Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Take Your Pick

According to the Washington Post’s recent poll, Americans view Robert Mueller as more credible than Trump.

Fifty-six percent to 33 percent, more say they trust Mueller’s version of the facts than Trump’s. And by nearly as wide a margin, more believe Mueller is mainly interested in “finding out the truth” than trying to “hurt Trump politically.”

Nearly two years into his investigation, Mueller has charged 34 people and secured guilty pleas from some of Trump’s closest advisers, including his former campaign chairman, deputy campaign chairman, national security adviser and personal lawyer. The special counsel has alleged 25 Russians, including 12 military officers, conspired to hack Democrats’ emails and wage a social media influence campaign to sway the outcome of the 2016 election, and described in astonishing detail how they did so.

Notably, though, Mueller has not brought criminal charges against any members of the Trump campaign for coordinating in that effort. He has charged several with lying to his investigators or to Congress — adding most recently to that list Roger Stone, a friend of Trump’s for decades whom Mueller has accused of trying to thwart lawmakers’ effort to investigate Russian interference in the election.

It should be noted that other than a brief statement concerning a report in Buzzfeed that they deemed “inaccurate,” neither Robert Mueller nor anyone connected directly or indirectly with his probe has uttered so much as a howdy-do to the press other than what they’ve presented in court.  So earning the public trust on this matter has been done solely on the work they’ve done while Trump has carried on as if his home was in a tree.

On the other hand, giving the people the choice between Mueller and Trump is like offering either pancakes and coffee or anthrax and ebola for breakfast.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

There’s Another Wall Being Built

There’s a wall being built, just as metaphorical as the one Trump wants to build along the southern border, but it’s the one that is really worrying him.  It’s the one being built by the Mueller investigation out of the mounting evidence of corruption, collusion, and fraud, and it’s closing in on him.

What other reason would Trump have for his panic as embodied in his tantrum yesterday after the Democratic leaders — for once unified without the mandatory hand-wringing — said no, again, to his demand for $5.8 billion to build a wall?  Even some Republicans are beginning to edge away.  He’s setting up a whole load of “Oh, look at the kitty!” moments: visit the border, cut off FEMA aid to California’s wildfire recovery, and keep the government shut down just so the cable news gallery has something else to talk about.  Meanwhile, the White House is in full-tilt panic mode to hire lawyers to fend off subpoenas from the House, hoping to stall any investigation from that end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

He knows it.  He feels it.  Brace yourself for some really wild stuff; a cornered animal fights back to the death.

HT to Digby for the photo.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

All In It Together

This blockbuster report in the New York Times pretty much confirms everything that Trump and his minions have been denying about Russian interference in the elections in the U.S.

The Russian influence campaign on social media in the 2016 election made an extraordinary effort to target African-Americans, used an array of tactics to try to suppress turnout among Democratic voters and unleashed a blizzard of activity on Instagram that rivaled or exceeded its posts on Facebook, according to a report produced for the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The report adds new details to the portrait that has emerged over the last two years of the energy and imagination of the Russian effort to sway American opinion and divide the country, which the authors said continues to this day.

“Active and ongoing interference operations remain on several platforms,” says the report, produced by New Knowledge, a cybersecurity company based in Austin, Tex., along with researchers at Columbia University and Canfield Research LLC. One continuing Russian campaign, for instance, seeks to influence opinion on Syria by promoting Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president and a Russian ally in the brutal conflict there.

The New Knowledge report is one of two commissioned by the Senate committee on a bipartisan basis. They are based largely on data about the Russian operations provided to the Senate by Facebook, Twitter and the other companies whose platforms were used.

Add to that the fact that the Republicans have been working quite openly to suppress minority voting for about fifty years, and … well, to quote that immortal sage Curly Joe, what a coinky-dink.

So either the Russians saw a massive opportunity to influence the election in 2016 because American voters are gullible and easy taken in by such simple tricks as well-engineered planted stories on social media — not a surprise given that millions of people will believe that Elvis is still alive and working at a Burger King in Grand Rapids if the National Enquirer says so — or a crafty election campaign just happened to bump into a bunch of Russian operatives who could pull an election win out of the trunk of their Buick.

Whether or not they actively sought each other out or just happened to be working for the same goal and found themselves along the same path, and whether or not that becomes a de facto conspiracy is a matter for the courts and a jury to decide.  But the result was what both of them wanted: the installation of Trump in the White House and corrosion of the American electoral system to the point that it could be manipulated by an outside force.

Monday, December 10, 2018

It Cannot Stand

The release of the sentencing memos by the Southern District of New York for Michael Cohen has launched a flurry of data and expectations about what could or will happen to the people who surround Trump, and inevitably, what will happen to Trump himself.  Trying to summarize it all is very difficult, but I think Adam Davidson at The New Yorker has a pretty good handle on it.

Even if we never learn another single fact about Trump, his business and campaign, and any collusion with Russia, it is now becoming clear that Trump’s bid for the Presidency was almost certainly designed, at least in part, to enrich Trump, and that he was willing to pursue the political interests of a hostile foreign power in order to make money. This scheme was executed ineptly and in ways that make it highly likely that the intelligence agencies of Russia, as well as several other nations, have been able to ferret out most of the details. This means that Trump and the people closest to him have been at enormous risk of compromise.

We will learn more facts, no doubt—many of them. Mueller has revealed only a few threads of the case. He has established that Cohen spent the months between September, 2015, and June, 2016, actively engaging the Russian government to exchange political favors for money, and that, throughout this period, Cohen routinely informed Trump of his efforts (and presumably, though it’s unstated, received Trump’s blessing). This was the precise period in which Trump’s candidacy shifted from humorous long shot to the nominee of the Republican Party. Mueller’s filing also contains suggestions that people connected to the White House, possibly including the President, knew of Michael Cohen’s lies to Congress and federal investigators, and, also, that White House officials stayed in contact with Manafort, who had been revealed to be in close touch with a known Russian intelligence asset.

This is a lot. But it’s not the complete narrative. It is not clear what happened after the notorious Trump Tower meeting of June 9, 2016. Cohen appears to have been pushed aside, and no longer to have played the role of intermediary. Does this mean that Trump insisted that his team shut off all contact with Russia? Or did he hand the portfolio over to a more trusted staffer?

[…]

Mueller’s filings do mark a different sort of end. We are at the end of reasonable debate about whether Trump is hopelessly compromised. As Mueller’s filings encircle the President, the special counsel surely knows he is at ever-greater risk of being fired. Presumably, he wouldn’t have released memorandums as damning as these if he weren’t prepared to make a fuller case. Each filing fills in the over-all picture in ever more granular detail. It seems reasonable to assume that we haven’t yet learned the most disturbing facts. But, even if we learn nothing more, we are already in an unbearable condition. The President of the United States knowingly and eagerly participated in a scheme with a hostile foreign leader who he knew was seeking to influence the Presidential election. Trump sought to profit politically and financially, many of his closest subordinates executed this effort, and he then was aware of and, it seems likely, encouraged an illegal effort to hide these facts. His reckless, unpatriotic actions have left him compromised by at least one but likely many foreign powers and have left his election open to reasonable questions about its legitimacy. And, every day, he sets policies and makes decisions that have an impact on the lives of all Americans and the fortunes of the very autocrats who hold sway over him. It cannot stand.

The scary part of all of this is that we as a nation haven’t faced this sort of threat to the very foundation of our democracy in our collective lifetimes.  Watergate was big and dangerous, too, but at the least the central figure in it — Richard Nixon — still bore some allegiance to the system of our government and yielded to the rule of law, ultimately abiding by the rulings of the courts and the Supreme Court.  And when he went, he went without threatening to hole up in his office, daring armed officers to drag him out by his heels.

We can’t be that assured about Trump.  For one thing, he has an embedded media operation that will back him no matter what.  Second, we’re seeing that his supporters at various state and local levels are willing to cheat — albeit clumsily — to win an election, and of course he had an entire foreign government at his disposal to win the last one.

So dreaming about the chances of Beto O’Rourke or debating the ages and merits of Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are nothing compared to the fact that we are about to embark on a presidential campaign that has all the earmarks of one that kept Robert Mugabe in office for generations.

Which means that we need to win the next election or face the real possibility that it will be the last real one we have.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Hanging By His Thumbs

As I noted last week, Trump may be in more trouble for trying to cover up his crimes than the crimes themselves.  Now it looks like his tweets could open the door to getting him on obstruction of justice and witness tampering.

Trump took to Twitter Monday morning, haranguing special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and witnesses to his ongoing Russia investigation. His tweets have become a common morning occurrence, particularly in recent weeks. But legal experts are calling Monday’s missives a newsworthy development that amounts to evidence of obstructing justice.

Trump’s first statement went out after Michael Cohen, his former personal attorney who pleaded guilty last week for lying to Congress about the president’s real estate project in Russia. In his tweet, Trump alleged that Cohen lied to Mueller and called for a severe penalty, demanding that his former fixer “serve a full and complete sentence.”

After the overt attack on Cohen came a tweet encouraging Roger Stone, a longtime adviser to Trump, not to become a witness against him:

“’I will never testify against Trump.’ This statement was recently made by Roger Stone, essentially stating that he will not be forced by a rogue and out of control prosecutor to make up lies and stories about ‘President Trump.’ Nice to know that some people still have ‘guts!’”

Norman Eisen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said that the most striking thing about Monday was that there were two statements in proximity.

“It comes very close to the statutory definition of witness tampering,” he said. “It’s a mirror image of the first tweet, only he’s praising a witness for not cooperating with the implication of reward,” he said, adding that Trump has pardon power over Stone.

“We’re so used to President Trump transgressing norms in his public declarations,” Eisen said, “but he may have crossed the legal line.”

[…]

Attorney George Conway, husband of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, referenced the federal statute most likely to create legal liability for Trump: 18 U.S.C. §§ 1512, which outlines the crime of witness tampering.

What is the law?

Tampering with a witness is obstruction of justice.

It’s a federal crime for an individual to intimidate, threaten or “corruptly persuade” another person with the goal of influencing or preventing his or her testimony.

Did Trump break it?

Historically, there are plenty of cases where similar statements were used as part of an obstruction-of-justice prosecution, according to former acting solicitor general Neal Katyal.

Even if Mueller could technically satisfy the statute, few prosecutors would make a congressional referral based on tweets from the president alone.

Instead, Monday’s slew of tweets probably will be used to evaluate whether Trump’s intent was “corrupt.” They will also be used to show a pattern by Trump to interfere with law enforcement to serve his personal end, Katyal said.

I can’t decide if Trump is unaware of the liability he’s exposing himself to, doesn’t care (“Neener, neener, I’m the president and you can’t touch me!”), or he’s fully aware of it and is doing it on purpose in the mistaken belief that somehow his tweeting will damage the Mueller investigation and make it impossible for the prosecutors to empanel a jury.  Or, maybe, as the article suggests, he’s just melting down.

In any case, it makes you wonder where the hell his lawyer is in all this.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Seeing A Pattern Here

Josh Marshall may be on to something.

Sometimes it’s worth stepping back and stating the obvious. Over the course of these thirty months of cover-ups, every player in the Trump/Russia story has lied about their role in the conspiracy. And not hedging and spinning fibs but straight up lies about the core nature of their involvement, their overt acts. Most – though here what we know is a bit more tentative – seem to have lied under oath, whether to congressional committees or a grand jury. Not a single one of them told a story that wasn’t eventually contradicted and disproved. Not a single one.

Who? Well, let’s see. Donald Trump, Jr., Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos, Donald Trump, Jerome Corsi, Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Carter Page, Jared Kushner. These are ones who lied, the ones we can state definitively. I’m not including the marginal players, folks like Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan. I’m not including those who just never spoke at all – at least not in public.

His inevitable conclusion is that they’re all guilty.  Perhaps not of a crime, but an innocent person doesn’t risk criminal charges by lying.

Then again, there’s Trump who lies about everything without even thinking about it.  It’s not even to cover up suspicious activity; it’s just his natural state.  Does that mean he’s guilty?  That’s a bit harder to prove, but it does mean that convicting him of a crime, whether it’s collusion with a foreign government to win an election or taking a lot of money from unsuspecting and gullible people for a fictional university degree, is a lot harder because you have to prove criminal intent.  And it’s hard to prove that for someone who lies by nature, the same way some people fart.

So I think this is how it’s all going to end: Trump will be convicted — or at least indicted — for serial lying, not for the actual thing he’s lying about.  Trump’s defenders have already come up with a way to dismiss it, but those were the same folks who went after Bill Clinton and demanded his head for lying about his affairs, so take that for what it’s worth.  It’s an old song; it’s what’s been the downfall of just about everyone else who’s had scandal or questions arise about their behavior: the lying is what does it.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

In And Of Itself

Offering a pardon to a defendant sure sounds — at least to me — like an attempt to obstruct justice.

He’s never discussed a pardon for Paul Manafort, President Trump said Wednesday — but it’s “not off the table.”

“It was never discussed, but I wouldn’t take it off the table. Why would I take it off the table?” the president said during an Oval Office interview.

He ripped special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe and charged that Manafort, former political adviser Roger Stone and Stone’s associate Jerome Corsi were all asked to lie by the special counsel.

“If you told the truth, you go to jail,” Trump said.

“You know this flipping stuff is terrible. You flip and you lie and you get — the prosecutors will tell you 99 percent of the time they can get people to flip. It’s rare that they can’t,” Trump said.

“But I had three people: Manafort, Corsi — I don’t know Corsi, but he refuses to say what they demanded. Manafort, Corsi and Roger Stone.”

“It’s actually very brave,” he said of the trio. “And I’m telling you, this is McCarthyism. We are in the McCarthy era. This is no better than McCarthy. And that was a bad situation for the country. But this is where we are. And it’s a terrible thing,” Trump added.

It all comes down to the simple fact that if there was no crime committed, then these people would have no reason to negotiate a plea deal and there would be no reason for Trump to offer a way out of this for his minions.  But dangling a pardon in front of Manafort is basically saying, “Hey, no matter what they do to you, I’ll take care of you.”

Actually, that would apply only if Trump had the same moral scruples as Michael Corleone.  But he doesn’t.  Trump has screwed people out of all kinds of deals and his word isn’t worth shit.  So one of the reasons Manafort and the rest are coming up with deals is because they know they’re dealing with an honest broker in Robert Mueller.