Tuesday, October 31, 2017

What The Wire Means

You gotta pity the poor guys on social media named George Papadopoulos. It may be a rare name in the US, but it's about as common in Greece as John Smith is stateside.

(on the other hand, this guy has a wicked sense of humor about what's happening, and way more integrity and smarts than the Wrong Papadopoulos)

Amidst the pomp and celebration that were the Manafort/Gates indictments, there was a lesser-reported story that Mueller's probe into the trump-Russia collusion of the 2016 elections secured a guilty plea - of lying to federal investigators - from the Wrong Papadopoulos. Thing is, that guilty plea points to Papadopoulos as a key figure tying most of the questionable behavior of the trump campaign into one large tidy conspiracy pot.

Referring to an expert from the Watergate years, via The Raw Story article by Tom Boggioni:

Speaking with host Ali Velshi, attorney Nick Akerman said he had looked at the indictment against Manafort and said that he had no doubt that Trump associate would be found guilty.
“Now this it’s not like a witch hunt where there is nothing,” Akerman began.”Now you have got something that is real...”
...Akerman picked up on the deal that Papadopoulos made with investigators, saying, if Mueller has done his job properly, the former Trump associate has been wearing a wire for months as part of a deal...
“...He’s pled guilty, pled guilty to a felony, lying to the FBI,” Akerman continued. “He’s basically, if you looked through his allocution, you have allocute. They don’t name names, it’s against Justice Department policy to do that. But he refers to campaign officials, other officials — it’s very obvious he has information on lots of people and on top of that, he’s been cooperating since July.
“If I were the prosecutor, and I guarantee you Robert Mueller has done this, he’s had him out there wearing a body wire, playing dial-a-crook on the phone, trying to get recorded conversations to use as evidence against other people,” he asserted. “If I were the other people, and they know who they are in that information, I’d be extremely nervous right now.”

A lot of this depends on the actual timeline, of when Papadopoulos started handing over information and providing sound to whatever conversations were taking place. If Paps had been wearing a wire since early October (when the plea deal was reached), there probably isn't a lot there. But if he'd been wearing a wire since July 2017...

July 2017 is when the story broke on donald jr's meeting at trump Tower back in June 9 2016. The fallout from that revelation - of how invested in working with their Russian partners and Putin associates the trumps were - would certainly have been a major topic of conversation among the members of trump's Inner Circle. If Papadopoulos was present at any of those conversations, it's likely he picked up on various details of what people were doing to hide any compromising info from the investigation (and also what that compromising info could be).

We're dealing with a conspiracy here, people. A group led at the top by a con artist in trump, whose dealings with Russia go all the way back to the 1980s (!) and whose entire circle of family members and handlers are circling the wagons to protect their scams. The problem with proving a conspiracy isn't the numbers or the money: You can trace phone calls and meetings and fund transactions all over the place. Without actual testimony from people - catching them in lies and making them confirm the facts - it's hard to prove criminal actions were part of those transactions.

The way prosecutors break a conspiracy is catching a low level member of it, especially someone whose lies are the easiest to disprove. With that person flipped to the prosecution's side, he/she then has to cooperate by proving there is a conspiracy through the conversations and responses he/she has with the other members. This is where the wire comes in.

If you've watched enough episodes of Law & Order - yes, it's a television show, but in terms of prosecutorial conduct it's accurate - you'd remember this: In a criminal trial where you need a suspect to testify between a group of suspects, the one who flips first (the one with the most to lose) usually gets the best deal. SEE ALSO: The Prisoner's Dilemma.

Mueller - and the intel agencies aiding his investigation - most likely has a good idea what happened with Russia and trump, otherwise the federal investigators who interviewed Papadopoulos wouldn't have confirmed so easily he lied to them. But he still needs testimony, not just from one or two people he got to plead out but with recorded evidence backing established facts... and revealing more troubling facts that would force those higher in the chain of the conspiracy to plead out themselves.

The Papadopoulos wire shows how confident Mueller and his team was that they could secure confirmation of criminal misdeeds. That this information is coming out now while the investigation is ongoing - and while lower rungs of the conspiracy like Manafort and Gates are getting arrested - suggests that Mueller doesn't need Papadopoulos to get more information. He's already got enough out of Paps.

And he's likely got a wire now on someone even closer to trump and his handlers.

Monday, October 30, 2017

If You Had Manafort On Your Dead Pool List, Congrats You Win a Firm Handshake

It's Manafort first out the gates... with his business associate/lobbyist Rick Gates alongside him.

If you hadn't heard of Gates much, he's been under investigation as well, just not as noticed by the media. As the Daily Beast notes, Gates is a serious link to Russia.

As Silverman noted at Balloon Juice, which I linked to earlier, it's clear that Mueller is going first after the stuff he can prove in a court of law without any heavy lifting. Manafort's "questionable" business practices - on the radar since 2012 - makes him an easy target to get... and a likely would-be witness willing to flip on others when a good deal is on the table.

It's not the grand slam a lot of Never trumpers was hoping for - if Mueller had indicted Kushner, Flynn, and donnie junior today as well, I would seriously revoke my No Drinking rule and get smashed on the finest whiskey - but it's a solid base hit. The game is on, muthafuckas, and trump is going to be flailing like the wounded shitgibbon that he is.

With thanks to Betty Cracker for this image link:

Sunday, October 29, 2017

That Sliver Of Hope This Weekend (w/ Updates)

Per the Balloon-Juice website (itself linking to CNN):

A federal grand jury in Washington on Friday approved the first charges in the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller, according to sources briefed on the matter.
The charges are still sealed under orders from a federal judge. Plans were prepared Friday for anyone charged to be taken into custody as soon as Monday, the sources said. It is unclear what the charges are.

As Sarah Kendzior tweeted:

The thing bothering me is "Why let your suspects know the arrests are coming on a Friday before arresting them on Monday? You're giving them ample opportunity to skip..."

Anywho. Back to Balloon Juice and the ever-informed Adam Silverman:

...Mueller inherited the joint counterintelligence investigation that had begun during the summer of 2016 into Russian active measures and interference in the 2016 election. This means that Mueller and his team in the Special Prosecutor’s office have access to the full range of US, allied, and partner intelligence and counterintelligence related to the issues he’s investigating. It is this material that forms the bases of FISA warrant requests, not political oppo research like Fusion GPS’s Steele dossier. (Personal note: The Steele dossier still has value as it corroborated a lot of stuff the Intel agencies were finding)
In seeking to bring charges, which are not always the focus or outcome of a counterintelligence investigation, Mueller has to navigate from the world of intelligence and counterintelligence, from the classified world of need to know and special access programs to information that can be brought before a grand jury. This means that while Mueller, his team in the Special Prosecutor’s office, and those on the joint counterintelligence task force he inherited know the full depth, breadth, and scope of what happened, how it happened, why it happened, where it happened, and who it happened to it doesn’t mean he can just curate that into a compelling narrative and bring it to the grand jury. Like everyone else with a clearance and access he has to protect not just the information, but the sources and methods that were utilized to get the information. This means that whatever information he brings to the grand juries he has access to, and whatever charges he brings, are going to have to fit within the body of Federal criminal law.
As a result there is a lot of speculation that what he’s doing looks like a white collar investigation and prosecution or one of organized crime... But it is true in that he and his team have to find evidence that can be presented to the grand jury and then utilized in a trial to prosecute those who are the target of his inquiries and the joint counterintelligence task force. We may never see a charge of espionage, because while it certainly happened with the hacking of Podesta’s emails, the DNC, the DSCC, and the DCCC, as well as similar hacking of GOP organizations and officials, Mueller may not be able to make that case without divulging sources and methods. Instead he’s got to find another way to get at those who engaged in these activities through more mundane charges. Hence all the speculation about leveraging Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FINCEN), as well as other investigations into financial and business irregularities into Manafort, Flynn, etc...

By the sound of it, Mueller isn't charging everybody tied to the Russia-trump Connection: You get one shot in these investigations, and if you don't have enough solid evidence to charge someone you shouldn't risk the attempt. He's getting the ones he knows committed acts so obvious that they can't weasel their way out of the charges. Those are the ones he can flip to testify on the others in the inner circle of this scandal.

That said: Far be it for me to speculate...

As Silverman noted, the obvious suspects are going to be Paul Manafort and Mike Flynn.

Manafort in particular has got so many questionable business ties to Putin's Russia and to a corrupt pro-Russia Ukrainian regime that it's surprising he hadn't been arrested ages ago. Flynn is an interesting player in this scandal given the close ties he has to trump and trump's relatives, as well as ties to the Russian players suspected of the illegal hacking of everyone's (including the GOP's) emails. Flynn had been the subject of trump's attempts to stymie and obstruct the investigations - in particular Acting DoJ head Sally Yates and FBI Director Comey - which hints at how valuable Flynn was to him (trump does not show this kind of interest in someone outside of his own family).

But part of me thinks that Mueller has enough information on other parts of the scandal - in particular donald trump junior's meeting with Russians claiming to have dirt on Hillary - that the recent leaks about that meeting detailing how the Kremlin had beforehand knowledge of the meeting may indicate Mueller has enough on trump's scheming kids to file charges on them.

It would be interesting at the least to see trump's reaction to seeing on news channels other than Fox Not-News his own kin getting dragged off in handcuffs for their perp walks.

One can hope...

Update: Crooks & Liars offered a link to another blogger at Cannonfire who is also guessing on the amount of celebratory drinking he'll be doing Monday afternoon.

Addendum to the Update: So who DO I have getting the indictments? If you follow the charts at the Politico website, you might see who the likely suspects are...

Flynn: 80 percent
Manafort: 75 percent
Kushner: 75 percent
trump junior: 50 percent
Carter Page: 40 percent
Roger Stone: 25 percent
Jeff Sessions: 15 percent
Felix Sater: 10 percent

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

When A Sociopath Calls

As the nation's government collapses into chaos and despair, a brief pause to document how fucked up the whole thing has gotten (David A. Graham at The Atlantic):

Thirteen days after Sergeant La David Johnson was killed in Niger, and a day after Donald Trump boasted about his actions to console grieving families in contrast to his predecessors, the president called Johnson’s family Tuesday night.
It didn’t go well.
Representative Frederica Wilson, a Florida Democrat, was with widow Myeshia Johnson when Trump called. “She was crying the whole time, and when she hung up the phone, she looked at me and said, ‘He didn’t even remember his name.’ That’s the hurting part,” Wilson told MSNBC.
“He said, ‘Well, I guess you knew’—something to the effect that ‘he knew what he was getting into when he signed up, but I guess it hurts anyway.’ You know, just matter-of-factly, that this is what happens, anyone who is signing up for military duty is signing up to die. That’s the way we interpreted it. It was horrible. It was insensitive. It was absolutely crazy, unnecessary. I was livid.”

I wrote this about the Republicans back in 2014:

The Republican voters - some of whom are genuinely nice in the real world, and hug puppies and feed unicorns whenever possible - have a problem: the Republican Party they're stuck with has the habit of talking and acting like assholes.  There's no other way to describe this behavior...
...How can the American electorate respect or even like a Republican Party that shows no respect to others?  How can there be any empathy or compassion for a political party that isn't even doing a good enough job faking compassion, or any emotions other than spite and hate?

trump's phone call to Johnson's widow echoes back to this problem: That the Republican leadership and the party as a whole simply lacks any empathy or emotional awareness at all...

In trump's case, it is as textbook a case of sociopathy you'll ever see in public. He obsesses over ensuring loyalty, attacks others for political points without even acknowledging his hypocrisy, and shows no respect for anyone he deems beneath him. As Graham noted:

It is not just that Trump claimed, falsely, that his predecessors had insufficiently consoled grieving families of service-members. He also spent most of the last month wrapping himself in the flag while waging a fight with NFL players and other athletes who have kneeled or undertaken other protests during the National Anthem. The athletes say these protests are a way of bringing attention to police violence and racism. But Trump has insisted that the kneeling “has nothing to do with race. It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem.” The president has used his powerful Twitter account to pass along the idea that players who kneel are slighting the American military.
Even as he insists that NFL players are disrespecting the military, Trump did not make any public comment about the deaths in Niger until he was asked about it at a public press conference. Only after this prodding, and his bragging that he called every family he could, did Trump make a call to La David Johnson’s family. And when he did, he botched the call badly enough that he left Johnson’s widow in tears and his mother feeling disrespected. The president cannot be both the foremost patriot and the utmost consoler while at the same time dragging his feet on calls and angering military families.

trump fails at every requirement that the office of the Presidency expects from a leader.

A President needs to be wise, politically savvy, aware of current matters, informed on his administration's actions. We look to a President to be - and I'm going to gender-specific archetypes for this - a Father, or a Brother, or a Son, a Priest, an Educator, a Leader of the Community: in short, a Hero. Someone with charisma and style, a modicum of success, a knowing wink, a glad hand to shake, a dinner table of lively chatter with him as the provider of bon mots and sage advice.

trump is none of these things. His own resume speaks against being a genuine success: relying on the mercy of his father for his business starts, and the mercy of bankruptcy courts to rescue him from failed casinos and condos, and relying on a popular media that can't look away from his excesses and allowed him to revel in that. trump is no priest or teacher, and what he is as a Father or Brother has been clearly lacking in how screwed up his personal life is.

Whatever trump presents of himself as a leader is based on fantasy and lies. His place in the community comes from putting his name in big letters on every ad space he can get. His role in the community is never about serving others, only himself. Even when he shows up at charity events - that he gave no money to - it's all about putting himself at the center of attention, preening for the cameras before stealing off (either figuratively or literally with the charity's money pot).

There is nothing about him that makes trump truly Presidential. he cannot connect on an emotional level to anyone who's not a preening bully like himself.

Expecting trump to make phone calls to grieving families is like expecting Jack the Ripper to send Thank You cards to the British Suffragette movement.

It's just not going to end well. At all.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Trailer Alert: We're running out of Jedi it seems

So, I'm trying to survive long enough to see Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

I'm trying to figure out if the Porgs will be better than Ewoks:

This is what happens when a Porg reaches the Monolith:

And to be honest, I haven't even opened the Millennium Falcon Lego Set I obsessed over back when The Force Awakens came out. Well... I don't have any decent place to put it together right now...

It's Not Going To End Well

There are more and more stories about the trump regime that signals an administration in crisis. With that, I have been seeing more and more stories about how trump's tenure as President Loser of the Popular Vote will end.

None of the options are particularly nice or safe, but let's consider:

The obvious way trump's tenure ends is through the Mueller Special Counsel investigation into whether Russia interfered in the 2016 Elections. Consider how a lot of legal experts and political think tanks - such as the Brookings people - note the likelihood trump Obstructed that ongoing FBI investigation. Just on that alone, trump could be facing criminal charges (and in a sane world, an angry Congress removing him via impeachment).

Thing is, Mueller is finding more and more how trump's campaign - including trump's own sons and son-in-law - interacted with Russian agents, Russian businessmen with ties to Putin, and how Putin gave orders to interfere with the election. The odds are good - not a 100 percent lock, but it's high - that enough people in trump's inner circle are facing criminal charges over this: Which increases the odds that just one of them will flip, breaking trump's entire con game, meaning other nasty secrets come out that would end with trump in handcuffs or impeached.

The impeachment process requires one thing, however: A Republican-controlled Congress willing to put their collective ass on the line to impeach someone from their own party. No matter how or what the GOP leadership tells themselves, trump is insanely popular with the Republican base. Attack him right now and a majority of sitting incumbents will find themselves kicked out during the 2018 midterm primaries.

There remains a chance that trump's base support with wither in the face of actual criminal findings: but considering how every single scandal that would have destroyed other campaigns never hurt trump, this isn't a given. So expecting the Republican leadership to grow a spine when Mueller presents his finding is a fool's hope.

The other likely end is with trump's handlers finally having enough with the chaos and stupidity. The ongoing reports of behind-the-scenes freakouts by trump and the stressful responses by his Chief of Staff and key Cabinet Secretaries are fueling suggestions in the media about the 25th Amendment.

I've mused about this before... and it's taken this long for the mainstream media to get to where I was back in January. Sigh. Anyhoo. We're at a point where the provision in the 25th - Section 4, about the President being "incapacitated" or unable to perform his duties - is applicable (via that Vanity Fair article):

...The conversation among some of the president’s longtime confidantes, along with the character of some of the leaks emerging from the White House has shifted. There’s a new level of concern. NBC News published a report that Trump shocked his national security team when he called for a nearly tenfold increase in the country’s nuclear arsenal during a briefing this summer. One Trump adviser confirmed to me it was after this meeting disbanded that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Trump a “moron.”

...One former official even speculated that (Chief of Staff) Kelly and Secretary of Defense James Mattis have discussed what they would do in the event Trump ordered a nuclear first strike. “Would they tackle him?” the person said...

Granted, there isn't anything specific in the amendment that spells out the definition of "unable to discharge his duties", but the lack of focus from the Oval Office has to fit. The reports of how Kelly is trying to isolate trump from trump's more reckless advisors and wingnut news sources... The fact that former generals like Kelly and Mattis have to consider cutting trump's access to the Nuclear Football (that they might, Gods help us, have to physically restrain him)... the evidence of trump's own behavior and decision-making that fall into legitimate concerns about dementia or psychosis.

Let's put it this way: trump's handlers treat him like a 5-year-old. Considering the Constitutional requirement to serve as President is that you be 35 years or older, trump is emotionally and intellectually unqualified to serve.

This move - using an amendment to force a sitting President Loser of the Popular Vote out of that office - also requires courage from a Republican Party lacking in said courage. While some in the Cabinet - Kelly, Mattis, Tillerson - are clearly exasperated and likely at the point of "fuck it," the other Secretaries - needed to sign off on the office notice - would have to go all in on the move. Enough of them either do not feel the pressure (yet) to care, or even profit from trump's chaos. We're not at a point (yet) where the Cabinet would be forced to act. It would have to be trump ordering a first strike - either at Korea or Iran or Guam or Puerto Rico - to get them to act.

The attempt would also require backing from Congress - as they have to accept the notice of removal per the amendment - and there are no signs that Speaker Ryan or Majority Leader McConnell are keen to support trump's removal (even if they are exasperated with trump's failings as well).

I doubt the military or intel agencies would raise a fuss if trump were removed. If you consider Mattis and Kelly are ex-generals trying to maintain control, there's probably a lot of sympathy among the ranks who share those backgrounds and would accept it as long as it was a legal transfer to civilian control with Pence taking over. I'd wager the NSA, CIA and FBI ranks for the most part would love to see this walking security risk in trump lose all access to stuff they don't want going to Putin.

The risks of this move will come from outside the military/executive Establishment. trump supporters - especially the Far Right media - would view the use of the 25th Amendment as a political coup. These factions would likely take their anger - already at a boiling point - out on Congressional Republicans (again, a reason why Ryan and McConnell won't back it).

There's also the likelihood the trump base could explode into violence: some of the more outrageous outliers in the wingnut media are talking about rising up if trump were removed from office. This has to be taken seriously when you consider trump's supporters include the KKK, Neo-Nazis, White Supremacists, and other fringe groups known for violence.

We'd be talking about something akin to the 1960s. It won't get as bad as the American Civil War - probably the closest we're at right now in terms of a divided nation - if only because a majority of Americans are not that violent. The wingnuts hoping for an actual war are going to get disappointed when they get only ten or twenty people to show up for their revolution - I kid, the actual number might be 20,000 - and they're facing about 500,000 National Guard troops and 400,000 US Army troops and 300,000 Air Force personnel (and if they're really stupid about getting on boats, they'll face at least 10 Navy aircraft carrier fleets and 180,000 Marines). There might be a civil war but the heavy part of it might be over inside of, oh, a week.

While those numbers might be a mis-match, the caveat is this: All it will take is one wingnut with enough military firepower to take out a school or shopping mall or public gathering to make it bloody for enough Americans to suffer for their rage.

The only other scenario of trump's removal is being voted out in 2020. This is highly likely because 1) even trump supporters can't keep him above 30 percent approval until then, 2) trump's habit of alienating everybody will break the Republican Party well enough that a third party WILL RISE up to pull away enough votes to let Democrats win (in 2018 no less), 3)

The only problem with THAT scenario is, obviously, that's still three years down the road. Can the United States survive three more years of this chaos, this illegality, this bullying and discord by trump's own command?

Either way, we're not going to like the end results.

Friday, October 13, 2017

When You Consider All These Things

When you consider all the acts donald trump did this week:

It seems he's really pissed about getting called a fucking moron.

And he's taking it out on everybody else.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Please Don't Let Him Back Onto The Mainland

What the everloving hell (via The Atlantic):

“Every death is a horror, but if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina, and you look at the tremendous hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died, and you look at what happened here and what is your death count? Sixteen people, versus in the thousands,” Trump said. “You can be very proud. Sixteen versus literally thousands of people.”

It gets worse:

During his briefing, he made an apparent attempt at a joke about the cost of recovery. “I hate to tell you Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack,” he said. 

“That’s fine. We saved a lot of lives.” Yet the remark comes in the context of Trump repeatedly mentioning Puerto Rico’s debts as both a reason for the slow recovery and a reason to think hard about reconstruction there. Nor did he make similar remarks after hurricanes in Texas and Florida.

Okay, this is the part where I lose it.

62 million of you voted for this disaster. Happy?

Monday, October 02, 2017

Blood On the Streets of Las Vegas

Here's a simple thing for the mainstream media to do:

Every mass shooting committed by angry white guys should be labeled terrorism.

Because that's what it is. Evoking fear in the victims and survivors.

And the media should pointedly do it for every angry White guy, to underscore that it's not Muslims, not Blacks, not Asians, not Latinos that's the threat here.

It's Angry Guys. Nearly every mass shooter is male, coping with emotional issues of some kind that expresses as rage towards women or towards a society that's supposed to applaud their masculinity but ignores them.

How many domestic violence episodes ends with the angry ex-boyfriend or ex-husband with a family massacre? Too many to count. How many office shootings with a disgruntled male employee pissed off that cute secretary won't return his calls?

How many schools shot up by guys who can't socialize well? How many nightclubs by guys who can't handle gender roles or identity?

The NRA keeps saying "oh no, we have a RIGHT to bear firearms" but at the expense of allowing so many Angry Guys easy access to them?

It'd be nice to think we could do something about the Angry Guys. But let's be honest, 5000 plus years of religion and morality haven't cut it. Anger is a primal emotion, hard to control.

We have to do something about the easy access to firearms. Do we really need that kind of firepower the gunman in Las Vegas just unleashed to uphold an antiquated Second Amendment? That terrorist fired for 4 minutes, killed 50 (so far) and wounded 200 people who were no threat to anybody. That's not self-defense. That's not performing the duty of a well-regulated militia. That's murder and terror.

And it's not going to stop until the NRA stops being paranoid fearmongers trying to convince more people to buy more guns and ammo. It's a hell of a racket, considering the kickbacks they get thanks to owning most of not all of the gun manufacturers.

How many more Angry Guys with Guns will it take before Reason reclaims control of governance?