A "Listening to America" RNC survey signed by Donald J. Trump is going around via email. Example: "Are you concerned by the potential spread of Sharia Law?" Trump wants to hear from "the REAL America." (I'm guessing readers of this blog do not qualify.) He writes:
The mainstream media and Hollywood love to tell you “how America is feeling.” But they know nothing. They live in a world where you get to your keep job even if you fail to get anything done.
We are going to have to come up something better than "irony is dead" for the Trump presidency. There's no tread left on it.
With any luck, Senate Republicans and their twittering leader will fail again today at getting anything done regarding the Affordable Care Act. Afterwards, perhaps Trump will fire someone and blame Hillary Clinton.
The scary part is they just might pull off something, whatever that is. Sam Baker writes at Axios:
* Stranger things have happened, but Sen. John McCain probably isn't taking a break from his brain-cancer treatments to travel 2,300 miles across the country so he can torpedo a bill about an issue he's never been especially invested in, which he could have torpedoed just as easily by staying in Arizona.
* If McCain is a "yes" on today's motion to proceed — and, sure, take nothing for granted, but if — then Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is in a considerably better position.
* Sen. Susan Collins is a "no." But it sounds like Sens. Rand Paul and Mike Lee will get their request to begin the voting with a modified version of the 2015 straight-repeal vote. If those two support the motion to proceed, it would take two more moderates to join Collins and prevent a vote-a-rama.
If Sen. Mitch McConnell gets his motion to proceed, the legislative show will probably begin with a substitute amendment. Senate aides believe it would be the 2015 repeal-only bill. A version of the Republican repeal-and-replace scheme could come as an amendment to the amendment. Clear? After 20 hours of debate have expired, the Congressional Budget Office will not have time to score the final bill before voting occurs.
But to get there, McConnell will have to break out the big carrots and sticks on holdouts like Sens. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Trump appeared yesterday at a national Boy Scouts gathering in Capito's West Virginia and told Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price on stage that he'd better get Capito's vote. Talking Points Memo reports that Murkowski told reporters last week, “I have said all along that I felt that the Medicaid reforms should have been separate from the effort that we were undertaking with the ACA fixes.” There is no indication yet this morning on whether they are still no votes.
Others in the caucus are finding McConnell's closed-doors horse-trading offensive:
“It’s starting to feel like a bazaar, $50 billion here, $100 billion there, and I feel like it’s losing coherency so I hope that somehow or another it can move in a different direction,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) told reporters last week.
And then there’s the biggest question: will the replacement legislation be the actual final bill the Senate votes on, or will McConnell put forward a bill modeled after 2015 legislation that repealed Obamacare without a replacement, but with a two-year delay.
As of Monday evening, Republicans weren’t sure exactly which bill they’d be moving forward after Tuesday’s procedural vote.
McConnell and his leadership team are throwing everything they have at wavering senators: the threat of political disaster if they fail, an open amendment process to allow their ideas to be debated — and the argument that a flawed Senate bill can be fixed later in conference negotiations with the House. Administration officials and senators are discussing adding as much as $100 billion more to earlier drafts to help low-income people with premiums, Republicans said, while senators also may consider a scaled back version of Obamacare repeal that would allow them to at least pass something in the Senate and get to conference, Republicans said.
Republicans are strongly considering a strategy that would tee up two separate votes — one on the repeal only and another on the plan the Senate has been working on to repeal and replace Obamacare.
Jason Chaffetz, who recently stepped down from the House of Representatives and into a Fox News gig, wondered why congressional investigators are focusing on Jared Kushner instead of Chelsea Clinton.
Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and White House senior adviser, released an 11-page statement detailing his contacts with Russian officials during the campaign ahead of his closed-door hearing with congressional lawmakers — and Chaffetz echoed President Donald Trump’s recent Twitter complaints.
“Republicans need to get a backbone,” Chaffetz said.
“Every time the Democrats say they need to call up Jared Kushner or Don Jr. — call up Chelsea Clinton, call up the Clintons.”
The president tweeted over the weekend that Republicans had not done enough to protect him from the Russia investigation, and suggested Hillary Clinton should instead be the target — which Chaffetz endorsed.
“There we have an inspector general who issues a report stating an actual crime,” Chaffetz said. “You have Bill Clinton, the former president, taking millions and millions of dollars from countries, that Hillary Clinton is going in and then doing business.”
“So every time a Democrat says ‘I gotta talk to Donald Trump Jr.,’ then go up and bring Chelsea Clinton in there,” Chaffetz continued, “because she was involved in the Benghazi situation, she was involved with the (Clinton) Foundation.”
He didn’t detail what possible crimes Chelsea Clinton may have committed, but Chaffetz said it was ridiculous that congressional investigators wanted to speak with Kushner about the foreign contacts and loans he failed to disclose on his security clearance forms.
“They would never, ever, ever do this to the Clintons,” Chaffetz said.
Yeah, they Clintons are immune from investigations.
Well, except for the dozens of bogus investigations including impeachment during the 90s and Cheffetz's own Benghazi crusade. But other than that ...
During a radio interview on a Corpus Christi station last Friday, Farenthold said he finds it “absolutely repugnant” that “the Senate does not have the courage to do some of the things that every Republican in the Senate promised to do.”
Farenthold singled out female senators for opposing the repeal of Obamacare, before suggesting that if they were men, he’d ask them to settle things with a gunfight.
“Some of the people that are opposed to this [i.e., repealing Obamacare] — there are some female senators from the northeast,” Farenthold said. “If it was a guy from south Texas I might ask them to step outside and settle this Aaron Burr-style.”
I'm not sure when Alaska and West Virginia became part of the Northeast. Republicans across the board don't seem to be good with basic grade school level facts.
More importantly, I'd put my money on Murkowski, Capito or Collins in any duel with this guy:
Call me crazy but this seems like it might mean something:
As of the end of June, 209 Democratic challengers had registered with the FEC and raised at least $5,000. That more than doubled the previous high mark since 2003. In 2009, the Republicans had 78 challengers with at least $5,000. The early GOP challengers in 2009 foreshadowed the party’s regaining majority control. The question is whether the same will hold true for the Democrats in 2018.
They have already recruited more candidates than every midterm since 2009 combined. We're 18 months out.
Obviously, the Democrats could still lose. But maybe it's not such a good idea to keep harping on the fact that Democrats are such worthless pieces of garbage that there's probably no point in even listening to what they have to say. All these people stepping up to do this thing and it might be useful to be a little bit more encouraging.
The agent’s decision to allow me to write about our conversations came after learning that ice was making a push, beginning this week, to arrest young undocumented immigrants who were part of a large wave of unaccompanied minors who crossed the border in recent years and who, until now, had been allowed to live in the U.S. Rather than detaining these young people, the government had placed them in the care of families around the country. Most of them are trying to lead new lives as American transplants, going to school and working. ice now plans to pursue those who have turned eighteen since crossing the border, and who, as a result, qualify for detention as legal adults. “I don’t see the point in it,” the agent said. “The plan is to take them back into custody, and then figure it out. I don’t understand it. We’re doing it because we can, and it bothers the hell out of me.”
The agent went on, “The whole idea is targeting kids. I know that technically they meet the legal definition of being adults. Fine. But if they were my kids travelling in a foreign country, I wouldn’t be O.K. with this. We’re not doing what we tell people we do. If you look next month, or at the end of this month, at the people in custody, it’s people who’ve been here for years. They’re supposed to be in high school.”
The agent was especially concerned about a new policy that allows ice to investigate cases of immigrants who may have paid smugglers to bring their children or relatives into the country. ice considers these family members guilty of placing children “directly in harm’s way,” as one spokeswoman recently put it, and the agency will hold them “accountable for their role in these conspiracies.” According to ice, these measures will help combat “a constant humanitarian threat,” but the agent said that rationale was just a pretext to increase arrests and eventually deport more people. “We seem to be targeting the most vulnerable people, not the worst.” The agent also believes that the policy will make it harder for the government to handle unaccompanied children who show up at the border. “You’re going to have kids stuck in detention because parents are too scared of being prosecuted to want to pick them up!” the agent said.
U.S. immigration courts are facing a backlog of half a million cases, with only a limited number of judges available to hear them and issue rulings. “We still have to make decisions based on a responsible use of the government’s resources—you can’t lock everybody up,” the agent said. “We’re putting more people into that overburdened system just because we can. There’s just this school of thought that, well, we can do what we want.”
Before this year, the agent had never spoken to the media. “I have a couple of colleagues that I can kind of talk to, but not many,” the agent said. “This has been a difficult year for many of us.” These people, not just at ice but also at other federal agencies tasked with enforcing the nation’s immigration laws, are “trying to figure out how to minimize the damage.” It isn’t clear what, exactly, they can do under the circumstances. “Immigration is a pendulum—it swings to the left sometimes, or it swings to the right,” the agent told me last week. “But there was a normal range. Now people are bringing their own opinions into work.” In the agent’s view, ice is a changed agency.
What he's seeing is a bunch of guys with guns and uniforms drunk with power believing hey have a free hand to go after a particular vulnerable population. I think
“I like predictability,” the agent said. “I like being able to go into work and have faith in my senior managers and the Administration, and to know that, regardless of their political views, at the end of the day they’re going to do something that’s appropriate. I don’t feel that way anymore.”
And the Trump administration wants to hire thousands more, many of whom will not be vetted or properly trained.
Many local police and border patrol and ICE and DHS have all adopted military tactics over the past few years. They see themselves as being at war. The enemy depends on the agency but it's almost always black and brown.
Here's how badly this can go sideways:
We don’t know if Philippine National Police Director General Ronald dela Rosa realizes it. But no other event since the Duterte administration came to power has dealt a greater blow to the credibility of the police in the war on drugs than the treacherous killing last Sunday of anticrime crusader Zenaida Luz in Oriental Mindoro.
Ms. Luz’s killers drove by her house on a motorcycle wearing a bonnet and a mask. It was close to midnight. She was shot in cold blood while standing in front of her house, waiting for someone who had contacted her asking for help. It was clearly a ruse.
Responding to a distress call from village officials, a police patrol team caught up with the fleeing masked killers, who traded shots with them. Cornered and wounded, the gunmen desperately shouted “Tropa, tropa!” to signal that they were friendly troops. To their horror and shock, the police recognized the gunmen as indeed from their ranks. The assailants turned out to be Senior Insp. Magdaleno Pimentel Jr. and Insp. Markson Almeranez—out of their uniforms, moonlighting as vigilante killers.
President Trump rolled his eyes and made a face Monday after a reporter hurled a question at him about Attorney General Jeff Sessions as the president was posing for a photo with dozens of White House interns.
Trump made a face, amid laughter from the interns, after the question about whether he thought Sessions should resign, which he did not answer.
A reporter then asked another question about whether he had a message about healthcare, to which Trump said, “Quiet.”
Trump turned to the interns standing on a podium behind him, telling them that the reporters are not supposed to ask questions at the photo opportunity.
“They’re not supposed to do that. But they do it, but they’re not supposed to,” he said.
One little acknowledged reason he fired him is because he hates the idea that his win was a fluke
The New York Times' David Leonhardt:
The polling analysts who worked for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign had a name for the many Americans who didn’t like him but didn’t like Hillary Clinton either: “double haters.”
Many of these double haters seemed likely to vote anyway, given their long voting history. “They were a sizable bloc,” Joshua Green writes in his new book “Devil’s Bargain,” the first deeply insightful political narrative of the Trump era, “3 to 5 percent of the 15 million voters across 17 battleground states.”
The double haters spent much of the campaign unsure what to do. In the end, as Green told Fresh Air’s Terry Gross last week, “they broke to Trump.” As part of his reporting for the book, Green got access to internal polls and memos from the Trump campaign, and this material makes clear that Trump’s aides believed one factor made a bigger difference than any other.
It was the memo that James Comey, then the F.B.I. director, released about Clinton’s emails on Oct. 28.
The memo, Green says, “got them to come out, not to support Trump but essentially to vote against Hillary, which in the end was the same thing.”
We knew this because the Trump campaign pollsters talked about it after the election. But nobody wanted to hear it then and I suspect nobody wants to hear it now.
Still, for the record, Comey's bombshell did make the difference.
I have the feeling that we may look back on the week just past as a watershed moment in the Trump era. I know it seems as if we have those every other day and it's true that this isn't the first one. Firing the FBI Director certainly counts as a historical turning point. But last week was the six month anniversary of the inauguration and it featured two events that I think may turn out to have been extremely important, even if nothing comes of it.
It wasn't just the strange historical fantasies such as his assertion that Napoleon’s “one problem is he didn’t go to Russia that night because he had extracurricular activities,” or his obvious confusion between life insurance and health insurance. It wasn't even the fact that he seemed to have hallucinated that he'd instituted cast, sweeping reforms such as when he stated "I've given the farmers back their farms. I’ve given the builders back their land to build houses and to build other things.” All of this was extremely bizarre to say the least. If you didn't know better you might think it was some kind of elaborate put-on.
But underneath this farcical display of presidential ineptitude was something more sinister. He spent much of the time railing against law enforcement officials whom he perceives to either be disloyal to him personally by failing to corrupt themselves on his behalf or are corruptly serving his enemies.
He smeared former FBI Director Comey with the accusation that his private briefing of the Steele dossier was an attempt to get "leverage" on the president. He threatened Special Prosecutor Mueller that he'd better not go beyond what he sees as a very narrow mandate to look into the possible campaign collusion to
look into his finances.
He said the current acting FBI director is tainted by the fact that his wife ran for office as a Democrat and that Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein can't be trusted because he's from Baltimore and it's a Democratic city. Perhaps the most astonishing attack was made against his most loyal Republican ally, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whom he seems to have irrationally latched on to as the reason for all his troubles when he recused himself from the Russia investigation.
He is clearly terrified by the Special Prosecutor and is contemplating taking drastic action to put an end to his probe.
Which brings us to the second bombshell that happened last week. After this New York Times interview was published, the Washington Post reported that Trump has been talking to his lawyers about the presidential pardon and even if he might be able to pardon himself. If he wants to abruptly put and end to the investigation one imagines that might do it.
On Saturday, Trump tweeted this:
While all agree the U. S. President has the complete power to pardon, why think of that when only crime so far is LEAKS against us.FAKE NEWS
Trump's lawyer Jay Sekulow appeared with George Stephanopoulos on ABC News and said that this tweet meant nothing and that pardons had not been discussed at all. Then Trump's new communications director Anthony Scaramucci told Fox News that he talked with president last week about the pardon but Trump said he wouldn't have to do it because he hadn't done anything wrong. Clearly, it is on his mind.
The question of whether the president could conceivably pardon his accomplices and himself has been around since the drafting of the constitution. Indeed, the possibility of that is one of the reasons George Mason gave for refusing to sign it. He wrote:
The President of the United States has the unrestrained power of granting pardons for treason, which may be sometimes exercised to screen from punishment those whom he had secretly instigated to commit the crime, and thereby prevent a discovery of his own guilt.
And who says no one ever anticipated someone like Donald Trump becoming president?
Other founders said that it was impossible to believe that any president would do such a thing. Why he'd be remembered as Benedict Arnold! James Madison wrote, “If the President can be connected, in any suspicious manner, with any person, and there be grounds to believe he will shelter him, the House of Representatives can impeach him.” One might have assumed that at one time, but it's looks as though that's not going to work out.
After that shocking interview in which the president babbled ignorantly about history, policy and politics and then threatened and smeared law enforcement, inappropriately defined the boundaries of the Special Prosecutor's investigation and attempted to get the Attorney General to resign so that he can replace him with someone who won't recuse himself from the Russia probe, the Republican congressional majority gave a collective shrug. They don't care.
A few of the usual suspects like Senator Susan Collins of Maine said she thought he should just let the investigation play out. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul said that he believed Trump could pardon himself but "cautioned" him that there might be political fallout. For the most part, Republicans ran in cowardly fashion from the question, unwilling to stand up and do what's necessary in this situation which is to tell the president that if he fires the Special Prosecutor or starts pardoning people, they will have no choice but to start impeachment proceedings.
It's possible that they don't think he's really serious about this. It is pretty crazy. But it's obvious by that loony interview that he's losing his grip and that there aren't people around him who will restrain his worst impulses. He already fired James Comey. There is nothing really to stop him from firing Sessions, Rosenstein and anyone else who stands in his way.
And he does have a plenary pardon power although it's disputed whether he could pardon himself or issue a broad enough pardon to encompass a full scope of crimes his associates haven't even been charged with. Nonetheless, it's certainly possible that he will try and the only real way to stop him is for the Republican leadership in congress to let him know that they will not let him.
They have shown no sign that they will do their duty.
And yet their president is unsatisfied. It's not enough for them to simply let him get away with destroying every ethical norm and pushing every law to the limit. He demands that they defend his outrageous behavior. On Sunday he tweeted:
It's very sad that Republicans, even some that were carried over the line on my back, do very little to protect their President.
"Health care in the United States is pathetic ... when you don't have the insurance, you don't have the access." — Dr. Teresa Tyson, Executive Director of the Health Wagon
The Affordable Care Act needs reforming, Dr. Teresa Tyson told the Roanoke Times. Repealing it is not an option. Tyson's team was treating patients at the annual Remote Area Medical free clinic weekend in Wise, Virginia. Obamacare is by no means the full answer to the health care crisis in this country, but it was an improvement. An improvement that needs improvement. Instead, Sen. Mitch McConnell means to roll it back.
This year's RAM clinic weekend in Wise, Virginia crept up on me. I didn't make the trip up as I did last year. But since McConnell and his band plan to try repealing Obamacare again this week, perhaps the timing and the little press it receives will open some eyes to what they mean to do. President Trump himself used that word, even as his administration was sabotaging the Obamacare program.
"Mr. Trump really needed to be here ... There’s been absolutely no change in the number of people that come to these events since the day I started it in the United States ... We are number 37 in the World Health Organization's rankings." — Stan Brock, Remote Area Medical founder
Stan Brock has held these free clinics in Wise for 18 years, the Roanoke Times reports. Most come for dental care covered as a luxury extra under most insurance, including the Obamacare exchange plans:
Located near the Virginia- Kentucky border, the clinic at the Wise County Fairgrounds attracts residents from a wide area. The clinic, the largest of the year, has 1,400 volunteers who serve thousands of people in one weekend.
At 5 a.m. Friday — the first day of the clinic — RAM founder and British philanthropist Stan Brock stood at the entrance of the clinic as volunteers prepared to let people through the gate.
Hundreds arrived at the fairgrounds in the dead of the night to secure a decent spot in line. They slept in their cars or pitched tents as they waited for the clinic gates to open. Before the sun crested the surrounding mountains, volunteers had given out all of the numbers for the day and began turning people away.
On the heels of this, Reuters reports that McConnell's procedural vote to repeal Obamacare could come as early as Tuesday. In what conforms to a pattern of legislative malpractice by McConnell, his caucus doesn't yet know on what legislation they will be voting.
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will make a decision soon on which bill to bring up for a vote, depending on ongoing discussions with GOP senators. Thune sought to cast this week's initial vote as important but mostly procedural, allowing senators to begin debate and propose amendments. But he acknowledged that senators should be able to know beforehand what bill they will be considering.
"That's a judgment that Senator McConnell will make at some point this week before the vote," Thune said, expressing his own hope it will be a repeal-and-replace measure. "But no matter which camp you're in, you can't have a debate about either unless we get on the bill. So we need a 'yes' vote."
Meanwhile, USA Today reports that thousands of Catholic nuns have written a letter to senators urging them to reject the Republican effort as "immoral and contrary to the teachings of our Catholic faith." The letter signed by over 7,000 sisters insists senators vote against advancing "any bill that would repeal the ACA and cut Medicaid." The report states that Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine are both Catholics. Both are cited as undecided on the measures under consideration.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) might also be independent enough from his caucus to play a roll in defeating any bill McConnell brings to the Senate floor. Sens. Dean Heller of Nevada and Rob Portman of Ohio are two other Republicans said to be on the fence. Sen. John McCain remains in his home state of Arizona after surgery for a blood clot. He is undergoing treatment for a brain tumor.
McConnell is short of votes as long as none of the fence-sitters votes to advance whatever bill McConnell offers.
Politics and Reality Radio: Is Medicare-for-All the Path to Single-Payer?; Fighting Fake News; Susie Madrak on Trump’s Meltdown
with Joshua Holland
This week, we kick off the show with a brief tribute to the one and only Sean Spicer, may he rest behind a bush somewhere.
Then we'll be joined by mild-mannered health care wonk Harold Pollack from the University of Chicago to talk policy on the left and the right: Why the GOP's zombie bill never dies, and whether making a rapid transition to Medicare-for-All is a viable way to get to affordable universal coverage.
Then we'll be joined by Ohio State University scholar Gleb Tsipursky to talk about The Truth Pledge -- his scheme to use behavioral science to "nudge" people into combating fake news.
Finally, we'll talk to Susie Madrak, a contributing editor at Crooks and Liars, about a pretty zany week in Trumpland that began with POTUS trashing everyone in sight to the NYT.
Supreme Deluxe: "Alex Jones Rants as an Indie Folk Song"
Rolling Stones: "Play With Fire"
George McCrae: "Rock Your Baby"
Erykah Badu: "Rimshot (Outro)
White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci on Sunday said he and President Donald Trump discussed pardons during a meeting last week in the Oval Office.
“I’m in the Oval Office with the President last week, we’re talking about that, he says he brought that up,” Scaramucci said on “Fox News Sunday,” referring to Trump’s tweet about pardons.
Trump on Saturday claimed “all agree the U. S. President has the complete power to pardon.”
His tweet came amid reports that Trump has inquired about his authority as it pertains to pardoning his staffers, family members and even himself.
Jay Sekulow, an attorney on Trump’s outside legal team, said Sunday that “pardons are not on the table.”
“We have not, and continue to not, have conversations with the President of the United States regarding pardons. Pardons have not been discussed,” Sekulow said.
Scaramucci said Trump “doesn’t have to be pardoned.” “There’s nobody around him that has to be pardoned. He was just making the statement about the power of pardon,” Scaramucci added. “And now all of the speculation and all the spin is, oh, he’s going to pardon himself.”
Scaramucci's off to great start, I'll give him that. I'm sure Trumpie is very pleased. digby 7/23/2017 04:00:00 PM
On Sunday morning’s broadcast of CNN’s Reliable Sources, White House advisor Kellyanne Conway continued to wage war on the media—and CNN specifically—by arguing the network shouldn’t be so critical toward the president because Donald Trump simply doesn’t know any better.
Conway took umbrage with the media’s insistence on covering such “non-stories” as the president of the United States continually lying to the American public. After host Brian Stelter argued that his network was committed to covering the many scandals emanating from the White House, an incredulous Conway pushed back, demanding to know what “scandals” Stelter was referring to.
“The scandals are about the president’s lies,” replied Stelter. “About voter fraud; about wire-tapping; his repeated lies about those issues. That’s the scandal.” Despite overwhelming evidence that the White House is indeed lying in both of those cases—there is zero evidence to support Donald Trump’s claim that 3 million people voted illegally, or that his office was wire-tapped—the administration continues to promise “investigations” into both matters. But Conway’s response on Sunday was a new approach to how the administration handles allegations of lying.
“[Donald Trump] doesn’t think he’s lying about those issues, and you know it,” she said.
Sure, a lot of what he says are conscious, outright lies. We know that. But it's also clear that he's addled and out of touch with reality. It's hard to tell the difference, I understand that. But as Steltzer went on to point out, just because Trump believes his own lies it doesn't make them true.
That's right. The president of the United States believes that the Russians are so good that they will outwit American, British, German, and every other western intelligence agency every single time. They are geniuses! The best! So, terrific, so fabulous, so great!
In fact, Donald Trump loves and respects the Russian government the way Tony "da Mooch" Scaramucci loves and respects Donald Trump. Unconditionally.
In the fall of 2013, Veterans Today, a fringe American news site that also offers former service members help finding jobs and paying medical bills, struck up a new partnership. It began posting content from New Eastern Outlook, a geopolitical journal published by the government-chartered Russian Academy of Sciences, and running headlines like “Ukraine’s Ku Klux Klan — NATO’s New Ally.” As the United States confronted Russian ally Bashar Assad for using chemical weapons against Syrian children this spring, the site trumpeted, “Proof: Turkey Did 2013 Sarin Attack and Did This One Too” and “Exclusive: Trump Apologized to Russia for Syria Attack.”
In recent years, intelligence experts say, Russia has dramatically increased its “active measures” — a form of political warfare that includes disinformation, propaganda and compromising leaders with bribes and blackmail — against the United States. Thus far, congressional committees, law enforcement investigations and press scrutiny have focused on Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin’s successful efforts to disrupt the American political process. But a review of the available evidence and the accounts of Kremlin watchers make clear that the Russian government is using the same playbook against other pillars of American society, foremost among them the military. Experts warn that effort, which has received far less attention, has the potential to hobble the ability of the armed forces to clearly assess Putin’s intentions and effectively counter future Russian aggression.
In addition to propaganda designed to influence service members and veterans, Russian state actors are friending service members on Facebook while posing as attractive young women to gather intelligence and targeting the Twitter accounts of Defense Department employees with highly customized “phishing” attacks. The same Russian military hacking group that breached the Democratic National Committee, “Fancy Bear,” was also responsible for publicly posting stolen Army data online while posing as supporters of the Islamic State in 2015, according to the findings of one cybersecurity firm. And the hacking group’s most common target for phishing attacks in the West has been military personnel, with service members’ spouses making up another prominent target demographic, according to another cybersecurity firm.
While the military and its contractors have long been the targets of cyberattacks from hostile foreign powers, the Russian campaign is noteworthy for its heightened intensity, especially since the imposition of Western economic sanctions following the 2014 annexation of Crimea, and for the novel tactics it is employing online. All of it amounts to a new kind of low-intensity or “hybrid” warfare that Western governments are still struggling to effectively counter.
“We are focused on the azalea bushes at the edge of a redwood forest,” said retired Gen. Philip Breedlove, who stepped down last June after three years as supreme allied commander of NATO, where he witnessed a surge in Russian active measures against Baltic states and in efforts to spread negative disinformation about the alliance’s soldiers stationed in Europe.
The active measures campaign has followed Breedlove home and into retirement. In July, emails hacked from his Gmail account were published on the Russian front site DC Leaks, and Breedlove said he was recently targeted with a series of more than a dozen sophisticated phishing emails purporting to come from his bank. Breedlove declined to name his bank but said it is used by the majority of his fellow officers, leading him to conclude the motives of the phishing attack were political rather than financial. “What Russia is doing across the gamut from our internal audiences to military audiences and others,” he said, “is quite astronomical.”
In the 20th century, intelligence agencies looking to build ties with foreign soldiers might have gone through the trouble of sending agents out to watering holes near military bases, waiting for servicemen to show up and gaining their trust one drink at a time.
Now, social media makes it cheap and easy to target soldiers and veterans in their virtual hangouts for intelligence gathering and influence campaigns.
John Bambenek, a threat intelligence manager at Fidelis Cybersecurity, whose work has included investigating the DNC breach, said Russia is one of several foreign powers using social media lures to gather intelligence on the U.S. military. “Some are quite unsophisticated (attractive women sending friend requests), some get more complicated,” he wrote in an email. “Spies understand that a great deal can be discerned about what militaries are up to based on the unclassified behavior of soldiers.”
Forming connections on social media could help foreign states directly communicate with groups of American soldiers, a tactic employed in recent conflicts by both Russia and the U.S. During the first days of the annexation of Crimea, Ukrainian soldiers were bombarded with demoralizing text messages such as, “Soldier you are just a raw meat for your commanders.” Ahead of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the U.S. military emailed Iraqi soldiers en masse, encouraging them to surrender, according to Richard Clarke’s 2010 book, “Cyber War.”
The Pentagon is clearly worried. Defense Department spokeswoman Linda Rojas declined to comment on specific activities, but said new technologies have made the military more vulnerable in cyberspace. “The proliferation of internet-based communications and social media applications has elevated the potential for nefarious use that could affect our personnel,” she wrote in an email. Rojas also said the military was working to address the mounting threats posed by hacking and online influence operations. “We make every effort to educate and inform DoD personnel of these threats, while bolstering our network defense capabilities to protect IT infrastructure from outside intrusions,” she wrote.
Becoming Facebook friends with American soldiers also gives foreign agents the ability to post propaganda that will show up on their news feeds.
Serena Moring, a former military contractor from a military family, said she first became concerned about pro-Russian sentiment among soldiers on social media last spring, when an unverified report purporting to relate the story of a Russian soldier who died heroically while fighting ISIS in Syria began circulating among American service members on social media.
“All of the response from the military guys was like, ‘That is awesome. That’s an epic way to die,’” recounted Moring, 39. “It was a very soldier-to-soldier bond that was created through social media.”
Moring said she has become further alarmed as friends of hers in the military, including military intelligence, have become avowed admirers of Putin, and that she now expends considerable effort arguing about Russia on Instagram and Facebook channels geared to military audiences.
In the Wild West of social media, it is difficult to sort out pro-Russian sentiment that is organic—Putin’s approval rating has surged among U.S. Republicans since 2015, and he is often the subject of positive coverage in right-leaning outlets like Fox News—from that which is manufactured. But Breedlove said much of the sentiment is being generated by a concerted Kremlin influence campaign. “People popping up on veterans’ sites and singing the praises of Putin, you can guarantee those are trolls and part of the army that’s sitting over there attacking us every day,” he said.
Putin has made the creation of a pro-Russian “alternative media ecosystem” to, in his words, smash “the Anglo-Saxon monopoly on the information stream” a top priority of his foreign policy. A significant prong of those operations is aimed at the American military community, and the Russian activity has ramped up in recent years as tensions have increased over sanctions, the annexation of Crimea and the expansion of NATO.
There's more. Wherever you stand on the Russia issue, this just doesn't strike me as a good thing.
The local board of elections made me the Democratic judge in my precinct in the very first election I voted in. My father thought it would be a lesson in democracy, I guess, one I could get paid for if I applied to be an election worker. But since we have the same first name, the board mistakenly thought the application came from him and put me in charge. At age 18.
County parties here this summer, in the slow, odd-numbered years, are assembling lists of election workers for the next 2-year cycle. It is essentially a volunteer job, community service with a stipend. People don't do this for the money. Mostly, older people volunteer in that window between retirement and no longer being able to stand the 15-hour day. Finding replacements when the stalwarts age out is tough.
In the last week, two women called worried that personal information such as social security and drivers license numbers would be given to Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state leading up President Trump's Commission on Election Integrity. One, a Latina, was especially worried her voter registration information would be used to target her. Her name, like mine, is not uncommon. And being a Latino, she worried about being caught up in Kobach's fraud-fishing net. I can relate. For years, I told her, I was not the only one with my name in my own neighborhood. I sometimes break the ice in meetings by explaining I am not the Fox Business guy who fills in for Rush Limbaugh. How easy it would be for us both to get netted by Kobach's bad data matching program.
Working inside the process, it is stunning how at odds with the fantastical, Republican rhetoric reality is. Safeguarding people's right to vote is a big deal for these volunteers. Ensuring people can vote and that the process is fair is a passion. Most (though not all) of our GOP counterparts here in this work respect the process. We who work elections know what a fraud "voter fraud" is, which makes us, I guess, both smarter than the president and/or smart enough to be president.
This morning, the New York Times again inveighs against this massive snipe hunt and national effort at voter intimidation:
It is run by some of the nation’s most determined vote suppressors, the kind who try to throw out voter registrations for being printed on insufficiently thick paper or who release reports on noncitizen voting that are titled “Alien Invasion” and illustrated with images of U.F.O.s.
Its purpose is not to restore integrity to elections but to undermine the public’s confidence enough to push through policies and practices that make registration and voting harder, if not impossible, for certain groups of people who tend to vote Democratic.
The Times calls it "a far greater threat to electoral integrity than whatever wrongdoing it may claim to dig up." It is another example of the bad faith politics endemic at the highest level of the Republican Party.
The Week's Damon Linker believes the Kobach nonsense is symptomatic of a deeper anti-democratic bent in his party. Republican lawmakers' acquiescence in the face of Trump's insistence on personal loyalty and vapid expressions of "concern' demonstrate they are "perfectly fine with Trump acting more like a kleptocratic despot than the head of the executive branch of a democratic republic."
There is, to begin with, the bill that would make it a federal crime (a felony punishable by up to a $1 million fine and 20 years in prison) to support the international boycott against Israel for its occupation of the West Bank. That 14 Democratic senators have joined with 29 Republicans in backing this flagrant assault on the First Amendment is certainly shameful, but it does nothing to diminish the outrageousness of those who like to portray themselves as courageous defenders of free speech endorsing a bill that would drastically curtail it. (And no, I don't support the movement to boycott Israel, just the right of others to do so, which is exactly the way liberal democracy is supposed to work.)
Even worse is the Justice Department's announcement on Wednesday that it is reviving the practice of allowing "state and local law enforcement officials to use federal law to seize the cash, cars, or other personal property of people suspected of crimes but not charged." This practice, known as civil asset forfeiture, has been widely abused by police departments across the country in what amounts to government-backed theft from citizens who are supposed to be constitutionally protected from having their property seized without due process of law. That's why state and local governments, along with the Obama Justice Department, have acted to curtail the practice. But now, in a full-frontal assault on civil liberties, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has given local police departments a way to circumvent these restrictions.
Of course, Linker saves his harshest criticism for Kobach and his phony commission, calling it "a full-frontal assault on the core liberal democratic institution of free and fair elections." The Times wonders whether it is just a callous attempt to boost Republican's electoral clout or if "they actually believe their own paranoid fantasies."
The least banana Republicans could do is wear more gold braid and mirrored sunglasses.
Saturday Night at the Movies
Summertime Blus: Best BD re-issues of 2017 (so far)
By Dennis Hartley
Since we’re halfway through the year, I thought it would be the perfect time to take a look at some of the best Blu-ray reissues of 2017 (so far). Any reviews based on Region “B” editions (which require a multi-region Blu-ray player) are noted as such; the good news is that quality name-brand multi-region players are now much more affordable!
Being There (Criterion Collection) – For my money, the late director Hal Ashby was the quintessential embodiment of the new American cinema movement of the 1970s. Beginning in 1970, he bracketed the decade with an astonishing seven film streak: The Landlord, Harold and Maude, The Last Detail (reviewed below), Shampoo, Bound for Glory, Coming Home, and this 1979 masterpiece. Adapted from Jerzy Kosinki’s novel by frequent Ashby collaborator Robert C. Jones (who was uncredited...a hitherto unknown tidbit revealed in an extra feature), it’s a wry political fable about how a simpleton (Peter Sellers, in one of his greatest performances) literally stumbles his way into becoming a Washington D.C. power player within an alarmingly short period of time. Only in America! Richly drawn, finely layered, at once funny and sad (but never in a broad manner). Superbly acted by all, from the leads (Sellers, Melvyn Douglas, Shirley MacLaine, Jack Warden, Richard Dysart) down to the smallest supporting roles (a special mention for the wonderful Ruth Attaway). Like Sidney Lumet’s Network, this film only seems to become more vital with age. The Trump parallels are numerous enough; but one scene where Sellers meets with the Russian ambassador (a great cameo by Richard Basehart) has now taken on a whole new (and downright spooky) relevancy. Criterion’s Blu-ray features a beautiful 4K restoration and a plethora of enlightening extra features.
Fat City (Powerhouse Films) – John Huston’s gritty, low-key character study was a surprise hit at Cannes in 1972. Adapted by Leonard Gardner from his own novel, it’s a tale of shattered dreams, desperate living and beautiful losers (Gardner seems to be the missing link between John Steinbeck and Charles Bukowski). Filmed on location in Stockton, California, the story centers on a boozy, low-rent boxer well past his prime (Stacey Keach), who becomes a mentor to a young up-and-comer (Jeff Bridges) and starts a relationship with a fellow barfly (Susan Tyrell). Like most character studies, this film chugs along at the speed of life (i.e., not a lot “happens”), but the performances are so well fleshed out you easily forget you’re witnessing “acting”. One scene in particular, in which Keach and Tyrell’s characters first hook up in a sleazy bar, is a veritable masterclass in the craft. Granted, it’s one of the most depressing films you’ll ever see (think Barfly meets The Wrestler), but still well worth your time. Masterfully directed by Huston, with “lived-in” natural light photography by DP Conrad Hall. You will be left haunted by Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make it Through the Night”, which permeates the film. The print is beautifully restored, and extras include new interviews with the cast.
The Last Detail (Powerhouse Films) – Hal Ashby’s 1973 comedy-drama set the bar pretty high for all “buddy films” to follow (and to this day, few can touch it). Jack Nicholson heads a superb cast, as “Bad-Ass” Buddusky, a career Navy man who is assigned (along with a fellow Shore Patrol officer, played by Otis Young) to escort a first-time offender (Randy Quaid) to the brig in Portsmouth. Chagrinned to learn that the hapless young swabbie has been handed an overly-harsh sentence for a relatively petty crime, Buddusky decides that they should at least show “the kid” a good time on his way to the clink (much to his fellow SP’s consternation). Episodic “road movie”
misadventures ensue. Don’t expect a Hollywood-style “wacky” comedy; as he did in all of his films, Ashby keeps it real. The suitably briny dialog was adapted by Robert Towne from Daryl Ponicsan’s novel; and affords Nicholson some of his most iconic line readings (“I AM the motherfucking shore patrol, motherfucker!”). Nicholson and Towne were teamed up again the following year via Roman Polanski’s Chinatown. This edition sports a fabulous 4K restoration (the audio is cleaned up too, crucial for a dialog-driven piece like this). Loads of extras-including a sanitized TV cut of the film, just for giggles.
The Loved One (Warner Archive Collection) – In 1965, this black comedy/social satire was billed as “The motion picture with something to offend everyone.” By today’s standards, it’s relatively tame (but still pretty sick). Robert Morse plays a befuddled Englishman struggling to process the madness of southern California, where he has come for an extended visit at the invitation of his uncle (Sir John Gielgud) who works for a Hollywood studio. Along the way, he falls in love with a beautiful but mentally unstable mortuary cosmetician (Anjanette Comer), gets a job at a pet cemetery, and basically reacts to all the various whack-jobs he encounters. The wildly eclectic cast includes Jonathan Winters (in three roles), Robert Morley, Roddy McDowell, Milton Berle, James Coburn, Libarace, Paul Williams and Rod Steiger (as Mr. Joyboy!). Tony Richardson directed; the screenplay was adapted by Terry Southern and Christopher Isherwood from Evelyn Waugh’s novel. No extras on this edition, but the high-definition transfer is good.
Man Facing Southeast (Kino-Lorber) – I originally caught this 1986 sleeper from Argentina on Cinemax 30 years ago and have been longing to see it again ever since. Kino-Lorber’s Blu-ray edition signals the film’s first domestic availability in a digital format. Writer-director Eliseo Subiela’s drama is a deceptively simple tale of a mysterious mental patient (Hugo Soto) who no one on staff at the facility where he is housed can seem to remember admitting. Yet, there he is; a soft-spoken yet oddly charismatic young man who claims to be an extra-terrestrial, sent to Earth to save humanity from themselves. He develops a complex relationship with the head psychiatrist (Lorenzo Quinteros) who becomes fascinated with his case. While primarily sold as a “sci-fi” tale, this one is tough to pigeonhole; part fable, part family drama, part Christ allegory (think King of Hearts meets The Day the Earth Stood Still). Beautiful, powerful, and touching. Extras include interviews with Subiela, Soto, and DP Ricardo de Angelis.
Metropolis (Eureka; Region “B”) – Japanese director Rintaro’s visually resplendent 2001 anime is based on Osama Tezuka’s manga reimagining of Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent film classic. The narrative (adapted by Akira director Katsuhiro Otomo) is framed as a detective story (not unlike Blade Runner), with a PI and his nephew attempting to unravel the mystery of Tima, a fugitive robot girl who has become a pawn in a byzantine conspiracy involving a powerful and corrupt family that rules Metropolis. Intelligent writing, imaginative production design and beautifully realized animation make this a must-see. Extras include interviews with cast and crew, and a “making of” documentary.
Multiple Maniacs (Criterion Collection) – Warning: This 1970 trash classic from czar of bad taste John Waters is definitely not for the pious, easily offended or the faint of heart. A long out-of-print VHS edition aside, it has been conspicuously absent from home video…until now. Thank (or blame) The Criterion Collection, who have meticulously restored the film back to all of its original B&W 16mm glory (well, almost…there’s grumbling from purists about the “new” music soundtrack, reportedly precipitated by the prohibitive costs of securing music rights for some of the tracks that were “borrowed” by Waters for his original cut). The one and only Divine heads the cast of “Dreamland” players who would become Waters’ faithful repertory for years (Edith Massey, Mink Stole, David Lochary, etc.) in a tale of mayhem, perversity, filth and blasphemy too shocking to discuss in mixed company (you’ll never see a Passion Play in quite the same way). Flippancy aside for a moment, watching this the other day for the first time in several decades, I was suddenly struck by the similarities with the contemporaneous films of Rainier Werner Fassbinder (Love is Colder than Death and Gods of the Plague in particular). Once you get past its inherent shock value, Multiple Maniacs is very much an American art film. Extras include a typically hilarious commentary track with Waters.
Ocean Waves (Universal Studios Home Entertainment) – This 1993 anime is one of the last remaining “stragglers” from Japan’s Studio Ghibli vaults to make a belated (and most welcome) debut on Blu-ray (it was previously only available on PAL-DVD). Adapted by Kaori Nakamura from Saeko Himruo’s novel, and directed by Tomomi Mochizuki, it concerns a young man who returns to his home town for a high school reunion, which triggers a flood of memories about all the highs and lows of his adolescent years. It’s similar in tone to another Ghibli film, Only Yesterday, which is also takes a humanistic look at the universality of growing pains. On a sliding scale, this may be one of Ghibli’s “lesser” films, but the studio has set a pretty high bar for itself, and it will certainly please Ghibli completists (who, me?). Extras are scant, but the hi-definition transfer is lovely.
Seven Days in May (Warner Archive Collection) – This 1964 “conspiracy a-go go” thriller was director John Frankenheimer’s follow-up to The Manchurian Candidate (the cold war paranoia force was strong in him!). Picture if you will: a screenplay by Rod Serling, adapted from a novel by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II. Kirk Douglas plays a Marine colonel who is the adjutant to a hawkish, hard right-leaning general (Burt Lancaster) who heads the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The general is at loggerheads with the dovish President (Fredric March), who is perceived by the general and some of the other joint chiefs as a “weak sister” for his strident support of nuclear disarmament. When Douglas begins to suspect that an imminent, unusually secretive military “exercise” may in fact portend more sinister intentions, he is torn between his loyalty to the general and his loyalty to the country as to whether he should raise the alarm. Or is he just being paranoid? An intelligently scripted and well-acted nail-biter, right down to the end. Also with Ava Gardner, Edmund O’Brien, and Martin Balsam. No extras, but a great transfer.
They Live By Night (Criterion Collection) – This 1949 film noir/progenitor of the “lovers on the lam” genre marked the directing debut for the great Nicholas Ray. Adapted by Ray and Charles Schnee from Edward Anderson’s Thieves Like Us (the same source novel that inspired Robert Altman’s eponymous 1974 film), this Depression-era tale concerns the unexpected and intense mutual attraction that sparks between a young escaped convict (Farley Granger) and a sheltered young woman (Cathy O’Donnell). The young lovers’ primal drive to meaningfully connect with someone who truly “gets” them clouds the illogic of expecting to play house when one of them is a wanted fugitive. In a fashion, the film presages Ray’s 1955 social drama Rebel Without a Cause more so than it does his later noirs like In a Lonely Place and On Dangerous Ground, with its shared themes of young outcasts, adolescent confusion, and doomed love. Moody, atmospheric and surprisingly sensual for its time (it doesn’t hurt that Granger and O’Donnell are both so beautiful). Criterion’s 2K restoration lends depth to the shadows and light of George E. Diskant’s cinematography. Extras include commentary by “Czar of Noir” Eddie Muller.
The revelations that Donald Trump is looking for dirt on Robert Mueller and his team to undermine the special counsel’s investigation, and that Trump is alsoconsidering using his pardon power to protect himself and his associates from any legal fallout, constitute the latest evidence that Trump is seeking to put himself beyond the reach of the law. An adviser told The Washington Post, “This is not in the context of, ‘I can’t wait to pardon myself,’” a denial that sure sounds like the president can’t wait to pardon himself. The New Republic’s Brian Beutler puts the situation most simply: “We’re on the brink of an authoritarian crisis.”
Looming over the investigation is the possibility that Trump might just fire Mueller. Congressional Republicans have responded to this rolling scandal in typical fashion: They might have some critical words for the president on background, but they have been reluctant to take a firm stand in public. Buzzfeed’s Emma Loop asked Republican senators on Thursday whether Trump firing Mueller would be a mistake. Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr said, “I don’t think the president can fire Bob Mueller.” Senator Thom Tillis said, “Whether or not it’s a mistake, I won’t—I don’t think I’ll gauge that.” Senator Richard Shelby brushed the question off because, “that’s speculation.” Only Senator Marco Rubio could muster up a “yes it would be a mistake.”
On background, however, three senators had some harsher criticisms of Trump. As CNN reports, one senator called Trump’s interview earlier this week with The New York Times, in which he essentially warned Mueller not to investigate his personal finances, “pretty disturbing,” and acknowledged that Trump “willfully disregards the fact that the attorney general and law enforcement in general—they are not his personal lawyers to defend and protect him.” Another told CNN, “Any thought of firing the special counsel is chilling. It’s chilling. That’s all you can say.” A third remarked, “You’ve got a special counsel. Let the individual do his work. Don’t comment. Don’t interfere.” Only Senator Susan Collins went on the record to say, “It would be catastrophic if the president were to fire the special counsel.”
It has been clear for a long time now that Republicans will allow Trump to do all kinds of damage as long as they can get their legislative agenda through. They clearly know this is a crisis of historical proportions—but what’s the rule of law compared to a tax cut for the rich
The spin we’re going to start hearing now, in the wake of Thursday night’s bombshell New York Times and Washington Post stories, is that what Trump & Co. are about to do to attempt to destroy Robert Mueller’s credibility is no different from what Bill Clinton and his team did to Ken Starr 20 years ago.
The Washington Post quotes one lawyer involved in the case calling Mueller’s probe “Ken Starr times 1,000,” while The Times draws out the comparison: “By building files on Mr. Mueller’s team, the Trump administration is following in the footsteps of the Clinton White House, which openly challenged Mr. Starr and criticized what Mr. Clinton’s aides saw as a political witch hunt.”
And if you stay on the most superficial level possible, there is one similarity: After news broke in January 1998 that Clinton had had an affair with Monica Lewinsky, his people, led by James Carville, went on a public rampage against the prosecutor that spring and summer to try and win the battle of public opinion against him.
Which they did, by roughly 50 or 60 percentage points—Clinton polled in the 60s or 70s throughout the saga, while Starr’s approval numbers just cracked 10 percent.
But that’s not what this is about. What this is about is a lie machine that’s about to crank up that has to be pre-butted. So here we go. Here are three big differences between the two situations (and there are more).
1. First of all, the actual correct comparison is not between Mueller and Starr, but Mueller and Robert Fiske. Who? Fiske was the special prosecutor originally named by Janet Reno to investigate the Clintons’ investment in the Whitewater land-development deal. In January 1994, a year into Clinton’s tenure, Reno named Fiske as the special prosecutor to look into Whitewater (and the suicide of White House aide Vince Foster, which many of the same people who today defend Trump had spun into some insane conspiracy, e.g., Hillary had him snuffed out because he knew too much, etc.).
For that situation to be parallel to this one, Clinton would had to have denounced and threatened Fiske shortly after his appointment. No such thing happened. Clinton didn’t like it, but he certainly didn’t say anything inappropriate in public.
Oh and by the way: Fiske was a Republican. I mean, can you imagine if Reno had appointed a Democrat? Republicans would have howled that the fix was in. But in the current case, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein appointed a Republican (Mueller) to investigate a Republican president, and Democrats have done nothing but praise Mueller.
2. Speaking of which, in stark contrast to Mueller, Starr’s appointment was drenched in partisan controversy from the start. This is a little complicated to explain and thus wouldn’t make for a good TV sound bite, but it’s a crucial difference. Bear with me.
At the time Fiske’s probe was just getting underway, President Clinton was also under pressure to sign a new independent counsel law (a previous one had expired). He did so. Catch: Under the terms of the law, authority for appointing said counsel transferred from the attorney general to a panel of the D.C. circuit court. That three-judge panel consisted of two highly ideological movement conservatives, David Sentelle and Laurence Silberman.
In June 1994, Fiske released a report—the same day Clinton signed the new independent counsel law—finding that Foster’s suicide was just that. This wasn’t what the right wanted to hear. A few weeks later, the three-judge panel fired Fiske and replaced him with Starr. This was a highly partisan controversy from the start. But even so, Clinton himself said nothing inappropriate.
3. Starr spent three years leaking stuff to friendly reporters. Starr and his lieutenants always denied that they were the source of leaks, and maybe they built some buffer between themselves and the reporters in question so that that was technically true. But there was only one place a lot of the Whitewater stories of 1995, 1996, and 1997 could have been coming from. These leaks were likely illegal. We’ve seen no comparable leaks from Mueller.
That’s three years—three years of slanted and often untrue leaks (Hillary was about to be indicted and so on). Pre-Lewinsky, the Clinton White House pushed back a little with some leaks about Starr’s tactics, but certainly Clinton himself never went after Starr publicly until much later, in August 1998, after Starr made Clinton’s grand jury testimony from earlier that year public—itself a highly dubious thing for a prosecutor to do.
There are many more differences. Clinton’s White House never said of Fiske or Starr the outrageous thing that Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday, as quoted in the Times article: “The president’s making it clear that the special counsel should not move outside the scope of the investigation.”
What? WHAT?? When did that become for a president to say? We’ve lived through six months of assertions and arguments that make us gasp, laugh, and cry all at the same time, but asserting that the person being investigated is allowed to set the parameters of the investigation or else he’ll axe the investigator is genuinely one of the most abominable yet.
What Starr did really was a witch hunt. After three and half years, he had nothing, and then lo and behold he learned of a presidential infidelity from a group of right-wing lawyers (one of whom, George Conway, would later marry Kellyanne Fitzpatrick, now the second-biggest liar in Washington) who convinced Starr’s prosecutors they could get Clinton to lie about it under oath.
What Mueller is doing is undertaking an obviously legitimate investigation. Into something that’s a lot graver than extramarital oral sex, by the way.
Starr was a total partisan (and a total “Christian” hypocrite, as his later disgrace at Baylor reminded us). Mueller is a person who’s taken pains over his career to be above partisanship and who is respected across the spectrum. There’s no comparison between the character of the two men or the probes they’re overseeing. The only question is which Republicans will be willing to say it.
The most important part of that is spelling out the difference between the alleged underlying crimes. One was about an ancient land deal in which the president lost money and an illicit extramarital affair that was exposed by a partisan perjury trap.
The other is about possible collusion in foreign interference in the presidential campaign, blackmail by the FSB and millions of dollars in laundering of Russian mob money. Other than that though ...