partners, have detected Russian government actors targeting government and businesses in the energy, nuclear, water, aviation and critical manufacturing sectors,” Coats, a former Indiana senator, warned. “Here we are nearly two decades later (after Sept. 11, 2011) and I’m here to say the warning lights are blinking red again. These actions are persistent. They’re pervasive and they are meant to undermine America’s democracy on a daily basis, regardless of whether it is election time or not. If your goal is to strengthen Russia in the proper way, we can cooperate with you.”

    Coats that overtly warned Putin: “If your goal is to strengthen Russia at the cost to us … we’re not going to get anywhere. President Putin, the decision is up to you. We know you run the shop. We know you’re making the decisions. But if you want to stay in this tit-for-tat, we’re going to beat you.” 

    President Trump knew about the pending indictments, briefed by Rosenstein before he left for his riotous trip to Europe. But there he was in Britain on Friday just hours after insulting Prime Minister Theresa May, insisting he will still meet one-on-one with Russian President Putin on Monday. 

    “I think we would have a chance to have a very good relationship with Russia and a very good relationship with Putin” were it not for Mueller’s “rigged witch hunt,” Trump said. 

    It’s a “witch hunt” that has resulted in the indictments or guilty pleas of 32 people, three Russian companies and three former Trump campaign aides, including former campaign manager Paul Manafort and former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

    So Friday, and July 27, 2016, are milepost dates in this bizarre saga, one where we have no idea at this point where it will lead. The timing of the indictments came as Trump was having tea with the Queen, and three days before his unprecedented summit with Putin, which is going to give us sensational optics and fascinating b-roll and, perhaps, yet another unprecedented chapter in the era of Trump.
  • Atomic! Trump's Hyde & Jekyll; Putin smirking; Hill's account
    By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Indianapolis

    1. Channeling Trump’s Hyde and Jekyll

    Here are your Friday the 13th power lunch (or tea with the Queen) talking points: Imagine a British PM at a White House state dinner saying, “You donkey bottom batter. I don't want to talk to you no more, you empty-headed animal food-trough wiper! I fart in your general direction! Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!” Monty Python aside, that’s essentially what President Trump did to the closest U.S. ally’s leader, British PM Theresa May, coming at an ultra sensitive time  for her as her government teeters and cracks.

    Trump showed up to the dinner six minutes late, praised rival Boris Johnson who just bolted May’s cabinet, and accused the mayor of London of being weak on terrorism. Then in the middle of a state dinner, the Sun  interview began tweeting out, creating a utter breach of protocol. May ignored Trump’s advice on Brexit, saying, “I actually told Theresa May how to do it, but she didn’t agree, didn’t listen to me.” He suggested Brexit would kill a trade deal with the U.S. As for Johnson, the Trump Factor was this: “I have a lot of respect for Boris. He obviously likes me and says very good things about me. I was very saddened to see he was leaving government, and I hope he goes back in at some point.” Yikes!

    Trump’s evil Edward Hyde miraculously turned into Dr. Henry Jekyll during a joint presser with May this morning, just hours before he was to have tea with Queen Elizabeth. Trump said May is doing a “terrific job; she’s a total professional” and added, “We want to trade with the U.K., and the U.K. wants to trade with us.” Meanwhile hundreds of thousands have jammed the streets of London, protesting the American president.

    2. Putin smirking

    This is before President Trump will meet with Russian President Putin Monday in Helsinki, which he described in Brussels as “just a loose meeting.” This summit has “disaster” written all over it. It will provide fascinating B-roll for the coming Mueller report. The New Yorker’sSusan Glasser gives a preview: “Expect more whiplash when Trump arrives in Helsinki for the Putin meeting, a potential debacle very much of the president’s own making. Is the purpose to discuss arms control? Syria? Ukraine? To rehash the 2016 election? Remarkably, it’s not clear, and that in and of itself marks this as a most unusual summit. One preparatory trip, no formal agenda, and no ‘deliverables’ is not normal for a summit between the heads of the world’s two biggest nuclear-armed nations. Washington usually spends months, or even years, working up to a meeting between the president and the leader of Russia. But not this time.” Trump said at this morning's presser he would bring up Syria, Ukraine and election meddling. Trump friends and allies are bracing for the worst. “There’s no stopping him,” a senior administration official told Glasser in June. “He wants to have a meeting with Putin, so he’s going to have a meeting with Putin.” Putin today is victorious, emboldened and smirking.

    3. Hill blasts DaSilva

    Embattled Attorney General Curtis Hill took aim at “Employee A,” Senate aide Niki DaSilva, who accused him of groping at the March 15 sine die bash. Hill used his state flacks, website and twitter to bash DaSilva: “The various stories appear to be coordinated and changed under the direction of others." IBJ’s Hayleigh Colombo: “Hard to see how the questions about Curtis Hill die down after today. Very important now to know how state’s top law enforcement official is using taxpayer/state resources to try to defend his own reputation and, in the process, malign alleged victims.” FOX59’s Dan Spehler: “Governor's office tells me they have "disabled the automation" process that led to the controversy over this press release from AG's office being tweeted out by official Indiana government account.” Republican Columbia City Mayor Ryan Daniel reacts: “Resign Already…” HPI Heads Up:Expect more GOP senators to join the call for Hill to resign.

    4. Indy an Amazon HQ2 finalist?

    We have several sources who tell us Indianapolis is still in the running for Amazon’s HQ2, perhaps in the top three finalists. The other sites we hear still in the running are Denver and Northern Virginia. Indy has the best site (GM stamping plant downtown), the most affordable housing, the nation’s best airport, one of the best business climates, and a great network of research universities. NoVA and Denver have high housing costs and, can you say traffic gridlock in the D.C. area? Amazon, come to Indy. It’s all about location, location, location and great people.

    5. State has $1.8B in reserves

    Auditor Tera Klutz reported a $1.785 billion reserve, or 11.3% of General Fund expenditures in her Fiscal Closeout Report. Gov. Eric Holcomb said, "Once again, Indiana is ending the fiscal year in a solid position  with strong June revenue, healthy reserves and a growing economy. This is a tremendous achievement in light of serious needs in our Department of Child Services.” That was in reference to $25 million he ordered to address the DCS problems outlined in a June report.

    Have a great weekend, folks. Keep cool. It’s The Atomic!
  • Atomic! Braun posts $2.5M; Trump NATO threat; soy free fall
    By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Indianapolis

    1. Braun posts $2.5M for Q2

    Here are your Thursday power lunch talking points: Money continues to spill into the INSen race. Republican nominee Mike Braun posted $2.5M with more than $1M cash on hand. The campaign says it raised $1.5M since the Jasper businessman’s primary romp over U.S. Reps. Luke Messer andTodd Rokita. The campaign notes that the totals are “without personal contributions or loans.”  Leading into the primary, Braun pumped more than $6 million of his own fortune into the race, which Howey Politics Indiana  believes will top $100 million by November, with millions of Super PAC and independent expenditures flooding in by then. Braun's report comes after a SurveyMonkey Poll showed him leading Sen. Joe Donnelly 49-47%.

    Braun said, “We've had such an incredible groundswell of support from folks who believe in me and my positive message for Hoosiers, and I’m thrilled to see that momentum reflected in what we’ve done here. One and a half million dollars in less than two months is no easy feat, and I'm honored to see our party fully unified behind retiring Senator Donnelly this November." Donnelly, who up until this point in the cycle had always been the early bird reporter, hasn’t released Q2 numbers. We couldn’t get anyone from the campaign to respond this morning. Stay tuned.

    2. Trump threatens NATO pullout

    President Trump thrust NATO leaders into what was described as an “emergency meeting”  after he threatened a U.S. pullout of the alliance it created after World War II as a hedge against the Josef Stalin and the Soviet Union. Both the Washington Post  and NBC  reported the threat. When Trump was asked at a news conference this morning if he had threatened to pull out of NATO and if he could do so without Congress’ approval, he replied, “I think I probably can, but that’s unnecessary and the people have stepped up today like they’ve never stepped up before.” Trump also said the leaders agreed to up spending to 4% of GDP, the French President Macron said there was no such agreement, and CNN’s  Christiane Amanpour tried to get NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg to confirm the 4% but couldn’t get a yes or no answer.

    3. Prelude to Putin meeting

    The NATO threats and turmoil is a prelude to his meeting with Russian President Putin next Monday in Helsinki. The fact that President Trump is meeting Putin mano-y-mano is unnerving allies and leaving Trump open to speculation  that he is either: 1. an authoritarian wannabe; or 2. a Putin asset now embedded in the White House. Asked about Putin this morning in Brussels, Trump said, “Well he’s a competitor. He’s been very nice to me  the times that I met him. I’ve been nice to him. He’s a competitor. Somebody was saying is he an enemy? No, he’s not my enemy. Is he a friend? No, I don’t know him well enough. But the couple of times that I’ve gotten to meet him, we got along very well.” Asked if he would recognize the annexed Crimea as part of Russia, Trump said, “Well that's an interesting question because long before I got here, President Obama allowed that to happen. Would I have allowed it to happen? No. I would not have allowed it to happen. What will happen with Crimea from this point on, that I can't tell you, but I'm not happy about Crimea.”

    4. Soybean prices hit 10-year low

    Soybean prices sagged to a 10-year low, sliding to $8.55 a bushel, a 13% decline since January. Most of the decline occurred since President Trumpset in motion a 25% tariff on $34 billion of Chinese goods, prompting a retaliation and a Chinese shift to Brazilian imports. Some believe crop insurance will mitigate the damage to farmers, but Hoosier Ag Today’s  Gary Truitt, reports: “Farmers can expect little help from crop insurance or from the government safety net.” Truitt quotes Purdue economist Chris Hurt: "It looks like at 90%, coverage on corn with average yields crop insurance would begin to protect below $3.60 December futures. But that would only be for those who had extremely high levels of coverage." As for soybeans, which have seen prices fall over $1.50 a bushel in the past few weeks, Hurt says, "At $10.16 futures with 85% coverage, protection would start at $8.65 with normal yields."

    5. Pence reassures Iowa farmers

    Vice President Pence, a former free-trader, was in Iowa Wednesday, trying to reassure anxious farmers there. "When it comes to agriculture, I just want to assure all my friends here in Iowa and all across the region: Under President Trump’s leadership, we’re always going to stand with American farmers," Pence said in Cedar Rapids. Pence promised President Trump will continue to "drive forward in a way that puts American farmers first and develop new deals that work for them … in the long term." Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley said he’s been peppered with tariff question at 10 recent meetings with farmers. “They … know that if the president doesn’t get a better deal for the United States and his brinkmanship takes us over the brink, then it’s going to be catastrophic." Grassley said that if farmers lose money, they will "probably blame the president for it."

    Thanks for reading, folks. We appreciate your faith in our reporting. It’s The Atomic!
  • Atomic! Trump NATO carnage; AG Hill probe; Braun up 2%
    By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Indianapolis

    1. Trump wrecking ball at NATO

    Here are your hump day power lunch talking points: President Trump unleashed his wrecking ball on NATO this morning, claiming in an unprecedented and blistering attack  that Germany is “totally controlled by Russia.” At the opening NATO breakfast, Trump lashed out at NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, saying, “Germany, as far as I’m concerned, is captive to Russia  because it’s getting so much of its energy from Russia. We have to talk about the billions and billions of dollars that’s being paid to the country we’re supposed to be protecting you against,” Trump said, referring to European purchases of Russian natural gas. German Chancellor Angela Merkel responded: “I’ve experienced myself a part of Germany controlled by the Soviet Union, and I’m very happy today that we are united in freedom as the Federal Republic of Germany and can thus say that we can determine our own policies and make our own decisions and that’s very good.”

    If there are questions about who is “controlled by Russia,” reporter Jonathan Chait writes a chilling New York Magazine article as a preface to President Trump's insistence on meeting Russian President Putin alone next Monday in Helsinki. You can read the article, "Will Trump Be Meeting with His Counterpart – or His Handler: A plausible Theory of Mind-boggling Collusion.” It's a potential preview to the Mueller probe conclusions. Former U.S. Russian Ambassador Michael McFaul relates a Pentagon meeting a year ago in which Defense Sec. Jim Mattis and then Sec. of State Rex Tillerson gave President Trump an hour-long presentation on how important the NATO alliance is. Trump was silent for the hour, and at the conclusion said, "That's exactly what I don't want.”  That’s when Tillerson reportedly called him a “f—ing moron.” BTW, the U.S. Senate voted 97-2 reaffirming the U.S. commitment to NATO

    2. A criminal probe of AG Hill as Braun bolts

    Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry said he will appoint a special prosecutor to investigate sexual harassment claims against Attorney General Curtis Hill, as he requested on Monday. Curry said the special prosecutor will “confer” with Inspector General Lori Torres to make the "ultimate determination if criminal charges are warranted.” Gov. Eric Holcomb asked Torres to investigate last week. Hill told the media he was with GOP operative and lobbyist Tony Samuel the night of March 15 at AJ’s Lounge. Asked for comment, Samuel told HPI  on Tuesday, "I have been advised by attorneys to wait and talk to investigators, not media at this time." During the reading of his statement on Monday, Hill complained that the op-ed article by State Rep. Mara Candeleria Reardon was flawed, saying he had arrived at “AJ’s Lounge alone when in fact I was a guest and arrived with Tony Samuel.” Republican Senate nominee Mike Braun, who was seen seated next to Hill at a June 8 marriage platform plank event at the GOP convention in Evansville, called for Hill to resign, citing the ”troubling and serious" allegations, which he said was "outrageous conduct." And U.S. Sen. Todd Youngcalled for a “criminal investigation” on Hill.

    3. Braun up 2% over Donnelly

    A new Survey Monkey/Axios Poll  shows Republican Mike Braun leading U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly 49-47%. The poll was part of a 13-seat survey of registered voters taken from June 11 to July 2. To win the Senate, Democrats need to keep all 10 seats they're defending in states that President Trump won in 2016, plus pick up two more seats. It shows Dems would lose three of those red-state seats while picking up two GOP seats – still short of the majority. 

    4. Only 38 kids reunited by deadline

    The Trump administration was ordered to reunite 102 immigrant kids under age four with their parents by Tuesday. Washington Post: “The Justice Department said that only 75 of the 102 children aged four and younger who were supposed to be returned to their parents are eligible for reunification, and that only 38 of those separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border would be turned over by Tuesday’s deadline." U.S. District Judge Dana M. Sabraw, who ordered the reunions, commented on what has become a debacle, reminding the administration that these are “firm deadlines, and not aspirational goals.” President Trump’s solution? He said Tuesday, “Don’t come to our country illegally. It’s not a good thing. Come legally.”

    5. Pence coming to Midwest, Indiana

    Vice President Mike Pence will campaign across the Midwest beginning today where President Trump’s base has been buffeted by tariffs hitting farmers and manufacturers. Trump announced $200 billion more tariffs today on China. Pence will stump in Kansas City, Cedar Rapids and Chicago for GOP congressional candidates and fire up the base.  Pence is expected to head to Indianapolis Friday for “private events” that will take him to Brown County, Greenwood and downtown Indy. Wheels up for D.C. will come on Sunday.

    Have a great hump day, folks. It’s The Atomic!
  • Horse Race: Donnelly dodges a bullet on SCOTUS nod

    INDIANAPOLIS – U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly may have dodged a bullet when President Trump passed on Notre Dame graduate Judges Amy Coney Barrett and Thomas Hardiman to nominate Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.

    But he still faces a shotgun spray as he faces one of the most controversial votes of his Senate career. A vote against Kavanaugh will leave him open to charges from Republican Mike Braun that he opposes the interests of Hoosiers. A vote for could alienate part of his Democratic base fearful the high court will rescind Roe v. Wade and the Obergfell gay marriage cases.

    Either way, the SCOTUS fight is expected to open the money spigots even further. TV ads surrounding the Kavanaugh pick began in Indiana minutes after President Trump made the decision.

    “Judge Kavanaugh has impeccable credentials,” Trump said at his reality show unveiling Tuesday. “He is considered a judge’s judge, a true thought leader among his peers. He excelled as a clerk for Justice Kennedy.”

    The pro-life Donnelly will be one of four red state Democrats under intense pressure to vote for Kavanaugh, but had the nominee been a fellow Notre Dame alum, the pressure for Donnelly would have been considerably greater. Donnelly said Tuesday night, “As I have said, part of my job as senator includes thoroughly considering judicial nominations, including to the Supreme Court. I will take the same approach as I have previously for a Supreme Court vacancy. Following the president’s announcement, I will carefully review and consider the record and qualifications of Judge Brett Kavanaugh.”

    Donnelly declined to attend the nominee’s unveiling after a Trump invite, saying he preferred a first meeting with Kavanaugh “in a setting where we can discuss his or her experience and perspectives.” Donnelly said he will review the nominee’s record and judicial decisions, telling the Seymour Tribune, “I’m going to try to get an idea of their point of view, legally, and from that, make a decision. There is a lot of different issues to look at and a potential justice will be viewed on the body of all of their work.” he said.

    Asked if it changes the complexion of the race, Donnelly responded, “I don’t think so, it’s just part of the job that I’ve been blessed to have the chance to do. l look forward to the chance to work on this.”

    During his 2006 appellate confirmation, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer asked Kavanaugh, “Do you consider Roe v. Wade to be an abomination and do you consider yourself to be a judicial nominee ... in the mold of Scalia and Thomas?” Kavanaugh responded, “Senator, on the question of Roe v. Wade, if confirmed to the D.C. Circuit, I would follow Roe v. Wade faithfully and fully. That would be binding precedent of the court. It’s been decided by the Supreme Court. ... I’m saying if I were confirmed to the D.C. Circuit, senator, I would follow it. It’s been reaffirmed many times.”

    Braun hailed the Kavanaugh selection. “President Trump has chosen another outstanding justice in Brett Kavanaugh,” Braun said. “His credentials are impeccable – he has already served with distinction as an Appellate Judge on the prestigious Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia – and he will interpret the Constitution as written rather than legislate from the bench. I am sure Senator Donnelly will eventually say that he will vote for him, because it is an election year. But I can immediately say without hesitation that I would support this nomination and I hope the Senate moves quickly to confirm the President’s choice.”

    Some tried to dissaude Trump on Kavanaugh, but ultimately he brushed them off, saying, “He’s got the votes.” Vice President Mike Pence played an instrumental role in the selection, dining with an undecided President Trump last Friday and then noon Monday. Pence will meet with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at 11:15 this morning and will be doing local TV interviews in Indiana and in the three other key Senate race states.

    New Donnelly ad takes aim at Braun

    Donnelly’s campaign began airing a new TV ad, “Debate,” taking aim at Braun’s Meyer Industries for selling auto parts from Mexico, Taiwan and China. The ad began running Sunday through a six-figure, statewide buy. The ad uses GOP debate footage from February, with the Jasper businessman saying, “I don’t know where [my suppliers] get [their products] made.” 

    “While Joe Donnelly has fought for Hoosier jobs every step of the way in the Senate, Rep. Braun made $18 million last year alone by selling cheap foreign auto parts at the expense of Hoosier workers. He can’t fool Hoosiers by feigning ignorance on where his parts come from,” said Will Baskin-Gerwitz of Donnelly’s campaign.

    2 televised debates scheduled

    Sen. Donnelly has agreed to two televised debates with Republican Mike Braun and Libertarian Lucy Brenton in advance of the Nov. 6 election (Hermani, IndyStar). No dates have been set for the Senate debates, but the events will be hosted by the Indiana Debate Commission, a non-partisan organization which works to promote debates at the state level for voter education. Indiana voters are invited to submit questions for the debate at www.indianadebatecommission.com. Both debates will be live-streamed on the commission’s website and available nationwide via C-SPAN. Should the candidates come to an agreement closer to the election, a third debate could take place.
  • HPI Analysis: Defiant Hill in face of rare Holcomb miscue

    INDIANAPOLIS – The first 18 months of Gov. Eric Holcomb’s tenure have been a series of prudent course corrections (Section 5 of I-69, bicentennial towers and East Chicago lead), savvy expenditure of political capital on long-range policy (Next Level road funding), and adroit maneuvering on controversial topics ranging from Department of Child Services overload to the opioid pandemic.

    There were a couple of bumps in the road, most notably the marriage plank at the Indiana Republican Convention that ran counter to his and most Hoosiers level of tolerance.

    And then came the week of the Fourth of July. On July 2, the IndyStar published the sexual harassment allegations against Attorney General Curtis Hill, based on a General Assembly “investigation.” The report included interviews of anonymous victims, later including State Rep. Mara Candeleria Reardon. After the report leaked, it set in motion four days of controversy before the logjam broke on July 5.

    Holcomb returned from a Montana vacation facing at least four options: Do nothing, request an Indiana State Police investigation, one by the Inspector General Lori A. Torres, or Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry. 

    With word coming out of Evansville that Hill was using the plank fight to position for a potential 2020 primary challenge, Holcomb opted for his nuclear option. He called for Hill’s resignation, a move that was quickly coordinated with Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, House Speaker Bosma, Senate President David Long and Secretary of State Connie Lawson. He requested the IG to conduct a probe.

    “Four women had the courage to step forward to report sexual harassment by the Indiana attorney general,” Holcomb stated. “The findings of the recent legislative report are disturbing and at a minimum, show a violation of the state’s zero tolerance sexual harassment policy. I concur with Sen. Long and Speaker Bosma that Attorney General Hill should resign, and I support a thorough investigation by the state’s inspector general.”

    The result is now a huge fissure within the Indiana Republican Party, the biggest since the March/April 2015 Religious Freedom Restoration Act that politically wounded Gov. Mike Pence. 

    Hill is digging in, not only refusing to resign, but demanding that Holcomb rescind his call. “I was not afforded fairness in this investigation,” Hill said during a six-and-a-half-minute statement reading before the press without taking any questions Monday morning. “I have now been called upon to resign by the governor and others. I respect the governor. I believe him to be an honorable man, but I wish he had reached out to me regarding these accusations before rushing to judgment. Calls for my resignation came in the same breath as calls for investigation by the inspector general.”

    Hill complained, the “presumption of innocence until proven guilty has escaped my grasp. I never dreamed this could happen to me. Yet, here I stand. I stand before you a condemned man. Condemned without trial, condemned without notice, condemned without the benefit of any basic rights to ensure fairness.

    “This is America,” Hill continued. “In America, we cannot overlook the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. I was not afforded fairness in this investigation.”

    It has been decadess since a constitutional office holder had clashed so openly with a governor from his party.

    So Hoosier Republicans not only face a civil war, but the “zero tolerance” stance on sexual harassment with Attorney General Hill comes in stark contrast to President Donald J. Trump, who faces nearly a dozen documented sexual harassment allegations as well as controversy surrounding a $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels, who had sex with the married Trump. Will Gov. Holcomb appear with Trump at a rally? Or will Lt. Gov. Crouch greet him at the airport next time he lands in Indy?

    Had Holcomb opted for a state police probe, it could have been concluded by Labor Day. Criminal charges of sexual assault could have led to Indiana’s first impeachment since the 1851 constitution (and may still). A misdemeanor could still have given Holcomb the opportunity to step on the throat of a potential primary challenger.

    Instead, the whole scenario has descended into a mess.

    Hill cited “materially inaccurate” aspects of the Taft Stettinius & Hollister report produced for the General Assembly by attorney Blake J. Burgan. The memo claims that Hill reached under Reardon’s clothing and grabbed her buttocks twice. In Reardon’s op-ed, the under clothing assault isn’t obvious. In a NWI Times op-ed, Reardon explained, “As we were exchanging pleasantries, Curtis Hill leaned toward me as if he could not hear me and placed his hand on my back and slid his hand down to my buttocks and grabbed it. I said ‘back off,’ and walked away, as the staffer with me stood shocked. Later in the evening, I was standing with a group of people, and he approached the group. Hill came up behind me and put his hand on my back again and said, ‘That skin. That back.’ I recoiled away before he could touch my buttocks again.”

    Reardon reacts

    On Monday, Reardon reacted to Hill’s latest statement, saying, “When we take the oath of office, to serve the citizens of Indiana, we agree to be held to a certain standard and honor the trust the public has placed in us. Curtis Hill, through his actions has betrayed the public trust, and lied about his actions to the very citizens he serves. I will continue to cooperate with any and all investigations into this matter until such a time that Curtis Hill is held accountable for his abhorrent behavior.”

    Senate staffer Gabrielle McLemore said Hill gave her a backrub at the bar against her will. “He’s put out four statements,” McLemore told the IndyStar. “He’s had four chances now or more to tell his side of the story, but all he’s done is deny it. He hasn’t said what happened when he was at the bar.”

    Hill also says he has a material witness in Tony Samuel, a long-time GOP political operative who was vice chair of the 2016 Indiana Trump campaign and writes a column for HPI. Hill blasted the Reardon op-ed, saying he had arrived at “AJ’s Lounge alone, when in fact I was a guest and arrived with Tony Samuel.” Samuel has not issued a statement nor has he responded to a request for comment from HPI.

    “This inaccurate, confidential report has formed the basis for calls for my resignation,” Hill said. “These calls for my resignation are unwarranted and those calls should be rescinded. I anticipate and welcome the opportunity to have my side heard through a proper investigation. Therefore, I won’t take any questions today in anticipation of that opportunity.”

    Now what?

    Gov. Holcomb’s decision to quickly call for Hill’s resignation was a reaction to not only the potential for a “pink wave” in what many believe will be a Democratic mid-term year, but to align with the #Metoo movement that has swept Congress and statehouses across America, as well as newsrooms, boardrooms and movie lots. 

    Up until July 2, the #Metoo movement had missed the Indiana Statehouse.

    Now it sets up the potential for interesting optics when President Trump comes to Indiana multiple times to campaign for Republican U.S. Senate nominee Mike Braun. Holcomb missed the May Trump/Pence rally in Elkhart and on a recent stop in Indianapolis, it was Lt. Gov. Crouch who greeted the president at the airport. Does their “zero tolerance” now extend to a president who has bragged of “grabbing” women by their private parts?

    The General Assembly “investigation” has also ignited speculation that other Statehouse sexual harassment incidents have been swept under the rug. Some wonder if the story hadn’t broke, whether anyone would have known about the March 15 incidence with Hill.

    We asked Ashley Hungate of the State Personnel Department last winter: “Has the State of Indiana made any settlements, publicly disclosed or undisclosed, resolving sexual harassment claims in any of the three branches of government?” We did not get a response. The Holcomb administration, which has prided itself on transparency, has been communicating by statement since this story broke.

    The other big parlor game is who leaked the Taft memo? Some pointed the finger at Republican Chairman Kyle Hupfer, who was not available for comment on Monday. 

    But on July 4, Hupfer told HPI, “Let me be clear and unequivocal, I did not have anything to do with the Curtis Hill story getting to the media, nor did anyone at the Indiana Republican Party.”

    Hill takes a big hit

    While Attorney General Hill is now jousting with a popular governor, his political cred has taken a steep hit for even putting himself into such a compromising situation. He is married and the father of five children. Several sources close to the attorney general acknowledge he was considering a 2020 primary challenge to Holcomb, and now feels “persecuted.”

    Some of his social conservative allies, who praised him for standing up to the Holcomb/Hupfer platform changes on marriage, believe he is getting a raw deal. Curt Smith of the Indiana Family Institute said Monday, “Before Indiana’s top elected officials push to vacate the votes of 1.64 million Hoosiers, it seems only fair that due process should be provided to all. That due process provision also covers the many Hoosiers who voted to elect Curtis Hill Indiana’s attorney general, myself included.”

    Smith added: “There are at least two proven paths to appropriately address the disturbing and serious allegations against General Hill. The first path is for the women alleging he sexually assaulted them to file criminal charges.  Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry would wisely recuse himself and assign a special prosecutor.”

    “The second path is for Gov. Eric Holcomb to call the Legislature into special session for the express purpose of considering impeachment charges,” Smith said. “If impeached by the House, the Senate would then try and potentially vote to remove the attorney general from office. Both of these pathways seem prudent compared to calls for the attorney general’s resignation, given his repeated assertion of innocence and his public frustration that he has been afforded no due process nor even common courtesies by some Statehouse colleagues.”

    Whether this ends in legal charges, impeachment or absolution of guilt, Hill and the Indiana GOP are in for  stormy weather. 
  • AG Hill calls on Holcomb to rescind resignation call

    INDIANAPOLIS - Attorney General Curtis Hill made a six and a half minute statement calling on Gov. Eric Holcomb and others to rescind their calls for his resignation in the wake of sexual harassment allegations made by a legislator and three staffers.

    Hill offered an alibi, saying he went to AJ’s Lounge on March 15 with Tony Samuel, a political operative and HPI columnist. He said he was denied due process, looks forward to an independent investigation and refused to take questions.

    In essence, Hill called into question the credibility of State Rep. Mara Candeleria Reardon, D-Munster. She reacted to Hill’s statement, saying, “When we take the oath of office, to serve the citizens of Indiana, we agree to be held to a certain standard and honor the trust the public has placed in us. Curtis Hill, through his actions has betrayed the public trust, and lied about his actions to the very citizens he serves. I will continue to cooperate with any and all investigations into this matter until such a time that Curtis Hill is held accountable for his abhorrent behavior.”

    In a NWI Times op-ed on Friday, Reardon said, “He greeted me and the staffer that was with me. While I do not know him personally, we had met before. As we were exchanging pleasantries, Curtis Hill leaned toward me as if he could not hear me and placed his hand on my back and slid his hand down to my buttocks and grabbed it. I said ‘back off,’ and walked away, as the staffer with me stood shocked. Later in the evening, I was standing with a group of people, and he approached the group. Hill came up behind me and put his hand on my back again and said, “That skin. That back.” I recoiled away before he could touch my buttocks again.”

    Following reports of an investigation conducted by the Taft law firm on behalf of the General Assembly, Gov. Holcomb, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long called for Hill to resign last Thursday. Holcomb said, "Four women had the courage to step forward to report sexual harassment by the Indiana attorney general. The findings of the recent legislative report are disturbing and at a minimum, show a violation of the state’s zero tolerance sexual harassment policy. I concur with Sen. Long and Speaker Bosma that Attorney General Hill should resign, and I support a thorough investigation by the state’s inspector general.”

    In his statement, Hill complained, the “presumption of innocence until proven guilty has escaped my grasp. I never dreamed this could happen to me. Yet, here I stand. I stand before you a condemned man. Condemned without trial, condemned without notice, condemned with the benefit of any basic rights to ensure fairness.

    “This is America,” Hill continued. “In America, we cannot overlook the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. I was not afforded fairness in this investigation. I have now been called upon to resign by the governor and others. I respect the governor. I believe him to be an honorable man, but I wish he had reached out to me regarding these accusations before rushing to judgement. Calls for my resignation came in the same breath as calls for investigation by the inspector general.”

    Hill noted the “coordinated calls for my resignation occurred before any of the anonymous accusers identified themselves.” He blasted the Reardon op-ed, saying he had arrived at “AJ’s Lounge alone when in fact I was a guest and arrived with Tony Samuel.” Samuel has not issued a statement nor has he responded to a request for comment from HPI.

    “This inaccurate, confidential report has formed the basis for calls for my resignation,” Hill said. “These calls for my resignation are unwarranted and those calls should be rescinded. I anticipate and welcome the opportunity to have my side heard through a proper investigation. Therefore, I won’t take any questions today in anticipation of that opportunity.”

    Hill concluded, saying, “I look forward to the day when I can speak freely and answer questions. Now, I’m going to get back to work but before I do, I have one last thing to say. A week ago today, I had a name. I want my name back.”

    There was no immediate reaction from the Holcomb administration or Republican legislative leaders. Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, who joined the call for Hill’s resignation, said, “I am more than disappointed by the stance the Attorney General is taking. Comments during his press conference and his posturing on his own campaign website are inappropriate. I am also disturbed and angered by the tone he has taken in trying to discredit and intimidate the victims of his egregious behavior. It is unfortunate that the Attorney General has decided to remain in his seat as Indiana’s chief law enforcement officer, instead of stepping aside. 

    “Today, I reinforce my call for his resignation, and am glad that leaders and elected officials from both parties, including the governor, have joined me in this call,” Lanane added.

    Developing . . . . 
  • Atomic! Defiant Hill won't resign; IG authority questioned; Trump/Pence dinner
    By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Indianapolis

    1. Attorney General Hill defiant

    Here are your Friday power vacation talking points: The long-fused cherry bomb went off around 7 Thursday evening when within minutes, Gov. Eric Holcomb, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President David Long called for Attorney General Curtis Hill to resign over sexual harassment allegations. So within the mainstream Indiana GOP, Hill’s support collapsed. But several sources close to Hilldescribe him as “defiant” and "feeling persecuted," saying he has no intention of resigning. Hill believes the General Assembly investigation did notafford him due process, nor did Gov. Holcomb’s tweet that he would have been fired if in his employ. Due to his support of the marriage platform plank, Hill believes he has the support of social conservatives. And the Ten Point Coalition he has embraced believe he is being railroaded due to his race.

    Multiple sources close to Hill say he was pondering a 2020 Republican primary challenge  to Gov. Holcomb, who have crossed swords over CBDs, needle exchanges, and Holcomb pardoned Keith Cooper (whom Hill prosecuted in Elkhart County) hours after Hill’s General Assembly testimony that ran counter to Holcomb’s policy stance. So the governor’s political wing saw this as an opportunity to lance a boil. Gov. Holcomb called for an inspector general probe, as opposed to one conducted by the Indiana State Police, which could result in criminal charges. Either way, the facade of unity at the party convention in Evansville has crumbled in just one week. If Hill digs in, and it looks like he will, the INGOP becomes the classic house divided.

    2. Does inspector general have authority?

    Inspector General Lori Torres, a Holcomb appointee, agreed to take on the Attorney General Hill probe. “Both Republican and Democratic legislative leadership have officially requested the Inspector General to investigate the allegations of Attorney General Curtis Hill,” Torres said. “Our office will proceed with that investigation and conduct a full and fair review of the facts.” At least one legal source we’ve talked with doesn’t believe the IG has the authority to investigate the March 15 incident at AJ’s Lounge. The source told HPI, “The statute excludes legislative branch and that is origin of alleged complain and (the representative) and others' complain histories are germaine to the instant allegation. Statute authority is aimed at financial and conflict of interest, not sexual harassment nor racial discrimination.” We asked Holcomb’s office why he decided to go the I.G. route as opposed to the state police and have not gotten a response.

    3. Pence to dine with Trump as SCOTUS nod looms

    Earlier this week we speculated that Vice President Mike Pence would stay close to the cuff of President Trump during the ramp up to the U.S. Supreme Court nomination scheduled for 9 p.m. Monday, Apprentice Style. Sure enough, Mike and Karen Pence will be dining with Trump at Bedminster this evening. Multiple media accounts see Notre Dame grad/prof and 7th Circuit Judge Amy Coney Barrett as a frontrunner, along withJudges Brett M. Kavanaugh and Raymond M. Kethledge. Pence is expected to push for a nominee who is open to repealing Roe v. Wade and the Obergfell decision on gay marriage. Indiana Public Media  reports that Brian Paul, an appellate lawyer who argues cases before the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals where Barrett serves, sees Barrett as a favorite  because, "She favors the philosophy of the justice on the Supreme Court that she clerked for, Justice [Antonin] Scalia, which means she is an originalist and a textualist."

    4. Trump Shines at the #Metoo

    President Trump hired Bill Shine to be his fourth communications director. Shine was fired at Fox News  for his handling of the sexual harassment environment there. Trump doesn’t care. He has ignored sexual harassment allegations leveled against him. In Great Falls, Montana last night, hemocked the #Metoo movement  during his latest screed against U.S. Sen. Elizabeth “Pocohontas” Warren. Trump offered $1 million and said he would toss her a DNA kit, adding, “But we have to do it gently because we’re in the #MeToo generation, so we have to be very gentle.” That will play well with independent women and suburban moms  who could decide the course of the November elections.

    5. Trump and Putin feel ‘fine’

    The other eye popper from Great Falls last night was President Trump’s embrace of Russian President Putin, whom he described: "You know what? Putin's fine. He's fine. We're all fine. We're people.” NATO and European allies are mortified that Trump will pull off his bull in the China shop routine next week with allies, then hunker down with Putin one-on-one hours later in a conversation with no aides and no transcript. Make no mistake, in the Trump era the trans-Atlantic alliance is in shambles, while Trump embraces autocrats, including one who, according to National IntelligenceDirector Dan Coats, is meddling in the 2018 mid-terms as we speak.

    Thanks for reading folks. Have a great weekend. We’ll have an absolutely fascinating  weekly edition of Howey Politics Indiana  next Tuesday morning. It’s The Atomic!
  • Holcomb, Bosma, Long call for AG Hill to resign

    INDIANAPOLIS - Gov. Eric Holcomb and Republican leaders of the Indiana General Assembly have called on embattled Attorney General Curtis Hill to resign after allegations of sexual harassment surfaced on Monday.

    Holcomb joined House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President David Long in calling for Hill to step down. By the end of Thursday evening, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, and Secretary of State Connie Lawson also called for Hill to resign, signaling a collapse of his support in the Indiana Republican Party. House Minority Leader Terry Goodin also called for Hill to step down. Hill issued no response.

    Holcomb said in a statement Thursday evening, “Four women had the courage to step forward to report sexual harassment by the Indiana attorney general. The findings of the recent legislative report are disturbing and at a minimum, show a violation of the state’s zero tolerance sexual harassment policy. I concur with Sen. Long and Speaker Bosma that Attorney General Hill should resign, and I support a thorough investigation by the state’s inspector general.”

    The calls for Hill to resign come with the backdrop of GOP social conservatives who urged Hill to challenge Holcomb in the 2020 Indiana Republican primary after the governor and Republican Chairman Kyle Hupfer advocated a more inclusive marriage platform plank at the state convention in Evansville last month.

    In a joint statement issued Thursday evening, Long and Bosma said, “We believe that the women who came forward with accounts of inappropriate behavior by Attorney General Curtis Hill in the early hours of March 15, 2018, are telling the truth regardless of the Attorney General’s denial of these allegations. We do not believe that Curtis Hill, as chief law enforcement officer of the State of Indiana, can continue to perform his duties, nor should he, and we call for his immediate resignation. We have further requested that the Indiana Inspector General thoroughly investigate these allegations. Sexual harassment is unacceptable at any time, in any place. It makes no difference that these incidents did not occur in a workplace environment. Curtis Hill is not our employee; if he was, he would already have been fired. Because we cannot terminate his employment, we ask instead for him to own up to his actions, apologize publicly to the victims, and tender his resignation immediately.”

    The Republicans join Indiana Democratic Chairman John Zody and Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane in calling for Hill to step down.

    Developing . . . .
  • Atomic! Long-fused cherry bomb scandal; Hill's letter; SCOTUS nod
    By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Indianapolis

    1. A scandal like a long-fuse cherry bomb

    Here are your post-4th power Bloody Mary brunch talking points: The governor is in remote Montana, the Statehouse was still on the Fourth of July and the emerging groping scandal of Attorney General Curtis Hill simmers like a long-fuse cherry bomb. Several thoughts before more breaking news: More than half a year into the #Metoo movement, it is stunning that any elected official would have placed himself in this type of cultural crosshairs. It’s an era where many officials have conducted internal cranial searches, prepping for what could be a career-ending allegation. Sources we’ve talked with who were at AJ’s Lounge say Hill appeared to be intoxicated and one source described him as “aggressive” in approaching female after female. The behavior matches his political modus operandi. 

    Hill continued to update his reaction on Tuesday, saying he has been denied due process while refusing to resign: "I first learned about this investigation on Friday, yet I was never contacted by an investigator, met with legislators on Monday, had requested a copy of the 'confidential' report that had been provided to the media, and have been denied access to the report. Now I am being asked if I intend to resign based upon this prejudicial investigation. Let me be clear, I am not resigning my position as Attorney General." So Hill makes the case that a State Police probe would be the fairest option  for all involved.

    Many question the “investigation” conducted by the four bipartisan legislative leaders. Several of our sources wonder if this type of allegation was conducted in this secretive way, how were other cases handled? We asked Ashley Hungate of the State Personnel Department last winter: “Has the State of Indiana made any settlements, publicly disclosed or undisclosed, resolving sexual harassment claims in any of the three branches of government?” We did not get a response

    Gov. Eric Holcomb now faces the greatest transparency issue of his young governorship. It comes after a law he signed kicked in on July 1 preventing convicted sexual felons from living within a mile of the victim. The weird optics here are: Hill is the state’s attorney. How comfortable is a young, female legislative staffer going to feel approaching him on a constituent issue? Or, even getting on an elevator with him?

    Finally, in the era of President Trump, where similar groping allegations have been ignored, swatted away or deemed “fake news,” we will learn whether the standards here hew more to traditional Hoosier values  than what we’ve seen in Washington.

    2. Hupfer denies GOP behind leaked memo

    There is a faction of social conservatives in the GOP who are urging Attorney General Hill to challenge Gov. Holcomb in the 2020 primary, which would be an epic fool’s errand. Several sources say they were emboldened by the commanding marriage platform plank vote  at the state convention in Evansville last month. And in a Trumpian turn of events, they see the leaked Hill memo as an effort by the governor’s political wing to discredit Hill, who conspicuously embraced the 2014/16 plank language. Republican Chairman Kyle Hupfer told HPI Wednesday afternoon, "Let me be clear and unequivocal, I did not have anything to do with the Curtis Hill story getting to the media, nor did anyone at the Indiana Republican Party."
    3. Hill signed sexual harassment letter

    Noah Stubbs of the Evansville Courier & Press  reports that Attorney General Hill signed a letter sent by the National Association of Attorneys General to congressional leaders: "Many employers require their employees, as a condition of employment, to sign arbitration agreements mandating that sexual harassment claims be resolved through arbitration instead of judicial proceedings. Victims of such serious misconduct should not be constrained to pursue relief from decision makers who are not trained as judges, are not qualified to act as courts of law, and are not positioned toensure that such victims  are accorded both procedural and substantive due process."

    4. Barrett or Kavanaugh for SCOTUS

    The emerging consensus is that President Trump’s Monday Supreme Court nomination (though Axios says it could happen any time) is coming down to Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the DC district and Judge Amy Coney Barrett of the 7th Circuit. Some conservatives like U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are against Kavanaugh, fearing he may evolve in similar moderate fashion to out-going Justice Anthony KennedyNYT columnistFrank Bruni believes Barrett is the frontrunner: “There’s little that President Trump loves more than cementing his supporters’ adoration of him while making his foes squirm. Nominating Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court would do both. She’s not just a staunch conservative over whom Republicans and Democrats would wage a familiar fight. She’s the prompt for an all-out culture war.” Situational awareness: Vice President Mike Pence has interviewed several on the short list and will stay close to Trump between now and Monday. If Pence shows up in Bedminster where Trump will be this weekend, it will signal his hands-on approach  to what he believes is one of the most critical decisions of his career.

    5. Trump tariffs kick in

    President Trump's first tariffs kick in on Friday, aimed at $34 billion of Chinese imports. China will respond, taking aim at pork, poultry, soybeans and corn. The Los Angeles Times is the latest to report that Trump supporters are getting whacked by his economic moves, but they’re still with him: "Jimmie Coffer, a machine programmer at the nation's largest nail-making plant, voted for Donald Trump partly because he was confident he would bring manufacturing jobs back to America.” But 60 co-workers were laid off in response to tariffs and the company may layoff 200 more, including Coffer, who is still gung-ho about Trump. 'I support him 100%' ... In fact, I'd like to shake his hand. He's doing a great job."

    Stay cool, folks, relief from the humidity is on the way. It’s The Atomic!

  • HPI Analysis: Hill allegations come with GOP on brink of civil war

    NASHVILLE, Ind. – The Indiana Republican Party teeters on the brink of a cultural and political civil war. It comes as rising star Attorney General Curtis Hill finds himself enmeshed in a Trumpian case of sexual harassment that exploded into public view on the eve of the Fourth of July, with popular Gov. Eric Holcomb weighing a response that could impact both of their careers.

    It comes after the Republican social conservative wing batted away by a commanding voice vote a move by the Holcomb wing of the party to change the platform stance on marriage at the state convention in Evansville last month, opting for 2014 and 2016 language from the Gov. Mike Pence era that states marriage is between a man and a woman. Attorney General Hill was a conspicuous backer of the plank and now emboldened evangelicals see him as a potential challenger to Holcomb in a 2020 primary, several informed and reliable Republican sources tell Howey Politics Indiana.

    On Tuesday, the IndyStar revealed a General Assembly “investigation” of allegations that Hill groped a female state legislator from the Northwest Region, and three staffers at a sine die party at AJ’s Lounge on March 15. The Star reported sources describing an intoxicated Hill sliding his hands onto the buttocks of a female representative and made suggestive remarks about three staffers. Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long said in a statement Tuesday, “Outside counsel was engaged to reaffirm the policies and procedures of the House and Senate in regard to the handling of these specific employee complaints. At no time did the legislative leaders, legislative staff or outside counsel conduct an investigation into the attorney general. All actions were conducted solely to protect legislative employees.”

    Hill denied the allegations, saying in a statement, “At no time was my behavior inappropriate nor did I touch anyone in an inappropriate manner. I have never been contacted by any investigator. I have not been informed of who made these allegations nor have I been provided any due process with regard to these vicious allegations. While meeting with legislative leaders yesterday, I requested a copy of this report but my request was denied despite the fact that the legislature acknowledged they had given it to the media."

    Holcomb responded from vacation in Montana, saying, “I have limited information from media sources I’m able to access. We took great care to update our sexual harassment policies for the executive, legislative and judicial branches in the past few months. No one should be subjected to unwanted sexual advances. I commend House and Senate leaders for their immediate and formal followup to the allegations presented to them. I’ll return to Indianapolis late tomorrow night. Until I’ve reviewed the facts in detail, I will have no further comment.”

    Indiana Democratic Chairman John Zody called for Hill to resign, saying, “The allegations reported yesterday are beyond troubling and wildly inappropriate in a professional or social environment for any person, much less a statewide elected official charged with such responsibility. Attorney General Hill should spare Hoosiers from this controversy and resign from office.” A defiant Hill responded, saying, “Let me be clear, I am not resigning my position as Attorney General. The people of the State of Indiana have given me the highest honor to have elected me with overwhelming support to the position of attorney general. I will continue to honor my commitment to the citizens of this great state." 

    It comes as one of Hill’s patrons, President Donald Trump, has faced similar allegations and simply swatted them away as political attacks and “fake news.”

    Holcomb has been an enforcer during the administration of Gov. Mitch Daniels, where he served as deputy chief of staff. In 2013 after Secretary of State Charlie White was convicted on vote fraud charges, Daniels called for him to resign. As deputy chief of staff, sources say Holcomb was sent to collect a letter of resignation from a Daniels cabinet member who was arrested for indecent exposure.

    Holcomb has no employment oversight of the attorney general, elected to his constitutional office in 2016, leading the ticket in votes. But an Indiana governor is leader of the party, and Holcomb faces a dilemma with the potential challenger Hill. He could call for an Indiana State Police investigation, call on Hill to resign or do nothing. The third option is dangerous as a record 53 women have run for General Assembly seats and there are four female congressional nominees. An ISP probe would be the tipping point of Hill’s career. It could result in criminal charges, giving Hill his day in court, or absolving him.

    Hill has been the rare constitutional officer holder willing to buck a governor from his party. Hill has clashed with Holcomb on the CBD oil issue, and county needle exchanges, which Hill opposes and Holcomb backs, believing that local officials should make such decisions. Holcomb has been circumspect about his policy differences with Hill. And Holcomb pardoned Keith Cooper on what Indianapolis Monthly describes as an “actual innocence pardon” in a case that Hill prosecuted in Elkhart County.

    Conservative sources speaking on background to HPI say that while the allegations against Hill came from a Democratic legislator and staffers at a Democratic hangout after the March 15 sine die, they believe it was Republican sources such as state Chairman Kyle Hupfer who brought the allegations into the public purview as political retribution and a hedge against a potential 2020 primary challenge.

    On Tuesday, Hupfer said of the allegations against Hill, “It’s important to be clear: As the Republican Party, we have zero tolerance for sexual harassment, and that’s the standard to which we all should adhere. Actions like these alleged have no place in public life or anywhere else."

    So the dominant super majority GOP, Holcomb’s Party of Purpose, sits on the brink of a civil war, coming with an array of Trumpian subplots, twists and allegations. It comes on the eve of a U.S. Supreme Court nomination where Roe v. Wade and the Obergefell decision on same sex marriage hang in the balance. 

    It comes as Attorney General Hill and Gov. Holcomb find themselves astride twin tornadoes.
  • Atomic! AG Hill allegations; Holcomb weighs in; killer fentanyl
    By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Nashville, Ind.

    1. The Curtis Hill ‘investigation’

    Here are your pre-4th of July power barbecue talking points: More than six months into the #Metoo movement,  the big story is there are allegations that Attorney General Curtis Hill groped a female legislator and three staffers at a sine die party during the early morning hours on March 15. It prompted a General Assembly “investigation,” by a body that apparently has no investigatory powers. Hill released a statement: “At no time was my behavior inappropriate nor did I touch anyone in an inappropriate manner. I have never been contacted by any investigator. I have not been informed of who made these allegations nor have I been provided any due process  with regard to these vicious allegations." 

    There is a “confidential” eight-page memo (which we have requested) prepared by the Taft Stettinius & Hollister detailing the March 15 party at AJ's Lounge, a Democratic party spot. The IndyStar  quotes an anonymous victim, saying, "This was a pattern of behavior that was witnessed by many.” Hill reportedly reached under women’s clothing, gave a massage and made sexual comments, according to the IndyStar. Given that the General Assembly has no apparent investigation powers and there are now public allegations, this is where the Inspector General or the Indiana State Police should step in. They have true investigation powers.

    Gov. Eric Holcomb weighed in this morning, saying, “I’m in a remote area of Montana with Janet celebrating our anniversary for a few days. I have limited information from media sources I’m able to access. We took great care to update our sexual harassment policies  for the executive, legislative and judicial branches in the past few months. No one should be subjected to unwanted sexual advances. I commend House and Senate leaders for their immediate and formal follow up to the allegations presented to them. I’ll return to Indianapolis late tomorrow night. Until I’ve reviewed the facts in detail, I will have no further comment.”

    2. The isle of Hill

    Attorney General Hill came to the Statehouse in January 2017 as a rising star, with nowhere to go other than being AG for eight years. Unlike other GOP constitutional officers, Hill has shown a penchant for cutting against Gov. Eric Holcomb, most notably on needle exchange and the CBD oil controversy. Holcomb has taken Hill’s criticism in stride, but his team is none too pleased by some of the pushback. Can you think of a constitutional officer going against the grain with Gov. Mitch DanielsHolcomb faces an interesting choice: Call for the Inspector General or ISP to conduct a proper probe; or ignore it and let Hill stew, but open the party up to female ire. The problem is that this leaves the GOP vulnerable in this “Pink Wave” year where there were a record 53 female General Assembly candidates and four Democratic congressional nominees. This, along with the border child separations has the potential to motivate suburban moms and independent female voters. In essence, the timing of this couldn’t be worse for the Party of Purpose.

    3. Zody,  Hupfer cites ‘zero tolerance’

    Indiana Democratic Chairman John Zody took aim at  Attorney General Hill: “Like Gov. Eric Holcomb has previously stated, Hoosier Democrats agree that there’s ‘zero room for harassment of any kind in any state government workplace,’ These actions are never acceptable.” RepublicanChairman Kyle Hupfer said in a statement, “I am continuing to learn about the details of the investigation into allegations against Attorney General Curtis Hill. I appreciate that Speaker Bosma and President Pro Tem Long acted promptly to look into the allegations, and that they acted in a bipartisan manner with Democrat legislative leadership to name an independent counsel to investigate. It’s important to be clear: As the Republican Party, we have zero tolerance for sexual harassment, and that’s the standard to which we all should adhere. Actions like these alleged have no place in public life or anywhere else."

    4. The fentanyl killer

    The IndyStar  reports that the Journal of the American Medical Association found that of the 42,249 opioid-related overdose deaths in the United States in 2016, nearly 46% involved fentanyl, while heroin played a role in 37 percent. Just six years earlier, fentanyl appeared in only 14% of opioid-related deaths. IUPUI researcher Brad Ray says fentanyl deaths reached 50% in 2017. HPI: This is the killer drug that MSNBC revealed can be easily ordered from China.

    5. Trump interviews Judge Barrett

    Politico  cites White House officials saying President Trump has interviewed 7th Circuit Judge Amy Coney Barrett along with Brett M. Kavanaugh, Amul R. Thapar and Raymond Kethledge. Trump said he will talk to "two or three more" and announce his decision on July 9. Trump called them "outstanding people," and insisted he did not specifically raise the repeal of Roe v. Wade, though all potential nominees on the Federalist list of 25 would presumably would not see that 1973 case as “precedence” as U.S. Sen. Susan Collins insists should remain the law of the land.

    Have a nice, hot 4th of July folks. It’s The Atomic!

  • Atomic! Barrett short lister; Trump tariffs hit IN; mayoral reelects
    By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Fremont, Ind.

    1. Judge Barrett on Trump’s short list

    Here are your power barbecue talking points: By many accounts, 7th Circuit Judge Amy Coney Barrett is on President Trump’s SCOTUS short list. With the nomination expected to be announced on Monday, July 9, don’t be surprised if we see Judge Barrett show up at Bedminister (perhaps she’s already been there) for a vetting. Bloomberg reports that in addition to Barrett, the others are Brett Kavanaugh, Thomas Hardiman, Raymond Kethledge and Amul Thapar.

    While evangelicals and social conservatives absolutely see the next justice as tipping the balance on Roe v. Wade, and these groups will certainly find a case to test that abortion law, Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins says that could be a deal breaker for her critical vote. “I told him that I was looking for a nominee that would demonstrate a respect for precedence,” Collins said on ABC’s This Week on her talks with President Trump. “I mentioned judicial temperament, integrity, intellect, experience, qualifications, fidelity to the rule of law and the constitution. But most important of all, a respect for precedence." U.S. Sen. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) told NBC’s Meet The Press that the SCOTUS vote could be a “career ender” for someone likeU.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly.  “I think that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle know that this vote could be one of the key votes of their entire career,” the Indianapolis native said. “And they know that no matter what spin comes out of the White House, if they vote for somebody who’s going to change precedent, it could be a career-ending move."

    2. Tariffs cause crop price plunge

    President Trump remains defiant on his tariffs, which start kicking in this month. “Every country is calling every day, saying, ‘Let’s make a deal, let’s make a deal.’ It’s going to all work out,” Trump said Sunday on Fox News. The Wall Street Journal quotes Purdue agricultural economist Chris Hurt:“The total value of this year’s U.S. corn, soybean and wheat crops has dropped about $13 billion, or 10%, since the start of June.” Hoosier Ag Todayreports Indiana soybean plantings are up 4% this year.  Researchers at the University of Illinois and Ohio State University estimate that over four years, a 25% tariff on U.S. soybean imports by Beijing would result in an average 87% decline in income for a midsize Illinois grain farm. And the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is starting an ad campaign against the tariffs. “The administration is threatening to undermine the economic progress it worked so hard to achieve,” Chamber President Tom Donohue said in a statement to Reuters. “We should seek free and fair trade, but this is just not the way to do it.” 

    3. Hoosier Ag Today’s Truitt warns of xenophobia

    Hoosier Ag Today’sGary Truitt warns his readers of immigration xenophobia. “The crackdown on immigration and the roundup of undocumented workers that has intensified under the Trump administration has had a very real and immediate impact on farming operations,” Truitt said of the Hoosier Trump farm belt. “Many farming operations can no longer get the seasonal or permanent immigrant labor  they need to produce and harvest a crop. Recent raids on packing plants have removed hundreds of workers both legal and non-legal and has shut down the facilities. For far too many people, ‘America First’ means America only. This xenophobic worldview does not work in our global economy today  and, in fact, has never worked in all of U.S. history.”

    4. Mayor Brainard goes for a 7th; Henry for 4th

    Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard is going to seek his seventh term, telling the IBJ, “Absolutely, I love my job. I’ve gotten a lot of encouragement to do it.” This is the time of year mayors begin proclaiming reelection plans. Evansville’s Lloyd Winnecke is gearing up for a third term. Fort Wayne DemocratMayor Tom Henry is announcing for his fourth term today. But there are other big question marks, with South Bend Pete Buttigieg, Kokomo’s Greg Goodnight and Indianapolis’s Joe Hogsett mum to date. Buttigieg is gearing up a presidential run, and some Democrats mention Henry and Hogsett for the 2020 gubernatorial race.

    5. What Trump says

    President Trump, who will meet with Russian President Putin on July 12, doesn’t believe the Kremlin meddled in the 2016 election. “Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with Meddling in our Election!  Where is the DNC Server, and why didn’t Shady James Comey and the now disgraced FBI agents take and closely examine it? Why isn’t Hillary/Russia being looked at? So many questions, so much corruption!” But U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said NBC’s Meet The Press, “They did meddle in our election and they're doing it again in 2018.” And Trump said he carried 100% of the Harley-Davidson vote in 2016. "I guarantee you everybody that ever bought a Harley-Davidson voted for Trump," Trump said on Fox News's SundayMorning Futures. "I don’t know if you know that. I would have to — they call them bikers for Trump. There’s hundreds." 

    Thanks for reading folks. Have a great holiday week. It’s The Atomic!
  • Atomic! Press atrocity; Donnelly meets with Trump; hungry Nick Ayres

    By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Bargersville, Ind.
    1. Putting out a damn paper
    Here are your final power lunch talking points for the week: The Capital Gazette  published the day after five of its journalists were murdered in its newsroom. The press is resilient. After the 2015 Charlie Hebdo  atrocity in Paris that claimed the lives of 12 journalists, its next edition told readers, “All is forgiven.” The Capital Gazette  resolutely tweeted, "Yes, we’re putting out a damn paper tomorrow.” The journalists were targeted by 38-year-oldJarrod W. Ramos, a local man with a long-running feud with the newspaper, losing a defamation suit filed in 2011. Ramos’ twitter account notes: “Dear reader: I created this page to defend myself. Now I'm suing the s--- out of half of AA County and making corpses of corrupt careers  and corporate entities.”
    Just about any serious journalist will tell you how angry people appear in newsrooms and have for years. From my days at the Elkhart Truth, there was one individual who struck fear in a colleague of mine just by his manner and strange comments as he routinely showed up. This massacre comes asAmerica has descended into bitter rhetoric and routine atrocity  with more than 100 mass shootings so far this year. President Trump has labeled the press “enemies of the people” and we’ve heard Ted Nugent and Milo Yiannopoulos urge people to murder journalists. It is in this climate that we’ve now had an assault on a newsroom. Yes, it was a simmering of local origins, but the climate in our nation today has veered from argument to gunfire. The paramount concern here is that assaults on the press become as common  as those on our schools and the public sphere.
    2. Donnelly meets with Trump & Pence
    U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly met with President Trump at the White House Thursday night to talk about the open U.S. Supreme Court seat brought on by the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy. Joining Trump were Vice President Mike Pence (both who have targeted the Hoosier senator for defeat),Marc Short and WH counsel Don McGahn. The White House press secretary tweeted: “Tonight @POTUS met w/ Senators Grassley, Collins, Murkowski, Manchin, Donnelly, and Heitkamp to discuss the Supreme Court vacancy. @POTUS team also talked w/ more than a dozen other Senators today as part of ongoing outreach to get views and advice from both sides of the aisle." Donnelly called it a "good conversation with the president on a range of issues." Donnelly has had other “good conversations” with Trump, the last significant prior to the 2017 tax reforms. Donnelly toldHPI  that he listed conditions needed to gain his support, then Trump did the exact opposite, prompting him to vote against the reforms.
    3. Collins and Murkowski in GOP crosshairs
    While much SCOTUS speculation rests on Sens. Donnelly, Manchin and Heitkamp, the bookends are Republicans U.S. Sens. Susan Collins andLisa Murkowski. Both could vote against a nominee intent on repealing Roe v. Wade, which is the top priority of Vice President Pence and social conservatives. Repeat: That’s main goal. Collins said Wednesday, ”I view Roe v. Wade as being settled law. It's clearly precedent. I always look for judgeswho respect precedent."
    4. Pence influence could grow
    The Wall Street Journal reports that President Trump’s chief of staff John Kelly is expected to depart this summer and that Vice President Pence’sCoS, Nick Ayres, is on the short list, along with OMB Director Mick Mulvaney. Ayres landing just outside the Oval Office would be a significant elevation of Pence’s power and influence. We noted yesterday that Pence will play a huge role in who the next Supreme Court nominee will be. Trump’s inner circle has been wary of Ayres, with the Huffpo reporting a confidante telling the president, “Yon Nick Ayers has a lean and hungry look.” These days, young Ayres may be licking his chops.
    5. Former BSU player in Chinese prison
    Former Ball State football player Wendell Brown was sentenced to four years in a Chinese prison for a 2016 bar altercation in which he said a bottle was thrown at him. A man accused him of striking him in the eye. Brown has been in custody for 20 months. The Muncie Star Press  reports: “John Kamm, the CEO of the Dui Hua Foundation, which is a non-profit based in San Francisco that works with the Chinese government to seek clemency and better treatment for detained foreigners, has been working with government officials on Brown's behalf. He told the AP late Wednesday that ‘Four years for a fight in a bar is extremely unjust and excessive.’” Yes, extreme. Time for Vice President Pence, President Trump and the Indiana delegation tomove on this injustice.

    6. Rest in peace John K. Snyder

    Former Indiana Treasurer John K. Snyder died last Saturday at age 97. Snyder was a fixture in Hoosier politics in the 1960s through the 1980s, also running for U.S. Senate and governor. He was a fixture in the old GOP hangout called the Boar’s Nest at the old Harrison Hotel across from the Statehouse. The Washington Times Herald  noted the passing of a Daviess County favorite son, quoting Indiana poet James Whitcomb Riley: ”A good man never dies.” They do just fade away.

    Thanks for reading folks. Have a safe holiday. It’s The Atomic!

  • Atomic! Donnelly gets Comey'd; Pence's apex moment; tariff & tax metrics
    By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Indianapolis

    1. Justice Kennedy Comeys Donnelly

    Here are your Thursday power lunch talking points: Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy just Comey’d Sen. Joe Donnelly. Already facing an intense challenge from outsider/businessman Mike Braun, Kennedy’s retirement just poured gasoline on the white hot hood and fenders. In order for Donnelly to win, he was counting on an edge in the Democratic voter intensity, revealed by dozens of polls. But that might have just been wiped out  by Republican evangelicals and the Mike Pence true-believer wing who had endured porn stars, Playboy Bunnies, Putin bromance, the potential for Kremlin collusion, and Kim Jong Un hugs for just this very moment. This is a tipping point SCOTUS seat and the GOP base will be energized. The Kennedy announcement echoes the October 2016 FBI bombshell by James Comey that inextricably altered the presidential race, allowing Donald Trump to upset Hillary Clinton. Ditto, now, for the mid-terms.

    “I predict Braun will win by 10%,” said Curt Smith of the Indiana Family Institute. And that’s before the huge “what if?” What if President Trumpnominates 7th Circuit Judge Amy Coney Barrett? She’s a fellow Notre Dame Law School alum of Donnelly’s and he voted to confirm her last fall for the 7th Circuit. Donnelly also voted for Justice Neil Gorsuch, angering some of his base. If Trump nominates Judge Barrett, Donnelly will be under intense pressure confirm an Irish pro-lifer. It’s the proverbial rock/hard place  for the incumbent Democrat.

    2. Pence’s career moment

    For Vice President Mike Pence, this is the moment of his career. Late last week he had a little noticed lunch with Justice Clarence Thomas, prompting some like Curt Smith to sense the Kennedy retirement was at hand. Oh, to be the proverbial fly on the wall over those tenderloins. At hand is the SCOTUS tipping point. While Axios lists Federalist Society’s Leonard Leo (who developed The List of 25 for President Trump), Ralph Reed and White House lawyer Don McGahn as key influences on this epic SCOTUS nod, Pence is best positioned to have Trump’s ear … at the end, which is themost critical moment. He is a constant Oval Office presence, travels often with Trump, and has his respect and loyalty. The Trump administration is speckled with Hoosiers (Dan Coats, Seema Verma, Dr. Jerome Adams to name a few) that Pence was instrumental in positioning. Pence is now at the apex of his influence, having endured all the “boot-licker” criticism. He absorbed all the nutty stuff, the racist rants, the authoritarian trappings … tobe where he is at this very moment. Pence will almost certainly be the most influential Trump whisperer on the issue that matters most, when it matters most.

    3. Judge Barrett on most short lists

    Judge Amy Coney Barrett is on most short listsPolitico has her first, Axios lists her third, WaPo sixth. Politico provides this historical nugget: She previously clerked for late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. She was confirmed by a 55-43 vote and fended off harsh questioning on Roe v. Wade lithmus testings from Sen. Dianne Feinstein. On her judicial merits, Barrett is strong (and young, at age 46). She would be the first Republican presidential confirmation since Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. And if President Trump attaches a political benefit to the pick, Barrett creates quite the quandary for Sen. Donnelly. Now, Donald J. Trump wouldn’t do that, would he

    4. Not all castles burn for Donnelly

    Don’t let it bring you down, Hoosier Democrats, it’s only castles burning, as Neil Young might put it. Actually, there is some wind-at-the-back news forSen. Joe Donnelly. Politico/Morning Consult polling shows the tax reforms are tanking, with 37% supporting, down from 44% in April. Only 25% of voters said they had noticed an increase in their paychecks, while 52% said they hadn’t. Only 70% of Republicans back them, down from 80% in April. Economist Steve Rattner’s famous Morning Joe  charting shows soybean prices plunging in the wake of President Trump’s tariffs, while manufacturers using steel are getting hammered. And it can’t be too long before a “Hoosier Harley Riders for Joe” wing forms.

    5. Sen. Young on track to head the NRSC

    Let’s see, Sen. Todd Young defeated former congressman Mike Sodrel in the 2010 9th CD primary while exhausting his funds, reloaded and defeatedRep. Baron Hill in the fall. In 2016, he defeated Rep. Marlin Stutzman in the primary, reloaded, then pulled off an Indiana miracle, overcoming Ten Million Dollar Man Evan Bayh in the general to join the Upper Cave of Winds. So it makes a lot of sense that he has emerged as the frontrunner  to head the National Republican Senatorial Committee, once a warren for Sen. Dick Lugar and top lieutenants like Mitch Daniels.

    Thanks for reading, folks. We live in interesting times, don’t we. It’s The Atomic!
  • Keep your eyes on Judge Barrett for SCOTUS open seat


    INDIANAPOLIS - Keep your eyes on 7th Circuit Judge Amy Coney Barrett to succeed Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, who announced his retirement on Wednesday. Barrett was confirmed on a 55-43 vote last fall to replace Judge John Tinder on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and she drew the support of U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, a fellow Notre Dame University Law School graduate. 

    Donnelly reacted to the Kennedy retirement, saying, “I wish Justice Kennedy and his family well in his retirement. Part of my job as a United States Senator is to carefully consider the president’s judicial nominees, including for the Supreme Court, and I will thoroughly review the record and qualifications of any nominee presented to the Senate.” Donnelly said after his vote to confirm Barrett, “I believe she's qualified to serve as a circuit court judge. As I have repeatedly said, part of my job is to review, debate, and vote on judicial nominations.” Donnelly also voted to confirm Justice Neil Gorsuch, President Trump's first SCOTUS nominee.

    Donnelly, facing a tough reelection battle against Republican Mike Braun, would be under tremendous pressure to vote to confirm Barrett, who served as the Diane and M.O. Miller Research Chair of Law and professor of law at Notre Dame Law School.. “I think she would be the perfect choice,” said an elated Curt Smith of the Indiana Family Institute, who predicted to Howey Politics Indiana last week that Kennedy was on the verge of retirement. “If it’s a Notre Dame Law graduate, he’s got to support her,” Smith said. 

    The other key influencer for President Trump is Vice President Mike Pence, who has already helped stock the administration with key Hoosiers ranging from National Intelligence Director Dan Coats, to Surgeon General Jerome Adams, to CMS Director Seema Verma. Pence will likely have a huge influence over this decisive nominee which could tilt the court toward the conservative wing. In 2016 Trump developed a list of 25 potential Supreme Court nominees that included Gorsuch. Pence was an ardent supporter of Justice Gorsuch, who Trump nominated to fill the seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia. This Supreme Court nominee is the appointee of a lifetime for the ardently pro-life Pence. Last Friday, Pence had a scheduled lunch with Justice Clarence Thomas, a signal some conservatives saw as a tell-tale that Kennedy was preparing to step down. 

    Currently all the justices are from Ivy League schools Harvard, Yale and Columbia. If chosen, Barrett would join other Hoosiers, including Chief Justice John Roberts who grew up in Long Beach, and Justice Sherman Minton who graduated from the Indiana University School of Law. A third justice, Wiley Blount Rutledge, studied at IU before graduating from the University of Colorado.

  • Atomic! Romney resistance; Hoosiers & Harleys; farm suicides surge
    By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Indianapolis

    1. Romney poised to be GOP response to Trump

    Here are your hump day power lunch talking points: Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican presidential nominee, won his Utah Senate race primary with 73% and is a shoo-in this fall. With President Trump critics Sens. Jeff Flake and Bob Corker exiting at year’s end and John McCain facing his mortal challenge, Romney is poised to be the new conscience of the Republican Party, which has been described by conservatives like George Will, David Brooks and Steve Schmidt as a Donald Trump cult.

    In a weekend op-ed for the Salt Lake Tribune, Romney addressed whether he will “support the Trump agenda?” He writes: “I’ve learned this means different things to different people. That difference, I believe, is a defining choice for Republicans. On one hand there are those who believe supporting the Trump agenda means supporting every policy the president proposes, whether or not they actually agree with that policy. I take a different course. I will support the president’s policies when I believe they are in the best interest of Utah and the nation. But I have openly expressed my disagreement with certain of the administration decisions such as the withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP); I want more markets open for Utah and American goods. I also oppose broad-based tariffs, such as those proposed on steel and aluminum, particularly when they are imposed on our allies. I agree, however, with narrower penalties levied on companies or nations that employ unfair trade practices, such as China.

    “I have and will continue to speak out  when the president says or does something which is divisive, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, dishonest or destructive to democratic institutions. I do not make this a daily commentary; I express contrary views only when I believe it is a matter of substantial significance.”

    2. Trump, Hoosiers & Harley

    Former Gov. Mitch Daniels rides a Harley. Go to Nashville or Morgantown any weekend and you know Hoosiers love their Harleys. They also lovePresident TrumpBikers are now facing a tough choice after Trump said he plans to destroy Harley-Davidson. Think about that: The President of the United States vowed to destroy Harley-Davidson. I’ll let him tell it: “A Harley-Davidson should never be built in another country-never! Their employees and customers are already very angry at them. If they move, watch, it will be the beginning of the end  - they surrendered, they quit! The Aura will be gone and they will be taxed like never before!” HPI Memo: Mr. President, if you think Hoosiers will ditch their Harleys in favor of a politician, even you,well, you’re in for a rude awakening.

    3. Surge in farmer suicides

    CNN’s MoneyWatch reports on a surge in farm suicides: Farmers are dying by suicide at a higher rate than any other occupational group, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The suicide rate in the field of farming, fishing and forestry is 84.5 per 100,000 people, more than five times that of the population  as a whole. That's even as the nation overall has seen an increase in suicide rates over the last 30 years.” It quotes agriculture expert Chris Hurt saying, "Think about trying to live today on the income you had 15 years ago." In 1985, Indiana hosted the first Farm Aid benefit concert, a group formed by Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Neil Young. Farm Aid Communications Director Jennifer Fahy: "The farm crisis was so bad, there was a terrible outbreak of suicide and depression.” Today, she said, "I think it's actually worse." And this is before President Trump’s tariffs take hold.

    4. Carson calls SCOTUS decision ‘discrimination’

    U.S. Rep. André Carson called the 5-4 Supreme Court decision on the Muslim travel ban “discrimination” and ”prejudice”  on Tuesday. “Discrimination is not a national security strategy, and prejudice is not patriotism,” said the Indianapolis Democrat, one of two Muslims serving in Congress. “Trump’s xenophobic travel ban is an outright attack on the Muslim community  that violates our nation’s commitment to liberty and justice for all. Today’s decision will be remembered as a shameful sanctioning of discrimination, and one that history will judge harshly.”  

    5. Immigrants and Mexican violence

    John Daniel Davidson, writing for the Federalist, reports that political violence in Mexico is “out of control,” the backdrop to our current immigration dynamic. The stats are stunning. National elections in Mexico are set for July 1, with so far 121 political candidates murdered. Hundreds more have been attacked. In March, cartel gunmen dumped bags filled with dismembered body parts outside a gas station in Reynosa (across the river from McAllen, Tex., where more than 500 people have been killed in the past 12 months. The most recent wave of violence began last April when Mexican authorities in Reynosa killed Juan Manuel Loisa Salinas, the leader of the Gulf Cartel. His death created a power vacuum, and various factions are now competing for a piece of the cross-border drug trade and other criminal enterprises. Last year brought a record 28,710 homicides nationwide, and this year is on track to surpass 30,000. Davidson: “By comparison, only Syria is more violent.” Folks, this is on our doorstep.

    Thanks for reading folks. We appreciate your patronage. It’s The Atomic!
  • Atomic! McIntosh sees tariff 'disaster'; FDA, cannabis & Holcomb
    By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Indianapolis

    1. McIntosh sees a tariff 'disaster'

    Here are your Tuesday power lunch talking points on the 41st anniversary of Elvis Presley’s last concert at Market Square Arena: Club For GrowthPresident David McIntosh warned Americans (and Republicans) on MSNBC’s Morning Joe  today that President Trump’s tariffs are poised to wipe out gains from tax reforms and could bring about disastrous consequences. “I think we should push the Chinese on intellectual property,” the former Indiana congressman said. “But I don’t think we should put tariffs on Chinese goods. Those, by the way, are paid by Americans, not by the Chinese. If you enter into a trade war with them, the whole world economy will shrink. That’s the problem for us. Tariffs bring counter tariffs and you get into a trade war. We saw it before the Great Depression, we have seen it other times where it just leads to everybody being worse off. It will end up being a disaster.”

    As the Morning Joe Show  scrum ended, former Republican operative Steve Schmidt sounded alarms for Hoosier soybean farmers. “The consequences of this will be paid for by the American workers, the soybean farmers, because when those markets go, they’re gone,” said Schmidt, who renounced the GOP last week. “They’ll go to Brazil when the supply chain is interrupted.”

    2. Trump hammering Trumpers

    Hoosier farmers overwhelmingly backed President Trump in 2016, so it will be fascinating to watch whether they stick with him  when his policies and tariffs whack their walletsPolitico  reported over the weekend that Iowa Republicans are “riding the Trump tiger,” despite farmers there facing loss of markets due to tariffs. Trump was in Greenville, S.C., last night and took aim at German auto imports even though there is a huge BMW plant there. And Trump fired away at Harley-Davidson for moving production from Kansas City to Thailand due to tariffs. This is aimed at a major company in Wisconsin that helped him win the White House. Trump tweeted: “A Harley-Davidson should never be built in another country-never! Their employees and customers are already very angry at them. If they move, watch, it will be the beginning of the end - they surrendered, they quit! The Aura will be gone and they will be taxed like never before!”

    3. FDA, cannabis and Holcomb

    For the first time in history, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration approved a cannabis-based drug, Epidiolex, which treats epileptic syndromes. Hoosiers supporting medicinal marijuana will now turn to Gov. Eric Holcomb, who said last fall he would not sign medical cannabis until the FDA gave approval. "I'm not there," Holcomb told WANE-TV  on approving medicinal pot. "I think the folks that would support that would be best served if they could get the support of the FDA. The FDA is the entity that approves drugs to improve our health. They have not." Until Monday. There is a growing tide toward legalization. Canada approved recreational pot, Michigan and Ohio are poised to do so, and Arkansas is on the precipice of legalizing medicinal.

    4. No Indiana paper audit trail

    Indiana is one of 13 states with no paper audit trail in its election system. Secretary of State Connie Lawson has consistently said the state’s decentralized election system has not been hacked, and is not under threat. But it comes as Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats has warned that Russian hackers could target the 2018 mid-term elections. And Homeland Security Sec.  Kirstjen Nielsen told Congress in May, “We eitherneed paper ballots or a way to audit.” Indiana Democrat Chairman John Zody said that Lawson is “asleep at the wheel,” adding the state is “dangerously susceptible to foreign manipulation. Why wasn’t she lobbying the Legislature for more resources to ensure voting machines statewide are secure heading into the 2018 election?”

    5. Enough, already, enough.

    Enough. This open hostility against public officials people disagree with, those calling for mobs to confront them in the public sphere, is yet another atrophy in the notion of civility, ginned up by President Trump and Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters. Here in Indiana, our public servants at the Statehouse for the most part act with class. Democrats and Republicans travel on foreign trade missions together. They break bread together, share drinks, and that’s one of the reasons why our state’s government has been held in high esteem. Washington was a swamp, still is a swamp, and the creatures stirring this animosity and the notion of mob action need to be called out and held into account. What kind of lessons are they creating for our children? Enough.

    Thanks for reading, folks. It’s The Atomic!
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