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Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Theories of Wolff

I'd like to offer a few unconventional thoughts about Michael Wolff's book Fire and Fury.

How Wolff got in. It's pretty clear that Wolff wormed his way into the White House by pretending to be one of the boys. Specifically, he talked shit about the Clintons. You might say that Wolff updated the tactic used by many an infiltrator back in 1970, when anti-war protesters presumed that any long-haired dude who lit up a joint just had to be cool. Same strategy, different target group: Talking paranoid trash about Hillary is the new version of sparking up a spliff.

Trump took Wolff, at first, to be another Ed Klein. Apparently, Trump knows all about Klein and considers him a "great guy." Very telling.

Is Wolff really working for Trump? This is a theory that I can neither endorse nor dismiss. It's certainly counter-intuitive, and may strike many of you as too absurd to take seriously. Let's look at it anyways.

My big problem with Wolff's book is that it can be used to exonerate Trump. Wolff argues that Trump had no real desire to become president; therefore, Trump could not have known about any covert dealings with the Russians.

The evidence favoring that argument, when examined closely, is very thin. Trump ran to win, and the Trump/Russia conspiracy has been established pretty damned conclusively: See Luke Harding's book Collusion. Also see here and here.

Wolff mentions nothing about Dmitry Rybolovlev and his ultra-shady purchase of that Trump property for far more than it was worth. We see nothing here about the proposed Trump development deals in Russia. Not one mention of Deutsche Bank. Not one mention of the Bank of Cyprus.

The book does mention the Bayrock Group, but only in these perfunctory paragraphs:
• Tevfik Arif, a former Russian official who ran the Bayrock Group, a middleman in Trump financings with an office in Trump Tower.

• Felix Sater (sometimes spelled Satter), a Russian-born immigrant to Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, who had previously served time in prison in connection with a fraud at a Mafia-run brokerage and who went to work for Bayrock and had a business card identifying him as senior adviser to Donald Trump. (When Sater’s name later continued to surface, Trump assured Bannon he didn’t know Sater at all.)
That's all, folks.

No mention of those underaged prostitutes Arif is reported to have used to obtain kompromat on politicians and businessmen. If Wolff had let his readers know about that unsavory business, his readers might have formulated their own theories as to why Trump ran for president -- and ran to win, even though he may not have truly wanted the gig. We might also have a better understanding of why certain anti-Trump congress-critters are now Trump-worshippers. We might even comprehend why a certain personage associated with a certain intelligence committee has done so much on Trump's behalf.

Naturally, Wolff accepts the election results at face value. Don't buy a book like this expecting to see any reference to those precincts in Wisconsin where the Trump votes outnumbered the residents. Don't expect to see any mention of the fact that Trump's lawyers fought tooth and nail against a forensic examination of the voting tabulators. (Can you think of a legitimate reason for the lawyers to take that position? I can't.)

The theory that Wolff is secretly working for Trump could explain why this White House has done so much to increase the sales of Fire and Fury. Perhaps Wolff didn't really infiltrate the White House; perhaps he is infiltrating the Resistance.

As mentioned earlier: I can neither endorse nor dismiss this theory. I simply note it.

Wolff and the intelligence community. Here's an idea you probably won't see elsewhere: Is Michael Wolff connected to Spooksville?

(This theory may be impossible to reconcile with the one offered above. Again: I don't ask you to believe it, and I'm not saying that I believe it myself. Just mull it over.)

This "Spooky Wolff" idea first occurred to me years ago when I read Wolff's Rupert Murdoch bio, which offers a wholly unsatisfactory account of how Murdoch first acquired the financing to build his empire.

There have long been rumors -- not to mention a decent amount of evidence (plus these allegations from Sterling Seagrave) -- linking the Murdochian grubstake to the Nugan Hand affair. The CIA had parked a lot of Southeast Asian drug money in Australian banks toward the end of the Vietnam war, and more than a few people have wondered if that absurdly-huge influx of cash wasn't used to create the right-wing media universe as we know it today.

Do we hear about any of this in Wolff's book about Murdoch? No. Wolff does not address this allegation -- not even to disprove it. Either Wolff considers all such claims to be beneath his notice, or he was party to some sort of "old boys" agreement to exorcise the spooks.

Instead, Wolff's The Man Who Owns the News offers a not-very credible Murdoch origin story in which bankers just happen to toss endless funds at Murdoch's business ventures, many of which must have seemed pretty damned iffy at the time. Nice work if you can get it!

For my previous work on Murdochian links to the intelligence community, see here and here. If you follow the evidence trail with any kind of an open mind, you'll see that these links are not easy to dismiss; this is a valid area for further research, not an exercise in Alex Jonesian wackiness. Yet Wolff won't touch that stuff.

Now let's turn to Wolff's more recent work. His entrance into Trumpworld is really no different from the way Larry Kolb, a spy working for Miles Copeland, got into the orbits of Muhammed Ali and Adnan Khashoggi. If you read Kolb's book Overworld in conjunction with Wolff's, you'll see that both men used pretty much the same approach.

Wolff's recounting of Trump's bizarre speech at CIA headquarters is particularly striking. We've all heard about the sheer weirdness of his performance, but until Wolff's book came out, I didn't know how weird it truly was. On an occasion when he should have been mending fences, Trump offered the verbal equivalent of a Salvador Dali masterpiece. The new president more or less told an assemblage of Agency personnel that dogs become anteaters in a field of silent onions while the Batmobile eats the insidious raccoon who watches the Big Bang Theory on Channel Jesus.

(Okay, I'm paraphrasing. But Trump's actual remarks were only slightly more sensible.)

Wolff's recounting of this episode offers one very telling bit. Trump's ramblings include a riff on why we should have stolen the oil from the Iraq war.
You know the old expression, to the victor belongs the spoils? You remember I always say, keep the oil.”

“Who should keep the oil?” asked a bewildered CIA employee, leaning over to a colleague in the back of the room.
Most readers of this passage will only want to discuss the morality of oil-theft. What I want to know is this: How the hell did Wolff know what CIA personnel were saying in the back of the room?

Think about it. CIA guys don't open up with just any writer.

How did Wolff know that Kushner went to CIA headquarters to check out the rumor that Obama had asked (or semi-asked) the Brits to spy on Trumpworld?

Why is Wolff the only author who places such emphasis on the antipathy which Michael Flynn (following the lead of his friend Michael Ledeeen) holds for CIA?

Here's a passage worthy of consideration in this context:
“Deep state,” the left-wing and right-wing notion of an intelligence-network permanent-government conspiracy, part of the Breitbart lexicon, became the Trump team term of art: he’s poked the deep state bear.

Names were put to this: John Brennan, the CIA director; James Clapper, the director of national intelligence; Susan Rice, the outgoing National Security Advisor; and Ben Rhodes, Rice’s deputy and an Obama favorite.

Movie scenarios were painted: a cabal of intelligence community myrmidons, privy to all sorts of damning evidence of Trump’s recklessness and dubious dealings, would, with a strategic schedule of wounding, embarrassing, and distracting leaks, make it impossible for the Trump White House to govern.

What Kushner was told, again and again, is that the president had to make amends. He had to reach out. He had to mollify. These were forces not to be trifled with was said with utmost gravity.
Trump’s criticism seemed to align him with the left in its half century of making a bogeyman of American intelligence agencies. But, in quite some reversal, the liberals and the intelligence community were now aligned in their horror of Donald Trump.
As a side note, I would argue that the situation is bit more nuanced than Wolff indicates. Back in the 1990s, I noticed that the far-right made a habit co-opting many of the anti-CIA criticisms traditionally associated with the left. That's how the Birchers found new converts among the young and naive. It was not uncommon for young people to start out with Covert Action Information Bulletin and then "graduate" to works written by far-right conspiracy-peddlers. We all know that louts like Alex Jones and Roger Stone have tried to commandeer the work done by the JFK assassination research community.

Enough about that. I'd like to focus on these words:
...a cabal of intelligence community myrmidons, privy to all sorts of damning evidence of Trump’s recklessness and dubious dealings, would, with a strategic schedule of wounding, embarrassing, and distracting leaks, make it impossible for the Trump White House to govern.
(I love that word: "Myrmidon." Gotta start using it. It comes from the Iliad.)

The obvious inference here is that the leaks which have bedeviled Trump (perhaps including the revelations within this very book) stem, in part, from the intelligence community. Wolff has strongly implied that he has voice recordings which will verify much of what he says. Please note that he never has specified that he did the recording.

The less-obvious inference is that the endless stream of "wounding, embarrassing, and distracting leaks" which has bedeviled Bill and Hillary Clinton also stemmed from antipathy stirring within the intelligence community, or at least from one faction thereof. One could write an entire book about that, if one were of a mind to. Of course, anyone who writes a book defending the Clintons can't expect Michael Wolffian sales figures.

Here's another excerpt concerning the "Tapp" tweet:
With his misspellings and his use of 1970s lingo—“wire tapping” called up an image of FBI agents crouched in a van on Fifth Avenue -- it seemed kooky and farcical. Of the many tweets that Trump had seemed to hoist himself by, from the point of view of the media, intelligence community, and extremely satisfied Democrats, the wiretap tweets had pulled him highest and most left him dangling in ignorance and embarrassment.
This passage is trenchant. But how would Wolff know the intelligence community's reaction? I don't recall reading any articles published during that episode which relayed the IC's innermost views.

Of the Afghanistan decision:
The second option, a force of contractors and the CIA, was largely deep-sixed by the CIA. The agency had spent sixteen years successfully avoiding Afghanistan, and everyone knew that careers were not advanced in Afghanistan, they died in Afghanistan. So please keep us out of it.
Again, how would Wolff know?

Speaking of the JFK assassination: Students of that case will recognize one name that pops up in passing. Of the intel community's assessment that Russia helped Trump, Wolff offers the following:
“The underlying premise of the case is that spies tell the truth,” said the veteran intelligence community journalist Edward Jay Epstein. “Who knew?”
This, from freakin' Epstein -- they guy who, for decades, has operated on the principle Angleton said it, I believe it, and that settles it. Apparently, Epstein thought it was all right to mistrust the CIA, but not all right to mistrust Angleton's CIA-within-the-CIA.
You pull a lot of threads together here.

Very compelling, and thanks.

And myrmidons is indeed a great word. I'll take your lead and work it in where it fits!

Speaking of Nugan-Hand, don't know if you saw this:

Nugan Hand bank mystery: Michael Hand found living in the United States

This news article is all about the fraudulent misdirection that has been pushed about the Trump dossier;

"One of the most contentious issues surrounding the Trump dossier is the question of whether the FBI used unverified material from the dossier — a Clinton campaign opposition research product — to apply for permission to spy on Americans. Investigators from both House and Senate have long wanted to see any FISA applications (that is, spying requests filed with the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court) that dealt with the Trump-Russia affair.

Now, they have seen them.

Sources on both Capitol Hill and in the executive branch have confirmed that representatives of four committees — the House Intelligence Committee, Senate Intelligence Committee, House Judiciary Committee, and Senate Judiciary Committee — have had the opportunity to examine FISA documents in a secure room at the Justice Department."

What's overlooked is what this means for the investigation of the Trump/Russia conspiracy. "Any FISA applications... that dealt with the Trump-Russia affair" could include requests regarding; Manafort, Sater, Flynn, Bannon, Kushner, Donald Jr., Mercer, Prince, Guillianni, members of Congress, Trump himself, and others.

Investigators and prosecutors would want to control this information tightly. Is it now "out there". Do bad actors now know who has been miked? Have they had conversations with these people who were being recorded? Now the bad actors know what the investigators know. This could be a game changer.
Joseph, very interesting post. So much irony, so little time. You could have called it Wolff: Observations and Theories.

“Lotta strands in old Duder's head,” for the Lebowski fans.

Odd to run across Epstein. The only thing he wrote of memorable value I can recall is his piece on the fall of ont-time, but no longer French Presidential hopeful Dominique Strauss-Kahn:

Love the commenters on this site!
Nice to see you again XI.
Can we give Dianne Finstein credit for doing something with half a spine?
I am not advocating a total pardon, just a shout out to a Democrat that knows how to play the game.

Margie, you've got that about right, half a spine has Feinstein. Heh. Seriously, cynical though I am, I think she'd have done the same thing even if she faced no primary threat.

In re Epstein: the point I left unstated is that there had been a sense of some Agency being miffed about french secret police running that operation here in the US. Or, was that my imagination?
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