Calculating the costs

Etched in a limestone statue that sits outside our Department of Justice, there is this:  “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty”. That statement has been attributed to various speakers and authors, dating all the way back to 1790. Variants of it have been generated through the decades. However, the first person to make that statement is far less important than the message it sends to us which has never been more relevant than it is today.

That our liberty and democracy are inextricably bound together isn’t even arguable. Their health and well-being  are mutually interdependent; to protect one is to protect the other; to endanger one is to compromise the other.

Just as was true back in the earliest days of the founding of our republic, citizens depended on various sources of news in the exercise of their own due diligence or should we say vigilance. Fast-forward to today and our 24/7 news cycle. It is constantly bringing us what could fairly be characterized as a blizzard of media reports that have embedded within them, facts, informed and uninformed opinions and unfortunately, outright lies. Sorting through all of this to separate the wheat from the chaff  and the credible from the incredulous is a daunting task. That is especially true if you are managing a full-time job as well as taking care of yourself and those closest to you. Where is the time? But, the truth is, we have to find it because that is the cost of our liberty. That is the cost of our practice of vigilance.

But, what if the news (broadly speaking) brings us the same message over and over again? A classic case in point is the president’s serial lying which many members of the media (1)  believe they are obligated to report. There is the danger that this repetition is generating ennui, a sort of “Oh that again” blah reaction. If you find yourself drifting in that direction, put on the brakes and recover your vigilance. All lies matter, big or small, and big ones matter a lot, whether they pertain to national policy or an extra-marital affair with or without “hush money” payments.

The maintenance of vigilance is critical when it comes to keeping track of what is happening to the twin pillars of our democracy; i.e. our civility and respect for the rule of law. Both have been under attack almost from the day that Donald J. Trump stepped into the White House. His name-calling, abrasive language, and divisive rhetoric have not just degraded civil discourse, but served as a carte blanche for folks on both the left and the right to emulate him (2). Even worse, Trump’s spurious and often fact-free based assault on the Justice Department, the FBI and the Mueller investigation has driven disrespect for the rule of law to historic lows.

What is stunning is how many people either do not see what is happening or choose to downplay it. They have directed a singular focus onto the economy, e.g. the Dow-Jones Industrial Average, the level of unemployment and other key economic indicators. In simple terms, their argument is that Trump’s policies are working so nothing else really matters. Anyone who holds exclusively to that mindset has no real understanding of what has bound us together for almost 250 years and what is in danger now, their claims of patriotism and being “real Americans” to the contrary.

It hardly need be said that the Trump presidency will end no later than 2024. The pressing question is “Will Trumpism leave office with him?” It had better or his time in office may well be regarded by historians as the period when our democracy lost its’ moorings and began an inextricable drift into disintegration.

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  1. There are conservative news outlets that either gloss over Trump’s repeated lying or find some excuse for it; e.g. “it happened before he was elected”.
  2. If you dare to get a sample of the political vitriol that is present today, Google “AOL Politics” and find your way to the “Comments” section that follows each news story that has been posted at that site.
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April 30, 2018: Talk about “News” !!!

Frankly, in the “Age of Trump”, it’s getting harder and harder to keep up. Where we began to settle in with a crisis a week, we are now into multiples. What follows is a recap of what went down yesterday. (1)

Item:  Michael Avenatti, attorney for porn star, Stormy Daniels, has filed a law suit against Trump, alleging that the president defamed his client, casting her as a liar. (2) This legal action arose out of a Tweet by 45, accusing Daniels of perpetrating a “con job”, referring to her attempt to identify a man who threatened her in a Las Vegas parking lot.

That Trump, who is already in legal jeopardy viz a viz Daniels, would Tweet as he did, is likely a product of his obsessive devotion to zero-sum-game playing; i.e. in an adversarial relationship, he must win every point, or at the last, deny his opponent one.

Now, being a fighter can be an admirable trait. But, at times, it has to be leavened with a recognition that some tiffs are either not worth having, or may produce unintended consequences as in the present case. Any 71 year old with a level of maturity that matches his age and some “street smarts” has learned that lesson. Which brings us to our next…

Item:  Around 3 PM EST, NBC News broke the story that multiple White House staffers had gone on the record as claiming that Chief of Staff, Gen. John Kelly (US Marine Corps, retired), had repeatedly referred to the president as “an idiot”, and to himself as the person who was “saving the US from disaster”. (3)

Certainly, a man of Kelly’s education could have found more polite terms to refer to 45’s intellect; e.g. “incurious…under-worked…lacking depth”. But, perhaps seeking to practice an economy of language, Kelley may have decided that “idiot” was not only sufficient, but covered the needed “territory”.

The Chief of Staff has denied the NBC report referring to it as “BS”. But, the reporters who are responsible for the story are standing by it, and have a solid track record when it comes to getting things right, especially in their coverage of all things Trump.

What all this foretells of Kelley’s future as 45’s major domo points to his being sent packing. The president cannot abide disloyalty and he has recently been said to chafe under Kelley’s discipline. There had already been talk of the Chief being moved laterally into the Head of the VA so as to create a “soft landing” for him. Now, the “idiot” sobriquet makes even that sort of gracious exit unlikely.

Item:  The evening’s political talk shows had to scramble to cover a late-breaking story posted by the New York Times. This article laid out a series of 49 questions that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller intends to pose to 45. (4) Each query was surely generated by evidence and testimony that Mueller already has in his possession but that Trump can only guess at. (5) What is more, every question is broad enough to allow for a range of follow-up probing. Taken altogether, these questions, which seem focused on obstruction of justice,  are a veritable Pandora’s Box and it is not surprising that one of 45’s previous lawyers, John Dowd, warned him to avoid testifying if at all possible. Of course, in reality, it isn’t! If the Special Prosecutor chooses to, he can subpoena Trump and put him under oath. If that were to actually happen, the president would be faced with the options of repeatedly pleading his 5th Amendment rights, or claiming profound memory loss. Both choices are tantamount to committing political suicide. The only other option would be to respond fully and truthfully to every inquiry. Were that choice to be made and acted upon, it would fly in the face of Trump’s long history of serial lying, dissembling and word salad production.

End Notes:  Mueller’s four-plus dozen questions are essentially a road map to follow in what is sure to emerge as an obstruction of justice case. Is that then the be all and end all of the investigation? The bet here is that matters won’t end there. The SP has yet to conclude his probing of money laundering, bank fraud, income tax evasion and conspiracy with Russian entities to corrupt the 2016 election.

What follows on the heels of the 49 queries may prove to be an inflection point that signals our proximity to the end of this now year-long investigation. But, you better stay tuned because the chances are very good that there is a lot more – a whole lot more – to come.

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  1. The items have not been presented in their real chronological order. In actuality, the “idiot” item was followed by the defamation item, and then the item involving the 49 questions.
  2. CNN; “Stormy Daniels files defamation lawsuit against Trump”. April 30, 2018. By Sara Sidner, MJ Lee, Javier De Diego and Maeve Reston.
  3. NBC News; “Kelly thinks he’s saving U.S. from disaster, calls Trump ‘idiot’ ” April 30, 2018. By Carol E. Lee, Courtney Kube, Kristen Welker, and Stephanie Ruhle.
  4. New York Times; “Mueller Has Dozens of Inquiries for Trump in Broad Questions on Russia Ties and Obstruction”. April 30, 2018; Michael Schmidt.
  5. When interrogating a witness,  lawyers learn to never ask a question for which you don’t already know the answer.

 

 

The “overlap”

First, start with a circle that includes within it Stormy Daniels, Trump and his “fixer” Michael Cohen. There are now real questions about where the latter got the $130,000. that he used to buy the porn queen’s silence. Did it involve bank fraud, money laundering and/or a breaking of campaign finance rules? These are legitimate questions and there are qualified, credentialed people out looking for evidence-based answers.

Second,  think of another circle populated by a much larger collection of people including Trump, Cohen, Flynn, Page, Manafort, Gates, Trump, Jr. Kushner and Papadopolous. Did any of these people interact with Russian entities in illegal ways that helped to swing the election to Trump? Special Prosecutor Mueller remains steadfast in his pursuit of the answer to that critical question.

Now, imagine our two circles, side-by-side. Slide them towards one another in your mind until they partially overlap, thus creating what has long been known as a Venn Diagram. That done, ask yourself “Who ‘resides’ within the space created by the overlap?” The answer is Trump and Cohen and that isn’t even arguable.

This overlap raises the possibility that with Cohen a player in both the Daniels and Trump/Russia stories, there may eventually be a real merging where criminality in one bleeds into the other. For example, If Cohen acted illegally in both, and his crime(s) inured to Trump’s benefit, and this nexus can be proven, then that is going to leave 45 exposed to the severest of penalties, including impeachment and even jail time.

At present, Cohen has yet to be proven to have acted illegal and there is certainly no evidence that the aforementioned “nexus” exists. So, for the time being, keep those two circles separate while tracking any new developments within each one of them. And as those developments occur, watch to see if they don’t move the two circles closer together until the evidence makes their overlap a certainty. If and when that happens, the legal pressure on Cohen is going to be enormous to the point where, to save his own skin, he becomes a cooperating witness. That, along with a great deal more, would spell the end of the Trump presidency.

“Orts”

Crossword puzzle mavens like yours truly will immediately recognize the word “orts” and know what it means; i.e. a tasty morsel left over from a meal. So, borrowing from recent headlines, orts are what you’ll get here.

Then and now

Back in 2016, campaigner Trump declared that the Trans-Pacific Partnership  (TPP) we had entered into under the leadership of then-President Obama, was “terrible”, a “bad deal” that would end up “raping” our country. If elected, he promised to “tear it up” and then negotiate a better pact.

No sooner was Trump elected than he followed through by removing us from the TPP. Taking note, China was only too happy to jump into the “space” the new president had created and become a part of the agreement. This was Trump ceding the economic “playing field” to our adversary and competitor.

Oh dear, second thoughts, Now, Trump wants back in. Not so fast say the members of the TPP. Any reintroduction of the US into the pact will have to be re-negotiated with new terms and new conditions.

Think of it:  The man who widely advertised himself as a business genius and exemplar negotiator has put us at a disadvantage; i.e. our representatives will have to bargain from a position of weakness, not strength. This is what you get from a leader whose decision-making is driven by misguided impulse rather that deliberate forethought, critical analysis and strategic thinking.

“Mission accomplished”

Readers of this blog are old enough to remember then-President GW Bush standing on the deck of a US aircraft carrier and using that very phrase in praise of our military’s efforts in Iraq. It was a choice of words that proved to be both premature and excessive.

Against that recent history, 45’s use of the same term to describe the impact of our bombing of Syria raised eyebrows and begged the question, “What exactly was accomplished?” What follows is a fair analysis.

We can confidently claim that Syrian despot, Bashir Al Assad’s capacity for producing chemical weapons has been downgraded and that is certainly a good thing. Can that capacity be reconstituted? It is far too early to provide a definitive answer to that query. None the less, in this very limited sense, the mission was accomplished so props to 45 for pulling that off in concert with the air forces of France and the UK.

To go beyond the foregoing and assert that the raid crippled the Assad regime and broke its back would be extravagant in the extreme and thus, totally unjustified. Fortunately, no one from the Trump administration has made such an assertion so we can be satisfied with the more limited version of “mission accomplished” as cited above.

Boo !!!

If Trump is afraid of Special Prosecutor Mueller’s investigation, he is now being confronted with a brand new and even scarier boogeyman:  The investigation by the FBI’s branch in the southern district of NY (SDNY) into the various dealings of the president’s long-time “fixer”, Michael Cohen. The latter, until recently, lived in the outer “bands” of Trump’s world. But, his became an all-too-familiar name given his involvement in the payoff provided to porn star Stormy Daniels to buy her silence viz a viz an alleged extra-marital affair with Trump.

Now, a distinction that makes a big difference needs to be made here:  45 can exert at least some degree of control over the Mueller investigation; i.e. he can find someone to fire the SP and/or use the Justice Department to try to limit the scope of that probe. In sharp contrast, he has no such power over the SDNY and its examination of the questionable business machinations of the aforementioned Cohen, especially as they involved or are now involving  (directly or indirectly) Trump the private citizen, and Trump the president of the United States.

All this said, we can offer a word of caution to 45; i.e. “Be afraid; be very afraid”.

 

 

The Arc of History: The Mid-60’s to Present

Back then

Getting to where we are now requires a look at US politics going back over 50 years. In the mid-60’s President Johnson pushed through civil rights legislation with some dramatic repercussions; i.e. droves of members of Congress who gained office as Democrats, bolted the party and became Republicans. Simply put, they found a more hospitable home for their own racism (1). From that point forward, the GOP became more aligned, if only covertly, with that bias.

That move found expression in the electoral politics of Nixon’s “southern strategy” and later, in Reagan’s open reference to “welfare queens”. These appeals to southern voters shifted from what has been called “dog whistles” (2) to more overt gambits. Since both men won the presidency, and because success breeds more of the same, racism became more entrenched as a part of the GOP’s appeal, at least to huge blocks of voters especially in the southeast quadrant of the country, but elsewhere as well.

The election of Bill Clinton proved an impediment to this movement, albeit a transient one. What really got it moving again with full force, was the presidency of Barack Obama who not only happened to be Black, but also pushed for anti-discrimination laws against gays and transsexuals. In response, Republicans seeking office crafted messages to voters that spoke to any existing White supremacy, nativism, and homophobia that they harbored. And once again, electoral success like the GOP’s 2010 take-over of the House, served to solidify those traits within the party’s base. Thus, leading up to the 2016 presidential election, the party of Lincoln was comprised at its’ core, of a voting bloc for whom a man like Donald Trump would have deep and sustaining appeal.

Now

Trump’s election was heralded by the likes of David Duke, a former Grand Wizard of the KKK. No surprise there, nor in Trump’s failure to outright condemn the White supremacists who marched in Charlotte. What caught many people by surprise was how White Evangelicals flocked to Trump in spite of his history of serial lying, cheating business associates and multiple extra-marital affairs. It is plausible to suggest that at least a part of that devotion was based on this religious group’s belief in the Old Testament’s condemnation of homosexuality as an affront to God (3).

In the 15 months of 45’s tenure, the Republican Party, now in control of both houses of Congress, has become more “Trumpian” in its’ public pronouncements and behavior, and especially in voting. In effect, it has become more of what it has been gravitating towards for the past 50+ years: A political entity that once championed free trade, fiscal restraint, and amnesty for illegals under Reagan, is now the party of tariffs, ballooning deficits, and a wall along our southern border. This is to say that the pre-Trump GOP has been sidelined and relegated to the far end of the bench. What was the Republican Party is now the Party of Trump.

In the face of this turn of events, over two dozen conservative members of Congress have chosen not to seek re-election. We may gather that faced with the choice of campaigning as a Trumpian or an “old school” Republican, they chose neither and decided to cut and run. That means that this November, ballots are going to contain the names of candidates who ought to have a “T” after their names rather than an “R”. That may well prove to be a bad place to be, politically.

That is because Special Prosecutor Mueller’s investigation is likely to produce results that will put the Trump brand in a very bad light. While 45’s base will hold firm, no matter what, there are already signs that some folks who voted from him in 2016 have grown disenchanted and are looking to make changes, including at the congressional level (4). If Democrats should regain control of the House majority, the din for impeachment will grow deafening. Trumpists understand this and will do all in their power to prevent that from happening.

From the immediate foregoing, it follows that we are entering a tumultuous period in domestic politics. And, as you have read, here many times before, stay tuned.

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  1. Back then, the Democrats who left the party were mostly from southern states and were known as “Dixiecrats”.
  2.  “Dog whistles” in politics are messages meant for select groups.
  3. Evangelicals who disdain homosexuality based on Old Testament content, seem to have missed out on Jesus’ New Testament message that contained not a single derogatory word about that sexual preference.
  4.  The recent election of Democrat Connor Lamb to a hotly contested congressional seat in PA is a case in point. He won over an opponent who had Trump and VP Pence actively campaigning for him.

 

 

Ready, aim, misfire !!!

Really??? Please, please tell us you’re kidding, 45.

On the US Post Office

In a Twitter rant, Trump “went off” at Jeff Bezos who happens to own Amazon and the Washington Post. What put a burr under the president’s saddle was that the aforementioned billionaire is using the US Postal System as a “delivery service” and thereby robbing the Treasury of much-needed revenues.

Well sir, there is an extraordinarily good chance that everyone has recognized the US Post Office as an organization devoted to delivery. In fact, it is safe to say that what we are talking about here is common knowledge.

As for this “robbing the Treasury”, you’re just plain wrong. As the Postmaster General has noted, Amazon uses the PO for such voluminous shipping that the company actually makes money for us. It would be helpful if you would occasionally engage in fact-checking so that you don’t come off as either ill-informed or deceitful.

Designating April as…

Brace yourselves; 45 has declared that April shall be designated as a month devoted to dealing with “sexual assault”, by means of punishment if not prevention. For this to come from a man who we heard on the “Hollywood Access” tape, and who stands accused of sexual depredations by 19 women requires…what’s the Yiddish word for it?  Chutzpah !!!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

Special Prosecutor Mueller’s most recent activities, including the collecting of testimony and the issuing of subpoenas, all point in one very clear direction; i.e. he is connecting the dots  that will determine whether or not  there was a conspiracy between various Russian entities and members of Trump’s inner circle if not 45 himself to shape the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. While we will never know for certain if the Russians’ efforts changed a single vote, there is no question that they tried. Mueller is now getting much closer to determining if they had any US “partners” in those efforts.

Is a bombshell coming?

In the last blog posted a this site, the prediction was offered that within a year, we would see formal charges leveled at least two if not more past and/or present Trump associates. The events referenced in the immediately preceding paragraph reinforce this prognostication.

Stay tuned.

 

Mark this date: March 13, 2018

Within a year of this given date, the Special Prosecutor’s investigation will have been concluded or will be close enough to its end so that clear contours of where it is headed will be apparent to everyone, save for diehard Trump devotees.

What next?

With each passing day, it becomes more and more obvious that Mueller has his eye on longtime Trump associate, Roger Stone. There is a slowly growing body of testimony and evidence, that Stone had foreknowledge of what was meant to help his friend; i.e. the public dump by Wikileaks of the e-mails stolen from the DNC. If Stone can be shown to have participated in the dissemination of that illegally obtained property, then he is a co-conspirator and culpable under the law. (1)

A strategic delay

There have been clear signals that the SP has stopped short of taking the final steps in his obstruction of justice case. Conservatives in and out of government have chortled that this is a sign that there was no obstruction and so, Mueller is basically “empty-handed”. This is a serious misreading of the actual state of affairs.

When a prosecutor completes a probe, s/he is obliged to announce that publicly, and to be just as explicit in setting forth the findings, including the naming of persons complicit in criminal activity. Mueller has done neither so his obstruction case remains ongoing. That still begs the question “Why the delay?”

The most plausible, albeit speculative answer (2) is that Mueller is holding back out of concern that if he brings the obstruction case as a “stand alone” and ahead of other crimes, Trump will fire him and end the entire investigation. Hypothetically then, and from a strategic point of view, the SP will come forward with his findings having to do with all crimes, including such things as conspiring with a foreign government to influence our national election, and money laundering as well. Viewed in this way, the obstruction case can be seen as being “piggy-backed” on top of more serious charges.

Place your bets

Where the obstruction case is concerned, look for a minimum of three indictments and the distinct possibility that Trump will be named as an unindicted co-conspirator. (3).

As to money laundering, Manafort will be found guilty while Gates will be found culpable of far lesser charges since he copped a deal with the SP. It would not be surprising if 45 got caught up in this criminal activity as well which harks back to his lying and empty promises about releasing his tax returns. There is something in them that he is determined to hide.

Lastly, there is the matter of conspiring with Russia. Anyone found to have been an unwitting co-conspirator will probably receive a “Get out of jail free” card. That has already happened viz a viz the unnamed US citizens who were referenced in the SP’s indictment of the 13 Russians that tried to shape our election through the use of social media.

In sharp contrast, there will be multiple witting Russian accomplices. A few, like Michael Flynn and George Papadopolous have already cut deals with Mueller and will thus dodge significant jail time. That leaves us with a very short list of willing co-conspirators, and there will be at least two of those.

End note

So again, mark the date. A year from now, let’s see if any of the foregoing predictions have become reality. If they haven’t, watch this space for an apology for jacking up your hopes, but leaving you disappointed.

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  1. If I stole a shipment of something of value and then successfully enlisted you to help me distribute it for a profit, you would be an accomplice. Those hacked DNC e-mails were something of value.
  2. This line of thinking is indeed speculative because it involves inferences about what is going on inside the SP’s head, something none of us has direct access to.
  3. There has been a serious debate over whether or not a sitting president can be indicted. Mueller can keep himself out of that by naming Trump as an unindicted co-conspirator if that is warranted by the evidence.

 

 

“Competing narratives”:: Who’s winning?

Recap

Back on February 23rd, “Competing narratives” was posted at this site. It laid out the opposing cases favoring “Russian meddling and possible Trump administration involvement” on the one hand, versus “Mueller, the FBI and Department of Justice aren’t credible” on the other. The purpose of this new blog is to offer readers some sense of which narrative is prevailing, at least in the court of public opinion.

What the polls tell us (1)

Since the first of last month, there have been three relevant samplings of public opinion. The first of those (2-1-18) was conducted by CNN. Respondents were asked if they favored or disapproved of Congress enacting a law that would protect Special Prosecutor Mueller and the integrity of his investigation. Six in 10 voiced support for just such a statute.

The second poll, conducted on the same day, came out of Monmouth University. In this survey, respondents were asked if they favored or disapproved of Mr. Mueller having Trump testify “under oath”. By a whopping 82%, those sampled answered the question in the affirmative.

The third and most recent poll (2-26-18) saw USA Today tapping public opinion regarding whom they trusted most; i.e. SP Mueller or the president? While the results can be broken down into party affiliation, here is what the newspaper found more generally:  58% opined that they had “a lot” or “more” trust in Mueller vs. 45. On a second question regarding the credibility of Trump’s denials of wrongdoing, 57% registered “little” or “no” trust.

Analysis

It would be simple enough to end this blog with a statement like “The poll results speak for themselves”, full stop. But, those same results tell a larger story that invites examination and analysis.

Relative to the competing narratives cited above, it seems likely that the general public has not homed in on their respective details, and may even be unfamiliar with at least some of the major names implicated. Yet, in spite of that lack of in-depth knowledge, the poll results are consistent in suggesting that it is the first of the two narratives that is resonating with at least a simply majority of respondents. How is that to be explained?

The answer can be attributed, in part, to the role of the media viz a viz the narratives and that is especially true of the cable news channels. To cite the two most striking contrasts, there is MSNBC on the one hand, and Fox News on the other. The former has devoted itself to reporting, analyzing and speculating on the broader meaning of SP Mueller’s successes which have resulted in nearly 20 indictments and the “flipping” of multiple people with ties to the Trump administration. Those outcomes cannot be explained away absent a contradictory set of facts. Thus, as the poll results indicate, facts matter !!!

In contrast to the immediate foregoing, Fox has been the major purveyor of the alternative narrative which relies heavily on the planting of seeds of doubt about the credibility of Mueller, the FBI and Justice Department. Recently, that approach has been expanded to include the drawing of dark suspicions about the functioning of the secret courts that adjudicate the requests for secret wire-tapping of US citizens by one or another member of our Intelligence community.

The impact of the Fox approach cannot be discounted. While most of the poll findings cited above put Trump in a negative light that is a view held by no better than a simple majority of respondents. In other words, there is a sizeable minority of the people sampled who have embraced the second narrative, Mueller’s prosecutorial achievements notwithstanding.

End note

There is absolutely no question that the SP will come forward with more indictments, a point made in the 3-4-18 blog (“The coming ‘Phase II’ “) posted here. It will be interesting to see how those developments are reported by the media and how all that impacts the results of the polling that will surely follow.

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  1. Anyone who is interested in taking a deeper dive into the polls cited and their methodologies, need only Google “Polls:  Mueller vs. Trump”.

The coming “Phase-II”

Recap

The last blog posted here (“Competing Narratives”; 2-23-18) dealt in large part with what was referred to as “Phase-I” of Special Prosecutor (SP) Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling and possible Trump administration involvement. As part of his ongoing probe, Mueller obtained the indictment of 13 Russian nationals who made extensive use of our social media platforms to spread false information about our presidential candidates and thereby impact the 2016 election. That section of the blog ended with a statement about the prospects of a Phase-II but without specifying what that might involve. More recent developments have now shed light on that.

Phase-II

All indications are that the SP is seeking, or has already obtained, the indictment of a presently uncertain number of Russians who broke the law by hacking into the servers at the Democratic National Committee, stealing private communications therefrom, and then making the results of their theft public by using Wikileaks as a “cut-out” in an effort to avoid detection.

As was true in Phase-I, by making this Russian activity illegal, Mueller has laid the groundwork for criminally charging any US citizens who, in one way or another, collaborated with them. For example, if anyone sought to further/broaden the dissemination of the leaked material, they would be culpable as co-conspirators with the Russian actors. This is no farfetched possibility; there is already circumstantial evidence that at least one member of Trump’s inner circle, had foreknowledge of the impending Wikileaks dump of DNC material (1). In turn, this raises the stakes from collusion (which is not a crime) to conspiracy which most certainly is.

Are we “halfway?”

Once the contents of Phase-II become fully public, will that signal that the SP has reached the midpoint in his investigation? Maybe. There is almost certainly going to be a Phase-III which will entangle some of the people closest to 45; namely, Hope Hicks his Communications Director who recently resigned, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who is now under suspicion of using his proximity to the president as leverage to both enhance his own financial situation on the one hand, but punish US allies who were unwilling to get involved in any such arrangement on the other (2) .

Watch this space for details on Phase-III and whatever comes beyond that.

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  1.  Roger Stone, a longtime friend of Trump’s, preempted the Wikileaks release by boasting that its’ contents would place HRC’s campaign manager, John Podesta, “in the barrel”.
  2.  Kushner is up to his eyeballs in debt and has sought bailouts from at least four different foreign countries. One of then (Qatar), refused and soon thereafter found its own interests a target of negative policy making by 45. That was not likely to have been a coincidence.

Competing narratives

What has now emerged are two competing narratives designed to capture the minds and judgments of the US voting public. Each of the two will be presented here, starting with the easiest first, principally because it is built on evidence, some important bodies of which are in various stages of development.

Russian meddling and possible Trump administration involvement

To date, this narrative has provided convincing evidence that the Russians did interfere in our last election, and that they used our most popular social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Google) to spread false information with the goal of affecting voter choices viz a viz the presidential candidates. H.R. McMaster, National Security Advisor to 45 has referred to this evidence as “incontrovertible”. It has served as the basis for indicting 13 Russians who had either left our country, or engaged in their meddling from afar. In both cases, they are presently beyond the reach of our system of justice and are likely to remain at that distance.

This “baker’s dozen” of indictments is important for at least one reason:  By criminalizing the behavior of the Russians, Special Prosecutor (SP) Mueller has established a predicate for charging any American citizen who knowingly helped them. Such cooperation goes beyond “collusion” and enters the realm of “conspiracy” for which there are laws on the books that make such activity illegal. We must wait to see if even a single person is so charged, something that hasn’t happened to date.

It is useful to think of the foregoing as “Phase-I” of the SP’s investigation. What comes next is an open question because Mr. Mueller has yet to give off any signals as to the direction “Phase-II” will take. It may bring to light, information that he has collecting from others indicted; i.e. George Papadopolous, Michael Flynn, Rick Gates and Paul Manafort.

The very last-named person is of special interest because of his previous role as the manager of Trump’s campaign albeit for only about six months. But, in that role, he potentially may know something significant about any collusion that might have taken place between Team Trump and the Russians. In that specific regard, Manafort was one of three team members who attended a July 2016 meeting in Trump Tower with Russians who allegedly promised them “dirt” on HRC.

At this juncture, it is justified to assert that there is sufficient reason for the Mueller probe to be sustained. We can safely predict that there will be a “Phase-II” and quite possibly a III and IV to follow. But, that presently leaves us with an incomplete narrative that begs a host of questions. We must hope that they will be answered, one way or the other, in due course.

Mueller, the FBI and Department of Justice (DJ) aren’t credible

Now many months old, the narrative here is that Mueller’s investigation, supported by an allegedly corrupt FBI and DJ, cannot possibly come forth with credible evidence of crimes committed by anyone in 45’s administration, especially Trump himself. The president’s supporters have cited various conflicts of interest and bias among some members of the SP’s team if not the larger Bureau and its’ parent department. These accusations were covered in some detail in previous blogs. They will not be repeated again here. What is worth reiterating is that there isn’t a shred of evidence that these conflicts and biases have so tainted the work of Mueller’s cadre that a guilty person has walked free, while innocent people find themselves in legal jeopardy.

There is one feature of this established narrative that deserves special attention. That is because it has become the focal point of both animated discussion, and as evidence that Mueller’s investigation has violated the law by invading the privacy of a US citizen named of Carter Page.

Page, for a period a member of Trump’s foreign policy advisors, had a history of interactions with Russians inside Russia that spanned several years. Having given speeches that were clearly pro-Kremlim, he drew the attention of the FBI as far back as 2013. In due course, the Bureau went through the special, secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court (named after the FISA act) and obtained permission to wire-tap Page. This permission can be renewed every 90-days but only if there is compelling evidence that the first round of surveillance bore “fruit” and thus needed to be continued. That was indeed what happened through a second and even third renewal of tapping.

The history cited in the immediately preceding paragraph brings us to what is referred to as the “Nunes memo” so-labelled after its senior author, the recused Head of the House Intelligence Committee. Nunes and three of his Republican cohorts on this committee decided that the fourth FISA request to surveil Page was illegal because it relied on unverified (raw) intelligence contained in the dossier compiled by former British spy, Christopher Steele, that had come into the possession of the FBI. According to the four (Nunes and his three GOP colleagues) this was evidence of FBI overreach and illegality. In turn, this view was used to feed the narrative that the FBI was not credible and could not be trusted (see bold-faced heading). The problem is that the Nunes memo is deeply flawed because it is based on both subjective judgment and specious reasoning, to be discussed in detail next.

To begin, the request for the fourth wire-tap of Page was built on three parts:  One was the aforementioned Steele dossier, the others on separate sources of information that the FBI had already collected on the target. It was the considered opinion of Nunes et al that the fourth request would not have been granted had it not been for the insertion of the questionable dossier into the body of the fourth request.

While we can respect the rights of the four to register a considered opinion, it can be shown that their arrival at it was based on flawed and quite possibly partisan reasoning:  Recall that the fourth request that went to the FISA court contained three collections of evidence. Therefore, any conclusion about one of the trio is completely confounded by the impossibility of separating out its’ impact from the other two. In their memo, Nunes and his cohorts simply refused to acknowledge that the FISA warrant might well have been granted free of any effect created by the Steele dossier. Following this line or logic and reasoning, the assertion offered here is that the Nunes memo has been assigned a level of importance by Trump supporters that far exceeds its actual worth. It simply does not make the case that it purports to make and by extension, a debasing of the FBI and the Mueller investigation.