Senate To Investigate Alleged Ties Between Trump And Putin

The Hill  and Politco report that the Senate Intelligence Committee is going to probe the alleged connections between Donald Trump and Russia. As long as it is a real investigation, and not a coverup or witch hunt depending upon party affiliation, I’m all for investigating. I’ll go with whatever the facts show. I could be wrong, but at the moment I question if the Russia claims are the new Benghazi.

There is a tendency of people to believe negative things they hear about politicians they do not like. Sometimes they are true, and sometimes they are not. While I do not like Hillary Clinton, and have discussed at length many of the valid criticisms of her, I never bought into many of the claims ranging from Vince Foster to Benghazi. Turning on Fox (which I can only handle in brief spurts) demonstrates that many on the right still believe these things. Despite all the conspiracy theories, multiple investigations have shown that most of what conservatives claimed about Benghazi was false. All that is left is the possibility that Clinton might have involved in spinning the explanation for the attack after the fact based upon what sounded best politically, and it is also possible we were just seeing confusion from the fog of war as opposed to intentional deceit.

I don’t like Trump any more than I like Clinton, and there is also considerable valid criticism of him, but the material recently released regarding Trump’s alleged Russian ties has the same smell of bullshit as that which surrounded Benghazi. Claims of Russian attempts to influence our election are probably valid, just as the United States (including Hillary Clinton) often tries to influence elections in other nations. Circumstantial evidence such as business ties between Trump and associates is insufficient to prove a wider conspiracy.

This all needs to be investigated, but any conclusions ultimately need to be based upon the facts, not whether you dislike Trump for other valid reasons. On the other hand, if there is valid evidence against Trump, this should not be ignored just because you dislike Hillary Clinton, also for multiple other reasons. If the claims are false, they should be demonstrated to be false, as opposed to hiding behind the vastly over-used term fake news.

Whatever the investigation finds, Russian interference is not the main reason Hillary Clinton lost. There are no credible allegations that Russia actually hacked the voting machines, or even faked email. The Wikileaks email was one of many factors which was damaging to the Clinton campaign, but ultimately this just provided evidence of dishonesty on the part of Clinton, and unfair intervention in the campaign by the DNC, which was already known. Similarly, it is foolish to blame James Comey for Clinton’s loss when it was Clinton who both violated the rules regarding handling of email (as documented in the State Department Inspector General report) and who handled classified information in a careless manner, placing her campaign in this situation. Hillary Clinton was the wrong candidate for Democrats to nominate, and she went on to run an inept campaign.

One negative to a two party election system is that some people come out of it seeing one side as good and the other side as bad. Both sides can be bad, and if we are unusually fortunate, perhaps some year we will have an election when both sides are good. Your enemy’s enemy is not necessarily your friend. Disliking Clinton is no reason to like either Trump or Putin, and all of Trump and Putin’s flaws do not make Hillary Clinton acceptable.

Donald Trump Hides Behind Claims Of Fake News To Attack News Media

Fake news has become a greatly overused expression. A few days ago Margaret Sullivan wrote that it is time to retire the term:

Faster than you could say “Pizzagate,” the label has been co-opted to mean any number of completely different things: Liberal claptrap. Or opinion from left-of-center. Or simply anything in the realm of news that the observer doesn’t like to hear.

“The speed with which the term became polarized and in fact a rhetorical weapon illustrates how efficient the conservative media machine has become,” said George Washington University professor Nikki Usher.

As Jeremy Peters wrote in the New York Times: “Conservative cable and radio personalities, top Republicans and even Mr. Trump himself . . . have appropriated the term and turned it against any news they see as hostile to their agenda.”

So, here’s a modest proposal for the truth-based community.

Let’s get out the hook and pull that baby off stage. Yes: Simply stop using it.

Instead, call a lie a lie. Call a hoax a hoax. Call a conspiracy theory by its rightful name. After all, “fake news” is an imprecise expression to begin with.

Of course it is not only Donald Trump and Republicans who rely on term. Hillary Clinton, once again oblivious to the First Amendment,  even called on Congress to take action against fake news which she saw as hurting her campaign. During the campaign, Carol Lee, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, pointed out how both Trump and Clinton are a threat to press freedom.

Donald Trump showed the problem with the term again today in refusing to allow a CNN reporter to ask a question, accusing them of spreading fake news. (The full text of the press conference can be found here.)

There were certainly a number of problems with the story as reported by Buzzfeed, alleging deep ties between Trump and Russia. There are grounds to question CNN’s reporting of the story, along with other stories, but this hardly justifies dismissing the network work as Trump did. Besides, Democrats have put up with far more objectionable reporting from Fox over the years out of respect for the First Amendment.

CNN released the following response:

CNN’s decision to publish carefully sourced reporting about the operations of our government is vastly different than Buzzfeed’s decision to publish unsubstantiated memos. The Trump team knows this. They are using Buzzfeed’s decision to deflect from CNN’s reporting, which has been matched by the other major news organizations.

We are fully confident in our reporting. It represents the core of what the First Amendment protects, informing the people of the inner workings of their government; in this case, briefing materials prepared for President Obama and President-elect Trump last week.

We made it clear that we were not publishing any of the details of the 35-page document because we have not corroborated the report’s allegations. Given that members of the Trump transition team have so vocally criticized our reporting, we encourage them to identify, specifically, what they believe to be inaccurate.

It would have been far better if Trump had responded to a question on his objections to the story at the press conference as opposed to handling it as he did.

Damon Beres commented on the irony of Trump’s complaint about fake news:

There are a number of arguments against BuzzFeed’s publication of the document. Chief among them: It’s a totally unverified report, yet, gets legitimized as a natural consequence of its distribution. There is no doubt that plenty of people who’ve seen these rumors spread, sans context, on social media, might take them as fact, sight unseen.

But to lump BuzzFeed’s coverage into the now overly-broad category of malicious “fake news” isn’t quite right, either.

Trump should know this better than most. His campaign disproportionately benefited from the spread of viral, fabricated stories during the election…

For Trump to put BuzzFeed on blast for propagating “fake news” is ironic at best, given what he’s reaped from the viral spread of legitimate misinformation. And it’s troubling for another reason: It gives people license to cry “fake news” when the media reports something they simply don’t like.

The term has arguably outlived its usefulness at this point, distorted as its definition has become. But “fake news” was originally intended as a label for online articles that deliberately misled for some secondary purpose—to profit or electioneer.

BuzzFeed’s publication of incendiary documents, heavily couched as unverified, was not “fake news.” It is real news about information that may not be true.

There’s a difference—a big one. And if we want a free press to continue working for the public, we’d do well to understand it.

Besides, there is no exclusion to freedom of the press listed in the First Amendment for fake news–something which both Trump and Clinton need to understand.

The primary topic of the press conference was to Donald Trump to present his response to concerns about conflicts of interest. The head of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) has called Trump’s plan “wholly inadequate.”

“The plan the president-elect has announced doesn’t meet the standards that the best of his nominees are meeting and that every president in the last four decades have met,” OGE Director Walter Shaub said during a speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

“Stepping back from running his business is meaningless from a conflict of interest perspective,” he said.

Following What Donald Trump Says And Tweets

The miracles of modern technology now provides a simple tool to keep up with everything Donald Trump has said on any topic. A searchable database can be found here which contains all of Donald Trump’s public statements, including tweets, videos, and material from his campaign website. This even includes deleted tweets, and an indication of the time since his last tweet. At present there are 2,457,084 total words, 254.3 hours of video, 30,379 tweets, and 153 deleted tweets. You are on your own to sort out the contradictions and absurdities.

They are testing the system with Donald Trump, with plans to possibly extend this to others in the future.

For those who prefer a more curated report on what Trump has said, or prefer a pro-Trump, source, there is always Fox. For a while, especially with Megyn Kelley there and Roger Ailes gone, it looked like there was a chance that Fox might be less partisan, or at least not be a pro-Trump organ comparable to the Bush years. While Megyn Kelley has her faults, she would at least present news critical of both Trump and Clinton during the presidential campaign–often making her preferable to both others on Fox, and to MSNBC during prime time. However, her time slot is now being given to Trump supporter Tucker Carlson.

The long term bias of Fox remains uncertain. Rupert Murdoch is more centrist and less partisan than Ailes, and tends to back the party in power. It is conceivable that he might support future Democratic administrations, or possibly even break with Trump, not having been so favorable towards Trump at times during the campaign.

Media Coverage Of Election News & Credibility Of Media Outlets

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A  report from Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy analyzed news coverage during the 2016 election found that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump received  coverage that was “overwhelmingly negative in tone and extremely light on policy.”

While supporters of either candidate can find plenty in the analysis to argue that their candidate was treated unfairly by the press, both candidates had such major negatives that this is not unexpected. While Clinton did receive more negative coverage, this was largely driven by a coverage of a scandal in progress. Both old news and news driven by Donald Trump’s bizarre acts did him almost as much harm.

Some are complaining about the amount of coverage of Clinton’s scandals, but Democrats should not be surprised that this would be the result of nominating a candidate in the midst of a major scandal. It was as if the Republicans had nominated Richard Nixon after the Watergate scandal broke. Clinton is the one who violated the rules in effect, and then repeatedly attempted to stonewall the press and lie about her actions. Therefore I am not impressed with the claims that there is a false equivalency between Clinton’s negatives and Trump’s. Democrats should have know better to nominate a candidate with the negatives of Hillary Clinton, which have been well known for quite a long time.

When both candidates are unfit to be president, that is precisely the message which should come from the media coverage. Arguments over which scandals are worse are secondary.

My complaint about media coverage pertaining to the email scandal is not the amount of coverage but that the media concentrated too much on the question of indictment for mishandling classified information, leading some Clinton apologists to mistakenly equate a lack of indictment with exoneration. While the more dramatic aspect, this was not the major issue.

This was far more a matter of government transparency, with the classified information only being one portion of the scandals. Rather than concentrate so much on the question of whether Clinton would be indicted, which I never thought was going to happen, more attention should have been paid to the State Department Inspector General Report which showed how Clinton violated the rules, tried to cover-up her actions, and failed to cooperate with the investigation.

It is typical for the media to concentrate more on negative aspects of candidates and on the horserace. In most years I would be more critical of the media for this, but this year the candidates are largely to blame. Donald Trump was generally contradictory and incoherent on most policy matters. Clinton would chose her policy views based upon what was most politically expedient that day, and avoided the media as much as possible. I would have liked to see the media cover issues more, but the media dislikes complex issues at any time. They are even less likely to discuss them when the candidates are rarely doing so in a coherent manner.

The media’s concentration on negative news does distort how some issues are seen. As the report noted: “Although the nation’s economy has steadily improved since the financial crisis of 2008, one would not know that from the tone of news coverage. Since 2010, news stories about the nation’s economy have been 2-to-1 negative over positive.” This did benefit an outsider and “change” candidate, but here too, the Democrats have only themselves to blame. They had a far stronger candidate in Bernie Sanders to capitalize on such feelings, but preferred to rig the system for the most anti-change establishment candidate possible.

The report also points out that “negative news erodes trust in the press, which is now at its lowest level in the history of polling.” This leads to consideration of a Morning Consult survey which looked at trust in the media, and broke it down on party lines. The results are summarized in this table:

media-credability

The major differences here are in how credible Fox is seen to be, with The Wall Street Journal showing a comparable but less severe partisan divide. Any consideration of the credibility of The Wall Street Journal should take into consideration the tremendous difference between its news pages and the opinion pages, which take far greater liberties with the truth.

There is far more agreement that I might have predicted with other news outlets. Democrats trust MSNBC more then Republicans, but the difference is not all that great.Both Democrats and Republicans rank Huffington Post and Breitbart fairly low, with some degree of the expected partisan difference. I find it encouraging that only 26 percent of Republicans find Breitbart to be credible, placing it below MSNBC, NPR, and Huffington Post. It is notable that Democrats find The Onion to be more credible than Beritbart, but Republicans do not.

FBI Twitter Feed Gone Rogue?

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Following the controversy regarding James Comey after last week’s announcement, there was a much stranger development as an FBI twitter feed started dumping links to a large amount of old material. This included material related to Donald Trump’s father and Bill Clinton’s controversial pardon of Marc Rich, along with a large amount of other material. Many pro-Clinton sites posted misleading accounts making it appear that the feed was releasing links related to Clinton alone.

While there were legitimate reasons for Comey to have sent the letter to Congress regarding new evidence related to Hillary Clinton’s email, there would be no legitimate reason to release information related to Bill Clinton’s pardon of Rich at this particular time. This is old news and the release could have been kept separate from the election. The question is whether this is an intentional attempt to harm Hillary Clinton or some sort of misguided release of large amounts of information to the public at an inopportune time.

If intentional, this would also strengthen an argument I previously made that Comey could not have avoided discussion of the resumption of the investigation into Hillary Clinton as it was likely the information would have come out regardless of what Comey had done.

The FBI has responded to questions regarding the Twitter releases with a statement: “Per the standard procedure for FOIA, these materials became available for release and were posted automatically and electronically to the FBI’s public reading room in accordance with the law and established procedures.” However, that does not explain the timing.

Think Progress reports that the FBI is initiating an investigation, as it should. It would be improper, and very likely a crime, if someone did release this old information now with the intent to affect the election.

Besides coming during the debate over Comey’s announcement, there are also a number of questions being raised about inside disputes between the Department of Justice and the FBI, reportedly with disagreements between career and political appointees as to whether Hillary Clinton should be prosecuted. This infighting includes  questions surrounding the Clinton Foundation in addition to the email scandal. While Clinton clearly violated the ethics agreements she entered into before being confirmed as Secretary of State, it is a different question as to whether her actions, and actions of others at the Foundation, could be successfully prosecuted. Bret Baier of Fox News claims that “sources in the FBI have told him that indictment is likely in the case of pay-for-play at the Clinton Foundation” unless prevented by the Justice Department. This cannot be independently verified.

Republican Convention Day 2: Republican Party And Their Chief PR Outlet (Fox) Both Self-Destructing

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey speaks during the second day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Tuesday, July 19, 2016. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

At the second night of the Republican Convention, low lights include Ben Carson comparing Clinton to Lucifer and Chris Christie holding a kangaroo court to convict Hillary Clinton. He was correct on some charges and incorrect on others. If Donald Trump wanted an attack dog as running mate, perhaps Christie should have been the choice. The New York Times has a different take on what Trump was looking for based upon when John Kasich was previously offered the job:

…according to the Kasich adviser (who spoke only under the condition that he not be named), Donald Jr. wanted to make him an offer nonetheless: Did he have any interest in being the most powerful vice president in history?

When Kasich’s adviser asked how this would be the case, Donald Jr. explained that his father’s vice president would be in charge of domestic and foreign policy.

Then what, the adviser asked, would Trump be in charge of?

“Making America great again” was the casual reply.

We don’t know how accurate this is or if the Trump camp made the same offer to Mike Pence, but it is consistent with how I think of Trump. I am not at all surprised that Trump would want to act out the role of President on television, and perhaps have the final say on some matters, but is not interested in the day to day hard work of the job. I’m not sure if this is good or bad. Presumably Pence would know better than to proceed with some of Trump’s strangest, and most unconstitutional, ideas. On the other hand, Pence is far more conservative in some areas where many question how conservative Trump really is, including social issues and foreign policy. It would be a good thing if Trump keeps Pence from meddling in matters such as abortion and gay rights, but there is no way to predict what will happen.

Trump’s convention entrance on Monday provided good material for the late night comics. Stephen Colbert used it inspire his entrance on the show last night.

Jimmy Fallon mocked the entrance, and then went on to give his version of Trump’s speech.

Stephen Colbert also had Melania Trump on to explain the plagiarism charges.

Ailes

As the Republican Party dies on national television, the head of the voice of the GOP, Roger Ailes, is also in serious trouble. Megyn Kelley has joined other women at Fox in accusing Ailes of sexual harassment, and the Murdoch family clearly appears to be siding with Kelley and the others making the accusations. I have long considered Ailes to be far more responsible than Rupert Murdoch for the extreme partisanship of Fox, and as Murdoch’s children are taking an increasingly more significant role in News Corp, we might be seeing the end of Fox as we know it. There is also speculation that some of Fox’s biggest names (i.e. idiots) might leave if Ailes leaves.

Sanders Beats Clinton Among Americans Abroad With 69 Percent Of Vote

Democrats Abroad

In order for Sanders to take the lead with elected delegates, he will need to win by margins exceeding sixty percent in the upcoming primaries. He did achieve this in the primary held by Democrats Abroad. (Or as Fox might report this, anti-American Democrats who moved to Socialist countries back Sanders.) The actual results:

In an unprecedented turnout, up 50% from 2008, 34,570 voters cast their ballots from over 170 countries all around the world, through in person voting, by fax, email, and post, and the results are as follows:

Bernie Sanders received 69% of the vote in the Democrats Abroad’s Global Presidential Primary, Hillary Clinton 31%.

Sanders picks up 9 pledged delegates as a result of the primary, while Clinton secures an additional 4 delegates.

Republicans do not allow comparable participation among Republicans living abroad.

Inspector General Report Indicates Clinton Had Highly Classified Email On Personal Server

Clinton Email

Intelligence Community Inspector General I. Charles McCullough III sent a letter to leaders on congressional intelligence committees last week indicating that the email on Hillary Clinton’s private server contained classified information including some on “special access programs,” which is classified above “top secret.”

The news report initially came from Fox in what was labeled as an exclusive report earlier today. Subsequently the report was verified independently by real news outlets including  CNN , CBS News, NBC News, and AP. CNN reported that, “A spokeswoman for the inspector general confirmed to CNN the report was accurate.” NBC News was among the news services which contained their own copy of the letter. They report:

Emails from Hillary Clinton’s home server contained information classified at levels higher than previously known, including a level meant to protect some of the most sensitive U.S. intelligence, according to a document obtained by NBC News.

In a letter to lawmakers, the intelligence community’s internal watchdog says some of Clinton’s emails contained information classified Top Secret/Special Access Program, a secrecy designation that includes some of the most closely held U.S. intelligence matters.

Two American intelligence officials tell NBC News these are not the same two emails from Clinton’s server that have long been reported as containing information deemed Top Secret.

While I would normally ignore reports from Fox, the independent confirmation from CNN and NBC News suggests that this aspect of the report should also be taken seriously:

Intelligence from a “special access program,” or SAP, is even more sensitive than that designated as “top secret” – as were two emails identified last summer in a random sample pulled from Clinton’s private server she used as secretary of state. Access to a SAP is restricted to those with a “need-to-know” because exposure of the intelligence would likely reveal the source, putting a method of intelligence collection — or a human asset — at risk. Currently, some 1,340 emails designated “classified” have been found on Clinton’s server, though the Democratic presidential candidate insists the information was not classified at the time.

“There is absolutely no way that one could not recognize SAP material,” a former senior law enforcement with decades of experience investigating violations of SAP procedures told Fox News. “It is the most sensitive of the sensitive.”

As I noted in a post with further information on the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email earlier this month, McClatchy has also reported that at least 1340 Clinton emails contain classified information.

This latest news, which could both be highly damaging to Hillary Clinton politically, and which could lead to criminal prosecution if she is treated the same as others who have mishandled classified information, comes when Clinton is facing additional bad news politically, with Bernie Sanders having erased her previous lead in Iowa.

Quote of the Day: Conan On How Fox Covers The Obamas

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For Christmas, The First Lady Michelle Obama said both her daughters asked for money. Or, as Fox News reported it, “Obama Gives More Handouts to the Unemployed.”  –Conan O’Brien

Quote of the Day: Seth Meyers On Bernie Sanders & Fox

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Bernie Sanders this weekend took his three grandchildren trick-or-treating in New Hampshire. Or as Fox News reported it, “Bernie Sanders Supports Handouts for the Unemployed.” –Seth Meyers