Dems launch $15m campaign for lawyers to take on Trump

Karl Racine is pictured. | Getty Images

“DAGA has spent a lot of time running around the country to identify the best and strongest candidates for AG races,” said Karl Racine, Washington, D.C. attorney general and DAGA co-chair. | Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Fresh off challenging the travel ban and other Trump policies, the party targets scores of attorneys general offices.

Democratic attorneys general, aiming to take on the Trump administration on a growing number of fronts, are planning to spend $10 to 15 million to elect more of their own next year.

The offensive comes as Democratic attorneys general have already challenged the White House’s travel ban, its planned border wall, rollback of environmental regulations and President Donald Trump’s business dealings. It’s also part of a longer-term effort to build a bigger and more diverse bench for the party to draw on in gubernatorial and Senate races over the next decade.

Story Continued Below

The hope, according to sources familiar with the effort, is to catch up to the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), which ramped up its legal and political work during the Obama years, notching major successes on both counts. RAGA put $23 million into races in the last two years, helping win and hold 29 of the country’s attorneys general offices.

In addition to protecting incumbents, Democrats have identified top targets they want to capture — including in Ohio, Wisconsin and Nevada. And, banking on presumed Democratic-friendly trends in 2018, they’re eyeing other states that will be tougher to flip.

“DAGA has spent a lot of time running around the country to identify the best and strongest candidates for AG races in states like Arizona, Colorado, Texas and even Florida,” said Karl Racine, the Washington, D.C. attorney general and DAGA co-chair, who himself just passed on entering his city’s mayoral race to run for re-election.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who is on the DAGA steering committee, has been speaking with recruits individually. She credits several of whom she sees as strong candidates to the success she and her colleagues have had on the travel ban lawsuits and in bringing President Donald Trump to court on emoluments, education policy, environmental regulations and his proposed border wall.

“What we’ve seen since Trump’s election is the role of state AGs, and why it’s such an important seat,” Healey said, in an interview over the summer in her office in Boston. “That is really where a lot of the action’s been, and will continue to be.”

Mark Herring’s reelection race in Virginia this November is being used as a test. They’re rolling out social media advertising strategies and having fellow attorneys general host fundraisers for him in their home states. That’s on top of the $1 million DAGA has put directly into his campaign, according to officials, compared to the now $800,000 and dedicated website RAGA has put behind its candidate.

“It’s about being integrated into what they’re doing, making sure a good team is put together, making sure we are preparing them to become AGs,” said Sean Rankin, hired as the executive director by DAGA last summer to build up the group.

Though DAGA won’t endorse in primaries and will make its help available to any candidates running, Rankin has gone prospecting for recruits around the country. He met with Xavier Becerra the day after his appointment as attorney general and pushed him to commit to running for reelection.

Rankin has been working with recommendations from the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, EMILY’s List, Latino Victory Project, Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Hispanic Caucus. He and others from DAGA have also maneuvered to edge people out of races, including asking a major union in Michigan to lean on one prospective candidate not to run. In Colorado, they helped guide a candidate out of the AG race and into a House race.

“This can no longer be considered just a starter office. You’re not only doing this just to move on to something else,” Rankin said. “Newly elected AGs have to want to do this work now, on Day One. We have a mission.”

Many of the sitting AGs have gotten involved in the campaign efforts, both in individual phone calls with recruits and group interviews of prospective candidates at DAGA meetings in Portland over the summer and in Nashville earlier this month.

“We don’t want to be an association that is excluding people from their right to compete. But it does give us an early indication of which candidate is best prepared,” said Racine, who added that he’s on the phone with a newly identified candidate at least once a week.

High on the DAGA list is Steve Dettelbach, the former U.S. attorney running in Ohio, hoping to flip control of the office now that Mike DeWine is running for governor. One of Racine’s partners at his old firm went to law school with Dettelbach, who introduced them. Racine invited him to the DAGA event on the sidelines of the Democratic convention in Philadelphia, and began introducing him to donors.

Dettelbach and Rankin huddled before the event, in a restaurant just off Rittenhouse Square.
Get in early, Rankin told Dettelbach. Clear the field.

He listened, and officially declared at the end of May this year. But by then the word was out, and no other Democrat got into the race. In the time since, in addition to traveling to DAGA events, Dettelbach has been consulting on the phone with other attorneys general as he develops policy proposals ranging from consumer protection to pharmaceutical prosecutions.

Dettelbach has experience with the legal issues, but the campaign side is all new to him.

“I’ve never dealt with media consultants before, I’ve never dealt with pollsters before. DAGA is able to say, ‘Here are the building blocks of how you build a campaign. Here’s what you have to do to do fundraising,’” Dettelbach said. “I wouldn’t have known any of that.”

The plan is to move aggressively into 2018, then gear up for 2019 races in Kentucky, Mississippi and Louisiana, before another batch of races in 2020. Last week, DAGA announced a pledge to get women to make up 50 percent of Democratic attorneys general by 2022, and they’ve been emphasizing minority recruitment — currently, Racine is the only African-American attorney generala in the country, and there are just two Latino attorneys general, in California and New Mexico.

Rankin and his expanded staff, including a data scientist who previously worked for Booz Allen Hamilton consulting, are building off results in social media pilot programs from last year in Oregon and this year in Northern Virginia on how to improve targeting and actively manage online inventory. DAGA has also been weighing in on communication strategy, designing messages to better break through and analyzing polls.

Attorneys general also plan to hit the trail for each other.

“You’re going to see the whole apparatus,” Racine said, “absolutely focused on every race.”

German far-right leader: We will hunt Merkel

Alexander Gauland speaks during an AfD election campaign event | Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

The far-right party gets in to the national parliament for the first time.

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party will “hunt” Angela Merkel’s government now that it has got into the Bundestag, top AfD candidate Alexander Gauland told a cheering crowd after the party performed better than expected in Sunday’s election.

“Dear friends, now that we’re obviously the third biggest power … the government has to buckle up. We will hunt them. We will hunt Ms Merkel … and we will reclaim our country and our people,” said Gauland.

The anti-immigrant, Euroskeptic AfD finished third on just over 13 percent, according to early projections, meaning it is on course to enter the lower house of Germany’s  parliament for the first time, following a series of strong showings in regional elections.

Chancellor Merkel’s conservatives and the second-biggest party, the Social Democrats, both performed much worst than expected in Sunday’s general election, and are now unlikely to repeat their ‘grand coalition’ government.

Trump’s Iran decision could shake up North Korea stand-off

President Trump’s upcoming decision on whether to toss out the landmark nuclear deal with Iran could have ripple effects half-a-world away.

Experts on both sides of the political spectrum say that whatever happens with Iran will have effects on North Korea and vice versa.

Opponents of the Iranian nuclear deal argue that Iran is watching North Korea’s belligerence to see what they might be able to get away with. Supporters of the deal, meanwhile, say scrapping it would send a signal to Pyongyang that the United States cannot be trusted in any potential future negotiations.

“The Iran nuclear deal set an important precedent constraining a hostile proliferator’s nuclear capabilities,” Robert Litwick, director of international security studies at the Wilson Center, said in an email. “Ironically, this ‘worst deal’ ever negotiated, according to President Trump, offers a useful model that could be applied to North Korea’s much more mature nuclear program through a concerted diplomatic push, enlisting China, to constrain the North’s capabilities.”

Trump faces an Oct. 15 deadline to tell Congress whether Iran remains in compliance with the 2015 deal that provided Tehran with billions of dollars of sanctions relief in exchange for curbs to its nuclear program. 

If Trump chooses not the recertify Iran’s compliance, Congress will have 60 days to decide whether to reimpose sanctions.

Trump has certified Iran’s compliance with the deal both times the congressionally mandated deadline to do so has happened during his presidency. But he’s signaled in recent days that won’t be the case for the third time.

In his first speech to the United Nations on Tuesday, Trump called the deal an “embarrassment to the United States,” adding “I don’t think you have heard the last of it.”

Trump proceeded to tell reporters Wednesday that he’s made a decision on the nuclear deal, but refused to say what it is. 

“I’ll let you know what the decision is,” he said.

Trump’s U.N. speech also appeared to link Iran to North Korea. Immediately after belittling North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as a suicidal “Rocket Man” and threatening to “totally destroy” the country if necessary, Trump turned his attention to “another reckless regime.”

“It is time for all nations to work together to isolate the Kim regime until it ceases its hostile behavior. We face this decision not only in North Korea. It is far past time for the nations of the world to confront another reckless regime, one that speaks openly of mass murder, vowing death to America, destruction to Israel and ruin for many leaders and nations in this room,” he said.

Asked this week about the relationship between North Korea and Iran, Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, declined to discuss specifics. But he said that any time the United States acts in one part of the world, the rest of the world is watching.

“Everything we do down to the smallest tactical level in today’s world delivers a strategic message to not just the United States and our citizens but our allies and our adversaries,” Hyten said at an event at the Hudson Institute. “And yes, what we decide to do with and around North Korea will have an effect on everybody that we deal. So we have to consider that as well. But Iran is a concern. We watch that every day, and we need to be prepared for that, and we will be.”

Hyten also said Iran is in compliance with the nuclear deal, though he expressed concerns about missile tests not covered under the deal. 

Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonOvernight Regulation: Trump adviser affirms plans to leave climate deal | FDA to study new cigarette warning labels | DOJ investigating Equifax stock sales Top US security official targeted in Cuba Embassy covert attacks: report Trump adviser tells foreign officials no change on Paris climate deal MORE also said this week that Iran is in “technical compliance” with the accord. 

With no evidence Iran is cheating on the deal, proponents say pulling out will show North Korea that Trump cannot be trusted at the negotiating table.

“To me, the best answer is a diplomatic solution,” Tom Collina, director of policy at the Ploughshares Fund, said of the North Korea crisis. “There are really no good military options. Sanctions aren’t working. Diplomacy is our last best hope, but why would North Korea put any stock in that if at same time we’re tearing up the Iran deal?” 

Collina argued that the United States should learn from its past failed attempts at agreements with North Korea and keep the Iran deal. 

The 1994 Agreed Framework got North Korea to freeze its plutonium production for a time, but eventually fell apart during the George W. Bush administration after U.S. intelligence discovered North Korea was secretly pursuing technology for a uranium enrichment program. Both sides blamed the other for violating the deal’s terms. 


Collina drew parallels between the Bush administration’s skepticism of the North Korea deal with the Trump administration’s of the Iran deal. In both cases, he argued, the issues could be solved by making additional agreements, instead of scrapping the original one.

“If both sides maintained the deal, we would not be facing the situation we have with North Korea today,” he said. “The lesson is, if you have a deal and you throw it away, five to 10 years from now, we will be where we are with North Korea.” 

James Carafano, a defense policy expert at the Heritage Foundation and member of the Trump transition team, said North Korea used a “rope-a-dope” strategy to get where it is today by entering into agreements to get concessions from the United States and then violating the deals years later. 

The extent of cooperation between Iran and North Korea on their nuclear and missile programs is debatable, he said. But Iran has learned by watching North Korea’s success, he added. 

“I do think over the years there has been a kind of lesson learning where Iran is mimicking the North Korea strategy, which is basically rope-a-dope,” he said. 

The argument that North Korea will be less likely to deal with the United States if Trump withdraws from the Iran nuclear deal is “ridiculous,” Carafano said. 

“That’s an arms control argument that has nothing to do with the reality of North Korean and Iranian behavior,” he said. “North Korea never trusted us. They’ve already violated deals with us eight times.”

“The regimes are so paranoid and know their grip on power is so tenuous, they believe that nuclear weapons are their ‘get out of jail free’ card,” Carafano said.

As Trump continues his attacks, NFL players protest by kneeling or locking arms

Players from almost every team in the National Football League showed their solidarity in protest of recent comments by President Trump, either taking a knee or locking arms during the national anthem on Sunday.

Because of the time difference, players from the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars got the jump on everyone by kneeling or locking arms in protest during the national anthem before the kickoff of their game in London on Sunday morning.

Back in the U.S, players in the nine 10 a.m. PDT games followed suit before their contests started.

The Pittsburgh Steelers stayed in the visitors’ locker room at Soldier Field in Chicago during the national anthem. The only Steelers player who was visible was left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, a former Army Ranger who stood at the edge of the tunnel with his hand over his heart during the anthem.

Merkel’s party wins German general election, exit poll indicates

BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives won Germany’s general election on Sunday

with 32.5 percent of the vote, according to an exit poll for public broadcaster ARD.

Merkel’s current coalition partner, the center-left Social Democrats led by Martin Schulz, came a distant second with 20 percent. The far-right Alternative for Germany finished third on 13.5 percent and will enter parliament for the first time, according to the survey by pollster Infratest Dimap.

The liberal Free Democrats scored 10.5 percent, the Greens 9.5 percent and the far-left Die Linke 9.0 percent. All other parties failed to clear the 5-percent hurdle required to win seats in parliament.