what i know now

Yesterday I read the transcript of Glenn Simpson’s congressional testimony. Simpson is basically the bull goose of Fusion GPS, the strategic research firm that hired former MI6 intelligence officer Christopher Steele to look into candidate Donald Trump’s dealings in Russia. The testimony is fascinating in several ways, and it’s difficult to determine which aspects of it are most important. So instead of trying to impose some sort of order of importance, I’m just going to talk about what I learned.

First, and most important, is this fact: the folks at Fusion GPS are professionals. I need to go off on a short tangent here. I spent seven years as private investigator specializing in criminal defense. From the title, people reasonably assume my job was to help accused criminals who are being prosecuted. In fact, my job was to gather facts and information and report my findings to the defense attorney. If that information supported the defendant, the attorney needed to know that; if it didn’t, the attorney needed to know that as well. I didn’t go out looking for information that would benefit the defendant or that would hurt the prosecution; I just looked for information that was accurate and credible. It didn’t matter to me if it helped or hurt the lawyer’s case.

Glenn Simpson, Fusion GPS

That’s basically what Fusion GPS does on a global basis. They learn stuff for other people. Here’s how Simpson described their work:

“You tell us what your problem is and we customize a research solution. In general when people come to us and they tell us what their challenge is, we stipulate that they retain us for 30 days, they agree to pay our fee, they don’t tell us what to do, they don’t tell us, you know, what result to get.”

Fusion gets hired (and re-hired) because they provide accurate and reliably credible information, regardless of whether it’s the information that benefits their client. Their entire business model rests on their reputation. The thing about professional investigators (as opposed to politicians) is that they don’t mold their findings to fit the needs of the person signing the check. These guys are pros; they do NOT fuck around.

Second, the congressional aides for Sen. Charles Grassley DO fuck around. They spent a LOT of the nine-hour interview aggressively asking questions about Fusion’s investigation of the Prevezon case (a massive, complex, international tax fraud case involving Russia). It seemed obvious the purpose of those questions was to discredit Fusion by suggesting that in the Prevezon case they’d had been paid in some obscure way by Russians, and therefore…something. They weren’t trying to elicit information about the investigation of Russian interference, they were trying to disparage Fusion and Steele.

Third, what Fusion discovered was a nexus of interactions and dealings between Trump and people associated with Russian organized crime and Russian security services (which sometimes overlap). They found nothing overtly criminal — just a long history of business transactions that were suspicious, shady, and well-hidden.

Fourth, Fusion hired Steele to do the sort of work Fusion doesn’t do. Most of what Fusion does is document-based. Following paper trails. Discovering relationships by delving into deep, obscure bureaucratic files and public records. That gives them solid, objective, unbiased information — a document says what it says. But the public record only takes you so far. It was also necessary to actually talk to people who dealt with Trump’s business dealings in Russia.

This is an entirely different sort of investigation. It’s less about accuracy of information than it is about the credibility of the informant. A document says what it says; people say all sorts of ridiculous shit for all sorts of ridiculous reasons. Documents can give you accurate information; people are capable of giving you very accurate misinformation, maybe by accident, maybe on purpose. This gets even more complicated when dealing with Russia and Russian agents, who are trained in actively providing disinformation.

Christopher Steele, former MI6 officer

This was Christopher Steele’s area of expertise — human intelligence. Determining who is credible and who isn’t, the degree to which the information is reliable, how much it can be trusted, what motives do people have to provide misleading information. Steele began talking to people, and what he learned alarmed him. The fact that Steele was alarmed was, in itself, alarming to Simpson.

Fifth, this is what Christopher Steele discovered:

“[Steele’s] concern, which is something that  counterintelligence people deal with a lot, is whether or not there was blackmail going on, whether a political candidate was being blackmailed or had been compromised.”

Sixth, contrary to what Republicans have been claiming, Simpson and Fusion weren’t sure what to do with that information. Republicans have been claiming the entire Fusion investigation was intended to harm Trump. In fact, the information uncovered by Steele left Simpson unsure how to respond. Steele wanted to report the information to the FBI; Simpson wasn’t sure if that was appropriate.

“[T]his was not considered by me to be part of the work that we were doing. This was — to me this was like, you know, you’re driving to work and you see something happen and you call 911, right. It wasn’t part of the — it wasn’t like we were trying to figure out who should [contact the FBI]. He said he was professionally obligated to do it.”

Seventh, although Steele did report his findings to the FBI, he discovered that the FBI was already aware of some of the problem. It had been reported by somebody in either the Trump business world or the Trump campaign.

“Essentially what [Steele] told me was they had other intelligence about this matter from an internal Trump campaign source and that — that they — my understanding was that they believed Chris at this point — that they believed Chris’s information might be credible because they had other intelligence that indicated the same thing and one of those pieces of intelligence was a human 10 source from inside the Trump organization.”

Eighth – and this is a big deal which seems to be getting overlooked – Simpson was reluctant to provide too much information to the congressional aides for fear the information could get somebody hurt.

“There are some things I know that I just don’t feel comfortable sharing because obviously it’s been in the news a lot lately that people who get in the way of the Russians tend to get hurt.”

Jason Foster, Chief Investigative Counsel for Sen. Grassley

Later in the interview, the extent of this becomes more clear during this testy exchange between Simpson, Simpson’s lawyer (Mr. Levey) and Jason Foster, Senator Grassley’s Chief Investigative Counsel:

FOSTER: So without getting into naming the sources or anything like that, what steps did you take to try to verify their credibility?

MR. SIMPSON: I’m going to decline to answer that.

MR. FOSTER: Why?

MR. LEVY: It’s a voluntary interview, and in addition to that he wants to be very careful to protect his sources. Somebody’s already been killed as a result of the publication of this dossier and no harm should come to anybody related to this honest work.

MR. FOSTER: I’m not asking him to identify the sources. I’m just asking what steps he took to try to verify or validate the information.

MR. LEVY: He’s given you —

MR. FOSTER: If he can answer generally without identifying the sources, I’d ask him to answer.

MR. LEVY: He’s given you over nine hours of information and he’s going to decline to answer this one question.

So here’s what I know as a result of the release of this transcript. Fusion GPS was NOT hired to find dirt on Trump. Trump is/was at least vulnerable to blackmail by Russian security services. The FBI was already aware of that before Fusion and Steele provided them with the Steele dossier. The FBI has/had a source either in the Trump business world or in the Trump campaign. Somebody has been killed as a result of leaks involving the dossier.

I also know that Republicans – and specifically Sen. Grassley – opposed the release of this transcript. I suspect his opposition was grounded in partisanship. I know Grassley’s aides were more concerned with discrediting Fusion than with learning about possible interference with the election process and collusion within the Trump campaign. I know Grassley submitted a ‘referral’ to the FBI to have Christopher Steele investigated for possibly lying to the FBI (despite the fact that FBI had already met with Steele and had decided his information was credible) in what was obviously another attempt to discredit the dossier.

Senator Charles Grassley

And I know this: Republican members of Congress are more concerned with protecting President Trump than with the integrity of the US election system, the rule of law, and democracy in general. I know the entire Republican Congress is essentially complicit in what is perhaps the biggest crime ever perpetrated against the United States.

That’s what I know. And it makes me sick to my stomach.

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the things i do for you guys, i declare

If you’re like me (and really, there’s absolutely no reason to suppose you’d be like me, but let’s just agree that it’s theoretically possible), you probably read Comrade Trump’s tweets this morning and thought to yourself, “Oy gevalt, what will they say about this mishigas on FreeRepublic?”.

You can relax now. Because I checked. See what I’m willing to do for you, even though you didn’t ask? You can thank me later. Anyway, here’s some of what they had to say:

— Twitter heads explode again. “Wile E. Coyote” was trending. — SMGFan

— This is an example of why Trump is glorious! The lefties will be drooling and tripping all over their tongues. — dforest (Never let a Muslim cut your hair.)

— I know l am In the minority here but I think it Trump sounds a little on the defensive with this. I think he needs to watch less CNN and MSNBC. — gibsonguy

— Those who criticize his tweeting are “made to look like fools”. President Trump fights back. He is winning. MAGA. President Trump is very different than most repubs who sit back and whimper when attacked by LIB lunatics. — hal ogen (First Amendment or Reeducation Camp?)

— Trump is a genius for sure – he works at a level not many even know exist. IQ off charts. Humble he is not. Trump can challenge any member of congress to an intellectual battle of wits. He would win against almost all and blow most out of the water so badly it would be an embarrassment. — rdcbn

— A MAN who is our PRESIDENT and who is also VERY GOOD at “pressing the other guy’s buttons.” Trump keeps those DIM-BULBS dancing to HIS MUSIC. — VideoDoctor

— He will be making the mainstream media chase the red dot for days after this including getting Mensa experts on TV meanwhile he will make them look like fools chasing the red dot While he gets Tons and tons of stuff done on our behalf. You should be grateful. He posts these tweets knowing they will say he is a fool he is taking all of the arrows for us while getting tons of stuff done for us. — CincyRichieRich  (Hurtling deplorable!)

— Fun to watch. 5.56mm — M Kehoe

— I will never understand the people that wince at the tweets. They are delightfully subcutaneous — mylife ( The roar of the masses could be farts)

— please brag more Mr. President. it offends the retards… they NEED to be offended, it helps feed the dark side of their “VICTIM” complex. just… you know… like a knife… stick it to them… and twist it… — MIAcc11212 (10 metres, 10 rounds, 10 seconds, grouped within 10 cm…)

And there you have it. These are verbatim, by the way, in case you were wondering. Heads are exploding, Trump is glorious, MAGA, and don’t let a Muslim cut your hair.

biggest exploding heads

I haven’t read Michael Wolff’s new book Fire and Fury; Inside the Trump White House of Fuckwitted Fuckwits OMG You Guys!!! I probably won’t read it. I’ve read the same excerpts most of you have read, and that’s probably enough.

I mean, all the horrible things Wolff says about Comrade Trump? It’s basically stuff many of us already believed. Hell, most of it is stuff we’ve already witnessed. Trump being crude and rude? Every day. Trump being mean and spiteful? Every day. Trump displaying massive ignorance of the world around him? Every damned day. Trump demonstrating a complete lack of interest in…well, just about anything but himself (and, to a lesser extent, Ivanka)? Yes, of course, every day.

Seriously, everybody who’s read the following excerpt has said, “Yep, that’s Trump.”

Here was a man singularly focused on his own needs for instant gratification, be that a hamburger, a segment on Fox & Friends or an Oval Office photo opp. “I want a win. I want a win. Where’s my win?” he would regularly declaim. He was, in words used by almost every member of the senior staff on repeated occasions, “like a child.”

Like a child. A spoiled, pampered, spiteful child. Here’s a true thing: Donald Trump is basically Dudley Dursley in a bloated adult body. You know…Dudley Dursley? Harry Potter’s cousin? The fat, cruel, selfish, violent bully with no feelings whatsoever for others? This guy:

Comrade Trump wants more. More than anybody else. Doesn’t even matter what it is, he wants more. Always more. More and bigger. The biggest. He wants the biggest inauguration crowds, the biggest tax cut, the biggest missiles, the biggest wall, the biggest brain, the biggest generals, the biggest ratings.

Trump, of course, says the book is all lies. He’s threatened to sue Steve Bannon, who apparently is quoted frequently in the book, for violating a non-disclosure agreement AND defamation. Trump has the biggest legal team, but they don’t seem to understand that in order for a statement to be defamatory, it has to be untrue, And if a statement is untrue, then it can’t be a violation of a non-disclosure agreement. This is just another example of how Comrade Trump has put together a team of fuckwits.

What’s most entertaining about this (a year ago, I’d have felt bad for finding any of this entertaining — but significant Trump exposure has made me a tad more cruel) is the fact that so many conservatives are complaining that the book might possibly have a few minor factual details somewhat wrong. They feel the book doesn’t depict Comrade Trump in a very favorable light. They feel the book is perhaps a wee bit biased.

I find that entertaining because those same conservative asshats twenty years writing and promoting similar books about Hillary Clinton. They spent eight years writing and promoting similar books about Barack Obama. Wildly outrageous books full of blatant lies, delusional thinking, and insane conspiracy theories. Now I’m finding it wildly entertaining to read FreeRepublic and see them attempt to reconcile what Bannon says with what Comrade Trump says. A lot of them have decided that Trump and Bannon are in cahoots. Seriously. They’re positing that these two guys are acting, that they’re only appearing to abuse and insult each other. They’re doing this in order to lull snowflake liberals into…something, so that something something, after which there’ll be something and liberal heads will explode. Not too sure what that something is, but the turf will be littered with exploded liberal heads.

Liberal heads exploding — that’s how conservatives measure the value of just about anything. The more liberal head that explode, the better a thing is.

I don’t expect to see conservative heads explode over this. The material is too dense.

in the car

Okay, I’m a criminal defense guy at heart. Whenever I look at or think about a criminal case, my first instincts are to see it from a civil liberty/defense oriented perspective. So when I see Gen. Michael Flynn pleading guilty to a single count of making a false statement to the FBI, my immediate thought is this: This guy is in the car.

That’s an old, out-of-date term. In the car. It means to cooperate with the authorities. “Will this guy get in the car?” “Can we keep him in the car?” “Motherfucker is thinking about getting out of the car.” Like that. If somebody is in the car, he’s along for the ride.

Michael Flynn is in the car. He’s cooperating with Special Counsel Mueller and his team. The fact that he’s pleading to a single felony count also suggests (and when I say ‘suggests’ I mean ‘is pretty much definitive proof’) Mueller has a saddlebag full of other felonies with which he can charge Flynn. My guess is Mueller is also holding on to a few felonies for Flynn’s nitwit son, who is also criminally exposed (as we say in the biz).

Michael Flynn, former U.S. Army Lt. General, former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, former National Security Director, felon.

So this is a good deal for Flynn, even if he ends up doing a chunk of time in some semi-pleasant federal prison. It’s a good deal for Flynn the Lesser, who may avoid criminal culpability altogether. It’s a good deal for Mueller and his team, because you can be sure Flynn is handing them incriminating information on folks higher up in the federal food chain. Maybe Jeff Sessions, maybe Pence, maybe Comrade Trump his ownself.

It’s bad news for those folks. This is the part of the movie in which we begin to hear the ominous musical theme. Sessions and Pence will probably go all tight-lipped and grim. Trump will…well, who know what the hell he’ll do? Explode, maybe. On weekends Comrade Trump likes to escape his handlers — which means he 1) can go golfing and 2) can rage-tweet. Unless, of course, his handlers wrestle his phone out of his hands. My guess is we’ll either hear nothing at all from Trump over the weekend or he’ll start flinging poo in all directions.

As a criminal defense guy, I have to admit I hate it when I hear somebody’s in the car. I do not like a snitch. As a patriotic private citizen, however, I’m glad to know Mueller has Flynn’s balls in a vise grip and is applying pressure. Mueller is a defense guy’s worst nightmare; he’s honest, he’s methodical, and he’s fucking relentless. Mueller is a patriotic private citizen’s dream for those same reasons.

I’m sad to say, though, that little attention will be given today to one of the real heroes of this story: Sally Yates. She was the acting Attorney General who informed the White House Counsel that Flynn was lying about his calls with the Russian ambassador, which made him vulnerable to blackmail by Russia. A few days later, Yates was fired (ostensibly for refusing to defend Comrade Trump’s illegal immigration order).

Tonight I’ll have a beer, and I’ll raise my glass to Sally Yates for first exposing Flynn, to Robert Mueller for his professional prosecution, to Michael Flynn’s legal team for making the best deal possible for their client, and what the hell, I’ll raise my glass to Flynn himself. He’s a rotten sumbitch who’s turning on other rotten sumbitches, but he’s the latest sumbitch in the car. And that car is moving right along.

I can drink to that.

dude is serious

Right, we’ve had a couple of days to give a measure of semi-sober thought to what happened on Monday. It seemed like a pretty big deal, didn’t it. I mean, we’re talking indictments, plea agreements, defendants turning themselves in to the FBI, millions of dollars in bail. On the surface, that’s some pretty dramatic shit.

That semi-sober thought business has clarified a few things. I think it’s safe to say on reflection that it’s an even bigger deal than we originally thought. It’s even safer to say this about Special Counsel Robert Mueller: dude is serious.

First, there’s this fact: Comrade Trump’s presidential campaign included three men (Manafort, Gates, and Papadopolous) who were actively working as unregistered agents of a hostile foreign government in an attempt to influence the presidential election. Three men. Actively working. As unregistered foreign agents. Of a hostile government. And one of those men was Trump’s campaign manager. If you wrote that in a novel or screenplay, you’d be accused of stretching the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief to the breaking point.

Second, there’s the George Papadopolous guilty plea. In a lot of ways, that’s an even bigger deal than the indictments. It not only serves as a reminder that Robert Mueller doesn’t fuck around, it also informs us that he and his team are professionals. While everybody was waiting for the first indictments to be announced, Mueller had already arrested this guy, convinced a judge to break the attorney-client privilege, flipped him, and got him to plead guilty. That was fast. Dude IS serious.

That also tells us that while Comrade Trump’s White House is packed full of folks willing or eager to leak stories, Mueller’s team knows how to keep a secret. Anybody who is/was associated with the Trump campaign, the Trump transition team, or the current Trump administration, has to be worried — if not for their freedom, then at least for their future career. Because more indictments are coming. More guilty pleas are probably coming. And ain’t nobody can tell where the hammer will fall next.

Robert Mueller ain’t having any of that.

That sends a further message: anybody who hopes to make a deal with Mueller had better make that deal quickly. Or somebody else will make that deal. And you know there are Trumpistas who’ll sell out anybody to save themselves. Mueller knows that too, and that dude is SERIOUS.

Also, make note that the guilty plea and the indictments all include charges about lying to the government as a mode of obstructing the pursuit of justice. Mueller ain’t having no obstruction of justice. No, sir.

Mueller is like the shark in Jaws. He’s coming. He’s not going to stop. You try to distract him with a huge pot roast on a hook, he’ll take the roast, take the hook, and take the pier you’re standing on too. Dude is serious.

don’t start cheering yet (go ahead, cheer)

I can’t really be happy about today’s indictment against Paul Manafort and Richard Gates. While I’m glad the system is working, it’s really a rather sad day for our nation.

Let me also say this. Manafort and Gates have only been indicted. That doesn’t mean they’re guilty. I’m a criminal defense guy, and I believe passionately in the notion that the accused MUST be considered innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. So right now, Paul Manafort has to be considered to be an innocent man.

That said, the indictment appears to be pretty solid. It includes one count of conspiracy against the United States, one count of conspiracy to launder money, seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts, one count of being an unregistered agent of a foreign principle, one count of making false and misleading FARA (Foreign Agent Registration Act) statements, and one count of making false statements.

Paul Manafort (Photographer: Victor J. Blue}

Essentially, this is a money laundering indictment. It’s grounded in monies coming from foreign sources having powerful political connections. It’s a well-constructed foundation for the accusation of collusion. And at the heel of the hunt, that’s what this is all about. It’s about Russia attempting (and, it seems clear, succeeding) to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election in favor of Donald J. Trump.

This is just the first step in building that case. Robert Mueller is a career prosecutor with a reputation of being both dogged and scrupulously honest (which is wonderful in a democratic system, and a terrifying combination to criminal defense guys like me). He didn’t put together a team of a dozen and a half seasoned prosecutors just to indict and prosecute a couple of guys like Manafort and Gates.

But here’s why this is a sad day: like all criminal prosecutions, this is the system attempting to correct (or at least ameliorate) something that already happened. This indictment is a reminder that a massive crime was (and yeah, I need to include this unfortunate term) allegedly perpetrated against the citizenry of the United States. It’s also a reminder that the citizenry were complicit in their own victimization. And it’s a reminder that the offense is still taking place.

There’s still a lot of hard and ugly work ahead of us. Is it too early to cheer? Yes. But hey, cheer anyway. Cheer because it’s a good start and we’ve had so little to cheer about lately.

ADDENDUM (for the folks asking about Comrade Trump firing Mueller): The law is pretty clear about this — and remember, this law was crafted in relation to the Kenneth Starr investigation of President Bill Clinton. The special counsel can only “be disciplined or removed from office only by the personal action of the Attorney General.” In this case, it would be the Deputy Attorney General since the AG has recused himself. The law also states the special prosecutor can only be removed for “misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or for other good cause, including violation of Departmental policies.”

So no, Trump can’t just decide to fire Mueller. He can, though, order the DAG to fire him. If the DAG refuses, Trump can fire the DAG, then appoint a new DAG who would follow the president’s order. As I’ve stated elsewhere, that ought to be considered highly improbable — but this is the Trump administration in which the concept of improbability is pretty fluid.

semi-loyal opposition

I’m seeing a LOT of folks heaping scorn and contempt on Senator Jeff Flake today (and, to a lesser extent, Sen. Bob Corker). As you almost certainly know, both of those traditional Republican conservatives made a show yesterday of publicly spanking Comrade Trump. The scorn hasn’t been for the spanking — most folks appreciated that. The scorn seems to be because Flake and Corker then voted to repeal a rule repealed a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau rule that made it easier for people to sue banks and credit card companies.

That, of course, is a despicable vote. But I don’t understand why anybody was surprised by their votes. Did people think that by condemning Trump, Flake and Corker would suddenly become progressive Democrats? Did they think Flake and Corker had some sort of ‘Come to Jeebus’ moment? That they would see the light and abandon all their previously held political positions?

Sen. Bob Corker

No, those guys are still the same conservative asshats they’ve always been. They both still support a LOT of what Trump supports. The only difference is…well, there are two differences. First, they realize that conservative Republicans are going the way of moderate Republicans. There is no longer a place left for principled conservatives in the GOP. There are only varied grades of extremists, identified by how much they love babby Jeebus or by how much they hate liberals. Oh, there’s still a place for traditional unprincipled conservatives; they can be measured by how much corporate dick they’re willing to suck.

Here’s the second difference. Principled conservative Republicans like Flake and Corker (and yes, I think they really are principled; their principles are radically different from mine — and I think their principles are wrongheaded — but they still have principles) can see that Trumpism is not only destroying their political party, but also a clear threat to what we laughably call representative democracy.

Sen. Jeff Flake

Trump, unlike every previous president, doesn’t seem to believe in the concept of a loyal opposition. He only believes there is loyalty and there is opposition — and even his notion of ‘loyalty’ is grounded in a businessman’s perspective, in which loyalty is only operative when it benefits him.

The fact that both Flake and Corker have announced they’re not running for re-election doesn’t make their comments about Comrade Trump any less legitimate. Waiting until you’re quitting to voice your objections to the president may be an act of political cowardice, but it’s also a clear demonstration of just how far into the much the entire GOP has fallen. These two guys lack the fortitude to stay in their party and fight for it, but they’re probably the bravest the modern Republican party has to offer today. That’s pretty fucking sad.