Mueller report released (minus redactions)

The report following the investigation led by Robert Mueller into whether there was Russian interference or collusion has now been released, which has opened a bunch of discussion points.

Time:  Here Are the Biggest Takeaways From the Mueller Report

Although Russia “perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency” and the campaign “expected it would benefit electorally” from Russian hacking efforts, “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” the report said.

When investigators began looking into Russian influence operations, however, Mueller found that Trump attempted to interfere with the investigation in a number of ways, from firing FBI Director James Comey to trying to limit its scope.

“If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment,” the report said.

Trump’s response to Mueller’s appointment: ‘I’m f-cked’

According to Mueller, the president was despondent when Attorney General Jeff Sessions informed him that the special counsel had been appointed in 2017.

“This is the end of my presidency. I’m f-cked,” the President said to Sessions.

Trump ordered a White House lawyer to fire Mueller

Trump called McGahn at his home on June 17, 2017, according to phone records. He ordered McGahn to call the acting attorney general and tell him that Mueller had conflicts of interest and needed to be removed, saying something to the effect of, “You gotta do this. You gotta call Rod [Rosenstein],” McGahn told investigators.

McGahn told Mueller that he decided that he would rather resign, because he didn’t want to end up like “Saturday Night Massacre Bork” — a reference to Solicitor General Robert Bork, who fired a special prosecutor at President Richard Nixon’s request during the Watergate scandal, setting off a massive political firestorm.

“The President’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests,” the report said.

Trump didn’t like his lawyer taking notes

McGahn later told former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus that the President had asked him to “do crazy sh-t.”

After reports emerged in early 2018 that Trump had ordered McGahn to fire Mueller, the President told his aide Rob Porter to ask McGahn to tell the press that he’d never received the order. McGahn again declined, telling Porter that the media reports were true.

Later, the President met with McGahn and asked him to deny that he’d been ordered to remove Mueller.

“I never said to fire Mueller. I never said ‘fire.’ This story doesn’t look good. You need to correct this. You’re the White House Counsel,” Trump said, according to McGahn and former Chief of Staff John Kelly.

Trump also asked McGahn why he had told Mueller about the effort to fire the special counsel, and also why he had decided to take notes during their conversations.

“What about these notes? Why do you take notes? Lawyers don’t take notes. I never had a lawyer who took notes,” Trump said.

A White House spokeswoman admitted she made up a Trump defense

During a press briefing on May 10, 2017, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders defended Trump’s decision to fire Comey by saying that “the rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence” in him.

But under oath with Mueller’s team, Sanders conceded that she had not heard from any agents, calling it a “slip of the tongue.”

Trump said he was just joking about asking Russia to find Clinton’s emails

After Mueller inquired about the public comment, Trump replied that he made the statement “in jest and sarcastically, as was apparent to any objective observer.”

Despite his insistence that he was joking, Trump later emphasized his comments on Twitter, writing “If Russia or any other country or person has Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 illegally deleted emails, perhaps they should share them with the FBI!”

Trump fired Comey because he wouldn’t publicly exonerate the President

Two days after James Comey refused to deny that the Trump was under investigation during a 2017 congressional hearing, Trump told his family and advisors that he was planning to remove the FBI Director, according to senior advisor Stephen Miller.

Trump also insisted that Comey’s resignation letter declared that Trump wasn’t personally under investigation.

How much of the report is redacted?

Substantial portions of the report are redacted. The omissions make certain sections – including the portion of the document which concerns Wikileaks – difficult to understand.

Fox News – Mueller report sparks new DC war over Russia probe: Subpoenas, payback and more

The public release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Thursday marked the dramatic final note of a lengthy and contentious investigation, but also sparked a tinderbox of new calls for subpoenas, congressional testimony, resignations, and even impeachment proceedings — all despite the probe’s central finding that no evidence showed that President Trump’s team “coordinated or conspired” with Russia.

The whirlwind moments kept coming, even hours after the report’s release, as more and more revelations from the 448-page document trickled out. The White House, for its part, claimed total victory and vindication for the president who, according to the report, once fretted that the special counsel’s appointment meant he was “f—ed” beyond the possibility of redemption and that his agenda would be derailed by partisan distractions.

Within minutes of the report’s publication, House Judiciary Committee Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., charged that the special counsel had provided “disturbing evidence that President Trump engaged in obstruction of justice” and, referencing the report’s limited redactions, finished with a tantalizing flourish: “Imagine what remains hidden from our view.”

Nader immediately called on Mueller himself to testify, and top Republicans, including Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr, said they would have no objections to him doing so.

Republicans, meanwhile, called the day a resounding win, pointing specifically to several portions of Mueller’s findings that debunked long-held conspiracy theories and media reports that misrepresented the Trump team’s contacts with Russia.

For example, notably absent from Mueller’s analysis was any mention of the unverified report that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had “secret talks” with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in London’s Ecuadorian embassy months before stolen emails damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign were published.

Summing up the positive news for his administration in the report, Trump tweeted a reference to the popular “Game of Thrones” television series, with the words, “No collusion, no obstruction. For the haters and the radical left Democrats — Game Over.”

White House adviser Kellyanne Conway told reporters that Thursday was the “best day” since Trump’s election, calling the Mueller probe a “political proctology exam” and the final report a “clean bill of health.”

“It should make people feel really great that a campaign I managed to its successful end did not collude with any Russians,” Conway said. “We’re accepting apologies today, too, for anybody who feels the grace in offering them.”

Democrats, however, raised a slew of objections and charged that Barr had improperly given cover for the president. 2020 presidential contender Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., called on Barr to “resign,” after Barr pointed out in his press conference that Trump’s mental state — including his apparent frustration at the long-running investigation — was relevant to the question of whether he obstructed justice.

On collusion, according to the report, the Trump team believed it would benefit from Russian efforts and sought to share published emails that had been pilfered from the DNC and Clinton campaign, but did not coordinate with Russia on any hacking or misinformation efforts.

In one notable lead that was explored, former national security adviser Michael Flynn told investigators that Trump repeatedly requested that his team find tens of thousands of emails deleted from a private server controlled by Hillary Clinton.

At a July 2016 campaign rally, Trump remarked sarcastically, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

After that statement, Flynn contacted operatives in the hopes of uncovering the documents, according to Mueller. And Peter Smith, a GOP consultant, “created a company, raised tens of thousands of dollars, and recruited security experts and business associates,” the report stated.

The full report (redacted) plus more comment at NZH: The four key takeaways from the Mueller report into Russian interference in US election

3. Aides often ignore Trump’s false and dubious directives

One of the most intriguing parts of this report is the window it provides into how Trump’s aides view him. We’ve had many leaks suggesting internal discord in the White House, but here the aides were compelled to tell the truth.

And a common thread is forming: Trump often asks aides to falsely deny things or do things that make them uncomfortable. Oftentimes, they simply didn’t follow through.

In one section, then-White House counsel Donald McGahn got a message from Trump’s personal lawyer saying Trump wanted McGahn to put out a statement denying a New York Times report that said Trump had tried to fire Mueller. McGahn declined, because Trump had in fact tried to fire Mueller.

4. Many of Trump’s “fake news” claims are disproven

One of the unhelpful realities of the Russia probe thus far has been that so many revelations were based upon anonymous sources. That has allowed Trump to argue to his supporters that the stories were wrong, totally made-up “fake news.”

Except now many of them have been confirmed by the Mueller report.

And so the Washington circus continues.

Electoral Commission recommendations for improving democracy

Bryce Edwards has a good summary of an Electoral Commission report: 10 ways to improve our elections

Last week the Electoral Commission released its report on the 2017 general election. It contained useful information about voting last year but, more importantly, it made a number of important recommendations to Parliament about improving New Zealand elections.

Recommendation 1: Fix MMP by dealing with earlier recommendations

The most important recommendation to come out of the report is for Parliament to again consider the 2012 Review of MMP. This report came up with some significant improvements, but was buried by the then-National government, which claimed there was not adequate consensus in Parliament to implement the changes.

It remains a disgrace that the 2012 review was ignored by self-interested politicians.

Notably, this 2012 report suggested that the MMP threshold of 5% should be lowered, because it had proved to be too high, in terms of being a barrier to new political parties gaining election to Parliament. To back up this point, the Commission’s recent report includes a table of information about the declining number of parties representing in Parliament.

With both NZ First and Greens just bettering the threshold in the 2017 election and at real risk of dropping below it next election there is a real risk that the number of parties will drop even further, with little chance of a new party getting into Parliament.

The 5% threshold is a failure for representative democracy and should be reduced at least to 3%, if not lower. It has been retained to protect large parties and is anti-democratic.

Recommendation 2: Update the prohibition on electioneering on election day and during the advance voting period

The Commission says the current election day rules, which essentially prohibit electioneering, are inconsistent with the rules in place during the advance voting period. This means there are only very limited rules for the couple of weeks prior to election day – when about half of votes are now made – but suddenly things become extremely restrictive on the actual final day of voting.

The current election day only rules have become a nonsense.

Recommendation 3: Fix the election broadcast allocations and prohibitions

This is especially a problem in terms of the money allocated each election to the parties, which they can spend on television, radio, and now also internet advertising. Last year the Commission allocated $4.1m to parties, but notes the ongoing complaints about lack of fairness in these allocations, drawing particular attention to smaller parties who claim to be disadvantaged by the unequal distributions of monies.

The Commission recommends a review. But these issues fall into both the “too hard” and “self-interest” baskets of the current parliamentary parties who benefit from the broken system.

The major beneficiaries of a badly flawed system should not be the ones who decide on a system that favours them.

Recommendation 4: Update rules about the misuse of electoral roll data

All sorts of companies, such as debt collectors and marketers make use of the printed electoral roll in order to carry out their commercial activities. There are huge privacy issues involved, which the law appears to be ignorant of, and there are people who therefore choose not to enroll to vote precisely because they don’t want their residential addresses to be made public.

The risk is made worse by the fact that the political parties are provided with the electoral roll in electronic form. This is a provision designed by the politicians so that their parties can more effectively send election advertising to voters and so forth. It’s questionable whether the parties should be given this data, and it seems that it’s an accident waiting to happen, as there are no procedures or guarantees that any of the 16 registered political parties will prevent this personal data falling into the wrong hands.

Recommendation 5: Allow Māori voters to change rolls at any time

Māori voters should be able to switch between the general and Māori electoral roll at any time according to the Commission. Currently, people of Māori descent can only change during the Māori Electoral Option period, every five-six years.

It seems odd that roll switching can only happen at specific times each 5-6 years.

Recommendation 6: Electoral offences system needs updating

When someone is deemed to have breached election rules, the Electoral Commission’s only remedy for this is essentially to refer the case to the Police for prosecution.

A substantial review of these laws is called for by the Commission. And although the politicians would surely welcome a chance to fix up some of the problematic rules they have to deal with, this area is a minefield of difficulty which could cause all sorts of prolonged debate about how to ensure elections are properly run without undue influence.

And the Police usually do nothing, or if they do something it takes so long it is ineffective.

Recommendation 7: Ban rosette wearing in polling places

Following last year’s election there were 342 complaints to the Commission about political party scrutineers wearing their party lapel badges or rosettes at the polling booths. Currently this is legal, but there seems to be an expectation that all voting places should be “campaign-free”, and therefore the Commission recommends a ban.

Seems trivial, but “campaign-free” polling places seems reasonable.

Recommendation 8: Allow voters to enroll on election day

Currently, voters can enrol to vote right up until election day. They can even enrol to vote at the same time that they make an advance vote in the two weeks leading up to election day. And of course, there are always a number of unenrolled voters who attempt to vote on election day, and have to cast a “special vote”, but have these disallowed. In 2017, 19,000 people had their votes disallowed. But the Commission suggests they should be allowed to enrol voters on election day.

A no-brainer – the current election day ban on enrolment is dated and ridiculous.

Recommendation 9: Introduce a fixed date for elections

The current rules for setting the triennial general election date are deliberately loose, allowing incumbent governments the choice of when to go to the polls. The Commission raises the prospect of changing the law to provide for a fixed election date – they suggest some discussion about this. They say that this would provide more certainty for voters, campaigners and candidates.

Is this fixing a problem that isn’t really broken? Some flexibility and pragmatism about election dates can’t be a problem.

Recommendation 10: Update where voting booths can be sited

The locations were people can cast their vote should be modernised according to the Commission. Currently there are a number of prohibitions relating to the sale and consumption of alcohol, which was historically meant to prevent voting in pubs where undue influence might occur. But now the Commission wants to set up booths where voters regularly gather, such as supermarkets and shopping malls.

In fact, in 2017 the Commission was remarkably successful in setting up advance voting booths in such places. But for election day, the rules are stricter, which meant that the booths had to be removed.

Bizarre. You can buy a bottle of wine or beer at a supermarket and then vote before election day but not on election day.

Finally, there are plenty of other recommendations of various levels of importance in the report.

The full Electoral Commission report.