Russia Monitor: No Excuses This Election, Folks! It’s Up To Us


“This time, our eyes are wide open.”

— Dana Milbank, “We Have No Excuses”Washington Post (11/2/18)

By Dan Peak
The Commoner Call (11/5/18)

Dear Fellow Readers,

Will there be new Trump-Russia subpoenas brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office after next week? Let’s come back to this.

Mid-term elections are Tuesday. In advance Dana Milbank offers a view of how we got here and what we now know about Trump. We’re well past a point two years ago when “many Americans held their noses and voted for Donald Trump”. Milbank offers his own litany of Trump actions but it’s a bit understated. Here’s a better view from VoxThe Desperate Demagogue.

Trump has amped up his lies and hate speech in advance of the elections. He has now lied more than 6,240 times, hitting an average of 30 per day. But even that doesn’t tell the whole story; on October 1 at a Johnson City, Tennessee rally he told 84 lies, followed by 83  October 22 in Houston and on and on and on…

A better use of time is a discussion of Trump’s hate speech and how it incites violence.

Vox writers Laura McGann and Stavros Agorakis explain:

“President Donald Trump’s closing argument for the 2018 midterm elections represents a dangerous escalation of demagogic rhetoric. If it works, things are only going to get worse.”

Does it work? McGann and Agorakis quote author Patricia Roberts-Miller from her book, Democracy and Demagoguery:

“It may be counterintuitive, but the charismatic leadership relationship is strengthened by the leader behaving erratically, making what might appear to be irrational arguments, judging situations quickly without much information (especially without expert advice), and making hyperbolic claims (especially about his or her own achievements and, oddly enough, health). Followers don’t expect leaders to be responsible for what they say…their irresponsible behavior is part of their power. Their use of hyperbole and tendency to be unfiltered in speech are taken to signify their passionate commitment to the in-group.”

The explanation rings true when we hear Trump supporters remark on his candor and supposed ‘straight-talk’, true or not, democratic or not, realistic or not – those filters don’t apply. As the authors point out, Trump still benefits from 89% approval from Republicans.



“The challenge for demagogues is they don’t have much room to reposition themselves. They can’t start capitulating to the media, apologizing for, say, inspiring someone to mail bombs to his political enemies. They can’t start trying to work on policy with experts and release reasonable plans that take many interests into account — that’s the very opposite of why he’s supported. Demagogues draw a line between themselves and supporters and their enemies. There is no ground for compromise.

“That leaves them to yell louder and with more malice.”

Let’s make sure we’re not normalizing Trump’s rantings — hoping that some how, in spite of all evidence to date — that he is well meaning:

“Every demagogue acts voluntarily and through choices. They are not how they are painted; they are not creatures of their own appetite, irrational and out of control,” said Michael Signer, a professor at the University of Virginia who has written extensively on demagogues.

“They tend to be extremely opportunistic and shameless and ruthless political actors.”

It’s all about Trump and he’s out of control. Singer ends with a warning and a challenge:

This is one of, if not the greatest, tests constitutional democracy has been through.”

So how will you respond?


Keeping you from the voting booth

It’s abundantly clear how Republicans will respond; they don’t want you to vote. We highlighted the actions of Georgia gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp in the last edition. Kemp is currently the state attorney general and he’s creatively thrown many roadblocks to a fair vote. He’s not the only state official that could be considered here, but he’s maybe the most persistent. But Kemp has suffered some setbacks: Judge Rules Against Brian Kemp Over Georgia Voting Restrictions Days Before Gubernatorial Election.

Two judges ruled against Kemp, the most significant action is this:

‘The “exact match” law flags voter registrations that are found to have discrepancies, such as a dropped hyphen, with other official identifications. Potential voters are allowed to settle the discrepancy by providing proof of identity.”

Good news, but The Hill reported Kemp has other ideas to hobble the vote: Kemp’s Office Opens Investigation Into Georgia Democrats For ‘possible cybercrimes’.

While Kemp’s spokesperson “can’t comment on specifics”, it didn’t keep Kemp from this accusation:

“The office of Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, the state’s Republican gubernatorial nominee, said Sunday it has opened an investigation into the state’s Democratic Party for possible unspecified cybercrimes after an attempted hack of the state’s voter registration system.”

Two days before the election. But rest assured, even while disparaging his opponents, Kemp assured Georgia voters of the integrity of their vote. “We can also confirm that no personal data was breached and our system remains secure, he added.

In a race that will come down to the wire, after numerous attempts to disenfranchise voters of their rights, Kemp now resorts to lies. Keep in mind, Kemp can still run out the clock on the judges’ decisions by challenging the rulings which could result in more turmoil. The more common standard is for judges to not rule if the election is imminent. As an example, a North Dakota judge rejected a challenge to a voter ID law imposed by Republicans that blocks American Indians from voting (the law hinges on proof of residential address which is not available for many reservations residents). While the judge offered “great cause for concern”, his denial of the motion was based on the resultant confusion too close to the election. North Dakota was not alone. Republicans don’t want you to vote.


Trump-Russia after the election

So what happens with Trump-Russia after the election? There are reasons to expect new subpoenas from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office. There are two possibilities starting with political trickster and long-time Trump associate and adviser Roger Stone: Roger Stone’s Shifting Story Is a Liability.

The sub-head from author Natasha Bertrand is this: The longtime Trump confidant could face federal charges if Special Counsel Robert Mueller determines he lied to Congress about his contacts with campaign officials and WikiLeaks.

Bertrand includes a link to a New York Times article from Thursday reporting on new Stone emails to the Trump campaign about his communications with WikiLeaks and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

A perfect example of the Stone/WikiLeaks relationship has Stone tweeting on Oct 2 and 3, 2016, “Wednesday @HillaryClinton is done” and “I have total confidence that @wikileaks and my hero Julian Assange will educate the American people soon. #LockHerUp.

This was followed by emails on Oct 3 and 4, 2016 between Trump campaign chairman and co-founder Breitbart News Steve Bannon, Breitbart Washington editor Matthew Boyle and Stone. Stone asked Boyle to intercede as he has news for Bannon and can’t get through to him. Boyle assures Bannon that Stone, “…clearly he knows what Assange has. I’d say that’s important. On Oct. 4, 2016 Assange announced his plan to release “significant material” related to the election.

Stone assures Bannon that Assange did not “cut deal w/ clintons” to keep WikiLeaks from making the campaign emails public and offers:

FROM: Roger Stone
TO: Steve Bannon
Fear. Serious security concern. He thinks they are going to kill him and the London police are standing done. 

However —a load every week going forward.

Roger stone

Stone closes by asking Bannon to tell Trump and Breitbart financier and billionaire Rebecca Mercer to “send us some $$$”.

It is against this backdrop that Bertrand reminds us that through 2017 Stone, “denied ever having a direct line to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, as he repeatedly boasted during the 2016 election.” It is this and the many inconsistencies with Stone’s stories that could finally undo him:

““Roger Stone had a chance, under oath, to tell the House Intel Committee about his contacts with Russians and WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign,” Democratic Representative Eric Swalwell of California, who sits on the panel, told me. “He misled us and has repeatedly—three times now—amended his testimony to fit new press reporting.” Swalwell noted that the committee’s Democrats voted to send transcripts related to its Russia investigation to Mueller, but Republicans resisted. “The special counsel should see Stone’s transcripts and the accounts of all witnesses,” he added.”

Here’s another reason the mid-term elections matter. If the Dems take control of the House it will be possible for the House Intelligence Committee to make sure Mueller’s investigation has the transcripts. And the committee could recall Stone to testify.

The question for the committee is whether Stone lied. The question for Mueller is what Stone knew and whether he assisted WikiLeaks in any way. Both questions are better answered if — and only if — the Dems regain House leadership through the mid-term elections.


Raise your right paw, Mr. President

Here’s the more intriguing Mueller subpoena possibility – a possible Trump subpoena: Has Mueller Subpoenaed the President?

Writer Nelson Cunningham, is a former federal prosecutor, general counsel of the Senate Judiciary Committee and general counsel to White House under Clinton. His review is based on reporting by Politico based on a reporter hanging out at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit clerk’s office.

“However, a POLITICO reporter who visited the appeals court clerk’s office on a day when a key filing in the dispute was due earlier this month observed a man request a copy of the special counsel’s latest sealed filing so that the man’s law firm could craft its response. The individual who asked for the secret filing declined to identify himself or his client and replied “I’m OK” when offered a reporter’s business card to remain in touch.”

There are more details of court actions and the requisite denials by Stone and Trump’s lawyers, but there was one other detail worthy of note:

“The first appeal appears to have been rejected by a D.C. Circuit panel as premature. The witness’s lawyers asked the full bench of the appeals court to review that decision but a notation in court files says only nine of the court’s 10 active judges participated. Bowing out was Judge Greg Katsas, the court’s only member appointed by President Donald Trump.

“Katsas served as a deputy White House counsel before Trump tapped him for the powerful D.C. Circuit last year. At Katsas’s confirmation hearing, he acknowledged working on some issues related to the Russia investigation and signaled he would take a broad view of his recusal obligations stemming from that work.

“”In cases of doubt, I would probably err on the side of recusal,” Katsas told senators last October.”

Cunningham offers his analysis and a timeline and ends with this:

“…We know that Judge Katsas, Trump’s former counsel and nominee, has recused himself. And we know that this sealed legal matter will come to a head in the weeks just after the midterm elections.

“If Mueller were going to subpoena the president—and there’s every reason why a careful and thorough prosecutor would want the central figure on the record on critical questions regarding his knowledge and intent—this is just the way we would expect him to do so. Quietly, expeditiously, and refusing to waste the lull in public action demanded by the midterm elections. It all fits.”

So we will see; or will we? If Trump were to have Mueller’s overseer Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein fired or forced to resign, here is the likely replacement: Next-in-line Mueller Supervisor Got White House Ethics Waiver In April.

The sub-head says: Solicitor General Noel Francisco has been dogged by conflict of interest concerns related his potential role overseeing the Mueller probe.

A bit more detail:

“Solicitor General Noel Francisco has long been considered a likely candidate to oversee Mueller’s Russia probe if Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is fired or quits. But the 49-year-old conservative lawyer has also been dogged by conflict of interest concerns because he previously worked as a partner at Jones Day, the same law firm that represents Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in the Russia probe.”

Given the conflict, an argument has been made that Francisco could not follow Rosenstein without a White House waiver. And it turns out, the White House quietly issued this waiver in April.

No surprise, the story of the waiver is far worse than we could have imagined:

“The group also took issue with the waiver appearing to be signed by then-White House counsel Don McGahn, who also worked with Francisco at Jones Day before joining the Trump administration. McGahn had similarly pledged not to participate in matters involving his former law firm.

““By authorizing Mr. Francisco to participate in the investigation, Mr. McGahn himself participated in the investigation,” CREW wrote.”

Then there is this — Francisco even potentially has a financial incentive and more to do the bidding:

“The group noted that Jones Day still owes Francisco about $500,000 as part of its separation agreement when he left at the start of the Trump administration in January 2017. It also questioned his role as a lawyer on Trump’s transition team, which also has been pulled into the Mueller investigation.”

If you prefer, you can go here for MSNBC Rachel Maddow’s explanation.

There is also a fascinating new release of legal documents that show a grand jury was prepared to subpoena Richard Nixon which could shed light on next steps for Mueller (the Watergate Road Map; released this past Wednesday).

Does anyone doubt that Trump will do anything to save himself?


Going from here

So, what happens next? Here’s a few things to consider…

Remember, Russia used Ukraine as their hacking laboratory. How bad could things really get? Wired provides a reminder: How An Entire Nation Became Russia’s Test Lab For Cyberwar.

Is the  U.S. prepared to respond to a Russian cyber attack? According to the Daily Beast here are major cyberbattle plans in place along with new supporting government policy: The Pentagon Has Prepared a Cyberattack Against Russia.

If you remember reports here of the parallels of Russian hacking and influence with the U.K. Brexit vote in advance of the 2016 U.S. election you may be interested to know that pro-Brexit billionaire and funder Aaron Banks is now under investigation for his Stone-like “shifting stories” and meetings with Russian diplomats ahead of the vote. Among other concerns, it is suspected that Banks was not the true source of the £8m funding in addition to “the potential gold and diamond deals the Russians offered to Banks”.

In other setbacks for Trump, a federal judge ruled that a case brought against Trump for doing business with foreign governments can proceed. Improper gifts or payments, known as emoluments, are defined and restricted by the Constitution. The judge ruled that he would not dismiss as a “burden” to Trump and did not side with Trump arguments that businesses “did not qualify. The ruling is subject to appeal.


So what will happen? What will be the outcome of the elections? What will happen with Trump-Russia following the elections?

What we do know is that Putin has already scheduled Trump’s next review with a first meeting happening as early as November 11. Most of us have had to ponder a performance review in advance, the elections will have a serious impact on how this “long and thorough” review goes for Trump.

I say we do our best to assure this is a very uncomfortable meeting for Trump.


(Commoner Call cartoon by Mark L. Taylor, 2018. Open source and free for non-derivative use with link toe )