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“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

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Our Monday Answer to Thursday’s News

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the “Russia thing” will be a year old on Thursday, and we can already guess how almost everybody will mark the anniversary.
President Donald Trump’s die-hard defenders on talk radio and other right-wing media will loudly argue that if a year of dogged digging hasn’t produced a iron-clad case that the Trump campaign aided the Russian government’s efforts to meddle in the past presidential and the Trump administration then attempted to obstruct the various investigations into the matter, they might as well concede defeat and close up shop.
These are the same pundits who cheered on the special prosecutors’ investigations into President Bill Clinton as they veered from the Whitewater land deal to an affair with a White House intern and stretched out over four years and wound up with a semen-stained blue dress. They also spent three years defending congressional investigations of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s role in the deadly fiasco at Benghazi, Libya, and it’s a sure bet that if Clinton had won the last presidential election they’d be eager to let the inevitable investigations into her e-mail practices and family foundation and various other matters take as long they required. Indeed, those same pundits are still chanting “lock her up” and don’t seem to care how long that might take.
There’s likely to be the same hypocrisy on the left, of course, as many of the same pundits and politicians who once decried the ever-widening scope and plodding pace of the many Clinton investigations will surely be insisting on Thursday that the Mueller investigation be granted wide latitude about hush money payments to porno performers and president’s personal lawyer’s receipt of big bucks from a Russian-linked firm and other matters as well as plenty of time to get the bottom of it all. Such is the nature of punditry and politics these days.
We didn’t care much for either of the Clintons, and were willing to be patient with whatever legal scrutiny they were subjected to, but neither do we care much for Trump, so without fear of accusations of hypocrisy we’re willing to grant Mueller wide latitude and as much time as he needs.
In this case, the wheels of justice seem to be grinding far faster than these political investigations usually proceed. Mueller’s investigation has already yielded 19 indictments of people and three companies associated with the Trump campaign and administration, including some high-profile guilty pleas including a campaign and administration national security advisor and jail time for some foreign lawyer you’ve never heard of, and several of the countless witnesses they’ve interviewed describe a team that already seems to know all the answers. The only people they haven’t yet interviewed are the ones a shrewd prosecutor such as Mueller would surely save for last, and someone who’s not on Mueller’s leak-proof ship has leaked an outline of 49 very hard-to-answer questions they intend to ask Trump himself in an interview they’re already negotiating with his ever-changing team of lawyers.
Which is not bad for a “witch hunt,” as Trump and his die-hard defenders continually describe Mueller’s investigation. Even without subpoena power the “fake news” media have forced the president’s namesake son to release an e-mail chain documenting his and his brother-in-law and the campaign manager’s meeting with a Russian-linked lawyer they understood to be acting on the Russian government’s behalf, the porno performer’s surprisingly shrewd lawyer has forced that Russian-linked company to admit that they did indeed make a huge payment to Trump’s surprisingly inept and defenestrated and under-investigation lawyer, and there are those high-profile indictments and guilty pleas, and by now enough of the “fake news” has been verified that only a hypocrite wouldn’t allow another few months to get the bottom of it.
In a few months a third of the Senate and all of the House of Representatives will be up for reelection, and we can already guess what a mess of hypocritical punditry and politics that will be. If the Mueller investigation comes up with an iron-clad case of conspiracy and obstruction by then the right will claim vindication for its conspiracy that it’s all a “deep state” plot to overthrow the president, and if it doesn’t the left will surely be plenty angry about it.
Although there’s no telling what time it will take, we expect that as always the truth will come out. At this point in time, we expect the truth will be embarrassing to Trump.
At the end of the long investigations of Bill he had to admit to an “improper relationship” with that White House intern, and although he escaped conviction in an impeachment trial he temporarily lost his law license and so tarnished his awful wife with her own thoroughly investigated scandals that wound up losing to the likes of Trump, but the same left that now has a zero-tolerance policy about sexual impropriety decided that it really didn’t care if the President of the United States was doing tawdry cigar tricks with a 25-year-old intern. If the end of the Trump investigations prove just as clearly that he conspired with a hostile foreign power to meddle in an American election we expect his ardent defenders and erstwhile cold warriors and champions of law and order to proclaim that’s no big deal.
Such is the state of American punditry and politics these days. We came of age during the two long years of the Watergate scandal before Nixon resigned, and have lived through similar outrages from both the left and right, so we’re resigned to a longer wait for the conclusion of this.

— Bud Norman

“Tweeting” Against the Tide

President Donald Trump’s “tweets” are clearly intended to convey cocksureness and toughness, and that’s how the die-hard fans see them. To our eyes they always look differently, and this past weekend’s voluminous output struck us as downright anxious and weak.
The most frequent of the topics Trump “tweeted” about was the Russia thing, of course. He gloated about the firing of a career Federal Bureau of Investigation official just 48 hours away from becoming eligible for a full pension, further impugned the character of the former FBI director he previously fired, and accused the bureau itself of widespread corruption in the process. Trump repeatedly “tweeted” about the special counsel’s investigation being a witch hunt — or “WITCH HUNT!” as he prefers to call it — and for the first time mentioned the name of Robert Mueller, the formidable former FBI director in charge.
The die-hard Trump fans will be pleased that “at least he fights,” as they always say, but we doubt that Mueller, a much-decorated combat veteran who once left a cushy California law practice to take on the crack cocaine dealers of Washington, D.C., is much intimidated by “tweets.” Mueller’s hunt has already yielded numerous indictments against 13 Russians and several figures close to Trump’s campaign and transition team and administration, along with a couple of guilty pleas, including one from Trump’s former national security advisor, and by now many Americans are waking up hopeful that more indictments and guilty will show up in the news.
Mueller has reportedly subpoenaed the financial records of the Trump Organization, the oxymoronic name of the president’s still wholly-owned international business empire, and God and Mueller only know what that’s likely to turn up. Our guess, based on what we’ve learned about Trump over the past several decades, is that it’s likely — oh, what the heck, standards of discourse being what they are these days, damned near certain — that there’s something pretty damned damning in those ledgers.
There are still laws on the books and an independent judiciary to enforce them, a Congress that plays some role, as well as a free press to let the public know how that turns out, and for now all of that is on Mueller’s side, so all a president can do is “tweet” about it. At least he fights, we’ll concede, but he so often leads with his chin.
There’s a convincing case to be made that the recently fired FBI official had it coming, as an independent inspector general appointed by President Barack Obama had concluded he’d been less than forthcoming on his dealings with the media during the bureau’s investigation of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, and Trump would have done well to let the “fake news” glumly report that exculpatory fact. Instead he issued that gloating “tweet” and extrapolated that it shows widespread corruption in the FBI and a rigged system that’s out to get him and that “Crooked Hillary!” is the one who should be locked up, not him. Which only fuels the “fake news” narrative that the firing was a brazenly vindictive political ploy to discredit a career civil servant and potential witness in the “Russia thing,” and intimidate any other possible witnesses, and unless you’re a die-hard fan it makes Trump look petty and mean rather than cocksure and tough.
We don’t expect any other potential witnesses will be much intimated. A couple of congressman have already offered the fired FBI official another 48 hours of gainful government employment so that he can qualify for his full pension, and he’s bound to find other opportunities. James Comey, that fired FBI director that Trump routinely impugns “tweeted” back that “Mr. President, the American people will hear my story soon. And they can judge for themselves who is honorable and who is not.” This is an apparent reference to a book by Comey to be released in mid-April, which is already an Amazon best-seller and moving up the charts since Trump’s “tweets,” and we expect he’ll make a convincing case for himself. Say what you want about that botched investigation of “Crooked Hillary’s” e-mails, which was as badly run as Trump Airline or the Trump Taj Mahal casino-and-strip-club, Trump is at a disadvantage in a contest of character.
The “fake news” have plenty of actual facts to rebut the rest of the president’s conspiracy theorizing, too. He “tweeted” that the House investigative committee on the “Russia thing” had exonerated him, but that was just most of the for-now Republican majority, with the Democrats objecting, and the Senate and special counsel and free press investigations are still underway. Trump once again “tweeted” about the undeniable fact that most of Mueller’s team are Democrats and have donated to Clinton’s past campaigns, but federal law prohibits hiring based on party affiliation or past campaign donations, everyone on the team has stellar credentials regarding such worrisome matters as money-laundering and several are fluent in Russian, and Trump’s own lawyer and Trump himself have contributed “Crooked Hillary’s” past campaigns.
Trump could impulsively “tweet” that he’s decided to fire Mueller, which you know he really really wants to do, but by law he’d have to get the deputy attorney general to do it, as the Attorney General has had to recuse himself from the whole “Russia thing,” and he’d probably have to fire the Republican guy he appointed to be deputy general and find somebody willing to go down in infamy to do the deed. Anyone old enough to remember the “Saturday Night Massacre” episode of the Watergate scandal knows how messy that can be, however, and although it’s frighteningly plausible we don’t see it ending any better this time around.

— Bud Norman

In the Calm, Peaceful Eye of the Hurricane

According to The Washington Post, an anonymous White House official said that after the horrific mass shooting at a Florida high school on Valentine’s Day “A lot of people here felt it was a reprieve from seven or eight days of just getting pummeled.” It’s a morbid thought, but there might be something to it.
Prior to the tragedy all the talk was about the departure of the staff secretary who’d been kept on the job even after the administration was made aware that he couldn’t get the security clearance needed for the job because two ex-wives were accusing him of physical abuse. That led to stories about the under-oath testimony by the Federal Bureau of Investigation director that the White House had lied about when the White House had been made aware, embarrassing questions about why so many White House officials can’t get a security clearance, another story about another accused wife-beater leaving his speechwriting job, and after days of praising his staff secretary the president being hectored by the press to at long last say that he doesn’t approve of wife-beating.
President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer also admitted he paid $130,000 to a pornographic film performer who had once alleged an affair with then-reality show star Trump but stopped doing so after the payment. Then there was the story that Trump’s friends at The National Enquirer paid big money for a former Playboy centerfold model for her own exclusive and unpublished story about an affair with Trump, which she alleges occurred around the same time as the alleged affair with the porn performer, which was just months after Trump’s third wife gave birth to his fifth child. There were also stories, perhaps related, about all the visible evidence of a frosty relationship between the president and First Lady.
Once upon a time in America such titillating tales of porn performers and Playboy models and a president would have crowded even the wife-beating stories with national security implications out of the news, but by now we have a First Lady who’s done some pornographic modeling of her own and a reality show president that no one, even his most evangelical apologists, looks to for moral leadership. The leftward media that once defended President Bill Clinton’s presidential peccadillos don’t want to seem puritanical about it, so they’ve mostly focused their attention on the possible campaign law violations that are clearly implied, and it’s not the big deal it would have been back in the good old days.
After the tragedy in Florida the “Russia thing” nosed its way back into the news. Special counsel Robert Mueller obtained an indictment against 13 Russians for fraudulently running an internet propaganda campaign during the last presidential campaign that was clearly designed to benefit Trump, which came after all of the Trump appointees to all of the nation’s intelligence-gathering agencies testified under oath that they were certain the Russian government had indeed launched a sophisticated effort to influence the presidential election that included hacking into e-mail accounts and trying to hack into state vote-counting computers and spreading propaganda.
The announcement of the indictment was read by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a Trump appointee who is in the awkward position of overseeing Mueller’s investigation after the full-blown Attorney General Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself from the “Russia thing,” and he stressed that only Russians were indicted and the indictment mentioned “unwitting” Americans who might have been involved. Trump and his apologists read this as vindication in the whole “Russia thing,” but that required Trump to acknowledge that Russia’s meddling wasn’t the hoax he’d long claimed.
This was followed 14 presidential “tweets” that would have dominated a day’s news cycle in the relatively recent past. Trump blamed the school shooting on the FBI’s obsession with the “Russia thing,” blasted his national security advisor for acknowledging Russia’s meddling in the last election without mention that Trump would have won anyway, and even described Oprah Winfrey as “insecure.”
It was all too much to follow over a long President’s Day Weekend, especially with all those remarkably eloquent and righteously impassioned kids telling all the cable news networks about the tragedy they lived through, and in an odd sort of way that does somehow seem to redound to Trump’s political benefit. Those poor souls in the White House communications team charged with spinning all the various scandals might well have felt able to take a federal holiday off on Monday.
They’ll have to be back on the job today, though, as it looks to be a brief respite. The alleged wives-beaters who gained entree to the White House are already long forgotten, but the hubbub about all the White House staffers without security clearance has prompted the chief of staff to impose a new rule that will likely demote senior advisor and ambassador-at-large and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner. The possible campaign violations involved in those six-figure payouts to the porn performer and Playboy model might yet wind up in court, or under the special counsel’s scrutiny, and that will keep these otherwise boring stories in the news. Mueller’s indictment not only mentioned “unwitting” American participants in the Russian campaign meddling but also referred to “persons known and unknown to the grand jury,” which has an ominous ring about it.
That tragedy in Florida doesn’t seem to be redounding to the president’s political benefit, either. Those sympathetically grieving students are remarkably eloquent and appealing — we got choked up watching one respectful and well-groomed and well-spoken senior who has already signed up for Army service even though he looks and sounds like a college man — and so far they’re winning in the public opinion polls against Trump’s un-parseable and profane and Oprah-bashing “tweets.”
We hold out hope that some solution can be found to end the ongoing problem of mass shootings without infringing on the God-given and constitutionally-protected right for a citizen to protect himself, but we expect a lot of bad news before we arrive at that happy day.

— Bud Norman

The Latest on the “Russia” Thing

The “Russia” thing was back in the news with a vengeance on Monday, with federal indictments of two officials from President Donald Trump’s campaign and the revelation that a lower-ranking third official had already pleaded guilty to charges and is cooperating with the ongoing investigation, and both sides of the matter had plenty to work with.
One of the indicted was Paul Manafort, who served for five months as Trump’s campaign manager and now stands accused of failing to disclose his lobbying efforts on behalf of the Russia-friendly parties in Ukraine, illegally laundering the huge amounts of money he made and otherwise failing to pay taxes on the lucrative business, and 11 other counts that include “conspiracy against the United States.” Most of the charges pre-date his involvement with the Trump campaign, so they don’t definitively provide proof of the collusion with Russia’s meddling in the past election that Trump’s critics have been so ardently hoping for, but he lasted long enough to get the Republican convention to remove language from its platform about arming the anti-Russian elements in Ukraine, and he was for five months the campaign’s manager, so it doesn’t look good for Trump.
Also indicted was Rick Gates, a former business partner in Manafort’s lucrative lobbying efforts on behalf of some of the world’s worst dictators and wannabe dictators. but as obsessively as we’ve been following the “Russia” thing we have to admit he never heard of him before. Another partner in the firm was longtime Trump friend and advisor Roger Stone, whose sleaziness goes back to the Nixon administration and has recently been kicked off “Twitter,” and who would be well-advised to hire some high-priced legal representation of his own, so Trump’s involvement with the whole sleazy operation does not look good.
We’d also previously never heard of George Papadapoulos, the relatively low-ranking national security advisor to the campaign who had already copped a no-jail-time plea by admitting to making false statements to investigators about his Russian contacts in an apparent exchange for dirt on the higher ups, but that also doesn’t look good for Trump. He probably wouldn’t have been able to swing such a sweet deal without some tales to tell on the higher-ups, and we expect he’ll do some damage to the Trump brand before this is all over.
None of it  yet  amounts to the smoking gun that Trump’s most strident critics have all been hoping for, as all of Trump’s most ardent defenders are rightly gloating, but they can’t deny that it all looks bad. All of the right wing talk radio hosts and the rest of the Trump-friendly made the case that there’s still no smoking gun, but spent most of their airtime minutes and column inches reviving years-old stories about Trump’s vanquished Democratic opponent “Crooked” Hillary Clinton, and although that awful woman is no doubt guilty of some of the charges none of it means that Trump’s high-ranking associates and perhaps Trump himself  isn’t guilty of something serious.
In any case, we expect the “Russia” thing will continue to be in the news for a while.

— Bud Norman