An Imaginary Account of Robert Mueller Before Congress 2 22 July 2019.

Mueller: The team came to think of the investigation as covering two periods.

There was the period up to the firing of James Comey.  During this period, people repeatedly told the president that he himself was not under investigation.

There was the period after the firing of James Comey, when the President found that firing Comey had put him in danger of an obstruction charge.  Thereafter the President did many things directed against the team’s investigation.

Republicans: So, you could not establish an underlying crime by the President; officials told him that he wasn’t personally under investigation, but Democrats and their share of the media kept up making accusations, and Comey would not make a public statement that the President wasn’t under investigation.  Did that lead you to inquire into Comey’s behavior during this period?

The Comey Phase.

Mueller: The team decided that none of the statutory or constitutional objections by the President’s lawyers justified NOT investigating the facts. (p. 202.)

Mueller: During the campaign, candidate Trump said a bunch of pro-Russian things; denied to the media all sorts of reports; after election, he doubted reports that the Russians had tried to help him win the election; and expressed concern that the reports would de-legitimize his victory. (p. 212.)

Republicans: So what?  He’s got a right to his own opinion on Russia, even if it differs from President Obama’s opinion; lying to the media isn’t a crime; and the Democrats have been using the Russia investigation to de-legitimize the Trump administration for better than two years now.

Mueller: Michael Flynn, the National Security Adviser, lied to the FBI about a couple of phone calls to the Russian ambassador.  Trump fired him, but asked Comey to “let Flynn go.”  (pp. 217-218.)

Mueller: President Trump fired Comey after Comey refused to discuss the scope of the Russia investigation in testimony before Congress and did not state that President Trump himself was not being investigated.  Three times previously, Comey had told Trump in private that he was not being investigated.  (p. 244.)

Republicans: Did you try to evaluate the state of mind and intent of James Comey?  The IG Report on his handling of the Clinton investigation indicated some curious behaviors.  Comey’s press appearances on his book tour and afterward also might cast some light backward on his time at the FBI.

Mueller: The President believed that the Russia investigation was hurting his ability to govern.  (pp. 245, 256 and fn. 500.)

Mueller: Firing Comey could have a chilling effect on the investigation.  On the other hand, it wouldn’t stop the investigation.  (p. 253.)

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An Imaginary Account of Robert Mueller Before Congress 1 22 July 2019.

Robert Mueller has said that the report is his testimony.   The following imagines what Republicans might ask or say during Mr. Mueller’s testimony.   They probably wont.

Mueller: One, the Special Prosecutor’s team chose not to make a traditional charge/decline-to-charge decision.  The DoJ’s Office of Legal Council has ruled that a sitting president cannot be charged and the team accepted the reasoning behind this ruling. (p. 194.)

Republicans: However, you didn’t have to charge President Trump.  You could just have found that he did commit obstruction of justice, then leave it to Congress to follow through.  Impeachment is a constitutional process.  Why didn’t you find this conclusion?

Mueller: Two, the team investigated the facts in order to document occasions where other people had committed obstruction of justice[1] and to document cases where the President may have obstructed justice in order for him to be prosecuted after he leaves office.  (pp. 194-195.)

Mueller: Three, the team chose NOT to apply the common legal standard to the evidence that might have led to a decision that the President had committed a crime.  (p. 195.)

Republicans:

1) Why not?  Such a finding would lead to impeachment by the House.  See above.

2.) Or was that because he had not committed a crime?

Mueller: The Federal Government is a sieve, so news of a secret finding would leak.  This would cast a shadow over the President’s ability to lead.  (p. 195.)

Republicans: So has the Mueller Report cast a shadow over the President’s ability to lead?

Mueller: Four, the team can’t tell if President Trump obstructed justice or did not obstruct justice. (p. 195.)

Republicans (incautiously): Why is that?

 

Overarching factual issues.  (pp. 201-202.)

Mueller: It could not be a typical obstruction case because it concerned the President.

Mueller: First, some of his actions were “facially lawful,” but he also had official powers that could influence other people’s conduct. (p. 201.)

Mueller: Second, obstruction usually is intended to cover-up another crime, but the team did not establish that the President had committed any crime.  So the team had consider whether other motives inspired his actions.

Republicans: like punching back against what he believed to be an un-fair investigation?

Mueller: Third, the President often acted in full public view, rather than in secret.  Still, this might have been meant to influence witnesses.

[1] Such people can be prosecuted immediately.

ChiMerica 1 10 July 2019.

There are real grounds for alarm over China.[1]  Many economists believe that the continuing growth of the Chinese economy will lead it to supplant that of the United States as the world’s largest by 2030 or 2035.  Moreover, China is a dictatorship with apparent ambitions to push the United States out of its dominating position in the Far East and perhaps to exert Chinese influence more broadly.  China has been imprisoning he numbers of Uighurs (Muslims) in Xinjiang province.  Some people suspect that, under Xi Jinping, China has chosen a new course.   Abandoning a “liberalizing” path, the Chinese want to spread modern authoritarianism to other countries in the same way that the United States has been trying to spread democratic capitalism.

The Obama Administration saw the challenge in China.  However, it became mired in peripheral issues (the Middle East, Ukraine).  It never managed to mount an effective response to the central problem of China.  The “Trans-Pacific [Trade] Partnership” treaty fell victim to the populism of the right and the left.  It would not have been implemented even if Hillary Clinton had won the election.

Since 2017, the Trump Administration has pursued a different course.  In December 2017, the White House issued a “National Security Strategy” paper that claimed that China and Russia “want to shape a world antithetical to U.S. values and interests.”  In June 2018, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that “China wants to be the dominant economic and military power of the world, spreading its authoritarian vision for society and its corrupt practices worldwide.”  The head of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff[2] said “This is a fight with a really different civilization and a different ideology, and the United States hasn’t had that before.  The Soviet Union and that competition, in a way, it was a fight within the Western family.”

So far, the struggle has been waged purely on the trade front.  For many years, China has been running a huge trade surplus in trade with the United States.  That is, it sells far more to the United States than it buys from the United States.  However, much of that production is done by American companies who have off-shored factories to cut costs.  If they have to charge higher prices to their American consumers because of the tariffs, then why make the stuff in China?  There’s Vietnam, the Philippines, and Indonesia.  In 2018, President Trump began slamming tariffs (taxes on imports) on Chinese exports to the United States.  Then, Trump tightened the screws with sanctions on the Chinese tech giant Huawei.  It has urged other countries to boycott Huawei and to refuse to participate in China’s “Belt and Road” infrastructure project.  Supply chains are going to start to move.

Because of the huge trade imbalance, China can’t exert much direct pressure on the United States by imposing tariffs of its own.  It can look for substitute suppliers for American exports, like soy.  It has started running lots of old Korean War movies (in black and white) in which China battles American aggression.

At the same time, neither side has pulled out all the stops.  For example, the U.S. has not made much of a deal about China imprisoning many Uighirs

However, we are in the early days of a huge struggle.  It is difficult to see yet how it will shake out.  Weak ending, I know, but true.

[1] Edward Wong, “U.S. vs. China: Why This Power Struggle Is Different,” NYT, 27 June 2019.

[2] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiron_Skinner

Summer 2016 2 10 July 2019.

In the many days ago, some people suspected that FIFA (International Federation of Football Associations—i.e. the organization that ran the “beautiful game”) was as crooked as a dog’s hind leg.  When the British Football Association contemplated trying to get the World Cup venue in 2018 or 2012, it hired Christopher Steele’s firm to investigate FIFA.  He learned a lot.  In 2011, when the FBI opened its own investigation into corruption in soccer, agents talked to Steele.  The FBI group conducting the soccer investigation, was the “Eurasian Organized Crime” group.  It was based in the New York field office, rather than in Washington.  The FBI group’s leader at that time may have been Michael Gaeta.  Gaeta later moved to the American embassy in Rome.[1]

In the first week of July 2016, Steele asked Gaeta to come to London.  Gaeta got the meeting approved by Victoria Nuland, the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, then met Steele in London on 5 July 2016.  Steele gave the agent 2-4 pages highlighting his information gathered so far.  It has been reported that Gaeta said “I have to show this to headquarters.”[2]  Was that the answer Christopher Steele hoped to hear?

To whom did Michael Gaeta report?

On the one hand, Gaeta reported back to Assistant Secretary Nuland, sending the papers he had been given by Steele.  Nuland later stated that “our immediate reaction to that was, ‘This is not in our purview.  This needs to go to the FBI, if there is any concern here that one candidate or the election as a whole might be influenced by the Russian federation. That’s something for the FBI to investigate.”[3]  Unless Nuland was using the “royal we,” who were the people with whom Nuland discussed the information sent by Gaeta?  Did it go as far up as Secretary of State John Kerry?  Then what did Nuland do?  Did she forward the report to FBI headquarters or did she tell Gaeta to tell Steele to tell the FBI himself?

On the other hand, another account says that Gaeta also sent the reports to the Eurasian Organized Crime team in the FBI’s New York field office.  There it sat until mid-September 2016.[4]  Gaeta had been, or still was, the boss of the Eurasian Organized Crime team.  So, he sends this stuff to the outfit and they go “meh, fan-mail from some flounder”?  Or do they cable/email him back, going “WTF Mike?”  IDK, maybe the FBI does run like the Post Office.

In September 2016, a frustrated Steele shared some of his materials with Jonathan Winer, previously the deputy assistant secretary of state for international law enforcement, and before that an aid to Senator John Kerry, now the Secretary of State.  Winer took the stuff to Nuland, “who indicated that, like me, she felt that the secretary of state needed to be made aware of this material.”[5]

[1] Mark Hosenball, “Former MI-6 spy known to U.S. agencies is author of reports on Trump in Russia,” Reuters, 12 January 2017.

[2] Michael Isikoff and David Corn, Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump (2018).

[3] Emily Tillett, “Victoria Nuland Says Obama State Dept. Informed FBI of Reporting from Steele dossier,” CBS News, 4 February 2018.

[4] Mike Levine, “Trump ‘dossier’ stuck in New York, didn’t trigger Russian investigation, sources say,” ABC News, 18 September 2018.  https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/trump-dossier-stuck-york-trigger-russia-investigation-sources/story?id=57919471

[5] Jonathan Winer, “Devin Nunes is investigating me. Here’s the truth,” Washington Post, 9 February 2018.

Summer 2016 9 July 2019.

I’m 65 years old.  I’ve been reading some version of “History” since I was—IDK–ten years old?  I’ve been teaching History for 30+ years.  I’ve concluded that Human Error plays a vastly larger role in explaining events than does Human Conspiracy.  Still, there is enough strangeness in the Trump-Russia investigation to give someone other than me a suspicion.  We’re gonna have to lance this abscess somehow.  I hope that Michael Horowitz and John Durham do the job.  For the sake of the American Republic.

In April 2016, Marc Elias, of Perkins, Coie, hired Fusion GPS to conduct opposition research on Donald Trump on behalf of the DNC and the Hillary Clinton campaign.[1]

Then either nothing happened for a month or so, OR journalists have not yet discovered what did happen at Fusion GPS, OR I haven’t tracked down the reporting.[2]

In June 2016, the Russians began publishing the “hacked” e-mails from the DNC.

At some point in June 2016, Fusion GPS hired Christopher Steele to investigate Donald Trump’s Russians affairs.[3]  Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, the owners of Fusion GPS, “gave [Steele] no specific marching orders beyond this basic question: ‘Why did Mr. Trump repeatedly seek to do deals in a notoriously corrupt police state that most serious investors shun?'”[4]

Fusion GPS billed Perkins Coie for $1.02 million in fees and expenses.  Fusion GPS then paid Orbis $168,000.[5]  Steele didn’t pay his sources.[6]  According to one source, “Steven L. Hall, former CIA chief of Russia operations,” said that ‘Steele spied against Russia to get info Russia did not want released; ….’”[7]

It is just now reported that Christopher Steele has testified to the IG of the Department of Justice.  They find his statements “credible.”[8]  But what did he say?

[1] See: http://cdn.cnn.com/cnn/2017/images/10/25/fusion.perkins.coie.pdf  and https://www.cnn.com/2017/10/24/politics/fusion-gps-clinton-campaign/index.html, CNN, 25 October 2017.

[2] May and June 2016 are the months when Alexander Downer’s report on what George Papadopoulos had told him about the Russians having “dirt” on Hillary Clinton was not shared with the Americans, either formally or informally.  “Alas, and Alack, and Alaska.”  I’ll try to keep on it.

[3] Scott Shane, Nicholas Confessore, and Matthew Rosenberg, “How a Sensational Unverified Dossier Became a Crisis for Donald Trump,” NYT, 11 January 2017.  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/11/us/politics/donald-trump-russia-intelligence.html  NB: Here the chronology is not clear because the witnesses are not clear in their public statements.  Perhaps John Durham will sort out my confusion?

[4] Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, “The Republicans’ Fake Investigation,” NYT, 2 January 2018.  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/02/opinion/republicans-investigation-fusion-gps.html  NB: Who formulated this question?  Snark: As opposed to doing deals in China, India, Brazil, or the Republic of South Africa?  Kleptocracies.

[5] See: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-russia-dossier/ex-british-spy-paid-168000-for-trump-dossier-u-s-firm-discloses-idUSKBN1D15XH

[6] See: https://www.cnn.com/2017/11/15/politics/russia-investigation-fusion-gps-glenn-simpson-dossier/index.html

[7] See: https://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/357602-ex-cia-russia-chief-unlike-trump-dossier-russia-wanted-to-give  NB: So, people in the Russian government decided to give Steele information for free that Vladimir Putin didn’t want released?  Really?  See: Sergei Skripal https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sergei_Skripal, Alexander Litvinenko https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Litvinenko, and Boris Berezovsky https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boris_Berezovsky_(businessman), and a bunch of other people.  In contrast, “[Aldrich] Ames received $4.6 million from the Soviets.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aldrich_Ames#Espionage.  Can’t tell how much /Robert Hanssen got, beyond a basic $100K.    See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Hanssen

[8] See: https://washingtonmonthly.com/2019/07/09/dojs-inspector-general-report-on-russia-delayed-as-steele-found-credible/

The Worst President Ever 5 July 2019.

Typically, the popular understanding of American history is that the Revolution gave rise to the Articles of Confederation (the first government of the United States); then that ramshackle arrangement soon proved unsatisfactory to many people; and then the present Constitution created the legal framework for subsequent American history.  In fact, there existed deep divide over several issues.  First, federalism (a union of sovereign stares) versus nationalism (a union of states under a strong central government).  Second, the divide—which would only grow until our own time—over who got to be a full “American.”  Those arguments had to be fought out over many presidential administrations.

Many of the contentious issues that would shape American society down to the present day became evident in the administration of Andrew Jackson (1767-1845).  Jackson served as the seventh president of the United States (1830-1838)

He believed that the final interpreter of the Constitution was the President, not the Supreme Court or the individual states.  It is in this light that one must see his opposition to John Calhoun’s doctrine of “interposition,[1] rather than in some doctrine of general federal supremacy.

He believed in the forced removal of the Native Americans to lands west of the Mississippi.  In 1830, he signed a federal law, the Indian Removal Act, which ordered the rapid evacuation of Native Americans from the Southeastern United States.[2]  He defied the Supreme Court to do so.

He opposed the Second Bank of the United States.  The Bank sold government bonds to finance the deficit; it issued a “sound” paper currency that allowed the economy to expand; and it provided credit for business.  In this sense, it served as a predecessor for the Federal Reserve System.  He believed that the Bank endangered American democracy and prosperity by concentrating excessive wealth and power in a few hands.  He vetoed the renewal of its government charter.

Jackson then began shifting federal funds from the Bank to a number of “pet” banks in the state.  Many of the “pet” banks were located in the West.  The principal use of credit in the West was land speculation.  This led to easy credit from the “pet” banks and much speculation in land.  At the same time, Eastern banks found themselves with declining reserves, so they raised interest rates.  In 1836, in an effort to rein-in speculation, Jackson issued a requirement that federal lands sold to the public be paid for in gold or silver, rather than in the inflated paper currency issued by state banks.  This “Specie Circular” was one, important, factor among several causes of the “Panic of 1837.”   The resulting recession dragged on into the 1840s.

A pre-Keynesian, he eliminated the deficit and paid off the national debt.

He appointed Roger B. Taney to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  In the “Dred Scott Decision” (1857), Taney and the majority held that a) African-Americans could not be citizens, and b) that slavery could not be prohibited in the territories.

So, arguably, America’s worst president.

[1] “Interposition” meant that individual states could block the local enforcement of federal laws which the state government considered to be unconstitutional.

[2] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_Removal_Act.  Enforcement of the Act resulted in the “Trail of Tears.”  See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trail_of_Tears

The Origin of the Russia investigation.

In May 2016, a Trump foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, told the Australian High Commissioner in London, Alexander Downer, that he had heard that the Russkies had “dirt” on Hilary Clinton.[1]  Downer immediately informed the Australian foreign ministry.

Six or seven weeks followed, during which time the Australian government did not inform anyone—officially or unofficially—that a hostile foreign power had breached the security of an American presidential candidate.

Christopher Steele had served in important positions in the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI-6), then had opened a private business intelligence company.  He had served in Moscow and had been the head of the “Russia desk” for MI-6.  In June 2016,[2] the Democrats had hired his company to conduct opposition research on Donald Trump.  Steele began investigating Trump’s Russian connections.  Between June and December 2016, Steele wrote 17 memos.  Steele’s memos suggested that a “well-developed” conspiracy linked Trump with the Russian government.  The Russian would help get Trump elected; President Trump would then end the economic sanctions imposed on Russia for its actions in Crimea and Ukraine.   Furthermore, the Russian possessed compromising personal information on Trump.

However, at this time, the FBI had no knowledge of Steele’s memos.

On 22 July 2016, Wikileaks began publishing the Democratic National Committee e-mails provided to them by the Russkies.  At this point, the FBI learned from the Australian government of the report on Papadopoulos.  [So, the FBI knew that the Russians had hacked the computers at the Democratic National Committee, that Russia was releasing stolen information through Wikileaks, and now had a report that the Trump campaign may have had fore-knowledge.]  On 31 July 2016, the FBI opened an investigation of Trump-Russia collusion: “Operation Crossfire Hurricane.”  The operation was conducted in great secrecy, with no leaks to the press.

After the launching of “Crossfire Hurricane,” the FBI sought a FISA warrant to surveil the communications of Paul Manafort,[3] Michel Flynn, Carter Page,[4] and George Papadopoulos.[5]  All four had varying degrees of prior contact with Russia.  [The warrant application was denied as “too broad.”]

In September, Steele shared his memos with the FBI.

[In late September, Michael Isikoff reported that a Trump campaign adviser was being investigated over contacts with the Russians.  The report was based on leaks.]

In October 2016, the FBI obtained a FISA warrant to surveil the communications of Carter Page.  A part of the supporting evidence for the warrant application came from the “Steele dossier.”

Thus, William Barr’s investigation isn’t likely to turn up compromising information.

[1] “The origins of the Russia investigation,” The Week, 28 June 2019, p. 13.

[2] Apparently at the time when the Australian government was not informing the American government of the remarks by Papadopoulos.

[3] The FBI had begun an investigation of Manafort after his candidate, the pro-Russian Ukrainian Yanukovich, had been ejected from power in early 2014.

[4] Page had been investigated by the FBI in 20013-2015 and found blameless.

[5] But not Jared Kushner or Donald Trump Jr. or Donald Trump Sr.  Why not?