ain’t nothing fake about that

A few days ago, during an informal press gaggle held just before Comrade Trump flew off to whatever rally or golf course he had on his schedule, a reporter asked him about the renewed press for impeachment. This is Trump’s response:

“You know, it’s interesting — nobody has even mentioned this question to me in so long. Until last night at the very end, it wasn’t even mentioned in the debates. People aren’t even thinking — it’s a hoax. I don’t know if you know that. You know it’s a hoax, right? So, nobody has mentioned it to me. One thing I will say that you haven’t covered: Two days ago, a highly respected judge in the Southern District of New York, in Manhattan, came out with a decision on the whole Russia hoax, and he said exactly that: it’s a hoax. You ought to read the decision. This is a decision by a judge who is highly respected — who was appointed by Bill Clinton when he was President — and he came out and he said, “It’s a hoax.” And that’s exactly what it is. This was a case brought by the Democrats against me, and nobody wants to talk about it. You know why? Because it’s fake news.”

I know this isn’t going to surprise you, but that’s not exactly what the judge said. In fact, it’s not even remotely close to what the judge said.

Here’s what happened. The Democratic National Committee sued the Russian Federation for hacking into its servers. As a result of that hack — and the Trump campaign’s cooperation in disseminating the illegally obtained information — the DNC suffered significant damages, including a “dramatic drop” in donations and a million dollars to repair and fix the cybersecurity issues. DNC staff members also suffered online harassment and death threats as a result of the leaks. The suit also included a number of defendants who were members of the Trump campaign who’d actively aided the Russian Federation in distributing the stolen material.

Judge John G. Koeltl ruled that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act prevented the DNC from suing the Russian Federation for damages in U.S. courts, even if Russia had acted illegally and damages were suffered. The judge also ruled that since the “second level participants” (the Trump campaign) didn’t aid in the actual hacking, they weren’t liable for that act. And finally, the judge ruled the Trump campaign’s distribution of the illegally obtained information was protected by the First Amendment “in the same way it would preclude liability for press outlets that publish materials of public interest despite defects in the way the materials were obtained so long as the disseminator did not participate in any wrongdoing in obtaining the materials in the first place.”

(Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian)

So no, the judge didn’t say Russian interference was a hoax. What he said was that Russia had committed a crime, that the Trump campaign benefited from that crime knowing it was a crime, but was protected by the First Amendment when they disseminated information obtained by that crime.

“You ought to read the decision,” Comrade Trump said. As if he’d actually read it. If he had read the decision, it’s possible — oh hell, it’s probable — he didn’t understand it. I mean, the guy is a fucking idjit; the complexities of the law are as meaningless to him as the physics of Frisbee flight are to a dog. The dog can catch the Frisbee without doing the math, and Trump can understand the suit was dismissed without understanding why. But it’s a mistake to assume the dog or Trump has any sort of grasp on the underlying mechanics that spark their behavior.

In addition to being a fucking idjit, Trump is also a fucking liar. Even if he had read the decision and understood it, he’d almost certainly would have lied about it. Because that’s what he does.

The news media knows all this. Yet because of tradition and the institutional inability to adapt, the news media will continue to ask questions of Comrade Trump, knowing his answers are essentially meaningless in terms of reality. And the news media will continue to repeat those answers as if they have meaning, when the shared reality of all legitimate news agencies is this: Trump is a fucking idjit and a fucking liar.

Ain’t nothing fake about that.

NOTE: By the way, there hasn’t been an official White House press briefing since March 11, when former Press Secretary Sarah Sanders gave an eleven minute briefing. That’s 145 days, nearly five months, without a press briefing. The current Press Secretary, Stephanie Grisham, hasn’t held any press briefings at all. Her salary is around US$180,000. Assuming she actually exists.

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tire iron transition of power

I had a horrible thought yesterday afternoon. It led to a horrible belief that has now solidified into a horrible certainty.

A Facebook friend had said, “I want to scream when Pelosi says, about impeachment: ‘We’re not there yet.‘” I’ve heard lots of folks say that, and sometimes I’ve felt the same way. But I’ve also been telling myself that Nancy the Knife Pelosi has been around the block a few times. She’s cagey enough to say ‘not yet’ to impeachment in order to seem reluctant to engage in a process that could most definitely would be seen as primarily political. But all the while she’s prepping for impeachment like a boss.

I said as much to my friend — and when I said it, I believed it. Or at least I wanted to believe it. This morning, I think there’s a pretty fair chance that I was just full of shit. Why? On account of I’ve now read that Pelosi says the only real way to rid ourselves of this turbulent fuckwit is to defeat him in 2020 by a margin so big that he can’t challenge the validity of his loss.

Which is when I had the horrible thought. Which was as follows: There IS no margin of victory so large that Comrade Trump wouldn’t challenge it. And that led to this horrible belief: Even if he was impeached by the House and convicted in the Senate, he’d refuse to accept it. Which led inevitably to this horrible certainty: Motherfucker ain’t gonna leave without an ugly fight, no matter what.

Let’s face it, Trump has ignored every norm, every standard of presidential behavior, every yardstick of diplomacy, and every rule of protocol so far. So why in the hell would we assume he’ll abide by our tradition of a peaceful transition of power?

He won’t. He just fucking won’t. It’s horrifying for me to say this, but even though he doesn’t really even want to be president, I can’t imagine him just giving it up. No matter whether he’s impeached or defeated in 2020, he’s going to claim the system has been rigged against him. He’s going to claim his enemies have conspired against him. He’s going to claim his defeat is a fraud perpetrated by deep state traitors. He’s going to rage and complain and threaten and bellow that he was somehow cheated.

And a lot of his supporters will believe him.

Here’s another horrible but true  thing: Trump won’t care how much damage he does before he leaves. He won’t care about the harm done to the office of POTUS, to the system of checks and balance, to our entire system of democracy. He won’t care if he leaves the nation in shambles. Trump is the kind of guy who’d shit in the driver’s seat if he thought you were going to repo his car.

I really believe we need to start thinking in those terms. I think we need to accept the fact that no matter the circumstance, Comrade Trump is not going to make a peaceful and dignified exit from the White House. He’d rather burn the place down.

With that in mind, there’s no reason the House of Representatives shouldn’t start a long, detailed impeachment process. We’re going to have to pry this jamoke out of the White House with a tire iron; we might as well take a few deep breaths and get started.

we’re not that stupid

Now that we’ve had a couple of days to calm down and/or sober up, let’s take a more rational and dispassionate look at AG William Barr’s letter summarizing the Mueller report. Specifically, let’s look at the way ‘coordination’ is defined in a footnote.

Before we can look at the footnote, we need to read the sentence referred to in the footnote.

As the report states: “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

On the surface, that seems pretty clear, doesn’t it. But it’s not. I mean, Barr doesn’t even give us the entire sentence. We don’t know if the phrase that precedes that bracketed [T] reinforces or undermines the conclusion of the sentence. For all we know, the entire sentence could be something like this: “Despite extensive circumstantial evidence to the contrary, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government.” Until/unless we get to see the unredacted version of the report, we’re expected to assume Barr is accurately stating what Mueller found.

Even if Barr IS being accurate, there’s the problem of the footnote. It contains the operative definition of the term ‘coordination’. It’s a very narrow definition. According to Barr, coordination is:

an “agreement — tacit or express — between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government on election interference.”

I’m no counter-intelligence expert, but I’ve been around the block a time or two. I know enough about people and conspiracy to know that definition is absurd. That’s not how intelligence services work. Hell, that’s not even how normal people operate.

Now THERE’S some collusion. (Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour)

Here’s a simple example. Let’s say you’re the sort of dick who wants to upstage your ex-spouse by giving your kid a better birthday present. You don’t call up your ex and ask what she’s going to give the kid; you get a friend to chat with your ex and find out what she’s giving the kid. You don’t tell your friend you want the information so you can be a dick. You might just say you want to give the kid something of similar value.

Guess what: intelligence agents are just as smart as you are. I mean, the whole point of having spies and covert intelligence agents out doing shit is to avoid tacit or expressed agreements. It’s all about plausible deniability, putting distance between what you seem to be doing and what you’re actually doing.

Barr’s definition becomes even less useful because he restricts coordination to the actual Russian government. When Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort and Comrade Trump Jr. met with Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya in Trump Tower to discuss ‘dirt’ on Hillary Clinton, they could deny she was there representing some facet of the Russian government. When Maria Butina hosted a party attended by Trump campaign aides, they could accurately claim she  deny she wasn’t actually employed BY the Russian government. Veselnitskaya and Butina might be serving the interests of the Kremlin while not actually being directly paid by them.

Finally, Barr’s definition of ‘coordination’ caves in on itself when he confines it to deliberate electoral interference. When Manafort shared polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik, who has ties with Russian intelligence agencies, he could claim he wasn’t trying to interfere with the election — he was just trying to demonstrate the probability of Trump being elected.

Barr limits the meaning of coordination to tacit and express agreements, then restricts it to actual members of the Russian government, and further confines its use to blatant election interference. By doing so, he basically claims there couldn’t be any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia unless somebody from the Russian government met with somebody from the Trump campaign and clearly stated he wanted to work with them to disrupt the election.

The Russians aren’t that stupid. Barr isn’t that stupid. But apparently he thinks the American public is that stupid.

One more example. Let’s say you wanted to be the Attorney General in order to protect the President of the United States from being impeached and/or indicted for a criminal act. You wouldn’t announce that, would you. No, you’d write a 19 page memo arguing that the president could only be guilty of obstruction of justice under very specific circumstances, then you’d repeat that argument in a confirmation hearing controlled by supporters of the president, and you’d tell the opposition party that of course you’d obey the law, and you’d promise to give the public as much of the Mueller report as possible.

Plausible deniability, y’all. We can’t allow ourselves to be that stupid.

something to think about

In his letter summarizing the findings of the Mueller final report, AG Barr says this about his decision not to pursue an obstruction of justice case against Comrade Trump:

After reviewing the Special Counsel’s final report on these issues; consulting with Department officials, including the Office of Legal Counsel; and applying the principles of federal prosecution that guide our charging decisions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.

I highlighted that one section for a reason. There’s actually a Department of Justice manual that articulates the Principles of Federal Prosecution for criminal and civil matters. It lays out reasons for initiating or declining prosecution. The manual says:

[A]s a matter of fundamental fairness and in the interest of the efficient administration of justice, no prosecution should be initiated against any person unless the attorney for the government believes that the admissible evidence is sufficient to obtain and sustain a guilty verdict by an unbiased trier of fact.

Admissible evidence. Not all the evidence, only the evidence that’s admissible. Since Mueller’s mandate includes a counter-intelligence aspect, it’s possible — and maybe even likely — evidence exists that can’t be admitted in open court without compromising counter-intel methods and practices.

Remember too, that it’s Barr’s opinion that Trump didn’t commit obstruction — an opinion he’d actually argued for prior to being selected by Trump to be the Attorney General. Mueller, according to Barr’s memo, “did not draw a conclusion” whether Trump should face obstruction charges.

Why would Mueller decline to make that decision? The answer might be in that same Principles of Federal Prosecution manual. In the section that describes conditions for declining prosecution, the manual includes this:

[T]he attorney for the government’s belief that a person’s conduct constitutes a federal offense and that the admissible evidence will probably be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction is not sufficient standing by itself to commence or recommend prosecution. The prosecution must also serve a substantial federal interest, and the prosecutor must assess whether, in his/her judgment, the person is subject to effective prosecution in another jurisdiction; and whether there exists an adequate non-criminal alternative to prosecution.

In other words, the prosecutor can believe there’s enough evidence to convict the accused BUT still decide NOT to prosecute the case IF

  • he feels prosecution wouldn’t serve a federal interest. Mueller might feel that charging a sitting president with a crime would be harmful to governance.
  • the accused is subject to prosecution in another jurisdiction. We know Trump is facing possible criminal charges in the Southern District of New York, in the Eastern District of Virginia, in the District of Columbia, and in New York state. Perhaps Mueller thought one or more of those jurisdictions had a better case against Trump.
  • there’s a non-criminal alternative to prosecution. Like, say, impeachment.

Obviously, I don’t know what Mueller was thinking. What I do know — and what Mueller’s prosecutions demonstrate — is that every guilty plea or guilty verdict he obtained included the accused lying to Congress and/or the FBI. And what did they lie about? Their connections with Russia. Those connections might not directly link them to collusion, but there’s a pattern of behavior that’s obvious.

There was some seriously nasty skullduggery taking place between Trump, his people, and Russian agents. It may not have been actually criminal. It may have been criminal but not prosecutable. It may have been criminal and prosecutable, but not convictable. It may have been criminal and prosecutable and convictable, but not in the best interests of the US government.

But there’s a Russia-shaped piece of the puzzle that’s missing, and right now we can only guess what it represents.

trump 2020: never indicted!

Jesus suffering fuck. I’m already seeing folks declaring Comrade Trump is going to be re-elected because of AG Bill Barr’s summary of the Mueller report.

Take a breath, people. Remember who Bill Barr is. Last year he was a lawyer with Kirkland & Ellis (the firm that also employed Brett Kavanaugh, Robert Bork, Ken Starr, and several lawyers now serving in the Trump administration). Last June Barr wrote an unsolicited 19 page memo to Rod Rosenstein (who oversaw the Mueller investigation) arguing that Mueller’s approach to investigation possible obstruction of justice by Trump was ‘fatally misconceived’ and ‘legally insupportable.’ He said Mueller shouldn’t even be allowed to interview Comrade Trump.

And hey, what a surprise, Trump picked Bill Barr to be his new Attorney General. So having spent part of his weekend reading the report of Mueller’s two-year investigation, Barr concluded he was right last June. He agreed with himself; no obstruction of justice. In other words, Bill Barr did the job he was hired to do: he protected Trump.

Republicans toss confetti, set off fireworks, wear party hats. Democrats weep, rend their garments, cast themselves into the Pit of Despair. And the news media, bless their simple little hearts, repeat that narrative and cast it into the cement blocks Democrats will use to drown themselves.

Trump 2020: Never Indicted!

I totally understand why folks are disheartened and glum. We have a corrupt president supported by corrupt administrators put in place by corrupt senators. But remember this: we haven’t even seen the actual Mueller report yet. We don’t know what it says. But we know this:

  • in the course of the Mueller investigation, grand juries and federal judges approved 2,800 subpoenas, 500 search warrants, and 50 pen registers to gather evidence, which we haven’t seen.
  • that evidence resulted in 199 criminal charges against 34 individuals and three companies.
  • seven of those individuals were either members of Trump’s presidential campaign team or closely associated with Trump’s campaign — all of whom have either pled guilty, gone to prison, or are still awaiting trial.
  • at least six other individuals were referred to career prosecutors in the DoJ on related criminal matters; there may be other referrals that haven’t been made public.

Those facts would end any other administration. But there are other investigations still progressing out there. Comrade Trump may have dodged this particular bullet (and ‘may‘ is the operative term), but he’s still facing a whole lot of trouble.

For example, there’s the New York Attorney General’s Office, which is investigating:

  • allegations of illegal operations by the Donald J. Trump Foundation
  • allegations of tax fraud by the Trump family and the Trump Organization
  • allegations of tax evasion by the Trump family and the Trump Organization

And there’s the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, which is investigating:

  • irregular Political Action Committee activity by the Trump campaign and by Rebuild America
  • matters relating to Russian intelligence operative Maria Butina and her interactions with the National Rifle Association
  • allegations of violations of the Emoluments Clause of the US Constitution by Comrade Trump and the Trump Organization
  • irregular spending by the Trump Inaugural Committee

And there’s the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, which is investigating:

  • the Russian disinformation campaigns
  • improper Turkish influence in the Trump campaign and administration

And, of course, there’s the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, which is investigating:

  • various violations of campaign finance laws
  • unregistered foreign lobbying

So even though Comrade Trump and his fluffers are celebrating the end of one investigation, there’s still a metric ton of ugly fetid shit hanging over his head. Some of it’s going to land on him. He may survive his first term, but he’s going to have a hard time convincing anybody but his most loyal supporters that Trump 2020: Never Indicted! is a winning campaign slogan.

[orders beer]

— I mean, this Chinese massage parlor sex thing?
— What about it?
— I mean, well, it’s an actual thing. It sounds like a bad movie, but there’s an actual Chinese massage parlor sex thing. Young Chinese women living in the US as sex slaves, what the hell, you know?
— I know.
— I mean, we’ve got President But Her Emails nattering like a nutjob about South American gangs bringing bound and gagged women over the border five or six at a time in the backs of vans, and ten miles north you’ve got actual real no-shit sex trafficking going on.
— Yep.
— I mean, it’s not just rub-and-tug wink-and-nod stuff, it’s actual sexual slavery. Also money laundering. On, like, a massive scale.
— Sure looks that way.
— I mean, the woman who started the massage parlor sex thing? She’s, like, an Asian MAGA queen or something. Donates money to President Witch Hoax, joins his golf club, takes selfies with every Republican big hat she can stand next to.
— I know.
— I mean, she actually runs a business that promises to sell access to President No Collusion to Chinese businessmen, some of whom may not actually be businessmen at all, if you know what I mean.
— I know what you mean.
— I mean, you know, Chinese intelligence agents. Operatives. Whatever they’re called.
— Yes, I already said I know what you mean.
— I mean, this is, like, a national fucking security issue. It’s not just your basic influence peddling, introducing businessmen to President I Never Paid Hush Money to a Porn Star, stuff like that. This could be some serious national security problems.
— It could.
— I mean, like, let’s say there’s an owner of a popular sports team who’s a buddy of President Did You See the Size of My Inauguration Crowd, and has been getting handjobs at a strip mall. Chinese agent, operative, whatever, says “Sure would be nice if IBM was allowed to share some tech secrets with China, maybe you should mention that to your buddy the president.”
— Does IBM still exist?
— NOT THE FUCKING POINT.
— Okay.
— I mean, that could happen. We know President I Won 380 Electoral Votes is easily manipulated by flattery, right? So it’s possible Chinese agents…
— Operatives…
— Whatever. I mean, it’s actually possible they could shape foreign policy just by leaning on some influential jamoke whose been getting his chicken choked down at the Flowers of Szechuan Spa, right?
— That’s what I’d do if I was a Chinese agent. Operative. Whatever.
— I mean, c’mon, shape foreign policy, peddle influence, AND make some serious coin all at the same time?
— It’s the Chinese version of the Russian model of the criminal American Dream.
— I mean, all it would take to work is somebody like President I Hire the Best People sitting in the Oval Office.
— And then there’s Russia.
— I mean, Russia, fuck me with a chainsaw. Russia. Let’s not even talk about Russia right now.
— [sigh]
— [deep sigh]
— [orders beer]

manafort, the torturer’s lobby, & an otherwise blameless life

Paul Manafort has spent his career–his entire adult life, really–serving the very worst people in the world. I’m not being hyperbolic here; I’m being literal. He has literally served the literally worst people in the world.

In 1992 the Center for Public Integrity released a report detailing how nations having long, verifiable records of serious human rights abuses paid Washington lobbyists to press Congress for financial aid. By ‘serious human rights abuses’ I mean everything from intimidation of political opponents, to political imprisonment, to physical and mental torture, to systematic rape as a strategy, to extrajudicial murder. The CPI report was titled The Torturer’s Lobby. The firm of Black, Manafort, Stone, and Kelly (BMSK) features heavily in that report.

BMSK’s client list has included:

Jonas Savimbi — whose guerrilla army forcibly ‘recruited’ child soldiers, forced women and girls into sexual slavery, killed and mutilated tens of thousands, and whose indiscriminate use of landmines created “one of the largest amputee populations in the world.”

Mobutu Sese Seko — whose brutal authoritarian rule “became notorious for corruption, nepotism, and the embezzlement of between US$4 billion and $15 billion during his reign.” Before executing one of his rivals, Sese Seko had his eyes gouged out, his genitals torn off, and his limbs cut off one by one.

Ferdinand Marcos — who in addition to illegally amassing a fortune of between five and ten billion dollars, abducted and imprisoned somewhere between 70,000 to 120,000 people, tortured at least 35,000 people, and murdered more than 3500. One report listed 19 different types of physical torture used by Marcos’ forces, four types of sexual torture, and five types of emotional torture (one of which was described as “government units mutilating, cooking and eating the flesh of victims in front of their family and friends to sow terror”).

Sani Abacha — whose security forces, according to the US State Department, routinely “tortured prisoners with whippings, suspension by the limbs from the ceiling, burning with candles, and extraction of teeth.”

Manafort’s foreign client list gradually became more sophisticated, but no less corrupt, cruel, and malevolent. He found work with Putin-friendly clients in former Soviet nations who were less bloodthirsty, but equally cold-blooded. At the same time, BMSK worked for US entities (like the Tobacco Institute) and were deeply involved in Republican politics. The BMSK business model was based on the notion that anyone seeking to get and keep power ought to have a lobbyist. Corporations, African warlords, special-interest groups, regional strongmen — if they had a LOT of money, Manafort would work for them.

By 2005, Manafort had winnowed his client list down to essentially one client: Viktor Yanukovych, the president of Ukraine. There was none of that ugly mutilation or gross torture with Yanukovych; if he needed an opponent dead, a little dioxin would do the job without all the fuss. Manafort was able to construct a shadow government within the Yanukovych regime; he had intelligence assets in just about every governmental agency. Unfortunately for Manafort, the citizens of Ukraine grew weary with the scale of the corruption; in 2014 Yanukovych had to flee for his life. The money soon dried up.

Manafort desperately needed a new client — preferably who was open to the idea of shady business transactions. Comrade Trump, who had his own Russian connections, needed a campaign manager. Bingo. It’s no coincidence that once Manafort joined the Trump campaign, the GOP platform on support for Ukraine changed.

(Photo by Alex Wong)

Let me say it again. Paul Manafort has spent his life working for the worst people in the world, and he got rich doing it. He may not have personally tortured anybody or raped anybody or mutilated anybody or kidnapped anybody or murdered anybody, but he willingly, knowingly, and effectively worked for people who did.

Judge T.S. Ellis had to know this about Manafort when he sentenced him to 47 months (with credit for time served). He had to know this about Manafort when he claimed Manafort “has lived an otherwise blameless life.” Ellis had to know all this. But let’s face it — Ellis belongs to the same culture as Manafort. He was appointed to the bench by Ronald Reagan, who was also one of Manafort’s early clients. But before his judicial appointment, Ellis worked for the firm of Hunton and Williams, who made billions of dollars facilitating the corporate practice of outsourcing and offshoring. Ellis, I’m sure, feels he himself has lived an otherwise blameless life.

There’s a lot of blamelessness going on in the world. It just isn’t evenly distributed.

Addendum: The same applies to Roger Stone, by the way. The Stone in Black, Manafort, Stone, and Kelly is Roger.