Democrats Risk Continued Failure In Denying Reasons For Clinton’s Loss

Aaron Blake shows how Democrats are burying their heads in the sand with their denial as to how terrible a candidate Hillary Clinton was, even when Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders have pointed this out:

“I never thought she was a great candidate,” Biden said, according to reports. “I thought I was a great candidate.”

…Biden isn’t the first leading Democratic figure with possible designs on 2020 to apparently slight Clinton. Clinton’s 2016 primary foe, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), has repeatedly offered some version of this quote: “It wasn’t that Donald Trump won the election; it was that the Democratic Party that lost the election.”

Those comments have definitely rubbed some Clinton supporters the wrong way, and Biden’s are likely to even more so, given how direct they were.

Of course, Biden isn’t saying anything that most every election analyst hasn’t. You can make a pretty objective case that Clinton wasn’t a great candidate, given she lost an election she was expected to win to an opponent who became the most unpopular president-elect in modern history.

…in most situations, a party that lost a presidential campaign wouldn’t so fiercely guard the good name of the candidate who lost — much less one who had just lost a second presidential campaign in eight years. Republicans, for instance, were only so happy to place the blame for their 2012 loss squarely on the shoulders of Mitt Romney and his failure to connect with people. The same goes for Democrats and John Kerry in 2004.

So why not Democrats in 2017? Part of the reason is that they simply don’t feel Clinton really lost. Russia’s hacking, FBI Director James Comey’s late announcement about her emails (and the media’s coverage of that issue) and her popular vote win have combined to create a genuine sense that she was robbed — almost literally so. And Clinton has only fed that beast with her repeated comments dissecting the unfair reasons why she lost.

It’s a delicate dance for the likes of Biden and Sanders right now. They want to emphasize that the party can do better, but in doing so, they risk alienating some very passionate and outspoken Clinton supporters with an almost religious sense of righteousness about 2016.

Perhaps it could be done more delicately, but to pretend Biden is wrong about Clinton not being a great candidate is to bury your head in the sand. And that’s a pretty dangerous thing for Democrats to do right now.

Of course Hillary Clinton was one of the worst candidates ever nominated by a major political party. She unethically used her political career to build a personal fortune and capitalize on the Clinton name after Bill left office, despite how this shaped her reputation. As Matt Taibbi has argued, once she made this decision, she should have left politics. She has spent her career undermining liberal values–a progressive who gets conservative results. Polls showed long before the nomination that she was untrusted by the voters. She polled poorly among independents, liberals, swing state voters, and in the rust belt. Nominating her in the midst of her major scandals would have been as if the Republicans had nominated Richard Nixon after the Watergate scandal had become well known.

Donald Trump might have even bigger negatives than Clinton, but Clinton ran such a terrible campaign that she could not even beat him. Clinton’s own negatives were large enough to negate his. Democrats even allowed themselves to be outflanked on the left by the Republicans on economics and foreign policy with the nomination of Clinton (even if this was based upon incoherent positions held by Trump).

Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign shows how Clinton latched onto the strategy of blaming other for her loss within twenty-four hours of her loss. Partisan Democrats who were foolish enough to nominate a candidate as unfit for public office as Hillary Clinton were also gullible to fall for this.

As I wrote in the previous post on her use of these excuses, The Wikileaks releases of hacked email hurt because it verified criticism that the DNC had violated its own rules in rigging the nomination for Clinton, and in showing Clinton’s dishonesty. There has been absolutely no evidence that anything released by Wikileaks was not accurate information. In blaming Russia, Clinton is admitting that the facts about her and the DNC were sufficient to sink her campaign.

Despite blaming the media, Clinton’s violation of the rules regarding her use of the private server was confirmed to be in violation of the rules in effect in 2009 by the Obama administration State Department Inspector General Report. Fact checkers repeatedly showed that Clinton was lying about the email and Foundation scandals. It was Clinton who grossly violated the ethics agreements she entered into before being confirmed as Secretary of State. Hillary Clinton, not the press, was responsible for this story.

In blaming James Comey, Clinton ignores the fact that James Comey would not have been investigating her in the first place if she had not grossly violated the rules regarding email and  hadn’t handled classified information in a careless manner. The investigation further hurt Clinton as Comey’s report demonstrated that she had repeatedly lied in her public statements about the matter. This gave further credence to her reputation of both seeing herself above the  law and of being dishonest. She further hurt herself when she repeatedly lied about what James Comey had reported.

Hillary Clinton brought this all on herself. Clinton lost due to both her own flaws, and the foolishness of those in the Democratic Party who supported her for the nomination, even to the point of violating their own party rules to rig the nomination for Clinton.

Democrats need to move on from both the disastrous nomination of Hillary Clinton and the entire DLC strategy of turning the Democrats into a Republican-lite party. Bill Clinton might have won on this strategy, but that was more because of his personal political skills than the wisdom of this conservative philosophy. Democrats have lost badly in 2010, 2014, and now 2016 by failing to stand for liberal principles. Instead of learning from their mistakes, the Democrats appear determined to repeat them. This includes recently excluding Bernie Sanders from the “Ideas Conference” held by the Center for American Progress.

The 2016 election might change politics for years to come. Donald Trump could damage the Republicans for many years, and Hillary Clinton could do the same to Democrats. It is not clear yet which party will be hurt the most by the awful choices they made in 2016. If we are lucky, the combination will end the two party duopoly and we will have real choices in the future.

Update: Clinton Now Adds DNC To Long List Of Those She Blames For Losing

Update II: Even Democrats Who Supported Clinton Want Her To Stop Her Blame Tour

Donald Trump’s Ominous Parallels To The Rise Of Authoritarianism

The firing of James Comey by Donald Trump is yet another example of Donald Trump varying from Democratic norms. It is a disturbing case of a president working to destroy our system of checks and balances, demanding a pledge of loyalty from someone in a position designed to be independent of such political pressure.  I posted several opinions on this act yesterday, often from the perspective of comparing Trump’s actions to Richard Nixon’s acts to obstruct justice during the Watergate investigation.

There are even more ominous parallels which can be drawn. Donald Trump has already expressed a disturbing degree of admiration for dictators.  Vox looked at the firing of James Comey from the perspective of people who have studies the rise of authoritarian leaders. Some excerpts:

“Trump has talked like a would-be authoritarian since day one. … This is the first clear warning sign that he’s attempting to [act like one].”

Those are the words not of a Democratic political operative or a fringe liberal Trump critic, but of Yascha Mounk, a respected scholar of democracy at Harvard, reacting to Preisdent Trump’s abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey…

To people who study the rise of authoritarian leaders, just those facts alone are terrifying.

“This is very common — in semi-authoritarian and authoritarian regimes,” Erica Chenoweth, a professor at the University of Denver, tells me. “Purges, summary firings, imprisonment: These are all things that authoritarian leaders do when they attempt to rid themselves of rivals within government.”

Comey’s firing, these political scientists say, fits a pattern that’s very common in democracies that collapse into authoritarianism in the modern era. It’s not that the elected leaders in these countries set out to become an authoritarian, per se. It’s that they care about their own power and security above all else, and do things to protect their own position that have the effect of removing democratic constraints on their power.

One of the first steps in this pattern is weakening independent sources of power that can check the executive’s actions. Like, say, the director of your domestic security service who just happens to be investigating your administration’s foreign ties.

Trump “has what you might think of as autocratic tendencies, which were probably perfectly normal in the business world but are very problematic in the political world,” says Sheri Berman, a professor at Barnard College. “What he would like to do is eliminate all sources of opposition to him — indeed, even sources of criticism of him — and he’s willing to do pretty much anything to do that.”

When most people think about the collapse of democracy, they think about the Nazis, or maybe a military coup. In both cases, a leader comes to power with the explicit goal of taking a democratic system and replacing it with an authoritarian one. They then immediately pass laws banning dissent and use force to shut down all sources of political opposition.

That actually doesn’t happen very much anymore. Outright fascist movements were mostly discredited after World War II, and data on military coups shows a clear decline in their frequency since a peak in the 1960s.

But in the past 20 years or so, we’ve started to see a new kind of creeping authoritarianism emerge in places around the world — something that, in the wake of Trump’s recent actions, now has ominous parallels to the United States.

Leaders in these kinds of countries — Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey, and both Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela — don’t come into power and immediately dissolve the legislature and get rid of elections. What they do is corrupt those institutions, slowly and over time, rendering legislatures powerless and elections not truly competitive.

“It looks the same from the outside — there’s elections, there’s a judiciary, there’s a bureaucracy,” Berman says. “But the sort of power centers within those things, the people who populate them, have changed dramatically, so that … the substance of true democratic competition, true power competition, no longer exists.”

The vital first step toward this kind of “soft authoritarianism” is unified control over every key part of government. That starts with personnel: You can’t corrupt a judiciary staffed with impartial judges, or suborn election officials who are truly committed to running free and fair contests.

Instead, you need to fire people at key pressure points and replace them with cronies, or weaken the institution’s formal abilities to the point where it can’t really provide effective oversight…

There’s a reason FBI directors don’t get fired. The bureau handles, among many other things, criminal investigations involving the executive branch, so its leader needs to be as nonpartisan and clear of influence as possible. That’s why FBI directors have 10-year terms and are generally asked to stay on by new administrations, even if the director was appointed under a president of the opposing party…

“I don’t think we’ve crossed any bright lines distinguishing authoritarian systems from democratic ones,” Jay Ulfelder, a political scientist who studies the rise and fall of democracies, tells me.

The issue, instead, is the precedent that this sets for the Trump administration. If Trump’s firing of the man who’s investigating him successfully neuters the FBI and slows down its investigation of the Trump-Russia ties, that’s one less check on his power going forward. If he gets a clear message that the checks on him when he grabs for power are pliable, how far will he end up pushing the envelope?

The article also points out that Democratic institutions in this country are much stronger than in other countries mentioned which have fallen into authoritarianism, although it is of concern that many Republicans in Congress appear willing to go a long with Trump for partisan gain. The degree of protest over Trump’s actions around the country since his inauguration is also a hopeful sign.

Brian Beutler also addressed this topic:

The firing of James Comey has restarted a conversation about the vulnerability of public institutions in America that had gone largely dormant.

Before Tuesday, one of the most remarkable things about Donald Trump’s presidency was how sturdy it had shown competitor institutions, and the larger system of checks and balances, to be. Courts have beat back his power grabs; media, for all its flaws, has been more skeptical of the claims and actions of the Trump administration than of any administration in recent history. Civil society organizations have flourished, and a vital protest movement has both slowed the GOP legislative agenda, and forced some Republicans in Congress to expect a measure of accountability from the White House.

For those who were relieved by this, Comey’s firing should be a frightful awakening from complacency.

The immediate threat of the Trump presidency wasn’t that he would sap the public of its civic-mindedness, or intimidate judges and reporters into submission with his tweets. It was to the institutions under his control—the ones within the executive branch—and particularly those with meaningful independence from political actors in the White House. Because the path to neutralizing or coopting external institutions runs through corrupting internal ones…

If Trump gets away with firing Comey—if Republicans let him nominate any director he wants; if they resist the pressure to insist on appointing a special prosecutor, or to convene an investigative body; if they squash inquiries into the firing itself—he will read it as permission to run amok. As The Atlantic’s Ron Brownstein wrote, Trump’s “appetite for shattering democratic constraints is only likely to grow.”

Absent consequences, Trump will rightly feel liberated to appoint whomever he wants to run the IRS when the current commissioner’s term expires later this year. More alarmingly, he will know that he can get away with ordering a crackdown on voting rights or investigations of his political enemies. And, perversely, these are the reasons he is more likely to prevail. How many Republicans who entered the devil’s bargain with Trump for policy victories wouldn’t expand the terms to encompass electoral ones? Friends of Trump win elections and everyone else is at his mercy. Trump was reportedly upset that Comey did not pledge loyalty to him, and was charging ahead with an investigation that Trump finds threatening. When loyalty and corruption become job qualifications for political appointees, the president will have the power he needs to stifle protest leaders, judges, the free press, and political rivals. He won’t even have to make threats.

In Abusing Executive Powers By Firing Comey, Donald Trump Has Created A Cancer On His Presidency

Donald Trump, in abusing executive powers with the firing of James Comey, has created a cancer on the presidency the likes of which has not been seen since Watergate. While the president can legally fire the FBI Director, firing James Comey in this manner is unprecedented, violating the intent of the law to have an independent director for the FBI. Such independence does not fit in with Donald Trump’s personality. Few, if anyone believe his claim that firing Comey had anything to do with how he handled the investigation of Hillary Clinton. Trump is believed to have been waiting for a reason to fire Comey, between Comey contradicting Trump’s claim that Barack Obama had ordered a wiretap on him, and his investigation of the relationship between members of his staff and Russia.

Partisan differences should be put aside in defending the principle of an independent Director of the FBI. It would have been an abuse of powers if Hillary Clinton had been elected and fired Comey, and it is an abuse of powers that Donald Trump has now done so. The obvious comparisons to Richard Nixon firing Archibald Cox , which were previously raised when Trump fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates for defying him on his unconstitutional immigration ban, have been raised again.

Dan Rather, who is very familiar with the abuses of power during Watergate, wrote this about Trump firing James Comey:

Future generations may mark today as one of the truly dark days in American history, a history that may soon take an even more ominous turn.

President Trump’s sudden firing of FBI Director James Comey is a matter that should deeply concern every American, regardless of party, partisan politics or ideological leanings.

The independence of our law enforcement is at the bedrock of our democracy. That independance, already grievously shaken under the brief tenure of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is now shattered by uncertainty.

The firing of an FBI Director is always a very serious matter in normal times. But these times aren’t normal. Far from it. The Bureau is engaged in one of the most important and perilous investigations of this or any other presidency—the investigation of connections between the Trump election campaign and the Russian government.

The questions mount and the shadow grows darker. What were those connections? What did Mr. Trump know about them and when did he know it? How can the President explain the serious allegations against his former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn? And what is President Trump hiding in this regard? It’s imperative that the nation—We The People—get answers to those questions. It will take time, but the process must start now.

A politicized FBI is the last thing we need as we struggle through the maze of lies, concealment and ever-deepening mysteries. The last time a President fired prosecutors who were investigating him was Richard Nixon during the widespread criminal conspiracy known for short as “Watergate.” We all know how that turned out. In real ways, this potential scandal and coverup are much graver. We are talking about the very security of the United States and the sanctity of our republic.

Thomas Paine famously wrote in 1776: “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. ”

I see this as having the potential for a similar reflection point in our American story. If there is a cover up, if our nation is at the risk that has certainly been more than suggested, it is incumbent upon everyone who claims to love this nation to demand answers.

We need a special prosecutor. We need an independent investigation. There is, obviously, much we don’t know about what has just happened, why it happened and why now. Just as obviously there is much more, so much more that we need know. We need to damn the lies and expose the truth.

I, and many others, felt a special prosecutor was necessary even before yesterday, not trusting the independence of any investigation from the Trump Justice Department. James Comey, regardless of what one thinks of  him, was independent and nonpartisan, and may have been our last shot of a fair investigation. Of course Congress should also continue their investigations, but in a situation such as this we cannot risk political distractions in Congress, and the subpoena power of a Special Prosecutor is necessary.

Others have presented arguments similar to that of Dan Rather. John Cassidy also compared this to Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre:

It amounts to a premeditated and terrifying attack on the American system of government. Quite possibly, it will usher in a constitutional crisis. Even if it doesn’t, it represents the most unnerving turn yet in what is a uniquely unnerving Presidency.

Things like this are not supposed to happen in a liberal democracy, especially in one that takes pride, as the United States does, in safeguards put in place against the arbitrary exercise of power. The F.B.I. is meant to be an independent agency, above and beyond partisan politics and personal grudges. (That is why its directors are appointed for ten-year terms.) The President is supposed to respect this independence, especially when it comes to matters in which he has, or could have, a personal interest.

There is little in American history that compares to, or justifies, what Trump has now done. In recent times, the only possible precedent is the Saturday Night Massacre, of October 20, 1973, when Richard Nixon fired the special prosecutor investigating Watergate, Archibald Cox. Arguably, Trump’s Tuesday Afternoon Massacre was even more disturbing. In 1973, the two top law-enforcement officials in the land—the Attorney General, Elliot Richardson, and his deputy, William Ruckelshaus, refused to carry out Nixon’s dictatorial order to terminate Cox. It was left to the wretched Robert Bork, who was then the Solicitor General, to do the deed.

Jonathan Chait described this as a progression of what we have already seen from Trump:

Trump has demonstrated his inability to tolerate any authority that lies beyond his control. He disputes the right of courts to review and overturn his actions; he regards his power as a vehicle for enriching himself and his family, and recognizes no public right to know even the contours of his self-interest. It is fitting that Trump sent his personal bodyguard to hand-deliver Comey’s letter of termination. He sees the federal government as a whole as personally subordinate to himself, exactly like his business. He would no more tolerate independent legal enforcement investigating his potential misdeeds than he would allow his own private security detail to dig up dirt on him.

There is no longer any serious possibility that he will respect the norms of conduct governing his office. The only questions are how far his fellow Republicans, who control all the power in Washington, will let him go before they stop him, or whether the midterm elections will give Democrats the chance.

We do no know the degree to which firing Comey was motivated solely by intolerance of any review of his actions, as opposed to a desire to cover up the actions of himself or associates. Firing Comey when he was not only leading the Russia inquiry involving members of the Trump administration but requesting increased funding does create a strong presumption of guilt. While there is currently no evidence of any collusion between Donald Trump himself and Russians who allegedly tampered with the presidential election, the behavior of members of  his staff do suggest that they, if not Trump himself, do have something to hide.

Trump’s decision to fire Comey is very likely to backfire against him, increasing questions regarding what Trump knew about the actions of his staffers. The immediate effect on the investigation is unknown, even to those within the FBI, but this is not likely to go away. As John Harwood wrote, Trump’s firing of Comey endangers his entire presidency. Such an abuse of power could ultimately lead to impeachment if Trump is found to have been acting to obstruct justice by firing James Comey.

Update: Donald Trump’s Ominous Parallels To The Rise Of Authoritarianism

Trump Returns To Madman Role In Tweets Accusing Obama Of Wiretapping His Phone

The attempts to portray Donald Trump as a sane president in his speech before Congress earlier in the week were destroyed in a series of Tweets this morning. Without citing any evidence, Donald Trump accused Barack Obama of having wiretapped his phones prior to the election. The Tweets said:

Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!

Is it legal for a sitting President to be “wire tapping” a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!

I’d bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!

How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!

This round was preceded by a Tweet accusing the Obama administration of setting up Jeff Sessions, and followed by a Tweet attacking Arnold  Schwarzenegger (who recently announced he is leaving Celebrity Apprentice).

Trump’s speech on Tuesday, received strong approval in the polls and the stock market soared. There were subsequently questions as to whether Trump was at least managing to act sane in public, and the Trump administration even postponed the release of the updated travel ban to take advantage of the positive reception. By late in the week, the news was dominated by stories of Attorney General Jeff Sessions having lied to the Senate about having met with the Russian ambassador. This does look like a warped response by Trump to the negative stories, and resolves any questions as to whether Trump is capable of changing his behavior.

While no evidence was cited, it appears Trump is repeating thing being said on right wing talk radio and at Breitbart. Once again, it is hard to take Trump’s attacks on “fake news” seriously when he, and his administration, have become the major source of spreading “alternative news.”

Former deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes Tweeted in response to Trump: “No President can order a wiretap. Those restrictions were put in place to protect citizens like you.”

The New York Times adds:

Mr. Trump’s aides declined to clarify whether the president’s explosive allegations were based on briefings from intelligence or law enforcement officials, or on something else, like a news report. A spokesman for Mr. Obama did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The president’s decision to lend the power of his office to such an accusation — without offering any proof — is remarkable, even for a leader who has repeatedly shown himself willing to make assertions that are false or based on rumors.

It would have been difficult for federal agents, working within the law, to obtain a wiretap order to target Mr. Trump’s phone conversations. That would mean the Justice Department had gathered sufficient evidence to persuade a federal judge that there was probable cause to believe that he had committed a serious crime or was an agent of a foreign power, depending on whether it was a criminal or foreign intelligence wiretap.

Politico reports that Trump’s top aides were caught off guard:

Trump’s top aides were caught off guard by the tweets Saturday morning, a senior administration official said. The president is scheduled to spend a quiet day golfing and relaxing at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla. After several days without a controversial tweet and a relative message discipline following his speech to Congress Tuesday evening, Trump’s angry Twitter tirade marked a return to form—and a trusted tactic of turning around the exact words being used against him on his opponents.

Jeff Sessions Exposed For Lying To Senate About Meeting With Russian Ambassador

As with every other bit of news which comes out with regards to Russia and the Trump administration, the news that Jeff Sessions spoke with the Russian ambassador raises more questions. Without knowing what he spoke to him about, it is not possible to determine how much this matters. It might be no big deal if the Russians were just trying to get more information about Donald Trump, but it could be the biggest political scandal in American history if it were to turn out that the Trump campaign was actively working with Russia to attempt to rig the election.

As of now we only have evidence that Russia probably tried to influence the election, with questionable impact considering that the material released by WikiLeaks all appears to be factual. There is no evidence at this time of any conspiracy between Trump and Russia, and this needs to be investigated independent of any partisan concerns.

Having Sessions involved creates two new wrinkles to the case. First, he lied to the Senate about the matter. Secondly, as Attorney General, it is impossible to see how he could be trusted to be involved in this investigation. He has agreed to recuse himself from the investigation, which is the least he could do, but only after having been exposed for lying to the Senate.

Many are calling for more. Arn Pearson, a senior fellow at People For the American Way, wrote in USA Today that Sessions has destroyed his credibility and must go:

Not only is Sessions’ impartiality being questioned, his honesty to Congress and the American people has been thrown into doubt. Sessions must not only recuse himself from future investigations into the Russian influence scandal, which he did on Thursday, he must resign.

Lying under oath and intentionally making a false and misleading statement to Congress are crimes under federal law. In 1999, Sessions voted to convict Bill Clinton of perjury in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, having earlier said that, “I have no doubt perjury qualifies under the Constitution as a high crime.”

Whether or not Sessions did in fact commit perjury is a matter for Congress and the judicial process to decide, but there is certainly sufficient cause for investigation. What is not in doubt is that he seriously misled the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sessions is doing his best to equivocate, saying he did not discuss the elections with Kislyak and met with him as a member of the Armed Services Committee, not the Trump campaign. But that wasn’t Sen. Al Franken’s question. Franken asked about any communications with the Russian government, and Sessions responded with his blanket statement about not having had communications with the Russians.

Sessions’ explanation doesn’t hold much water. The Washington Post reached all 26 members of the 2016 Armed Services Committee including Chairman John McCain, and Sessions was the only one who met with Kislyak that year. And Sessions’ meetings with the Russian ambassador came in the heat of the presidential campaign: first in July — the same month Sessions formally nominated Trump for president at the Republican National Convention and delegates were making pro-Russia changes to their platform; and then again in September — when concerns about Russian hacking dominated the news.

It is hard to imagine how Sessions could think those meetings were not worth mentioning during his confirmation hearing.

Richard Painter agreed in an op-ed in The New York Times. He compared this to when Richard G. Kleindienst was forced to resign as Attorney General in 1972 during the Watergate scandal:

Once again, we see an attorney general trying to explain away misleading testimony in his own confirmation hearing. A spokeswoman for Mr. Sessions says that “there was absolutely nothing misleading” about his answer because he did not communicate with the ambassador in his capacity as a Trump campaign surrogate. His contacts with the Russian ambassador, he claims, were made in his capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

That may or may not have been the case (individual senators ordinarily do not discuss committee business with ambassadors of other countries, particularly our adversaries). Regardless, Mr. Sessions did not truthfully and completely testify. If he had intended to say that his contacts with the Russians had been in his capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and not for the Trump campaign, he could have said that. He then would have been open to the very relevant line of questioning about what those contacts were, and why he was unilaterally talking with the ambassador of a country that was a longstanding adversary of the United States…

President Trump has already fired his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, for misleading Vice President Pence about his conversations with the Russians. Misleading the United States Senate in testimony under oath is at least as serious. We do not yet know all the facts, but we know enough to see that Attorney General Sessions has to go as well.

Two Down In Trump Administration

Two days ago I wrote about how James Flynn was on thin ice, and that Andrew Puzder’s confirmation as Labor secretary were in jeopardy. Later that day Flynn was forced to resign, and today Puzder has withdrawn his nomination.

Both the choices of Flynn and Puzder were examples of poor management from Donald Trump and a failure to perform traditional vetting. The Puzder withdrawal is a fairly straightforward story, but Flynn’s resignation has only led to many additional questions which do require further investigation.

Objective people recognize that there was something improper with Flynn lying to both Vice President Pence and the American people, and with the attempted cover-up by the Trump administration. We have no way to know the degree to which Flynn was acting on his own or under the direction of Donald Trump. We do know that Trump waited three weeks after being informed of Flynn’s calls (regardless of what he might have known previously) to take action. We do not know the full story regarding contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence.

We are seeing considerable partisan hypocrisy here, such as in Rand Paul saying it would not make sense to investigate other Republicans. The Republicans who refuse to acknowledge the importance of the Flynn scandal, or question how much leads directly to Trump, sound just like the Democrats who refused to acknowledge the importance of Clinton’s scandals. Partisan politics creates such blindness. This deserves to be investigated regardless of your overall opinion of Trump, and regardless of where you stood in the race between Clinton and Trump.

Of course, while we have strong reasons for further investigations, this does not mean we should buy into every claim made about Trump without evidence. There is no evidence that Trump knew anything until three weeks ago. There is no evidence tying Trump to any attempts to influence the election the results. Claims about Trump’s business dealings with Russians appear to be exaggerated but we should have more information including, but not limited to, his tax returns for further evaluation.  We need to get the facts before coming to conclusions.

There has been a lot of anti-Russia hysteria being spread by Clinton and her neocon allies. The Clinton camp has strong reasons of their own to distort the facts, stemming from both their history of hostility towards Russia and their use of Russia as an excuse for their loss. Clinton lost because she was a terrible candidate and ran a terrible campaign, regardless of what Russia did. We need to find out exactly what Russia did without jumping to conclusions based upon hysteria being created for political reasons.

Dan Rather, who has considerable experience in White House cover-ups, compared this to Watergate:

Watergate is the biggest political scandal of my lifetime, until maybe now. It was the closest we came to a debilitating Constitutional crisis, until maybe now. On a 10 scale of armageddon for our form of government, I would put Watergate at a 9. This Russia scandal is currently somewhere around a 5 or 6, in my opinion, but it is cascading in intensity seemingly by the hour. And we may look back and see, in the end, that it is at least as big as Watergate. It may become the measure by which all future scandals are judged. It has all the necessary ingredients, and that is chilling.

When we look back at Watergate, we remember the end of the Nixon Presidency. It came with an avalanche, but for most of the time my fellow reporters and I were chasing down the story as it rumbled along with a low-grade intensity. We never were quite sure how much we would find out about what really happened. In the end, the truth emerged into the light, and President Nixon descended into infamy.

This Russia story started out with an avalanche and where we go from here no one really knows. Each piece of news demands new questions. We are still less than a month into the Trump Presidency, and many are asking that question made famous by Tennessee Senator Howard Baker those many years ago: “What did the President know, and when did he know it?” New reporting suggests that Mr. Trump knew for weeks. We can all remember the General Michael Flynn’s speech from the Republican National Convention – “Lock her up!” in regards to Hillary Clinton. If Hillary Clinton had done one tenth of what Mr. Flynn had done, she likely would be in jail. And it isn’t just Mr. Flynn, how far does this go?

The White House has no credibility on this issue. Their spigot of lies – can’t we finally all agree to call them lies – long ago lost them any semblance of credibility. I would also extend that to the Republican Congress, who has excused away the Trump Administration’s assertions for far too long.

We need an independent investigation. Damn the lies, full throttle forward on the truth. If a scriptwriter had approached Hollywood with what we are witnessing, he or she would probably have been told it was way too far-fetched for even a summer blockbuster. But this is not fiction. It is real and it is serious. Deadly serious. We deserve answers and those who are complicit in this scandal need to feel the full force of justice.

He is right. This all needs to be settled by finding the facts–not by ideology or partisanship.

Hillary Clinton’s Nixonian Attacks On The Rule Of Law

nixon-clinton

There have been many disturbing things to come out of this election, from both sides. This includes the racism, xenophobia, and misogyny from Donald Trump, and the McCarthyism from Hillary Clinton in her attempts to distract from her own transgressions and attacks on opponents by raising Russia. The latest outrage of the campaign has been the attacks on James Comey from Clinton and her supporters after last week’s announcement.

The Clinton attacks on Comey are a direct attack on the rule of law. They remind me of the Saturday Night Massacre when Richard Nixon fired special prosecutor Archibald Cox, attempting to block the Watergate investigation. The attacks are purely politically motivated. There is no doubt that if Comey had made a statement regarding an investigation into Donald Trump, the same Democrats would be applauding Comey, and would have been appalled if Trump had criticized Comey. The Clintons had no objection when a Republican was indicted four days before the election in 1992, in what was seen by some as an attempt to sway the election in Bill Clinton’s favor.

The partisan nature of how Comey’s announcement is being interpreted is verified in a Morning Consult poll. The New York Times reports:

In an online Morning Consult poll of approximately 3,200 registered voters, only 19 percent agreed with the statement that prosecutors should wait until after Election Day to make announcements about investigations concerning political figures or elected officials. Instead, 60 percent agreed that prosecutors should be able to make announcements about investigations concerning political figures or elected officials close to Election Day even if it might affect the election. (Another 21 percent said they don’t know or had no opinion.)

Not surprisingly, these results differ along partisan lines. Democrats were five times more likely than Republicans to say prosecutors should wait to make announcements about political figures (33 percent versus 6 percent). Conversely, people who identified as Republicans were much more likely than Democrats to endorse the idea of announcing cases before elections (79 percent versus 47 percent).

To understand the extent to which partisanship affects people’s opinions on the issue, Morning Consult asked the same question to three randomly selected groups. The first group saw a generic statement without reference to Mrs. Clinton or Donald J. Trump, which yielded the results described above. Other groups were prompted with either a statement about the F.B.I. inquiry into Mrs. Clinton or one about the New York attorney general’s investigation into the practices of Mr. Trump’s foundation.

When the investigation into Mrs. Clinton was mentioned before the question, partisans differed by almost 50 percentage points in their attitude toward pre-election disclosures, which were endorsed by 83 percent of Republicans but just 34 percent of Democrats — an even larger gap than observed with the generic prompt. By contrast, mentioning Mr. Trump’s foundation eliminated the gap between the parties in support for publicizing investigations, which was backed by 57 percent of Democrats and 58 percent of Republicans.

The lesson from these findings is clear: The public wants to know everything it can about the candidates in advance, especially if they are from the other party.

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In related news, Jon Stewart attacked Donald Trump at a charity event over the matters I mentioned in the opening paragraph.

In follow-up of a post yesterday, Foreign Policy columnist James Bamford, provides further reason to cast doubt on the Clinton conspiracy theories linking Donald Trump and Russia.

Walker Bragman  looks at the reaction to Comey’s statement for Paste Magazine and wrote, If Trump Wins Due to the FBI’s October Surprise, Hillary Clinton Has Nobody to Blame But Herself. He pointed out how Clinton did this to herself by using the private server (violating rules then in effect), the DNC made matters worse in how they tilted the election towards Clinton (in violation of party rules), that Comey had no better options than to handle this as he did, and that Clinton is setting a dangerous precedent in her attacks on Comey. He concluded:

Put another way, an embattled candidate for public office who happens to be under criminal investigation by the FBI for mistakes she made is using the court of public opinion to intimidate the agency’s director. If Clinton succeeds, and the agency is in any way influenced in its investigation, she will have truly damaged American democracy, establishing different rules for public figures. The whole point of our justice system is its impartiality, and it will be utterly compromised.

Even if Comey’s actions turn out to be politically motivated—in which case he will have committed an egregious offense—Clinton’s actions are troubling.

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Clinton Joins Trump In Claiming Rigged Election While Both Have Email Problems

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Hillary Trump and Donald Trump are far more alike than supporters of either candidate will acknowledge. Heading into the final week of the campaign we have two more similarities: both are having problems with email, and both now claim the election is rigged.

Donald Trump has made a fool of himself for months talking about the general election being rigged when the most serious obstacles to his candidacy have been his own mouth and his Twitter account. Now Clinton has joined Trump in making unfounded complaints of election rigging. From The Note:

Who thinks the system is “rigged” now? The Clinton campaign responded to the unusual letter from FBI Director James Comey by unloading on the messenger with an argument that carries troubling implications. The Clinton campaign is suggesting that political motivations were behind Comey’s move. Clinton Tweeted (in an unsigned message posted from her account) that Comey “bowed to partisan pressure and released a vague and inappropriate letter to Congress.” Eric Holder and nearly 100 former Justice Department officials wrote a letter calling Comey out from their perspective. Then there’s Harry Reid, unleashing the sort of campaign tactic he brought in 2012 when he said (falsely) on the Senate floor that Mitt Romney didn’t pay any taxes. The Senate minority leader wrote a letter to Comey saying he may have violated federal law with a “clear intent to aid one political party over another.” Reid also did his best Roger Stone in writing that Comey is withholding “explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors and the Russian government.” The Clinton camp may have had no choice this late than to go to war with Comey. But what shouldn’t be lost is this means the campaign of the Democratic nominee for president – the candidate who wasn’t complaining about a rigged election– is now asking voters to question whether the director of the FBI is trying to influence the election’s outcome.

While Harry Reid has no qualms about making such absurd allegations, the White House does not agree that Comey was trying to influence the election:

The White House on Monday said James Comey is not trying to tip the scales in the presidential election, amid criticism from Democrats over the FBI director’s decision to inform Congress about a new probe into emails possibly related to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

“The president doesn’t believe Director Comey is intentionally trying to influence the outcome of an election,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters. “The president doesn’t believe he’s secretly strategizing to benefit one candidate or one political party.”

Earnest called Comey “a man of integrity” and a “man of good character” but acknowledged that “he’s in a tough spot” when it comes to the Clinton email probe.

Hillary Clinton is understandably upset that the email scandal continues to haunt her, but she brought this upon herself. While unusual for such an event as Comey’s letter to come this close to the election, the Democratic Party acted irresponsibly in nominating Clinton with all we knew about her unethical conduct well before the convention. It was as if the Republicans had nominated Richard Nixon after the Watergate scandal broke, or nominated Dick Cheney following the abuses of the Bush administration. They created this unique situation in which we have the FBI director talking about an investigation into one of the candidates.

After having testified before Congress that the investigation was concluded, Comey was obligated to inform Congress when new information led to resumption of the investigation into Clinton and her private server. As Marc Ambinder wrote, “Comey had a duty to inform Congress if the FBI developed information about the case that was at odds with his testimony on September 28.” The public also has a right to know. If he had waited until after the election to make the announcement, there would have been an even stronger argument that he was being influenced by politics. It is doubtful he could have kept it quiet even if he desired to. Someone would have noticed, for example when the FBI requested the warrant to review Huma Abedin’s email.

The attacks on Comey from Clinton and her supporters (who are also trying to drag Russia into the discussion with rather questionable arguments) are clearly based upon partisanship and not principle. If the FBI was investigating George Bush and his administration, Democrats would be applauding the FBI director and would have been appalled if Republicans attacked the FBI in response. Once again, tribalism and party over principle.

Not surprisingly, Donald Trump is hoping to take advantage of this politically, but it is questionable if it will change many votes at this stage. Trump can hardly take the high moral ground here either, despite his claims. As Raw Story reminds us, Donald Trump still has to appear in court regarding matters ranging from racketeering to child rape. While Clinton destroyed over 30,000 emails, Newsweek reports on Trump’s companies destroying emails and other documents prior to court hearings:

Over the course of decades, Donald Trump’s companies have systematically destroyed or hidden thousands of emails, digital records and paper documents demanded in official proceedings, often in defiance of court orders. These tactics—exposed by a Newsweek review of thousands of pages of court filings, judicial orders and affidavits from an array of court cases—have enraged judges, prosecutors, opposing lawyers and the many ordinary citizens entangled in litigation with Trump. In each instance, Trump and entities he controlled also erected numerous hurdles that made lawsuits drag on for years, forcing courtroom opponents to spend huge sums of money in legal fees as they struggled—sometimes in vain—to obtain records…

Trump’s use of deception and untruthful affidavits, as well as the hiding or improper destruction of documents, dates back to at least 1973, when the Republican nominee, his father and their real estate company battled the federal government over civil charges that they refused to rent apartments to African-Americans. The Trump strategy was simple: deny, impede and delay, while destroying documents the court had ordered them to hand over.

The article has multiple examples–which sound rather similar to the stonewalling during past investigations of Hillary Clinton’s financial dealings. Clinton and Trump are far more alike than they are different.

Update: Despite Clinton Conspiracy Theories, FBI Finds No Clear Link Between Trump And Russia

Sanders Has Huge Gain Over Clinton In New Hampshire As Email Scandal Gets Far Worse For Clinton

Sanders Takes Lead In New Hampshire

If Hillary Clinton fails to be elected president, there is a strong chance that books about the 2016 campaign will note today as a major day in the crumbling of Clinton’s previously “inevitable” path to victory. Prior to this week Sanders was behind but in a statistical tie with Clinton in New Hampshire. The latest poll shows Sanders with the lead. This represents tremendous momentum when compared with his eight percent support in March. National polls this early have virtually no predictive value in a nomination battle, and an early victory can have tremendous impact on subsequent states and the national polls.

Polls can still change in either direction between now and February, and a victory in New Hampshire certainly is no guarantee of winning the nomination. What makes this election different from previous elections is the scandal surrounding the Clinton campaign, and the email scandal become much worse for her. Top secret emails were found on Clinton’s private server, contradicting her previous denials, and Clinton has agreed to surrender the server, now realizing that it would be subpoenaed if she refused this request from the Justice Department.

From an ethical standpoint, this is not the worst aspect of the email scandal. Ethically she did worse in violating principles of transparency, in destroying evidence, and in receiving financial rewards from parties she provided favorable decisions to as Secretary of State. I do not believe Clinton intended to violate laws regarding classified information, but his appears to have been a consequence of her foolish decision to use a private server, and this is what places her at serious risk of criminal prosecution.

Prior to this latest development, The New York Times reviewed the controversy to date and pointed out the legal ramifications. This was before the report that top secret information was present:

In the case of Mrs. Clinton’s email, the F.B.I. is conducting an investigation of just how the classified material was stored in Denver, as well as on a thumb drive kept by her lawyer, Mr. Kendall, and whether it might somehow have landed in the hands of adversaries. Officials say the bureau at this point has no target in mind and no evidence that a crime was committed.

But the investigation takes place in an administration that has taken an especially hard line on the handling of classified information.

Scott Gration, ambassador to Kenya, resigned after a 2012 inspector general’s report accused him of flouting government rules, including the requirement that he use State Department email. “He has willfully disregarded Department regulations on the use of commercial email for official government business,” the report said.

A New York firefighter and decorated combat veteran who served in the Marines in Afghanistan, Jason Brezler, is currently fighting dismissal from the Marine Corps for sending, via his personal account, an email attachment the government says was classified. His lawyer, Kevin Carroll, says he sent the message in response to an emergency request from a base in Afghanistan.

Mrs. Clinton and her aides have noted that the material the inspectors general call classified was not labeled as such in the emails. But in 2010, Thomas Drake, a former senior National Security Agency official, was indicted under the Espionage Act for keeping an agency email printout at home that was not marked as classified. (Mr. Drake pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.)

J. William Leonard, a former director of the government’s Information Security Oversight Office, said that in Mrs. Clinton’s case, criminal charges like those against Mr. Drake are highly unlikely. But as a former security official, he said, he was dismayed by her exclusive use of private email. The State Department has an obligation to monitor unclassified email for exactly this kind of classified spillage, he said, as well as to protect computer systems and provide emails to Congress or the public when required by law.

“The agency can’t fulfill those legal responsibilities if it doesn’t have control over the server,” Mr. Leonard said.

Besides these cases, there have been two high profile prosecutions regarding improper handling of classified information, David Petraeus and, as I discussed last week,  former Clinton national security adviser Sandy Berger. If the reports of classified information on Clinton’s private server are true, and if Clinton is treated like the others, she will be indicted. Possibly the “Clinton Rules” will apply here with others receiving the blame, and she will escape such a fate, but this would still seriously harm her in an election campaign. The Republicans might very well also destroy themselves and Clinton could still win, but nominating Clinton now looks like too great a risk for any political party to take. Those who deny the magnitude of this scandal are like those who tried to write off Watergate as a “two bit burglary“.

Chris Cillizza wrote that This e-mail story just keeps getting worse for Hillary Clinton. After pointing out how this is happening he noted:

Then there is the news reported by McClatchy News Service that two of the four classified e-mails discovered on her private server were “top secret” — the highest possible security classification.  Clinton has previously said that she never sent or received any classified material via her e-mail account; “I am confident that I never sent or received any information that was classified at the time it was sent and received,” she said last month.

For someone who is already struggling to bridge a trust deficit with the public, the revelations about the classified e-mails on Clinton’s server hurt. If Clinton’s claim that nothing she sent or received was classified at the time are proven wrong, that does her even more damage…

There’s simply no way to see these latest development in the long-running e-mail story as anything but bad news for Clinton. The turning-over of her private server not only takes control of its contents out of her hands but also likely ensures this story will be in the news for far longer than she’d like.

He also speculated that now that the server is out of her hands, it might be possible to recover many of the 31,000 emails which she had deleted from the server. There is already evidence that some of the email involving Libya and terrorism was deleted and altered, contrary to her claim that it was all personal email. The New York Times article quoted above also pointed out:

In June, the State Department said that it had not been able to find in Mrs. Clinton’s emails some 15 messages from Sidney Blumenthal, an old friend and aide, who had independently turned them over to the House Benghazi committee. The messages involved Libya — Mr. Blumenthal was passing along analysis from a former C.I.A. officer — and they appeared to involve policy.

The Clinton campaign has not explained the discrepancy. In sorting through more than 60,000 emails, it is easy to imagine slip-ups. But this small window on the deletion process, carried out privately by Mrs. Clinton’s lawyers and aides, offered little assurance to skeptics that the work email collection was complete.

Ron Fournier reviewed the latest developments in a story entitled The Queen of Paradox and Her Crumbling Stone Wall:

It’s safe to assume two things changed Clinton’s mind: political and legal pressure. First, the public’s trust and approval of the Democratic front-runner has plummeted amid revelations that she established an email system that violated federal policy, thwarted congressional oversight, and skirted the Freedom of Information Act.

Second, facing sharp questions and rebuke of a federal judge, Clinton just this weekend declared “under penalty of perjury” that she has turned over to the government all of the emails that were federal records.

The FBI is investigating the security of her email system, which she unequivocally declared to be ironclad in March. “There is no classified material,” she said.

The untruth revealed, Clinton changed her story in July to claim that no email was specifically marked as classified. Not that it matters. Clinton wants Americans to ignore the fact that federal rules put the onus on government officials like the secretary of State to protect classified material, even when it’s not marked as such.

Know this: Government officials have been convicted of mishandling unmarked classified material. And this: The fact is, any chain of events or excuses that led to the disclosure of these documents begins with Clinton’s decision to go rogue with government email.

This is her fault, all of it.

Including her no-win situation. If the FBI is able to recover deleted email from her server, it’s almost certain that more classified documents will be discovered (given what has already been found in the tiny sample size). That would raise more questions about her judgment.

Furthermore, a thorough autopsy of the deleted email might lead to details about other embarrassing topics, such as Benghazi (a GOP fetish), or the intersection of Clinton Foundation donors and State Department business (“Follow the money,” a Democrat close to Clinton told me in March). Though this is pure speculation, her closest allies worry about what might be found.

If the deleted emails can’t be recovered, Clinton will never be able to clear her name. Only the most blindly loyal and partisan voters will accept her word and ignore the serial deception. Even people like me who have known and respected Clinton for years will walk into the voting booth asking ourselves, “What is she hiding?”

Sure, she might win. Just look at the weak spots in the GOP line. But why win this ugly? Why commit Americans to another four years of a politics and government they can’t trust? Why run a grind-it-out, 20th-century campaign amid the rise of purpose-driven millennials?

Why not be an aspirational, transformational leader—the architect of a presidency that matches her potential.

The polling results out of New Hampshire suggest that Americans might turn to Bernie Sanders, rather than Hillary Clinton, to be that aspirational, transformational leader.

Update: Democrats are said to be in “near panic mode” with new talk about Biden or Gore running.

Clinton Out-Nixons Nixon And Erases The Email

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The conventional wisdom is that Richard Nixon would have survived Watergate if he had erased the tapes. Democrats were outraged by the eighteen and a half minutes which were “accidentally” erased by Nixon’s secretary, Rose Mary Woods. In a late Friday news dump we learned that Hillary Milhouse Clinton, who once accused the Bush administration of shredding the Constitution with their use of private email, out-Nixoned Nixon. The New York Times and Politico reported that Clinton has deleted all of what she claims to be private email after October 28 when the State Department first requested that Clinton turn over the email kept on her private server, violating rules in effect as of 2009. The server has been wiped clean.

Clinton had given contradictory answers regarding the email at her news conference, in which media fact checkers found multiple untrue statements. From The New York Times:

At a news conference this month, Mrs. Clinton appeared to provide two answers about whether she still had copies of her emails. First, she said that she “chose not to keep” her private personal emails after her lawyers had examined the account and determined on their own which ones were personal and which were State Department records. But later, she said that the server, which contained personal communication by her and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, “will remain private.” The server was kept at their home in Chappaqua, N.Y., which is protected around the clock by the Secret Service.

Multiple investigations so far have failed to show any evidence for the Republican conspiracy theories on Benghazi, but the disclosure from Clinton on Friday that she has deleted email requested by Congress will only serve to keep the witch hunt alive. While Republicans deserve to be faulted for the witch hunts they are pursuing, this does not excuse Clinton’s actions of using her private server to prevent disclosure of requested evidence to a Congressional committee. Clinton also used her private server to avoid complying with Freedom of Information Act requests for information from the news media.

One of Clinton’s many bogus excuses for failing to follow government protocol in maintaining her email on a government server was that her email would be preserved because of being sent to State Department email addresses. It has since been found that the entire State Department was sloppy in maintaining email. Current Secretary of State John Kerry, who has admirably followed the law in using government email since assuming the post, has asked the Inspector General’s office to conduct “a review of our efforts to date on improving records management, including the archiving of emails as well as responding to FOIA and Congressional inquiries.” There have also been requests from the Republican National Committee and from House Benghazi Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy for the Inspector General to get involved. With the revelations that Clinton has erased the email, it might also be time for a special prosecutor to be appointed to handle the investigation of her actions.

The claim that her email is public due to being sent to State Department or other government addresses is also bogus as not all of Clinton’s email regarding State Department matters was even sent to government addresses. The first reports of Clinton’s private email came when Gawker found the email address on hacked email from Sidney Blumenthal in 2013. Gawker has recently discussed her email further, reporting that “longtime Clinton family confidante Sidney Blumenthal supplied intelligence to then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gathered by a secret network that included a former CIA clandestine service officer.” The post has further information regarding information sent to Clinton by Blumenthal regarding the situation in Benghazi. At this point it is not known if Clinton responded to Blumenthal while in office or if email from Blumenthal is included in the email she did release.