The Note: Words matter, even in the age of Trump

So truth isn’t truth, and a crime isn’t a crime.

August 23, 2018, 6:00 AM

The TAKE with Rick Klein

So truth isn't truth, a crime isn't a crime, knowing about something "later on" actually means before the fact, and doing "nothing wrong" includes paying off a porn star who wanted to go public about an alleged affair.

The verbal gymnastics and flexible standards displayed by President Donald Trump and his White House are causing allies to squirm, and are leaving Republicans suddenly silent when it comes to having an opinion on the weighty matters at hand.

But the damage could get worse as a realization sets in on Washington: Words matter – even those uttered by Trump.

The accountability being imposed by the judicial system – under Trump's own Justice Department – is real and continuing. So is the unity it's bringing to Democrats, who have remained mostly disciplined in steering clear of impeachment talk while facts bear themselves out.

Trump has talked himself out of precarious political positions before. But the stakes are getting higher as his words carry less weight.

President Donald Trump delivers remarks during Air Force Technical Sergeant John Chapman's Medal of Honor ceremony at the White House, Aug. 22, 2018, in Washington, DC.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The RUNDOWN with MaryAlice Parks

The politicization of the police and the law reached a new low in California Wednesday when GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter told ABC News affiliate KGTV that the charges against him were the product of "the Democrats' arm of law enforcement."

Hunter blamed "modern politics" for the grand jury indictment that charged him with using more than $250,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses and with falsifying financial records.

He accused "law enforcement" of having "a political agenda," and extended his conspiracy theory to the White House, too, adding that a one-sided government was out to get the president as well.

In some ways, the questions for Hunter are the same as those for the president: Is the law just different for him, or can he prove his innocence?

Attempting to sidestep and ignore the details prosecutors laid out about his lavish spending probably won't cut it.

The TIP with Adam Kelsey

In a blue state anticipating blue election outcomes in a blue year, a new poll might have one of its blue senators feeling, well, blue.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., leads his Republican challenger, pharmaceutical executive Bob Hugin, by six points, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday. In a March poll, Menendez's margin was 17.

PHOTO: Sen. Bob Menendez and other members of the Senate head to a closed-door briefing to update lawmakers on cyber attacks on the U.S. election system, at the Capitol in Washington, Aug. 22, 2018.
Sen. Bob Menendez, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and other members of the Senate head to a closed-door briefing to update lawmakers on cyber attacks on the U.S. election system, at the Capitol in Washington, Aug. 22, 2018.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

A competitive Garden State race certainly doesn't help Democrats' Senate majority ambitions, though it might not be emblematic of widespread problems. Instead, voters' misgivings appear to be centered squarely on Menendez and the aftermath of last year's federal bribery case against him that ended in a mistrial.

Forty-nine percent of those surveyed by Quinnipiac (and even 38 percent of Democrats) believe the senator "was involved in ... serious wrongdoing." Menendez's job approval is 40 percent and his favorability rating a mere 29 percent, nearing Chris Christie territory.

More worrying to Democrats could be the effect Menendez may have on those below him on the ballot -- a notion state Republicans have voiced all year as they pushed back against the idea they could lose all five of their House seats in the state.

The act of selecting the relatively moderate Hugin from the Republican column first, in lieu of a Democratic party line vote, could be all it takes for a few extra, and expectedly crucial, votes to also trickle the GOP's way come November.


  • The president participates in a closed-press roundtable on the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act at 11:30 a.m.
  • Vice President Mike Pence continues his trip to Texas and Louisiana, where he's commemorating the anniversary of Hurricane Harvey, campaigning for GOP candidates and stopping by NASA's space center in Houston.
  • A number of senators hold media availabilities to talk about Trump's Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh ahead of his confirmation hearing in early September.

    "The bottom line is I'm going to wait until Mr. Mueller makes his report. The president's not going to resign over the Cohen allegations. The public support for impeachment has to be great; I learned that during the Clinton days" – Sen. Lindsey Graham, the Republican from South Carolina, when asked about allegations the president's former attorney made against him.


    ABC News' "Start Here" Podcast. Thursday morning's episode features ABC News Senior White House correspondent Cecilia Vega, who discusses the mood inside the White House following the convictions of Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort. ABC News Deputy Political Director MaryAlice Parks says the developments could shake up the campaign trail. And, ABC News' Ben Siegel breaks down the claims against Rep. Duncan Hunter, who is quick becoming a headache for House Republicans.

    ICYMI: ABC News' "Powerhouse Politics" Podcast. On Wednesday's podcast, GOP strategist Rick Wilson discussed his new book, "Everything Trump Touches Dies," and his turn away from a GOP he believes is in tatters. "I reached a point where I couldn't make a moral compromise with everything that my party claimed to believe in and the things that drew me to it in the first place," Wilson said.


    Michael Cohen subpoenaed in New York state probe of Trump foundation. State investigators in New York issued a subpoena to Michael Cohen on Wednesday as part of an ongoing multi-agency investigation into the Donald J. Trump Foundation, a spokesperson with the state's department of taxation and finance told ABC News. (Lucien Bruggeman and Lauren Pearle)

    Republicans push talking points brushing off legal perils of former top Trump associates. Nothing to see here. That's the message the Republican National Committee sent to surrogates Wednesday in a series of talking points to deal with the aftershocks of the conviction of Manafort and guilty plea from Cohen on tax and campaign finance violations. (Benjamin Siegel and Katherine Faulders)

    Senate Republicans largely mum on Cohen while Democrats respond by cancelling Kavanaugh meetings. "I don't know the facts. All I know is Michael Cohen has been on both sides of these issues and his credibility I think will be a major issue," Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said. (Ali Rogin)

    Sanders says Trump did 'nothing wrong' in wake of Cohen allegations. When asked whether Trump had lied to the American people about the payments, Sanders called it a "ridiculous accusation," and said she doesn't believe the president is "concerned at all" about what Cohen might tell special counsel Robert Mueller. (Jordyn Phelps, Alexander Mallin and Nataly Pak)

    Defense counsel in Manafort trial sought mistrial over juror issue. Newly unsealed transcripts of discussions between the judge and the legal teams in the financial crimes trial of Paul Manafort revealed the defense team requested a mistrial after it was alleged that a handful of jurors may have decided the case prematurely or had been speaking about the case inappropriately with each other. (Trish Turner)

    President Trump set for aggressive midterm campaign calendar. President Donald Trump will spend at least 40 days on the campaign trail between August 1st and Election Day, the White House said, amounting to more time on the campaign stump than any of his recent predecessors in midterm election years. (Devin Dwyer and Jordyn Phelps)

    DNC now says earlier attempt to hack voter database an unauthorized phishing 'test'. After saying on Wednesday that it had experienced an attempted hack into its voter database, the Democratic National Committee backtracked late Wednesday night, calling the actions a "test." (Chris Good)

    Republicans preparing to remove indicted GOP congressman from committee assignments. California Rep. Duncan Hunter and his wife were charged Tuesday with using more than $250,000 in campaign funds to pay for personal expenses. Now, the House GOP Steering Committee will move to strip him of his assignments on the House Education, Armed Services and Transportation Committees, according to a House Republican source familiar with the process. (Benjamin Siegel)

    Author and GOP strategist calls Trump 'seeds of destruction' of conservatism. As a prominent "never-Trumper" who pens regular columns criticizing the current direction of the GOP, veteran political adviser Rick Wilson represents an increasingly disenchanted wing of the old Republican Party. (Lee Harris)

    For this New Hampshire congressional candidate, walking 40 miles from the ICE Manchester office to the ICE detention facility in Dover is personal. It was Democrat Lincoln Soldati's grandparents that originally came to the U.S. and settled in his New Hampshire hometown, but it's the story of his grandson, a West African refugee, that inspired him to take a stand – and a walk. (Dominick Proto)

    Trump awards Medal of Honor to airman who saved teammates from al-Qaeda attack despite being gravely wounded. Air Force Tech Sgt. John Chapman, the 19th airman in history to be awarded the prestigious medal, single-handedly fought off al-Qaeda militants, protecting his teammates, but was gravely wounded. His teammates, who said they thought Chapman had been killed, left him behind on the mountain, but he fought on, only later succumbing to his injuries. (Sarah Kolinovsky)

    Trump nominates new general to lead US wars in the Middle East. As the head of Central Command, Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, a native of Birmingham, Alabama, would be the top officer responsible for overseeing U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. (Elizabeth McLaughlin)

    How the Trump administration is remaking the courts: Last year, Trump worked more appeals court picks through the Senate than any other president in his first year in office, writes Jason Zengerle for The New York Times Magazine.

    In an analysis by the Washington Post, Republicans words about President Bill Clinton's impeachment in 1998 are put up against what they're saying about talk of impeachment in 2018 – about Trump.

    The Note is a daily ABC News feature that highlights the key political moments of the day ahead. Please check back tomorrow for the latest.

    Related Topics