Happy Valentine’s Day, Sky Dancers!!
Andrew McCabe’s book The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump will be released on Tuesday, and he will be interviewed on 60 Minutes on Sunday night. This might be one 60 Minutes I decide to watch.
McCabe was deputy director of the FBI under James Comey and he became acting director after Trump fired Comey. Trump attacked McCabe repeatedly, and eventually succeeded in driving him out of office. Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired McCabe one day before he could have retired with his full pension.
Today The Atlantic published an article adapted from McCabe’s book: Every Day Is a New Low in Trump’s White House.
On Wednesday, May 10, 2017, my first full day on the job as acting director of the FBI, I sat down with senior staff involved in the Russia case—the investigation into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. As the meeting began, my secretary relayed a message that the White House was calling. The president himself was on the line. I had spoken with him the night before, in the Oval Office, when he told me he had fired James Comey.
A call like this was highly unusual. Presidents do not, typically, call FBI directors. There should be no direct contact between the president and the director, except for national-security purposes. The reason is simple. Investigations and prosecutions need to be pursued without a hint of suspicion that someone who wields power has put a thumb on the scale.
The Russia team was in my office. I took the call on an unclassified line. That was another strange thing—the president was calling on a phone that was not secure. The voice on the other end said, It’s Don Trump calling. I said, Hello, Mr. President, how are you? Apart from my surprise that he was calling at all, I was surprised that he referred to himself as “Don.”
The president said, I’m good. You know—boy, it’s incredible, it’s such a great thing, people are really happy about the fact that the director’s gone, and it’s just remarkable what people are saying. Have you seen that? Are you seeing that, too?
He went on: I received hundreds of messages from FBI people—how happy they are that I fired him. There are people saying things on the media, have you seen that? What’s it like there in the building?
McCabe describes the reaction of FBI employees as one of shock and dismay. Trump then said he wanted to come to the FBI and “show all my FBI people how much I love them.” McCabe thought that was a terrible idea, but agreed to meet with Trump about it. Next, Trump:
…began to talk about how upset he was that Comey had flown home on his government plane from Los Angeles—Comey had been giving a speech there when he learned he was fired. The president wanted to know how that had happened.
I told him that bureau lawyers had assured me there was no legal issue with Comey coming home on the plane. I decided that he should do so. The existing threat assessment indicated he was still at risk, so he needed a protection detail. Since the members of the protection detail would all be coming home, it made sense to bring everybody back on the same plane they had used to fly out there. It was coming back anyway. The president flew off the handle: That’s not right! I don’t approve of that! That’s wrong! He reiterated his point five or seven times.
I said, I’m sorry that you disagree, sir. But it was my decision, and that’s how I decided. The president said, I want you to look into that! I thought to myself: What am I going to look into? I just told you I made that decision.
The ranting against Comey spiraled. I waited until he had talked himself out.
After that Trump taunted McCabe about his wife’s losing campaign for the Virginia Senate, asking McCabe, “How did she handle losing? Is it tough to lose?” and later saying “Yeah, that must’ve been really tough. To lose. To be a loser.”
I once had a boss who was a monstrous whack job like Trump. It was crazy-making. The entire department under this man functioned like an alcoholic family with an unpredictable, out-of-control father. You never knew what horrible thing would happen next. It was total chaos, as the White House seems to be. I’m glad McCabe is telling the truth about what he experienced.
Two more articles based on the McCabe book:
CBS News 60 Minutes: McCabe Says He Ordered the Obstruction of Justice Probe of President Trump.
The New York Times: McCabe Says Justice Officials Discussed Recruiting Cabinet Members to Push Trump Out of Office.
I expect Trump will be ranting about McCabe on Twitter and in the Oval Office, but he can’t do anything to shut McCabe up anymore.
Soon we’ll have a new U.S. Attorney General, William Barr, and already the corruption surrounding him has a very bad odor. CNN reports that Barr’s daughter and son-in-law are leaving the Justice Department for new jobs at FinCEN and the White House Counsel’s office respectively.
Mary Daly, Barr’s oldest daughter and the director of Opioid Enforcement and Prevention Efforts in the deputy attorney general’s office, is leaving for a position at the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), the Treasury Department’s financial crimes unit, a Justice official said.
Tyler McGaughey, the husband of Barr’s youngest daughter, has been detailed from the powerful US attorney’s office in Alexandria, Virginia, to the White House counsel’s office, two officials said.
It’s not clear if McGaughey’s switch is a result of Barr’s pending new role, and the kind of work he’ll be handling at the White House is not public knowledge.
Daly’s husband will remain in his position in the Justice Department’s National Security Division for now.
The moves were by choice and are not required under federal nepotism laws, but Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, called them “a good idea” to “avoid the bad optics that could come from the appearance of them working for him.”
However, Shaub added that McGaughey’s detail to the White House counsel’s office was “concerning.”
“That’s troubling because it raises further questions about Barr’s independence,” Shaub said.
Read more at the CNN link.
If you listened to Rachel Maddow’s podcast about Spiro Agnew (or even if you didn’t) you should read this op-ed at The Washington Post by three attorneys who were involved in that corruption case: We should demand high standards from William Barr. Spiro Agnew’s case shows why, by Barnet D. Skolnik, Russell T. Baker Jr., and Ronald S. Liebman.
In the winter of 1973, 46 years ago, the three of us were assistant U.S. attorneys in Baltimore starting a federal grand jury investigation of a corrupt Democratic county chief executive in Maryland. That investigation ultimately led to the prosecution of his corrupt Republican predecessor — the man who went on to become the state’s governor and then President Richard M. Nixon’s vice president, Spiro T. Agnew.
On Oct. 10, 1973, Agnew entered a plea to a criminal tax felony for failure to report the hundreds of thousands of dollars he’d received in bribes and kickbacks as county executive, governor and even vice president. All paid in cash, $100 bills delivered in white envelopes.
And he resigned.
From the beginning of our investigation, months before we had seen any indication that he had taken kickbacks, Agnew, along with top White House and administration officials and even Nixon himself, repeatedly tried to impede, obstruct and terminate the investigation in nefarious ways. Some of those efforts were unknown to us then and have come to light only now thanks to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and her “Bagman” podcast.
When newspapers began to report that he was under criminal investigation in the summer of 1973, Agnew aroused his base by screaming “witch hunt” and launching a vicious assault on the “lying” press, the “partisan” Justice Department, and the “biased” and “liberal Democrat” prosecutors in Baltimore.
If Agnew and Nixon had succeeded in derailing our investigation, the most corrupt man ever to sit a heartbeat away might have become the president of our country when Nixon was forced to resign less than a year later. But our investigation was protected — first, by our staunch and courageous boss, the late George Beall, the U.S. attorney for Maryland and a prominent Maryland Republican, and second, by the man who had become the new U.S. attorney general that spring, Elliot L. Richardson.
The authors then go on to explain why Barr should not be confirmed unless he commits to releasing Robert Mueller’s findings to the public. Read the whole thing at the WaPo.
There is so much more news! Here are some links to check out:
Just Security: Who is Richard Burr, Really? Why the public can’t trust his voice in the Russia probe. (This is an incredibly important story. Corruption is all around us.)
The New York Times: House Votes to Halt Aid for Saudi Arabia’s War in Yemen.
Gulf News: Trump backer Tom Barrack defends Saudi Arabia.
HuffPost: I Wish I’d Had A ‘Late-Term Abortion’ Instead Of Having My Daughter. (Trigger warning for rape description)
The New York Times: Ryan Adams Dangled Success. Women Say They Paid a Price.
So . . . what stories have you been following?
Good Morning Sky Dancers!
Master Trumpers has been on a spiral of ever increasing psychosis so it’s only natural that the news cycle should be caught up in a cyclone of chaos. I figured today would be one of those news days but it’s one of Those NEWS DAYS raised to some kind of crazy large exponential blaze of a number.
This is mostly a live blog that may break into many threads through out the day because the breaking news is coming at us faster than I can keep up.
By the time I first checked twitter then walked the dog and grabbed the first cup of coffee, BB had called to tell me there is a 4th Judge Gang Rapist victim that’s evidently gone to the police in Mississippi. I saw a Howard Dean tweet suggesting that Rod Rosenstein may have resigned or been fired or something and the full interview of the guy who set up the Russian meeting rather indicated that he thought Trumpers Junior committed some form of treason.
So, I will dump some headlines and will continue to add as the day wears on.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein expects to be fired following the reports about his early tenure within the Justice Department — but had not actually stepped down as he traveled to the White House on Monday morning for a meeting.
A source close to Rosenstein said he believes he will lose his job following the New York Times report on Friday that described him discussing secretly recording President Trump and enlisting other Cabinet officers to remove Trump from power under the 25th Amendment.
Some news organizations reported that Rosenstein had submitted a verbal resignation to White House officials. The situation was confused and unclear.
Trump was not at the White House; he traveled to New York City for the United Nations General Assembly.
From ABC: “Rod Rosenstein, Trump’s deputy attorney general, expected to be fired: Sources”
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is heading to the White House Monday morning with the expectation that he will be fired, sources told ABC News.
he news came on the heels of reporting that at a May 2017 meeting between Rosenstein and then-acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, Rosenstein suggested that McCabe or others wear a wire when speaking with the president, according to memos McCabe made of the conversation, sources familiar with them told ABC News. The meeting took place a week after President Donald Trump had fired James Comey as director, the sources said.
Additionally, sources told ABC News that, according to the memos, Rosenstein told McCabe he could recruit members of the president’s Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office for being unfit. Rosenstein believed he would be able to persuade Attorney General Jeff Sessions and then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kellyto sign on, according to the sources.
After Comey’s firing, ABC News previously reported that Rosenstein was so upset with the White House for pinning Comey’s dismissal on him that he was on the verge of resigning.
Rosenstein remained on the job and a week later assigned Robert Mueller as special counsel to look into allegations that the Russian government tried to influence the 2016 presidential election.
Okay, that’s still just out there … so watch this space.
We just knew from the Blasey-Ford allegation that the rape team of Cavanaugh and Judge had to have a history that would come out sooner or later. First, Ronana Farrow and Jane Meyer came out with the story of Deborah Ramirez yesterday in the New Yorker. Then, Michael Avenatti tweeted a cryptic charge that insinuated a gang rap. This morning we get a 4th story and this one includes law enforcement in Maryland,
Investigators in Montgomery County confirmed Monday they’re aware of a potential second sexual assault complaint in the county against former Georgetown Prep student and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
While investigators weren’t specific and spoke on background, they said they are looking at allegations against Kavanaugh during his senior year in high school after an anonymous witness came forward this weekend.
This would potentially bring the number to four women accusing Kavanaugh of wrongdoing and comes after Deborah Ramirez, a former Yale college student, stepped forward this weekend to accuse Kavanaugh of exposing himself to her in college, and after attorney Michael Avenatti tweeted out a message saying he represents a woman with “credible information regarding Judge Kavanaugh and Mark Judge.”
In an email to Mike Davis, the chief counsel for nominations for the Senate Judiciary Committee, Avenatti said he had evidence that at house parties in the early 1980s, Kavanaugh and his friend Judge and others plied women with alcohol and drugs, “In order to allow a ‘train’ of men to subsequently gang rape them.”
Investigators say it is unclear if Avenatti’s tweet and email is in regards to the same woman they’ve interviewed.
Judge is a writer who wrote a fictional account of his time at Georgetown Prep and was allegedly involved in the sexual assault of Professor Christine Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh’s first accuser who is set to testify this Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
From Raw Story: “Montgomery County investigators are ‘looking at’ allegations from potential fourth Kavanaugh accuser: report”
A new report from the Montgomery County Sentinel claims that investigators in Maryland are looking into allegations from what could be a potential fourth accuser against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Specifically, Montgomery County investigators say that an anonymous witness came forward over the weekend to level charges against Kavanaugh that date back to his senior year in high school.
However, the Sentinel’s sources would not describe the specific nature of the charges, and would only say that they were examining them at this time.
If the allegations are credible, they would mark the fourth woman to accuse Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct.
Okay, final wow moment this morning has to do with Rob Goldstone and setting up the Trump Tower Russia Meeting for Trumpers Junior, Manafort, and Kushner. Goldstone has been hauled before a grand jury and I’m pretty sure this means Trumpers junior is in deep do do.
The AP reports that there are arrests happening on the Hill of Kavanaugh Protesters.
The British-born music publicist who helped arrange that infamous meeting between senior Trump campaign officials and a Russian lawyer promising dirt on Democrats now believes the meeting could have been a set-up by Russian intelligence, he told NBC News in an exclusive television interview.
“I’m willing to believe that I don’t know who wanted this meeting,” Rob Goldstone told NBC’s Cynthia McFadden in a wide-ranging interview, in which he also discussed Trump’s behavior in Moscow during the 2013 Miss Universe pageant.
Asked if he had conveyed a “dirty offer” to the Trump team in brokering the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, Goldstone said, “Yes. That is true.”
“That [dirt] didn’t materialize,” said Goldstone, but he believes the apparent willingness of campaign officials to accept dirt is what drew the scrutiny of congressional investigators and special counsel Robert Mueller.
The entire interview is at the link.
When asked whether he regrets his role in the meeting, Goldstone said he did and wished he had not set it up.
“I regret not listening to the little voice in my head,” Goldstone said. “The same one that made me say to [his client, Russian pop star] Emin, ‘No good can come from this and this is a bad idea.’ ”
Goldstone acknowledged to the news outlet that he conveyed a “dirty offer” to members of the Trump campaign when discussing the possible June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower, but noted that the damaging information that was promised on Hillary Clinton “didn’t materialize.”
The publicist told NBC News that he believes its possible the meeting may have been a set-up by Russian intelligence officials.
“I’m willing to believe that I don’t know who wanted this meeting,” Goldstone said.
The Trump Tower meeting has become a flashpoint in special counsel Robert Mueller‘s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Goldstone says he discussed the details of the meeting with Mueller in March. He also told NBC that he discussed his time with Trump during a Moscow visit in 2013.
President Trump admitted on Twitter last month that the meeting was intended to gather information on Clinton, despite his son’s previous claims that it was focused on Russian adoption policy related to American sanctions.
Donald Trump Jr., who welcomed the offer of the meeting and later attended it, has downplayed its significance and called it a “waste of time.”
So, these are the THREE main things today but hang on to your hats. It’s likely getting more newsy and stormy as the day progresses.
Trump in Scotland
Trump is at his golf resort in Turnberry, Scotland, and protesters are out in force there as they were in England. The Guardian:
Trump and his wife Melania arrived in Scotland on board Air Force One on Friday evening, before travelling by motorcade to his Trump Turnberry resort in Ayrshire.
By lunchtime, about 50 protesters had congregated on Turnberry beach. Just before 2pm, the US president appeared on the golf course and waved at the gathering on the beach, to be met with booing and chants of “no Trump, no racist USA”. Meanwhile, close to 10,000 marchers were streaming through the streets of Edinburgh, ending up in the Meadows park to the south of the city centre, where families sat in the sunshine and enjoyed picnics, music and speeches from local activists….
Towards the back of the crowd, the six-metre Trump baby balloon was straining against its tethers in the wind. Organiser Leo Murray described how a crew of “babysitters” had travelled up from London overnight on the sleeper train to fly the blimp at Saturday’s protest.
Murray had originally hoped to fly the balloon, which depicts Trump as an angry baby wearing a nappy, at his Turnberry course, but Police Scotland denied permission on security grounds.
Nevertheless, a Greenpeace protester managed to breach the no-fly zone on a hang glider with a sign reading ““Trump: well below par #resist” (see photo at the top of this post). Thank you to the people of Scotland for standing in solidarity with the U.S. resistance. I’m proud of my Scottish heritage today.
And while we’re talking about Trump’s Scottish golf course, be sure to check out this piece by Adam Davidson at The New Yorker: Where Did Donald Trump Get Two Hundred Million Dollars to Buy His Money-Losing Scottish Golf Club?
Between meeting the Queen of England and Vladimir Putin, President Trump will spend this weekend at Turnberry, the golf course he bought in 2014 and rechristened Trump Turnberry. This property has not received the attention it deserves. It is, by far, the biggest investment the Trump Organization has made in years. It is so much bigger than his other recent projects that it would not be unreasonable to describe the Trump Organization as, at its core, a manager of a money-losing Scottish golf course that is kept afloat with funds from licensing fees and decades-old real-estate projects.
No doubt, the President will be excited to visit. After buying the property for more than sixty million dollars, he then spent a reported hundred and fifty million pounds—about two hundred million dollars total—remaking the site, adding a new course, rehabbing an old one, and fixing up the lodgings. It is possible, though, that he will have some harsh words for his staff. The Turnberry has been losing an astonishing amount of money, including twenty-three million dollars in 2016. The Trump Organization argued that these losses were the result of being closed for several months for repair. However, revenue for the months it was open were so low—about $1.5 million per month—that it is hard to understand how the property will ever become profitable, let alone so successful that it will pay back nearly three hundred million dollars in investment and losses….
President Trump has proclaimed himself the “king of debt,” a proud master of “doing things with other people’s money.” So it was quite surprising when Jonathan O’Connell, David A. Fahrenthold, and Jack Gillum revealed in a Washington Post story in May that Trump had abruptly shifted strategies and begun spending hundreds of millions of dollars in cash to fund projects. In the nine years before he ran for President, the Post reported, the Trump Organization spent more than four hundred million dollars in cash on new properties—including fourteen transactions paid in full. In fifteen years, he bought twelve golf courses (ten in the U.S., one in Ireland, and a smaller one in Scotland), several homes, and a winery and estate in Virginia, and he paid for his forty-million-dollar share of the cost of building the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C.—a property leased to Trump by the U.S. government. But his largest cash purchase was the Turnberry, followed by tens of millions of dollars in additional cash outlays for rehabbing the property.
Read the rest at The New Yorker.
Trump meets Queen Elizabeth
Yesterday, just as Rod Rosenstein was preparing to announce indictments of the 12 Russians who were responsible for hacking the DNC, DCCC, and Clinton campaign email servers and disseminating embarrassing information designed to hurt Hillary and help Trump during the 2016 election, Donald Trump was meeting with the Queen of England. And he managed to turn that into a clusterfuck just as he has everything else on his disastrous European trip.
The Washington Post: ‘Did Donald Trump just WALK IN FRONT OF THE QUEEN?’
It’s generally quite difficult to upstage the queen of England, but President Trump might have managed to do so.
Trump and Queen Elizabeth II met Friday as part of his working visit to the United Kingdom….
Trump’s walk with the queen during an inspection of guardsmen quickly became a hot topic.
Described as “cringeworthy” and “uncomfortable” viewing on social media, footage of their walk together came under intense scrutiny. While touring the castle grounds, Trump maintained a relatively brisk walk, which saw the queen, at times, fall behind him as he led the way.
At one point, the queen can be seen gesturing to Trump, although it’s unclear what exactly she may have been referring to. On social media, some speculated that Trump was being instructed on which side of her he should walk.
If that was the case, the president didn’t grasp the message.
The Trumps also arrived late for tea, making the Queen wait, and they did not bow or curtsy when they met her. That’s considered optional, but most people don’t opt to simply shake hands as the Trumps did. At least Trump didn’t do his vise grip and pull handshake with her. Then the Queen gave the Trumps the bum’s rush, ending the meeting after about half an hour.
Trump is a crude, crass, and classless pig. What an embarrassment that he is “president.” The Russians got exactly what they wanted. By contrast, the Obama’s got the full royal treatment.
Two great reads on the Mueller indictment released yesterday
Dan Friedman at Mother Jones: Mueller’s Indictment of 12 Russian Spies is Very Bad for Trump.
Special counsel Robert Mueller on Friday obtained an indictment of 12 members of a Russian military intelligence agency for hacking Democratic party emails during the 2016 election—a rebuke to President Trump, who has refused to fully acknowledge Russia’s election interference, just three days before his planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Finland.
The indictment, announced Friday by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, will probably not lead to immediate prosecutions—it doesn’t accuse any Americans of crimes, as the White House was quick to point out, and it’s unlikely that Russia will allow extradition of its own officials—but the charges are still a big deal in the Trump-Russia investigation and they offer extensive new details on how the Russian hacking effort actually worked.
Click on the link to read the “key takeaways.”
Emptywheel: The Russian Hack.
Mueller’s team just announced (and announced the transfer, as I predicted) of the Russian hack indictment, naming 12 GRU officers for the hack of the Hillary campaign, the DNC, and the DCCC. This will be a working thread.
Rod Rosenstein, as he did with the Internet Research Agency, made clear there are no Americans named in this indictment (and that those who interacted with Guccifer 2.0 and DC Leaks did not know they were interacting with Russians). That said, here are some of the interesting nods in it.
Again, click on the link to read the “interesting nods.” and Emptywheel’s timeline.
Trump’s Immigration Mess
A senior White House official, Jennifer Arangio, was fired Thursday and escorted from her office, ending a turbulent tenure that saw her clashing with President Donald Trump’s most hard-line advisors over human rights and refugee issues, according to several current and former U.S. officials.
The officials said Arangio, a senior director for international organizations and alliances at the National Security Council, had fallen out of favor with Trump aide Stephen Miller over the number of refugees who should be allowed to enter the United States.
She had also sparred with Miller over continuing U.S. participation in international negotiations on a global migration compact, insisting that the United States could better shape international policies on migration from inside the tent.
She lost the argument, but Miller remained embittered by the rift, the officials said. When Arangio sought his endorsement for a position in the State Department, he refused to take a meeting with her.
Adding to the tension, Arangio had defended the State Department’s embattled refugee bureau amid campaigns by other top Trump aides to dismantle or defund it — efforts that were ultimately rebuffed by Congress.
“This is a disaster for the bureau,” one State Department official said. “She is really a good ally.”
Have your handkerchiefs ready for this one at The New York Times: Cleaning Toilets, Following Rules: A Migrant Child’s Days in Detention.
Do not misbehave. Do not sit on the floor. Do not share your food. Do not use nicknames. Also, it is best not to cry. Doing so might hurt your case.
Lights out by 9 p.m. and lights on at dawn, after which make your bed according to the step-by-step instructions posted on the wall. Wash and mop the bathroom, scrubbing the sinks and toilets. Then it is time to form a line for the walk to breakfast.
“You had to get in line for everything,” recalled Leticia, a girl from Guatemala.
Small, slight and with long black hair, Leticia was separated from her mother after they illegally crossed the border in late May. She was sent to a shelter in South Texas — one of more than 100 government-contracted detention facilities for migrant children around the country that are a rough blend of boarding school, day care center and medium security lockup. They are reserved for the likes of Leticia, 12, and her brother, Walter, 10.
The facility’s list of no-no’s also included this: Do not touch another child, even if that child is your hermanito or hermanita — your little brother or sister.
Leticia had hoped to give her little brother a reassuring hug. But “they told me I couldn’t touch him,” she recalled.
This is a must read, even though the stories of these children are heartbreaking. Trump and his minions must be held accountable for this outrage.
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.
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.
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 tweeted. 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, assessed 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 warned 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.
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.
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.
Have great weekend, Sky Dancers! There’s hope for our democracy yet. See you in the comment thread.