Can We Just Impeach the Motherf**ker Already?

During an ABC News interview on Wednesday, June 12, 2019, Donald Trump told George Stephanopoulos that he’d likely accept “information” offered by a foreign government for use in his reelection campaign. He said, “I think you might want to listen. I don’t — there’s nothing wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country — Norway — ‘We have information on your opponent’ — oh, I think I’d want to hear it.” He then continued that if he thought there’s “something wrong” with the offer, he’d “maybe” tell the FBI. But Trump nevertheless asserted that accepting “oppo research” from a foreign government was perfectly fine, telling Stephanopoulos, “They have information, I think I’d take it.”

These recent remarks have obviously caused intense controversy and reopened wounds from the Mueller investigation and the 2016 campaign. In fact, Special Counsel Robert Mueller had just finished a 2-year investigation into this very thing. We have to recall that in mid-2016, Donald Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. took a meeting to get dirt on Hillary Clinton allegedly from the Russian government. Mueller investigated Trump Jr.’s conduct for a potential campaign finance violation but decided not to charge him. Since word about it got out in 2017, Trump has continued defending his son’s actions, but his assertion poses legal and ethical issues. It’s also interpreted as yet another sign that Trump doesn’t seem particularly alarmed with broader Russian effort to help him win in 2016, including by hacking and leaking Democrats’ emails. Trump’s latest comments appeared to go too far for some of his allies. Fox & Friends’ Brian Kilmeade noted on June 13, “You don’t want a foreign government or foreign entity giving you information because they will want something back. If anybody knows that, it’s the president. There is no free lunch. If someone wants information, then they’re going to want influence. I think the president’s got to clarify that.” South Carolina US Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted, “I believe that it should be practice for all public officials who are contacted by a foreign government with an offer of assistance to their campaign — either directly or indirectly — to inform the FBI and reject the offer.” While Texas US Senator Jon Cornyn stated that Trump’s remarks were “dangerous territory.” Of course, in a move of classic whataboutism, those 2 backtracked with arguing how Hillary’s campaign funding the Steele Dossier was equally problematic (it’s not) so they can continually kiss Trump’s.

Back in June 2016, Donald Trump Jr. received an email from an acquaintance named Rob Goldstone, a British publicist who worked with the Agarlov family, an Azeri-Russian father-son pair of wealthy real estate developers who worked with the Trumps before. Goldstone claimed that Aras Agarlov had met with the “Crown prosecutor of Russia,” who had “offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.” He then added: “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump — helped along by Aras and Emin.” Trump Jr. enthusiastically responded, “if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.” They soon agreed to set up a meeting in Trump Tower to discuss the information. However, the meeting appears to be a dud since the Mueller report doesn’t document any information being passed or any deal being struck. Nor did Mueller find any indication that the offered information had any connection to the Russian hackings. But Donald Trump Jr.’s eagerness to accept dirt allegedly coming from a foreign government was viewed as scandalous. Some experts even argued it’s criminal since it’s a campaign finance law violation to accept or even solicit “thing of value” from a foreign source.

So when George Stephanopoulos asked Donald Trump about Donald Trump Jr.: “Should he have gone to the FBI when he got that email?” Obviously, the answer is yes. However, Trump said no, arguing that such a thing would be naïve, claiming, “Give me a break. Life doesn’t work that way.” What the fuck? Instead, he said that if something shady was going on, the correct response should be, “throw somebody out of your office,” since calling the FBI would be too much. When Stephanopoulos said that the FBI director (a guy Trump appointed, by the way) said that candidates should call them in such a situation, Trump answered: “The FBI director is wrong.” Then Stephanopoulos asked the question that would cause Trump so much trouble: “Your campaign this time around, if foreigners, if Russia, if China, if someone else offers you information on opponents, should they accept it or should they call the FBI?” Trump gives the odd answer: “I think maybe you do both. I think you might want to listen. I don’t — there’s nothing wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country — Norway — ‘We have information on your opponent’ — oh, I think I’d want to hear it.” Note that Trump used a benign country like Norway instead of responding to the specific question about Russia and China.

Pressed by Stephanopoulos, Donald Trump distinguished between foreign, “interference” and simple “information” and “oppo research,” which he claimed was perfectly fine to accept from a foreign source. Here’s his answer:

“It’s not interference. They have information. I think I’d take it. If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI, if I thought there was something wrong. But when somebody comes up with oppo research, right, they come up with oppo research. (mockingly) ‘Oh, let’s call the FBI.’

“The FBI doesn’t have enough agents to take care of it. When you go and talk, honestly, to congressmen, they all do it. They always have, and that’s the way it is. It’s called oppo research.”

Note that Donald Trump left open the possibility that if he “thought there was something wrong,” he’d go to the FBI. And he doesn’t say it’s okay to accept hacked or stolen material from a foreign power. Still, the idea that a foreign government would offer damaging information on your opponent in an election year should be cause for suspicion, since it’s a glaring red flag it wants to interfere in your political process and want something from you in terms of policy. This is especially the case if the government in question is a known adversary like Russia. And that is why you go to the FBI.

Nonetheless, Trump probably thinks accepting dirt about a political opponent from a foreign power is totally fine even if the info material is hacked or stolen. After all, he publicly asked Russia to “find” Hillary Clinton’s emails during the 2016 presidential campaign. Not to mention, he privately asked Michael Flynn to try and get a hold on those emails. Still, the whole idea seems to be: Donald Trump Jr. did nothing wrong. And if a foreign government has information that would help Trump’s reelection campaign, Trump would be happy to hear it.

Obviously, people are appalled by Donald Trump’s remarks. Some argue it’s simply unethical to accept “opposition research” from a foreign government, particularly an adversary like Russia. Federal Election Commission head Ellen Weintraub tweeted why it’s illegal for US political candidates to accept contributions from foreign governments, along with “I would not have thought I needed to say this.” She then went on to clarify: “Let me make something 100% clear to the American public and anyone running for public office: It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election. This is not a novel concept. Election intervention from foreign governments has been considered unacceptable since the founding of our nation.” Others pointed to the practical problem claiming that said foreign government might expect a reward. But there’s also an underlying legal issue on which Trump seems to be giving really bad advice. In other words, Trump doesn’t think it’s a problem for a campaign to accept “opposition research” because it’s just information. However, federal election law states that campaigns can’t accept foreign money contributions or any “thing of value” from foreign sources. Given that knowledge is power and information is very valuable resource in political campaigns, is opposition research like the “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary” promised to Donald Trump Jr. a thing of value? Well, Trump Jr. seemed to think so that he was willing to go through all the trouble to set up a meeting at Trump Tower for it.

The Mueller report explored this very subject, and concluded: probably. The report reads, “There are reasonable arguments that the offered information would constitute a ‘thing of value.’” After all, knowledge is power. While political campaigns do tons of opposition research on a candidate in hopes for finding dirt on their opponents. As Robert Mueller writes:

“These authorities would support the view that candidate-related opposition research given to a campaign for the purpose of influencing an election could constitute a contribution to which the foreign-source ban could apply.

“…Political campaigns frequently conduct and pay for opposition research. A foreign entity that engaged in such research and provided resulting information to a campaign could exert a greater effect on an election, and a greater tendency to ingratiate the donor to the candidate, than a gift of money or tangible things of value.”

But Robert Mueller doesn’t unreservedly endorse this view. Since he also expressed concerns about how this interpretation would fare in court:

“At the same time, no judicial decision has treated the voluntary provision of uncompensated opposition research or similar information as a thing of value that could amount to a contribution under campaign-finance laws. Such an interpretation could… raise First Amendment questions. These questions could be especially difficult where the information consisted simply of the recounting of historically accurate facts. It is uncertain how courts would resolve those issues.”

Nonetheless, leaving the issue aside, Robert Mueller didn’t end up bringing charges against the meeting’s participants for 2 separate reasons. First, is establishing willfulness. Did Donald Trump Jr. and the other meeting participants know they were breaking the law? As Mueller wrote, “The investigation has not developed evidence that the participants in the meeting were familiar with the foreign-contribution ban or the application of federal law to the relevant factual context.” Secondly, Mueller said that Rob Goldstone’s promised information is difficult to value at above $2,000, the threshold for a criminal violation, writing “Although damaging opposition research is surely valuable to a campaign, it appears that the information ultimately delivered in the meeting was not valuable.” Besides, when Trump Jr. agreed to take the meeting, he might’ve understood the information “as being of uncertain worth or reliability.” So Mueller most certainly didn’t say that accepting opposition research from a foreign government is very legal and very cool (quite the contrary). However, he chose not to bring charges in this particular instance. For reasons relating to specific evidence and the situation. In all, Mueller didn’t establish coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. But his report makes it clear that the Trump campaign, “expected it would benefit from information stolen and released through Russian efforts” during the 2016 campaign.

Now the United States has laws to govern how political campaigns can and can’t operate. Many of these laws are meant to limit or in some cases, just illuminate the amount if outside money trying to influence political candidates. When it comes to foreign influence, the law is clear. As Weintraub wrote: it’s “illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election.” In most cases, the meaning’s quite obvious: foreign nationals can’t donate money to a presidential campaign. In addition, it’s also illegal for candidates to solicit or receive money contributions from foreign nationals. But while a “thing of value” is easy to define when it comes to money, services, or in-kind contributions, it’s a lot more complicated in the realm of information like opposition research or campaign dirt. Northwestern University law professor Michael Kang told Vox, “Campaign-relevant information from a foreign national definitely can be an illegal in-kind contribution, but it gets trickier when the information does not have obvious cash value and isn’t necessarily something that a campaign regularly needs to buy. The policy concern is that any valuable advice or tip from a foreign national could, at least in theory, become an illegal in-kind contribution.”

As part of his investigation into the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, Special Counsel Robert Mueller grappled with this question, where Donald Trump Jr. and other Trump campaign members met with a Russian national who had promised them “dirt” on Hillary Clinton as part of Moscow’s effort to support Donald Trump. Mueller concluded in his report that, “candidate-related opposition research given to a campaign for the purpose of influencing an election could constitute a contribution to which the foreign-source ban could apply.” But he added that the issue hasn’t been court-tested and could also have freedom of speech implications. Nonetheless, Mueller ultimately decided not to prosecute Trump Jr. over enigmas in regards to information value and criminal intent, making it hard to prove campaign finance violations beyond reasonable doubt. But experts are split mostly because as Loyola University law professor Jessica Levinson told Vox, “There’s a reason campaigns pay for opposition research: We literally value it. It can be much more useful and valuable than walking in with a check.”

Nevertheless, given the blowback, Donald Trump has tried to sort of walk back in a Fox & Friends interview on June 14. He told them, “You’d have to look at [the information being offered], because if you don’t look at it, you won’t know it’s bad. But, of course, you give it to the FBI or report to the attorney general or somebody like that.” While it wasn’t an unequivocal condemnation, it’s renewed questions on what’s legal and what’s not in regards to foreign nationals in US campaigns. And to ensure that it’s illegal, House Democrats have promised to roll out a bill requiring campaigns to report any foreign government offering dirt on their opponents to the FBI. He also said that he doesn’t, “think anybody would present me with anything because they know how much I love the country.” But his comments during his interview with George Stephanopoulos suggest otherwise. Also, his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner also won’t say in an Axios interview the previous week whether he’d call the FBI if offered dirt again. So that refusal to be unequivocal about foreign interference undermines a thing of value for all Americans: the belief in the integrity of the vote.

Nearly 2 months after the Mueller report’s release, Congress remains at an impasse about what to do next. The special counsel didn’t end up charging any crimes related to collusion with the Russian government to interfere with the 2016 presidential election. He also chose not to say whether Donald Trump criminally obstructed justice. One House Democrat faction supports a beginning an impeachment inquiry against Trump, based on the conduct described in the report. Yet, the most of the caucus, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, doesn’t want to go down that road. Namely because Republicans control the US Senate and they’re all currently kissing Trump’s ass. So they’ll not only acquit him, but also frame the impeachment proceedings as a Democratic political stunt and a waste of everyone’s time.

Looming over all this is the question of what, exactly, this might mean in the 2020 election. Foreign powers could certainly interpret Donald Trump’s comments as a green light to send him whatever information he might find helpful. That said, Trump and foreign governments are all surely aware of what that might lead to: another lengthy investigation like Robert Mueller’s, which even though it didn’t end disastrously for Trump (unfortunately), surely wasn’t a pleasant experience. As Ellen Weintraub noted, America’s founders knew that when foreign governments seek to interfere in elections, it’s always to advance their interests, not ours. And that’s a bigger problem with Donald Trump’s apparent dismissal of the seriousness regarding foreigners reaching out to offer dirt to rival candidates. University of Miami law professor Frances Hill told Vox that while criminal law discussions are important, Trump’s “acting in a way that undermines national security.” As of 2019, just about the only thing Democrats and Republicans agree on the Mueller report is that Russia interfered in the 2016 Election. The intelligence community has said that Russia will certainly try again in 2020. While other countries like China and Iran will have learned 2016’s lessons and be eager to follow suit.

Nonetheless, it’s clear that even if Donald Trump’s campaign didn’t collude, he sees no problem with accepting dirt on opponents from foreign government, which should be reason enough to see Trump as a national security liability. Furthermore, the Trump campaign was willing to benefit from Russia’s election interference in 2016. Besides, not only does Trump not care that Russia’s actions in the 2016 election not only threatened American interests, sovereignty, and national security, but he’ll openly on Vladimir Putin to do it again. Still, let’s accept Trump’s “America First” nationalism for what it is: an exclusive nationalism centering on hating foreigners and difference. Or more accurately, xenophobia by another name. Any principled nationalist would see foreign efforts to interfere with a US election as an unacceptable infringement on American sovereignty and independence. Obviously, Trump isn’t principled nor does he value American independence. And if a president doesn’t have principles nor values independence should be impeached, especially if they pose a significant danger to the United States. Trump has. Furthermore, he’s personally profited off the presidency in flagrant violation of the Emoluments Clause in the US Constitution, especially since foreign dignitaries have stayed on his resorts and in his hotels on the taxpayer’s dime. So the question is not whether he should be impeached, but why he hasn’t been impeached now.

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The Mad Hatter Gets Cuffed

In the early daylight hours of Friday, January 25, 2019, longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone was arrested at his Florida home in connection with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. He was indicted for obstruction, making false statements, and witness tampering. These charges center on Stone’s lies to the House Intelligence Committee during a 2017 hearing about his statements and efforts to get in touch with WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential campaign. The indictment conspicuously mentions that “a senior Trump campaign official was directed to contact Stone” about what WikiLeaks might have on Hillary Clinton. However, the indictment doesn’t attempt to explain why Stone would lie about this or tell a definitive story about what happened between him and Wikileaks at the time. Nor has he been charged with any criminal activity during the campaign. In fact, the actual charges against Roger Stone don’t allege that he committed any crimes during the 2016 campaign. Instead, they alleged him attempting to obstruct investigations into what happened afterward.

The hacking and leaking of the Democrats’ emails has long been the centerpiece of the Mueller investigation. Already, Robert Mueller has charged several Russian intelligence officers with this. Eventually, WikiLeaks publicly posted many of these emails with the Democratic National Committee’s in July 2016 and Clinton campaign chair John Podesta’s 4 months later.

Roger Stone’s various statements including public ones, raised questions on whether he had some sort of inside knowledge about WikiLeaks or its plans. He’s denied knowing anything about it, claiming that anything he knew about WikiLeaks came from an intermediary, radio host Randy Credico. Now Stone has been accused of lying to the House Intelligence Committee in 2017 (on 5 counts) and trying to tamper with Credico as a witness so that he’d stick to that false story. Overall, while the indictment aptly establishes that Stone lied about WikiLeaks, it doesn’t tell the full story about what happened between Stone, WikiLeaks, and the various intermediaries in 2016.

Dressed like a super villain, Roger Stone has been a longtime GOP operative whose reputation for dirty tricks days all the way back to Richard Nixon’s 1972 reelection campaign. During the mid-1980s, Stone has been an on-and-off adviser to Donald Trump and co-founded a famous lobbying firm with Paul Manafort during that same decade. When Trump began his presidential campaign in 2015, Stone was a part of his original team. But he lasted only a month, departing the operation in early August after clashing with staffers. Nevertheless, he remained in Trump’s orbit, communicating with the candidate himself afterward. In fact, he helped engineer Manafort’s hiring on the campaign. As the 2016 general election neared, Stone frequently spoke about the hacks and leaks of Democratic emails and other documents. In August, he praised a Russian intelligence run online persona said to be responsible for them, “Guccifer 2.0.” In addition, he claimed that he “communicated” with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange who posted the DNC emails. While he repeatedly hinted of more damaging Clinton material coming during the next 2 months. Only after the election did we learn about his private communication with both entities.

According to the new indictment, after July 22, 2016, “a senior Trump Campaign official was directed to contact Roger Stone about any additional releases and what other damaging information” WikiLeaks “had regarding the Clinton Campaign.” This indicates that the Trump campaign wanted to stay updated on what WikiLeaks had about Hillary Clinton and that Stone was the guy who kept them in the know. But prosecutors don’t give away any more details about who directed that campaign official to reach out to Stone. For that reason, this tidbit implication isn’t totally clear. But prosecutors certainly included this tantalizing detail for a reason.

Around this time, Roger Stone also had a set of communications with conservative author and conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi, regarding getting contact from Julian Assange. On July 25, Stone emailed Corsi telling him to “get to” Assange in the “Ecuadorian Embassy in London and get the pending” WikiLeaks “emails.” Corsi forwarded the message to an “overseas individual.” On July 31, Stone wrote to Corsi that Trump campaign adviser Ted Malloch ”should see” Assange. On August 2, Corsi emailed Stone claiming knowledge of Assange’s plans. According to him, “Word is friend in embassy plans 2 more dumps. One shortly after I’m back [from a trip in Europe]. 2nd in Oct. Impact planned to be very damaging..” Corsi continued: “Would not hurt to start suggesting HRC old, memory bad, has stroke — neither he nor she well. I expect that much of next dump focus, setting stage for [Clinton] Foundation debacle.”

Not long afterward on August 4, Roger Stone emailed fellow ex-Trump adviser Sam Nunberg, “I dined with Julian Assange last night.” Though Stone said it was a joke when the email became public long afterwards.The day after he emailed Sam Nunberg, Stone penned a Brietbart article taking Guccifer’s story about being the lone hacker who stole the DNC emails at face value and argued that Russia probably didn’t do it (despite that they certainly did and that Guccifer was a Russian intel official). He also tweeted, “Julian Assange is a hero.” On August 8, 2016, Stone began publicly claiming to have inside information, saying “I actually have communicated with Assange. I believe the next tranche of his documents pertain to the Clinton Foundation but there’s no telling what the October surprise may be.”

A few days later, Roger Stone began tweeting and DMing with Guccifer 2.0 (who again, has been identified as a Russian intelligence officer). Some of these DMs later leaked, leading Stone to post what he claimed was the full exchange (it wasn’t). Not surprisingly, the posted messages were mainly friendly chitchat and not particularly substantive (which weren’t mentioned in the new indictment). On August 21, 2016, Stone tweeted an odd prediction, “Trust me, it will soon the Podesta’s time in the barrel. #CrookedHillary.” Months before the Podesta emails became public, many would point out to this and ask whether Stone had any advance knowledge of the Podesta email leak. But Stone later claimed that since this came in the midst of a scandal surrounding Paul Manafort’s Ukraine work, he merely predicted “Podesta’s business dealings would be exposed.”

In October 2016, Roger Stone took on a new role of WikiLeaks hype man. He again claimed inside knowledge saying a “friend” of his met with Julian Assange and learned “the mother lode is coming Wednesday.” He tweeted: “Wednesday @HillaryClinton is done. #Wikileaks.” When nothing came that Wednesday, Stone tweeted: “Libs thinking Assange will stand down are wishful thinking. Payload coming. #Lockthemup.” Assange posted the Podesta emails 2 days later. Immediately, there were questions about whether the garrulous operative have been involved. This spurred WikiLeaks to tweet that the group “has never communicated with Roger Stone.” The Atlantic reported that Stone DMed the WikiLeaks Twitter account afterward, complaining they were “attacking” him. WikiLeaks responded, “The false claims of association are being used by the democrats to undermine the impact of our publications. Don’t go there if you don’t want us to correct you.” Stone shot back, “Ha! The more you ‘correct’ me the more people think you’re lying. Your operation leaks like a sieve. You need to figure out who your friends are.”

By 2017, Roger Stone was putting forward an apparent cover story for whatever actually happened in 2016. He insisted that everything he heard about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks came from his “intermediary” talk radio host Randy Credico. When Stone went in to testify before the House Intelligence Committee during a closed session in September, he stuck to that story.

Roger Stone had also put an effort to get Randy Credico to stick to his false story, sometimes using Godfather references. When Credico repeatedly asked Stone to correct his testimony, Stone refused. When Credico was called to testify before the House Intelligence Committee in November 2017, Stone tried to convince him to lie in support to Stone’s initial testimony. According to prosecutors, Stone did this quite colorfully, telling Credico he should claim that he was his only contact to Julian Assange, that he didn’t remember what he told Stone, or what Stone referred to as pulling a “Frank Pentangeli,” recanting testimony during a hearing. In December, according to prosecutors, Credico informed the House Intelligence Committee that he’d plead the Fifth if subpoenaed to testify in part to “avoid providing evidence that would show Stone’s previous testimony to Congress was false.”

But Roger Stone and Randy Credico continued to discuss the Russian investigation. While Stone repeatedly made it clear that Credico would pay if he talked to law enforcement and contradicted his statements. He texted the radio host at one point, “‘Stonewall it. Plead the fifth. Anything to save the plan’ … Richard Nixon.” Stone later said, “If you turned over anything to the FBI you’re a fool.” Eventually, when Credico wouldn’t stick to his story, Stone got angrier, writing in April 2018, “You are a rat. A stoolie. You backstab your friends.” He then threatened to steal Credico’s therapy dog before deciding he’d threaten the host’s life instead.

There’s ample documentary evidence that Roger Stone’s story about Randy Credico being his only contact with Assange is indeed, false. For the email exchanges with Jerome Corsi show that Stone talked to both men (with Stone and Credico’s correspondence telling a similar story). While there are allusions to what Stone had told top Trump campaign members about WikiLeaks’ plans. But it doesn’t read as any sort of final effort from prosecutors to sum up what happened back then. Or perhaps the Mueller crew don’t have sufficient evidence to show it.

In his book, Silent No More: How I Became a Political Prisoner of Mueller’s “Witch Hunt,” conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi goes into a lot of detail about what Robert Mueller’s prosecutors asked him and what evidence they had. Here, Corsi makes some surprising disclosures and admissions that really could shed light in the Mueller investigation. These parts of Corsi’s book are based on notes his lawyers took during the question sessions, according to him. In fact, he’s released a draft plea document Mueller put together, backing up some of them. According to his book, Corsi went in to talk with Mueller prosecutors in September 2018. At the time, he had little to offer, denying he helped Roger Stone get in touch with WikiLeaks. Instead, he claimed warning Stone that such activity that could expose him to surveillance and investigation. Mueller’s team broke off the interview with a prosecutor stating they have “demonstrable proof that what you said was false.” They suggested he review his old emails and come back for another session.

But before the next session, Jerome Corsi writes, Mueller prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky agreed to give his lawyer David Gray more details about what to expect next time. According to Corsi, Zelinsky told Gray:

  • They had evidence Corsi told multiple people that Julian Assange had John Podesta’s emails as early as August 2016, 2 months before that news became public.
  • That Corsi said that Assange had planned to release those emails in October, in a “drip-drip-drip” fashion, which proved spot on.
  • That they had evidence that Roger Stone had called Corsi shortly before the infamous Access Hollywood tape was released and urged him to get word to Assange to start dumping the Podesta emails to counteract the fallout. (This is a particular interesting claim because the first Podesta email batch was released a half an hour after the Access Hollywood tape was. There had long been speculation that the timing was connected, but there hasn’t been any evidence to support that).

In Jerome Corsi’s second round of questioning with Mueller’s team in September 2018, he admitted that all this is true. He also confessed to helping Roger Stone concoct a “cover story” to explain away the suspicious Podesta tweet. This seems to suggest that Trump associates had good advance information about the stolen (Russian-hacked) Podesta emails and that some sort of effort at coordinating their release to benefit Donald Trump’s campaign. Of course, Corsi walks back on the information he provides but what he does admit is a huge problem for Stone. Even worse, Corsi wrote that he explained on that during a conference call with the staff of the WorldNetDaily so there would be witnesses to back up this version of events, if it’s true. And perhaps those witnesses talked to Robert Mueller already.

Though most of Jerome Corsi’s book is untrustworthy conspiracy-fringe nonsense, he doesn’t appear to fabricate these emails and phone records. Since the Roger Stone indictment cited much of the email evidence Corsi cites in his book. Yet, the draft plea deal document alleges that Corsi deleted from before the Podesta release before the Mueller team found them. And he tried shifting his story in an attempt to hide what actually happened. Nonetheless, what this book seems to suggest is that Mueller had been intently interested in making some sort of case against Stone directly involving WikiLeaks and the Podesta emails. And he assembled a great deal of evidence toward that end even if investigators didn’t have enough to indict Stone on this. But the special counsel could still be pursuing that part of the probe so more charges against Stone and possibly Corsi.

A Disgrace to the Nation, a Disgrace to the Presidency

I have not been shy about my fierce antagonism to Donald Trump. But his Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin culminated in a show stopping trainwreck that should’ve shocked nobody but generated bipartisan outrage across the United States. On Monday, July 16, 2018, Trump held a friendly rendezvous with Putin who sabotaged an American election on his behalf. And he has been rewarded by seeing an American foreign policy turn in a pro-Russian direction.

When Donald Trump issued a plea on a podium in Doral, Florida on July 27, 2016, he stated, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” We all know he was referring to the emails Hillary Clinton had deleted as irrelevant to her work as Secretary of State. But for those who don’t understand, Trump was publicly asking for Russian agents to break into her computer systems, steal documents she had erased, and release them to the public. And according to recently released indictments Special Counsel Robert Mueller revealed a few days before, that same day, for the first time, Russian hackers attempted to hack into, “email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office.” They also, “targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton campaign.” Now Russia’s campaign to interfere in the election had been an ongoing campaign as early as March that year. What Trump’s request seems to have done was focus efforts on Clinton’s inbox. There are plenty of plausible explanations of wat happened here. Maybe the Russians heard Trump’s call and heeded it. Perhaps Trump’s invitation was attached to a private plea to Russian contacts like one sent by either Paul Manafort or Roger Stone. It’s possible the whole thing was just coincidental. But we should resist the tendency to speculate since it’ll just distract us from what we do know. And it’s damning.

Nonetheless, it should be glaringly apparent that Vladimir Putin is not our friend. He does not share our values nor does he care for democracy. In fact, he rules Russia as a kleptocratic dictator with a repressive iron fist. For God’s sake, the guy had his critics and political opponents murdered, including journalists and ex-spies like Alexander Litvanenko in Great Britain. It’s obvious that Russia couldn’t have meddled in the 2016 presidential campaign by hacking into the DCCC, DNC, and Hillary Clinton’s team without his orders. And we know they orchestrated this massive information theft on the Dems and used it to help Donald Trump win. Not to mention, Russia’s efforts to help Trump win included social media campaigns to inflame racial divisions on his behalf with armies of bots meant to elevate stories boosting him and hurting Clinton along with efforts to compromise state voting machines. None of this is in doubt.

Even before Donald Trump decided to run for president, the Russian ties were there. In 2008, Donald Trump Jr. said of the Trump Organization, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.” And in 2014, Eric Trump added, “We don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.” From 2003-2017, “buyers connected to Russia or former Soviet republics made 86 all-cash sales — totaling nearly $109 million — at 10 Trump-branded properties in South Florida and New York City.” Trump’s onetime campaign manager Paul Manafort had ties to the Kremlin and was deeply in debt to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch, closely connected to Vladimir Putin. And he was keeping in touch with this guy’s team during the election as well as asked of his powerful position in the Trump campaign, “How do we use [it] to get whole?”

Yet, we also know that Donald Trump has repeatedly praised Vladimir Putin even at considerable political cost after asking Russia to hack into Clinton’s emails, which it did. We know that Trump associates like Roger Stone seem to have advanced warning of the hacked emails’ release. We know that the willingness to cooperate with the Russians wasn’t one of Trump’s idiosyncratic musings. It was suffused in the Trump campaign’s top ranks since members of his inner circle like Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort eagerly accepted a meeting with Russian operatives promising Hillary Clinton dirt. And that Trump dictated the statement lying about the infamous Trump Tower meeting’s purpose. Additionally, we know the Trump campaign interfered in the Republican National Committee’s platform drafting to softening the language on Russia and Ukraine. We know that Jared Kushner sought a secret communications channel with the Russians so the US government couldn’t hear their negotiations.

The Russia strokefest even carry on to Donald Trump’s presidency for there has never been a single issue haunting his administration as long or as much as his Russian ties. Since his election, he’s bucked his party, his administration, and decades of foreign policy in attempts to shield Russia from sanctions for electoral interference, pull American support back from NATO and the European Union, and forge a closer relationship with Vladimir Putin. Then there’s Trump’s own testimony about firing FBI Director James Comey to end his investigation into Russia’s role into the 2016 election. In addition, he wanted to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for failing to protect him from the investigation. An it’s no wonder the Trump administration has moved from arguing that Trump didn’t obstruct justice to arguing that by definition, the president can’t obstruct justice. All of this leads to Trump insisting on the Helsinki meeting with Putin over his staff’s objections and despite the absence of any clear agenda.

Indeed, Donald Trump addressed the election hacking during his joint press conference with Vladimir Putin. “I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” he said. Well, you think? Because of course he’d deny that he’d have anything to do with election hacking despite all evidence to the contrary. Trump then added, “And what he did is an incredible offer. He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators with respect to the 12 people. I think that’s an incredible offer.” Uh, no it’s not. If anything, that’s like having Al Capone offering to help the cops with the investigation over the guys involved in the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre. You know that things won’t turn well. If anything, Putin isn’t interested with working with the Mueller investigation. More likely he’d offer to help with respect to draw people from the Mueller team into Russia to kill them.

Donald Trump then attacked US intelligence services and again mused how much better it might’ve been if Russia cracked into Hillary Clinton’s server and gotten her documents. “What happened to Hillary Clinton’s emails?” he demanded as if anyone cared about her emails 2 years after the 2016 election. “33,000 emails gone — just gone. I think in Russia they wouldn’t be gone so easily.” Even his allies were dumbstruck, with former Bush press secretary Ari Fleisher tweeting: “I continue to believe there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. But when Trump so easily and naively accepts Putin’s line about not being involved, I can understand why Ds think Putin must have the goods on him.” Asked if Russia had compromising material on Trump, Putin replied, “it’s difficult to imagine utter nonsense on a bigger scale than this. Please disregard these issues and don’t think about this anymore again.” Though you can imagine him privately laughing maniacally with fellow Russian officials. When asked about whether he holds Russia accountable for their actions contributing to the deterioration in the US-Russia relationship, he replied in an answer reeking of treason:

“Yes, I do. I hold both countries responsible. I think the United States has been foolish. I think we have all been foolish. We should have had this dialogue a long time ago, a long time, frankly, before I got to office. I think we’re all to blame. I think that the United States now has stepped forward along with Russia. We’re getting together and we have a chance to do some great things, whether it’s nuclear proliferation in terms of stopping, we have to do it — ultimately, that’s probably the most important thing that we can be working on.

“I do feel that we have both made some mistakes. I think that the probe is a disaster for our country. I think it’s kept us apart. It’s kept us separated. There was no collusion at all. Everybody knows it. People are being brought out to the fore. So far that I know, virtually, none of it related to the campaign. They will have to try really hard to find something that did relate to the campaign.

“That was a clean campaign. I beat Hillary Clinton easily and, frankly, we beat her. And I’m not even saying from the standpoint — we won that race. It’s a shame there could be a cloud over it. People know that. People understand it. The main thing — and we discussed this also — is zero collusion. It has had a negative impact upon the relationship of the two largest nuclear powers in the world. We have 90 percent of nuclear power between the two countries. It’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous what’s going on with the probe.”
He’s basically saying that the US is no better than Russia. And that he won a clean campaign so all what the Mueller probe is doing is hurting our relationship with Russia.

Despite that 12 Russian agents hacked into Democratic emails on Putin’s orders and for Trump’s benefit. And the Trump team was eager to let it all happen. Later, when asked specifically about Russia-backed hackers stealing Americans’ private correspondence, Donald Trump replied: “My people came to me, [Director of National Intelligence] Dan Coats came to me, and some others, and said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this. I don’t see any reason why it would be, but I really do want to see the server. But I have confidence in both parties.” Uh, Coats and his team didn’t think it’s Russia. They said it was Russia. But anyways, as president of the United States, Trump stated that he has equal confidence in Vladimir Putin and the American intelligence community the same way he believes that both the white supremacists and counter-protestors in Charlottesville were “very fine people.” Such remarks are politically baffling since such remarks only undermine his position. The simplest explanation for why a president who happily outsources his domestic policy to Paul Ryan and his judicial nominations to the Federalist Society insists on freelancing around Russia is that there’s a genuine meeting of minds between Trump and Putin on a wide range of issues.

Take the matter of the natural gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 Germany plans to build which Russia hawks in the US and Europe have long been concerned about. Such pipeline would give Russian fossil fuels more access to the European market. Donald Trump often likes to criticize Germany but rarely likes to bash Russia. But somehow, he surprised many observers by criticizing this pipeline at the NATO Conference in Brussels. On the surface, it appears that Trump had tried to ingratiate his passion for making trouble with German Chancellor Angela Merkel with something resembling routine American foreign policy. But the Helsinki summit quickly dashed those hopes. Asked by a Russian journalist about the pipeline and how he’d characterize the US-Russia relationship, Trump made it clear his pipeline concern isn’t that it would give Russia undue political leverage over Germany, but simply that would be bad for fossil fuel interests:

“I called him a competitor, and a good competitor he is. I think the word competitor is a compliment. I think that we will be competing when you talk about the pipeline. I’m not sure necessarily that it’s in the best interests of Germany or not. That was a decision that they made. We will be competing. As you know, the United States is now, or soon will be, but I think it is right now the largest in the oil and gas world. So we’re going to be selling LNG. We’ll have to be competing with the pipeline. I think we will compete successfully. Although there is a little advantage locationally. I wish them luck.

“I discussed with Angela Merkel in pretty strong tones. But I also know where they’re coming from. They have a very close source. We will see how that all works out. But we have lots of sources now. The United States is much different than it was a number of years ago when we weren’t able to extract what we can extract today. So today, we’re number one in the world at that. I think we will be out there competing very strongly. Thank you very much.”

Essentially, Donald Trump’s view on the relationship with NATO to Nord Stream 2 make absolutely no sense. But it’s consistent with his overall worldview. While a normal US leader may worry that Russo-German energy ties might undermine Germany’s ability to lead an independent Europe at a political level, Trump’s objection is backward. He doesn’t think it’s worth America’s while to contribute to Europe’s defense through NATO if Europe turns around and buys Russian gas. He defines Russia as a “competitor” to the United States exclusively in the commercial sphere rather than a geopolitical one. That’s why he called the EU a “foe” in much stronger terms in regards to competition levels in export markets. If you view world affairs through a mercantile like Trump does, then America’s closest allies who are mostly rich democracies are our biggest enemies and deterring Russian expansionism is a waste of cash. Nonetheless, it’s time to accept that this is what Trump really thinks and that’s how he’s governing accordingly.

In New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait published a speculative idea that Donald Trump had been a compromised Russian agent since the 1980s, which though chilling borders more on conspiracy theory than anything else. It’s more likely that Trump is more concerned on how the Russian election meddling for his behalf may render his electoral victory illegitimate. Though he doesn’t care much about how to win since he’s employed dubious means in the past. In fact, he’s more worried about getting caught. Nevertheless, like much of the debate, Chait’s piece reflects the view we’re still largely in the dark about the Trump Organization’s true nature of its relationship with Russia. Except we’re not. In fact, we know a vast amount about Trump’s Russia connections, Russia’s role in the 2016 election, the Trump Organization’s efforts to conceal Russian contacts, Trump’s efforts to impede the investigation into the matter, and about his treatment of Russia, Putin, and NATO since his election. As former NSA official and executive editor of Lawfare Susan Hennessy told Vox, “Every single time we’ve heard of that the Russians reached out to offer something — dirt on Hillary Clinton, access to another trove of emails, secret meetings, back channels — the common theme of every single individual in Trump’s orbit was, ‘Yes. Help us out.’ That is the really astounding picture that has emerged.”

While there is much left to find out, learning the truth is important for its own sake. Yet, the obsessive focus on what we still don’t know reflects a hope among Donald Trump’s opponents that Mueller will find something, reveal something, or bait Trump into doing something that will trigger consequences of some kind. However, there’s nothing so automatic in the system. And there’s no reason to believe further revelations would call forth that kind of response. At this point, the big issue isn’t what we don’t know. It’s what to do with what we do know.

Thanks to politics, the 2018 and 2020 elections can’t and won’t act as a clear way for accountability on Donald Trump and Russia. From issues such as Supreme Court justices, tax policy, Obamacare’s future, civil rights, workers’ rights, and environmental regulations, there is too much at stake at any given election these days and there are too few choices available for voters for them to answer a problem as complex and unusual as this one. This is especially true since Republicans control both houses of Congress and many in the House have went out of his way to protect him. Because they know their future is tied to Trump’s survival. Anything that weakens his administration weakens their 2018 reelection prospects, their ability to fill judgeships, and their ability to pass tax cuts. Thus, their political lives depend on Trump’s political strength.

It’s hard to remember now that Donald Trump entered the White House with an unexpectedly low level of support from his own party. Vulnerable Republican senators and House members refused to admit voting for him while Speaker Paul Ryan stated he’d no longer defend him. As a candidate, Trump was personally hostile to a number of established GOP figures like US Senator Ted Cruz and expressed heterodox views on a wide range of policy issues. Theoretically, it could’ve led to an unusual dynamic where congressional Republicans subjected Trump to an uncommonly stringent level of oversight for a same-party president, and Trump engaged in an uncommonly high level of policymaking cutting across established party lines. In practice, Trump and the GOP reached a Faustian compromise. Republicans would give no restraint whatsoever on Trump’s personal corruption or financial conflicts of interests. While Trump won’t attempt to pursue heterodox agendas on infrastructure, healthcare, anti-trust, etc. that he promised on the campaign trail, which was easy enough since he made them to give socially conservative white working-class voters no incentive to vote with their economic interests. And he doesn’t care much about those supporters anyway and had no plans on fulfilling what he promised them. The deal has worked well on domestic issues, culminating in the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to succeed Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court.

But it’s begun falling apart on foreign affairs after a successful 2017. Coats, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and others with conventional conservative Republican views hold key advisor jobs in the Trump administration. However, Trump had no interest taking their advice since he thinks that advice is wrong. And now he’s acting to unravel America’s global trading relationships, doing what he can to undermine NATO and the EU, trying to find excuses to get out of defense obligations to South Korea, and otherwise implement a mercantilist vision he’s articulated over and over again. Thus, it’s time for congressional Republicans to stop issuing gutless statements denouncing him and start taking this seriously as his policy agenda. But since Republicans place a higher value on party unity than the foreign policy issues they claim to stand for, they will do whatever they can to stay in Trump’s good graces and avoid angering his base before the upcoming midterm elections. Because they don’t want to jeopardize their legislative agenda, they’ll let their Snowflake King take a sledge hammer on decades of US foreign policy on Russia and other issues. At the same time, the mainstream GOP tries desperately to at least pretend they can be anti-Putin and pro-Trump. However, the Trump-Putin presser makes it clear that it’s impossible.

Meanwhile, congressional Democrats don’t have the power to do anything right now and are more focused taking back Congress back in 2018. But even if they do win the election, their priority will be retaking the presidency in 2020. So they’ll more likely focus on healthcare and Social Security, not Russia and the 2016 campaign. Thus, it’s best we don’t expect impeachment down the line in the foreseeable future. Since while the Democrats can successfully impeach him and remove him from office quite easily once they’re in power, that might mean President Mike Pence. And no one in the Democratic Party wants that.

As for the rest of the legal system, well, there’s nothing necessarily illegal about Donald Trump publicly asking Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails. Just as there’s nothing illegal about him pursuing a stunningly pro-Putin foreign policy after receiving Russia’s aid. The actual hacking was illegal, no doubt. But who’s going to hold Russia accountable for that? It won’t be the Trump administration who asked for and benefitted from their help. For when asked by a Reuters journalist “Do you hold Russia at all accountable for anything in particular” that has contributed to the decline in the US-Russia bilateral relationship, Trump delivered the defining answer of his foreign policy that he doesn’t. Nor did he object to Vladimir Putin’s oppression, Russia’s 2008 effort to dismember the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, Russia-backed forces shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH-17 and killing hundreds of civilians, Russia’s invasion of Crimea, its subsequent invasion of Eastern Ukraine, Russia’s apparent use of a deadly nerve agent in the UK, or of course, the computer hacking associated with the 2016 election.

Though Mueller’s indictments were announced just before the infamous Trump and Putin summit, it first led to talk of whether Trump might cancel it meeting (which he didn’t) and then speculation over whether and how he’d confront Putin over Russia’s actions. But everyone knows that Trump’s actual response to Russia’s intervention on his behalf has always been of gratitude and solicitousness. So what other response is there to a world power doing exactly what you asked of them in a time of political need?

Nevertheless, after a massive bipartisan condemnation of Donald Trump’s disastrous press conference with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki where he questioned Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Trump held a surprise press conference the next day to walk back on his comments. Sitting at a table with members of Congress, he read clearly prepared statement asserting he had “accepted” US intelligence’s findings that Russia was behind cyberattacks leading up to the 2016 election. He claimed he had misspoken about the press conference when he questioned the idea of Russian interference which might be plausible in theory. But take his statement in the context of what Trump actually said, it makes no sense. And it’s very clear he’s still expressing skepticism about Russia’s guilt as he states:

“My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others; they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this. I don’t see any reason why it would be, but I really do want to see the server. But I have confidence in both parties. … I think it’s a disgrace that we can’t get Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 emails.

“So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today. And what he did is an incredible offer. He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators, with respect to the 12 people [Russian agents indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller for election interference]. I think that’s an incredible offer.”

What he’s saying is that there’s a conflict between US intelligence and Russia claims, that he’s not sure who’s right, and that he’d appreciate Russian intelligence’s help in clearing up what happened. Despite the fact that the 12 newly indicted Russians were intelligence agents so we’re in no position to trust Russian intelligence on such matters whatsoever. What’s more he still reiterated his skepticism when he said, “I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place,” following it up with, “Could be other people also. A lot of people out there.” He still doesn’t believe Russia is involved and he’s trying to convinced us that he didn’t mean what he said. Let’s not kid ourselves that Trump’s trying to gaslight the entire world and assert something he didn’t by sheer force of confidence. He’s brazenly lying to us and we shouldn’t let him get away with it. Russia meddled with the 2016 presidential campaign of which can there be no doubt. We shouldn’t believe otherwise.

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.

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.

Have You No Sense of Decency?

On Thursday, November 9, 2017, the Washington Post revealed that Alabama Republican Senate frontrunner Roy Moore had allegedly made sexual advances on or engaged in sexual activity with a number of teen girls as young as 14 while in his 30s during the late 1970s. The next day, another woman came forward alleging that Moore sexually assaulted her at 16 and showed his signature on her high school yearbook as proof. For any politician, allegations of pedophilia would’ve resulted in nothing less than widespread condemnation and an end to their political careers. In an interview with Sean Hannity, Moore has called the Washington Post story, “completely false and misleading,” he said he “didn’t dispute” that he “dated a lot of young ladies.” He noted that he “recognized the names” of at least two of the women named in the Post investigation. On CNN, former prosecutor Tessa Jones stated, “it was common knowledge that Roy dated high school girls,” and that “everyone we knew thought it was weird.” She then added, “We wondered why someone his age would hang out at high school football games and the mall.” A dozen people in Gadsen, Alabama remarked on how Moore used to frequent the mall and was reportedly banned for trying to pick up teenage girls.

Not surprisingly, politicians from both parties are calling for Roy Moore to step down from the Senate race against Democrat Doug Jones. The Republican establishment has severed all ties to Moore. But Moore still has a chance to win while many of his supporters have remained noticeably silent. Those who did speak out dismissed the allegations as a Democratic plot or smear campaign and questioned the report’s timing weeks ahead of the December special election. His brother even compared the guy to Jesus. Others implied that Moore’s acts aren’t that bad because, according to Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler, “Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter.” He then added, “There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual.” Really? A little unusual? When Brietbart Milo Yiannopoulos earlier was caught speaking light on pedophilia, nobody remarked how it wasn’t illegal or immoral. In fact, he lost his book deal with Simon and Schuster, lost his spot at CPAC, lost speaking gigs, and had to resign from Brietbart. In short his career was ruined. But here we have Moore who’s reputed to date teenage girls and people rise to his defense.

To invoke Mary and Joseph to excuse pedophilia is absolutely disgusting on so many levels. First of all, it implies that Roy Moore’s desire and behavior toward these teenage girls was normal (even if the Alabama age of consent is 16). Except that a 30-some-year-old man’s conduct toward teen girls is not. In fact, an adult dating teenage girls is immoral and in some states illegal, especially if the girl is 14. If a grown man pursues teenage girls, it’s about control. Second, using religion to excuse such egregious behavior is nothing short of abhorrent whether it involves Mary and Joseph or not. People have used religion to justify so many horrid things like terrorism, slavery, oppression, as well as all-out war and genocide. Third, to use Mary and Joseph to explain child molestation accusations is a textbook example of blasphemy, especially among Catholics. Regardless of what you believe about these two, most Christians believe they didn’t have premarital sex. Mary was a virgin when she became pregnant with Jesus. Even if she was a teenage girl and he was an adult man, Joseph’s willingness to stay with the pregnant Mary wasn’t an endorsement of underage sex. Furthermore, Ziegler’s defensive statement totally ignores the cultural context of Mary and Joseph’s relationship.

Even without the sexual assault allegations, Roy Moore is a terrible candidate who shouldn’t have won the Republican Alabama Senate nomination in the first place. A former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, he’s best known for his history of fringe views, religious extremism, and refusal to obey federal court orders. He gained national spotlight by installing a large monument of the Ten Commandments in the state’s Supreme Court building and refused to remove it despite federal court orders, which resulted in his removal from office in 2003. But he ran for his old job in 2012 and won it back. But then in 2015, he refused enforce the US Supreme Court’s decision legalizing gay marriage which resulted in his suspension from the bench again and later his resignation. And while he once called being gay as “detestable,” his extremist views don’t just denigrate the LGBT community, He’s also stated that Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to serve in Congress and that some American communities in the Midwest lived under Sharia law. He’s even a birther while his foundation has held events for Neo-Confederates that “promoted a history of the Civil War sympathetic to the Confederate cause, in which the conflict is presented as one fought over the federal government violating the South’s sovereignty as opposed to one fought chiefly over the preservation of slavery.” In 2007, he proclaimed that state involvement in early childhood education was characteristic of totalitarianism. Then there’s a campaign speech over racial divisions in which he said, “Now we have blacks and whites fighting, reds and yellows fighting, Democrats and Republicans fighting, men and women fighting. What’s going to unite us? What’s going to bring us back together? A president? A Congress? No. It’s going to be God.” Stuff like that alone should make any candidate unelectable. But since Alabama is a deeply conservative state, it’s entirely possible that conservative Alabama voters will back Roy Moore despite everything. In fact, a recent poll showed that 29% of the state’s voters say the allegations make them more likely to vote for Moore because of the sexual allegations. Whatever that means, it’s not an encouraging sign.

Still, the fact Republicans stand by Roy Moore despite the recent sexual misconduct allegations is extremely troubling. Of course, Alabama Republicans are defending him because they don’t want that Senate seat to go to a Democrat, let alone a former US Attorney who successfully prosecuted the 2 remaining KKK perpetrators of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing which killed 4 black girls. Because that would mean weaker control of the US Senate. Since Donald Trump ran for president, the Republican Party seems to think that the ends justify the means, especially among his white evangelical supporters. During the 2016 campaign, a Public Religion Institute poll found that the percentage of white evangelicals who thought immoral personal acts should disqualify a candidate from office fell from 64% in 2011 to 49% in 2016. By this time, the culture wars have become so toxic that many evangelicals saw getting “their guy” in power is more important than ensuring that “their guy” lives up to evangelical Christian standards of sexual morality. Now this isn’t just apparent among conservative evangelicals, but these facts indicate where the Republican Party is going. Sure they may call themselves good holy Christians and indeed they may be. But their support for Moore seems like they’ve sold their souls to the Devil. You have to wonder if they have any sense of decency to dump this guy. Or are they just too keen about holding power to care.

Whether their candidates fail to denounce white supremacists, sexually assault women, steal from employees, beat up reporters, have no qualifications, run fake charities, commit rampant fraud, enlist foreign power to meddle in election campaigns, or sexually prey on teenage girls, Republican voters tend to excuse, defend, and/or vote for them. No matter how reprehensible a candidate, they’ll support that person if they believe the right things, are in their party, and give these voters what they want. Even if their candidate wasn’t the person they wanted, they’ll support them anyway since anyone is better than a Democrat. However, voting for a thoroughly despicable candidate who shouldn’t be in office will only make you seem like you’re abandoning your principles for your own selfish interests and don’t care about the consequences. Supporting a candidate like Roy Moore or Donald Trump in any capacity will only make other people think less of you, especially if they win and turn out to be as bad as people said they are or worse (like in Trump’s case). In fact, I already think less of the people I know who voted for Trump which include friends, relatives, neighbors, and others in my community because supporting that unrespectable man in any capacity is completely indefensible. Personal morality might not be everything. But if a candidate’s personal behavior pertains to neglecting responsibility or inflicting terrible harm on others, then they shouldn’t be elected to public office. And from how I see it, it would be better for the Republican Party if conservative voters in Alabama dump Roy Moore and let the Democrat win. It might not be politically expedient to do so, but at least it shows they have a shred of character that many of his vocal supporters seem to lack.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Shit Has Hit the Fan

Recently, it has come to our attention that the New York Times has revealed that Donald Trump Jr. welcomed a meeting with a Russian government-connected lawyer named Natalia Veselnitskaya after learning she had information that “that would incriminate Hillary [Clinton] … and would be very useful to your father” and that it was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Trump Jr. has confirmed the meeting took place in June 2016 at Trump Tower (despite initially denying it) which also had his dad’s then-campaign manager Paul Manafort and his brother-in-law Jared Kushner in attendance. But he has downplayed the meeting’s significance claiming it was over adoption laws and later that the woman wasn’t a government official who provided anything useful. On Tuesday July 11, 2017, he has disclosed a series of e-mails of him corresponding with a British music publicist named Rob Goldstone at behest of the Agalarov family in order to prevent another NYT scoop. Except he totally didn’t and now that e-mail chain has been retrieved and released for the public and prosecutors to see. Furthermore, the chain basically debunks every lie he’s made, erodes his credibility, and confirms he’s hiding something all along.

For months, Donald Trump and his team have denied and disparaged reports that the Moscow tried to help his candidacy and that there was any collusion between the two. In fact, Trump has publicly claimed he didn’t believe that the Russian government wasn’t behind the hackings and leaks of prominent Democrats’ e-mails, which US intelligence agencies have resoundingly confirmed. Since January of 2017, reports of suspicious behavior between Trump and his team around Russia emerged  though we still lacked outright proof whether there was any behind-the-scenes collaboration between them. Though it remained theoretically possible that there was a multifaceted Russian effort to help Trump win without anyone from the Trump team knowing about it.

However, that is no longer possible since the Trump Jr. e-mail chain provides indisputable proof that people close to Donald Trump such as his son, his son-in-law, and then-campaign chair not only knew about but also encouraged a Russian government effort to help him win the White House. Seriously, Goldstone sent Trump Jr. an e-mail saying his information would be “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump” as if Russia’s support for Lord Cheetohead was an unremarkable fact. Instead of being confused or asking what Goldstone means, Trump Jr. cheerfully answers, “If it’s what you say I love it,” tries to get the details, and forwards the whole thread to Kushner and Manafort. Any other American who knew what Goldstone was getting at would’ve turned him down and notify the candidate and the FBI. Because that is what campaign workers are supposed to do since getting help from a foreign government to win an election goes against federal law. Yet, there’s no way you can read these e-mails and not conclude that the Trump campaign’s top guys knew Russia supported their man but were willing to help. And I’m sure that President Pussygrabber knew about this going on all along.

Why? Well, how can he not? Sure the White House claims that Donald Trump knew about his son’s meeting recently. But he’s complained about the Russia investigation for months and fired his own FBI director in May, possibly to stop information that could expose him or his team to criminal charges from turning up. We should also note that Trump has often seen himself as above the law and has gone to great lengths to avoid responsibility for his actions his whole life. Not to mention, he and his team constantly lie in public about anything that makes him look bad.

What the Trump camp talked about with the Moscow-linked parties that June day at Trump Tower may never be known. But even if that meeting did lead nowhere, it still raises questions of what else Manafort and Kushner and ousted National Security adviser Michael Flynn may have said or done with the Russians. Yet, what’s clear is that we can no longer dispute the investigations into the Trump campaign and that Russian collusion is a serious mater. Robert Mueller must proceed unimpeded in his inquiry while congressional investigators need to work as well. Because the US needs to get to the bottom of this.

But why should we care about Trump’s ties to Russia? Because the Trump team’s habit of publicly lying about its contacts with Russia government emissaries is very problematic on its own terms. But it’s especially troubling since it raises a possibility that blackmail fears can influence American foreign policy. For instance, take the bombshell from US government surveillance that then Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak revealed he and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn discussed sanctions during the Obama-Trump transition period, which Flynn lied about. Acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned White House Counsel Don McGahn that “the national security adviser essentially could be blackmailed by the Russians.” Meaning, that if you lie about meeting a Russian official in public, then the Russian government will know and could threaten to release embarrassing and personally damaging information unless you take positions they like. When the press got a hold of this, Flynn was fired. Still, Russian intelligence knows exactly what went down between their government and the Trump campaign. Their knowledge of the facts along with the Trump team’s relentless dishonesty as well as the high consequences of getting caught, means a potentially large swath of Trump’s inner circle has been (or still may be) exposed to blackmail. This in turn makes it hard for the nation and our allies to trust that American foreign policy toward Russia serves American interests rather than in service of keeping Trump’s people out of legal and political trouble. This might be easy to ignore if Trump’s attitude and policies toward Russia was typical for an American politician. But his contempt for NATO and his unwillingness to punish Moscow for election meddling shows they’re not.

Thus, we should understand while the Donald Trump Jr. scandal is new to us, it’s not to the Russians. Keep in mind that before releasing the e-mail thread pertaining to his meeting with Veselnitskaya, Trump Jr. had publicly denied meeting Russian government representatives for months. And he called allegations that anyone on the Trump team might’ve worked with the Russians as “disgusting” and “phony.” Not to mention, his dad and many of his spokespeople have maintained what Trump Jr. said was true through the entire campaign. His e-mail messages to Goldstone show that it wasn’t. At minimum, Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort met with Veselnitskaya under the impression that she’d provide them incriminating information about Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” But while revelations and e-mails about the meeting caused a sensation in the States, Veselnitskaya knew it all along. And if she knew it, the Russian government probably did, too. And it’s something they could’ve used to increase the legal and political jeopardy facing both father and son at any moment. Still, information is power. Since Russia has the info about the Trump/Russia contacts and because the Trump team keeps lying about them, the Russia government have a lot of power. And Trump’s team knows that Russia has the goods.

So far in the Trump/Russia contact, we know that members of Trump’s campaign team met with the Russians. We know that then Alabama US Senator Jeff Sessions met Kislyak at least twice during the Trump campaign which he lied about under oath during his confirmation hearing for Attorney General. We know Jared Kushner met with Kislyak on multiple occasions. And that one of these meetings was an effort to set up a secure backchannel for Trump to communicate with the Kremlin using Russian equipment and facilities. Yet, Kushner didn’t list that foreign contact on his clearance form. Then there’s Blackwater founder and Trump backer Eric Prince who made an effort to set up back-channel communications to Russia via a meeting in Seychelles, it’s not clear what came of that. Or take Paul Manafort who was fired months before the election over receiving Russian front money in Ukraine. But he continued to advise the Trump campaign, including on the post-election Russia investigation. Or adviser Carter Page whose meeting with the Russians I know absolutely nothing about. Yet, the Russians have known all of this before the US did and then some.

Then there’s the matter with Donald Trump’s finances. We all know he still hasn’t released his tax returns and probably never will. But we all remember back in January when he erupted over the “Steele Dossier” with its wilder allegations that a secret Russian kompromat is blackmailing him over a tape depicting hookers peeing on him. However, it also contains much more boring allegation that Trump paid bribes in St. Petersburg “very discreetly and only through affiliated companies” while exploring some business deals there. Now paying bribes to Russian officials isn’t particularly shocking, especially for a real estate man like Trump. But paying bribes in pursuit of a business deal is technically illegal under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Trump has called the FCPA a “horrible law” that “this country is absolutely crazy” to have on the books because it puts American businesses at a “huge disadvantage.” His business philosophy has long been a willingness to plow ahead legal gray areas as he had once dispensed with normal FCPA compliance procedures and basically go away with it. He probably did the same thing in St. Petersburg. His new chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission is a longtime FCPA critic. So Trump pretty clearly believes that American businesses should be allowed to bribe foreign officials. Nevertheless, while American authorities have little incentive to heavily scrutinize Trump’s FCPA compliance in Russia, Moscow is well-positioned to know a great deal about this. They’re also in a good position to know if the surge in Trump condo property purchases through anonymous shell companies involves any Russian citizens.

Since his inauguration, Donald Trump’s actual policy toward Russia has remained extremely idiosyncratic and friendly toward Moscow. His former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn lied about meeting with Kislyak along Sessions and Kushner. His Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has an extremely unusual resume for a top American diplomat, which featured zero military or diplomatic experience. But he has spent some time lobbying against sanctions on Russia and received the Order of Friendship award from the Russian government. Trump also appears to have explored relaxing Russian sanctions and was strikingly reluctant to affirm America’s commitment to NATO. He’s repeatedly seemed to side with the Russian government over American intelligence agencies over Russian culpability on hacking. He briefly suggested a joint Russia-US cybersecurity initiative. Furthermore, he’s made clear that Russia won’t face any repercussions for its election meddling, something lawmakers of both parties see as a direct assault on American democracy. There are plenty of explanations for his behavior, but it’s reasonable to suspect that Trump wants to keep Vladimir Putin happy so the Russians won’t release embarrassing information.

Nevertheless, a responsible administration would’ve taken Sally Yates seriously in the first place. It would’ve fired Flynn right away or forced him to come clean and apologize at once. And it would’ve learned that despite the awkward political scrutiny on Russia-related matters, lying about it would’ve been even more troubling. But the Trump administration didn’t learn that lesson as Washington remains swamp with new stories and revelations time after time. Each time, their defense consists of “this new undisclosed e-mail or meeting hardly proves wrongdoing.” But Yates points out that under the circumstances, the very lack of disclosure itself was the problem. A reluctance to come clean can reflect blundering, stubbornness, or simply blindness to a problem’s extent. Yet, the Trump crew could be hiding the truth because the truth is very bad. Thus, lying to the public to avoid Russian exposure might be the Trump administration’s best strategy. However, by repeatedly and publicly committing itself to false narratives about Russian government interactions, the Trump administration has put themselves under Russia’s thumb. Under normal circumstances, letting a president have this kind of threat hanging over him would be seen as completely intolerable. But since congressional Republicans control the federal government and do what they want, they’ll probably rationalize the matter. Like they’ve done with tolerating an admitted sexual predator in the White House and accommodating his desire to run his businesses in a way that makes it easy to bribe him. After all, H. R. McMaster and Jim Mattis will be along to babysit him except when Trump leaves them out at key summit meetings, unexpectedly drops text from a major speech, or otherwise needs to respond in real time to a crisis. Nevertheless, this puts our allies in an uncomfortable situation and our foreign policy at a downright catastrophic one. Partly because nobody has any idea about the extent of exposure and what kind of pro-Putin policies Trump might pursue in the future. Even worse, congressional Republicans apparently decided they’d rather not know and treat the Trump-Russia story as an endless series of annoying White House mistakes instead of a potentially crippling national security risk it certainly is. And if you have a former Bush ethics chief say Trump Jr.’s e-mails contain what’s “borderline treason,” then Republicans really need to wake up.