Saturday, July 14, 2018

Last Call For It's Mueller Time, Con't

I think it's now becoming apparent just how completely compromised by the Russians that Donald Trump and the GOP are at this point.  Yes, it's true that at this point, no Americans have been indicted yet as far as the Clinton/DNC/DCCC hacks go, and that no evidence or indictments based on Trump campaign collusion with the Russians involved in these hacks has been released.  

The operative word here of course is "yet".  That part is coming.  Whether or not the Trump counterattack against Rosenstein and Mueller will happen before we find that information out, I don't know.  I do know that the survival of the republic may depend on which one happens first. The Daily Beast's David Rothkopf:

This is an extraordinary moment. It is without equal not only in American history but in modern history. A hostile foreign power intervened in our election to help elect a man president who has since actively served their interests and has defended them at every turn.

Trump may deny collusion. But given that this the attack continues, denying it is collusion, distracting from it is collusion, obstructing the investigation of it is collusion — because all these things enable it to go on.

That the president is abetted in his aid for the Russians — again, in the midst of this ongoing attack — by the leadership of the Republican Party makes the situation all the more extraordinary and dangerous. As they seek to undermine the investigation, they serve Russia as directly as if they were officers of the GRU. Some now reportedly seek to impeach Rosenstein on trumped up charges. To attack one of the leaders of our national defense as we are being attacked and to do so to benefit our foreign adversary is textbook treason.

That is strong language. But consider this: If we updated our definitions of war to include cyberwar, then aiding a foreign power engaged in such a war against us would certainly meet the Constitutional definition: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”

When only semantics protect our president and our ruling party from the harsh sentences treason demands, we need to recognize the severity of the situation. But more importantly, we need to recognize one of the most important implications of yesterday:

that while we who watch or chat on cable news have lost the plot here, while GOP makes it about personal attacks on FBI officers, while the President makes it about him, while many of us make it about partisan politics, Robert Mueller and Rod Rosenstein have kept their eye on the ball.

They recognize as does Coats and as do the leaders of our intelligence community and as does every law enforcement and national security expert with whom I have spoken that this is, above all and most urgently, is a national security crisis for the United States.

Again, the painstaking details in the indictments prove that Mueller has the goods.  This is not a fishing expedition.  This is not a witch hunt.  This is a crisis, and there is no other objective conclusion to make at this point based on Trump's own actions other than that the leader of the free world is fully compromised by a hostile foreign power, and that foreign power is managing him much like an employee would be managed. Marcy Wheeler:

It is my opinion that Russia manages Trump with both carrots — in the form of election year assistance and promises of graft — and sticks — in this case, in the form of grave damage to US security and to innocent people around the world.

And Trump is poised to head into a meeting with Vladimir Putin on Monday — showing no embarrassment about the proof laid out yesterday that without Putin, Trump wouldn’t have won the election — to discuss (among other things) a deal on Syria.

Meanwhile, Trump’s own Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, says the lights are blinking red like they were in advance of 9/11.

Rather than doing the things to prepare for an attack, Trump has virtually stood down, firing his very competent cyber czar and providing no order to take more assertive steps to prepare for an attack

Trump is compromised.  The GOP is compromised.  As such, America is compromised.  We are wide open for a massive attack against our interests.  The timing of the release of this info, happening the Friday before a Monday Trump meeting with the man behind the plan to compromise our country, is not an accident.  It is absolutely a warning from our law enforcement and intelligence community.  The Lawfare team reminds us that the DNC/Clinton/DCCC hacks were the reason James Comey was fired:

This is the investigation Comey confirmed on March 20, 2017, when he told Congress, “I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.”

This was also the investigation that multiple congressional committees have spent more than a year seeking to discredit—most recently Thursday, when two House panels hauled the former deputy assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Department, Peter Strzok, a career FBI agent who worked on the Russia probe, up to Capitol Hill for 10 hours of public, televised, abusive conspiracy theorizing. When the president of the United States derides the Mueller investigation as a “witch hunt,” and when congressional Republicans scream at FBI agents, this is the investigation they are trying to harass out of existence.

It is, therefore, fitting that this indictment comes less than one day after the astonishing display House Republicans put on in the Strzok hearing. If Mueller had been trying to remind the public of what the investigation is really about and what the stakes are in it, if he had been trying to make a public statement in response to the Strzok hearing, he could not have timed this action better.

But, to be clear, Mueller was not trying to make a press statement. We know that not merely because that’s not the way Mueller operates but also because Rosenstein said specifically at his press conference that he had briefed the president on the matter before Trump left town—days before the Strzok hearing yet also mere days before Trump has a scheduled meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The timing of the indictment given the upcoming Helsinki summit is a powerful show of strength by federal law enforcement. Let’s presume that Mueller did not time this indictment to precede the summit by way of embarrassing Trump on the international stage. It is enough to note that he also did not hold off on the indictment for a few days by way of sparing Trump embarrassment—and that Rosenstein did not force him to. Indeed, Rosenstein said at his press conference that it is “important for the president to know what information was uncovered because he has to make very important decisions for the country” and therefore “he needs to know what evidence there is of foreign election interference.” But of course Rosenstein and Mueller did not just let Trump know. They also let the world know, which has the effect—intended or not—of boxing in the president as he meets with an adversary national leader.

Put less delicately: Rosenstein has informed the president, and the world, before Trump talks to Putin one-on-one that his own Justice Department is prepared to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, in public, using admissible evidence, that the president of the Russian Federation has been lying to Trump about Russian non-involvement in the 2016 election hacking

The White House's response to this is to blame Obama and to insist that the meeting with Putin will go forward anyway. Let that sink in.

Again, Robert Mueller is warning the world that he is ready to make a criminal conspiracy case against a dozen Russian GRU agents.  The only real question is who else will be named as co-conspirators in the future.

In other words, which Americans helped the Russians do this to us.

The Disaster In Puerto Rico Continues

The government's own report on FEMA's obscenely bad response in Puerto Rico is brutal, and it proves just how inept the Trump regime handled the aftermath of Hurricane Maria ten months ago.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency experienced personnel shortages, was caught with a critical lack of aid supplies, had trouble coordinating logistics and found itself struggling to do the work of the territorial government while responding to Hurricane Maria’s devastation in Puerto Rico last September, according to an official after-action report released late Thursday.

Despite repeated Trump administration efforts to play down federal failures in responding to a humanitarian crisis on the island territory, the new report is a public acknowledgment of systemic failures during what was one of the most destructive hurricane seasons — and costliest disaster responses — in the nation’s history.

[Read the FEMA after-action report]

It shows that responses to Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida taxed the agency and left it understaffed and out of position for the catastrophe that unfolded in Puerto Rico, where millions of U.S. citizens suffered through widespread communication blackouts, massive infrastructure failures and lengthy power outages.

FEMA officials said Thursday that the responses to back-to-back mainland hurricanes sapped federal disaster resources and left an extraordinarily short window to prepare and build up for Maria. Once Maria hit, they said, they had difficulties with logistics and had a hard time coordinating with local officials in Puerto Rico, who were themselves victims of the storm.

The sobering report runs counter to the White House narrative that President Trump presented at the time, when he praised FEMA’s performance and characterized the devastation on the island as not being “a real catastrophe like Katrina.”

The three major hurricanes that made landfall on U.S. soil — along with wildfires and other natural disasters — ravaged the country and its territories in 2017, affecting nearly 50 million Americans and U.S. nationals spread across the South, West and Caribbean. The disasters cost nearly $300 billion, according to FEMA estimates

It was a critical failure across the board, one that cost thousands of lives.  It should have ended the Trump regime as US citizens were killed by government malpractice, but then again, America itself isn't exactly working for the people these days, and especially not for the people of Puerto Rico. 

Someone's head has to roll for this, and increasingly it looks like the political fallout will land on the heads of politicians in San Juan and not Washington as suddenly the DoJ is very interested in the island's government finances.

A mayor and two former government officials in Puerto Rico face public corruption charges in separate cases that involve a total of $8 million in federal and local funds, authorities said Thursday. The suspects are the mayor of the southwest town of Sabana Grande and the former directors of finance for the northern town of Toa Baja, which has struggled to pay its employees amid an 11-year recession.

U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez told reporters that the former officials from Toa Baja are accused of using nearly $5 million worth of federal funds to pay the town's public employees and municipal contractors.

"Not only is that illegal, it's immoral," she said.

Officials said former finance director Victor Cruz Quintero deposited some $2.5 million worth of funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development into the town's general and payroll accounts in October 2014.

He also is accused of making similar deposits and transfers of more than $1.75 million in funds from HUD and the Department of Health and Human Services from September 2014 to February 2016.

Toa Baja's former interim finance director, Angel Roberto Santos Garcia, is accused of making similar transactions worth $650,000 using funds from those two federal agencies.

It was not immediately clear if Cruz and Santos had attorneys.

Rodriguez said the investigation into alleged corruption in Toa Baja is ongoing because officials believe other people are involved.

Puerto Rico's finances were a mess long before Hurricanes Maria and Trump killed thousands, and there will have to be a reckoning for it all, but let's not forget that this level of sheer dereliction of duty was monstrous, and wouldn't be tolerated in any US state or by its voters.  In a territory that has no real political representation however, well...

We see how that went.

That Whole Saturday Night Massacre Thing, Con't

As I said on Thursday, the Trump regime now has the pieces in place to make their move on the Mueller investigation with the confirmation of Brian Benczkowski to the DoJ as a possible replacement for current Deupty AG and Mueller boss Rod Rosenstein:

Which mean should Rosenstein be fired, Robert Mueller's boss would almost certainly become Benczkowski, a person with no prosecutorial experience whatsoever, somebody already tainted, if not compromised by Russian money laundering, and somebody who worked for Donald Trump's campaign directly. And no, he hasn't said that he would recuse himself should that become the case.

Yesterday's major slew of Russian indictments by Mueller included a number of huge developments.

This is pretty huge, as we now have Mueller flat out saying that a dozen GRU agents raided the Clinton campaign and stole information. The Russians conducted an operation to attack our elections, which is what I told you guys 23 months ago. At the very least Trump should cancel that meeting with Putin and start expelling Russian diplomats like baseballs in a pitching machine. 
We're finally getting to the point where Trump won't be able to let the Mueller probe continue without permanent damage to himself.

Both these events happened within the last several days.  Put them together, especially with the knowledge that Rosenstein briefed Trump on the Friday Russian indictments before Trump left for Europe and you arrive at one conclusion:

The move by the GOP to shut down the Mueller probe has immediately shifted into a new, much more urgent phase.

House conservatives are preparing a new push to oust Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, according to three conservative Capitol Hill sources — putting the finishing touches on an impeachment filing even as Rosenstein announced the indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers for interfering in the 2016 election. 
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, in fact, had the impeachment document on the floor of the House at the very moment that Rosenstein spoke to reporters and TV cameras Friday. 
Conservative GOP lawmakers have been plotting to remove Rosenstein for weeks, accusing him of slow-walking their probe of FBI agents they’ve accused of bias against President Donald Trump. 
Democrats contend Republicans’ fixation on Rosenstein is really an effort to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller, who reports to Rosenstein and has been making inroads in his investigation of the Russian election interference plot. Mueller’s probe has entangled members of Trump’s inner circle and Trump has increasingly assailed it as a politically motivated “witch hunt” as it’s presented greater danger to him and his allies. 
Conservative sources say they could file the impeachment document as soon as Monday, as Meadows and Freedom Caucus founder Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) look to build Republican support in the House. One source cautioned, however, that the timing was still fluid.

I'm not sure how far this will go, it seems almost certain that this will be political cover for Trump to fire Rosenstein and replace him with the newly-installed Benzckowski.  How quickly this will happen, I don't know, but if House Republicans go through with this, expect Trump to make his move as it will be his best chance.

Mueller’s indictments open the door to future collusion and conspiracy charges.  Having read through the indictments there are painstakingly blatant statements that all but guarantee future indictments are coming.  It’s the prosecutorial equivalent of announcing checkmate in eight moves, or an action movie hero announcing his intent to kick the bad guy’s ass is a promise, not a threat.

House Republicans are scared, scared to the point of screamingly obvious interference by the attempted impeachment of Rosenstein being the more preferable option both politically and legally right now then letting the Mueller probe continue.  That should tell you everything that we need to know about possible guilt.

I want to be wrong here, I want this to be a stupid gamble by panicked House Republicans to give away the game and get people to talk Trump down, but Trump isn't in town right now to be talked down, now and is he?  He'll be meeting with Putin in Helsinki, Finland on Monday.

If Trump follows through as I believe he will, from that point, all bets are off.

Sounding The Torn-NATO Warning

Washington Post columnist Robert Kagan reminds us as Donald Trump heads to Russia to check in with Vladimir Putin next week that the European Union remains in real trouble, and the NATO alliance is on the brink of fracture and has been for some time.

The transatlantic community was in trouble even before Trump took office. The peaceful, democratic Europe we had come to take for granted in recent decades has been rocked to the core by populist nationalist movements responding to the massive flow of refugees from the Middle East and Africa. For the first time since World War II , a right-wing party holds a substantial share of seats in the German Bundestag. Authoritarianism has replaced democracy, or threatens to, in such major European states as Hungary and Poland, and democratic practices and liberal values are under attack in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. France remains one election away from a right-wing nationalist leadership, and Italy has already taken a big step in that direction. Meanwhile, Britain, which played such a key role in Europe during and after the Cold War, has taken itself out of the picture and has become, globally, a pale shadow of its former self. The possibility that Europe could return to its dark past is greater today than at any time during the Cold War
Some of that has to do with the changing attitude of the United States in recent years. It’s little secret that President Barack Obama had no great interest in Europe. Obama, like Trump, spoke of allied “free riders,” and his “pivot” to Asia was widely regarded by Europeans as a pivot away from them. Obama rattled Eastern Europe in his early years by canceling planned missile-defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic as an inducement to Vladimir Putin to embrace a “reset” of relations. In his later years he rattled Western Europe when he did not enforce his famous “red lines” in Syria. Both actions raised doubts about American reliability, and the Obama administration’s refusal to take action in Syria to stem the flow of refugees contributed heavily to the present strain.

Obama was only doing what he thought the American people wanted. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with the 2008 financial crisis, left Americans disenchanted with global involvement and receptive to arguments that the alliances and institutions they supported for all those years no longer served their interests. The Obama administration tried to pare back the American role without abandoning the liberal world order, hoping it was more self-sustaining than it turned out to be. But the path was open to a politician willing to exploit Americans’ disenchantment, which is precisely what Trump did in 2016
NATO has never been a self-operating machine that simply chugs ahead so long as it is left alone. Like the liberal world order of which it is the core, it requires constant tending, above all by the United States. And because it is a voluntary alliance of democratic peoples, it survives on a foundation of public support. That foundation has been cracking in recent years. This week was an opportunity to shore it up. Instead, Trump took a sledgehammer to it.

NATO's next big test against Russian military aggression, most likely in Estonia and its Baltic NATO member neighbors, may not be its last, but it will certainly be a far different outcome than Russia's invasion and annexation of the Crimea from Ukraine.

Of course the worst-case scenario is that the outcome isn't any different from Crimea: that the NATO Batlic states get new management and both the EU and the US realize that there's no political appetite to actually do anything about it, much like Crimea.

Of course that would be the end of NATO as we know it.

Maybe that's the goal.  It's certainly Putin's goal, at least.  The question these days is "Is it also Trump's goal?"

Evidence is pretty shaky that those aren't aligned.  We'll know more next week, I suspect.
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