A Quick Housekeeping Note On The Michael Cohen News: This Is A Federal, Not A New York State, Investigation

Just a quick housekeeping note to clarify something important regarding the FBI executing a Federal search warrant on Michael Cohen’s office, home, and hotel room today. This is a Federal investigation. It is being conducted by the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, also known as the Southern District of New York or SDNY. According to reporting by Bloomberg, Special Counsel Mueller brought his investigatory concerns to Deputy AG Rosenstein who then determined that this should be handled by the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, not the Office of the Special Counsel.

Mueller brought information involving Cohen to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who decided that the inquiry should be handled by federal prosecutors in New York, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Under Justice Department regulations, Mueller is required to consult with Rosenstein about how to handle evidence and matters that may fall outside his jurisdiction and authority. Mueller is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, whether anyone close to Trump engaged in collusion and whether Trump sought to obstruct justice.

This is a Federal investigation. Michael Cohen is the target of this Federal investigation. It is not, based on reporting, as of now, a joint Federal/NY State investigation. I would expect that the NY state Attorney General Schneiderman will be asked to be read on in case there are parallel charges that would be more appropriately brought in NY state or, in case parts or all of the Federal investigation does not go forward, that could then be brought in NY state.

So just to reiterate: this is currently a Federal investigation being supervised/undertaken by the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York as a result of guidance/instructions from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. The current US Attorney for the Southern District of New York is Geoffrey S. Berman, who was appointed on an interim basis by Attorney General Sessions on behalf of the current President and assumed his current office in January 2018.

My guess is that in addition to all the other news that broke today, this story is going to continue to develop through the evening and into tomorrow.

Stay frosty!

Open thread.

The Trump Doctrine and Syria: “I, And By Extension The US, Will Be Treated Fairly Or Else” Runs Into The Ambiguity Of A Wicked National Security Problem

The President appears to have decided that the US needs to leave Syria as soon as possible. This decision caught his national security and foreign policy team flatfooted. It really isn’t a change in US policy as I’m not sure anyone could actually articulate this administration’s policy in regard to Syria. When the President gave his campaign speech on foreign and national security policy in 2016, I wrote that he had articulated the Trump Doctrine, which is: “America will be treated fairly or else…”.

The President’s meandering remarks in his April 2016 speech touched on a number of his long standing national security and foreign policy beliefs: 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 them 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.

The President, and his preferences as enumerated in the Trump Doctrine, are now in conflict with the reality of the wicked problem that is the Syrian Civil War and the US led coalition fight against ISIS.

The Washington Post reports that:

Trump’s words, both in public and private, describe a view that wars should be brutal and swift, waged with overwhelming firepower and, in some cases, with little regard for civilian casualties. Victory over America’s enemies for the president is often a matter of bombing “the s— out of them,” as he said on the campaign trail.

For America’s generals, more than 17 years of combat have served as a lesson in the limits of overwhelming force to end wars fueled by sectarian feuds, unreliable allies and persistent government corruption. “Victory is sort [of] an elusive concept in that part of the world,” said Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, who led troops over five tours of Iraq and Afghanistan. “Anyone who goes in and tries to achieve a decisive victory is going to come away disappointed.”

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis echoed that point in late November when he outlined an expanded role for U.S. forces in preventing the return of the Islamic State or a group like it in Syria. “You need to do something about this mess now,” he told reporters. “Not just, you know, fight the military part of it and then say, ‘Good luck on the rest of it.’ ”

His remarks reflected a broader Pentagon consensus: In the absence of a clear outcome, winning for much of the U.S. military’s top brass has come to be synonymous with staying put. These days, senior officers talk about “infinite war.”

“It’s not losing,” explained Air Force Gen. Mike Holmes in a speech earlier this year. “It’s staying in the game and . . . pursuing your objectives.”

The Army recently rewrote its primary warfighting doctrine to account for the long stretch of fighting without victory since 9/11. “The win was too absolute,” said Lt. Gen. Michael Lundy of the old document. “We concluded winning is more of a continuum.”

LTG Lundy is the Commanding General of the US Army Combined Arms Center (CAC) at FT Leavenworth. As the CAC Commander he oversees doctrine for the US Army. Unfortunately US Army doctrine is pretty silent on what winning or victory means. So is joint doctrine. I spent all morning going through the DOD Dictionary, Joint Publication 3-0/Joint Operations, TRADOC Pamphlet (PAM) 525-3-6/The US Army Functional Concept for Movement and Maneuver, TRADOC Pamphlet (PAM) 525-3-1/The US Army Operational Concept: Win in a Complex World, and the 2015 National Military Strategy in an attempt to find a definition of win, winning, and/or victory. The only two documents that included a definition, or something close, where in the endnotes of PAM 525-3-1/The US Army Operational Concept: Win in a Complex World and in the body of the previous administration’s National Military Strategy.

PAM 525-3-1 defines win in endnote 2 as:

The dictionary defines “win” as: to be successful or victorious in (a contest or conflict). Winning in this concept is meeting the policy objectives of the Commander in Chief. It refers to more than simply defeating threat forces; it means meeting national goals and objectives that are unique for each operation. The joint commander must define success for each operation (or campaign) based upon the national goals and objectives, which may change, based on conditions during the operation

The 2015 National Military Strategy defines win as:

We are prepared to project power across all domains to stop aggression and win our Nation’s wars by decisively defeating adversaries.

The President’s senior military and national security advisors don’t have much to work with in trying to help the President, or any president, define successful termination of hostilities, especially for the ambiguous low intensity, irregular, asymmetric, and unconventional wars that the US has been involved in over the past seventeen years or so. We’re not talking about an interstate war, with two or more state combatants fighting in identifiable uniforms, where victory is achieved when one side in the conflict has either been rendered incapable of continuing to fight or has made the decision that it cannot endure any more pain as a result of a continuation of hostilities. Whether the US and its allies ever participate in that type of war again is an interesting question that is discussed in military and civilian classrooms, as well as in other forums, but it is not the reality we are in and expect to be in any time soon.

This ambiguity regarding what successful combat operations, let alone victory, looks like in the early 21st Century Operating Environment (OE), and the US military’s acceptance of it, is running head first into the President’s preferences, specifically the Trump Doctrine. The President has made it clear he wants the US out as soon as we finish reducing ISIS’s physical foot print. And he wants the Saudis and the Gulf states to pay for reconstruction and reconciliation efforts in the US led Coalition liberated areas within Syria.

Unfortunately, ISIS’s actual center of gravity isn’t the amount of physical terrain it holds. Rather, it is its extreme theology and doctrine of tawheed – the radical unity of the Deity. The US, its coalition partners and allies, including the Syrian Kurdish militias we are training, equipping, and assisting in our by, with, and through strategy against ISIS, aren’t really fighting for terrain. Or to kill or capture as many ISIS fighters and officials and supporters as possible. What they are really fighting is ISIS’s theology and doctrine. This is the strategic target. Trying to decisively measure success in combatting the spread and acceptance of ideas is very, very difficult. As is killing them. It is very hard to stop the signal. This creates a very unpleasant reality: the inability to create actual strategic measures of effectiveness in the fight against ISIS, which is really the fight against ISIS’s doctrine.

Finally, simply taking our personnel and equipment and going home once the physical caliphate has been reduced is only going to help reset the conditions for either ISIS to make a comeback or for something new and likely equally dangerous to rise from its ashes. Defeating ISIS means defeating the conditions that led to its creation – the economic despair, the social inequality, the despotic rule of the Assads, the sectarian divisions – which can only be done through reconciliation and reconstruction. There isn’t a lot of room in here for the US to be treated well in exchange for doing this. It is largely thankless. It is not a mission to achieve decisive victory on the battlefield. These operations are much more similar to the Marshall Plan, which is how we secured the peace in Europe after World War II. It is a longer term, ambiguous mission to work by, with, and through our local partners to manage and mitigate significant social, political, economic, and religious problems and disputes in an attempt to prevent ISIS’s reemergence or the emergence of something even worse. Failure to do so will simply see the US and its Coalition allies and partners back in the Levant once again conducting kinetic operations as refugees stream out of a region that becomes more unstable leading to more loss of life on all sides. The US’s actions in Iraq from 2003 through 2011 helped to set the conditions for the rise of ISIS. Taking responsibility for that reality and working by, with, and through our local partners in Syria and Iraq to manage and mitigate it is a moral responsibility. It is not, however, a matter of being treated fairly or an opportunity for turning a profit.

Open thread.

Global Con

Well, we knew shady, fanatical oligarchs perpetrated a global plan to stoke bigotry and sow fear to subvert democracy, but this illustrates the con in a visceral way:

All out of can’ts to even.

PS: You can read the OpenSecrets.org report here.

I Have Been To The Mountaintop

I meant to post this last night, but there were enough other posts. Last night was the 50th anniversary of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr’s last speech. He was, of course, assassinated 50 years ago today. Before I post the video of the speech, as well as the transcript, I wanted to highlight LBJ’s response to the news of MLK’s assassination. President Johnson’s initial response was to immediately try to do something substantive for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was to head off potential violence.

During a meeting the following day, LBJ acknowledged the feelings of the protestors. “If I were a kid in Harlem. I know what I’d be thinking right now: I’d be thinking that the whites have declared open season on my people, and they’re going to pick us off one by one unless I get a gun and pick them off first.”

Just think about that statement for a moment. Fifty years ago, President Johnson was able to clearly, succinctly, and accurately enunciate the reality of race relations in the US. What is even more astounding is that for all the progress that has been made, we’re right back to a place where this statement could be made given how the current administration approaches these issues and in light of both the explosive growth of domestic white Christian extremist movements and the stark differences in how law enforcement relates to and treats white Americans versus Americans of color.

Here’s the full speech. The transcript is below the fold.

Read more

What if there ain’t no saint?

I wouldn’t mind having some of this Mueller iconography for my backyard bar, particularly the candles:

I don’t see it so much among the bitter cynics at this here blog, but Mueller’s legend as the Patron Saint of Justice who is poised to smite TrumpCo has reached epic proportions in some quarters. I wish they’d manage their expectations better.

Mueller seems like a straight shooter, but we should remember the man is a Republican. Anyone who remained a Republican through the Bush II and then Obama years is morally suspect in my book until they prove otherwise.

Even if Mr. Mueller possesses a store of integrity that is vanishingly rare among modern Republicans, it’s possible that his investigation will come to naught, either because there isn’t enough direct evidence to nail Trump and his current associates or because Trump’s toadies in the DOJ and congress manage to suppress the report.

I’m not trying to be Debbie Downer here. Mueller’s investigation has already uncovered a storehouse of malfeasance and corruption that would mire any predecessor’s administration in scandal until the day it was turned out of office by angry voters. It says something about the lunacy abroad in the land that Trump can show his face in public anywhere without being pelted by rotting produce.

Maybe the indictments issued so far are just the beginning. Maybe the report alluded to in the news last night will provide impeachment fodder for a Democratic majority congress. I fervently hope Mueller is allowed to continue his work, and I hope he brings the whole astoundingly corrupt pack of grift-mavens down. This is just a reminder that we shouldn’t count on it.

Open thread!

PS: My phone is blowing up with alerts about Roger Stone claiming he “dined with Julian Assange” right before Wikileaks started publishing the DNC emails. Haven’t we known that for a while now? Maybe Mueller can figure out why Stone had advance knowledge about Al Franken’s troubles. If Trump-Russia explodes the myth of Roger Stone, that alone would rid the American body politic of its most prolific and loathsome political tick.

Russiagate Open Thread: Roger Stone, Soon-to-Be Convict?

I’ve said before, Murphy the Trickster God probably doesn’t love me that much. But then, even the wiliest Brer Rabbit eventually loses some speed on his evasive tactics…

Stone, who has worked as an on-again, off-again adviser to President Trump for decades, vehemently denied Monday that Mueller could be building a case against him based on his contacts with WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign.

“The fake news media is in overdrive,” Stone, 65, told the Daily News. “This is a wild goose hunt seeking something that didn’t happen.”

Stone’s name has come up at an increasing rate in relation to Mueller’s probe into Russian election meddling and possible collusion with the Trump campaign, according to reports and witnesses.

Informal ex-Trump campaign adviser Ted Malloch revealed over the weekend that FBI agents arrested him and asked him about Stone and WikiLeaks after he recently returned to the U.S. from London. Malloch, who was once considered to become Trump’s ambassador to the European Union, said in a statement that the agents served him a subpoena to appear before Mueller’s grand jury later this month.

Sam Nunberg, another ex-Trump campaign aide, testified before the Mueller grand jury last month — and many questions focused on Stone and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, according to reports.

Mueller is reportedly interested in whether Stone was aware of or in any way coordinated WikiLeaks’ release of thousands of hacked emails from the Clinton campaign. Sources told the Wall Street Journal Monday that the investigators are particularly interested in an email Stone wrote to Nunberg on Aug. 4, 2016, in which he said that he “dined with Julian Assange last night.”…

In another apparent reversal, Stone said Monday that he has never communicated with Assange.

“This is politics. I’ve said a lot of things,” he said. “At the end of the day, however, it’s what you actually did that’s important.”

The special counsel’s office declined to comment…

The Washington Post is skeptical:

Stone has a carefully cultivated reputation as a “political trickster,” which is a polite way of saying “mudslinger and exaggerator,” which is a polite way of saying “guy who will say untrue things if it advances his agenda.” One of his agendas is his own reputation, and during 2016, he clearly believed that it paid to imply a close relationship with Assange. That was manifested in his public assertions about knowing what WikiLeaks was up to but also apparently in his private conversations with Nunberg and that unidentified aide in the spring of that election year….

The Journal report highlights two key questions, for which we can take a stab at answers.
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Breaking: Noor Salman, Widow of The Pulse Nightclub Mass Shooter/Mass Murderer, Found Not Guilty On All Counts

Justice, justice you shall pursue… — Deuteronomy 16:20

Jeltsen did an excellent piece of long form reporting on Salman that really gets into the details of why she was even charged.

ORLANDO, Fla. — Noor Salman looked up as the prosecutor directed the jury’s attention to a copy of her 2011 marriage certificate. There, on the screen, was her looping signature, right next to Omar Mateen’s. Proof she wed a killer.

The 31-year-old widow shivered and hiked a purple blanket up to her neck, glancing over at her team of defense attorneys for reassurance. They often soothed her in court with physical touch, squeezing her shoulder or patting her arm. Her fear was palpable.

Later, Salman watched herself on the same screen, testing perfumes at Victoria’s Secret. In the security camera footage shown to the jury, she sniffed a paper strip, then passed it to her husband for his thoughts. He must have agreed; they left with a shiny pink bag.

While her husband was committing mass murder, Salman was in her pajamas, asleep in their home in Fort Pierce, Florida. Seven months later, she was charged with aiding and abetting her husband and obstructing justice for allegedly lying to the FBI. Prosecutors claimed that Salman helped her husband scout potential locations for the attack, created a cover story for him and participated in unusual spending.

The seemingly ordinary excursion to a mall store was now center stage in a federal terrorism trial. In the days leading up to the shooting, Mateen spent thousands of dollars on Salman, buying her clothes and jewelry, including a diamond ring. Prosecutors suggested she got the gifts in exchange for agreeing to help him carry out his heinous plan.

There was zero evidence that Salman was radicalized herself, they admitted. Instead, they argued that she was content to trade her husband – the sole provider for her and her 3-year-old son – for baubles and designer wear.

Salman, who did not testify in the trial herself, pleaded not guilty, and maintained through her lawyers that she had no knowledge of Mateen’s plans. When he began showering her with presents in the weeks before the massacre, Salman was optimistic about their future, her lawyers said, and believed it was a sign her husband – a brutish, abusive man who only permitted her a $20 allowance each week – was changing.

For the 49 families of the victims, the trial was an opportunity for closure. And yet, they didn’t get to see the man that took their loved one’s lives. Instead, they got his wife.

Outside the federal courthouse, on a lunch break from the trial, Salman’s cousin was seething. Susan Adieh, didn’t recognize the one-dimensional cliched caricature the prosecution had described, and she didn’t understand why Salman was on trial. The wives of other terrorists and mass killers never faced charges. She wondered if her family’s religion played a role, even though Salman was not religious.

After all, they were Muslim.

Susan Clary, the family spokesperson, said that many other relatives wanted to come to support Salman, but they were afraid. As Muslim Americans, they worried about being associated with the terrorism case; their jobs could be at stake.

After all, they were Muslim… Pretty much sums it all up right there. Somewhere the shade of bin Laden is smiling. He got almost everything he wanted, as delineated in his manifesto, out of the 9-11 attack.

Click over and read the whole thing. And recognize that on this Good Friday, which is also the first night of Passover, justice has prevailed in a courtroom in Florida.

Stay frosty!

Open thread.