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.

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.

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

The indictments expected all weekend turned out to the least interesting outcome considering that Manafort’s indictment had been expected for quite a while. The indictments of Paul Manafort and associate Rick Gates are based upon financial crimes as I predicted. This action fails to help the cases made by partisans on either side. This is unrelated to the charges that Trump colluded with Russia to affect the election results as Hillary Clinton and Democratic partisans claim. It also contradicts pro-Trump partisans who have called Mueller’s investigation a witch hunt. It is also rather embarrassing to Donald Trump that, as Lawfare put it:

The president of the United States had as his campaign chairman a man who had allegedly served for years as an unregistered foreign agent for a puppet government of Vladimir Putin, a man who was allegedly laundering remarkable sums of money even while running the now-president’s campaign, a man who allegedly lied about all of this to the FBI and the Justice Department.

The more important development today might turn out to be that George Papadopoulos is entering into a plea bargain, which probably would have only been offered if he has information on people higher up in the campaign. This is the second incident we know about in which people in the Trump campaign spoke to Russians about getting information on Hillary Clinton. From The Washington Post:

Papadopoulos has agreed to plead guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians. Specifically, he falsely claimed that they had occurred before he joined the campaign in March 2016. He had communication with a professor who had contacts in the Russian government; this professor told him that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.” The professor introduced him to a Russian national who was supposedly Vladimir Putin’s niece (it turned out she wasn’t), and to someone who supposedly had connections in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). Based on those conversations, Papadopoulos pressed the campaign to set up meetings with the Russians, a suggestion that never came to fruition.

As with the meeting attended by Donald Trump, Jr. and Jared Kushner, there was an interest in obtaining information from Russia but no evidence than they were provided any information which helped the Trump campaign or altered the election result. While it is widely assumed that Donald Trump was probably aware of the meeting attended by his son and son-in-law, there is no evidence of this. Perhaps Papadopoulos has information regarding which people in the campaign were encouraging such meetings with Russia, and whether this includes Donald Trump.

The Clinton campaign has said it is beyond the pale to be working with foreigners, but we also know of at least two occasions when Clinton also worked with foreigners to affect the election results, including the recent revelations about the Clinton campaign and the DNC funding the Trump Russia dossier despite their earlier denials. The optics of the Trump campaign working with Russia to obtain information may appear worse than the Clinton campaign working with other foreigners, but any legal issues arising from this are likely be the same.

This is the the first action from Robert Muller. It remains to be seen if further indictments regarding money laundering get closer to Donald Trump and his family. It also remains to be seen whether Mueller has uncovered any direct evidence of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, or of other actions allegedly performed by Russia to affect the election result.

In related news, Politco reports that Tony Podesta, brother of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, is stepping down from the Podesta Group following reports that he is under investigation by Robert Mueller. From Politico’s report:

The investigation into Podesta and his firm grew out of investigators’ examination of Manafort’s finances. Manafort organized a PR campaign on behalf of a nonprofit called the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine. Podesta Group was one of several firms that were paid to do work on the PR campaign to promote Ukraine in the U.S.

Podesta Group filed paperwork with the Justice Department in April stating that it had done work for the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine that also benefited the same Ukrainian political party that Manafort once advised. Podesta Group said at the time it believed its client was a European think tank untethered to a political party.

The Hill reports that the Maryland Attorney General is investigating Jared Kushner “over alleged questionable debt collection practices and poor maintenance at several of its properties in that state.”

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

Jimmy Carter Again Says He Voted For Sanders; Does Not Think Russia Changed Any Votes

We already learned in May that Jimmy Carter voted for Bernie Sanders in the Georgia primary. As I noted then: In 1992, he declined to endorse Bill Clinton, saying “people are looking for somebody who is honest and tells the truth.” In an interview with The New York Times he repeated that he had voted for Sanders. Carter was also asked about whether he agreed with Clinton’s claim that Russia altered the election results. From the interview:

Carter is also not as bothered as some by Trump’s Putin bromance. “At the Carter Center,” he said, “we deal with Putin and the Russians quite frequently concerning Syria.”

Did the Russians purloin the election from Hillary?

“Rosie and I have a difference of opinion on that,” he said.

She looked over archly. “They obviously did,” she said.

He said: “I don’t think there’s any evidence that what the Russians did changed enough votes, or any votes.”

Rosalynn pressed, “The drip-drip-drip about Hillary.”

Carter noted that in the primary, “We voted for Sanders.”

I asked the famously ethical Carter what he made of Obama’s post-presidential string of $400,000 speeches.

Carter was also asked about the Clinton Foundation:

When I compared the Clinton Foundation with the Carter Center, Carter noted: “Rosie and I put money in the Carter Center. We never take any out.”

In other news on the Russia investigation today, NBC News reports that Robert Muller is now investigating Tony Podesta and the Podesta Group. Tony Podesta is the brother of Hillary Clinton campaign manager John Podesta:

Tony Podesta and the Podesta Group are now the subjects of a federal investigation being led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, three sources with knowledge of the matter told NBC News.

The probe of Podesta and his Democratic-leaning lobbying firm grew out of Mueller’s inquiry into the finances of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, according to the sources. As special counsel, Mueller has been tasked with investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Manafort had organized a public relations campaign for a non-profit called the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine (ECMU). Podesta’s company was one of many firms that worked on the campaign, which promoted Ukraine’s image in the West.

The sources said the investigation into Podesta and his company began as more of a fact-finding mission about the ECMU and Manafort’s role in the campaign, but has now morphed into a criminal inquiry into whether the firm violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act, known as FARA.

Robert Mueller Has Found Way To Circumvent Trump’s Power To Pardon Himself And Potential Witnesses

Donald Trump’s recent pardon of Joe Arpaio was seen as both an assault on the rule of law and a suggestion of how he might try to derail Robert Mueller’s investigation. Seeing that Trump figured out how to issue a pardon last week probably resulted in a great sense of relief to members of Trump’s family and friends.

Trump has already spoken about his power to pardon himself, friends, and family, not only escaping prosecution but also removing motivation from those around him to make deals and cooperate with Mueller. As Jonathan Chait put it,  “Mueller is apparently handling his investigating like the prosecution of a mob boss, pressuring underlings to flip on the boss. Trump’s advantage is that, unlike a mob boss, he can give out an unlimited number of get-out-of-jail-free cards.”

As the president’s power to issue pardons only applies to federal prosecutions, Mueller has found a way to potentially negate Trump’s power to pardon. by opening the possibility of prosecution at the state level. Typically federal prosecutions take precedence, but that is based upon tradition, not law. Politico reports:

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is working with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on its investigation into Paul Manafort and his financial transactions, according to several people familiar with the matter.

The cooperation is the latest indication that the federal probe into President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman is intensifying. It also could potentially provide Mueller with additional leverage to get Manafort to cooperate in the larger investigation into Trump’s campaign, as Trump does not have pardon power over state crimes.

The two teams have shared evidence and talked frequently in recent weeks about a potential case, these people said. One of the people familiar with progress on the case said both Mueller’s and Schneiderman’s teams have collected evidence on financial crimes, including potential money laundering.

No decision has been made on where or whether to file charges. “Nothing is imminent,” said one of the people familiar with the case…

While Trump has not signaled any public intention to pardon Manafort or anyone else involved in the Russia investigations, the president has privately discussed his pardon powers with his advisers.

Schneiderman has experience in going after the Trump organization, winning a $25 million settlement last November regarding allegedly fraudulent practices at Trump University.

Investigations Of Trump Expand Along With Speculation That He Will Repeat Saturday Night Massacre

News reports discussed two avenues of investigation being pursued regarding Donald Trump. One of them, his business ties, appears to be of value. The other is of more questionable value–fake news on Facebook.

Bloomberg is reporting that Robert Mueller is expanding the investigation into Trump’s business ties:

The U.S. special counsel investigating possible ties between the Donald Trump campaign and Russia in last year’s election is examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates, according to a person familiar with the probe.

FBI investigators and others are looking at Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development in New York with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008, the person said.

The investigation also has absorbed a money-laundering probe begun by federal prosecutors in New York into Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

The Wall Street Journal has further information related to the investigation of Paul Manafort:

Mr. Manafort, a Republican political consultant, spent years working for a pro-Russia party in Ukraine. He served as Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign manager for roughly three months in 2016 before resigning.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. also are investigating Mr. Manafort’s real-estate transactions, The Wall Street Journal has reported, with both offices examining his dealings for possible money-laundering and fraud. Messrs. Schneiderman and Vance are Democrats.

Mr. Manafort has spent and borrowed tens of millions of dollars in connection with properties in the U.S. over the past decade, including a Brooklyn, N.Y., townhouse and California properties being developed by his son-in-law, the Journal has reported.

The nature of the investigation, along with the contempt for law enforcement expressed by Donald Trump in an interview with The New York Times, has many predicting that Trump will wind up firing Robert Mueller in a scenario reminiscent of Richard Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre. Periodically I receive comments that such criticism of Trump comes from out of touch left wingers, so I will note that the conservative National Review also predicts, Yeah, Trump Is Probably Going to Fire Robert Mueller.

While I hope to see Manafort pursue investigations into the business dealings of Donald Trump and his associates, I question whether Congressional investigators will really find out much of value in an investigation of fake news and Facebook. CNN reports:

Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, met with Facebook officials in California more than a month ago as part of his committee’s investigation into potential collusion or election interference, and he’s convinced the company can explain whether anyone from the Trump campaign helped Russians boost fake news articles targeting Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Warner is testing the theory popular among Democratic operatives that Russia was behind spikes in fake news that were anti-Clinton and that Russia had help targeting those articles from US political operatives…

At the core of Warner’s questioning is a theory among Democratic operatives and former top-level Clinton campaign staff that Russia had help from domestic political operatives to micro-target fake news articles. No evidence has been uncovered to prove that theory.

Last month, Senate intelligence staff interviewed Brett Horvath, a social media technology expert who argues it’s possible that Russian operatives got political data that could then be used for successfully micro-targeting swing voters on Facebook.

“Facebook has all the data that could prove this is happening or not happening, that’s the starting point,” Horvath, a veteran Democratic political operative, told CNN.

The key line above is, “No evidence has been uncovered to prove that theory.”

There certainly was fake news spread during the campaign, as there also was against Barack Obama and John Kerry in their presidential campaigns. Only the Clinton campaign has gone so far as to blame Russia for this, with reporters covering the campaign to write the book Shattered reporting that Clinton developed the strategy of blaming Russia and others for her loss within twenty-four hours of losing, failing to take responsibility for her own mistakes. Whether or not the fake stories being spread came from Russia, they did far less harm to Clinton than the damage caused by her violation of State Department rules (as verified by the State Department Inspector General), and then repeatedly being caught lying about the matter. The truth was far more damaging than fiction.

The questionable business ties involving Donald Trump and others in his family and campaign appears to be worth investigating, but I bet it will be a mistake to divert resources from the more important issues to pursue partisan fantasies. If Democrats rely upon such weak attacks they risk allowing the Republicans to survive the actual Trump scandals.

Shepard Smith Speaks Out About All The Lies From The Trump Administration

So many lies have come from the Trump administration that even an anchor at Fox is starting to complain about all the lies. Shepard Smith had this to say about the various stories being told about the meeting between Donald Trump, Jr. and Russians when speaking with Chris Wallace:

Fox News can now confirm new, more — Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, the lawyer from Russia, the interpreter, this new guy we found out about today, and a mystery person. John Roberts confirms there was an eighth person in that meeting. We don’t know, there may have been more, but there was an eighth. Jared Kushner filled out his form, I think it’s an F-86, saying who he’d met with and what he had done.

Very important stuff, you can go to prison for messing it up, you know, intentionally. He went back and added 100 names and places. None of these people made it. It’s still not — we’re still not clean on this, Chris.

It’s — if there’s nothing there and that’s what they tell us, they tell us there’s nothing to this and nothing came of it, there’s a nothing burger, it wasn’t even memorable, didn’t write it down, didn’t tell you about it, because it wasn’t anything so I didn’t even remember it, with a Russian interpreter in the room at Trump Tower.

If all of that, why all of these lies? Why is it lie after lie after lie? If you’re clean, come out clean. You know, my grandmother used to say “When first we practice to — oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”

The deception, Chris, is mind boggling. And there are still people out there who believe we’re making it up, and one day they’re going to realize we’re not, and look around and go, “Where are we? And why are we getting told all these lies?”

Shepard Smith has varied from the hard line pro-Republican viewpoint at Fox at times, but it is also rare to see such outright acknowledgement about government lying including using the L-word. The Fix is calling this a “Cronkite moment” referring to when Walter Cronkite spoke out about the lies being told about the United States involvement in Vietnam.

This is a bit of an exaggeration. Walter Cronkite speaking out against the war is often seen as precipitating a turning point in public perception of the war. The majority of people in the nation is already opposed to Donald Trump and realizes he is a liar. However it would be more comparable if this leads to a change in perception of Donald Trump among Fox viewers.

Trump Turns To Lunatic Fringe, Looking Like A Loser In A Race Neither Major Party Candidate Deserves To Win

Trump Clinton Celebrity Death Match

Donald Trump might very well be the presidential candidate most detached from reality ever. He went from a lead in some of the polls at the time of the conventions to trailing to the degree that Republicans are now thinking of giving up on the White House and concentrating on preserving their majorities in Congress. (History does show that a candidate distrusted as much as Clinton could lead to many voting for the opposing party to keep her in check). At a time when Trump needed to expand his base of support, he has instead acted to limit it by turning to the far right:

The appointment of Breitbart news chief Stephen Bannon to head Donald Trump’s presidential campaign this week marks the official entree of the so-called “alt-right” into the Republicans’ top campaign…

…critics say that Bannon’s hiring resonates far beyond the Trump campaign in troubling ways. It marks a worrisome marriage of the Republican Party with an Internet culture that, they say, peddles in white identity, misogyny, anti-Semitism, and Clinton conspiracies.

In short, it doubles down on a largely white voting bloc that, in the words of Brendan O’Neill, a commentator for the conservative Spectator magazine in Britain, is “convinced the world is one big lefty, feminist plot to ruin your average white dude’s life.”

“The [Mexican] rapist comments, the banning Muslims comments – the crowd roars for that,” says Marc Hetherington, who has studied voter polarization at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. “Republican voters have said this is what we want, and it’s now the national party. And it’s a problem for [the party establishment] to manage.”

From a purely electoral perspective, the move risks keeping the Trump campaign’s center of gravity too far right for a general election. On Friday, Trump strategist Paul Manafort, installed to help the candidate reach out to a wider audience, resigned from the campaign. While Trump will be even more adored by those who adore him, he could become even more objectionable to all others – and there are not enough of Trump’s core voters to tilt a presidential election, argue many political scientists and pollsters.

“If you trust the polls, this seems like a fundamental strategic error. Trump is running worse than Mitt Romney among almost all demographic groups; white men without a college degree are the most prominent exception,” writes Nate Silver on the FiveThirtyEight data journalism website. “But there aren’t enough of those men to form a majority or really even to come all that close.”

Trump shows no sign of understanding the problem his campaign faces. He polls as low as zero to one percent of the black vote in some polls, but says with a straight face that he can not only win the election, but win 95 percent of the African-American vote when he runs for reelection. His actions lend credibility to those such as Michael Moore who have suggested that Trump never really entered the race with the intent of becoming president.

Clinton is fortunate in her opponent as she probably could not have beaten any other Republican. Even Donald Trump might have been able to win if he ran a sane campaign, running against a candidate as weak as Hillary Clinton. Imagine if he ran as a reformer from outside, against the political system and against the dishonesty and corruption of the Clintons, but kept to the facts rather than getting distracted by right wing nonsense. He could have avoided the far right, differing from the conventional Republican line in having backed universal health care and preserving Social Security in the past. A more consistent opposition to Clinton’s neocon interventionism could have been a welcome alternative if he could have remained coherent on foreign policy. He certainly does have a point about maintaining peace with Russia as opposed to rushing us into a new cold war with Russia as Clinton would, but cannot be taken seriously when he looks like Putin’s patsy. He could have even out-flanked Clinton on the left on issues including his opposition to trade deals such as the TPP and his (inconsistent) opposition to the drug war.

By failing to broaden his base and instead turning to the lunatic fringe of the far right, Trump is rapidly losing any chance he had at winning. There is certainly a lot of time between now and November, and possibly outside forces such as new leaks about Clinton might change things, but so far Trump appears to be doing everything wrong if he has any desire to win.