A Firing of Spite

You may claim that New Yorkers may be liberal elitists who are out of touch with the rest of America. While most people in New York City view Donald Trump with open contempt, many in the rest of the US have absolutely no idea why. But despite their liberal leanings, their loathing for their fellow New Yorker in the White House has nothing to do with his politics, his supporters, or how they view the rest of the country. Even before he got into politics, New Yorkers hated him. Because Trump has lived in New York City his whole life and have way more experience with his cries than anyone else in the world. They know he’s a first-rate huckster who’s swindled workers, customers, contractors, and investors alike to enrich himself. He may be shrewd and cunning but with no morals, ethics, or any sense of responsibility for his egregious actions. They don’t see Trump as a great businessman he styles himself to be in his narcissistic delusion of grandeur. But rather a fraud whose life as a celebrity and real estate behemoth wouldn’t be possible without his privileged background and inherited wealth from his father. He doesn’t think the rules should apply to him or that he should suffer any consequences for anything he does. He constantly lies and harshly retaliates those who dare criticize or challenge him. And he’d lash out at anyone who’d say anything negative about him even in jest. But what I find most disturbing about Donald Trump is his propensity for spite.

On Friday, March 16, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe 2 days before his formal retirement which could cost him a federal pension. According to him, Justice Department Michael Horowitz found that in 2016, McCabe inappropriately allowed 2 top officials to speak to Wall Street Journal reporters on as story about FBI infighting over how to handle investigations into Hillary Clinton, particularly her email use as secretary of state and the Clinton Foundation. Specifically, McCabe authorized officials to push back against allegations that he had slowed down an investigation into the Clinton Foundation. According to the New York Times, the article states that the former deputy FBI director insisted his agents had the authority to investigate the foundation even if the Justice Department wouldn’t authorize grand jury subpoenas. Apparently, the inspector general’s report allegedly determines that McCabe lacked candor with internal investigators when asked about disclosures to the Wall Street Journal. That incident was under investigation as part of a broader look on how the FBI and Justice Department handled themselves during the 2016 presidential election. But McCabe lied about his authorization during an interview with the months-long probe, though he admits it as an honest mistake. That led to the FBI to recommend firing McCabe, which Sessions apparently accepted.

But the former deputy FBI director disputes this, writing in his searing statement: “The OIG investigation has focused on information I chose to share with a reporter through my public affairs officer and a legal counselor. As Deputy Director, I was one of only a few people who had the authority to do that. It was not a secret, it took place over several days, and others, including the Director, were aware of the interaction with the reporter. It was the same type of exchange with the media that the Deputy Director oversees several times per week. In fact, it was the same type of work that I continued to do under Director Wray, at his request. The investigation subsequently focused on who I talked to, when I talked to them, and so forth. During these inquiries, I answered questions truthfully and as accurately as I could amidst the chaos that surrounded me. And when I thought my answers were misunderstood, I contacted investigators to correct them.”
Andrew McCabe had resigned from his post as deputy FBI director after Donald Trump and other top administration officials publicly attacked him for months. He’s also stepped away from his responsibilities, hoping to wait to leave until his retirement date. If Trump wanted him gone, he didn’t need to fire him. He already accomplished that. Though there are real questions about McCabe’s performance at the FBI, there are deeper questions about Trump’s public vendetta against him, and the role Sessions played in his termination. He may not be innocent in wrongdoing. He made a questionable call about allowing a leak to the press during the 2016 campaign and apparently lying about it. But none of this was why Trump wanted him gone. Since it’s difficult to believe that the full weight of the presidency was focused on firing McCabe for improperly authorizing FBI officials to speak to the Wall Street Journal or even hiding it later.

Donald Trump wanted Andrew McCabe gone because of his role overseeing the Russia probe as well as his ties to James Comey, whom he loathes. He hasn’t hid the fact as he tweeted on St. Patrick’s Day, “Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI – A great day for Democracy. Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy. He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!” Trump thinks the former deputy FBI director is a James Comey-aligned Democrat who was biased against them (he’s not). And he believes his political appointees should protect him. Trump has carried out his vendetta with McCabe for months in public and in harshly personal terms. Nor did he pressure Jeff Sessions behind the scenes since the whole country witnessed his campaign. By 2018, his campaign had already worked since the then-deputy FBI director announced plans to retire. Therefore, the Trump administration fired McCabe not to remove him from government, but to deny him the pension he earned for 20+ years of government service. It was an act of punishment and spite, not personnel management.

Donald Trump’s fury over Andrew McCabe goes back to a long-running controversy over the latter’s wife’s allegedly compromising ties to Hillary Clinton. In 2015, McCabe’s wife ran for a state Senate seat in Virginia, with backing from the state Democratic Party and Clinton ally former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe. Trump and other Republicans have used the donations and Justice Department probe against McCabe to argue he was secretly harboring an anti-Trump agenda. Trump also made it personal by asking McCabe what it’s like to have a “loser” wife. The former deputy FBI director’s name also surfaced in a text message sent by FBI agent Peter Strzok, who was removed from Robert Mueller’s Russia probe over his anti-Trump bias. But Strzok mentioned someone named “Andy” in a text message with federal attorney Lisa Page suggesting there was a negative discussion about Trump in McCabe’s office. Conservative media jumped on this, implying that the deputy FBI director was part of a grand anti-Trump conspiracy. When Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in May 2017, McCabe became acting FBI director. Suddenly, a man Trump believed worked against him was leading the probe into his campaign’s connections to Russia.

Jeff Sessions’s explanation for the firing boils down to the “Integrity is our brand” mantra. But this comes from an attorney general who’s seemingly crossing ethical lines himself in making this decision. Sessions has recused himself in no uncertain terms from any questions related to the investigations into the Clinton campaign or Russia involvement during the 2016 election. But on March 16, Sessions fired Andrew McCabe for activities undeniably related to the Clinton investigation. Sure, he fired McCabe after public pressure from Donald Trump. But Trump is clearly angry at McCabe for activities related to the Russia investigation, which Sessions is also recused from. The attorney general has his personal and professional reasons to get rid of McCabe. His recusal pissed Trump off since it left him exposed to Mueller inquiries. In fact, Trump has publicly mocked Sessions for months in what is now a pressure campaign to get the attorney general to resign. Firing McCabe doesn’t just conflict with his recusal promise but it’s exactly what his boss wants from him. The former deputy FBI director’s firing is Sessions’s olive branch to a man who might fire him, coming at a time when Trump’s looking for administration appointees to can. Whatever damage McCabe has done to the FBI’s reputation is nothing compared what Sessions’s did to the Justice Department’s integrity.

This isn’t the first time Jeff Sessions has been accused of violating his recusal pledge. A watchdog group filed a complaint with the Justice Department in May that his participation in FBI Director James Comey’s firing was a violation of his pledge to recuse himself from matters involving Russia. They asked the department investigate the ordeal, issue a public report, and take additional action if deemed appropriate.

The Trump administration’s firing of Andrew McCabe is part of the cost of Donald Trump’s daily venality. As with Jim Comey’s firing last year, even when his administration makes a decision that might be justifiable on its own terms, the process by which that decision was made can’t be trusted and may be scandalous on its own. McCabe acted improperly enough that justifying his termination is possible. But Trump and Sessions acted so appallingly that it’s hard to trust the process leading to McCabe’s termination. Or to believe this was anything but an effort to punish and humiliate a perceived political enemy and to send a message to other who might investigate Trump that they do so at their peril. This is the problem when the White House is occupied by a vengeful man with nothing but contempt for institutional independence, rule of law, or government transparency. You can’t trust Trump to fairly and impartially carry out decisions like this one. So the decisions themselves can’t be trusted. In the broader sense, Trump’s behavior here looks and feels uncomfortably like the kind of purge authoritarian leaders use to clear the field of potential rivals, critics, and whistleblowers. He doesn’t need to frog-march adversaries off to their deaths to abuse his executive power, intimidate would-be informers, drive honest civil servants out of government, and silence anyone who might challenge him. He destroys his critics’ livelihoods and careers. He turns dissidents into enemies of the people. He uses his media access and public trust to smear them. The threat of his rule disappears with them, because few in government will want to challenge such ruthless power after seeing the consequences. In the words of Freedom House, Trump has, “deviated from established norms of ethics and transparency, verbally attacked crucial democratic institutions such as the news media and the judiciary, and made inflammatory and often inaccurate statements on a wide range of issues.”

In response to his dismissal, Andrew McCabe released a fiery statement, “I am being singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey. The release of this report was accelerated only after my testimony to the House Intelligence Committee revealed that I would corroborate former Director Comey’s accounts of his discussions with the President. The OIG’s focus on me and this report became a part of an unprecedented effort by the Administration, driven by the President himself, to remove me from my position, destroy my reputation, and possibly strip me of a pension that I worked 21 years to earn. The accelerated release of the report, and the punitive actions taken in response, make sense only when viewed through this lens. This attack on my credibility is one part of a larger effort not just to slander me personally, but to taint the FBI, law enforcement, and intelligence professionals more generally. It is part of this Administration’s ongoing war on the FBI and the efforts of the Special Counsel investigation, which continue to this day. Their persistence in this campaign only highlights the importance of the Special Counsel’s work.”

Like his former boss, McCabe kept memos including details on his interactions with Donald Trump, Comey, and other topics. And according to the Wall Street Journal, he gave the memos to special counsel Robert Mueller. It’s not clear that McCabe was worried about Trump lying to him like his boss. But his memos might be able to support Comey’s claim that Trump pressured him to end the FBI’s probe into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. If he does that, it makes Mueller’s obstruction of justice case much stronger as well as give him even more insight into how Trump dealt with FBI leadership and if at any point he attempted to end the probe. Given that he issued a fiery statement, gave memos to Mueller, and lawyered up, the battle over his ouster is far from over.

Soon after the news of the McCabe memos broke, Donald Trump tweeted, “As the House Intelligence Committee has concluded, there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump Campaign. As many now are finding out, however, there was tremendous leaking, lying, and corruption at the highest levels of the FBI, Justice, & State. #Drain the Swamp.” Minutes later, her fired of another tweet about McCabe, “The Fake News is beside themselves that McCabe was caught, called out and fired. How many hundreds of thousands of dollars was given to wife’s campaign by Crooked H friend, Terry M, who was also under investigation? How many lies? How many leaks? Comey knew it all, and much more!” This is basically an unfounded conspiracy theory that’s become increasingly hard to track. He later added, “The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime. It was based on fraudulent activities and a Fake Dossier paid for by Crooked Hillary and the DNC, and improperly used in FISA COURT for surveillance of my campaign. WITCH HUNT!” These are a slew of previously debunked allegations and misleading claims. He also accused Comey of lying under oath, questioned the existence and validity of McCabe’s memos, and criticized Mueller by name for allegedly filling the ranks of his team of prosecutors and investigators with Democrats. But while Trump and other Republicans complain about Mueller’s team’s political interests, it’s illegal to consider political affiliations when choosing who to hire, according to the FBI. As McCabe wrote in his statement, “The big picture is a tale of what can happen when law enforcement is politicized, public servants are attacked, and people who are supposed to cherish and protect our institutions become instruments for damaging those institutions and people.”

Nevertheless, Donald Trump’s firing of Andrew McCabe shows that his war with US law enforcement has entered a new phase and that he and his cronies feel more emboldened to attack Robert Mueller and others directly working on the Trump-Russia probe. In addition, it raises new fears that Trump would take the extreme step of firing Mueller, which both Democrats and Republicans claim would spark a constitutional crisis. Savannah Law School professor Andy Wright told Vox, “This is an escalation because it’s open warfare against the special counsel by name, and it’s capping off a 10-month effort to thwart the FBI and Mueller. I don’t know what happens next because we’re in uncharted territory.” On Saint Patrick’s Day, Trump’s lead personal lawyer John Dowd told reporters that Mueller’s probe should end, pointing to McCabe’s firing as a sign the whole investigation is tainted. Though he’s the same guy who told Axios in December that Trump “cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief executive law enforcement officer.” As if he hadn’t heard of Richard Nixon. And how presidents aren’t above the law as well as can be guilty of obstruction of justice. Still, the fallout from McCabe’s firing is deeply unsettling as Vox’s Ezra Klein argued, “McCabe’s firing shows how Trump has corroded the operations of the American government.” It may get worse in the coming days, especially if Trump warms up to try removing Mueller. But if he does, I hope as former CIA Director John Brennan tweeted, “When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history.”


Team of Cowards

On Monday, March 12, 2018, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee concluded their year-long investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. They concluded that neither Donald Trump nor anyone involved in his campaign colluded with Russia. Texas Representative Mike Conaway told reporters, “perhaps some bad judgment, inappropriate meetings, inappropriate judgment at taking meetings,” but nothing amounting to a coordinated and deliberate effort working with Russians to win the White House. Though the committee’s Republicans agreed that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, they “disagree with the narrative that they were trying to help Trump.”
But do the House Intelligence Committee Republicans’ findings mean there wasn’t any collusion? Absolutely not. A US intelligence community’s January 2017 assessment clearly stated that Russia wanted Donald Trump to win. Then there’s Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russians for working to help Trump win through sowing divisions via the internet. Some of pleaded guilty of lying to the FBI. George Papadopoulos, Michael Flynn, and Rick Gates have agreed to plea deals in which they’ll cooperate with Mueller’s team.

On March 15, Mueller reportedly subpoenaed Trump Organization documents, including some related to Russia. Though it’s not exactly clear what this subpoena covers or why Mueller issued one, it’s not hard to guess. Donald Trump has made a concerted effort to keep his finances secret. He has never released his tax returns and despite calling himself a billionaire, we have no idea how much money he makes. Recent reports also suggested that Mueller has turned his attention to some of Trump’s business activities, including his past attempts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. In fact, CNN reported in February that Mueller was questioning witnesses about Trump’s 2013 trip to Moscow and asking about when he decided to run for president. Not to mention, Trump has a decades long history of corrupt business practices and shady associations with dictators and crooks.

In addition, the Mueller probe has expanded to include foreign business dealings from people within Trump’s orbit, most notably his son-in-law Jared Kushner. According to CNN, Mueller looked at Kushner’s efforts to get foreign investors for his family’s real estate company’s projects during the transition. The special counsel’s investigators have also asked witnesses about Kushner’s talks with a Chinese insurance company and a former Qatari prime minister. NBC News reported that Mueller’s team asked about Kushner’s conversations with potential investors from Russia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. They were particularly interested whether these business talks “later shaped White House policies.” And they didn’t leave empty-handed either. Because Qatari officials claimed having evidence that Kushner coordinated with Gulf States to hurt Qatar, but “decided against cooperating with Mueller for now out of fear it would further strain the country’s relations with the White House.”

Furthermore, Democrats on the committee have consistently argued that Republicans had no real intention of finding out the truth. In one instance, they claimed that Republicans didn’t use the committee’s full power to subpoena documents or compel further testimony that key witnesses held from investigators. They also noted that Republicans never interviewed key witnesses like former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, and his associate Rick Gates, all of whom Mueller indicted. In addition, let’s not forget that California Rep. Devin Nunes chaired the House Intelligence Committee, despite being on Donald Trump’s transition team. In fact, he had to recuse himself for sharing Trump campaign investigation information with the Trump administration without letting ranking Democrat Adam Schiff know about it. Nor did the committee Republicans let Schiff know that they’ve concluded the investigation. Nunes also wrote a memo claiming the FBI illegally surveilled a low-level Trump foreign policy adviser, which Schiff rebuked. As Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro told Vox, “The premature closing of this investigation represents a betrayal of the American people and public trust. There is no possible way that this finding can be verified given the amount of outstanding subpoenas we have, leaving the Committee and Congress’ investigative and enforcement powers at stake.”

While the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation has been marred with hyperpartisan drama, we must understand that Republicans have spent the last year to protect Donald Trump to hold onto their power in Congress. They’ve tried to delegitimize the US intelligence community’s assertion that Russia tried to help Donald Trump win the White House. They’ve tried to delegitimize the Mueller investigation. They’ve even tried to paint the whole Russian investigation as a conspiracy between the Democrats and the FBI which it’s not. But all these efforts have failed. In fact, a day after the House Intelligence Committee ended their investigation with a no collusion verdict, leading GOP members of that panel have walked away from that claim and grudgingly admitted that the Kremlin worked to undermine Hillary Clinton and boost Trump. That’s basically a 180 from what they claimed before. Still, the GOP’s sudden retreat in their assertions about Russian meddling is a latest blow to the House Republicans’ investigation credibility, which the Democrats have derided as a partisan farce aimed at defending Trump from collusion accusations rather than uncovering the truth.

Now the Democrats aren’t above the trivial partisan mudslinging. But seeing how Republicans conducted themselves during the House Intelligence Committee, it’s difficult to disagree. Especially when it comes to Republicans rejecting a January 2017 report by the CIA, FBI, and NSA claiming that Russia was initially focused on harming Clinton but “developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.” Democrats have also publicly detailed leads they claim Republicans should’ve pursued but didn’t. These range from whether the Trump campaign worked with Wikileaks to whether Donald Trump has undisclosed ties to Russia which can give them leverage over him. They say that Republicans should’ve forced tech companies like Apple, Twitter, and WhatsApp to provide access to messages to Trump’s campaign team sent to other aides and outside organizations like Wikileaks. They also wanted Republicans to make sure firms like Google, Facebook, and Snapchat turned over more information about Russia’s potential use of social media accounts to spread messages undercutting Clinton and boosted Trump.

There’s also a little-known Trump aide named Tera Dahl who held a senior role in his campaign and served as deputy chief at the National Security Council after he took office. Before becoming a formal campaign staffer, Dahl was part of the foreign advisory office the Trump campaign set up in April 2016 after Donald Trump announced a slew of advisers to his team, including George Papadopoulos and Carter Page. After the office’s establishment, Trump adviser Walid Phares suggested to the head that the campaign try to set up contact with foreign diplomats. Dahl was tasked with running the initiative with 2 other campaign staffers. According to them, that outreach was in part to try to preemptively sell Trump’s proposed “Muslim ban” to other countries’ leaders. Advisory team staff met with the Italian ambassador to the US and were scheduled to meet with Spain’s ambassador before senior Trump campaign officials shut down the outreach program after less than a month. Since resigning from the National Security Council in July, Dahl has largely remained out of the spotlight. But Democrats are interested in her because in July 2016, Carter Page sent her and another Trump adviser an email offering to report back on a planned trip from Moscow that month. Page promised he’d send “a readout soon regarding some incredible insights and outreach I’ve received from a few Russian legislators and senior members of the Presidential administration here.” Those Russian “insights” are precisely why Democrats want to hear from her and why they thought she should’ve been forced to testify. As Rep. Schiff said in his critique, “The Committee has reason to believe that Ms. Dahl would have insight into Trump campaign-related meetings and calls with foreign persons, including Russian officials or representatives.” Due to House Republicans formally closing their probe, we won’t be hearing from Dahl anytime soon, if ever. Guess it’s up to Robert Mueller to get this canary to sing.

We should also understand that Donald Trump ran a chaotic and disorganized presidential campaign like you’d expect by a political novice. His lack of organization, combined with unorthodox policies like attacks on traditional allies and kind words about traditional US adversaries, led most mainstream Republican operatives and experts to shy away. As a result, his campaign attracted a cast of incompetent, questionable, and/or pro-Russian characters. Russia saw Trump’s chaotic campaign as an irresistible target for Russian intelligence and repeatedly attempted to penetrate it. In fact, they successfully contacted several Trump campaign officials ranging from junior figures like George Papadopoulos to at least one member of Trump’s inner circle, Donald Trump Jr. Because Russia tried reaching out to the Trump team on so many occasions and through so many avenues, Mueller now has plenty of leads to investigate.

Though the notion of Russia attempting to influence American elections isn’t particularly new, what made 2016 stand out was the combined outreach to a potentially friendly presidential campaign and spreading fake news with the theft of Hillary Clinton’s private emails. It was a comprehensive campaign that would’ve never really worked without a campaign like Donald Trump’s in the field. Trump’s mercurial personality and heterodox policy ideas alienated much of the mainstream Republican Party and virtually all its foreign policy establishment. In fact, neoconservatives and other GOP Russia hawks from the George W. Bush administration and Mitt Romney’s 2012 foreign policy team were among the party’s loudest Never Trumpers. So with the top tier of talent unavailable, Trump had to draw people outside the GOP mainstream: people who had been marginalized either due to little experience and questionable views on race or for having surprisingly pro-Russian policy positions. Campaign aide Sam Nunberg had limited political experience and a history of racist Facebook posts. George Papadopoulos was 29 and listed the Model UN on his resume and lied about the extent of his involvement but still got to be a Trump foreign policy adviser. This would be like me getting a cab driver job despite having no driver’s license and lying about driving a toy car during my childhood. Paul Manafort’s sketchy decade-long work for pro-Russian Ukranian leader Viktor Yanukovych wouldn’t put him on any other GOP candidate’s shortlist for campaign manager. Steve Bannon ran Breitbart as a platform of the Alt-Right. Steve Miller is in his early 30s and was a buddy white supremacist in high school. Even the Trump advisers with the most impressive-seeming resumes like Michael Flynn and Jeff Sessions had unusually close ties or warm feelings about the Kremlin. This whole dynamic made Trump a candidate appear friendly for the Kremlin if he won along with several access points through staff they knew or inexperienced that the Russians tried to exploit. As former CIA operative John Sipher told Vox, “[When] Trump people are being positive toward Russia or even helping out, you almost have a perfect storm, where all the Russian efforts are coming together, and they’re seeing they have enough material to put together a comprehensive program.” Those appearing to have Kremlin ties tried tactic after tactic to gain access to Trump’s camp. Donald Trump Jr. was offered Russian assistance through his friend and Russian pop star Emin Agalarov. A group of Russian hackers involved with the Clinton email theft used the persona Guccifer 2.0 to exchange private Twitter messages with Trump political adviser Roger Stone. Papadopoulos met with a London-based professor claiming to have “thousands” of Clinton emails and a woman claiming to be Putin’s niece. Too bad for him the feds got wind of it when he drunkenly bragged about it to an Australian ambassador.

Of course, we don’t know the extent to which this lead to actual, intentional collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign or if such collusion happened at all. But the extent of the contacts makes it difficult to believe there wasn’t any. But what’s clear is the Trump campaign didn’t tell anyone to knock it off. In fact, roughly the opposite happened. Trump Jr. took the meeting with Agalarov’s representative, answering to the offer of Russia dirt on Clinton with the line: “If it’s what you say I love it.” When a “professor friend” offered Papadopoulos “thousands” of Clinton emails stolen by Russia, he didn’t report it to the FBI. In fact, he went around telling top Trump campaign officials that he wanted to set up an official Russian visit, writing in an email: “[I] have been receiving a lot of calls over the last month about Putin wanting to host him [Trump] and the team when the time is right.” We don’t know the extent to which Trump Jr. and Papadopoulos spoke for the overall campaign. But things in the Trump campaign were so disorganized that nobody told these 2 political neophytes to cut it out. Even if they weren’t authorized to talk to Russians, it would’ve been reasonable for the Russians to think they were. By refusing to tell the Russians to stop and creating a chaotic pro-Russian campaign, Donald Trump implicitly encouraged Vladimir Putin to intensify his attempts to interfere with the US election.

The House Republicans’ willingness to end their year-long investigation into Russian election meddling by rejecting the US intelligence community’s unanimous assessment presents the most tangible evidence to date that they’re going all in to shield Donald Trump from campaign collusion accusations. As Rep. Eric Swalwell said in a statement, “Instead of defending America from a future attack, the Republican response has been to constantly attack the police and intelligence officials charged with guarding our democracy.” The release of an upcoming report comes as Trump’s defenders inside and outside Congress step up their attacks on Mueller, pointing to a mound of “evidence” (much of it exaggerated, mischaracterized, or outright false) to justify his firing. By accepting that the Russians meddled but saying that they didn’t prefer Trump, Republicans aim to build a public case that there’s no need for the Mueller probe since there’s no actual evidence for collusion. Making that case means attacking the US intelligence and law enforcement who explicitly reported that Russia meddled in the US election to explicitly help Trump win the White House. Naturally, Trump and his allies have rejected the 2017 findings, partly because they believe they’re part of a broad attempt to delegitimize his surprise electoral win and prevent his administration from focusing on its policy agenda. There is also a faction of congressional Republicans who believe that Mueller’s probe is biased against Trump and that its leader needs to be fired. The fight has spilled into public view and grown increasingly ugly. But the Republicans’ willingness to retain power through any means necessary undermines Americans’ trust in government and democracy. Instead of honestly assessing Russian election meddling, the GOP prefer to brush the whole thing as a distraction. Because honestly assessing the whole thing might mean turning against Trump and losing elections. If they didn’t find any evidence of collusion, then it’s because they didn’t want to.

While the question of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign remains, there is no question that Donald Trump has tried to interfere in the investigation. Trump has tried ordering counsel Doug McGahn to fire Mueller and later lie about threatening it to the public. He’s also brought up his former chief-of-staff Reince Priebus’s testimony with Mueller investigators during the latter’s December visit to the White House. These two interactions could fuel perceptions that Trump tried influencing both Mueller witnesses, putting him in further legal trouble. He’s reportedly asked Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein about the Russia investigation and whether the guy was on his “team.” Hell, Mueller wasn’t involved in the Russia investigation until after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, whose “loyalty” he requested. He’s also inquired Attorney General Jeff Sessions about who then-deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe voted for in 2016. He’s asked Sessions about his “loyalty” after his recusal from the Russia probe. Trump has also publicly doubted increasingly clear evidence that Russia interfered in the 2016 election on Twitter, TV interviews, and rallies on numerous occasions. Mueller’s case against Trump looks incredibly damning as of 2018. The more Republicans defend Trump, the more they enable him to inflict damage on our democratic institutions. Avoiding to honestly assess the Russian meddling situation is not good for America, no matter what the reason.


Armed Teachers: Are you F#@king Kidding Me?

At 2:19 p.m. on Wednesday, February 14, 2018, a former student went on a shooting rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. When the firing subsided, 17 people were dead. 12 of the victims were found inside the school, 2 outside the building, 1 on the street, and 2 others died in the hospital. 14 others were injured and taken to local hospitals with many in critical condition. According to students, chaos ensued when a fire alarm sounded near dismissal time. The shooter started firing outside before making his way through the hallways. He wore a gas mask and used smoke grenades to start picking off people as the kids came out. One student recounted classroom windows shattering and a bullet near the shades. While hiding under a teacher’s desk, she heard 4 of her injured classmates screaming in pain. As SWAT officers escorted students out of the classroom, she saw them covered in blood. One teacher told CNN that she hid her students in a closet until law enforcement arrived. TV footage showed students running single file with their hands in the air, throwing backpacks into a large pile and huddling under trees across the street. SWAT officers entered classrooms with guns drawn and escorted shaking and crying students. Worried parents crowded around the school, frantic to know whether what happened to their child.

Arrested a short distance near a home was 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz. A former student, he’d been expelled for “disciplinary reasons” but was once a member of the school’s Junior Reserved Officers Training Corps. Some students and teachers said they knew him and that he had guns. Though a quiet kid who usually kept to himself, he was uniquely troubled since had once attended a school for emotionally and disabled students. One former classmate said Cruz would joke about shooting people or establishments. He’d talk a lot about having guns and using them in different situations. He also had some anger management issues. His math teacher told a newspaper, “We were told last year that he wasn’t allowed on campus with a backpack on him. There were problems with him last year threatening students, and I guess he was asked to leave campus.” Even the Broward Sheriff’s Office showed concerns about Cruz for more than 2 years before the incident took place. In 2016, deputies went to his home more than 3 dozen times. That September, a “peer counselor” reported that Cruz might’ve attempted suicide via gasoline, was cutting himself, and wanted to buy hunting guns. His mother Lynda said her son “wrote hate signs on his book bag and had recently talked of buying firearms.” In September 2017, his comment with his intention to become a “professional school shooter” on a YouTube video was reported to the FBI in Mississippi. After his mother’s death in November, her cousin Katherine Blaine reported that Cruz owned rifles and asked the BSO to collect them. Later that month, she called the BSO again to report him fighting with her 22-year-old son. She also shared details that Cruz, “bought a gun from Dick’s last week and is now going to pick it up.” She added that he “bought tons of ammo,” and had “used a gun against (people) before” and “put the gun to others’ heads in the past.” In January 2018, the FBI received a tip “a person close to Nikolas Cruz,” alerting them to “Cruz’s gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behavior, and disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting.”

Nikolas Cruz’s arsenal consisted of an AR-15 style rifle and countless magazines, legally purchased from a Coral Springs gun store. When arrested, he had 180 rounds of ammunition left. Given that his behavior signaled red flags and local law enforcement response, it’s clear that this guy shouldn’t be able to buy a gun like that. However, if the Trayvon Martin incident should tell us anything it’s that Florida has notoriously shitty gun laws. Martin’s killer George Zimmerman was still allowed to carry a gun despite an arrest record and a history of violence. He also got away with killing a black teenager thanks its “stand your ground” which lets a person shoot an assailant if they’re attacked in a place where they have a legal right to be and avoid criminal prosecution. Despite that Martin was an unarmed teenager minding his own business when Zimmerman went after him. Orlando Pulse nightclub shooter Omar Mateen was still able to legally purchase a Saur SIG MCX semi-automatic and a 9mm Glock handgun despite a history of domestic violence and had been investigated by the FBI twice for terrorism connections. In addition, you don’t have to be a Florida resident to get a concealed carry handgun permit from its Department of Agriculture. But you don’t need a permit or license to own a gun or even conceal carry a rifle or shotgun. Nor do you have to register a firearm either. In Florida, you can buy as many guns as you want at one time. They don’t regulate assault weapons, .50-caliber rifles, or high capacity magazines either. Hell, they don’t even require a state license for gun sellers to sell firearms. It’s easy to imagine how Cruz could get weapons from a gun store to shoot up his high school. But surely local governments can enact their own gun control rules? Actually, Florida prohibits cities and counties from doing exactly that. In fact, elected officials who dare implement new gun restrictions can be fined or removed from office by the governor.

These students experienced what will be most traumatic event in their lives. It’s no surprise that several have criticized the usual “thoughts and prayers” condolences and have urged politicians to take action to prevent more children from getting killed in shootings. Some of them have demanded stricter gun control measures, organized a group called Never Again MSD, and condemned lawmakers who’ve received contributions from the National Rifle Association. On February 17, they held a rally at Fort Lauderdale attended by hundreds. On February 20, dozens of Stoneman Douglas High School students marched to the State Capitol in Tallahassee, where they watched the Florida House of Representatives reject a bill that would’ve banned assault weapons and high capacity magazines in a 71-36 vote. More than 3,000 attended a rally at the Florida State Capitol the following day while state’s students orchestrated a mass walkout. Never Again MSD and other groups have also played in pressuring corporations into revoking their NRA sponsorships and discounts to NRA members.

But these students’ crusade has attracted considerable backlash from the NRA and its allies on the political right. Conspiracy theorists claimed they’re “crisis actors,” left-wing puppets, or just kids. Some pundits see these students’ reactions as emotional and immature, which the media is taking too seriously. As the National Review’s Ben Shapiro wrote, “What, pray tell, did these students do to earn their claim to expertise?” The NRA and its allies have also pinned mass shootings on mental health, violent media, the mainstream news, and anything else but guns. Yet, what concerns me are what the NRA and its allies propose to do to prevent mass shooting epidemic. Instead of challenging the National Rifle Association’s grip on American gun politics or an assault weapons ban, some conservatives have suggested measures like putting armed drones in schools, using Homeland security technology to create barriers against potential shooters, arming retired police and military personnel to guard classrooms, or using the same security mechanisms as airports. All these policy ideas bring the “police state” into the classroom. As someone who grew up in the wake of Columbine with transparent backpacks, metal detectors, security cameras, and morning security checks, I don’t want to encourage any of it. Some of them are utterly ridiculous, expensive and impractical. Armed drones were designed to kill, cost as much as $30,000, and would be extremely dangerous in a school setting. Even conservatives have decried the Transportation Security Administration’s ineffectiveness and heavy-handed policies (like missing 95% of weapons and explosives in 2015). Not to mention, its annual budget is $7.5 billion for 15,000 airports, let alone 98,000 public schools. Oh, according to the National Association of School Resource Officers, around 40% of public schools have at least one full-time or part-time SRO. MSD High School and every single high school in its district had one. Only 12 states have laws specifying requirements for law enforcement officials working in schools which may or may not involve preparing for mass shootings. Besides, SRO and student confrontations have increased in recent years. Metal detectors have also proved ineffective.

However, the most crackbrained idea in the NRA school of mass shooting prevention is arming teachers, which Donald Trump has endorsed even if it means paying “a little bit of bonus” to do so. Apparently, this is an extension of the “good guy with a gun” myth, which states that if more people are armed, they can stop violence before it gets worse or prevent it altogether. However, this is just a mere fantasy you see in action movies. There’s no good research on the effect of arming teachers or putting armed police or security in schools, which by itself should raise red flags. But based on the evidence we have, there’s enough to suggest that putting more guns in schools could make gun violence worse. The notion of arming teachers is so completely insane that even teachers don’t want anything to do with it.

The fundamental problem with gun violence in the United States is that there are so many guns in circulation already. As a result, it’s easier for any conflict to escalate into a form of gun violence. And that’s why the US has more shootings than its developed peers. Add more guns, you get more gun violence and more gun deaths. Sure some people have successfully defended themselves from attacks with guns. But arming more people typically does more harm than good. Apply that lesson to school, then Donald Trump’s armed teacher proposal could be downright dangerous.

The United States has way more gun deaths than other developed nations and far more guns than any other country in the world. It also has by far the highest number of privately owned guns which was 88.8 per 100 people, followed by the quasi-failed state of Yemen which had 54.8 guns per 100 people. Though mass shootings only constitute less than 2% of such deaths in 2013, the US holds 31% of global mass shooters. Of course, guns aren’t the only contributor to violence. But when researchers control other confounding variables, they’ve repeatedly found that America’s high levels of gun ownership are a major reason why the US experiences far more gun violence than its developed peers.

A 1999 Berkeley study found that the US doesn’t have more crime than other developed nations. It’s that the prevalence of guns largely drives more lethal violence. As Professors Franklin Zimring and Gordon Hawkins wrote, “A series of specific comparisons of the death rates from property crime and assault in New York City and London show how enormous differences in death risk can be explained even while general patterns are similar. A preference for crimes of personal force and the willingness and ability to use guns in robbery make similar levels of property crime 54 times as deadly in New York City as in London.” People all over the world get into arguments and fights with friends, family, and peers. But in the US, it’s much more likely that someone will get in an argument and be able to pull out a gun and kill someone. Now imagine a school scenario where some kids or teachers get into an argument while there’s a gun in class. When someone reaches for it, what may have turned into an otherwise feisty argument escalates into a fatal clash. Considering that shootings have erupted over cheeseburger and taco disputes, people can do stupid things in the heat of the moment. Americans don’t have a monopoly on arguing about stupid shit. But what it does have is an easy access to guns, making escalation much more likely. Being on the autistic spectrum, an increased presence of guns in schools is the stuff of nightmares. Arming teachers will only increase the presence of guns, which could lead to more gun violence and school shootings.

While the NRA likes to promote the idea of owning a gun as a way to defend oneself against criminals, statistics show that for every justifiable gun homicide, there were 34 criminal gun homicides, 78 gun suicides, and 2 accidental gun deaths. An FBI report on active shooter events between 2000 and 2013 found that armed civilians stopped only 3% of them. By contrast, unarmed civilians actually stopped 13% incidents. 56% of them ended on the shooter’s own initiative when they killed themselves, simply shot shooting, or fled the scene. Since there’s no good research for answers, it’s difficult to say whether more access to guns could’ve prevented these shootings. But since the US already has a lot of guns, it’s likely to make the overall gun violence problem worse, not better.

Finally, and most importantly, Donald Trump and the NRA’s comments about arming teachers suggest that this would be an easy and quick way to end mass shootings. According to a tweet last week, “History shows that a school shooting lasts, on average, 3 minutes. It takes police & first responders approximately 5 to 8 minutes to get to site of crime. Highly trained, gun adept, teachers/coaches would solve the problem instantly, before police arrive. GREAT DETERRENT!” Except that arming people doesn’t mean they can properly respond to a mass shooting. As Pennsylvania police investigator Chris Benton told ABC News, “Video games and movies, they glorify gunfights. [People] get that warped sense that this is true — this video game is exactly what I can do in real life. That’s not reality.” Multiple simulations have demonstrated that if placed in an active shooting situation while armed, most people wouldn’t be able to stop the situation. If anything, they may do little more than get themselves killed in the process. More recently, The Daily Show’s Jordan Klepper put this theory to the test in a more comedic simulated segment. As a correspondent at the time, he trained in the basics of using firearms and received a concealed carry permit valid in 30 states. He then participated in mass shooting situations to see how he’d hold up in such a scenario. He failed miserably. In his final test simulating a school shooting, he shot an unarmed civilian and was shot multiple times by active shooters and even law enforcement who mistook him for the bad guy. He never took down the active shooters. Let’s just say that he would’ve been much better off if he waited for the cops while hiding under a desk.

What gun rights activists sold on the NRA’s “good guy with a gun” fantasy ignore is that mass shootings are traumatizing, terrifying events. Without dozens to hundreds of hours in training, most people aren’t going to quickly and properly respond to mass shootings, As Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training senior instructor Cobey Briehn told Klepper, “There’s never enough training. You can never get enough.” According to an FBI analysis of active shooters between 2000 and 2013, “Law enforcement suffered casualties in 21 (46.7%) of the 45 incidents where they engaged the shooter to end the threat.” These people trained to do this kind of thing full time. Yet, nearly half of these incidents resulted in at least one officer getting wounded or killed. Teachers with limited training would fare much worse. Of course, that’s if armed personnel even respond.
Yet, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s resource officer Scot Peterson was armed and trained for a mass shooter scenario. According to the NRA’s convoluted logic, this good guy with a gun should’ve been able to stop Nikolas Cruz from shooting up his school. But when Peterson heard actual gunfire, he ran towards the building but didn’t go in. Instead, he waited for 4-6 minutes until the gunshots stopped. It’s like he didn’t know whether to shit or wind his watch. That doesn’t mean that “a good guy with a gun” wouldn’t ever be able to stop a shooter. For there are high-profile cases where it’s been the case. But most findings from news organizations to The Daily Show heavily suggest that this idea often plays out very differently than what the NRA and Trump supporters envision. Sometimes that could result in more innocent people caught in the crossfire.

The research makes it perfectly clear. If the United States wants to confront gun violence, it should consider reducing the number of guns in circulation, not arming teachers. What people do with their guns at home is their business. But there is no place for guns in a public space, especially a school. While many may think that gun free zones make people defenseless in an active shooter situation, unarmed civilians have stopped 13% of mass shootings. Besides, your odds of survival in an active shooter scenario are much higher if you try to avoid getting killed like hiding in a closet or under a table. No student should have to die because some middle age white guy wants to play Rambo with a brand-new assault rifle. If he wants to play Rambo, he should buy a semi-automatic nerf gun from Toys R’ Us like his kids do. Or a super soaker. At least you won’t kill anyone with either. Oh, those guns don’t look real enough for a big, brawny tough guy? Well, use your imagination like most kids do when playing with their toys.

Arming teachers to prevent future massacres in the classroom is a ludicrously stupid idea, especially since a Georgia high school teacher blockaded his door and proceeded to shoot. According to Donald Trump and his allies, teachers should be capable of “neutralizing” “threats.” In other words, killing their students. If you’re a teacher, imagine waking up every morning knowing that you might have to take the life of a young person in your care, should the unthinkable happen. Imagine this being part of your job like assigning extra homework or detention. Should Jimmy pull a knife and you or your students feel sufficiently threatened, could you point a gun at him and shoot him until he’s dead? Even if at the risk of accidentally killing his classmates? Besides, while there are plenty of fine teachers in our nation’s public school system, you’ll also find plenty of idiots and perverts. Some white teachers may be racist who might feel threatened if a student of color acts up. Would you trust them with a gun? Some teachers may not have the eyesight or the physical capability to handle weapons. Some teachers may not be emotionally able to handle such responsibility of taking a student’s life due to nervous breakdowns. Some teachers might be irresponsible with their instruments of death that their piece might somehow end up in a student’s hands. Then what? A student getting a gun can present lots of terrible possibilities. Others may not want anything to do with guns at all. Not to mention, what if guns in the classroom keep children from attending school? There are many ways this can go horribly wrong.

It’s distressing that people in this country think putting weapons in teachers’ hands is the only way to prevent students from killing each other with guns. Yet, arming teachers is a way for these people to ensure children’s safety without making sacrifices for the greater good. And by sacrifices, I mean buying a semi-automatic they don’t need to play soldier with, give a false sense of security, and assure their toughness and masculinity. A society with armed teachers isn’t one that promotes freedom or safety. Since you’re one social faux pas or trigger away from getting your head blown off by a stranger. That is not a society I want to live in. Nor do most Americans, in that matter. Teachers shouldn’t have to pack heat knowing that they may have to kill a student in a mass shooting situation. If we want to keep students safe in school, then we need to keep guns out of the classroom.


A Slew of Indictments in Russiagate

On Friday, February 16, 2018, Special Counsel Robert Mueller filed an indictment formally accusing 13 Russian nationals and 3 companies of interfering in the 2016 Election. According to a 37-page document he released, Russian operatives working for the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency used several social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Some accounts included ones like “Woke Blacks” and “Blacktivists” to urge Americans to either vote for third party candidates or sit out of the election entirely. This indictment illustrates the lengths a Russian troll farm went to inflame racial tensions through operating several social accounts intended to discourage African Americans from voting in the election. In accounts targeting Trump supporters, operatives reputedly stoked voter fraud fears with already debunked claims in the lead-up to the presidential election. Such claims included an allegation that ineligible votes helped Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the Florida primary and that she stole the Iowa Caucus. As Vox’s Jennifer Williams explains, these indictments serves as the “federal government’s most detailed public description of just how far some Russians were willing to go to help Trump win the presidency — and of the kinds of tactics they could use to meddle in this fall’s midterm elections as well.”

The indictment also explicitly states that the Russians were posing as Americans while communicating with “unwitting” Trump campaign members. Thus, so far, we can’t determine that anyone in the Trump campaign knowingly colluded with the Russians indicted. Nor can we say that the Russian government or Vladimir Putin directed, funded, or carried out this operation. Nor does it say the interference had any effect on the 2016 Election. In a way, the of evidence pertaining to Russian collusion bolsters core arguments Donald Trump and his cronies have made for months denying any Russian collusion or meddling during 2016.

Nevertheless, the indictment doesn’t necessarily clear Donald Trump from any Russian shenanigans whatsoever. For it outlines a vast conspiracy by Russian operatives to help Trump win the election, involving thousands of fake social media accounts and numerous staged pro-Trump rallies in multiple states across the country. In fact, the document’s sheer magnitude and acute attention to detail of the 13 Russians and 3 companies indicted shows just how much investigative muscle the Mueller probe really has. So if there’s anything to find on Trump and his associates, Mueller can do it.

Unfortunately, none of the 13 Russians and 3 companies will probably never see an American courtroom. But the indictment will stand so far as the federal government’s most detailed public description of just how far some Russians were willing to go to help Donald Trump win the presidency. In addition, it shows the kinds of tactics they could use to meddle in this fall’s midterm elections as well. Robert Mueller’s 13 Russian indictments makes it difficult to deny Russian involvement in our election even if Donald Trump and his allies will still deny collusion. To be found guilty of collusion or conspiracy to interfere in our elections requires “knowledge” and “intent.” So the term “unwittingly” lets Trump and his cronies off the hook for now. However, the indictment makes it much more difficult for Trump to fire Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein without risking another nail in any “obstruction of justice” charge. Besides, the indictment pretty much shows that these Russians wanted to get Trump elected from the very start as well as worked hard to get him elected. And it indicates that people close to Trump might’ve assisted in the process. Given the polarized political environment, Mueller has good reasons to avoid contentious allegations now. Yet, that didn’t prevent him from unsealing a guilty plea by a “witting” American co-conspirator on the same day. So there’s more behind this Russian indictment than an innocent mistake.

To complicate matters further, on Monday, February 19, 2018, Robert Mueller released an indictment targeting Alex van der Zwaan, a Dutch attorney based in London, for lying to the FBI. van der Zwaan’s connection to the Russian case runs through former deputy Trump campaign chair Rick Gates who Mueller indicted in October on charges of money laundering and illegal lobbying. Though you wouldn’t know much about that since his boss Paul Manafort was indicted on the same thing. Despite that the connection mainly deals with an internal Ukranian political dispute from more than a decade ago, it nonetheless state some interesting things about the Russian investigation.

In the early 2010s, van der Zwaan worked in the London office of the corporate law firm Skadden Arps, while his worked focused on the former Soviet Union. At the same time, Manafort and Gates were working for Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych, a Kremlin-backed leader with dubious democratic credentials. He was in a power struggle with another prominent Ukranian politician, which he decided to solve by jailing her in the fall of 2011. Manafort and Gates’s job was to run cover for this clearly undemocratic prosecution. So they retained a team from Skadden Arps which included van der Zwaan to create a “report” conveniently concluding that there was no political motive for locking her up (except there was). Unsurprisingly, this was a huge deal in Ukraine but obscure everywhere else. Manafort and Gates continued to work for Yanukovych until the spring of 2016. van der Zwaan moved on to other things like marrying Ukranian-Russian billionaire’s daughter last summer.

But the van der Zwaan honeymoon wouldn’t be a happy one thanks to Bob Mueller’s probe. While looking into Manafort and Gates’s Kremlin ties, Mueller’s team started investigating the Skadden Arps report. As the indictment recalls, FBI agents personally questioned the Dutch attorney in November 2017 about his communications with Gates and an unidentified Person A. van der Zwaan told them that he last interacted with Gates in August 2016 via an “innocuous text message” and that he hadn’t spoken to Person A since 2014. As the indictment indicates, this is a lie for van der Zwaan was secretly communicating with Gates and Person A on the Skadden report. Because, the indictment reveals that, “In or about September 2016, he spoke with both Gates and Person A regarding the Report, and surreptitiously recorded the call.” Also, it alleges that van der Zwaan deleted an e-mail between himself and Person A sent around the same time as those conversations. Though he told the FBI that he “did not know” where the email was.
So what does this have to do with the Trump campaign? Well, in August 2016, Paul Manafort resigned as Donald Trump’s campaign manager. Mostly because of his ties to Yanukovych, particularly on an alleged off-the-books payment. Yet, Gates hung on the Trump team. This was weeks before the conversation between Gates, Person A, and van der Zwaan. If Gates and the Dutch attorney were discussing the Skadden Arps report in September 2016, and van der Zwaan felt the need to lie to the FBI about it, it suggests that there may have been something criminal about the report’s production. Or at least something whose release would be politically damaging. At any rate, it helped Mueller build a case strong enough that Gates struck a plea deal with him and would testify against Manafort. As Manafort’s longtime assistant, Gates may well have damaging info on his former boss, who’s one of the most pivotal players in the whole Trump-Russia scandal. It’s likely that van der Zwaan might be the first domino in a chain of events that could lead to a major breakthrough like a Manafort conviction or plea deal. But for now we don’t know where the Manafort case will play out. But getting van der Zwaan to get Gates to get Manafort. From there, Mueller might get vital information on Trump’s real Russian ties.

Still, keep in mind that Paul Manafort left his cushy job as the Kremlin’s favorite expat political consultant in Ukraine to run Donald Trump’s campaign. Soon after, Moscow-backed hackers transmitted thousands of stolen Democratic Party emails to Wikileaks, whose release was artfully timed to make trouble for Trump’s Democratic opponents. These became the basis of Trump campaign rhetoric in the months before Election Day in 2016. Some emerging conventional wisdom in Washington remains that there’s little to believe Mueller’s ongoing probe will prove much of interest. But to brush off any notion of high-level cooperation between Trumpworld and the Russians needs a much greater suspension of disbelief than assuming Trump collusion with Russia. You have to dismiss that no one from Moscow thought to consult with Manafort about how to help a pro-Russia win an election in the United States. Despite that Manafort received millions of dollars for his expertise to help pro-Russia candidates win elections in Ukraine. You have to think Donald Trump Jr. didn’t discuss collaborating with Russians on obtaining and disseminating anti-Hillary Clinton dirt. Except that Trump Jr. was both in touch with Wikileaks and openly enthusiastic about the idea and met with Russians on this very topic. You’d have to think that Trump’s specific and public call for Putin to hack Clinton’s emails was completely random. Despite that Trump didn’t deliver it that way. Trump-Russia skeptics might assume a series of bizarre coincidences complete with a massive cover-up for no particular reason. Yet, let’s state the obvious. Donald Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths during his time in office trying to stymie or discredit rigorous investigation into the Russia matter. Why? The most likely explanation is that he’s guilty of serious Russian-related wrongdoing. Sure many might think he’s a moron or he’s guilty of some other serious shenanigans that he fears the investigation will uncover. But it’s most likely that things are exactly as they seem is that Trump’s acting guilty because he’s guilty.

The political media in the United States is far too willing to paint a picture of Donald Trump as an idiot since his knowledge of government is severely lacking to pass an 8th grade civics test, let alone lead the country. However, everything in Trump’s record suggests a cunning, ruthless, and, in many ways insightful man. The means he used to get himself out of bankruptcy and make his big Atlantic City comeback were downright dishonest and shady but also quite clever. How he reinvented himself as an asset-brand licensor was incredibly successful, as was his career as a reality TV host. For years, he’s used lawyer Michael Cohen and a relationship with a major tabloid conglomerate to keep his affairs hushed up and manipulate the public’s perception of him. Finally, he entered the 2016 GOP primary with little fundraising, no political experience, and minimal organization but wiped the floor with everyone. Though not an evil genius or criminal mastermind by any stretch, when Trump keeps doing something, it’s probably for a reason. Still, he has more in common with the likes of Count Olaf or Scar than Forrest Gump. Scar may know how to manipulate the hyenas into carrying out his plot to take over the pride lands. But once he’s king at Pride Rock, his mismanagement causes everything to go to hell. Count Olaf may never fool the Baudelaire children, but he can successfully deceive almost every adult in their lives and evade justice so he could torment the kids another day. Trump may not know how to govern, but he certainly knows how to dupe, I mean convince people into voting for him.

It is more likely than not that some Trump cronies coordinated with some elements of political strategy with the Russian pro-Trump information operation with Trump’s tacit or explicit approval. In exchange, they signaled openness to Russia-friendly policy changes with Russia. The reasons are the following:

  • Many of the Russian government’s political interventions are clumsy and inept. But the 2016 Wikileaks email drops were well-executed and well-timed to step on 2 major stories like the Democratic National Convention and the Access Hollywood tape. Maybe the Russians got lucky. Or that expert American operatives helped them, which is far more plausible.
  • Paul Manafort’s expertise is in American and foreign electioneering. He helped Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush win presidential elections. After that, he moved into lobbying and took his political skills abroad. He spent a decade giving political advice to a Russian proxy party in Ukraine. So it’s not like the Russians would have no idea who to ask, or that no one on the Trump team was comfortable with the idea of working with Russia.
  • Due to Donald Trump Jr.’s infamous, “if it’s what you say I love it” email, Trump’s own son and son-in-law were eager to collaborate with the Russian government in the 2016 election.
  • During the transition, Trump’s National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was very eager to conduct talks with Moscow about warming relations. Jared Kushner also tried to create some kind of secure backchannel line of communication to Moscow that would be impenetrable to American intelligence.
  • Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey was exceptionally risky. After that backfired, he took repeated stabs leaning on Attorney General Jeff Sessions and/or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to resign, which would give him direct control over Mueller. For God’s sake, Trump appeared on NBC News explaining how he improperly used his powers to remove the FBI director in order to shield his cronies from criminal scrutiny.
  • Donald Trump’s allies on the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee have tried to help him with various attacks on the FBI, the Justice Department, and the whole idea of an inquiry rather than by constructing some plausible alternative narrative explaining all the weird shit referenced above. Remember Devin Nunes had to recuse himself for being too chummy with the Trump White House? Or how Dianne Feinstein released testimony despite Republican senators’ objections?
  • Donald Trump wanted to fire Robert Mueller as early as last summer.

Despite Trumpworld’s reputation for leaks that’s led to amazing pieces of journalism, Donald Trump is very good at keeping secrets. We’ve never found out what’s in the guy’s tax returns or how the decision was made that whatever is on them is more damning of Trump’s shady behavior. Actually despite calling himself a billionaire, we’re not even sure how much money Trump makes. We don’t know why he fired Flynn or whether he knew about staffer Rob Porter’s domestic abuse allegations. We don’t know why Trump handed some choice Israeli intelligence to the Russian foreign minister. Trump is the least transparent candidate of all time and is running one of the least transparent administrations on record. Hell, there’s plenty of dissembling and fabrication about whether Trump is golfing on any giving weekend. One result of unprecedented secrecy is an unprecedented volume of disclosures. But even that doesn’t mean we have an unprecedented level of insight into what’s going one with Trump or his operation. Especially since congressional Republicans’ totally abdicated Congress’s normal oversight functions, Mueller’s inquiry is essentially our only lens into some very murky terrain.

But perhaps this will prove wrong and the Mueller investigation will uncover nothing noteworthy save crimes committed by Flynn along with Manafort and Gates, and a handful of lesser players while exposing Donald Trump and his entire senior staff as habitual liars of criminal and national security importance. Oh wait, Mueller’s already accomplished that but he’s far from finished. Nonetheless, whether or not Trump explicitly or tacitly agreed, he entered office with a pro-Russia foreign policy agenda. If not, then he wouldn’t have made Flynn his National Security Adviser or Rex Tillerson his Secretary of State. Only the investigation appears to have thwarted this, pushing Trump to maintain broad continuity with prior American foreign policy. Still, the mere suspicion of illicit collaboration between the Trump campaign’s highest-ranking members and the Russian pro-Trump information operation is well-founded. The ongoing investigation has steadily revealed considerable evidence. There’s no reason for anyone to preemptively exonerate Trump, when suspicion’s been validated at every turn.


Of Applauses and Military Parades

On Tuesday, January 30, 2018, Donald Trump delivered his first State of the Union address in front of both houses of Congress. Of course, like the last time he addressed Congress, the media lauded at how he seemed to act presidential by reciting words off a teleprompter which you wouldn’t see in his Twitter feed. But that doesn’t change the fact he’s the hollow showman who’d rather pick fights than offer any remotely plausible solutions to any real problems. And that he shows absolutely no interest in governing or uniting the country. Nor does it change the fact he’s a narcissistic sociopath who’d sell out America and undermine established democratic norms in order to enrich himself, his Republican allies, and his 1% friends. Or how he has no respect for America, democratic principles, or the rule of law.

But what scares me most about Donald Trump is his authoritarian impulses. He sees himself above scrutiny and criticism. He sees himself entitled to countless praises from everyone without doing anything to deserve them. And as president, he thinks that anyone working in the federal government should be personally loyal to him above all else. In his mind, anyone who thinks less of him as this wonderful president who’d make America great again is an Un-American conspirator out to get him who should be crushed. Trump has called reporters who write unflattering articles about him as, “enemies of the people” and the media outlets they work for as “fake news.” He has called athletes who kneel during the national anthem to peacefully protest police brutality and racism as unpatriotic and disrespectful to the American flag. He has questioned the authority of federal judges who ruled against his policies. He has declared war on law enforcement officials and agencies investigating him whom he’s alleged as agents in some Democratic deep state conspiracy to bring him down. Despite that the key decisionmakers in the Russian inquiry are all Republicans, including his own hand-picked deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein.

On Monday, February 5, Donald Trump addressed a crowd in Cincinnati in which he decried how congressional Democrats didn’t stand and applaud for him during last week’s State of the Union. “They were like death and un-American,” he said. “Un-American. Somebody said, ‘treasonous.’ I mean, Yeah, I guess why not? Can we call that treason? Why not? I mean they certainly didn’t seem to love our country that much.” Trump loyalist may dismiss this incendiary sentiment as nothing but a joke. After all, he didn’t say refusing to give him a standing ovation was treasonous. He just merely agreed with people who said it was. And like many things Trump says in his tweets, there’s a tendency to shrug it off.

But Donald Trump’s casual allegation of calling the Democrats’ behavior “treasonous” should be taken very seriously. Merriam Webster defines treason as “The offense of attempting by overt acts to overthrow the government of the state to which the offender owes allegiance or to kill or personally injure the sovereign or the sovereign’s family.” In Article III Constitution: “Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.” Of course, treason can be punished by life in prison or death. Joining an enemy army because you didn’t get the promotion you deserved is treason. Splitting off from your country so you can subjugate black people to forced labor is treason. Giving out secrets to the Russians after World War II is treason. Refusing to stand or applaud the State of the Union when a president thinks you should is neither treasonous nor Un-American. If it was, then you can easily say that congressional Republicans were treasonous whenever they sat on their hands while Barack Obama touted his accomplishments in office to the Democrats’ cheers. Same when it came to every president before him.

Nevertheless, when Donald Trump links a refusal for a standing ovation to a president during a State of the Union address as “treasonous,” he’s implying a far more unsettling message. What Trump really meant in Cincinnati is that dissent was traitorous and/or un-American. That if these non-clappers really loved their country, they’d be applauding when he touted how low black unemployment had dipped under his presidency. Despite that his touting of historically low black unemployment was a cherry-picked fact based off a single month’s economic report which totally lost relevance when the black unemployment numbers trickled up in January. Besides, even if he did reduce black unemployment to historic lows, that wouldn’t make any difference to the Democrats. Because Trump has pissed plenty of Democrats off through his divisive and incendiary rhetoric. Not to mention, his pandering to white supremacists as well as his assaults on healthcare, education, the environment, civil rights, workers, and the poor. Then there’s his disregard for democratic norms and the rule of law as well as his attacks on American institutions like law enforcement and the press.

Still, even the mere suggestion of criminalizing dissent should trouble any fan of democracy. The right to dissent without fear of retribution is at the heart of what differentiates the United States from authoritarian countries around the world. In fact, it’s even protected by the First Amendment of our constitution. As US Senator Tammy Duckworth tweeted, “We don’t live in a dictatorship or a monarchy. I swore an oath—in the military and in the Senate—to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, not to mindlessly cater to the whims of Cadet Bone Spurs and clap when he demands I clap.” When a president floats the notion of no applause when it was appropriate, it sends a very powerful message to the nation about how we do (and should) deal with those disagreeing with us. Doesn’t matter if Donald Trump was joking or not. And whether you agree with President Pussygrabber or not, it sends a very terrible message. What the Democrats did during Trump’s State of the Union wasn’t unprecedented and was well within their rights. To say otherwise, is un-American and destructive.

Then there’s a recent report from the Washington Post, in which an anonymous military official claimed that Donald Trump requested that the Pentagon begin planning a military parade this year along the inaugural route between the US Capitol to the White House. According to the paper, Trump was inspired by a 2017 to France for Bastille Day which traditionally features one. “The marching orders were: I want a parade like the one in France,” the official said. “This is being worked at the highest levels of the military.” Excuse me, but doesn’t there seem to be something a bit despotic about this? Because save for winning wars, holding military parades is what armed forces in dictatorships to show they’re not to be messed with like in Russia, China, and North Korea. Still, this isn’t a new interest of Trump’s since he wanted military equipment and a flyover for his 2017 inaugural parade. Of course, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed the event in the works, “President Trump is incredibly supportive of America’s great service members who risk their lives every day to keep our country safe. He has asked the Department of Defense to explore a celebration at which all Americans can show their appreciation.” Oh, what a load of shit. Trump is a man who dodged the draft thanks to his rich daddy, called POWs cowards, had disabled veterans chased off of Trump Tower, promised to donate $6 million to vets but didn’t, set up a fake veterans hotline, attacked a Gold Star family for being Muslim, and told a grieving serviceman’s widow that her husband, “knew what he signed up for.” The say that Trump wants a military parade to show honor America’s service members is ludicrous. He doesn’t give a shit about the brave men and women who’ve served this country other than as props in his displays of patriotic pageantry. But Trump is a president who’s openly praised a number of totalitarian leaders like Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He’s openly questioned his own Justice Department and FBI, suggesting there was a conspiracy at the highest levels wanting to weaken him. He’s worked tirelessly to disqualify the idea of an objective news media. He constantly says things that aren’t true and has an administration coining the term, “alternative facts.” Not to mention, he has a tremendous ego and perhaps to top the kind of military parade he saw in France. Because to him, might makes right and he with the biggest toys wins.

However, when the toys are tanks and missiles, no one’s really sure what “winning” looks like as the stakes go up. Donald Trump is either unaware or dismisses this concept. He also doesn’t seem to care about the kind of message a parade of tanks, guns, and other military playthings through the Washington D.C. streets sends to the rest of the world which will watch. Meaning we’ll probably get a military parade in Washington because Tiny Hands gets what he wants whether or not it’s good for the country. Our soldiers and weapons aren’t toys for Trump to parade around to compensate his fragile ego. Still, if there’s anything un-American it’s an unpopular president holding a military parade because other countries get to do it.

Nonetheless, if there’s anyone who’s betraying the nation, consider the guy who’d deliberately and systematically wreck the institutions guaranteeing the separation of powers and accountability of the Executive and Legislative branches. Think of the guy who’d subvert the rule of law to protect himself, his family, and his cronies from justice. If you’re looking for a man who’d betray the Founders’ glorious vision and our Constitution, look no further than the clown who heads this White House circus. I mean the very man who swore to uphold the Constitution and obey the laws of the land, but ignores them and attacks those who’d carry them out. Sure, there have been presidents who’ve failed, strayed, and fell to weakness. And we can remember presidents from both parties who no one could even imagine betraying the nation to a hostile foreign power. Not this man. And we don’t have to imagine it either. We can see it. Trump’s unashamed schmoozing with Vladimir Putin speaks for itself as he allows Russia attack our democracy, our Republic, and our institutions. Only Trump and his sycophants question Putin’s implacable hostility, aggression, and desire to divide and disrupt this country. That Putin wants to weaken our standing, diminish our power, and harm our interest in the world is stated Russian policy. When Congress sent Trump veto-proof legislation demanding he impose sanctions on Russia, he waited until the last second to impose, well, nothing. When Putin arrested campaign opponent Alexey Navalny on fake charges, His Hind-Ass remained silent. For some reason, Trump is determined to show he’d do anything, at any time, to please this Russian authoritarian. He’ll even tear down the United States government around him to hide from accountability, wreak alliances, compromise intelligence sources, and endanger our troops to please Putin. Let us strip away all the excuses and rationalizations and just call Trump’s actions on Russia, what they are: treason.



The Snowflake Court Smears the FBI

Since Donald Trump became the GOP’s leader, there seems to be no limits to how far the Republicans will go to protect and defend him. Even if it means discrediting longstanding institutions trying to do their job. On Monday, January 29, 2018, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee to release a memo painting the FBI and the Justice Department as being biased against Trump so much that people in both agencies have conjured up an investigation into his ties with Russia to take him down. Not surprisingly California Rep. Devin Nunes wrote the memo that reportedly frames Robert Mueller’s investigation as an FBI to hurt Trump as well as uses both Hillary Clinton and the infamous Steele dossier in establishing connections. Trump has until February 2, to declassify the report. But in the meantime, the hashtag #Release the Memo has started spreading on Twitter.

We should all know Devin Nunes is the last guy you’d want to lead any investigation into Trump’s Russian connections. And that any memo coming from him stating that the Trump-Russia investigation is a mere conspiracy by law enforcement to hurt Trump is a baseless narrative. He’s a longtime Trump ally and was on his transition team. He’s defended Michael Flynn when he was credibly accused of lying about his Russian contacts last February. As head of the House committee investigating the Trump-Russia connections, Nunes “seemed to go out his way to defend Trump.” The most noteworthy example was after Trump tweeted in March that President Barack Obama had “wiretapped” Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential campaign. The heads of both the FBI and the NSA categorically denied such wiretapping took place. But Nunes quickly stood by Trump and held a press conference to proclaim that “the intelligence community incidentally collected information about US citizens involved in the Trump transition.” What this means is that some Trump personnel had been in contact with foreigners legally under surveillance, and their conversations were intercepted and collected as part of it. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t vindicate Trump’s claim of the Obama administration’s spying on his campaign headquarters. But the timing of Nunes’s press conference and the confusing way he presented made it seem he was trying to cover Trump’s ass. Then it turned out that the California congressman got his information from the Trump White House itself. National Security Council senior intelligence director Ezra Cohen-Watnick uncovered the info. White House attorney Michael Ellis who worked for Nunes prior to the Trump administration, personally delivered the information to him.

In sum, Devin Nunes released information in a way to make it seem like Trump’s claims of being persecuted by law enforcement were true and did so after secretly getting the details from the Trump White House. However, the situation became such an embarrassment that Nunes was forced to recuse himself from the intelligence committee’s investigation into Russia for 8 months during a House ethics investigation into his conduct. Apparently, these measures didn’t stick. Because when news broke out in mid-January that Nunes had been working on a secret memo on FBI surveillance of the Trump campaign, intelligence experts initially sensed a repeat of the wiretapping debacle where he misrepresented intelligence to support Trump’s political position. And in a way, it is.

But many of Nunes’s colleagues in the House saw the memo as damning proof of anti-Trump bias in the FBI. So they started the publicity campaign backed by conservative media to #ReleasetheMemo. This culminated in Monday intelligence committee vote to release it along party lines. That the Republicans would even speculate the FBI and the Justice Department being so against Donald Trump they’d set up an investigation into his Russian ties to specifically hurt him is ridiculous conspiracy nonsense. There are a lot of moving parts to what Nunes reports claiming versus what we already know. 

1.       A FISA court judge reviewed evidence and approved a warrant to wiretap a Trump associate.– In fall 2016, FBI investigators applied for a warrant with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) to wiretap former Trump adviser Carter Page who has business ties to Russia and open sympathies with the Kremlin’s foreign policy. They presented evidence that he may be acting as a Russian agent and the judge approved the warrant.

2.       The Core of the Nunes Argument.– Those familiar with the Nunes memo, Devin Nunes believes that the case was primarily built on the Steele dossier which was funded partially funded on behalf of the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. He then reportedly said that the investigators misled the judge by not saying they were relying on the Steele dossier. Therefore, the surveillance on Page was improperly authorized and potentially politically motivated.

In reality, the FBI got its evidence from several sources and FISA warrants generally require corroboration. Carter Page was known to have business ties to Russia and open sympathies with the Kremlin’s foreign policy. While advising the Trump campaign in July 2016, Page flew to Moscow and met with Russian officials, which raises suspicions among intelligence officials. Besides, Senator Diane Feinstein’s release of the Simpson testimony reveals that the FBI investigation into Trump’s Russia ties most likely began when a drunk George Papadopoulos bragged to an Australian diplomat that Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton. Not to mention, the DNC email hacking right before the Democratic National Convention. Thus, the FBI had taken the Trump-Russian collusion question seriously for reasons that had nothing to do with the Steele dossier.

Furthermore, while Robert Mueller’s investigation hasn’t yet proven like the vast conspiracy the Steele dossier alleges, it certainly revealed real evidence of wrongdoing. George Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty. Charges have been filed against former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. We’ve also learned that Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner were at least eager to possibly collaborate with the Russian government into revealing Clinton’s dirty laundry, instead of reporting the existence of an active Russian intelligence effort aimed at the United States. Then there’s the fact the Steele dossier’s less explosive allegations have so far proven to be true. The FBI might’ve relied on the former British agent’s findings since he’s a respected investigator. But if it’s true, it doesn’t necessarily discredit the application.

In addition, the memo’s claims are impossible to without seeing the underlying intelligence it was based on. Nunes could’ve highlighted the FBI’s Steele citation without mentioning other, more concrete sources the agency listed. As University of Texas professor Steve Vladeck said, “The memo won’t actually answer the underlying question, which is whether there was sufficient independent evidence to support the underlying FISA application. Only the application materials can conclusively shed a light on that.”

Then there’s the idea that FBI agents would act in such a way and a FISA judge would let them strikes plenty of legal experts as absurd. As civil libertarians have warned about for a long time, the FISA process can and has been abused. But this particular method of abuse requires an implausibly vast conspiracy. As former FBI agent and current Yale Law professor Asha Rangappa writes:

“The Nunes Memo reportedly alleges that at least a dozen FBI agents and DOJ prosecutors fabricated evidence, engaged in a criminal conspiracy to commit perjury, lucked out on being randomly assigned Judge Low Blood Sugar who looked the other way, and — coincidentally — ended up obtaining evidence that justified extending the initial FISA surveillance. …

“If Nunes has in fact singlehandedly uncovered this vast criminal enterprise, it’s hard to know what’s more astonishing: That a government bureaucracy managed to pull it off — or that Nunes has exposed it all in a scant four-page memo.”

3.       Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is dragged into this as well.– The Nunes memo reportedly says that Rosenstein knew and approved the application for the warrant knowing they were relying on the DNC-funded Steele dossier. Thus, it would imply that the deputy attorney general has an anti-Trump bias.

In late spring 2017, the FBI petitioned to renew its surveillance warrant on Carter Page. The New York Times claims that Rosenstein personally signed off on the renewal application. As the Times writes, the reason this matters is that, “Republicans could potentially use Mr. Rosenstein’s decision to approve the renewal to suggest that he failed to properly vet a highly sensitive application for a warrant to spy on Mr. Page.” But it’s deeper than that.

The memo apparently implies that the Russian investigation is a corrupt partisan hatchet job. Bring Rosenstein into it, it also indicts the guy currently in charge of it, suggesting he’s incompetent at best and corrupt at worst. Theoretically, this can lead Trump to dismiss Rosenstein. Because he can’t fire Mueller without the deputy attorney general’s say-so. Rosenstein had already said in December that there’s no “good cause” to fire him. If he were to fire the deputy attorney general, he probably could get to Mueller. And we all know Trump wanted to fire Mueller as early as June.

In reality, we forget that the firm behind the dossier was originally hired by the conservative Washington Free Beacon in 2015. Hillary Clinton and the DNC didn’t enlist the firm until Trump’s Republican nomination became more imminent. Besides, by the time Christopher Steele turned his dossier to the FBI, the bureau had already been getting reports that there was something shady going on in the Trump campaign. Not to mention, if the Steele dossier was a purely political document, then Steele wouldn’t have turned it in to the FBI out of his British allegiance.

4.       The conspiracy comes together.– So why is the Rosenstein angle important? Because if he, as a proxy for the Justice Department, can be seen as anti-Trump, then it means his hiring special counsel Robert Mueller had ulterior anti-Trump motives. Thus, meaning that the entire Trump-Russia investigation is happening because some “deep state” officials want to undermine Trump and take him down. So it’s not being conducted on its own merits.

However, if you think that Nunes’s theory relies on lots of incredible assumptions (some of which having already been disproven), you’re not alone. Assuming the New York Times’s description of the memo is accurate, there are good reasons to be skeptical. Even beyond Nunes’s personal history of misusing intelligence. 

Apparently, Republicans in the House have pushed to release the Nunes memo because they believe it outlines surveillance abuses Americans need to know about. As Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz said on the House floor, “Let’s have a great debate about its consequences and the opportunity it presents to make things better, so these things never happen again.” However, FISA system experts and even civil libertarians critical of how law enforcement uses it, are skeptical. They clarify that Republicans aren’t proposing any changes to how FISA works or even suggesting that the system in general needs to reform to stop any future abuses. Cato Institute’s Julian Sanchez noted, “There’s a conspicuous lack of interest in drawing any policy conclusions from what they purportedly consider a major institutional scandal.”

Instead, the motivation seems purely political as many of the #ReleasetheMemo supporters have also called for Donald Trump to fire Mueller. They may apparently genuinely believe that the Russia investigation is a partisan witch hunt targeting Trump. Or more likely think there is there’s some political advantage gained from championing an anti-FBI crusade near and dear to Trump’s and Fox News’s heart. Either way, experts claim the motivation behind the memo’s release is very clear as a way to wage war on the Russia investigation specifically and the FBI in general. Former Defense Department special counsel Ryan Goodman told Vox, “The release of the memo, and the fabrication of a set of ideas around the memo, empowers Trump to go after the FBI. The ultimate goal is undermining the Mueller investigation. There doesn’t seem to be another reason for the president to be so obsessed with Rod Rosenstein and to be gunning for him.”

Naturally the FBI and the Democrats don’t like the Nunes memo because they think it’s full of lies. The Democrats on the House intelligence committee compiled a 10-page memo of their own. It reportedly asserts two things. First, that the FBI didn’t abuse its FISA power when requesting the Page warrant. Second, that the Nunes memo is simply an effort to help the White House discredit the Mueller probe. On January 29, Rep. Mike Quigley asked Nunes if his staffers worked on this memo with the White House. The California Republican originally answered by saying, “as far as I know,” no one collaborated. But ultimately, he refused to reply, possibly suggesting collusion. Not to mention, the House Intelligence Committee voted not to make the Democratic memo public. On January 31, the FBI released a statement strongly signaling the agency’s worry on the memo’s accuracy:

“The FBI takes seriously its obligations to the FISA Court and its compliance with procedures overseen by career professionals in the Department of Justice and the FBI. We are committed to working with the appropriate oversight entities to ensure the continuing integrity of the FISA process.

“With regard to the House Intelligence Committee’s memorandum, the FBI was provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it. As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”

While it’s unclear whether Donald Trump will declassify the Nunes memo, he’s signaling he might. Though he has yet to see the memo, after his State of the Union address, he reportedly told Rep. Jeff Duncan that he’d “100 percent” make the memo public in the coming days. The next day, White House chief of staff John Kelly told Fox News that the memo, “will be released here pretty quick, I think, and the whole world can see it.” Of course, Trump’s reasons for releasing the memo are obvious. Since he’s publicly decried the Trump-Russia probe as a “witch hunt” perpetrated by rouge partisans within the FBI several times. As Cato’s Julian Sanchez told Vox, “Trump is shockingly overt about believing that the problem here is that the FBI is staffed by loyalists to the wrong person. He does, in fact, seem to think that the job of the DOJ, and the FBI, and the rest of the intelligence community is to protect the president and follow his orders — including going after his political enemies based on stuff he saw on Fox News, if that’s what he wants to do.” So Lord Cheetohead could just release the memo as an attempt to prove his suspicions correct. Yet, it can also backfire since it’s possible Nunes’s evidence presented in the memo is thin. Worse, the release fallout could lead to more leaks proving Nunes’s account wrong. That would not only hurt the conservative argument against the Russia probe but prove a self-inflicted wound.

But once the memo’s released, Devin Nunes needs to have a very good case to prove his argument, which he doesn’t. People will want to know his evidence to prove that the Mueller investigation into Trump’s 2016 campaign was entirely based on the controversial Steele dossier. The FBI will have to back up its claims that it obtained the Page warrant based on information from a variety of sources showing a probable cause he may have acted as Russian government agent. This will lead to calls to release the FISA documents, which the FBI might find easy to do if the Trump-picked FBI Director Christopher Wray would approve it. Many conservatives are calling for the memo’s release and the FISA documents’ disclosure to show the information included in the warrant application presented to the federal court judge who approved Page’s surveillance. If it’s what conservatives claim, they can proclaim they’ve uncovered a conspiracy. But if the FBI documents show that the FBI told the truth which they most likely will, the Nunes-led narrative will fall apart.

However, we must understand that the Nunes memo is part of a much larger conservative effort to discredit the Mueller investigation. Once it’s released, it’ll serve as another data point in the growing anti-Mueller movement. But it can also be used as pretext for removing those responsible for the Mueller investigation. According to the Washington Post, Donald Trump told his close advisers that the memo could give the excuse he needs to either fire Rosenstein or force him to resign. He then replace the deputy attorney general with someone friendlier to his administration and more willing to constrain Mueller, which can hurt the probe in the long run. According to Rangappa, the new deputy attorney general can effectively cripple the Mueller investigation by rejecting the special counsel’s requests to investigate more people, obtain new evidence, or pursue charges against more people. Or the new appointee could just fire Mueller. Should the Nunes memo’s allegations prove true in the highly unlikely scenario, then that could potentially delegitimize the Mueller probe and lead to the special counsel’s dismissal. Nevertheless, this is more of a political game than a legal one. So the memo’s release will just take this fight into an all-out war between Republicans and the Trump administration who want Rosenstein fired and the Russia probe shut down, and the Democrats and FBI who don’t.

There are two broad ways this political war between the Snowflake King and the FBI can go. In the first, the FBI’s brought to a heel. Donald Trump fires Rod Rosenstein and other senior FBI executives and replaces them with more sycophantic appointees. The Mueller investigation is quashed while the bureau serves more like an arm to the Trump administration than a quasi-independent agency. Of course, the implications of this scenario on American democracy are simply terrifying to think about. For who knows what Trump would use the FBI for than to go after his critics and enemies. As Sanchez told Vox, “I shudder to think what the [2020] election looks like when you’ve got a guy who says, ‘I saw Fox & Friends this morning and my opponent is a crook’ … except now you’ve got an FBI and a DOJ that say, ‘Yes, sir.’” Let’s just say, such scenario would be a nightmare if you value American democratic values, particularly free speech. In the second scenario, the memo leads to a lot of FBI-Republican skirmishing but no actual showdown. Donald Trump doesn’t either fire Rosenstein or is somehow stopped from doing so, the Mueller investigation continues unhampered, and the FBI remains untainted by political influence. There are many factors that could make the difference between the two outcomes. Two of the key ones are congressional Republicans, particularly those in the Senate along with Trump’s own staff.

Senate Republicans have been notably quieter and more restrained in attacking the FBI than their peers in the House. They also have to confirm Donald Trump’s nominees to the Justice Department. They can make it clear that if he fires Mueller or Rosenstein and tries to appoint a crony in their place, they won’t confirm his picks. What Republican senators say and do after the memo’s release could indicate to Trump whether he has enough backing to take on the FBI.

But we must not forget that members of Donald Trump’s own White House have also blocked moves to interfere with the Mueller probe. The New York Times recently reported that in Trump ordered White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller. McGahn threatened to resign than do that and Trump backed off. He was, according to the Times, concerned that firing the special counsel would incite more questions about whether the White House was trying to obstruct the Russia investigation.” If McGahn and other voices of relative restraint in the White House succeed in backing Trump away from the memo fever that will soon play out all over conservative news, or even refuse to carry out his orders, then you might see the same thing again after the memo’s released.

Nonetheless, in regards to the current antagonism between the White House and FBI, there is no good historical precedent. Never has a US president attacked so publicly attacked the FBI. Nor have congressional committees with oversight responsibilities have also never attacked the agency this way. There have been tensions between the White House and the FBI over the years, but not so publicly. Russian President Vladimir Putin rightly thought there was a chance of an ally in the White House. And he sanctioned interference in the presidential election to further that goal. Donald Trump wants to be friends with Russia but suffers from a Putin-like hubris and has been hoist by his own petard in that he can’t be friends with friends with Russia without appearing part of Putin’s conspiracy. Still, the memo scandal is a move on the White House’s behalf to tarnish the FBI’s reputation and call the Mueller investigation’s motives in doubt. Even though the man who hired Mueller was one of Trump’s own appointees.

Framing investigative developments as partisan ploys is nothing new. But here, the charges aren’t simply that Mueller is an overzealous prosecutor. It’s that the FBI tried to help throw an entire election. And the House memo seems like it’ll suggest that the FBI was implicated in an attempted coup. The memo release’s long-term significance is that it may confirm some people’s suspicions of how few in government can be trusted to act independently and honestly. Trump and the GOP’s attack on the FBI puts its independence under siege. Bringing an independent judiciary and investigative branch under the executive’s domination is one of the first moves regimes who don’t respect the rule of law. Pinochet’s Chile. Nazi Germany. The Soviet Union. Putin’s Russia. And looking at Trump’s history, the lack of respect for the rule of law is very clear. Besides the military, the judiciary and law enforcement branches are the most powerful in a state. Control and politicization of that wing allows the ruler to criminalize his opponents, and label them as enemies of the state when the those so-called enemies are really defenders of a more viable, democratic nation. This is why the Nunes memo is a threat and I don’t think Trump is above wanting to use the FBI to go after his opponents, which scares the hell out of me. Now the White House seems pressuring the FBI, but it’s too soon to tell whether that leads to the FBI significantly losing its independence. Nevertheless, if Nixon’s debacle with Watergate has taught us, if a president has secrets he wants to keep, he shouldn’t mess with the FBI.


The Candidate and the Charlatan Historian

Back in the fall of 2017, it was found that Pennsylvania US Representative Tim Murphy not only had an affair, but also pressured his mistress to have an abortion during a pregnancy scare. Also, that he was a bastard to his staff that his office experienced a 100% turnover rate one year. So amid all the blatant hypocrisy and drama, Murphy resigned in October. Now a special election is set for March 13 for those in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District. The candidates are Republican state legislator Rick Saccone and a former federal prosecutor named Connor Lamb. Naturally I throw my support for Lamb since he fits his district like a glove. He’s an ex-Marine and 33. And he at least tries to present himself as a viable candidate who campaigns on issues important to southwestern Pennsylvania like the opioid crisis, jobs and infrastructure, unions, student debt, affordable healthcare, protecting Medicare and Social Security, and modern energy development.

But most importantly, I support Connor Lamb for his bid to represent Pennsylvania’s 18th district is that he doesn’t endorse any fraudulent historians with theocratic ambitions. You can’t say the same about his opponent Rick Saccone. Saccone is a fan of the much-criticized Christian nationalist historian David Barton. He chose this man to introduce him at a rally in early 2017, signaling the state legislator’s wider political and religious views. For those following Saccone’s political career, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. The state lawmaker’s rhetoric centers around Barton’s idea of America as a foundationally Christian nation. In fact, Saccone’s own book, God in Our Government, appears straight out of Barton’s playbook. In it, he argues that secularists have conspired to skew the United States’ Christian history. He’s advocated posting “In God We Trust” on public school walls. Longtime Christian nationalism critic, refers to Saccone on his blog as, “one of Pennsylvania’s biggest David Barton supporters.” This is not a man we should have representing Pennsylvanians in Congress.

As a practicing Catholic, I have nothing against Christianity or religion in general. But what I do take issue with is people using their beliefs to skew history to promote a certain agenda religious or otherwise. But this is exactly what David Barton does to American history. As a self-taught historian and activist who’s received little formal historical training, his sole credentialed degree is a bachelor’s in religious education from Oral Roberts University. Although he later claimed to have earned a doctorate from an officially unaccredited Life Christian University on the basis of his published works. He’s is best-known for a series of books including Original Intent: The Courts, the Constitution, and Religion, and The Jefferson Lies. Both books argue that America was founded by “orthodox, evangelical” Christians as a Christian nation, and that the Founding Fathers intended for America to be run on Christian principles. In 1987, he founded a company called Specialty Research Associates Inc., whose stated goal was to do historical research “relating to America’s constitutional, moral, and religious heritage.” This would morph into his multi-purpose propaganda machine, WallBuilders that sells a wide assortment of books and DVDs pushing for his fun-house vision of religious patriotism. He hosts a WallBuilders-linked nationally syndicated radio show where he describes himself as “America’s premier historian.” In 1998, Barton launched what he called the ProFamily Legislative Network to help “conservative, God-fearing legislators,” whose annual conference and regular updates still keep several hundred state and national legislators apprised of “pro-family” legislation with expert referrals and supporting research. This includes bills to ban abortion, prevent gay marriage, support religious expression in public schools and life, and resist gun control. Its conferences also offer media training and strategy sessions for far-right lawmakers on how to succeed in getting their legislative agenda through.

However, we shouldn’t see David Barton as an authority on American history. For one, the guy has less academic credentials in history than I have, a history major in college. Secondly, his historical narrative that paints America’s founding as a Christian nation is just plain wrong. Actual historians will tell you that Barton distorts quotes, cherry picks information, cites fraudulent sources, and straight up makes up history to serve his political goals. He’s argued that the Founders never intended for a separation of church and state, which he derided as a “liberal myth.” In his 2000, book Original Intent: The Courts, the Constitution, and Religion, he claimed that secular, liberal historians were involved in a conspiracy to cover up the “truth” about America’s Christian origins for their own nefarious goals. In reality, countless writings from the Founding Fathers make their intentions for a separation of church and state clear. Because since the 1600s, many colonists from various Christian denominations came to the US to worship as they please. And that not all Americans Christians practiced their faith the same way. As for the Founding Fathers, their religious views were more complicated, often blending Christian aspects with deism, an Enlightenment-era belief in an unknowable creator deity who didn’t operate in human form. In 2012, Christian publishing house Thomas Nelson recalled The Jefferson Lies, after it was revealed to contain major factual inaccuracies despite it making to the New York Times’ bestseller list. One of Barton’s dubious claims has Thomas Jefferson starting church services in the US Capitol. Still, it’s a hagiographic work arguing that Jefferson wasn’t a deist but an evangelical Christian who vigorously opposed slavery and racism. Not the Christian deist who owned slaves and endorsed a wall of separation between church and state, which he certainly was. A book containing as many gross factual mistakes like in The Jefferson Lies would’ve been a death knell for any real historian. To add insult to injury, historians, professors, and Christian scholars voted The Jefferson Lies, “the least credible history book in print.” As Warren Thockmorton and Michael Coulter stated, “David Barton claims he is setting the record straight with this book, but that claim is far from reality. Barton misrepresents and distorts a host of Jefferson’s ideas and actions, particularly his views and practices regarding religion, slavery and church-state relations. As Jefferson did with the Gospels, Barton chooses what he likes about Jefferson and leaves out the rest to create a result more in line with his ideology. In fact, there were so many problems with his book that we wrote an entire book in response.”

Even before the Jefferson book debacle, some of Barton’s claims seem to stem from simple ignorance. But others have been exposed as flagrant omissions and distortions which conform reality to his own fact-free vision of American history. He’s said that Ronald Reagan opposed gun control even after surviving an assassination attempt. Except that after being shot in 1981, Reagan wrote a New York Times op-ed clearly supporting the Brady gun control bill. He’s repeatedly claimed that John Adams supported religious control of the US government, quoting the passage, “There is no authority, civil or religious — there can be no legitimate government — but what is administered by this Holy Ghost. There can be no salvation without it — all without it is rebellion and perdition or, in more orthodox words, damnation.” But Barton conveniently omits the quote’s next part in which Adams clearly mocks those with this belief. As the liberal People for the American Way said on its website, “He has deliberately, clearly and completely transformed Adams’ actual meaning.” Some of his other claims can be more mindboggling to even a child. For instance, according to Barton, the founding fathers, “already had the entire debate on creation and evolution,” and chose creationism. Except that Charles Darwin didn’t publish his theory of evolution in The Origin of the Species in 1859, a time when most of them were long dead. He’s also asserted that the American Revolution was fought to free slaves, which is ridiculous. Since many of the Founding Fathers were slave owners, acknowledged slavery in the constitution they wrote, and the British Empire outlawed slavery 30 years before the United States did. Also, we fought a major war over slavery in the 1860s which Barton doesn’t seem to remember for some reason. In 2010, Barton joined the battle to bowdlerize a Texas social studies curriculum for public schools and supported efforts to excise Martin Luther King Jr. and 1960s farm worker activist Caesar Chavez from textbooks. Because Barton said King didn’t deserve inclusion for advancing minority rights because “only majorities can expand political rights.” Despite that if King didn’t pressure politicians to enact civil rights legislation, much of the country could still be living with legally sanctioned Jim Crow. It’s basically his way of saying that “only white people matter.” Oh, and he thinks that Joe McCarthy was right about everything even though he wasn’t.

David Barton’s revisionist American history is about blending his brand of Christianity with a very specific form of American (usually white) nationalism. Figures like Barton blend the idea that America is a “Christian country” with the idea that the only critiques of the Founding Fathers that mention them owning slaves or contributing to racial inequality come from “politically correct” historians seeking to discredit America’s great history for political ends. Because the Founding Fathers have to be hero-saints in Barton’s view. But central to the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation is the notion that America was founded unproblematically (it wasn’t). And that only a return to this mythologized past will somehow solve perceived problems of structural inequality (it won’t). Thus, “real” America in his view, is above criticism. As Messiah College professor John Fea remarked, “Barton is not interested in seeing historical actors as flawed human beings. Instead, the founders seem to occupy some kind of exalted position. They are not quite angels, but they are not quite ordinary human beings either. They have been somehow immune to sin, which the last time I checked was an important part of the Christian understanding of what it means to be a human being.”

Nevertheless, David Barton’s deeply skewed perspective on American history has been used by several Republican politicians to promote the false narrative of America as a historically Christian nation. Barton remains a prominent figure in evangelical and dominionist circles and a regular on conservative conference circuits. Though since his 2011 fall from grace, fewer and fewer politicians publicly cited him, making Saccone’s choice to feature him at an early rally striking. But despite this, his influence is such that some on the right take his particular narrative as gospel, mostly from the most extreme and uneducated segments of the Christian right. Since the 1990s, Barton and his ideas have made inroads in the political sphere. From 1997-2004, he served as the Texas Republican Party vice chair and was a Republican National Committee counselor in the 2004 presidential election, helping to court evangelicals. In 2005, Time Magazine named him as among the nation’s 25 most influential evangelical Christians. In fact, he’s become the go-to man for tips on conservative Christian voter outreach, advising Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and Mike Huckabee. But more generally, some within the Republican Party more widely have adopted Barton’s narrative of American history while his work has been regularly championed by the Christian and broader political right. Outgoing Kansas Governor Sam Brownback referred to the fake historian as providing, “the philosophical underpinning for a lot of the Republican effort in the country today.” He’s also said that Barton is “one of my big heroes,” for his preservation of America’s “beautiful heritage.” In 2010, Glenn Beck called him, “the most important man in America.” In 2011, TV news pundit and former politician Mike Huckabee told attendees at a Rediscovering God in America conference, “I don’t know anyone in America who is a more effective communicator. I just wish that every single young person in America would be able to be under his tutelage and understand something about who we really are as a nation. I almost wish that there would be something like a simultaneous telecast and all Americans would be forced, forced — at gunpoint no less — to listen to every David Barton message.”

One major reason for David Barton’s prominence in the Christian and political right is that many political figures like Ted Cruz and Roy Moore have embraced a form of Christian nationalism or Dominionism. Now Dominionism is based on the idea that the American government should run on Christian principles. Therefore, its ultimate goal should be a Christian theocratic state necessary to properly usher in the apocalyptic End Times. It takes many forms from R.J. Rushdoony’s “hard dominionism,” advocating pure theocracy to the “softer” Seven Mountains movement, which encourages Christians to take over the “seven mountains” of culture as a whole, from arts to education to government. But the fundamental principle is that same that Christians must work toward a theocratic state in which Christians are in control. Or, as Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone said in an interview last year with Pastors Network of America, God wants Christians, “who will rule with the fear of God in them, to rule over us.”

David Barton’s focus gives Dominionism legitimacy through perpetuating a cycle. By creating a deeply unbalanced history of America’s foundations, he can legitimize the Christianized state he’d like to promote. And as an (at least ostensible) historian, he can partner with Republican lawmakers to cast a veneer of academic respectability over a thoroughly anti-academic message. That Barton has continued to nurture a reputation as a credible historian and activist says a lot in which some politicians on the religious right feel the need to construct a façade of legitimacy to support their political ends. To create a mythical and simplistic version of the past in which America was founded as a clear-cut theocratic state is to provide an easy, useful narrative. Because the true narrative of America’s actual founding by a nation of Christians, deists, and other post-Enlightenment thinkers working out a complicated project of nationhood doesn’t fit their vision. In the Barton narrative, the United States is supposed to be a Christian nation and thus, any means taken to make the country more theocratic is automatically viewed legitimate.

Of course, considering that historians are human beings, all historical accounts can also be propaganda in a sense. Any narrative of America’s foundation will be mediated by a teller’s specific biases and concerns. National myths have always been about who we want to be as who we really were. And that’s all the reason to promote a wide variety of voices from all sides of the political aisle within the realm of academic history. But what David Barton and his political allies do is worse than that. Like Washington DC’s new Museum of the Bible, Barton uses the appearance of academic inquiry without any of its meticulousness to promote a Christian dominionist approach to governments that ideologues like Saccone are all too happy to accept without question. Still, Christian dominionist concerns are ultimately focused not on America’s history but the apocalyptic End Times a Christian nation is supposed to usher in, according to certain evangelical belief strains. And as Barton’s history centers more on his apocalyptic vision than the actual past, Americans are becoming more ill-informed for it.

Still, we must understand that David Barton is neither brilliant nor a historian. In fact, he’s a right-wing bigot with his own extremist profile at the Southern Poverty Law Center. Aside from all his dominionist nonsense, Barton inhibits very extreme views even by conservative Christian standards. He thinks gays should be sent to prison and thinks they die “decades earlier” than others as well as have more than 500 partners in their lifetimes. He has promoted the anti-immigrant cause and engaged in Muslim-bashing. He opposes immigration reform, saying God established national borders and ignoring American expansionism to the West which involved the US taking a bunch of land in Mexico, including his home state of Texas. He has appeared on hard-line nativist William Gheen’s radio show. And he has cited infamous white supremacist Richard Spencer in attacking US Representative Keith Ellison, the first Muslim congressman. In 2012, he claimed that the Muslim Brotherhood had infiltrated the government at all levels. He insists, based on nothing but his own highly unusual biblical reading, that environmentalism, the graduated income tax, the minimum wage, deficit spending, unions, and measures to battle global warming are all opposed by God.

No one’s saying that David Barton can’t make whatever reckless and false claims he wants. The First Amendment protects him as much as any of us. Yet, that doesn’t mean he should be taken seriously, given a podium, or boosted as a must-read “historian.” Instead, let’s consign Barton’s baseless propaganda to the dumpster of false and obnoxious ideas where it belongs. As a historian, Barton is a fraud, a conman who conveys a false rendering of American history to promote a toxic religious agenda and make money. His vision of American history should never be legitimized by any politician, church group, or anyone else. Since Rick Saccone endorses this historic flim flam man with extremist views, he shouldn’t be elected to represent Pennsylvania’s 18th district.