Democrats Slap Donald Trump On the Wrist In the Midterms

The midterms were a mixed success for the Democrats in 2018. Most notably the Democrats took control of the House, but unfortunately this probably means Nancy Peolsi returns as Speaker. They also regained about three hundred of the near one thousand seats in state legislatures they lost over the past decade, have a majority of state attorney generals in the nation, and won some key governorship battles, especially in the midwest. On the other hand, despite a Republican president as terrible as Donald Trump, their midterm gains in the House were historically not terribly impressive for the party out of power, and they did poorly in the high profile battles in the Senate. (I’m waiting to hear Rachel Maddow explain why the Russians meddled in the Senate races but not the House races this year.)

This was far more a slap on the wrist than a shallacking for Donald Trump.

The Senate map was undoubtedly very unfavorable for Democrats, but it will be so virtually every year as long as Democrats are unable to come up with a message to win in the smaller states beyond the east coast. The system of giving two Senators to each state regardless of size makes the Senate extraordinarily unrepresentative. Still, don’t be tempted to repeat the memes showing up since the election regarding winning the popular vote. They are misleading as the entire nation did not vote for Senate, and this can be tilted by which states do vote. This was especially true in 2018 as California had two Democrats running for Senate due to a system where the two leaders in the primary get on the November ballot regardless of party. This leads to a tremendous number of Democratic votes if the mythical Senate popular vote is counted, but only one Democratic Senator.

Democrats are always far quicker to list off the problems which make it more difficult to win than to change their strategy. They showed once again that moving to the right in the hopes of attracting Republican votes does not work. Nor did recruiting veterans help them do any better than expected. I would prefer to see Democrats be more consistent in supporting a reduction in  the role of government in the private lives of individuals–an attitude which might make defense of reproductive rights part of a consistent philosophy that might be accepted in the more libertarian minded portions of the country. Taking a rational anti-war line, as opposed to acting as if they are apologizing for appearing weak on national security, might also help in those areas which are hurt by perpetual warfare–and rejected Hillary Clinton in 2016.

This does note mean that the Democrats don’t have many valid complaints, including regarding voter suppression and gerrymandering. Some of the election results will help, including increasing their strength in several state governments before the next redistricting. While the high profile races in Florida did not turn out as hoped (how badly did campaigning with Hillary Clinton hurt Andrew Gillum?), but there was a victory in passing a ballot initiative to restore voting rights to convicted felons who have served their time.

While Democrats continued to struggle in Florida and Ohio, their hopes for Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin being more blue in 2018 look favorable after Tuesday’s results, including the defeat of Scott Walker in Wisconsin. Besides possibly giving the Democrats their electoral votes again in 2020, there might be an increased number of representatives as the heavily gerrymandered system of drawing Congressional districts will be replaced by an independent redistricting commission in Michigan.

Other ballot proposals passing in Michigan will make it easier to vote and legalized marijuana for recreational use. Newly elected Governor Gretchen Whitmer is looking at legislation or issuing executive orders to free prisoners convicted for marijuana related charges which will no longer be crimes after the ballot proposal passed. I did hold my nose and vote for Whitmer, despite her reliance on dark money and financing by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Action such as this will make me happier that I did so. A judge has already put some new marijuana cases on hold.

Medicaid expansion passed in Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah, and is also expected in Kansas due to the victory for a Democratic governor. While there is no chance of it becoming law imminently, there are also more Democratic supporters of Medicare for All in the House.

There were victories for various groups. The media has covered extensively how there are more women and people of color in the House. In addition, seven more scientists were elected to the House–all Democrats as the Republican war on science continues.

It remains to be seen how some issues will play out now that the midterms are over. Are we still supposed to be terrified by the caravan? Donald Trump quickly took advantage of having control of the Senate by firing Jeff Sessions.  I never would have guessed that I would see this as a bad thing when Sessions first became Attorney General. On the one hand, Sessions might have been the worst Attorney General in history. On the other hand, Sessions was absolutely right in his dispute with Trump in recusing himself from Mueller’s investigation, and his firing could be a sign that Trump plans to take action against Mueller. I suspect that Mueller has prepared for this by being ready to turn over evidence of financial crimes committed by Trump and his cronies to state prosecutors. Congressional Democrats will also be able to take over the investigation if needed. Hopefully they concentrate on Trump’s financial crimes and obstruction of justice, as opposed to the dubious conspiracy theories popular among many Democrats blaming Russia for Hillary Clinton’s loss.

Gallup Poll Shows 78% Of Democrats Mistakenly Believe Russia Changed Election Results

Democrats have often claimed to be the reality based community, citing many false beliefs held by Republicans. For example, a poll as recent as 2015 showed that half of Republicans still believed that WMD had been found in Iraq. Gallup shows that Democrats are doing even worse regarding false claims being used to promote neocon goals. A Gallup poll released August 20 shows 78% of Democrats believe not only that Russia interfered in 2016 election but that it changed the result, despite a lack of evidence for this view.

As with false views about WMD in Iraq, false views by Democrats about the 2016 election have negative consequences. Democrats are using the belief that Clinton lost because of Russian actions to avoid necessary reform in the party. Democrats must face reality, accept responsibility for their losses, and reform their party, as opposed to dwelling on conspiracy theories blaming others. Rigging the nomination for a candidate as terrible as Clinton cost the Democrats about 10% of the vote and is the main reason they lost in 2016–not any foreign interference.

Even worse, this has led to a more hostile view on foreign relations by Democrats. The same poll found that, “Americans believe it is more important to try to continue efforts to improve relations between the countries (58%), rather than taking strong diplomatic and economic steps against Russia (36%).” In contrast a majority of Democrats (51%) favor taking steps against Russia while 45% believe it is more important to continue efforts to improve relations. Hysteria over Russian bots and “fake news” has also led to an increase in censorship of Americans on social media, as I most recently discussed yesterday.

A majority agree that Russia did interfere in the election. This is hardly surprising considering that Russia has meddled in our politics for decades, just as the United States has meddled in elections in Russia and around the world. I find that many Democrats have difficulty separating the different aspects of this. They see legitimate criticism of Trump’s policies as somehow being proof that Russia changed the result of the election, or fail to distinguish between low level meddling and actually altering the result.

Some of this comes from misinformation deliberately spread by Clinton and the DNC to distract from the reasons for her loss.  As was revealed in Shattered, Hillary Clinton decided upon the strategy of blaming others such as Russia for her loss within twenty-four hours of losing. The Washington Post exposed the fact that the Clinton campaign and DNC had paid for the Steele dossier, after they had denied their involvement for months.

We also have often seen false information being repeated, even after retracted. Today we saw one of many false claims being retracted, this time a claim from Democrats about a hacking attempt turning out to be a false alarm. I’ve repeatedly found that Democrats will continue to cite the original incorrect stories without realizing they have been retracted. This includes the repeated incorrect claims about seventeen intelligence agencies, and incorrect reporting regarding hacking of voter databases. I listed additional examples here, and The Nation has also debunked the irresponsible media coverage of claims about Russia.

Just as many Democrats are quick to accept any excuse for Clinton’s loss, many reporters who had predicted Clinton would win easily prefer to blame her loss on Russia, rather than admitting they had totally misread the election. In reality, signs of Clinton’s weakness in the battleground states, among independents, among liberals, and among young voters was apparent even before she was nominated, as I had warned in multiple posts.

Evidence from the Congressional investigations showed that the Trump Tower meeting, while possibly a violation of election laws, was of little consequence. No evidence came up showing any evidence that any votes were changed during the Congressional investigations. The hearings revealed that Russian ads and propaganda accounted for a minuscule portion of overall Facebook content, representing  “less than 0.004 percent of all content — or about 1 in 23,000 news feed items” on Facebook. Over half of the ads were not seen until after the election, most had nothing to do with promoting Trump over Clinton, and the ads were more concentrated in safe blue or red states as opposed to the battleground states.

The various guilty pleas and indictments from Robert Mueller have dealt far more with crimes such as money laundering and tax evasion as opposed to anything which involved the election. Some indictments were for violations of campaign law, and others were for allegedly hacking the DNC, with neither claimed to have altered the election results.

With the DNC having refused to allow the FBI to investigate their computers, there remains question as to whether the release of email was really a hack or a leak. Even if a hack, there has been no question as to the validity of the email released by Wikileaks. Blaming the loss of the election based upon the release of factual information which exposed dishonesty by Clinton and the DNC is hardly a meaningful excuse, and the blame for the loss still falls on Clinton and the DNC.

Democrats must face reality as to why they lost the 2016 election and make necessary reforms in the party–including reforming the nomination process at their meeting this week where super delegates are under consideration. Rigging the nomination for a candidate who could not win the nomination fairly on her own both alienated many potential voters, and left the Democrats with a candidate too unpopular to beat even a candidate as dreadful as Donald Trump.

Establishment Democrats Taking Wrong Lessons From Indictments Of Russian Agents

The announcement of the indictment of twelve Russian agents by Robert Mueller yesterday changes little with regards to what was already known, but establishment Democrats are taking all the wrong lessons, and making claims which they never would have made if not for the perceived political benefits. Finding ways to justify the fact that Hillary Clinton was unable to beat a candidate as dreadful as Donald Trump has become top priority.

Establishment Democrats seem oblivious to the fact that an indictment is not proof. No evidence accompanied the indictments and, as it is unlikely that the Russians will ever appear in court, it is possible that no evidence of these accusations will ever be presented. This provides no further proof than the retracted (but still repeated) claim of seventeen intelligence agencies agreeing that Russia hacked the DNC.

I have remained an agnostic as to whether the email was released by a hack or by a leak, and question if we will ever know for certain considering how the DNC refused to allow the FBI to investigate their servers. My personal opinion has been that a hack was the more likely explanation, but this is not definite. While I personally have never taken the Seth Rich theory seriously, there is nothing new here to disprove the view of those who do believe this.

For the sake of further discussion here, I will assume that the claims in Mueller’s indictment are true, again noting that this is not proven. Assuming that the accusations are true, establishment Democrats are still naively living in a pre-Gary Powers world, ignoring the realities of the situation.

Francis Gary Powers was an American spy who was shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960 while engaging in espionage. The United States claimed that he was studying weather patterns for NASA, but it was ultimately made clear that he was a spy. The United States was forced to admit that it had been conducting such spy  missions over the Soviet Union for several years, ending any pretense that the United States did not engage in such actions. It was no longer possible to see the United States as purely the victim of Russian espionage, but Democrats have suddenly returned to this mindset.

Such espionage is commonplace, and is rather benign compared to the practice of influencing elections in other countries–along with the outright overthrowing of foreign governments. Despite a long history of the United States meddling in the elections in other countries, establishment Democrats act as if the hack of email from the DNC and Hillary Clinton is somehow a unique attack on the United States, with many even comparing it to an act of war. Russia has meddled in American politics for decades, just as the United States has meddled in Russia, and both have meddled in many other countries. Russia did not suddenly attack the United States for the first time to attempt to stop Hillary Clinton–although that might be understandable considering Clinton’s history of belligerence towards Russia, and her propensity to support war.

While establishment Democrats have increasingly been following the neocon line on Russia, believing claims from the same people who sold the country on going to war over nonexistent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, avoiding unnecessary war should be a high priority. Instead many Democrats opposed the recent talks with North Korea, and are now using this as an argument to cancel the talks between Trump and Putin.

There are valid reasons to question these talks, but in a time of escalating tensions with a nuclear power, there is far more compelling reason to continue with summits, including potential talks on nuclear weapons. Trump’s plan to meet with Putin alone is of concern, I think it is far more likely that if Trump has any secretive goals it is more to promote a future Trump Tower Moscow than to engage in any electoral conspiracies. To date there is no evidence of any real collusion occurring, even if the Trump Tower meeting did show a willingness to obtain information from Russia if it existed. While Mueller may or may not present evidence of this in the future, there certainly has been no evidence while establishment Democrats have been trying to pass this off as fact.

While I do not condone the hacking of any Americans by the Russian government, if this was foreign meddling in an election, it was probably the most benign meddling in the history of election meddling. The released email provided the American people with truthful and accurate information which exposed corruption and dishonesty by top politicians in this country.

It certainly makes no sense for Clinton apologists to use the hacked email as an excuse for Clinton losing. If Clinton and the Democratic Party lost because of the American people finding out the truth about their corruption, the blame for the loss falls on the politicians exposed, not those who exposed them. To argue that the email posted by Wikileaks caused Clinton to lose only means that I was right (and Clinton supporters wrong) during all those months I was writing that Clinton should not be the Democratic nominee.

The fact remains that, while Mueller has shown evidence of money laundering and other financial crimes, along with crimes by some Russians, there has been no evidence of any actions which altered the election results. There is no evidence that the voting systems were hacked or that a single vote was changed, despite erroneous reports from Clinton supporters on MSNBC. The evidence obtained in the Congressional hearings showed that Russian ads and other activities on social media were a minuscule amount of traffic,  unlikely to affect the vote.

The actual threat to American democracy comes from the Democratic and Republican Parties. This includes attempt at disenfranchisement of voters by Republicans, and the efforts exposed by the Democratic Party to rig the 2016 nomination and keep out progressive viewpoints. I find the actions by the Democrats especially offensive when the Democratic establishment simultaneously works to restrict the ability of third parties to run, and for those with different viewpoints to effectively run within the Democratic Party. Instead of supporting democratic values and allowing for different viewpoints, many Democrats totally reject opposing views, holding a false belief that differences in opinion with them are based upon falling for Russian propaganda.

To the degree that Russia might be engaging in activities to meddle in our elections, the proper responses are clear. We need to enhance election security, including maintaining a paper trail. If the DNC and other Democrats fell for the hacking attempts described in the indictment, further education is needed to limit this risk in the future.

There are also wrong ways to react. This includes arguing against diplomacy and increasing the risk of war, along with the McCarthyism and support for censorship of opposing viewpoints coming from some Democrats.

Distorted Right Wing Attacks On Michelle Wolf–What She Really Said (Including Full Transcript)

Donald Trump has a long history of insulting anyone who displeases him, including the handicapped, immigrants, Muslims, and gold star families. He has quite frequently attacked the appearance of women. However, Trump cannot take it when he is the target of mere jokes. For the second straight year he was unwilling to attend the White House Correspondent’s Dinner. Conservatives who have often defended Trump’s attacks on others, responded by attacking Michelle Wolf. Frequently the attacks were not for her actual jokes but were based upon distorting what she actually said.

A satiric roast at a dinner such as this would be expected to be far harder on its targets than would be expected in normal political discourse. Comedians are expected to push the boundaries, cross lines, and make people feel uncomfortable. Jokes about Trump are naturally going to include lines about prostitutes and grabby pussy, because this is what Donald Trump, not Michele Wolf, brought to Washington.

Wolf’s actual jokes were far less offensive than many of the things we hear from Trump and his allies. As Wolf’s actual act was tamer than they are, the right attacked by distorting what she actually said. It was reminiscent of past attacks from the right on others such as David Letterman.

The main line of the attacks was to falsely claim that Wolf attacked Sarah Sanders’ looks. This falsehood was often spread by taking a line out of context, making it appear she was joking about Sanders’ eye as opposed to joking about her lying. Her full joke regarding this was, “I actually really like Sarah. I think she’s very resourceful. She burns facts, and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smoky eye. Like maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s lies. It’s probably lies.” Even quoted out of context, “smoky eye” is hardly a terrible attack.

Wolf did briefly mention Mitch McConnell’s neck and Christ Christie’s weight, but I haven’t seen complaints about these, and these are common laugh lines for the late night comics. The only woman whose looks were mocked by Wolf were her own, when she referred to her own frizzy hair and small tits.

Wolf was interviewed by NPR and defended what she said:

I think people have a lot of preconceived notions about Sarah’s looks and I think a lot of what’s happening is they’re projecting onto this joke. … I think it’s clear that the joke wasn’t about Sarah’s looks, but I don’t think — to me it’s so obvious that I don’t even really need to defend it. I think if you listen to the joke you’ll understand that it’s about the fact that she lies and if it’s taken another way I think you should go back and listen to it again. …

If there [are] two people that I actually made fun of their looks on Saturday it was Mitch McConnell and Chris Christie and no one is jumping to their defense. I made fun of Mitch McConnell’s neck and I did a small jab at Chris Christie’s weight and no one is jumping to their defense.

Late night comedians did come to her defense, including Stephen Colbert reliving his old conservative character:

“She is filthy and she is mean — which is what we love about her. Because those are wonderful qualities for comedians, and terrible qualities for free-world leaders.” — SETH MEYERS, comparing Michelle Wolf with President Trump

“Michelle should have had the decency not to comment on women’s appearances in any way, shape or form. She’s a comedian, for God’s sake, not the president.” — TREVOR NOAH

“This is the correspondents’ dinner, celebrating the freedom of speech; you can’t just say whatever you want!” — STEPHEN COLBERT

“I am so proud, right down to the breastbone, that the press is defending her despite the fact that her boss joked about throwing reporters in jail. That’s the kind of comedy the press likes!” — STEPHEN COLBERT, on Sarah Huckabee Sanders

The best defense of much of the criticism I’ve heard about the speech is to hear what she actually said. The video is above, and full transcript follows:

(more…)

DNC Suit Against Wikileaks Is A Dangerous Attack On Freedom Of The Press

In 2016 the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton were exposed for undermining democratic principles by rigging the Democratic nomination and other acts of gross dishonesty. While there were many sources of information regarding this, email released by Wikileaks was instrumental in both verifying what was already suspected and providing new information. Rather than showing any remorse and instituting real reform, the Democratic Party has now initiated the absurd act of suing Wikileaks, Russia, and the Trump campaign based upon their unproven conspiracy theories that the 2016 election was stolen by these groups. In other words, the DNC is filing a lawsuit alleging damages because the truth about them was released by Wikileaks. The most alarming aspect is their attack on freedom of the press by including Wikileaks for publishing leaked or stolen emails provided to them.

This foolish action made the DNC the target of civil libertarians on a weekend in which Donald Trump was also attacking the press. The DNC is including Wikileaks in the suit not because of any claims that they had hacked the DNC, but purely because they posted email they received. Media organizations often publish stolen material and the DNC’s attempt to sue Wikileaks for doing is an attempt to intimidate the media for doing so. This includes The Pentagon Papers, The Panama Papers, and the revelations from Edward Snowden about NSA surveillance. The right of the media to publish stolen documents has been upheld by the Supreme Court.

As Glenn Greenwald and Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation wrote, “investigative journalism frequently entails media outlets receiving documents and other private information from people who have stolen them or otherwise broke the law to obtain and release them. To convert that into a legal transgression or part of an unlawful racketeering plot – as the DNC lawsuit seeks to do – is to turn a core part of journalism into something illegal.” They also noted:

Even WikiLeaks’ most devoted critics and enemies are constrained to acknowledge that WikiLeaks’ publications in general – and their disclosure of at least some of the DNC and Podesta emails in particular – informed the public about matters legitimately in the public interest. That’s why literally every major media outlet reported on their contents, why those documents forced the resignation of five top DNC officials and the firing of a CNN commentator, and why the DNC itself believes, as evidenced by this lawsuit, that it changed perceptions of Hillary Clinton.

For an entertaining history on this history in which the Supreme Court upheld the right of newspapers to publish stolen documents watch the recent movie The Post. To use an analogy to The Pentagon Papers, the DNC is not only suing what might be the equivalent of Daniel Ellsberg for stealing the papers, but also suing those in the position of The New York Times and The Washington Post (in the pre-Bezos era).

Is this really the position the DNC desires to be in if they want to have any hope of rebuilding bridges with the left? The Democrats have been the villains of this story. Their attempts to portray themselves as the victims, as opposed to cleaning up the party and embracing reform, is counterproductive if they hope to ever regain the trust of many on the left.

Democratic opposition to the publication of email which exposes the unethical actions of the DNC is also rather hypocritical considering that most of them have probably cheered on Rachel Maddow for airing information on leaked tax returns from Donald Trump.

Wikileaks has been victorious in previous cases in which claims that they were involved in the theft of documents they posted. They have also been the target of Democrats in the past, including several false claims about them from Hillary Clinton.

Wikileaks has responded to this suit stating in a Tweet stating, “As an accurate publisher of newsworthy information @WikiLeaks is constitutionally protected from such suits.” They are also requesting contributions for a counter-suit: “Help us counter-sue. We’ve never lost a publishing case and discovery is going to be amazing fun.”

There are also questions regarding the validity of other aspects of the suit. The generally pro-Democratic blog Vox writes:

…there were many hacks and claims of hacks during 2016, and it hasn’t yet been shown whether any of these Trumpworld and Russia contacts involved coordination on the DNC email leak itself, or even whether any cooperation effort between Trump’s team and Russia involving hacked material did materialize.

The DNC may well be hoping to use this new suit to surface more evidence of this, should it proceed to the discovery stage — but as of now, they don’t have the goods on any Trumpworld involvement with the hack and leak that damaged Democrats specifically.

Slate points out that, “Russia and WikiLeaks are unlikely to cooperate with a U.S. civil proceeding.” They also note that, “The DNC’s evidence of Trump participation in the scheme is limited to suggestive but not conclusive information that has already appeared in media reports.” They questioned the point of this suit, which appears to be primarily a stunt, when these matters are already under investigation by Robert Mueller (and we have yet to see evidence to support many of the claims coming from the DNC). They also noted that some Democrats questioned spending money on this during a conference call reviewing the suit. Slate was not impressed with the response from the DNC:

“We’re not getting into costs regarding this litigation” is not the kind of thing you say, in my opinion, when you are really confident that you are spending your donors’ money wisely during a crucial election year!

FBI Raids Offices Of Michael Cohen Due To Suspected Bank Fraud And Campaign Finance Violations

The FBI has raided the office and hotel room of Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen. Cohen was allegedly involved in a payoff to Stormy Daniels along with having a major role in Trump’s attempts to build a Trump tower in Moscow.

The Washington Post reports:

The F.B.I. raided the office and hotel room of President Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, on Monday, seizing business records, emails and documents related to several topics, including payments to a pornographic film actress.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating Mr. Cohen for possible bank fraud, and the documents identified in the warrant date back years, according to a person briefed on the search.

The prosecutors obtained the search warrant after receiving a referral from the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, according to Mr. Cohen’s lawyer, who called the search “completely inappropriate and unnecessary.” The search does not appear to be directly related to Mr. Mueller’s investigation, but most likely resulted from information that he had uncovered and gave to prosecutors in New York…

The Cohen raids required high-level authorization within the Justice Department. Under regulations governing the special counsel’s work, Mueller is required to consult with Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein if his team finds information worth investigating that does not fall under his mandate to examine Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

Rosenstein, as the acting attorney general supervising Mueller’s work, has the responsibility of deciding whether to expand Mueller’s mandate to include the new topic or to refer it to a U.S. attorney’s office.

Since Cohen is a practicing attorney whose communications with clients are considered privileged, federal prosecutors would have been required to first consider a less intrusive investigative tactic than a search warrant before executing the raids.

To serve a search warrant on a practicing attorney, federal prosecutors are required to obtain approval from top Justice Department officials. That means the acting U.S. attorney in Manhattan, Geoffrey S. Berman, who was appointed to his role by Sessions in January, as well as Justice Department officials in Washington, probably signed off.

As the report notes, the Trump Justice Department would have had to sign off on this with the raid being approved by Rod Rosenstein. In addition, the acting US Attorney in Manhattan, Geoffrey S. Berman would have signed off on this. Berman was was appointed by Trump and personally interviewed by him. While it is possible that this is a “disgraceful” overreach as Trump protests, it is doubtful that people such as Rosenstein and Berman would have signed off on this if there was not strong evidence against Cohen, especially considering the legal requirements in such a situation. As Taegan Goddard wrote:

The U.S. Attorney’s Manual says prosecutors “are expected to take the least intrusive approach consistent with vigorous and effective law enforcement when evidence is sought from an attorney actively engaged in the practice of law.” If a FBI raid is the “least intrusive,” one can only imagine the seriousness of the crimes.

This is definitely not an act which could have been conducted by rogue prosecutors, or something done by anti-Trump partisans.

Popehat has more on the review process which would have been necessary to approve this raid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More at Outside The Beltway, Vox, and Popehat.

Trump Brings Ultra-Warmonger Into Administration. How Much Should We Worry?

Donald Trump’s choice of John Bolton to be National Security Adviser greatly diminishes any hopes that Donald Trump actually meant it when he (sometimes) spoke out against war as a candidate. Perhaps it is possible that Trump just likes to bring in people from Fox and does not realize that Bolton’s views differ sharply from some of the views he has promoted. Considering how inconsistent and incoherent he was on foreign policy, it is also possible that his opposition to the Iraq war was primarily an attack on Jeb Bush via his family, and his criticism of regime change in Libya was also based more on a desire to attack Hillary Clinton than any real understanding of the situation.

With the range of views on Bolton ranging as to how much to panic, Andrew Sullivan predicts the worst case scenario:

This is the second phase of tyranny, after the more benign settling-in: the purge. Any constraints that had been in place to moderate the tyrant’s whims are set aside; no advice that counters his own gut impulses can be tolerated. And so, over the last couple of weeks, we have seen the president fire Rex Tillerson and Andrew McCabe, two individuals who simply couldn’t capitulate to the demand that they obey only Trump, rather than the country as well…

No one with these instincts for total domination over others is likely to moderate the longer he is in power. Au contraire. It always gets worse. And so Tillerson has been replaced by a fawning toady, Mike Pompeo, a man whose hatred of Islam is only matched by his sympathy for waterboarders. Pompeo has been replaced in turn by a war criminal, who authorized brutal torture and illegally destroyed the evidence, Gina Haspel. Whatever else we know about Haspel, we know she follows orders.

Gary Cohn has been replaced by Larry Kudlow — a sane person followed by a delusional maniac Trump sees on Fox, who instantly thought up ways for the president to cut taxes further without congressional approval. And the State Department, indeed the entire diplomatic apparatus, has, it seems, been replaced by Jared Kushner, a corrupt enthusiast for West Bank settlements who no longer has a security clearance.

Then the president’s legal team was shaken up — in order to purge those few who retain some appreciation for the rule of law in a constitutional republic and to replace them with conspiracy theorists, thugs, and the kind of combative, asshole lawyers Trump has always employed in his private capacity. Trump is self-evidently — obviously— preparing to fire Mueller, and the GOP’s complete acquiescence to the firing of McCabe is just a taste of the surrender to come. “Now I’m fucking doing it my own way!” was how he allegedly expressed his satisfaction at the purge, as his approval ratings from Republicans increase, and as the GOP’s evolution into a full-fledged cult gathers pace.

And then last night, we saw McMaster fall on his sword, replaced by John Bolton, an unrepentant architect of the most disastrous war since Vietnam, a fanatical advocate for regime change in Iran, an anti-Muslim extremist, and a believer in the use of military force as if it were a religion. And this, of course, is also part of the second phase for Plato’s tyrant: war. “As his first step, he is always setting some war in motion, so that people will be in need of a leader,” Plato explains. In fact, “it’s necessary for a tyrant always to be stirring up war.”

…I worry that the more Trump is opposed and even cornered — especially if he loses the House this fall — the more dangerous he will become. If Mueller really does have the goods, and if the Democrats storm back into congressional power, then Trump may well lash out to protect himself at all costs. We know he has no concern for the collateral damage his self-advancement has long caused in his private and public life. We know he has contempt for and boundless ignorance of liberal democracy. We know he is capable of anything — of immense cruelty and callousness, of petty revenge and reckless rhetoric, of sudden impulses and a quick temper. We also know he is commander-in-chief, who may soon need the greatest distraction of all.

War is coming. And there will be nothing and no one to stop him.

With establishment Democrats having also adopted neoconservativeism and abandoned standing up to warmongers (having even nominated one of the worst in 2016) I’ll turn to another conservative critic of Trump, and someone I rarely quote or agree with. Jennifer Rubin described the horrors of having Bolton in this position, but left more room for hope than Sullivan:

Bolton frequently advocates use of military power, specifically against Iran and North Korea. With regard to North Korea, he believes diplomacy is useless and the only “solution” is reunification of the Korean Peninsula — as a free and democratic country. If that is a short-term goal rather than a long-term aspiration, a massive war almost certainly would be necessary. On Iran, he has declared the deal unfixable and advocated for military strikes on Iran.

The question of the moment is whether the John Bolton we read in print and see on TV will be the same John Bolton who is charged with coordinating foreign policy. Advocating in print a position a Democratic president will never undertake is one thing; presenting to your boss a viable plan for military action that may result in mass casualties is quite another. In other words, we’re about to find out if Bolton is really serious about all his views or has simply enjoyed the role of gadfly…

Where Sullivan sees nobody who could stop him, Rubin has a suggestion which is more grounded in the Constitution than recent precedent:

The Bolton pick should be a wake-up call to Republicans who always assumed wise, calm advisers would be there to constrain Trump. It should motivate both Republicans and Democrats to start reclaiming Congress’s power, for example, by declaring that congressional authorization is required for a first strike on either Iran or North Korea. They cannot prevent Bolton from assuming his job, but together with Republican colleagues can begin to exercise more restraint on the use of force and, as Menendez suggested, to conduct robust oversight.

As for outside foreign policy gurus who have advocated high-stakes strategies (e.g., threatening to pull out of the JCPOA and use military force against Iran), they would do well to realize this is no academic exercise. In Bolton, the president has someone who may well encourage his most outlandish ideas.

It could be a favorable “legacy” of Donald Trump, even if not what he desires, if the outcome of his presidency is greater constraint on presidential power, as well as corruption.

Meanwhile Guardian editor David Shariatmadari, after writing of the risk of war, concluded with, “Help us Mad Dog Mattis, you’re our only hope.” It is scary that the most sane foreign policy voice left is someone called Mad Dog.

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.

Rational Voices In Response To Recent Charges Of Russian Assassination By Poisoning And Infiltration Of The Power Grid

Before the 2016 election I feared that a Clinton presidency would turn Democrats into a pack of neocon warmongers and we would see attempts to limit free speech in protest. What I didn’t anticipate was that her loss would do the same thing. Democrats are spreading hysteria about Russia which is comparable to the misinformation spread about Iraq in the run up to that war. Many Democrats are spreading claims which are not supported by either the Congressional investigations or the information in Robert Mueller’s indictments. Many are adopting McCarthyist tactics to attack those who attempt to question their misinformation, failing to understand that debunking false claims about Russia no more makes one pro-Putin than debunking false claims about Iraq and WMD made one pro-Saddam. Fortunately there are still some sane voices in the world. Today I will look at responses to the Russian assassinations in London and to the reports of Russian infiltration of the power grid.

For the sake of discussion I am assuming that the accusations made regarding these two events are true, but we must keep in mind that repeatedly there have been examples of accusations being made, the claims later being retracted, yet many people continued to spread the false claims. This includes the  retracted claims of agreement by seventeen intelligence agencies agreeing when in reality all that existed was a fact-free assessment by a small number of anti-Russian individuals in the intelligence community. NBC has repeatedly raised the debunked claims of Russian hacking of our voting systems. Previous claims that the Russians infiltrated the electrical grid in Vermont were later retracted. Many Democrats act as if collusion between Trump and Russia has been established, and that Russia altered the election results, when there is no evidence of either, and no charges that this was done in any of Robert Mueller’s indictments to date.

While leaders of the Democratic Party in the United States are spreading anti-Russian hysteria, primarily to avoid responsibility for nominating a candidate so terrible that she could not even beat Donald Trump, the leader of the Labour Party in the UK sounds far more rational. Jeremy Corbyn has this op-ed in The Guardian in response to the recent poisonings in London:

As I said in parliament, the Russian authorities must be held to account on the basis of the evidence, and our response must be both decisive and proportionate. But let us not manufacture a division over Russia where none exists. Labour is of course no supporter of the Putin regime, its conservative authoritarianism, abuse of human rights or political and economic corruption. And we pay tribute to Russia’s many campaigners for social justice and human rights, including for LGBT rights.

However, that does not mean we should resign ourselves to a “new cold war” of escalating arms spending, proxy conflicts across the globe and a McCarthyite intolerance of dissent. Instead, Britain needs to uphold its laws and its values without reservation. And those should be allied to a foreign policy that uses every opportunity to reduce tensions and conflict wherever possible…

There can and should be the basis for a common political response to this crime. But in my years in parliament I have seen clear thinking in an international crisis overwhelmed by emotion and hasty judgments too many times. Flawed intelligence and dodgy dossiers led to the calamity of the Iraq invasion. There was overwhelming bipartisan support for attacking Libya, but it proved to be wrong. A universal repugnance at the 9/11 attacks led to a war on Afghanistan that continues to this day, while terrorism has spread across the globe.

The continuing fallout from the collapse of the Soviet Union and the virtual collapse of the Russian state in the 1990s must be addressed through international law and diplomacy if we are to reverse the drift to conflict.

Right now, the perpetrators of the Salisbury attack must be identified and held to account. Only through firm multilateral action can we ensure such a shocking crime never happens again.

Just as we should work to ensure that such a crime never happens again, we should work to increase cyber-security, including security for the electrical grid. Philip Bump, who previously added some sanity to the claims that Russian altered the election by using social media, now is looking at the facts regarding the electrical grid. He wrote a column entitled Why Russian hackers aren’t poised to plunge the United States into darkness:

The natural question that emerges is: How serious is this hacking? The idea of Russian hackers having access to the control switches of America’s power infrastructure is particularly unnerving, raising the idea of waking up one morning to learn that the United States has simply been switched off.

Several experts who spoke with The Washington Post, though, explained that this is not only oversimplistic but also that it is almost certainly impossible. The effects of infiltration of America’s power grid would be much more geographically limited thanks to the distributed, redundant nature of the system.

In fact, it’s more than a little like another alert issued by the government about Russian infiltration efforts: the one on Oct. 7, 2016, warning about Russian efforts to tamper with state voting systems.

That announcement came from the director of national intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security and indicated that Russian hackers were “scanning and probing” election-related systems. The message, one of the few public responses to Russian interference from the Obama administration, didn’t get as much play as it might have, given that it came out the same day as The Post published the “Access Hollywood” tape.

Meaning that the caveats in the announcement — that our voting mechanisms were protected by being disconnected from the Internet during the election, by being distributed throughout thousands of counties and by having after-the-fact statistical checks on accuracy — weren’t really absorbed. The idea that Russian hackers might have significantly altered election results in 2016 persists out of a misunderstanding of how remarkably hard it would be to subvert the process, particularly without being noticed…

…this damage would be localized. Perhaps, Bauch said, a hacker who’d gained access to a regional power provider or generation system might be able to knock out power to tens or hundreds of thousands of people at a time. That would be significant, but it’s not taking out the whole grid. Attacking multiple providers across the country at specific times of vulnerability — like on a hot day in the west when power supplies are strained — could multiply those effects. But it would require a significant amount of planning, coordination and access to have an impact on a massive scale…

Thanks to the distributed nature of our elections and the barriers to changing votes, hacking our elections is trickier than most people realize. Thanks to the distributed and often disconnected nature of our electrical system and the barriers to accessing it, the same can be said of hacking the grid…

It’s a serious situation, warranting the sort of dramatic response we saw from the government on Thursday. But do not expect to wake up some day soon and learn that Russian President Vladimir Putin now controls the flow of electricity to your house. Real life, as always, is less dramatic than the movies.

Bump has a lot more detail in his full article, including the belief that Russian hackers gained access through spear-phishing. While there is controversy over whether the DNC’s email was released to Wikileaks due to hacking or a leak from the inside, the possibility has also been raised that access to the DNC’s email was through spear-phishing. We would be much safer if the media and politicians spent half the time they spend on misleading stories about Russia to better educate the public about how to respond to such attempts to gain access to our computer systems.