Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Mueller's Obstruction Gambit



The saga continues, but moves inexorably closer to resolution, at least in the case of obstruction of justice. The Washington Post is reporting that Mueller needs only one thing to complete a report, presumably to present to Congress so they can consider impeachment, "about the president’s actions while in office and potential obstruction of justice." Mueller needs to interview the president. Which is what the president's attorney quit over--Trump's desire to answer questions.

The report and/or indictments on "collusion" (more formally, conspiracy to violate election laws) with the Russians in the election will wait for another day. My interpretation is that Mueller has a strong case for obstruction and the president will either acknowledge it under oath in the belief that as president he is immune and that Republicans will not impeach him for it, or he will lie, which in itself is impeachable...or both, admit it and lie about several things in the process.

He has actually admitted obstruction before--when interviewed by Lester Holt and saying he had Russia in mind when he fired Comey and when he told the Russian Ambassador in the Oval Office that firing Comey had "relieved great pressure because of Russia."

In January of this year, he answered a reporter's question about obstruction by saying that what he would say in an interview with the Special Counsel was that he fought back, and they're calling that obstruction. Apparently, he believes his own spin, that since the whole Russia thing is fake news, he was entitled to try to stop the investigation. Somehow I don't think the law agrees with him. And Mueller and his team are lawyers that his fixers can't fix and his attack dog lawyers can't intimidate and force to settle.

My hope is that this national nightmare is over soon. Trump might agree to talk to Mueller at any time, and they might be able to release their report quickly. Mueller, in my most optimistic moments, is a superhero who is quietly building an airtight and damning case that Congress will not be able to ignore, and that will be a "slam dunk" for impeachment.

However, in my realistic moments I realize that Republicans, even if faced with a slam dunk, will delay, at least until after the elections, afraid that if they impeach or even talk about impeaching before the election, they lose the Trump supporters, which is 80% of Republicans, and the blue wave will become the extinction of the Republican Party. After the election, when the Democrats presumably have a majority in the House, Republicans can safely play the opposition role and defend him, losing only the moral high ground which they haven't had since they started carrying his water.

The actual Impeachment process can then be over within a few months, and, if at least 1/3 of the Republicans in the Senate have any moral standards and patriotism left at all and vote to convict Trump for high crimes and misdemeanors, distasteful as it will be, we might see President Pence sworn in before spring, 2019.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The End of Rational Discussion?


It's getting increasingly difficult to have anything resembling a rational discussion with people I disagree with in the era of "fake news". The problem of fake news (which at first referred only to stories that were basically completely fabricated, but now is applied to anything people don't think is fully true), is that there is no longer ANY agreement of a neutral arbiter of fact. It used to be that except for outliers in the far right and far left of intellectual discourse, there were certain media outlets that were accepted as Truth Seeking outlets that used a set of Journalistic Practices including trying hard to maintain objectivity and stick to facts, only using the opinions of others in stories and attributing, researching "both or all sides of a story" and to the extent they disagree, offer explanations to attempt to explain why they differ, and seeking corroboration for statements/facts from people with no known ties with the source. 

Media outlets like the NY Times, Washington Post, NPR/PBS, and Network News (ABC, CBS, NBC) were widely considered "mainstream media." When they got something wrong, they tended to all get it wrong together--like the lead up to the Iraq War, in which the false or skewed information being fed to them by the Bush White House was carefully crafted to mislead them, and the number of stories that supported the Bush narrative got better and wider coverage, while stories questioning the intelligence became backpage stories. 

The fact that the mainstream media occasionally makes mistakes does not make them fake news. It's similar to the scientific method, in which accepted science is not called FACT, it is called the PREVAILING THEORY, and other scientists are encouraged to challenge it and if they are able to prove any of it untrue through experimentation that can be replicated, then the theory is revised. In other words Journalism, like Science, seeks Truth, but understands that what is seen as FACT today, may change as new information comes to light.

But there have always been publications and media outlets and governments that instead of using the process of Journalism, use the tactics of PROPAGANDA to push a point of view and/or sell more advertising by getting more readers/viewers. National Enquirer, Fox News, and to some extent other cable news outlets, like MSNBC and even network news, now use many techniques like splashy, misleading headlines, opinion in the guise of news, or blatantly covering only one point of view. 

Because of that, many people who spend time following the right wing outlets like Fox News, Breitbart, and radio opinionators Rush LImbaugh, etc. have been convinced that they can't trust any other media outlets but theirs (and that's the way they see those of us who basically trust mainstream media to fact check and follow journalistic practice). In response to this, many organizations, media based, non-profit org based, and university based, have started fact checking services: PolitiFact, Fact Check.org, Snopes, etc. This was supposed to be that final arbiter and they scrupulously cite their sources and explain all sides of stories. Unfortunately, since they often find the right wing bubble media stories to be false, none of their followers will accept them as neutral arbiters. Hence, I've found it's largely a waste of time to argue with people with points of view that depend on the right wing propaganda machine for information.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Defend the Constitution Against Enemies, Foreign and Domestic!

The central thesis of the Nunes memo is that there are people at the top of the FBI and Justice Department who were politically motivated to prevent Trump from becoming president. Nunes claims they started the investigation of the Trump campaign by concealing information about the political motives of the people who provided some of the information for a warrant to start spying on Carter Page, a foreign policy advisor who had ties to Russia. 

The memo claims (Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee who has seen the underlying documents disputes it) that the FISA warrant application relies heavily, if not completely, on information provided by Christopher Steele, the retired British MI6 agent who collected information on Trump’s Russian connections for Fusion GPS. The dossier claims that Trump was compromised by Russian Intelligence and might be being blackmailed. Fusion, who hired Steele, was paid by the Clinton campaign to do opposition research. The memo mentions that Steele, in sharing the information he had collected said he was passionate about not wanting Trump to become President. Similar sentiments were expressed in text messages between one of the top FBI investigators in the matter and his girlfriend who also worked for the FBI.  

According to the memo, this also taints the top leaders of the Justice Department and FBI at the time who signed off on the FISA application including Rod Rosenstein, Sally Yates, James Comey, and Andrew McCabe (all but Rosenstein have now been fired or forced out). Many people speculate that Trump wants to use this memo’s claims as an excuse to fire Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the Mueller investigation, in order to install someone who will either fire Mueller or reign in the investigation and suppress damaging lines of inquiry.

Others have gone into detail to dispute the claims in the memo, and the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, has written a rebuttal based on the underlying documents that will hopefully be released to the public soon, but I would just like to ask one general question.

Why should anyone be surprised that Steele, a former intelligence agent for America’s closest ally, Great Britain, would not want to see Trump become president? He had investigate and found credible information that Trump, his campaign manager, foreign policy advisors, and possibly family members were approached by and possibly compromised by the Russians and that Russia had a clear desire to help Trump and harm Clinton.  The people at Fusion GPS on receiving the dossier felt obligated to share it with the FBI. They authorized Steele to talk to the FBI to warn them. And why wouldn’t an FBI investigator who starts looking into and finding corroborating evidence for many of the claims in the Steele dossier, text his girlfriend who is also an FBI agent, to say that he hoped Trump, who was publicly saying all kinds of nice things about Putin, wouldn’t become president. These are the actions of patriots and allies who want to protect America. The question about that period should be why didn't anyone in the Trump campaign tell the FBI they were approached by Russians offering help?

And now the question that we should all be asking is why are Republicans including Speaker Ryan (he says he’s just allowing the memo’s release in the interest of transparency), accusing the Justice Department and the FBI of wrongdoing, when the wrongdoing boils down to trying to investigate a foreign power interfering with our electoral process on behalf of a campaign that is responding to their offers of help?

The conclusion we are getting closer to coming to is that in trying to shield Trump from the Mueller investigation more and more Republicans are crossing the line of upholding their oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. They seem to be enabling Trump in trying to obstruct justice, if not committing it themselves. And we, the American people, have to decide what we are going to do if we conclude that our President and his supporters in Congress fit the definition of domestic enemies.