Tuesday, July 31, 2018

(UPDATED) Scandal Goalposts Haven't Been Moved, They've Been Obliterated

I have said it thrice: What I tell you three times is true. ~ THE HUNTING OF THE SNARK  
Is the ground moving under our feet and the Russia scandal is entering a new and perhaps penultimate phase with Donald Trump and his handlers, as well as the Vichy Republican congressional sycophancy, turning up the volume on bizarre double talk and no longer denying campaign contacts with Russians but instead falling back on the Through the Looking Glass claim that because there is no law against collusion per se, there was no collusion? 
Or is this wishful thinking by those of us who believe Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller has the president trapped and is only another round of indictments away from recommending his impeachment? 
No, it's the real deal, and look no further than the president, his allies and their effort to move the goalposts on what constitutes indictable and impeachable conduct for proof that there is widespread panic in Trumpworld.   
This was further accentuated on Wednesday when Trump called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end the special counsel's investigation, an extraordinary appeal to the nation's top law enforcement official to end an inquiry directly into the president. Trump's lawyers quickly tried to walk back his tweet, saying it was not an order to a member of his cabinet, but merely an opinion.  Session would be unable to comply if he could because, to Trump's everlasting anger, he recused himself from the inquiry because of his own lies about meetings with Russians during the campaign.  
But the goalposts have not merely been moved, they've been obliterated, especially by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who is acting out like a man with a syphilitic brain. 
This sea change is nudged along with all the subtlety of an anvil falling on the Roadrunner (meep! meep!) because of the knowledge that Trump is as guilty as sin and as the evidence piles up in the "fake news media," the Chicken Little cries of "hoax" and "witch hunt" are not resonating with the midterm election voters who will decide whether Democrats take over Congress. 
(The Washington Post's Fact Checker says Trump has made 4,229 false or misleading statements in 558 days, almost doubling his one-year total in the last six months.)
Speaking of sea changes, an unpatriotic number of Republicans are okey-dokey with election meddling by Moscow.  But then again, for many of these people Trump can do no wrong and the GOP's historic Cold War role as a staunch defender of America is obsolete as the VCR.
A Yahoo Finance/SurveyMonkey poll of 2,509 Americans conducted July 25-27 found that 11 percent of people who identify as Republican or lean Republican say it’s "appropriate" for Russia to help Republicans keep control of Congress and another 29 percent say it’s "not appropriate, but wouldn't be a big deal" for the Russians to help undermine a bedrock of American democracy as they did in 2016 in handing the keys to the national car to the man with the peculiar hair and small hands. 
Nor do they mind that Trump shows more interest in picking dandruff off the suit jackets of the foreign leaders with whom he meets than making cybersecurity a priority despite the shocks and alarums of the intelligence community and Department of Homeland Security over the probability that Russia will interfere in the midterms.  And seems to come up with an endless stream of brain farts that pass for policy, including the assertion that auto gas mileage standards shouldn't be raised because that would mean more people would drive and there would be more accidents.  
As Paul Waldman well put the legalistic parsing over collusion in the WaPo on the eve of former campaign manager Paul Manafort's first of two trials:
In a very strict sense, Giuliani is right that there isn’t a particular crime called 'collusion."  But that's kind of like saying that if you walked into an Apple Store, stuffed an iPhone in your pants and walked out, you're innocent because the criminal code makes no specific reference to "stuffing an iPhone in your pants."  
Now it's possible that Trump himself, or someone on the Trump campaign, could have "colluded" with Russia to commit an act that is not illegal and, therefore, they wouldn’t be guilty of any crime.  For instance, they could have colluded to find the best taco truck in Manhattan.  They could even have discussed some kind of policy initiative that they would cooperatively pursue if Trump became president. But the real problem with the "collusion is not a crime" argument is that if they cooperated to do almost anything that helped Trump in his election campaign, then it would have been illegal.   
It hardly seems worth noting at this juncture, and if you get your news on Fox News then it is suggested you should skip ahead a couple of paragraphs, that there are multiple crimes under which any cooperation between Russia and the campaign -- collusion in everyday speak -- could fall.   
If the campaign sought and/or received damaging information on "Lock Her Up" Hillary from sources connected to Vlad the Impaler's government, which it did, it would almost certainly be in violation of 52 U.S. Code § 30121, an unambiguous statute that prohibits "a person to solicit, accept, or receive a contribution" from a foreign national for the purpose of a political campaign.  A contribution could be money, but it could also be any other "thing of value," and dirt on Clinton qualifies.  Then there is the crime of conspiring to accept the contribution in violation of election laws or with aiding and abetting another person doing so. 
Easy peasy. 
The peregrinations of Giuliani, among others, over the infamous June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting called by Donald "If What You Say Is True I Love It" Trump Jr. recalls to mind Bill Clinton's statement regarding Monica Lewinsky.  Bubba legendarily remarked that "there's nothing going on between us" was truthful because he had no ongoing relationship with the Blue Gap Dress Gal at the time he was questioned by Mueller predecessor Ken Starr.  To which he added, "It depends upon what the meaning of the word is is."  
While I'm piling on, there's also the matter of Michael Cohen, Trump lawyer and fixer turned family man and patriot. 
Misha's lawyer (who happens to be former Bubba lawyer Lanny Davis; it is indeed a small world) says he was present when Trump was informed of the June 9, 2016 sitdown and green-lighted it.  Davis last week released a tape secretly recorded by Cohen on which he and Trump discuss hush payments to Trump's various mistresses to buy their silence as the 2016 campaign swirled toward a climax. 
No surprise there, but it was pleasantly jolting to hear a little later in the tape that Cohen tells Trump "I've spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up," a reference to the shell company used to launder at least one of the hush payments.   
"So, I'm all over that. And, I spoke to Allen about it," Cohen adds. 
Weisselberg is the Trump Organization's longtime chief financial officer and ran the troubled Donald J. Trump Foundation.  At age 70 , he is now staring a grand jury subpoena in the kisser and is ripe for becoming a cooperating witness, as is Cohen himself.   
As MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace deliciously put it in citing a White House source, "Cohen may know where the bodies are buried, but Weisselberg buried them."

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related developments.    

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Shame, Shame On Donald Trump & A Belated Tip Of The Hatlo To The News Media

The mainstream news media shares much of the blame for the Donald Trump presidency.  The news media did not take Trump seriously until it was much too late and the Washington press corps, in particular, still hasn't figured out how to cover him by being deferential to the office but not the malignant narcissist who occupies it. 
All that noted, and with Trump's perfidious and intentional mischaracterization on Sunday of his recent private meeting with New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger, the news media -- and The Times, The Washington Post and a revived and recommitted CNN, in particular -- has been a major player in stripping away the layers of crap and corruption surrounding Trump through a phenomenal series of investigative stories that have laid bare his aberrant behavior, innumerable excesses and thousands of lies.  (Including what he and Sulzberger discussed.) 
I certainly am not the only jounalist to wish Hunter S. Thompson was still alive to cover the Madness of King Donald. 
Dr. Thompson was the progenitor of Gonzo journalism, typically first-person narratives written without even a veneer of objectivity, and most famously the author of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.  (Don't even think of seeing the movie starring Johnny Depp; read the damned book, okay?) 
I met Dr. Thompson twice, once in Aspen, Colorado in the summer of 1974 when he was running for Pitkin County sheriff on the Freak Ticket, and again a few years later in the Florida Keys.  He had already proven himself to be incapable of sustaining his brilliance. Being a gun nut, drug abuser and consumer of massive quantities of hard liquor had pretty much put him on the suicide track, although it would be a fair number of years before he blew out what was left of his brains, appropriately perhaps in 2005 at the height of the Bush years. 
Booman at the Booman Tribune reminds me that Thompson also was harshly critical of the news media in the run-up to our last great constitutional crisis -- the Watergate scandal -- but then as he wrote in a September 1973 Rolling Stone magazine feature titled "Fear and Loathing at the Watergate: Mr. Nixon Has Cashed His Check" . . .
One of the most extraordinary aspects of the Watergate story has been the way the press has handled it: What began in the summer of 1972 as one of the great media-bungles of the century has developed, by now, into what is probably the most thoroughly and most professionally covered story in the history of American journalism. 
When I boomed into Washington last month to meet Steadman and set up the National Affairs Desk once again, I expected -- or in retrospect I think I expected -- to find the high-rolling newsmeisters of the capital press corps jabbering blindly among themselves, once again, in some stylish sector of reality far-removed from the Main Nerve of "the story" . . . like climbing aboard Ed Muskie's Sunshine Special in the Florida primary and finding every media star in the nation sipping Bloody Marys and convinced they were riding the rails to Miami with "the candidate" . . . or sitting down to lunch at the Sioux Falls Holiday Inn on election day with a half-dozen of the heaviest press wizards and coming away convinced that McGovern couldn’t possibly lose by more than ten points.
My experience on the campaign trail in 1972 had not filled me with a real sense of awe, vis-a-vis the wisdom of the national press corps . . . so I was seriously jolted, when I arrived in Washington, to find that the bastards had this Watergate story nailed up and bleeding from every extremity -- from "Watergate" and all its twisted details, to ITT, the Vesco case, Nixon's lies about the financing for his San Clemente beach-mansion, and even the long-dormant "Agnew Scandal."
Nixon helpfully enhanced the case that he was seriously violating his oath of office, not to mention that Constitution thing, by including journalists on his infamous if secret Enemies List. 
Trump is even less subtle in his disregard for the press freedoms enshrined in the First Amendment and has repeatedly sought to ban journalist for doing their jobs -- asking tough questions -- because they have the habit of pointing out what a dreadful job he is doing of his. 
"I told him that although the phrase 'fake news' is untrue and harmful," Sulzberger said in a statement after Trump put his own spin on what was supposed to have been a private meeting in a tweet.  "I am far more concerned about his labeling journalists 'the enemy of the people.'  I warned that this inflammatory language is contributing to a rise in threats against journalists and will lead to violence . . . putting lives at risk" and "undermining the democratic ideals of our nation."  
I don't want to get carried away with my praise. 
The news media as a whole has been painfully slow to understand the scope of the Russia scandal.  And it still is far too deferential to chuckleheads like Rudy Giuliani and Devin Nunes.  Then there is Fox News, which in all but name functions as Trump's official media outlet.  Like Vladimir Putin and Tass, right? 
But a big corner has been turned, and when Trump does fall -- and he will fall and fall hard -- the telling-truth-to-lies news media he so loathes will have had much to do with that.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Where Have You Gone, Robert Mueller? Our Nation Turns Its Lonely Eyes To You

It by now a forgone conclusion that presidential candidate Donald Trump knew in advance of the most pungent and thoroughly documented example of collusion between his campaign and Russia -- the infamous June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting called by Donald "If What You Say Is True I Love It" Trump Jr.  
Steve Bannon has said as much ("The chance that Don. Jr did not walk these Jumos up to his father’s office on the 26th floor is zero") and now the news media is breathlessly reporting Michael Cohen can testify that he was with Trump when he was informed of the forthcoming Hillary Clinton dirt-dishing meeting and green-lighted it. 
Which prompted Trump to excitedly announce a few hours later (even though neither Donald Jr., Jared Kushner or Paul Manafort told him about the meeting!) that "I am going to give a major speech . . . and we're going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons.  I think you're going to find it very informative and very, very interesting." 
Putting aside for a moment the irony-absent response of Rudy Giuliani, Trump's strip-mall lawyer, that Cohen "has been lying all week, he's been lying for years," as well as Trump's panicky tweet about "the ridiculous news that the highly conflicted Robert Mueller and his gang of 13 Angry Democrats obviously cannot find Collusion," isn't Cohen's acknowledgment the icing on the collusion cake that Robert Mueller has been baking for the last 14 months?
Of course it is. 
But (and you knew there was gonna be a butMueller apparently still is not ready to move against Trump as the window for him to do so long enough before the midterm elections so as to not to appear to overtly influence the outcome begins to close. 
Our with-bated-breath wait comes as a Democratic takeover of the House and the initiation of impeachment proceedings seems increasingly preordained and even Trump's staunchest defenders are retrenching on what constitutes collusion. 
"If he's proven to have not told the whole truth about the fact that campaigns look for dirt, and if someone offers it, you listen to them, nobody’s going to be surprised," Trump poodle Darrell Issa explained.  "There are some things in politics that you just take for granted." 
"Look, I don't think that it's bad if campaigns are turning to foreign governments for dirt," fecklessly asserted National Review pundit Andrew McCarthy on Fox News.  "It's not collusion.  It's not something that's impeachable; it's icky, but that's what this is." 
And so a new word enters the Trump sycophancy's Alice in Wonderland lexicon -- icky -- as we find ourselves wondering, to riff off Simon & Garfunkle's "Mrs. Robinson," Where have you gone, Robert Mueller?  Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you. 
Mueller has not gone anywhere, and it is my view that the Trump denouement awaits another round of indictments. 
In previous rounds, 13 Russian nationals were charged in February with using social media to kneecap Clinton during the campaign and then 12 Russian GRU intelligence agents were charged on July 13 with engaging in a sustained effort to hack the computer networks of the Democratic National Committee, other Democratic organizations, state election boards and especially the Clinton campaign.   The later indictment dripped with hints of collusion, while a new round presumably would involve close Trump campaign associates and their meetings with Russians, setting the stage for the special counsel to move on the president.    
An intriguing sidelight: Trump concocted a false cover-story statement released by Donald Jr. (even though nobody had done anything wrong!) that the Trump Tower meeting was about adoptions.  That Trump Sr. was the sole author and that aides tried to warn him off because of the appearance of obstructing justice is beyond dispute.  The statement came only hours after the now-president had a surprise and secret no-witness meeting with Vladimir Putin in Hamburg, Germany, the cover story for which which also was adoptions.  So not only did Trump know about the Trump Tower meeting in advance, but he may have concocted the false cover story with Putin's assistance. 
All of this leads us back to Michael Cohen. 
The fear of jailhouse man-rape, if nothing else, has transformed Cohen from Trump's trusty longtime lawyer and fixer to a key player -- if not the key player -- who can tell prosecutors about all kinds of incriminating stuff, including whether he indeed secretly traveled to Prague with Trump's approval during the campaign where he strategized with a powerful Kremlin figure and other Russians about ongoing election interference and perhaps paid off hackers to keep them quiet. 
If Cohen is able to deliver, then it's Game Over.     

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related developments.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Totally Unexpected: What May It Take To Demolish The Trump 'Presidency'

Apologies for the crudeness of the analogy, but if you think of Donald Trump as two pounds of shit in a one-pound bag, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that sooner or later the bag has to burst.  The question is when and because of what.  Robert Mueller?  Michael Cohen?   Stormy Daniels?  Or something Totally Unexpected? 
I'm casting my vote for Totally Unexpected. 
Trump's high wire survival act in the face of the endless waves of scandal that would have felled many a mere mortal would seem to be gravity defying, and the lifespan of your average con man typically is not long. 
Indeed, Trump believes he can defy the laws of nature -- as he routinely defies temporal laws like the rule of law.  As he boasted during the 2016 campaign, "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody" and not "lose any voters."  This braggadocio stems from being a malignant narcissist who believes the earth, moon and stars revolve around him.  Since only Donald Trump is up to the task, who but Donald Trump can Make America Great Again? 
But just as that bag will burst, the law of gravity has not been repealed and Trump's hard landing will be a thing of beauty.  As well as a joy forever. 
What qualifies as Totally Unexpected? 
If I knew (and I'll try to take a stab at the concept in a moment), then it wouldn't be totally unexpected.  I admit that a feeling of desperation is driving this vague proposition.  I mean, how much longer can we continue to live in a state of high anxiety when each new Trumpian low punches us in the national gut as our values are desecrated and our fears for country, kith and kin ratchet up and up and up?   
That the threats, cover-ups, rank corruption, engineered cruelty, environmental rollbacks, incessant saber rattling, endless stream of firings and forced resignations, the use of lies and cries of "fake news!" as shields against necessary questions and unflattering news stories result in a rolling contagion of new lows that inevitably are exceeded by new new lows.  
I stupidly thought it would take some effort to surpass the Trump administration policy separating children from their immigrant parents.  But then came the secret order to discharge immigrants in the armed forces suddenly and falsely deemed security risks before they have served long enough to qualify for expedited naturalization. 
How to top that? 
It came in only a fortnight as Trump -- he of the peculiar hair, sagging chins, elephantine scowl and deathly pallor -- groveled at Vladimir Putin's feet in what quickly and appropriately became known as the Surrender Summit, the details of which are a state secret as closely held as the Pentagon's nuclear codes.  This was followed by an encore presentation of the Witch Hunt Follies, with strip-mall lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Alan Dershowitz on tuba and harmonica, and another round of attacks on the intelligence and law enforcement officials who see Putin for who he is. 
So here are my nominees for Totally Unexpected:
The defection of a family member, either Ivanka or Donald Jr., shatters Trump. 
A news media bombshell on Trump so powerful that it provokes mass Republican defections.
And (drum roll, please) Putin's kompromat on Trump is revealed, and it is devastating.
Feel free to make your own nominations.  And make sure you're not downstream when that bag of shit bursts. 

Richard Codor's Cartoon du Jour

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The Child King Cries 'Help Me, I Think I'm Falling In Love (With Vlad) All Over Again'

You have to give Trey Gowdy and Lindsay Graham credit.  Not much, but a little bit. 
Donald Trump's performance at the Surrender Summit was so repulsively astonishing that they have emerged as two of the very few Republicans pleading with the president to puh-leez remember his first responsibility is to protect the country, and to do that he has to admit that Russian interference in the 2016 election occurred even if, in his profoundly narcissistic view, such an acknowledgement would seem to threaten his legitimacy. 
Gowdy and Graham staged on-air teevee talk show interventions over the weekend for an audience of one, although we can be certain that the president, who had reversed field twice in the previous week in denying interference, grudgingly admitting Russian interference amidst the post-Helsinki fallout and then doubling back down in tweeting that it is all a "hoax," wasn't listening.   
He was playing golf.  And doing his best imitation of a petulant little child king covering his ears and squeezing shut his eyes when confronted with reality. 
This included deeply culpatory FBI documentation of campaign associate Carter Page's star turns as a Russian flunky, to which Trump responded by declaring that the documentation proved the FBI was corrupt.  And criticism from the very Obama administration intelligence officials who had briefed him on Russian interference two weeks before he took the . . . uh, oath of office, to which he responded at the time by railing in the presence of stunned aides that he was "being set up" and then over the weekend by threatening to strip the now former intelligence officials of their security clearances in an unprecedented abuse of presidential authority that would have made even Richard Nixon blush.   
Said Gowdy:
There is no way you can listen to the evidence and not conclude, not that the Democrats were the victims, but the United States of America were the victims. We were the victims of what Russia did in 2016, and it ought to be a source of unity and rallying around the fact that we are never going to allow this to happen again, and we’re going to punish those who try to do it. 
And Graham:
I think the president gets this confused.  If you suggest that Russians meddled in 2016, he goes to the idea that, "Well, I didn’t collude with them."  You didn’t collude with the Russians, or at least I haven’t seen any evidence.  But, Mr. President, they meddled in the elections. . . . Harden our electoral infrastructure for 2018. Mr. President, Dan Coats is right.  The red lights are blinking. 
But the telling-truth-to-lies statements from Gowdy and Graham were merely annoying bumps in the road for the child king's bulldozer. 
The bulldozer plowed into the new week with speculation still raging over what kind of kompromat Vlad the Impaler has on the child king, let alone what the heck they discussed in secret in Helsinki for two hours, as Rudolph Giuliani, the child king's dumb pill-addicted lawyer, declared that yet another counteroffer had been submitted to Robert Mueller with yet another demand regarding the special counsel's request for an interview with the child king himself.  As in there be no questions asked about obstruction of justice and the firing of FBI director James B. Comey, which of course are central to the case against Trump. 
The child king also fumed over the release of one of Michael Cohen's secretly recorded chick tapes, which was yet another window into his fundamental sleaziness, and threatened to declare war on Iran in a ham-handed effort to change the subject.  Which had the consequence of being a reminder that Trump has no Iran policy.
Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry kicked off a social media campaign, accompanied by the shouts of a Moscow flash mob (flesh mob?), to free Mariia Butina, who is moldering in a federal lockup a few blocks from the White House on charges she is a covert agent, and the child king rolled out a new line on Russian interference, claiming without evidence that the Kremlin will support Democrats in the midterm elections. 
In another it's-a-whole-new-week happening, Paul Manafort won a request to postpone his fraud and tax evasion trial a few days.  But lost a bid to get back the eight iPods that Mueller's agents seized when they raided his condo, one of which includes the contemporaneous notes Trump's then-campaign manager took during the infamous June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting convened by Donald "If What You Say Is True I Love It" Trump Jr. 
Eight iPods?   
The sage Andrew Sullivan suggests that we're making the whole Trump-Putin thing too complicated.  It may be that Trump "simply believes what he says." 
Andrew is on to something when he writes that:
The slackened jaws, widened eyes, and general shock that greeted his chuffed endorsement of the Kremlin over Washington . . . were understandable but misplaced.  Everything Trump did in Europe --  every horrifying, sick-making, embarrassing expostulation --  is, in some way, consistent, and predictable, when you consider how he sees the world.  It's not a plan or a strategy as such.  Trump is bereft of the attention span to sustain any of those.  It is rather the reflection of a set of core beliefs and instincts that have governed him for much of his life. The lies come and go.  But his deeper convictions really are in plain sight.
The question then becomes -- or rather, we again return to the question of -- how to stop the bulldozer. 
There is only one immediate remedy, the rest will have to wait, Maximum Bob and the other forces bearing down on the child king willing.  Register to vote.  And work to get others to register to vote.  Do it, dammit!

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related developments.

Richard Codor's Cartoon du Jour

Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Pause That Doesn't Refresh: Inconvenient Truths & Uncomfortable Questions

In the blink-of-an-eye space of only seven days, the Russia scandal shifted into overdrive with the indictment of 12 Russia intelligence officers and arrest of a sex-peddling covert Russian agent in Washington, President Trump's extraordinary capitulation to Vladimir Putin at the Surrender Summit, as well as a host of other pot-boiling developments.  And so this may be an opportune time to (ever so quickly) pause and consider some inconvenient truths and uncomfortable questions before we're punched in the national gut by the next round of revelations. 
First a disclaimer: There is a risk of succumbing to gotcha-ism, as well as false equivalencies, in pondering aspects of the Russia scandal that cast the U.S. in less than a favorable light.  What follows sometimes does exactly that, although none of it should diminish the enormity of the Russian cyberattack on Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign in the service of helping elect Trump nor confer a moral equivalency on the U.S.'s own crimes, misdeeds and questionable behavior.  
Among the inconvenient truths and uncomfortable questions are these: 
As inconvenient truths go, they don't come any bigger than the reality that the U.S. has been trying to influence elections for decades, including the use in recent years of some of the very cyber tools that Russia has successfully employed. 
The U.S. has departed from its professed democratic ideals on innumerable occasions. The CIA helped overthrow elected leaders in Iran and Guatemala in the 1950s and backed violent coups in several other countries in the 1960s while plotting assassinations and supporting brutal anti-Communist governments in Latin America, Africa and Asia.  Then there are the wars in Vietnam, Grenada and Iraq.  
One (now outdated) study found 81 instances of election interference by the U.S. and 36 by the Soviet Union/Russia between 1946 and 2000, including overt and U.S. meddling in a Russian election. 
That occurred in 1996 under a Democratic president when American fears that Communists would defeat President Boris Yeltsin for re-election and doom perestroika resulted in a Bill Clinton-led initiative to float a $10 billion International Monetary Fund loan to Russia four months before the election and dispatching a team of political consultants to advise Yeltsin.    (There also is the possibility that Hillary Clinton's State Department intervened in Russia's 2011 legislative elections.  I suspect that but don't know for sure.) 
More recent U.S. election interference has not been morally equivalent to Russia's 2016 meddling, or so goes the rationalization of American exceptionalists, although I am not one.  Nevertheless, it works for me to an extent. 
This is, that rationalization goes, because more recent U.S. efforts have generally been aimed at helping non-authoritarian candidates challenge dictators and promote democracy while Russia has done the opposite.  This includes the successful effort in 2000 to defeat Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian nationalist leader, by providing American political consultants and millions of American-funded stickers with the democratic opposition's clenched-fist symbol and "He's Finished" printed in Serbian. 
Some experts believe that the U.S. remains the most powerful and skillful cyberpower. 
It's hard to argue with that when you consider the huge range of U.S. cyber bullying abroad revealed by Edward Snowden and the Shadow Brokers in making public the dirty work of the NSA and CIA.  Indeed, U.S. intelligence agencies break into computer networks abroad at an astounding rate and certainly on a greater scale than any other intelligence service in the world.  This includes Stuxnet, the successful cyber operation against Iranian nuclear weapons centrifuges. 
Then there is the U.S. Internet Freedom program, which provides cyber tools and training to activists in authoritarian nations to facilitate political change, and the government's covert assistance of social media giants such as Twitter to help activists bring down foreign governments.   

Barack Obama was a good president and perhaps a great one.   
But even giving Obama the benefit of the doubt, he and his closest aides, and to a great extent the U.S. intelligence community, failed to grasp that the very foundation of American democracy was under attack when the first intimations of Russia's intention to disrupt the 2016 election became known.   
The inconvenient truth is that knowledge began seeping into the vast intelligence gathering apparatus of the NSA, then the CIA and finally the FBI, beginning in early November of 2014 -- two years before the presidential election -- when Dutch intelligence provided U.S. authorities with solid evidence that Russians hackers might target the Democratic National Committee's computer system and that FSB hackers using the name Cozy Bear were preparing for an attack on State Department computers.  The State Department computers were indeed breeched and classified information stolen, but U.S. official took little action and certainly none of consequence.  
Perversely, this failure to grasp continued through the eventual DNC hack and beyond Election Day.  
The overlapping investigations, inter-intelligence agency rivalries and attendant minutiae had the effect of obscuring the enormity of what Putin wrought with an assist from Trump and his confederates.   Yet even when the success of Putin's assault had become glaringly obvious, Obama and other key players still fumbled and stumbled.    
In the end, fears that the White House would be accused of trying to influence the election, which of course is exactly what Putin did with the Trump campaign's help, as well as the overconfident view that Hillary Clinton would be the walk-off winner of the ferociously contested election, enabled a profoundly unqualified nut who never seriously thought he would win to wrest the keys to the national car from an eminently qualified if problematic opponent.  
As they crashed around in the months before the election like a drunk looking for his car keys, (the national car keys?), Obama and his aides considered dozens of options for deterring or punishing Russia.  These included cyberattacks on its infrastructure, the release of CIA-gathered material that might embarrass Putin, and sanctions so tough that intelligence officials predicted they could "crater" the Russian economy.  
While Obama's back-channel warnings to Moscow to cease and desist as the election played out may have prompted it to abandon plans to escalate its attacks even further, including sabotaging U.S. voting systems, in the end Russia got off with a laughably negligible toughening of existing Obama-imposed sanctions that when placed in the overall context of the Russia scandal was profoundly inadequate.  
This weak-kneed response -- the expulsion of a mere 35 diplomats and closure of two Russian compounds -- was an open invitation for the Kremlin to work future mischief against the world's sole remaining superpower, which it has as the 2018 midterm elections approach, and advance Putin's dream of returning the former Soviet Union to its Cold War glory, which enabler Trump has helpfully abetted, most glaringly at the Surrender Summit in Helsinki.       
In the context of the U.S. being the preeminent cyberpower with the biggest toolbox and most experience, the failure to stop Russia, thereby altering the course of history by gifting America a profoundly unqualified kook who has set about dismantling its core values, is immense.    
Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller's 14-month-old investigation, which has come under sustained attack from right-wing Republicans, has now resulted in over 100 criminal charges against 32 individuals, including 25 Russians and three Russian companies.  Then there is covert agent Mariia Butina, who was busted by Justice Department national security prosecutors. 
All good, you say?  Well, I do too. 
Amid all the doom and gloom, these indictments represent an extraordinary assertion of Justice Department power and independence in the face of Trump's ceaseless nattering about a "witch hunt," his disregard for the rule of law, efforts to demean and undermine the DoJ and FBI, and neuter Mueller with the connivence of Vichy House Republicans. But here's another inconvenient truth: How will the U.S. respond if the tables are turned and China and Iran -- and Russia under the less cordial circumstances of a Trump successor -- name and indict U.S. officials?   
Every one of the U.S. intrusions in another country outlined in the first section of this post violated those countries' criminal laws --  in particular laws prohibiting unauthorized computer access and damage -- no less than do the Russian violations of U.S. laws meticulously detailed in Mueller's indictments.   Yes, each side breaks the laws of the other in the contemporary Great Game, the cyber version of the epic 19th century political and diplomatic confrontation between the British and Russian empires over Afghanistan and neighboring territories in Central and Southeast Asia. 
The Shadow Brokers revealed the identities of specific NSA hackers and other operators. Russia and China and perhaps even Iran and North Korea, should Trump's flimsy diplomat victory with Pyongyang continue to unravel, know who to charge criminally and for what. And could the U.S. protect the many private contractors (Snowden was one) assisting intelligence agencies if they found themselves abroad and were indicted by a foreign power?  Probably not. 
It is notable that the U.S. has not claimed that Russia's 2016 misdeeds violated international law and infringed on American sovereignty.  It is easy to write that off to Trump's fawning obeisance to Putin, but other than claims of "crimes against the United States" in the indictment of Russian nationals, neither has the special prosecutor.   
This may be because Mueller understands that drawing this line and defending it would require that the U.S. acknowledge it too has interfered in elections, renounce those actions and pledge not to do them again.   
The deep and deeply troubling role of WikiLeaks in Russia's 2016 election interference is undisputed and as unindicted co-conspiritors go, they don't get much bigger than Julian Assange, whose embrace of Putin and betrayal of WikiLeaks' founding vision is so immense, twisted and selfish as to still beggar belief. 
But therein lies another inconvenient truth.  If Mueller goes after Assange, he risks indicting him for something American journalists do every day.  
Newspapers, including but not limited to The New York Times and The Washington Post, publish information stolen by digital means and openly solicit such information through SecureDrop portals, thereby aiding leakers of classified information whose motives sometimes are suspect.  
And even if a Mueller indictment against Assange could be crafted to get WikiLeaks but spare The Times, a successful prosecution for conspiring to publish stolen information would certainly narrow protections for the very mainstream journalists who have published one sensational story after another about Trump's aberrancies, considerably enhancing our knowledge of the scandal as well as helping Mueller in his own search for the truth.  

Donald Trump is not just a bad president, he is easily the worst in U.S. history.   
But yet another inconvenient truth is that Trump may yet skate because of the Constitution's many-layered protections of the presidency, the failure of a complicitous Congress for whom governance is a dirty word and right-leaning Supreme Court to fulfill their constitutionally mandated responsibilities to rein in an unchecked president, the extremely high bar of impeachment and uncertainty over whether a sitting president can be criminally indicted. 
History is no guide here.   
Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were impeached and Richard Nixon would have been had he not resigned under pressure from congressional Republicans with the courage today's GOP toadies -- some of then as traitorous as their Dear Leader -- utterly lack. 
Johnson and Clinton were acquitted by the Senate, Johnson for a number of egregious acts that merited removal and Clinton because of the deeply partisan nature and frailty of the case against him. 
Nixon unquestionably was a crook, but even his crimes pale in comparison to Trump's. 
The Russian hackers, in fact, are the contemporary equivalents of Nixon's Watergate burglars, the only difference being the advances in technology in the 45 years between those crimes.  Nixon's burglars broke into the Democratic campaign offices in the Watergate complex to tap phones and steal documents.  The Russian hackers used malware to achieve the same goal. 
Donald Trump was almost certainly aware of that, as well as the many instances in which campaign officials, including his son and son-in-law, met and worked with Putin's proxies to cybersabotage Clinton's campaign knowing that he approved. 
And yet he still could get away with it.

This post is based in part on a Lawfare essay by Jack Goldsmith.

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and related developments.