Monday, October 29, 2018

Tribalism Run Amok: Trump Did Not Make America What It Is, America Made Trump

Americans always have had an unjustifiably lofty view of their society, which is why they are able to look down their upturned noses as Tutsis beat up on Hutus in Rwanda, Serbs beat up on Croats in the Balkans, Shiites beat up on Sunnis in Iraq and Buddhists beat up on Muslims in Myanmar, to name just a few of the blood-soaked conflicts in recent history.  Americans believe they're beyond such tribalism, and indeed the Founding Fathers were determined to build a democracy where the individual was more important than the tribe.  That failed spectacularly in a little dustup called the Civil War, and the big message underlying the election of Donald Trump is that it is still failing.  
The message within that message as we slouch toward the most important election since the last most important election is that Trump did not make America what it is.  To the contrary, America made Trump president because of what it has become. 
The most recent manifestations of that are the sick exploits of mail-bomb suspect Cesar Sayoc and the orgy of violence involving other monsters who are listening when Trump gives them permission to terrorize by advocating violence, including body slamming journalists, playing footsie with neo-Nazis and dog whistling anti-Jewish messages while shamelessly admiring one world leader above all others -- the man who after all is responsible for his improbable presidency and the nightmare it has visited on us as our core values are methodically undermined and destroyed.  
Speaking of Vladimir Putin, there is no better example of tribalism prevailing over patriotism than the Russia scandal.   
Russia helped throw the 2016 election to Trump.  His campaign colluded in that effort. Despite Trump's repeated efforts to obstruct justice, career Republican lawman Robert Mueller was tasked with trying to sort things out.  But tribalism has not spared the special prosecutor nor the FBI.  Mueller is suspect in the eyes of the Republican tribalists -- I call them Vichy Republicans -- who have rushed to abrogate their constitution duty while subscribing to the dystopian fiction that FBI has hatched a deep-state plot to undermine the president, never mind what Moscow and the president have done to undermine democracy.  Beware the exploding Republican heads if he recommends that Congress impeach Trump.
Those red state-blue state maps that are popping up everywhere as the midterms approach are not merely graphic representations of the American body politic of recent years.  They vividly and shockingly illustrate the parlous condition of our 240-year-old democracy.  
A tribe of white voters predominate in red states in the exurban and rural interior.  They are for the most part nationalist in outlook, deeply religious and dominate the Republican Party. 
A tribe of racial minorities predominate in blue states on the coasts.  They are for the most part are urbanized, global in outlook, less religious and dominate the Democratic Party.   
"Tribalism only destabilizes a democracy when it calcifies into something bigger and more intense than our smaller, multiple loyalties; when it rivals our attachment to the nation as a whole; and when it turns rival tribes into enemies," writes the inimitable Andrew Sullivan, a pioneering blogger and onetime Republican conservative who has that rare capacity to change his mind when confronted with . . . uh, the facts.   
"And the most significant fact about American tribalism today," Sullivan continues, "is that all three of these characteristics now apply to our political parties, corrupting and even threatening our system of government." 
It is convenient but inaccurate to suggest that tribalism evaporated after the Civil War and re-emerged only in the last several years as politics became so overtly tribal and hence divisive.  In fact, tribalism never went away.   
Tribalism merely was subsumed by waves of immigrants who were assimilated into society in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and then the two world wars, which acted as huge unifiers.  In the case of World War II and the years following, blacks were integrated into the military, industry and society at large, and nearly 40 percent of black voters called themselves Republicans, the once proud party of Lincoln. 
But by 1964, tribalism was back with a vengeance. 
Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign drove most blacks away from the GOP and that re-racialization continued apace in the early 1970s with Richard Nixon's so-called Southern Strategy in response to the civil rights movement, Ronald Reagan's unflattering characterizations of poor blacks in the 1980s, and Republican Governor Pete Wilson's unapologetic loathing of the Latino immigrants pouring into California in the 1990s. 
By the time the first red-blue maps appeared in the 2000 presidential race, abortion and gay rights had further split the two parties.   
Behind the national electoral draw that year between Al Gore and George Bush were the two tribes so recognizable today, and the Supreme Court ruling handing the presidency to Bush ended -- probably forever -- the Founders' intention that the high court be nonpartisan, which is to say nontribal.  Then came 2008 and an even deeper tribal fracturing over race with the election of Barack Obama, the first African-American president. 
As Sullivan notes, there were other polarizers, as well, including the arrival of Fox News and the Internet and social media, right-wing extremism ascendent, partisan gerrymandering and the end of cross-tribal compromise in Congress.   
While no one was looking, there also was a decline of Christianity as a common denominator for the political parties, an intellectual sorting-out in which non-college educated whites increasingly resented the college educated because they got the better paying jobs, and a conservative backlash against universities as bastions of liberalism. 
And on top of all that, Democrats and Republicans don't merely disagree with their opponents' political views these days. 
They disagree -- angrily and sometimes in violent terms -- over their opponents' very values, each side claiming to be more loyal to mother, god and country than the other as emotion reliably supplants reason.  Can you say Brett Kavanaugh? 
This helps explain why there will never be effective gun control despite Sandy Hook, Las Vegas and Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, and why the big takeaway from the superb Burns-Novick History of the Vietnam War series is that succeeding generations of national leaders since that bloody interregnum learned nothing from it. 
With the three core components of tribalism -- race, religion and geography -- defining the political parties, 2016 was bound to be a watershed election. 
But little did we suspect that a profoundly unqualified narcissist, career crook, pathological liar and misogynist wearing a red Make America Great Again baseball cap who made vague promises to shake up Washington would face off against an eminently qualified, if flawed, woman who proudly wore a lifetime of public service on her sleeve and promised to build on the Obama legacy while bearing the scars of 30 years of virulent right-wing attacks.
Trump, of course, lost the popular vote but eked out an Electoral College victory over Hillary Clinton.  While the pernicious consequences of the Russian effort to sabotage the Clinton campaign cannot be underestimated, Trump built his backdoor victory on opportunism more than tribalism.  His claim that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose the support of his followers lays bare their deep-rooted animosity  -- a toxic brew of fear and hate -- toward anyone who is not like them, as well as an addiction to the rhetorical extremism that is Trump's stock in trade.   
Is it too late to turn back?  Possibly. 
Americans have assumed that their democracy was on autopilot.  That the worst excesses would sort themselves out as the political pendulum swung back and forth.  That constitutional checks and balances would assure that the pendulum would return to center.  That our capacity for moderation, compassion and forgiveness ran deeper than our baser instincts.  That we would stop talking past each other and talk to each other.   
But none of that took into account that beyond halcyon skies, amber waves of grain and purple mountain majesties above those enameled plains, we were members of tribes first and Americans second.   
It's in our DNA, and that makes finding a way out of our national nightmare exceedingly difficult because it would require closing the gap between those tribes, as well as changing or at least diluting the mutations of the political parties.   
I do not see that happening, certainly not in my lifetime, but I certainly will vote next Tuesday.  

Will A Boycott Of Fox News Advertisers Work? Well, It's TimeTo Find Out

I usually do not support advertiser boycotts.  Nor do I ever watch Fox News.  But it has become apparent that Rupert Murdoch's plaything has become a toxic force in America while propagating the fiction that it is a balanced purveyor of news and opinion.  Fox will not change its ways until when and if it is pinched financially. 
To that end, following is a list of Fox advertisers and their Twitter handles:
Keurig Green Mountain @Keurig 
Ford @Ford  
Lincoln @LincolnMotorCo 
Pfizer @pfizer 
Liberty Mutual @libertymutual 
Bayer AG & Monsanto @Bayer @BayerUS 
Honda @Honda 
Acura @Acura 
Ace Hardware @acehardware 
Procter & Gamble --@ProcterGamble @Bounty @MyCascade @Charmin @Crest @DawnDish @Febreze_Fresh @downy @Gillette @GilletteVenus @OlaySkin @OralB @Pantene @Swiffer @Tide @Luvs @Pampers 
Allstate @Allstate 
Esurance @Esurance 
Capital One @capitalone 
Go RVing @GoRVing 
Glaxo Smith Kline @GSK 
Subaru @subaru_usa 
Fiat Chrysler @FiatChrysler_NA@alfa_romeo @AlfaRomeoUSA @Dodge @Jeep 
Expedia @Expedia 
Trivago @trivago 
Lear Capital @LearCapital 
Boehringer Ingelheim (Dulcolax, Jardiance, Zantac) @boehringerus @Boehringer 
Tena @tena_us 
Rakuten (Ebates) @RakutenToday @Ebates
Progressive @Progressive
If you use any of these products or services, tweet them with a friendly message about the power of your purse. 

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Is There A Pipe Bomber-Synagogue Shooter-Russia Connection? Yes, But . . .

Pipe bomber Cesar Sayoc targeted Democrats, blacks, women, and Jews.  His van was festooned with pro-Trump stickers, as well as one with an image of Vladimir Putin and "Wanted Dead or Alive" image of Jewish billionaire philanthropist George Soros, an intended target of one of his pipe bombs.  Robert Bowers is a fanatical anti-Semite and while his support for Trump appears to have been cool, a post in his name on the extremist friendly Gab social-media site noted Trump's fondness for calling out "globalists," widely understood to be a code word for Jews, shortly before he stormed a Pittsburgh synagogue and mowed down worshipers with an assault rifle, killing 11 and wounding six in the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history. 
There is a second common thread beyond Donald Trump for Jew-hating Sayoc and Bowers: Both hew to Putin's globalist imprecations, and it is not a reach in these hyper-charged times to suspect, as some people already are doing, that Russia is behind their evil deeds.  After all, we know that Russia is behind Trump. 
(Let's not forget Gregory Bush, a white man with a history of violence, who about the time Sayoc's 13 pipe bombs were in the mail and Bowers was fine-tuning his deadly masterpiece, shot and killed two African-Americans at a Kentucky Kroger supermarket following a failed attempt to barge into a black church.)    
The Facebook accounts of Sayoc, who declared he had "found a father in Trump," include references to "my Russian brothers" and Russian social-media propaganda links echoing Kremlin views that, as Special Counsel Robert Mueller detailed in a recent indictment, are designed to energize angry believers.  Sayoc and Bowers also are virulently anti-immigrant, and here Soros plays a starring role in the fevered minds of alt-right wingers who believe he is funding the Democratic Party-inspired immigrant caravan making its way from Honduras to the wall-less southern U.S. border. 
But absent documentation beyond the readily evident surface connections, a pipe bomber-synagogue shooter-Russia link is a conspiracy theory too far.  
Still, that should not blind us to the reality that monsters like Bush, Sayoc and Bowers are listening when Trump gives them permission to terrorize by advocating violence, including body slamming journalists, playing footsie with neo-Nazis and dog whistling anti-Jewish messages while shamelessly admiring one world leader above all others -- the man who after all is responsible for his improbable presidency and the nightmare it has visited on us. 
This makes the orgy of violence not unimaginable, as some of the more oblivious pundits are writing of these 72 hours in a hate-filled America, but inevitable.    
Oh, but it's all the victims' fault, Trump wails as he scrambles to normalize all that violence.   If only the Tree of Life Synagogue had armed guards.  If only Hillary had been locked up.  If only the border wall had been built. If only CNN had not brought its own travails on itself if it didn't broadcast all that fake news.   
Contrast that response to Lyndon Johnson after the John and Bobby Kennedy and King assassinations, to Ronald Reagan after the space shuttle Challenger disaster, to Bill Clinton after the Oklahoma City bombing, and to Barack Obama after the Charleston church shooting.   
And so we drag our exhausted, grief-sodden and divided selfs toward a midterm election that will, at best, rearrange the deck chairs on an America steaming toward calamity. 

Richard Codor's Cartoon du Jour

Thursday, October 25, 2018

(UPDATED) Trump's 400-Pound Guy Strikes Back As Tyranny Looms In The U.S.

The mastermind behind the pipe bombs targeting prominent Democrats and Lefties has been identified: It's that 400-pound guy sitting on his bed hacking into the Hillary Clinton campaign whom Donald Trump famously called out in one of his countless denials that Russia was helping him become president. 
"It could be Russia," Trump said during the first presidential debate on September 27, 2016 when confronted with evidence of Kremlin meddling.  "But it could also be China," he quickly added.  "It could also be lots of other people.  It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, okay?" 
Do not misunderstand me.  This is not an attempt to make light of a terrible if inevitable situation, and that 400-pound guy is merely a metaphor for Trump's unwillingness to take responsibility and deflect blame on others. 
The situation is inevitable because Trump, having been "elected" because of the real hackers, has been on a two-year bender of increasingly violent rhetoric.  We can even put a date on when that bender commenced.  It was the second presidential debate two weeks after the 400-pound guy rejoinder when nominee Trump took advantage of the town hall format by stalking Clinton rather than sitting on his own fat ass.  
Actually, a real suspect in the bombings was arrested on Friday morning -- a 56-year-old man with a lengthy criminal history whose van was plastered with pro-Trump and conspiracy theory stickers.  Surprised? 
It does not matter that in the closing days of a midterm election campaign that could flip the balance of power in Congress and open the floodgates to investigations into the president's myriad high crimes and misdemeanors, as well as a convulsion of indictments from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, that Trump is doubling down on what worked in 2016.   
This is whipping his white and mostly male supporters into hysteria over people of color, women, the news media as that caravan of Trumpian lies -- it's Middle Eastern terrorists disguised as immigrant families! -- wends its way toward the wall-less U.S. southern border.  
What matters is that a direct line can be drawn between Trump's rhetoric, Fox News's breathless commentaries and the pipe bomber's targets -- the first black president and his vice president, the first woman to be a major party's presidential nominee, a Jew frequently targeted by anti-Semites, other African-Americans and women, and CNN. 
It is hardly worth mentioning that when a natural disaster or mass shooting occurs, we expect the president to speak to common purpose and unity.  But Trump predictably mumbles a scripted response and then undercuts that message with radioactive comments.  This time Trump declared with a repulsive smirk that "We have to unify. We have to come together" at a raucous campaign rally on Wednesday night in Wisconsin after the first pipe bombs were discovered before predictably going on the attack and blaming the victims. 
The pipe bomb maker sought to make the devices more deadly by mixing bits of metal and glass in with the black powder, so we can imagine the carnage had the device mailed to Robert DeNiro's production company in TriBeCa in Lower Manhattan gone off.  But there is a even greater peril: The shrugs Trump's rhetoric produces as it seeps into the consciousness of a nation moving toward tyranny. 
In one respect, Trump is getting too much credit.  To call the 2016 election a fluke is a mistake. 
America has been inching toward tyranny one bombing at a time for decades.  Think White Citizens Councils conspiring to murder little girls by blowing up churches.  The bombing of abortion clinics, synagogues, the Murrah Federal Office Building, Olympic Park in Atlanta and the finish line of the Boston Marathon.  The Unibomber. 
But with the advent of Trump has come the perfect made-for-primetime vessel for all that hate because Trump hasn't suffered political consequences for his criminality and multiple treasons.  
At least not yet. 
At another raucous rally in Montana last week, a Trump supporter incited by Trump's praise of a congressman who body-slammed a reporter, looked directly at CNN reporter Jim Acosta, then ran his thumb across his throat and laughed.  
Acosta described the throat-slashing gesture as "the Trump effect," which was his way -- an inexcusable way considering the CNN reporter's responsibility to a huge audience -- of normalizing Trump's violent rhetoric.

Jeff Zucker, Acosta's big boss at CNN, blew an opportunity when he responded to the pipe bomb attacks by sermonizing that "There is a total and complete lack of understanding at the White House about the seriousness of their continued attacks on the media." 
Bullshit, Zucker.   
These people know exactly what they're doing.  As does Fox Business News host Lou Dobbs, who in a tweet he later deleted, wrote "Fake News–Fake Bombs.  Who could possibly benefit by so much fakery?" 
As if on cue, a pious Trump tweeted on Thursday morning that "A very big part of the Anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media that I refer to as Fake News. . . . Mainstream Media must clean up its act, FAST!"  Which led to an emerging White House meme that CNN had brought the pipe bomb threat on itself.  
Has the news media finally arrived at the point where it will say enough is enough in service of what remains of its credibility?  Except for a few outliers like The New York Times, The Washington Post and more recently CNN after the cable news network was one of Trump's prime enablers in 2016, I doubt it.  When Trump pushes, the media will dutifully cower.
What is not in doubt is that we are being traumatized by a madman and his gaslighting surrogates, including alt-right groups whose hateful online attacks on the pipe bomb targets have become so much background noise that they are barely noticed anymore, let alone remarked on. 
We keep saying that it can't happen here.  Well, America, it's happening.   

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Roger Stone's 'Time In The Barrel' Will Not Be For The Reasons You May Think

In one respect, focusing on Republican dirty trickster Roger Stone as a key Russia scandal player and therefore of great interest to Special Counsel Robert Mueller is almost too easy.   
Stone, not unlike Donald Trump, may have never done an honest day's work in his life. His dirty paws are all over the scandal and he is the likely target of a post-midterm election indictment.  But the reason Stone is a person of interest, as they say in the prosecutorial trade, is not what it may seem. 
The oft-reported reason Mueller is said to be thisclose to indicting Stone, as breathlessly reported in innumerable media accounts during the pre-November 6 lull, is that he knew in advance of WikiLeaks' intention to leak hacked Democratic emails in June 2016 as the presidential campaign revved up because he had a back channel to Julian Assange and was in touch with Guccifer 2.0, a group of Russian hackers. 
But none of these things are crimes in and of themselves, so what have Mueller's prosectors being doing as they have sniffed up Stone's butt for the past year and interviewed nearly a dozen of his associates?   Why is the man who memorably said of John Podesta at the height of the 2016 campaign that his "time in the barrel" was at hand with an imminent WikiLeaks release of damaging Russian-hacked emails now be facing the music? 
The inestimable Marcy Wheeler lays out the reasons in a deep-diving post at emptywheel, which is simplified and amplified on here:
What matters is from whom Stone learned of the email releases. 
The smart money says that his source -- or more likely sources because there may have been several people -- was a man who identifies himself as Henry Greenberg but Stone claims (and probably correctly) is Russian national Gennadiy Vasilievich Vostretsov, who returned to Russia in 2000 but has made trips back to the U.S., sometimes to work as an FBI informant. 
Stone business partner Michael Caputo, who was a Trump campaign communications adviser, set up a meeting between Stone and Greenberg/Vostretsov in late May 2016 at a restaurant in the Russian expatriate haven of Sunny Isles, Florida where Greenberg/Vostretsov reportedly offered the campaign damaging information about Hillary Clinton for $2 million.  
"You don’t understand Donald Trump.  He doesn't pay for anything," Stone claims he replied, although not in testimony to the House Permanent Subcommittee on Intelligence, where both he and Caputo neglected to mention the meeting under oath, explaining later that they had suffered a sort of group amnesia.   
Equally unbelievable is the claim that the FBI was setting up the campaign as part of the deep-state plot to undermine Trump that is the stuff of Trumpian fantasies.  This is because the Caputo-arranged Stone-Greenberg/Vostretsov meeting took place before the FBI learned that Russia was targeting Clinton and other Democrats.   
Oh, well.
While the FBI didn't have that information until June 12 or so, Trump campaign coffee boy George Papadopoulos was told on April 26  by the now disappeared and presumed dead Joseph Mifsud that the Russians had "dirt" on Clinton and "thousands" of her emails and certainly shared that information. 
Whether Caputo and Stone knew that is unclear, but in the range of possible to probable.   
More importantly, if the participants of the infamous June 9 Trump Tower meeting -- Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort -- knew, and it is a foregone conclusion that they did, then the meeting becomes an overt act in a conspiracy and Stone's boasting about the WikiLeaks release adds to evidence that he was part of that conspiracy.
Stone is as practiced a liar as Trump, so as foregone conclusions go, Mueller-filed perjury charges seem inevitable.  As do campaign finance law violations stemming from Stone's dark money group, Stop the Steal (doncha love the name?), which worked to intimidate Ted Cruz supporters during the primaries and then to suppress Democratic voter turnout in the fall.
Meanwhile, Stone swears he would never turn on the man he has advised for nearly four decades. 
"The special counsel pokes into every aspect of my social, family, personal, business, and political life, seeking something -- anything -- he can use to pressure me, to silence me, and to try to induce me to testify against my friend Donald Trump," he told the WaPo.  "This I will not do." 
Another fella by the name of Manafort once said the same thing.  But now it's likely that he'll testify against Stone.  

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

Saturday, October 20, 2018

A Russia Scandal Update: The Curious Case Of Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova

Federal prosecutors have bagged another witch in the Russia scandal witch hunt in charging Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova with a twofer -- interfering not just in the 2016 presidential election as a player at a by-now infamous St. Petersburg troll farm, but also being a player in a similar influence campaign in the forthcoming midterm and 2020 presidential elections. 
Does that make it a threefer? 
Khusyaynova, 44, managed the finances of Project Lakhta, which prosecutors described in a criminal complaint as a foreign influence operation with close Kremlin ties but no particular ideological bent that puts forth extreme arguments and disinformation -- or dezinformatsiya in Russian, meaning the spread of information with the goal of deception -- in order "to sow discord in the U.S. political system" about a wide range of divisive political issues.  These include immigration, LGBT controversies, the Confederate flag, gun control and National Football League protests during the national anthem.   
Overall, Russia scandal indictments, criminal charges and successful efforts to flip perps now number an impressive 37 witches, including six cooperating Donald Trump insiders who could make his life a bloody hell after the midterms, and some 27 Russian nationals.  All were brought down as the president and the Vichy Republicans in Congress have continued to pretend that Russian cybermeddling is a deep-state plot to undermine Trump's legitimacy. 
Their outbursts echo what the trolls on Khusyaynova's team are themselves saying in a creepy reflection of how untethered the predatory Trump and his Republican Party have become from reality. 
One troll termed Mueller "a puppet of the establishment" whose work is "damaging to the country," while another sought to incite violence in tweeting "If Trump fires Robert Mueller, we have to take to the streets in protest. Our democracy is at stake."  One Facebook page maintained by these trolls reached over 1.3 million people, while several of their Twitter accounts had tens of thousands of followers. 
A warning: This post is seriously inside baseball and probably should be passed by if you are numb from the succession of breathless media stories about the scandal.  But if you are fascinated by the scandal, or alternately fascinated and horrified as is your Faithful Scribe, then these aspects of the Khusyaynova case, which was made public late Friday, are intriguing:
The timing of the complaint being made public was not a coincidence, coming a mere nine hours after the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a statement in conjunction with the FBI, Justice Department, and the Department of Homeland Security warning of ongoing campaigns by Russia, China and Iran to "influence vote perceptions and decision making in the 2018 and 2020 U.S. elections." 
Khusyaynova is identified in the criminal complaint as having been the chief financial officer for Project Lakhta since about April 2014.  Lakhta was associated with the Internet Research Agency, a troll farm that worked assiduously and to great effect to influence the 2016 presidential election, and has more recently been involved in trying to influence the 2018 and 2020 elections. 
Curiously, the legal action is not an indictment but rather a criminal complaint with an accompanying detail-rich affidavit.  To secure an indictment, prosecutors must present evidence that persuades a grand jury that there is probable cause to believe a defendant committed a crime.  But prosecutors can bypass the messiness of a grand jury with a criminal complaint that cites probable cause, which makes it easier to secure an arrest. 
That raises the question of whether Khusyanynova may actually be in custody, perhaps in another country, or is cooperating.  Either way or neither way, the exquisite level of detail in the complaint indicates that investigators may have seized or been given a computer hard drive or obtained access to email accunts, but it is obvious the complaint is merely a warm-up act and that at least one more shoe is likely to drop.  
That "shoe" is a renewed effort against oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, familiarly known as "Putin's chef" and whose companies funded the IRA troll farm.  Two of Prigozhin's companies -- Concord Management and Concord Catering -- were among the three indicted by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller in February along with Prigozhin and 12 other Russian nationals.  Khusyanynova is said to have been involved with some 14 bank accounts through which Lakhta laundered money. 
The complaint is another opportunity to take a whack at Prigozhin and his Concord companies.  They have been waging a legal counteroffensive against Mueller since February, arguing, as did Paul Manafort, that Mueller does not have the authority to be coming after them, as well as a technicality involving the Foreign Agents Registration Act.  The complaint is an effort to make the case against Prigozhin stronger by focusing more on money laundering.  
The complaint delivers a blow to Prigozhin and the Concord companies by noting that even after they were indicted for spending lots of money to influence American politics and even after he hired lawyers fight Mueller, the companies continued to spend lots of money to influence American politics, while the day Prigozhin's lawyers were in court in July arguing on his behalf, Khusyanynova was laundering more money to pay for more trolling 
The complaint is another instance in which Mueller, whose plate is quite full, has offloaded a prosecution to others rather than keeping it in house, in this case the U.S attorney's office for the Eastern District of Virginia and the Justice Department's National Security Division, which also is handling the complaint against Russian spy Mariia Butina.  Meanwhile, the prosecution of Trump lawyer-fixer Michael Cohen is being handled by New York prosecutors. 
Khusyaynova's response to the criminal complaint was itself an exercise in trolling. She expressed innocent surprise and expressed her wish for America to be made great again.  
In case you're wondering, Lakhta is an area of St. Petersburg where Khusyaynova apparently lives and where the IRA was located.  Oh, and the Trump presidency is a troll's dream. 

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

Friday, October 19, 2018

A Russia Scandal Presidential Pardon Primer: What Donald Trump Can & Can't Do


~ Mr. Bumble in “Oliver Twist” 
The first thing you need to know about presidential pardons, a few of which we might anticipate after the midterm elections, is that they're complicated.  The second and more important thing you need to know is that Donald Trump's ability to grant pardons may have been compromised by the extraordinary number of important people who have forsaken kissing his ring and may testify against him in the forthcoming tsunami of legal actions stemming from the Russia scandal and other Trumpian collisions with the law that will curtail if not end his presidency. 
Presidents have been granting pardons since the birth of the republic.  George Washington pardoned 16 people, most in connection with the Whiskey Rebellion. Presidents are given the right to pardon by Article II, Section 2, Clause 1 of that hallowed document Trump loves to hate -- the U.S. Constitution, which gives a president the power
[T]o grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.  
Among the presidents who granted pardons pictured above in Andy Thomas's tacky variation on Dogs Playing Poker, which Trump was gifted by the execrable Darryl Issa and of course loves because of his slim physique and being surrounded with people who are nearly as great as himself, are Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan and G.W. Bush. 
Together, they issued a combined 2,689 pardons, which seems like a lot until you consider that the vast majority of them were for people of little or no historical significance. 
Trump has issued seven pardons, three of which are of note -- Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Dick Cheney poodle Lewis "Scooter" Libby and conservative hack journalist Dinesh D'Souza.  But if Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller gins up his indictment machine post-election, which it is widely believed he will do, Trump might be busy.
The potential pardonable perps in Mueller's crosshairs include but are not limited to administration and campaign insiders Hope Hicks, K.T. McFarland, Carter Page, Reince Preibus and Roger Stone.  Then there are family members Donald Trump Jr. and Javanka -- Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.      
Considering all the bad actors in the Russia scandal and associated with Trump's myriad financial intrigues, the list might be longer, but the special counsel and other federal prosecutors have flipped some seriously major horsepower.  They include Michael Cohen, Trump's longtime lawyer-fixer; Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, his former campaign manager and deputy campaign manager; Michael Flynn, his disgraced national security adviser; Felix Sater, his partner in dodgy real estate deals, and Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization's chief financial officer.   
Then there is Donald McGahn, who resigned as White House chief counsel on Wednesday.  His problematic role in Trump's repeated efforts to obstruct justice would seem to warrant an indictment, but he already has spoken at length to Mueller in one of the more curious aspects of the train wreck known as Trump's legal team, which has wrestled with having to defend a boy-man who believes he's smarter than everyone else.   
And is guilty as sin. 
Here are some pertinent questions and answers about presidential pardons based, in part, on the knowledge of white-collar crime expert Randall Eliason, a former assistant U.S. attorney who is a law professor and Washington Post op-ed contributor: 
Glad you asked, because it gets tricky.   
Exactly what crimes are covered depends on the language of the pardon itself, but the crimes must be federal and must have already been committed.  
The president can't pardon someone for state crimes, but that is tricky, too.  
Even with a presidential pardon for federal financial crimes, a perp could be liable for state financial crimes, to cite a hypothetical, but that is clouded by the potential issue of whether a state prosecution would be barred by the Constitution's double jeopardy clause, which is at the heart of Gamble v. United States, a case pending before the Supreme Court that some people fear would give Trump unchecked pardon powers if it is decided in the plaintiff's favor.

If Trump grants a pardon for a corrupt reason, the pardon itself might still be valid, but he and others involved could be investigated for criminal misconduct in connection with granting the pardon. 
Example: President Clinton was criminally investigated after he left office for his pardon of sleaze ball Democratic financier Mark Rich amid suspicions that the pardon was in exchange for big campaign contributions and donations to the Clinton presidential library. 
Another example: If Trump pardons witnesses against him he could be charged with obstruction of justice, although some legal scholars like Trump toady Alan Dershowitz argue (wrongly, I believe) that official executive actions such as granting a pardon cannot in and of themselves be charged as obstruction of justice.   
They probably can still be pardoned. 
A plea agreement such as those signed by Cohen, Manafort and other flipees is basically a contract and could include a no-pardon condition, but that condition would be largely meaningless.   
Example: If Cohen had promised federal prosecutors in New York that he would reject a pardon from Trump for his own financial crimes and the president goes ahead and pardons him after he pleads guilty to those crimes, he could turn around and still accept the pardon.  Prosecutors could then void the plea agreement, they won't be able to prosecute Cohen for those crimes because he has been pardoned. 
Nobody knows because it's never been tested although as a breaker of so many norms, Trump may well be the first. 
Trump has claimed that "numerous legal scholars," including that douche bag Dershowitz, believe he has the absolute right to pardon himself, but most experts disagree.  In 1974, the Justice Department advised Nixon that a president may not pardon himself because, in essence, no one can be the judge and jury in his own case. 
Example: Trump's infamous hypothetical that he wouldn't lose support if he shot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and could pardon himself anyway.  He might be able to pardon himself, but still would be subject to a New York state prosecution for homicide. 
Incidentally, the flood of speculation following Rod Rosenstein's interview with the Wall Street Journal this week was expected, but shed no new light. 
The deputy attorney general, who appointed and is Mueller's boss because AG Jeff Sessions perjured himself into recusal on anything having to do with the Russia scandal, basically said three things: First, Mueller has turned up substantial evidence that Russia interfered with the 2016 election.  Second, that he has full confidence in Mueller.  Third, that Trump has full confidence in Mueller. 
The first and second are old news, while the third is a convenient lie since Trump continues to insist there was no interference and that Mueller's investigation is a witch hunt although it has resulted in indictments against 25 or so Russian witches. 
What would have been new news -- and really big new news, at that -- is if we learned whether Mueller has the evidence to charge Trump campaign perps with colluding with Vladimir Putin's cyberwarriors and whether he will recommend to Rosenstein that Congress be informed that Trump committed impeachable offenses.   
For that we will have to wait a little while longer.  

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