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He’s come undone…

Here’s President Crazypants just moments ago, reacting to the DoJ report on fired Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe:

The Washington Post has a summary of the report’s findings here, and you can read the whole 39-page report here. I’ll summarize it: The report faults McCabe for improperly allowing a leak to the WSJ in October 2016 that confirmed that the FBI was investigating the Clinton Foundation and subsequently misleading Comey about that leak.

How Twitler concludes that an improper leak that damaged Hillary Clinton’s campaign right before the election and the subsequent gaslighting of Comey (which McCabe disputes) implicates Comey and exculpates Trump is a mystery. Well, not really — as the mafia lawyer-enforced fictions that have bolstered his massive ego and buttressed his undeserved standing, first as a celebrity and now as president, crumble to dust, Trump is losing what remains of his shit.

Seriously, look at that report, which mentions Trump exactly once and then only in passing, and tell me how a sane person gets “McCabe is Comey!” and “No collusion!” out of it. It’s like reading a Cheerios box and then rising from the breakfast table to screech about chem-trails and skunk apes. Twitler has gone bye-bye. Oh well. We won’t miss him, will we?

Open thread!

The Need To Focus Among Large Amounts of Breaking News

A lot of news has broken this week, including today. I would argue that everyone take a deep breath and a step back and focus on which bits of the breaking news contain the really important information. I would argue that the really important domestic/American news to have come out so far this week, other than Speaker Ryan calling it quits, is that Michael Cohen is alleged to (may have?) been taping his phone conversations for several years.

From The Washington Post:

President Trump’s personal attorney Michael D. Cohen sometimes taped conversations with associates, according to three people familiar with his practice, and allies of the president are worried that the recordings were seized by federal investigators in a raid of Cohen’s office and residences this week.

Cohen, who served for a decade as a lawyer at the Trump Organization and is a close confidant of Trump’s, was known to store the conversations using digital files and then replay them for colleagues, according to people who have interacted with him.

“We heard he had some proclivity to make tapes,” said one Trump adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation. “Now we are wondering, who did he tape? Did he store those someplace where they were actually seized? . . . Did they find his recordings?”

On Monday, FBI agents seized Cohen’s computers and phones as they executed a search warrant that sought, among other records, all communications between the lawyer and Trump and campaign aides about “potential sources of negative publicity” in the lead-up to the 2016 election, The Washington Post reported.

It is unknown whether Cohen taped conversations between himself and Trump. But two people familiar with Cohen’s practices said he recorded both business and political conversations. One associate said Trump knew of Cohen’s practice because the attorney would often play him recordings Cohen had made of his conversations with other top Trump advisers.

“It was his standard practice to do it,” this person said.

Legal experts said Cohen’s taped conversations would be viewed by prosecutors as highly valuable.

“If you are looking for evidence, you can’t do any better than people talking on tape,” said Nick Akerman, a former Watergate prosecutor.

Such recordings “would be considered a gold mine,” said Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University who specializes in legal ethics.

“The significance is 9.5 to 10 on a 10-point scale,” he added, noting that investigators know “that when people speak on the phone, they are not guarded. They don’t imagine that the conversation will surface.”

Federal investigators would not automatically get access to any tapes that might have been seized in the raids. First, the recordings would be reviewed by a separate Justice Department team and possibly by a federal judge. The review is designed to protect lawyer-client privilege and to be sure that the conversations turned over are within the terms of the search warrant, legal experts said.

Getting these recordings is among the the most important things, if not the real prize, that was being sought in the raids on Cohen’s office, home office, and the hotel suite where he is staying while his home is being renovated. The President actually sent a real attorney – as in an attorney that know what she’s doing, not attorneys like Michael Cohen – to Federal Court this morning to argue the President has a personal interest in what was seized pursuant to the search warrant that was executed on Monday. And there was a scramble to hire this new attorney – she was only retained two days ago.

For those concerned with potential breaking news regarding Deputy AG Rosenstein, here’s a good primer from Lawfare.

Stay frosty!

Open thread.

Life As Metaphor: The Wall Goes Down!

A fitting metaphor for Infrastructure Week. It is always Infrastructure Week…

Open thread!

Bannon Slithers Back Onstage

In the Pompeo thread downstairs, the subject of Steve Bannon’s reemergence came up, which deserves its own thread, IMO. Last night, in an interview with Bob Costa, Maddow covered Bannon’s preposterous plan for Trump to fire Rosenstein and retroactively rescind administration officials’ testimony in the Mueller investigation. It’s a dumb plan, and it sounds more like Bannon trying to worm his way back into Trump’s good graces than a serious proposal.

But maybe Bannon is more motivated to save his own blotchy ass than Trump’s. Perhaps he’s panicking at Trump’s catastrophic tar-pit wallowing and perceives it will endanger himself and his patrons. The fact that Bannon is back in DC pitching absurd plots to folks in power is significant. As I alluded to in the thread below, I believe that if we ever get the whole story on Russia’s attack on our election, we’ll find that it was abetted wholeheartedly by Bannon and the Mercers.

We’ll find that undermining liberal democracies worldwide was always the Bannon-Mercer strategy, and that riling up Nazis and alt-right goons globally was their technique in service of this aim. I don’t mean to imply this is some startling new insight that I came up with just now while sitting here eating Cheerios. Y’all know this stuff, and I’m glad to have you to talk to about it, because I know I sound like a crackpot to my non-political junkie friends when it comes up. Read more

No Plan Survives Contact With The Enemy: Military Strikes And The Strategic Complications At The Heart Of The Syrian Problem Set

This morning the President warned Russia and its Syrian and Iranian clients that we had the nice, new missiles all ready to go as a response to both the chemical attack on Eastern Ghouta, as well as Russia’s attempts to warn the US and its potential allies – from both the existing US led coalition that is Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve or from a new, smaller coalition of the US, Britain, and France designed to just punish the Assad government for the chemical attacks – off of responding.

Always a good choice to avoid the pre-owned missiles. Sometimes they’re owned by little old ladies who only use them to get to and from church on Sunday. But sometimes they’re used by folks that just abuse them, don’t give them regular maintenance, and run up the mileage on them…

There are already reports of the Syrian military relocating its personnel and equipment to the Russian bases in Syria to protect them.

This makes anything more than a demonstration strike, which is what was done last year, much, much more dangerous and problematic. The reason for this is that in order to actually reduce Syria’s capability to make war, and specifically try to deter the future use of chemical weapons, means that the US and its partners would have to target Syrian personnel and equipment that are now within Russian lines, for lack of a better term. This is one of the major strategic complications as it would create a de facto reality that the US and its partners have just attacked Russian military sites in order to get at the Syrian assets we want to degrade, attrit, and reduce.

Another part of this strategic complication is that the Russian navy has both sortied its Mediterranean fleet to get it out of port where these ships would be easy targets and has conducted a live fire exercise.

The lone Russian air craft carrier is back in port in Russia – it is actually in dry dock for the better part of the next four years or so undergoing a refit. As a result this eleven vessel fleet has limited capability.

More worrisome is that the Russian’s have begun electronically jamming US intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance (ISR) drones.

The Russian military has deployed jamming tactics against US drones that have affected the US military’s ability to operate in the region, NBC News reports.

US officials told NBC News that the Russian military has been jamming smaller US drones. The jamming is focused on the GPS systems of drones, which can result in things like the operators not knowing where the drone currently is, to more extreme results like crashes.

Department of Defense officials speaking to NBC News did not confirm if they lost any of the drones to crashes as a result of the jamming, but one official did say that the jamming is having an operational impact on military operations in Syria.

The drones that have been targeted are smaller surveillance drones, and not the larger ones with strike capability like the MQ-1 Predator or the MQ-9 Reaper, according to NBC News. US military drones are encrypted and are supposed to have defenses against electronic counter measures, suggesting that Russian capabilities are more advanced than previously thought.

Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, then the commanding general for US Army Europe, said in in 2016 that he has seen Russian “electronic warfare capability at a tactical level that we absolutely don’t have.”

Russia’s ally in Syria, Iran, also reportedly has hacking capabilities. In 2011 it claimed that it hacked into a US RQ-170 Sentinel and forced it to land after it gained access to its GPS.

Russian jamming of our ISR drones is intended to communicate to US and allied military commanders that they will not have a friendly electronic environment if they go with an application of strategic air strikes. This complicates not only targeting, but any potential search and rescue operations that might need to be conducted if something went wrong.

There is another set of strategic complications I want to focus on, which is where Russia has moved its military assets over the past 6 months or so. Russia has begun building out its Western Military District. This is the Russian version of a geographic combatant command that borders the Baltics, Scandinavia, Ukraine, and Belarus.

This includes ramping up exercises and mobilizations under cover of wildfire season preparedness:

Here’s how Russia’s military is deployed in their military districts:

(Map 1: Russian Military Units)

And here’s how NATO and Russia’s military stack up right now:

(Figure 1: NATO Assets Vs. Russian Assets as of 2017)


(Figure 2: NATO and Russian Deployments as of 2016)

This second strategic complication should be of great concern. The Russian military, despite being much smaller than the US’s and much degraded by Russian economic realities from the vaunted Soviet military, has been deployed and positioned to threaten the US’s NATO and other allies in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia. Sweden and Finland have been moving towards a war footing, while our Baltic allies have also increased their readiness. Moreover, the Russians have been sniffing around the undersea transatlantic cables that connect the US and Europe for communications purposes. And we now know that Russia’s cyberwarfare capabilities means they don’t have to actually do anything military to retaliate. Russia could just take down parts or all of the US power grid. Russia has also been able to both penetrate for manipulation and penetrate to take down emergency communication systems, as well as planting false stories about natural disasters and terrorist attacks via social media penetrationImagine what happens should Putin decide to retaliate by turning parts of the US power grid off and interfering with 911 and emergency communications systems, while at the same time spreading disinformation made to look like actual news reports or official municipal, state, and/or Federal responses to the disaster he’s created.

Either a military response against US forces in Syria and Iraq, our NATO allies and partners in Europe, and/or a cyberwarfare response within the US are all potential Russian responses to a US led coalition military response to the chemical weapons attack in Eastern Ghouta last week. These are the strategic complications that the US and its potential allies face in developing their plans and sequels to them. These are the strategic complications faced by the President’s senior military, national security, and foreign policy advisors.

The final strategic complication is the one we started with, the one the President created for himself this morning. By threatening Russian and its Syrian and Iranian proxies with the nice, new, and smart missiles he’s tweeted himself into a corner. He either has to actually do something in response to the chemical weapons attack in Eastern Ghouta or he will have destroyed any credibility on this type of matter in the future, as well as weakened America’s strategic communication capabilities. Regardless of the strategic complications on the ground in Syria, in Europe, or within the cyber domain, the President has boxed himself in. The President has finally tweeted himself into trouble that he can’t tweet himself out of. Either he orders a response and risks an escalation or he backs down and loses what little face he had.

Stay frosty!

Open thread.

Interesting Read: “Facebook Fallout Deals Blow to Mercers’ Political Clout”

Okay, maybe us ungrateful American peons don’t understand what the Mercers so generously offered to do for us, but at least there are other nations where globe-trotting oligarchs of strong familial bonds are properly appreciated. And while Putin’s fading kleptocracy — and his noisy WH figurehead — might be hogging the headlines right now, it’s China where forward-thinking empire builders really have room to grow. The NYTimes, committing actual journalism:

The revelation last month that Cambridge Analytica improperly acquired the private Facebook data of millions of users has set off government inquiries in Washington and London, plunging Facebook into crisis. But it has also battered the nascent political network overseen by Ms. Mercer, 44, and financed by her father, Robert Mercer, 71, a hard-line conservative billionaire.

Ms. Mercer’s standing in Mr. Trump’s circle had already declined following the departure last year of Stephen K. Bannon, her family’s former adviser and President Trump’s former chief strategist, according to Republicans with close ties to the president’s political operation. A pro-Trump advocacy group controlled by Ms. Mercer has gone silent following strategic disputes between her and other top donors. Plans to wage a civil war against the Republican establishment in the 2018 midterms have been derailed.

And last month, after reports on Cambridge in The New York Times, The Observer of London and The Guardian, Facebook banned the company from its platform, a major blow to any political or commercial targeting firm. Not a single American candidate or “super PAC” committee has reported payments to the company since the 2016 campaign, according to federal records.

Several Republicans in Ms. Mercer’s orbit or with knowledge of Cambridge’s business said that fallout from the Facebook scandal — combined with widespread doubts about the accuracy of Cambridge’s psychological profiles of voters — had effectively crippled the firm’s election work in the United States.

“They’re selling magic in a bottle,” said Matt Braynard, who worked alongside Cambridge on the Trump campaign, for which he served as the director of data and strategy, and now runs Look Ahead America, a group seeking to turn out disaffected rural and blue-collar voters. “And they’re becoming toxic.”…

In recent years, the Mercers have become among the most prominent and highly scrutinized political donors in the United States. In the early years of the Obama administration, they began doling out tens of millions of dollars to an eclectic array of conservative groups — many of them outside Washington’s mainline Republican establishment. Mr. Mercer invested $10 million in Breitbart News, the nationalist website, bringing on Mr. Bannon as chairman, while Ms. Mercer joined the boards of leading conservative think tanks.

The Mercers were critical of the Republican Party’s existing data apparatus, which was controlled by the party officials and consultants they hoped to disempower. Mr. Mercer bankrolled Cambridge Analytica in 2014, and Ms. Mercer encouraged candidates and PACs that took the family’s money to also hire the family’s data firm. Early in the 2016 presidential campaign, the Mercers backed Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, putting millions of dollars — and Cambridge Analytica — behind him.
Read more

“Is this what Watergate was like?”

I had dinner with some teens and 20-somethings last night. Our phones were blowing up with news alerts about the raid on Michael Cohen’s office and residences and Trump’s reaction to those events, so the conversation turned to politics.

As the grizzled warhorse of the group, I was asked if this quickening investigation and presidential freak-out reminded me of Watergate. I indignantly reminded the assembled foals that I was too young at the time to really remember Watergate.

That’s true in one sense. My sister and I used to stomp off in a huff when we realized that the televised hearings would preempt our cartoons yet again. In those days, we only had four or five TV channels and one TV because dinosaurs.

But I do remember my mother’s excitement as she settled in front of the TV with an ashtray, fresh pack of smokes and cup of coffee. She hated Nixon’s guts and watched the Watergate hearings like they were the world’s juiciest soap opera.

Mom would try to explain what was going on in the hearings to us. I found her accounts of it fascinating — she was a good storyteller. But though I tried a time or two, I could not hold still to watch boring old white men droning endlessly on TV, and I often wondered how Mom harvested such startling examples of depravity and hubris from such fallow soil.

I don’t have to wonder what Mom would make of the current political situation. She died in 2014, but like all decent, conscientious, hardworking people who aren’t brainless dupes, Mom loathed the braggadocious conman Trump long before he ran for president.

Anyhoo, now I understand why Mom anticipated those hearings with such glee: It was the prospect of seeing lawless thugs who thought they were above the law brought low and held accountable.

We may not get a similar catharsis in our present age. The Republican Party is an order of magnitude more venal and amoral in 2018 than it was in Nixon’s day, and there is a large, well-funded media ecosystem devoted to obfuscation.

But think of Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s dismay as agents in blue FBI jackets swarmed his residences and office yesterday. A goon who has intimidated countless “escorts” and disgruntled employees and investors, Cohen likely imagined weaponizing federal law enforcement against Trump’s enemies, not staring down the business end himself.

As others have noted, it’s like Watergate, only dumber. I intend to enjoy the show this time.