Party leaders on the election campaign

Chapters on a Victoria University book reviewing the 2017 election by each of the party leaders.

Newshub – Stardust and Substance: the 2017 election through politicians’ eyes

Accounts of political events by politicians themselves can be worse than useless and should be read with great caution. Politicians are simply too close to what happened to really give any insights into events. They’re also often just too practiced in their own spin to be able to reveal any truly interesting or new information. Too often, politician accounts of election campaigns are simply their attempts to assert their own version of history for the record.

Nonetheless, the accounts of the 2017 election by the political party leaders in Stardust and Substance are all well worth reading. Some are more self-serving than others, and they vary greatly in how much they reveal that is new or useful. But all seven chapters from the party leaders help the reader understand what went on in 2017 to make it such an extraordinary election.

They are generally more self promotional than analytical.

Jacinda Ardern – ‘I remember the crunch point’: Jacinda Ardern looks back on the 2017 election

There is no doubt that 2017 will remain the most extraordinary year of my life. But a statement like that doesn’t quite capture the fact that what happened this year had layers that extended well beyond me. In that sense, before I go any further I want to acknowledge three people in particular. The first two are Andrew Kirton and Nigel Haworth. I see the president and especially the general secretary of our party as often the unsung heroes. Their work is unrelenting. They manage and motivate thousands of volunteers, manage our governing body, and ensure we have the funds to run our campaigns in the first place. I salute them.

Bill English: ‘Confident but paranoid’: Bill English reflects on election 2017

Coming into 2017 I was often asked how National, as the incumbent government, felt about the election. My standard answer was “confident but paranoid”, which, as it turned out, proved to be the right mental setting. One had only to look around the world to see that political events had become a bit more unpredictable. The fact that you couldn’t predict where the unpredictable would occur didn’t mean that it wasn’t going to happen, and of course it did.

I want to give some personal reflections on my involvement in the campaign as a leader. I think that the overriding impression for me was just how much I enjoyed it. As someone who had been unavoidably characterised in a certain way because of my finance role, it did take some time to adjust, and for public expectations to adjust, to my new role as a leader in a campaign. There are a number of reasons that I enjoyed it. First was that there was plenty to campaign for, again unusually for a party that had been in government for nine years. I had been personally strongly invested in many of the issues which were debated in the campaign – the economy, obviously, but also all the social issues, poverty, housing, water quality, and the environment, where we had done much intensive work over many years.

Winston Peters: ‘We chose the harder path’: Winston Peters on election 2017

Eight weeks out from the general election, New Zealand First was poised to challenge Labour’s status as the second largest political party – this was a sign: when things are going great you should be worried most. Polling revealed that we were statistically tied with Labour. From our perspective that day would have been a good one for the country to have voted.

It was not to be.

Labour were sagging badly but I think it is very unlikely NZ First would have overtaken them. Greens were picking uop more of Labour’s losses than NZ First.

James Shaw: When the wheels came off: James Shaw on Election 2017

My worst moment of the 2017 election came the day parliament rose to kick off the formal part of the campaign, about six weeks before election day.

Roughly 10 minutes before I had to give the Adjournment Debate speech on behalf of the Green Party, I received that evening’s Colmar Brunton poll results. We were on 4%, the first time during the campaign that we had dipped below the threshold which would see us return to parliament. And because, in many ways, the adjournment speech kicked off the formal election campaign period, it wasn’t a great way to start.

I finished the speech and my colleague Gareth Hughes came and sat down in the seat next to me. He looked at me and said, “Way to go, giving that speech, knowing what you know.” It was a really tough moment, because at that point it seemed probable that I was about to become the last leader of the Green Party and that I had just given the last speech in parliament by a Green Party MP.

David Seymour: ‘We didn’t pay enough attention to the brand’: David Seymour on Election 2017.

As a rookie MP and the sole elected member of ACT, I became the party leader and also entered the executive (as parliamentary under-secretary to the minister of education and to the minister of regulatory reform). I am told that nobody has entered parliament this way since the 19th century, when governments typically lasted only a year or two. The task of carrying off these roles as well as serving the Epsom electorate was always going to be large. In the final analysis it was too large.

US democratic dysfunction continues

Facebook says it has identified further attempts to use social media to interfere with US elections, while Robert Mueller has referred three investigations into possible illicit foreign lobbying by Washington insiders to federal prosecutors in New York – as this involves people associated with Democrats as well as Republicans President Trump should at least be partially supportive of legally confronting the swamp.

NY Times: Facebook Identifies an Active Political Influence Campaign Using Fake Accounts

Facebook said on Tuesday that it had identified a political influence campaign that was potentially built to disrupt the midterm elections, with the company detecting and removing 32 pages and fake accounts that had engaged in activity around divisive social issues.

The company did not definitively link the campaign to Russia. But Facebook officials said some of the tools and techniques used by the accounts were similar to those used by the Internet Research Agency, the Kremlin-linked group that was at the center of an indictment this year alleging interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Facebook said it had discovered coordinated activity around issues like a sequel to last year’s deadly “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. Activity was also detected around #AbolishICE, a left-wing campaign on social media that seeks to end the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

The dream of the Internet enabling a revolution in ordinary people involvement in democracy has become an electoral nightmare in the US.

And we are not immune from it in New Zealand, but the greatest risk here is probably self inflicted wounds by ‘social justice warriors’ and political activists trying to impose their views and policies on everyone else, and trying to shut down speech they don’t like or they disagree with.

Also in the US, illicit foreign lobbying is in the spotlight with the trial of Paul Manafort under way – Manafort on trial: A scorched-earth prosecutor and not a mention of Trump

The nation’s inaugural look at special counsel Mueller’s team in action started with a bang. Assistant U.S. Attorney Uzo Asonye, brought onto the special counsel’s staff from the Alexandria federal prosecutor’s office for this case, faced the jury and declared: “A man in this courtroom believed the law did not apply to him.”

With more than a dozen of his colleagues from the federal investigation alongside and behind him, Asonye recovered quickly, keeping jurors riveted through a 26-minute opening statement that portrayed Manafort as someone who lied about his taxes, his income, his business, and a litany of other topics.

Only once, toward the end of the first day, did anyone mention the words “special counsel.” Zehnle said it, casually, in passing, with no reference to Trump or Russia or any of the political firestorm that has dominated the news for all of this presidency.

Yet the reason the courtroom was packed, the reason an overflow courtroom three stories below was also full, the reason the lawn in front of the building was given over to TV crews in their ritual encampment awaiting news, the reason for all of this was the cases yet to come, the deeper layers of the onion.

And three more lobbyists are also under investigation – Mueller Passes 3 Cases Focused on Illicit Foreign Lobbying to Prosecutors

Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, has referred three investigations into possible illicit foreign lobbying by Washington insiders to federal prosecutors in New York who are already handling the case against President Trump’s former lawyer, according to multiple people familiar with the cases.

The cases cut across party lines, focusing on both powerful Democratic and Republican players in Washington, including one whom Mr. Trump has repeatedly targeted — the Democratic superlobbyist Tony Podesta. The cases are unlikely to provoke an outburst from Mr. Trump similar to the one he unleashed in April after prosecutors raided the home and office of Michael D. Cohen, then the president’s lawyer. But these cases do represent a challenge to Washington’s elite, many of whom have earned rich paydays lobbying for foreign interests.

They also tie into the special counsel investigation of Mr. Trump: All three cases are linked to Paul Manafort, the president’s former campaign chairman, whose trial on financial fraud charges began Tuesday in Alexandria, Va.

Under American law, anyone who lobbies or conducts public relations on behalf of a foreign interest in the United States must register with the Justice Department. The law carries stiff penalties, including up to five years in prison. But it had rarely been enforced, and thus widely ignored, until recently.

Trump should be happy that the political swamp of Washington is at least under scrutiny, albeit a long way from being drained.

Image result for monster swamp washington

The jury is still out on whether Trump is going to monster the swamp, or if he is a monster of the swamp.

But it is obvious that dysfunction in US democracy is a long way from being rectified, if that is at all possible.

 

“People at the higher ends of intelligence loved my press conference performance in Helsinki”

A typically bizarre claim about his Helsinki press conference and more claims in conflict with US Intelligence are features of the aftermath of the Donald Trump statements and ‘clarifications’ about Russian interference in US elections.

By Rainer Hachfeld / Neues Deutschland, Germany

Most of the immediate reaction was shock and derision. Even close support Newt Gingrich was critical, saying the comments were the “most serious mistake of his presidency”.

Trump’s attempt at clarification just muddied things more, as did subsequent statements.

What Trump actually said at the Helsinki press conference (transcript posted by the White House):

With that being said, all I can do is ask the question.  My people came to me — Dan Coats came to me and some others — they said they think it’s Russia.  I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia.

I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be, but I really do want to see the server.  But I have — I have confidence in both parties.

A day later back in the US Trump said (transcript):

So I’ll begin by stating that I have full faith and support for America’s great intelligence agencies. Always have. And I have felt very strongly that, while Russia’s actions had no impact at all on the outcome of the election, let me be totally clear in saying that — and I’ve said this many times — I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place. Could be other people also; there’s a lot of people out there.

So he says he accepts his intelligence community’s conclusion of Russia’s meddling, but then immediately muddies that.

There was no collusion at all. And people have seen that, and they’ve seen that strongly. The House has already come out very strongly on that. A lot of people have come out strongly on that.

On that perhaps the man doth protest too much.

I thought that I made myself very clear by having just reviewed the transcript. Now, I have to say, I came back, and I said, “What is going on? What’s the big deal?” So I got a transcript. I reviewed it. I actually went out and reviewed a clip of an answer that I gave, and I realized that there is need for some clarification.

It should have been obvious — I thought it would be obvious — but I would like to clarify, just in case it wasn’t.

It was not obvious to just about everyone, even his strongest supporters, that he meant the opposite to what he said.

In a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word “would” instead of “wouldn’t.” The sentence should have been: I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t — or why it wouldn’t be Russia. So just to repeat it, I said the word “would” instead of “wouldn’t.”

And the sentence should have been — and I thought it would be maybe a little bit unclear on the transcript or unclear on the actual video — the sentence should have been: I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia. Sort of a double negative.

So you can put that in, and I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself.

So he now claims black was white. This switch from “would” to “wouldn’t” doesn’t fit with what he said in Helsinki. This is what he claims he meant to say:

‘With that being said, all I can do is ask the question.  My people came to me — Dan Coats came to me and some others — they said they think it’s Russia.  I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia.

‘I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be, but I really do want to see the server.  But I have — I have confidence in both parties.’

Would/wouldn’t could become an often repeated confusion marking Trump’s presidency, similar to Winston Peters’ No sign (or was it a yes sign?).

And Trumps contradictions haven’t ended there. Reuters: Trump says Russia is no longer targeting U.S.

President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he does not believe Russia is still targeting the United States, contradicting U.S. intelligence assessments that Moscow was continuing its attempts to meddle in American elections.

Trump on Tuesday tried to walk back comments that he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin over American intelligence chiefs on Russian interference in the 2016 election, saying that he had misspoken a day earlier after a summit meeting with Putin in Helsinki.

Asked by reporters on Wednesday if Russia was still targeting the United States, Trump shook his head and said, “No.”

U.S. intelligence officials have said Russian election interference efforts are continuing and now target the upcoming congressional elections in November.

NY Times: Russia Is No Longer Targeting the U.S., Trump Says, Contradicting His Own Intelligence Director

Mr. Trump’s comments were the latest in a dizzying collection of conflicting statements from Mr. Trump since he emerged from a private meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on Monday in Helsinki, Finland. And they directly contradict assertions from Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, who has repeatedly said that Russia continues to try to interfere with American democracy.

Who of those people at the higher ends of intelligence wouldn’t have loved his press conference performance in Helsinki and afterwards?

I think you’d have to be an idiot to take anything he says seriously, especially single statements, given how much his stories change.

Image result for cartoon trump derangement

 

Who would know who is the most deranged in the US? Or is that wouldn’t?

Mexico moving left with Lopez

Mexico have moved significantly leftward after Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has easily won their election. He has promised to cut down on corruption and crime without being confrontational – that will be a real challenge, and may increase tension between Mexico and the United States and Donald Trump.

Reuters: Mexican leftist Lopez Obrador wins presidency

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador decisively won Mexico’s presidency on Sunday, exit polls showed, setting the stage for the most left-wing government in decades at a time of tense relations with the Trump administration.

Pledging to eradicate corruption and subdue drug cartels with a less confrontational approach, the 64-year-old former Mexico City mayor will carry high expectations into office even as his efforts to reduce inequality are watched closely by nervous investors.

A Lopez Obrador government could usher in greater scrutiny of foreign investment and a less accommodating approach to the United States, but the peso MXN=D2 rose more than 1 percent after his rivals conceded within minutes of the end of voting.

Four exit polls showed Lopez Obrador with a lead of more than 20 percentage points over his competitors, and winning between 46.8 percent and 59 percent of the vote.

That looks decisive.

We usually take little notice of Mexican politics from here, but this change may increase interest, especially as it plays out against Trump. I presume Obrador hasn’t campaigned on paying for Trump’s wall.

More up to date from Reuters:  Mexican Lopez Obrador wins historic election landslide for left

The 64-year-old former Mexico City mayor won with the widest margin in a presidential election since the 1980s, according to an official quick count that showed him taking more than half the vote — some 30 points ahead of his nearest rival.

Pledging to eradicate corruption and subdue drug cartels with a less confrontational approach, Lopez Obrador will carry high expectations into office, while his efforts to reduce inequality will be watched closely by nervous investors.

His government could usher in greater scrutiny of foreign investment and a less accommodating approach to the United States.

Being older, male and white headed I wonder how the progressive world sees him.

Many murders maim Mexican election

Mexico is having an election this weekend for positions ranging from president to local mayors.

Corruption and violence are major issues, both argued in campaigns and evident with over 100 election related murders claimed. If candidates can’t be bought off they are knocked off.

CNN: Mexico goes to the polls this weekend. 132 politicians have been killed since campaigning began, per one count

Even for a country numbed by escalating violence, the toll the campaign season in Mexico has exacted is horrifying.

In the nine months leading up to this weekend’s presidential election, 132 politicians have been killed. That’s according to Etellekt, a risk analysis and crisis management firm.

The group’s report, released Tuesday, found that 22 of Mexico’s 31 states have seen a political assassination since campaigning began in September.

Etellekt’s tally found 48 of the victims were candidates. The rest included party workers.

Forty eight murdered candidates. That is an horrific war on democracy.

Reuters:  A look at Mexico’s presidential contenders ahead of key election

The four main candidates have sparred over key issues of corruption, security and the economy.

The front runner is the left wing Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador…

… known as AMLO, enjoys a more than 20-point lead in most polls, running on an anti-corruption platform with his National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) party.

The former Mexico City mayor has capitalized on widespread anger over years of rampant corruption and violence, but has been vague on policy details. Seeking to corral support from economic nationalists, leftist liberals and social conservatives, he has pledged to combat inequality, improve pay and welfare spending, as well as run a tight budget.

He could usher in a Mexican government less accommodating toward the United States, where U.S. President Donald Trump has stoked trade tensions with Mexico and aggressively moved to curb immigration.

Trump has labelled illegal immigrants as dangerous criminals, but they are more likely to be trying to escape violence and corruption.

Ricardo Anaya…

His main proposals include increasing the minimum wage, raising public spending to reach 5 percent of gross domestic product by 2021, and forming an international commission to investigate the current government over corruption allegations.

He has also indicated he would take a firm line with Trump.

Jose Antonio Meade…

During the campaign he said he would expand the conditional cash transfer program “Prospera” to include 2 million more families. Has also vowed to extend social security to cover domestic workers.

Meade led a campaign to strip politicians of immunity but has been unwilling to criticize outgoing President Enrique Pena Nieto, whose PRI government has faced multiple corruption allegations.

Corruption is a common theme.

Known as “El Bronco,” Jaime Rodriguez …

…shocked voters in one of the televised debates when he advocated chopping off the hands of those who steal — including public servants.

… polls estimate he will get between 1 and 6 percent of the vote.

So a violent approach to justice doesn’t seem to be very popular.

Mexico has huge domestic problems, especially involving drugs, corruption and violence. Those who survive the election may struggle to make any real difference.

Pressure mounts in US Russian investigation

Last week’s indictment of Russian nationals was just one step in the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the US elections in 2016. Another move is forecast to unfold shortly:

LA Times: Former Trump aide Richard Gates to plead guilty; agrees to testify against Manafort, sources say

A former top aide to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign will plead guilty to fraud-related charges within days — and has made clear to prosecutors that he would testify against Paul Manafort, the lawyer-lobbyist who once managed the campaign.

The change of heart by Trump’s former deputy campaign manager Richard Gates, who had pleaded not guilty after being indicted in October on charges similar to Manafort’s, was described in interviews by people familiar with the case.

“Rick Gates is going to change his plea to guilty,” said a person with direct knowledge of the new developments, adding that the revised plea will be presented in federal court in Washington “within the next few days.”

Mueller is heading the prosecutions of Gates and Manafort as part of the wide-ranging investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and whether Trump or his aides committed crimes before, during or since the campaign.

The imminent change of Gates’ plea follows negotiations over the last several weeks between Green and two of Mueller’s prosecutors – senior assistant special counsels Andrew Weissmann and Greg D. Andres.

According to a person familiar with those talks, Gates, a longtime political consultant, can expect “a substantial reduction in his sentence” if he fully cooperates with the investigation. He said Gates is likely to serve about 18 months in prison.

If Gates has negotiated down to 18 months prison he must have faced serious charges with strong evidence against him.

The Oct. 27 indictment showed that prosecutors had amassed substantial documentation to buttress their charges that Manafort and Gates — who were colleagues in political consulting for about a decade — had engaged in a complex series of allegedly illegal transactions rooted in Ukraine. The indictment alleged that both men, who for years were unregistered agents of the Ukrainian government, hid millions of dollars of Ukraine-based payments from U.S. authorities.

According to the indictment, Gates and Manafort “laundered the money through scores of United States and foreign corporations, partnerships and bank accounts” and took steps to evade related U.S. taxes.

If Manafort maintains his not-guilty plea and fights the charges at a trial, the testimony from Gates could provide Mueller’s team with first-person descriptions of much of the allegedly illegal conduct. Gates’ testimony, said a person familiar with the pending guilty plea, would place a “cherry on top” of the government’s already formidable case against Manafort.

And this will place more pressure on Manafort.

Again this says nothing about possible Trump knowledge or involvement. One possibility is that members of his campaign team colluded with Russians without Trump’s knowledge. There were always going to be risks rapidly assembling a campaign team when many experienced Republican campaigners didn’t want to be involved.

“What National needs to do” – a transparent envelope

‘Cameron Slater’ in  The back of the envelope analysis of what National needs to do to win in 2020 at Whale Oil:

National still has no path to 61 seats and victory.

That is the key.

They do have various paths to forming the next Government (‘victory’ is not a thing under MMP). It won’t be easy for them – and it won’t be easy for Labour, NZ First or the Greens either.

The problem is like a rotting fish for want of a better metaphor. Everyone knows the ancient proverb that a fish rots from the head down.

And so it is with National.

While Bill leads National, National has no route to 61 seats in the house.

Let’s face it, Bill English is basically devoid of personality.

English was actually credited with running a very good campaign, showing his own personality, and achieving a very creditable result for a third term party in government. He missed out on remaining Prime Minister because NZ First chose not to back them, that’s all.

He tried to emulate John Key’s blokiness and just came across as fake. You can’t spend a lifetime in the beltway scheming and plotting to counter for your own lack of ability and not have it affect your personality. When your chosen career of politician is a career actually chosen for you by your Mum then there is no real driving force inside of you…other that seeking power for power’s sake.

So it’s another attempt to trash English. Another of many attempts.

How popular National would be if they got rid of Bill English and a few other hangers-on like Nick Smith and Paula Bennett.

And others. Slater has been naming National MPs for months that he doesn’t like so wants them out.

So, what National needs to do is lop off the stinking, rotting head of the fish, and get themselves a new leader and deputy more suited to the modern political environment. That team must also show that unlike Labour, they have personality AND the necessary skills to lead the country.

Labour succeeded this year due to the personality of Jacinda Ardern.

English led the country for nearly a year, and was generally regarded as successful at that, except by extremists with their own agendas at the likes of The Standard – and Whale Oil.

All National needs to ask itself is “What is our route to 61 seats?”. As soon as they realise that Bill English won’t provide that route because of his long, long, long history then he will have his political throat cut. If he’s smart he will do it himself after wangling some offshore job somewhere…but he has only a limited time to do it.

Slater offers no analysis of what National should do except dump English and others he doesn’t like. His envelope is very transparent.

I think that English did the right thing staying on as leader of the Opposition. When Helen Clark and her deputy Michael Cullen stepped down straight after losing in 2008 Labour were rushed into appointing Phil Goff as a caretaker leader, and then struggled for nine years until the fortuitous rise of Ardern.

It may well be that it is best for English to retire, but it would be silly to rush that. Other senior National MPs will no doubt also step aside during the next couple of years. They will do it their way, not jump to Slater’s agenda.

And despite repeatedly trashing those in National he holds grudges against, as he did through the election campaign and since, Slater is still largely failing to rouse support on Whale Oil.

Tanya Stebbing commented:

English actually did lead National to an election win, he did brilliantly, it was just that Winston had an axe to grind. Well, Winston won’t have the chance at the next election, so it will be down to Labour/Greens versus National/Act, and if the new govt continue performing poorly they may well lose more votes. We will see petrol hikes next year, no tax cuts, inflation rise, food and services go up. Once people get hit in the pocket, votes become very volatile.

I hope English stays on, he did an outstanding job, wouldn’t it be amazing if he got up yet again for third-time victory, one that is unable to be stolen and there are no coalition nonsense talks! Now, that would be sweet indeed!

That got 24 upticks.

Christie, unlike Slater, tried some analysis (4 upticks):

I have said this before. I believe NZF will be gone t the net election, as Winston has promised and failed to deliver one time too many. That will leave 3 parties in place – two of which are joined at the hip. We will effectively be back to FPP and there is no reason why National cannot govern in such circumstances.

That’s one possibility that looks reasonably likely. Slater responded (1 uptick):

There is plenty of reason. Firstly you are defying the vagaries of MMP. Nowhere int eh world that has MMP has one party ever governed alone.

That doesn’t mean it will never happen. It’s quite feasible that NZ First and Greens miss the threshold next election if they disappoint voters this term. That will leave National and Labour and possibly ACT. A one party government would be likely, unless National tacked ACT on again.

Secondly…what is National’s path to 61 seats?

That’s about the extent of Slater’s ‘analysis’, a question he fails to answer except for banging on about a purge of people he doesn’t like.

I’ll suggest some possibilities to a pathway to 61 seats for National.

Leaders and MPs not rushing into retiring. Being an effective opposition. Coming up with a sensible set of policies. Running an effective campaign in 2020.

Other things largely outside the control of National will also play a major part in any pathways, like how Ardern measures up as Prime Minister, how Labour Ministers perform, how Winston Peters performs, whether Peters retires or not, whether Shane Jones looks anything more than an maleloquent idiot, how James Shaw performs, how the Greens perform.

National did remarkably well for a party in their third term in Government in this year’s election, and they managed that without heeding Slater’s advice.

My back of the envelope analysis of what National needs to do to win in 2020 is to continue to keep as much distance as possible from Slater and his transparent agenda.

Evidence in the Russian investigation

There have been many claims and counter claims in the investigation into Russian interference in the US election, the most prominent of course being President Donald trump’s denials.

There is good cause to question how both politics and justice operates in the US, especially when judicial investigations involve politicians and and political parties and campaigns.

What evidence is there of interference? Some, like Trump, claim there is none. Others disagree.

David Ignatius (at RealClear Politics): Trump May Decry the Russia Investigation, But the Trail of Evidence Is Long

Trump shouted out his defense earlier this month: “What has been shown is no collusion, no collusion!” he told reporters over the whir of his helicopter on the White House lawn. Since then, Trump’s supporters have been waging a bitter counterattack against special counsel Robert Mueller, alleging bias and demanding: “Investigate the investigators.”

There is a growing, mostly undisputed body of evidence describing contacts between Trump associates and Russia-linked operatives.

From the start of the campaign, Trump spoke of his affinity for Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Trump’s aides followed his lead. In March, a young adviser named George Papadopoulos met a London professor who introduced him to a Russian woman described as “Putin’s niece.” This began months of efforts by Papadopoulos to broker Trump-Russia contacts, described in the plea agreement that Mueller announced in October.

Russian operatives by March 2016 had already hacked the computers of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.

Whether the Trump campaign had any involvement or not, Russian hacking must be of concern to the US – surely a President would be concerned about this. If not, why not?

Through cutouts, the Russians over the next eight months allegedly spooled out damaging information about Clinton to the media, sometimes egged on by Trump and his associates.

Dishing dirt on Clinton was the pitch of a June 3 email to Donald Trump Jr. from the publicist for Russian oligarch Aras Agalarov’s pop-singer son. He said Russian authorities “offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary.”

Whether Trump Jr acted on information offered by the Russians or not, surely the fact that it was attempted should be a concern?

Don Jr. eagerly met Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya on June 9 at Trump Tower. When she claimed that an anti-Putin U.S. businessman had looted money from Russia, Don Jr. pressed her: “He asked if I had any financial documents from which it would follow that the funds stolen from Russia were then involved in financing the Clinton’s Foundation,” she told the Senate Judiciary Committee last month.

Trump’s hunt for Clinton emails continued in June, when Jared Kushner hired Cambridge Analytica to do campaign research. The firm learned that WikiLeaks planned to publish a stash of the Clinton material, and Cambridge’s CEO asked Julian Assange “if he might share that information with us,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

The involvement of WikiLeaks is also of considerable interest – or it should be.

Trump promised “very, very interesting” revelations about Clinton in June, the same month an alleged Russian cutout dubbed “Guccifer 2.0” began leaking DNC documents.

Trump may not have personally contacted and colluded with Russians, but it seems clear he was the recipient of information from them.

WikiLeaks dumped nearly 20,000 Clinton documents on July 22. Three days later, Trump tweeted: “The new joke in town is that Russia leaked the disastrous DNC e-mails … because Putin likes me.” Two days after that, at a July 27 press conference, Trump said: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

That could be just stupid and unwise from Trump, but it didn’t look good at the time and it looks worse now that more details are known.

Roger Stone, a Trump friend and sometime adviser, kept beating the WikiLeaks drum through August 2016, saying he was communicating with Assange and that more damaging Clinton leaks were coming. WikiLeaks contacted Don Jr., too, in five messages that continued until Election Day.

“I love WikiLeaks,” said Trump at a rally Oct. 10.

Who was leaking to Wikileaks?

U.S. intelligence agencies said on Jan. 6, 2017, they had “high confidence” that Russian intelligence had used WikiLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 “to release U.S. victim data obtained in cyber operations.” CIA Director Mike Pompeo has since described WikiLeaks as a “hostile intelligence service.”

Normally it would seem very strange that a US president was trying to divert, deny, and bury an investigation into Russian interference in a US election.

But Trump isn’t a normal president.

And the evidence that is publicly known doesn’t look good for him. He makes it look worse by his attacks on the FBI and the investigation.

He doesn’t act like someone innocent of something serious.

Trump doubted intelligence, ignored advisers

A report from Washington Post that describes how Donald Trump was urged by close advisers to publicly acknowledge that there had been real Russian interference in the 2016 US election after being presented by the findings of country’ spy chiefs.

Trump did once publicly state “As far as hacking, I think it was Russia. We also get hacked by other countries and other people.”

But Trump was so intent on being given the credit for his win he “scoffed at the suggestion that his candidacy had been propelled by forces other than his own strategy, message and charisma”.

In other words, his ego overruled high level advice from his own team and from the intelligence community.

Washington Post: Doubting the intelligence, Trump pursues Putin and leaves a Russian threat unchecked

In the final days before Donald Trump was sworn in as president, members of his inner circle pleaded with him to acknowledge publicly what U.S. intelligence agencies had already concluded — that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election was real.

Holding impromptu interventions in Trump’s 26th-floor corner office at Trump Tower, advisers — including Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and designated chief of staff, Reince Priebus — prodded the president-elect to accept the findings that the nation’s spy chiefs had personally presented to him on Jan. 6.

They sought to convince Trump that he could affirm the validity of the intelligence without diminishing his electoral win, according to three officials involved in the sessions. More important, they said that doing so was the only way to put the matter behind him politically and free him to pursue his goal of closer ties with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin.

…as aides persisted, Trump became agitated. He railed that the intelligence couldn’t be trusted and scoffed at the suggestion that his candidacy had been propelled by forces other than his own strategy, message and charisma.

Told that members of his incoming Cabinet had already publicly backed the intelligence report on Russia, Trump shot back, “So what?” Admitting that the Kremlin had hacked Democratic Party emails, he said, was a “trap.”

As Trump addressed journalists on Jan. 11 in the lobby of Trump Tower, he came as close as he ever would to grudging acceptance. “As far as hacking, I think it was Russia,” he said, adding that “we also get hacked by other countries and other people.”

Nearly a year into his presidency, Trump continues to reject the evidence that Russia waged an assault on a pillar of American democracy and supported his run for the White House.

The result is without obvious parallel in U.S. history, a situation in which the personal insecurities of the president — and his refusal to accept what even many in his administration regard as objective reality — have impaired the government’s response to a national security threat. The repercussions radiate across the government.

Trump’s stance on the election is part of a broader entanglement with Moscow that has defined the first year of his presidency. He continues to pursue an elusive bond with Putin, which he sees as critical to dealing with North Korea, Iran and other issues. “Having Russia in a friendly posture,” he said last month, “is an asset to the world and an asset to our country.”

His position has alienated close American allies and often undercut members of his Cabinet — all against the backdrop of a criminal probe into possible ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

Later in a lengthy article:

Putin expressed his own exasperation in early September, responding to a question about Trump with a quip that mocked the idea of a Trump-Putin bond while aiming a gender-related taunt at the American president. Trump “is not my bride,” Putin said, “and I am not his groom.”

The remark underscored the frustration and disenchantment that have taken hold on both sides amid the failure to achieve the breakthrough in U.S.-Russian relations that Trump and Putin both envisioned a year ago.

As a result, rather than shaping U.S. policy toward Russia, Trump at times appears to function as an outlier in his own administration, unable to pursue the relationship with Putin he envisioned but unwilling to embrace tougher policies favored by some in his Cabinet.

A Pentagon proposal that would pose a direct challenge to Moscow — a plan to deliver lethal arms to Ukrainian forces battling Russia-backed separatists — has languished in internal debates for months.

The plan is backed by senior members of Trump’s Cabinet, including Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who voiced support for arming Ukrainian forces in meetings with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in August. Mattis “believes that you should help people who are fighting our potential adversaries,” said a senior U.S. official involved in the deliberations.

A decision to send arms has to be made by the president, and officials said Trump has been reluctant even to engage.

“Every conversation I’ve had with people on this subject has been logical,” the senior U.S. official said. “But there’s no logical conclusion to the process, and that tells me the bottleneck is in the White House.”

It concludes:

Trump was forced to grapple with these complexities in September, when he met with Poroshenko at the United Nations. Volker met with Trump to prepare him for the encounter. Tillerson, McMaster and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, who had replaced Priebus, were also on hand.

Trump pressed Volker on why it was in the United States’ interests to support Ukraine and why U.S. taxpayers’ money should be spent doing so, Volker said in an interview. “Why is it worth it?” Volker said Trump asked. As Volker outlined the rationale for U.S. involvement, Trump seemed satisfied.

“I believe that what he wants is to settle the issue, he wants a better, more constructive U.S.-Russia relationship,” Volker said. “I think he would like [the Ukraine conflict] to be solved . . . get this fixed so we can get to a better place.”

The conversation was about Ukraine but seemed to capture Trump’s frustration on so many Russia-related fronts — the election, the investigations, the complications that had undermined his relationship with Putin.

Volker said that the president repeated a single phrase at least five times, saying, “I want peace.”

A great aim, but it won’t just happen for Trump.

Those who can influence him (if anyone can) and foreign policy need to find a way to make progress towards peace, with Trump able to claim the praise.

Alabama Senate election

It’s interesting to see so much interest in a US senate election here in New Zealand.

Alabama would normally be expected to be a safe Republican seat, but a controversial conservative candidate with a raft of sexual misconducts thrown into the campaign, sever splits in the GOP with some Senators openly saying they would vote against their own party candidate and if he won would seek to have him dumped from the Senate./

And then President Trump stirred up his own alleged sexual misconduct while endorsing and campaigning for the GOP candidate added more interest.

Especially now the results are in and he lost, and the Republican Senate majority is down to a bare 51, which make it even hard for Trump to progress his policies.

What are their names? Moore and Jones (the winner) I think from memory, but that doesn’t matter much here.

The Republicans have had a reality check, especially Trump and Steve Bannon of helped run the losing campaign.

But this is unlikely to do much to address the dysfunction in US politics.