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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If Trump Was Colluding With Russia Prior To The Election, Why Would He Need To Establish Backchannel Communications With Russia After The Election?

The latest headlines regarding the Trump administration and Russia report that Robert Mueller is investigating meetings to establish back channel communications with Russia in January 2017. The Washington Post reports:

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has gathered evidence that a secret meeting in Seychelles just before the inauguration of Donald Trump was an effort to establish a back channel between the incoming administration and the Kremlin — apparently contradicting statements made to lawmakers by one of its participants, according to people familiar with the matter.

In January 2017, Erik Prince, the founder of the private security company Blackwater, met with a Russian official close to Russian President Vladi­mir Putin and later described the meeting to congressional investigators as a chance encounter that was not a planned discussion of U.S.-Russia relations.

A witness cooperating with Mueller has told investigators the meeting was set up in advance so that a representative of the Trump transition could meet with an emissary from Moscow to discuss future relations between the countries, according to the people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

Maybe we have more cases of people in the Trump administration lying about their contacts with Russia. There is certainly a long list of examples of this. The connection to Blackwater is of some interest, but not terribly surprising considering that Erik Prince had a loose connection to the incoming administration, being the brother of Betsy DeVos.

Besides multiple lies involving members of the Trump administration, adding to questions of obstruction of justice, there are serious questions regarding money laundering and possibly other financial crimes. Where the Russiagate hysteria falls apart is with the claims from many Democrats that collusion between Trump and Russia altered the election result.

To date the claims that Russia altered the election result have been falling apart and there has been no evidence of any successful collusion. While Russians did entice Donald Trump, Jr. with claims of information on Russia, showing that he would have had no problems with such collusion, it turned out that Russia did not actually have information to provide at the Trump Tower meeting.

There have been a number of other stories regarding attempts to establish backchannel communications between members of the Trump administration and Russia just prior to the inauguration. Michael Flynn has pleaded guilty to charges of lying to the FBI about meeting the Russian ambassador in December 2016 but, as historian Jackson Lears recently wrote, “This is the sort of backchannel diplomacy that routinely occurs during the interim between one administration and the next. It is not a sign of collusion.”

There was also the report that Jared Kushner had attempted to set up backchannel communications between the Trump transition team and Russia after the election. However, if there was any nefarious goal here, it was suspected to involve Kushner’s financial problems with his Manhattan property.

The question which reports such as this raise is that, if there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the campaign, why were there so many efforts to establish backchannel communications after the election? If there was collusion before the election, they would have already needed to have had some means of communication before the election.

While such attempts to communicate with Russia just prior to the inauguration may or may not have been for nefarious purposes, maybe Mueller is onto a crime here with attempts at establishing backchannel communications with Russia before the election–especially with individuals lying about such attempts. However, it makes little sense to both claim that Trump was successfully conspiring with Russia during the campaign, and that crimes were committed in attempting to establish backchannel communications after the election.

Editor Of Politico Magazine Expresses Skepticism Over Russiagate Conspiracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Book Provides Further Information On Donald Trump And Casts Further Doubt On Democratic Conspiracy Theories About 2016 Election

 

Information from Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, provides further insight into Trump and cast further doubt on the conspiracy theories being spread by Democrats that Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election due to a conspiracy involving Donald Trump and Russia. An excerpt appearing in New York Magazine shows, as many suspected while he was running, that Donald Trump neither thought he could win nor wanted to win the 2016 presidential election:

Most presidential candidates spend their entire careers, if not their lives from adolescence, preparing for the role. They rise up the ladder of elected offices, perfect a public face, and prepare themselves to win and to govern. The Trump calculation, quite a conscious one, was different. The candidate and his top lieutenants believed they could get all the benefits of almost becoming president without having to change their behavior or their worldview one whit. Almost everybody on the Trump team, in fact, came with the kind of messy conflicts bound to bite a president once he was in office. Michael Flynn, the retired general who served as Trump’s opening act at campaign rallies, had been told by his friends that it had not been a good idea to take $45,000 from the Russians for a speech. “Well, it would only be a problem if we won,” ­Flynn assured them.

Not only did Trump disregard the potential conflicts of his own business deals and real-estate holdings, he audaciously refused to release his tax returns. Why should he? Once he lost, Trump would be both insanely famous and a martyr to Crooked Hillary. His daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared would be international celebrities. Steve Bannon would become the de facto head of the tea-party movement. Kellyanne Conway would be a cable-news star. Melania Trump, who had been assured by her husband that he wouldn’t become president, could return to inconspicuously lunching. Losing would work out for everybody. Losing was winning.

Shortly after 8 p.m. on Election Night, when the unexpected trend — Trump might actually win — seemed confirmed, Don Jr. told a friend that his father, or DJT, as he calls him, looked as if he had seen a ghost. Melania was in tears—and not of joy.

It looks even worse for Hillary Clinton to have lost to a candidate who didn’t even want to win. Part of Clinton’s problem is that she wanted too much to be president, and for the wrong reasons, using her political career for personal financial gain, not even caring about how this looked–as Matt Taibbi discussed in this excerpt from his book on the election.

In theory, having a president who did not want to be president might sound like a good thing in contrast to the corruption of Bill and Hillary Clinton, but in this case Donald Trump was not the right answer. Like the Clintons, Trump’s motives were based upon personal greed. Unlike the Clintons, Trump lacked even rudimentary understanding of the position, and has showed no desire to learn. One consequence was yesterday’s tweet in which, rather than try to diffuse hostilities with North Korea as any rational political leader would, he bragged about the size of his nuclear button.

There is already considerable reason to doubt the conspiracy theory started by Hillary Clinton that collusion between Donald Trump and Russia were responsible for her loss. Such a conspiracy between Trump and Putin appears even less likely if Trump was not interested in being president. Wolff’s book also revealed that Putin had no interest in meeting Trump when he came to Russia, quoting Steve Bannon as saying that,”Putin couldn’t give a shit about him.” That hardly makes Trump and Putin sound like the co-conspirators which the Democrats make them out to be.

More significant information came from Steve Bannon’s interview on the Trump Tower meeting, in which Russians teased Donald, Jr with claims of information on Clinton, but actually had nothing to deliver. While not of any significance in terms of altering the election result, it does show the lack of principles of Donald, Jr, with Bannon calling this “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.”

I have noted that, while there is no evidence available that Donald Trump knew of the meeting, it is hard to believe he did not know about it. Bannon’s comments on the meeting further confirm this suspicion.

I have also been writing since the start of this scandal that the real crimes appear to involve financial crimes such as money laundering, followed by Trump’s cover-up of contacts with Russia, as opposed to anything related to altering the election result. Bannon further confirmed that this scandal is really about money laundering:

Bannon, speaking to author Michael Wolff, warned that the investigation into alleged collusion with the Kremlin will focus on money laundering and predicted: “They’re going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV.”

This view that the investigation will focus on money laundering is consistent with the first indictment from Robert Mueller.

There was another interesting admission from Bannon:

Bannon went on, Wolff writes, to say that if any such meeting had to take place, it should have been set up “in a Holiday Inn in Manchester, New Hampshire, with your lawyers who meet with these people”. Any information, he said, could then be “dump[ed] … down to Breitbart or something like that, or maybe some other more legitimate publication”.

Bannon added: “You never see it, you never know it, because you don’t need to … But that’s the brain trust that they had.”

So we see that Steve Bannon realizes that Breitbart is not a “legitimate publication.”

Other revelations from the book include that Ivanka wanted to ultimately become the first woman president instead of Hillary Clinton.

Donald Trump responded to the quotes from Steve Bannon by saying that  Bannon has “lost his mind.”

(more…)

Historian Analyzes The Many Problems With The Russiagate Narrative And Democratic Support For Interventionism

Many partisan Democrats have believed Clinton’s claims that she lost as a consequence of Russian interference in the election, as opposed to her own mistakes, despite the lack of evidence for such claims. Many of those viewing the matter more seriously have expressed skepticism, seeing the current hysteria as reminiscent of claims of WMD in Iraq. Jackson Lears, Professor of History at Rutgers University, has an essay on this at the London Review of Books. He looked at subjects including the lack of evidence that Russia was responsible for the DNC hack, along with how this narrative distracts from the evidence of corruption in the DNC which was revealed in their email. He noted, as I also provided examples of recently, that many of the claims in the media have been quickly shown to be incorrect. He also discussed how the Democratic Party’s fixation on Russiagate has led to them ignoring other issues, including the need to take a stand against the military interventionism advocated by Clinton. While I would recommend reading his full article, here are some excerpts:

American politics have rarely presented a more disheartening spectacle. The repellent and dangerous antics of Donald Trump are troubling enough, but so is the Democratic Party leadership’s failure to take in the significance of the 2016 election campaign. Bernie Sanders’s challenge to Hillary Clinton, combined with Trump’s triumph, revealed the breadth of popular anger at politics as usual – the blend of neoliberal domestic policy and interventionist foreign policy that constitutes consensus in Washington…

A story that had circulated during the campaign without much effect resurfaced: it involved the charge that Russian operatives had hacked into the servers of the Democratic National Committee, revealing embarrassing emails that damaged Clinton’s chances. With stunning speed, a new centrist-liberal orthodoxy came into being, enveloping the major media and the bipartisan Washington establishment. This secular religion has attracted hordes of converts in the first year of the Trump presidency. In its capacity to exclude dissent, it is like no other formation of mass opinion in my adult life, though it recalls a few dim childhood memories of anti-communist hysteria during the early 1950s.

The centrepiece of the faith, based on the hacking charge, is the belief that Vladimir Putin orchestrated an attack on American democracy by ordering his minions to interfere in the election on behalf of Trump. The story became gospel with breathtaking suddenness and completeness. Doubters are perceived as heretics and as apologists for Trump and Putin, the evil twins and co-conspirators behind this attack on American democracy. Responsibility for the absence of debate lies in large part with the major media outlets. Their uncritical embrace and endless repetition of the Russian hack story have made it seem a fait accompli in the public mind. It is hard to estimate popular belief in this new orthodoxy, but it does not seem to be merely a creed of Washington insiders. If you question the received narrative in casual conversations, you run the risk of provoking blank stares or overt hostility – even from old friends. This has all been baffling and troubling to me; there have been moments when pop-culture fantasies (body snatchers, Kool-Aid) have come to mind.

Like any orthodoxy worth its salt, the religion of the Russian hack depends not on evidence but on ex cathedra pronouncements on the part of authoritative institutions and their overlords. Its scriptural foundation is a confused and largely fact-free ‘assessment’ produced last January by a small number of ‘hand-picked’ analysts – as James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, described them – from the CIA, the FBI and the NSA. The claims of the last were made with only ‘moderate’ confidence. The label Intelligence Community Assessment creates a misleading impression of unanimity, given that only three of the 16 US intelligence agencies contributed to the report. And indeed the assessment itself contained this crucial admission: ‘Judgments are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact. Assessments are based on collected information, which is often incomplete or fragmentary, as well as logic, argumentation and precedents.’ Yet the assessment has passed into the media imagination as if it were unassailable fact, allowing journalists to assume what has yet to be proved. In doing so they serve as mouthpieces for the intelligence agencies, or at least for those ‘hand-picked’ analysts.

It is not the first time the intelligence agencies have played this role. When I hear the Intelligence Community Assessment cited as a reliable source, I always recall the part played by the New York Times in legitimating CIA reports of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s putative weapons of mass destruction, not to mention the long history of disinformation (a.k.a. ‘fake news’) as a tactic for advancing one administration or another’s political agenda. Once again, the established press is legitimating pronouncements made by the Church Fathers of the national security state. Clapper is among the most vigorous of these. He perjured himself before Congress in 2013, when he denied that the NSA had ‘wittingly’ spied on Americans – a lie for which he has never been held to account. In May 2017, he told NBC’s Chuck Todd that the Russians were highly likely to have colluded with Trump’s campaign because they are ‘almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favour, whatever, which is a typical Russian technique’. The current orthodoxy exempts the Church Fathers from standards imposed on ordinary people, and condemns Russians – above all Putin – as uniquely, ‘almost genetically’ diabolical…

Meanwhile, there has been a blizzard of ancillary accusations, including much broader and vaguer charges of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. It remains possible that Robert Mueller, a former FBI director who has been appointed to investigate these allegations, may turn up some compelling evidence of contacts between Trump’s people and various Russians. It would be surprising if an experienced prosecutor empowered to cast a dragnet came up empty-handed, and the arrests have already begun. But what is striking about them is that the charges have nothing to do with Russian interference in the election. There has been much talk about the possibility that the accused may provide damaging evidence against Trump in exchange for lighter sentences, but this is merely speculation. Paul Manafort, at one point Trump’s campaign manager, has pleaded not guilty to charges of failing to register his public relations firm as a foreign agent for the Ukrainian government and concealing his millions of dollars in fees. But all this occurred before the 2016 campaign. George Papadopolous, a foreign policy adviser, has pleaded guilty to the charge of lying to the FBI about his bungling efforts to arrange a meeting between Trump’s people and the Russian government – an opportunity the Trump campaign declined. Mueller’s most recent arrestee, Michael Flynn, the unhinged Islamophobe who was briefly Trump’s national security adviser, has pleaded guilty to charges of lying to the FBI about meeting the Russian ambassador in December – weeks after the election. This is the sort of backchannel diplomacy that routinely occurs during the interim between one administration and the next. It is not a sign of collusion.

So far, after months of ‘bombshells’ that turn out to be duds, there is still no actual evidence for the claim that the Kremlin ordered interference in the American election. Meanwhile serious doubts have surfaced about the technical basis for the hacking claims. Independent observers have argued it is more likely that the emails were leaked from inside, not hacked from outside. On this front, the most persuasive case was made by a group called Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, former employees of the US intelligence agencies who distinguished themselves in 2003 by debunking Colin Powell’s claim that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, hours after Powell had presented his pseudo-evidence at the UN. (There are members of VIPS who dissent from the VIPS report’s conclusions, but their arguments are in turn contested by the authors of the report.) The VIPS findings received no attention in major media outlets, except Fox News – which from the centre-left perspective is worse than no attention at all. Mainstream media have dismissed the VIPS report as a conspiracy theory (apparently the Russian hacking story does not count as one). The crucial issue here and elsewhere is the exclusion from public discussion of any critical perspectives on the orthodox narrative, even the perspectives of people with professional credentials and a solid track record.

Both the DNC hacking story and the one involving the emails of John Podesta, a Clinton campaign operative, involve a shadowy bunch of putatively Russian hackers called Fancy Bear – also known among the technically inclined as APT28. The name Fancy Bear was introduced by Dimitri Alperovitch, the chief technology officer of Crowdstrike, a cybersecurity firm hired by the DNC to investigate the theft of their emails. Alperovitch is also a fellow at the Atlantic Council, an anti-Russian Washington think tank. In its report Crowdstrike puts forward close to zero evidence for its claim that those responsible were Russian, let alone for its assertion that they were affiliated with Russian military intelligence. And yet, from this point on, the assumption that this was a Russian cyber operation was unquestioned. When the FBI arrived on the scene, the Bureau either did not request or was refused access to the DNC servers; instead it depended entirely on the Crowdstrike analysis. Crowdstrike, meanwhile, was being forced to retract another claim, that the Russians had successfully hacked the guidance systems of the Ukrainian artillery. The Ukrainian military and the British International Institute for Strategic Studies both contradicted this claim, and Crowdstrike backed down. But its DNC analysis was allowed to stand and even become the basis for the January Intelligence Community Assessment…

Sceptical voices, such as those of the VIPS, have been drowned out by a din of disinformation. Flagrantly false stories, like the Washington Post report that the Russians had hacked into the Vermont electrical grid, are published, then retracted 24 hours later. Sometimes – like the stories about Russian interference in the French and German elections – they are not retracted even after they have been discredited. These stories have been thoroughly debunked by French and German intelligence services but continue to hover, poisoning the atmosphere, confusing debate. The claim that the Russians hacked local and state voting systems in the US was refuted by California and Wisconsin election officials, but their comments generated a mere whisper compared with the uproar created by the original story. The rush to publish without sufficient attention to accuracy has become the new normal in journalism. Retraction or correction is almost beside the point: the false accusation has done its work.

The most immediate consequence is that, by finding foreign demons who can be blamed for Trump’s ascendancy, the Democratic leadership have shifted the blame for their defeat away from their own policies without questioning any of their core assumptions. Amid the general recoil from Trump, they can even style themselves dissenters – ‘#the resistance’ was the label Clintonites appropriated within a few days of the election. Mainstream Democrats have begun to use the word ‘progressive’ to apply to a platform that amounts to little more than preserving Obamacare, gesturing towards greater income equality and protecting minorities. This agenda is timid. It has nothing to say about challenging the influence of concentrated capital on policy, reducing the inflated defence budget or withdrawing from overextended foreign commitments; yet without those initiatives, even the mildest egalitarian policies face insuperable obstacles. More genuine insurgencies are in the making, which confront corporate power and connect domestic with foreign policy, but they face an uphill battle against the entrenched money and power of the Democratic leadership – the likes of Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, the Clintons and the DNC. Russiagate offers Democratic elites a way to promote party unity against Trump-Putin, while the DNC purges Sanders’s supporters.

For the DNC, the great value of the Russian hack story is that it focuses attention away from what was actually in their emails. The documents revealed a deeply corrupt organisation, whose pose of impartiality was a sham. Even the reliably pro-Clinton Washington Post has admitted that ‘many of the most damaging emails suggest the committee was actively trying to undermine Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign.’ Further evidence of collusion between the Clinton machine and the DNC surfaced recently in a memoir by Donna Brazile, who became interim chair of the DNC after Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned in the wake of the email revelations. Brazile describes discovering an agreement dated 26 August 2015, which specified (she writes)

that in exchange for raising money and investing in the DNC, Hillary would control the party’s finances, strategy, and all the money raised. Her campaign had the right of refusal of who would be the party communications director, and it would make final decisions on all the other staff. The DNC also was required to consult with the campaign about all other staffing, budgeting, data, analytics and mailings.

Before the primaries had even begun, the supposedly neutral DNC – which had been close to insolvency – had been bought by the Clinton campaign…

Francis Shen of the University of Minnesota and Douglas Kriner of Boston University analysed election results in three key states – Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan – and found that ‘even controlling in a statistical model for many other alternative explanations, we find that there is a significant and meaningful relationship between a community’s rate of military sacrifice and its support for Trump.’ Clinton’s record of uncritical commitment to military intervention allowed Trump to have it both ways, playing to jingoist resentment while posing as an opponent of protracted and pointless war. Kriner and Shen conclude that Democrats may want to ‘re-examine their foreign policy posture if they hope to erase Trump’s electoral gains among constituencies exhausted and alienated by 15 years of war’. If the insurgent movements within the Democratic Party begin to formulate an intelligent foreign policy critique, a re-examination may finally occur. And the world may come into sharper focus as a place where American power, like American virtue, is limited. For this Democrat, that is an outcome devoutly to be wished. It’s a long shot, but there is something happening out there.

Establishment Democrats Again Trying To Smear Jill Stein

I have my doubts as to whether the request for material from former Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein by the Senate Intelligence Committee will amount to anything, but establishment Democrats cannot contain their glee. Here is the response from one former Clinton aide who was just one of many Clinton supporters to demonstrate their McCarthyism with chants claiming their unproven (and unlikely) assertion that Jill Stein is a Russian agent:

Others responded by pointing out how weak the logic is that being placed at the table as Putin at an event makes one a Russian agent:

Pictures with the tweet show both Hillary and Bill Clinton sitting with Putin.

When it is a political opponent, Clinton supporters typically consider any form of an investigation being evidence of guilt. However, when it comes to Clinton, they conveniently forget the recent investigations which showed that Clinton was guilty of highly unethical behavior.  The State Department Inspector General’s report showed that Hillary Clinton violated rules designed to promote transparency as Secretary of State by exclusively using a private server and failing to turn this email over for archiving as required by law until forced to after she left office. The FBI report revealed that Clinton repeatedly lied to the public and press on multiple points regarding the email scandal, and that that Clinton and her colleagues were  “extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.”

Clinton supporters have been trying to smear Stein since the election under the mistaken belief that if Stein wasn’t running they would have picked up her votes. In reality, few who voted for Stein would have voted for a corrupt war monger like Clinton. Even if, which I think is unlikely, it turns out that Stein was a Russian agent, and this was revealed during the campaign, I might have voted differently, but still would not have voted for Clinton.

A spokesperson for Stein provided the following statement:

Responding to a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence request for documents pertaining to interference in the 2016 election, former Green Party Presidential candidate Jill Stein said she is cooperating by sharing all communications relevant to the committee’s mission. “We take seriously the issue of potential interference in our elections, as demonstrated by our continuing efforts to investigate the integrity of the 2016 election and examine our voting machines that are widely known to be vulnerable, but which still have not been examined for evidence of interference. To restore trust in our elections and democracy itself, we must safeguard our elections from all potential sources of interference, whether by foreign state actors or domestic political partisans, criminal networks, lone wolves, or private corporations – including those who control voting software.

Our campaign has observed the highest standards of transparency and integrity in our interactions with foreign nationals as well as Americans. Our communications with Russian individuals regarding an invitation to speak on international relations at the RT 10th anniversary media conference will confirm what we stated publicly at that time and since: that we did not accept any payment or even reimbursement for the trip, and that we made the trip with the goal of reaching an international audience and Russian officials with a message of Middle East peace, diplomacy, and cooperation against the urgent threat of climate change, consistent with long-standing Green principles and policies.

We strongly support legitimate inquiry into any illegal activity in our elections – including quid pro quo deals, money laundering, corruption and violation of campaign finance laws. At the same time, we caution against the politicization, sensationalism and collapse of journalistic standards that has plagued media coverage of the investigation. In the current climate of attacks on our civil liberties, with the emergence of censorship in social media and the press, criminalization of protest, militarization of police and massive expansion of the surveillance state, we must guard against the potential for these investigations to be used to intimidate and silence principled opposition to the political establishment.

Stein said that she would release a more comprehensive statement about the investigation in the near future.

Jill Stein was also interviewed by The Intercept:

Stein clearly resents the Senate’s attention vis-à-vis  electoral interference and foreign meddling: “This smacks of the dangerous underbelly of these investigations. The extent to which they exercise overreach, politicizing, and sensationalism is a danger to democracy, especially in the current climate of all-out war on our First Amendment rights. This is not a time to be attacking the rights of political speech and political association.”

…It’s safe to assume the Intelligence Committee is interested in anything pertaining to Stein’s now-infamous attendance of an RT gala in Moscow, at which she was seated and photographed with Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Stein told The Intercept that as she has routinely appeared on RT and expects to hand over communications related to booking those TV segments and other “administrative” messages between her campaign and the Russian network, as well as “logistical” messages about the Moscow event. Stein also noted that before her Moscow visit, she had “requested to speak with either Putin or [Russian Foreign Minister Sergey] Lavrov, or someone in the Russian government, to be able to discuss our policies, because I was there to advance our agenda for peace and climate action and diplomacy and nuclear weapon abolition.”

Stein says this request was not granted. Stein also maintains that she declined to let RT pay for any portion of her trip to Moscow and further denies requesting or receiving any other assistance, monetary or otherwise, from RT, the Russian government, WikiLeaks, or the Trump campaign, adding that any dialogue or cooperation with Trump “would have been quite contrary to our values.”

When asked why she had attended the gala and sought an audience with Putin, she told The Intercept that “we sought contact with every powerful world leader we had access to,” and that the Russian government was of particular interest because of its involvement in the Syrian civil war. “We don’t have any reason to suspect that there was any backdoor communication,” Stein said. “We were very much focused on the substantive issues of the elections, and we avoid like the plague manipulations and machinations in order to make things happen behind the scenes.”

 Stein also described the dinner, along with how minimal her contact was, in this interview with Jeremy Scahill.

Retraction Of False Russiagate Bombshell From CNN Yesterday Was Just One In A Long List Of Retracted Claims By Media

Yesterday we had yet another example of a story being promoted as a bombshell revelation about Trump and Russiagate, only to be retracted soon afterwards. CNN ran a story claiming that Donald Trump received a web address leading to Wikileaks documents on September 4, 2016 and later corrected the date to September 14. This is quite significant as the information was made public by Wikileaks by the time of this email on the fourteenth. Instead of showing collusion with the Trump campaign receiving secret information from Wikileaks as CNN’s story suggested, all they received was a web address to information which had already been released to the public. CBS and MSNBC were making the same claims of this being evidence of collusion until the story was retracted.

What is remarkable about this is that this is just one in a long string of similar events which have fueled this story. Three CNN reporters had already resigned in June over an incorrect Russiagate story.  Last week I noted that ABC News had retracted a story claiming that Michael Flynn had made contact with Russia during the campaign when it actually occurred after Trump had elected. (This, along Jared Kushner’s reported attempt to achieve a secret backdoor channel to Russia in December, also contradict claims of collusion during the election as there would be no need for such backdoor communications by either Flynn or Kushner if they had been colluding during the campaign.)

In November there was the bombshell that Russia had sent money to its embassies marked, “to finance election campaign of 2016.” Rather than evidence of rigging the US election, it turned out that this money was to fund voting in the Russian election by Russian citizens living abroad.

The claim that seventeen intelligence agreed that Russia was responsible for hacking the DNC continues to be cited by Democratic partisans long after it was withdrawn, and despite the lack of any evidence being presented by those in the intelligence community who believe this. Pro-Clinton conspiracy theories are increasingly basing their arguments on claims of secret intelligence which nobody can verify.

Other questionable stories include the Russian web site which, instead of trying to influence the election, contained pictures of puppies. The Congressional testimony showed how ridiculous the entire argument was that Russia influenced the election by using Facebook and Twitter.  It was revealed that Russian-purchased Facebook ads 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 biggest success attributed to Russia on Facebook has been to get 5000 to 10,000 people to turn out for a rally–a rally protesting against Donald Trump after the election. The impact on Twitter was not any more significant. The largest of the alleged Russian troll pages had 25,045 followers at its peak, and the others had far fewer.

There have been many other false claims which have been retracted, including the hacking of the US electrical grid and even of our election systems. The Intercept has provided just a small sample:

  • Russia hacked into the U.S. electric grid to deprive Americans of heat during winter (Wash Post)
  • An anonymous group (PropOrNot) documented how major U.S. political sites are Kremlin agents (Wash Post)
  • WikiLeaks has a long, documented relationship with Putin (Guardian)
  • A secret server between Trump and a Russian bank has been discovered (Slate)
  • RT hacked C-SPAN and caused disruption in its broadcast (Fortune)
  • Crowdstrike finds Russians hacked into a Ukrainian artillery app (Crowdstrike)
  • Russians attempted to hack elections systems in 21 states (multiple news outlets, echoing Homeland Security)
  • Links have been found between Trump ally Anthony Scaramucci and a Russian investment fund under investigation (CNN)

Many of the Russiagate claims are are looking no more valid than the claims of WMD in Iraq which precipitated that war, or the lies which the United States has used to become in wars elsewhere. This is very risky when applied to a nuclear power–where neoconservatives have also desire to seek regime change.

While Donald Trump very likely has had illegal financial dealings with Russia, and the campaign did seek to obtain information on Clinton from Russia, there is no evidence either of actions by Russia which altered the election result, or of active collusion during the campaign. Even if such evidence should arise in the future, it is clear that Democrats were making such claims without evidence at the time. As was revealed in Shattered, Hillary Clinton devised a strategy of blaming others, including Russia, for her loss within twenty-four hours of losing. The claim that Russia affected the election result was largely based upon the Steele Dossier. Clinton and the DNC had covered up their role in paying for this report for months, casting doubt on its reliability.

I suspect that Clinton’s claims that Russia was responsible for her loss continue to receive credibility from much of the media because many are unwilling to believe that Donald Trump could have beaten Hillary Clinton, despite all the evidence that Clinton was an extraordinarily weak and unpopular candidate long before the election. Their personal biases might have led to these repeated examples of journalistic carelessness in which they ran with stories which seemed to confirm their suspicions without doing sufficient fact checking. Retracted stories with false information continue to be cited by Democratic partisans.

Mueller Crosses Trump’s Red Line Issuing Subpoena For Trump’s Bank Records

Donald Trump has warned Robert Mueller not to look into his personal finances, calling this a red line, which probably only served to point out that this (as opposed to collusion with Russia during the 2016 election) is what Trump is really concerned about hiding. Now Mueller has crossed the red line having subpoenaed Trump’s records from Deutsche Bank.

Trump has had dealings with Deutsche Bank since the 1990s, long before he entered politics. Trump’s financial records could provide evidence regarding multiple facets of this case including money laundering by the Trump family, obstruction of justice, possible tax evasion, and whether Russia had leverage over Trump, as well as the more questionable aspect regarding whether Trump and Russia colluded to change the 2016 election result

The Week adds:

Trump has warned that he considers any probe by Mueller into his family’s finances to be “a violation” unless it is directly related to Russia. Due to recent charges against Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn, some Senate Democrats have said Mueller’s moves appear to be building a potential obstruction of justice case against Trump himself, Bloomberg Politics writes.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Deutsche Bankreceived a subpoena earlier in the fall from U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller’s office related to the lender’s business with President Donald Trump, according to a person briefed on the matter.

The subpoena requested documents and data about accounts and other dealings tied to client relationships with Mr. Trump and people close to him, the person said. The bank has lent more than $300 million to entities affiliated with Mr. Trump, according to public disclosures…

Deutsche Bank faces ongoing questions about a series of Russian trades that have been scrutinized in multiple investigations in the U.S. and Europe, including in a still-pending U.S. Justice Department probe. The Democratic U.S. lawmakers wanted the bank to detail any ties between those trades or other Russian financing and anyone connected to Mr. Trump, his family or advisers.

Reuters has more on their connection:

Deutsche Bank has lent the Trump Organization hundreds of millions of dollars for real estate ventures and is one of the few major lenders that has given large amounts of credit to Trump in the past decade. A string of bankruptcies at his hotel and casino businesses during the 1990s made most of Wall Street wary of extending him credit.

And from The Guardian:

Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, which is investigating the Trump campaign, said Mueller’s reported subpoena of Deutsche Bank “would be a very significant development”.

“If Russia laundered money through the Trump Organization, it would be far more compromising than any salacious video and could be used as leverage against Donald Trump and his associates and family,” Schiff said in a statement. He was referring to a private investigator’s unsubstantiated allegation that the Kremlin had video proof of the president’s involvement in a salacious sex act.

Schiff also noted that the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr, has stated in the past that the Trump Organization received substantial funding from Russia and that there have been “credible allegations” that Russians have used the company to buy Trump properties for the purpose of money laundering.

Legal experts who are following the investigation said it showed Mueller was “following the money” in his search for possible links between the presidential campaign and the Kremlin.

It also indicated that any investigation into Trump personally may not be limited to the question of whether or not the president sought to obstruct justice when he fired the former FBI chief James Comey.

Finding that Mueller has (as expected) ignored Trump’s warning not to look into his personal finances raises the question of whether Trump would fire Mueller, which would be even more analogous to Richard Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre than Trump’s earlier firing of James Comey was. While the firing of Mueller might momentarily hinder the investigation against him, it might also increase the chances of eventual impeachment of Trump for obstruction of justice, also reminiscent of the fate of Richard Nixon.

Michael Flynn’s Guilty Plea Further Debunks Trump Defenders, But Provides No Support For Claims From Democratic Partisans About 2016 Election

The known facts regarding the Russia investigations continue to contradict the claims of partisans on both sides. Michael Flynn’s guilty plea and deal with Robert Mueller further contradicts the claims of Trump supporters that there is nothing to be investigated. On the other hand, the evidence continues to either fail to substantiate or outright contradict the claims from pro-Clinton partisans that the matter is based upon a conspiracy which altered the results of the 2016 election.

While there is evidence to date for reason to continue to investigate both financial irregularities by Trump and his family, and attempts by Trump to obstruct justice to cover up the activities of his family and close associates, there has been no evidence that any votes were changed, despite attempts by Democratic partisans to claim this based upon rather bizarre logic. Some members of the media, as well as Democratic partisans, are continuing to try to twist the facts to support such claims. ABC News was embarrassed yesterday with a report it later retracted. CNN reported:

ABC News on Friday evening corrected an explosive special report that aired in the morning saying that Donald Trump, as a candidate for president, had asked Michael Flynn to make contact with Russians.

During “World News Tonight,” ABC News investigative reporter Brian Ross said the source who had provided the initial information for his story later told him that it was as president-elect, not as a candidate, that Trump asked Flynn to contact the Russians.

The initial report, based on one anonymous source, prompted a dramatic reaction in the financial markets, and the Dow fell more than 350 points

Several hours later, a spokesperson for the network told CNN that Ross would be issuing a “clarification” on “World News Tonight,” which airs at 6:30 p.m. ET.

“[A] clarification tonight on something one of Flynn’s confidants told us and we reported earlier today,” Ross said on the program. “He said the president had asked Flynn to contact Russia during the campaign. He’s now clarifying that saying, according to Flynn, candidate Trump asked him during the campaign to find ways to repair relations with Russia and other world hot spots. And then after the election, the president-elect asked him to contact Russia on issues including working together to fight ISIS.”

Vox did a far better job of separating out the facts from the claims made by Clinton supporters. From their coverage:

Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. It’s the biggest development yet in the investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia — and the legal move that poses the most direct threat to the Trump presidency itself.

Flynn pleaded guilty to a single count of lying to the FBI on or around January 24 about conversations with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December 2016, the Office of the Special Counsel announced Friday. It’s important to note that he did not admit to colluding with Russia during the 2016 presidential election.

Other reports also indicate that communications with Russia were regarding matters which had nothing to do with altering the election results, while also contradicting claims from Donald Trump. From The New York Times:

When President Trump fired his national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, in February, White House officials portrayed him as a renegade who had acted independently in his discussions with a Russian official during the presidential transition and then lied to his colleagues about the interactions.

But emails among top transition officials, provided or described to The New York Times, suggest that Mr. Flynn was far from a rogue actor. In fact, the emails, coupled with interviews and court documents filed on Friday, showed that Mr. Flynn was in close touch with other senior members of the Trump transition team both before and after he spoke with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, about American sanctions against Russia.

While Mr. Trump has disparaged as a Democratic “hoax” any claims that he or his aides had unusual interactions with Russian officials, the records suggest that the Trump transition team was intensely focused on improving relations with Moscow and was willing to intervene to pursue that goal despite a request from the Obama administration that it not sow confusion about official American policy before Mr. Trump took office.

On Dec. 29, a transition adviser to Mr. Trump, K. T. McFarland, wrote in an email to a colleague that sanctions announced hours before by the Obama administration in retaliation for Russian election meddling were aimed at discrediting Mr. Trump’s victory. The sanctions could also make it much harder for Mr. Trump to ease tensions with Russia, “which has just thrown the U.S.A. election to him,” she wrote in the emails obtained by The Times.

It is not clear whether Ms. McFarland was saying she believed that the election had in fact been thrown. A White House lawyer said on Friday that she meant only that the Democrats were portraying it that way.

While there might be legal issues with members of the incoming Trump administration trying to negotiate with Russia before Trump took office, along with legal problems arising from the cover-up of such contact, efforts “focused on improving relations with Moscow” after the election are quite different from the Democratic claims of a pre-election conspiracy to affect the election results.

The improvement of relations with Russia might be counter to the goals of Hillary Clinton and her neocon allies who seek regime change in Russia, but improving ties is hardly a sinister goal on the part of Trump.  Democratic partisans might claim that this was being done in return for support from Russia during the election. However, there is no evidence either of actions by Russia which altered the election result, or such a quid quo pro between Trump and Russia. Even if such evidence should arise in the future, it is clear that Democrats were making such claims without evidence at the time. As was revealed in Shattered, Hillary Clinton devised a strategy of blaming others, including Russia, for her loss within twenty-four hours of losing. The claim that Russia affected the election result was largely based upon the Steele Dossier. Clinton and the DNC had covered up their role in paying for this report for months, casting doubt on its reliability.

It Is Mueller Time: Who Will Be Indicted And What Are The Charges?

Often news is dropped on a Friday to limits its coverage. In this case, the news that Mueller is preparing his first charges in the Trump investigations, is dominating the news this weekend. As CNN reported:

A federal grand jury in Washington on Friday approved the first charges in the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller, according to sources briefed on the matter.

The charges are still sealed under orders from a federal judge. Plans were prepared Friday for anyone charged to be taken into custody as soon as Monday, the sources said. It is unclear what the charges are.

The first obvious question is who will be charged. Paul Manafort,  Michael Flynn, and Carter Page lead the lists in speculation. I don’t think anyone will be surprised if one or more of them are indicted next week. There will be greater surprise if Jared Kushner, Donald Trump, Jr., or perhaps even a Democrat is indicted now that we have learned that the Podesta Group is also under investigation.

The next question is what the actual charges will be. From what has been released to the public so far, we have see much more evidence of a cover-up and obstruction of justice than we  have seen of the original crimes. There have been indications that Mueller is conducting the investigation more as would be expected if the concentration is on financial crimes including money laundering.

The evidence released to date for collusion leading to an actual change in the presidential election result  looks quite weak–with indications that this was more an excuse from Hillary Clinton to deflect blame for her own mistakes which caused her to lose. The stronger case for any sort of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia might involve Paul Manafort who allegedly offered to give a Russian billionaire private briefings on the campaign. However there is no evidence that such briefings took place and past speculation has also primarily been on an indictment for financial crimes such as money laundering or tax evasion.

There is also the meeting which both Donald Trump, Jr. and Kared Kushner attended with Russians, which they were lured to attend with promises of information on Hillary Clinton. However it appears that was only to get them to attend with the Russians reportedly having nothing to offer. While it indicates a willingness on their part to collude with Russia, there is no evidence that such collusion actually occurred. There very well could be legal violations in their actions, but this falls far short of Clinton’s claims of Trump and Russia working together to alter the election results.

Whatever indictments are issued, this means that the matter moves from a primarily political fight to a legal battle where rules of evidence prevail and Donald Trump’s cries of a witch hunt are even more meaningless. As occurred with Watergate, early indictments might lead to deals which ultimately result in evidence against those higher up. Also as with Watergate, a big question will be what did the president know and when did he know it.

Update: First Indictments Involve Money Laundering But Plea Bargain By Papadopoulos Could Be More Important