This will go totally meta — he’s going to deny having denied that he denied denying collusion. At some point, dude is going to deny having been Trump’s attorney / spokesperson / lacky. Then we’ll meander our way into a whole “je pense, donc je suis” discussion because maybe we don’t even exist at all. Bad debate tactic, but I’m coming to see Trump’s approach to public discourse like the guerilla warfare American Revolution approach to European combat tactics. Considered terrible form at the time, but effective as anything. Which, sadly, dictates that we’ll *all* be debating substantive topics by throwing baseless attacks, making shit up, and derailing the conversation with a heap of crazy.
A little more than a year ago, Trump somehow thought that associates being the subject of a judicially approved wiretap somehow exonerated him. This week, the fact the FBI had sufficient evidence that his campaign received and possibly sought the aid of foreign governments to place an informant in the campaign organization is meant to show how the whole investigation is FAKE NEWS. And, hell, for all we know someone who worked for the campaign heard about these meetings and reached out to the FBI to report it.
And he compares an FBI informant in his campaign to Watergate — where burglars broke into the DNC HQ office, installed listening devices in the phones, and then broke in again. Difference is *burglars* broke into the office and planted devices to intercept conversations (and broke in again to ‘repair’ their initial work). When the FBI uses informants, on the other hand, “special care is taken to carefully evaluate and closely supervise their use so the rights of individuals under investigation are not infringed. The FBI can only use informants consistent with specific guidelines issued by the attorney general that control the use of informants”. Which makes Trump’s claim another bit of ‘deep state’ paranoia.
It’s not unreasonable to conclude that evidence of the campaign’s interaction with foreign powers was discovered and prompted the investigation. Have the DoJ look into it and verify the FBI followed their internal policy, although that’s a bit of a stretch. Given the number of meetings with representatives of foreign governments the campaign took looking for campaign assistance, Trump’s assertion is a bit like a meth cook saying the whole system is corrupt as evidenced by the search warrant for his lab being signed off on by a judge.
The strangest bit of the whole assertion is that a deep state conspiracy to undermine Trump’s campaign would have been far more effective if it were announced prior to the election. After the fact, it’s pretty ineffective. Best case for an after-the-fact investigation is they manage to impede the process of governing until the next election cycle. The day before the last debate, publicize (or leak) news of this investigation? A day or two before the election?
It’ll convince the 30% who are out to prove Trump right on one matter — he could shoot someone on 5th Ave and still have their support.
The TL;DR summary of the Trump Tower meeting, by way of the Senate Committee testimony, seems to be “we wanted dirt on our opponent to help win the election, and were right eager to accept said help from Russia but this meeting failed to provide what we wanted to procure”. Which, as far as defenses go … not a great one.
While one is not meant to consider the ramification of a legal decision, Trump Jr’s testimony brings to mind prostitution sting operations. I would love to see the defendant claiming that they had not in fact engaged in an illegal activity. Sure they wanted to exchange money for sex. The sex was never provided; ipso facto the law was not broken. Case dismissed! Sorry to inconvenience you, upstanding citizen.
Reality and the Law, An Ongoing Saga
Some legal infractions are straight-forward. Speeding — there is empirical evidence that the vehicle which you were driving was moving at 63 miles per hour. The posted speed limit for the road, again empirical evidence, is 45. The line of questioning in this case may be “Were you speeding?”. It’s a lot quicker than asking what speed you were travelling, what the speed limit is on the road, and if your speed exceeded that limit.
Many infractions are not this distinct. Driving too fast for road conditions — that’s a matter of opinion. In fact, a decent argument could be made that someone involved in *most* traffic accidents was driving too fast for road conditions. I had a friend wipe out his motorbike on highway gravel. He was abraded but fine. A cop drove by as he was righting his motorbike, and stopped to help. Eighteen year old kid with a grudge against pretty much everyone mouthed off to the cop sufficiently to be cited for driving too fast for road conditions. Because gravel? That’s a road condition.
Collusion and obstruction of justice both fall into the “not clear cut” category. An unemployed guy notices a business district has a problem with vandalism and offers to patrol the street from 8p-6a for ten dollars an hour because they seem to have a vandal problem. That’s not extortion or racketeering — that’s someone who needs work offering to provide a service someone else needs. An unemployed guy starts vandalizing the business district, then offers to patrol the street from 8p-6a for ten dollars an hour because they seem to have a vandal problem … that’s a protection racket. The prosecution may not directly ask “are you running a protection racket?”. They could delve into how the guy noticed the vandalism problem on multiple occasions, ask questions show how desperate he was for money, ask the guy where he was during the vandalism. That line of questioning doesn’t mean the prosecution doesn’t think he’s running a protection racket. It means they’re asking questions that address all of what differentiates the perfectly innocent first scenario from the criminal second scenario.
In the NYTimes list of questions Mueller is said to have for Trump, there’s a whole section titled “Campaign Coordination With Russia”. Surely not Mueller’s title, but how can anyone reading this list say there are “no questions on collusion”? Because the word doesn’t literally appear!?!
Technicalities of Legalities
Anyone else glad the head of the Executive Office of the United States has such a firm grasp on the law?
Obstruction of justice is corrupt interference in the proceedings or people serving at a proceeding from doing his duty. Nowhere in the US Code does it say “assuming, of course, the proceeding leads to a conviction”. If you are found guilty of a crime you didn’t commit, sentenced to five years in jail, escape jail, are subsequently found to be innocent and your initial conviction vacated … you can still be charged with escaping jail and sentenced to jail time for the offense. Now you might get time served, or a reduced sentence … but you still committed the crime of escaping the jail when incarcerated. Same deal-e-o here. If I didn’t commit a crime but was being investigated, and tried to influence witnesses or stop police from investigating the non-crime … that is a crime.
18 U.S.C. § 1503: “Whoever corruptly, or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication, endeavors to influence, intimidate, or impede any grand or petit juror, or officer in or of any court of the United States, or officer who may be serving at any examination or other proceeding before any United States magistrate judge or other committing magistrate, in the discharge of his duty, or injures any such grand or petit juror in his person or property on account of any verdict or indictment assented to by him, or on account of his being or having been such juror, or injures any such officer, magistrate judge, or other committing magistrate in his person or property on account of the performance of his official duties, or corruptly or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication, influences, obstructs, or impedes, or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice, shall be punished as provided in subsection (b). If the offense under this section occurs in connection with a trial of a criminal case, and the act in violation of this section involves the threat of physical force or physical force, the maximum term of imprisonment which may be imposed for the offense shall be the higher of that otherwise provided by law or the maximum term that could have been imposed for any offense charged in such case.”
The Truth Is Out There
Hey, they *track* where aircraft go. Darn deep-state retroactively hacking into FAA data archived on third party sites to make Trump look bad! Turns out Trump was technically honest in telling Comey that he didn’t sleep in Moscow after the pagent – had the plane leave that night! No one asked about the night or two previous to the padgent.
I’ve pondered Trump’s ability to lie all.the.time without consequence – and it seems (to me) to hinge on the difference between “I outsmarted you” lying and “we’re all in on this one” lying. Will lying to an FBI agent be deemed OK because he’s part of this deep state out to get Trump? Will lying to the public to cover his own posterior be deemed OK because ‘the media’ (liberals, East coast elites) are out to get Trump? Will “they’re out to get me, so I had to lie” be a new class of falsehood approved by his supporters?
Those who still do not know history …
Having been a teen asking for a motorbike when she really wanted to go to a concert, I understand the negotiating tactic where one asks for something outright silly with the intent of giving oneself “negotiating room” (i.e. if you ask for what you want, compromise means not getting what you want). Joanna Hendon requests that the president review documents seized from Cohen’s office and hand over anything he considers unprivileged.
First of all, a guy who thinks a conversation having a lawyer involved instantaneously creates a privilege situation is obviously unqualified to evaluate the privileged nature of documents. Also, way to make the ostensible President of the country seem like he’s got heaps-o time on his hands that can be spent in, say, depositions.
But beyond that, didn’t Nixon talk A.G. Elliot Richardson into something similar. Nixon would summarize the tapes and have Sen Stennis (not exactly an unbiased third party) listen to the tapes and verify nothing of substance had been omitted. Cox didn’t agree, and I’m sure Judge Wood will similarly find the proposal outlandish. A third party review, or a third party in conjunction with the taint team, is possible. It’s called answering a subpoena if you review documents and hand over what you think matches the request and isn’t privileged.
Almost a year ago, everyone knew some primary challenger funded opposition research, terminated the contract when Trump secured the nomination, and then someone on the Democratic side picked up the tab to continue research. We got names to go with it last week, and somehow that was meant to indicate Clinton colluded with Russia. Or something. Alternative logic using alternative facts really isn’t my thing.
And then we were treated to the criminal collusion of … half a dozen disparate government agencies approving the sale of domestic uranium resources (with a stipulation against export, although if a gun law wouldn’t stop a mass shooting … I guess export restrictions wouldn’t stop a nuc either).
And for a short time this morning, I thought they were a distraction from Manafort’s indictment. But it didn’t make sense – for one, the due was warned some time ago. I guess he expected a three day countdown warning or something, but it wasn’t a secret that something was coming against him.
Then the Justice Department slipped a plea agreement into their filing database. A plea agreement with a Trump campaign official who lied to the FBI about attempting to collude with the Russian government to support Trump’s campaign. Shortly before Jr & co met with the ‘totally not Kremlin connected Russian lawyer’ about ‘adoptions that totally had nothing to do with American policy related to Russia’.
Reading through the plea agreement (https://www.justice.gov/file/1007341/download) … the offense level is 4, which (baring the chap having a prodigious criminal history) is a 0-6 month sentence with the possibility of fines up to 10k. Not a bad deal for a crime that yield up to five years imprisonment *and* 250k in fines. Total speculation on my part, but I think he’s agreed to testify against someone notable.
Read an interesting take on Mueller’s coordination with NY AG Schneiderman: Trump might manage to shut down Mueller’s investigation (or enough Republicans may OK the 6 month time limit). Justice can suppress documents from the investigation (or oopse them), but it would be a gross abuse of federal power to confiscate (or even assume to control the release of) investigative materials in possession of the NY AG.
Which isn’t to say Trump & co wouldn’t *try* … but something not a lot of Americans seem to know about the lead up to the Revolutionary war: there was quite a bit of debate in Parliament about the same grievances the American colonialists had. Not because Britons had some altruistic concern for the socio-political well-being of Colonials, but if some set of offensive rules apply to THOSE crown citizens today, what is to stop them from applying to ME tomorrow? Point being – it’s one thing to treat women horrendously, screw over poor people, take the David Duke approach to race relations. But if the feds can come in and overrule state criminal investigations in NY today … well, here’s hoping people who like to prance around screaming about states rights have some line they aren’t OK with Trump crossing.
On Firing People
The new press guy @ the White House told the press he was planning Michael Short, and then seemed dismayed that the press somehow knew the fellow was being fired before it happened. Goofy, really, but not the worst thing the Trump admin’s going to do this week. What struck me, though, is the way Scaramucci expressed his displeasure. “The fact that you guys know about it before he does really upsets me as a human being and as a Roman Catholic. You got that? So I should have the opportunity if I have to let somebody go to let the person go in a very humane, dignified way”.
Not saying I disagree with him – there are some things that should be done in person and without previous publicity. There’s a reason victims names are withheld until family is notified. There’s a reason texting someone to break up with them has such a bad reputation. And there’s a reason that James Comey delivering a speech while seeing his termination broadcast on national television was such a horrifying way to fire someone. The juxtaposition made Scaramucci’s complaint extra ironic.