Tonight’s News Dump And Another Long Ago

Tonight’s New York Times news dump on two FBI investigations, for counterintelligence and criminal activity, is strangely parallel to that October 31, 2016, news dump that said the FBI was not investigating Donald Trump. Let’s look at a timeline for the material reported in the two. I’m taking dates from the articles rather than looking up the precise dates in order to get this out quickly.

DateOctober 2016 articleJanuary 2019 article
July 2016Trump calls on Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails
July 2016Trump campaign softens Republican platform plank on Ukraine
“mid-2016”Christopher Steele compiles memos
“months before 2016 election”Timing described as “much of the summer” Investigation into “some of Trump’s aides,” but “Mr. Trump himself has not become a target”FBI was investigating four Trump associates
timing unclearCommunications between Trump and Alfa Bank computers
October 2016Harry Reid letter: “It has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisers, and the Russian government — a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States, which Trump praises at every opportunity,” Mr. Reid wrote. “The public has a right to know this information.”

 

Obviously, material after October 31, 2016, could not be included in the earlier article. But it’s informative to put it into a timeline.

DateEvent
January 2017Trump asks Comey for loyalty pledge
January 2017Trump asks Comey to end investigation into Michael Flynn
May 2017Trump fires Comey
May 2017Trump, in NBC interview, appears to say he fired Comey because of the Russia investigation
May 2017Trump tells Russians in Oval Office he fired Comey – “pressure taken off because of Russia”
“days after firing”Investigation begins

 

It’s worthwhile reading both articles. I find it clarifying to put things in timelines, though.

Update: Benjamin Wittes has also written a post, and he tweeted a baby cannon “BOOM!”

Further Update: The Wittes article gives a very careful explanation of the interplay between the criminal and counterintelligence sides of the investigation. I can also read between the lines why the FBI may have said in October 2016 that the investigation was not into Donald Trump. The investigation was about Russia’s role in the election. So it could be that the reporters on the October 2016 article didn’t ask the right questions of their informants or wink-wink nudge-nudge let them get away with giving a particular impression.








Fakebook

If you’re older or a Republican, you’re more likely to share fake news on Facebook:

Across all age categories, sharing fake news was a relatively rare category. Only 8.5 percent of users in the study shared at least one link from a fake news site. Users who identified as conservative were more likely than users who identified as liberal to share fake news: 18 percent of Republicans shared links to fake news sites, compared to less than 4 percent of Democrats. The researchers attributed this finding largely to studies showing that in 2016, fake news overwhelmingly served to promote Trump’s candidacy.

But older users skewed the findings: 11 percent of users older than 65 shared a hoax, while just 3 percent of users 18 to 29 did. Facebook users ages 65 and older shared more than twice as many fake news articles than the next-oldest age group of 45 to 65, and nearly seven times as many fake news articles as the youngest age group (18 to 29).

The party finding was influenced by all of the Russian fake news surrounding the Trump campaign. The age finding was independent of party affiliation.  It’s not surprising since older people grew up in an environment where news on the TV or in newspapers was generally factual, so that assumption is still baked in to their thinking, even though the world has changed drastically.








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.