The Trump Narrative

I think that one reason people have taken up the Steele dossier as a key to Donald Trump’s election wrongdoing is that it is a relatively compact telling of events, from which a narrative may be extracted.

Most of the news coverage is of one small piece of the story at a time. The format of the articles tends to be a general statement of that small piece, perhaps with a bit of background, then a more detailed explanation of the small piece, and then more background. Space is limited, and the story is big. The cast appears to include thousands.

I find those articles largely unreadable and uninformative. Journalists seem to be having trouble too. Sally Buzbee, the executive editor of AP, said the Trump-Russia probes have “gone on so long that it’s difficult to be able to assess what in this investigation is truly very serious and what is not as serious. So that is one thing that journalists struggle with a little bit…” (video here; quote begins at 4:30) That certainly could be one reason that their articles are unreadable.

We need an overall story into which we can fit the breaking news. That will help us figure out what is truly very serious. Elliott Broidy, as far as we know now, is not as important to the story as Erik Prince, who is not as important as Donald Trump Jr. A master narrative can show where characters and subplots fit. Then the subplots can be written separately, noting the connections.

So I’m going to stick my neck out and provide a narrative. It is a bare-bones framework on which we can hang the many subplots and add in facts as they emerge. I’ve also added questions that need to be answered. I suspect that Robert Mueller has answers to some of those questions.

I invite you to suggest subplots. I’ll add them to my list and perhaps write another post in which I try to incorporate them into the narrative.

The narrative is below the fold. Read more

“Very significant break” in the Trump-Russia conspiracy investigation?

McClatchy is reporting that Michael Cohen’s cell phone was sending signals in Prague at the time the Steele dossier alleges Cohen was meeting with Russian operatives there to concoct cover stories for a conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign to swing the U.S. election:

WASHINGTON — A mobile phone traced to President Donald Trump’s former lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen briefly sent signals ricocheting off cell towers in the Prague area in late summer 2016, at the height of the presidential campaign, leaving an electronic record to support claims that Cohen met secretly there with Russian officials, four people with knowledge of the matter say.

During the same period of late August or early September, electronic eavesdropping by an Eastern European intelligence agency picked up a conversation among Russians, one of whom remarked that Cohen was in Prague, two people familiar with the incident said.

The phone and surveillance data, which have not previously been disclosed, lend new credence to a key part of a former British spy’s dossier of Kremlin intelligence describing purported coordination between Trump’s campaign and Russia’s election meddling operation.

The dossier, which Trump has dismissed as “a pile of garbage,” said Cohen and one or more Kremlin officials huddled in or around the Czech capital to plot ways to limit discovery of the close “liaison” between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Lanny Davis, a Cohen adviser, says Cohen wasn’t in Prague then, but Davis isn’t currently Cohen’s lawyer and may be out of the loop on exactly what Cohen told the Mueller team. Moreover, Davis is a moron.

Former Watergate prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks said that if disclosures of the foreign intelligence intercepts are true, “This is a very significant break, because it looks like a direct link between Donald Trump’s personal fixer and Russians most likely involved in the disruption of our election.”

“It would prove that lying was going on, not only about being in Prague, but much beyond the Prague episode,” she said.

Trump and his minions lie about everything, all the time, so it’s tough to draw any firm conclusions from a specific set of lies. But evidence keeps turning up to corroborate the so-called “dodgy dossier,” and the “WITCH HUNT!!!!” keeps right on exposing witch after witch. Hmmm.

Late update:

Curiouser and curiouser.

Flynn Sentencing at 11 AM (Open Thread)

Disgraced former National Security Adviser and “Lock Her Up” chant leader Michael Flynn is due in court shortly. It’ll be fascinating to see how this phase of the Mueller probe plays out.

The conventional wisdom is that since Flynn’s crimes were serious and Mueller let Flynn plead guilty to a relatively minor offense and recommends no jail time, Flynn’s cooperation must have been incredibly valuable to the investigation, perhaps even instrumental in hooking a very big fish. I sure hope so.

But Flynn is trying to have his cake and eat it too by (absurdly) claiming entrapment, and that line has echoed throughout the wingnut media sphere. The Post says Flynn’s double-dealing could increase the hearing’s drama quotient:

But in their sentencing submission, Flynn’s attorneys suggested he might have been fooled into lying to the FBI because he had not been warned in advance that doing so is a crime. That prompted the judge to request more documents, and the special counsel’s office last week vigorously pushed back on the idea that Flynn was mistreated.

Trump has ripped Michael Cohen as a rat while at the same time putting his tiny orange thumb on the scale in Flynn’s favor, repeating the entrapment lie. From this morning’s Twitler Twitter extrusions:

Good luck today in court to General Michael Flynn. Will be interesting to see what he has to say, despite tremendous pressure being put on him, about Russian Collusion in our great and, obviously, highly successful political campaign. There was no Collusion!

I try to remain agnostic on the idea of Mueller as the incorruptible, nonpartisan defender of American democracy who will expose the traitors and restore the rule of law, though it’s tempting to cling to that myth as our other checks and balances are dithered away by corrupt and spineless swine.

But on the issue of Flynn, it seems to be a battle of wits between Trump and clowns like Giuliani vs. Mueller and his team. My money’s on the latter — or really, any random group of people — against those idiots.

As for Flynn himself, he strikes me as a pinwheel-eyed partisan loon — a true believer. But Cohen once said he’d take a bullet for Trump. We’ll see.

Open thread.

Collusion Lite (Open Thread)

The latest line is that if there was collusion, it was over before the election anyway:

Next up: “Collusion is awesome and everyone does it.” A version of this brazen lie was debuted earlier this year by Giuliani in defense of Dim Son, when Giuliani said that any campaign would have taken a meeting with Russians claiming to have dirt on a political opponent. Does anyone doubt this tactic will eventually be rolled out in defense of Trump himself?

Giuliani hinted at it today when he said on the same program, “if Roger Stone gave anybody a heads up about Wikileaks leaks, that’s not a crime. It would be like giving him a heads up that the Times is going to print something.”

Okay then. Y’all go with that.

Why not, indeed?

This is the greatest tweet ever:

I was reminded of it today while reading this NYT account of the botched firing of soon-to-be former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and botched hiring of soon-to-be-former Pence Chief of Staff Nick Ayers, a 36-year-old Republican hack who not only declined to become captain of the Titanic White House chief of staff but quit his current VP gig to “spend more time with family” (seriously — that’s the explanation).

That an ambitious, rich, donor-connected Republican operative ran away from that plum job like a scalded dog tells us all we need to know about the state of this administration. From the NYT piece linked above:

After Nick Ayers, the Georgia political operative who was the president’s top pick, declined the job — something of a plot twist in a presidency notorious for its episodic cliffhangers — Mr. Trump is without a Plan B. Several of his aides expressed frustration that months of intense campaigning to replace John F. Kelly — an effort led by Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, the president’s elder daughter and son-in-law — resulted in yet another chaotic staffing scramble in a White House splintered by factions and rife with turnover…

Ms. Trump and Mr. Kushner’s efforts on behalf of Mr. Ayers were widely seen as a coup attempt, started on behalf of a president who was unhappy with Mr. Kelly but could not bring himself to fire him. Mr. Ayers’s rejection of the offer stunned the couple, who had long resisted Mr. Kelly’s attempt to bend them to a traditional White House hierarchy.

As Kay has observed, low-quality hires never improve; they only get worse. And that vapid, entitled, arrogant pair of clowns started at rock bottom and have been busily tunneling toward the earth’s core ever since. Better and smarter rats won’t jump on this sinking ship.

According to The Times, Trump tried to get Ayers to fire Kelly, and failing that, met with Kelly, Pence and Ayers last Friday and agreed to let Kelly resign the following week (to preserve his non-existent dignity, one assumes). But instead, Trump announced Kelly’s ouster the next day. On Sunday, Trump’s comms shop was prepping the press release to announce Ayers as Kelly’s replacement, and Ayers publicly declined the offer via Twitter, leaving Trump to feebly squawk “FAKE NEWS” about the Ayers speculation and lie about the many quality candidates beating down his door for a shot at the chief of staff job.

Does it matter who rearranges the deck chairs on the Trumptanic? The chief of staff gig seems to be a pretty big fucking deal in normal administrations and even in fictional ones — President Bartlet had Leo McGarry and CJ Cregg!

But in this shit-show of an administration, I suspect it doesn’t matter at all. Trump’s gonna Trump no matter who sits in the adjoining office, so the chaos, stupidity, venality and ruin will continue apace.

ETA: Trump tweeted this while I was composing this post:

Fake News has it purposely wrong. Many, over ten, are vying for and wanting the White House Chief of Staff position. Why wouldn’t someone want one of the truly great and meaningful jobs in Washington. Please report news correctly. Thank you!