• Paul Manafort is the End of Act I. What’s Next?

    March 11, 2019 // 10 Comments »


     

    No one weeps for Paul Manafort. He goes to jail for Donald Trump’s sins. The irony is his sad but uneventful end of a life lived as a parasite of a corrupt political system would not have mattered a jot if special counsel Robert Mueller didn’t think he could bring down the president alongside Manafort. That Trump is still standing means we need to prepare for Act II, what happens post-Mueller.
     
    But first the eulogy for what might have been. Manafort became the subject of an FBI investigation in 2014, centered on sleazy consulting work for Ukraine’s former ruling party. The surveillance was discontinued that same year and the FBI dropped the matter for lack of evidence. Manafort’s less then three month tenure as Trump campaign chairman provided the good-enough-for-government-work hook as the FBI went fishing for ties between Trump campaign associates and suspected Russian operatives.

    In the end Mueller was only able to convict Manafort on eight counts (he failed on ten other counts) involving false income taxes, failing to report foreign bank accounts, and bank fraud, all revolving around Manafort’s lobbying work and almost all prior to his work for Trump. The goal of repurposing the old surveillance data was to pressure Manafort into somehow tying Trump into the ambiguous collusion narrative. But via a combination of little having happened and Manafort’s lying even about that, the Mueller ploy came up dry. Oh there was all sorts of noise — Manafort handed over campaign polling data (not a crime) to someone and some of the people Manafort knew knew some of the people who knew Putin (also not a crime.) It was all as sleazy as you want it to be, just not so useful when you have to go to court and actually prove stuff to someone other than Rachel Maddow. In sentencing Manafort, the judge noted specifically there was nothing “to do with colluding with the Russian government.”

    To drive home the non-point, the judge sentenced Manafort to only 47 months, with credit for nine months already served, which means maybe two years and change after time off and parole. This was well below even the minimum recommendations for his crimes, and a far cry from the “rest of his life” the media had been braying for. The Daily Beast took it personally, saying the light sentence “felt like a slap in the face for many watching the Russia probe.” Rick Wilson went on at length over his joy in seeing Manafort’s physical deterioration while in custody, concluding “karma is a magnificent b*tch.” Summing up ‘Merica 2019, a common theme across Twitter is hoping Manafort, now age 69, dies in prison.

    Though you would be forgiven for thinking of this as blood sport, Manafort’s crimes were just white collar tax stuff that at worst forms the basis of one of those lurid backpage “how the mighty have fallen” stories. There is still another round of sentencing to go on Wednesday for Manafort with a supposedly vindictive judge (this round was the easy judge, but Google “concurrent sentences” before popping the champagne) and CNN tells us the superheroes of the Southern District of New York will someday prosecute Manafort separately (Google “double jeopardy” and put the bubbly back on the shelf) so he can’t be pardoned by Trump.

    Of course any pardon will come either at the very end of Trump’s only term, or inside his second term, and will not matter much more than Scooter Libby did in the grand scheme of politics. Further down the road, no newly elected Democratic president is going to start their administration off seeking revenge on the previous guys; it’ll all be about healing and coming together. Like Obama, who excused torture, never mind tax crimes: time to move forward, not look backward. Trump could also just leave Manafort to rot; he isn’t very important.

    UPDATE: Manafort was sentenced for his final convictions March 13, 2019. He received 73 months, with 30 concurrent with his previous sentence. That sentence was 47 months with 9 off for time served. The total by my count is: 81 months, almost seven years. With good behavior, out in about five+ maybe?

    So, so much for all that.

    Bottom Line: history books ten years from now will read “Paul Manafort’s lavish lifestyle, funded by corruption, came to an end in prison. He had nothing to do with Russiagate. He was just standing too close to Trump when he got caught.” So think of Manafort (and maybe Papadopoulos, Flynn, and Gates) as the weak curtain closer to Act I. Up next is Michael Cohen, the hoped for peppy tune that brings the audience back inside the theatre for Act II.
     
    It is increasingly clear Mueller has no bombshell (hear much good about the Steele dossier lately? Just that Steele was being paid simultaenously by the FBI, the DNC, and Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who was owed money by Paul Manafort and wanted to out Manafort to the feds), even as his long-overdue freshman term paper is now dragging into junior year. #Russiagate, in reality always more a hashtag than a caper, has devolved into a placeholder, a way to prep the public for the new plan, two years of Benghazi-like hearings looking for a crime.

    Scratch that — the Benghazi hearings will look orderly and dull in comparison. This is going to be two years of bread and circuses, with Elijah Cummings playing the calm but angry Morgan Freeman role (one kept waiting to hear him say “Now easy, young blood…” to one of his freshman representatives at the Cohen hearing) while AOC and her posse own, scold, hot take, slay, tear down, slam, and crush, for the cameras. Insurance fraud! Real estate devaluation! A Trump golf course she has to drive past everyday! Something about taxes! It’s a lot of capitalism and AOC knows from college that’s bad, right? At least until a week later, when it all comes up empty in the harsh light of sobriety. A signed check with no tie to any crime but a convict’s word is the smoking gun of impeachment? The gold standard on these things is a semen-crusted blue dress.

    It’s like watching Wiley E. Coyote try something new each time but never catch the Roadrunner. Beep! Beep!

    The everlasting gobsmacker of a problem remains. Ever watch Law & Order? Most episodes begin with a body on the ground. Watergate started with a break-in at Democratic National Headquarters by people quickly revealed to have direct ties to the Republicans. All things Trump began with the disbelief he won the election fairly. Everything — everything — since that has flowed from the search for a crime to reverse November 2016.

    The media is chock-a-block with articles which while they take for granted the House will soon begin impeachment proceedings, offer no clear statements on exactly what the grounds for impeachment will be. Corruption is popular though the specifics are vague. Or maybe obstruction, a process crime like Mueller’s well-worn perjury traps created out of the ashes of an investigation of nothing of substance. It really doesn’t matter. Impeachment is the goal, someone will just have to find a reason sooner or later because Trump must be guilty. The problem is this is all an investigation in search of a crime. That sounded better three years ago when it all began. Watching the pivot from Russiagate to generic corruption as the main driver just exposes how empty the process is. What was supposed to be the end, Mueller, is now being characterized as only “the end of the beginning.”

    NBC is more straightforward in outlining the “reasons” for impeachment than most: “The lines of investigation run from Trump’s campaign and White House operations all the way to his tax records and business dealings, and some Democrats are convinced they will ultimately be able to use their findings to tell the story of a president who has committed offenses for which he should be removed from office.”

    Representative Rashida “Impeach the Mother F*cker” Tlaib is the unofficial spokesperson for the “he’s guilty, now find me the crime” line. Tlaib will introduce a resolution calling on the House Judiciary Committee “to formally move on investigating grounds for impeachment.”

    The Daily Beast’s Lloyd Green seems to have figured out the situation, writing “Unlike the Nixon impeachment inquiry, the current impeachment drive did not commence against the backdrop of identifiable events that took place after Nixon was elected, or which resonated beyond the partisan divide. Here, there was no Watergate break-in or Saturday Night Massacre. Instead, impeachment feels like a cumulative punishment for ‘modern presidential,’ Trump’s ceaseless effort to define deviancy, and decency, down.”

     
    A developing nasty truth about many of the accusations accumulating around the new Democratic House like snow drifts is the loop between what the Dems are doing and the media. The goal is to ever-widen the circle of things to be investigated in hopes of finding something. It works like this. An article will appear, based of course on anonymous sources, saying for example Trump tried to block a merger for political gain. Mere days later, citing the article as new evidence, House Judiciary Committee Democrats announce they need to look into the merger. Next up, a Democratic senator demands the Attorney General launch his own investigation. Often an editorial or Op-Ed will then complete the circle praising Congress for trying to get to the bottom of things.

    The same thing happened after a New York Times article, based in part on those anonymous sources, triggered calls to investigate Jared Kushner’s security clearance.

    The use of anonymous sources (and who knows, perhaps those “sources” are connected to the Democrats themselves) to cue the growing number of investigations up is very transparent. Concerns Trump and Fox work together are too narrow a focus on what is really going on, as mainstream outlets shift from mere partisan reporting to serving as political operatives. Donna Brazile leaking a few questions in advance to Hillary Clinton will seem quaint in retrospect.
     
    That seems to be the game plan for the next two years. What remains are two big questions: will it work, and will it end.

    Assuming something is found worth opening impeachment hearings over, the Republican majority in the Senate is still unlikely to convict. Trump will thus run for reelection in 2020. Will public opinion, empathy, following impeachment proceedings help him as it ultimately did Bill Clinton? How many voters will see through this politicization of the Constitutional process and turn away from the Dems? How many Democrats who want real things to happen on healthcare and immigration will see this all as just a waste of time?

    Then the last question: will this all end in 2020? Because if the endless investigation tactic seems to work this time around, you can bet when the next Democrat takes the White House, they will wake up the day after their inauguration to find a special prosecutor and Congressional hearings waiting. Ten years of taxes? How about we start with twenty and see where that goes? Now, Madam President, about this handwritten note in your junior high school yearbook…
      

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    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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    Posted in Democracy, Trump

    Is Michael Cohen Impeachment’s Smoking Gun?

    March 1, 2019 // 11 Comments »


    While 8000 miles away in Vietnam the president of the United States practices nuclear diplomacy, Americans at home watched former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen stand up on his hind legs to beg for a reduced jail sentence.

    Cohen, testifying on February 27 before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform (he testified behind closed doors on Tuesday to the Senate Intelligence Committee, and he will go back behind closed doors Thursday with the House Intelligence Committee), told Americans who think they already know what they think exactly what they wanted to hear: Trump is a vulgar conman, a racist, and a cheat. None of that is impeachable or criminal. Also, water is wet.

    The media is burying the lede: Michael Cohen did not provide any evidence of Russian collusion with the Trump campaign, nor did he provide any evidence of collusion, active coordination or conspiracy with Wikileaks. Cohen’s accusation of a Trump crime while in office is at best an evidence-free rendering of an unclear violation of a campaign finance law usually settled with a fine. Any action going forward using Cohen’s testimony requires one to simply believe the words of Michael Cohen. That’s a big ask.

    Building a criminal case, or impeachment, around the uncorroborated testimony of a disbarred, convicted felon violating attorney-client privilege to beg for a shorter sentence seems weak. Absent corroborating evidence it is hard to see Cohen’s testimony leading to impeachment or criminal charges. It all sounds very dramatic and will be played as such by the media, but in the end is another faux smoking gun. There’s just not much meat on these bones.

     

    On Russian collusion, Cohen stated “Questions have been raised about whether I know of direct evidence that Mr. Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia. I do not. I want to be clear. But, I have my suspicions.” Cohen went on to claim he saw Don, Jr. tell his father some meeting had been set. “I concluded that Don, Jr. was referring to that June 2016 Trump Tower meeting about dirt on Hillary with the Russian representative when he walked behind his dad’s desk that day.” Cohen presented no evidence the meeting Don, Jr. referred to was with the Russians, or maybe was with the guy redoing Trump’s kitchen. A defense lawyer would be laughing as she labeled Cohen’s “conclusion” speculation and uncorroborated supposition.

    The best the Democratic questioners drag out of Cohen over the course of over seven hours was “Mr. Trump’s desire to win would have him work with anyone,” when asked directly if Trump worked with Russia. Cohen did later deny the existence of the pee tape and anything else that could be used as blackmail. Not much to work with. Russiagate comes down to some Trump people noodling around in Moscow about a hotel that was never built, talking about meetings with Putin that never took place? Your big takeaway is Trump was asking about that inside his own organization until June instead of giving up following the progress earlier? That’s what you want to take to the American people as a case for impeachment, with Michael Cohen in an orange jumpsuit on a prison pass as your key witness?

     

    On business in Russia, Cohen claims Trump was “lying to the American people” during his campaign about negotiations to build a hotel in Moscow. Leaving aside there is nothing illegal about negotiating to build a hotel, and that neither Cohen nor anyone else has shown any evidence of all the Putin connections the media keeps insisting must exist. A review of Trump’s statements show what Cohen claims are “lies to the American people” about whether or not Trump had “business” in Russia would be seen by a defense lawyer as careful parsing of words; Slate’s Ben Mathis-Lilley concludes after his own parsing at worst Trump mislead by omission and even that requires one to dig into tweets where Trump used the present tense and not the past tense to describe things.

     

    On Stormy Daniels, Cohen showed a check for $35,000 from Trump to him, which was supposedly part of the total $130k paid to her to keep quiet about Trump and Stormy’s affair. The check does not show what the payment was for. The check does not have Stormy’s name on it. Cohen said it was part of the reimbursement for “illegal hush money I paid on his behalf.” A defense lawyer would chuckle at the idea that was “evidence.” It is a receipt for a crime only because Cohen now says it is. Under direct questioning, Cohen claimed there was no corroborating evidence beyond the 11 checks. He said he sent invoices to Trump for “legal retainer fees,” so don’t bother with the invoices as evidence because Cohen now says he lied on them claiming it was a retainer fee. Those 11 checks will total over $400k, because supposedly Trump rolled Cohen’s fee and bonus into the amount, so we just have to take his word for it that some of that money was for Stormy. Cohen said some of the checks were signed by Don, Jr. and the Trump Organization’s CFO. Apparently the checks are going to be used to implicate personally a person who did not sign the checks.

    Paying money as part of a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) is not illegal. If Trump had been just a businessperson who had an affair, there would be nothing to discuss. People legally pay other people to be quiet all the time. Legal services such as Cohen otherwise provided are a standing campaign cost (lawyers regularly obtaining discreet resolutions of issues that threaten the interests of their clients.) The alleged illegality comes from the supposition by Cohen that he can speak to Trump’s intent, that the NDA was not, say, to spare Trump’s marriage from new embarrassment, but in the text of the law “for the principal purpose of influencing an election” amid everyone already knowing Trump was a serial philanderer. Campaign finance laws require proof a person was willfully violating the law. Cohen’s testimony does not prove Trump knew the payments he was making were illegal. Prosecutors would have to prove that willingness somehow if they wanted to charge the president.

    Even then, that would make Trump at worst a conspirator to a contested interpretation of the Federal Election Campaign Act. At worst it is a de minimis legal violation the serious business of impeachment isn’t concerned with. It is hard to imagine impeachment hearings bogging down looking into intricacies of federal election law that otherwise confound second year law students.

     

    On Trump ordering Cohen to lie to Congress, Cohen said “Mr. Trump did not directly tell me to lie to Congress. That’s not how he operates. In conversations… he would look me in the eye and tell me there’s no business in Russia and then go out and lie to the American people by saying the same thing. In his way, he was telling me to lie.” Cohen later referred to some sort of Trump “code” that was used to order him to lie.

     

    On Wikileaks, Cohen stated “In July 2016, days before the Democratic convention, I was in Mr. Trump’s office when his secretary announced that Roger Stone was on the phone. Mr. Trump put Mr. Stone on the speakerphone. Mr. Stone told Mr. Trump that he had just gotten off the phone with Julian Assange and that Mr. Assange told Mr. Stone that, within a couple of days, there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.” Someone will need NSA intercepts to prove this true because Stone and Wikileaks deny it, and Cohen says there were no others present to corroborate.

    The question left aside is so what. In the larger picture, it represents limited passive knowledge on Trump’s part the emails will leak, as Cohen said Stone had no details on the upcoming content. It does not say the Russians did anything, it does not say Trump worked with Wikileaks. Stone, of course, is habitually full of crap. He had previously lied about having dinner with Assange. Even if the call was made, it remains a real likelihood Stone was overselling his access to Wikileaks. Julian Assange is a hard guy to get on the phone and would have no incentive to tip off a partisan hack like Stone and risk soiling his claims to non-partisanship. Even the New York Times has questioned how trustworthy Stone is.

    Cohen said the phone call took place July 18 or 19. Trump could have read on Twitter July 7 that Wikileaks had pending releases. Earlier, the Guardian on June 12, 2016, where Assange announced he’d be releasing more Clinton emails. The newspaper stated the emails will “provide further ammunition for Donald Trump, her Republican presidential rival, who has used the issue to attack her.” The Stone call, if it took place, was based on public knowledge. Pretty much anyone with a pulse in Washington anticipated more Wikileaks releases that summer of 2016. Cohen’s bombshell had been available online for almost three years.

    The emerging media bleat Trump lied in writing to Mueller about contact with Stone and thus, if Cohen is believed, committed perjury, is based solely on unconfirmed anonymous “sources.” No one outside the White House and Mueller’s office knows what Trump wrote in answer to the special prosecutor’s written interrogatories.

     

    So this is it? A saga that began in the summer of 2016, one that commanded a Special Prosecutor to investigate if the Russian government worked with the current president of the United States to help him get elected, that claimed that president was a Russian intelligence asset under the control of Putin, is going to hinge on the minutiae of campaign finance law? That is going to be lawyered into something leading to impeachment?

    As for the hearing itself, Democrats spent the day putting inflammatory words into Cohen’s mouth that he gratefully voiced to make good quotes. They focused on questions of Trump’s finances which will no doubt provide the hook for exposing Trump’s taxes. Republicans spent the time calling Cohen dishonest. Neither side distinguished themselves but gratefully no one on the dais made any specific Godfather movie references. The new POC Democrats in the House called most everyone else racists and made little virtuous speechlets.

    Cohen, for his part, referred to himself more than once as the son of a Holocaust survivor and sought victimhood throughout the hearing because he will miss his family while in jail. Cohen hurt his own credibility on multiple occasions claiming not to understand simple questions just as time ran out, allowing him to dodge responding. Chairman Cummings abetted this via his on-and-off again aggressive enforcement of time limits. Cohen refused to say he’d dedicate the millions he will most certainly make off book deals and commentary roles to charity, further reducing his credibility. He dangled he had hundreds of tapes of something, but produced none. Heaven help us when #BelieveCohen starts trending.

    It was going to be Comey’s testimony that took Trump down, then Papadopoulos was going to flip, or maybe Manafort or Flynn. There were tapes of something, a Russian spy with red hair who would roll over. Books by Comey and Clapper blowing the roof off things, the walls closing in again and again and again. And soon it will be Mueller time! Or may Southern District of New York time, because the media seems to be prepping us Mueller may not have much to say.

    It is all exhausting. We’ll soon enough see if voters feel like a dog with a mean owner always holding out a Scooby treat he’ll never let go of. Sooner or later that dog might say, I’m either gonna bite that SOB, or just get bored and stop giving him the satisfaction of salivating around him.

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    Posted in Democracy, Trump

    The FBI’s Coup Attempt Failed

    February 20, 2019 // 15 Comments »


     
    The sad state of things is former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is barking around late night comedy shows, in spots usually reserved for B-list actors to pimp their latest movies, pimping the idea the president is a live Russian intelligence asset.

    We also hear from McCabe the FBI sought to overturn the 2016 election after it failed to get its preferred candidate elected.

    If any of this surprises you — essentially an attempted coup by the FBI that failed when the Cabinet would not support it by a faux invocation of the 25th Amendment — you haven’t been reading my stuff. Here’s a piece from over a year ago explaining.

     
    BONUS:
    And for fun, here’s a year old summary of the Mueller Russiagate case that could run today with some minor updates. Little of substance has changed, and yes, we’re still waiting.

    If you’re interested in what’s next, it will be the Steele Dossier falling apart. Here’s why.

    The full force of the U.S. intelligence community has been looking for evidence of Russian government (not just “some Russians”) interference in the election for close to two and a half years (five Trump campaign officials were under investigation as of September 2016, including Flynn.) It is reasonable to conclude they do not have definitive intelligence, no tape of a Team Trump official cutting a deal with a Russian spy. The same goes for the Steele dossier and its salacious accusations. If a tape existed or if there was proof the dossier was true, we’d watching impeachment hearings.

    What’s left is the battle cry of Trump’s opponents since Election Day: “Just you wait.” They exhibit a scary, gleeful certainty that Trump worked with the Russians, because how else could he have won?

     
     

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    Mueller’s End Game

    December 11, 2018 // 12 Comments »

    A baby born when Robert Mueller started his investigation would be talking by now. But would she have anything to say?

    We last looked at what Mueller had publicly, and what he didn’t have, some ten months ago, and cautioned skepticism that he would prove “collusion.” It’s worth another look now, but we’ll give away the ending: there is still no real evidence of, well, much of anything significant about Russiagate. One thing clear is the investigation seems to be ending. Mueller’s office reportedly even told various defense lawyers it is “tying up loose ends.” The moment to wrap things up is politically right as well; the Democrats will soon take control of the House and it is time to hand this all off to them.

     

    Ten months ago the big news was Paul Manafort flipped; that seems to have turned out to be mostly a bust, as we know now he lied like a rug to the Feds and cooperated with the Trump defense team as some sort of mole inside Mueller’s investigation (a heavily-redacted memo about Manafort’s lies, released by Mueller on Friday, adds no significant new details to the Russiagate narrative.) George Papadopoulos has already been in and out of jail — all of two weeks — for his sideshow role, Michael Avenatti is now a woman beater who is just figuring out he’s washed up, Stormy Daniels owes Trump over $300k in fees after losing to him in court, there is no pee tape, and if you don’t recall how unimportant Carter Page and Richard Gates turned out to be (or even remember who they are), well, there is your assessment of all the hysterical commentary that accompanied them a few headlines ago.

    The big reveal of the Michael Flynn sentencing memo on Tuesday was he will likely do no prison time. Everything of substance in the memo was redacted, so there is little insight available. If you insist on speculation, try this: it’s hard to believe something really big and bad happened such that Flynn knew about it but still wasn’t worth punishing for it, and now, a year after he started cooperating with the government, nobody has heard anything about whatever the big deal is. So chances are the redactions focus on foreign lobbying in the U.S.

     

    This week’s Key to Everything is Michael Cohen, the guy who lied out of self-interest for Trump until last week when we learned he is also willing to lie, er, testify against Trump out of self-interest. If you take Cohen’s most recent statements at face value the sum is failed negotiations we all knew about already to build a Trump hotel in Moscow went on a few months longer than originally stated. Meanwhile, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York submitted a sentencing memo Friday for Cohen recommending 42 months in jail. In a separate filing, Mueller made no term recommendation but praised Cohen for his “significant efforts to assist the special counsel’s office.” The memos reveal no new information.

    Call it as sleazy as you want, but looking into a real estate deal is neither a high crime nor a misdemeanor, even if it’s in Russia. Conspiracy law requires an agreement to commit a crime, not just the media declaiming “Cohen was communicating directly with the Kremlin!” Talking about meeting Russian persons is not a crime, nor is meeting with them. The takeaway this was all about influence buying by the Russkies falls flat. If Putin sought to ensnare Trump, why didn’t he find a way for the deal to actually go through? Mueller has to be able to prove actual crimes by the president, not just twist our underclothes into a weekly conspiratorial knot. For fun, look here at the creative writing needed to even suggest anything illegal. Doesn’t sound like Trump’s on thin ice with hot shoes.

     

    Sigh. It is useful at this point of binge-watching the Mueller mini-series to go back to the beginning.

    The origin story for all things Russiagate is a less-than-complete intelligence finding hackers, linked to the Russian government, stole emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in 2016. The details have never been released, no U.S. law enforcement agency has ever seen the server/scene of the crime, and Mueller’s dramatic indictments of said hackers, released as Trump met with Putin in Helsinki, will never be heard of again, or challenged, as none of his defendants will ever leave Russia. Meanwhile, despite contemporaneous denials of the same, it is now somehow accepted knowledge the emails (and Facebook ads!) had some unproven major affect on the election.

    The origin story for everything else, that Trump is beholden to Putin for favors granted or via blackmail, is opposition research purchased by the Democrats and carried out by an MI6 operative with complex connections into American intelligence, the salacious Steele Dossier. The FBI, under a Democratic-controlled Justice Department, then sought warrants to spy on the nominated GOP candidate for president, based on evidence paid for by his opponent.

    Yet the real origin story for all things Russiagate is the media, inflamed by Democrats, searching for why Trump won (because it can’t be anything to do with Hillary, and “all white people and the Electoral College are racists” just doesn’t hold up.) Their position is Trump must have done something wrong, and Robert Mueller, despite helping squash a Bush-era money-laundering probe, lying about the Iraq War, and flubbing the post-9/11 anthrax investigation, has been resurrected with Jedi superpowers to find it. It might be collusion with Russia or Wikileaks, or a pee tape, or taxes, all packaged as hard news but reading like Game of Thrones plot speculation. None of that is journalism to be proud of, and it underlies everything Mueller.

    As the NYT said in a rare moment of candor, “From the day the Mueller investigation began, opponents of the president have hungered for that report, or an indictment waiting just around the corner, as the source text for an incantation to whisk Mr. Trump out of office and set everything back to normal again.”

    The core problem is Mueller just hasn’t found a crime connected with Russiagate someone working for Trump might have committed. His investigation to date hasn’t been a search for the guilty party, Colonel Mustard in the library, but a search for an actual underlying crime, some crime, any crime. All Mueller has uncovered are some old financial misdealing by Manafort and chums that took place before and outside of the Trump campaign, payoffs to Trump’s mistresses which are not in themselves inherently illegal (despite what prosecutors simply assert in the Cohen sentencing report, someone will have to prove to a jury the money was from campaign funds and the transactions were “for the purpose of influencing” federal elections, not say simply “protecting his family from shame.” Cohen’s guilty pleas cannot legally be considered evidence of someone else’s guilt), and a bunch of people lying about unrelated matters.

     

    And that’s the give away to Muller’s final report. There was no base crime as the starting point of the investigation. With Watergate there was the break-in at Democratic National Headquarters. With Russiagate you had… Trump winning the election (remembering the FBI concluded the DNC hack was done by the Russians forever ago, no Mueller needed.)

    Almost everything Mueller has, the perjury and lying cases, are crimes he created through the process of investigating. He’s Schroeder’s Box; the crimes only exist when he tries to look at them. Mueller created most of his booked charges by asking questions he already knew the answers to, hoping his witness would lie and commit a new crime literally in front of him. Nobody should be proud of lying, but it seems a helluva way to contest a completed election as Trump enters the third year of his term.

    Mueller’s end product, his report, will most likely claim a lot of unsavory things went on. But it seems increasingly unlikely he’ll have evidence Trump worked with Russia to win the election, and even less likely that Trump is now under Putin’s control. If Mueller had a smoking gun we’d be watching impeachment hearings by now.

    Instead Mueller will end up concluding some people may have sort of maybe tried to interfere with an investigation into what turned out to be nothing, another “crime” that exists only because there was an investigation to trigger it. He’ll dump that steaming pile of legal ambiguity into the lap of the Democratic House to hold hearings on from now until global warming claims the city of Benghazi and returns it to the sea. Or the 2020 election, whichever comes first.

     

    BONUS:

    The uber-point of all this Ocean’s Nineteen-level conspiracy is supposedly so Putin can, whatever, sow dissent in America. Because if he wanted a puppet in the Oval Office it has been a damn poor return on investment — sanctions are still in place, NATO is still on Russia’s border, Montenegro joined NATO, Trump approved arms sales to the Ukraine, RT and Sputnik are sidelined as registered foreign agents, Cold Warrior-like hardliners Bolton and Pompeo are in power, the U.S. just delivered Russia an ultimatum on an arms control treaty that could return some American missiles to Europe, and more. On the plus side, there were those friendly Tweets.

    Along the way new journalistic “norms” were created: Trump is too stupid to have made his money, so it must be ill-gotten. Trump did real estate deals in NYC and so is mobbed up. Trump’s taxes (albeit available to the IRS and Treasury for decades, the FBI and Mueller via warrant for years) hide secrets. Meanwhile, everyone in Russia with a few bucks is an oligarch, and everyone who anyone from the Trump side spoke with is “connected to Putin.” Trump doesn’t have lawyers, he has fixers and consigliere.

    These tropes allow journalists to communicate in a kind of shorthand with the rubes who still imagine something will happen to annul the 2016 election. They allow each mini-development to appear to be a major event, as in the mind of the media everything is related, and everything accumulative. So a lie about a real estate deal in Russia is HUGE because it has something to do with Russia and see that connects all the dots!

    None of that is journalism to be proud of, and it underlies everything Mueller. It is almost sad looking back at the old articles and TV tales to see how excited everyone got — Flynn was indicated! Sessions recused himself! Comey will save us! The Nunes Memo! They all used to matter sooooo much. Outlets like the NYT and WaPo rolled out a “source close to the White House” to comment whatever just happened means Mueller is getting close to nailing Trump. The nutters who took over once cogent places like HuffPo and Salon run “reporting” that reads like Game of Thrones plot speculation. Everybody runs the same headlines: BREAKING: Reports: Sources: Trump Fixer to Flip; Avenatti Says “Orange is the New Black, Buttercup!”

    As one writer puts it, “For the last two years the mass media machine has been behaving very, very strangely, and it isn’t getting better, it’s getting worse. Not since the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq have we seen mainstream media outlets trying to shove narratives down our throats so desperately and aggressively.”




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    Red Pill, Blue Pill… No, Take the Yellow Pill: I Watch Mainstream Media News

    September 7, 2018 // 10 Comments »



    Take the Red Pill some say, see the world as it is. No, the Blue Pill, stay comfortably numb in the Matrix. Well, I had some sweet yellow ones during a week flat on my back in the hospital with little to do but watch TV news. Mainstream media, the stuff I otherwise never watch. I learned as long as you don’t change channels, everything makes sense.

    At least until a very nice nurse brought those little yellow pills every four hours, which made me lose track. She usually switched channels for me at the same time, like shifting my bottom around to avoid bed sores. That’s where things got confusing.


    I quickly lost track — who are we counting on to save America? Is it the porn star trying to revive her career, the lawyer who lied for years now trying to save himself hinting outside of court he knows something, or the editor of the National Enquirer who literally invented fake news for the late 20th century? Through my pharmacological haze, it was difficult to grasp how quickly the media flipped their opinions when a person told us what we wanted to hear — who would have imagined Omarosa on CNN to “bring down Trump?” She went from being Uncle Tom to the star of BlacKkKlansman before I was allowed to use the toilet without a nurse present. It’s almost as if we all vaguely recall out of a little yellow pill haze we weren’t at war last week with Eurasia when the news has made clear we have always been at war with Eurasia.

    And did you know Trump’s taxes are locked in the vault at Gringotts? It wasn’t “news” but several channels featured tax return stories anyway. As best I could tell no one on TV seemed to know the IRS has all of Trump’s taxes, has audited him many times, and that his tax records are and always have been available by warrant to law enforcement. They appear unaware Trump’s taxes are in fact an open book, albeit one they personally can’t check out of the hospital library. They are certain a bunch of 27-year-old Park Slope “journalists” who probably file 1040EZs will find what has been missed over decades by all those professionals. A 1099 from Putin? More after this message and yes, doctor, I agree, my pain does seem worse, better up the dose…


    TV says with great certainty the Trump presidency will end very soon; I really didn’t expect it to outlast my hospital stay and was briefly excited there’d be a cheaper health care system before I was discharged. Nearly every channel said we’d entered a new round of “it’s over,” or claimed “tick tock,” or the walls were closing in — Mueller time! There was actually mass-scale wishful thinking for a national tragedy of any sort to hasten this. There was even a race among channels to grow the death toll in Puerto Rico from a year ago, so much so they invented a new thing called “excess deaths.” Who knew?

    I learned apparently all Russians making more than minimum wage are oligarchs. And everyone in Russia over 18 is connected to Russian intelligence, and said to be close to Putin. Drug-addled, my brain tried to convince me Russia was a much smaller place than I remembered it as.

    Also Cohen was going to flip, and maybe Don, Jr. or even Ivanka to save themselves, just wait. But the main thing that apparently had flipped was the House. I only found out later this actually did not happen, but you’d forgive me for believing it, because while it may have been the fever thinking for me, it all seemed to get more certain as I drifted from the Afternoon Blonde to the Evening Gray of Wolf to Anderson to Cuomo, a succession of gas station glory hole mouths. There was a primary, or maybe just a show of hands among twenty people somewhere, said Maddow, emphasizing I should listen closely because things are moving fast now, THAT IT COULD HAPPEN, meaning DemsWouldTakeHouseImpeachTrumpAbolishICEHangPenceRenameWashingtonDClinton.



    As the nurse with the little yellow pills started dropping by less often as I recovered, I started to understand the news was less about reporting what happened and more about creating the image we are on an inevitable path to Trump’s legal collapse, his mental collapse, or impeachment for… something, we’ll figure the details out later, just accept there is a crisis. That’s when I got it: it’s not about information, but persuasion. I wasn’t an audience, I was raw material.

    I sort of remembered during the lulls of “ask your doctor about…” prescription medicine commercials that in my non-writing day job I speak with people from the midwest, and the middle west and south, people with AOL addresses and landlines, people to whom New York City is as foreign a place as Tokyo. Though I don’t know if they’ll vote Republican or stay home, they will never vote Democrat, at least not the identity politics “socialist” flavor-of-the-month Democrat emerging in 2018. They aren’t racist or hateful people, but they certainly see those problems falling well below the economy when it comes to what matters. And not one believes the Russiagate story in whole. I didn’t see a lot of TV reflecting those voters; actually most of the news I saw was sculpted to say those people matter less all the time. This is all their fault, anyway. I have to remember to let them know.

    People on TV don’t seem to care their doomy predictions have not happened even as they still insist they will. It’s kind of like hoping fireworks shot into the night sky, having once popped and sang — Ohhhh! — will somehow do it again even as the sparks die out. Hours of TV make it is clear Trump — the fact that he exists at all — is so central to how the media view the world now they cannot see past their loathing and even briefly remove that loathing from the analytical equation of what’s happening. The media live forever with 2016’s broken heart; it never healed but instead of getting back out there to date they want you to feel the pain, too. Luckily I fell asleep each evening before the late night shows came on or I’d have been moved to the intensive care unit, if not psych.

    Facts and assertions and opinions and reports from sources and we heard and according to reports are all jumbled now into the same thing. The burden of proof is turned around and placed on the unprepared viewer, so believing anything but what you’re told makes you the conspiracy theorist. Even with a volume control I could sometimes reach on the bedside table it was too loud to argue against. It became easier and easier to let the drugs slip to the foreground and mistake what I was made to feel for what I wanted to think.

    What was left, in the words of one songwriter, was only seeing the shadow they intentionally left behind for me to find and follow. Thinking was hard. TV explained things slowly, so I could understand it in the way they wanted me to. It was easy and they wanted to make it easy. It was more like sports, with someone slapping down, dismissing, destroying, devastating, dissing, crushing or owning someone on the other side of an opinion.


    I’m back home now, on the mend. The outrages from my hospital stay (Brennan’s security clearance, Cohen’s non-flip, trade war with Mexico, McCain’s flag at half-staff, Sessions/Mueller to be fired) are nearly forgotten. Red pill? Blue pill? I wish I had more of those little yellow pills.



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