Lazy Saturday Reads: “Bob Mueller Isn’t Playing Around”

Painting by Michael Steirnagle

Good Afternoon!!

There is so much news today that it’s difficult to believe it’s Saturday–much less that it’s a three-day weekend. But that’s the way we live now, moving from crisis to crisis. At least we got some good news yesterday–at least for those of us who still support American democracy.

The new indictments from Special Counsel Bob Mueller prove once and for all to Trump and his Republican supporters that Russia actively intervened in the 2016 election in order to get Trump elected.

At the same time, we must stay focused on the nightmare of mass shootings and the refusal of Republicans to face up to their complicity in the mounting number of deaths caused by their support for the NRA.

And in spite of all the breaking news, we can’t forget the ongoing security clearance scandal in the White House.

I can’t even begin to link to all the important articles today, so I’ll just post a few on the Russia story and then you can join me in adding more on other topics in the comment thread.

Lawfare: Russian Influence Campaign: What’s in the Latest Mueller Indictment.

None of the defendants indicted Friday for their alleged influence operation against the U.S. political system is likely to ever see the inside of an American courtroom. None is in custody. None is likely to surrender to U.S. authorities. And Vladimir Putin will probably not race to extradite them.

Lady Reading Newspaper – R Train, Street by Michele Riche

Nevertheless, the grand jury’s charges against the 13 Russians and three organizations mark a significant moment in the investigation of L’Affaire Russe. President Trump has spent the year since his victory casting doubt on the very premise that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. Yet here is the Justice Department on the record declaring that the Russia investigation isn’t, in fact, a witch hunt. It isn’t a hoax. It isn’t just a “phony Democrat excuse for losing the election,” as the president has . There really was, the Justice Department is saying, a Russian influence operation to interfere in the U.S. political system during the 2016 presidential election, and it really was at the expense of Hillary Clinton and in favor of Donald Trump.

The U.S. intelligence community, of course, already knew this. It has already shouted it from the rooftops about as loudly as the intelligence community announces its conclusions. The intelligence community, after all,  in January 2017 that it had “high confidence” that “President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016” targeting the U.S. presidential election. Before that, it had  in October 2016 that the Russian government was behind the hacking and distribution of emails belonging to the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta. None of these public conclusions stopped Trump from publicly casting doubt on Russian interference.

But the indictments on Friday reflect a different level of certainty, confidence and evidence. Here the special counsel is stating not merely that he has “high confidence” that the interference happened. He is stating that he can prove the existence of the Russian operation in court beyond a reasonable doubt, using only admissible evidence, and that the operation violated U.S. federal criminal law. And he is laying out an astonishingly specific set of forensic conclusions that reflect an impressive intelligence operation against the very operation on which the indictment reports. Even if the special counsel never gets the chance to prove his allegations in court by bringing any of the indictees before a federal judge, the formal statement that he is prepared and able to do so represents a remarkable rebuke of the president’s claims.

Much more at Lawfare.

Des Moines Register: Russians claimed fraud in Iowa caucuses, Mueller indictment alleges.

Russian operatives trying to sow discord and distrust during the 2016 presidential campaign bought social media advertisements alleging fraud in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.

That’s one of the allegations in a blockbuster indictment made public today by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who’s investigating Russian meddling in the election and possible collusion with President Donald Trump’s campaign.

Charles Verbrugghe – Impressionist portrait of a woman reading the newspaper

The indictment alleges that an organized group of Russian operatives began promoting a range of allegations of voter fraud by the Democratic Party in the summer of 2016 as the general election race between Trump and Hillary Clinton was heating up.

Among those was an allegation about the caucuses, the first presidential contest of the 2016 nominating process, which Clinton won by a tiny margin over Democratic challenger Bernie Sanders.

“On or about August 4, 2016,” the indictment says, “Defendants and their co-conspirators began purchasing advertisements that promoted a post on the ORGANIZATION-controlled Facebook account ‘Stop A.I.’ The post alleged that ‘Hillary Clinton has already committed voter fraud during the Democrat Iowa Caucus.’”

I guess that was part of Russia’s support for Bernie Sanders. I think Bernie need to acknowledge this publicly, but I think that’s unlikely.

Molly McKew at Wired: Did Russia Affect the 2016 Election? It’s Now Undeniable.

FOR SOME TIME, there has been a conflation of issues—the hacking and leaking of illegally obtained information versus propaganda and disinformation; cyber-security issues and the hacking of elections systems versus information operations and information warfare; paid advertising versus coercive messaging or psychological operations—when discussing “Russian meddling” in the 2016 US elections. The refrain has become: “There is no evidence that Russian efforts changed any votes.”

But the bombshell 37-page indictment issued Friday by Robert Mueller against Russia’s Internet Research Agency and its leadership and affiliates provides considerable detail on the Russian information warfare targeting the American public during the elections. And this information makes it increasingly difficult to say that the Kremlin’s effort to impact the American mind did not succeed.

The indictment pulls the curtain back on four big questions that have swirled around the Russian influence operation, which, it turns out, began in 2014: What was the scope of the Russian effort? What kind of content did it rely on? Who or what was it targeting, and what did it aim to achieve? And finally, what impact did it have?

Most of the discussion of this to date has focused on ideas of political advertising and the reach of a handful of ads—and this discussion has been completely missed the point.

Read the details at Wired.

Dahlia Lithwick at Slate: It’s Going to Be Much, Much Harder for Trump to Fire Rod Rosenstein Now.

On Friday, the Department of Justice detonated a legal bombshell, announcing the indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies accused of interfering in the 2016 presidential election. It was just as fascinating to watch who was doing the detonating. Standing at the podium was Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Donald Trump’s much-reviled “Democrat from Baltimore,” who is widely believed to be just barely hanging on to his day job as special counsel Robert Mueller’s minder and whose deputy has just lurched off the national stage for a gig at Walmart.

Frederick Serger, Woman Reading in Bed

This was a fairly impressive piece of political maneuvering. On the one hand, it makes any attempt by Trump to remove Rosenstein an even more explicit obstruction of justice. Rosenstein has, after all, just publicly linked himself to indictments of Russians (foreigners!) who tried to throw the election to Trump. He’s also linked himself even more tightly with Mueller and the special counsel’s investigation, which turned up the evidence presented in Friday’s indictment. Rosenstein now indisputably stands for the proposition that Russia interfered in the election and that anyone who denies this is lying. Earlier this week, incidentally, CNN reported that “Trump still isn’t buying that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.”

Perhaps most importantly, Rosenstein—merely by standing at that podium—presented a unified front, backing up the proposition that the DOJ as a whole (with the possible exception of attorney general Jeff Sessions) takes Russian interference seriously. And in stating up front that nothing in this indictment alleges that “any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity,” he cleared the Trump campaign of knowing collusion. For now.

Obviously, things can change, but for today Rosenstein has allowed the president himself and Sean Hannity types to scream “no collusion” even when the door hasn’t been shut on that possibility. Effective Friday afternoon, Rosenstein looks to be on the side of protecting us from Russian meddling. He’s also given some cover to the president, a fact that might protect him from Trump’s morning rage tweets, at least for a week or two. And hovering silently over Friday’s telenovela was “Bobby Three Sticks” Mueller. He says nothing. Nothing is leaked. That silence is powerful, as theater goes.

Go over to Slate to read why Rosenstein actually is still in danger.

Noah Bookbinder and Norman Eisen at Politico: Bob Mueller Is Not Playing Around.

Federal investigators and prosecutors, and a grand jury, have now found probable cause to believe that a complex web of Russian organizations and agents executed a years-long scheme to undermine our elections—first to sow chaos, conflict and doubt into our electoral system and then specifically to support Donald Trump and oppose Hillary Clinton. These are not vague allegations; over 37 pages, the indictment lays out in careful detail a step-by-step scheme involving identity theft, fake accounts, carefully orchestrated trips and outreach, a concerted social media strategy and even real live rallies across the United States secretly planned from Russia. That is not to say that the president and his supporters will necessarily accept the allegations in the indictment, but this serious and thorough document does not leave them much of a leg to stand on if they continue to deny meaningful Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Beyond providing detailed support for Russian interference and starting the process of holding accountable those who perpetrated this exceedingly serious crime, special counsel Robert Mueller is, with this indictment, doing his part to prevent it from happening again.

The scheme he has uncovered threatened the very fabric of our democracy—and intelligence officials warned this week that Russia will do it again. If Russia repeatedly gets away with this kind of interference in U.S. elections, it will erode public confidence in our electoral system. By publicly spelling out the tactics used and acting swiftly and decisively to bring consequences, Mueller is making it easier for state and federal authorities to spot this conduct in the future and is providing a strong deterrent against Russian agents engaging in this kind of treachery.

The Washington Post: The rise of ‘Putin’s chef,’ the Russian oligarch accused of manipulating the U.S. election.

Have great weekend, Sky Dancers! There’s hope for our democracy yet. See you in the comment thread.

34 Comments on “Lazy Saturday Reads: “Bob Mueller Isn’t Playing Around””

  1. bostonboomer says:

    Vanity Fair: Why Rumors of New Plea Deal should Terrify Trump.

    Even among some of Donald Trump’s allies, there is a sense of astonishment at the White House’s handling of Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. “It’s like no one took down the Gambino family,” Steve Bannon told Chris Whipple in a book adaptation the Hive published this week. “Mueller’s doing a roll-up just like he did with the Gambinos. [Paul] Manafort’s the caporegime, right? And [Rick] Gates is a made man!” Indeed, Mueller, who led the F.B.I. takedown of the infamous crime family in the early 1990s, famously cutting a deal with Sammy the Bull to flip on mob boss John Gotti, appears to be executing what some have called a “Gambino-style roll-up.” First, he flipped former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos; then, he turned ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn. Now, CNN reports, Mueller appears to be in the final stages of a plea deal with Gates, Trump’s former deputy campaign chairman and a longtime business associate of Manafort, who was indicted alongside him last fall.

    The White House reportedly views Gates’s testimony as a threat to Manafort, and not to the president. “There’d be no anxiety here,” a White House official told CNN when asked about the possibility that Gates will cut a deal.

  2. bostonboomer says:

    Washington Post: New White House security clearance policy could put ‘bull’s eye’ on Kushner

    White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly announced Friday that beginning next week, the White House will no longer allow some employees with interim security clearances access to top-secret information — a move that could threaten the standing of Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law.

    Kushner, a senior adviser to the president, has been able to see some of the nation’s most sensitive secrets even as his background investigation has dragged on for more than a year.

    White House officials have privately discussed concerns that Kushner’s clearance faces obstacles, according to people familiar with internal conversations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private talks. Among the potential problems: repeated amendments that he had to make to a form detailing his contacts with foreign officials. Two U.S. officials said they do not expect Kushner to receive a permanent security clearance in the near future, The Washington Post reported last week.

  3. Sweet Sue says:

    Good morning and thank you, BB. I love the artwork that you include in your posts.

  4. bostonboomer says:

    Check out the gross photos from Trump’s brief trip to Parkland.

  5. bostonboomer says:

    I haven’t read this yet, but it looks really interesting.

    Scientific American: Cognitive Ability and Vulnerability to Fake News

    • NW Luna says:

      It is interesting, BB. The money paragraph:

      …the theory that a person’s cognitive ability reflects how well they can regulate the contents of working memory—their “mental workspace” for processing information. First proposed by the cognitive psychologists Lynn Hasher and Rose Zacks, this theory holds that some people are more prone to “mental clutter” than other people. In other words, some people are less able to discard (or “inhibit”) information from their working memory that is no longer relevant to the task at hand—or, as in the case of Nathalie, information that has been discredited. Research on cognitive aging indicates that, in adulthood, this ability declines considerably with advancing age, suggesting that older adults may also be especially vulnerable to fake news. Another reason why cognitive ability may predict vulnerability to fake news is that it correlates highly with education. Through education, people may develop meta-cognitive skills—strategies for monitoring and regulating one’s own thinking—that can be used to combat the effects of misinformation.

  6. NW Luna says:

    • Catscatscats says:

      Have you seen it Luna? I loved Wonder Woman when they were on the island, after that, meh. After reading this comment, i would like to see Black Panther. Oh, did you see Hillary yet?

      • NW Luna says:

        Haven’t seen either yet — I need to. I ended up not being able to see Hillarywhen she was here. Still too damn upset — it would hurt too much. Haven’t read her book yet either. Apparently I’m not alone in my feelings — a Black woman tweeted that she hadn’t yet been able to read Hillary’s book and hundreds replied they couldn’t yet either.

        • bostonboomer says:

          I haven’t finished it. Maybe I’ll go back to it soon. Everything she warned us about is happening.

        • palhart says:

          Luna, FWTW I believe that Trump would have won with a blast of disclosures. Hillary would have had a Republican Congress that would be back to the e-mails and private server and to the Family Foundation and Benghazi . Their hatred toward her would have defeated her every legislative supported measure would be busy on impeachment (false) charges the first year. Her Cabinet choices would have been excellent and scandals would have been minimal. McConnell and other Republican leaders knew about the Intelligence on Russian hacking and did nothing before the election. I’ve read Hillary’s book and wish she had won most definitely. But I’ve had to move on to other things, hoping all the while that the dems take back both houses and impeach Trump.

  7. NW Luna says:

    No-Drama Obama.

    • quixote says:

      He had a tendency to vote “present” throughout his career. When the Russian thing became acute about four-five months before the election, he just wanted to be done with all this presidenting stuff. So he made “cut it out” noises and did nothing. It was a way of voting present. Then he could finally go windsurfing. Otherwise he would have still been talking to the media and/or Congress

  8. NW Luna says:

    OK, I must get off Twitter and do something else besides read We Told You So tweets about Berners. One last one.

  9. NW Luna says:

  10. Joanelle says:

    Just read: “There is growing concern within the US military about the costs of President Donald Trump’s proposed military parade and the disruption it could cause.”
    There should be growing concern about the president’s mental stability when there is total chaos in the WH and the president’s childlike mind wnts a parade. Yes, a parade, after making fun of Un’s parade. Clearly a case of “mine is bigger than yours”

    • NW Luna says:

      Tinpot dictator & Cadet Bone-Spurs wants to play with toy tanks and soldiers. All those millions could go to filling all the empty positions for healthcare workers at the V.A.

  11. NW Luna says:

    ‘They are laughing their asses off in Moscow’: Trump takes on the FBI, Russia probe and 2016 election in tweetstorm

    Trump questioned the intensifying special counsel investigation of his 2016 campaign and his administration while attacking his own national security adviser, the FBI, Hillary Clinton, former president Barack Obama, Democrats in Congress, CNN and others in a remarkable nine-hour span of tweets that included profanity and misspellings.

    He’s protesting too much. And yes, they’re laughing in Moscow but it’s about how easy it was and what a useful idiot he is.