(1) “Our side, we go for the head wound. Your side, you have pillow fights.”
(2) (Trump) “is going to go full animal”; (will) “come off the chains.”
— Former Trump senior adviser Steve Bannon.
“Putin is publicly admitting, in the clearest form yet, that he wanted Trump to beat Hillary Clinton during the U.S. presidential campaign and that this preference stemmed from Trump’s conciliatory approach to Russia.”
— Uri Friedman, Russian Speakers Explain What Putin Actually Said About Trump.
“…outlines the Russian effort to influence the election and documents crimes committed by persons associated with the Russian government in connection with these efforts”, including “that Russian government actors successfully hacked into computers…”
— Attorney General Barr’s 4-page notice of receipt for the Mueller report.
“America’s justice system is built upon one thing — truth.”
— Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates Washington Post Opinion
By Dan Peak
The Commoner Call (4/1/19)
We are still waiting for a Barr report. While we wait there has been a frenzy of news following Attorney General Barr’s not-a-summary acknowledgement of receipt of Mueller’s findings we now have Barr trying to clarify why his summary is not a summary. Trump ventured to Grand Rapids, MI for a “vindication and vindictiveness” rally. Polls show voters unmoved by Barr’s initial commentary and Trump’s self-declared exoneration. Republicans gloat while some liberal voices join a chorus of Trump-Russia as re-litigating the 2016 election.
Though there is still no Mueller report Barr issued a second letter after receipt of the Mueller report. His skimpy first report, which failed to communicate basic information — like how many pages — was much criticized. Barr now wants to clarify for Congress that his first letter was not a summary: When Is A Summary Not A Summary?
“On Friday, Barr seemed to concede his critics had a point. A new letter was sent to Congress, a sign either that the criticism had personally stung or that Barr worried, once released, the actual report would demonstrate his initial letter was nothing more than political spin to defend his boss.”
Barr has now said the Mueller report is “nearly 400 pages”. Barr’s charge was only to advise Congress of receipt but his initial 4-page letter ventured into characterizing the results. The criticism directed at Barr is valid.
“The public overwhelmingly wants to see the report, not Barr’s version. Though the second letter continues to fuel a concern “that Barr will never supply the full report, identifying he intends to make, including those to protect grand jury testimony”. The most curious category for redaction is ““Information that would unduly infringe on the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third parties.””
Does this redaction signal intent by Barr to key players in the investigation they won’t be identified? There is nothing in the special counsel instructions that allow for this.
The rotten apple doesn’t fall from the poisoned tree
The lack of a Mueller report does not keep many from offering their own summary, maybe the loudest pronouncement being Trump’s: Our President Of The Perpetual Grievance.
Trump held a campaign rally on Thursday in Grand Rapids, MI; ”some of Trump’s Republican supporters called on him to be magnanimous in victory”. Trump was not magnanimous:
“In his first appearance before a crowd since Barr’s summary dropped like a bomb, last weekend, Trump blamed Democrats, “the deep state,” “and the fake news media, right back there”—pointing to the rear of the packed arena—for what he called “a crazy attempt . . . to overturn the results of the 2016 election.””
While Trump focused on his perceived enemies, Donnie also got in the act with “Trump Jr. incites the Trump rally attendees into a chant of “AOC sucks! AOC sucks!”” Like father like son.
One of Trump’s targets was House Intelligence Chair Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), declaring that “he should be forced out of office”. And right on cue, “A couple of hours after Trump’s tweet, all nine Republicans on Schiff’s House committee followed up, disrupting a hearing to present their written demand, while sitting on the dais with Schiff, that he quit, saying the he “knowingly” promoted a now-disproved conspiracy theory”.
Schiff offered an impassioned and impressive reply speech “in which he listed all the disturbing data points about the Trump 2016 campaign and the Russians: a meeting at Trump Tower with Trump’s son and his campaign chair, with Russians offering “dirt”; the false statements about that meeting; the overtures to Trump’s staff linked to Russian intelligence; the President’s pursuit of a multimillion-dollar Moscow real-estate deal during the campaign; his false statements about that deal. “I don’t think it’s O.K.,” an unrepentant Schiff said. “I think it’s immoral. I think it’s unethical. I think it’s unpatriotic. And, yes, I think it’s corrupt and evidence of collusion.”” (Schiff’s full speech is here.)
Turning back to the New Yorker article, Susan Glasser offers an excellent summary:
“…the story of Trump and Russia won’t go away. For Trump, it’s a key to his victimization narrative—look at what the evil deep state tried to do to me. The President is all about the politics of grievance. For Democrats, even if the politics of impeachment have fizzled, the Trump-Russia story remains proof of Trump’s unfitness for office. It also remains unresolved by Barr’s short summary, which, after all, is just a few paragraphs of declarative legalese after two years of waiting.”
NPR reports: “Overall, three-quarters said the full Mueller report should be made public. …Majorities of Americans say it is likely Trump has done things that are…illegal (64%) during his time in office or while he was campaigning for president.”
Even a majority of Republicans want to see the report. 66% percent of respondents want Mueller to testify to Congress and 64% want the same for Barr. Only 36% of respondents say Trump is cleared of any wrongdoing.
While the Barr note indicates the Mueller report did not exonerate the president, respondents were equally split (48% to 46%) over further investigations of obstruction of justice by Trump.
Trump’s self-exoneration is not moving the needle:
“Of Trump’s standing and the political climate, Miringoff put it this way: “Despite the two years of attention, focused on Russia and the convictions and all that, it pretty much is exactly where it was.”‘
Even worse for Trump, “Majorities of Americans say it is likely Trump has done things that are unethical (72%) or illegal (64%) during his time in office or while he was campaigning for president. The full poll is worth reading as it covers a range from Trump and white nationalism to Pelosi job rating.
Did the media get it right?
It is not only the Republicans that have weighed in with Trump-Russia criticism. There are also voices from the left.
One example is from Branko Marcetic, a staff writer for Jacobin, the socialist magazine, is writing for In These Times. Branko mirrors similar criticism from the left of how “media outlets distracted from the president’s overt crimes” and should “own up to their failures.
Branko opens with a quote from CNN’s Chris Cuomo, “what wrong facts did we put out?” While allowing “that the media doesn’t deserve wholesale condemnation” Branko also notes “swirling panic, misinformation and conspiracizing”. Branko’s most serious criticism is of a “dangerous narrative that Trump was literally under the control of Russian President Vladimir Putin”. We have many examples such as Trump offering “I believe Putin” over US intelligence over North Korea threats, but it is also true that doesn’t literally confirm ‘puppet’. But it may also be true that like collusion and obstruction, the proof is happening right in front of us.
Let’s all agree that media priorities and claims should always be subject to review. That said, Branko’s attempt to offer a fair judgment falls short. One example, Branko references a Bloomberg reporter asking candidate Clinton “if bomb attacks in New York and New Jersey could possibly be part of a Russian plot to “drive votes to Donald Trump.”” How does one bad question rise to a standard of bias compared to Fox News as the daily briefing for the Trump White House? The Clinton campaign is criticized for highlighting “Trump’s threats to not defend NATO allies”. It seems like criticism is wrongly directed here, why does that warrant criticism? Criticism is leveled against claims “that a Trump administration would lead to “appeasement” on Ukraine” yet Trump absolutely offered Putin appeasement of Russian annexation of Crimea.
Branko seems to take exception to criticism of Trump’s response to “Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico, or referring to Trump appearing on “” which would be Larry King on Russian state-owned Russia Today.
While Branko offers some balance and also offers validation of Trump as a he does also draw on many observations that don’t stand the test of time. Branko offers Putin critic Masha Gessen as one pushing back against a “Putin-owns-Trump conspiracy”. But this seems to miss the larger point, here she is Masha Gessen on MSNBC with host AM Joy on Sunday (3/31) morning. (Just after the 3-minute mark) Gessen warns of totalitarianism and Trumpism fueled by a constant state of “not knowing”. While that doesn’t negate prior criticism of Trump-as-puppet” narrative, it underscores how much we still don’t know – it’s not hard to imagine Branko feeding a “not knowing” narrative that is a key component of Trump’s patterns of “totalitarianism”; to be clear this is Gessen’s fear, “really, really worried in a totalitarian way”.
Branko opens with his own fear-mongering:
“The media deserves criticism for near-constant fear-mongering over Russia, often through spurious reporting, and for ignoring the real threat of mounting tensions between the two nuclear powers”, before finishing with this, “The result has been a frenzy of misleading coverage far more wide-reaching, politically consequential and, ultimately, beneficial to Trump…”
Maybe this is two different paths to the same end. But if Trump was to get away with obstruction after failing to end a Trump-Russia investigation by firing former FBI Director Comey only to succeed by burying the Mueller report we could see Bannon’s predictions come true and feel that Branko’s reckoning was exactly backwards.
For comparison, take a look at an excellent example of how the media got Trump-Russsia right; this lengthy article by the New York Times is titled “F.B.I. Opened Inquiry Into Whether Trump Was Secretly Working on Behalf of Russia”.
The point missed by Branko, following Trump’s firing of Comey, the FBI was in fact concerned about “whether he (Trump) had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests”.
Just what the Saudis should get their bloody hands on
But Branko is right in that Trump is a terrible president, a career criminal and dangerous. If Branko is indeed fearful of the ticking down of the doomsday clock, he would certainly agree that Trump is pushing an unsettling and dangerous narrative: Trump Administration Approves Secret Nuclear Power Work For Saudi Arabia.
We have reported a number of times on Trump initiatives to transfer nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia; this is the latest:
“U.S. Energy Secretary has approved six secret authorizations by companies to sell nuclear power technology and assistance to , according to a copy of a document seen by Reuters on Wednesday.
“…Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told CBS last year that the kingdom would develop nuclear weapons if its rival Iran did. In addition, the kingdom has occasionally pushed back against agreeing to U.S. standards that would block two paths to potentially making fissile material for nuclear weapons clandestinely: enriching uranium and reprocessing spent fuel.”
Can the US justice system stand up to Trump’s flavor of totalitarianism?
Sally Yates says American justice is built on truth. But what happens when US justice is challenged by a constant onslaught of lies?
“ that this is a matter of significant public interest. Indeed, the investigation was not about some tangential issue. It was about a foreign adversary’s attempt to subvert our election; it cuts to the very core of our democracy. It is absolutely essential that our country move forward with a common set of facts. And regardless of whether those facts comport with one’s political preferences, we should all be willing to accept the facts, whatever they may be. The American people need to know what happened.
“We can handle the truth.”
And we have Trump who says he lives on the 68th floor of a 58-story building.
US justice has never seen a challenge like Trump. Even Nixon handed over the tapes when ordered. Do we face a similar situation with Trump and if so, what will he do? Mueller chose not to use a subpoena to bring Trump to the table to testify under oath. Was that an example of pillow-fighting per Bannon? Will fairness, decorum and legal precedence be the downfall of justice?
We need to see the full Mueller report.
We’ll give the final word to Rep. Schiff and hope history doesn’t record it as an inconsequential remark.
“You might say that’s all okay. You might say that’s just what you need to do to win, but I don’t think it’s okay. I think it’s immoral. I think it’s unethical. I think it’s unpatriotic. And yes, I think it’s corrupt and evidence of collusion.”