Kavanaugh, Kasowitz, and McNally: The Kamala Harris Gambit

On Wednesday and Thursday Senator Harris kept coming back to a very specific set of questions for Judge Kavanaugh: did you have a conversation with someone at the law firm of Kasowitz, Benson, and Torres and if so, who was that person? Here’s the video from Wednesday evening:

Remember, Marc Kasowitz is the President’s personal attorney and, for a time, was representing him in regard to the Special Counsel’s investigation.

Yesterday when Senator Harris went back to this line of questioning she finally got something more than panicked confusion and flop sweat from Judge Kavanaugh. Specifically:

But what, exactly, is going on here. As silly as it is for Judge Kavanaugh to have tried to brazen out these two questions if there was just regular, social contact, I think there’s a really good reason for his response. I think that Senator Harris keeps coming back to these two questions because she has something that she and her staff have concluded is solid that links Judge Kavanaugh; his friend Ed McNally at Kasowitz, Benson, and Torres; and something inappropriate and/or improper in regard to the Special Counsel and his investigation. And Judge Kavanaugh does not know, or is not completely sure, what it is that Senator Harris has or how she and her staff got it. Which is why he kept trying to flip the dynamic and get her to give him the answer of who she was referring to at Kasowitz, Benson, and Torres and what it might be about. As you can see in the video above, she was prepared for that on Wednesday and she was prepared for it yesterday as well.

So what does Senator Harris and her staff have? I have no idea. And neither does Judge Kavanaugh, White House Counsel Don McGahn, Senator Grassley, or Senator McConnell. It may be that Senator Harris and her staff actually have nothing more than a tip that Judge Kavanaugh is good friends with Ed McNally and they socialize, so she decided to bluff and see if she could trip him up really badly. But given his reactions, as well as the multiple explanations required to get to even the semblance of a reasonable answer from both Judge Kavanaugh and the spokesperson for Kasowitz, Benson, and Torres before finally settling on that yes, Judge Kavanaugh knows Ed McNally and they’ve spoken in the last year, I think she’s engaged in more than just a bluff.

If this was just Senator Harris bluffing, then we won’t hear much more about it. But based on her statements during the hearings, doing news media hits after the hearings, and on social media, I don’t think that’s the case.

Rather, I think she’s got specific information about not just who Judge Kavanaugh spoke with, but what they discussed. And that she and her staff have vetted and validated it enough to weaponize it. The outstanding question is what is the end game of the Kamala Harris gambit? Was it just to spook Judge Kavanaugh during the Senate Judiciary confirmation hearings in the hope he screws up? Or does she intend to actually make it public when it is most strategically advantageous to her and the Democratic caucus’s attempts to defeat his nomination?

Stay tuned!

Open thread.


Some Positive Trends

We’re getting some positive trends in recent rounds of polling. For instance:

Tia Mitchell is a reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Daniel Smith is a former colleague of mine in the Department of Political Science at the University of Florida who specializes in, among other things, state and local politics.

I think that part of the reason for this is that the public polling under samples people of color, as well as women regardless of ethnicity and younger people. As a result a good chunk of what appears to be happening isn’t being captured in the public polling as both Tia Mitchell and Dan Smith state. And this is why we’re seeing Republican candidates, including Republican candidates for the Senate, such as Senator Cruz, behaving as if their internal polling is much worse than the public polling. It is important to remember that the campaigns’ internal polling is always better than the public polling. They have better models of their supporters, of the likely electorate on election day and in early voting, and in regard to potential turnout.

None of this should lead anyone into complacency. Nothing is written in stone just a little over two months from the mid-term elections in November. And nothing should be taken for granted. Everyone still needs to make sure they’re registered to vote, that everyone they know is registered to vote, and that everyone those people know are registered to vote. And then everyone needs to vote, to make sure that everyone they know votes, and that everyone those people know vote. And, if possible, to vote during early voting to ensure you and everyone else doesn’t get jammed up on election day.

There are signs of hope. And while hope is not a strategy, hope is necessary to beat back despair. And, to be honest, the only thing the President and those seeking office on platforms of supporting him more than anyone else could possibly support them, are peddling one thing and one thing only: despair. Don’t buy it. Don’t even take it for a test drive.

Open thread!

A Few Thoughts on the NY Times Op-Ed

I was working on a tight turn around tasker this afternoon when The NY Times published the op-ed by the anonymous senior administration official that has everybody all abuzz. A couple of you emailed me about it – one of these actually alerted me to its publication because I was working and had no idea what was going on. Several of you, including the initial emailer, also asked if I had any idea who it was. Simply I have no idea at all. I know there’s now some speculation that the author has either tried to set up Vice President Pence or is, perhaps, Vice President Pence’s speechwriter based on the curious use of the word lodestar.

In my personal and professional opinion, if these knuckleheads destroy themselves trying to either fix or deflect the blame for writing this op-ed, that is still to good for them. And there’s a reason for that. I’ve been in the position of working for toxic leaders and/or feeling I was being professionally compromised. In both cases I resigned rather than compromise my professional ethics, violate Federal law, regulations, and/or DOD guidelines.

I’m not going to go into the specific details of either of these, but I’ve been in a position where I believed in the overall mission where I was assigned, but felt professionally compromised. In this, the second case, I  tried to work the problem internally. And to be honest, the violations had been ongoing for a considerable amount of time before I started and were completely unintentional. The only reason I actually caught the problem is that it was something I’d worked in two previous assignments for the Army and, as a result, I had recent, relevant subject matter expertise regarding the issue. So I pulled the relevant Federal law, Federal regulation, and the DOD policy for my director, deputy director, and colleagues and put it all in a memo explaining the problem. The memo included an attached proposal to both retroactively fix as much of the immediate problem as possible and then establish the appropriate procedures so we’d be right going forward.

I initially thought I was gaining some traction, but within about three or four days it became clear that my director didn’t want to deal with the problem. He was a nice guy, personable, in many ways a good boss, but he was also very passive-aggressive, especially when stressed. And this had him completely stressed. When he came back to me and asked me to get back to the assignment that was in violation of Federal law, Federal regulations, and DOD policy I resigned. The leadership at my company was very supportive, which is why I’m still with them. Unfortunately, the prime contractor’s on site rep had me blacklisted with his company, which has cost me a couple of assignments over the years as my boss can’t put me forward on projects where he’s a subcontractor to this company. No good deed goes unpunished.

Four months after I resigned I received an email from my former deputy director. He wanted to let me know that my resignation threw the entire issue into the spotlight. That the senior leadership brought in the appropriate folks from the headquarters to consult, they verified everything I had delineated, and when shown my proposal for how to both retroactively fix the problem and to establish new processes and procedures for going forward, they signed off on them as the correct way forward. He just wanted me to know that I’d been right and this had led to the right change happening. I was not offered my position back. No good deed goes unpunished.

The people that needed to know the details of what happened and where they happened were informed. My senior references were notified so they could respond appropriately if contacted for recommendations for other jobs. And that’s it. I cleared out my office, turned in all my gear, cleared outprocessing, signed the NDA to be read off of that command’s sensitive compartments, turned in my badges, cleared post, and drove home. And I sleep like a baby. A 275 lbs baby with an 18 inch neck who uses a CPAP and has two lab mixes sleeping on him, but a baby nonetheless.

I realize that the President is the most toxic of toxic leaders, but writing this op-ed wasn’t courageous. It wasn’t brave. It wasn’t heroic. You’re not saving the Republic. You’re not protecting the Constitution. And you’re not a professional. A brave professional who wanted to save the Republic and protect the Constitution wouldn’t be working to subvert the actual constitutional order and then writing an anonymous op-ed about it to both pat yourself on the back and let everyone else know how virtuous a person you are. Rather, a brave professional who wanted to save the Republic and protect the Constitution would have hired an attorney who specializes in national security and government whistle blower issues, met with them, and had them arrange for you to provide the detailed information that will save the Republic and protect the Constitution to the appropriate members of Congress and the Special Counsel. Having an anonymous op-ed published in The New York Times detailing your efforts in protecting the world in order to achieve an unnecessary tax cut for the richest Americans, repeatedly try to gut the health insurance and access to health care for millions of Americans, use the power of the presidency and the executive branch to turn undocumented immigrants into an existential threat so that Stephen Miller can have better self esteem and not be afraid of the dark, and pack a bunch of extremists onto the Federal courts so that Leonard Leo can feel safe in the 21st Century isn’t heroic. It isn’t professional. It is craven. It is cowardly. It is actually unconstitutional. And it isn’t actually helping. Whoever you are, you had the chance to actually do the right thing, to seek legal counsel, and to be a legitimate part of the solution to this problem, to safeguard the Republic, and to protect the Constitution. When faced with that test, you failed.

Making it look like Mike Pence wrote the thing was a nice touch though…

Open thread.

The Mid-Afternoon of the Average Sized Sporks Has Begun

Who could have predicted?

From CNN:

President Donald Trump, showing his outrage over Bob Woodward’s explosive new book, is ordering a real witch hunt in the West Wing and throughout his administration, asking loyal aides to help determine who cooperated with the book.

“The book is fiction,” Trump said Wednesday in the Oval Office alongside the Emir of Kuwait.

But even as the President publicly fumes, he’s privately on a mission to determine who did — and didn’t — talk to Woodward, CNN has learned. Two officials who have spoken directly to the President say he is pleased with the denials offered by chief of staff John Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis.

Trump himself highlighted the denials of Mattis and Kelly, saying that both men were “insulted” by the comments Woodward attributed to them.

In Trump’s eyes, what makes or breaks aides who are reported to have made disparaging comments about him is how strongly they push back on the accusations.

Unlike Kelly and Mattis, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson never denied calling Trump a “moron” and a former senior White House official said Trump “never forgave him for it.”

But he is also taking note of the silence from several other former administration officials.

“He wants to know who talked to Woodward,” one of the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity amid the highly tense atmosphere in the West Wing in the wake of the book.

The search for leakers inside the administration contrasts with the White House’s defense that the book was fueled by “disgruntled employees,” offered by press secretary Sarah Sanders and others.

One source close to the White House said people inside the administration are “frustrated because they know it’s true.”

The President is directing the response strategy personally, officials say, in consultation with top communications official Bill Shine and other aides. At this point, it seems unlikely that anyone is immediately fired because of the book, one official says, because that would “lend credence to a book he is trying to discredit.”

More broadly, the White House’s emerging strategy to push back against Woodward’s reporting seems to be going after those former officials suspected of sharing documents and stories, according to several people familiar with the game plan.

“You don’t discredit Bob Woodward. You discredit the motives of the people” who provided the information, one person said.

Everyone execute your exfil plans!

Open thread.

How About Everyone Just Take a Deep Breath and Stop Borrowing Trouble?

There’s a lot of whinging in the comments to the live feed post of the Kavanaugh hearings about the Democrats caving, the Democrats not being willing to fight even if they know they can’t win and beat back this nomination because they neither have the votes, nor the ability to set the committee’s rules or the Senates. And that if they won’t make this fight, then what good are they.

Are any of you actually watching the actual hearing? I realize I had to take a work call, so I’m about a 40 minutes behind and only just now in the middle of Senator Whitehouse’s opening remarks, but I haven’t seen any of the Democrats preemptively surrendering or going into duck and cover mode. Sure, Senator Duckworth hasn’t vaulted over the desk top and beaten Judge Kavanaugh to death with her prosthetic leg, nor have Kamala Harris and Corey Booker hit Ted Cruz with a metal folding chair. Nor has Senator Hirono and Senator Feinstein given Senator Grassley an atomic wedgy yet this morning,* but that doesn’t mean they’re not doing what they’re supposed to do. Nor does it mean they aren’t fighting this nomination appropriately. They’re making motions. They’re making their points. They’re arguing repeatedly that the hearings should be delayed, not cancelled, but delayed until the appropriate documentation from Judge Kavanaugh’s time as the Staff Secretary and Deputy White House Council in the Bush 43 administration is released and reviewed as part of the appropriate due diligence.

Everybody needs to get a grip. Getting discouraged, freaking out, being paralyzed by fear isn’t going to help the situation. This fight may not be winnable, but it doesn’t look like the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary committee have surrendered preemptively. You shouldn’t either.

Open thread.

* This is sarcasm. I am neither advocating violence by Democratic senators, nor would I expect them to actually engage in it.

The Kavanaugh Hearing Live Feed

Not to pile on to BettyC’s post, but the live feed to the first day of the Judiciary Committee’s hearing on Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings is below. I’ve got it set to start with Senator Durbin asking a very important question, which is: who is the attorney that has determined which of Judge Kavanaugh’s work product documentation from his time as the Staff Secretary in President Bush’s administration can be released and which will be withheld under executive privilege? The short answer is that the attorney in question, Bill Burck, is not a Federal employee. He is neither a civil servant, nor is he a presidential appointee. He does not work for the White House Counsel’s Office, nor does he work for the Department of Justice. He is, however, the White House Counsel, Don McGahn’s, private attorney. He represents Mr. McGahn in his dealings with the Special Counsel’s Office and investigation, as well as several other administration officials in their dealings with the Special Counsel’s Office and investigation.

Also, it is never a good sign, but it is always amusing, when Senator Grassley gets completely whiny before 11:00 AM EDT (immediately after Senator Durbin and then Senator Kennedy’s follow on).

Open thread!

Bruce Ohr is One Answer to the Question of When the Intelligence Community Will Leak

I’m often asked in comments when the Intelligence Community (IC) will leak. My answer is always that the intelligence community, both the US’s and that of our allies and partners, will leak when it is in their strategic interest to do so. The targeted leaks in early 2017 about Attorney General Sessions phone calls and meetings with Ambassador Kislyak during the 2016 election, as well as about his problems with filling out his SF86 truthfully under penalty of perjury as it says on the form right before you sign it, were both these types of strategic leaks. They were intended to put Attorney General Sessions and his people on notice that if he messed up the counterintelligence investigation into the Russian active measures and cyberwarfare campaign against the United States, both of which – the investigation and the Russian active measures and cyberwarfare campaign – are still on going, then the Intelligence Community would leak additional damaging information about him.

Yesterday The NY Times reported about what Bruce Ohr was really doing at the FBI and why he was really in contact with Christopher Steele. This reporting is built around anonymous officials providing the information to counter the narrative being leaked from the GOP House Caucus’s side of the Intelligence and Oversight Committees, as well as pushed by the President and his supporters on social media.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an initiative that remains classified. Most expressed deep discomfort, saying they feared that in revealing the attempts to cultivate Mr. Deripaska and other oligarchs they were undermining American national security and strengthening the grip that Mr. Putin holds over those who surround him.

But they also said they did not want Mr. Trump and his allies to use the program’s secrecy as a screen with which they could cherry-pick facts and present them, sheared of context, to undermine the special counsel’s investigation. That, too, they said they feared, would damage American security.

In short, the Intelligence Community strategically leaked because it was in its interests to do so.

The NY Times reports, based on these anonymous officials, that Ohr was working with Steele to try to flip Oleg Deripaska, known as Putin’s Oligarch (emphasis mine).

Between 2014 and 2016, the F.B.I. and the Justice Department unsuccessfully tried to turn Mr. Deripaska into an informant. They signaled that they might provide help with his trouble in getting visas for the United States or even explore other steps to address his legal problems. In exchange, they were hoping for information on Russian organized crime and, later, on possible Russian aid to President Trump’s 2016 campaign, according to current and former officials and associates of Mr. Deripaska.

In one dramatic encounter, F.B.I. agents appeared unannounced and uninvited at a home Mr. Deripaska maintains in New York and pressed him on whether Paul Manafort, a former business partner of his who went on to become chairman of Mr. Trump’s campaign, had served as a link between the campaign and the Kremlin.

The attempt to flip Mr. Deripaska was part of a broader, clandestine American effort to gauge the possibility of gaining cooperation from roughly a half-dozen of Russia’s richest men, nearly all of whom, like Mr. Deripaska, depend on President Vladimir V. Putin to maintain their wealth, the officials said.

Two of the players in the effort were Bruce G. Ohr, the Justice Department official who has recently become a target of attacks by Mr. Trump, and Christopher Steele, the former British spy who compiled a dossier of purported links between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Mr. Steele sought to aid the effort to engage Mr. Deripaska, and he noted in an email to Mr. Ohr in February 2016 that the Russian had received a visa to travel to the United States. In the email, Mr. Steele said his company had compiled and circulated “sensitive” research suggesting that Mr. Deripaska and other oligarchs were under pressure from the Kremlin to toe the Russian government line, leading Mr. Steele to conclude that Mr. Deripaska was not the “tool” of Mr. Putin alleged by the United States government.

The timeline sketched out by Mr. Ohr shows contacts stretching back to when Mr. Ohr first met Mr. Steele in 2007. It also shows what officials said was the first date on which the two discussed cultivating Mr. Deripaska: a meeting in Washington on Nov. 21, 2014, roughly seven months before Mr. Trump announced that he was running for president.

Ohr’s, Steele’s, and the FBI’s attempts ultimately came to naught, which is not surprising as Deripaska refused to give up Putin, which, as we know, would have been like volunteering to be assassinated.

The systematic effort to win the cooperation of the oligarchs, which has not previously been revealed, does not appear to have scored any successes. And in Mr. Deripaska’s case, he told the American investigators that he disagreed with their theories about Russian organized crime and Kremlin collusion in the campaign, a person familiar with the exchanges said. The person added that Mr. Deripaska even notified the Kremlin about the American efforts to cultivate him.

This is what a strategic leak from the Intelligence Community looks like.

Stay covert!

Open thread.