James Comey On The Investigation Of Hillary Clinton

After getting a copy of James Comey’s book, A Higher Loyalty, I couldn’t resist skipping past the material from earlier in his career and get to the sections on Clinton and Trump. His views of Trump and his reasons for his statements on Clinton have been dealt with in many media interviews over the past week, but I did find some selections worth quoting from Chapter 10, which deals with his investigation of Hillary Clinton.

The first section I’m quoting lays out the reasons for the investigation. This is important as Clinton apologists often claim that the lack of an indictment exonerates Clinton. The first problem with this is that the inclusion of classified material investigated by the FBI is only one aspect of the email scandal. The bigger scandals in terms of Clinton being unfit for the presidency were over her violating rules designed to promote transparency (after she accused members of the Bush administration who did far less of shredding the Constitution), her frequent lies to the press and the public over her email, and the question of whether the email which was destroyed contained evidence of her influence peddling at the State Department.  This section also notes that Colin Powell’s use of his AOL account was not relevant to the investigation, despite Clinton trying to use his actions as an excuse:

Though much has been made since of Hillary Clinton’s emails and the FBI’s investigation, the focus of the Bureau’s investigation is often lost. The criminal investigation was not centered on the fact that Secretary Clinton decided to use nongovernmental email to do her work. In an attempt to blur the seriousness of the case, her defenders often cite the fact that one of her predecessors, Colin Powell, also used nongovernmental email, in his case AOL, as if that were relevant to the investigation. In fact, it entirely misses the point. I have never seen any indication that Powell discussed on his AOL account information that was classified at the time, but there were numerous examples of Secretary Clinton having done so.

Our investigation required us to answer two questions. The first question was whether classified documents were moved outside of classified systems or whether classified topics were discussed outside of a classified system. If so, the second question was what the subject of the investigation was thinking when she mishandled that classified information.

Information is classified based on its potential for harm to the United States if it is disclosed. Information marked at the lower classification level of “Confidential” refers to information that can cause some damage to the security of the United States if released. Information labeled “Secret” refers to material expected to cause “serious” damage to national security. “Top Secret” information is material that, if disclosed, could be expected to cause “exceptionally grave” damage to the security of the United States. This system is enforced by a variety of possible administrative punishments, including possible loss of a person’s security clearance or loss of their job. For the most serious cases, criminal prosecution is a possibility. A variety of espionage statutes make it a felony to steal or to disclose national security information to people not permitted to receive it. Those statutes are used most often when someone is a spy or gives classified information to journalists for publication. More commonly used is a statute making it a misdemeanor—punishable by up to a year in jail—to mishandle classified information by removing it from appropriate facilities or systems. Even with the misdemeanor, the Department of Justice has long required that investigators develop strong evidence to indicate government employees knew they were doing something improper in their handling of the classified information.

In Secretary Clinton’s case, the answer to the first question—was classified information mishandled?—was obviously “yes.” In all, there were thirty-six email chains that discussed topics that were classified as “Secret” at the time. Eight times in those thousands of email exchanges across four years, Clinton and her team talked about topics designated as “Top Secret,” sometimes cryptically, sometimes obviously. They didn’t send each other classified documents, but that didn’t matter. Even though the people involved in the emails all had appropriate clearances and a need to know, anyone who had ever been granted a security clearance should have known that talking about top-secret information on an unclassified system was a breach of rules governing classified materials. Although just a small slice of Clinton’s emails, those exchanges on top-secret topics were, by all appearances, improper. Put another way, there were thirty-six email chains about topics that could cause “serious” damage to national security and eight that could be expected to cause “exceptionally grave” damage to the security of the United States if released. The heart of the case, then, was the second question: What was she thinking when she did this? Was it sloppy or was there criminal intent? Could we prove that she knew she was doing something she shouldn’t be doing?

It makes sense that Comey did not recommend prosecution–if you go by this standard. While Clinton did mishandle classified information (and had previously lied about this), I would agree that she did not intend to compromise the security of the United States. However, people lower than Clinton who had treated classified information in this manner would be far less likely to receive such consideration if investigated.

Further in the chapter there was more on his rational for not recommending prosecution:

Her actions in regard to her emails seemed really sloppy to us, more than ordinary carelessness. At one point the draft used the term “grossly negligent,” and also explained that in this case those words should not be interpreted the way a hundred-year-old criminal statute used the term. One part of that 1917 law made it a felony if a person “through gross negligence permits [classified material] to be removed from its proper place of custody or delivered to anyone in violation of his trust, or to be lost, stolen, abstracted, or destroyed.”

The history of that provision strongly indicated that Congress in 1917 meant the statute to apply only to conduct that was very close to willful—that is, driven by bad intent—and members of Congress who voted for it back then were very concerned that they not make merely careless behavior a felony. I was told that the Department of Justice had only charged one person under this statute since 1917—a corrupt FBI agent whose conduct was far worse than gross negligence—and no one had ever been convicted under it. This context strongly reinforced my sense that the statute simply did not apply in the Clinton email case and made use of the term “grossly negligent” inappropriate and potentially confusing, given the old statute. So I directed our team to consider other terms that more accurately captured her behavior. After looking at multiple drafts, I settled on “extremely careless” as the best way to describe the conduct.

Another section suggests that Comey handled Clinton with a different standard than the average person probably would have been treated:

By Clinton’s account, she was unsophisticated both about technology and security, used the personal account for convenience to avoid maintaining dual government and personal email accounts, and still didn’t consider the contents of the emails to be classified. Her lack of technological sophistication is evident in her memoir, What Happened, in which she seems to intimate that her private server in Chappaqua was protected from hacking because it was contained in a home guarded by the Secret Service. Hacking a server is done through the internet, not by breaking the glass in a basement window. She also said in her interview that she believed she and her staff had successfully “talked around” sensitive topics, a method of operating made necessary by the State Department’s poor communications infrastructure, which didn’t provide secure and reliable email and phone for her and her senior staff. There was some truth to this, but although frustrating to her team, it didn’t change the rules around classified information. Also in her interview, Clinton said she delegated the review and deletion of her emails to others, believed they were only deleting purely personal emails, and had no knowledge of any efforts to obstruct justice.

After discussion and careful review of her answers, there was nothing in her comments that we could prove was a lie beyond a reasonable doubt. There was no moment when investigators caught her in a lie. She did not at any point confess wrongdoing or indicate that she knew what she had done with her emails was wrong. Whether we believed her or not, we had no significant proof otherwise. And there was no additional work the investigators thought they should do. This case was done. Now the American people needed to know what the FBI had found.

We do know that the deleted email did contain non-personal material, such as discussions of Iraq and Libya, due to finding examples of deleted email from the other party involved. Imagine if you or I had email subpoenaed, reported that half was deleted because it was personal, and tried to explain this by saying we don’t understand computers and someone else had handled the deletions. I just don’t believe such excuses would be accepted from people not as powerful as Clinton.

Comey did not believe that Loretta Lynch was interfering with his investigation, but this passage shows she certainly did intercede to try to help Clinton’s reputation during the investigation (when she was also a candidate):

Attorney General Lynch agreed that it made sense to do that. But then she quickly added, “Call it ‘a matter.’”

“Why would I do that?” I asked.

“Just call it ‘a matter,’” came her answer.

It occurred to me in the moment that this issue of semantics was strikingly similar to the fight the Clinton campaign had waged against The New York Times in July. Ever since then, the Clinton team had been employing a variety of euphemisms to avoid using the word “investigation.” The attorney general seemed to be directing me to align with that Clinton campaign strategy. Her “just do it” response to my question indicated that she had no legal or procedural justification for her request, at least not one grounded in our practices or traditions. Otherwise, I assume, she would have said so.

The FBI didn’t do “matters.” The term means nothing in our language, and it was misleading to suggest otherwise. It was probably a mistake that I didn’t challenge this harder. But in that moment, I decided that her request was too frivolous to take issue with, especially as my first battle with a new boss. I also was confident the press, and the public, would totally miss the distinction between a “matter” and an “investigation” anyway. Maybe she knew that, too. I know the FBI attendees at our meeting saw her request as overtly political when we talked about it afterward. So did at least one of Lynch’s senior leaders. George Toscas, then the number-three person in the department’s National Security Division and someone I liked, smiled at the FBI team as we filed out, saying sarcastically, “Well, you are the Federal Bureau of Matters.”

I followed the attorney general’s direction at my regular quarterly press roundtable on October 1, 2015. When a reporter asked a question about the “investigation,” I replied that I was following it closely. I said I was confident we had “the resources and the personnel assigned to the matter, as we do all our work, so that we are able to do it in a professional, prompt, and independent way.”

I did what my boss ordered me to do. I said “matter.” As expected, the press uniformly missed the distinction and reported that I had confirmed the existence of an investigation. From then on, I called it by its true name—we had an open “investigation” and I wouldn’t comment on it any further. Until I had to, many months later.

Obama similarly tried to help Clinton:

Contributing to this problem, regrettably, was President Obama. He had jeopardized the Department of Justice’s credibility in the investigation by saying in a 60 Minutes interview on October 11, 2015, that Clinton’s email use was “a mistake” that had not endangered national security. Then on Fox News on April 10, 2016, he said that Clinton may have been careless but did not do anything to intentionally harm national security, suggesting that the case involved overclassification of material in the government. President Obama is a very smart man who understands the law very well. To this day, I don’t know why he spoke about the case publicly and seemed to absolve her before a final determination was made. If the president had already decided the matter, an outside observer could reasonably wonder, how on earth could his Department of Justice do anything other than follow his lead? The truth was that the president—as far as I knew, anyway—had only as much information as anyone following it in the media. He had not been briefed on our work at all. And if he was following the media, he knew nothing, because there had been no leaks at all up until that point. But his comments still set all of us up for corrosive attacks if the case were completed with no charges brought.

The other question commonly raised regarding the investigation is whether Clinton is justified in using the statements from Comey as an excuse for losing the election. While I am not getting into excerpts from Comey regarding his statements in this post, I did recently discuss why Clinton and not Comey is to blame for Clinton losing the election here.

Hillary Clinton Falls To New Low In Poll–Fewer Have Positive View Of Clinton Than Trump

The Democrats received an electoral gift in 2016 with an opponent as terrible as Donald Trump. They could have probably nominated a name taken at random from the phone book and beaten him. Instead the Democrats rigged their nomination for the one politician in American who was worse. Since losing the election, polls have repeatedly shown Clinton’s approval to be even lower than Trump’s atrociously low approval rating, and the streak continues. The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds those with a  positive view of Clinton at a new low of 27 percent, with Donald Trump at 35 percent.

The Wall Street Journal has this analysis:

Right before the election, the share of people who viewed Hillary Clinton unfavorably was 10 points larger than those with a favorable view of her, according to the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll — a bigger gap than any other recent losing presidential candidate. Our latest poll is a reminder of just how unusual a figure Mrs. Clinton is in terms of her unpopularity.

Historical WSJ/NBC polling shows that recent losing presidential candidates — Mitt RomneyJohn McCainJohn Kerry and Al Gore — experienced post-election declines in positive sentiment. But Mrs. Clinton’s dropoff is a bit steeper–her positive rating is at a new low of 27%, compared with 52% who have a negative opinion. That spread of 25 percentage points is greater than President Trump’s, who is under water by 18 points.

Her negative numbers make her something of a natural target for Republicans who want to associate their opponents with her as the party heads into a potentially difficult midterm election this fall. In doing so, they have managed to put some vulnerable Democrats in states Mr. Trump easily won, like Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Claire McCaskill of Missouri, on the defensive. That was driven home last month when Democrats took distance from comments Mrs. Clinton, attending a conference in India, made about middle-American Trump voters.

The question is how much of a factor she will really be in 2018. It’s important to keep in mind that “she’s not on the ballot,” Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted part of the April poll, told me. He said that there are many “ticked off Democrats who might not like her, but given [Mr. Trump is] the incumbent … he’s the focus of most of their anger.” People in our poll who view both Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton negatively help illustrate this thinking. In 2016, these voters — those who we negative on both Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton — preferred a Republican Congress; now, they, like other voters, say they prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress.

They are probably right that the key factor here is that Clinton is not on the ballot. Having Donald Trump in the White House will probably hurt Republicans far more this year than objections to Hilary Clinton. This poll should remind Democratic candidates of the need to keep Clinton away.

Clinton And Her Apologists Still Wrong In Blaming James Comey For Clinton’s Loss

There should be little controversy as to the main headline coming out of James Comey’s interview with George Stephanopoulos. Donald Trump is morally unfit to be president. The more questionable claims are coming from Clinton supporters who have used this as an opportunity to repeat the absurd claims that James Comey is responsible for Hillary Clinton losing the 2016 election. This is wrong on many levels.

The biggest problem with this is that James Comey would not have been investigating Clinton in the first place if she had not grossly violated the rules regarding the use of email, as was verified by the State Department Inspector General’s report, and  hadn’t handled classified information in a careless manner. The investigation further hurt Clinton as Comey’s report demonstrated that she had repeatedly lied in her public statements about the matter. This gave further credence to her reputation of both seeing herself above the  law and of being dishonest. She further hurt herself when she repeatedly lied about what James Comey had reported.

Hillary Clinton, not James Comey, is ultimately responsible for any problems caused by the email investigation. The Democratic Party also shares the blame after rigging the nomination for Clinton despite the evidence as to how weak a candidate would be (even beyond the ethical questions surrounding their behavior). This was like if the Republicans had nominated Richard Nixon after the public knew about Watergate.

It didn’t take much to see that a scandal of this magnitude could easily cost Clinton the election.This was obvious by March of 2015 when I had a post entitled, Clinton’s Use Of Private Email Suggests Democrats Need To Consider A Plan B For 2016. Instead of exercising common sense, or looking at the facts, many Democrats passed off lies about the scandal which were repeatedly being debunked by the major newspaper fact checkers. Instead of standing up for principle, many Democrats ignored the magnitude of Clinton’s unethical behavior with trite sayings like “but her email.”

The email scandal also highlighted Clinton’s long-standing weaknesses, including her dishonesty and acting like the rules which apply to everyone else do not apply to her. Clinton’s own serious negatives balanced out Trump’s negatives. Clinton’s personal views and record also hurt her, including her record on trade and on foreign interventionism.

The 2016 election was pretty close to a fifty-fifty election, with a close popular vote and an electoral college vote which could have gone either way. The problem for Clinton’s argument is that the race should never have been this close in an election against a candidate as terrible (and morally unfit) as Donald Trump. The polls showed that nominating Clinton, as opposed to another candidate such as Bernie Sanders, meant giving up about ten percent of the vote. That was a costly choice by Democrats.

David Axelrod responded to Clinton’s claims that Comey cost her the election last year:

“It takes a lot of work to lose to Donald Trump,” Axelrod told CNN on Wednesday. “Let me tell you, he was the least popular presidential candidate to win in the history of polling.”

…Axelrod called the 2016 race a “miserable slog” and said nobody in America wants to relive it “except the combatants who keep going back to it.”

“She has a legitimate beef because Comey’s letter was instrumental I think in her defeat, so in a narrow sense she is right about it,” Axelrod said.

“But Jim Comey didn’t tell her not to campaign in Wisconsin after the convention. Jim Comey didn’t say don’t put any resources into Michigan until the final week of the campaign,” he continued.

“And one of the things that hindered her in the campaign was a sense that she never fully was willing to take responsibility for her mistakes, particularly that server.”

Axelrod then offered a piece of advice for Clinton.

“If I were her, if I were advising her, I would say, ‘Don’t do this. Don’t go back and appear as if you’re shifting responsibility.’ … She said the words ‘I’m responsible,’ but the — everything else suggested that she doesn’t really feel that way,” he said.

“And I don’t think that helps her in the long run, so if I were her I would move on.”

Clinton was already in serious trouble, both due to her own personal faults and due to the terrible campaign she had run, in the final days of the election. The American Association for Public Opinion Research cast doubt on the effects of Comey’s letter in analyzing the late polls:

In its effort to explore reasons for the large percentage of late-deciding voters who chose Trump, the report examines a central Clinton claim: that FBI Director James Comey’s letter to Congress on Oct. 28 of last year, stating that the bureau had discovered additional evidence related to Clinton’s use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state, might have tipped the race.

The report does not find evidence the Comey letter was determinative.

“The evidence for a meaningful effect on the election from the FBI letter is mixed at best,” the report states, citing polls that showed Clinton’s support beginning to drop in the days leading up to the letter. “October 28th falls at roughly the midpoint (not the start) of the slide in Clinton’s support.”

Unfortunately there will continue to be Clinton apologists who will not face the fact that Clinton lost because of being a horrible candidate, who could not obtain a major party nomination for president in a fair campaign, and who went on to run a terrible campaign. Blaming others, whether it is James Comey, Russia, or any of the many others Clinton has tried to blame, does not change this.

Matt Taibbi Tries To Explain Why We Should Avoid War With A Nuclear Power

Add Matt Taibbi to those I mentioned yesterday warning about going to war in Syria. He has an article in Rolling Stone entitled,  If We’re on the Brink of War, the Fault Is Ours, Not Trump’s or Bolton’s.

So here we are, on the brink. Here’s Donald Trump’s tough-ass tweet about how he’s about to mix it up with both Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Russia’s Vladimir Putin:

Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!  –Donald J. trump 

The fate of humanity now rests in the hands of this Twitter-obsessed dingbat executive and his new national security adviser, John Bolton – one of the most deranged people to have ever served in the United States government, a man who makes Jeane Kirkpatrick look like Florence Nightingale.

With these two at the helm, we are now facing the imminent possibility of direct military conflict with a nuclear enemy. No one in the popular press is saying it, but there could easily be Russian casualties in Trump’s inevitable bombing campaign. Which will then put the onus on a third lunatic, Vladimir Putin, to respond with appropriate restraint.

Ironically, pretty much the only places where you will read today about the frightening possibility of Russian casualties are in military journals, in the nervous musings of Pentagon officials. Here and there you will see reports of concern about what might happen if we kill the wrong Russians, or the wrong quantity of Russians. One outlet calmly suggested the Russians might step up “harassment” of U.S. warplanes and outposts if we kill too many of theirs, as if this would not cause the whole world to soil itself in terror.

So to recap: the most terminally insecure president ever sits in the White House, advised by one of the most war-crazy hacks in the history of federal service, at the outset of a fully avoidable proxy war with an enemy that possesses thousands of lethal thermonuclear warheads aimed directly at us.

Bear in mind that virtually any exchange of nuclear missiles between these two countries would mean the absolute end of civilization. We could all, right now, be minutes away from the end of everything, especially given who holds the respective buttons.

Taibbi notes that there was hope for a different outcome:

But we had a head start in dodging the bullet with Trump, as one of the few not-terrifying qualities he demonstrated as a candidate was his seeming reluctance to get into unnecessary wars. Trump was specifically on record as wanting to “stay out of Syria.”

Taibbi notes that Trump’s isolationism was “at least partly insincere.” He also notes that, “unlike his racism and xenophobia and lack of sympathy for the poor – issues where there are obvious currents visible in what passes for his mind – Trump is highly suggestible in matters military.”

Unfortunately any attempts to influence Trump have been in the wrong direction:

As president, however, the one time he received praise from the Washington consensus was when he bombed Assad last year. You might remember that as the time when Fareed Zakaria gushed on CNN, “Donald Trump became president tonight,” and a tumescent Brian Williams countered by calling the bombs “beautiful” 8 times in 30 seconds, quoting Leonard Cohen as he said, “I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.”

Taibbi next showed several examples of Trump receiving criticism for talking about leaving Syria and many, including Democrats like Howard Dean, taking the wrong position. Taibbi wrote:

“Trump’s Syria Policy Isn’t Retrenchement, It’s Pandering,” sneeredForeign Policy.

“Chaos reigns with his president,” said Hawaii Democrat Mazie Hirono, calling the withdrawal plan “incoherent.”

Howard Dean, a man I once voted for because he at least tepidly opposed a pointless Middle Eastern war, decided to use this occasion to taunt Trump in schoolyard fashion.

“Why are you such a wimp for Assad and Putin?” Dean tweeted.

This is just one of the reasons why I am glad I did not trust or vote for Howard Dean in 2004.

Taibbi concluded by repeating the consequences of those who now advocate attacking Syria over the alleged poison gas attack:

One could maybe understand this attitude from millennials, who weren’t raised amid The Day After or “99 Luftballoons” or “1999” or Failsafe or Dr. Strangelove even, and have never experienced even fake angst about growing up under the specter of nuclear war. But all the preceding generations should know better. We all grew up aware it could all be over in a heartbeat.

This is probably the most serious showdown between nuclear powers since the Cuban missile crisis, or at the very least, the shooting down of Korean Airlines flight 007 in 1983.

The oft-derided Doomsday Clock, kept by the Union of Atomic Scientists, describes us as closer to nuclear war than at any time since 1953, when both the U.S. and the Soviet Union tested thermonuclear weapons for the first time. “The continued existence of urban, technological civilization will soon hang in a precarious balance,” the Scientists predicted then…

That Trump might forget the awesome danger of nuclear war is a given. The man is a fool. But what’s our excuse?

Taibbi’s Twitter page shows that many others are as foolish as Trump. For example: “Hacking our election was an act of war. No different than Pearl Harbor. I’d proudly fight if I were younger. Remember our Hillary!!! ”

Tabbi replied: “How do you think war with Russia goes? With rifles and bayonets, like at Iwo Jima? This is the nuclear age. In the best case, it’s a big noise, most everyone dies, and the lucky ones get fifty years of MREs.”

Remember Hillary? The ultra-hawk who is just barely less dangerous than John Bolton? She’s the one who supported Syria bombing last year, and who previously supported greater intervention in Syria, which would have placed us at considerable risk of confrontation with Russia. To compare trivial meddling in the election, which had no effect on the result, to Pearl Harbor is utterly insane. Yet many have been making exactly that comparison, or comparing it to 9/11.

Another uninformed reader tweeted, “Putin’s possession of nukes does not mean he intends upon using them or HAS THE CAPABILITY OF USING THEM. Putin actually believes his delivery systems are worthless for the exact same reason that i do. our missile defenses are much further developed than disclosed.”

Does anyone in their right mind really think that it is worth risking a nuclear attack?

As I tweeted and posted on Facebook: “My opposition to going to war with a nuclear power over inconsequential Facebook ads or even a suspected poison gas attack does not mean I support either Putin or Assad. It means I oppose the destruction of the earth in a nuclear holocaust.

Trump Remains In Legal Peril Regardless Of Whether He Is A Subject Or Target Of Mueller’s Probe

The Washington Post reports that Donald Trump is a subject, not a target of Mueller’s Probe. From their report:

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III informed President Trump’s attorneys last month that he is continuing to investigate the president but does not consider him a criminal target at this point, according to three people familiar with the discussions.

In private negotiations in early March about a possible presidential interview, Mueller described Trump as a subject of his investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Prosecutors view someone as a subject when that person has engaged in conduct that is under investigation but there is not sufficient evidence to bring charges.

The special counsel also told Trump’s lawyers that he is preparing a report about the president’s actions while in office and potential obstruction of justice, according to two people with knowledge of the conversations.

Mueller reiterated the need to interview Trump — both to understand whether he had any corrupt intent to thwart the Russia investigation and to complete this portion of his probe, the people said.

While some Trump supporters are taking this as vindication, it does not mean very much. I’ll start with the response from a conservative columnist to avoid questions of partisan bias. From Jennifer Rubin:

In other words, he is under investigation. On the way out the door after an interview with Mueller, he could be informed that he has just become a target. In other words, the “subject but not a target” designation is at best for Trump meaningless and at worst a sign he’s in jeopardy at any moment of becoming a target. There is a further complication here. Under the Justice Department’s current Office of Legal Counsel memo, a sitting president cannot be indicted; in other words, he cannot be charged — hence is not a target — until he leaves office. Jed Shugerman of the Fordham University School of Law agrees that, most likely, “all it means is Mueller probably has no intention of indicting a sitting president (who thus is not a target).”

The most frightening news for Trump (if he was paying attention) is confirmation that Mueller will write out a report, even before his full investigation is complete, likely making the case that Trump has obstructed justice. That could then be made public by Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein and used by Congress — in all likelihood only if Democrats win one or both chambers — to commence impeachment proceedings.

Trump might not be a target because Department of Justice policy is that a sitting president cannot be indicted. There is also no guarantee that Trump’s status will remain the same. Mueller could take Trump’s statement (in which it is very possible Trump will commit perjury), and then turn around and say that he is now a target. Even if Trump remains safe from being a target of criminal prosecution, this might only apply while he is still in office. If Mueller is planning to prepare a report which it sounds like could accuse Trump of obstruction of justice, this could also be used by Congress to both further investigate Trump and initiate impeachment proceedings. Of course this is unlikely to matter unless the Democrats take control of the House.

While there remains no  evidence to support Clinton’s claims of collusion between Trump and Russia which altered the election results, there are plenty of matters which could be uncomfortable for Trump, including  money laundering, tax evasion, and obstruction of justice. If Congress takes up such investigations, this could also lead to the public release of those tax returns which Trump has been trying so hard to hide.

More at Outside The Beltway, Vox, and Popehat.

More Evidence Facebook Helped Trump Beat Clinton, And It Had Nothing To Do With Russia

There has been a lot of question as to whether Russian  activities on social media were responsible for Donald Trump winning. This does not appear likely as the Congressional testimony revealed that information from Russian Facebook pages accounted for “less than 0.004 percent of all content — or about 1 in 23,000 news feed items” on Facebook. Over half the ads were not even seen until after the election, and many had nothing to do with promoting Trump over Clinton. The Russian purchased Facebook ads also targeted deep blue states over battleground states or the rust belt states which cost Clinton the election.

It is also questionable whether people changed their votes from arguments seen on social media, with many people seeking out similar viewpoints and resisting those they disagree with. If Facebook was a benefit to Donald Trump, it was probably due Facebook embedding their employees in the campaign to assist in the use of advertising, as I discussed in January. The Clinton campaign did not take advantage of such assistance, which was likely to be far more helpful to Trump than the amateurish Russian ads.

We have now learned more about how the Trump campaign utilized Facebook more effectively from a paper obtained by Bloomberg News:

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has boasted often that it made better use of Facebook Inc.’s advertising tools than Hillary Clinton’s campaign did. An internal Facebook white paper, published days after the election, shows the company’s data scientists agree.

“Both campaigns spent heavily on Facebook between June and November of 2016,” the author of the internal paper writes, citing revenue of $44 million for Trump and $28 million for Clinton in that period. “But Trump’s FB campaigns were more complex than Clinton’s and better leveraged Facebook’s ability to optimize for outcomes.”

The paper, obtained by Bloomberg and discussed here for the first time, describes in granular detail the difference between Trump’s campaign, which was focused on finding new donors, and Clinton’s campaign, which concentrated on ensuring Clinton had broad appeal. The data scientist says 84 percent of Trump’s budget asked people on Facebook to take an action, like donating, compared with 56 percent of Clinton’s…

Trump ran 5.9 million different versions of ads during the presidential campaign and rapidly tested them to spread those that generated the most Facebook engagement, according to the paper. Clinton ran 66,000 different kinds of ads in the same period.

Using Facebook more effectively is more likely to have helped than the Russian ads did. However, some will always find a way to get back to Russia. The article raises the question, “Did Russian operatives give the Trump campaign a list of names to include or exclude from advertising that was running on Facebook?” Based upon how amateurish the Russian ad campaign was, it is rather doubtful that Russia had such information. It is far more likely that other sources available to a political campaign provided any list of names. This could include sources normally available to major political parties, or possibly Cambridge Analytica.

SciFi Weekend: Agents of SHIELD and the MCU; Arrow; The Americans Return For Final Season; Hugo Award Nominees; Trish Walker Music Video From Jessica Jones

 

The last two episodes of Agents of SHIELD have been excellent, tying into the events of last season and fitting into the upcoming events in Avengers: Infinity War. This week’s episode, Rise and Shine, jumped back in time twenty-eight years to further tie HYDRA into the history of the MCU, including the upcoming war. TV Line has summarized Easter Eggs in the episode.

The episode did provide a compelling argument for SHIELD and HYDRA to unite, but I am appalled by HYDRA’s view on dogs. I am glad that General Hale put an end to that when it came to her daughter’s dog.

Earlier in the season I had heard speculation that SHIELD was moved into space and the future this season in order to avoid conflicting with Avengers: Infinity War. Instead they came back prior to the movie’s release, and are now tying into it. At WonderCon the showrunners gave a different reason for going into space:

Jed Whedon: Last year was a real kitchen sink year. We had a lot of stuff going on. We did alt world. We did Ghost Rider. We did LMDs. So we did two different versions of alternate versions of ourselves and so we were thinking ‘Where can we go that’s different.’

Maurissa Tancharoen: Mack’s line sort of reflects what we were thinking in the writer’s room. He turns to Coulson and goes ‘We’re in space. It’s the one thing we haven’t done yet.’ So it was definitely an area that we had been contemplating for a while.

In other words, they went into space as it is something they had not done before. Screen Rant suggests that they venture into alternate dimensions next season.

The future for the series is unknown. The show is on the bubble at ABC, and the season finale was written to be a series finale if the show is not renewed. Besides the usual factors involved in making such a decision, it is possible that the failure of Inhumans will give Disney reason to continue SHIELD with the absence of Marvel on ABC. This might not be enough with Marvel having shows on Freeform, Netflix, and Hulu.

Another factor is that Clark Gregg will be co-staring in Captain Marvel. As the movie takes place in the 1990’s, this will not conflict with his death in the Avengers movies. It does raise the question as to whether filming the movie would interfere with SHIELD returning. While they have been hinting at the possibility of Coulson’s death on SHIELD, which would bring the television show in line with the MCU, I doubt they would bring the show back without Clark Gregg.

The last two episodes of Arrow featured the return of Roy Harper and ended (spoilers) with Thea Queen leaving town with him. Many characters have left the show, and Thea did have a reduced role this year, but it was unexpected that they would eliminate one of the few remaining stars who have been with the show since the start.

Entertainment Weekly discussed the decision with Marc Guggenheim:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What came with the decision to write Thea off the show now and whose decision was it? 
MARC GUGGENHEIM: At the end of season 4, Willa had come to us and basically said that she would like some more time for herself, and would like to reduce her role on the show. And we did, we reduced the commitment that she was making to us in season 5, and carried that over in season 6. Season 6 is the end of her contract, and going into season 6, with all of us knowing it was the end of her contract, Willa expressed the desire to move on, not re-up. She expressed a desire to be written out at a certain time in the season, which is around episode 16, so we accommodated her on that front as well. Look, we love Willa, we love working with Willa, we love the character of Thea, we particularly have always loved Thea’s relationship with Oliver. That relationship is one of the things that we deviated from the comic book early on. It was one of the very first major creative decisions we made in terms of adapting the Green Arrow comic for live action television. So it’s always been an incredibly important, critical part of the show for us.

At the same time, this is what happens when a show goes past five years. Actors start to reach the end of their contracts, they start to look towards greener pastures or new opportunities. I think this is true across all the shows. We never wanna stand in the way of someone wanting to express themselves creatively in a different way, on a different show, or through a different medium. So we took Willa’s request and took it seriously, and decided “Okay, well, if this is the hand we’re dealt, how do we play it as best we can and write off Thea in the most emotional and interesting way possible?”

Instead of getting a happy ending, Thea has set out to right her father’s wrongs. Why was this the most fitting ending?
This was something that came out of the writers’ room and it excited us for a variety of different reasons. For one thing, we really like the idea of writing Thea off in a way that suggested a larger story for her. One could imagine us, at some point in some medium, exploring the story of Thea, Roy, and Nyssa working to find these other Lazarus Pits. We tend to, as writers, gravitate toward stories that suggest other stories. As a showrunner, I got enamored with the notion of writing out a series regular in a way that didn’t suggest the end of a story, but rather the beginning of a new one. That’s not something that you typically see. Normally when a character’s written off, a series regular’s written off, it always feels to me like an ending. Sometimes it’s a literal ending and you’re killing off the character, but a lot of other times it’s like, well they’re going off and just living a much quieter life and there’s no more story to tell about them. I really like the idea of actually going the opposite route and suggesting a greater and bigger story for Thea. I just think that’s both interesting and unexpected.

You’ve always said you didn’t want to kill Thea, but was that seriously considered? Were there alternate possibilities for Thea’s exit?
There were. We talked certainly about the low-hanging fruit of “Well, the simplest thing to do is bring Colton back and have her and Roy ride off into the sunset together,” sort of the way they do at the beginning of the episode. That to me was the obvious choice. That’s the thing that you would expect given the story that we’ve told with Roy and Thea since season 1. But because it’s the obvious choice, that was one of the first choices we immediately discounted, because we never wanna do something that’s so patently apparent. Killing her off was never on the table. I’ve always been very sincere and consistent in my view that Oliver just can’t lose his last remaining family member. So that was never even on the table.

Is there a chance we could see her on the show in the future? And will we get an update on the destruction of the Lazarus Pits, whether Thea returns or not?
Really, honestly, it’s totally up to Willa. One of the things that I love about Arrow — and I think this is true for the other superhero shows as well, but I think Arrow‘s really shown a capacity for it — is no one is ever gone. Even the characters who have been killed off are never gone. People can come back in a variety of different ways here. In Thea’s specific example, there’s a whole storyline left to explore. We haven’t started thinking about how to do it in season 7 or beyond. I think we know Willa’s just finished Arrow, she’s looking to see what other opportunities are out there for her. But I love this idea of Thea, Roy, and Nyssa making an unlikely trio, exploring a different part of the Arrow-verse, a different corner of the Arrow-verse. It would be a shame not to revisit it. At the same time, we’ve also shown that we can tell Arrow-verse stories in other mediums: animated, comic books, and prose novels. There are those avenues open to us as well. So I don’t know what the future holds, but there are potentials out there.

It has become commonplace on the show for characters to leave and return, so I would not be surprised if they were to do an arc with Thea returning. They even brought Katie Cassedy back after her character was killed, and now Stephen Amell is teasing that Colin Donnell (Tommie Merlin) will be returning. Supposedly this will not be a flashback, but there are all sorts of ways they could have Oliver imagine the return of people from his past, without even having to resort to either a flashback or Tommie from another earth.

Caity Lotz will also be returning in the season six finale of Arrow, in addition to her regular role in Legends of Tomorrow. There is no word what her role will be, or how she will respond to the earth-2 version of Laurel.

The Americans has returned for its final season, with a jump to 1987. Throughout the series, the speculation was that, assuming there is no happy ending for the main characters, the show might end in the arrest of the Russian agents. The season premier has raised other possibilities. Elizabeth and Philip Jennings might turn on each other. Even worse, Elizabeth’s end could come from the pill she was given now that she is in a position where she cannot be arrested. Philip has left the spy business and Paige has entered. The season premiere also showed the importance that Elizabeth places on her daughter’s safety, suggesting that this might also be the one thing which could lead her to disobey orders from Russia.

Oleg has also returned to the United States. In the past there were jokes of a Stan and Oleg spin off. Now will it be Oleg and Phillip?

No matter how things play out for the Jennings, we know that the Soviet Union is heading towards its end. Their travel agency is also an anachronism, with the internet likely to change it in the near future.

This is all just speculation as the final season can go in a number of directions. Regardless of how it plays out, I am very happy that The Americans is back. It has consistently been among the top network dramas for the last several years. Plus The Americans shows that Russian attempts to influence the United States, and vice versa, are nothing new. This is a long-standing situation which is not about why Hillary Clinton lost an election that any decent Democrat could have won, and not a reason to panic and restrict free speech. We have survived Russian attempts to influence the United States in the past and can continue to do so if we can ignore cable news hysteria.

The 2018 Hugo Award nominees are out. Television shows nominated include episodes of Black Mirror, Doctor Who, Star Trek: Discovery, and The Good Place. Following are the nominees for movies and television shows:

Best Dramatic Presentation – Long Form

  • Blade Runner 2049, written by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, directed by Denis Villeneuve (Alcon Entertainment / Bud Yorkin Productions / Torridon Films / Columbia Pictures)
  • Get Out, written and directed by Jordan Peele (Blumhouse Productions / Monkeypaw Productions / QC Entertainment)
  • The Shape of Water, written by Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor, directed by Guillermo del Toro (TSG Entertainment / Double Dare You / Fox Searchlight Pictures)
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi, written and directed by Rian Johnson (Lucasfilm, Ltd.)
  • Thor: Ragnarok, written by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost; directed by Taika Waititi (Marvel Studios)
  • Wonder Woman, screenplay by Allan Heinberg, story by Zack Snyder & Allan Heinberg and Jason Fuchs, directed by Patty Jenkins (DC Films / Warner Brothers)

Best Dramatic Presentation – Short Form

  • Black Mirror: “USS Callister,” written by William Bridges and Charlie Brooker, directed by Toby Haynes (House of Tomorrow)
  • “The Deep” [song], by Clipping (Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, Jonathan Snipes)
  • Doctor Who: “Twice Upon a Time,” written by Steven Moffat, directed by Rachel Talalay (BBC Cymru Wales)
  • The Good Place: “Michael’s Gambit,” written and directed by Michael Schur (Fremulon / 3 Arts Entertainment / Universal Television)
  • The Good Place: “The Trolley Problem,” written by Josh Siegal and Dylan Morgan, directed by Dean Holland (Fremulon / 3 Arts Entertainment / Universal Television)
  • Star Trek: Discovery: “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad,” written by Aron Eli Coleite & Jesse Alexander, directed by David M. Barrett (CBS Television Studios)

My post on USS Callister is here, Twice Upon A Time is here,  Magic to Make the Sanest Man go Mad here, and Michael’s Gambit here.

The full list of nominees is here.

Netflix has released a pop-up musical video of Trish Walker’s video hit, Want Your Cray Cray. This was seen in season two of Jessica Jones, which both more on Jessica and Trish’s earlier years and foreshadowed Trish’s future.

Politico On “How the Bernie Wing Won the Democratic Primaries”

While there have been many negatives since the 2016 election, including both the presidency of Donald Trump and the Democratic establishment falling into McCarthyism and Cold War Revivalism, one good result was a weakening of the hold by the Clinton/DLC faction on the Democratic Party. A Clinton victory would have probably meant watching the Democrats pushing conservative candidates who would go down to defeat by even more conservative Republicans. Instead we are seeing a chance for more liberal and progressive candidates to run.

Politico has already declared the left to be the winners this year in an article entitled, How the Bernie Wing Won the Democratic Primaries. Here are some excerpts (quoting of which, as usual, does not indicate complete agreement):

In state after state, the left is proving to be the animating force in Democratic primaries, producing a surge of candidates who are forcefully driving the party toward a more liberal orientation on nearly every issue.

These candidates are running on an agenda that moves the party beyond its recent comfort zone and toward single-payer health care, stricter gun control, a $15 minimum wage, more expansive LGBT rights and greater protections for immigrants.

In the surest sign of the reoriented issue landscape, they’re joined by some of the most prominent prospects in the 2020 Democratic presidential field—Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamala Harris among them—who are embracing the same agenda.

According to data compiled by the Brookings Institution’s Primaries Project, the number of self-identified, nonincumbent progressive candidates in Texas spiked compared with the previous two election years. This year, there were nearly four times as many progressive candidates as in 2016. Meanwhile, the number of moderate and establishment candidates remained flat for the past three elections in Texas.

Even in Illinois, where the Democratic Party holds most of the levers of power, the data tell a similar story: There were more progressive candidates this year, the Primaries Project reports, than moderate and establishment candidates, by a count of 25 to 21…

The party’s ascendant left is coming after everybody, regardless of the outcome in Lipinski’s race. Progressive energy is pulsing through the primaries, most notably in the proliferation of Trump-backlash grass-roots groups like Indivisible, Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress that are teeming with activists inspired by Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign. There’s no comparable counterweight within the establishment…

These progressives aren’t necessarily sweeping races up and down the ballot. But they are winning enough of them—and generating enough grass-roots pressure—to continue driving the party leftward.

In Texas, a greater percentage of the progressive candidates either won or advanced to a runoff than the percentage of moderate and establishment candidates who did. In Illinois, the success rate between the wings was about equal. Five moderate or establishment candidates won their primaries, compared with three progressives.

Many on the left will question whether Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Kamala Harris truly embrace the same agenda, but as politicians they definitely see the need to at least give lip service to a more progressive agenda than Hillary Clinton did, despite her weak attempts to modify some of her conservative positions.

As is so often the case with articles which cite issues backed by more progressive candidates, I am also disappointed that nothing is said about Democrats opposing American interventionism and the neoconservative foreign policy which was promoted by their last presidential candidate. Nor was anything said about scaling back the surveillance state, restoring civil liberties lost as a consequence of the “war on terror,” or ending the drug war. It is as if the Democratic Party has stopped trying to dismantle the deleterious policies of George W. Bush.

If the victory is being called a victory by the “Bernie Wing,” in articles such as this, I hope that Bernie Sanders speaks out more on these issues. He has often taken the correct side, even if he has not stressed such issues. Sanders initially ran as an insurgent candidate to raise the economic issues which were more important to him, not expecting to win the 2016 nomination. Now that his wing has a chance of taking over the party, and winning elections at all levels, I hope that he does devote more time to these issues.

Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Understand Why Even Democrats Are Fed Up With Her, So She Again Resorts To Claims Of Sexism

Hillary Clinton never takes responsibility for her actions and will inevitably resort to blaming others, whether it is to blame Russia, James Comey, or sexism. Clinton initially received a lot of negative response from those who disagree with her on both the left and the right. More recently, such as after she demonstrated once again why she lost earlier in March, establishment Democrats, also started advising her to stop saying things which are damaging to the party’s chances for success. Clinton responded by again using the sexism card. The Hill reports:

“I was really struck by how people said that to me — you know, mostly people in the press, for whatever reason — mostly, ‘Go away, go away,’” Clinton said Thursday during an event at Rutgers University.

“And I had one of the young people who works for me go back and do a bit of research. They never said that to any man who was not elected. I was kind of struck by that,” Clinton said.

Clinton’s remarks came in response to a question from Eagleton Institute of Politics director Ruth Mandel about the former Democratic nominee’s reaction to those who say she should “get off the public stage and shut up.”

“I’m really glad that, you know, Al Gore didn’t stop talking about climate change,” Clinton said to applause.

“And I’m really glad John Kerry went to the Senate and became an excellent secretary of State,” the former first lady continued. “And I’m really glad John McCain kept speaking out and standing up and saying what he had to say. And for heavens sakes, Mitt Romney is running for the Senate,” Clinton said.

The 70-year-old ex-secretary of State has taken heat in recent weeks, even among some Democrats, for comments she made about Americans who voted for President Trump in the 2016 race.

Of course this has nothing to do with gender. Al Gore, who had the most cause to complain about the election, avoided the public spotlight after he lost. Mitt Romney also limited political speech until he started to criticize Donald Trump. John Kerry and John McCain returned to the Senate where they did their jobs.

None of the other losing presidential candidates questioned the legitimacy of the elections they lost. When there was concern that Donald Trump would not accept the results of the election, Hillary Clinton called this a “direct threat to our democracy.” Then after she turned out to be the one to lose, Clinton denied the legitimacy of the election. Not long afterwards she tried to rewrite history in a book which attacked the left and blamed multiple others for the loss which she is responsible for. She has been calling for censorship of those who criticize her by calling legitimate criticism “fake news.”

As was revealed in Shattered, Clinton decided to blame others such as Russia for the loss within twenty-four hours of losing. Her claims regarding Russia, which go far beyond the actual evidence, are harmful in many ways. It gives establishment Democrats an excuse to resist reform. It plays into the hands of neocons who desire regime change in Russia, with their claims about Russia being no more truthful than their claims about WMD in Iraq. It is used to justify restrictions on freedom of speech, and has led to McCarthyism from establishment Democrats who claim that criticism stems from support for Putin.

Of course Hillary Clinton has the right to continue to speak publicly, but those of us who disagree with her also have the right to respond–regardless of how much her supporters attempt to suppress criticism of her. It is also understandable that professional politicians in her party, which saw serious losses in the presidential race and down ticket because of Clinton in 2016, do not want Clinton to bring about further losses for their party in 2018.

Study Shows How Ineffective Twitter Bots Are In Changing Political Views

This study is not at all surprising, but provides yet another reason to doubt those who claim that the election was stolen from Hillary Clinton due to Russian trolls or other unfavorable comments on social media. The study looked at people arguing politics on Twitter and, as I could have told them, people do not change their political views based upon arguments on line. Here is the abstract:

There is mounting concern that social media sites contribute to political polarization by creating  “echo chambers” that insulate people from opposing views about current events. We surveyed a large sample of Democrats and Republicans who visit Twitter at least three times each week about a range of social policy issues. One week later, we randomly assigned respondents to a treatment condition in which they were offered financial incentives to follow a Twitter bot for one month that exposed them to messages produced by elected officials, organizations, and other opinion leaders with opposing political ideologies. Respondents were re-surveyed at the end of the month to measure the effect of this treatment, and at regular intervals throughout the study period to monitor treatment compliance. We find that Republicans who followed a liberal Twitter bot became substantially more conservative post-treatment, and Democrats who followed a conservative Twitter bot became slightly more liberal post-treatment. These findings have important implications for the interdisciplinary literature on political polarization as well as the emerging field of computational social science.

It is very doubtful that people changed their view of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump based upon Russian bots or anything else they read on Twitter.

I bet that the same would apply to Facebook. Of course there are also multiple other reasons to question the claims that Russian bots or others caused Clinton to lose, as I most recently discussed in this post. Censoring social media, as Hillary Clinton has been suggesting, and Facebook has been practicing, would serve no positive purpose. There are obviously strong reasons to resist such censorship, although establishment Democrats appear oblivious to the impact on civil liberties.

(Hat tip to Salon for link to study).