REPUBS IN DISARRAY! Open Thread: George Conway Is Losing His Faith

The first time I went looking for a picture of George Conway,, the NYTimes showed him as a literal coatholder — a guy, it seemed, who couldn’t get over his luck.

Some of the shine seems to have worn off over the last twelve months, quite possibly because Conway is a good enough lawyer to understand just how much legal jeopardy the Oval Office Occupant is putting his minions into:

Friends say he was proud of Kellyanne, the longtime Republican operative who was finally running the show, and the evening routine allowed him to grab some one-on-one time with his busier half. On election night, he cried, and noted to other campaign aides that as the first female campaign manager of a winning presidential bid, his wife had made history.

Over the past year, however, since Trump fired FBI Director James Comey and special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed by the Justice Department, George Conway has become a man in turmoil. A serious, conservative attorney who believes in the rule of law, he has been torn, people who know him say, between the loyalty he feels toward his wife and an assault on his profession and his ideals that he did not anticipate when he cheered on election night—delivered by her boss.

During that period, he has walked away from a powerful job running the Justice Department’s civil division, where he would have served as one of the administration’s top lawyers. And he has become a Twitter phenom—tweeting and retweeting critiques of the president and support for the Mueller probe that his wife’s employer calls a “witch hunt.” Many in the White House have noticed, including Kellyanne and, according to multiple administration officials, the president himself.

The pushback coming from inside the house of Trump’s lead cable-news defender has become one of Washington’s favorite family dramas. In “Conway versus Conway,” George attacks the president, or seems to defend the Mueller probe, while Kellyanne puts her own credibility on the line to defend Trump, who has escalated his verbal assaults on the Russia inquiry and this week even demanded an investigation of the investigation…

Not often I find myself in sympathy with a semi-professional Repub, but I’d be happy too if George’s spouse comes to her senses and leaves Trump behind. If she drops out of politics entirely (if only because the Trump taint has made her unemployable), that wouldn’t damage her status to me, either.



Further Russiagate / General GOP Ratfvckery Open Thread: Cambridge Analytica, Once Again

Think this news kinda got overlooked in the torrent yesterday. I know that CA’s much-vaunted “secret sauce” turned out to be “leave a few bank doors unlocked, tell our Russian clients about it, and pretend we don’t know how the vault, the registers, and the spare change out of the cashiers’ desks got looted”, but this still seems significant. Especially since the NYTimes is careful to point out that the company’s “principal owner” is Robert Mercer:

Appearing before the Senate Judiciary committee [yesterday] as part of the ongoing investigation of Cambridge Analytica and various forms of meddling in the 2016 elections, former employee and whistleblower Christopher Wylie said that the company and its then-VP Steve Bannon were pursuing voter suppression tactics aimed at black Americans.

Although Wylie insisted that he himself did not take part in these programs, he testified to their existence.

“One of the things that provoked me to leave was discussions about ‘voter disengagement’ and the idea of targeting African Americans,” he said. “I didn’t participate on any voter suppression programs, so I can’t comment on the specifics of those programs.”…

“I can comment on their existence, and I can comment more generally on my understanding of what they were doing,” he explained under questioning from Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA).

“If it suited the client’s objective, the firm [SCL, Cambridge Analytica’s parent company] was eager to capitalize on discontent and to stoke ethnic tensions,” read Wylie’s written testimony.

“Steve Bannon believes that politics is downstream from culture. They were seeking out companies to build an arsenal of weapons to fight a culture war,” he explained at another point in the session. He suggested questions on the nature of those weapons, and the specifics of any potential race-based voter suppression tactics, to be directed to Bannon…

“How specifically, then, did they target African American voters,” Sen. Harris had asked, “understanding as you do that the African American population is not a monolith? How did they then decipher and determine who was African American so they would target them in their intent to suppress the vote?”

“Racial characteristics can be modeled and I’m not sure about the studies that my colleague here was referencing but we were able to get an AUC score, which is a way of measuring accuracy for race that was .89 I believe,” Wylie answered.

AUC, he then explained, stands for “Area under the receiving operations characteristic. It’s a way of measuring precision, which [the .89 figure] means it’s very high.”

In other words, black voters could be identified based on their social media presence and other factors, despite the fact that the black community is, obviously, far from homogeneous…

 

After the hearing, Wylie said he was happy both Republican and Democratic lawmakers had attended.

“Although Cambridge Analytica may have supported particular candidates in US elections, I am not here to point fingers. The firm’s political leanings are far less relevant than the broader vulnerabilities this scandal has exposed,” his written testimony read.

Among lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee questioning Wylie were Republican Sens. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Ted Cruz of Texas. Both have operated campaigns that were Cambridge Analytica clients.

Controversy around Cambridge Analytica’s alleged misuse of Facebook data raised a host of new questions about the social media giant’s role in the public discourse and elections, and helped prompt renewed scrutiny in Washington, where last month Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before committees in both houses of Congress.

On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that Cambridge Analytica was under investigation by the Department of Justice and the FBI.



Code Name Crossfire Hurricane

This Times story seems to me to be a useful start at a narrative for the Trump-Russia story, as we were discussing a few days ago. I still have the feeling that there’s a lot more we don’t know, but let’s look at the Times attempt.

Crossfire Hurricane was the name of the FBI investigation, when it started, into Russian influence on the upcoming election. CH started in mid-summer 2016. The name is a reference to the Rolling Stones lyric “I was born in a crossfire hurricane.” The Justice Department is supposed to release its inspector general’s investigation into its handling of the Clinton case this month, and the Times is obviously trying to get out its side of the story some background before that.

CH started when the FBI heard about George Papadopoulos’s drunken ravings to the Australian ambassador about information the Russians had on Hillary Clinton. The FBI treated it with great secrecy and worked fast, because the election was only a few months away.

There are some serious issues with the way they handled it, though, not the least is James Comey’s well-known pronouncements. I would start with the fact that the FBI used the same team to investigate Trump’s Russia problem that investigated the Clinton emails. I can understand why they did this; some overlapping issues like those very emails and corrupt influence on the election. The team would have had some of that in their heads and hands from the Clinton investigation, but they had just finished a big, sensitive investigation and probably could have used a less intense pace for a while. Also, that very background knowledge could have influenced how they saw evidence coming in on Trump. Better to hand over the documents to a new team in my opinion.

From this article, I could see how the Comey fiasco happened. The Clinton investigation was over, the Trump investigation was just beginning, the election was barreling toward them, and everyone assumed Clinton was going to win. But in my opinion, it would have been better not to confirm or deny anything. And the differential treatment suggests unconscious bias against the woman candidate. And all that ties into the notorious Times article of October 31, 2016 that seemingly exonerated Trump. That still needs a separate investigation.

The article takes Trump’s blathering (Witch hunt, witch hunt!) too seriously – they might have noted that such bluster is one of his tactics.

The four who were identified early on are interesting – Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Carter Page and George Papadopoulos. We still don’t know much about exactly how Flynn fits into all this beyond his showier actions, like that dinner with Vladimir Putin. Manafort, of course, has been charged with money laundering and various other things, but we don’t know how all that fits into Trump’s campaign. Carter Page, like Flynn, has some showy Russian connections. My biggest question about him is how he got connected to Sam Clovis, how Clovis got connected to Trump, and why anyone thought he was a foreign policy expert.

There’s a lot more in the article, but those are my big takeaways. I’ll bury a secondary lead here and link to the report from the Senate Intelligence Committee. Maybe Adam can explicate that for us. I’ll note one thing – the Senate committee sees the NRA as a conduit for Russian money and influence. That could be the Sam Clovis – Carter Page – Donald Trump connection.

 

Addendum: Clara Jeffrey from Mother Jones has something she’d like to say:



Monday Morning Open Thread: Extinction Burst (We Hope)

In behaviorist-speak, an ‘extinction burst’ is what happens when a long-standing behavior is no longer rewarded. When pecking the red button no longer produces a food pellet, or whining in the checkout line no longer produces a candy bar, the pigeon frantically attacks with button with a flurry of non-stop pecks — or the toddler throws a full-scale screaming tantrum. It’s important, when this happens, not to reward the increased activity; difficult as it may be, you have to steel yourself to let the kid scream until he runs out of breath, although you may have to pick him up and carry him outside for the sake of the other shoppers.

Trump, and his fellow Repubs, are used to getting very well rewarded for their bad political behavior. It got them media attention, oligarch funding, votes — everything they wanted. Suddenly the rubes are catching on to the kayfabe, and the Repubs’ only response is to intensify the ugliness. Politico:

President Donald Trump may be historically unpopular. He may be under the shadow of a sprawling federal investigation that has already led to guilty pleas from some of his top associates. And he may be facing increasing questions about a $130,000 payment to a porn star with whom he allegedly had an extramarital affair.

But on Friday, before die-hard supporters at the National Rifle Association convention in Dallas, Trump found silver linings wherever he could: in tough questioning of the special counsel’s team by a federal judge, in praise from rapper Kanye West and, once again, in reliving his 2016 election victory.

“We have great love going on,” Trump told the crowd, which repeatedly interrupted his speech with long ovations. “We had a great time, and I think we’re doing better now than ever before.”

For Trump and his supporters, reality is not about to get in the way of having a good time. A spate of mass shootings went unmentioned as Trump instead said looser gun laws in France could have prevented a 2015 terrorist attack in Paris (gun deaths in France are significantly less common than in the United States). In Trump’s telling, and the crowd’s appraisal, job growth consistent with the trend of the past half-decade is instead a historic departure that could never have been predicted. Polls that underestimated Trump’s support in 2016 were actually a deliberate attempt at “suppression.” And a years-long federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election that has led to multiple indictments is nothing more than a “witch hunt.”…

“That’s his fix,” said Rick Tyler, the former communications director for Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign. “It’s like an addiction and he’s always looking for the next fix, and the next fix is who can adore me and who can praise me, and big crowds can do that.”

“But it was a colossally bad week,” Tyler added, “and that’s saying a lot, because one seems to follow the next.”…


Read more



Saturday Morning Open Thread: “Trump Is the Enron of Presidents”


 
My old man used to say, “There are some things you can afford to rent. Loyalty is not among them.” From Politico, “Trump’s fixers revolt”:

The president’s preference for people who look like they came from “central casting” has become a well-known part of how Trump makes personnel decisions. The president said as much when he nominated Ronny Jackson — the square-jawed White House physician with a full head of hair thick enough to hold a side part — to be secretary of Veterans Affairs.

But behind the scenes, there’s another set of characters who populate Trump’s world: loyal fixers who lie for Trump, and clean up his messes in the shadows, where their looks count less than their loyalty.

It’s a dichotomy that’s well-known in Trump’s inner circle. One former adviser described it succinctly:

“Central casting for ‘front porch’ jobs, trolls for the real work.”

But in recent weeks, there has been tension in the natural order of Trump’s world, because his not-made-for-prime-time “fixers” have been basking in the national spotlight where they don’t belong. And they’re doing something else very out of character for the aides picked solely for their loyalty and willingness to bend the rules: They’re falling out of line.

This week, it’s Harold Bornstein, Trump’s long-haired, leather-skinned New York physician, who told CNN that he allowed Trump to dictate a letter about his health that was released during the campaign under Bornstein’s name…

The behind-the-scenes crew also includes Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime lawyer and all-around fixer, who personally made payments to silence a porn actress who claims to have had an affair with his boss—but who has declined to join the president in attacking the FBI agents who recently raided his home and office, instead describing them as “professional.”

Bornstein, who like Cohen, at one point harbored hopes of following his client to White House, burst out of the shadows, and out of line, when he told NBC News on Tuesday that longtime Trump bodyguard Keith Schiller (another critical behind-the-scenes fixer) and two other men raided his office to seize the president’s medical files…

Meanwhile, Cohen has been occupying the national spotlight since his office, apartment and hotel room were raided by the FBI last month. He appears to be enjoying the sunlight, smoking cigars and mugging for the paparazzi, who found him hanging out at the Loews Regency on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

But the question looms whether Cohen, now under federal investigation for bank fraud and campaign finance violations, will flip on his longtime boss — cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation in order to lighten his own load of legal troubles and potential jail time. Trump’s allies are increasingly worried he will save himself by turning on Trump.

It’s an awkward moment for the president, who has come to take for granted the loyalty of the “real work” yes men in his orbit, even as he heaps praise on his telegenic “front porch” crowd…



Open Thread: Yes, Kill the NerdProm

It must’ve had some utility at some point, back when it was a standard trade-association awards shindig. But ever since it became a fantasy evening for the Media Village Idiots to work out their adolescent traumas — mostly by Vast! Performative! OUTRAGE! cheerleading each other, over the ensuing week, concerning whichever horror the other side was averred to have committed — it’s become both tedious *and* aggravating.

Every year, sensible press people suggest it be shitcanned entirely; every year, the sensible people have been ignored. But since we’re now in the “Everything Trump Touches Dies” era, perhaps we’ve actually seen the last of this farce?

Margaret Sullivan, at the Washington Post:

It never has been a particularly good idea for journalists to don their fanciest clothes and cozy up to the people they cover, alongside Hollywood celebrities who have ventured to wonky Washington to join the fun.

But in the current era, it’s become close to suicidal for the press’s credibility.

Trust in the mainstream media is low, a new populism has caught fire all over the Western world, and President Trump constantly pounds the news media as a bunch of out-of-touch elites who don’t represent the interests of real Americans…

Its defenders say that it’s perfectly all right to have “just one night” to enjoy a break from the supposedly adversarial relationship between government and press. But that relationship isn’t always as arms-length as it should be in a town noted for its mutual back-scratching.

Talev and her cohort certainly are dedicated reporters and editors. But this festive night, always unseemly, is now downright counterproductive to good journalism’s goals. It only serves to reinforce the views of those who already hate the media elite…

Can’t the correspondents’ association come up with better ways to do its good work, ways that show journalists at their best?

That they are in the trenches digging out the truth.

Not schmoozing in the swamp while the president hustles the heartland.


Read more



Open Thread: Cheer Up, It Could Always Be Worse


 
At least we don’t have to pretend Trump is making any godsdamned sense…


 
From the Daily Beast:

According to aides, Trump thought the interview went well and considered it a slam-dunk—even as many senior officials remained dismayed at the potential legal and political damage that the president can cause with these types of freewheeling, grievance-filled live interviews that often resemble private phone calls to friends and confidants. (For instance, on that same Thursday morning, Trump’s comments on Fox & Friends were immediately used against the president’s embattled personal attorney and fixer Michael Cohen in court.)

Two White House officials independently referred to the Fox & Friends appearance as “therapy” for the president—therapeutic sessions that, apparently, Trump intends to call in for many more times during his presidency…

Maybe we could take a trick from caged-bird keepers: Give Donny Dollhands a gilt-framed, tricked-out mirror that shows 3D images at half again their actual size, loop in an applause track, and let him be his own best audience.