Tuesday, October 01, 2019

There Will Be Mud

This just in: I predicted from the start that the Trump administration would not cooperate in any way with the impeachment probe. Well, here we go.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday that five current and former State Department officials would not show up for depositions scheduled by House Democrats in connection with their impeachment inquiry.

Pompeo asserted that the committee’s demand for testimony from five current and former State Department officials beginning this week raised “significant legal and procedural concerns” and questioned the committee’s authority to compel an appearance by officials for a deposition through the letters sent last week, according to a letter that the secretary of State released on his Twitter feed.
The WP has more. Apparently, if you are on Team Trump, complying with a subpoena is optional.

Congress must compel testimony. Only actual arrests will do the job; financial penalties won't suffice. It's called inherent contempt -- and right now, there is no other option.

Will Nancy Pelosi do what must be done? I doubt it.

Regarding Barr's involvement in pressuring the Australians, as well as the Ukrainians: Am I the only one who recalls the right-wing outrage when Bill Clinton had a few minutes of private chit-chat with Loretta Lynch? Back then, the independence of the Attorney General had to be beyond reproach.

Today...pheh. Independence, shmindependence.

(More about Barr below.)

Mud. Team Trump's most familiar play is this: Personalize, then demonize.

That's what they did to Christopher Steele, and that's what they're doing right now. Trump insists that he wants the learn the whistleblower's identity. In fact, as Marcy notes, and as I have argued in a previous post, Trump surely already knows the name. He is forced to feign ignorance because someone told him that it would look better if he complied with the law -- the law which prevents disclosure of the guy's identity.

Long before any of this stuff became public, the administration learned all about the whistleblower from the CIA's Inspector General, a woman named Courtney Simmons Elwood. Don't mix her up with the Inspector General for the Director of National Intelligence, a guy named Michael Atkinson. (Different person. Very different.)

Elwood's tattle-taling means that Trump knew from the start that W -- that's what I call the whistleblower -- is a CIA Ukrainian specialist working in the White House.

Of course Trump was able figure it out from there. For all the jokes we make about Trump's "beautiful a-brain," he's not a complete idiot.

The pundits were crazy to lambaste the NYT for revealing that W was CIA. Trump already knew. He learned ages ago. The important aspect of the NYT story sailed right over the heads of most readers:
What is, instead, the important detail is that everything Elwood did in the wake of receiving the report, whether intentionally or not, not only served a cover-up, but also put the whistleblower at heightened risk.
You can bet the rent money that they are compiling a whole dossier on poor W. (By the way: We now know that he is, in fact, a guy.) If W has ever done anything even slightly questionable in his entire life -- if he ever voiced support for any Democrat, if he said something vaguely sexist to a girl he met at a bar in 1984, if he stole a Hershey bar in the third grade, anything -- the Trumpers will use that information.

Prepare for mother of all mud-slinging barrages. Trump will smear and smear and smear like his life depends on it, as arguably it does.

I wouldn't be surprised if W finds himself on the receiving end of an O'Keefe-style sting. But this sting will be perpetrated by pros, not by an amateur like O'Keefe.

I wouldn't be surprised if some woman who knew W in the 1990s is now being pressured -- or paid -- to cry "rape." I wouldn't be surprised if Virginia Heffernan believes her and Gloria Allred represents her.

I wouldn't be surprised if every phone conversation W has ever had is being studied right now, by either our NSA or by foreign services.

I don't know exactly which "mud pie" will stick to W's face. But trust me, folks: THERE WILL BE MUD.

Look at what they are doing to Inspector General Michael Atkinson right now. This is obscene, but it offers just a taste of what is to come. Apparently, we are supposed to hate Atkinson because he was once assigned to work for John Carlin, the head of the FBI's National Security Division. And we are supposed to hate Carlin because...reasons.

Something something something Mueller and Comey. You know: Reasons.

Are they reaching? Oh yes. They're reaching like Reed Richards in the outfield.

As you know, Trump and his propagandists have claimed that the whistleblower rules were recently changed to accommodate W. This lie began on The Federalist, the online organ of a Koch-funded secret society that has gained a near-stranglehold on our judiciary. (The Federalist Society is headed by a religious fanatic named Leonard Leo, a staunch member of the pro-fascist Knights of Malta.) The Federalist has become the place to go if you want an advance look at the Trump Party Line on the Ukraine scandal.

Inspector General Michael Atkinson fired back. He noted that the Whistleblower rules are set by statute and that the law has not changed. Moreover,
Atkinson noted that the entire issue is moot because the Trump whistle-blower did have firsthand knowledge. (“The whistleblower stated on the form that he or she possessed both first-hand and other information.”) So no, the law was not changed to allow complaints without firsthand knowledge. And no, this wouldn’t have mattered anyway, because the whistle-blower did have firsthand knowledge.
Yet the Federalist crew are still pushing this bullshit. Neither Trump nor Leonard Leo is interested in the truth. They are conscience-free individuals willing to tell any lie that furthers their personal goals.

Let's get back to Barr. I will confess that, at first, I wasn't sure if the revelation of his Australian and Italian adventures would prove helpful to the cause of impeachment. But then Marcy noticed something that escaped the notice of everyone else.

Note: Sidney Powell is the lawyer for Michael Flynn. She's also a right-wing firebrand and a welcome presence on Fox News. Marcy seems to have a particularly strong loathing of her.
I raise all this because of something Sidney Powell said on September 10. At the status hearing for her client, Mike Flynn, she said that they had a letter from the British Embassy that “undoes the whole Steele dossier debacle.”
WTF? The Steele Dossier is not relevant to the Flynn case. Not at all. The dossier's only mention of Flynn concerns his presence at that now-notorious dinner with Putin, and that bit of information was public knowledge. If memory serves, the video was already on YouTube.

Of course, the right keeps pushing the Big Lie that "It all began with Steele." That's not true. None of the charges against Flynn -- charges to which he pled guilty -- have anything to do the dossier. He pled guilty to being an unregistered agent for Turkey. What the hell does that have to do with the dossier?

Marcy strongly implies that Powell got this document from Bill Barr.
That raises the possibility that Bill Barr is not — as he claims — collecting “evidence” for a John Durham investigation into the start of the Russian investigation, but is instead (or also) collecting evidence he can share with those prosecuted by Mueller to help them undermine their guilty pleas and or convictions (which would raise interesting questions about Roger Stone’s focus on Crowdstrike, given that’s included in Trump’s list of propaganda he wants to extort from foreign countries).
Bill Barr has become Trump's new fixer. He's Michael Cohen with much more power and much, much more wiliness in the ways of covert operations.
But this claim — which was surprising to me at the time — raises real questions about whether Barr is using coerced evidence to undermine his own DOJ.
I disagree. I don't think that there's any question about it.

I'll add this: The letter passed to Powell came from British sources. Here's the WP on Barr's peregrinations:
Barr has already made overtures to British intelligence officials, and last week the attorney general traveled to Italy, where he and Durham met senior Italian government officials and Barr asked the Italians to assist Durham, according to one person familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue.
(Emphasis added.) John Durham is the guy charged with running the secret probe designed to gin up evidence in favor of right-wing anti-Mueller conspiracy theories. He's said to be a decent sort, though I have my doubts about that.

I've told you for years now: Do not trust British spooks. They are part of the problem. They helped elect Trump. To a large degree, they are Cambridge Analytica.

For more on Barr and his flagrant rule-breaking, see this WP opinion piece by Harry Litman:
Third, the attorney general’s personal involvement compromises the whole idea of Durham’s independence. How is Durham supposed to ignore the bear riding piggyback on his shoulders?
Can't we drop the presumption of independence? Durham went with Barr to meet spooky sources in Italy -- probably neo-fascists who want to besmirch Trump's enemies.
Which brings us to the next big problem with Barr’s unusual campaign. Its animating idea, in fact obsession, is simply wacky. No one has ever shown any satisfactory basis for the various conspiracy theories that Trump defenders have trotted out to argue that the investigation into Russian meddling was rotten at the core.

Indeed, the whole enterprise of trying to discredit the probe is half-cocked. The revelations in the Mueller report of extensive efforts by the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election are beyond dispute and extraordinarily grave. It is fortunate that the FBI undertook the probe with the seriousness it merited.
Nevertheless, I am predicting that the smear will work. Americans love conspiracy stories, and they don't much care if those stories make sense. Even the wackiest theory gains credibility if A) it is repeated by serious-looking guys wearing expensive suits and B) it has a smidgen of evidence behind it, no matter how dubious the sourcing or how insufficiently that evidence covers the larger theory.
It's the Chewbacca Defense.
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