Lazy Saturday Reads: Trump Collusion Coming into Focus

Fourth of July by Pat Mathews

Good Afternoon!!

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.

The Fourth of July 1916, by Childe Hassam

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.

NYC in Fourth of July Independence Day, by Ylli Haruni

This morning in a Washington Post op-edMorning 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!”

Fireworks painting, by Michael Creese

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.

The Guardian: ‘Dumb as a rock Mika’: Donald Trump back on attack against Morning Joe hosts.

Fourth of July 1819 Philadelphia, by John Lewis Krimmel

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.”

The Boston Tea Party

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.

Frederick Douglass Speaking

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.

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18 Comments on “Lazy Saturday Reads: Trump Collusion Coming into Focus”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    This piece on Watergate and the Trump Russia investigation is well worth reading.

    New York Magazine: Just Wait. Watergate didn’t become Watergate overnight, either, by Frank Rich

  2. bostonboomer says:

    //platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

    • Enheduanna says:

      OK I couldn’t resist clicking on the story of Mika’s “procedure” at Yahoo – hahahaha. Mika tells Melania about it (it was to tighten the skin on her neck) and tRump is amazed how good it looks so he pesters her for the name of the doctor. Sounds about right.

    • Minkoff Minx says:

      Thank you for all these links. I’m just getting to reading the post now. I’m glad you picked all these lovely July 4th images. That takes me off the hook for tomorrow. Lol.

  3. Pat Johnson says:

    We may have discovered more than bargained for with the Enquirer/Mika and Joe admission

    For months we have all been sitting here scratching our heads over the inability of the GOP leadership to act against this amoral tyrant. The best defense I have heard is that they need him to sign off on their hateful legislation. Really? That’s it?

    Pence could do the same thing. No question that he wouldn’t. But how about Trump himself having his own little dossier compiled by the Enquirer through his friend Pecker and Associates?

    Think of how much dirt could be exposed on so many of those congress critters living away from home or making deals that enrich themselves at the expense of the public. How much dirt does he have on Lady Lindsay or John McCain as examples? Does this answer the question of why they are so reluctant to speak out or standup to that idiot? How about Chaffetz or Nunes?

    If Trump could threaten Joe and Mika – who at least told him to shove it – then why not those in congress who hate his guts but refuse to act? It is possible that Trump is holding something over the heads of these foot draggers and his partnership with Pecker. Digging up dirt is their bread and butter.

    The man is sick and dangerous and the GOP leadership is fully aware of it. Wouldn’t surprise me that there is more to this “friendship” than meets the eye.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Good points!

      • Pat Johnson says:

        Throw in Bo Dietl who is running for mayor of NY. He is a close friend of Rudy Guiliani and was hired to “investigate” the women who filed sex charges against Fox News.

        The circle keeps getting tighter around Trump. He is not above blackmail as we have discovered when it came to two cable news anchors who dared criticize him.

        He used the Enquirer to go after Cruz, Rubio and Ben Carson during the campaign. Hillary too was getting it from both barrels as well.

        They don’t come much sleazier than our current POTUS.

    • Enheduanna says:

      Oooo Pat I think you nailed it maybe. I hadn’t thought of that but if anyone has dirt it’s the Enquirer. And tRump & Co. wouldn’t hesitate to use it being the sleaze bags they are.

      It is awfully odd Chaffetz skedaddled like he did. I don’t doubt for a minute a huge number of these GOP congresscritters are in it for the grift. I’m not sure Graham and McCain are as tarnished as most, but there could be plenty of kompromat on a lot of them.

  4. Enheduanna says:

    Great post BB. We absolutely should reflect on our “freedom” this weekend and how many Americans can’t really take this holiday at face value. It’s a source of great shame and frustration to me that we showed the world our racist underbelly last November and it continues to manifest in a lurid and spectacular way directly from the White House.

  5. bostonboomer says:

    HuffPo:

    Michael Flynn Worked With Foreign Cyberweapons Group That Sold Spyware Used Against Political Dissidents

    Nor was Flynn’s work with foreign entities while he was advising Trump limited to his Ankara deal. He earned nearly $1.5 million last year as a consultant, adviser, board member, or speaker for more than three dozen companies and individuals, according to financial disclosure forms released earlier this year.

    Two of those entities are directly linked to NSO Group, a secretive Israeli cyberweapons dealer founded by Omri Lavie and Shalev Hulio, who are rumored to have served in Unit 8200, the Israeli equivalent of the National Security Agency.

    Flynn received $40,280 last year as an advisory board member for OSY Technologies, an NSO Group offshoot based in Luxembourg, a favorite tax haven for major corporations. OSY Technologies is part of a corporate structure that runs from Israel, where NSO Group is located, through Luxembourg, the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, and the U.S.

    Flynn also worked as a consultant last year for Francisco Partners, a U.S.-based private equity firm that owns NSO Group, but he did not disclose how much he was paid. At least two Francisco Partners executives have sat on OSY’s board.

  6. bostonboomer says:

    Politico Magazine:

    Present at the Destruction: How Rex Tillerson Is Wrecking the State Department

    As I made the rounds and spoke with usually buttoned-up career officials, some who I knew well, some who I didn’t, from a cross section of offices covering various regions and functions, no one held back. To a person, I heard that the State Department was in “chaos,” “a disaster,” “terrible,” the leadership “totally incompetent.” This reflected what I had been hearing the past few months from friends still inside the department, but hearing it in rapid fire made my stomach churn. As I walked through the halls once stalked by diplomatic giants like Dean Acheson and James Baker, the deconstruction was literally visible. Furniture from now-closed offices crowded the hallways. Dropping in on one of my old offices, I expected to see a former colleague—a career senior foreign service officer—but was stunned to find out she had been abruptly forced into retirement and had departed the previous week. This office, once bustling, had just one person present, keeping on the lights.

    This is how diplomacy dies. Not with a bang, but with a whimper. With empty offices on a midweek afternoon.

    • bostonboomer says:

      What is motivating Tillerson’s demolition effort is anyone’s guess. He may have been a worldly CEO at ExxonMobil, but he had precious little experience in how American diplomacy works. Perhaps Tillerson, as a D.C. and foreign policy novice, is simply being a good soldier, following through on edicts from White House ideologues like Steve Bannon. Perhaps he thinks he is running State like a business. But the problem with running the State Department like a business is that most businesses fail—and American diplomacy is too big to fail.

      What is clear, however, is that there is no pressing reason for any of these cuts. America is not a country in decline. Its economy is experiencing an unprecedented period of continuous economic growth, its technology sector is the envy of the world and the American military remains unmatched. Even now, under Trump, America’s allies and enduring values amplify its power and constrain its adversaries. America is not in decline—it is choosing to decline. And Tillerson is making that choice. He is quickly becoming one of the worst and most destructive secretaries of state in the history of our country.

      • quixote says:

        I met someone who was a high-up science person at Exxon who knew Tillerson. He said he was actually a good CEO, and noticeably better than who they had before. (Time out here to boggle a bit.)

        There was also something in the rumor mill recently about Tillerson blowing up because the First Crime Family and their direct hangers-on were interfering with his ability to hire people at State.

        Which isn’t to say he’d be hiring good people. But there may be more reasons than mere incompetence for the empty offices. ??

  7. joanelle says:

    Wow, great post, BB – lots to read and share!!!