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Hullabaloo


Monday, March 25, 2019

 

Nobody's asking

by Tom Sullivan

One of the few real talents the sitting president possesses is making every story about himself. Even stories that are not about him are about him once he's done grabbing them by the pull quotes.

So focused are we on what Attorney General William Barr's 4-page press release on the Mueller report doesn't say about conspiracy between Donald Trump's campaign and Russia, no one is bothering to comment on what it does say about Russia.

Russia likes that just fine (AP):

Russian officials and state media who have vehemently denied that the Kremlin wanted Trump to win and was helping him in the campaign on Monday relished the news.

“The results of Mueller’s investigation are a disgrace for the U.S. and its political elites,” Alexei Pushkov, chairman of the information committee at the Federation Council, tweeted on Monday. “All of the accusations were proved to be trumped up.”

Russian authorities over the past months portrayed the Mueller probe as a witch hunt against Trump and a tool of the Democratic Party to fan the flames of the anti-Russian sentiment in the U.S.
Etc., etc.

What Barr says Mueller's report did conclude was 1) a Kremlin-connected troll farm, the Internet Research Agency (IRA), "conducted disinformation and social media operations designed to sow social discord, eventually with the aim of interfering with" the U.S. 2016 presidential election, and 2) Russian government actors also "hacked into computers and obtained emails from persons affiliated with the Clinton campaign and Democratic Party organizations." They hacked Republican National Committee computers too, but who's counting? Russia never leaked those emails.

This is old news, of course. Mueller indicted a baker's dozen of Russian intelligence officers for these crimes in February 2018.

But press inquiries and panel after talk-show panel will focus on whether or not the full report exonerates the obsequious "tough guy" in the Oval Office who dreams Russian President Vladimir Putin will let him into the tough guys club. Despite unprecedented documented contacts between a U.S. presidential campaign and representatives of a hostile foreign power, despite being told by the entire U.S. intelligence community Russia committed crimes meddling in the campaign, Trump denied it. He and his campaign did so for months until, after Helsinki, he was forced to admit, grudgingly, that his buddy Vlad might have had something to do with it.

Now that (according to Barr) Mueller's report confirms what we already knew about Russian interference, what does the U.S. president have to say about that? What does he plan to do about that? Nobody's asking.

Mueller may believe "the evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime" involving the data theft. But when the redacted report becomes public, we can expect confirmation Trump did engage is a series of quid-pro-quo deals whereby the campaign exchanged promises of lifting sanctions on Russia in exchange for helping him win and/or awarding him Trump Tower Moscow. That is, we can expect confirmation of what David Corn writes is already in evidence:
Trump and his lieutenants interacted with Russia while Putin was attacking the 2016 election and provided encouraging signals to the Kremlin as it sought to subvert American democracy. They aided and abetted Moscow’s attempt to cover up its assault on the United States (which aimed to help Trump win the White House). And they lied about all this ... Trump and his gang betrayed the United States in the greatest scandal in American history.
Trump will crow about how the report clears him. The Russians just did the same. But if he accepts that, Trump must also be made to address the conclusion that his Russian friend attacked the country he swore an empty oath to defend. He ought not be allowed to move on as though his buddy Vlad is this country's friend. Reporters should ask the would-be tough guy and patriot in blunt terms:
  • Vladimir Putin looked you in the eye and said Russia was not involved with "the so-called interference of Russia in the American elections." The Mueller report confirms he lied to your face. What are you going to do about that, Mr. President, and when are you going to do it?

  • As a true, flag-hugging, great-making American, will you, the Trump Organization, and its officials, forsake ever doing business with Vladimir Putin, his emissaries, current and former Russian intelligence operatives, and will you commit now to accepting no more money or loans from the Russian government or its affiliated banks, so help you God?
Don't hold your breath waiting for those questions or the answers.


Sunday, March 24, 2019

 
The Barr Letter, 1st take

by digby



I'm working on a longer piece for Salon at the moment so I'll just slake your curiosity by linking this first take on the Barr letter by Marcy Wheeler. Her site is inundated right now so I don't think she'll mind if I just copy the whole thing:

Attorney General William Barr just engaged in utterly cowardly dereliction of duty.

DURING HIS CONFIRMATION HEARING, BARR CONFIRMED THAT THINGS TRUMP HAS DONE ARE OBSTRUCTION

When we were awaiting the Mueller report yesterday, I wondered whether William Barr was thinking about two things he had said as part of his confirmation process. First, in his column that has always been interpreted to say that a President can’t obstruct justice, at the bottom of the first page, he instead acknowledged that a President actually could obstruct justice.

Obviously, the President and any other official can commit obstruction in this classic sense of sabotaging a proceeding’s truth-finding function. Thus, for example, if a President knowingly destroys or alters evidence, suborns perjury, or induces a witness to change testimony, or commits any act deliberately impairing the integrity or availability of evidence, then he, like anyone else, commits the crime of obstruction.

Barr — who at the time had no understanding of the evidence — made three comments in his confirmation hearing about obstruction. Among others, he point blank said that a person could not lawfully issue a pardon in exchange of someone’s promise not to incriminate him.

“Do you believe a president could lawfully issue a pardon in exchange for the recipient’s promise not incriminate him?” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) asked Barr during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“No, that would be a crime,” Barr said.

We know Trump has repeatedly floated pardons to witnesses who have, in hopes of obtaining a pardon, not incriminated him.

That’s true of Paul Manafort most of all.

So on the basis of what he said to get this job, Barr is already on the record saying that Trump obstructed justice.

BARR IGNORES THE CRIMES IN FRONT OF HIM TO AVOID CONSIDERING WHETHER TRUMP OBSTRUCTED THOSE CRIMES

Now consider how Barr — having been given the job by Mueller of deciding whether Trump obstructed justice — he avoided holding himself to sworn views he expressed during confirmation.

In the letter sent to Jerry Nadler (who surely just kicked off an impeachment inquiry in earnest) and others, his analysis consists of the following.

The guts of the letter describe the two parts of Mueller’s report. The first part reviews the results of Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election. It describes the conclusions this way:
[T]he Special Counsel did not find that any U.S. person or Trump campaign official or associate conspired or knowingly coordinated with the IRA in its efforts

[T]he Special Counsel did not find that the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in [its] efforts … to gather and disseminate information to influence the election
Note that the second bullet does not even exonerate Roger Stone, as it pertains only to the Russian government, not Russians generally or WikiLeaks or anyone else. This is important given that we know the Trump campaign knew of and encouraged Roger Stone’s coordination with WikiLeaks.

Then Barr moves along to the second section, in which Mueller considered whether Trump obstructed justice. In it, Barr doesn’t mention the scope of the activities that Mueller considered evidence of obstruction of justice. He notes that, after laying out a case for and against accusing the President of a crime, Mueller’s report,
states that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
Barr and Rod Rosenstein have spent 72 whole hours considering that evidence to come up with this judgment:

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.

[snip]

In making this determination, we noted that the Special Counsel recognized that “the evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference,” and that, while not determinative, the absence of such evidence bears upon the President’s intent with respect to obstruction. Generally speaking, to obtain and sustain an obstruction conviction, the government would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person, acting with corrupt intent, engaged in obstructive conduct with a sufficient nexus to a pending or contemplated proceeding.

Here’s the thing, though: at least given what they lay out here, they only considered whether Trump was covering up his involvement in the hack-and-leak operation. It doesn’t consider whether Trump was covering up a quid pro quo, which is what there is abundant evidence of.

They didn’t consider whether Trump obstructed the crime that he appears to have obstructed. They considered whether he obstructed a different crime. And having considered whether Trump obstructed the crime he didn’t commit, rather than considering whether he obstructed the crime he did commit, they decided not to charge him with a crime.
As Marcy says, I think we need to consider that the Trump Tower Moscow wasn't considered part of Mueller's remit. In other words, if it didn't have something to do with the "election interference" it wasn't considered. And yet that is likely the real reason for Trump's obsequious behavior toward Putin during the campaign and as president.

That's a  matter of kompromat counterintelligence question and may not even be prosecutable without strong proof of the quid pro quo. But you can imagine that Trump certainly knew that Putin knew he was lying throughout the campaign and beyond about his business dealings in Russia.

And we may have to consider that Trump was a total dupe, manipulated at every stage by nefarious foreign actors which may just mean that he should be impeached for the high crime of being a corrupt authoritarian and a cretinous moron rather than a Russian agent.

Clearing Trump of collusion in the hacking and the dissemination of Hillary Clinton's emails doesn't really answer all the questions does it?

.
 
Right-wingers always obsess over bodily functions

by digby



Bolsonaro is going to rival Trump for sheer vulagrity isn't he?


In a very NSFW move, Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, posted a video on Twitter of a man urinating on another man in front of a crowd of people. Bolsonaro posted the sexually explicit video in an apparent effort to discredit Sao Paulo’s annual Carnival celebration, which has attracted protests against his far-right agenda. “I don’t feel comfortable showing it, but we have to expose the truth so the population are aware of their priorities,” Bolsonaro tweeted with the video. “This is what Brazilian carnival street parties have turned into,” he said.

The president then followed it up with another tweet in which he wrote only: “What is a golden shower?” Brazilians quickly condemned Bolsonaro’s tweet as a gross misrepresentation of the festival. Witnesses to the incident said it was an isolated incident amid the celebrations, according to Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paolo (FSP).

Bolsonaro is being accused of using the video to discredit the protests against him. Brazilian federal prosecutors recently launched an investigation into suspicious cash payments made into the account of the president’s driver.

This sort of thing borders on obsession in the right wing. They are always breathlessly reporting on the bodily functions of the people they hate. They think it dehumanizes them. Apparently, they don't produce any human waste themselves.


.
 
So, why all the lies?

by digby





I guess we can just say that everyone involved with Trump is a pathological liar because that's the kind of person a pathological liar would hire. Therefore, the lies mean nothing because they all have the same psychological pathology.

Or it could mean they are hiding something.

This USA today article lays out some of the lies:


The first lie – the first one that was a crime, at least – came on the fourth day of Donald Trump’s presidency, in a White House office down the hall from Trump’s own.

That day, a pair of FBI agents came to question Trump’s top national security aide, Mike Flynn, about his dealings with the Russian government. Flynn gave the agents a tour of his new spot in the new administration, interrupted at one point as Trump and some movers walked past discussing where to hang art on the walls. Then Flynn took them back to his corner office and calmly lied to them about conversations with Russia’s ambassador.

Flynn, agents later wrote, “did not parse his words or hesitate.” He simply lied.

The exchange was the start of a remarkable succession of lies over nearly two yearsby some of Trump’s closest political associates, told to federal agents, Congress and the public that distanced the president and his campaign from an investigation into whether his campaign participated in Russian efforts to disrupt the election that put him in office.

Whatever else special counsel Robert Mueller’s now-concluded investigation may reveal, it has devoted considerable attention to the Trump associates whose lies to lawmakers and investigators deflected attention from connections between Russia and the president’s campaign, and to a central question hanging over many of the charges Mueller has filed: Why did they lie?

Mueller delivered his final report Friday to Attorney General William Barr, marking the end of an investigation that has loomed over the first two years of Trump's presidency. The Justice Department has so far revealed none of the report's conclusions, but over the past year and a half, prosecutors have sketched some of them in hundreds of pages of court filings.

Prosecutors have revealed that Trump’s campaign worked eagerly to benefit from a Russian intelligence operation that hacked his opponents’ emails and echoed them in phony social media campaigns, an effort the U.S. government later concluded was aimed in part at helping to deliver Trump the presidency. And investigators charged that a succession of top aides then lied to pretend they hadn’t.

Mueller’s office accused seven people, all but one of them former aides or advisers to Trump, with making dozens of false statements during the Russia investigation.

The investigation has produced a deluge of falsehoods on subjects from the president’s business dealings in Moscow to a meeting his son and campaign chief attended in Trump Tower in 2016 with a Russian promising “dirt” on his political opponent. But lying to the public is usually not a crime, and Mueller’s investigators zeroed in on those directed to lawmakers and federal investigators.

Trump’s lawyers maintain that the lies reflect little more than a misguided impulse to protect themselves from things that weren’t crimes to begin with. “The thing about all these lies is that if they all just told the damn truth they probably wouldn’t have been in any trouble,” said Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lead attorney.

Prosecutors haven’t hinted at their answer, other than to reveal that it is one of the subjects they investigated.

But some of the people they have accused of lying have supplied answers of their own: One suggested he lied out of loyalty. Others appear to have been protecting the president. One, Michael Cohen, a former executive in Trump’s private business and his personal lawyer, said he lied because the president wanted him to.

“Everybody's job at the Trump Organization is to protect Mr. Trump. Every day most of us knew we were coming in and we were going to lie for him on something and that became the norm,” Cohen said in sworn testimony to a House committee Feb. 27. “And that's exactly what's happening right now in this country and it's exactly what's happening here in government.”

3 months of Russia lies


Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI on Jan. 24, 2017, about conversations with Russia’s ambassador, including one in which he discussed rolling back sanctions the Obama administration had imposed in response to Moscow’s election-meddling.

Three days after that meeting, two FBI agents went looking for a young campaign aide, George Papadopoulos. They took him from his mother’s house in Chicago to the bureau’s office there, switched on a video camera, and warned him to tell the truth.

“The only way you’re getting in trouble today is if you lie to us,” one said, according to court records.

For two hours, the agents quizzed Papadopoulos on his interactions with a professor in London named Joseph Mifsud and other people Papadopoulos believed had ties to the Russian government. Eventually, Papadopoulos revealed that Mifsud told him in early 2016 that Moscow had gathered “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, in the form of “thousands of emails,” months before the government revealed that Russia’s military intelligence service had hacked Democratic political organizations. But Papadopoulos passed his encounter with Mifsud off as a “strange coincidence,” unrelated to his work for Trump.

He later admitted that wasn’t true; Mifsud approached him because of his role on the campaign.

More lies by Trump associates followed.

That August, Michael Cohen lied in a written statement to two congressional committees about Trump’s efforts to construct a potentially lucrative high-rise in Moscow, telling them that they ended early in the campaign, when in fact those efforts continued until the point – almost six months later – when Trump had effectively secured the Republican presidential nomination. Cohen also tried to mislead members of Congress into thinking that Trump himself was uninvolved in the project.

A month after that, in September 2017, prosecutors allege that another Trump confidante, Roger Stone, lied to lawmakers about his efforts to gather information for the campaign about hacked emails that were being released by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks. Prosecutors said someone in Trump’s campaign directed a senior campaign official to get in touch with Stone about any other “damaging information” the group might have on Clinton.

When lawmakers summoned one of Stone’s associates to testify, Stone suggested he, too, stick to the story, saying in a text message obtained by prosecutors: “Stonewall it. Plead the fifth. Anything to save the plan’ … Richard Nixon.”

Cohen, Flynn and Papadopoulos have pleaded guilty to making false statements. So has Manafort’s former deputy Rick Gates, and an attorney who worked with the pair, Alexander Van Der Zwaan. Stone, who has maintained his innocence, is scheduled to go on trial in November on charges of lying to Congress and obstruction of justice.

Late last year, Paul Manafort, the former chairman of Trump’s campaign, met with investigators and appeared twice before a grand jury. There, prosecutors alleged in court filings, he lied about his interactions with a business associate in Ukraine who U.S. authorities say is tied to Russian intelligence. Prosecutors say Manafort passed polling data to the foreign associate while running Trump’s campaign.

Prosecutors didn’t charge Manafort with lying, though a judge concluded that he had. Instead they sought to use his lies against him when he was sentenced for other crimes, including conspiracy and tax and bank fraud related to years of lobbying work he conducted in Ukraine.
[...]
'Loyalty' and 'orders'

Trump has tried repeatedly to discredit Mueller’s investigation, savaging it as a political “witch hunt.” The FBI has confirmed that it investigated whether the president also tried to obstruct it, and Mueller’s office closely scrutinized the false statements of Trump aides.

Both Cohen and Flynn have agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and have provided information about the circumstances in which they lied.

“The obvious question on the obstruction theory is who, if anyone, is suggesting that they’d want to cover it up,” said Shanlon Wu, a former federal prosecutor who represented Gates until last year.

“Isn’t it a remarkable coincidence — why are they all lying?” said Robert Ray, a former independent counsel who investigated President Bill Clinton. “Politics is one of those spaces where loyalty is prized above most everything,” Ray said. “When you look at these cases, it’s like everyone understood that — down to the lowest staffer.”

Flynn has never revealed why he lied, and it’s puzzled those who know him.
[...]

Robert “Rocky” Kempenaar, one of Flynn’s longtime friends from Rhode Island, said he believes he lied to protect the president and his administration and that he did not decide to do it on his own.

“He’s a general,” Kempenaar said. “He was following orders from above him. Whether it was the president, I don’t know, but I kind of figured it out knowing Michael the way we do.”

Cohen, too, placed Trump squarely at the center of the obstruction investigation. In scathing testimony to the House Oversight Committee in early February, he said Trump had implicitly encouraged him to lie to lawmakers about plans to build a Trump Tower in Russia. And he testified that some of Trump’s lawyers reviewed and edited a false written statement before he delivered it to Congress in 2017.

“Mr. Trump did not directly tell me to lie to Congress, that's not how he operates,” Cohen said. “In conversations we had during the campaign, at the same time I was actively negotiating in Russia for him, he would look me in the eye and tell me, there's no Russian business, and then go on to lie to the American people by saying the same thing.

But hey, it's all fine. Trump is president when the economy is doing well and he hasn't started another war (yet) so there's no reason to care about anythng else, amirite?

.

 
Perry Mason moments are a rarity

by digby





I think we always look back the dramatic moments as the conclusive ones. He's right. They weren't. We remember John Dean and Alexander Butterfield as the turning points in Watergate, and in some respect they were, but really that cover-up was revealed over a long period of time and the cumulative effect of what we knew is what made those moments so dramatic. Ken Starr's testimony in the Clinton impeachment hearing and Oliver North's testimony in Iran Contra were big TV moments, but they didn't change anything in the moment.

There has already been plenty of drama in the Russia scandal. In fact, there's been so much of it that we are overwhelmed with it. But in the end, the conclusion to this scandal will be determined by what happens next, not what's happened already.

.
 
Yes, he "colluded" and was happy to do it

by digby





I wrote this for Salon this morning:

So Robert Mueller's report has been filed. As I write this, we are still waiting for Attorney General William Barr to reveal what he calls its "principal conclusions" to leaders of the judiciary committees in Congress. Whether those turn out to actually be "conclusive" remains to be seen, but it's safe to say that whatever Barr conveys to Capitol Hill will not provide the level of detail about the outstanding questions to which the public deserves to have answers.

The Department of Justice has reported that there are no new indictments forthcoming from the special counsel's office, which many people assume means that Mueller concluded that Trump and his inner circle did not collude with Russia during the 2016 election campaign. That is incorrect.

We know that the DOJ has determined that sitting presidents can't be indicted. That's not settled constitutional law, but it is a federal policy that Mueller was bound to observe. So the lack of charges against President Trump doesn't mean much. But the conventional wisdom at this moment holds that if there had been any proof of conspiracy, Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner and perhaps others would have been indicted by Mueller's team, so the evidence of conspiracy must not be there. That may be true, but we don't know that at this point, and don't know why Mueller may have reached that conclusion, without seeing the details of the report.

The fact that there were no indictments in a counterintelligence investigation would not in itself be unusual. The purpose isn't prosecution -- it's fact-finding and removing the threat. Not all threats are criminal. For instance, people who might be unwittingly compromised could have their security clearances withdrawn or be fired from a government job, even though they haven't necessarily committed a crime. If someone who is a serious threat to national security has committed other crimes, the feds might choose to indict him or her for those other offenses, rather than the ones that might expose national security secrets. There are several people enmeshed in this Trump scandal for whom those examples might serve.

As Frank Figliuzzi, the former assistant director of the FBI for counterintelligence explained on MSNBC on Saturday:

Counterintelligence is the chess game in the FBI. It's the most cerebral part of the FBI and it's nuanced and subtle. ... It could be, and by the way, this is the case of the majority of FBI counterintelligence investigations, that you do not end up with a criminal prosecution but rather an incredibly nuanced case that someone has been compromised, that someone attempted to get assistance from a foreign adversary. But they are winks and nods. ... So Mueller may have said, "Look if it's not airtight, I'm not charging, but I'm going to explain it in a report," and I think that's what we should expect.
As I wrote the other day, regardless of whether all of this is explained in Mueller's report to the Justice Department, by law he will have to report his findings to the intelligence committees, just as former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe was obligated to inform the "gang of eight" congressional leaders that he was opening the counterintelligence investigation in the first place.

We already knew there was next to no possibility that Trump himself would be indicted while he's in office. That has long been his get-out-of-jail-free card. But none of that means that the information gleaned from the counterintelligence investigation won't implicate Trump and his cronies in a Russian plot to disrupt the election. It may be, for instance, that it wasn't a criminal conspiracy, just a monumental lack of basic ethics and a case of massive stupidity.

After all, there is evidence of collusion already in the public domain. We know that Donald Trump was aware in the summer of 2016 that the Russians were hacking into his rival's emails, and he egged them on in public. He has continued to deny that they did it, even to this day. Trump was thrilled to have Vladimir Putin on his side and believed that made him some kind of foreign policy genius. There was a time when Republicans would have been hysterical at the prospect of a presidential candidate being so accommodating to foreign interference, especially if the Russians were involved. But Trump's behavior has been completely out in the open. We've watched it unfold in real time and virtually the entire Republican Party thinks that's perfectly fine.

We also know that Donald Trump was compromised. It's been revealed that throughout the first half of the campaign he had Michael Cohen, who was then executive vice president of the Trump Organization, along with Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump, working on a potentially hugely profitable deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. This was an outrageous thing to be doing at all while running for president, but he made it much worse by lying about it in public for many months well into his presidency. If you want to know why that was such a risky thing to do, just look back at the case of Michael Flynn.

Remember that Flynn was ostensibly fired for lying to Vice President Mike Pence about calls he made during the transition to the Russian ambassador suggesting that Trump would lift sanctions imposed on Russia over the apparent election interference. Remember that Acting Attorney General Sally Yates went directly to the White House, in the early days of the Trump administration, to warn officials about Flynn. That was because the FBI and Justice Department were worried about the fact that the Russians knew Flynn was lying and could potentially use that to blackmail him. Remember that Flynn, at least for a few weeks, was national security adviser to the president of the United States.

Exactly the same dynamic existed between Russia and Trump: They knew he was lying about having no business in Russia, and Trump knew they knew he was lying. He was downright obsequious toward Putin during the campaign, likely still hoping to get the "Moscow project" built if he lost the election (as he fully expected to). Once he won, Trump was seriously compromised. His behavior toward Putin as president, the private meetings and the submissive behavior in Helsinki all point to Trump's knowledge that the Russians had leverage over him. For all we know, that's not the whole story. Indeed, that's likely just one of the compromising lies Trump has told that has become public. He lies all the time.

Those are just two examples of Trump's corrupt and unethical behavior toward Russia. Neither of them is likely prosecutable, even if Trump weren't protected by the Justice Department policy that holds a president can't be indicted. It's a national security problem for which the only remedy is to fire the president -- aka impeach him or defeat him at the ballot box.

Sadly, since all this is already on the public record, if it hasn't convinced Republicans that the president is a serious threat to the nation it's hard to imagine what would change their minds. Nonetheless, Congress must pursue this no matter what Mueller decides.

Whatever Barr chooses on Sunday or in the days ahead, it will be largely up to the Democrats on Capitol Hill to pursue all the open questions -- and there are many of them. Public hearings are essential.  There is so little trust in government institutions in America at the moment that it's vitally important that the public be able to see and hear directly from the people involved in this investigation. Whether Congress holds impeachment hearings or simply does the oversight that was so sorely lacking in the first two years of Trump's term, the people of this country can't hold another presidential election without knowing what happened in the last one. A democracy can't function like this.

.
 

Leakproof

by Tom Sullivan


Photo by James Ledbetter via Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0.

The buzz around what may be in Special counsel Robert Mueller's report is inescapable this morning. Without having read a word of the report, Fox News has declared Donald Trump vindicated of any wrongdoing. Multiple accounts circulate of investigations spun off the Trump-Russia investigations and still pending. Not to mention story after story, with the report still not public, about what comes next. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) vows to oppose any Department of Justice classified briefing on the matter that would leave her members unable to discuss findings publicly.

News that Mueller will issue no new indictments could mean he found no wrongdoing by Trump, or that he did but simply issued no indictment, per Department of Justice guidelines on not indicting a sitting president. Politico reports White House aides nevertheless believe that dram of news exonerates Trump of wrongdoing before the report's contents are public:

But now, if he is exonerated, Trump aides say the president will need to acknowledge that Mueller did a thorough and fair investigation to show that the outcome is legitimate and that the House is overreaching.
Good luck with getting a "thorough and fair" out of Donald Trump.

The same report indicates Trump aides are gearing up for a Mueller counteroffensive, but worry if they write down any of their contingency plans, they may leak.

That is not a problem for Mueller's team, per the Guardian:
Recent reports indicate that Mueller’s office was granted Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) status, to ensure information inside remained secure. Smartphones and other electronic devices that can be turned into listening devices or cameras were likely to have been restricted. The office itself has not been publicly located by Mueller’s team, although its whereabouts remains an open secret among close followers of his work.

Those interviewed by Mueller’s investigators have reported being picked up from their lawyer’s offices, hotels or even nearby stations by agents assigned to the investigation, then dropped back at the same location to avoid being spotted going in and out of the building.
Comparisons to the sieve-like Whitewater investigation leave Kenneth Starr's work looking like partisan hackery. (I know. I know.)
The special counsel has rarely even been seen outside his offices in Washington, with two notable exceptions. In July, he and Donald Trump Jr were spotted waiting at a departure gate at Washington’s Reagan airport. Then, in September, Mueller was seen receiving technical assistance at the Apple store in Georgetown.

It should come as no surprise that Friday’s announcement came without flourish. Former colleagues describe this as simply Mueller’s method.
An NBC News reporter Friday night was jazzed to be told by a waiter she was sitting at a table just vacated by Robert Mueller.

Mueller's efforts yielded "indictments, convictions or guilty pleas from 34 people and three companies" in under two years, contrasting with Whitewater and the Iran-Contra investigations that continued for years longer.

In an administration unable to follow "the most basic rules of governance," Mueller has shown public service can still be performed honorably.


Saturday, March 23, 2019

 
Saturday Night at the Movies


Desperate housewife: Criterion reissues Barbara Loden’s Wanda (****)

By Dennis Hartley




Wanda Goronski: I don’t have anything. I never did have anything. Never will have anything.

Norman Dennis: You’re stupid.

Wanda Goronski: I’m stupid?

Norman Dennis: If you don’t want anything, you won’t have anything, and if you don’t have anything, you’re nothing. You may as well be dead. You’re not even a citizen of the United States.

Wanda Goronski: I guess I’m dead, then.



That remarkable exchange is from the 1970 character study/road movie/crime drama Wanda, an underseen indie gem written and directed by its star Barbara Loden. Previously hard-to-find, a restored edition of the film is newly available from Criterion.

Wanda (Loden) is an unemployed working-class housewife. It’s clear that her life is the pits…and not just figuratively. She’s recently left her husband and two infants and has been crashing at her sister’s house, which is within spitting distance of a yawning mining pit, nestled in the heart of Pennsylvania’s coal country. We don’t have an opportunity to get a sense of her home life, because as the film opens, she’s on her way to family court.

A protracted long shot of Wanda daintily traipsing through the bleak obsidian moonscape of the coal pit as she heads for court with hair in curlers, white tennis shoes, white stretch pants, white floral blouse and carrying a white purse is…not something you see every day. It’s also an indication you’re in for a narrative with some deeply existential subtexts.

When the judge scolds her for being late, the oddly detached Wanda shrugs it off, matter-of-factly telling His Honor that if her husband wants a divorce, that’s OK by her; adding their kids are “better off” with him. Shortly afterward, Wanda splits her sister’s house and hits the road (hair still in curlers), carrying no more than that white purse. This suggests that either a.) she’s a dim bulb, or b.) freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.

The first third of the film is episodic; Wanda wanders aimlessly, stopping at a tavern for a drink. A traveling salesman with a Vista Cruiser buys her a beer, she sleeps with him at a cheap motel. She busts him trying to sneak out the next morning, and just makes it into his station wagon. When they stop for an ice cream cone, he peels out and abandons her.

Non-plussed, Wanda kicks around some dull burg and drifts into a movie theater for a matinee and a nap. When she awakens, the auditorium is empty, and she discovers someone has rifled through her purse and stolen what little money she had been carrying.

Now officially broke, Wanda heads for the nearest tavern. The suspiciously furtive man behind the bar is less than friendly; he tells her to beat it, they’re closed. Nonetheless, Wanda asks him for food and drink. Giving her an incredulous look, he serves her (sort of). Through all of this, Wanda either doesn’t notice or doesn’t give second thought to the sight of the unconscious, bound and gagged man lying on the floor by the cash register.

Her “bartender” is a petty criminal (Michael Dennis) who has just knocked over the joint. His name (as we come to learn) is Norman Dennis, and the ever-malleable Wanda is soon on the lam with “Mr. Dennis”. The couple become a sort of low-rent Bonnie and Clyde.

Wanda is Terrance Malick’s Badlands meets Barbara Kopple’s Harlan County, USA; like Malick’s film it was inspired by a true crime story and features a strangely passive female protagonist with no discernible identity of her own, and like Koppel’s documentary it offers a gritty portrait of rural working-class America through an unadorned 16mm lens.

The verité feel of the film (mostly shot using available light) was no accident; in a 1980 documentary by Katja Raganelli included on the Criterion Blu-ray/DVD, Loden explains why she ultimately decided on cinematographer/editor Nicholas T. Proferes (who had worked with documentary film maker D.A. Pennebaker). Of the many cinematographers’ work she looked at, Loden thought “…this person really has some feelings for people, and he knows how to show ugly things without it appearing ugly…the ugly side of life.”

In that same interview, Loden also discusses how the project had been percolating for some time strictly as a script, and why she ended up deciding to direct it herself. “I sent it to some directors who liked it,” she recalls, “…they were all men, which wouldn’t necessarily make a difference, but they didn’t seem to understand what this woman was about. I would not take it to studios […] I wanted to make it my own way.” So…she did.

Although she could not have known it then, that decision has been since acknowledged as a groundbreaking move. The number of female auteurs in American film at that time could have been counted on one hand (Ida Lupino is the only one I can think of offhand).

Wanda also bridges an interesting cusp of second wave feminism’s effect on early-to-mid 70s American cinema. While its protagonist shares characteristics with Shirley Knight’s runaway housewife in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Rain People (1969), Ellen Burstyn’s widowed single mother in Martin Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974), and (in a more tangential sense) the steadily unraveling suburban housewives played by Carrie Snodgrass in Frank Perry’s Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970) and Gena Rowlands in John Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence (1974), I could see how modern audiences might scratch their heads over how such a passive character who allows men to objectify her and generally treat her like shit could possibly qualify as a feminist heroine.

In a 2003 issue of Cahiers du Cinéma, Marguerite Duras interviewed director Elia Kazan about Loden’s legacy (Kazan was married to Loden from 1967 until her death from cancer at age 48 in 1980). Kazan offered some unique insight on her character in Wanda:

“In this movie she plays a character we have in America, and who I suppose exists in France and everywhere, that we call floating, a wanderer. A woman who floats on the surface of society, drifting here or there, with the currents. But in the story of this movie, for a few days the man she meets needs her; during these few days she has a direction […] Barbara Loden understood this character very, very well because when she was young she was a bit like that, she would go here and there. She once told me a very sad thing; she told me: 'I have always needed a man to protect me.' I will say that most women in our society are familiar with this, understand this, need this, but are not honest enough to say it. And she was saying it sadly”.


So perhaps the sense of empowerment emanates not from the protagonist, who simply “is who she is” (i.e. a character, portrayed by Loden the actor), but the act of creation itself by Loden the writer and director of the piece (and the very personal place it comes from).

In her insightful essay (included as a booklet with the disc), Amy Taubin offers this take:

I thought it remarkable [when Taubin saw it in 1972], in part for the very reason many in the audience dismissed it: Loden’s Wanda was anything but a feminist role model. Rather, she was a version of the characters Loden had been playing on and off Broadway, on television […] She had been typecast as the kind of all-American beauty who believes that male desire is the only measure of her value, and necessary to her survival. […] Responses to the film when it was first released were mixed, with two prominent critics (Pauline Kael and Rex Reed) referring to Wanda as a slut and expressing their annoyance at having to spend time on a movie with such a negligible protagonist. […] Thanks to the feminist energy that has continued to evolve as it has seeped into the culture in the decades since the film’s release, Wanda can now be appreciated as a portrait of a kind of woman who, being no man’s fantasy, had almost never been seen on the screen before.


Hopefully, this release will help give this fine film the wider appreciation that it deserves.

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--Dennis Hartley
 
Remember Grandma Millie?

by digby



For those of you too young to recall the detail of Enron, the first big scandal of the Bush administration, "Grandma Millie" refers to some energy traders from the company caught on tape revealing their corruption and venality.

Well, now we've got some energy executives on tape, laughing about all the access and influence they have in the Trump administration:

Gathered for a private meeting at a beachside Ritz-Carlton in Southern California, the oil executives were celebrating a colleague’s sudden rise. David Bernhardt, their former lawyer, had been appointed by President Donald Trump to the powerful No. 2 spot at the Department of the Interior.

Just five months into the Trump era, the energy developers who make up the Independent Petroleum Association of America had already watched the new president order a sweeping overhaul of environmental regulations that were cutting into their bottom lines — rules concerning smog, fracking and endangered species protection.

Dan Naatz, the association’s political director, told the conference room audience of about 100 executives that Bernhardt’s new role meant their priorities would be heard at the highest levels of Interior.

“We know him very well, and we have direct access to him, have conversations with him about issues ranging from federal land access to endangered species, to a lot of issues,” Naatz said, according to an hourlong recording of the June 2017 event in Laguna Niguel provided to Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting.

The recording gives a rare look behind the curtain of an influential oil industry lobbying group that spends more than $1 million per year to push its agenda in Congress and federal regulatory agencies. The previous eight years had been dispiriting for the industry: As IPAA vice president Jeff Eshelman told the group, it had seemed as though the Obama administration and environmental groups had put together “their target list of everything that they wanted done to shut down the oil and gas industry.” But now, the oil executives were almost giddy at the prospect of high-level executive branch access of the sort they hadn’t enjoyed since Dick Cheney, a fellow oilman, was vice president.

“It’s really a new thing for us,” said Barry Russell, the association’s CEO, boasting of his meetings with Environmental Protection Agency chief at the time, Scott Pruitt, and the then-Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke. “For example, next week I’m invited to the White House to talk about tax code. Last week we were talking to Secretary Pruitt, and in about two weeks we have a meeting with Secretary Zinke. So we have unprecedented access to people that are in these positions who are trying to help us, which is great.”

In that Ritz-Carlton conference room, Russell also spoke of his ties to Bernhardt, recalling the lawyer’s role as point man on an association legal team set up to challenge federal endangered species rules. “Well, the guy that actually headed up that group is now the No. 2 at Interior,” he said, referring to Bernhardt. “So that’s worked out well.”
[...]
It was the kind of access the group had begun to marvel at the year before in the plush confines of their Southern California resort. On the recording, Russell, the IPAA’s CEO, described an extended meeting he had already had with Pruitt, a former Oklahoma attorney general and climate-change doubter whose tenure at EPA would be cut short by ethics scandals. What started as a simple meet-and-greet became an invitation to critique the EPA’s air pollution regulations, the oil executive said.

“Scott Pruitt, he came from Oklahoma, and we have a lot of friends in common and I thought that’s what we were going to talk about, we did that for about three minutes,” Russell said. “And then he started asking very technical questions about methane, about ozone … and if Scott Pruitt thought he was going to go deep nerd …”

The audience began laughing.

“And what was really great is there was about four or five EPA staffers there, who were all like, ‘Write that down, write that down,’ all the way through this,’’ Russell continued. “And when we left, I said that was just our overview.”

The audience laughed again.

“So it’s really a new world for us and very, very helpful.”

They were giddy with delight and for good reason. Sure, they've already gone through several corrupt cabinet members but that's fine. The Republicans have a very deep bench with that talent.

.
 
What's next? Trench warfare

by digby



The Senate will be conducting Bizarroworld oversight:

If there's no collusion that was found then it strongly vindicates President Trump but it raises those serious questions about whos going to be held accountable at the FBI, the bad actors that had a political agenda which goes against everything that law enforcement is supposed to be about.--- GOP Minority whip, Steve Scalise

Last night:



POlitico has more:

Sen. Lindsey Graham delivered a rousing speech behind closed doors at Mar-a-Lago on Friday night, joking about the prospect of President Donald Trump opening a hotel in Jerusalem and asking the crowd whether they’d like to see former Rep. Trey Gowdy on the Supreme Court.

With Trump looking on, Graham lavished the president with praise, ticking off a list of his accomplishments, including the booming economy, the elimination of Islamic State strongholds in Syria and Trump's decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

“There will be a Trump hotel there in 10 years,” Graham said, according to three people present for his remarks.
[...]
Graham spoke for about 30 minutes, according to another person who attended the event. Trump remained in the room for the senator’s remarks, and left soon after.

The senator repeatedly tossed out what one of the attendees called “red meat” for the conservative crowd, calling for an investigation into Hillary Clinton and the circumstances surrounding the creation of a largely unverified dossier about Trump’s alleged ties to Russia. He also complained about alleged Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act abuse, an issue that he is investigating as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

That's when they shouted "Lock her up!"

They'll do this as a way to counteract the hearings in the House. It's a smart plan. The press and the Democrats will be distracted and the country will be even more polarized, which suits the Republicans just fine.

It will also serve to enable the Trumpies in the FBI, particularly those in New York whom we know are sympathetic, to do whatever it akes to thwart any SDNY investigations.

The war has just begun.

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He never leaves a penny on the sidewalk

by digby



He's just using the presidency to promote his commercial brand for a family business from which he refuses to divest himself and continues to profit. What could be wrong with that?
President Donald Trump has emblazoned the “Trump” brand name on images of the White House to sell in his Trump Store and at the Trump International Hotel in the capital. The products give the bizarre impression that the White House is a Trump hotel.

Walter Shaub, who was director of the Office of Government Ethics in both the Obama and Trump administrations, sharply criticized the products as the latest move to “monetize the presidency” for private gain.

The hotel, located in a landmark building owned by taxpayers and leased by the Trump Organization, is at the center of a lawsuit arguing that the business violates the Constitutional prohibition against a federal official accepting payments or gifts from states or foreign governments — like those that book rooms and events there.

Shaub and other ethics experts say the hotel is an easy conduit for cash from anyone hoping to curry favor with the president. Now Trump appears to be underscoring the direct link between the hotel and “his” White House.

The Trump Organization last year used golf tee markers emblazoned with the presidential seal, but the seal is legally allowed only for official government business so they were removed.

It wasn’t immediately clear if the latest selling of the White House breached regulations, but Jessica Tillipman, a government ethics expert at George Washington University Law School, told the UK Independent that Trump profiting from his position was “bizarre and wrong.”

Trump, unlike other presidents, has neither divested from his businesses nor put his assets in a blind trust to avoid conflicts of interest.

I'm pretty sure that now that the Mueller report has landed, the entire right wing will insist that it vindicates the president and all oversight must immediately cease. It won't happen, of course. The House Democrats will continue. But Trump and the White House will call any other inquiries just another witch hunt --- a conviction in search of a charge.

Putting so much weight on the Mueller probe was risky. Unless this report is an extremely compelling narrative of Trump's unfitness, a lot of people may just agree that it's time to "move on."

.
 
Regardless of Mueller, public hearings are vital

by digby



QOTD by Emptywheel who unpacks the main details about what we already know about the Russia probe:
Consider all this from the perspective of Russia: over and over, they exploited Trump’s epic narcissism and venality. Particularly with regards to the Trump Tower deal, they did so in a way that would be especially damaging, particularly given that even while a former GRU officer was brokering the deal, the GRU was hacking Trump’s opponent. They often did so in ways that would be readily discovered, once the FBI decided to check Kilimnik’s Gmail account. Russia did this in ways that would make it especially difficult for Trump to come clean about it, even if he were an upstanding honest person.

Partly as a result, partly because he’s a narcissist who wanted to deny that he had illicit help to win, and partly because he’s a compulsive liar, Trump and his aides all lied about what they’ve now sworn to be true. Over and over again.

And that raised the stakes of the Russian investigation, which in turn further polarized the country.

As I noted here, that only added to the value of Russia’s intervention. Not only did Trump’s defensiveness make him prefer what Putin told him to what American Russian experts and his intelligence community would tell him, but he set about destroying the FBI in an effort to deny the facts that his aides ultimately swore were true. Sure, Russia hasn’t gotten its sanctions relief, yet. But it has gotten the President himself to attack the American justice system, something Putin loves to do.

We don’t know what the Mueller report will say about Trump’s role in all this, and how that will affect the rest of his presidency. We do know he remains under investigation for his cheating (as an unindicted co-conspirator in the ongoing hush money investigation) and his venality (in the inauguration investigation, at a minimum).

We do know, however, that whatever is in that report is what Mueller wants in it; none of the (Acting) Attorneys General supervising him thwarted his work, though Trump’s refusal to be interviewed may have.

But we also know that Russia succeeded wildly with its attack in 2016 and since.

She suggests that everyone take the Mueller report as the last word and go about protecting America from similar acts going forward. I'm going to guess that Trump and his henchmen will do everything they can to stand in the way of that happening. To stop it would mean admitting that it happened in the first place. Unless they are forced to do that, this will continue. They are still in charge.

Public hearings are vital. The American people have to hear the whole story, whatever it is, from the people who participated.


.
 
They were happy to have the help

by digby




Not that Republicans care about this, but still:


Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has concluded his investigation without charging any Americans with conspiring with Russia to interfere in the 2016 campaign and help elect Donald Trump.

But hundreds of pages of legal filings and independent reporting since Mueller was appointed nearly two years ago have painted a striking portrayal of a presidential campaign that appeared untroubled by a foreign adversary’s attack on the U.S. political system — and eager to accept the help.

When Trump’s eldest son was offered dirt about Hillary Clinton that he was told was part of a Russian government effort to help his father, he responded, “I love it.”

When longtime Trump friend Roger Stone was told a Russian national wanted to sell damaging information about Clinton, he took the meeting.

When the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks published documents that the Democratic National Committee said had been stolen by Russian operatives, Trump’s campaign quickly used the information to its advantage. Rather than condemn the Kremlin, Trump famously asked Russia to steal more.

Even after taking office, Trump has been hesitant to condemn Russia’s actions, instead calling the investigation a “witch hunt” and denouncing the work of federal investigators seeking to understand a Russian attack on the country he leads.

We have known this for a while. Also, Trump was compromised with his repeated lies that Putin knew about and the rest of us didn't. and the glaring fact that Trump refuses to admit that the Russians interfered in the first place.

Whatever the Mueller report shows, the bottom line is this: Trump knew he was compromised and gladly took the help --- and he will do it again.

.


 

And so we wait

by Tom Sullivan

It is finished. Special counsel Robert Mueller issued his Trump-Russia final "confidential report" to Attorney General William Barr. After 22 months of investigation, dozens of indictments, a string of convictions, and weeks of breathless buildup, the major new development on Friday evening is the report comes with no new indictments.

Barr's letter to leaders of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees announcing the report informed them he might be able to advise them on Mueller's principal conclusions by the weekend. Barr also advised, per regulations, there were no instances in which the Department of Justice refused any requests by Mueller to pursue additional actions.

With further information "em-Barr-goed," as one Twitter user quipped, Friday evening reporting was a flurry of "hurry up and wait" panels and a kind of "This Is Your Life" recap of the Mueller investigation, along with speculation on what the report might conclude and, whatever it contains, what that might and might not mean and what Democrats might and might not do.

Politico summarized the situation:

But for now, there’s nothing of substance to digest. No answer to whether Trump and his presidential campaign conspired with the Kremlin to win the White House. No answer to whether the president obstructed justice to stop a probe into that conspiracy ... And so we wait.
Just because Mueller's part is done is not an end to investigations spun off by Mueller and the House investigations barely underway. There may yet be more indictments already under seal. There are still federal investigations ongoing in the Southern District of New York.

One Washington Post report on Mueller's efforts cautioned there is more coming:
“He’s almost like a venture capital incubator who has spun out multiple lines of business,” said David Kris, a former Justice Department national security division chief and founder of the consulting firm Culper Partners. “He’s shown us an awful lot, and yet I think there’s an awful lot more to come.”
So much has come out in packets, Kris continued, “I think if you took it all in in one day, it would kill you. It’s simply too much.”

Yahoo News summarized just some of the unfinished business, not least being the fate of Roger Stone and the case against the foreign mystery company whose fight to keep its records hidden remains on appeal. "[T]he office’s legal loose ends include two sentencings and two grand jury subpoena appeals," Yahoo reports, adding if Mueller wins, he would "have the right to seek documents and testimony from Andrew Miller, an associate of Stone’s, and a mysterious company about which little is known, other than it is owned by a foreign government and has an office in the United States."

Marcy Wheeler issued a string of tweets with first impressions: A huge outstanding threat to the sitting president is what New York state prosecutors and SDNY will do vis-à-vis their investigations into the Trump family's business practices, the Trump Organization, and the speed with which they do it. Donald Trump's financial empire is at risk under RICO statutes. He cares more about that than the flag he hugs, immigrants on the southern border, or his tenure in the Oval Office. What sort of "deal" might the dealmaker make to preserve any of that? That is, depending on what happens in New York, impeachment may not be the only lever for removing Trump from office.

But for now, a little music to pass the time until Barr delivers ... whatever.




Friday, March 22, 2019

 
Friday Night Soother

by digby







Fewer than 100 Amur leopards roam the wild. The critically endangered subspecies, which lives in the snowy regions of Russia’s far east near the Chinese border, faces constant threats in the form of poaching and habitat loss in the wild. Which is what makes the birth of two Amur leopard cubs at Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo so important.

The cubs were born in January, with the celebratory news reaching the public just last week. The mom, Freya, mated naturally with Sochi, a male leopard at the zoo. She gave birth to three cubs—her first litter!—but one of the males was lost after suffering injuries as a result of his mother’s hyper-grooming behavior.

“Because behavior is genetic, you want to create the best possible methodology for them to survive.”
The other male cub and his sister are faring well so far, but they’ve been separated from their mother to ensure she wouldn’t continue over-licking them, which can cause their skin to tear. Freya wound up injuring the female cub a bit, so zoo officials had to remove her tail after birth. She’s doing fine now.





“You have to be a little extra careful with first-time moms,” Don Goff, the zoo’s deputy director, told Earther. “You never know how they’re going to react. It’s not like someone told them they are pregnant or why they’re going through all these changes.”

A female leopard may lose her first litter—both in the wild and captivity—said Goff, so the behavior wasn’t considered abnormal. Either way, the cubs are doing well now. And they’re both super adorable. The female cub’s rare black coloration is a result of the overproduction of the pigment melanin, an unusual quality in Amur leopards.

The cubs don’t have names yet, but they’ll have some soon enough if they continue to grow into healthy mature leopards. While these cats are unlikely to ever see the wild, breeding efforts like this, which have resulted in a captive population of roughly 200 Amur leopards, are key to ensuring the subspecies’ continued existence. Unfortunately, the female’s melanism might disqualify her from breeding in the future, but her extraordinary beauty will help her be a one-of-a-kind advocate for her species.

The zoo bred the leopards through the Species Survival Plan Program, which manages the breeding of animals in captivity to protect their relatives in the wild. Through the program, specific individual animals are selected to maximize the species’ genetic diversity.

“Every birth that’s recommended is an important birth because it may boost the overall gene diversity of the entire population,” said Goff. “That gene diversity is what’s going to make that species adaptable to the environment. Because behavior is genetic, you want to create the best possible methodology for them to survive.”

Think of it this way: In a worst-case, apocalyptic scenario where the leopard’s wild population is totally decimated, the animals in captivity have enough genetic diversity to keep the species afloat.

With only 84 Amur leopards in the wild, conservationists must do everything they can to ensure the animals survive.


.


 
A bang or a whimper?

by digby



The report is in and there will be no more indictments. Whether that means Mueller found reasons to indict Trump is still unknown. If they manage to bottle up the report and the counterintelligence info is all classified we might never know.

We know now that Russian government agents interfered in the election and went to great lengths to infiltrate the Trump campaign. And we know that Trump was compromised with his big Trump Tower deal which he kept secret and about which he lied repeatedly to the public.

And we know that Trump has behaved in a bizarrely secretive and obsequious manner with Vladimir Putin. Whether or not Putin pulled his compromised strings or whether Trump just knows what he needs to do remainsto be seen.


CNN helpfully outlines some of what we don't know:


Here are the looming questions:

Was there a conspiracy to collude?

In the court of public opinion, this is the ball game. Prosecutors crafted a mosaic of how collusion could have played out. But if Mueller stops short of producing a smoking gun, President Donald Trump is sure to declare all-out victory and claim total vindication.

Of course, the reality is more nuanced. Court filings and news reports have already established that senior Trump associates were eager to accept assistance from, or share sensitive election data with, the Russians. It's the second half of the equation that is still shrouded in mystery.

Mueller's team has left a trail of breadcrumbs suggesting that if there was collusion with the Russians, then Trump's campaign chairman Paul Manafort may have played a key role. Trump and Manafort deny any collusion, and in dozens of public filings, Mueller never produced any evidence implicating them in collusion. But prosecutors repeatedly alleged that Manafort worked for free, was desperate for cash, and tried to monetize his position with influential oligarchs.

In addition, Mueller laid out how Trump acolyte Roger Stone sought information from WikiLeaks with prodding from Trump's campaign, as to when the website would release politically damaging documents. Those documents were stolen by Russian government hackers. But Mueller never accused Stone of directly working in cahoots with WikiLeaks or the Russians.

Trump's ex-attorney Michael Cohen recently testified on Capitol Hill that he witnessed Stone and Trump discussing WikiLeaks in summer 2016. During a gripping daylong hearing, Cohen also described how he and Trump pursued a massive business deal with a Russian company during the campaign. Mueller's team has suggested that this could be a motive for collusion, outlining in court filings how the deal would have enriched Trump with Russian help.

If there was collusion, and it rose to the level of criminality, it's safe to assume that Mueller would have brought indictments. The Russia investigation is now over, and nobody in Trump's orbit was charged with conspiring with the Russian government. A Justice Department official told CNN on Friday that no additional indictments are coming from the Mueller investigation.

But Mueller could have also found things resembling collusion that aren't prosecutable. Federal rules require Mueller to provide the attorney general with a report explaining why he did not bring charges against people who were under investigation. It's up to Barr to decide how much should become public, but hopefully the report gives a definitive answer to the question of collusion. 
Why didn't Mueller interview Trump in person?

Another element of the unfolding Russia drama was the on-again, off-again dance between Mueller's team and Trump's lawyers regarding the President's testimony. Trump provided Mueller with written responses about his 2016 campaign, but nothing that happened after Election Day, viewing the transition and his time in office as subject to executive privilege.

With the investigation over, it appears that Trump's lawyers succeeded in staving off an in-person interview.

Trump's lawyers knew their client regularly strays from the truth and sometimes flat-out lies. So, preventing an interview was tantamount to preventing perjury.

Mueller could have subpoenaed Trump, though this would have carried risks of its own, like a lengthy court battle ending with a ruling in Trump's favor. Mueller might have found ways to get what he needed from other witnesses. Or perhaps he was ultimately swayed by Trump's lawyers that they cooperated so extensively that a sit-down interview wouldn't add much value.

If Mueller was deterred by the Justice Department from seeking a subpoena, a notification must go to Congress. Special counsel regulations require the attorney general to inform Congress if any prosecutorial steps were prevented from going forward. That is something to look for. 
What will the public see of Mueller's report?

During his confirmation hearing in January, Barr pledged to "provide as much transparency as I can" when it comes to the Russia investigation. His comments satisfied Republicans, who control the Senate and confirmed him with ease to lead the Justice Department.

But Barr left plenty of wiggle room in his testimony, and there isn't anything in the special counsel regulations that requires Barr to release the full report to the public. Democrats have drawn a line in the sand, demanding more promises from Barr and total transparency.

There is no indication that Barr is in the mood to cave to Democratic complaints. But his hands could be tied if Democrats subpoena the report or invite Mueller for a public hearing. A potential lawsuit by House Democrats could trigger lengthy court battles around the report. California Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, recently said all these options are on the table. In this respect, the "end" is only the beginning. 
Were there even more contacts with Russians?

After the election, Trump's team maintained that there were zero contacts between the campaign and Russians. It didn't take long for this story to completely fall apart. Since then, at least 16 Trump associates have been identified as having contacts with Russians during the campaign or transition. There were dozens and dozens of Trump-Russia contacts.

That list of 16 includes senior people from Trump's campaign, senior Trump administration officials, members of Trump's family, and people who were part of Trump's trusted inner circle.

Stunningly, we're still learning about some of these contacts. It was only a few weeks ago when we learned that Manafort shared internal campaign polls with one of his Russian associates, Konstantin Kilimnik, who is suspected by the FBI of having active ties to Russian intelligence.

The lie of "no contacts" was debunked a long time ago. Perhaps there are even more contacts between Trump-world and Russia that will be revealed for the first time in Mueller's report. 
Did Trump or anyone else obstruct justice?

The saying goes, "the cover-up is worse than the crime." That could be true once more.

Obstruction can be a lot of things. Already, members of Trump's inner circle pleaded guilty to witness tampering, lying to the FBI and misleading congressional investigators. Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress and testified to lawmakers that he did so at Trump's direction, though Trump didn't explicitly use those words. Prosecutors say these actions by Cohen and former Trump campaign aides impeded the Russia investigation time and time again.

Many of Trump's detractors already think he is guilty of obstruction. They point to his firing of FBI Director James Comey, his role in misleading the public about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, attempts to remove Mueller from his post, relentless public attacks against witnesses, and more.

Whether this meets the legal threshold of obstruction is up to Mueller. But even then, Justice Department rules say a sitting president cannot be indicted. And unlike independent counsel Ken Starr's investigation of President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, it isn't Mueller's job to tee up impeachment in Congress.

House Democrats, however, are ready to pick up where Mueller leaves off. The Democratic chair of the House Judiciary Committee said recently he believes it's already "very clear" that Trump obstructed justice.

Are there more big lies that will be exposed?

Lies are a major theme of this two-year saga. Time after time, Trump and his allies have changed their stories, spread false information or been forced to disavow past comments. Six Trump associates have been accused by Mueller's team of lying about their Russian ties.

Regardless of the legal implications, Mueller might have uncovered more lies as he interviewed dozens of witnesses. And it's possible some of those revelations could be in his final report.

For instance, even some of the most stalwart Trump supporters have cast doubt on Donald Trump Jr.'s testimony that he never told his father about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting. And Cohen publicly testified that he witnessed a June 2016 conversation between Trump and Trump Jr. that he believes was about the Trump Tower meeting.

Others found it hard to believe that Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos didn't tell anyone on the campaign that he was tipped off about the Russians having damaging Hillary Clinton emails. (Papadopoulos has told CNN he "can't guarantee" that it never came up.)

Then there was the controversial move by Trump campaign staff to block language in the Republican party platform at their 2016 convention about arming Ukraine to counter Russia. At the time, Manafort and Trump denied any involvement, despite Manafort's extensive ties to Ukrainian interests. Since then, Mueller asked witness about this situation, and reportedly wanted to ask Trump about it too.

Was Trump deemed a counterintelligence threat?


Beyond the criminal probe, investigators at the FBI looked into the possibility that Trump was working for the Russians. Details of this investigation were publicly confirmed this week by former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who opened the investigation in May 2017.

McCabe said in interviews that the counterintelligence investigation was spurred by Trump's bizarre public statements and comments -- not some damning classified information. But once the probe was opened, the FBI could use a wide array of tools to investigate the President.

The FBI general counsel at the time, James Baker, told Congress it was not a clear-cut suspicion. He said FBI officials considered the whole range of possibilities, from Trump "acting at the behest of and somehow following directions, somehow executing their will" to the possibility of Trump being totally innocent. Either way, Baker said, it needed to be investigated.

Still, analysts have noted that it would be strange for investigators to deem Trump a national security threat, but then sit on that information for months while Mueller continued his work.

Republicans have been extremely critical of McCabe and regularly accuse the FBI and Justice Department of anti-Trump bias. The report could thoroughly explain why McCabe and others took this drastic step and describe the safeguards that were in place to ensure a fair investigation.

How much of the dossier could Mueller confirm?

It's impossible to discuss the Russia probe without bringing up "the dossier," the infamous memos written in 2016 by retired British spy Christopher Steele. The reports, which he said contained raw intelligence from trusted sources, alleged a widespread conspiracy of collusion.

The most salacious elements of the dossier are unproven, yet many of the allegations contained in the memos have held up over time, or at least proven partially true. The memos accurately described Russia meddling and said Trump's campaign was hiding contacts with Russians and that the Kremlin was involved in potential real estate deals for the Trump Organization.

Mueller's team met with Steele in summer 2017, and CNN previously reported on efforts by the FBI to assess the intelligence memos. But it's unclear whether Mueller felt compelled to include a full accounting of the dossier in his final report. A lot of that work likely came from highly classified sources and clandestine surveillance that US intelligence agencies want to keep secret.

What did Mueller find when he crossed Trump's "red line?"

Trump famously declared in a July 2017 interview with The New York Times that Mueller would be crossing a "red line" if he investigated Trump's personal finances and his family's business.

Mueller blew past Trump's rhetorical line. He scrutinized potential efforts by Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner to mix his business interests with his government role. And he handed off the wide-ranging Cohen investigation to federal prosecutors in Manhattan. That case put the Trump Organization squarely in the crosshairs of federal investigators.

That is some of what we know. We also know that Mueller never indicted any members of Trump's family -- the closest he got to Trump's innermost circle was Cohen. But there might be things we don't know.

It would not have been difficult for Mueller to obtain Trump's tax returns from the Internal Revenue Service. Trump has worked hard to keep his taxes out of public view -- perhaps Mueller's report will change that. If not, the onus will fall on eager House Democrats.
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How many related investigations are still active?

Mueller's work gave birth to an entire ecosystem of related investigations. Some of those investigations are over, others are underway, and others might still be unknown to the public.

Prosecutors in Manhattan picked up the mantle on the Cohen case, and he's heading to prison this spring for a three-year stint. Prosecutors there are also weighing charges in a foreign lobbying probe against Manafort associate Greg Craig, who once served as White House counsel under President Barack Obama.

Michael Flynn, Trump's short-lived national security adviser, cut a deal with Mueller and provided evidence against one of his former lobbying partners. Bijan Kian was charged with illegally lobbying for Turkey and is set to go on trial this summer. He pleaded not guilty.

Other key players -- like Manafort's longtime deputy Rick Gates and influential DC lobbyist Sam Patten -- have been cooperating with Mueller for a while. Gates was a senior official on Trump's inaugural committee, which is now under scrutiny by federal investigators in Manhattan.

The same US attorney's office in Manhattan is separately seeking to talk to executives from the Trump Organization, though the reason for those interviews has yet to be disclosed.

Prosecutors say Gates, Patten, Cohen and Flynn have been helpful beyond the special counsel investigations. But redactions have kept the details secret. Mueller's team worked closely with prosecutors who will remain at the Justice Department and can continue pursuing these cases.

Additionally, Mueller has aggressively pursued evidence from an unnamed company that is owned by a foreign country. The battle over that subpoena has gone all the way to the Supreme Court. Now that the investigation is over, will they continue fighting? And what does it mean that Mueller was able to wrap up without getting any evidence from this mystery company?

Mueller's investigation was never just about Russia. There was an entire component that looked at how Middle East countries potentially tried to improperly influence Trump's team, perhaps through emissaries like Blackwater founder Erik Prince. Mueller didn't bring any charges from that swath of the probe, though parts could have been handed off to other investigators.

This is obviously not the end of the road. The next phase will be mostly political and I just hope the Democrats are up to the task.


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