Russiagate Open Thread: Everybody’s Talking ’bout Me…

Full disclosure, I am writing this at 6am (exhaustion-induced insomnia) so it may well be superceded by the time it appears. But just as a supplement to Cheryl’s promised post…

Sarah Posner, at the Washington Post, “Trump’s lawyer has a big mouth. Here’s what that tells us about Mueller’s probe”:

Keeping in mind that we do not know for certain that Cobb is right about McGahn keeping documents in a safe, or, if he is, what those documents contain, there is nonetheless ample evidence that McGahn, in particular, is likely in possession of information critical to Mueller’s probe of possible obstruction of justice by Trump in firing Comey. There is strong reason to believe that these documents could tell Mueller a great deal about Trump’s state of mind when he fired the FBI director…

We have become accustomed to Trump’s White House leaking bits of information to reporters, cloaked by anonymity. In the Russia investigation, at least, Cobb’s indiscretion is unlike anything we’ve seen so far. If Cobb is right that McGahn has documents has locked away, he not only has (once again) demonstrated his penchant for reckless public chatter. He also may have revealed just how reckless he can be in protecting his client’s interests — by giving Mueller a gift.

Renato Mariotti, at Poltico, “How to Read Bob Mueller’s Hand”:

Although the scope of the special counsel’s investigation is vast, public reporting of his activities indicate the direction his investigation is taking and gives us a good sense of the types of charges that could result. But most of the breathless speculation about what he will ultimately do is likely wrong—the result of a misunderstanding of how the law works, a misreading of the public evidence we’ve seen so far or wishful thinking by those who would either like to see the president driven from office or see everyone on his team exonerated.

As a starting point, it’s important to keep in mind what prosecutors do: They investigate discrete crimes. Although the media often throw around phrases like “Russian collusion,” that term has no legal meaning whatsoever. Mueller won’t charge one grand conspiracy involving everyone he’s looking at. If he brings charges, expect to see individuals charged separately unless they committed a crime together…

… We know Mueller is looking at obstruction related to the firing of FBI Director James Comey for many reasons—most recently, the Justice Department refused to permit a Senate committee to interview two FBI officials who were witnesses on this issue, and when asked about the matter, referred questions to Mueller. This indicates that Mueller believes the FBI officials are potential witnesses. (If Mueller thinks he might use their testimony later, he would want to reduce the risk that potential defendants and their counsel can learn about it in advance. He also doesn’t want to generate inconsistent accounts from witnesses that can be used to undermine them at trial.)
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Trump’s “Voter Fraud” Commission: Yes, They Are Indeed Fraudulent

I keep starting long, link-heavy posts about Kobach’s hand-picked vote-suppression committee… and the evil bastids keep getting ahead of the news. Shorter: These guys are more dangerous to the American way than a coalition of acting-out white supremacists ganged up with a band of black bloc window-breakers.

In an September 7th article for Breitbart News, Kobach claimed that 5,313 New Hampshire voters were not residents of the state. The only “evidence” he could muster, however, was that the 5,313 had registered to vote with out-of-state driver’s licenses but had not registered a car in New Hampshire. Kobach forgot—or just intentionally ignored in furtherance of his own agenda—that thousands of New Hampshire college students from other states reside and attend classes in New Hampshire districts that saw high voter turnouts in 2016.

Kobach added that New Hampshire Democrat Maggie Hassan likely only won her senate race because it was “stolen through voter fraud.” He did not even claim to have proof.

Assembled by Trump by executive order in early May, the commission was tasked with completing a report about “vulnerabilities and issues related to voter registration and voting.” Its creation followed erroneous claims repeated by the president alleging widespread voter fraud which the president has claimed cost him the popular vote. Seemingly emasculated by having obtained fewer votes nationwide than Clinton, Trump asserted weeks after his inauguration that between 3 and 5 million illegal ballots were cast for his opponent…

Kobach and Pence eventually appointed five Democrats and seven Republicans to the commission, though Democrat Luis E. Borunda, Maryland’s deputy secretary of state, has since resigned. But it remains completely under the direction of the Republicans.

“Any truly bipartisan commission on these things has to have bipartisan leadership,” Danielle Lang, an attorney for the Campaign Legal Center, told Gizmodo. “There has to be some kind of bipartisan power on the commission—or it’s just a fig leaf. If you look at all of the former commissions that this would be similar to, they all had Democrat and Republican vice chairs. Instead, in this case, you have Kris Kobach and Mike Pence. That alone truly disqualifies it from being truly bipartisan in any meaningful way.” …

And given his background, Hans von Spakovsky should be particularly ashamed of himself, if only he understood the concept of ‘shame’.

Russiagate Open Thread: A Circle of Jerks

Per Reuters:

President Donald Trump’s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., will testify privately to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday as it investigates allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

Trump Jr. had been invited to testify in public in a hearing in July, but reached an agreement to speak privately with committee staff.

“We look forward to a professional and productive meeting and appreciate the opportunity to assist the committee,” Alan Futerfas, a lawyer for Trump Jr., said in a statement on Wednesday…

Separately, Susan Rice, who was national security adviser for former President Barack Obama, testified on Tuesday before the House Intelligence Committee for about four hours.

Erin Pelton, a spokeswoman for Rice, said she had met voluntarily with the committee as part of its investigation. “Ambassador Rice remains fully supportive of bipartisan efforts to determine the extent and scope of Russia’s outrageous efforts to interfere in the 2016 election,” she said in a statement.

Rice had been subpoenaed by the committee as it looked into Republican concerns about whether anyone from the administration of Obama, a Democrat, had asked to “unmask” names of Trump campaign advisers picked up in top-secret foreign communications intercepts…

The Repubs will be all too eager to gin up more misogynistic/racist bullshit about Rice, but outside of the Fox-bubble, the real news will be how much Donny Junior gives away during / after his “private conversation”. I’ll bet the unfortunate Secret Service agents assigned to look after him are individually and collectively reconsidering their career choices, possibly over a few dozen adult beverages.

Big Daddy’s personal lawyer seems to be feeling some strain, too also…

Mother Jones explicates:

In a bizarre late-night email exchange, President Donald Trump’s top White House lawyer working on the Russia scandal, Ty Cobb, said that he was serving in the White House because “more adults” were needed there and noted that he had made a financial sacrifice in order to take the job.

Cobb, a high-profile Washington, DC, lawyer well-known for defending companies and individuals facing government investigations, was put on the White House payroll by Trump in July. His mission: to serve as counsel handling matters related to the assorted Russia investigations under way…

Cobb’s interlocutor was, improbably, the owner of a Washington noodle shop called Toki. This restauranteur, Jeff Jetton, has been something of a mixer or an amateur investigator in the Russia scandal… On Tuesday evening, Jetton emailed Cobb out of the blue, having figured out Cobb’s White House email address. The two had never met or corresponded…

Not gonna try to summarize the ensuing tsuris, but believe me: it’s worth reading the whole thing.

And to finish the Three Stooges trilogy, remember this mook, Devin Nunes?

House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes lashed out at Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week in a letter where he threatened Sessions with a public grilling if he doesn’t produce documents about the Russia dossier to the House intelligence committee.

Nunes, who despite stepping aside from directing the House Russia investigation has been leading his own separate investigation, accused Sessions and the FBI of stonewalling him repeatedly in a September 1 letter obtained by CNN. In the letter, he threatened to drag Sessions and FBI Director Christopher Wray before the committee for a public grilling and hold them in contempt of Congress — a jailable offense — if they don’t hand over the documents…

In the letter, which was signed only by Nunes and no other members of the House intelligence committee, Nunes explained that he was extending the deadline for responding to the subpoenas to September 14. But he capped it off with a sharp threat…

Asked to comment, Nunes told a CNN reporter Tuesday evening: “I’m not talking to you guys.”…

But Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the panel, said the pair of subpoenas were issued over his objections last month and are designed to “undermine” the claims about the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

The subpoenas seek information about what the FBI knows about the compilation of the Russia dossier and coincides with a push by the committee to bring in Steele, the report’s author and a former British spy…

Hope Votes

Somewhere around the year 2042 or so, I hope to remove from my pocket a shimmering, translucent, flexible square about the size and weight of a hanky and use it to read this B-section article in the NEW New York Times:

Hope springs eternal, mostly. And yet. Ryu Spaeth published a piece in the New Republic last week that stuck with me because it captures the sense of trauma and despair of the Trump era so well:

There is so much selfishness and ignorance and hatred in this county, and they have found their concentrated embodiment in Trump, who bludgeons us with the worst aspects of humanity every single day. This is self-evidently traumatic for the body politic, harming our capacity for empathy and reason and decency. And yet it is difficult to express just how awful it is: how it makes us worry for our children in existential terms, how it makes our lives a little more sordid every day, how it slowly bleeds our world of joy and purpose.

The traditional response to bad presidents is to resist, to organize, to prepare for the next election—to have faith, even if everything else fails, in democracy. But democracy already failed us once, handing the presidency to a man who lost the popular vote by a resounding margin. It has been subverted by gerrymandering, and is being weakened by those working to keep minorities and the poor from the polls. It was compromised by the intervention of a foreign government, and the president is reluctant to even acknowledge that fact, let alone make sure it doesn’t happen again…

This is the point in the essay where I should say that we mustn’t lose hope, that we must impede Donald Trump at every step, and I do believe that. Still, to quote Howard Beale, everyone knows things are bad. I wake up each morning prepared for something terrible to happen. But something terrible is happening, every day, all around us. The most frightening part is that we’re not sure if Trump’s America is rock bottom or if we have further to fall.

All of that. The only way out of this mess is to roll back Trumpism and make the GOP pay for damaging America so grievously. But it will be a long, hard slog; we don’t even know yet how long or how hard. And the outcome is uncertain.

Yesterday, I spent a few hours registering voters and collecting signatures for a ballot initiative in support of ex-felon voting rights restoration. Taking even modest action like that makes me feel less powerless. But after this week, it also feels a bit like throwing a thimbleful of water on a raging grenade warehouse fire.

Many of the people I talked to yesterday seemed similarly overwhelmed and despairing. But in a way, that’s a hopeful sign, I think, the widespread horror at the damage done.

Thimblefuls of action — volunteering to assist immigrants, helping people get ID to vote, showing up when Nazis try to assert ownership of our streets, voting in every single election — add them up, and they become a deluge. I hope? I hope. I hope!

Anyhoo, open thread!

Kids these days

I have incredible respect for those students. If I was 19 and standing there, I would have punched someone. The discipline and the courage to bear witness and hold onto their values without allowing themselves to respond to clear and constant provocations is incredible.

The kids are alright.

First they came for the First Amendment…

Here’s Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III trying to get off the boss’s shit list by tripling the number of leak investigations and “reviewing policies” for issuing subpoenas to reporters:

The excuse, as always, is that the leaks “place lives at risk.” Refresh my memory, y’all: Have any leaks from the Trump White House endangered troops or imperiled U.S. citizens or foreign assets — aside from when Trump opened his big fat yap and bragged to the Russians about intelligence on ISIS, torching an Israeli asset?

Anyhoo, the leak of the transcript of Trump’s conversations with the Australian PM and Mexican president is intolerable to the administration. Not because any valuable intelligence was exposed, but rather because a staggering LACK of intelligence was revealed: The president is a blithering idiot, a liar and a shitty negotiator.

David Frum wrote a piece in The Atlantic about the dangers of these leaks. Frum, a former Bushie who is fiercely anti-Trump, contends the leaks will harm the office long after Trump is toast:

But if no high national-security secret has been betrayed in these transcripts, the workings of the U.S. government have been gravely compromised, and in ways that will be very difficult to repair even after Trump leaves office. Trump’s violation of basic norms of government has driven people who would otherwise uphold those norms unto death to violate them in their turn. Contempt for Trump’s misconduct inspires counter-misconduct.

Nor is that the end. The less Trump can trust the regularly constituted government, the more justified he will feel in working irregularly. His irregular actions then justify more counter-irregularity from the rest of the government.

Donald Trump has launched the executive branch into a cycle of self-destruction for which he bears ultimate blame—but whose ultimate cost will be borne by his successors and the American nation.

Maybe. But writing in the New Republic, Brian Beutler takes the opposite view:

Many have been quick to assume that this leak will have a chilling effect on U.S. relations with other countries, without stopping to ponder the likelihood that some foreign leaders might be relieved to learn that factions within the U.S. government are taking extraordinary steps to weaken this particular president.

If there are norms worth fretting over here, they aren’t the ones that govern whistleblowing, but the ones that should govern what U.S. political leaders do when the president is too incompetent to serve. It is because of their cowardice—their refusal to uphold norms they were elected and appointed to guard—that these transcripts leaked in the first place.

Beutler makes a good point. Outside of the deplorable bubble, the majority of the country and the rest of the world know Trump isn’t up to the job. Personally, I’m unnerved by how comforting I now find the presence of institutions and people I once (and still) regard with healthy suspicion, including the intelligence community and Republican special prosecutors.

Beutler also brings up the three generals who are charged with babysitting Trump: McMaster, Mattis and Kelly. There’s another unnerving specter — unelected generals running the show behind the scenes. Some of y’all have expressed similar misgivings, while others have noted that at least McMaster and Mattis are intelligent, competent men who aren’t given to rash action, unlike their boss.

So, the leaks will likely continue, no matter how hard the KKKeebler Elf stamps his widdle feet and wiggles his oddly angled ears. Trump and his flunkies will continue to fume about it, and even people who don’t support Trump will wring their hands. But I think Beutler is right: We should blame the craven shits in Congress who not only have the power but the duty to protect us from an incompetent executive and are refusing to do their jobs.

This is Not Normal

The fact that the GOP’s Cheeto Jeebus issued a series of tweets about an apparently new transgender policy (but not really, since there is no policy) has been discussed, but a couple quick things:

A.) They are not your fucking generals, you orange shitstain. None of this is yours, you anal drip, it’s OURS.

B.) While you are talking to your fucking generals, how ’bout that plan to defeat ISIS you kept talking about having ready in thirty days, cuz we’re still waiting for that shitshow.

C.) You did no consultation at all, and everyone knows that bible thumping fetus fetishist, rampant homophobe, mother of a modern HIV crisis, all around know-nothing bigot, and Grand Mullah of the American Taliban Mike Pence was doing it behind the scenes, and I guaran-fucking-tee that the first you heard of this was when it was mentioned to you in passing this morning and three minutes later your tiny little dickbeaters were pounding out this nonsense on what I am fucking also sure is an unsecured phone.

D.) They had no intention for you to go live with it so that is why there was a nine minute delay between your first tweet and the subsequent two, at which point they debated for a few minutes and decided “fuck it, it’s too late now, AND WHO THE FUCK TOLD HIM?” and parts two and three came out:

E.) And since you are a fucking clueless douchecanoe who has no idea how to govern and didn’t ACTUALLY consult with OUR generals about this, this fucking happened:

The Department of Defense referred all questions to President Trump’s administration. “We will continue to work closely with the White House to address the new guidance provided by the Commander-in-Chief on transgender individuals serving the military. We will provide revised guidance to the Department in the near future,” said Naval Capt. Jeff Davis, the director of defense press operations.

At the Pentagon, the first of the three tweets raised fears that the president was getting ready to announce strikes on North Korea or some other military action. Many said they were left in suspense for nine minutes, the time between the first and second tweet. Only after the second tweet did military officials receive the news the president was announcing a personnel change on Twitter.

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis is on vacation this week, and defense officials said Mattis knew that Trump was considering the policy change. It is unclear if he approved it.

Fuck every single person who voted for Trump.