‘Constitutional crisis’ over Mueller report

Controversies over the Mueller report and the Trump administration continue in the US.

The vote was 24-16 in favour of holding Barr in contempt.

Reuters Explainer: Can Trump use executive privilege to withhold full Mueller report?

The White House on Wednesday invoked executive privilege to block the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s unredacted Russia report as a U.S. House panel met to vote on holding the U.S. attorney general in contempt of Congress for withholding the document.

The White House’s move escalated a constitutional clash between the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and Republican President Donald Trump over its powers to investigate him, his administration, his family and his business interests.

Trump is stonewalling Congress on multiple probes, blasting the investigations as “presidential harassment.” In an unusual move, he is even suing to stop the release of some materials that lawmakers want.

There are so few court decisions on executive privilege that it is hard to be certain if Trump can withhold the unredacted report and underlying evidence, said Ross Garber, a lawyer in Washington who focuses on political investigations.

But to prevail in court the White House will eventually need to be more specific about which documents are protected by executive privilege and why, Garber said.

In a letter to Trump on Wednesday, Attorney General William Barr encouraged the president to make a “preliminary, protective assertion of executive privilege designed to ensure your ability to make a final assertion, if necessary, over some or all of the subpoenaed materials.”

Some legal experts have argued that Trump long ago forfeited, or waived, his right to make an executive privilege claim over conversations described by witnesses in Mueller’s investigation and related documents.

Meanwhile:

US military deployments aimed at Iran, China, and more tariffs threaten trade talks

The US navy is deploying ships in the South China Sea ‘freedom of navigation’ and the Middle East (to deter Iran).

Stuff:  US sends strike group to Middle East in rebuke to Iran

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters believes the United States and Iran need to “engage in constructive dialogue” before tensions rise.

Peters’ remarks come following news the US is sending an aircraft carrier and a bomber task force to the Middle East in a show of force aimed at Iran.

“In response to a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings, the United States is deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber task force to the US Central Command region to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force,” national security adviser John Bolton said in a statement.

“The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or regular Iranian forces,” the statement said.

The statement did not identify what actions Iran may have taken that would prompt the United States to increase its military presence in the region.

“I also note Bolton stated the US is not seeking armed conflict with Iran,” Peters said in response to the White House’s release.

Also yesterday:

JUST IN: Two U.S. Navy destroyers carried out ‘freedom of navigation’ operation in South China Sea on Monday: U.S. military spokesman tells

And more US pressure on China over trade:

Reuters:  Trump tariff threat leaves U.S.-China talks in limbo as markets fall

U.S. President Donald Trump’s escalation of a trade war with China left plans in limbo on Monday for high-level negotiations later this week to end the dispute.

Stocks around the world tumbled and oil prices hit a one-month low after Trump tweeted on Sunday that he would raise tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods to 25 percent from 10 percent by the end of the week, and would “soon” target the remaining Chinese imports with tariffs.

The announcement ended a four-month truce in a trade war that has cost the world’s two largest economies billions of dollars, slowed global growth and disrupted manufacturing and farming.

NY Times: Trump’s Trade War Threat Poses Problems for China and Investors

President Trump upended what appeared to be steady progress toward reaching a trade pact after he threatened on Sunday to impose still more tariffs on Chinese-made goods unless Beijing moved closer to a deal. Liu He, the Chinese vice premier overseeing economic policy and Beijing’s lead trade negotiator, had been set to travel to Washington for talks scheduled for Wednesday that were widely seen as the potential last round before reaching a trade deal.

President Trump upended what appeared to be steady progress toward reaching a trade pact after he threatened on Sunday to impose still more tariffs on Chinese-made goods unless Beijing moved closer to a deal. Liu He, the Chinese vice premier overseeing economic policy and Beijing’s lead trade negotiator, had been set to travel to Washington for talks scheduled for Wednesday that were widely seen as the potential last round before reaching a trade deal.

President Trump upended what appeared to be steady progress toward reaching a trade pact after he threatened on Sunday to impose still more tariffs on Chinese-made goods unless Beijing moved closer to a deal. Liu He, the Chinese vice premier overseeing economic policy and Beijing’s lead trade negotiator, had been set to travel to Washington for talks scheduled for Wednesday that were widely seen as the potential last round before reaching a trade deal.

This also poses potential problems for New Zealand, and the world economy.

Trump versus Facebook

I think that Facebook has a right to choose who uses their platform.

The President can grizzle about who Facebook bans aas much as he likes, but hew shouldn’t be able to dictate to Facebook who they should allow to user their media platform.

The National (American) Interest and ‘realism’

I don’t know anything about ‘realism’ as far as foreign policy goes, but The National Interest promotes it for the United States.

It is about American interests. It is guided by the belief that nothing will enhance those interests as effectively as the approach to foreign affairs commonly known as realism—a school of thought traditionally associated with such thinkers and statesmen as Disraeli, Bismarck, and Henry Kissinger. Though the shape of international politics has changed considerably in the past few decades, the magazine’s fundamental tenets have not. Instead, they have proven enduring and, indeed, appear to be enjoying something of a popular renaissance.

Until recently, however, liberal hawks and neoconservatives have successfully attempted to stifle debate by arguing that prudence about the use of American power abroad was imprudent—by, in short, disparaging realism as a moribund doctrine that is wholly inimical to American idealism. This has been disastrous.

After the Bush administration’s failure to discover weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, it became abundantly clear that the lack of a debate in Washington was part and parcel of a larger foreign policy failing, which was the refusal to ponder the larger implications and consequences of the promiscuous use of American power abroad. A reflexive substitution of military might for diplomacy, of bellicose rhetoric for attainable aspirations, dramatically weakened rather than strengthened America’s standing around the globe.

But today, as Russia, China, and Iran assess and act upon their own perceived national interests, Washington must attempt to understand those nations as they understand themselves.

I’m not sure that the US has been very good at understanding other nations, apart from how they can be influenced and manipulated too serve US interests.

What actually constitutes true realism is, of course, an appropriate source of controversy.

I don’t get that.

And so, on both its web site and in its print edition, The National Interest seeks to promote, as far as possible, a fresh debate about the course of American foreign policy by featuring a variety of leading authors from government, journalism, and academia, many of whom may at times disagree with each other.

The National Interest editorial:  Standing Up For Realism

The Center for the National Interest, which was founded by Richard M. Nixon in 1994, is being criticized for its embrace of realist principles, including outreach to Russia based on a combination of diplomatic and military strength.

Realism, long associated with authoritarian European statesmen such as Otto von Bismarck and Klemens von Metternich, has been consistently portrayed as antithetical to American democratic traditions. During the Cold War, statesmen such as Kissinger or Zbigniew Brzezinski were depicted as amoral or even harboring, in the case of the latter, loyalties to Poland rather than America.

But in one form or another, no matter what the detractors may claim, realism is at the very heart of American foreign policy. It is what helped America to emerge as the dominant power after World War II and during the Cold War.

The realist approach served as a bipartisan foundation for Washington’s approach to the world, providing a common framework for identifying threats and defending American interests abroad. Everyone from Harry Truman and Dean Acheson to Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger to George H.W. Bush and James Baker espoused a strategic realism that played a decisive role in ending the Cold War on American terms. Even Ronald Reagan, who talked about battling an evil empire, ended up signing sweeping arms control treaties with the Kremlin and consigning the Cold War to the dustbin of history.

These statesmen helped to establish a stable balance of international power that safeguarded Western prosperity and freedom while allowing for the peaceful internal transformation of the Soviet bloc.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall, however, realism fell into disrepute. Headier doctrines that amounted to old wine in new bottles now found favor. The United States found itself alone at the top of the international pyramid and became convinced that its security could be based on transforming non-Western nations in America’s image.

The two major strands of American foreign policy that dominated during the post-Cold War period—neo-conservatism and liberal internationalism—may have disputed the appropriate mix of force and diplomatic persuasion, but they were united in pursuing a missionary foreign policy.

This approach has failed. It has led to debilitating wars in the Middle East that have sapped America’s treasury. It has helped turn competitors into enemies. Regions that once enjoyed the strategic benefits of a balance of power have been thrown into disorder and disarray. The world order that prevailed in 1989 is now in shambles.

I don’t think the ‘world order’ that prevailed in 1989 was very flash either.

The Center for the National Interest has consistently challenged liberal international and neocon thinking to advocate a foreign policy based on a prudent combination of diplomacy, economic and military strength to defend American national interests.

Realism is asserting US power by any means available?

Who got it right? The answer seems self-evident. But at the very moment that realist doctrines should be ascendant, a media backlash is taking place that is directly targeting the Center, principally for its pursuit of a dialogue with Russia. The idea seems to be that it is illegitimate, even unpatriotic, to advocate anything that defies foreign policy conventional wisdom.

Dialogue amongst major powers is important. The US should talk to Russia to try to work out how to co-exist peacefully and prosperously.

To be sure, previous foreign policy debates, whether over Vietnam or the second Iraq War, have been marked by fierce vitriol. But those debates took place within a commonly agreed framework of seeking to advance American interests. Today, the debates have curdled into vitriol and character assassination, pure and simple.

That’s where US politics has seemed to have evolved to. It doesn’t help that the President repeatedly sets an example using vitriol and character assassination, but he seems to have avoided that with Russia, instead heaping praise on Putin  – or at least his talks with Putin. Actually he has just had a phone conversation with Putin.

Reuters also quote him as saying “Had a long and very good conversation with President Putin of Russia. As I have always said, long before the Witch Hunt started, getting along with Russia, China, and everyone is a good thing, not a bad thing”.

It is a good thing if the US gets along with Russia and China, and peace seems to be working fairly well, except in Afghanistan where the Taliban is increasing it’s influence, and in Syria where Russian influence increases as the US tries to work it’s way out of the complications there.

Reuters:  Trump says he, Putin discussed new nuclear pact possibly including China

U.S. President Donald Trump said he and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed on Friday the possibility of a new accord limiting nuclear arms that could eventually include China in what would be a major deal between the globe’s top three atomic powers.

Trump, speaking to reporters as he met in the Oval Office with Peter Pellegrini, prime minister of the Slovak Republic, also said he and Putin discussed efforts to persuade North Korea to give up nuclear weapons, the political discord in Venezuela, and Ukraine during a call that stretched over an hour.

Trump cited the expense of keeping up the U.S. nuclear arsenal as a motivating factor behind wanting to limit how many weapons are deployed.

“We’re talking about a nuclear agreement where we make less and they make less and maybe where we get rid of some of the tremendous firepower that we have right now,” he said.

Trump said China during trade talks had “felt very strongly” about joining the United States and Russia in limiting nuclear weapons.

“So I think we’re going to probably start up something very shortly between Russia and ourselves maybe to start off, and I think China will be added down the road. We’ll be talking about non-proliferation, we’ll be talking about a nuclear deal of some kind, and I think it’ll be a very comprehensive one,” he said.

The Kremlin said the call was initiated by Washington. It said the two leaders agreed to maintain contacts on different levels and expressed satisfaction with the “businesslike and constructive nature” of the conversation.

But the the reality is, it’s not simple:

The two leaders discussed Ukraine. Trump canceled a summit meeting with Putin late last year after Russia seized three Ukrainian Navy ships on Nov. 25 and arrested 24 sailors. Putin also told Trump that the new leadership in Ukraine should take steps to solve the Ukrainian crisis, the Kremlin said.

With the United States concerned about a Russian military presence in Venezuela at a time when Washington wants Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to leave power, Trump told Putin “the United States stands with the people of Venezuela” and stressed he wanted to get relief supplies into the country, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.

Putin told Trump that any external interference in Venezuela’s internal business undermines the prospects of a political end to the crisis, the Kremlin said.

Trump also raised with Putin the issue of getting North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. Trump has met twice with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un but Kim has yet to agree to a disarmament deal.

Putin has just had talks with Kim Yong Un. NY Times: After Meeting Kim Jong-un, Putin Supports North Korea on Nuclear Disarmament

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia made a public show of support for North Korea on nuclear disarmament, seeming to undermine President Trump’s approach to nuclear diplomacy, as Mr. Putin and Kim Jong-un on Thursday wrapped up their first summit meeting.

Russian officials have long insisted they wanted to support Mr. Trump’s efforts at one-on-one nuclear negotiations with Mr. Kim, the North Korean leader. But speaking to reporters after the meeting in Vladivostok, on Russia’s Pacific Ocean coast, Mr. Putin said that North Korea needs security guarantees from more nations than just the United States before abandoning its nuclear arsenal.

At talks in February in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, Mr. Trump had proposed a “big deal” to lift punishing economic sanctions in return for a quick and complete elimination of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Mr. Kim offered, instead, only a partial dismantling of nuclear facilities — while keeping his arsenal of nuclear warheads and missiles — in exchange for relief from the most harmful sanctions.

After the breakdown in talks in Hanoi, North Korea vented its frustration with a weapons test and accusations that Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, John R. Bolton, and secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, were sabotaging negotiations.

But since then (Reuters):  North Korea fires ‘projectiles’, South Korea says stop raising tensions

North Korea fired several “unidentified short-range projectiles” into the sea off its east coast on Saturday, prompting South Korea to call on its communist neighbor to “stop acts that escalate military tension on the Korean Peninsula”.

Analysts suspected the flurry of military activity by Pyongyang was an attempt to exert pressure on the United States to give ground in negotiations to end the North’s nuclear program after a summit in February ended in failure.

I’m not sure where Realism fits in here.

 

 

 

Democrats versus Barr versus Mueller are not fading away

The Mueller investigation led to the Barr letter which was followed by the release of most of the Mueller report was followed by the release of a Mueller letter to Barr, and now Barr has been questioned in the US senate. And the controversies continue, predictably with many angles being taken by media and politicians.

Washington Examiner: 5 takeaways from the Barr hearing

1. Tension between Attorney General William Barr and Robert Mueller

Barr revealed a split with the special counsel over the pursuit of evidence that President Trump tried to obstruct the probe. Mueller did not draw any conclusion on obstruction, despite gathering the evidence.

“The investigation carried on for a while as additional episodes were looked into,” Barr told the panel. “So my question was, why were those investigated if, at the end of the day, you weren’t going to reach a decision on them?”

Later in the hearing Barr dismissed a March 27 letter from Mueller complaining about Barr’s four-page memo to Congress about the report. “The letter’s a bit snitty and I think it was written by one of his staff people,” Barr told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

2. Barr didn’t review Mueller’s evidence.

Under questioning from Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., a former prosecutor who is running for president, Barr acknowledged neither he nor Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein reviewed the trove of evidencegathered by the Mueller team before he cleared Trump of any wrongdoing.

The Mueller report did not clear Trump of any wrongdoing, but Barr’s letter summarising the findings of the investigation were taken by Trump and others as doing that.

3. Barr is probing leaks to media.

Under questioning from Republicans on the panel, Barr said he is investigating Department of Justice leaks to the media regarding the investigation into alleged Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.

4. Barr is examining the justification for surveillance warrants into Trump campaign.

Barr said he is investigating the basis for the Justice Department’s decision to secretly surveil the Trump campaign beginning in October 2016. Barr said he is working with Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz to determine if a surveillance warrant was properly obtained by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court the month before the election.

5. Senate Judiciary (probably) won’t call Mueller to testify.

Democrats are eager to hear testimony from special counsel Robert Mueller, they said Wednesday. But Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., doesn’t plan to invite him.

“I’m not going to do any more,” Graham said after Barr’s day-long hearing. “Enough already, it’s over.”

But it appears to be far from over.

RealClear Politics – Pelosi: Attorney General Barr Committed A Crime; “He Lied To Congress”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday accused Attorney General William Barr of criminally lying to Congress about special counsel Robert Mueller’s report and Mueller’s letter relating to how Barr has characterized its findings.

“What is deadly serious about it is the attorney general of the United States of America is not telling the truth to the Congress of the United States. That’s a crime,” the Speaker told reporters.

Asked again about the accusation, Pelosi said: “He lied to Congress. If anybody else did that, it would be considered a crime. Nobody is above the law.”

Asked whether Barr should go to jail, the speaker said: “There’s a process involved here.”

There’s something for everyone to cherry pick from.

San Diego synagogue shooting

A man posted on a far-right website claiming he was inspired by the Christchurch mass murderer and then attacked people worshipping at a synagogue in San Diego in in southern California, killing one person and injuring three more, including the rabbi.

NZ Herald: PM Jacinda Ardern comments after San Diego synagogue attack

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has expressed sorrow about the attack at a synagogue in San Diego where the gunman reportedly said he had been inspired by the Christchurch massacre.

“Our hearts go out to the Jewish community,” she said through a spokeswoman.

“To see an attack while people are at worship is devastating.

“New Zealand condemns all acts of terrorism and violence and stands for freedom of religion and the right to worship safely.

“New Zealand’s resolve to drive global action to eliminate violent extremism has been strengthened by the terrorist attack on our soil on March 15.”

That’s similar to her response to the Sri Lanka bombings. It’s on the cards that some attempt will be made to attack Ardern for how she worded her response.

The synagogue shooting left one woman dead and three people, including the rabbi, injured.

NBC has reported the gunman posted a letter on a far-right website claiming to be inspired by the Christchurch gunman who murdered 50 people in two mosques on March 15.

Donald Trump has just spoken at a NRA in defence of the US constitutional right to bear arms – Full Replay: President Trump Tells NRA He Will Reject UN Arms Trade Treaty

President Donald Trump vowed to fight for gun rights as he addressed the National Rifle Association on Friday and declared himself a “champion for the Second Amendment.”

“It’s under assault,” he said of the constitutional right to bear arms. “But not while we’re here.”

He responded to the synagogue shooting with the usual ‘thoughts and prayers’.

US Democratic presidential candidacy – popularity versus electability

There is no indication yet whether there will be any serious Republican contender for the presidential nomination prepared to stand against Donald Trump. That’s if Trump stands again for a job it is claimed he never really wanted in the first place – I think it quite likely Trump will stand again, as an excuse to keep having campaign rallies where he is cheered for his crass attacks and incitement, and to try to prove he can win the popular vote in an election without the help of the Russians.

All the action is in with Democrat candidates, where there are now eleven at least semi-serious contenders with ex-vice president Joe Biden now officially in the contest – Former VP Biden’s 2020 bid reshapes White House race

Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden entered the 2020 Democratic presidential field on Thursday as an instant front-runner, drawing momentum away from other leading candidates and putting new pressure on underperformers to find ways to stay relevant.

Biden, 76, a longtime U.S. senator who served two terms as former President Barack Obama’s No.2, announced his bid in a video describing the high stakes of the race to take on President Donald Trump in next year’s election.

“We are in the battle for the soul of this nation,” Biden said. “I believe history will look back on four years of this president and all he embraces as an aberrant moment in time. But if we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation, who we are, and I cannot stand by and let that happen.”

Trump responded with typical name calling and irony:

Trump responded in a post on Twitter, saying “welcome to the race Sleepy Joe” and slamming Biden’s intelligence.

Someone of Biden’s political stature was bound to impact on the field of candidates.

Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia, says it remains unclear if Biden can build on his loyal base of support. If that happens, it could come at Sanders’ expense.

Given his longstanding support from African-Americans and his partnership with Obama, Biden could also affect the candidacy of U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, who is widely regarded as a serious contender for the nomination.

Polls have already installed Biden as favourite. He is reasonably popular, but does that men he is electable?

Five Thirty Eight: Democrats Think Biden Is Electable, But He’s Not Everyone’s First Choice

Beating President Trump in November 2020 is really important to Democrats. Sizable shares of Democrats tell pollsters that a candidate’s “electability” will be a very important factor in their primary vote — even more than the candidate’s policy positions. The problem is that we don’t know for sure what makes a candidate electable.

But we can get an idea of what Democratic voters think an electable candidate looks like by finding polls that ask voters which 2020 presidential hopeful they think has the best chance of winning the general election, in addition to asking who they would support independent of electability concerns.

At least two recent polls have asked both questions: a Quinnipiac poll of registered Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters in California and a Granite State Poll of likely New Hampshire primary voters (conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center). Perhaps unsurprisingly, in both cases, the percentage of voters who say each candidate is the most electable is very similar to the percentage of voters who support each candidate.

But there are some telling divergences: Some candidates widely seen as electable don’t have as much support from voters, while others who have generated a lot of voter enthusiasm aren’t seen as particularly strong general-election candidates.

The table below looks at the difference in each poll between the share of voters who support each candidate and the share who think he or she is the strongest general-election candidate, then averages those differences.

There is quite a difference between those two polls so I don’t think too much can be taken from it, but it shows that Biden and Bernie Sanders are the obvious front runners.

By election time next November Sanders will be 79 years old, while Biden will be nearly 78. If either won they would be presidents while in their eighties.

Trump is just a little younger – he will be 74 next election. I don’t think there’s much chance of him growing up by then.

If those three turn out to remain the leading contenders then health will be a wild card – health of the old men candidates.

There is a lot of campaigning to go just to get nominated, and there could be other candidates yet to declare their intentions, so it’s difficult to judge how it could go for the  Democrats.

Meanwhile if Trump puts himself forward again and doesn’t get beaten for the candidacy – it’s difficult to know what the Republicans would prefer, to stick with a badly flawed incumbent president, or to try someone else if anyone is prepared to stand against Trump – much will probably depend on what happens over the next 18 months with the economy, with trade deficits, with the huge and growing deficit, with international relations, and with sideshows like the US-Mexico wall.

And whether Trump can pull back support, especially in crucial states, or whether he keeps disappointing and pissing off more and more people.  His core support is at least 10% too light – but any Democratic opponent would also have to appeal to the moveable vote in the middle, and it’s far too soon to know if any of them look capable of that.

“The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion”

Partisan posturing over Donald Trump’s partial exoneration by the Robert Mueller report has dominated attention, but I think the most important aspect of the investigation has been sadly sideline. The report stated that “The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.” That should alarm people cross the divided US political spectrum.

New York Times editorial: The Mueller Report and the Danger Facing American Democracy

The report of the special counsel Robert Mueller leaves considerable space for partisan warfare over the role of President Trump and his political campaign in Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. But one conclusion is categorical: “The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.”

The Justice Department’s indictment of 13 Russians and three companies in February 2018 laid bare much of the sophisticated Russian campaign to blacken the American democratic process and support the Trump campaign, including the theft of American identities and creation of phony political organizations to fan division on immigration, religion or race. The extensive hacks of Hillary Clinton’s campaign emails and a host of other dirty tricks have likewise been exhaustively chronicled.

But Russia’s interference in the campaign was the core issue that Mr. Mueller was appointed to investigate, and if he stopped short of accusing the Trump campaign of overtly cooperating with the Russians — the report mercifully rejects speaking of “collusion,” a term that has no meaning in American law — he was unequivocal on Russia’s culpability:

“First, the Office determined that Russia’s two principal interference operations in the 2016 U.S. presidential election — the social media campaign and the hacking-and-dumping operations — violated U.S. criminal law.”

The first part of the report, which describes these crimes, is worthy of a close read. Despite a thick patchwork of redactions, it details serious and dangerous actions against the United States.

Despite a thick patchwork of redactions, it details serious and dangerous actions against the United States that Mr. Trump, for all his endless tweeting and grousing about the special counsel’s investigation, has never overtly confronted, acknowledged, condemned or comprehended. Culpable or not, he must be made to understand that a foreign power that interferes in American elections is, in fact, trying to distort American foreign policy and national security.

It isn’t all about Trump. Far more importantly, it has been about the integrity of US democracy.

But Trump seems to see his win in the election as all important and he claims that to be on his merits alone and does not want credit attributed to the Russians (the lack of merit of Hillary Clinton was also a significant factor).

The earliest interference described in the report was a social media campaign intended to fan social rifts in the United States, carried out by an outfit funded by an oligarch known as “Putin’s chef” for the feasts he catered. Called the Internet Research Agency, the unit actually sent agents to the United States to gather information at one point.

What the unit called “information warfare” evolved by 2016 into an operation targeted at favoring Mr. Trump and disparaging Mrs. Clinton. This included posing as American people or grass-roots organizations such as the Tea Party, anti-immigration groups, Black Lives Matter and others to buy political ads or organize political rallies.

At the same time, the report said, the cyberwarfare arm of the Russian army’s intelligence service opened another front, hacking the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee and releasing reams of damaging materials through the front groups DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0, and later through WikiLeaks.

The releases were carefully timed for impact — emails stolen from the Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, for example, were released less than an hour after the “Access Hollywood” tape damaging to Mr. Trump came out.

A carefully and deliberately orchestrated campaign. Whether there was any collusion or not between Russia and the Trump campaign, there were plenty of interactions that should be concerning.

All this activity, the report said, was accompanied by the well documented efforts to contact the Trump campaign through business connections, offers of assistance to the campaign, invitations for Mr. Trump to meet Mr. Putin and plans for improved American-Russian relations. Both sides saw potential gains, the report said — Russia in a Trump presidency, the campaign from the stolen information.

The Times documented 140 contacts between Mr. Trump and his associates and Russian nationals and WikiLeaks or their intermediaries. But the Mueller investigation “did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

That is the part Mr. Trump sees as vindication, though the activities of his chaotic campaign team that the report describes are — at best — naïve.

With an absence of evidence of direct collusion it looks to me to be more like separate campaigns with a common purpose, with some opportunistic use of each other’s efforts.

It is obviously difficult for this president to acknowledge that he was aided in his election by Russia, and there is no way to gauge with any certainty how much impact the Russian activities actually had on voters.

But the real danger that the Mueller report reveals is not of a president who knowingly or unknowingly let a hostile power do dirty tricks on his behalf, but of a president who refuses to see that he has been used to damage American democracy and national security.

I think that it is pointless trying to rely on Trump addressing this. But this is what US authorities, and the US Congress and the Senate should now be focussing on – especially, how to prevent this sort of foreign interference from happening to the same degree again.

A perceived victory for Russian interference poses a serious danger to the United States. Already, several American agencies are working, in partnership with the tech industry, to prevent election interference going forward. But the Kremlin is not the only hostile government mucking around in America’s cyberspace — China and North Koreaare two others honing their cyber-arsenals, and they, too, could be tempted to manipulate partisan strife for their ends.

That is something neither Republicans nor Democrats should allow. The two parties may not agree on Mr. Trump’s culpability, but they have already found a measure of common ground with the sanctions they have imposed on Russia over its interference in the campaign.

Now they could justify the considerable time and expense of the special counsel investigation, and at the same time demonstrate that the fissure in American politics is not terminal, by jointly making clear to Russia and other hostile forces that the democratic process, in the United States and its allies, is strictly off limits to foreign clandestine manipulation, and that anyone who tries will pay a heavy price.

Trump is a problem, but he has been largely a distraction from a bigger and more important problem. The integrity of the US democratic system is at stake, and a lot of repair work is required for that to regain credibility.

 

 

 

Trump draws attention to worst of Mueller report and himself

The Mueller report should have been reasonably good news for Donald Trump. It cleared himself of collusion with the Russians, and he wasn’t charged with obstruction of justice despite attempts to so.

But instead of highlighting the positives, he accentuated the negatives – his behaviour. He behaved badly in response to the report. He abused White House staff who testified that he was an obnoxious liar, as they were required to do under the law, and abused staff who ignored his his demands to sack people involved in the special investigation, which would have obstructed justice.

Trump was lucky that he didn’t get into legal trouble over attempting to obstruct justice, but he his added fuel to the fire raging about his actions and attempted actions as president.

Real Clear Politics: Trump Laces Into Ex-Advisers Who Spoke With Mueller

President Donald Trump lashed out Friday at current and former aides who cooperated with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, insisting the deeply unflattering picture they painted of him and the White House was “total bullshit.”

In a series of angry tweets from rainy Palm Beach, Florida, Trump laced into those who, under oath, had shared with Mueller their accounts of how Trump tried numerous times to squash or influence the investigation and portrayed the White House as infected by a culture of lies, deceit and deception.

The attacks were a dramatic departure from the upbeat public face the White House had put on it just 24 hours earlier, when Trump celebrated the report’s findings as full exoneration and his counselor Kellyanne Conway called it “the best day” for Trump’s team since his election.

While the president, according to people close to him, did feel vindicated by the report, he also felt betrayed by those who had painted him in an unflattering light — even though they were speaking under oath and had been directed by the White House to cooperate fully with Mueller’s team.

While Mueller found no criminal evidence that Trump or his campaign aides colluded in Russian election meddling and did not recommend obstruction charges against the president, the 448-page report released Thursday nonetheless paints a damaging picture of the president, describing numerous cases where he discouraged witnesses from cooperating with prosecutors and prodded aides to mislead the public on his behalf to hamper the Russia probe he feared would cripple his presidency.

Whether the special investigation was justified or not (there were serious concerns about Russian interference in the US election that should have at least been investigated, and it was difficult to separate Trump’s campaign from that due to a number of connections between his campaign staff and Russian interests), it happened, and those being investigated, including Trump, should have properly complied with legal processes.

The report concluded that one reason Trump managed to stay out of trouble was that his “efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful … largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.”

He abused those who saved him from more serious problems.

Trump appeared to be especially angry with former White House counsel Don McGahn, who sat with Mueller for about 30 hours of interviews, and is referenced numerous times in the report.

In one particularly vivid passage, Mueller recounts how Trump called McGahn twice at home and directed him to set in motion Mueller’s firing. McGahn recoiled, packed up his office and threatened to resign, fearing the move would trigger a potential crisis akin to the Saturday Night Massacre of firings during the Watergate era.

In another section, Mueller details how Trump questioned McGahn’s note-taking, telling the White House counsel that, “Lawyers don ’t take notes” and that he’d “never had a lawyer who took notes.”

“Watch out for people that take so-called “notes,” when the notes never existed until needed,” Trump said in one of his tweets Friday. Others whose contemporaneous notes were referenced in the report include former staff secretary Rob Porter and Reince Priebus, Trump’s first chief of staff.

Notes of meetings are important for those who want to properly record political or legal matters. Trump has been criticised for having meetings with no records taken, including a meeting with Vladimir Putin.

This braises serious questions about whether adequate notes are taken of Trump’s meetings generally. If he despises and discourages note taking, is he pressuring staff into breaking the law? Or do they take the notes they are required to take despite him, and under threat of abuse form him?

Trump ended his tweet with the word, “a…” suggesting more was coming. More than eight hours later, he finally completed his thought, calling the probe a “big, fat, waste of time, energy and money” and threatening investigators by saying, “It is now finally time to turn the tables and bring justice to some very sick and dangerous people who have committed very serious crimes, perhaps even Spying or Treason.” There is no evidence of either.

Trump, and some supporters of Trump who have complained bitterly about the special investigation taking place, want investigations that suit their purposes, with less justification than the Mueller investigation.

Ari Fleischer, who served as White House press secretary to former President George W. Bush, said in an appearance on Fox News that he didn’t understand why Trump decided to send his tweets lashing out at former aides.

“I think it’s over,” he said. “If I were the president, I would have basically declared victory with the Mueller report and everything that came out and move beyond it.”

Still, he said he hoped the White House had learned some lessons.

“The president and his entire team needs to realize how close they came to being charged with obstruction,” Fleischer said. “Asking your staff to lie and engaging in some of the activities that the Mueller report stated the president engaged in is too close to obstruction. And that’s a lesson I hope everybody at the White House takes with them going forward.”

Unfortunately Trump has shown repeatedly that he has trouble moving on. In this case he when he could have simply claimed vindication he chose to highlight his vindictive nature.

Trump doesn’t seem to have learned from it.

White House staff will have learned from it – that they are constantly under pressure and under threat of abuse or being fired by the president for doing their jobs properly.

National Review: The Problem with the Mueller Report

The first volume of the voluminous Mueller report, the half devoted to what was supposed to be the underlying crime of a Trump conspiracy with Russia, came up completely empty. It tells us very little that’s new. There’s no particularly sinister information about Carter Page, the bit player the FBI repeatedly told the FISA court was probably a Russian agent. The operators who portrayed themselves as closest to WikiLeaks or Russia were usually braggarts and liars exaggerating their importance. Nothing came of the infamous Trump Tower meeting. Paul Manafort wasn’t at the center of conspiracy between the campaign and Russia, but operating in his greedy self-interest.

So the investigation didn’t come up empty. It found that Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, had acted illegally. That must be some justification for the inquiry. As was finding out whether braggarts and liars exaggerating their importance were a cause for concern when working for the chief braggard and liar.

The Trump campaign was amateurish and without scruple in exploiting the WikiLeaks disclosures, but we all could have agreed on that long ago, without a years-long special-counsel investigation.

Indeed, given how unlikely collusion always was and how far the evidence gathered by Mueller is from showing  it, one wonders why the special counsel couldn’t have issued an interim report long ago, dispelling the persistent — and poisonous — idea that Trump was about to be proven a traitor.

Perhaps because there was sufficient information and doubt that warranted a thorough investigation.

One could wonder how different it might have been if Trump had simply claimed there was no collusion, and encouraged his campaign staff and White House staff to cooperate fully with the inquiry. Trump didn’t act like an innocent person, he tried to discredit and obstruct. I think that is likely to have extended the investigation findings timeframe.

The business end of the Mueller report is the second volume, on obstruction. The investigation ended up following the typical pattern of special-counsel probes on a much larger scale — fixating on process crimes even when there is no underlying offence.

But at the process stage it was not known if there was any underlying offences or not. Actually a number of offences have been discovered. Like Mannafort’s offences. And others, like Admitted Russian Agent Butina Asks U.S. Court to Be Lenient – “Maria Butina, who has admitted to working as a Russian agent to infiltrate an influential U.S. gun rights group and make inroads with conservative activists and Republicans, asked the court to sentence her to time served ahead of her April 26 sentencing, according to court documents.”

What about Michael Cohen? He was prosecuted for lying to try to protect Trump. It’s quite feasible that Cohen lied because Trump encouraged him to lie and to obstruct. If that’s the case it’s seriously bad that a president has done that.

Some of Trump’s deceptions were for public consumption, not to influence the investigation.

Deceptions for public consumption may not be a crime, but it emphasises how little trust can be placed on what Trump says “for public consumption”. That may not be a legal problem, but it is a problem for democracy.

Trump’s attempts to fire Mueller and get then-attorney general Jeff Sessions to curtail the investigation came to nothing.

At this stage at least coming to nothing has kept Trump clear of prosecution, but I still find his attempts to obstruct very concerning.

None of this is to deny the report’s distressing portrayal of how President Trump operates. He avoids potentially disastrous missteps, such as firing Mueller, when his aides ignore him and he fails to follow up. His dishonesty constantly creates dilemmas for those around him, forcing them to choose between lying for him or defying him.

At risk of being fired, as has happened to some who have defied Trump.

No president of the United States should ever applaud people for refusing to cooperate with prosecutors, or call someone who cooperates a “rat.” Most White House scandals involve presidents getting ill served by overly zealous, norm-defying advisers. In this episode, Trump flipped the script.

The US presidency, the White House, and agencies run by people appointed by Trump (and who can be fired by Trump) are still operating in this environment, where Trump continues to lie, he continues to abuse, he continues to threaten.

I find that quite troubling.

Yet there are still Trump defenders and apologists who seem to thing this situation and behaviour is ok because others have done it less badly.

I think that a president who can’t be trusted to the degree that Trump shouldn’t be trusted is an ongoing threat not just to the presidency and to the United States but also to the world.

What if Trump manages to appoint staff or public officials who are prepared to lie for him (actually some have, his media spokespeople can’t be trusted either), and who are prepared to break the law and obstruct justice at Trump’s request?

How do we know this hasn’t already happened?

Trump – pathological liar, cheat, abuser, unhinging

The Donald Trump problem has been excused by many, but it is getting worse and he should be called for what he is:

  • a pathological liar who continues to lie about things when clearly incorrect or shown to be incorrect
  • a cheat in marriage, a cheat in golf, someone who tries to cheat the legal system, democracy
  • an abuser of anyone who challenges his position, his lies, his cheating, his integrity (there is little of that)
  • he thinks he is above the law and can subvert justice

He can’t be believed, and he can’t be trusted. He is a disgrace and a danger to the presidency of the United States.

He thinks he is above the law and can subvert justice.

He is obsessed with being seen to ‘win’ and attacks anyone he thinks might prevent him from winning.

And this is all out in the open and obvious. It’s fair to presume he has done more and worse that we don’t know about.

What got him into the presidency and what keeps him there are the excuses and inaction of supporters, and of politicians and officials and staff who pander to his narcissism.

The just released Mueller report has revealed that some officials have ignored his orders to subvert justice and to do other crazy things – it is just at well that he haasn’t been able to find enough family and sycophants to fill all the positions in the White House.

And if anything Trump is getting worse, going by the tantrum he has thrown over the Mueller report. And this shows how widely and wildly he can swing.

When the mildly worded Barr summary was released Trump praised it and praised Mueller and claimed (falsely) complete exoneration.

Now the full Mueller report has been released, which hasn’t painted him in a good light but came short of recommending prosecution for  his attempts to obstruct justice, Trump is praying at the report and everyone involved in it.

It is common for him to condemn critics, or in this case people who are required to comply with the law in an inquiry, as Democrats (often falsely) and haters. He has an army of supporters who repeat his ‘hater’ accusations to try to attack the messenger and divert from his faults.

More tweets in reaction to the report:

“Donald Trump was being framed, he fought back. That is not Obstruction.” I had the right to end the whole Witch Hunt if I wanted. I could have fired everyone, including Mueller, if I wanted. I chose not to. I had the RIGHT to use Executive Privilege. I didn’t!

The framing and witch hunt claims are nonsense. There are ways of ‘fighting back’ (dealing with judicial inquiries) without trying to sack those officials working on behalf of the US government.

Anything the Russians did concerning the 2016 Election was done while Obama was President. He was told about it and did nothing! Most importantly, the vote was not affected.

A common tactic of trump is to blame others, in this case Obama. And he’s wrong about the vote not being affected. It must have been affected by Russian actions.

When there is not an underlying crime with regard to Collusion (in fact, the whole thing was a made up fraud), it is difficult to say that someone is obstructing something. There was no underlying crime.”

“If dozens of Federal prosecutors spent two years trying to charge you with a crime, and found they couldn’t, it would mean there wasn’t any evidence you did it – and that’s what happened here – that’s what we just learned from the Mueller Report.”

It doesn’t mean there “wasn’t any evidence”. There was evidence cited in the report. It’s just that officials chose not to prosecute the President.

“The Mueller Report is perhaps the single most humiliating thing that has ever happened to the White House Press in the history of this Country. They know they lied…Many reporters lied about Russia Collusion and so much more. Clapper & Brennan, all lies”

The accusations of lies are common – while ignoring the biggest liar of all, Trump.  It’s a common tactic of his (and his friends and excusers in media) to accuse others of what he does.

So he has gone round media cherry picking people defending him, and ignoring everything else.

The game is obviously not over. Trump is playing it as hard as ever. The more he protests the more it loks like he is trying to hide something or divert from something.

Statements are made about me by certain people in the Crazy Mueller Report, in itself written by 18 Angry Democrat Trump Haters, which are fabricated & totally untrue. Watch out for people that take so-called “notes,” when the notes never existed until needed.

Because I never agreed to testify, it was not necessary for me to respond to statements made in the “Report” about me, some of which are total bullshit & only given to make the other person look good (or me to look bad).

If it wasn’t necessary for him to respond, why is he trying to respond now via Twitter?

This was an Illegally Started Hoax that never should have happened, a…

He appears to have not finished that sentence. Maybe someone finally disabled his Twitter account.

The inquiry wasn’t illegally started. And it wasn’t a hoax.

The patently untrustworthy abusive Trump is a disgrace to the presidency. But so far he has managed to keep a mass of supporters and apologists on his side. And there isn’t much that can be done but wait out his four year term, leaving him to rant and rave on Twitter and at political rallies, leaving those in key positions at the White House and in Government positions to ignore his worst commands, and otherwise scramble in the chaos that Trump perpetuates.

Every time Trump tweets he panders to a crowd, but he also keeps putting on record his incompetence and unsuitability for the job.

Trump will no doubt achieve some positives, all presidents do. But he is also clocking up some major negatives, like a growing trade deficit despite heavy handed tariffs. Like US debt, now over $20 trillion. Like the ongoing problems on the US-Mexico border.

Every president keeps accumulating criticisms – Trump more so than most, for good reason. The more he is challenged and exposed (with a lot of self exposure) the more unhinged he appears to get.

That’s dangerous for someone in his position. It is potentially dangerous for the world.

Note: this post is not about squirrels or the media or Obama or the Clintons, all flawed, but all different stories. It is about Trump’s his lying, his abusiveness, his behaviour unbecoming of a president (or any politician). Critique or try to defend that and don’t try to divert.