many of us who write about Russia professionally, or who are Russian, have struggled to square what we know with the emerging narrative. In this story, Russia waged a sophisticated and audacious operation to subvert American elections and install a President of its choice—it pulled off a coup. Tell that to your average American liberal, and you’ll get a nod of recognition. Tell it to your average Russian liberal (admittedly a much smaller category), and you’ll get uproarious laughter. Russians know that their state lacks the competence to mount a sophisticated sabotage effort, that the Kremlin was even more surprised by Trump’s election than was the candidate himself, and that Russian-American relations are at their most dysfunctional since the height of the Cold War. And yet the indictments keep coming.
.. I mean that I’ve figured out how to think about what we know and not go crazy. The answer lies in the concept of the Mafia state. (And, no, I’m not invoking the Mob because Stone encouraged an associate to behave like a character from “The Godfather Part II,” as detailed in his indictment.)
As journalists who usually cover American politics have connected the dots of the story of Russian interference, those of us who normally write about Russia have cringed. Early on, it was common to point out that Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, who is now under arrest, worked for Viktor Yanukovych, who is often characterized as the “pro-Russian President of Ukraine.” In fact, there was no love lost between Putin and Yanukovych. After he was run out of town, during the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, Yanukovych did seek refuge in Russia, but during his tenure as President he was an unreliable partner for Putin at best. Perhaps more to the point, he’s a crook and a brute. He served time for robbery and assault before he became a politician, and he is wanted in Ukraine for treason, mass murder, and embezzlement. A visitor to Ukraine can take a tour of Yanukovych’s palace, famous for its marble, crystal, immense scale, and a life-size solid-gold sculpture of a loaf of bread. Manafort made a career of working for the corrupt and the crooked. That in itself tells us little about Russia or its role in the 2016 campaign.
.. In media coverage, her e-mailing with a lawyer in the Russian prosecutor’s office was portrayed as evidence of a direct line to Putin, suggesting that she met with Trump’s campaign officials as his emissary. To me, it read as a lot of bluster on the part of a minor operator. From all the available evidence, and contrary to her sales pitch, Veselnitskaya did not have any dirt to offer on Hillary Clinton. To the extent that Veselnitskaya had established connections to high-level Russian officials, they were the kind that are necessary for a lawyer to be at all effective in a corrupt system.
.. We cringed at the characterization of the Russian online influence campaign as “sophisticated” and “vast”: Russian reporting on the matter—the best available—convincingly portrayed the troll operation as small-time and ridiculous. It was, it seems, fraudulent in every way imaginable: it perpetrated fraud on American social networks, creating fake accounts and events and spreading falsehoods, but it was also fraudulent in its relationship to whoever was funding it, because surely crudely designed pictures depicting Hillary Clinton as Satan could not deliver anyone’s money’s worth.
What we are observing is not most accurately described as the subversion of American democracy by a hostile power. Instead, it is an attempt at state capture by an international crime syndicate. What unites Yanukovych, Veselnitskaya, Manafort, Stone, WikiLeaks’s Julian Assange, the Russian troll factory, the Trump campaign staffer George Papadopoulos and his partners in crime, the “Professor” (whose academic credentials are in doubt), and the “Female Russian National” (who appears to have fraudulently presented herself as Putin’s niece) is that they are all crooks and frauds. This is not a moral assessment, or an attempt to downplay their importance. It is an attempt to stop talking in terms of states and geopolitics and begin looking at Mafias and profits.
The Hungarian sociologist Bálint Magyar, who created the concept of the “post-Communist mafia state,” has just finished editing a new collection of articles called “Stubborn Structures: Reconceptualizing Post-Communist Regimes” (to be published by C.E.U. Press early this year). In one of his own pieces in the collection, using Russia as an example, Magyar describes the Mafia state as one run by a “patron” and his “court”—put another way, the boss and his clan—who appropriate public resources and the institutions of the state for their private use and profit. When I talked to Magyar on the phone on Monday, he told me that Trump is “like a Mafia boss without a Mafia. Trump cannot transform the United States into a Mafia state, of course, but he still acts like a Mafia boss.” Putin, on the other hand, “is a Mafia boss with a real Mafia, which has turned the whole state into a criminal state.” Still, he said, “the behavior at the top is the same.”
The Mafia state is efficient in its own way. It does not take over all state institutions, but absorbs only the ones necessary for extracting profit. Some structures therefore continue to work as though they were part of a normal state. This may explain why we saw the official Russian foreign-policy establishment preparing, in the lead-up to the 2016 election, for a working relationship with the presumed Hillary Clinton Administration.
When we think about a normal state, Magyar told me, “the assumption is that the state acts in the public interest, and if that doesn’t happen, that’s a deviation.” That is true of how we think about democracies but also, to a large extent, of how we think about dictatorships as well: the dictator positions himself as the arbiter and sole representative of the national interest. A Mafia state, on the other hand, acts only in the personal profit-seeking interests of the clan. “That’s not a deviation,” Magyar said. “It’s a substantive, structural characteristic of the state. The state itself, at the top, works as a criminal organization.”
When members of the American media cover the story of Russian meddling, they implicitly portray Russia as a normal state, and the influence operation as an undertaking of the state aimed at furthering Russia’s national interests. This strikes Russians as absurd. By the measure of national interest, the Trump Presidency has been disappointing for Russia. Most of what Trump has given the Russian state has come through inaction:
- he has barely reacted to continued Russian aggression in Ukraine;
- he has failed to support nato; and
- he has said that the U.S. will withdraw from Syria, although it looks like the withdrawal is unlikely to be fast or total.
At the same time, diplomatic relations between Russia and the U.S. have deteriorated to the point of near-total dysfunction, and, despite considerable foot-dragging by the White House, the U.S. has continued to impose new sanctions on Russia.
By the metrics of a Mafia state, though, the Trump Presidency has yielded great results for Russia. A Mafia boss craves respect, loyalty, and perceived power. Trump’s deference to Putin and the widespread public perception of Putin’s influence over Trump have lifted Putin’s stature beyond what I suspect could have been his wildest dreams. As happens in a Mafia state, most of the benefit accrues to the patron personally. But some of the profit goes to the clan. Over the weekend, we learned that the Treasury Department has lifted sanctions on companies that belong to Oleg Deripaska, a member of Putin’s “court” who once lent millions of dollars to Manafort. If a ragtag team employed by or otherwise connected to the Russian Mafia state tried to aid a similar collection of crooks and frauds to elect Trump—as it increasingly looks like they did—then the Deripaska news helps explain their motivations. The story is not that Putin is masterminding a vast and brilliant attack on Western democracy. The story, it appears, is that the Russian Mafia state is cultivating profit-yielding relationships with the aspiring Mafia boss of the U.S. and his band of crooks, subverting democratic institutions in the process.
Worried their chance to cement a conservative majority on the Supreme Court could slip away, a growing number of evangelical and anti-abortion leaders are expressing frustration that Senate Republicans and the White House are not protecting Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh more forcefully from a sexual assault allegation and warning that conservative voters may stay home in November if his nomination falls apart.
Several of these leaders, including ones with close ties to the White House and Senate Republicans, are urging Republicans to move forward with a confirmation vote imminently unless the woman who accused Judge Kavanaugh of sexual assault, Christine Blasey Ford, agrees to share her story with the Senate Judiciary Committee within the next few days.
The evangelical leaders’ pleas are, in part, an attempt to apply political pressure: Some of them are warning that religious conservatives may feel little motivation to vote in the midterm elections unless Senate Republicans move the nomination out of committee soon and do more to defend Judge Kavanaugh from what they say is a desperate Democratic ploy to prevent President Trump from filling future court vacancies.
“One of the political costs of failing to confirm Brett Kavanaugh is likely the loss of the United States Senate,” said Ralph Reed, the founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition who is in frequent contact with the White House.
“If Republicans were to fail to defend and confirm such an obviously and eminently qualified and decent nominee,” Mr. Reed added, “then it will be very difficult to motivate and energize faith-based and conservative voters in November.”
The evangelist Franklin Graham, one of Mr. Trump’s most unwavering defenders, told the Christian Broadcasting Network this week, “I hope the Senate is smarter than this, and they’re not going to let this stop the process from moving forward and confirming this man.”
Social conservatives are already envisioning a worst-case scenario related to Judge Kavanaugh, and they say it is not a remote one. Republican promises to shift the Supreme Court further to the right — which just a few days ago seemed like a fait accompli — have been one of the major reasons conservatives say they are willing to tolerate an otherwise dysfunctional Republican-controlled government. If Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination fails, and recent political history is any guide, voters will most likely point the finger not at Mr. Trump but at Republican lawmakers.
.. The reason the prospect of Judge Kavanaugh’s defeat is so alarming to conservatives is that they fear he could be the last shot at reshaping the nation’s highest court for years. If Republicans were to lose control of the Senate, where they hold a 51-to-49 majority, in November, Mr. Trump would find it difficult to get anyone confirmed before the end of the year. Even if Senate leaders were able to schedule hearings and hold a vote, there could be defections from Republican senators uneasy about using a lame duck session to ram through a lifetime appointment that would tip the court’s ideological balance.
.. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Dallas and one of Mr. Trump’s most vocal evangelical supporters, said he did not know who was telling the truth, Judge Kavanaugh or Dr. Blasey. “But I can say with absolute certainty,” he added, “that the Democrats don’t care who is telling the truth. Their only interest is in delaying and derailing this confirmation.”
.. The importance of the Supreme Court to the Trump White House and the Republican Party is difficult to overstate. Mr. Trump has heralded Justice Neil M. Gorsuch and Judge Kavanaugh, his two Supreme Court nominees, as crowning achievements in an otherwise uneven presidency.
.. Conservative groups have spent tens of millions of dollars building the men up as legal luminaries, gentleman scholars and the fulfillment of Mr. Trump’s campaign promise to nominate judges who have “a record of applying the Constitution just as it was written,”
.. A relatively smooth, predictable confirmation fight has also been a key part of Republicans’ strategy to keep the Senate. In the 10 states that Mr. Trump won where Democratic senators are up for re-election, Republicans have attacked Democrats for either opposing the judge or remaining noncommittal.
.. some are also arguing that they cannot be indifferent and insensitive to a victim.
.. But many conservatives see little use in being deferential when, they argue, the Democrats play by no such rules. They look back at the failed confirmation of the Republican nominee Robert Bork in 1987, whose writings on civil rights were picked over by Democrats, and the 1991 hearings for Clarence Thomas, who faced testimony from Anita Hill that he had sexually harassed her, and they see a sophisticated and ruthless Democratic machine bent on discrediting their nominees.
.. “Republicans are right, as a moral matter as well as a political matter, to take allegations of misbehavior like this seriously,” said Frank Cannon, president of the American Principles Project and a veteran social conservative strategist. “At the same time, we’ve seen anything and everything thrown at Republican Supreme Court nominees for decades,” he added, noting that Republicans have been slow to understand that Democrats are “playing by different rules.”
.. Privately, some conservatives were thrilled that Dr. Blasey and her lawyer have resisted the opportunity to testify in the Senate on Monday and demanded instead that the F.B.I. first investigate her claims. That would be just enough, they said, to give Republicans the justification for moving forward without her. The Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, made clear on Wednesday that he would not postpone a hearing past Monday.
.. sets up a fight that Republicans could win in the Senate but might ultimately lose at the ballot box in November. The level of outrage could run so hot among Democrats, who would likely use every procedural and political tool at their disposal to delay confirmation, that it could provide even more fuel to an already energized liberal base.
.. “Given the confirmation theatrics, followed by this allegation that was held until the last moment, this could be seen as another partisan attack and could actually fuel conservative turnout,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.
.. Conservatives are likely to use protests and other forms of resistance to Judge Kavanaugh as a way to clarify for unmotivated Republican voters what Democratic control of the Senate means: a Trump-nominated Supreme Court justice would never be confirmed again.
“If Chuck Schumer is majority leader and Dianne Feinstein is chairman of the Judiciary Committee,” said Mr. Reed of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, “it will be open season on any Trump nominee to the federal bench at any level of the judiciary.”
Many agents who worked under him say this personality made him the perfect person to remake the bureau after the Sept. 11 attacks. Others chafed at his unrelenting style. A common criticism is that, after 12 years in office, he had filled the F.B.I.’s senior ranks with two types of people:
- big personalities whose naturally intense styles matched his, and
- those who ultimately submitted to his will.
It is not that he was uncaring; colleagues recall his compassion during difficult periods in their lives. Rather, he is focused — at the expense of nearly everything else — on the job.
“He didn’t care about internal politics. He doesn’t care about people’s reactions to things,” Ms. Arguedas said.
.. When Mr. Mueller learned that C.I.A. officers were waterboarding prisoners, locking them in coffins, chaining them to walls and keeping them awake for days, he famously ordered his F.B.I. agents not to participate.
For Democrats and human rights advocates, it was a laudatory but ultimately mealy-mouthed response. The F.B.I., after all, has the authority to investigate torture and prison abuses.
“Why did you not take more substantial steps to stop the interrogation techniques that your own F.B.I. agents were telling you were illegal?” Representative Robert Wexler, Democrat of Florida, asked in 2008.
For Mr. Mueller, the answer was obvious. The Justice Department had declared the C.I.A. tactics legal, and it was not his job to challenge that conclusion.
.. That may be why Mr. Mueller has allowed negotiations to drag on for more than eight months over whether Mr. Trump will sit for an interview. Forcing the issue with a subpoena would test the limits of executive power, and Mr. Mueller does not make such moves lightly.
- .. “He wants the public to believe he gave the president every opportunity to have his side heard.”
- .. She opposed a Justice Department policy shielding federal prosecutors from oversight by state ethics officials, and she suspected he felt the same way. But he refused to budge, even privately. “It’s an institution,” she said, “and you follow the rules.”
- .. He is heard from so infrequently that, when Robert De Niro and Kate McKinnon portrayed him on “Saturday Night Live,” neither even tried to mimic his voice. For someone who spent more than a decade in some of Washington’s most important jobs, Mr. Mueller is most often seen in brief archival video clips or old photographs.
. For someone who spent more than a decade in some of Washington’s most important jobs, Mr. Mueller is most often seen in brief archival video clips or old photographs.
.. A less splashy finale suits Mr. Mueller. He likes letting documents do the talking, and as a prosecutor and F.B.I. director, colleagues said, he regularly excised hyperbole or flourish from his prepared public comments.
.. One of the defining moments of his F.B.I. tenure came in 2004, when Mr. Mueller and the deputy attorney general, James B. Comey, raced to the hospital room of the ailing attorney general, John Ashcroft.
.. When Mr. Mueller next appeared before Congress, Democrats had to claw to extract even the barest confirmation from Mr. Mueller. “I don’t dispute what Mr. Comey says,” he said bluntly. Mr. Mueller had a powerful political story but went to great lengths to avoid fueling the fight.
.. “I guess it covered very generally what had happened in the moments before,” Mr. Mueller said, not giving an inch.
“And what had happened in the moments before?”
“Well, again,” Mr. Mueller said, “I resist getting into conversations.”
That moment revealed not only Mr. Mueller’s reluctance to be drawn into a political fight, but also the contrast with Mr. Comey, who would succeed him at the F.B.I. While the two men share mutual respect, friends say the two have never been personally close — despite Mr. Trump’s efforts to paint them as such. Among their biggest differences, Mr. Comey was at ease in the limelight and made contentious decisions in the name of transparency during the investigation of Hillary Clinton.
.. Mr. Mueller has always preferred to let others do the talking. If, as special counsel, he unearths evidence that Mr. Trump committed a crime, former colleagues say they are certain he will try to hold Mr. Trump accountable. But if the evidence is not clear cut, they say, he will not feel compelled to tell a story just because it involves the president.
.. Mr. Pistole and others said they had no doubt that Mr. Mueller was bothered by Mr. Trump’s tweets accusing the F.B.I. and the Justice Department — two agencies he dedicated his life to — of being part of a “deep state” working against his presidency.
As for the president’s remarks about Mr. Mueller and his team personally? “I wouldn’t be surprised if he is somewhat unconscious about all of this,” Ms. Haag said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it was in one ear and out the other.”
- .. Mr. Mueller has shown that he is interested in investigating Mr. Trump’s tweets when they might be evidence of a crime. Everything else is just background noise.
“He’s going to find out what there is to find out, and he’s going to say it in the most straightforward, neutral way possible,” Ms. Arguedas said. “And then he’s going to walk away, because his job will be done. He won’t go on any talk shows, and he won’t write a book.”
Robin DiAngelo has noticed that white people are sensationally, histrionically bad at discussing racism.
.. their reactions form predictable patterns: they will insist that they “were taught to treat everyone the same,” that they are “color-blind,” that they “don’t care if you are pink, purple, or polka-dotted.” They will point to friends and family members of color, a history of civil-rights activism, or a more “salient” issue, such as class or gender. They will shout and bluster. They will cry.
.. In 2011, DiAngelo coined the term “white fragility” to describe the disbelieving defensiveness .. particularly when they feel implicated in white supremacy.
.. Why, she wondered, did her feedback prompt such resistance, as if the mention of racism were more offensive than the fact or practice of it?
.. In a new book, “White Fragility,” DiAngelo attempts to explicate the phenomenon of white people’s paper-thin skin. She argues that our largely segregated society is set up to insulate whites from racial discomfort, so that they fall to pieces at the first application of stress—such as, for instance, when someone suggests that “flesh-toned” may not be an appropriate name for a beige crayon.
.. racial hierarchies tell white people that they are entitled to peace and deference
.. they lack the “racial stamina” to engage in difficult conversations. This leads them to respond to “racial triggers” .. “emotions such as anger, fear and guilt,” DiAngelo writes, “and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and withdrawal from the stress-inducing situation.”
.. “I have found that the only way to give feedback without triggering white fragility is not to give it at all,” she remarks wryly
.. She finds that the social costs for a black person in awakening the sleeping dragon of white fragility often prove so high that many black people don’t risk pointing out discrimination when they see it.
.. And the expectation of “white solidarity”—white people will forbear from correcting each other’s racial missteps, to preserve the peace—makes genuine allyship elusive. White fragility holds racism in place.
.. “I believe,” she writes, “that white progressives cause the most daily damage to people of color.” Not only do these people fail to see their complicity, but they take a self-serving approach to ongoing anti-racism efforts: “To the degree that white progressives think we have arrived, we will put our energy into making sure that others see us as having arrived.”
.. white people cling to the notion of racial innocence, a form of weaponized denial that positions black people as the “havers” of race and the guardians of racial knowledge. Whiteness, on the other hand, scans as invisible, default, a form of racelessness. “Color blindness,” the argument that race shouldn’t matter, prevents us from grappling with how it does.
.. assumptions that prop up racist beliefs without our realizing it. Such ideologies include individualism, or the distinctly white-American dream that one writes one’s own destiny, and objectivity, the confidence that one can free oneself entirely from bias.
.. To be perceived as an individual, to not be associated with anything negative because of your skin color, she notes, is a privilege largely afforded to white people;
.. although most school shooters, domestic terrorists, and rapists in the United States are white, it is rare to see a white man on the street reduced to a stereotype.
.. DiAngelo draws heavily on the words of black writers and scholars—Ta-Nehisi Coates, Toni Morrison, Ijeoma Oluo, Cheryl Harris
.. Like a mutating virus, racism shape-shifts in order to stay alive; when its explicit expression becomes taboo, it hides in coded language. Nor does prejudice disappear when people decide that they will no longer tolerate it. It just looks for ways to avoid detection.
.. “The most effective adaptation of racism over time,” DiAngelo claims, “is the idea that racism is conscious bias held by mean people.”
.. This “good/bad binary,” positing a world of evil racists and compassionate non-racists, is itself a racist construct, eliding systemic injustice and imbuing racism with such shattering moral meaning that white people, especially progressives, cannot bear to face their collusion in it.
.. DiAngelo belongs to the utilitarian school, which places less importance on attitudes than on the ways in which attitudes cause harm.
.. Unpacking the fantasy of black men as dangerous and violent, she does not simply fact-check it; she shows the myth’s usefulness to white people—to obscure the historical brutality against African-Americans, and to justify continued abuse.
.. “If your definition of a racist is someone who holds conscious dislike of people because of race, then I agree that it is offensive for me to suggest that you are racist when I don’t know you,”
.. “I also agree that if this is your definition of racism, and you are against racism, then you are not racist. Now breathe. I am not using this definition of racism, and I am not saying that you are immoral. If you can remain open as I lay out my argument, it should soon begin to make sense.”
.. DiAngelo sets aside a whole chapter for the self-indulgent tears of white women, so distraught at the country’s legacy of racist terrorism
.. The book is more diagnostic than solutions-oriented, and the guidelines it offers toward the end
.. For all the paranoid American theories of being “red-pilled,” of awakening into a many-tentacled liberal/feminist/Jewish conspiracy, the most corrosive force, the ectoplasm infusing itself invisibly through media and culture and politics, is white supremacy.