Lazy Saturday Reads: Trump Collusion Coming into FocusPosted: July 1, 2017
It has taken me a long time to get started this morning, because there is a massive amount of news–despite the fact that we are entering a longer-than-usual long weekend.
The fallout from the feud between Trump and NBC’s Morning Joe co-hosts is still coming. But before I get to that, here’s the latest scoop from Benjamin Wittes’s Lawfare blog. This is a follow-up to the Wall Street Journal’s stories about a Trump supporter who attempted to work with Russian hackers to release personal email that Hillary Clinton had deleted from her private server. (Sadly, I can’t read the full articles because of the WSJ paywall.)
The Time I Got Recruited to Collude with the Russians, by Matt Tait
I read the Wall Street Journal’s article yesterday on attempts by a GOP operative to recover missing Hillary Clinton emails with more than usual interest. I was involved in the events that reporter Shane Harris described, and I was an unnamed source for the initial story. What’s more, I was named in, and provided the documents to Harris that formed the basis of, this evening’s follow-up story, which reported that “A longtime Republican activist who led an operation hoping to obtain Hillary Clinton emails from hackers listed senior members of the Trump campaign, including some who now serve as top aides in the White House, in a recruitment document for his effort”:
Officials identified in the document include Steve Bannon, now chief strategist for President Donald Trump; Kellyanne Conway, former campaign manager and now White House counselor; Sam Clovis, a policy adviser to the Trump campaign and now a senior adviser at the Agriculture Department; and retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, who was a campaign adviser and briefly was national security adviser in the Trump administration.
I’m writing this piece in the spirit of Benjamin Wittes’s account of his interactions with James Comey immediately following the New York Times story for which he acted as a source. The goal is to provide a fuller accounting of experiences which were thoroughly bizarre and which I did not fully understand until I read the Journal’s account of the episode yesterday. Indeed, I still do not fully understand the events I am going to describe, both what they reflected then or what they mean in retrospect. But I can lay out what happened, facts from which readers and investigators can draw their own conclusions.
You’ll have to go to Lawfare to read the whole thing, but here’s another excerpt:
My role in these events began last spring, when I spent a great deal of time studying the series of Freedom of Information disclosures by the State Department of Hillary Clinton’s emails, and posting the parts I found most interesting—especially those relevant to computer security—on my public Twitter account. I was doing this not because I am some particular foe of Clinton’s—I’m not—but because like everyone else, I assumed she was likely to become the next President of the United States, and I believed her emails might provide some insight into key cybersecurity and national security issues once she was elected in November.
A while later, on June 14, the Washington Post reported on a hack of the DNC ostensibly by Russian intelligence. When material from this hack began appearing online, courtesy of the “Guccifer 2” online persona, I turned my attention to looking at these stolen documents. This time, my purpose was to try and understand who broke into the DNC, and why.
A few weeks later, right around the time the DNC emails were dumped by Wikileaks—and curiously, around the same time Trump called for the Russians to get Hillary Clinton’s missing emails—I was contacted out the blue by a man named Peter Smith, who had seen my work going through these emails. Smith implied that he was a well-connected Republican political operative.
Tait says that he tried to warn Smith that he might be helping the Russian government interfere with the U.S. election, but Smith didn’t seem to care. I doubt the Trump crime family cared either. It turns out that Smith, who is now deceased, was heavily involved in GOP ratfucking operations for decades, including the efforts to bring down Bill Clinton. The author of this article is on Twitter as @pwnallthethings. Now go read the rest.
On the Morning Joe front, you’ve probably heard by now that Jared Kushner is the one who transmitted Trump’s threat about a negative story in the Wall Street Journal to Joe Scarborough. Gabe Sherman wrote about it yesterday and New York Magazine: What Really Happened Between Donald Trump, the Hosts of Morning Joe, and the National Enquirer.
This morning in a Washington Post op-ed, Morning Joe co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski disclosed that White House officials offered to spike an Enquirer story about their romance if the pair apologized to Trump for the show’s critical coverage. In recent months, Scarborough and Brzezinski have questioned Trump’s mental state and fitness for office. They elaborated on the op-ed on MSNBC this morning. Morning Joe regular Donny Deutsch said it was “blackmail” for Trump to use a hit-piece in the Enquirer to extract an apology from media critics. Trump then tweeted a quasi-confirmation of the behind-the-scenes conversations, saying that Scarborough called to enlist his help to kill the story. Scarborough called Trump’s version a “lie,” tweeting that he never spoke to the president.
According to three sources familiar with the private conversations, what happened was this: After the inauguration, Morning Joe’s coverage of Trump turned sharply negative. “This presidency is fake and failed,” Brzezinski said on March 6, for example. Around this time, Scarborough and Brzezinski found out the Enquirer was preparing a story about their affair. While Scarborough and Brzezinski’s relationship had been gossiped about in media circles for some time, it was not yet public, and the tabloid was going to report that they had left their spouses to be together.
In mid-April, Scarborough texted with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner about the pending Enquirer story. Kushner told Scarborough that he would need to personally apologize to Trump in exchange for getting Enquirerowner David Pecker to stop the story. (A spokesperson for Kushner declined to comment.) Scarborough says he refused, and the Enquirer published the story in print on June 5, headlined “Morning Joe Sleazy Cheating Scandal!”
The Morning Joe co-hosts decided to talk about the episode a day after Trump inaccurately tweeted that Brzezinski attended a New Year’s Eve party at Mar-a-Lago “bleeding badly from a face-lift.” (A photo from that evening backs up Scarborough and Brzezinski’s denial of this.) While the Enquirer denies that Trump encouraged Pecker to investigate the MSNBC hosts, Trump himself has pushed the story publicly. Last August, he tweeted, “Some day, when things calm down, I’ll tell the real story of@JoeNBC and his very insecure long-time girlfriend, @morningmika. Two clowns!”
And get this, Kushner is also tight with the National Enquirer and he once tried to buy the supermarket tabloid!
Three years ago, Kushner and his brother-in-law, Joe Meyer, tried with Enquirer publisher David Pecker to buy the tabloid’s owner, American Media Inc., people familiar with that bid said. The deal ultimately fell through because of weak advertising revenue at the time, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the matter was private.
During last year’s campaign, the Enquirer, more typically associated with stories on badly behaving celebrities and reports of extraterrestrials, endorsed Trump and headlined alleged scandals in attacks on his opponents. Trump’s praise for the Enquirer — saying at one point that it deserved journalism’s Pulitzer Prize — was frequent and he welcomed Pecker’s support.
Can anyone doubt that Trump either planted and/or applauded those Enquirer stories during the campaign?
This morning Trump was apparently still obsessing about Joe and Mika and he posted another tweet.
Donald Trump aimed a series of tweets at familiar targets on Saturday, complaining about the media and so-called voter fraud but saving his most direct fire for MSNBC hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, the subjects of a fierce controversy over online bullying, sexism and accusations of White House blackmail.
The president sent his tweets from his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, where he was spending the Fourth of July holiday. He began with best wishes to Canada on its national holiday but ended – at least for the time being – with another attack on the hosts of Morning Joe.
“Crazy Joe Scarborough and dumb as a rock Mika are not bad people, but their low rated show is dominated by their NBC bosses,” Trump wrote. “Too bad!”
Jonathan Chait pulls together the latest Trump Russia news in two pieces at New York Magazine. Excerpts:
From Yesterday, Stop Assuming Trump Is Innocent of Russian Collusion.
One of the oddities of the investigation into Donald Trump’s relations with Russia is the degree to which he has largely enjoyed a presumption of innocence in the court of public opinion. David Brooks, who has hardly taken a sympathetic line on the administration, wrote recently, “it is striking how little evidence there is that any underlying crime occurred — that there was any actual collusion between the Donald Trump campaign and the Russians.” Mike Allen observed, “if Trump had kept Comey and stopped obsessing about his investigation, his legal troubles might have blown over: No evidence of collusion has emerged.”
That line of defense is likely to disappear now that The Wall Street Journalhas reported that Peter Smith, a Republican opposition researcher who said he was working for Michael Flynn, colluded with Russian hackers to try to obtain stolen emails from Hillary Clinton. The Journal reports that Smith referred to conversations with Flynn in emails with associates, and that U.S. intelligence has evidence of “Russian hackers discussing how to obtain emails from Mrs. Clinton’s server and then transmit them to Mr. Flynn via an intermediary.” The Trump defense does not inspire a lot of confidence. “A Trump campaign official said that Mr. Smith didn’t work for the campaign,” reports the Journal, “and that if Mr. Flynn coordinated with him in any way, it would have been in his capacity as a private individual.” Obtaining hacked information from Russia for the campaign as a campaign staffer versus doing it as a private individual is a distinction without much difference.
Of course, the notion that there was no evidence of collusion before the Journal report has always been based on a tight definition of what constitutes evidence. It requires assuming that Trump’s on-camera request for Russia to hack Clinton’s emails during the campaign was a joke and that his confidante Roger Stone obtained advance knowledge of the timing of the WikiLeaks publication without any contact from Russia.
And this morning, a summary of what we now know from the WSJ and the Lawfare article I quoted from a the beginning of this post: Now We Have a Roadmap to the Trump Campaign’s Collusion with Russia.
I’ll end with a thoughtful piece from the New Yorker by David Remnick: American Dignity on the Fourth of July. “Reading Frederick Douglass’s Independence Day address from 1852 may ease the despair caused by listening to the President.”
More than three-quarters of a century after the delegates of the Second Continental Congress voted to quit the Kingdom of Great Britain and declared that “all men are created equal,” Frederick Douglass stepped up to the lectern at Corinthian Hall, in Rochester, New York, and, in an Independence Day address to the Ladies of the Rochester Anti-Slavery Sewing Society, made manifest the darkest ironies embedded in American history and in the national self-regard.
“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?” Douglass asked:
I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.
The dissection of American reality, in all its complexity, is essential to political progress, and yet it rarely goes unpunished. One reason that the Republican right and its attendant media loathed Barack Obama is that his public rhetoric, while far more buoyant with post-civil-rights-era uplift than Douglass’s, was also an affront to reactionary pieties. Even as Obama tried to win votes, he did not paper over the duality of the American condition: its idealism and its injustices; its heroism in the fight against Fascism and its bloody misadventures before and after. His idea of a patriotic song was “America the Beautiful”—not in its sentimental ballpark versions but the way that Ray Charles sang it, as a blues, capturing the “fullness of the American experience, the view from the bottom as well as the top.”
Now we have a president who embodies many of the evils the “founding fathers” sought to protect America from. I have to believe we can defeat him and move past him as the nation did with slavery. But as with slavery, those evil impulses are still president the the human character and we must be eternally vigilant in opposing them and always aware that, though we’ve made progress, we have not yet overcome the results of the founding of our country on the backs of human beings who were labeled “different.”
I’ll have more links in the comments. Please share your own recommended reads and enjoy the Fourth of July weekend.