Investigate Trump, But Hold Off On Claims Of Treason

The information recently released about the meetings between Donald Trump, Jr. and others in the Trump campaign, along with the emails which have been released, show signs of violation of election laws. This is yet another in a long string of meetings which members of the Trump campaign have failed to disclose. This also gives justification for investigations of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, but the actual significance of this remains unclear considering that the meeting was with a lawyer who now says she never had any information on Clinton.

This opens additional avenues for investigation for both Robert Mueller and Congress. Although Sarah Huckabee Sanders denied that Donald Trump was aware of the meeting at today’s press briefing, I would bet that Mueller will be looking into this.

A huge problem with the 24/7 stream of news and constant discussion on social media is the temptation to come to conclusions immediately. We certainly need to wait and see what comes out of the investigations. That said, I have suspected from the start of this affair that Donald Trump has been trying to obstruct the Russia investigation to protect members of his campaign (along with possibly covering up financial improprieties). With Donald, Jr involved (along with Jared Jushner), this certainly raises the stakes.

As Shattered revealed, Hillary Clinton latched onto the Russia story within twenty-four hours of losing the election to place blame for her loss on others. Tim Kaine and other are now raising questions of whether Trump committed treason. Whatever crimes might have been committed by Donald, Jr. and others, treason does not appear to apply. This is discussed further at Axios and Vox. From Vox:

The revelation that Donald Trump Jr. was offered incriminating information about Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” and that Junior enthusiastically accepted and pursued the offer, is shocking. What Trump Jr. did could very well be a crime under federal campaign finance law.

But some politicians and commentators are raising the possibility that he committed an even graver offense: treason. “We’re now beyond obstruction of justice,” US Sen. and former Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine said. “This is moving into perjury, false statements, and even into potentially treason.” Richard Painter, President George W. Bush’s White House ethics lawyer, declared on MSNBC that Trump Jr.’s behavior “borders on treason” even before the worst revelations about the incidents came out. Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) commented, “If this isn’t treasonous, I’m not sure what is.” According to Merriam-Webster, searches for the definition of “treason” are on the upswing.

This is nonsense. Whatever Trump Jr. did, it’s definitely not treason. Treason is a very specific crime with a definition set forth in the Constitution that Trump Jr’s conduct doesn’t come close to meeting, for one simple reason: The US is not at war with Russia…

What Trump Jr. did was outrageous. But that doesn’t make it treason, and it’s irresponsible to keep throwing the term around willy-nilly.

Of course many Republicans have been guilty in throwing around the term, often with even less justification, when attacking Democrats.

Joe Scarborough & Mika Brzezinski Respond To Donald Trump’s Mental State

Over the last couple of days Donald Trump has both advocated repealing Obamacare without a replacement, which would lead to 26 million people losing insurance, and has insulted Mika Brzezinski. Based upon the media response, the later appears to be the more important story. Therefore, rather than another post on the Republican plans to destroy health care (such as here and here), I’ll look at the more important story of the day.

In a pair of tweets, Donald Trump claimed:

I heard poorly rated speaks badly of me (don’t watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came……to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year’s Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!

Subsequently Joe Scarborough accused Trump of blackmailing them, demanding an apology for their negative coverage, or else a negative story about Scarborough and Brzezinski would be published in the Enquirer. Trump mistakenly thought people would actually give a damn over what the Enquirer had to say about their relationship.

New York Magazine summaries what occurred:

According to three sources familiar with the private conversations, what happened was this: After the inauguration, Morning Joe’s coverage of Trump turned sharply negative. “This presidency is fake and failed,” Brzezinski said on March 6, for example. Around this time, Scarborough and Brzezinski found out the Enquirer was preparing a story about their affair. While Scarborough and Brzezinski’s relationship had been gossiped about in media circles for some time, it was not yet public, and the tabloid was going to report that they had left their spouses to be together.

In mid-April, Scarborough texted with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner about the pending Enquirer story. Kushner told Scarborough that he would need to personally apologize to Trump in exchange for getting Enquirer owner David Pecker to stop the story. (A spokesperson for Kushner declined to comment). Scarborough says he refused, and the Enquirer published the story in print on June 5, headlined “Morning Joe Sleazy Cheating Scandal!”

The Morning Joe co-hosts decided to talk about the episode a day after Trump inaccurately tweeted that Brzezinski attended a New Year’s Eve party at Mar-a-Lago “bleeding badly from a face-lift.” (A photo from that evening backs up Scarborough and Brzezinski’s denial of this.) While the Enquirer denies that Trump encouraged Pecker to investigate the MSNBC hosts, Trump himself has pushed the story publicly. Last August, he tweeted, “Some day, when things calm down, I’ll tell the real story of@JoeNBC and his very insecure long-time girlfriend, @morningmika. Two clowns!”

The most interesting thing in all of this is that the Enquirer is owned by a guy named Pecker who is a friend of Donald Trump.

While Trump’s ability to express himself is generally often limited to short forms like Twitter, Scarborough and Brzezinski are capable of more detailed expression of their views. They did this in an op-ed in The Washington Post entitled, Donald Trump is not well. Here are some excerpts:

The president’s unhealthy obsession with our show has been in the public record for months, and we are seldom surprised by his posting nasty tweets about us. During the campaign, the Republican nominee called Mika “neurotic” and promised to attack us personally after the campaign ended. This year, top White House staff members warned that the National Enquirer was planning to publish a negative article about us unless we begged the president to have the story spiked. We ignored their desperate pleas.

The president’s unhealthy obsession with “Morning Joe” does not serve the best interests of either his mental state or the country he runs. Despite his constant claims that he no longer watches the show, the president’s closest advisers tell us otherwise. That is unfortunate. We believe it would be better for America and the rest of the world if he would keep his 60-inch-plus flat-screen TV tuned to “Fox & Friends.”

…It is disturbing that the president of the United States keeps up his unrelenting assault on women. From his menstruation musings about Megyn Kelly, to his fat-shaming treatment of a former Miss Universe, to his braggadocio claims about grabbing women’s genitalia, the 45th president is setting the poorest of standards for our children. We were heartened to hear a number of Republican lawmakers call out Mr. Trump for his offensive words and can only hope that the women who are closest to him will follow their examples. It would be the height of hypocrisy to claim the mantle of women’s empowerment while allowing a family member to continue such abusive conduct.

Fox cites anonymous sources to say that Scarborough’s claims are not true (which I point out only to demonstrate how low Fox can get).

Melania Trump defended her husband:

“As the First Lady has stated publicly in the past, when her husband gets attacked, he will punch back 10 times harder,” her communications director Stephanie Grisham said in response to reporters’ questions.

Stephen Colbert had this rebuttal to Melania’s defense: “Yes, as the first lady says, ‘When they go low, we go 10 times lower.'”

The Intercept On NSA Report Of Russian Hacking Attempt Prior To The Election

Previously claims of Russians “rigging” the election were primarily based upon the belief that Russia was responsible for release of the Wikileaks emails. This was also extended to still unsubstantiated claims of collusion with the Trump campaign. The Intercept now reports that there is evidence that Russia also attempted to hack computers connected to voter registration. From their report:

Russian military intelligence executed a cyberattack on at least one U.S. voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials just days before last November’s presidential election, according to a highly classified intelligence report obtained by The Intercept.

The top-secret National Security Agency document, which was provided anonymously to The Intercept and independently authenticated, analyzes intelligence very recently acquired by the agency about a months-long Russian intelligence cyber effort against elements of the U.S. election and voting infrastructure. The report, dated May 5, 2017, is the most detailed U.S. government account of Russian interference in the election that has yet come to light.

While the document provides a rare window into the NSA’s understanding of the mechanics of Russian hacking, it does not show the underlying “raw” intelligence on which the analysis is based. A U.S. intelligence officer who declined to be identified cautioned against drawing too big a conclusion from the document because a single analysis is not necessarily definitive…

The NSA analysis does not draw conclusions about whether the interference had any effect on the election’s outcome and concedes that much remains unknown about the extent of the hackers’ accomplishments. However, the report raises the possibility that Russian hacking may have breached at least some elements of the voting system, with disconcertingly uncertain results.

The NSA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence were both contacted for this article. Officials requested that we not publish or report on the top secret document and declined to comment on it. When informed that we intended to go ahead with this story, the NSA requested a number of redactions. The Intercept agreed to some of the redaction requests after determining that the disclosure of that material was not clearly in the public interest.

The report adds significant new detail to the picture that emerged from the unclassified intelligence assessment about Russian election meddling released by the Obama administration in January. The January assessment presented the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusions but omitted many specifics, citing concerns about disclosing sensitive sources and methods. The assessment concluded with high confidence that the Kremlin ordered an extensive, multi-pronged propaganda effort “to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.”

That review did not attempt to assess what effect the Russian efforts had on the election, despite the fact that “Russian intelligence obtained and maintained access to elements of multiple US state or local electoral boards.” According to the Department of Homeland Security, the assessment reported reassuringly, “the types of systems we observed Russian actors targeting or compromising are not involved in vote tallying.”

The NSA has now learned, however, that Russian government hackers, part of a team with a “cyber espionage mandate specifically directed at U.S. and foreign elections,” focused on parts of the system directly connected to the voter registration process, including a private sector manufacturer of devices that maintain and verify the voter rolls. Some of the company’s devices are advertised as having wireless internet and Bluetooth connectivity, which could have provided an ideal staging point for further malicious actions…

The full report has far more information on how the hacking was allegedly attempted. Of course note the tremendous number of qualifiers in this report, casting doubt as to whether we can believe a single report.

Shortly after the report was posted, the FBI arrested a contractor who allegedly released the report to The Intercept. The Daily Caller portrays the leaker as “A Bernie Supporter Who ‘Resists’ Trump.” I’m sure we will continue to see many attempts to politicize the news, but what is needed is the facts as to what Russia actually did, and whether there was any collusion from the Trump campaign, without using this to promote any political agendas.

It is premature to come to any conclusions, but so far there is a lot of suggestion of a cover-up from the Trump administration, including the firing of James Comey, but far less conclusive evidence of any initial crimes which they might be covering up. I have suspected that in the end this very well might come down to financial dealings on the part of Trump and his associates. Along these lines, NBC News is reporting that Congressional committees are looking into whether Jared Kushner was seeking a back channel with Russia in order to obtain a bailout for a Manhattan building he owns.

Such a reason makes more sense than the theories that this was tied into alleged collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign to rig the election. If there was really such collusion, there would have presumably been some sort of back channels already present prior to the election.

Update: The original post has been revised, primarily to clarify that the alleged hacking attempt was directed towards computers involved with voter registration, not voting machines themselves.

Insight Into Two Top Trump Advisers: Jared Kushner & Steve Bannon

jared-kushner-forbes

While we approach Donald Trump’s presidency with some dread, at least this stage is more interesting than it would be if Clinton had been elected. Rather than what would be a fairly predictable list of old Clinton cronies, Wall Street insiders, and the interventionist foreign policy establishment, we are seeing people new to politics. While Donald Trump is new to politics, he has a long public record. Perhaps the key member of the next administration that we know the least about is his son-in-law Jared Kushner.

Kushner out-smarted the old Clinton political experts, and pulled off a victory in the electoral college with both less money and no political experience. Forbes has interviewed Kushner. The full article is worth reading, but here is an excerpt to show how Kushner changed how political campaigns are run to take advantage of social media and ideas from Silicon Valley:

“I called some of my friends from Silicon Valley, some of the best digital marketers in the world, and asked how you scale this stuff,” Kushner says. “They gave me their subcontractors.”

At first Kushner dabbled, engaging in what amounted to a beta test using Trump merchandise. “I called somebody who works for one of the technology companies that I work with, and I had them give me a tutorial on how to use Facebook micro-targeting,” Kushner says. Synched with Trump’s blunt, simple messaging, it worked. The Trump campaign went from selling $8,000 worth of hats and other items a day to $80,000, generating revenue, expanding the number of human billboards–and proving a concept. In another test, Kushner spent $160,000 to promote a series of low-tech policy videos of Trump talking straight into the camera that collectively generated more than 74 million views.

By June the GOP nomination secured, Kushner took over all data-driven efforts. Within three weeks, in a nondescript building outside San Antonio, he had built what would become a 100-person data hub designed to unify fundraising, messaging and targeting. Run by Brad Parscale, who had previously built small websites for the Trump Organization, this secret back office would drive every strategic decision during the final months of the campaign. “Our best people were mostly the ones who volunteered for me pro bono,” Kushner says. “People from the business world, people from nontraditional backgrounds.”

Kushner structured the operation with a focus on maximizing the return for every dollar spent. “We played Moneyball, asking ourselves which states will get the best ROI for the electoral vote,” Kushner says. “I asked, How can we get Trump’s message to that consumer for the least amount of cost?” FEC filings through mid-October indicate the Trump campaign spent roughly half as much as the Clinton campaign did.

Just as Trump’s unorthodox style allowed him to win the Republican nomination while spending far less than his more traditional opponents, Kushner’s lack of political experience became an advantage. Unschooled in traditional campaigning, he was able to look at the business of politics the way so many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs have sized up other bloated industries.

I wonder who will get the movie rights to this story.

While Kushner’s political views are not clear, he does not appear to be a doctrinaire conservative. The anti-nepotism laws written after JFK made Bobby Kennedy his Attorney General might prevent Kushner from having a formal role in the Trump administration. I think we are better off with Trump continuing to listen to Kushner and hope this can be circumvented. Even if he cannot have an actual position, Trump will probably continue to receive advice from him.

During the interview Kushner defended Steve Bannon from accusations of being anti-Semitic based upon the hate speech often found at Breitbart. While this is hardly enough to make Bannon look acceptable, there was another sign today that Bannon might be more complex than he is portrayed. IndieWire reports that previously Bannon had been involved in the distribution of independent films which differ from the world view he is now involved with:

Ten years ago, Bannon oversaw the distribution of independent films released by Wellspring Media, a company that supported a wide range of international cinema as well as gay-themed and other “transgressive” titles. Movies acquired and released under his tenure include the experimental LGBT documentary “Tarnation” and “Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry,” a pro-Kerry documentary that opened during the 2004 election. According to one insider who dealt with Bannon at this time, he directly approved and often supported several of these films with great enthusiasm.

It’s a history that raises fascinating questions about the newly minted White House staffer’s motives: Did Bannon, whose alt-right allegiances have turned him into a leading proponent of nationalism, shelve his personal beliefs for the sake of perceived business opportunities? Did those beliefs — and a tolerance for the hate groups drawn to the alt-right movement — come later? Or does he, as so many have theorized about the president-elect, only believe in himself?P

Hopefully we will see a new version of Bannon in the White House, but this will not negate all of the hate speech he has spread in more recent years. The same can be said of President Trump as compared to candidate Trump.