Mueller’s Testimony: A Rorschach Test for Americans

Mueller’s Testimony: A Rorschach Test for Americans

Democrats believed that bringing Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees on July 24, 2019 was a way to allow a non-reading American public to finally hear the full story told in Mueller’s 448-page report: people could hear the testimony on TV or radio. Republicans saw the testimony as a stunt to resuscitate a non-issue, and an opportunity to prove some of their Deep State theories about the origins of the Trump-Russia story.

As a reluctant, and at times confused, Mueller testified, both sides got what they wanted, but their supporters likely heard – or willfully chose to overlook – uncomfortably contrary information in the process.

Democrats illuminated some major findings from Mueller’s Report:

  • The report did not exonerate the President on the charge of obstruction of justice
  • Some people interviewed by Mueller’s team lied, pled the 5th, destroyed evidence, and had communicated electronically in ways that could not be traced
  • These factors may have affected the conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to prove coordination between the Trump Campaign and the Kremlin
  • Trump’s Campaign Manager, Paul Manafort, gave a Russian operative named Konstantin Kilimnik internal Trump Campaign strategy information and internal campaign polling data, which may have helped with the Russians’ social media activities to interfere with the 2016 Presidential election
  • The Trump Campaign did not try to discourage Russia’s illegal interference efforts – including hacking Clinton and Democratic emails – and in fact embraced those efforts and planned their media strategy and campaign messaging around them
  • Russians made approximately 120 known contacts with the Trump Campaign
  • After Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference began, the President publicly and privately worked to discourage key people from cooperating with the investigation
  • The President also encouraged key people to “stay strong” and avoid cooperating with the investigation: the President and his legal staff even suggested pardons for some
  • The President made multiple efforts to stop Mueller’s investigation, including asking a number of associates to fire Mueller
  • White House Lawyer Don McGahn was so upset at being asked to do this that he prepared to resign
  • The President asked McGahn to deny being asked to fire Mueller, and asked McGahn to create a written document for the White House’s records falsely stating that the request had never taken place
  • The President also made many efforts to persuade Attorney General Jeff Sessions to “un-recuse” himself from the Mueller investigation, because he wanted Sessions to protect him from the investigation
  • The Office of Legal Counsel’s guidance that a sitting President cannot be indicted factored significantly into Mueller’s decision not to charge the President with obstruction of justice
  • A President who has committed illegal acts can be indicted after leaving office
  • Other investigations that were spun off from the Mueller investigation are still in progress, which may reveal further acts of criminality

But Republican questioning also brought some important facts to light which have not been given adequate attention:

  • Natalia Veselnitskaya – the Russian lawyer in the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting – had hired Fusion GPS (producer of the Steele Dossier) in 2014 on behalf of her client, a Russian firm called Prevezon Holdings
  • From June 8-10, 2016, Veselnitskaya spent more time with Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson than she did with Trump Campaign officials
  • The “dirt on Hillary Clinton” that Veselnitskaya was offering was information that Simpson had uncovered while working for Veselnitskaya and Prevezon Holdings
  • The relationship between Veselnitskaya and Simpson (whose hiring of former British MI6 officer Christopher Steele ultimately provided some of the first indications of Russian election interference) was never examined by Mueller
  • It is possible that the Steele Dossier contained misinformation intentionally provided to Christopher Steele by his Russian sources
  • Konstantin Kilimnik, the Russian intelligence operative to whom Paul Manafort gave Trump Campaign polling data and strategy information, may also be an asset of the U.S. State Department
  • Joseph Mifsud, the alleged source for George Papadopoulos’ belief that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary, was interviewed by the FBI and lied to them three times, but remarkably was never charged
  • Mifsud, a professor, may be a Russian intelligence agent or a western intelligence agent
  • Several of the prosecutors hired by Mueller to investigate Trump had collectively given over $60,000 to Hillary Clinton’s campaign

Time will tell whether Mueller’s testimony moves the needle toward at least beginning an impeachment inquiry, but Mueller’s testimony makes clear that Donald Trump committed federal crimes that would be immediately prosecutable if he were not the President. It also makes clear that there is still more of the story that has not been uncovered. In the end, what Mueller’s testimony may most effectively prove is Americans’ ability to tune out information that they don’t want to hear.

– rob rünt

Full Transcript of Mueller’s House Judiciary Committee Testimony

Full Transcript of Mueller’s House Intelligence Committee Testimony

Why Can’t Democrats Let Go of Their “Collusion Delusion?”

Why Can’t Democrats Let Go of Their “Collusion Delusion?”

Why Can’t Democrats Let Go of Their “Collusion Delusion?”

On Sunday, March 24, 2019, U.S. Attorney General William Barr gave Congress a four-page summary of Robert Mueller’s key findings. The summary disappointed many who believed that the President or his campaign conspired with Russia to win the 2016 election. According to Barr, Mueller did not prove that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia and “did not draw a conclusion – one way or the other” on whether Trump obstructed justice. Such conclusions clearly seem to vindicate the President. The obstruction question was left undecided because, Barr claimed, if the President did not commit the crime of conspiring with Russia, by definition he cannot be guilty of trying to obstruct an investigation of that crime. Nonetheless, many on the left find Barr’s summary difficult to believe. To Trump’s supporters, Democrats appear wildly delusional in a hysterical desire to avenge their 2016 electoral defeat. So do the facts that we know actually contradict the most straightforward interpretation of Barr’s letter? Below are some established facts related to Trump and/or Russia:

  • In Russia, government, business, and organized crime are all deeply interconnected. Violence or the threat of it are used in Russia to influence others in business and politics. Another tactic used widely in Russia is “kompromat” – using something compromising as leverage over another (sometimes extending as far as blackmail) including sexual indiscretions, business relationships, debt/financial obligations, chemical dependency, friendships, or knowledge of something embarrassing or illegal.
  • Trump defied decades of standard practice by refusing to release his tax returns, thus preventing the public from seeing what kind of financial obligations and relationships he might have.
  • Trump had worked for years with real estate development company Bayrock – a company believed to have ties to Russian organized crime – to develop the Trump Soho Hotel.
  • Bayrock was owned by Russian-American mobster Felix Sater (Sater was convicted in 1998 of a $40 million federal racketeering charge) and former Soviet official Tefvik Arif (Arif was well-connected in the former Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan, and Trump stated in a deposition that he was impressed by Arif’s ability to bring in wealthy Russian investors).
  • The other financier for Trump Soho was the Sapir family from the former Soviet republic of Georgia.
  • Sater carried Trump Organization business cards, and had an office two floors below Trump’s in the Manhattan Trump Tower, but Trump claimed that he wouldn’t recognize Sater if he saw him.
  • Sater also worked with Michael Cohen to secure the Trump Tower Moscow project during the 2016 campaign, even though Trump repeatedly denied on the campaign trail that he had anything going on in Russia.
  • Sater is currently accused of seeking to use that project to launder money stolen from a large bank in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan.
  • The Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in Panama was used by Russian organized crime figures to launder money.
  • In 2005, Trump Campaign Chair Paul Manafort had proposed an influence campaign on behalf of Russia to “influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and former Soviet Republics to benefit President Vladimir Putin’s government.”
  • Manafort had worked to help pro-Putin politician Viktor Yanukovych get elected President of Ukraine – work for which Manafort was allegedly paid millions of dollars “off the books.” Yanukovych was later exiled and fled to Russia.
  • More recently, Manafort had worked for Oleg Vladimirovich Deripaska, a Russian oligarch with alleged ties to organized crime as well as being a close friend of Vladimir Putin. Manafort had allegedly ripped off Deripaska to the tune of millions of dollars – a debt that no doubt could have been used as kompromat over Manafort.
  • Once he began working for the Trump Campaign, Manafort emailed Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian/Ukrainian friend of Deripaska believed to be a former GRU (Russian military intelligence agency) officer. Manafort asked of the headlines about his being Trump’s Campaign Manager “How do we use to get whole? Has OVD [Oleg Vladimirovich Deripaska] operation seen?”
  • Manafort later told Kilimnik that he could arrange for “private briefings” between Deripaska and Trump.
  • Manafort also provided Kilimnik with the Trump Campaign’s internal polling data.
  • Special Counsel Mueller indicted 12 GRU agents for their hacking of the DNC, and indicted a company called the Internet Research Agency for waging a social media campaign to interfere with the 2016 election – an interference campaign for which polling data could provide valuable demographic information.
  • At the 2016 Republican National Convention, the Trump Campaign had only one requested modification to the Republican Party platform: weakening the amount of aid that the U.S. provides to Ukraine to defend itself against Russian military aggression.
  • Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen has had a history of associating with Russian organized crime figures from the time that he was a child, and reportedly once claimed that he was part of the Russian mafia.
  • Trump Foreign Policy Advisor Carter Page had come to the attention of the FBI in 2013 when he began meeting with a Russian operative.
  • While a Foreign Policy Advisor for Trump, Carter Page gave a pro-Russia speech in Moscow on July 7, 2016.
  • In 2014, Eric Trump told sports journalist James Dodson of the money that financed the Trump golf courses “We don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.”
  • In December of 2018, Trump’s architect Alan Lapidus said of Donald Trump, “he could not get anybody in the United States to lend him anything. It was all coming out of Russia. His involvement with Russia was deeper than he’s acknowledged.”
  • Lapidus also said “Trump could not get money here. He found Russia, and the Russians gave him a lot of money. He has got to be doing a quid pro quo. It’s just logical. It’s just too much money.”
  • Russians invested nearly $100 million in seven Trump-branded luxury towers in Florida.
  • In 2008, Donald Trump Jr. stated, “In terms of high-end product influx into the U.S., Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.”
  • Numerous people associated with the Trump Campaign inexplicably did not tell the truth (sometimes under oath) regarding communications or connections with Russia, including:
    • Former Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions (spoke more than once with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak but denied it to the U.S. Senate)
    • Former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn (spoke with Kislyak about lifting sanctions before Trump was inaugurated, undermining Obama Administration policy, and then denied it to the FBI)
    • Former Foreign Policy Advisor George Papadopoulos (lied about having been told about Russian “dirt” on Hillary Clinton and seeking to form a connection between the Trump Campaign and Russian government)
    • Former Foreign Policy Advisor Carter Page (met with Russian officials in July 2016, but denied it publicly until questioned under oath by the House Intelligence Committee)
    • Donald Trump Jr. (repeatedly changed his story about meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower to get “dirt” on Hillary Clinton – a meeting also attended by Manafort and Kushner)
    • Jared Kushner (had to repeatedly revise his federal security clearance application as various Russia ties, initially not mentioned, were uncovered – including a meeting shortly after the 2016 election with a Russian state-owned bank to get a multi-million dollar loan).
    • Donald Trump (among many lies, on the campaign trail, claimed that he had “nothing to do with Russia” at the same time as he was pursuing a Trump Tower Moscow. He intended to give Putin the penthouse suite in the tower. Later, in response to allegations that Trump participated in a lewd act in a room at the Moscow Ritz Carlton in 2013 when he was there for the Miss Universe Pageant, Trump claimed that he had not spent the night in Russia on that trip. His flight records refuted that.)
    • Michael Cohen (prosecuted and going to prison for lying to Congress – allegedly at the President’s request – about the Trump Tower Moscow deal).
    • Why all the lies about Russia?
  • On June 3, 2016, Rob Goldstone, promoter for Russian pop singer Emin Agalarov, emailed Donald Trump Jr. to set up the Trump Tower meeting. In his email, Goldstone stated “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
  • Rather than reporting this to law enforcement, Trump Jr. responded to the email with “If it’s what you say it is, I love it,” and went on to set up the meeting.
  • Alexander Downer, a diplomat from Australia (an American ally), reported to his government that Trump Campaign aide George Papadopoulos had told him in May of 2016 that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton. When the Russian hacking began during the 2016 election, the Australian government informed the U.S. intelligence community of the conversation.
  • Jared Kushner made attempts to set up a “back channel” of communications between the White House and the Kremlin through a Russian diplomatic facility that would bypass America’s national security agencies.
  • Trump had engaged in what appeared to be years of money laundering activities for wealthy Russians, like when he bought a Palm Beach mansion for $41 million and sold it to Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev two years later with few improvements for $95 million. Putin keeps track of what Russia’s oligarchs do, and if he were aware of money laundering by Trump, he could use that knowledge to blackmail him.
  • Rybolovlev’s plane and yacht showed up a number of times near Trump Campaign events.
  • Interestingly, Rybolovlev’s plane and yacht also arrived in Dubrovnik, Croatia in mid August of 2016, and Ivanka and Jared suddenly appeared in Dubrovnik, Croatia in mid August of 2016.
  • On July 27, 2016, Donald Trump publicly called on Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s 30,000 missing emails.
  • Immediately after that announcement by Trump, according to Mueller’s investigation, Russian hackers began an “after hours’ effort on July 27, 2016 to hack into Hillary Clinton’s private email account.
  • Russia’s interference with the 2016 election served generally to benefit Donald Trump.
  • During the 2016 campaign, U.S. intelligence detected a server at Alfa Bank, one of the largest banks in Russia, “pinging” a specific server at the Trump Organization thousands of times. The unusual activity remains unexplained to this day.
  • A pair of Russian operatives – banker Alexander Torshin and “student” Maria Butina – infiltrated the NRA, which spent $30 million to elect Trump. While the NRA has long supported Republican candidates, this was an unusually large amount for them, and some of that money appears to have been funneled into the NRA via Russia.
  • After Trump took office, acting Attorney General Sally Yates notified Trump that Michael Flynn was compromised by Russia, but Trump waited for over two weeks to fire Flynn.
  • Just before Trump nominated Wilbur Ross to be U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Ross had spent years as Co-Chair of the Bank of Cyprus. Cyprus, an island nation off the coast of Turkey, is known as a place where Russian oligarchs launder their illicit money.
  • Ross has significant financial ties to Russia.
  • Josef Ackermann, Deutsche Bank’s CEO from 2002-2012, was brought on as Chairman of Bank of Cyprus by Wilbur Ross in 2014.
  • Deutsche Bank, one of the only banks willing to loan money to Trump after his multiple bankruptcies, has a documented history of money laundering on a large scale for Russian oligarchs.
  • Wilbur Ross was also the person who initially connected Donald Trump and Dmitry Rybolovlev for the Palm Beach mansion purchase.
  • The day after firing James Comey, Russian Diplomat Sergey Kislyak and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov were Donald Trump’s guests in the Oval Office. No American reporters were allowed, but Russian journalists were.
  • During that meeting, Trump disclosed highly classified information to the two Russian officials, endangering the lives of U.S. intelligence assets and causing U.S. allies to question their own sharing of intelligence with the United States.
  • On July 8, 2017, the New York Times first broke the story of the existence of the Trump Tower meeting between Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, which had taken place on June 9, 2016.
  • On July 8, 2017, on the way back from the G20 Summit (at which Trump met with Putin for over 2 hours when they were only supposed to meet for 30-40 minutes), Trump felt the need to dictate his son’s cover story about the Trump Tower meeting.
  • The President’s misleading cover story for his son was that Veselnitskaya simply wanted to discuss “Russian adoption” – also the topic that the President claimed Putin wanted to talk with him about in a lengthy private discussion. The Magnitsky Act, which calls for the freezing of the U.S.-based assets of Putin and other wealthy Russian oligarchs as a consequence for their human rights violations, was put in place on December 14, 2012. Putin was outraged by this Act, and one of his retaliatory measures was to ban American adoption of Russian children.
  • During his time in office, Trump has had a pattern of taking actions favorable to Putin’s agenda and seemingly contrary to that of the United States, including:
    • Repeatedly making efforts to eliminate or weaken sanctions against wealthy and powerful Russians close to Putin
    • Questioning the legitimacy of and proposing to leave NATO, one of the biggest obstacles to Putin’s military expansion of Russian territory
    • Backing out of the Iran nuclear deal that America’s allies support, alienating us from our allies
    • Sowing division within the European Union
    • Backing out of the Paris Climate Accord that nearly every other country in the world has signed onto, further alienating us from our allies and making us less globally relevant
    • Legitimizing Russia’s illegal seizure of Crimea and suggesting that Crimea should be considered part of Russia
    • Denying Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election despite the conclusions of the U.S. intelligence community
    • Doing little since the 2016 election to protect future American elections from foreign interference, and actually weakening established efforts to defend our elections
    • Regularly telling easily disproven lies, which damages America’s international credibility and threatens our national security
    • Treating American allies (eg Britain, Germany and Australia) with disrespect, further alienating us from our allies
    • Treating American enemies (eg Russia) graciously, causing suspicion among our allies
    • Fueling and enhancing division within the United States
    • Weakening America’s institutions by appointing cabinet secretaries with backgrounds clearly antithetical to the missions of the institutions that they lead
  • With the exception of translators, Trump’s direct meetings with Putin have been without other aides present, and at times have been undisclosed until uncovered by the press. No detailed notes have been retained from any of these meetings. In fact, in the case of his meeting with Putin in Helsinki, Trump actually confiscated the translator’s notes afterward and told her that she could not tell anyone what had been discussed. Even Trump’s top staff do not know what he and have Putin talked about. All of this secrecy is even more baffling when one considers that Trump must know that everyone is paying attention to how he interacts with Putin.
  • Trump has repeatedly accepted Putin’s word over information from his own intelligence agencies.
  • After the 2017 G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, Trump floated the idea of partnering with Putin to help the United States develop its cybersecurity efforts (the equivalent of inviting a burglar back into your home to help find evidence against them and make your home more secure).
  • After his formal discussion with Putin at the 2018 Helsinki Summit, Trump floated an “interesting idea” and “incredible offer” that Putin had suggested: American investigators could come to Russia to work with Russian investigators to determine if the 12 indicted GRU officers had committed any crimes, in exchange for letting the Kremlin interrogate certain U.S. officials, including Michael McFaul, a former U.S. Ambassador to Russia who has been critical of Putin’s human rights record.

These established facts are in addition to what was laid out in the Steele Dossier (compiled by a former British intelligence agent with a track record of reliably passing on accurate, factual information to U.S. law enforcement), which Trump’s supporters claim is the only reason that the Mueller investigation began. The above facts are also completely consistent with the only “collusion”-related quote provided in Attorney General William Barr’s summary of Mueller’s report:

“[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

This quote does not necessarily mean that there was no conspiracy or coordination. It may well be a statement by Mueller that such a relationship simply could not be legally proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, despite all of the circumstantial evidence above.

And since Mueller’s report also “does not exonerate” the President on obstruction of justice, it is possible that coordination or conspiracy could not be proven because Trump was successful in obstructing justice, that witnesses were swayed by the President’s repeated public suggestions of pardons, that witnesses were afraid of retribution in prison by Trump’s supporters or by members of the Russian mafia, that evidence on the Russian side was successfully destroyed or silenced, or that witnesses were reluctant to willingly admit to outright treasonous acts which, regardless of plea deals, would result in lengthy prison time and lifelong branding of themselves and their families. And not definitively proving coordination with Russia does not mean that Donald Trump was not – and is not currently – compromised by the Kremlin in a way that causes him to act against America’s interests.

In other words, the public needs to see as much of the Mueller report as possible without jeopardizing national security or revealing sources and methods. It would also be very helpful to hear an account from Mueller himself on what is in his report and whether he believes that Barr’s representation of it is accurate. Republicans and Democrats should both be supportive of this, because it can help give the public a more commonly shared understanding of the investigation’s results – something which is not currently happening in the wake of Barr’s ambiguously worded four-page letter.

Lastly, the public needs to be reminded that, despite Barr’s assessment of inconclusive findings in the Mueller report, there are still numerous ongoing investigations into Trump yet to be completed, some of which were farmed out to other law enforcement agencies during the course of Mueller’s investigation.

Americans have witnessed a lot of smoke over the past three years, and many still find it difficult to believe that there is no fire.

– rob rünt

William Barr Should Almost Certainly NOT Release The Entire Mueller Report

William Barr Should Almost Certainly NOT Release The Entire Mueller Report

William Barr Should Almost Certainly NOT Release The Entire Mueller Report

Yesterday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller submitted his long-awaited report to U.S. Attorney General William Barr. Barr and former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will now review the report, submit an initial summary to Congress, and then further determine how much, if any, of the report should be seen by the public. Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted unanimously to make the report public, and there are similar calls from many in the press, the public and other areas to release the report in its entirety in the name of government transparency. Yet there are legitimate reasons not to do so, and those reasons should be supported by sensible and justice-seeking Democrats and Republicans.

The key conclusions of the Mueller report should absolutely be made public. The American people deserve to know as much as possible about, as Richard Nixon put it, “whether or not their President is a crook.” Americans have waited patiently for those conclusions for two years, paid millions of dollars for the investigation, and the key findings can help somewhat reunite the public around a shared reality.

But Robert Mueller’s investigation was limited to three main topics:

  • Any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump;
  • Any federal crimes that arise directly from the investigation into that; and
  • Any federal crimes committed in the course of – with intent to interfere with – the Special Counsel’s investigation, such as perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation of witnesses

While this may appear to be a rather broad scope, it should be noted that Robert Mueller appears to have employed two practices during the course of his investigation.

First, he has farmed out a number of issues and pieces of evidence to other parts of the justice system such as the Southern District of New York. He may have done this for a combination of reasons:

  • Desire not to burn through more resources than absolutely necessary during his own investigation
  • Too small a staff to investigate all criminal activity that was uncovered during his investigation
  • Desire to ensure that information about possible criminal activity by the President (not directly related to Russia) be disseminated as far and wide throughout the justice system as possible to make it difficult for the President to extract it and stop investigation into the crimes prematurely
  • Desire to ensure that Mueller is not seen as overstepping his bounds by investigating matters outside of his jurisdiction

It also appears that Mueller’s team may have already filed a number of sealed indictments. These are indictments that cannot be acted on until after the person is arrested. Since they are still sealed, we can assume that those individuals have not yet been arrested. Mueller may have done this for a combination of reasons:

  • Consistent with stated Justice Department policy, a sitting President cannot be indicted. It is possible therefore that some of those indictments relate to the President and/or members of his family, and will not be opened until after the President leaves (or is removed from) office
  • Mueller anticipates that further evidence of the crimes in the sealed indictments will be produced in the course of the investigations that he has farmed out to organizations like the Southern District of New York

All of these likely actions by Mueller indicate that, while his own investigation may be largely over, there are investigations related to the President that are still active. If that is the case, publicly releasing all of the information in his report could jeopardize the integrity of those investigations. Such information could tip off criminals to currently undisclosed lines of investigation, enabling them to cover their tracks, destroy evidence, or learn of sources and methods currently being used to investigate them.

Additionally, given the nature of what Mueller was investigating, it is quite likely that some information in his report is classified for national security reasons. The public should not take that lightly. More than two years of intensive open discussion in our nation’s press has no doubt already provided Russia with valuable marketing information on what parts of their activities worked well, which ones didn’t, and how to better avoid detection in the future. We don’t need to give Russia and other hostile foreign powers – via public disclosure – what little information is still being held close to the vest by our national security community.

For these reasons, we should expect – and embrace – William Barr’s release of a redacted (lines blacked out) version of the Mueller report. While many people on the left argue for full transparency, and may have deep suspicions of anything less, a redacted report likely indicates that the U.S. criminal justice system is still proceeding exactly as it should. It also may indicate that criminal charges for activities like money laundering, witness tampering, RICO, bank fraud and insurance fraud may still be in the President’s future.

– rob rünt

Trump’s Reichstag Fire Drill

Trump’s Reichstag Fire Drill

Trump’s Reichstag Fire Drill


“I may declare a National Emergency, dependent on what’s going to happen over the next few days.”


President Trump has a track record of pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable. From his refusal to release his tax returns to his violations of the emoluments clause to his profiting from presidential visits to his own properties, the president tends to get what he wants by doing something outrageous, holding to his position, and before the issue can be reasonably addressed, doing something else outrageous to redirect people’s energy and attention.

Such incrementalism is noted at the Holocaust Museum as emblematic of how, in a remarkably short amount of time, Adolf Hitler took Germany from a democratic republic to a nation where the government rounded up groups of the country’s own citizens and exterminated them. The latter was not Hitler’s stated agenda initially, but bit by bit, he moved the nation to that place.

The largest catalyst for Hitler’s consolidation of power was an event called the Reichstag Fire. In the middle of the night on February 23, 1933, an arson fire started in the German Parliament. In response, the the next day, the German government passed the Reichstag Fire Decree, suspending many of the rights of the German citizenry on an emergency basis. The emergency decree remained in effect throughout World War II. This decree, and the accompanying claim of extraordinary circumstances requiring extraordinary measures, enabled Hilter to incrementally accomplish things that the Germany’s democracy would not otherwise have accepted.

The United States has its own equivalent of a Reichstag Fire Decree, ready to implement in the event of a national emergency. Once the President declares the United States to be in a “state of emergency,” a number of changes take place. Among them are:

(Courtesy of http://www.sweetliberty.org/issues/eo/femalist.htm )

President Trump has suggested that if Congress does not require U.S. taxpayers to pay for the U.S.-Mexico border wall that he had promised that Mexico would pay for, he will accomplish the building of the wall by declaring the U.S.-Mexico border a “National Emergency.” The concept of border crossings – little changed in decades – suddenly being labelled a national emergency is laughable on its face, and hopefully will be met with swift and effective resistance from Congress,.

However, Trump’s suggestion should be of concern.

For him, declaring the border a National Emergency is yet another trial balloon, testing public reaction, and making it just a little more acceptable, expected, and “normal” when, for example, a terrorist attack occurs and he is able to more easily and successfully declare a National Emergency. At that point, he may get his way, and God help us all.

– rob rünt

Lights Out.

Lights Out.

Lights Out.

Yesterday, Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in as America’s 114th Supreme Court Justice. This took place despite all of the following:

  • A confirmation process that appeared rushed by Republicans at every step
  • President Trump declaring 90% of Kavanaugh’s legal writings  to be covered by “executive privilege” and therefore unviewable by the Senate Judiciary Committee
  • Five women expressing a willingness to testify under oath that Kavanaugh had behaved in a sexually inappropriate way toward them – including accusations of gang rape
  • Only one of those women, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, testifying to the Senate under oath, despite death threats against her and her family
  • Fox News and President Trump declaring immediately after Ford’s testimony that she was very credible
  • Republicans forcing Ford’s and Kavanaugh’s testimony to be merely a “he said/she said” by refusing to allow a thorough FBI investigation before they testified: such an investigation could have added valuable facts to help corroborate one side or the other
  • Kavanaugh telling the Senate Judiciary Committee numerous lies under oath, according to many who knew him during the era in question, including former roommate James Roche, and former classmates Charles “Chad” LudingtonLynn Brookes and Liz Swisher. Such false statements under oath before the U.S. Senate constitute perjury – a prosecutable federal crime that should absolutely be a disqualifier for a Supreme Court seat. Most notably, Kavanaugh denied ever having had so much to drink that he couldn’t remember his actions, and gave clearly misleading testimony about the meanings of terms that he had used in his high school yearbook around the time of Ford’s assault
  • Kavanaugh’s proclamation that he was a victim of a smear campaign to avenge Hillary Clinton – a highly partisan statement that raises questions about his ability to be an impartial Supreme Court Justice
  • Republicans trying to avoid any FBI investigation into these allegations until they were forced by a reluctant Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) to allow one
  • An FBI investigation that:
    • Was limited in subject matter by the White House solely to the Ford assault and allegations by one other woman, Deborah Ramirez – not any of the other women who had come public
    • Was limited in scope by the White House to a handful of pre-specified witnesses: numerous individuals were not allowed to be interviewed, despite having relevant information, and despite the fact that many were making every effort to provide the FBI with their testimonies
    • Did not include FBI interviews with the key individuals, Kavanaugh and Ford: their Senate testimonies had to be considered their interviews
    • Could not look at Kavanaugh’s drinking habits, information about which might have helped corroborate part of Ford’s story and uncover additional evidence, and which would also have likely proven that Kavanaugh had perjured himself before the Senate
    • Was limited by the White House to no more than a week – apparently an unnecessary constraint because, with so few witnesses allowed to be interviewed, the FBI completed their report more than a day early
  • Republicans proclaimed this to a legitimate and sufficient investigation, despite its clear deficiencies and despite protests by Democrats

Senators who voted for Kavanaugh conceded that “something” happened to Dr. Ford, but placated themselves and their constituents with the pathetic and insulting claim that she must have just been confused, because it could not possibly have been Brett Kavanaugh. After all, he sounded genuinely upset during his testimony, and he went to Yale.

Yesterday was a dark, dark day for women, a dark day for justice, a dark day for America, and a dark signal for what the future holds. Kavanaugh’s nomination was a grotesque slap in the face to the legitimacy of our political process and to basic decency and morality. Admittedly this is one of hundreds by the Trump Administration and its Republican enablers, but this one somehow seems much uglier. Perhaps it is compounded by the President’s mocking of Christine Blasey Ford at a recent rally, to the gleeful cheers of his supporters. This is where we are at as a nation.

I’ve concluded – perhaps late in the game – that social media posts, participating in protests, and writing this blog are in large part a waste of time and energy. For those who oppose Trump, these activities are merely comforting self-reinforcement. For those who support Trump, these actions do not convince, but rather provide inspiration and a fresh supply of kindling, reassuring them that they are getting under the skin of the weak and overly sensitive “snowflakes” that they blame for their hardships. And for those who might be swayed, these actions are all little more that annoying background noise.

My political energy therefore will now be spent door knocking, phone banking, and doing other activities to help Democratic candidates for the House and Senate – particularly those who are in tough races – between now and November. I intend to keep my emotions in check, be polite and respectful to all whom I encounter, and disengage quickly and cordially from those who clearly cannot be convinced so that my time is not wasted. I hope to see you out there too. Time to leave the screen.

Lights out.

– rob rünt

Brett Kavanaugh: Parties and Perjury

Brett Kavanaugh: Parties and Perjury

Brett Kavanaugh: Parties and Perjury

On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee spent several hours questioning Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh about a sexual assault that Dr. Ford alleged took place in 1982. Ford’s painful testimony of a “stumbling drunk,” hysterically laughing Brett Kavanaugh pushing her onto a bed, groping her, and putting his hand over her mouth so she couldn’t scream came across as deeply moving and highly credible to any objective observer. Kavanaugh responded fiercely with a pained testimony of his own, portraying himself as a victim of a Democratic smear campaign seeking to avenge Hillary Clinton.

At the last minute on Friday, Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) called for what Senate Democrats had been urging throughout the hearing: an FBI investigation into Ford’s allegations against Kavanaugh, rather than needlessly forcing the situation to remain merely a “he said/she said.” President Trump, lacking the Senate votes to push Kavanaugh through, relented and called for a brief FBI investigation that would be “limited in scope.” Close to the same time, an alleged witness to the drunken sexual assault – Kavanaugh’s high school friend Mark Judge – agreed to be interviewed privately by law enforcement.

Kavanaugh now faces the possibility of multiple criminal charges.

First, there is no statute of limitations for sexual assault in Maryland, meaning that Christine Blasey Ford could potentially bring criminal charges against Kavanaugh if she wishes. Realistically, after 36 years, it would be very difficult to successfully prosecute such a case in a court of law, even after the completed FBI investigation. Those present at the party (other than Kavanaugh, Judge and Ford) likely have no recollection of what for these other party-goers was just another small, run-of-the-mill teenage party of many that happened regularly in the area. And Judge, being a potential accomplice to the crime, and who also has admitted in his book to having engaged in drinking to excess, is unlikely to provide any valuable corroborating testimony beyond “I don’t remember anything.” The same dynamic would likely be the case for any investigations of pubic allegations against Kavanaugh by two other women, Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick.

However, far more recently and with millions of television viewers as witnesses, Kavanaugh may well have committed the federal crime of perjury numerous times before Congress in his testimony on Thursday. Beyond the possibility of lying under oath about the assault on Ford, he made several far more easily provable or disprovable statements.

Kavanaugh was asked several times if he ever drank to the point that he couldn’t remember the next day what he had done. He said that he had not. Several people who knew him at the time have disputed that. Among them:

Lynn Brookes:
(Yale classmate of Kavanaugh and college roommate of Deborah Ramirez)
“There is no doubt in my mind that while at Yale, he was a big partier, often drank to excess, and there had to be a number of nights where he does not remember. In fact, I was witness to the night that he got tapped into that fraternity, and he was stumbling drunk, in a ridiculous costume, saying really dumb things, and I can almost guarantee that there’s no way that he remembers that night … drinking to excess was a big thing on Saturday night, so it wasn’t every night…there were a lot of e-mails and a lot of texts flying around about how he was lying to the Senate Judiciary Committee.”
(CNN interview – 9/27/18)

Liz Swisher:
(Yale classmate of Kavanaugh)
“I’ve known Brett since the very beginning of freshman year. He was always one of the beer drinking boys, and I drank beer with him. I liked beer. There’s no problem with drinking beer in college. The problem is lying about it. He drank heavily. He was a partier. He liked to do beer bongs. He played drinking games. He was a sloppy drunk … I don’t think many of his answers were credible … I would have stayed on the sidelines if he had said ‘I drank to excess in high school, I drank to excess in college, I did some stupid things, but I never sexually assaulted anybody.’ That I would have stayed on the sidelines for – I didn’t have any credible evidence to the contrary. But to lie under oath, to lie about that, then what else is true?”
(CNN interview – 9/28/28)

An unnamed Yale classmate of Kavanaugh who spoke with the New Yorker also recalled that Kavanaugh belonged to a social group that often drank to excess, and that while Kavanaugh was normally “relatively shy,” he would become “aggressive and even belligerent” when he was drunk.

KavanaughHighSchool-pics2
High school era photos: Mark Judge, Brett Kavanaugh, Christine Blasey ((Ford)

Then there are the references on Brett Kavanaugh’s high school yearbook page – the relevance of which has been laughed off by Republicans, despite the fact that they give insight into Kavanaugh’s mindset, lifestyle and behavior at the time of the alleged assault on Ford. Kavanaugh was not asked about being part of the “Keg City Club (Treasurer) – 100 Kegs or Bust” (“100 Kegs or Bust” was listed on Mark Judge’s yearbook page as well – an apparent pledge by the high school seniors to drink 100 kegs of beer that year) or Kavanaugh’s unattributed quote: “He that would live in peace and at ease must not speak all he knows, nor JUDGE all he sees,” which one could interpret as an allusion to things that he and Mark Judge may have done together.

However, Kavanaugh was asked under oath about several other references on his yearbook page, to which he gave misleading answers:

Renate Alumnius:
This was listed on a number of yearbook pages of boys at Kavanaugh’s high school, Georgetown Prep. Kavanaugh admits that this is a reference to a girl at a neighboring Catholic girl’s high school. High school classmates of Kavanaugh told the New York Times that it was a disrespectful, boasting reference to (unsubstantiated) sexual conquests of some of the football players. Kavanaugh asserted under oath that it was meant to be a sign of respect to communicate that she was “one of us.” He said that he regrets that a “media circus” has portrayed it as anything else. The woman in question, when informed of the yearbook references, described them as “hurtful.”

Ralphing:
Kavanaugh mentioned in his yearbook that he was part of the “Beach Week Ralph Club – Biggest Contributor.” According to the Chicago Tribune, Mark Judge describes Beach Week as “an annual drunken vacation of private school pals convened as soon as school ended, a week earlier than public schools.” The week-long party involved male and female students. Urban Dictionary describes ralphing as throwing up, so it is reasonable to interpret Kavanaugh’s yearbook entry to mean that his degree of alcohol consumption resulted in him throwing up more than anyone else at Beach Week. Kavanaugh told the Senate under oath that this was not due to excessive drinking, but rather due to his sensitive stomach.

Devil’s Triangle:
The Urban Dictionary describes a “Devil’s Triangle” as a threesome with two males and one female – the exact scenario that Christine Blasey Ford describes Brett Kavanaugh and Mark Judge having tried to force her into against her will. Kavanaugh stated under oath that it was a reference to a drinking game, like “quarters.” It should be noted that, immediately after Kavanaugh’s testimony, this “drinking game” definition also began appearing on Urban Dictionary, which accepts public input to stay current. This definition had not been there before that.

Boofing:
Kavanaugh wrote on his high school yearbook page “Judge – Have You Boofed Yet?” Mark Judge similarly wrote on his yearbook page “Bart, have you boofed yet?” (Bart appears to have been a nickname that Kavanaugh was referred to due to a teacher’s mispronunciation of his name.) When I was in high school in the 1980s, around the same time as Kavanaugh, “boofing” referred to anal sex. This is also one of the definitions provided by Urban Dictionary, although it can also apparently refer to putting illicit substances in one’s anus. It should be noted that Kavanaugh is a Catholic, and many Catholics believe that one can have anal sex and still consider themselves a “virgin.” Kavanaugh stated under oath that “boofing” was another word for farting – a definition that I had never heard until his testimony.

Whether or not the horrific act against Christine Blasey Ford or any of the other women can be proven, all of these other minor but important inconsistencies in Kavanaugh’s testimony are likely to be revealed in the course of the FBI’s investigation this week. As Kavanaugh’s Yale classmate Liz Swisher said, “there’s no problem with drinking beer in college: the problem is lying about it.” Lying under oath to Congress is a federal crime, and numerous parts of Kavanaugh’s testimony to Congress appear to have been deliberately misleading, regardless of his guilt or innocence in the alleged sexual assaults. Kavanaugh may or may not be prosecuted, but at the very least, he should not be rewarded for perjury by being appointed to the Supreme Court.

– rob rünt

The Potential Pros and Cons of Rachel Mitchell

The Potential Pros and Cons of Rachel Mitchell

The Potential Pros and Cons of Rachel Mitchell

In what appears to be a cowardly move, the Republican majority Senate Judiciary Committee has decided to bring in an outside female attorney to question Christine Blasey Ford on this Thursday regarding allegations that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school. The initial appearance is that the Committee, whose Republican members are all old white men, do not want a repeat of the optics from the hearing of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, where an all male panel – some of them the same old white men – aggressively questioned Anita Hill about her allegations of harassment by Thomas.

Yet there may be a number of benefits of this approach – benefits to Ford and to the truth.

Having a woman interview Ford may be less emotionally traumatic for Ford, the victim, than being surrounded by a group of old white men interrogating her. It is likely that this female attorney will be more capable of asking questions in a sensitive way.

More importantly, though, is the background of this particular female attorney, Rachel Mitchell. She is a sex crimes prosecutor with a track record of handling cases where the crime was committed years ago. Surely such an individual will have a degree of expertise that the Senators do not have regarding what questions to ask.

Mitchell’s ability to perform her responsibility here will be impaired by the Committee’s unwillingness to have the FBI include an investigation of these allegations in their background check of Kavanaugh. Prosecutors in court typically have the benefit of an attempt at fact-finding by law enforcement.

Mitchell’s political allegiance to hardcore Republican former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, as well as her appointment by a highly partisan Republican Senate Committee bent of pushing Kavanaugh through regardless of the facts, make her presence worthy of skepticism. However, if she can be balanced in her pursuit of the truth with both Ford and Kavanaugh, the results may be more humane and effective than if the task had been left to the likes of Committee members Chuck Grassley (R-IA), John Cornyn (R-TX), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John Kennedy (R-IA), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Michael Lee (R-UT), Ben Sasse (R-NB), and Thom Tillis (R-NC).

Perhaps the Democrats should consider bringing in their own prosecuting attorney with specific expertise in sex crimes as well.

– rob rünt