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:

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Warning Will Robinson: Axios Says “A new Clinton wave is coming this spring”

Sounding as ominous as a warning of an impending swarm of locusts, Axios writes today, “A new Clinton wave is coming this spring.” They go on to say, “The Clinton family has made sporadic and often subdued appearances in the 18 months (538 days) since Hillary Clinton lost her presidential election. But we’re about to see a lot more of them this spring.”

The post notes that, “This family has been on the national stage for 26 years — all or most of the lifetime of anyone under 50.” Yet the nightmare never ends, even if “plenty of top Democrats we talk to would prefer new energy and faces to Clinton nostalgia/redemption.”

They report that:

Longtime Clinton supporters last week received an invitation offering access to the family (the green invitation features photos of Bill, Hillary and Chelsea) at a Clinton Foundation benefit on May 24 in New York, at prices ranging from $2,500 (“Friend”) for cocktail party and dinner, up to $100,000 (“Chair”) for “Leadership.”

There have already been reports that Hillary Clinton plans to reenter politics. Axios warns:

Hillary Clinton this morning will lead the first meeting of her Onward Together political group, on New York’s Upper East Side. She and Howard Dean will welcome 11 partner organizations for a day of sessions “about harnessing the energy and activism post-election.” In the afternoon, the groups have the chance to meet with 150 donors. Last year, OT had 33,000 donors and gave over $1 million to partner groups. The group says that figure will be higher for midterms this year.

Remember when Howard Dean claimed to be a peace candidate, before he became a lobbyist for the health care industry, opposing Bernie Sanders’ proposal for a single payer health plan, and before he started working with ultra-hawk Hillary Clinton?

In addition to Hillary Clinton and Howard Dean pretending they are not has-beens, Bill will have a novel which was written with James Patterson coming out on June 4.

They call Chelsey a “prolific tweeter.” She has been tweeting those who talk about Amy Chozick’s new book, Chasing Hillary. That is the book with inside information, such as Hillary Clinton complaining to her campaign staff, “I Am Getting Pretty Tired of Hearing About How Nobody Likes Me.”

Skimming the book I found other huge revelations, such as how her friends talked about her: “Even Hillary’s close girlfriends describe her as mercurial. Each morning, aides would announce Hillary’s mood as if it were the weather. Crabby with a chance of outburst . . .” Amy Chozick is no T.H. White.

Why Don’t We Hear Messages Like This From The Party Of The Resistance?

The Democratic Party has struggled to come up with a response to Donald Trump on Syria. While some disagree, they cannot come up with a unified opposition to the air strikes or intervention, so they limit their opposition to complaining that Trump failed to get Congressional approval. This is no surprise considering that their last presidential candidate had advocated far greater military interventionism than Trump, and previously attacked Obama for not pursing greater intervention based upon an extremely irrational argument.

While anti-war voices are rare, here is an example of a conservative who is making far more sense than most of the Democrats:

The U.S. military presence in Syria is illegal, and the same would be true of any occupying force provided by U.S. clients. Instead of looking for a substitute occupation force or maintaining one of our own, the U.S. should accept that controlling any part of Syria is not worth the costs and risks that go along with it. The U.S. has no business fighting in Syria, and it has no authority to keep its forces there, so a complete withdrawal from Syria is the only appropriate and legal course of action open to the U.S.

Unfortunately this is from a conservative blogger (Daniel Larison), and not someone who represents the policy of either political party. He wrote this in concluding a post on how Trump’s idea of having other countries replace US troops is not working.

Shouldn’t we be hearing more like this from the party which is supposedly the opposition party in Congress? We hear virtually noting from the party which claims to be “the resistance.” Instead the “opposition party” is being led by cowards who prefer to keep any real opposition voices from running.

Nancy Pelosi Defends Party’s Intervention In Primaries As Progressives Protest

The tape released this week of a Democratic Party leader trying to get a progressive to drop out of a Congressional primary has raised far more attention to the issue. The tape was initially posted by The Intercept and I also posted it here yesterday.

Nancy Pelosi has further angered progressives by speaking out in support of this practice. The Washington Post reports:

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) defended her party’s electoral operation on Thursday, after a candidate in a contested Colorado primary released audio tape of Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) urging him to quit the race.

“I don’t know that a person can tape a person without the person’s consent and then release it to the press,” Pelosi told reporters at her weekly news conference. “In terms of candidates and campaigns I don’t see anything inappropriate in what Mr. Hoyer was engaged in — a conversation about the realities of life in the race as to who can make the general election.”

…The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has thrown its weight in the race behind Jason Crow, an attorney and veteran running a more center-left campaign than Tillemann, who supports universal Medicare and other planks of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) campaign platform. In the December conversation, Hoyer told Tillemann that “a decision was made early on by the Colorado delegation” to back Crow, and that it would continue to do so.

“Staying out of primaries sounds small-D democratic, very intellectual and very interesting,” said Hoyer, according to the tape. “But it was clear that it was our policy and our hope that, early on, try to come to an agreement on a candidate that we thought could win the general, and to give that candidate all the help we could give them.”

While Nancy Pelosi rationalize this as “the realities of life,” as I pointed out yesterday, this long-standing strategy has been a disaster for Democrats. The claim that more conservative candidates are more electable has not held up. The Democratic leadership has a terrible record of choosing more “electable” candidates. They lost control of both houses of Congress and around 1000 state seats in state legislatures in a decade based upon this misconception. The ultimate example of how the party’s strategy conflicts with reality came when they violated the party’s by-laws to rig the nomination for Hillary Clinton, the one candidate who could not even beat a candidate as dreadful as Donald Trump.

While we have known that this has been an issue for some time, including in a Texas Congressional race this year, having the taped evidence has also led to the loudest protests I have heard so far from progressives within the Democratic Party. USA Today reports:

Progressive groups that support Tillemann are going ballistic over what they say is yet another example of establishment Democrats meddling in primary elections.

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee says it’s raising money for three candidates, including Tillemann, that the DCCC has pressured to drop out.

“There is a battle for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party, and Steny Hoyer and his corporate cronies already lost,” said Stephanie Taylor, PCCC’s co-founder.

Democracy for America Executive Director Charles Chamberlain called for Hoyer to resign or “be removed” from House leadership.

“We saw what happens when Democratic Party leaders put their fingers on the scale in primaries in 2006 through 2016, when we lost nearly 1,000 elected offices up and down the ballot,” he said.

Democratic Leader Caught On Tape Trying To Force Progressive Candidate Out Of Congressional Race

The Democratic leadership, including the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, have shown they are not our allies as they repeatedly attack the left, have purged progressives from the DNC, and attack more liberal and progressive candidates who are often more in tune with the voters. The Intercept secretly recorded Steny Hoyer, the second highest ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, trying to pressure a progressive candidate, Levi Tillemann, to drop out of a race. They described Tillemann as “an author, inventor, and former official with the Obama administration’s Energy Department.” From their account:

He focused his campaign on clean elections, combatting climate change, “Medicare for All,” free community college, and confronting economic inequality and monopoly power. Another candidate for the nomination, Jason Crow, a corporate lawyer at the powerhouse Colorado firm Holland & Hart and an Army veteran, meanwhile, appeared to have the backing of the Democratic establishment, though it wasn’t explicit. In November, it became clearer, as Crow was named by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to the party’s “Red to Blue” list, which the committee specifies is not an endorsement but does carry symbolic weight.

With Hoyer in Denver, Tillemann met the minority whip at the Hilton Denver Downtown to make the case that the party should stay neutral in the primary and that he had a more plausible path to victory than the same centrism that Coffman had already beaten repeatedly.

Hoyer, however, had his own message he wanted to convey: Tillemann should drop out.

In a frank and wide-ranging conversation, Hoyer laid down the law for Tillemann. The decision, Tillemann was told, had been made long ago. It wasn’t personal, Hoyer insisted, and there was nothing uniquely unfair being done to Tillemann, he explained: This is how the party does it everywhere.

Tillemann had heard the argument before from D.C. insiders and local Democratic bigwigs, all of whom had discouraged him from challenging the establishment favorite. The only difference was that for this conversation, the candidate had his phone set to record.

The secretly taped audio recording, released here for the first time, reveals how senior Democratic officials have worked to crush competitive primaries and steer political resources, money, and other support to hand-picked candidates in key races across the country, long before the party publicly announces a preference. The invisible assistance boosts the preferred candidate in fundraising and endorsements, and then that fundraising success and those endorsements are used to justify national party support. Meanwhile, opponents of the party’s unspoken pick are driven into paranoia, wondering if they are merely imagining that unseen hands are working against them.

Hoyer bluntly told Tillemann that it wasn’t his imagination, and that mobilizing support for one Democratic candidate over another in a primary isn’t unusual. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., chair of the DCCC, has a “policy that early on, we’d try to agree on a candidate who we thought could win the general and give the candidate all the help we could give them,” Hoyer told Tillemann matter-of-factly…

In races in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Texas, Nebraska, California, and beyond, progressive candidates are finding that the DCCC has mobilized support for moderate candidates with access to early campaign cash at the expense of progressives. As we’ve reported, many first-time candidates are told by the DCCC that before they can even be considered, they have to perform the “rolodex” test to show they can raise $250,000 or more from the contact list on their phone.

In February, the DCCC made the unusual move to release opposition research, the term of art for political dirt, against activist Laura Moser, who the party viewed as too liberal to win in the 7th Congressional District of Texas, a Houston-area seat. The strategy, however, appeared to backfire. Moser placed second in the Texas Democratic primary, meaning she’ll have a shot at the nomination in the May 22 runoff…

To a certain extent, people like Elizabeth Warren and people like Bernie Sanders have been ostracized by the party, and they have been marginalized by the establishment to the extent that is possible,” says Tillemann. “But the fact of the matter is that the people are crying out for genuine leaders, and the people are crying out for a solution to inequality and systemic injustice, and to the extent that I am fighting for those solutions, then I think there will be a powerful constituency for that.”

I’m proud to be on the side of truth,” he added. “I’m proud to be on the right side of democracy, and I’m proud to be on the right side of free and fair elections.”

The recording could be heard in the video below, which also has animation added:

This practice calls into question whether there is any point in liberals and progressives to support the Democratic Party if they are ignoring small-d democratic principles to promote more conservative candidates? They appear to want either conservative businessmen or ex-CIA agents. As Jimmy Dore pointed out, out of 102 competitive Democratic Congressional primaries in 2018, “44 involve candidates with a military-intelligence or State Department background, with 11 districts having two such candidates, and one district having three.”

Putting ethics aside, it isn’t even good politics. The claim that more conservative candidates are more electable has not held up. The Democratic leadership has a terrible record of choosing more “electable” candidates. They lost control of both houses of Congress and over 1000 state seats in a decade based upon this misconception. The ultimate example came when they violated the party’s by-laws to rig the nomination for Hillary Clinton, the one candidate who could not even beat a candidate as dreadful as Donald Trump.

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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.

Damon Linker Asks Why Clinton Supporters Cannot Accept The Truth About Her Loss

Partisan Democrats remain unable to face reality regarding why Hillary Clinton lost, blaming this on James Comey, Russia, or other things which they claim were beyond Clinton’s control. This is despite running against a candidate as terrible as Donald Trump, who would probably lost by ten points against anyone other than Clinton. Their recently filed lawsuit would he laughable if not for its attack on freedom of the press. In light of this, Damon Linker asks, Why can’t liberals accept the truth about Hillary’s 2016 failure? Linker wrote:

Like traumatized soldiers after a devastating and unanticipated defeat on the battlefield, a certain kind of partisan Democrat is still struggling with President Trump’s (absurdly narrow) victory over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. Just witness the furious reaction occasioned by a New York Times excerpt from Amy Chozick’s new book about Clinton’s defeat. Because Chozick dared to write that Clinton lost “the most winnable presidential election in modern history,” she (and others, like myself, who’ve made similar claims) inspired a tidal wave of criticism.

After summarizing the excuses made by Clinton and her supporters, Linker concluded:

…Clinton was the worst possible person to answer the angry accusations of a populist insurgency from either the protectionist right or the socialist left. She was too much a contented representative and beneficiary of the very political and economic establishments against which Trump directed his fire. She was the Davos candidate, the woman who defied the advice of her handlers to accept six-figure speaking fees from investment banks at events where she wooed rooms full of potential donors by dreaming of a world of open borders — a world in which the last remaining businesses to pay a decent wage in the Rust Belt would be given the green light to flee in pursuit of ever-higher profits.

To counter that Trump-the-corrupt-real-estate-mogul is just as much a member of the nation’s economic elite misses the political point entirely. A populist defines himself by those he attacks, and Trump attacked those in power. Who did Clinton attack? The “deplorable” voters who were tempted to vote for Trump — and she did it, of course, at a big-ticket fundraiser, before a room full of wealthy liberal donors.

Maybe, given the realities of polarization, negative partisanship, and certain fundamentals at play in 2016, no Democrat would have won against Trump in a landslide. But I’m quite sure a different Democrat — a Democrat who didn’t so badly misjudge the political moment and squander her many advantages, and who wasn’t incapable of taking a stand on behalf of those many Americans who feel they’ve been left behind by the prevailing policies of the past generation — could have won convincingly, decisively.

Until the party demonstrates a willingness to learn from its mistakes, it will run the considerable risk of repeating them.

Clinton was out-flanked on the left by Trump not only on trade. She also suffered from her far right wing views on foreign policy and interventionism.

Democrats do need to accept reality, as opposed to ignoring the mood of the electorate–as they also did in 2010 and 2014 leading to Democratic losses. Rather than accepting why they lost and correcting the problems, they engage in a sick McCarthyism, attacking those who do point out their mistakes. Rather than embrace potential new voters brought in by Bernie Sanders, they attack the left, have purged progressives from the DNC, and attack more liberal and progressive candidates who are more in tune with the voters, and probably more electable.

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!

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.