Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Predator In Chief Won't Allow A Real FBI Investigation, So What Will Happen?


UPDATE: The White House, walking back its instructions to the FBI for an 
abbreviated investigation, says it can interview anyone it deems necessary.  
There is great mischief afoot as we slouch into what is shaping up to be the climactic week of the Brett Kavanaugh nomination debacle.  Speaking out of one side of his mouth, President Trump declares that the FBI will have "free rein" in its reopened investigation while giving orders out of the other side that impose suffocating constraints that prevent a broader look at the allegations against him. And of course issuing spittle-flecked denials when the truth is revealed.  
"I want them to interview whoever they deem appropriate, at their discretion," Trump tweeted as NBC News was reporting a different reality -- that the FBI will interview only four witnesses. 
This includes reviewing the accusations against Kavanaugh by Christine Blasey Ford (attempted rape) and Deborah Ramirez (exposing himself) but not Julie Swetnick (drugging women and organizing gang rapes), and per instructions from White House counsel Donald McGahn, the extremely limited number of witnesses the FBI will be allowed to interview will effectively prevent follow-ups on a number of leads.  In other words, the investigation seems designed to fail. 
According to the report:
Instead of investigating Swetnick's claims, the White House counsel’s office has given the FBI a list of witnesses they are permitted to interview, according to several people who discussed the parameters on the condition of anonymity.  They characterized the White House instructions as a significant constraint on the FBI investigation and caution that such a limited scope, while not unusual in normal circumstances, may make it difficult to pursue additional leads in a case in which a Supreme Court nominee has been accused of sexual assault.
The limited scope seems to be at odds with what some members of the Senate judiciary seemed to expect when they agreed to give the FBI as much as a week to investigate . . . "
As cynical as many of us have become, we shouldn't be surprised by this subterfuge, which Democrats labeled a"farce" when, according to one report, the only witnesses to be interviewed are Ramirez and Mark Judge and P.J. Smyth, high school friends of Kavanaugh’s, and Leland Keyser, a high school friend of one of Kavanaugh's accusers, while  the investigation could be wrapped up as early as Monday morning.
It was obvious at the end of last week that Kavanaugh was on the ropes as the horrifying extent of his sexual predation as a teenager and since then as a adult had become obvious.  Mitch McConnell does not have the votes to approve the nomination in the full Senate, let alone control debate over it, so the deck has to be stacked.  And stacked it is with the White House giving the FBI its marching orders. 
The subterfuge should be obvious to Jeff Flake, whose 11th-hour "heroics" forced the reopened investigation, and to Lisa Murkowski who is backing Flake.  (Where art thou, Susan Collins?) 
"It's not meant to be a fishing expedition," presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway told Jake Tapper on CNN's "State of the Union," adding that it was "up to the FBI" to determine who is interviewed. 
Then, in yet another of the dramatic turns that have characterized this historic confrontation between the #MeToo movement and the Republican War on Women, Conway said "I feel very empathetic, frankly, for victims of sexual assault, sexual harassment and rape," then revealed to a shocked Tapper that "I am a victim of sexual assault." 
Beyond all the liberal self congratulating over the Republican attempt to pluck defeat from the jaws of victory, what will Flake and Murkowski do?  My guess is nothing of consequence, and they might not have to with Lindsey Graham playing Yosemite Sam and other conservatives continuing to defend the perp and piling on his victims.   
Using the arc of the Weinstein, Moore, Moonves and Cosby sex scandals as a guide, the revelations from Ford, Rodriguez, Swetnik and a woman who has anonymously stated that her daughter saw a 33-year-old Kavanaugh drunkenly push a woman he was dating against a wall "very aggressively and sexually" after they left a bar in 1998, will not be the last.   
Several Georgetown Prep and Yale University classmates have come forward to say Kavanaugh was a belligerent and aggressive blackout drunk, contradicting his own testimony, but that may be out of bounds for the FBI.  Elizabeth Rasor, a former girlfriend of Judge, says that she'd be willing to talk to the FBI about Judge's confession of having been involved in a gang rape in high school, but despite multiple attempts to set up an interviewed, she has not heard back from the bureau, an experience shared by others. 
College professor Charles Ludington, a Yale classmate, says he is deeply troubled by Kavanaugh appearing to blatantly mischaracterize his drinking in Senate testimony. 
"I do not believe that the heavy drinking or even loutish behavior of an 18 or even 21 year old should condemn a person for the rest of his life," Ludington wrote in a statement he plans to deliver to the FBI.  "However . . . if he lied about his past actions on national television, and more especially while speaking under oath in front of the United States Senate, I believe those lies should have consequences." 
Ludington said that on one occasion, “I witnessed him respond to a semi-hostile remark, not by defusing the situation, but by throwing his beer in the man's face and starting a fight that ended with one of our mutual friends in jail."  
Flake and Senator Chris Coons said in an interview Sunday that if the FBI investigation  finds that the judge lied, his nomination likely would not move forward.     
Let's also remember, as many woman voters will in a mere five weeks, that this isn't just about sex, it's also about sexual humiliation.  Witness Ford's unforgettable recollection of Kavanaugh and Judge: "Indelible is the laughter, the uproarious laughter between the two, and their having fun at my expense." 
The drumbeat of further negative publicity, combined with the numerous falsehoods uttered by Kavanaugh -- who held Bill Clinton to the highest of ethical and moral standards but has no discernible standards of his own -- will doom approval of his nomination, if only by a hair's breadth. 
As the inimitable Charles Pierce notes, "Brett Kavanaugh has proven to be one of the great buzzkills in American politics."  That is very good for the future of a Supreme Court on the verge of teetering into right-wing darkness.  And American democracy, as well. 

Friday, September 28, 2018

Adios Brett? Kavanaugh Nomination Hits An 11th Hour Delay On The 11th Day

Indelible is the laughter, the uproarious laughter between the two,
and their having fun at my expense. ~ CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD
And on the 11th day, the runaway Brett Kavanaugh train wheezed to a crawl as the weighty truth of the vile allegations against him finally eclipsed the mad rush to confirm him. 
That is how long it took from the outset of the Republican-stacked Senate Judiciary Committee hearings to confirm Kavanaugh as the pivotal ninth Supreme Court justice until Jeff Flake attached a big -- and for Kavanaugh an ominous -- condition to his "yea" committee vote to send the nomination to the full Senate on Friday: Hold up a final vote for a week while the FBI investigates at least some of the allegations against him. 
Republican leaders reluctantly agreed to the new FBI investigation, a sign that they don't have the votes to confirm the perjurious Kavanaugh, while Trump promptly ordered the probe, which technically is a reopened background check. 
 "The Senate Judiciary Committee will request that the administration instruct the FBI to conduct a supplemental FBI background investigation with respect to the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court," Republicans said in a statement.  "The supplemental FBI background investigation would be limited to current credible allegations against the nominee and must be completed no later than one week from today." 
Credible allegations. 
The 11th hour move by the Arizona senator, a lame-duck conservative who has been an outspoken critic of the Predator in Chief, creates a number of complications. 
Republicans, who have a slim 51-49 majority, will need to pass a motion to begin debate on the nomination on the floor of the Senate and then need to pass another motion to end debate and have a vote.  They cannot do those things without at least 50 votes. Republican Senator Lisa Murkoswski of Alaska supports Flake's proposal, as probably does Susan Collins of Maine, and they can freeze any further action unless their demands are met.   So the GOP leadership and White House have no choice but to do something that will satisfy them.   
What, however, that "something" may be isn't clear, while a subdued Trump emphasized in a statement that "this update must be limited in scope." 
Indeed.  The investigation will rely on voluntary interviews and document production and is not a criminal investigation, meaning that FBI agents will not be able to get search warrants or use grand jury subpoenas to compel witnesses to testify or hand over documents.  It will include Deborah Ramirez in addition to Christine Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh's original accuser. 
Meanwhile, the the new Supreme Court term begins on Monday with eight justices.  Kavanaugh's nomination won't expire until and unless it is withdrawn by Trump, rejected by the full Senate, or January 3, 2019, when a new Congress is sworn in.  
Through her attorneys, Ford welcomed the move, but said "no artificial limits as to time or scope should be imposed." 
Washington is as broken as it has ever been and the divide between women and men and left and right as immense as it has ever been.  But for the moment, there is . . . dare I say, hope that Republicans may be on the verge of a well deserved catastrophe. 
In an historic mashup of #MeToo meets the Republican War on Women, the all-white male Republican majority on the committee has been bumblingly assisted by conservative organizations floating slut-shamming libels and tone-deaf defenses from Trump, himself the subject of 15 sexual harassment claims, and a small army of misogynists in helping Kavanaugh dig an ever deeper hole for himself.    
It has become obvious that while there are gaps in the recollections of Kavanaugh's accusers about long-ago incidents they had spent decades trying to repress, he did attempt to rape Ford, did expose himself to Ramirez and was a ringleader at the many high school house parties Julie Swetnik said she attended where he helped spike the punch with grain alcohol or drugs to inebriate girls targeted for gang rapes. 
Kavanaugh's defeat would fulfill the first part of a Democratic trifecta that was unimaginable only a few weeks ago.   
The other two parts are taking control of the Senate after midterm elections -- a mere 39 days away -- and blocking any new nominee that Trump sends up, not just avenging Republican refusal to consider President Obama's last nominee in 2016, but saving America from a Supreme Court that would lurch even further to the right and perpetrate great evil with Kavanaugh as the fifth conservative justice
Kavanaugh made an enormous strategic blunder at the outset.  It is the kind of thing practiced liars -- a great qualification for a Supreme Court justice, no? -- do without hesitation. 
Rather than tell the FBI that he had engaged in some youthful indiscretions at Georgetown Prep and Yale University, he wielded his Roman Catholic prayer beads like a cudgel, portraying himself as an altar boy who was above reproach.   As the heat rose, the hole grew ever deeper and committee chairman Charles Grassley refused to call additional witnesses including Matt Judge, Kavanaugh's accomplice in the Ford incident, for fear they would undermine their precarious position, 
Kavanaugh called himself the victim of "grotesque and obvious character assassination" despite testimony that at times was demonstrably false.   Then in his climactic appearance before the committee on Thursday following compelling testimony from Ford, the best he could muster was slinging mud at Democrats, howling that "You'll never get me to quit."   
The one constant over those 11 days of hole digging has been the refusal of committee Republicans to ask Trump to order an FBI investigation into the allegations or call additional witnesses.   
Republicans had known about the Ramirez revelation for days before it became public, which is a reason they tried to rush the nomination while repeatedly claiming the call for an investigation was a Democratic delaying tactic and not an effort to get to the bottom of that most precious of commodities in the Washington swamp -- the truth.   
Just as disingenuously, they have argued they have enough evidence to believe Kavanaugh is innocent when they haven't called a number of key witnesses.  No matter, as Judge finally came out of his hidey-hole on Friday afternoon to say he would talk to the FBI. 
Swetnik's gang rape allegations are unlikely to be part of the FBI redo, but her lawyer, Michael Avenatti pledged on Friday night to "take her story directly to the American people this weekend." 
On Thursday, the American Bar Association, which had endorsed Kavanaugh, called for a new FBI investigation.  But little noticed in the furor was that America, the magazine of the Jesuit religious order in the U.S.,  withdrew its endorsement.  The reversal is symbolically significant because Kavanaugh repeatedly cited his Catholic faith and Jesuit education in defending himself. 
Kavanaugh's youthful indiscretion dodge would not cover a fourth, anonymous accusation that cemented any doubt that Kavanaugh wasn't a hard drinking sexual predator. 
In a letter sent to a Republican senator, a woman said her daughter saw a 33-year-old Kavanaugh drunkenly push a woman he was dating against a wall "very aggressively and sexually" after they left a bar in 1998, six years before he married Ashley Estes, who has woodenly stood by her man.
Four allegations and counting, and more may yet come out as the FBI digs in, the news media digs deeper and Kavanaugh, whose bad temper was on display for tens of millions of television viewers on Thursday, seethes with rage.  
The all-male Republican membership of the committee also blundered -- or "overcorrected" in the word of one GOP strategist -- in bringing in Arizona prosecutor Rachel Mitchell to question Ford because of their concern over the visuals of male senators interrogating a sex-crime victim.   Their hired gun nibbled at the psychology professor but didn't lay a finger on her, allowing Democrats to score political points unchallenged and set up Friday's high drama. 
Before Flake attached the very large condition to his vote, he and a longtime friend, Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, had hastily called Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who told them the FBI could complete a background check in a week, although he warned them that it was unlikely to unearth much more than was already known. 
But what may have caused Flake to have second thoughts was an incident on Friday morning when he was cornered in a Hart Senate Office Building elevator by two activists -- Ana Maria Archila and Maria Gallagher -- who told him in impassioned terms that they were sexual assault victims as CNN captured the confrontation live.  
"What you are doing is al­low­ing some­one who ac­tu­al­ly vio­lat­ed a woman to sit in the Su­preme Court," one of the women shout­ed.  "This is hor­rible.  You have chil­dren in your fam­i­ly. Think a­bout them."  
"Look at me when I'm talking to you," the other woman said as Flake stood largely mute and ashen-faced, his gaze mainly to the ground.  
"You are telling me that my assault doesn't matter, that what happened to me doesn't, and that you're going to let people who do these things into power.  That's what you're telling me when you vote for him.  Don't look away from me." 
"Thank you," Flake said quietly. 

Richard Codor's Cartoon du Jour

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

A 'Technological & Political Coup' By Russian Masterminds Led To Trump's Victory

It has taken nearly two years, but the key question of the 2016 presidential election -- did Russian interference lead to Donald Trump's stunning victory? -- is finally being answered, and that answer is that it very likely did. 
Let's concede from the jump that the Trump sycophancy will never agree with that conclusion, and there has been no hotter button for Trump himself, who goes ballistic at the mere hint that he did not beat Hillary Clinton fair and square.  This is the dominant reason he continues to insist the Russia scandal is a "hoax" and Special Counsel Robert Mueller's pursuit of him a "witch hunt.". 
But their disbelief does not square with the forensic analysis of Kathleen Hall Jamieson, whose forthcoming book -- Cyberwar: How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect a President -- What We Don't, Can't and Do Know -- is guaranteed to cause an enormous uproar and further chest pains for Trump and his allies when it is published on October 3, barely five weeks before a midterm election that will be a referendum on Trump and could determine the eventual fate of his tumultuous presidency. 
"Russian masterminds" pulled off a technological and political coup, concludes Jamieson, and the news media "inadvertently helped them achieve their goals." 
Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania and founder of the nonprofit policy watchdog group, , is not your ordinary numbers-crunching academic.  Over a five-decade career, she was garnered the sometimes grudging respect of politicians and social scientists across the policy spectrum because of her astute, meticulously researched analyses of how people vote. And why, and especially in the case of the 2016 election, what influences them to change their minds. 
Clinton, in losing the Electoral College but winning the popular vote by 2.9 million votes,  lost the battleground states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania by a combined 77,744 votes out of 13.9 million ballots cast.  She would have won the Electoral College by a 275-248 electoral vote margin if 5,353 Trump voters had gone for her instead in Michigan, 11,375 voters in Wisconsin and 22,147 voters in Pennsylvania.    
Keep that in mind in understanding the big takeaways of Cyberwar:
Candidates typically blunt each other's messages in close elections, resulting in fairly balanced media coverage.  But the stream of content stolen from the Clinton campaign -- described in the media as coming from WikiLeaks rather than Russia -- "reweighted the news environment in Trump's favor." 
Strikingly, Russian hackers' first attempt to infiltrate Clinton's computer servers took place on July 27, 2016, the same day that Trump declared, "Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.  I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press."  
Significantly, Russian hackers stole Clinton campaign analytics showing that there were a high proportion of likely "Hillary defectors" in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania who were bombarded with negative information about Clinton through a covert media campaign.  
While the conventional wisdom is that Clinton "won" the three presidential debates, there was a "small but significant drop in reported intention to vote for her" because of questions that Russian trolls, abetted by Trump, raised over her trustworthiness. 
An unusually high percentage of voters liked neither candidate and stayed undecided longer than usual, and by some counts 37 million Americans, or 15 percent of the electorate—were still undecided in the final weeks before the election.    
These undecideds were unduly influenced by Russian-generated social media messaging, including its consistency with messaging from the Trump campaign and by its strategic alignment with the campaign's geographic and demographic objectives.

Russian trolls created messaging aimed at winning support for Trump from churchgoers and military families, key Republican voters who seemed likely to lack enthusiasm for a thrice-married adulterer who got multiple draft deferments and mocked Gold Star parents and a former POW. 
A WikiLeaks release of a damaging tranche of Russian-hacked emails on October 7, 2016 succeeded in rescuing Trump's slumping candidacy by generating a scandal to counterbalance the "Access Hollywood" tape and a damning intelligence report on Russian interference.   
Jane Mayer calls Jamieson's work "scrupulously nonpartisan" in a New Yorker review of Cyberwar and an interview with the author.  
Mayer writes that Jamieson began her study of the 2016 election with an open mind.  But in the fall of 2017, as she watched the House and the Senate hold hearings on Russia’s social-media trickery and reviewed dozens of Facebook ads released by the House Intelligence Committee that had been paid for by Russians, she developed suspicions about the reasons behind Trump’s victory.   
These suspicions were more or less confirmed in February when a detailed indictment was released of 13 Russians working at the Internet Research Agency, a troll farm in St. Petersburg where operatives were described as having worked day and night waging "information warfare against the United States of America."  Then, in July, 12 Russian intelligence officers were indicted for hacking into the computers of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign. 
Finally -- and hang onto you hats, Trump haters -- Jamieson believes FBI Director James Comey's decision to make a damaging public pronouncement on Clinton's handling of classified e-mails in July 2016 can plausibly be attributed to Russian disinformation.  As evidence, she cites unverified Russian intelligence describing purported but possibly false e-mails from Attorney General Loretta Lynch to a member of the Clinton team in which she promised that would go easy on Clinton.   
Comey, notes Jamieson, reportedly told aides that he let this disinformation shape his decision to countermand Lynch's order to not go public with the FBI's conclusion about the Clinton e-mails, which was Justice Department policy in cases where it was concluded no crime had been committed. 
The furor, which only increased when Comey announced that the e-mail investigation had been reopened 11 days before the election, played beautifully into Trumps hands.  A subsequent report by Justice's inspector general described Comey’s behavior as "extraordinary and insubordinate," and found his justifications unpersuasive.

Meyer notes that FiveThirtyEight founder Nate Silver has found that coverage of the Clinton e-mail investigation frequently dominated the news.  Silver has concluded that all the talk about the e-mails may have shifted the race by as much as four points overall, swinging Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida to Trump, and possibly North Carolina and Arizona, too.  
Regardless of Jamieson's findings about Russian interference, she writes that "barring evidence of tampering" with voting machines or ballot boxes, "Trump is the duly elected President of the United States." 
Jamieson says that she will leave it to others to decide whether Trump should remain in office if conclusive evidence emerges that he colluded with Russia.  
"My personal judgment is yes, even then Mr. Trump would be President," she writes. "But probably not for long."

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

Richard Codor's Cartoon du Jour

Monday, September 24, 2018

L'Affaire Brett Kavanaugh: With Symmetry Like This, Who Needs A Sex Scandal?

The gravity-defying rush by the Republican-dominated Senate Judiciary Committee to confirm Brett Kavanaugh's nomination as a Supreme Court justice with a bumbling assist by conservative organizations floating evil twin theories and tone-deaf defenses from the Predator in Chief and a small army of misogynists crashed to earth with a resounding thud at 7:49 p.m. on Sunday evening.  That was when The New Yorker reported with a certain air of inevitably that Kavanaugh's attempted rape of Christine Blasey Ford was not a one-off. 
The initial reaction from Democrats was to demand a delay in consideration of
Kavanaugh while the new allegation -- that he had exposed himself to a woman at a college party and caused her to touch his penis without her consent -- was investigated.  The initial reaction of Republicans was another furious round of denials, and it has become beyond obvious that the knife fight to save the imperiled nomination of a perjurious reprobate who with a lifetime appointment will plunge the high court into darkness has a certain perverse symmetry.   
It goes something like this: 
After supporting U.S. Senate candidate (and accused child molester) Roy Moore, Donald Trump (a confessed perpetrator of sexual assaults and sexual harassment claims by 15 women) has nominated Kavanaugh (a credibly accused attempted rapist) who would, if confirmed by the Judiciary Committee (which lost an aide to sexual harassment allegations over the weekend and five Republican congressional colleagues to sexual harassment claims this year alone) to serve alongside Clarence Thomas (a credibly accused sexual harasser). 
With symmetry like this, who needs a sex scandal?    
Well, the Republican Party has yet another one -- easily the biggest and most damaging to date beyond their Dear President himself -- as well as a bona fide box office hit in its matinee performance of What Goes Around Comes Around, a fiasco starring Chuckie Grassley & His Hapless Helpmates with the really big takeaway being that even more midterm voters will conclude that the GOP has no problem confirming Kavanaugh even if the claims against him are true, and will cast their ballots accordingly. 
The Republican War on Women is not an overnight sensation.   
Some woman -- you know, the people who give birth to and raise children, take them to daycare and later soccer practice and piano lessons and care for elderly parents while juggling their careers, who pack lunches and cook meals, have to make tough reproductive decisions, balance the family checkbook, and sometimes fight for their country -- turned away from the party when it tried to defund Planned Parenthood for the umpteenth time. Or opposed contraception and preventive health care.  Or supported laws prohibiting abortions for even the victims of rape and incest, in essence encouraging violence against women. 
Republicans keep asking what women want and remain clueless as to what the answer might be.  Which is why gender politics will be an issue they can't make go away on November 6. 
The big questions following The New Yorker report are how many more allegations of sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh are in the pipeline and how long it will take Kavanaugh to withdraw from consideration using the shopworn "for the good of his family and the country" script. 
The answer to the first question is maybe not long at all.  
Michael Avenatti, the attorney representing porn actress and former Trump squeeze Stormy Daniels in her legal fight with the president, claims to represent a woman with information about high school-era parties attended by Kavanaugh and urged the Senate to investigate.  He told The Associated Press that he will disclose his client's identity in the coming days and that she is prepared to testify before the committee, as well as provide names of corroborating witnesses, and asserted later that he is aware "of significant evidence" that Kavanaugh participated in multiple gang rapes while in high school. 
In the latest allegation, Deborah Ramirez, a classmate of Kavanaugh's at Yale University, said he exposed himself to her at a party during the 1983-84 academic year, or a year or so after the drunken pool party in suburban Washington where Christine Blasey Ford says Kavanaugh attempted to rape her. 
Ramirez said they both had been drinking at the time of the incident and acknowledged some gaps in her memory.  
Write New Yorker reporters Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer:
She recalled that the party took place in a suite at Lawrance Hall, in the part of Yale known as Old Campus, and that a small group of students decided to play a drinking game together.  "We were sitting in a circle," she said.  "People would pick who drank."  Ramirez was chosen repeatedly, she said, and quickly became inebriated.  At one point, she said, a male student pointed a gag plastic penis in her direction.  Later, she said, she was on the floor, foggy and slurring her words, as that male student and another stood nearby.  
A third male student then exposed himself to her.  "I remember a penis being in front of my face," she said.  "I knew that's not what I wanted, even in that state of mind."   She recalled remarking, "That’s not a real penis," and the other students laughing at her confusion and taunting her, one encouraging her to "kiss it."   She said that she pushed the person away, touching it in the process. Ramirez, who was raised a devout Catholic, in Connecticut, said that she was shaken.  "I wasn’t going to touch a penis until I was married," she said.  "I was embarrassed and ashamed and humiliated."  She remembers Kavanaugh standing to her right and laughing, pulling up his pants.  "Brett was laughing," she said.  "I can still see his face, and his hips coming forward, like when you pull up your pants."  She recalled another male student shouting about the incident.  "Somebody yelled down the hall, 'Brett Kavanaugh just put his penis in Debbie’s face,' " she said.  "It was his full name.  I don't think it was just 'Brett.'  And I remember hearing and being mortified that this was out there." 
In a statement issued by the White House, Kavanaugh denied the accusation and called it "a smear, plain and simple."  But among his ever accumulating problems is that Farrow and Mayer are not ordinary reporters and The New Yorker is not your everyday rag. 
Farrow single-handedly broke the first of what have become a staggering 80 allegations of sexual misconduct against film producer Harvey Weinstein while Mayer wrote The Dark Side, the definitive history of the Bush Torture Regime, as well as incisive investigative pieces on government prosecution of whistleblowers and the U.S. drone program. Meanwhile, The New Yorker has an unblemished reputation for painstaking fact checking and there is no question the Ramirez story was exhaustively vetted. 
Perhaps the most telling paragraph of The New Yorker story is this recollection:
Another woman who attended high school in the nineteen-eighties in Montgomery County, Maryland, where Georgetown Prep is located, also refuted [Kavanaugh’s friend, Mark] Judge's account of the social scene at the time, sending a letter to Ford's lawyers saying that she had witnessed boys at parties that included Georgetown Prep students engaging in sexual misconduct.  In an interview, the woman, who asked to have her name withheld for fear of political retribution, recalled that male students "would get a female student blind drunk" on what they called "jungle juice" -- grain alcohol mixed with Hawaiian Punch -- then try to take advantage of her.  "It was disgusting," she said.  "They treated women like meat."    
Elizabeth Rasor, a college classmate and former girlfriend of Judge, the accused accomplice in the Ford sexual assault, told The New Yorker that Judge admitted to her an episode in which he and his friends took turns "having sex" with a drunk woman.  

Ramirez, like Ford, was at first reluctant to speak publicly "partly because her memories contained gaps because she had been drinking at the time of the alleged incident," The New Yorker reported.  But after "six days of carefully assessing her memories and consulting with her attorney, Ramirez said that she felt confident enough of her recollections" to speak publicly. 
While Republicans promised to soldier on, the Judiciary Committee is running out of options -- let alone negotiating room -- after repeatedly backtracking on taking a confirmation vote and giving Ford a bad-faith deadline to speak up or shut up and then repeatedly changing it. 
The dam will have been officially breached if more shoes drop (the committee had known about the Ramirez revelation last week, which is a reason they tried to rush the nomination) or Grassley allows additional witnesses to testify.  The revelation and Avenatti saber-rattling undoubtedly will impact on their plans for Ford to testify on Thursday, which is itself in doubt because she has said she is afraid of confined spaces (as well as slimy Republican men) and would have to drive cross country from California, where she is in hiding after death threats, rather than flying.  
Kavanaugh's defense has been that he would never do such a thing and his life has been a storybook example of an Ivy Leaguer who is straitlaced and respectful of women.  That defense has now crashed to earth with a resounding thud.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

If You're Going To Shoot For The King, You'd Best Not Miss. Rosenstein Missed.

If you divide the cast of Russia scandal characters into Good Guys and Bad Guys, then Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has been something of an enigma (or perhaps a kachina doll given the subject) in somehow managing the feat of alternately sucking up to and pushing back against Donald Trump.  But for the most part, he has been a Good Guy because he has sought to protect Robert Mueller as the special counsel's prosecutors encircle the White House. 
But you might want to make that former deputy attorney general -- as seems likely sooner or later -- after an explosive New York Times story that not surprisingly was overshadowed by the rolling Brett Kavanaugh nomination train wreck and would appear to give Trump the ammunition he needs to finally fire the man standing between he and Maximum Bob and that most fragile commodity in this day and age -- the truth.
The Times story, which broke late on Friday afternoon as the rest of us were waiting to see if Chuckie Grassley blinked (he did), avers that in the tumultuous days following Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey on May 9, 2017, Rosenstein suggested to Justice Department and FBI officials that he wear a wire and secretly record the president to expose the chaos consuming his administration, and discussed recruiting Cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove an unfit Trump from office.   
Never mind if Rosenstein's instincts were good even if his state of mind reportedly was not.  As BooMan notes over at Booman Tribune, "If you shoot for the king, you best not miss."   
Rosenstein missed, of course.  But The Times story is multilayered and requires some major unpacking: 
Rosenstein appears to have been reacting viscerally to a threat to the rule of law, and in a larger context, to the Constitution and the republic itself because of Trump's unhinged behavior.  But now that Rosenstein has been outted by The Times, that threat has never been greater because he and Mueller are so bloody vulnerable.
There is a chance that The Times was spun by its sources, and it would not be the first time if you recall the infamous October 31, 2016 story saying that the FBI had found no link between Russia and Trump.  Some observers are saying that Rosenstein, himself unhinged after getting burned for assisting Trump in axing Comey, was acting in jest. 
I'm not buying the acting-in-jest explanation.  The sources had their own motivations for talking, and these probably include fired former FBI Director Andrew McCabe, whose contemporaneous memos underpin The Times story and happens to need all the help he can get because he is being investigated by a grand jury for violating FBI policies. 
An additional reason for believing Rosenstein was serious is that, as Anonymous noted in that Times opinion piece and Bob Woodward wrote in Fear, White House insiders were and remain deeply concerned about Trump's fitness.  Rosenstein was far from alone in discussing as drastic an option as the 25th Amendment. 
Yet another reason was that Rosenstein issued two denials.  The first was a kind of non-denial denial, while the second several hours later -- said to be made after the White House, fearing what Trump might do, asked him to be less equivocal -- said he had never sought to secretly record or work to remove the president. 
Non-Times sources say FBI lawyer Lisa Page was present at a meeting at the Justice Department on May 16, 2017 when Rosenstein suggested wearing a wire and believed him to be serious.  Page, a Trump nemesis because of her anti-Trump texting with FBI agent Peter Strzok, has since resigned, while Strzok was fired. 
The Times story and Page's presence play into Trump's alternate-universe narrative that the Russia investigation is part of a deep-state plot to avenge Hillary Clinton's loss.  He can now say that Rosenstein had an ulterior motive in appointing Mueller -- getting rid of the president and so the whole megillah is compromised.
While Trump now has a casus belli to move on Rosenstein and by extension Mueller, my gut feeling is that it is beginning to sink into his narcissistic skull that making drastic moves with the midterms only 45 days away isn't smart with the Republican brand being so tarnished.  So he'll hold off if not overcome by an outbreak of impetuosity.   
From a narrow perspective, Rosenstein exhibited bad judgment.  But in the larger and ultimately more important scheme of things, his actions substantially nourish the narrative that from practically the outset of the Trump presidency, career bureaucrats like Rosenstein and political appointees alike were alarmed at Trump's fundamental incompetence and were willing to be insubordinate.  Or consider even more drastic action.

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and related developments.