A Sunny and Relatively Mild Weekend in the Ongoing “Russia Thing”

Except for Tiger Woods’ surprisingly near miss at the British Open and a scary hostage situation at a Trader John’s store in Los Angeles there wasn’t a lot of distracting news over the weekend, which left plenty of room in the news cycle for more talking head talk about the ongoing fall-out from President Donald Trump’s most recent foreign tour and the latest developments in the “Russia thing.”
One of our brothers is in town and the weather’s been as nice as one can hope for around here, so we might not have noticed if we hadn’t stopped by Kirby’s Beer Store for a couple of Pabst Blue Ribbons on Sunday afternoon. A lawyer friend of ours, the only regular at the notorious northeast dive with a juris doctorate, was staring at his “smartphone” and chuckling gleefully as he read the written argument that the Federal Bureau of Investigation made to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court to obtain various warrants to investigate a  fellow named Carter Page way back when he was a little-known Trump campaign official in final days of the race against “Crooked” Hillary Clinton.
The document was mostly black lines of predictably redacted paragraphs, and our friend is a professional Democrat who owes his current low-level judicial position to his party’s meager number of appointments, but we’ve long known him to be one of the good guys and his arguments that that the un-redacted disproved Trump’s apologists proved convincing.
If you’re been obsessively following the whole convoluted “Russia thing” from either of the two available prospectives, you by now know that the FBI first got involved in the affair when it obtained those FISA court warrants, and that the Trump-ian perspective is that it was a worse-than-Watergate attempt to spy on the Trump campaign to benefit of “Crooked” Hillary’s effort, based only a discredited dossier by a foreign intelligence agent with Russian ties and paid for by “Crook” Hillary’s effort, along with a “fake news” article in some obscure internet site, along with other “deep state” shenanigans, but that’s all the harder to explain after the FBI made the highly unusual step on Saturday of publicly releasing even a heavily-redacted FISA warrant application.
As our Democratic friend undeniably points out, the document notes that the disputed dossier was produced by an English intelligence officer who had long proved a reliable source in many counter-intelligence operations, and frankly acknowledges the partisan funding of the document that talk radio had long insisted they concealed, which is more bi-partisan than talk radio wants to admit, and clearly hints that all the redacted parts probably reveal how the FBI had reason to suspect Page was an unregistered Russian agent even before he became one of candidate Trump’s top foreign policy advisors.
All the rest of it looks bad for Trump from our third perspective here on the political sidelines. That supposedly discredited dossier alleged the Russians were waging a three-pronged cyber-attack on the American election on behalf of Trump, and by now that’s the consensus conclusion of Trump’s very own top intelligence and defense and foreign policy appointees, and all the big social media companies and most of the country’s secretaries of state have confirmed two of those prongs with sworn testimony before congressional committees. The dossier also included some salacious and still-unsubstantiated about Russian prostitutes and rather unusual sexual fetishes, but given all the news about pay-offs to a Playboy playmate and and a porn star and the rest our president’s much-bragged about sexual adventuresome nothing seems unthinkable, and the warrants were renewed by Republican appointees to the Republican-created-and-renewed FISA courts during both Democratic and Republican administrations..
Not to mention all the fallout from that foreign trip when Trump was conspicuously friendlier to Russian than he was to America’s traditional allies and his own top national intelligence and defense and foreign policy appointees.
None of this convicts Trump of any impeachable high crime or misdemeanor, of course, but we think our Democratic friend is justified in exulting that it all means the “Russia thing” investigation will continue on its ominous course.

— Bud Norman

“Operation Cross-Fire Hurricane” and Its Controversies and Spin-Offs

The whole “Russia thing with Trump and Russia” that has tormented President Donald Trump since even before he took office has lately become all the more complicated lately, what with the latest revelations about “Operation Crossfire Hurricane.”
Thanks to to the diligent journalism of The New York Times, we now know that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had a few agents looking into suspicions about the Russian government’s meddling in the last presidential election and the Trump campaign’s possible cooperation with that effort in a highly secretive investigation code-named “Operation Crossfire Hurricane” a full 100 days before any votes were cast in Trump’s unlikely electoral college upset. As one might expect, The New York Times’ bombshell scoop has set off a lot of spinning on both sides of the political spectrum.
in his “tweets” Trump always calls the paper the “failing New York Times,” and his die-hard defenders always sneeringly call it the “The New York Slimes,” but in this case they’re not complaining that “The Old Gray Lady” is “fake news.” In this case they think it vindicates their longstanding theory that the FBI and the broader Justice Department and thus the administration of President Barack Obama and the rest of the “deep state” were engaged in a conspiracy to overthrow Trump’s presidency with a “silent coup” even before he was so improbably elected. Meanwhile, on the left, they’re highlighting the fact that a few savvy feds were suspicious about Trump’s Russian-friendly stances and Russia Trump-friendly stances all along.
In any case both sides seem to agree that The New York Times is entirely accurate in its account of the origins of the still-ongoing investigation into the “Russia thing,” and from our recent perspective on the sidelines the left seems to be getting the best of it.
Trump and his die-hard defenders had previously theorized that the whole “Russia thing” conspiracy began with a former British intelligence officer’s shocking report about Trump and Russia that was originally commissioned by some anti-Trump Republicans but later subsidized by the Democratic Party and the campaign of its nominee Hillary Clinton, but that’s no longer operative on talk radio. For now they accept the Times’ account that it all began when a Trump campaign staffer got drunk in a London pub and bragged to an Australian diplomat about the Trump campaign’s cozy relationship, which quickly led to an FBI watch of that staffer and then a campaign foreigb policy advisor and much-higher-raking foreign policy and then the campaign manager. This is all the proof you need, to hear the talk radio talkers tell it, that your federal government’s law enforcement agencies and judiciary were in on a “deep state” “witch hunt” to unseat Trump even before he was seated.
Which seems plausible enough in these crazy times, but there are some troubling and no longer denied facts that give one pause.
The drunkenly talkative staffer who bragged to the Australian diplomat that Trump was getting dirt on Clinton is Carter Page, who was previously on the FBI’s radar as a suspected agent and has since been seriously indicted on various charges. The campaign foreign policy adviser was George Popadopolous, who has already pleaded guilty to charges of lying to the FBI and is cooperating with a special counsel’s ongoing investigation into the “Russia thing.” The higher-ranking campaign foreign policy is retired four-star Marine general Michael Flynn, who briefly served as the Trump administration’s national security advisor, but he’s already pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his lucrative contacts with the Russians and is said to be cooperating with the “witch hunt” rather than face various other charges that have been brought. One-time Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort hasn’t pleaded guilty to anything yet, despite the numerous indictments he’s facing and all his previous federal filings as an agent for a Russia-friendly Ukrainian dictatorship, but his former lobbying partner Rick Gates has already entered a guilty plea for his perjury about past Russian contacts and is now cooperating the “Russia thing” investigations.
Senior member of the the Manafort, Black, Stone & Kelly lobbying-for-dictators firm Roger Stone, a scandalous figure since his days as one of President Richard Nixon’s self-proclaimed “rat fuckers,” hasn’t yet been indicted or even interviewed by the special counsel investigation, but that suggests the special counsel’s slow but steady investigation is saving him for next-to-laston its interrogation list..
At this point the left is gloating that they’ve nearly got the goods on on Trump, and what’s left of the right since Trump was elected is indignant that we only know about it because of some “deep state” conspiracy, and although for the moment they both agree on The New York Times’ version of the facts we don’t see it ending well in any case. The left is prematurely closing its case, the right is prematurely invoking Nixon’s defense that “if a president of the United States does it it isn’t illegal,” and in these times the rest of country probably won’t much give a damn in any case.
We didn’t much care for that awful Clinton woman, and were disappointed when the FBI investigations into her scandalous e-mail practices and other shady dealings didn’t yield any indictments or guilty pleas, but at least that FBI director Trump wound up firing publicly admitted to an investigation of the the matter and publicly excoriated her for her “extreme carelessness” in matters of national security, and announced a re-investigation after he longtime aide’s husband’s laptop full of selfie-sex pics was discovered. That cost that awful Clinton woman the election, as far as she’s still concerned, and as far as we’re concerned she deserved it.
Trump and his die-hard defenders are now grousing that the  Obama-era FBI was spying on the Trump campaign, but we don’t much care for them, either, and despite our longstanding doubts about the FBI and the “deep state” everyone now seems to admit they didn’t let word of their early and now well-documented suspicious become public until long after Trump had been inaugurated. If “Operation Crossfire Hurricane” was an illegal conspiracy to prevent Trump from becoming president it was an objectively spectacular failure, and it remains to be seen how the conspiracy theories on the right will save Trump’s presidency.
That awful Clinton woman is still as awful as ever, as far as we’re concerned, but she’s by now undeniably and thankfully irrelevant, while that awful Trump fellow is also currently under investigation for hush money payments to porno performers and payments from the Chinese government after concessions to a dubious Chinese telephone company and a $500 million payment by the Chinese government to a Trump-branded development in Indonesia and a whole lot else. At this point, we’re only hoping the truth will out.

— Bud Norman

Enquiring Minds Want to Know

The National Enquirer isn’t usually on our reading list, but on our last trip to the supermarket we couldn’t resist plunking down five bucks to see what was behind the tantalizing headline. “At last the truth about Russia,” that tabloid boasted over a picture some people familiar from the more respectable press, “What Trump Doesn’t Know!”
We were further struck that the front page also promised “Revealed: 10 spies murdered in 15 months to bury proof of Putin’s election hacking,” not to mention those pictures of Trump next to such infamous and now former associates as Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort and Carter Page. For more than a year now we’ve checked out the covers of the National Enquirer during our supermarket check-outs the same way Kremlinologists used to scrutinize the front page of Pravda, for the same reason that it provides the same official line, so the headline brought an intriguing plot twist.
Back in the ’80s The National Enquirer used to torment the young the celebrity billionaire Trump with salacious stories about the alleged infidelities of his wives and mistresses, but ever since he cultivated a a friendship with the tabloid’s editor in the early ’90s the coverage has been far friendlier. His presidential campaign received adulatory attention, while the rest of the Republican field was either ignored or scandalized. When retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson was inching ahead in the polls the Enquirer ran a story alleging he’d left a sponge in a patient’s sewed-up skull, and when Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was last the challenger it ran a picture purporting to show his father standing next Lee Harvey Oswald just before the assassination of President John Kennedy, and when it came down to Trump against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton there were all sorts of stories about her even worse than the ones the more respectable press were obliged to run.
Since his election Trump has been getting the same support from the Enquirer, with a recent front page proudly proclaiming the president’s war on dictators, with sinister photographs of North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Russia Vladimir Putin, so it was quite a surprise to see them follow with another headline linking Putin to four people who have elsewhere been directly linked to Trump.
The article claims that Putin ordered meddling in the election that included the hacking and public release of embarrassing e-mails from the Democratic National Committee, an allegation which has of course been widely reported, but it leads with the “bombshell finding” that he also ordered the assassination of 27-year-old Clinton campaign aide Seth Rich and nine Russian operatives to cover it up, which of course has not been as widely reported. Although the article makes no mention of the aforementioned Stone, Flynn, Manafort and Page, who have been fired from their prior respective positions as longtime friend and National Security Advisor and Campaign Chairman and campaign foreign policy advisor over their Russian relations, which the more respectable press have reported are all under investigation, but it does run their pictures again on the inside, which is also darned curious.
Throughout the campaign Trump took an unusually friendly stand toward Putin, basking in the compliments Putin had reportedly paid him and talking about how great friendship with Russia would be and how obsolete the anti-Russian North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and in one debate he said the hacking of the DNC e-mails was just as likely “someone sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds,” and he dismissed a question about the occasional Putin assassination order by asking “Do you think we’re so innocent?” After the election he conceded the Russians had “probably” hacked the DNC, but continued to avoid saying that the Russians had done anything improper at all. The Enquirer story, therefore, seems to deviate from the party line.
This comes a week or so after Trump’s newly appointed Central Intelligence Agency gave a speech that reiterated the intelligence community’s consensus conclusion that the Russians did meddle in the election, days after the Republican head of the House committee that’s looking into the matter said that Flynn had likely committed a crime by not disclosing his contract work for the Russians and Turks, and with the Federal Bureau of Investigation still looking into Page, and God only knowing what such a “political dirty trickster” as the Enquirer euphemistically describes Stone is currently facing. By now there’s enough suspicion about it that all of the official investigations are likely to continue, and unlikely to lead to any conclusions that the Russians are blameless and even if they aren’t no one in the Trump campaign had anything to do with them, so our guess is that the National Enquirer is trying out a new party line that at least the president himself had nothing to do with it.
All of the reiterated charges and “bombshell findings” and guilt-by-association photographs are huddled under the headline “What Trump Didn’t Know,” after all, and his most vociferous critics will have to admit the possibility that he didn’t know anything about what was going on. If we were one of the infamously defenestrated four on the cover of this week’s National Enquirer we’d read between the lines to see that we count on any further favors from Trump, and would be lawyering up to tell whatever we have to tell, and hoping that people are more interested in Wynnona Judd’s daughter being jailed in a meth bust. The more respectable press is likely to keep looking into this Russian thing, though, and so will the FBI and the Republican-led House committee, without any interference from the Trump-appointed Attorney General who has recused himself from all that Russian stuff and the former Trump-friendly committee chairman who has done the same, so we expect more intriguing headlines.