#PutiTrump

A Matter of Perspective (Poodlefinger Mix)

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A child walks past a graffiti depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on the walls of a bar in the old town in Vilnius, Lithuania, 14 May 2016. (Photo by Mindaugas Kulbis/AP Photo)

This is important:

When Donald Trump makes ridiculously untrue comments, few are surprised. The president has a reputation for breathtaking dishonesty, which is well deserved. Making matters much worse, however, is the degree to which his White House makes no real effort to be more trustworthy.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP Photo)For example, the White House issued a formal written statement late Friday responding to the federal indictment of 13 Russian operatives who are accused of attacking our elections to help put Trump in power. A Washington Post analysis described the statement as “extremely dishonest,” and documented several demonstrable falsehoods—none of which has been corrected.

But West Wing officials weren’t content to stop there. On Twitter, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “Unlike Obama, [Trump] isn’t going to be pushed around by Russia or anybody else.” That might be slightly less laughable if Obama hadn’t imposed sanctions on Russia, which is the opposite of what Trump did.

In a certain way it does not matter what the esteemed Steve Benen finds laughable. There is a long story, of course, behind the statement that, brain chemistry is brain chemistry, or that brain chemistry will as brain chemistry does, but the proposition of laughability depends on circumstantial norms observably not in effect.

When the Press Secretary says President Trump will not be “pushed around by Russia or anybody else”, we need to consider what that means to her. Because either Sarah Huckabee Sanders believes what she says or she does not. The latter is actually the extraordinary alternative, so the question becomes how she believes such a seemingly ridiculous statement.

And to this the answer is actually straightforward:

• President Trump will not be pushed around by Russia because Russia is not pushing him around.

• President Trump will not be pushed around by anybody else because he will not be pushed around by Congress or the Office of Special Counsel.

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What Rosenstein Said

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Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testifies to the House Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., 13 December 2017. (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Via Bloomberg:

Beyond the 13 people indicted, Mueller announced the Feb. 12 guilty plea of a California man for identity theft, Richard Pinedo, who is cooperating with prosecutors. The indictment of Russian individuals and companies also suggests a broader conspiracy than Mueller charged, saying grand jurors heard about others involved in the scheme.

Richard Painter, who was the chief ethics adviser in the George W. Bush administration, said the lack of any evidence of collusion in the indictment wasn’t the final word by prosecutors.

“They’re charging what they know,” he said. “The contact with the Trump campaign might be unwitting in this case, but that doesn’t mean that the collaboration issue is finished.”

Now, just to make certain: We should probably bear in mind that neither, really is the question of this or that contact being unwitting truly closed. It seems a tawdry hair to split, except there is also the part about how—

This “information warfare” by the Russians didn’t affect the outcome of the presidential election, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told reporters. Trump and his Republican supporters have repeatedly denounced the Mueller investigation as a “witch hunt” and have denied any collusion. The indictment cites no instances of Russians coordinating directly with the Trump campaign.

—and this is important: Rosenstein did not say the information warfare “didn’t affect the outcome of the presidential election”.

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The Suicide Pact as a Political Argument

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Contemplation of Justice

This is an interesting starting point:

If the Justice Department and the FBI knowingly used an unreliably biased witness to win a FISA warrant against Carter Page, violating his civil liberties in the process, you would therefore expect that there are some judges on the FISC who are concerned. They, after all, are the ones who were misled. They are the ones who signed warrants and renewals based on shoddy information. Conversely, if the judges on the FISC are not hopping mad, you might take that as evidence that they don’t, in fact, feel misled and that the Justice Department and FBI conduct was, after all, reasonably within the obligations of lawyers and investigators before the court.

(Wittes)

One particularly difficult aspect of the #TrumpRussia scandal is the manner in which the context of dispute overshadows history itself. It is telling, in comparison, that Democrats have come to defend and advocate the individual mandate, but also that Republicans and conservatives turned on their own idea; at some point, we ought to take the note about insincerity. It has, for years, also been true that a liberal political relationship to law enforcement is fraught, to say the least; but it is also true that conservatives have simultaneously drummed up tough law-and-order talk while relying more and more on conspiracy theories denigrating and defaming law enforcement institutions. Naturally, the allegedly liberal party finds itself defending the law enforcement agency and agent that, to the one, undertook irregular actions wrecking the Democratic presidential candidate, and that alone ought to be boggling. To the other, if we set aside Donald Trump for a moment, the FBI is also the agency that reviews its own duty-related killings, and has found itself to be perfect, something like a hundred fifty out of a hundred fifty. Given a day in court to indict all the sleazy tactics of a powerfully effective eugenic “drug war” any liberal would find the FBI in line to defend the necessity of allowing law enforcement to behave that way. Yet the spectacle continues apace, with Republicans hollering until they wheeze and Democrats breathlessly defending one of the most controversial law enforcement agencies on the planet. Without this extraordinary, self-inflicted presidential scandal requiring our priority, what is up with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, anyway? Federal law enforcement is still law enforcement.

Just as Democrats finding themselves rallying to defend the individual mandate ought to be significant of something about how we reached this point, or Jade Helm leaving liberals to consider posturing an ostensible general defense of the American military; or, if we can remember back to 2009, the conservative roll from patriotism and the indignity of protesting against the president to the patriotic necessity of threatening the president with firearms; or, hey, we might consider decades of conservative conspiracism including the National Rifle Association, and then wonder whether it will be law enforcement or the military confiscating the guns; so, too, might we wonder at the trend of conservatives behaving so badly that others need to do their jobs for them.

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SOTU Speculation

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#PutiTrump: Protest image of Vladimir Putin, artist unknown. Donald Trump addresses supporters in Everett, Washington, 30 August 2016.

Take the note, via Steve Benen:

On Jan. 30, 1974, exactly 44 years ago today, Richard Nixon delivered his State of the Union address and argued that the investigation into the Watergate scandal should end. “One year of Watergate is enough,” the Republican president said at the time.

And this, of course, is a setup to noting that Rep. Steve King (R-IA04), never known as a bastion of measured rhetoric, described the content of a House Republican staff-written memorandum as worse than Watergate. Similarly, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) attacked the Office of Special Counsel investigation into the #TrumpRussia affair as corrupt and worse than Watergate. And famed conspiracist Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) worried that collusion to stop Trump’s election is Worse than Watergate. President Trump himself adores making Watergate claims: Uranium One, imagined wiretapping, and Benghazi conspiracism, at least, he declares on par with Watergate. The Birther conspiracy? Even bigger than Watergate. This is hardly a new GOP obsession; Benen counted at least ten assertions of scandal in the Obama White House that Republicans chose to compare to Watergate, and that was in 2013.

It is easy enough to wonder if perhaps a soberish president carefully reading staid remarks prepared by professional hands would be sufficient to win critical praise, but given the state of things, it starts to seem more likely that Mr. Trump will, instead, afford himself the indulgence of simply going off.

For public safety, drinking games ought to be prohibited.

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Image note: #PutiTrump — Protest image of Vladimir Putin, artist unknown; Donald Trump addresses supporters in Everett, Washington, 30 August 2016.

Benen, Steve. “The bar has already been lowered too much for Trump”. msnbc. 29 January 2018.

—————. “The curious Republican preoccupation with Watergate”. msnbc. 30 January 2018.

—————. “‘Worse than Watergate'”. msnbc. 11 November 2013.

The Killer Death Wish Perjury Trap Suicide Mission

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#PutiTrump: Protest image of Vladimir Putin, artist unknown. Donald Trump in detail of photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for msnbc, 2016.

That Special Counsel Robert Mueller might wish to speak with President Donald Trump is no particular surprise; nor is the president’s cheap façade of confidence unexpected. Late paragraphs in Carol D. Leonnig and Josh Dawsey’s report for the Washington Post, however, are worth the moment, at least:

However, some of Trump’s close advisers and friends fear a face-to-face interview with Mueller could put the president in legal jeopardy. A central worry, they say, is Trump’s lack of precision in his speech and his penchant for hyperbole.

People close to Trump have tried to warn him for months that Mueller is a “killer,” in the words of one associate, noting that the special counsel has shown interest in the president’s actions.

Roger Stone, a longtime informal adviser to Trump, said he should try to avoid an interview at all costs, saying agreeing to such a session would be a “suicide mission.”

“I find it to be a death wish. Why would you walk into a perjury trap?” Stone said. “The president would be very poorly advised to give Mueller an interview.”

Laura Silverman asks the obvious: “Does this sound like they’re talking about a ‘stable genius’ who is innocent?”

To the other, this is Roger J. Stone we’re talking about. It doesn’t really matter to Mr. Stone whether what he says is helpful; his priority seems to be elsewhere and otherwise.

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Image note: #PutiTrump: Protest image of Vladimir Putin, artist unknown. Donald Trump in detail of photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for msnbc, 2016.

Leonnig, Carol D. and Josh Dawsey. “Mueller seeks to question Trump about Flynn and Comey departures”. The Washington Post. 23 January 2018.

Silverman, Laura. “Does this sound like they’re talking about a ‘stable genius’ who is innocent? It doesn’t to me. Yikes.” Twitter. 23 January 2018.

Important and Inevitable

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Special Counsel Robert Mueller (AP Photo)

This is one of the important parts:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions was questioned for several hours last week by the special counsel’s office as part of the investigation into Russia’s meddling in the election and whether the president obstructed justice since taking office, according to a Justice Department spokeswoman.

The meeting marked the first time that investigators for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, are known to have interviewed a member of Mr. Trump’s cabinet.

Attorney General nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) in Washington, D.C., on 29 November 2016. (Molly Riley/Associated Press)In response to questions from The New York Times, the spokeswoman, Sarah Isgur Flores, confirmed that the interview occurred. Mr. Sessions was accompanied by the longtime Washington lawyer Chuck Cooper to the interview.

(Schmidt)

The New York Times article goes on to sketch the drama so far, including a declaration that, “Mueller’s interest in Mr. Sessions shows how the president’s own actions helped prompt a broader inquiry”, but this is also part of setting up a seemingly obvious statement:

For Mr. Mueller, Mr. Sessions is a key witness to two of the major issues he is investigating: the campaign’s possible ties to the Russians and whether the president tried to obstruct the Russia investigation.

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The Man of the Hour

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Political strategist Stephen Bannon speaks at a Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore campaign rally in Midland City, Alabama, 11 December 2017. (Reuters/Carlo Allegri)

The triple-bylined exclusive from The Daily Beast opens like sublime comedy:

Steve Bannon is lawyering up as he gets ready to face investigators looking into the Trump-Russia nexus.

The Daily Beast has learned that the former top White House strategist has retained Bill Burck, of the firm Quinn Emanuel. Two sources tell us Burck is helping Bannon prepare for an interview with the House intelligence committee, which is currently scheduled for next week. Sources also said Bannon plans to “fully cooperate” with investigators.

Puti TootsBurck also represents White House Counsel Don McGahn and former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus for the purposes of the Russia probe ....

(Woodruff, Markay, and Suebsaeng)

To the one, this ought to be in some manner artistically appreciable; to the other, we cannot reiterate enough that as much as Mr. Bannon needs to testify under oath, and about more than simply his time with the Trump campaign, neither, really, can he be trusted. That is to say, spectacularly flaming paragon of right-wing cynicism he might be, Steve Bannon not only can be expected to throw the House Intelligence Committee, and thus the entire Beltway, into chaos, but virtually cannot fail to discredit Congressional inquiries into the #TrumpRussia affair.

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A Very Interesting Question

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A child walks past a graffiti depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on the walls of a bar in the old town in Vilnius, Lithuania, 14 May 2016. (Photo by Mindaugas Kulbis/AP Photo)

Yes, that Jack Goldsmith, for Lawfare:

One puzzle that deepens with Mike Schmidt’s New York Times story on “Trump’s Struggle to Keep [a] Grip on [the] Russia Investigation” is why Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has not recused himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation.

In short, before the Schmidt story, we knew that Rosenstein was intimately involved in the president’s decision to fire Comey. Rosenstein’s memo was used as a pretext to fire Comey;Rod Rosenstein is shown during his confirmation hearing to become deputy attorney general on 7 March 2017. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press) Rosenstein knew that the president wanted to fire Comey; and he read the Bedminster draft before he wrote his own memorandum.

In this light, it has been very puzzling for a while why Rosenstein does not have a conflict of interest in the Mueller investigation. The Washington Post reported unequivocally that Mueller’s investigation includes “whether President Trump attempted to obstruct justice,” including, as a central issue, in his firing of Comey. Rosenstein was in the middle of that firing. He possesses information about the president’s beliefs and motives in firing Comey, and quite possibly a personal interest in how those beliefs and motives are construed, since he appeared to many to have been used by the president (and was reportedly very angry about it). Rosenstein would thus would very likely be a fact witness in any obstruction inquiry in connection with the Comey firing. It is hard to understand why he did not have a conflict of interest the moment Mueller’s investigation turned to obstruction in the firing of Comey.

File under, he might have a point, y’know.

Just sayin’.

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Image notes: Top —A child walks past a graffiti depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on the walls of a bar in the old town in Vilnius, Lithuania, 14 May 2016. (Photo by Mindaugas Kulbis/AP Photo)  Right — Rod Rosenstein is shown during his confirmation hearing to become deputy attorney general on 7 March 2017. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

Barrett, Devlin, Adam Entous, Ellen Nakashima, and Sari Horwitz. “Special counsel is investigating Trump for possible obstruction of justice, officials say”. The Washington Post. 14 June 2017.

Goldsmith, Jack. “Why Hasn’t Rod Rosenstein Recused Himself from the Mueller Investigation?” Lawfare. 5 January 2018.

Schmidt, Michael S. “Obstruction Inquiry Shows Trump’s Struggle to Keep Grip on Russia Investigation”. The New York Times. 4 January 2018.

A Question of Presupposition (Graham Cracked Edition)

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#PutiTrump: Protest image of Vladimir Putin, artist unknown. Donald Trump in detail of photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for msnbc, 2016.

“I always said he had a blindspot to Russia but things are changing for the better. He finally allowed the Ukraine to be given defensive weapons. But when it comes to Russia, I’ve said on your show a million times, he has an attitude toward Putin that I think is counterproductive. The president does believe his intel agencies.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

It really is easy to pin a lot on the quote; Steve Benen offers this take:

Now, it’s quite likely that Trump and Graham, who appear to now be rather close allies, have had private conversations in which the president has said things to the senator that he hasn’t shared with the public. But if Trump told Graham he now believes Russians stole Democratic documents, it would represent a dramatic change of heart.

As recently as mid-November—not quite two months ago—Trump told reporters that Vladimir Putin personally assured him that Russia didn’t meddle in the American election. “Every time he sees me he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it,” the American president said in reference to his Russian counterpart.

It was part of a lengthy pattern in which Trump refused to accept U.S. intelligence agencies’ findings. “Nobody really knows for sure” whether Russia intervened in the American elections, the president said in July—after intelligence professionals told him they do know for sure.

But according to Lindsey Graham, sometime between mid-November and early-January, Trump changed his mind, and if the senator is right, the shift is a pretty important development.

The analysis is not wrong; we should always bear in mind, however, questions of presupposition.

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Trashy Schizophrenic Drudgery (Bannon Booty Mix)

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Composite: Donald Trumps, père and fils, photo by Sam Hodgson/New York Times; Vladimir Putin protest image, artist unknown.

“The book does seem to be a collection of stuff Wolff heard. How much of that stuff is actually true is a different question—one that’s much tougher to answer.”

―Andrew Prokop

The idea that Andrew Prokop should be explaining anything about the “gossipy new Trump book” he has not read might seem somehow inappropriate, but everything we might survey about the tome is a matter of reputation, and in that the Vox writer gives reasonable enough consideration:

Stephen Bannon, CEO of Republican nominee Donald Trump's presidential campaign, meets with the Trump Hispanic Advisory Council at Trump Tower in Manhattan, 20 August 2016. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters)The excerpts from it out so far tell a mostly familiar big-picture story of chaos during the presidential transition and in Trump’s early months in the White House. Wolff spruces things up, though, with new quotes, anecdotes, and purported personal details—many of which are eye-popping and unflattering.

Indeed, some of the things Wolff describes in the excerpts sound so outlandish—and also happen to be so hazily sourced—that there’s already a vigorous discussion in the political world about how, exactly, this book should be interpreted. As fact? As “trashy tabloid fiction,” as the White House argues? Or as something in between?

And while there is plenty about the reputation of author Michael Wolff, we might consider the idea of Matt Drudge calling Steve Bannon “schizophrenic”, and for better reasons than two assholes fighting for headlines, or noting this or that about once upon a time, the competition, and who counts as the establishment journalist. Remember that Steve Bannon told Michael Wolff precisely what news consumers want to hear from their favorite talking heads.

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Image notes: Top — Composite featuring Donalds père and fils, protest image of Vladimir Putin. (Credits: Sam Hodgson/New York Times; anonymous.)  Right — Steve Bannon (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters).

Edison Hayden, Michael. “Matt Drudge criticized ‘schizophrenic’ Steve Bannon”. Raw Story. 3 January 2018.

Prokop, Andrew. “The controversy around Michael Wolff’s gossipy new Trump book, explained”. Vox. 4 January 2018.