Checking Robert Mueller

The sentencing judge brings to light dodgy FBI conduct in the Mike Flynn case.

Robert Mueller has operated for 19 months as a law unto himself, reminding us of the awesome and destructive powers of special counsels. About the only possible check on Mr. Mueller is a judge who is wise to the tricks of prosecutors and investigators. Good news: That’s what we got this week.

.. The agents (including the infamous Peter Strzok) showed up within two hours. They had already decided not to inform Mr. Flynn that they had transcripts of his conversations or give him the standard warning against lying to the FBI. They wanted him “relaxed” and “unguarded.” Former Director James Comey this weekend bragged on MSNBC that he would never have “gotten away” with such a move in a more “organized” administration.

.. The whole thing stinks of entrapment, though the curious question was how the Flynn defense team got the details. The court filing refers to a McCabe memo written the day of the 2017 meeting, as well as an FBI summary—known as a 302—of the Flynn interview. These are among documents congressional Republicans have been fighting to obtain for more than a year, only to be stonewalled by the Justice Department. Now we know why the department didn’t want them public.

.. They have come to light thanks to a man who knows well how men like Messrs. Mueller and Comey operate: Judge Sullivan. He sits on the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia, and as he wrote for the Journal last year, he got a “wake-up call” in 2008 while overseeing the trial of then-Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska. Judge Sullivan ultimately assigned a lawyer to investigate Justice Department misconduct.
.. The investigator’s report found prosecutors had engaged in deliberate and repeated ethical violations, withholding key evidence from the defense. It also excoriated the FBI for failing to write up 302s and for omitting key facts from those it did write. The head of the FBI was Mr. Mueller.
.. Judge Sullivan has since made it his practice to begin every case with a Brady order, which reminds prosecutors of their constitutional obligation to provide the defense with any exculpatory evidence. On Dec. 12, 2017, days after being assigned the Flynn case, Judge Sullivan issued such an order, instructing Mr. Mueller’s team to turn over “any evidence in its possession that is favorable to defendant and material either to defendant’s guilt or punishment.” Had any other judge drawn the case, we likely would never have seen these details of the FBI’s behavior.

It’s clear that something has concerned the judge—who likely sees obvious parallels to the Stevens case. The media was predicting a quick ruling in the Flynn case. Instead, Judge Sullivan issued new orders Wednesday, demanding to see for himself the McCabe memo and the Flynn 302. He also ordered the special counsel to hand over by Friday any other documents relevant to the Flynn-FBI meeting.

.. Given his history with the FBI, the judge may also have some questions about the curious date on the Flynn 302—Aug. 22, 2017, seven months after the interview. Texts from Mr. Strzok and testimony from Mr. Comey both suggest the 302 was written long before then. Was the 302 edited in the interim? If so, by whom, and at whose direction? FBI officials initially testified to Congress that the agents did not think Mr. Flynn had lied.

Judges have the ability to reject plea deals and require a prosecutor to make a case at trial. The criminal-justice system isn’t only about holding defendants accountable; trials also provide oversight of investigators and their tactics. And judges are not obliged to follow prosecutors’ sentencing recommendations.

No one knows how Judge Sullivan will rule. His reputation is for being no-nonsense, a straight shooter, an advocate of government transparency. Whatever the outcome, he has done the nation a favor by using his Brady order to hold prosecutors to some account and allow the country a glimpse at how federal law enforcement operates. Which is the very least the country can expect.

 

Mueller follows the money trail

Over the past year, this tactic has become pervasive: defending [President] Trump by arguing that it’s actually the president who is the victim of a conspiracy and whipping up whatever evidence is at hand to bolster that claim.

.. It is not just buffoonish efforts, such as when Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) made-up an “unmasking” scandal or teased a release of his own memo. No, actual grown-ups are at it now, too. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), a former business executive, sees no problem fanning the flames

.. “Even though Trump has attempted to distance himself from Sater, his former business partner will likely continue to emerge in the context of compromising past deals and tarnish Trump’s reputation.”

.. There is also an additional financial connection between Donald Trump and the Kazakh officials. The New Yorker reported that in March 2012, a month after Ablyazov fled from the U.K. to avoid a 22-month prison sentence, Trump traveled to Georgia to announce a licensing deal for a development in the Black Sea town of Batumi. The Silk Road Group, a Kazakh real estate developer financed by BTA, paid Trump $1 million dollars to attend a press tour promoting the partnership.

.. the FBI — which remember arguably made the difference in Trump’s favor with release of a letter concerning Hillary Clinton’s emails 11 days before the 2016 election

Donald Trump Will Soil You. Ask Lindsey Graham.

One day it’s all sun and sycophantic fun on one of the president’s fancy golf courses, where you’re telling yourself that to marvel at his putts and swoon over his swing are small prices for influence and will pay off in the end.

.. That’s the story of Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Its moral couldn’t be clearer. There’s no honor or wisdom in cozying up to Donald Trump — just a heap of manure.

.. Maybe more than any other figure on Capitol Hill, Graham personifies his party’s spastic, incoherent, humiliating response to Trump across time and its fatally misguided surrender.

He denounced Trump before he befriended and defended him. He graduated from the unpleasant experience of being Trump’s punching bag to the unprincipled one of being his enabler. Like the majority of his Republican colleagues in Congress, he reckoned that he could somehow get more than he was giving up, which included his dignity. He reckoned wrong.

.. It was Graham who recently joined Senator Charles Grassley, the Iowa Republican, in undercutting the credibility of federal inquiries into Trump’s ties with Russia by recommending that the Justice Department investigate Christopher Steele

.. Did Graham tell himself then that he was craftily staying in Trump’s good graces so that he could coax the president toward saner, better immigration policy?

.. when Senator Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, and David Perdue, a Georgia Republican, strenuously disputed the initial accounts that Trump said “shithole” in the Oval Office, it was not because his talk was actually statesmanlike. No, they heard him fume about immigrants from “shithouse countries” rather than “shithole countries,” and in that scintilla of semantic difference they found a rationale for muddying the waters and rallying around the president.

.. During the campaign, Graham blasted Trump as the “world’s biggest jackass,” said that the way to make America great again was to “tell Donald Trump to go to hell” and described the choice of Trump versus Ted Cruz for the Republican presidential nomination as a decision whether to be “shot or poisoned.”

.. A fervent champion of national security, he gave Trump a pass for making light of Russian interference in an American election.

.. He sternly reprimanded the media for calling the president “some kind of kook.” Oops! He had hung that same label on Trump,

.. But it’s reckless folly, because it doesn’t take Trump’s creeping authoritarianism, his instability, his degradation of the presidency and, yes, his racism into full account. To flatter him is to sanitize and encourage all of that.

It’s Been an Open Secret All Along

The scandal of Michael Wolff’s new book isn’t its salacious details—it’s that everyone in Washington has known its key themes, and refused to act

But “it was an open secret” now properly seems a broadened indictment, of all those who quietly let him get away with it, rather than an excuse.

The details in Michael Wolff’s new book Fire and Fury make it unforgettable, and potentially historic. We’ll see how many of them fully stand up, and in what particulars, but even at a heavy discount, it’s a remarkable tale.

.. His functional vocabulary is markedly smaller than it was 20 years ago; the oldest person ever to begin service in the White House, he is increasingly prone to repeat anecdotes and phrases. He is aswirl in foreign and financial complications. He has ignored countless norms of modern governance, from the expectation of financial disclosure to the importance of remaining separate from law-enforcement activities. He relies on immediate family members to an unusual degree; he has an exceptionally thin roster of experienced advisers and assistants

.. He views all events through the prism of whether they make him look strong and famous, and thus he is laughably susceptible to flattering treatment from the likes of Putin and Xi Jinping abroad or courtiers at home.

.. nearly 11 million more Americans voted against Trump last year than for him, including the three million more who voted for Hillary Clinton. (The rest were for Gary Johnson, who got nearly 4.5 million; Jill Stein, with nearly 1.5 million; Evan McMullin, with about 700,000; and a million-plus write-ins.)

.. They understand—or most of them do—the damage he can do to a system of governance that relies to a surprising degree on norms rather than rules

.. The failure of responsibility starts with Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, but it doesn’t end with them. Every member of a bloc-voting majority shares responsibility for not acting on their version of the open secret. “Independent” Republicans like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski share it. “Thoughtful” ones, like Ben Sasse and Jeff Flake.

.. When they vote as a majority against strong investigations, against subpoenas, against requirements for financial disclosure, and most of all against protecting Robert Mueller and his investigation, they share complicity in the open secret.

.. We are watching the political equivalent of the Weinstein board paying off the objects of his abuse. We are watching Fox pay out its tens of millions to O’Reilly’s victims. But we’re watching it in real time, with the secret shared worldwide, and the stakes immeasurably higher.

Donald Trump Goes Full Fredo

But unlike the Godfather character, the president of the United States is backed by powerful people enabling him.

.. The Corleone family had the awareness and vigilance to exclude Fredo from power. The American political system did not do so well.

.. Until now, Trump’s worst moments have occurred behind closed doors, and have become known to the public only second-hand, leaked by worried officials, aides, and advisers. Yesterday and today, we have seen a Trump temper-tantrum in real time on Twitter

.. the most important moment in Wolff’s book are words attributed at second or third-hand to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at the time of Donald Trump’s election. “He will sign anything we put in front of him.”

.. Who and what Donald Trump is has been known to everyone and anyone who cared to know for years and decades.

  • Before he was president, he was the country’s leading racist conspiracy theorist.
  • Before he was the country’s leading racist conspiracy theorist, he was a celebrity gameshow host.
  • Before he was a celebrity gameshow host, he was the multi-bankrupt least trusted name in real estate.
  • Before he was the multi-bankrupt least trusted name in real estate, he was the protege of Roy Cohn’s repeatedly accused of ties to organized crime.

.. Instead, since he announced his candidacy in mid-2015, Donald Trump has been enabled and protected.

The enabling and protecting not only continues. It accelerates.

.. The Senate Judiciary committee—the Senate Judiciary Committee! The committee that oversees the proper enforcement of the law!—formally filed a criminal referral with the Department of Justice against Christopher Steele, the author of the infamous dossier about Trump’s Russia connections. The referral was signed by the committee’s chairman, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, without even notice to Democrats on the committee, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said; a startling abuse of majority status and a sharp departure from the norms of the Senate, especially a 51-49 Senate.

.. It’s ominous, however, that on the very same day, the FBI obeyed Trump’s repeated demands and reopened a long-closed criminal investigation into the Clinton Foundation.

.. the important thing about Trump is not the man; it’s the system of power surrounding the man.

.. What sustains Trump now is the support of people who know what he is, but back him anyway.

Republican political elites who know him for what he is, but who back him because they believe they can control and use him;

conservative media elites who sense what he is, but who delight in the cultural wars he provokes;

rank-and-file conservatives who care more about their grievances and hatreds than the governance of the country.

.. he is indeed the “very stable genius” he claims to be: Trump understands how to mobilize hatred and resentment to his own advantage and profit. He has risen higher than Joe McCarthy or Charles Lindbergh or Theodore Bilbo—and he has lasted already nearly a full year in office, holding the approval of one-third of the country

.. without the complicity of other power-holders, Trump would drop from his central position like a tooth from a rotten gum. What we need to do now is widen the camera angle beyond Fredo Trump to the hard-faced men and women over his shoulders. Those are the people who put Trump where he is, and keep him there, corrupting the institutions of American democracy and troubling the peace and security of the world.

 

The Grand Obstructionist Party

The Republican establishment is running tighter cover for Trump over historically scandalous and likely criminal actions than the man who stood by Trump, and later Roy Moore, after learning they were sexual predators. Party leaders view allegations of legal wrongdoing against Trump not as a potential problem for their party and the country, but as a kind of betrayal of Trump himself. If and when full documentation of his crimes emerges, they will go to great lengths to make sure he faces no repercussions.

Wednesday’s bombshells were more clarifying than revolutionary, particularly for discerning news consumers.

.. When the rest of the right wing was advancing the notion that the Russia investigation was phony and rigged, some anonymous figure “close to the administration” called the investigation “a classic Gambino-style roll-up,” that will “reach everyone in this administration.”

.. Perhaps for fear that Bannon is right, Republicans have tried to discredit Mueller and end his probe. Two particularly Bannnonesque Republicans, Mark Meadows, and Jim Jordan, published an op-ed on Thursday putting forth a flimsy pretext for firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, so that he can be replaced with a new Attorney General who will fire Mueller.

.. With Paul Ryan’s blessing, the House Intelligence Committee is now fully dedicated to running counter-ops against Mueller and the FBI, and has breached their investigation

.. not a single Republican, including himself, has put anything like the same kind of effort into stopping Trump’s unprecedented corruption, or defend the integrity of the Russia investigation. At this point, if any of them tried, they’d stand a good chance of being driven out of the party for venturing “off the reservation” in much the same way Bannon was.

Faust on the Potomac

Trump is morally and intellectually incapable of being president. He has also exploited his office for personal gain, obstructed justice, and colluded with a hostile foreign power. Everyone who doesn’t get their news from Fox has basically known this for a while, although Wolff helps focus our minds on the subject.

.. Republicans in Congress are dealing with this national nightmare: rather than distancing themselves from Trump, they’re doubling down on their support and, in particular, on their efforts to cover for his defects and crimes.

Remember when Paul Ryan was the Serious, Honest Conservative?

.. Now he’s backing Devin Nunes in his efforts to help the Trump coverup.

.. Republicans have become the Grand Obstruction Party. Why?

The answer, I think, is that the cynical bargain that has been the basis of Republican strategy since Reagan has now turned into a moral trap

.. The cynical bargain I’m talking about, of course, was the decision to exploit racism to advance a right-wing economic agenda.

.. For more than a generation, the Republican establishment was able to keep this bait-and-switch under control: racism was deployed to win elections, then was muted afterwards, partly to preserve plausible deniability, partly to focus on the real priority of enriching the one percent.

.. But with Trump they lost control: the base wanted someone who was blatantly racist and wouldn’t pretend to be anything else.

.. just about everyone in the Republican establishment decided that they could work with that.

.. were willing to overlook it as long as they could push their usual agenda.

.. They guessed, correctly, that this wouldn’t be a problem: Trump didn’t even hesitate about abandoning all his campaign promises and going all in for cutting taxes on the rich while slashing benefits for the poor.

.. some speculated that this would be a temporary alliance – that establishment Republicans would use Trump to get what they wanted, then turn on him. But it’s now clear that won’t happen.

.. Republicans, far from cutting him loose, are tying themselves even more closely to his fate. Why?

.. Trump’s very awfulness means that if he falls, the whole party will fall with him.

.. Republicans could conceivably distance themselves from a president who turned out to be a bad manager, or even one who turned out to have engaged in small-time corruption. But when the corruption is big time, and it’s combined with obstruction of justice and collaboration with Putin, nobody will notice which Republicans were a bit less involved, a bit less obsequious, than others.

..  now have the Republican party as a whole fully complicit in Trump’s crimes

.. expecting the GOP to exercise any oversight or constrain Trump in any way is just foolish at this point. Massive electoral defeat – massive enough to overwhelm gerrymandering and other structural advantages of the right – is the only way out.