Ecuador Might Be Preparing To Turn Julian Assange Over To Authorities–Will This Lead To Prosecution By The US?

Glenn Greenwald reports at The Intercept that Ecuador is preparing to turn Julian Assange over to UK authorities. He writes:

A source close to the Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry and the President’s office, unauthorized to speak publicly, has confirmed to the Intercept that Moreno is close to finalizing, if he has not already finalized, an agreement to hand over Assange to the UK within the next several weeks. The withdrawal of asylum and physical ejection of Assange could come as early as this week. On Friday, RT reported that Ecuador was preparing to enter into such an agreement…

The central oddity of Assange’s case – that he has been effectively imprisoned for eight years despite never having been charged with, let alone convicted of, any crime – is virtually certain to be prolonged once Ecuador hands him over to the U.K. Even under the best-case scenario, it appears highly likely that Assange will continue to be imprisoned by British authorities.

The only known criminal proceeding Assange currently faces is a pending 2012 arrest warrant for “failure to surrender” – basically a minor bail violation charge that arose when he obtained asylum from Ecuador rather than complying with bail conditions by returning to court for a hearing on his attempt to resist extradition to Sweden.

That charge carries a prison term of three months and a fine, though it is possible that the time Assange has already spent in prison in the UK could be counted against that sentence. In 2010, Assange was imprisoned in Wandsworth Prison, kept in isolation, for 10 days until he was released on bail; he was then under house arrest for 550 days at the home of a supporter…

THE FAR MORE IMPORTANT question that will determine Assange’s future is what the U.S. Government intends to do. The Obama administration was eager to prosecute Assange and WikiLeaks for publishing hundreds of thousands of classified documents, but ultimately concluded that there was no way to do so without either also prosecuting newspapers such as the New York Times and the Guardian which published the same documents, or create precedents that would enable the criminal prosecution of media outlets in the future.

Indeed, it is technically a crime under U.S. law for anyone – including a media outlet – to publish certain types of classified information. Under U.S. law, for instance, it was a felony for the Washington Post’s David Ignatius to report on the contents of telephone calls, intercepted by the NSA, between then National Security Adviser nominee Michael Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, even though such reporting was clearly in the public interest since it proved Flynn lied when he denied such contacts…

But the U.S. Justice Department has never wanted to indict and prosecute anyone for the crime of publishing such material, contenting themselves instead to prosecuting the government sources who leak it. Their reluctance has been due to two reasons: first, media outlets would argue that any attempts to criminalize the mere publication of classified or stolen documents is barred by the press freedom guarantee of the First Amendment, a proposition the DOJ has never wanted to test; second, no DOJ has wanted as part of its legacy the creation of a precedent that allows the U.S. Government to criminally prosecute journalists and media outlets for reporting classified documents.

But the Trump administration has made clear that they have no such concerns. Quite the contrary: last April, Trump’s then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo, now his Secretary of State, delivered a deranged, rambling, highly threatening broadside against WikiLeaks. Without citing any evidence, Pompeo decreed that WikiLeaks is “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia,” and thus declared: “we have to recognize that we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us.”..

But there seems little question that, as Sessions surely knows, large numbers of U.S. journalists – along with many, perhaps most, Democrats – would actually support the Trump DOJ in prosecuting Assange for publishing documents. After all, the DNC sued WikiLeaks in April for publishing documents – a serious, obvious threat to press freedom – and few objected.

And it was Democratic Senators such as Dianne Feinstein who, during the Obama years, were urging the prosecution of WikiLeaks, with the support of numerous GOP Senators. There is no doubt that, after 2016, support among both journalists and Democrats for imprisoning Assange for publishing documents would be higher than ever.

Greenwald added on Twitter: “It should take only the tiniest amount of rationality to understand the dangers to journalists from having the DOJ prosecute Assange for publishing classified or stolen documents. From the Pentagon Papers to the Snowden reporting to daily leaks, media outlets do that every day.”

Kevin Drum does not think there would be  much support for prosecution among journalists or Democrats:

I don’t have any independent knowledge of what will happen to Assange next, or whether he will indeed eventually be extradited to the United States. But I will say this. If the case brought against him is a fairly ordinary one of publishing classified material, I expect, contra Greenwald, that virtually no Democrats and absolutely no journalists will support the government’s case.¹ There would, unfortunately, probably be a few Democratic politicians who would cheer his prosecution, but even there I think (or hope, anyway) that their numbers would be small. If this case goes forward, I suppose it will be a good test of whose level of cynicism is currently best calibrated to the current mood of the American public.

¹The exceptions are likely to be nutballs like Breitbart or folks like that. Even Fox News would probably defend him against a straight-up publishing charge.

I agree that serious journalists will not support prosecution, but am not so sure about the Democrats. Again, as Greenwald pointed out, the DNC has already sued WikiLeaks for publishing documents obtained by others. Again, as Greenwald points out, this is a serious, obvious treat to press freedom.

Distorted Right Wing Attacks On Michelle Wolf–What She Really Said (Including Full Transcript)

Donald Trump has a long history of insulting anyone who displeases him, including the handicapped, immigrants, Muslims, and gold star families. He has quite frequently attacked the appearance of women. However, Trump cannot take it when he is the target of mere jokes. For the second straight year he was unwilling to attend the White House Correspondent’s Dinner. Conservatives who have often defended Trump’s attacks on others, responded by attacking Michelle Wolf. Frequently the attacks were not for her actual jokes but were based upon distorting what she actually said.

A satiric roast at a dinner such as this would be expected to be far harder on its targets than would be expected in normal political discourse. Comedians are expected to push the boundaries, cross lines, and make people feel uncomfortable. Jokes about Trump are naturally going to include lines about prostitutes and grabby pussy, because this is what Donald Trump, not Michele Wolf, brought to Washington.

Wolf’s actual jokes were far less offensive than many of the things we hear from Trump and his allies. As Wolf’s actual act was tamer than they are, the right attacked by distorting what she actually said. It was reminiscent of past attacks from the right on others such as David Letterman.

The main line of the attacks was to falsely claim that Wolf attacked Sarah Sanders’ looks. This falsehood was often spread by taking a line out of context, making it appear she was joking about Sanders’ eye as opposed to joking about her lying. Her full joke regarding this was, “I actually really like Sarah. I think she’s very resourceful. She burns facts, and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smoky eye. Like maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s lies. It’s probably lies.” Even quoted out of context, “smoky eye” is hardly a terrible attack.

Wolf did briefly mention Mitch McConnell’s neck and Christ Christie’s weight, but I haven’t seen complaints about these, and these are common laugh lines for the late night comics. The only woman whose looks were mocked by Wolf were her own, when she referred to her own frizzy hair and small tits.

Wolf was interviewed by NPR and defended what she said:

I think people have a lot of preconceived notions about Sarah’s looks and I think a lot of what’s happening is they’re projecting onto this joke. … I think it’s clear that the joke wasn’t about Sarah’s looks, but I don’t think — to me it’s so obvious that I don’t even really need to defend it. I think if you listen to the joke you’ll understand that it’s about the fact that she lies and if it’s taken another way I think you should go back and listen to it again. …

If there [are] two people that I actually made fun of their looks on Saturday it was Mitch McConnell and Chris Christie and no one is jumping to their defense. I made fun of Mitch McConnell’s neck and I did a small jab at Chris Christie’s weight and no one is jumping to their defense.

Late night comedians did come to her defense, including Stephen Colbert reliving his old conservative character:

“She is filthy and she is mean — which is what we love about her. Because those are wonderful qualities for comedians, and terrible qualities for free-world leaders.” — SETH MEYERS, comparing Michelle Wolf with President Trump

“Michelle should have had the decency not to comment on women’s appearances in any way, shape or form. She’s a comedian, for God’s sake, not the president.” — TREVOR NOAH

“This is the correspondents’ dinner, celebrating the freedom of speech; you can’t just say whatever you want!” — STEPHEN COLBERT

“I am so proud, right down to the breastbone, that the press is defending her despite the fact that her boss joked about throwing reporters in jail. That’s the kind of comedy the press likes!” — STEPHEN COLBERT, on Sarah Huckabee Sanders

The best defense of much of the criticism I’ve heard about the speech is to hear what she actually said. The video is above, and full transcript follows:

(more…)

US Ranking Falls On Press Freedom Index

The threats to freedom of the press under Donald Trump have led to Reporters Without Borders dropping the rating of the United States to 45th, continuing its downward trend. The United States previously finished No. 43 in 2017 and No. 41 in 2016. Even before Trump, they note restrictions in press freedom due to the prosecution of whistleblowers under the Espionage Act which predated his presidency.

From their report on the United States:

The United States’ ranking fell from 43 to 45 out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) 2018 World Press Freedom Index, continuing its downward trend in the first year of Donald J. Trump’s presidency. In contrast, its northern neighbor Canada gained 4 places due to steps taken to safeguard the confidentiality of journalists’ sources.

Donald Trump furthers First Amendment decline

In 2017, the 45th President of the United States helped sink the country to 45th place by labeling the press an “enemy of the American people” in a series of verbal attacks toward journalists, attempts to block White House access to multiple media outlets, routine use of the term “fake news” in retaliation for critical reporting, and calling for media outlets’ broadcasting licenses to be revoked. President Trump has routinely singled out news outlets and individual journalists for their coverage of him, and retweeted several violent memes targeting CNN.

The violent anti-press rhetoric from the White House has been coupled with an increase in the number of press freedom violations at the local level as journalists run the risk of arrest for covering protestsor simply attempting to ask public officials questions. Reporters have even been subject to physical assault while on the job.

Press freedom violations in the country of the First Amendment in fact have become so frequent of late that RSF joined a coalition of more than two dozen press freedom organizations to launch the US Press Freedom Tracker in August, which documented 34 arrests of journalists in 2017, the majority while covering protests (find out more on the tracker).

However, the Trump effect has only served to amplify the disappointing press freedom climate that predated his presidency. Whistleblowers face prosecution under the Espionage Act if they leak information of public interest to the press, while there is still no federal “shield law” guaranteeing reporters’ right to protect their sources. Journalists and their devices continue to be searched at the US border, while some foreign journalists are still denied entry into the US after covering sensitive topics like Colombia’s FARC or Kurdistan.

The US’ decline in press freedom is not simply bad news for journalists working inside the country; the downward trend has drastic consequences at the international level. “Fake news” is now a trademark excuse for media repression, in both democratic and authoritarian regimes. Democratic governments from several countries in the Organisation of East Caribbean States (OECS), have adopted Trump’s favorite phrase when criticizing the work of journalists. Given that criminal defamation still remains on the books in many Caribbean countries, the spread of Trump’s anti-media rhetoric could have very serious consequences for the local press.

Norway and Sweden were ranked at the top for press freedom for the second straight year. North Korea, Eritrea, Turkmenistan, Syria and China were at the bottom. The report also mentioned the impact of strongmen such as Vladimir Putin:

The Index also reflects the growing influence of “strongmen” and rival models. After stifling independent voices at home, Vladimir Putin’s Russia (148th) is extending its propaganda network by means of media outlets such as RT and Sputnik, while Xi Jinping’s China (176th) is exporting its tightly controlled news and information model in Asia. Their relentless suppression of criticism and dissent provides support to other countries near the bottom of the Index such as Vietnam (175th), Turkmenistan (178th) and Azerbaijan (163rd).

I noted last week how Edward Snowden had joined civil liberties organization in condemning restrictions on free communications in Russia. In a recent interview, Ed Schultz argued that Russia Today provides him with more independence than he had at MSNBC, which he says fired him for his support for Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton.

A Look At Bernie TV

While we don’t have Bernie Sanders in the White House, but we can see much more of him on line. New York Magazine has a feature on Bernie Sanders’s digital media empire. Here are some excerpts from a much longer article:

The Vermont senator, who’s been comparing corporate television programming to drugs and accusing it of creating a “nation of morons” since at least 1979 — and musing to friends about creating an alternative news outlet for at least as long — has spent the last year and a half building something close to a small network out of his office in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill…

Sanders hosts an interview show (“The Bernie Sanders Show”) that he started streaming over Facebook Live on a semi-regular basis after his staff got the idea in February of 2017 to film the senator chatting with the activist Rev. Dr. William Barber. After they posted that simple clip and it earned hundreds of thousands of views with no promotion, they experimented with more seriously producing Sanders’s conversation days later with Bill Nye.

The chat with the Science Guy ended up with 4.5 million views. Sensing an opportunity, the next day Sanders’s aides turned down multiple network TV requests and took his response to Trump’s first address to Congress directly to his Facebook page.

Things escalated. Audio recordings of his conversations, repackaged as a podcast, have since occasionally reached near the top of iTunes’ list of popular programs. Sanders’s press staff — three aides, including Armand Aviram, a former producer at NowThis News, and three paid interns — published 550 original short, policy-focused videos on Facebook and Twitter in 2017 alone. And, this year, he has begun experimenting with streaming town-hall-style programs on Facebook. Each of those live events has outdrawn CNN on the night it aired.

“The idea that we can do a town meeting which would get a significantly larger viewing audience than CNN at that time is something I would not have dreamed of in a million years, a few years ago,” Sanders says…

Sanders’s splashiest offerings are the spare 30-minute interviews with figures like Nye, Al Gore, and Bill de Blasio conducted in a small Senate studio. But the bulk of his programming are the short, tightly produced, and highly shareable videos that cover everything from Trump administration greed and lessons to learn from Canada’s health-care scheme to explainers from his staff (“John Bolton Should Scare Everyone,” says his foreign policy adviser in one recent offering) and real people’s straight-to-camera testimonials about their experiences with health care or tax systems. Only around one-quarter of the videos feature Sanders himself, though each is branded with his name…

As with everything Sanders does in the Trump age, the question his allies and enemies are now considering is what it all means if he runs for president again. Sanders would be 79 on Inauguration Day 2021, but he’s held rallies across the country since his last run, and he’s convened his top advisers to discuss what such a campaign would look like.

His newfound ability to reach masses of voters directly doesn’t explicitly play into his electoral considerations, Weaver told me. But it looms large: The political team’s major project since that race has been to maximize Sanders’s ability to drive his movement forward directly, whether it’s through his videos or Our Revolution, the post-campaign political group it started.

DNC Suit Against Wikileaks Is A Dangerous Attack On Freedom Of The Press

In 2016 the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton were exposed for undermining democratic principles by rigging the Democratic nomination and other acts of gross dishonesty. While there were many sources of information regarding this, email released by Wikileaks was instrumental in both verifying what was already suspected and providing new information. Rather than showing any remorse and instituting real reform, the Democratic Party has now initiated the absurd act of suing Wikileaks, Russia, and the Trump campaign based upon their unproven conspiracy theories that the 2016 election was stolen by these groups. In other words, the DNC is filing a lawsuit alleging damages because the truth about them was released by Wikileaks. The most alarming aspect is their attack on freedom of the press by including Wikileaks for publishing leaked or stolen emails provided to them.

This foolish action made the DNC the target of civil libertarians on a weekend in which Donald Trump was also attacking the press. The DNC is including Wikileaks in the suit not because of any claims that they had hacked the DNC, but purely because they posted email they received. Media organizations often publish stolen material and the DNC’s attempt to sue Wikileaks for doing is an attempt to intimidate the media for doing so. This includes The Pentagon Papers, The Panama Papers, and the revelations from Edward Snowden about NSA surveillance. The right of the media to publish stolen documents has been upheld by the Supreme Court.

As Glenn Greenwald and Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation wrote, “investigative journalism frequently entails media outlets receiving documents and other private information from people who have stolen them or otherwise broke the law to obtain and release them. To convert that into a legal transgression or part of an unlawful racketeering plot – as the DNC lawsuit seeks to do – is to turn a core part of journalism into something illegal.” They also noted:

Even WikiLeaks’ most devoted critics and enemies are constrained to acknowledge that WikiLeaks’ publications in general – and their disclosure of at least some of the DNC and Podesta emails in particular – informed the public about matters legitimately in the public interest. That’s why literally every major media outlet reported on their contents, why those documents forced the resignation of five top DNC officials and the firing of a CNN commentator, and why the DNC itself believes, as evidenced by this lawsuit, that it changed perceptions of Hillary Clinton.

For an entertaining history on this history in which the Supreme Court upheld the right of newspapers to publish stolen documents watch the recent movie The Post. To use an analogy to The Pentagon Papers, the DNC is not only suing what might be the equivalent of Daniel Ellsberg for stealing the papers, but also suing those in the position of The New York Times and The Washington Post (in the pre-Bezos era).

Is this really the position the DNC desires to be in if they want to have any hope of rebuilding bridges with the left? The Democrats have been the villains of this story. Their attempts to portray themselves as the victims, as opposed to cleaning up the party and embracing reform, is counterproductive if they hope to ever regain the trust of many on the left.

Democratic opposition to the publication of email which exposes the unethical actions of the DNC is also rather hypocritical considering that most of them have probably cheered on Rachel Maddow for airing information on leaked tax returns from Donald Trump.

Wikileaks has been victorious in previous cases in which claims that they were involved in the theft of documents they posted. They have also been the target of Democrats in the past, including several false claims about them from Hillary Clinton.

Wikileaks has responded to this suit stating in a Tweet stating, “As an accurate publisher of newsworthy information @WikiLeaks is constitutionally protected from such suits.” They are also requesting contributions for a counter-suit: “Help us counter-sue. We’ve never lost a publishing case and discovery is going to be amazing fun.”

There are also questions regarding the validity of other aspects of the suit. The generally pro-Democratic blog Vox writes:

…there were many hacks and claims of hacks during 2016, and it hasn’t yet been shown whether any of these Trumpworld and Russia contacts involved coordination on the DNC email leak itself, or even whether any cooperation effort between Trump’s team and Russia involving hacked material did materialize.

The DNC may well be hoping to use this new suit to surface more evidence of this, should it proceed to the discovery stage — but as of now, they don’t have the goods on any Trumpworld involvement with the hack and leak that damaged Democrats specifically.

Slate points out that, “Russia and WikiLeaks are unlikely to cooperate with a U.S. civil proceeding.” They also note that, “The DNC’s evidence of Trump participation in the scheme is limited to suggestive but not conclusive information that has already appeared in media reports.” They questioned the point of this suit, which appears to be primarily a stunt, when these matters are already under investigation by Robert Mueller (and we have yet to see evidence to support many of the claims coming from the DNC). They also noted that some Democrats questioned spending money on this during a conference call reviewing the suit. Slate was not impressed with the response from the DNC:

“We’re not getting into costs regarding this litigation” is not the kind of thing you say, in my opinion, when you are really confident that you are spending your donors’ money wisely during a crucial election year!

Ed Schultz Says MSNBC Fired Him For Supporting Sanders And Suppressed Coverage Of Sanders

During an interview last week, Ed Schultz said he was fired from MSNBC due to his support for Bernie Sanders. As should not come as a surprise to anybody, Schultz also said that MSNBC was “in the tank for Hillary Clinton.”

Schultz discussed how MSNBC tried to suppress coverage of Bernie Sanders. Schultz had planned to cover Sanders’ campaign launch on May 26, 2015 but was told five minutes before air time by MSNBC President Phil Griffen and told, “You’re not covering this.”

Schultz described Griffin as “a watchdog” and said that Griffin exercised considerable control over what he could report at MSNBC. Schultz had a far more favorable description of RT, where he currently anchors a show, saying that RT has not attempted to control what he says as MSNBC had. He said that MSNBC had suppressed coverage of Sanders until he was doing too well in the race to ignore.

Schultz further discussed how the Democratic nomination was rigged for Clinton, and how MSNBC assisted her:

“I think the Clintons were connected to [NBC News chief] Andy Lack, connected at the hip,” Schultz said. “I think that they didn’t want anybody in their primetime or anywhere in their lineup supporting Bernie Sanders. I think that they were in the tank for Hillary Clinton, and I think that it was managed, and 45 days later I was out at MSNBC.”

“I thought it stunk,” he added.

This pro-Clinton bias was not limited to NBC and MSNBC. Schultz also noted how Democratic National Committee member Donna Brazille, formerly at CNN, had leaked debate questions to Hillary Clinton.

Firing Ed Schultz was only part of MSNBC’s attack on the left, and failure to follow journalistic standards, out of their support for Clinton. Immediately after the election stories on MSNBC were blaming Jill Stein for Clinton’s loss. This was based upon the false argument that Stein’s voters would have voted for Clinton if Stein was not on the ballot. (Personally I would have voted for another anti-war candidate such as Gary Johnson as opposed to voting for a warmonger such as Clinton if Stein was not on the ballot–and there is evidence that Clinton’s pro-war views harmed her in the election). They also ignored the much larger number of former Obama voters who voted for Trump as opposed to Clinton in 2016.

MSNBC has subsequently been pushing Clinton’s unproven claims blaming Russia for her loss. FAIR.org (Fairness And Accuracy in Reporting) has criticized their reporting on Russia. MSNBC has also been caught misrepresenting testimony from the Department of Homeland Security to promote conspiracy theories that Russia was responsible for Trump beating Clinton.

A portion of the interview with Ed Schultz is in the video above and the full podcast is available here.

Homeland Security Plans To Compile Database Of Journalists and Bloggers

The Department of Homeland Security wants to start monitoring “media influencers” according to a report at Bloomberg Law:

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security wants to monitor hundreds of thousands of news sources around the world and compile a database of journalists, editors, foreign correspondents, and bloggers to identify top “media influencers.”

It’s seeking a contractor that can help it monitor traditional news sources as well as social media and identify “any and all” coverage related to the agency or a particular event, according to a request for information released April 3.

The data to be collected includes a publication’s “sentiment” as well as geographical spread, top posters, languages, momentum, and circulation. No value for the contract was disclosed.

“Services shall provide media comparison tools, design and rebranding tools, communication tools, and the ability to identify top media influencers,” according to the statement. DHS agencies have “a critical need to incorporate these functions into their programs in order to better reach federal, state, local, tribal, and private partners,” it said.

The DHS wants to track more than 290,000 global news sources, including online, print, broadcast, cable, and radio, as well as trade and industry publications, local, national and international outlets, and social media, according to the documents. It also wants the ability to track media coverage in more than 100 languages including Arabic, Chinese, and Russian, with instant translation of articles into English.

This  might be yet another over-reaction to the Russia hysteria. Forbes add:

DHS says the “NPPD/OUS [National Protection and Programs Directorate/Office of the Under Secretary] has a critical need to incorporate these functions into their programs in order to better reach Federal, state, local, tribal and private partners.” Who knows what that means, but the document also states the NPPD’s mission is “to protect and enhance the resilience of the nation’s physical and cyberinfrastructure.”

That line makes it sound as if the creation of this database could be a direct response to the rampant allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election — though President Donald Trump, who has normalized the term “fake news,” can’t seem to decide whether that’s even an issue or not.

There is no word as to what they plan to do with this information, but this appears to be a far greater threat to our democracy than the lame Facebook ads purchased by Russians.

Mike Allen Provides Clue Regarding Mueller Investigation Which Further Casts Doubt On Democratic Conspiracy Theories About Election

As was revealed in Shattered, within twenty-four hours of losing the election, Hillary Clinton decided to blame others such as Russia for her loss to Donald Trump. Polls such as a recent YouGov survey show that a strong majority of Democrats continue to believe the claims of a conspiracy between Donald Trump and Russia which altered the election despite the lack of any evidence for this after over a year of investigations. The evidence available so far suggests that the investigation is moving in a different direction. Mike Allen of Axios posted A huge clue about Mueller’s endgame:

Axios has learned that special counsel Robert Mueller has focused on events since the election — not during the campaign — in his conversations with President Trump’s lawyers. The top two topics that Mueller has expressed interest in so far: the firings of FBI director James Comey and national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Why it matters: That suggests a focus on obstruction of justice while in office, rather than collusion with Russia during the campaign. But both sagas are interwoven with Russia: Trump himself has linked Comey’s firing to Russia, and Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations with the Russian ambassador during the transition.

This has actually been clear for quite a while. Mueller’s indictments have primarily involved matters such as money laundering, tax fraud, and obstruction of justice. The only indictments which related to the 2016 election campaign involved indictments of Russians for violation of federal election finance laws and identify theft. The indictments did not involve actions which either altered the election results or which indicated any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Those indictments involved social media activities which did not appear to have any meaningful impact on the election results.

Many others, such as here and here, have also been writing, contrary to the hysteria coming from cable news, that this scandal is primarily about financial crimes and their cover-up, not altering the election results. Michael Wolf, author Fire and Fury, has also said that the scandal is about money laundering, not collusion with Russia regarding the election. It is significant that Axios has added to his. That is because Mike Allen is well-connected, and  his voice will carry weight with many in the mainstream media. This could be the start of a trend towards looking at the scandal more objectively by others in the press.

Throughout the investigation there have been signs of the direction Mueller is going, including in his indictments and the types of attorneys he has hired. Other evidence goes along with Allen’s view that his focus is on “obstruction of justice while in office, rather than collusion with Russia during the campaign.” While this is still somewhat speculative, I wonder, based upon the recent request for business documents from the Trump Organization, if the focus on events since the election could also include the unprecedented conflicts of interest between Trump’s role as president and his business dealings, including his dealings with Russian oligarchs.

Rational Voices In Response To Recent Charges Of Russian Assassination By Poisoning And Infiltration Of The Power Grid

Before the 2016 election I feared that a Clinton presidency would turn Democrats into a pack of neocon warmongers and we would see attempts to limit free speech in protest. What I didn’t anticipate was that her loss would do the same thing. Democrats are spreading hysteria about Russia which is comparable to the misinformation spread about Iraq in the run up to that war. Many Democrats are spreading claims which are not supported by either the Congressional investigations or the information in Robert Mueller’s indictments. Many are adopting McCarthyist tactics to attack those who attempt to question their misinformation, failing to understand that debunking false claims about Russia no more makes one pro-Putin than debunking false claims about Iraq and WMD made one pro-Saddam. Fortunately there are still some sane voices in the world. Today I will look at responses to the Russian assassinations in London and to the reports of Russian infiltration of the power grid.

For the sake of discussion I am assuming that the accusations made regarding these two events are true, but we must keep in mind that repeatedly there have been examples of accusations being made, the claims later being retracted, yet many people continued to spread the false claims. This includes the  retracted claims of agreement by seventeen intelligence agencies agreeing when in reality all that existed was a fact-free assessment by a small number of anti-Russian individuals in the intelligence community. NBC has repeatedly raised the debunked claims of Russian hacking of our voting systems. Previous claims that the Russians infiltrated the electrical grid in Vermont were later retracted. Many Democrats act as if collusion between Trump and Russia has been established, and that Russia altered the election results, when there is no evidence of either, and no charges that this was done in any of Robert Mueller’s indictments to date.

While leaders of the Democratic Party in the United States are spreading anti-Russian hysteria, primarily to avoid responsibility for nominating a candidate so terrible that she could not even beat Donald Trump, the leader of the Labour Party in the UK sounds far more rational. Jeremy Corbyn has this op-ed in The Guardian in response to the recent poisonings in London:

As I said in parliament, the Russian authorities must be held to account on the basis of the evidence, and our response must be both decisive and proportionate. But let us not manufacture a division over Russia where none exists. Labour is of course no supporter of the Putin regime, its conservative authoritarianism, abuse of human rights or political and economic corruption. And we pay tribute to Russia’s many campaigners for social justice and human rights, including for LGBT rights.

However, that does not mean we should resign ourselves to a “new cold war” of escalating arms spending, proxy conflicts across the globe and a McCarthyite intolerance of dissent. Instead, Britain needs to uphold its laws and its values without reservation. And those should be allied to a foreign policy that uses every opportunity to reduce tensions and conflict wherever possible…

There can and should be the basis for a common political response to this crime. But in my years in parliament I have seen clear thinking in an international crisis overwhelmed by emotion and hasty judgments too many times. Flawed intelligence and dodgy dossiers led to the calamity of the Iraq invasion. There was overwhelming bipartisan support for attacking Libya, but it proved to be wrong. A universal repugnance at the 9/11 attacks led to a war on Afghanistan that continues to this day, while terrorism has spread across the globe.

The continuing fallout from the collapse of the Soviet Union and the virtual collapse of the Russian state in the 1990s must be addressed through international law and diplomacy if we are to reverse the drift to conflict.

Right now, the perpetrators of the Salisbury attack must be identified and held to account. Only through firm multilateral action can we ensure such a shocking crime never happens again.

Just as we should work to ensure that such a crime never happens again, we should work to increase cyber-security, including security for the electrical grid. Philip Bump, who previously added some sanity to the claims that Russian altered the election by using social media, now is looking at the facts regarding the electrical grid. He wrote a column entitled Why Russian hackers aren’t poised to plunge the United States into darkness:

The natural question that emerges is: How serious is this hacking? The idea of Russian hackers having access to the control switches of America’s power infrastructure is particularly unnerving, raising the idea of waking up one morning to learn that the United States has simply been switched off.

Several experts who spoke with The Washington Post, though, explained that this is not only oversimplistic but also that it is almost certainly impossible. The effects of infiltration of America’s power grid would be much more geographically limited thanks to the distributed, redundant nature of the system.

In fact, it’s more than a little like another alert issued by the government about Russian infiltration efforts: the one on Oct. 7, 2016, warning about Russian efforts to tamper with state voting systems.

That announcement came from the director of national intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security and indicated that Russian hackers were “scanning and probing” election-related systems. The message, one of the few public responses to Russian interference from the Obama administration, didn’t get as much play as it might have, given that it came out the same day as The Post published the “Access Hollywood” tape.

Meaning that the caveats in the announcement — that our voting mechanisms were protected by being disconnected from the Internet during the election, by being distributed throughout thousands of counties and by having after-the-fact statistical checks on accuracy — weren’t really absorbed. The idea that Russian hackers might have significantly altered election results in 2016 persists out of a misunderstanding of how remarkably hard it would be to subvert the process, particularly without being noticed…

…this damage would be localized. Perhaps, Bauch said, a hacker who’d gained access to a regional power provider or generation system might be able to knock out power to tens or hundreds of thousands of people at a time. That would be significant, but it’s not taking out the whole grid. Attacking multiple providers across the country at specific times of vulnerability — like on a hot day in the west when power supplies are strained — could multiply those effects. But it would require a significant amount of planning, coordination and access to have an impact on a massive scale…

Thanks to the distributed nature of our elections and the barriers to changing votes, hacking our elections is trickier than most people realize. Thanks to the distributed and often disconnected nature of our electrical system and the barriers to accessing it, the same can be said of hacking the grid…

It’s a serious situation, warranting the sort of dramatic response we saw from the government on Thursday. But do not expect to wake up some day soon and learn that Russian President Vladimir Putin now controls the flow of electricity to your house. Real life, as always, is less dramatic than the movies.

Bump has a lot more detail in his full article, including the belief that Russian hackers gained access through spear-phishing. While there is controversy over whether the DNC’s email was released to Wikileaks due to hacking or a leak from the inside, the possibility has also been raised that access to the DNC’s email was through spear-phishing. We would be much safer if the media and politicians spent half the time they spend on misleading stories about Russia to better educate the public about how to respond to such attempts to gain access to our computer systems.

Editor Of Politico Magazine Expresses Skepticism Over Russiagate Conspiracy

Since the “Russiagate” investigations began, there has been evidence of money laundering and other financial crimes by Donald Trump and his cronies. There has been evidence of attempts to cover this up. There has been evidence of Russians violating federal election laws and even identity theft in the latest indictments. The one thing there has been no evidence of, and some evidence contradicting, have been the claims from many Democrats that the 2016 election results were changed due to collusion between Donald Trump and Russia.

There have been multiple false media stories, such as the one discussed here, suggesting that far more has gone on than there is evidence for. FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting) has even criticized MSNBC for their coverage of Russia. There has also been evidence, such as with the Trump Tower meeting that Trump (or at least members of his family) were willing to collude with Russia, but no evidence of actual collusion occurring.

With so much of the media feeding into the Russia hysteria, it is good to see that there have been major exceptions. I’ve previously noted some here and here. Michael Wolff, author of Fire and Fury, has also been arguing against this conspiracy theory.  Blake Hounshell, editor in chief of Politico Magazine has posted another, entitled Confessions of a Russiagate Skeptic–Why I have my doubts about whether Trump colluded with Moscow. Here is an excerpt:

I keep coming back the slapdash nature of Trump’s 2016 operation, and the chaos and dysfunction that everyone who covered that campaign saw play out each day. Like the Trump White House, the Trump campaign was a viper’s nest of incompetence and intrigue, with aides leaking viciously against one another almost daily. So much damaging information poured out of Trump Tower that it’s hard to believe a conspiracy to collude with Moscow to win the election never went public. If there was such a conspiracy, it must have been a very closely guarded secret.

Then there’s the Trump factor to consider. Here’s a man who seems to share every thought that enters his head, almost as soon as he enters it. He loves nothing more than to brag about himself, and he’s proven remarkably indiscreet in the phone calls he makes with “friends” during his Executive Time—friends who promptly share the contents of those conversations with D.C. reporters. If Trump had cooked up a scheme to provide some favor to Putin in exchange for his election, wouldn’t he be tempted to boast about it to someone?

And there are aspects of the Russia scandal, too, that don’t quite add up for me. Take Flynn’s plea bargain. As Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, noted after the deal became public, prosecutors usually prefer to charge participants in a conspiracy with charges related to the underlying crime. But Flynn pleaded guilty only to lying to the FBI, which Bharara surmised suggests might mean Mueller didn’t have much on him. It certainly seems unlikely that any prosecutor would charge Flynn for violating the 219-year-old Logan Act, a constitutionally questionable law that has never been tested in court, for his chats with the Russian ambassador. It’s not even clear if the (stupid) idea of using secure Russian communications gear, as Flynn and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner reportedly considered doing, would have been a crime.

Then there is Papadopoulos, the hapless campaign volunteer who drunkenly blabbed to the Australian ambassador to London that the Russians were sitting on loads of hacked emails. He, likewise, confessed only to lying to the FBI. Papadopoulos desperately tried to arrange meetings between Trump or top Trump officials and Russians, which apparently never happened. Papadopoulos has been cooperating with Mueller for months, but how much does he really have to offer? He seems like an attention-seeking wannabe—the kind who puts “Model U.N. participant” on his resume.

Speaking of attention-seeking wannabes, Carter Page was another volunteer campaign adviser who was enthusiastic about collaborating with Russia. His writings and comments suggest he has been a Putin apologist for years. But anyone who has seen Page’s TV interviews or read through his congressional testimony can tell that there’s something not quite right about him. He’s apparently broke, doesn’t have a lawyer, and has issued lengthy, bizarre statements comparing himself to Martin Luther King, Jr. Back in 2013, when a Russian agent tried to recruit Page, he described him as too much of an “idiot” to bother with. This is the mastermind of the Russia scandal?

As for Manafort and Gates, the charges against them are serious and detailed. They stand accused of failing to register as foreign agents for their overseas work, as well as various offenses related to money laundering. But Mueller has yet to charge them with any crimes related to their work on the Trump campaign. Gates is reportedly working out a cooperation deal with Mueller’s team—perhaps he has stories to tell. And we can’t rule out the idea that Mueller is prepared to file superseding charges against either or both of the two men. But so far, their alleged crimes seem unrelated to 2016.

As Hounshell noted, “Papadopoulos desperately tried to arrange meetings between Trump or top Trump officials and Russians, which apparently never happened.” If Trump and Putin were colluding together, why would there have been the need to arrange such a meeting? Hounshell also noted the attempts by Flynn and Jared Kushner to open back channel communications with Russia after the election. If the Trump campaign and Russia were colluding, wouldn’t there have already been some method for them to communicate before the election?

Elsewhere in the article, in a different context, Hounshell noted when Trump quipped,  “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” While this indicates a rather flippant attitude towards colluding with Russia, this again raises the question of whether Trump would have had a better way to make a request of Putin if the two were already colluding together.

It is impossible to prove a negative, and we don’t know what information will come out in the future. However, over a year since some Democrats started claiming that it was a fact that the election was stolen from Hillary Clinton due to collusion between Trump and Putin, with Clinton denying the legitimacy of the election, no evidence of this has yet to be provided. On the other hand, there is evidence that Hillary Clinton decided within twenty-four hours of the election to blame others such as Russia in an attempt to escape the blame for her loss. It was also revealed that Clinton and the DNC had funded the Steele Dossier, which was previously used as a reason for the investigation, and attempted to cover up their roles.