Russia Monitor: Which Side Are You On?


By Dan Peak
The Commoner Call (5/22/17)

Dear Fellow Readers,

First, quick review of the most significant news stories from the last few days before allowing for reflection.

Russia Probe Reaches Current White House Official; Probe Expected To Accelerate In Coming Weeks

Most significant was the story published by the Washington Post on 5/19/17 saying:

“The law enforcement investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign has identified a current White House official as a significant person of interest, showing that the probe is reaching into the highest levels of government, according to people familiar with the matter.

“The senior White House adviser under scrutiny by investigators is someone close to the president, according to these people, who would not further identify the official.”

The Washington Post also predicted, “the intensity of the probe is expected to accelerate in the coming weeks”. By the way, notice the investigation is “possible coordination” as characterized by the Washington Post; I’ll come back to this.

The Independent added the following on 5/20/17:

Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has reportedly been identified as a “person of interest” in the ongoing investigation into possible ties between Russia and Donald Trump’s campaign.

“The Washington Post said a senior adviser to Mr Trump was among people investigators wanted to speak to. A New York magazine reporter then said the person in question was Mr Kushner, 36, who is married to Mr Trump’s eldest daughter and who flew out of Washington on Friday night to accompany the President on his first official foreign trip.

“The Post said the person under investigation was close to the President, but did not identify them. However, the number of people who fit such a profile would be very small.

“Yashar Ali, a contributor to New York magazine said on Twitter: “It’s Jared Kushner. Have confirmed this with four people. I’m not speculating.”

The White House did not immediately respond to calls and emails from The Independent seeking comment. The Trump Organisation, which controls the President’s financial interests, also did not respond to queries.

James Comey To Testify In Public Senate Hearing

“Mr. Comey will testify in an open hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“Mr. Comey’s handling of the investigation, including his several conversations with Mr. Trump since his election, has taken on added importance since his dismissal and subsequent reports that the president had asked Mr. Comey to shut down part of the inquiry, and then later called him a “nut job” in meetings with Russian officials.”

Trump: Tells Russians That Firing “Nut Job” Comey….

“Adding more fuel to this fire raging around Trump’s White House, Trump says of his meeting with Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

“The comments represented an extraordinary moment in the investigation, which centers in part on the administration’s contacts with Russian officials: A day after firing the man leading that inquiry, Mr. Trump disparaged him — to Russian officials.”

Whew, so that’s the news.


Russia May Have Gained The Ability To Alter The Course Of Events In The U.S. By Manipulating Public Opinion

Events have moved fast, events will continue to move fast – for quite some time. So a little time to assess where we are…

What does it mean with Time magazine runs this cover?

TIME raises the question of how capable Russia has become in influencing American opinion. Have the efforts of Russia increased American distrust of government, increased distrust of American intelligence groups, reduced political discourse to labeling any unwelcome views as ‘fake news’?

Sidebar Scandal: Mad magazine accused TIME of ripping off it’s cover from last December. So, could it be the irreverent satire magazine broke the Russiagate story before the big time mainstream press? That’s a scandal for another website…


Do Americans Care?

We do – a majority say we care about Russian influence, we care about Russian meddling and we care about Russian links to persons close to Trump. Our view of Trump is affected by the cloud of investigations and the related news events. I have included current results and a comparison over time for a few key questions; these are historically poor polling results for a president in office for this amount of time. I’ve mainly relied on Gallup polls but the story is similar across various polling services:

  • Trump Job Approval: 38% (down from 42% in February; low by historical standards; Obama averaged 48% approval, 58% favorable leaving the White House)
  • Americans Who Say Trump Keeps His Promises: 45% (down from 62% in February)
  • Americans Who Say Trump Is Honest and Trustworthy: 36% (down from 42% in February)

Republicans continue to support Trump and this is reflected in polling and the media. Not a surprise, favorable views of Trump mirror the election results – as an example, he is viewed highly unfavorably in cities but favorably in rural areas.

Similarly a majority of all Americans are concerned about Trump/Russia ties though a majority of Republicans are not.


Americans Support Naming Robert Mueller As Special Counsel

The support for a special prosecutor was hugely in favor of this prior to the appointment of Robert Mueller as Special Counsel. But Congressional Republicans — at least the bulk of them — seem content to go along with Trump. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell insisted last week on the Senate floor that “too much is at stake” to appoint a special prosecutor, adding that such an appointment would “only serve to impede the current work being done to not only discover what the Russians may have done but also to let this body and the national security community develop counter measures.”


Americans Disapprove Of Trump’s Firing Of Comey

The NBCWSJ poll also showed the public looks with disfavor on the firing of Comey. 38% said they disapproved of the firing, while 29% approved. 32% said they didn’t know enough about the situation to offer an opinion.

But Is It Collusion? WHO Says Collusion Other Than Deniers?

Reasonable media outlets emphasize “coordination”, “communication”, “conversation”, possible ties”. We’re in a period of discovery and investigation and there is a huge amount of activity meeting these reasonable standards and warranting the focus. The amount of deflection and possible cover-ups simply add more emphasis and importance to the focus. For every breaking news story there is a knee-jerk pattern of “didn’t happen”, “it did but it’s not what you think”, “it was deliberate and strategic”, “no laws were broken”, “it’s a witch hunt”. But in addition there is the outright dismissal by so many, which I find that more curious than the deflection.

As I’ve been saying all along, many people deliberately set the standard inappropriately high to get the answer they want – BUT IS HE GUILTY? The only honest answer to that question is, “don’t know”. Which is met with some version of “Aha!”.

Similarly, IS THERE COLLUSION? Often these questions are asked specifically about Trump – it’s a diversion away from discussing whether Flynn (as an example) did collude with the Russians – he did – he accepted money illegally, he lied about it, he affected policy and he’s admitted these things. He’s not been found guilty by a court of law or even formally charged but collusion fits as a definition.


Definition of ‘Collusion’: secret or illegal cooperation or conspiracy, especially in order to cheat or deceive others.

So we get statements like: There is no evidence of Trump collusion – he didn’t do ‘it’.

The investigation has been going on for months and what evidence has been brought forward to date? Statements like this come from the Right and the Left for a variety of reasons.

Feeding a Right Rear Guard or Trump True Believer dialog are voices of dismissal; on the other hand there are voices on the Left of dismissal but also voices jumping to “Impeach Trump”, as yet, a bridge too far. To come full circle, the Right Rear Guard uses the Impeach Trump statements as fuel for the Trump True Believer – we rush to battle with great conviction and no actual ammunition.

Here’s a useful perspective offered by the National Review, notice how the author is willing to jump past criminal behavior and paint a picture of Democrats howling at the moon as if that’s the real threat (or even as if that is real):

Imagine a scenario where the FBI and prosecutors eventually can prove some underling violated the law – obstruction of justice? Lying to investigators? — but not Trump. Will Democrats accept that?

“Pity the FBI and intelligence community. They have to get to the bottom of this in a world where just under half of Capitol Hill, most of the media, almost all of academia, a good portion of the think-tank world and “intellectual class” etc., believe that the real mission of the investigation is to “correct the error” of the 2016 election.

“If you talk to Democrats lately, they speak not as if the voters merely made a mistake, but that somehow history itself has gone wrong. They speak we’re living in an alternate timeline, experiencing events that “weren’t supposed” to happen. In their eyes, Hillary Clinton was obviously so much more appealing that Trump. She led in the polls! She had so many more campaign offices! She spent so much more money! She ran so many more ads! Surely, a result like this must be the result of someone cheating.

“Because so many Democrats associate Trump with apocalyptic threats – global warming, the sudden establishment of a repressive theocracy like the Handmaid’s Tale, nuclear confrontation, race wars – they all see themselves as their own personal Kyle Reeses, on a mission to save the future.

“With this desperate, all-or-nothing mindset, they will always insist that the evidence to take down Trump is waiting to be found, just around the next corner…”

Notice the “What “IF” there was criminal behavior – but then instantly placing the emphasis on the reaction of the Left making the reaction important but not the criminality. Don’t forget magic expressions like ‘Hillary Clinton’ to get the desired emotional response.

Crap. But widely used crap.

The patterns of dismissal or overreach are framing – outrageous leaps from a premise to a nonsensical frame meant to deflect and encourage an emotional response. And there is the resulting anger – the Washington Post reports that calls to a black Texas congressman that called for impeachment has been threatened with lynching.


Trump As Victim: No Politician In History… Has Been Treated Worse Or More Unfairly (Or So We Are Told)

Trump is especially excellent at deflection – and so many of us help him either intentionally or unintentionally. The illegal activities are not the threat, the real threat to Democracy is the shrill voices making outrageous accusations against Trump and his associates.

Here’s the Key: the Right discounts all – and “no evidence of Trump collusion” is the catch phrase.  Of course this steps around admissions of Flynn and so forth. The National Review steps around this and takes on Flynn as “if Dems only ever find guilt of an underling, will they let this go?”  

No goal of getting to the bottom of all, the Right’s goal is don’t let it reach Trump.  

The defenses are crumbling and events are gaining momentum.

NOTICE: how many on the Left use the exact same pattern as the Right. It’s like watching Lefties celebrate Alex Jones.


‘Whose Side Are You On?’

If you want to see this in action, watch Boris Epshetyn, analyst for Sinclair Broadcasting, until recently an official in the White House press office, on air with Bill Maher. (Boris Epshetyn has appeared in this column a number of times including his departure from the White House to move to Sinclair Broadcasting.)

Maher and Epshetyn have an exchange about meddling that includes: – not collusion ….oh, for fuck’s sake?” (Maher). ALL intelligence agencies say meddle, Epshetyn says: “I don’t know”; “if you have a problem with how Trump is handling the events vote at the ballot box in four years”.

The Right casts Russigate as a coordinated attack on the president. Bill Maher asks, who’s side are you on? The crime or the note-taking? “

The Flavor

“George Washington couldn’t tell a lie. Richard Nixon couldn’t tell the truth. And Donald Trump can’t tell the difference.” – David Brooks

“Everyone who has been associated with this man has been diminished.”  -Mark Shields

Here’s a more level example, similar but without the drama. From PBS News Hour Mark Shields and David Brooks on the cascading barrage of Trump revelations:

David Brooks: One is the special counsel, coupled with the Russian thing. There’s an investigation of a person of interest. But to me, the most interesting thing is that the White House staff and the people under Donald Trump, at least some portion of them, some large portion of them, seem to have turned against Donald Trump.

“I have not talked to our reporters who broke this story, but if I read it correctly, some senior administration official with top-secret clearance read the readout to a reporter. That’s breaking the law. And that is doing it in a way because you think you need to be Deep Throat, you need to undermine this guy, you need to tell — get the truth out about this guy.

“And in the Nixon administration, there were a couple Deep Throats. There was a guy off in the FBI who was willing to leak. But in this administration, they seem to be in every closet and behind every desk. I’m exaggerating a little. But there are squads of Deep Throats.

“And so that means this story’s not only a legal investigation. It is a dissolution of an administration.”

The prediction between Brooks and Shields is Mueller (Special Counsel) will take the investigation off the front page but Trump and his administration are likely to keep the story on the front page.

The patterns of ‘taking sides’ will continue.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But just quickly, David, we started this conversation talking about how the appointment of Bob Mueller, Robert Mueller, as the special counsel has somewhat calmed the waters.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, but I don’t think too much. I think this is — now there’s a reality TV show. And the people — everybody in this town, they just want — they’re going to want to write the book, going to want to leak the memo, going to want to get their own self-preservation out there. And so the reality TV show involves a public unwinding, not a private investigation.