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Some Inadvertently Un-Redacted Facts

That pesky partial government shutdown seems almost certain to soon set a new record for duration, and thus continues to dominate the news, but we still try to follow the “Russia thing.” Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the matter has been admirably if infuriatingly leak-proof, but fortunately almost everybody else involved continue to keep the story in the bottom-of-the-fold headlines.
Thanks to some sloppy computer work on a court filing by the lawyers for Paul Manafort, the former campaign manager for President Donald Trump and confessed felon who currently resides in a federal prison, we now know that Manafort stands accused of sharing polling data with a Russian named Konstantin Kilimnik who has ties to the Russian intelligence agencies. We also know, from Manafort’s lawyers accidentally un-redacted filings on his behalf, that “After being shown documents, Mr. Manafort ‘conceded’ that he discussed or may have discussed a Ukraine peace plan on more than one occasion” during the campaign.
This isn’t a “smocking gun,” as Trump spells it, but it does look pretty darned bad.
Trump’s defenders are already that there’s nothing illegal about sharing poll data with even a Russian operative, as poll data is readily available from the news media, but the more specific internal polling of a major party presidential campaign is usually a carefully protected secret, and in this case raises suspicions. All of America’s intelligence agencies and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, backed up by all of the Trump appointees to head them, agree that the Russian government attempted to interfere in America’s last presidential election on behalf of Trump. One of the alleged efforts was an internet disinformation campaign, which all of the major social media platforms have told Congress did happen, and it seems to have been effectively targeted to the states and counties where Trump wound up winning his electoral majority, so one wonders how the Russian could have known to choose this spots on the map.
One needn’t wonder why the Russians were meddling on Trump’s behalf, as Trump was one of the very few American politicians talking about lifting the sanctions the had been imposed on Russia after its invasions of Ukraine and Georgia. Trump had even spoken about the legitimacy of Russia’s claims to the territory, and we expect that any discussions Manafort might or might not have had about a Ukraine “peace plan” were to Russia’s liking, and that Russia would surely appreciate the precinct-by-precinct sort of polling that a major American political party does during a presidential campaign. Maybe it’s not a “smocking gun” of a criminal quid pro quo, but it’s hard for Trump’s die-hard defenders to explain.
Eventually they’ll probably wind up blaming everything on Manafort, who seems likely to wind up dying in federal prison anyway, and insist that the brilliant and always in charge Trump had no idea of what his campaign manager was up to, but there’s still a lot of explaining to do. Lately Trump has been excusing Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan with some revisionist history, might or might not be pursuing a retreat from Syria that would would greatly strengthen Russia’s power in the Middle East, and is still open to lifting the sanctions on Russia for it’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty.
Perhaps there’s some perfectly innocent explanation for all this, but for now we’re not betting on it.

— Bud Norman

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An Innocent Bystander

Two of the bigger fiascos currently swirling around Washington cannot be blamed on President Barack Obama, we are told, because the poor fellow didn’t even know about them.
By now everyone in America is aware that the $634 million computer program that was supposed to enroll a grateful nation in Obamacare simply does not work, but Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has assured the nation that her boss didn’t find out about it until the rest of us did. The revelation that the National Security Agency has been eavesdropping on German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the leaders of various other allies has been more widely reported in the snooped-upon countries, where the formerly Obama-crazed citizenry are now marching in the streets with “Hope and Change” replaced by “Stasi 2.0” and other similarly snooty slogans beneath the president’s famously chin-upturned and stylized visage, but Sen. Dianne Feinstein and others are nonetheless anxious for the American public to know the president was as surprised by the news as anyone else.
This might even be true, but if so it is not so reassuring as the apologists probably intend. One likes to think that the president is a bit more au courant on the latest bureaucratic computer glitches and cloak-and-dagger international intrigues than the common folk, after all, and it’s downright to worrisome to contemplate that he is just as uninformed as the average voter. There used to be a notion that the chief executives of large organizations were ultimately responsible for anything that happened along their chain of command, pithily surmised by the “Buck Stops Here” that adorned the Oval Office desk of Harry Truman, and it also discomfiting to think this standard is no longer in effect at the White House. The president’s most loyal acolytes will likely be satisfied by the belief that their man had nothing to do with these messes, only the people he appointed to positions of responsibility, but those less enamored will be left to wonder why he hasn’t fired the incompetent idiots who didn’t at least give him a heads-up before their best efforts hit the fan.
It causes a certain queasy feeling, in fact, that the Obama apologists are so seemingly confident they can successfully plead ignorance to acquit their man of responsibility for what happens during his time in office. So far they have done well at convincing a significant portion of the country that Obama is an innocent and righteously indignant bystander to the bad things that are happening in the country, well enough that Obama himself can claim with a straight face to be as angry as anyone about the state of the government, so perhaps the confidence is realistic. Still, it is hard to see what good can come of having an innocent bystander as the president of the United States.

— Bud Norman