Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Brain dump on the Mueller report

I wrote how the Mueller report contained no big surprises--most everything had already been reported fairly accurately in the MSM. So what are some of my thoughts?

First, we need a link to the report. However, it's long and very technical with all kinds of dense legal reasoning. It's even harder to read than a Supreme Court decision, so I gave up. Luckily, we have Mueller's summaries, which the Attorney General Bob Barr deflected from. Maybe he didn't want them to be part of a national discussion because they explicitly state:
"... if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts ..., we are unable to reach that judgment. ... this report ... does not exonerate him."
That was the conclusion of the second part of the investigation, which focused on Trump's efforts at obstruction.

Really, we shouldn't skip over the first part. Mueller gives a timeline of Russian hacking and disinformation efforts. He also lists the major contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians with government connections. Mueller draws this conclusion:
"Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities."
The report also mentions "evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges" and "identified gaps" in their information where witnesses couldn't be questioned or information had been deleted from witnesses' files.

So it looks like Russia reached out on several occasions, the Trump campaign responded, but there wasn't a conspiracy.

However, there was Russian criminal activity. It would be good if Trump strongly agreed with this, didn't waiver or backtrack, and punished the Russians accordingly. If we recall the beginning of Trump's presidency, he did none of those things. Instead, he seemed to favor better relations with a country that had just violated our laws, and our 'sacred election process.' Only the pressure from media reports, public reaction, and Congressional reaction stopped Trump from making nice with the Russians. How sad for the Russians.

Here is my speculation based on the facts I've gleaned. The Russians wanted to help Trump. They also made many attempts to have Trump come to Russia during the campaign. Why? It's odd, and it's not great optics. However, maybe the Russians thought that they could extract promises from Trump since he was known to be malleable.

It didn't play out that way. There wasn't a one-on-one meeting between Trump and Putin until the Helsinki summit in July 2018. However, even that one-on-one meeting didn't quite work out for the Russians. Though they claimed that there were important, ground-breaking agreements, Trump couldn't describe what they were, and he wasn't able to follow up on any specific agreements. So the Russians were left empty-handed. I'll cry them a river over that disappointment.

So the Russians might have hoped for a malleable, friendly stooge in the White House, but they got Trump, a low-information incompetent blowhard who can't follow through for them. Well, ain't that a fly in the ointment. Couldn't have happened to a more deserving bunch.

Is Putin still smiling? Does Trump remember what was said? No and No.
Image: nymag.com

Extras. Lots of resources for this post because I like to stay informed, and to review when I'm not sure of the facts. Be sure to start with the Mueller summaries. Several articles about the Russians and what they were trying to do. Fourteen members of Trump's campaign had Russian contacts. There are dangers in the transition period and not enough legal protection.

On the other hand, for people who don't care about thorough research, here's a viewpoint that the investigation was a big waste of money.

A fascinating view of the Mueller report from a cybersecurity expert. For people who say Trump is worse than Nixon, um, no! Read this.

I started wondering where the summaries came from. The links don't say, but here's a site where the headers, footers, and redactions show.

Finally, it's fun to review the flop of the Helsinki summit through several sources.

Update 5/1/19. Mueller wrote to Attorney General Barr complaining about the handling of the summary, and asking him again to release Mueller's own summaries. This happened back at the end of March. The letter leaked today.

A legal expert reads the Mueller report completely, and expertly reads between the lines. The best news for Trump is that he and his campaign had no knowing involvement with the fake news/social media operation. The bad news is that there is a lot of strong evidence for willful obstruction and some failed attempts to work with Russians. It seems when Trump claims "No collusion!" he's in part crossing his fingers for luck. The same legal expert shares his impresssions/notes as he reads the report.

An excellent overview by Bloomberg of the reason for the investigation:
Following Trump’s election, it wasn’t clear that any public institution had the credibility to establish the truth about Russia’s attack. A probe by the House Intelligence Committee imploded in a blaze of partisanship. A Senate inquiry has ambled on for two years, to little result. Into this void, kooks and charlatans across the political spectrum have offered their own feverish theories about “what really happened” — and a lot of otherwise reasonable people have listened to them.
A better approach would have been to appoint an independent panel on the model of the 9/11 Commission, one that could have held open hearings, questioned witnesses, assessed classified information, and published a report establishing the facts.
Instead, this essential task fell — more or less by default — to the special counsel. It was an awkward fit. Mueller’s official assignment was limited: to investigate any crimes that may have been committed in connection with Russia’s interference. But plainly the public was expecting something more: an airing of the evidence, a resolution of the many mysteries surrounding the case, a considered judgment on the actions of the president and his associates, criminal and otherwise.
Despite his limited remit, Mueller was largely able to answer that call. His report was transparent, fair-minded, thorough, and scrupulously evidence-based. Taken on its own, it could have established a baseline set of facts, put the conspiracies to rest, and allowed Congress to take action as needed. It might have enabled the country to move on from a scandal that has at times threatened to overwhelm civic life entirely.
Instead, the whole probe — nearly two years of meticulous investigation, occupying 19 federal prosecutors and some 40 FBI agents — has now been reduced to yet another gross political circus, with everyone entitled to their own versions of reality...

Monday, April 22, 2019

Lies, damned lies, and GOP lies

The Mueller report is finally out. As I wrote earlier, there weren't many surprises. Most of the information had been revealed either in the press or in indictments. As I noted, the MSM has been fairly accurate and good at self-correction, at least from what I've seen and how I've interpreted it. Maybe when I read hyperbolic speculation, I shake my head and move on, not remembering MSM declarations that Trump worked with Russia. My impression was that most reporters and most left-of-center folks were waiting for Mueller to sort it out. Of the regular commenters I knew on Bloomberg, only two were declaring that Trump had conspired. That leaves most of them not expressing that opinion.

The GOPers/conservatives were usually exaggerating what others said, and they were definitely still doing it as the report was released. They accused others of being WRONG, WRONG, WRONG, while failing to notice what others had actually said. Frankly, I don't know how often talking heads on CNN or MSNBC declared that Russia owned Trump. My guess would be that they hedged. I asked my sweetie, who is more left than me. My sweetie expected about 50% chance of a conspiracy where there was enough evidence to indict. So maybe I'm not in touch with those further left without being the looney left.

1. So the first GOP lie is that all of the left prejudged Trump as guilty and are now pretending that they didn't do this. <------- LIE

Another GOP lie is that the MSM hasn't been reporting the facts. In fact, the MSM has been out front on this. I recall the NYT reporting on the Trump Tower meeting. Reporting a bit, waiting for the Trump team to respond, which it did usually with a cover story replete with lies. Then the NYT would release a bit more, and finally it released the emails of Trump Jr. that showed what was going down.

Now I expect a certain amount of spin from the presidency, but a news org should be as honest as it can be (an idealistic hope). However, there is no comparison. The MSM was telling the truth here, and the administration was lying. This was repeated over and over. That's one reason why I wasn't surprised by the Mueller report - because I followed the news, mainly through online MSM sources, and they were very accurate.

2. The MSM spread FAKE NEWS about the investigation. <------- LIE

Should I move on to some of the crazier lies? Maybe so, and turn the rest of this post into a rant against the lies.

3. All the Russian contacts were entrapment attempts by the deep state FBI/CIA. Cue the search for rumors that each contact actually was aligned with the deep state, not the Russians.

4. The Steele dossier was believed by the left. (No, it was labeled from the very beginning as unverified in screaming letters.)

5. The left took over the CIA, NSA, FBI, State Department, and God knows what else.

6. They all conspired to create this Russian hoax and try to overthrow Trump.

7. The coup was orchestrated by Clinton, Obama and their minions all over government and the MSM.

7.1 Obama didn't do anything about the Russian hacking and interference while it was happening, and instead spied on Trump's campaign.

8. Clinton, Obama, et al are going to jail in a streak of rightful payback.

9. Mueller is part of the deep state and hired Cllinton lackeys to help with the frame job.

10. The Mueller report found there was NO COLLUSION AND NO OBSTRUCTION AND NO EVIDENCE OF WRONGDOING by the Trump campaign.

11. The Dems are going to continue with the hoax because the coup attempt can't stop.

12. The real enemies of America are the Dems. Russians are preferable to them.

Image: twitter@Rob_Rogers

Extras. The FBI warned Trump about contacts with Russians. GOP liars deny this.

Update 4/23/19. I just found an example of GOP lies. Here's an article full of speculation, but it's not labeled as speculation. It's not attributed to unnamed sources (presumably vetted), which news organizations with ethics use. Instead, it's presented as ... um, fact? The big assumption in the article is that the woman Russian lawyer at the Trump Tower meeting was working for FusionGPS to entrap Trump campaign leaders. They also state (wrongly, if I'm not mistaken) that the Trump Tower meeting was used as evidence to secure a FISA warrant. I've looked at the redacted copy of the FISA warrant and didn't see anything about the Trump Tower meeting. I suspect that the author was making it up or repeated unsubstantiated rumors floating around Wingnutlandia.

Update 6/14/19. Trump had an interview with ABC news and he flat out lied about telling McGahn to fire Mueller. Read his lying words.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Previously unknown information from the Mueller report

I wasn't expecting any surprises from the Mueller report, and I didn't really get any. No conspiracy between Russians and the Trump campaign - no surprise there. Russia did its thing without help from Trump, which really was the smart approach. Everything about the Trump contacts with Russia have already been leaked, thank God.

There were no surprises on the obstruction issue either. Trump was furious, wanted to fire Mueller, but was stymied by McGahn. I'm pretty sure this was reported already. Just to check, I fired up Google with the search term "McGahn refused fire Mueller," select some dates, and found plenty of articles, like this one from The Hill.

So what was new? I googled "surprises from Mueller report," but didn't get great results. Then I hit on "previously unknown Mueller report." That was the key.

So what's new? Trump dictating a hilarious statement for Jeff Sessions to read (full text here). Trump saying "I'm fucked" when he heard that a special counsel was appointed. Sarah Sanders admitted to Mueller that some of her statements (concerning countless FBI agents dissatisfied with Comey) were based on nothing. KT McFarland was asked to lie, but didn't. This was vaguely familiar, probably because she was squirrelly about some of her answers at confirmation hearings. I found a good list here.

I wasn't surprised that there weren't other conspiracy charges. The last indictment from Mueller would probably be the biggest. The last one was of Roger Stone, and he was charged with lying, witness tampering, and obstruction. The indictment told how he was in contact with Wikileaks, and that's the closest that anyone got to conspiracy.

So nothing really big from the Mueller report. The MSM had been reporting things all along, and they handled self-correction pretty well. Note that there wasn't any bombshell that Seth Rich had leaked the DNC material and was killed for it. Think of the many accurate reports in the media: Papadopoulus being approached; Manafort, Trump Jr., and Kushner in the Trump Tower meeting, McGahn refusing to fire Mueller, etc. The media seems to have been correct on those stories.

Of course, there are the redacted parts, and there may still be a few surprises. My guess is: nothing big.

Accurate again...
Image: redstatetalkradio.com

The first question to ask on a story about Trump

I figured something out about Trump. He loves to capture the newscycle. Because of this, he frequently says incredible things just to grab headlines. Most of it isn't serious and fades within a day or so. But he still does it and it's very effective in capturing the newscycle for him.

Here is an example. It's a fairly quiet end to a week that started with lots of speculation about the Mueller report and Trump firing his secretary of Homeland Security and other related positions. So what is the top news today?

Trump Wants to Bus Migrants to Sanctuary Cities

This is why I think it's a fake story: it's on a buzzy issue. It's a slap in the face of one of his favorite enemies. It's not an acutal policy announcement, but it looks like an action. (It won't be. Announce first, worry about planning later.) If you think about it hard, you realize it's probably not at all likely to happen. He didn't deliver it in a written speech in front of a teleprompter (that indicated more serious announcements).

Sometimes Trump will grab the newscycle just is an outrageous claim or insult. I'll try to remember to add some examples. But it's the same sort of tactic. Be outrageous, capture the newscycle, don't worry because few will remember.

If I was in the news biz, I'd have a weekly column about the crazy stuff Trump had done. I wouldn't give him a headline for something like this. Instead, I'd put it on the weekly list and save it for Saturday or Sunday:

Crazy Trump Stuff

This week, we have five items.
#5 ...
#4 ...

Sigh.

Image: observer.com

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Belated March links

Did I let an entire month go without posting? I guess so. Life keeps me busy, so I don't have time to obsess about politics. I even missed the delivery of the Mueller report for two whole days.

My browser ate a bunch of good links, and I'm going to try to avoid that again.

More about the Russia investigation. How Mueller minimized leaks. I think he also tried very hard to maintain high standards of integrity. Others should learn from this. The full text of the letter from the Attorney General summarizing the Mueller report. Claims of complete exoneration are woefully exaggerated and expedient. A detailed timeline with good sources for verification. From that timeline, an article about the various sources on Russian interference during the summer of 2016.

Chinese interference too. In Australia. Especially ironic is the response for the Chinese government.

How scary is global debt? I've been wondering about this. Here's the beginning of a discussion.

Debunking that talking point, Nazi gun control version. Finally, here is a source that flays that talking point. Unfortunately, it will still be used because talking points are more important than accuracy to lots of people.

Alex Jones is such a creep. He claims the lies in the media drove him insane, so he's not responsible for his own horrendous lies. Another death from Sandy Hook. Related: a takedown of the argument that mental illness is the problem with mass shooters.

Image: bloomberg.com