Tag: Russia

The Case for Patience

In August of 1867, President Andrew Johnson fired Edwin Stanton in violation of the Tenure of Office Act. Johnson was a terrible President and had been in conflict with Congress for a long time. They began working on impeachment almost immediately but it dragged out until, nine months later, the Senate acquitted him.

On June 17, 1972, four men were discovered breaking into the DNC headquarters in the Watergate Hotel. It took over two years for the scandal to grind through an opposing Congress until Nixon resigned. Had he fought impeachment, it might have dragged out even longer.

From November of 1995 to March 1997, Monica Lewinsky had a series of encounters will Bill Clinton. The coverup began later that year and the scandal broke on January 17 of 1998. It took almost a year for the scandal to develop until a hostile Congress voted on impeachment that December. And this was really the culmination of years of scandal with the Clintons.

Why do I bring these up? To remind everyone that we have only turned to impeachment three times in our nation’s history. In each case, the President faced a hostile Congress. In each case, there was specific law-breaking. In each case, it was the culmination of years of conflict. And in each case it took months or years to resolve.

So why are all of the sudden in such a rush to impeach Donald Trump?

Look, Donald Trump has had a poor four months. His Muslim ban was rolled out with all the skill of the Marx brothers. His budget went nowhere. His healthcare imploded. He hired Mike Flynn — a man compromised by multiple foreign entanglements — and then fired him reluctantly. He fired the FBI director because he didn’t him poking around his Russia ties. He has serious conflict of interest and infuriating temperament problems. I’ll be second to few in my criticism of him.

But it is way too early be talking impeachment and way too early to be calling Congress — held by his party — “cowards” and “partisans” for not beginning impeachment proceedings immediately.

Let’s look at some facts here:

  • There is zero evidence, at this point, that Donald Trump directly collaborated with the Russians to win the election.
  • There is zero evidence that anyone in his campaign did. There are some indications that some of them had worked for Russia and one may have contacted the DNC hacker. But there’s no smoking gun yet. Not even on Michael Flynn.
  • Even if someone did work with the Russians, this is not “treason” in any legal sense. Treason is defined very narrowly in our laws to avoid it being used to go after political opponents. We’re not at war with Russia.
  • It is highly questionable whether Trump’s business interests violate the law. They’re slimy, sure. But corruption? No proof yet.
  • Firing the FBI director is not illegal nor is it obstruction of justice. Firing Sally Yates is not illegal nor is it obstruction of justice. Firing Preet Bharara is not illegal not is it obstruction of justice. Asking Comey to lay off Flynn is not illegal nor is it obstruction of justice. These things may be part of a pattern of behavior that could be said to constitute obstruction. You would introduce these as elements of a crime. But none of them are crimes in and of themselves.
  • (And while we’re on the subject, why the hell are the liberals making a hero of that overzealous Constitution-shredding prosecutor Bharara? He is no friend of theirs. His “resistance” to Donald Trump has consisted entirely of refusing a perfectly legal and routine request to resign because … he didn’t want to. Bharara is only in this for himself.
  • Trump’s executive orders are not illegal. In fact, the precedent for most of what he’s done was set by … Barack Obama.

Look, I’m not saying there will never be a case to impeach Donald Trump. I’m just saying that case does not exist yet and may not for years. People who are talking impeachment — or worse using the 25th Amendment — are way ahead of themselves. Hell, let’s be honest. Some of them were talking about impeachment the day he won the election.

Let’s all take a deep breath here. Donald Trump is President of the United States. I’m not fond of that fact but he is. Screaming impeachment every time he swats a fly is not going to get us anywhere. And frankly, it make the “resistance”, after all of four months, sound more insane than the worst Tea Partiers ever did. For four months, the courts, the Congress and the media have held Trump in check. Concentrate your efforts there. And when he does do something right, admit he’s done something right.

Post Scriptum

For the record, I think it’s likely that Donald Trump will not finish his first term. But I don’t think it will have anything to do with Russia and I don’t think he will be impeached. My opinion is that while Russia tried to influence the election, their contacts with the Trump campaign were limited at best. And Trump’s behavior does not cross me as someone trying to cover up a huge scandal. It crosses me as the behavior of a petty inexperienced man who is convinced the Russia thing is a bunch of garbage and wants to end it, not understanding the political ramifications. This is Trump’s inexperience showing — a smart man would let the Democrats gasbag themselves to death over it. But we’ll see what comes out of the investigation.

If Trump quits early it will be because he’s frustrated with the limit on the office and wants to do something else. I don’t think he ever really wanted to be President. And while I think he enjoys talking to crowds and sparring with the media, I don’t think he likes the slowly frustrating hamstrung grind of the office itself.

Post-post Scriptum

Note that with impeachment on the brain, a lot of Democrats are unveiling their, “actually Pence is worse” lines of BSery. The line of thought is that Pence is less personally obnoxious and could therefore get a lot more of his agenda through. Well, that and that Pence is such a religious maniac, he’s going to turn the country in the The Handmaid’s Tale.

In unveiling this argument, the Left is revealing that a huge fraction of their opposition to Trump is pure partisanship. You can’t make the argument that Trump is uniquely unsuited to the office and then claim that Pence (or Ryan) is worse. That’s just foolishness as well as an abuse of the English language.

The other argument is that they want Trump to be truly awful and, thus, destroy the Republican Party. Apart from the reality that truly awful candidates never wreck a party, this is putting politics ahead of country. Are you seriously hoping that Trump wrecks the country so that Democrats get to power? Is that really what this is all about?

Then don’t call yourself “the resistance”. You’re not resistance. You’re just wearing a different shade of uniform.

Trump Burns Intel Sources?

I hesitate to post this because it’s early hours. But it’s a bombshell if true.

President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week, according to current and former U.S. officials, who said Trump’s disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.

The information the president relayed had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government, officials said.

The partner had not given the United States permission to share the material with Russia, and officials said Trump’s decision to do so endangers cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State. After Trump’s meeting, senior White House officials took steps to contain the damage, placing calls to the CIA and the National Security Agency.

It’s anonymous sources. The White House has issued a denial, but it’s a carefully worded one. At this point, I am still awaiting confirmation, which may never get. But if it is true, it is a serious and egregious mistake by an increasingly bumbling and lost President. The President may have exposed a vital source of intelligence so that he could boast to a Russian foreign minister. (Note: Reuters and Buzzfeed are claiming confirmation from other sources, also anonymous).

A lot of people are rallying around the President but a lot more than usual are criticizing him. As I said — we should be cautious about spectacular anonymously sourced stories. But veterans of the blog may remember Lee’s invention of the phrase Brownie Moment. I think there a lot of Brownie Moments happening right now.

The Flynn Flip

The internet is filled with the new that General Mike Flynn is seeking immunity in exchange for testifying about the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. What exactly he would testify about it a bit unclear. And so far, no one has taken him up on the offer.

The Democrats are salivating over this, but let’s keep something in mind: Flynn may not know shit. He may just be trying desperately to evade any consequences of his own actions which, at the very least, included undisclosed lobbying on behalf of Turkey. Even is he does know something, that something may not be the thing that leads to the downfall of Trump.

I’m reminded a bit of Oliver North. During the Iran-Contra Affair, North was given immunity to testify to Congress. In the end, he didn’t give them what they wanted: nothing implicated Reagan. The prosecutors went after North himself and got a conviction but it was subsequently overturned because of the immunity Congress had given him.

Maybe Flynn cracks the Russia thing open. But I suspect this will go the same way. If he is given immunity, the stuff he will reveal will be less than damning or, at worst, implicate Manafort.

As I’ve said many times, the Russia thing demands full independent investigation (especially with Nunes going off the reservation). But I’m not going to say, “This is the end of Trump!” until it’s the end of Trump.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Two new reports on the Trump-Russia thing today.

This morning, the AP revealed that Paul Manafort, Trump’s first campaign manager, failed to disclose that he had worked for a Russian oligarch. The purpose of his job, according to the AP, was to advance the interest of Vladimir Putin:

Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and former Soviet republics to benefit President Vladimir Putin’s government, even as U.S.-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse.

Manafort, you may remember, was forced out of the Trump team when it was revealed that he had taken Russian money to lobby on behalf of pro-Russia factions in the Ukraine. This was one of the first revelations that made people question Trump’s ties to Russia. The revelation that his campaigning on behalf of Putin goes back even further is disturbing. If there’s any fire to all this smoke on Russia, Manafort will be where you’ll find it.

Tonight, however, the news got even worse:

The FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, US officials told CNN.

This is partly what FBI Director James Comey was referring to when he made a bombshell announcement Monday before Congress that the FBI is investigating the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, according to one source.

The FBI is now reviewing that information, which includes human intelligence, travel, business and phone records and accounts of in-person meetings, according to those U.S. officials. The information is raising the suspicions of FBI counterintelligence investigators that the coordination may have taken place, though officials cautioned that the information was not conclusive and that the investigation is ongoing.

Now, caveat time. All the sources that CNN sites are anonymous. Moreover, even if they are telling the truth, all this means is that the FBI is investigating these claims, not that they’ve found anything. At the moment, this is simply more smoke.

There have been allegations that the intelligence community has become politicized over this. Even though the loudest accuser is Roger Stone, who admitted to being in communication with the Wikileaks hackers, I’m not inclined to dismiss this line of criticism. It’s certainly possible that’s what we’re seeing.

Which is why we need to end the rumor mongering and put together a independent commission to look into this. To look into all of it. The current investigation — through the House Intelligence Committee — is only muddying the waters further. If Trump people cooperated with Russia to win the election, that’s a very serious scandal. And if the intelligence community is exaggerating this to undermine Trump, that’s a very serious scandal. Time to bring this all out in the open.

Tapping Trump

So this happened:

President Trump on Saturday angrily accused former president Barack Obama of orchestrating a “Nixon/Watergate” plot to tap the phones at his Trump Tower headquarters last fall in the run-up to the election.

While citing no evidence to support his explosive allegation, Trump said in a series of four tweets sent Saturday morning that Obama was “wire tapping” his New York offices before the election in a move he compared to McCarthyism. “Bad (or sick) guy!” he said of his predecessor, adding that the surveillance resulted in “nothing found.”

This appears to be a result of internet telephone. Last summer, Louise Mensch revealed that the FBI (not Obama) has sought a FISA warrant to investigate members of Trump’s team’s ties to the Russians (this was after it was discovered that a server in Trump tower was communicating with Russian banks). The FISA Court rejected the initial warrant, then granted one more narrowly focused on four members of the Trump team. These details have been reported on many times. A few days ago, Mark Levin did one of his connect-the-dots pieces alleging a conspiracy to derail Trump. It showed up today on Breitbart and thus went into Trump’s brain.

If that’s all there is to it, Trump is being incredibly stupid here because he is reminding the public that his campaign staff were under investigation for espionage owing to credible accusations that they were working with the Russians to enable Trump’s election. If there’s more, then Trump needs to provide the evidence because warrantless wiretapping by Obama would indeed be a gigantic political scandal.

The Russia Follies, Chapter 58

The advantage of being on vacation is that I can watch an entire Trump news cycle play out before commenting on it. So it is with the latest Russia scandal. Apparently, Jeff Sessions, our Attorney General, denied meeting with the Russians during the campaign. But it has now been revealed that he met with the Russian Ambassador twice. Today has brought more revelations of unreported meetings and unreported business ties.

As is usually the case with revelations about this Administration’s contacts with Russia, it provoked an instant reaction of “Treason! Impeachment! Worse than Watergate!” followed by the refractory period of, “OK, we’ll look into it.” as more facts come out. For example, most of these contacts between Trump officials and the Russian ambassador took place at the RNC … at an event organized by the Obama Administration State Department.

A few things to unpack from this.

First, one of the big claims is that Sessions perjured himself in his testimony to Congress. Having thought about this for a while and read quite a bit of online commentary, I’m inclined to think he didn’t. There’s enough leeway in his answers that he can honestly say he didn’t discuss the campaign with Kislyak. One of the most hilarious figures in this mess is now Claire McCaskill. After she claimed to have never met the Russian ambassador, it took ten seconds for conservative Twitter to show that she had. Sessions may have forgotten these meetings or regarded their content as insignificant. His answers were problematic, no question. But sticking a charge of perjury on them requires a lot of facts that are not yet in evidence.

Questions of perjury aside, I agree with the calls for Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from the ongoing Russia investigation (after I drafted this, Sessions agreed to recuse himself). I also think Sessions needs to give a full account of his conversations with Kislyak to determine if he did perjure himself before Congress.

And I agree that there needs to be a full independent Congressional investigation into this matter. At minimum, we’re talking about members of the Administration potentially using their positions to advance their business interests. At worst, we’re talking about the subversion of Administration members by a foreign power. Even if you are a Trump supporter, you can not have this cloud hanging over him for the next four years. There is a tendency for partisans to hunker down and not want to “give in” to the other side. That’s a bad instinct. Bad for America. And frankly bad for Trump. Investigate now. Investigate fully. This isn’t some Daily Kos conspiracy theory any more.

(I suspect, incidentally, that the explanation here is closer to the “business interests” side of the spectrum than the “treason” side. The Trump Administration is filled with amateurs who have no idea how important disclosure is and filled with business people who have ties to Russia and potential conflicts of interests — all the way up to the President himself. If it were shown that the Administration is subverting American interests in favor of Russian ones, that would be one of the worst scandals in American political history. But I find that unlikely to be the case, especially with Sessions who is a notorious hawk on Russia.)

I’ll be honest. We’re a month and a half into the Trump years and I am frankly getting tired of this clown show with the Russians. This entire thing could have been avoided had Trump released his tax returns and disclosed his business interests (and not done his whole, “Putin, if you’re listening” routine). One thing that needs to come out of this is full financial disclosure from both the President and his advisors. Releasing tax returns can no longer be optional. And while we’re on it, we should make medical disclosure mandatory too. We don’t need another JFK hopped up on five kinds of prescription meds trying to navigate a potential nuclear war.

What the Hades? (Russian Pee Edition)

So … to quote a great sage, let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

Yesterday, CNN ran an explosive story that the CIA had briefed Trump on Russian efforts to compromise him.

The allegations were presented in a two-page synopsis that was appended to a report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. The allegations came, in part, from memos compiled by a former British intelligence operative, whose past work US intelligence officials consider credible. The FBI is investigating the credibility and accuracy of these allegations, which are based primarily on information from Russian sources, but has not confirmed many essential details in the memos about Mr. Trump.

The two-page synopsis also included allegations that there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government, according to two national security officials.

The report says Russia was trying to get information that would compromise Trump personally, financially or ethically.

Soon after that Buzzfeed ran the full report of allegations, which runs some 35 pages. It includes allegations that Trump people worked directly with the Russians and has some details on supposed compromising information. Buzzfeed stressed that this was unconfirmed but the internet and liberals jumped all over it.

And then it got even stranger. Every journalist on Twitter said that they’d gotten the same report as Buzzfeed but had refused to run it. The reason? Nothing in it could be verified (and as Liz Mair and other pointed out, there were reasons to doubt its authenticity even on its own merits). And then it got even stranger when Redditors began to claim the entire thing was a hoax sent to Rick Wilson as a joke (Wilson denies being the source of it). Trump, of course, took to Twitter to foam at the mouth about it.

So … to sum up … there is a document floating around making various claims about Trump and the Russians. It is from a single intelligence source, is absolutely unverified and contains information that crosses many as dubious. Buzzfeed, for reasons that elude me, decided to release the entire thing without any fact-checking. Based on this, a substantial part of the Left Wing — who were crying about “fake news” like yesterday — is calling for Trump to be impeached (although, TBF, they call for Trump to be impeached when it rains). So, in case you thought the bad crazy was going away, it isn’t.

(Necessary caveat, since I get accused of being a secret Trumpaloo anytime I defend him: Putin is a murderous kleptocrat; it’s alarming that he may have helped Trump in the election; it should be investigated thoroughly; this does not delegitimize Trump’s election; unless Trump worked with him, this is not an impeachable offense.)

Now … those are the facts. Here’s the fun:

The most frenzied allegation in the report was that, while in Russia, Trump rented out the Presidential Suite at the Ritz Carlton and had Russian hookers pee on a bed the Obamas had slept in. I’ll be honest with you: as much as dislike Trump, this allegation sounds like a bunch of manure.

Trump’s “thing” isn’t sex; it’s worship. He’s a shameless braggart and a terribly insecure man. Hence slapping his name on everything in sight. Hence his insistence that Marla Maples tell the media he was the best sex she ever had. Hence his claims to have seduced married women and groped models. The Billy Bush tape was Trump in a nutshell: a rich 59-year-old man so desperate to impress people that he had to boast about sexual assault to a D-list celebrity. Hell, the rumor is that his entire Presidential campaign was motivated by his humiliation at the White House Correspondents Dinner. Frankly, he doesn’t cross me as well-adjusted enough or secure enough in who he is to be kinky.

But, maybe. My friend Maggie McNeill took to Twitter to note that many politicians see sex workers and many have unusual requests. The only reason it doesn’t come out is because sex workers, unlike politicians, have ethics. So it could be true.

But I honestly don’t care. Whatever Trump is into, that’s his business and not ours. There are many people who are into being peed on or watching people pee and, if that makes them happy and everyone’s a consenting adult, that’s their business. As long as Trump’s not breaking any laws or coercing anyone, I don’t care. Well … no … I do care because it’s fun to mock the powerful. Viz:

So, yes, I will find some relief as this story swirls around the internet. I think that these kind of leaks are dangerous but I don’t mind too much when they anger our #1 businessman. I’m sure that this won’t stop Trump from taking care of business no matter how much it pisses him off. And, who knows? Maybe I’m wrong about his Administration and a bright golden future really does await us. Maybe he will write his name on the wall of history.

I’ll show myself out.

All The News That’s Fit to Fake

Last week, the media filled with reports about how the Russians were hacking the power grid in Vermont. This was supposedly the first wave of more cyberattacks. The only problem? It wasn’t true:

As federal officials investigate suspicious Internet activity found last week on a Vermont utility computer, they are finding evidence that the incident is not linked to any Russian government effort to target or hack the utility, according to experts and officials close to the investigation.

An employee at Burlington Electric Department was checking his Yahoo email account Friday and triggered an alert indicating that his computer had connected to a suspicious IP address associated by authorities with the Russian hacking operation that infiltrated the Democratic Party. Officials told the company that traffic with this particular address is found elsewhere in the country and is not unique to Burlington Electric, suggesting the company wasn’t being targeted by the Russians. Indeed, officials say it is possible that the traffic is benign, since this particular IP address is not always connected to malicious activity.

In other words, the Washington Post, and most of the media, said a cyberwar was underway because someone clicked a link. This is part of the overall hysteria about Russia that has gripped the media since Trump’s election.

Look, I have no use for the murderous kleptocrat who runs Russia and has dreams of rebuilding his Empire. And it puzzles and alarms me that our President-Elect wants to snuggle up to him. But … let’s get a grip here. We’re not at war. We have a bit of a cold war thing going, but it’s not nearly what we were dealing with 25 years ago. For the time being, Putin’s imperial ambitions consist of wrecking his economy and getting his military bogged down in Syria and the Ukraine. Yes, we should pay attention to them and be concerned about cyber-warfare. But the speed with which people are going to DEFCON 2 is ridiculous.

(Note: it’s especially ridiculous because of many of these same jokers were useful idiots for the USSR when the latter actually was a superpower and we actually were in an intense Cold War. They were fine with seventy years of gulags and guerrilla wars, but a phishing attack on the DNC is apparently a step too far.)

I’ve been building up a diatribe on the “fake news” hysteria for a while and now is as good a time as any to unload. Pull up a chair.

Read more… »

Obama Whacks Russia

By comparison of Obama to Michael Corleone at the end of The Godfather is looking more and more apt:

President Barack Obama took unprecedented steps Thursday to retaliate against alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election, prompting vows from Russian authorities that Moscow will respond in kind.

The administration described Russia’s involvement as “Significant Malicious Cyber-Enabled Activities” and sanctioned six Russian individuals and five Russian entities, as well as ordering dozens of Russian diplomats to leave the country. This is the first time the names of Russian officials involved in the hacking have become public on the sanctions list.

Obama said 35 Russian diplomats have been ordered to leave the country and two Russian compounds are being closed under Thursday’s actions.

“Russia’s cyberactivities were intended to influence the election, erode faith in US democratic institutions, sow doubt about the integrity of our electoral process, and undermine confidence in the institutions of the US government,” a White House statement said. “These actions are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”

According to statements from the White House and the Treasury Department, the government has sanctioned nine entities and individuals over their alleged interference in the election: the GRU and the FSB, two Russian intelligence services; four individual officers of the GRU; three companies that provided material support to the GRU’s operations. The US also sanctioned two Russian individuals for using cyber-enabled means to cause misappropriation of funds and personal identifying information.

I think this is appropriate, assuming the CIA is correct about Russian interference. The point is not that Russia “won” the election for Trump. The point is that they are sewing doubt and discord and trying to humiliate the US. It also, again, is about boxing Trump into a corner where he will have to actively lift the sanctions if he wants to kiss Putin’s butt.