Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Real Threat

Hillary Clinton in the Washington Post:

Our election was corrupted, our democracy assaulted, our sovereignty and security violated. This is the definitive conclusion of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report. It documents a serious crime against the American people.

The debate about how to respond to Russia’s “sweeping and systematic” attack — and how to hold President Trump accountable for obstructing the investigation and possibly breaking the law — has been reduced to a false choice: immediate impeachment or nothing. History suggests there’s a better way to think about the choices ahead.

Obviously, this is personal for me, and some may say I’m not the right messenger. But my perspective is not just that of a former candidate and target of the Russian plot. I am also a former senator and secretary of state who served during much of Vladi­mir Putin’s ascent, sat across the table from him and knows firsthand that he seeks to weaken our country.

I am also someone who, by a strange twist of fate, was a young staff attorney on the House Judiciary Committee’s Watergate impeachment inquiry in 1974, as well as first lady during the impeachment process that began in 1998. And I was a senator for New York after 9/11, when Congress had to respond to an attack on our country. Each of these experiences offers important lessons for how we should proceed today.

First, like in any time our nation is threatened, we have to remember that this is bigger than politics. What our country needs now is clear-eyed patriotism, not reflexive partisanship. Whether they like it or not, Republicans in Congress share the constitutional responsibility to protect the country. Mueller’s report leaves many unanswered questions — in part because of Attorney General William P. Barr’s redactions and obfuscations. But it is a road map. It’s up to members of both parties to see where that road map leads — to the eventual filing of articles of impeachment, or not. Either way, the nation’s interests will be best served by putting party and political considerations aside and being deliberate, fair and fearless.

The Republicans, of course, will not listen to this.  All they will say is that she’s a sore loser and E-MAILS!  But what is so striking is that they and a lot of other people were willing — and still are — to take Trump’s word that the Russians did nothing to interfere with the election of 2016 and are just as likely to do the same next year.  Oh, but our real national security is threatened by refugees from Central America who are begging, with their last dime, for asylum.  But the systematic corruption of our electoral system?  Nah.

We have to get this right. The Mueller report isn’t just a reckoning about our recent history; it’s also a warning about the future. Unless checked, the Russians will interfere again in 2020, and possibly other adversaries, such as China or North Korea, will as well. This is an urgent threat. Nobody but Americans should be able to decide America’s future. And, unless he’s held accountable, the president may show even more disregard for the laws of the land and the obligations of his office. He will likely redouble his efforts to advance Putin’s agenda, including rolling back sanctions, weakening NATO and undermining the European Union.

Of all the lessons from our history, the one that’s most important may be that each of us has a vital role to play as citizens. A crime was committed against all Americans, and all Americans should demand action and accountability. Our founders envisioned the danger we face today and designed a system to meet it. Now it’s up to us to prove the wisdom of our Constitution, the resilience of our democracy and the strength of our nation.

The very fact that Trump and his toadies are saying “Move along, folks, nothing to see here,” is reason enough to hold hearings and get to the truth.  It may lead to impeachment; it may not.  But to sit back and do nothing is exactly what the Russians are expecting us to do.  They know we’re too easily distracted by trivial bullshit and shiny objects; while the country is obsessed with the latest Kardashian sighing, they’re robbing us and getting away with it.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Twitter Tantrum

Via C&L:

True narcissists can never stop bragging about themselves.

Trump lives on Twitter and brags about his Twitter success, yet now he’s complaining that the social networking platform is targeting him and his followers.

He’s losing followers.  It happens when you come across as borderline insane; people slowly walk away from you like they do when they hear someone muttering about the voices in their head while standing on the subway platform.  So he blames it on some vast conspiracy by the folks at Twitter to silence him to the point that he calls in the CEO of Twitter to complain.

Yesterday morning in the same time frame that the only people up are insomniac cat burglars and blogger, he tweeted over 50 rants about everything from Mueller to taunting Joe Scarborough to why doesn’t Gene Shalit comb his hair.  (Okay, I made that last one up, but you get the idea.)

In all, Trump tweeted or retweeted more than 50 times in a 24-hour period.

The media was the primary target of Trump’s ire Tuesday morning, as he complained that he is subject to an unprecedented level of press scrutiny and lashed out at outlets from The New York Times to morning cable news shows while also taking shots at individual personalities.

In normal times with normal people and normal people keeping an eye on things, this would be the time to call the doctor and prescribe a nice vacation in a place where nice people will take care of you and you can watch TV in the day room and play cards under the watchful eye of Nurse Ratched.

But as we all know, these are not normal times.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Up To 19

Now we have Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) running for president, too.

“I’m running because I’m a patriot, because I believe in this country and because I’ve never wanted to sit on the sidelines when it comes to serving us,” Moulton said in an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America” hours after posting an announcement video on his website that highlighted his military service.

The Massachusetts congressman, 40, a former Marine Corps captain who served in the Iraq War, was first elected in 2014 after ousting a scandal-plagued Democratic incumbent. He is the sixth current or recent member of the House to enter the Democratic contest and one of three veterans seeking the nomination.

Like Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, he has touted that experience as a reason he can defeat President Trump.

During his interview on ABC, he called Trump “the most divisive president in American history” and said he would stand apart from others in the Democratic field because he is “going to talk about patriotism, about security, about service.”

“These are issues that for too long Democrats have ceded to Republicans, and we’ve got to stop that,” Moulton said.

That’s all very well and good and I think it’s great that there’s such a large number of Democrats who think they can all beat Trump, but at some point there’s got to be a saturation point.  We’re at 19 candidates, at least declared so far, and by the end of the week we may well be at 20 with Joe Biden tossing his fedora into the ring.

It’s like cable TV: there’s so many that you can’t watch it all so you narrow it down to the few that you remember.  They may have said something you like or they may be more familiar because they’re local or who knows why, but with all the noise, at some point they all sound the same and, frankly, look the same.  I’ll bet if you ran a picture spread of all the candidates, you couldn’t name half of them just by their photo, much less tell us where they’re from or what their particular calling is.

Let the winnowing begin.  Please.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Happy Anniversary

Thirty-five years ago this handsome young man came up to me at the University of Colorado Gay/Lesbian Alliance Spring Dance and asked if I would dance with him. The tune was “Turning Japanese” by The Vapors. He said his name was Allen. Later, after a bit of a Marx Brothers routine in meeting for coffee at Perkins, we sat and talked, and the next night he came over to my house. He brought me flowers. We were together for the next fifteen years.

Top 40 songs talk about wanting to know what love is. Well, I did after that first date, and I still do, even though we separated amicably in 1999. We shared so many good times and got through a lot of bad ones, and when he died last June 8 it was a loss from which I still feel aftershocks. But I will always be glad that he came into my life, and April 22 will always be our anniversary. And I will always call you sweetheart.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Sunday Reading

Be Grateful — Kori Schake in The Atlantic.

Passover and Easter are religious holidays of gratitude—gratitude for the release of the Jewish people from Egypt, gratitude by Christians for the sacrifice of Jesus in redemption for humanity’s sins. The Trump administration may have cynically calculated that releasing the Mueller report on the eve of a double holiday might dampen interest, but the timing seems oddly fitting, because the special counsel’s findings provide so much to be grateful for.

Undoubtedly, the special counsel’s report on the 2016 election makes for grim reading. A foreign government conducted a years-long campaign to undermine American democracy. It used the openness of our society and the technologies of our creation against us. Russia crafted “a social media campaign designed to provoke and amplify political and social discord in the United States,” paired with criminal acts designed to assist the election of Trump. And they succeeded.

The Russian influence operation should be taught in graduate schools of political science and journalism—and in intelligence training programs. Operatives began in mid-2014 to identify social fissures and build a wide following. They passed as American citizens and organizations while assisting candidates Trump and Bernie Sanders. They shifted as the presidential race narrowed to “a targeted operation that by early 2016 favored candidate Trump and disparaged candidate Clinton.” They orchestrated not just internet activities but also acts in the physical world, including rallies. They intruded into the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee to steal hundreds of thousands of documents, made those documents public via third parties thought to be independent of the Russian government (including WikiLeaks), attempted (in some cases successfully) to access voting machines in 21 U.S. states, and surreptitiously purchased political advertising to affect voting in swing states. The former FBI agent Clint Watts has argued that even shielding Trump from direct contact was by design, because the “standard Russian approach would have been to influence Mr. Trump through surrogates like Mr. Gates and Paul Manafort rather than through direct command.”

Nevertheless, let us be grateful that our worst suspicions were not substantiated: The president of the United States is not a traitor. A liar, a petty and ineffectual chief executive who repeatedly attempted to get others to commit illegal acts and suborn themselves for his protection—those qualities the Mueller investigation proved. But not a traitor. The Mueller investigation unearthed no evidence that the president is in the employ of a hostile foreign power or actively cooperating with a hostile foreign power to harm our country. That it even had to be proved is shocking, but it is nonetheless a relief to know that Trump is not a Manchurian candidate.

The rule of law is being upheld even where politically damaging to the powerful. Special Counsel Robert Mueller determined that Russian activities violated U.S. criminal law and charged those identified with “conspiracy to defraud the United States by undermining through deceptive acts the work of federal agencies charged with regulating foreign influence in U.S. elections, as well as related counts of identity theft.” The investigation concluded that there was no evidence American citizens had conspired or coordinated on those operations, which is also cause for relief (although the report notes a “reasonable argument” that Donald Trump Jr. violated campaign-finance laws).

Another source of relief is the extent to which the agencies of government and civil society worked as intended. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency saw the pattern of interference early and properly reported it to both the executive and legislative branches. They were unwavering in their assessments even when the president attempted to suborn them (the deputy attorney general, the FBI director, the NSA director and deputy director all documented those attempts). The Justice Department initiated investigation and sustained it against blistering pressure. Individual failures abounded, but bureaucracies are designed to buffer against individual failure, and they largely succeeded.

Journalists, too, deserve applause and appreciation. American media reported on all of the key elements in the report before its publication: Instigation of social division, the Trump Tower meeting, Paul Manafort’s decision to share polling data, WikiLeaks’ timed release of hacked emails to blunt the effect of the Access Hollywood tape, Eric Prince’s Seychelles meeting, Michael Flynn’s phone call to Russian Ambassador Kislyak, widespread lying to investigators by Trump associates. The only new element I saw in the Russia volume of the Mueller report was that Jared Kushner had devised a “reconciliation plan” for the U.S. and Russia. Journalists, too, have been under constant derogation by the president, yet have continued to provide the public with accurate information and essential insight into the conduct of administration officials.

Journalists do deserve some condemnation for their unwitting complicity in Russia’s interference campaign. Russian military intelligence rightly assessed that American journalists would be unable to resist the temptation to report on criminally acquired information. All of the major American news outlets regaled readers with stories of hypocrisy and personal quirks (John Podesta’s pasta sauce) that hurt the Democrats. Keeping our government honest requires journalists to receive leaks, and journalism is a business as well as a profession, so they are not to be maligned for writing about what the public will pay to read or watch. But in this new Wild West of cyberespionage, journalists ought to be more introspective about whether to publish stolen information.

I’m also grateful that, through this process, rather unlikely individuals have proved themselves capable of standing on principle. I confess I was surprised by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s starchiness in protecting the investigation, as well as by the number of people who simply disregarded presidential direction they considered illegal or immoral. Obviously it’s not ideal that senior government figures felt they had to ignore the elected chief executive, but even some of the least upright people the president has surrounded himself with, it turns out, have a useful sense of self-preservation, maybe a moral compass. Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis got a standing ovation at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner for his integrity; the Mueller report indicates that figures of less obvious rectitude deserve credit for protecting the republic from the president.

Out To Get Them — Satire from Andy Borowitz.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Reacting to the journalist April Ryan’s call for her to be fired, the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said, on Friday, that she has been the victim of the media’s “widespread anti-liar bias.”

“From their obsession with fact-checking to their relentless attacks on falsehoods, the media have made no secret of their bias,” Sanders said. “It’s open season on liars in America.”

“This is media hypocrisy at its very worst,” she added. “The same journalists who advocate freedom of speech want to take that freedom away from anyone whose speech consists entirely of lies.”

“This is nothing more or less than a direct attack on the lying life style,” she said. “You take away my right to lie and you take away my ability to earn a living.”

Kellyanne Conway, the White House senior counsellor, spoke out in support of Sanders, telling reporters, “An attack on one liar is an attack on all liars.”

“Our country has seen some dark days, from the Bowling Green Massacre to the bugging of the White House microwave,” she said. “But this might be the darkest.”

Doonesbury — Milestones.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Friday, April 19, 2019

Good Friday

The Southeastern Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) always coincides with Easter weekend. It’s not that Quakers acknowledge or celebrate Easter (some do, some don’t), but it’s usually a time when families can gather at the retreat center in central Florida and have a good and meaningful time together.

My friend (and Friend) Steve took this picture in 2013 as Friends gathered.

SEYM 03-29-13

Let this be the setting for the day.

From Here On Out

Susan B. Glasser in The New Yorker:

In the most memorable scene in the most anticipated government report in recent history, the special counsel, Robert Mueller, takes us inside the Oval Office on May 17, 2017. President Trump, having fired the F.B.I. director in an apparent effort to shut down the investigation of him and his 2016 campaign, was in the middle of interviewing candidates for the new vacancy. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had recused himself from overseeing the Russia investigation, much to the President’s fury, stepped out of the room to take a phone call. He returned with bad news: his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, had appointed Mueller to be a special counsel and conduct an independent investigation. Russiagate would live on. Trump “slumped” over in his chair, according to the report. “Oh, my God, this is the end of my Presidency,” he said. “I’m fucked.”

For now, at least, it appears that he was wrong. The appointment of Mueller did not lead to the end of Trump’s Presidency. Not yet, and probably not ever. The release of the special counsel’s report, on Thursday, showed that Mueller did not turn up conclusive evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians who interfered in the 2016 election to boost Trump’s candidacy. But the report’s belated publication, almost four weeks to the day after Mueller submitted it to Attorney General William Barr, is hardly the “complete and total exoneration” that Trump initially claimed it was and that Barr misleadingly and incompletely portrayed to the country. We knew that wasn’t the case the minute Trump said it.

What we didn’t know until Thursday, when we finally saw the four-hundred-and-forty-eight-page document, is how much evidence Mueller had amassed about the President, panicked and in crisis mode, trying to shut down and block the investigation. The report documents ten different incidents that raise questions about the President’s behavior. Was it obstruction of justice? The Mueller report concluded (albeit in legalistic and unclear language) that that is a matter for Congress to decide. And Congress, as a matter of political calculation and senatorial math, remains unlikely to pursue the question to its bitter end.

Whatever happens, and for however long the Trump regime lasts, be it until 2021 or 2025, it will be scarred, tarred, and broken by the Mueller report, redacted or not, or whether or not it winds up as a series on Netflix.  History will prove that how Trump got to office and how he dealt with the aftereffects will overshadow and skew anything he does, and just as Watergate will forever be the tagline and epitaph for Richard Nixon, not to mention the people who worked with and for him, the story of Russian meddling and how the Trump regime responded to it will be the first line in its obituary.

And it’s all his own doing.  The only reason he’s not under indictment for collusion is that his campaign couldn’t get their act together to do it right.  As for obstruction of justice, it’s certainly not for the lack of trying.

So despite all the crowing and calls to move on from the base and the Wormtongues at Fox, Trump called it: he’s fucked.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Mueller Thursday

So, here we go.

The Justice Department plans to release a lightly redacted version of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s 400-page report Thursday, offering a granular look at the ways in which President Trump was suspected of having obstructed justice, people familiar with the matter said.

The report — the general outlines of which the Justice Department has briefed the White House on — will reveal that Mueller decided he could not come to a conclusion on the question of obstruction because it was difficult to determine Trump’s intent and because some of his actions could be interpreted innocently, these people said. But it will offer a detailed blow-by-blow of the president’s alleged conduct — analyzing tweets, private threats and other episodes at the center of Mueller’s inquiry, they added.

Attorney General William P. Barr plans to hold a 9:30 a.m. news conference to address “process questions” and provide an “overview of the report,” a senior Justice Department official said. The report will be delivered on discs to Capitol Hill between 11 a.m. and noon and posted on the special counsel’s website thereafter, the official said.

Thus beginneth the spinning.

Thursday’s rollout plan — and news of the White House’s advance briefing, which was first reported by ABC News and the New York Times — sparked a political firestorm Wednesday, with Democrats suggesting the attorney general was trying to improperly color Mueller’s findings before the public could read them.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said at a news conference that Barr “appears to be waging a media campaign on behalf of President Trump” and had “taken unprecedented steps to spin Mueller’s nearly two-year investigation.” He said after his committee had time to review the redacted report, he would ask Mueller and other members of his team to testify before Congress.

And the Republicans, who impeached Bill Clinton for lying about a blowjob from an intern, will suddenly have found that their moral compass now includes giving latitude to working with a foreign hostile power to win an election.  But hey, at least there’s room to think he didn’t mean to.  Which means the excuses you’re going to hear from Fox News and the Trumpistas is that he was too stupid to figure out that he was being played by the Russians and certain members of the campaign staff, none of whom he says he ever laid eyes on.

But you know there has to be some news in the report that casts doubt on the Trump’s motives and his actions.  Otherwise, why would the White House and their cronies be gearing up such an elaborate response effort?

Rudolph W. Giuliani, one of Trump’s lawyers, has said he is preparing a counter-report to Mueller’s findings and in a recent interview said his document would explain from the president’s viewpoint every episode that could be considered obstructive. Giuliani and others have long feared Mueller’s findings on obstruction, viewing them as potentially more damaging than anything found on the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russians.

Mueller did not find a conspiracy between Russians and Trump or his campaign, Barr said in a brief letter describing the special counsel’s conclusions shared with Congress late last month.

Jay Sekulow, one of Trump’s attorneys, told The Post, “We do not discuss conversations that we may or may not have had with the president.” A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to address questions about its briefings to the White House, the report’s redactions or Mueller’s findings on obstruction.

Oh, and speaking of collusion…

Trump had also apparently been briefed in advance of the planned news conference, which he revealed Wednesday during a radio appearance only to have it confirmed later by a Justice Department spokeswoman. Barr will appear alongside Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, the spokeswoman said, and he planned to take questions.

Barr has faced intense scrutiny from the public and lawmakers on Capitol Hill for his handling of Mueller’s report so far. The Thursday news conference could give him an opportunity to address his critics — and perhaps provide them fresh ammunition. It is sure to be watched closely by Trump, an avid TV viewer whose relationship with his attorney general will almost certainly be colored by Mueller’s findings and what Barr says about them.

Since when in the course of jurisprudence and legal ethics has the prosecution worked with the defendant to provide a cover and alibi for the accused?  Maybe that works in a regime where the fix is already a forgone conclusion.  Like in Russia.

Josh Marshall:

The goal here is to max out every avenue to protect the President from the contents of the Report. Bill Barr and his friends at the White House clearly do not care what anyone outside of Trump world thinks at this point. They are not even bothering to keep up appearances at the margins. A good and increasingly relevant question for Bill Barr at this point would be at what point the statutory powers of the Attorney General can amount to obstruction of justice if exercised with corrupt intent.

[…]

Every detail of this has been planned to spin the Report or maximally conceal it in the interests of protecting the President.

None of this is on the level.

Not that it was ever going to be on the level in the first place.

So, brace yourself, kids; it’s going to be a wild ride.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019