The Truth Is Out There

According to a report in Bloomberg today, shortly after the midterm elections, Special Counsel Robert Mueller will release findings on whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to swing the 2016 election and whether Trump himself obstructed justice:

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is expected to issue findings on core aspects of his Russia probe soon after the November midterm elections as he faces intensifying pressure to produce more indictments or shut down his investigation, according to two U.S. officials.

Specifically, Mueller is close to rendering judgment on two of the most explosive aspects of his inquiry: whether there were clear incidents of collusion between Russia and Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, and whether the president took any actions that constitute obstruction of justice, according to one of the officials, who asked not to be identified speaking about the investigation.

That doesn’t necessarily mean Mueller’s findings would be made public if he doesn’t secure unsealed indictments. The regulations governing Mueller’s probe stipulate that he can present his findings only to his boss, who is currently Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. The regulations give a special counsel’s supervisor some discretion in deciding what is relayed to Congress and what is publicly released.

The thing I want to believe referenced by the image above isn’t that the Trump campaign colluded and that Trump obstructed justice; I am 95% sure the Trump campaign conspired with Russia because we have hard evidence that they were slobberingly eager to do so — all that’s needed is proof that they followed through on that intent. I am 100% certain that Trump obstructed justice because he confessed it on camera to Lester Holt and has publicly tampered with witnesses and interfered with the investigation ever since.

No, the thing I want to believe is that justice is possible even though the Republicans have insisted that only Republicans can investigate Republicans and that Republicans control what the public can know about the findings. If such a scenario were unfolding in a foreign country, we’d label it a Banana Republic and expect a white wash. I want to believe we will eventually know the truth about a hostile foreign power’s attack on our election, and in America circa 2018, that feels a little like believing in alien abductions.



Muhammad bin Salman’s Khashoggi Gambit: The Trump Doctrine in Action

The actual Trump Doctrine, which we’ve covered here at Balloon Juice extensively since the President gave his first campaign speech about national-security and foreign policy back in April 2016, is:

America’s allies are taking advantage of our treaty and other obligations in the national security space; America’s allies and peer competitors are ripping the US off through our trade agreements; the US should go it alone if it can’t renegotiate better deals; and only a President Trump could guarantee that the US would be treated fairly – or else. That only a President Trump could guarantee that the US would be treated fairly, whether in national security arrangements or global trade, was simply an extension of one of the major, if not the major theme of his campaign: Donald Trump would be treated fairly or else and only Donald Trump could guarantee that Americans, especially the forgotten men and women as he phrased it, would be treated fairly or else.

That the US will be treated fairly or else, and that only a President Trump could guarantee that happening became the central, unifying theme of his national security and foreign policy approach was actually a stroke of strategic communication genius. A significant amount of the President’s initial strategic communication approach was through tying his primary opponents, the Republican National Committee, and the broadcast and cable news networks in knots about treating him fairly. This included trying to get Megyn Kelly removed from debate moderation after he felt she treated him badly, as well as actually dropping out of a GOP primary debate on Fox News and holding a competing charity event for veterans because he did not like that Fox wouldn’t comply with his demands. And if they failed to do so he’d deal with them harshly. Then candidate Trump threatened his fellow primary opponents and the RNC by making it clear that if he didn’t feel he was being treated fairly by them, then the “or else” would be his running as an independent candidate, thereby splitting the Republican vote for president, and handing the election to the then presumed Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton.

By making this the dominant theme of his national security and foreign policy approach, he was able to make a singular through line for his campaign – “I, Donald Trump, will be treated fairly or else by the GOP, the RNC, and the news media; only I, Donald Trump, can guarantee that you the forgotten men and women of America are treated fairly in regards to both domestic politics and foreign policy; and only I, Donald Trump, can guarantee that the US will be treated fairly or else there will be serious and severe repercussions for the GOP, the RNC, the news media, elected and appointed officials, and America’s allies, partners, and peer competitors”. Here was the simple through line to connect Make America Great Again both domestically and internationally by placing America first. It is also the essence of the real Trump Doctrine: President Trump and by extension the forgotten men and women of America, as well as America itself, will be treated fairly or else.

Muhammad bin Salman’s strategy for the wetwork operation against Jamal Khashoggi is to leverage the Trump Doctrine in order to allow him to get away with having Khashoggi to be vanished by rendition, or as is now reported and most likely to have happened, extra-judicially executed at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. The Crown Prince, who is popularly known as MBS, like so many other authoritarian and autocratic foreign leaders, has figured out that the President makes his decisions on whether he feels he is being treated fairly. If he feels that he is, then one can pretty much do whatever they want. If he feels that he isn’t, then the President goes on the offensive to deliver the “or else”. MBS believes he can get away with this because the President has publicly made it clear that as long as the Saudis spend money purchasing his properties or at his properties, then he likes them because they are treating him fairly.

At one of his 2015 campaign rallies the President said:

Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.

The Permanent Saudi Mission to the UN is housed in Trump World Tower across the street from the UN. The Kingdom owns the entire 45th floor. The Trump Tower in Chicago is running a profit, as is the Trump International Hotel and Tower in New York, largely because of bookings from the Saudis. Even as almost all the other Trump branded properties posted significant losses, especially his beloved Scottish golf courses. Jared Kushner has also been seeking financing from the Saudis for his personal business interests. At this time it appears that funding stream did not come through. The lack of funding, however, has not kept the Crown Prince from bragging that he has Jared in his pocket, which, once reported, MBS denied.

Muhammad bin Salman is gambling that because the Saudis spend lavishly on the President’s private business interests, and that because the President doesn’t understand the terms of what the Saudis have negotiated in regard to their potential purchases of US military equipment, which are really just a bunch of letters of intent that have yet to be finalized., that the President will provide him with the plausible deniability he needs to get away with having Khashoggi vanished and mist likely extra-judicially executed. Despite the fact that MBS negotiated a huge discount from Jared “The Hidden Genius” Kushner and guarantees that approximately 50% of the weapons would be built in Saudi Arabia, which means that the sale, if it were actually finalized, would not significantly increase US manufacturing or jobs.

Right on schedule this morning the President announced that Saudi King Salman, who is actually just an infirm figure head, stated the Saudis didn’t do anything to Khashoggi, but it could have been rogue killers.

You know, rogue killers who just happened to be traveling on Saudi Arabian diplomatic passports, on Saudi Arabian government jets, one of whom was an autopsy specialist who happened to pack his bone saw, who just happened to be hanging out at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul when Jamal Khashoggi walked in to get his official Saudi marriage documents signed, and who just so happened decided that Khashoggi looked like a good guy to practice a little recreational wetwork and improvisational autopsying on. Which would, I suppose, explain, why the Saudi Arabians had a professional cleaning team in their Istanbul consulate this morning, which left shortly before the Turkish police were allowed to enter the building.

As long as the President places being treated fairly, and specifically his subjective understanding of being personally treated fairly, as the central consideration of US policy, we will see more of this type of behavior from the authoritarians, autocrats, despots, tyrants, neo-nationalists, and neo-fascists that the President finds so admirable. During his 60 Minutes interview with Lesley Stahl, he all but gave Putin a green light, and anyone else who was paying attention and might have similar interests, to keep assassinating people – from political rivals to opposition figures to journalists to defectors from Russia’s intelligence services – as long as they’re not American citizens and the wet work doesn’t take place in the US.

While there is an old political science/international relations axiom that state’s don’t have friends, they have interests, the Trump Doctrine has turned the US into a transactional state. A transactional state being run by the head of an ongoing white collar criminal and organized criminal enterprise. It is no surprise that authoritarians and aspiring authoritarians like Muhammad bin Salman are developing strategies that leverage the treat the President fairly part of the Trump Doctrine to get away with whatever they want in order to avoid the “or else” response.

We are off the looking glass and through the map.

Open thread!



Untreated Mental Illness is Not a Joke. Nor a Political Statement.

Kanye West went to the White House today to meet and have lunch with the President, supposedly about prison reform. Prior to lunch, he and the President held an impromptu press gaggle in the Oval Office. I watched this live, except for the final couple of minutes as I had to take care of something. West, both just speaking off the cuff, as well as taking questions from the White House press corps as if he actually had any idea what he was talking about, was completely out of control. Including referencing his mental health issues and his IQ. Here’s the video of almost the full ten minutes of Kanye ranting and raving about everything from how the 13th Amendment needs to be repealed to do away with slavery (which is what the 13th Amendment does except for, in practical purposes, convicted, incarcerated prisoners), crime and violence in Chicago, manliness, his mental illness, his IQ, and a hydrogen powered airplane among other topics. And Jim Brown was there. I’m not sure why. I’m not sure Jim Brown knew why by the time this was all over.

Warning! This is unpleasant to watch. Warning!

Ali Velshi and Stephanie Ruhle were a bit flabbergasted…

Apparently so was someone working either for the President or in the White House press corps.

Kanye’s antics have now made him a security threat to the United States.

I would not take this bet.

Also, the Oval Office is a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility. As is much of the West Wing. How in the name of anyone’s Deity or Deities was Kanye allowed to bring his cellphone into the West Wing, let alone the Oval Office? This, in and of itself, is a major security breach. Of course letting a person with untreated mental illness because he’s chosen to stop taking his medication within arms’ length of the President is a major security breach as well.

Aside from the obvious inanity on display here, mental illness and untreated mental illness is not a joke. If you or a loved one or a close friend needs help, here are some resources:

Here’s the link to the National Institute of Mental Health’s help for mental illnesses page.

Here’s the link to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Open thread!

 



Ratfuckers R Us (Open Thread)

Yesterday’s NYT included an article on Manafort deputy Rick Gates’ receipt of a proposal from an Israeli firm to “create fake online identities, to use social media manipulation and to gather intelligence” to help Team Trump. The company, Psy-Group, originally came to Gates’ attention at a March 2016 meeting. They submitted a proposal to run influence campaigns to ensure RNC delegates didn’t bolt from Trump to Ted Cruz. Psy-Group wasn’t hired for that job.

But the owner of the company, Joel Zamel, met with Trump Jr. in August of 2016 to propose a general election influence operation. Here’s the NYT’s report on the second proposal:

A second proposal focused on gathering information about Mrs. Clinton and 10 of her associates through publicly available data as well as unspecified “complementary intelligence activities.” Psy-Group promised to prepare a comprehensive dossier on each of the targets, including “any actionable intelligence.”

A third document emphasized “tailored third-party messaging” aimed at minority, suburban female and undecided voters in battleground states. It promised to create and maintain fake online personas that would deliver messages highlighting Mr. Trump’s merits and Mrs. Clinton’s weaknesses or revealing “rifts and rivalries within the opposition.”

Though it appears that Trump campaign officials declined to accept any of the proposals, Mr. Zamel pitched the company’s services in at least general terms during a meeting on Aug. 3, 2016, at Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr. That meeting, revealed in May by The Times, was also attended by George Nader, an emissary from the ruler of the United Arab Emirates, and by Erik Prince, a Republican donor and the founder of the private security company formerly known as Blackwater.

The report says Nader paid Zamel $2M after the election but that the two have given differing accounts of whether or not Psy-Group provided services to the Trump campaign. Also, remember the witness tampering attempt that led to Manafort being jailed prior to his court date? The witness in question was Eckart Sager, the political consultant who first hooked Psy-Group up with Gates.

The report says it doesn’t appear that the Trump campaign used Psy-Group, and it’s unclear if it would have been illegal if they did. The $2M strikes me as a paltry sum considering the scale of the influence campaign we all saw with our own eyes in 2016, but the measures taken — including the use of trolls to foment dissent between opposition groups — sure looks familiar.

My guess is the Trump campaign chose the free — or quid pro quo — influence campaign provided by the Kremlin instead. The NYT article makes it clear the Mueller team is all over this. Maybe someday we’ll get the truth. But in the meantime, perhaps add “make it illegal for campaigns to hire troll farms to create fake social media identities and spread disinformation” to the post-Trump to-do list.



A Few Thoughts on Senators Heitkamp and Murkowski

While we wait for Senator Collins to finish the longest public statement of “I’m voting yes” ever given in the English or any other language, I think it is important to take a moment and revisit the two much more courageous votes and statements of Senators Heitkamp and Murkowski. Especially so in the wake of Senator Flake’s weeklong end of summer stock reenactment of Hamlet that got so much press attention.

Here is Senator Murkowski’s statement to the press shortly after she voted no this morning during the cloture vote on Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination.

And here is Senator Heitkamp’s, which I also posted yesterday:

Senators Heitkamp’s and Murkowski’s votes and their statements are important for several reasons. Senator Heitkamp is in the final weeks of her re-election campaign and it remains to be seen whether or not this will help or hinder her in seeking another term in the Senate. Senator Murkowski is not up for re-election until 2022. Despite the stated and reported opposition by her Native Alaskan constituents, as well as Alaska’s governor and lieutenant governor to Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination, her re-election is far enough off that she could have just kept quiet and voted along with the GOP majority in the Senate and it wouldn’t have come back to bite her if she does choose to run again in 2022. Instead she now has Alaska’s premier ankle biter and matriarch of the state’s most dysfunctionally petty crime family calling out the other attack dogs in an attempt to claw out another fifteen minutes of fame.

What Senator’s Heitkamp and Murkowski have done isn’t just cast a no vote. Read their statements as to why. Neither of them are denying that the President, regardless of what they may or may not think about the election of 2016 and his de facto legitimacy as a result of what occurred in that election, has the de jure responsibility and authority to nominate who he wants to the Supreme Court based on whatever process he establishes to arrive at the nominee. Rather they are both stating flatly that the issue here is that Judge Kavanaugh is not the right nominee at this moment in political and social time in the US. Neither are saying they wouldn’t seriously consider a different nominee with an open mind. This is important. Neither Senator Heitkamp or Murkowski are doing what Senators McConnell, McCain, Cruz, and others did during the 2016 election when they stated that not only would Judge Garland not get a meeting, let alone a hearing or up and down vote to fill the vacancy left by Justice Scalia’s death, but that if Secretary Clinton were elected that they would hold that Supreme Court seat open for as long as the GOP held the majority in the Senate or as long as a Democratic majority in the Senate kept the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees in place. Instead they are simply stating that because of the circumstances and politics around this nomination and the current state of American politics and society, for the good of the Supreme Court, the Senate, and the US, Judge Kavanaugh was just not the right person to fill the current vacancy at this time.

Senator Heitkamp’s and Murkowski’s stated reasons for voting no also gets at another important point that we all too frequently ignore, if we even recognize it at all. Specifically that the purpose of the political processes that have been established and then evolved over time, and that are right now being severely stress tested, are the mechanisms that transform what may be politically unpalatable into government and governance that is politically palatable. Part of what Senators Heitkamp and Murkowski took a stand for, in addition to accepting Dr. Blasey’s testimony of what she had to endure in 1982, was the recognition that the US cannot continue going forward where the politics of might makes right, which is at the heart of all forms of fascism, regardless of whether it is a majority or a minority that has that might at any given moment in time, rules the day. They recognize that what the President, Don McGahn the White House Counsel, Leonard Leo who runs the Federalist Society and whose dark money networks bankroll the Judicial Crisis Network, and Senators McConnell, Grassley, Cornyn, Hatch, etc have done with judicial nominations – and in the case of the Republican senators done so going back to the Obama administration –  has gone way past the point where the process can be used to transform the politically unpalatable into palatable government and governance.

Senators Heitkamp and Murkowski’s statements and the actions backing them up should sound as a clarion call that the system is fast approaching, if not already at, a breaking point. The subtext of their remarks is a recognition that the majority of Americans who did not vote for the President, despite his electoral college victory, or for either the GOP majorities in the House and the Senate, are fast approaching the point where Republican minoratarian rule, despite its constitutional/de jure legitimacy, is approaching the point of no return. That the relentless pursuit of power at all costs, whether through gerrymandering and voter suppression, manipulating and breaking the rules of the House and the Senate begun by Speaker Gingrich and perfected by Senator McConnell, packing the Federal courts, and/or the attempt to govern solely to the delight and enthusiasm of the President’s electorally minority base of white, largely evangelical and traditionalist Christians in the attempt to create a herrenvolk democracy, isn’t going to simply lock in permanent Republican control over the Federal government. It is going to irreparably break the Federal government and the United States polity and society.

While Senators Heitkamp’s and Murkowski’s stands will ultimately not be enough to stop Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination, the importance of their actions should be recognized nonetheless. They didn’t attempt to demonstrate just how much more moral than everyone else they are while predictably doing what they always do, like Senator Flake who always folds like a cheap suit after giving a sad speech with a crestfallen look on his face. Nor did they attempt to once again demonstrate how thoughtfully moderate they are, while always voting with the most conservative members of the Senate Republican caucus like Senator Collins. Instead they recognized that what the US Senate, the world’s greatest deliberative country club, actually needed was leadership. Not kabuki theater or crocodile tears or a political dance of the seven veils. What we’ve seen this week is a contrast between two senators – Heitkamp and Murkowski – who recognize and understand what leadership is and those who don’t – Flake and Collins. Leadership, either formal or informal, is doing the hard things when everyone is watching, not talking about doing the hard things and then not doing them because everyone is watching and someone might get mad at you.

As one of my professional forebears, Dr. Bernard Fall, so accurately observed in 1964 (emphasis mine):

Civic action is not the construction of privies or the distribution of antimalarial sprays. One can’t fight an ideology; one can’t fight a militant doctrine with better privies. Yet this is done constantly. One side says, “land reform,” and the other side says, “better culverts.” One side says, “We are going to kill all those nasty village chiefs and landlords.” The other side says, “Yes, but look, we want to give you prize pigs to improve your strain.” These arguments just do not match. Simple but adequate appeals will have to be found sooner or later.

Whether they recognize it or not, Senators Heitkamp’s and Murkowski’s actions and statements indicate that they recognize that the US has reached the point when the political arguments just don’t match anymore. And that sooner or later simple, but adequate appeals to resolve these serious problems will have to be found. Sooner or later…

A political battle has been lost, the larger political war for both the nature and the future of the US goes on. Check to make sure you’re registered to vote. Pester all your friends to make sure they’re registered to vote. Pester all your friends to make sure they pester all of their friends to make sure they’re registered to vote. Then vote. Pester all your friends to make sure they vote. And pester all of your friends to pester all of their friends to make sure they vote. 

Open thread!



Where Things Stand Before the Cloture Vote

We’re about fourteen hours out from tomorrow’s cloture vote to advance the Kavanaugh nomination. The last reporting I saw on Senator Grassley’s whip count is from Seung Min Kim from about four hours ago.

She’s also reporting that Senator Daines will not be in DC and will therefore not be available to vote on Saturday.

This impacts Senator McConnell’s calculus as he’ll only have 50 Republican Senators available to vote on Saturday, not 51. If just one Republican senator votes no, this nomination would fail.

There is also heavy pressure being brought to bear on Senator Murkowski, long considered to be the most likely Republican no vote.

This also increases the pressure on Senator Flake.

While Elaina Plott’s reporting is now quite old, given the fast moving and changing dynamics here, it is significant. The more time Senator Flake spends talking with Senator Coons the better. Moreover, the President decided that the late Senator McCain has been resting in peace long enough, so back to one of his favorite rally anecdotes.

The President’s inability to let go of a grudge increases the pressure on Senator Flake. My impression has always been that not only is Flake more likely to either fold or crack under the pressure, but that a lot of what we’ve seen McConnell do is based on his assessment that Flake will fold because Flake always folds. For McConnell, if Flake folds, then Murkowski, despite it putting her crosswise with the Native Alaskans whose support allowed her to keep her seat, and Collins will fall into line too. I don’t honestly know if that will happen this time. I’m not even sure Senator Flake knows…

Senator Manchin is still, officially, undecided, but pressure is being brought to bear on him as well.

There is a lot of time between now and 10:30 AM EDT when the cloture vote is held. And there is even more time between now and when the actual vote on the nomination would be held on Saturday. Time is not Senator McConnell’s, Judge Kavanaugh’s, or the President’s friend. Nor is the pressure being brought to bear on Senators Flake and Murkowski.

Open thread.

PS: Senator Ben Sasse (R-Profile in Courage) has fled the capital this evening claiming he needs to go home to deal with a family matter, but supposedly he’ll be back tonight. Apparently he’s had a Starfleet issued transporter installed in his family home back in Nebraska…



Michael Lewis on THE FIFTH RISK: “I think [Trump] moves through the world avoiding colliding with information”

Christie volunteered himself for the job: head of the Donald Trump presidential transition team. “It’s the next best thing to being president,” he told friends. “You get to plan the presidency.” He went to see Trump about it. Trump said he didn’t want a presidential transition team. Why did anyone need to plan anything before he actually became president? It’s legally required, said Christie. Trump asked where the money was going to come from to pay for the transition team. Christie explained that Trump could either pay for it himself or take it out of campaign funds. Trump didn’t want to pay for it himself. He didn’t want to take it out of campaign funds, either, but he agreed, grudgingly, that Christie should go ahead and raise a separate fund to pay for his transition team. “But not too much!” he said.

And so Christie set out to prepare for the unlikely event that Donald Trump would one day be elected president of the United States. Not everyone in Trump’s campaign was happy to see him on the job. In June, Christie received a call from Trump adviser Paul Manafort. “The kid is paranoid about you,” Manafort said. The kid was Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law… The Kushners apparently took their grudges seriously, and Christie sensed that Jared still harboured one against him. On the other hand, Trump, whom Christie considered almost a friend, could not have cared less.

Christie viewed Kushner as one of those people who thinks that, because he is rich, he must also be smart. Still, he had a certain cunning about him. And Christie soon found himself reporting everything he did to prepare for a Trump administration to an “executive committee”. The committee consisted of Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr, Eric Trump, Manafort, Steve Mnuchin and Jeff Sessions. “I’m kind of like the church elder who double-counts the collection plate every Sunday for the pastor,” said Sessions, who appeared uncomfortable with the entire situation. The elder’s job became more complicated in July 2016, when Trump was formally named the Republican nominee. The transition team now moved into an office in downtown Washington DC, and went looking for people to occupy the top 500 jobs in the federal government. They needed to fill all the cabinet positions, of course, but also a whole bunch of others that no one in the Trump campaign even knew existed. It is not obvious how you find the next secretary of state, much less the next secretary of transportation – never mind who should sit on the board of trustees of the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation…

The first time Trump paid attention to any of this was when he read about it in the newspaper. The story revealed that Trump’s very own transition team had raised several million dollars to pay the staff. The moment he saw it, Trump called Steve Bannon, the chief executive of his campaign, from his office on the 26th floor of Trump Tower, and told him to come immediately to his residence, many floors above. Bannon stepped off the elevator to find Christie seated on a sofa, being hollered at. Trump was apoplectic, yelling: You’re stealing my money! You’re stealing my fucking money! What the fuck is this?
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