News Sips 1/11: Fake News, Real News, Farewells, and Maryland Politics

Here are the four things you need to know before your coffee gets cold, the January 11, 2017 edition:

1. Peak Fake News?

Have we finally reached the peak of fake news? Late yesterday, BuzzFeed, the “news” outlet that specializes in lists like “15 Hedgehogs With Things That Look Like Hedgehogs,” published an almost entirely unredacted 35 page missive that seemed to be a conglomeration of intelligence reports related to Russian influence over Donald Trump and his staff both during the election and in the years leading up to the election. Specific, lurid, details have been all over the internet, and you can use your imagination.

The biggest problem with this “bombshell” of a document is that there is no way to verify its authenticity. The document’s claims are almost completely unverifiable except for a few factual points (like Trump lawyer Michael Cohen going to Prague in late-August, 2016, which, at least as of the time of writing, do not appear to be true—Cohen told The Atlantic he was at his son’s college during that time and geotagging on his Tweets do not indicate a trip to Europe. Cohen admits that the only time he was in Europe in 2016 was on a trip to Italy, which detractors point out, is within the Schengen region and would not have required a passport to get to Prague. Nonetheless, there does not appear to be any evidence—at this point—to suggest that Cohen was in Prague when the dossier said he was).

The President-Elect put out a tweet on the heels of the story being published by Buzzfeed that called it fake news and decried the witch hunt against him. Buzzfeed, for its part, released a statement from Ben Smith, its editor, to the effect of Buzzfeed not being able to verify the claim, but they want the public to be aware of it. (Journalism!)

It’s important to note that it does appear the story was shopped around to several major news outlets (reporters took to Twitter saying that they had not been able to go to print with the story because there was no verification). However, along with Buzzfeed, CNN ran with a similar story late in the day yesterday. CNN did not immediately publish the 35 page dossier but much of its reporting was similar to the contentions in the document.

It’s not immediately clear what, if any, fallout will come from the dossier. If it’s genuine, it stokes fears that Russian agents have successfully gotten their choice elected as President and that several senior Trump aides are likely guilty of at least a few crimes. Aside from a few quasi-sexual allegations about Mr. Trump’s time at a Ritz Carlton in Moscow, there are scant details that are actually related to Mr. Trump’s personal dealings.

Which leads to the next news item….


2. Trump Meets the Press

Today Mr. Trump will go in front of the press for the first time in nearly 170 days for a full press conference (yes, he’s had a few interviews and taken a thrown-out question or two, but there have been no formal press conferences in months). Trump stopped doing press conferences, it seems, because the headlines that came out of the events were never terribly flattering. Anyone who has watched mainstream outlets over the past year understands that Mr. Trump’s public relationship with the press is cold (the feeling is clearly mutual). There are reports that Mr. Trump is more accommodating to the Press in private, but, given how long it’s been since Mr. Trump held a presser, expect some fireworks.

There are a very, very wide range of issues that are going to be covered at the press conference. Certainly the broad “Russia” category encompasses a hundred issues on its own. Expect questions about Mr. Trump’s businesses and his plan to divest (or something) of his holdings, questions about his nominees to cabinet positions, questions about his family helping him, and, frankly questions about Twitter and temperament. It will be interesting to see how long Mr. Trump is willing to take questions and how deep he’s willing to let the questioners pry.


3. Well… Bye.

President Barack Obama gave his Farewell Address last night in front of a crowd of thousands. The spectacle, a first in “Farewell Addresses” (which are usually given at the White House or in front of a smaller crowd), was a reminder how President Obama went from where he had been a community organizer to the most powerful man in the world. The speech was longer than the previous three Farewell Addresses combined and was a rehashing of many of the President’s campaign lines (“There hasn’t been a successful terrorist attack on US soil” despite the myriad of ISIS inspired and coordinated attacks, but, I guess we’re looking the other way on those).

Even Mr. Obama’s detractors should give him credit for being an effective speaker and last night was no different. Especially during the human moments of the speech, thanking his wife and daughters, the President was eminently likeable. Of course moments of empathy are contrasted with scolding over a bunch of other liberal mantras, but, hey, he’s on the way out, so he gets to talk about the stuff he wants.

In the end, much of Obama’s legacy will be shaped by how a united Republican government is able to shape what he’s left over into a workable order. We’d be remiss not to remember that 1,030 elected Democrats have lost their seats in States, Governorships, and in Congress.


4. Maryland’s General Assembly

Today kicks off the 90-day session of the Maryland General Assembly. The Legislators gather amid some political scandals, delegates facing prison time, and a Governor with record-breaking approval ratings. Expect Democrats to work to knock Republican Governor Larry Hogan off of his approval ratings high in an attempt to retake the Governor’s Mansion in 2018. Hogan, who has generally governed as a moderate, has sought to make smart fiscal decisions and has avoided regular partisan rancor, will certainly be tested by the Democrat super-majority in the State Senate and the leftward shift in the House of Delegates. If Democrats again fail to lay a glove on the Gov, Hogan’s chances to being re-elected (and getting a chance to end gerrymandering after the 2020 census) go up significantly.


As always, there’s more going on that what’s here, but this should get your day started

Matt McDaniel

Attorney and Political Commentator

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