Monday, September 24, 2018

Last Call For Russian To Judgment, Con't

The New Yorker's Jane Mayer examines the case that Russian interference in the 2016 elections not only helped Donald Trump, but helped him in a decisive manner, as laid out in a new book out this week called Cyberwar.

Politicians may be too timid to explore the subject, but a new book from, of all places, Oxford University Press promises to be incendiary. “Cyberwar: How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect a President—What We Don’t, Can’t, and Do Know,” by Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a professor of communications at the University of Pennsylvania, dares to ask—and even attempts to answer—whether Russian meddling had a decisive impact in 2016. Jamieson offers a forensic analysis of the available evidence and concludes that Russia very likely delivered Trump’s victory.

The book, which is coming out less than two months before the midterm elections, at a moment when polls suggest that some sixty per cent of voters disapprove of Trump, may well reignite the question of Trump’s electoral legitimacy. The President’s supporters will likely characterize the study as an act of partisan warfare. But in person Jamieson, who wears her gray hair in a pixie cut and favors silk scarves and matronly tweeds, looks more likely to suspend a troublemaker than to be one. She is seventy-one, and has spent forty years studying political speeches, ads, and debates. Since 1993, she has directed the Annenberg Public Policy Center, at Penn, and in 2003 she co-founded, a nonpartisan watchdog group. She is widely respected by political experts in both parties, though her predominantly male peers have occasionally mocked her scholarly intensity, calling her the Drill Sergeant. As Steven Livingston, a professor of political communication at George Washington University, puts it, “She is the epitome of a humorless, no-nonsense social scientist driven by the numbers. She doesn’t bullshit. She calls it straight.”

Indeed, when I met recently with Jamieson, in a book-lined conference room at the Annenberg Center, in Philadelphia, and asked her point-blank if she thought that Trump would be President without the aid of Russians, she didn’t equivocate. “No,” she said, her face unsmiling. Clearly cognizant of the gravity of her statement, she clarified, “If everything else is a constant? No, I do not.”

Jamieson said that, as an academic, she hoped that the public would challenge her arguments. Yet she expressed confidence that unbiased readers would accept her conclusion that it is not just plausible that Russia changed the outcome of the 2016 election—it is “likely that it did.”

An airtight case, she acknowledges, may never be possible. In the introduction to her new book, she writes that any case for influence will likely be similar to that in a civil legal trial, “in which the verdict is rendered not with the certainty that e=mc2 but rather based on the preponderance of evidence.” But, she points out, “we do make most of life’s decisions based on less-than-rock-solid, incontrovertible evidence.” In Philadelphia, she noted to me that “we convict people on probabilities rather than absolute certainty, and we’ve executed people based on inferences from available evidence.” She argued that “the standard of proof being demanded” by people claiming it’s impossible to know whether Russia delivered the White House to Trump is “substantially higher than the standard of proof we ordinarily use in our lives.”

Her case is based on a growing body of knowledge about the electronic warfare waged by Russian trolls and hackers—whom she terms “discourse saboteurs”—and on five decades’ worth of academic studies about what kinds of persuasion can influence voters, and under what circumstances. Democracies around the world, she told me, have begun to realize that subverting an election doesn’t require tampering with voting machines. Extensive studies of past campaigns, Jamieson said, have demonstrated that “you can affect people, who then change their decision, and that alters the outcome.” She continued, “I’m not arguing that Russians pulled the voting levers. I’m arguing that they persuaded enough people to either vote a certain way or not vote at all.”

The effect of such manipulations could be momentous in an election as close as the 2016 race, in which Clinton got nearly 2.9 million more votes than Trump, and Trump won the Electoral College only because some eighty thousand votes went his way in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. In two hundred and twenty-four pages of extremely dry prose, with four appendixes of charts and graphs and fifty-four pages of footnotes, Jamieson makes a strong case that, in 2016, “Russian masterminds” pulled off a technological and political coup. Moreover, she concludes, the American media “inadvertently helped them achieve their goals.”

Jamieson stops short of saying Trump was elected illegitimately, but does posit that without the Russian social media blitz and the American media that amplified the messages of chaos and doubt, Trump would have come up short in the electoral college.  80,000 votes out of 130 million is six-tenths of one percent, and yet that influence was decisive in those three states.

But the conclusion is clear: Without Russia, Donald Trump would have lost.  What we as Americans choose to do with that information in the months and years ahead is up to us.

That Whole Saturday Night Massacre Thing, Con't

As I mentioned on Friday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the DoJ official overseeing the Mueller investigation, was targeted with an NYT hit piece late last week with the intent of cover for his firing.

Understand that this story was leaked to set up Rosenstein as the "Deep State" mastermind behind the "coup" against Trump, with the time period of course suggesting that the Mueller probe was part of Rosenstein's "plot".  They are not trying to just undermine the Mueller probe, they are trying to end it.

Today, the Trump regime tried to "stealth fire" Rosenstein with an Axios story.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has verbally “offered to resign” in discussions with White House Chief of Staff Kelly, according to a source close to Rosenstein, but as of now, it’s unclear whether his resignation has been accepted. The source said it’s possible nothing happens today.

Background: Rosenstein talked last year about invoking the 25th Amendment and wearing a wire during Trump meetings, the N.Y. Times' Adam Goldman and Michael S. Schmidt reported last week. He denied both allegations.

Clarification: This article and headline have been updated to add that it's unclear whether the resignation offer has been accepted.

But apparently nothing did happen today other than Rosenstein going to the White House for a previously scheduled National Security Council meeting to fill in for Jeff Sessions while Donald Trump and several cabinet members are in New York for three days for UN meetings.  Bloomberg fell for the Axios story, as did all the other major news outlets.  Now, it's a Thursday meeting between Trump and Rosenstein once Trump gets back from New York.

The one person who didn't get fooled in the press?  NBC Justice correspondent Pete Williams.

So once again, it seems like the Trump regime had a plan to fire Rosenstein today by Village executioner, only Rosenstein called their bluff.  Why?  Because it matters whether Rosenstein is fired, or if he resigns instead.

If Rosenstein were to depart, it was also unclear whether he would be fired, or he would resign. In Rosenstein's case, this could make a big difference as to whom Trump can select to replace him as deputy attorney general.

The question of who would oversee the Russia probe is slightly different, however, because Rosenstein has been effectively wearing two hats since Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself last year from any role overseeing Robert Mueller's investigation. One hat is that of deputy attorney general. The other is that of acting attorney general for the Russia probe, because Rosenstein was acting as a stand-in for Sessions.

Any replacement of Rosenstein by Trump, therefore, would be a replacement of his deputy attorney general position, not a replacement of the other role, acting attorney general for the Russia probe. That responsibility would go to Solicitor General Noel Francisco, and experts agree that the law gives Trump little control over that aspect of the succession.

Still, the question of how much control Trump would have in who replaces Rosenstein could have far-reaching implications. A Rosenstein replacement could take steps to protect the president from investigation, to seal records, withhold funding from Mueller, and otherwise slow the work of the special counsel to a crawl.

And if Trump appoints yes-man Brian Benczkowski as I have surmised for some time now, the plan is to kill the Mueller probe through neglect while Noel Francisco bravely provides the cover of "objectivity".

It's still entirely possible that Rosenstein is fired on Thursday.  We'll see.  But this really, honestly looks like a poorly attempted distraction from the Kavanaugh nomination going down in flames, and our Media Betters bought it hook, line, and stinker.

Meanwhile, let's not forget what the real goal is here.

“If in fact Rod Rosenstein does end up resigning today,” Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow said on his radio show Monday, “I think it clearly becomes necessary and appropriate, for whoever the person who is put in charge of this … I think it’s really important that there be a step back taken here, and a review, a review that has to be thorough and complete.”

He called for a”time out” on the inquiry, and said that the person who takes over oversight of Mueller’s inquiry needs to look at “all of these allegations that are both surrounding this inquiry and that initiated this inquiry,” including the Trump-Russia dossier that was compiled by an ex-British spy, as well as the appointment of Mueller.

The question isn't if Trump ends to Mueller probe, but how ham-fisted it will be when he does.

Supreme Misgivings, Con't

With new allegations of sexual harassment during his college years, Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, may have just met his match in the slayer of sexual harassers, The New Yorker's Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow.

As Senate Republicans press for a swift vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Senate Democrats are investigating a new allegation of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh. The claim dates to the 1983-84 academic school year, when Kavanaugh was a freshman at Yale University. The offices of at least four Democratic senators have received information about the allegation, and at least two have begun investigating it. Senior Republican staffers also learned of the allegation last week and, in conversations with The New Yorker, expressed concern about its potential impact on Kavanaugh’s nomination. Soon after, Senate Republicans issued renewed calls to accelerate the timing of a committee vote. The Democratic Senate offices reviewing the allegations believe that they merit further investigation. “This is another serious, credible, and disturbing allegation against Brett Kavanaugh. It should be fully investigated,” Senator Mazie Hirono, of Hawaii, said. An aide in one of the other Senate offices added, “These allegations seem credible, and we’re taking them very seriously. If established, they’re clearly disqualifying.”

The woman at the center of the story, Deborah Ramirez, who is fifty-three, attended Yale with Kavanaugh, where she studied sociology and psychology. Later, she spent years working for an organization that supports victims of domestic violence. The New Yorker contacted Ramirez after learning of her possible involvement in an incident involving Kavanaugh. The allegation was conveyed to Democratic senators by a civil-rights lawyer. For Ramirez, the sudden attention has been unwelcome, and prompted difficult choices. She was at first hesitant to speak publicly, partly because her memories contained gaps because she had been drinking at the time of the alleged incident. In her initial conversations with The New Yorker, she was reluctant to characterize Kavanaugh’s role in the alleged incident with certainty. After six days of carefully assessing her memories and consulting with her attorney, Ramirez said that she felt confident enough of her recollections to say that she remembers Kavanaugh had exposed himself at a drunken dormitory party, thrust his penis in her face, and caused her to touch it without her consent as she pushed him away. Ramirez is now calling for the F.B.I. to investigate Kavanaugh’s role in the incident. “I would think an F.B.I. investigation would be warranted,” she said.

In a statement, Kavanaugh wrote, “This alleged event from 35 years ago did not happen. The people who knew me then know that this did not happen, and have said so. This is a smear, plain and simple. I look forward to testifying on Thursday about the truth, and defending my good name--and the reputation for character and integrity I have spent a lifetime building--against these last-minute allegations.”

The White House spokesperson Kerri Kupec said the Administration stood by Kavanaugh. “This 35-year-old, uncorroborated claim is the latest in a coordinated smear campaign by the Democrats designed to tear down a good man. This claim is denied by all who were said to be present and is wholly inconsistent with what many women and men who knew Judge Kavanaugh at the time in college say. The White House stands firmly behind Judge Kavanaugh.”

Ramirez said that, when both she and Kavanaugh were freshmen at Yale, she was invited by a friend on the women’s soccer team to a dorm-room party. She recalled that the party took place in a suite at Lawrance Hall, in the part of Yale known as Old Campus, and that a small group of students decided to play a drinking game together. “We were sitting in a circle,” she said. “People would pick who drank.” Ramirez was chosen repeatedly, she said, and quickly became inebriated. At one point, she said, a male student pointed a gag plastic penis in her direction. Later, she said, she was on the floor, foggy and slurring her words, as that male student and another stood nearby. (Ramirez identified the two male onlookers, but, at her request, The New Yorker is not naming them.)

A third male student then exposed himself to her. “I remember a penis being in front of my face,” she said. “I knew that’s not what I wanted, even in that state of mind.” She recalled remarking, “That’s not a real penis,” and the other students laughing at her confusion and taunting her, one encouraging her to “kiss it.” She said that she pushed the person away, touching it in the process. Ramirez, who was raised a devout Catholic in Connecticut, said that she was shaken. “I wasn’t going to touch a penis until I was married,” she said. “I was embarrassed and ashamed and humiliated.” She remembers Kavanaugh standing to her right and laughing, pulling up his pants. “Brett was laughing,” she said. “I can still see his face, and his hips coming forward, like when you pull up your pants.” She recalled another male student shouting about the incident. “Somebody yelled down the hall, ‘Brett Kavanaugh just put his penis in Debbie’s face,’ ” she said. “It was his full name. I don’t think it was just ‘Brett.’ And I remember hearing and being mortified that this was out there.”

Ramirez acknowledged that there are significant gaps in her memories of the evening, and that, if she ever presents her story to the F.B.I. or members of the Senate, she will inevitably be pressed on her motivation for coming forward after so many years, and questioned about her memory, given her drinking at the party.

And yet, after several days of considering the matter carefully, she said, “I’m confident about the pants coming up, and I’m confident about Brett being there.” Ramirez said that what has stayed with her most forcefully is the memory of laughter at her expense from Kavanaugh and the other students. “It was kind of a joke,” she recalled. “And now it’s clear to me it wasn’t a joke

If things were somehow not devastatingly bad for Kavanaugh's nomination chances before, they just took a cannonball to the gut in the last 24 hours.  Deborah Ramirez has put her entire existence on the line.  She will be crucified, the way Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is being crucified, the way Anita Hill was crucified 20 years ago.

Let's not forget either that Senate Republicans knew about the Ramirez allegations last week, and quickly demanded a vote for Monday before those allegations could be investigated, or before either Ramirez or Ford could testify.  Only when America made that politically impossible did that schedule change.

I predict, I hope, that this breaks GOP Senators Collins and Murkowski, and that it ends this farce...and you know what?  Somehow, I don't think that Dr. Ford and Ms. Ramirez are the only ones. But I agree with Steve M. that the cold hard reality is that Kavanaugh will be confirmed.

The GOP seems dug in; the message from the right is, in effect, "pics or it didn't happen" (pics or at least documentation). Republicans will hang tough and refuse a further delay or an FBI investigation of any of the charges; they won't call Ramirez as a witness (assuming she'd be willing), and they'll declare Kavanaugh exonerated no matter how persuasive Christine Blasey Ford is in Thursday's hearing, or how evasive Kavanaugh is.

They need base voters to be fired up in November, and that won't happen, as I've said in recent days, unless they own the libs. So unless Kavanaugh himself gets cold feet, or unless Avenatti somehow produces credible witnesses to a gang rape, this process won't be derailed.

The key will be winning the spin war. They have to dominate the media with the message that Democrats and Blasey Ford didn't lay a glove on Kavanaugh. If he doesn't blurt out out a Perry Mason-style confession, they'll claim vindication no matter what happens.

They could ask Kavanaugh to withdraw, then run on a stab-in-the-back message in November -- we have to defeat every possible Democrat because they're evil liars who fabricate stories in order to destroy their enemies. But they believe that failure at lib-owning will be fatal to them in November. So they're going to press on, and in the end I still think they'll win.

If Trump's "grab them by the p*ssy" tape didn't stop the GOP, this won't either.  Midterm turnout is still going to be dismal because for all the shouting and hashtags and articles and blog posts, Americans have to go vote, and they won't.

Especially Americans younger than myself.

It's been too late to stop Kavanaugh since November 7, 2016.


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