On KT McFarland’s Belated Unforgetting of the Truth

The WaPo has an important story about how KT McFarland decided to unforget key details about her role in coaching Mike Flynn through reassuring Russia, on December 29, 2016, that the Trump Administration would ease off on sanctions. McFarland lied about whether sanctions were discussed in a summer 2017 interview with the FBI, then her memory seems to have cleared up after the Mike Flynn plea deal.

When FBI agents first visited her at her Long Island home in the summer of 2017, McFarland denied ever talking to Flynn about any discussion of sanctions between him and the ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, in December 2016 during the presidential transition.

For a time, investigators saw her answers as “inconsistent,” putting her in legal peril as the FBI tried to determine if she had lied to them.


Not long after Flynn’s plea, McFarland was questioned by investigators again about her conversations with Flynn, and she walked back her previous denial that sanctions were discussed, saying a general statement Flynn had made to her that things were going to be okay could have been a reference to sanctions, these people said.

McFarland’s account does not answer the question of what the president knew or didn’t know about Flynn’s interactions with the ambassador, these people said.

McFarland didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment, including emails and calls to her home.

Eventually, McFarland and her lawyer Robert Giuffra were able to convince the FBI that she had not intentionally misled the bureau but had rather spoken from memory, without the benefit of any documents that could have helped her remember her exchanges with Flynn about the Kislyak conversations, these people said.

This is thoroughly unsurprising, and it probably has as much to do with McFarland withdrawing her nomination to be Ambassador to Singapore as did any concerns about a confirmation hearing where her past lies to Congress would be an issue. It explains part (though just part) of the Transition Team’s outrage that Mueller had obtained emails that the Trump people would have otherwise claimed privilege over. By doing that, Mueller caught McFarland (and, likely, a number of other people) in lies by showing their extensive communications that contradicted the emails.

Nor is it surprising that McFarland was able to clear up her testimony (indeed, the WaPo notes that Sean Spicer was telling similar lies as McFarland was telling, so he may have also had to have cleaned up testimony). She’s got a serious attorney, Robert Giuffra, and unlike George Papadopoulos she (presumably) didn’t do anything stupid, like deleting her entire Facebook account, when she tried to clean up her lies. That happens in cases like this (especially where the witnesses are powerful enough to fight a false statements case aggressively). Remember that Karl Rove cleaned up his testimony in the Plame investigation four different times.

Indeed, similar unforgettings have probably happened in the wake of each plea deal, or with the unveiling that Mueller obtained search warrants for at least five AT&T phones (and probably a similar number of Verizon phones) in the wake of the Rick Gates plea. That’s what I meant when I suggested that the Paul Manafort plea may set off a kind of mass Game Theory, as each of up to 30 co-conspirators consider whether they want to change their testimony before the former campaign chair clarifies it to Mueller for them, or before their fellow rats jump ship first.

They’re trying to stave off an awful game of prisoner’s dilemma.

Consider if you’re one of the other 37 (which might be down to 34 given known cooperators, or maybe even fewer given how uncertain Rudy seems to be about Don McGahn’s third session of testimony) members of the Joint Defense Agreement, especially if you’re one who has already testified before the grand jury about matters that Manafort (and Gates) might be able to refute. So long as there’s no chance Trump will be touched, you’re probably still safe, as you can count on Trump rewarding those who maintain the omertà or at the very least working to kill the Mueller inquiry shortly after the election.

But if you have doubts about that — or concerns that other witnesses might have doubts about that — you still have an opportunity to recall the things you claimed you could not recall a year ago. Depending on how central your testimony is, you might even be able to slip in and fix your testimony unnoticed.

So each of 37 (or maybe just 30) people are considering whether they have to recalculate their decisions about whether to remain loyal to the President or take care of themselves.

While I suspect Mueller has key players in the case in chief largely sewn up, this should accelerate the process and make any prosecutions easier (assuming the NYT doesn’t get Rosenstein fired before then).

So one takeaway from this story — told probably eight months after the fact — is that Mueller has been slowly chipping away at the omertà, and that process will only keep getting easier (in part because virtually none of these people have any decent operational security).

But the other takeaway, and the likely explanation for it coming out, is that my assessment of why the Transition squawked so loudly last year is correct: they wanted to hide how closely Donald Trump micromanaged the sanctions conversation with Sergei Kislyak, and so both Flynn and McFarland lied about it, then subsequently cleaned up their lies. That puts Donald Trump attempting to deliver the quo of the quid pro quo.

Trump may be answering the take home exam he told Mueller he’d be willing to complete, which includes this question, which got added in the wake of Flynn’s plea and probably McFarland’s revised testimony: What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding Russian sanctions?

The correct answers to that question are getting narrower and narrower.

Update: Fixed syntax of Spicer description.

As I disclosed in July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

83 replies
  1. Kevin says:

    I feel like the post-election sanctions stuff should factor more heavily into the conventional wisdom on whether Trump is guilty in the conspiracy. There’s the calls with Flynn, and then this story: https://www.yahoo.com/news/trump-administrations-secret-efforts-ease-russia-sanctions-fell-short-231301145.html. It’s obvious the administration tried to immediately reward Russia for the hacks with the thin excuse that they would help our interests in Syria.

    • orionATL says:

      i suspect you’re right about the “post election sanctions stuff”. these trump actions were the fulfillment of the implied promise in the june 9, 2016 trump tower meeting.

  2. Jenny says:

    First: KT McFarland got caught & now wants to save her own bacon.
    Second: Corruption – Obstruction – Penal Institution
    Third: Lock Them Up!

  3. Aneela says:

    “the WaPo notes that Sean Spicer was telling similar lies to McFarland”
    Did you mean Spicer was telling lies that were similar to McFarland’s? It could be read as Spicer was lying *to* her. Slightly ambiguous.
    Thank you Marcy. Each post of yours increases my understanding.

    • bmaz says:

      Yes. Indeed. It was very much a bad day, and bad move, by the NYT. I’ve seen several people analogize it to Judy Miller level. It may not be that catastrophically bad. but it is really bad.

    • orionATL says:

      from your sf cite:

      “…WASHINGTON — The deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, suggested last year that he secretly record President Trump in the White House to expose the chaos consuming the administration, and he discussed recruiting Cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office for being unfit.

      Rosenstein made these suggestions in 2017 when Trump’s firing of James Comey as FBI director plunged the White House into turmoil. Over the ensuing days, the president divulged classified intelligence to Russians in the Oval Office, and revelations emerged that Trump had asked Comey to pledge loyalty and end an investigation into a senior aide.

      Rosenstein had begun overseeing the Russia investigation and played a key role in the president’s dismissal of Comey by writing a memo critical of his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. But Rosenstein was caught off guard when Trump cited the memo in the firing, and he began telling people that he feared he had been used….”

      there is something very unusual about the first two parags.

      they are flatly declarative. there is no “…is said to have suggested…” .

      in those 2 parags. there is not even a hint that this info is thirdhand, is hearsay – somebody who allegedly heard/saw something, told somebody who was the reporters’ source, who then volunteered this gossip to the reporter, who happily passed it on to me, the reader.

      and conemptible about that 3rd parag which happily provides a motive for rosenstein to have said these things.

      these are star chamber claims.

      star chamber claims from the ever so professionally proper, ever so meticulous nytimes editors.

      • JKSF says:

        “…flatly declarative…”

        Right. This pivot from reporting “sources say…” to statements of fact is a characteristic of all of Maggie and Mike stenographies, and it is always haralded by a breathless unqualified headline. The NYT is effectively being employed by the WH as a transmografier to convert pure BS into unvarnished truth. Hopefully, Mike’s latest effort has clogged up the plumbing for a while.

  4. pseudonymous in nc says:

    If there’s ever a ‘Slow Burn’ about this period, the incapacitation of Richard Beckler (appointed three days after Comey’s firing, two days after the Kislyak-Lavrov WH meeting) and the subsequent decision of his career GSA deputy to grant Mueller access to the transition servers ought to be its its own episode.

    And of course, all of that happened in August.

    • orionATL says:

      amazing to have spotted this tiny fact.

      rosenstein and the gsa deputy – the deviltry is in the details, isn’t it :).

  5. Peterr says:

    The Prisoner’s Dilemma in its most generally known form illustrates the way in which the choices made by two prisoners facing a trial can shape the outcome. According to this model, if neither turns on the other, then both will receive a minor sentence; if one confesses and turns on the other, the first goes free while the second faces a long sentence; if both confess, both receive a moderate sentence.  This two-actor model is the easily illustrated in a two dimensional array, describing the outcomes based on the choice each makes.

    What you’re talking about here is a 30 actor game, which produces a 30 dimensional array of outcomes. The math gets hairy, but the basic picture is the same. In order for the conspiracy to succeed, every actor must keep his/her mouth shut or stick to the same exact story as everyone else. Sure, you might get a minor sentence, but that beats taking a big fall. BUT . . . if you make the deal with the prosecutors that locks down the case while everyone else keeps telling lies, then you go free while they go away for a long time. That makes taking the deal look pretty attractive, not just to you but to everyone else. The larger the conspiracy, the harder it is to hold it together. What is it that Poor Richard said? Oh, yes: “Three can keep a secret if two of them are dead.”

    The other assumption built into the game is that information is not known and shared. Prisoner 1 does not know if prisoner 2 has confessed, and vice versa. Each must make their choice based on incomplete information.

    What Manafort’s plea did is change the game by revealing one piece of hidden information. If one of 30 has flipped, it may or may not be enough to ensnare you (one of the other conspirators), so maybe you decide to keep your mouth shut. But if you KNOW that this testimony will harm you, that increases the chances that you will want to make a deal.

    Sometimes a prosecutor benefits by not letting others know that a prisoner is cooperating, so that he/she can continue watching other conspirators for further evidence of bad acts. Other times the prosecutor benefits by revealing the cooperation, in hopes that this will either lead others into cooperating or scare others into making a stupid move to reveal something they’ve been hiding.

    Mueller seems to be a master at playing the information game, revealing only what he wants to reveal, when he wants to reveal it, and under the circumstances he wants it revealed. Trump & Co, not so much. Trump and his lawyers pressed for a long time to get a take home exam rather than an oral exam, and seem to be pleased that they’ve gotten at least a partial take home exam. Instead, I think they ought to be scared as hell that Mueller gave this to them.

    Picture Mueller sitting across the table from Trump’s lawyers with a stack of thick file folders in front of him, each labeled with one of the people he’s been investigating. “OK,” he says, “now where are those questions?” Then he picks up the first folder. “Papadapolous – that’s not it.” He sets it aside and picks up the next. “Gates – no, not that one” and he sets it on top of the first. “Cohen . . . Flynn . . . Manafort . . . Trump!” He opens it, then pulls it back. “No – this is Don Junior. . . Ah! Here is is, ‘Donald Trump, President’. Here is your take home exam. I’ve enjoyed reading what these others have shared with me, and I look forward to the responses you will offer.”

    That’s how you play a 30 dimensional game – you force bad choices onto your opponents, while eliminating possible good choices. As I said, Mueller seems to play this game very well.

    • Bob Conyers says:

      A lot of the Prisoners Dilemma also depends on the penalties facing the prisoners and the rewards the jailers can hand out. You get different results when the rewards and penalties are small than when they are large.

      In real life the Dilemma is often shifted heavily in the favor of law enforcement by the fact that they can lie — cops will often lie and tell prisoners that an accomplice has blamed them for the crime, so they may as well return the favor. Prosecutors may leak lies (or at least misinformation) to the press to pressure people to turn in accomplices. Interestingly, Mueĺler isn’t using this tactic, although I think you could argue that some prisoners are lying to try to increase their leverage over others, as seen in the Lanny Davis interviews.

      • Peterr says:

        Re penalties and rewards, absolutely. That’s what makes the math behind the Prisoner’s Dilemma interesting at the n=2 case and %@^$! hairy as n gets larger.

    • Eureka says:

      Your comment makes me think of the calculus adage, ~a small part of a small part is a smaller part.  But I’m not sure why.  Doesn’t work as a direct analogy.  But it’s nagging at me enough that I am posting this at risk of stupiding up the place. lol

      • Peterr says:

        Given that game theory in general is filled with calculus and probabilities (the odds of all the possible choices occurring added together must equal 1, so everything is a small part), I’m not surprised this came to mind.

        • Eureka says:

          I realized why this nagged at me:  the expanded PD intersects with a thought experiment (next para.) I’ve been having on-off this past week that starts with large numbers.  The PD can be reworked into The Woman’s Dilemma, re social punishments/ other consequences of one of more women coming forward, or not, with abuse, harassment, or sexual violence allegations.  There are some obverses and contrapositives here, and it’s realistically N  (an infinite ray) x N (small, but more than two).  It would take a bit of work to get it to a 2×2 for illustrative purposes in a non-facile way.  I like to sit and diagram from natural language to ps and qs etc. in a Socratic> Boolean>Bayesian way for things like this and haven’t had the time to sit quietly and do it.
          The thought experiment:  early last week, when the “but these are 30 year old allegations” trolls were out, I thought ~ ARE YOU KIDDING ME- if we all came out with 30 years worth of complaints of crap we’ve brushed off, this place would shut down, lol.  Like let’s pick a day and flood the police stations, HR departments, schools, other relevant organizations with everything.  They can figure out statutes of limitations, proper jurisdictions, etc.  We’ll just go report.

          Of course this wouldn’t work out like that with some universal showing, for all kinds of reasons.  Including many individual women and groups of women having low/no trust of police or other authorities.  Plus there’s the issue of trust within women:  if we pick a date, would many really go and disclose?

          This is just some bare bones.  I’ve added men joining.  I’ve added socioeconomic and other practical constraints.  Etc… One could turn this prism all day.  But the more women that report in near simultaneity, perhaps the smaller the punishments.  But that’s the N that in real life is greater than 2. 

          • Rayne says:

            DDoS of law enforcement by reporting sexual assault crimes en masse — the new Lysistrata, not the withholding of sex until partners take action but the denial of business as usual until partners take action.

            I like it!

            • Eureka says:

              I know, the mental images are almost comical.

              There’d be those deli take-a-ticket rolls propped outside every office door.  Except there’s not enough back stock.

              (Aside: mental typo in original, should say Aristotlean, not Socratic.)

    • orionATL says:

      this is an extremely clear, complete explanation of a tricky matter to explain scaled up from 2 to many with helpful commentary about prosecutorial strategy.


      • Peterr says:

        You’re welcome. But we’ll leave the discussion of iterative games for another day . . .

        It’s things like this that make me glad for my math/econ undergrad degree, though I am admittedly much better with the theory than the equations these days.

  6. dw says:

    A bit off-topic, but I’ve cancelled my NYT subscription in the wake of the Rosenstein fiasco, and I’m now supporting Marcy instead. I’d like to thank her for her incredible coverage of the Trump presidency.

    • Peterr says:

      Mueller will use that one when Trump’s team brings their answers back. “Now let’s see. Where’s the folder I need to put these in? Hope Hicks . . . Sean Spicer . . . Don McGahn . . . Ivanka . . . Jared . . . Here we go: ‘Donald Trump, President’!”

      • RWood says:

        At some point in all this I picture Mueller dividing those files into two piles.

        A: Willing to offer/accept a flip


        B: Not a chance in hell

        Wondering who populates each list is a fun way to waste ones time. Of course if Trump is removed from office its then open season on many of them. And there’s no bag limit on witches. I checked.

        • Frank Probst says:

          I don’t think that there’s really anyone in Pile B at this point.  Manafort and Cohen (technically an SDNY prosecution on him, but uncovered by Mueller) haven’t just flipped.  They’ve flipped AND agreed to significant time in prison.  (Manafort could technically walk with time served when they’re done with him, but he’s already in jail, and he’s agreed to stay there.)

          • RWood says:

            I don’t see any of the family flipping. I think Mueller views them and Daddy as a package deal. Jared included. I put them in file B. The rest are fair game.

            The only mystery is Melania. She signed on for a life of money and the lifestyle of a NY trophy wife. She got her anchor baby per contract and was all settled in when Drump pulled his running-for-president stunt. I think she’s now resigned to the fact that she has to see this through hoping to return to 5th avenue and put it all behind her in two years. However, if that were no longer an option, or said anchor baby was in danger in any way, she may just cut a deal and blow this thing apart.

            A theory.

  7. Tracy says:

    Thank you, Marcy, for always helping us understand the events and reports of the day.

    It’s an interesting process to watch a chess master play “30-D” chess. I feel like a lot of what the OSC has done so far is masterful.

    Thanks for helping us understand it every day! There’s a lot going on – and Putin tried a bunch of different avenues. You help us look at each avenue right down to each lane as it comes into view.

  8. Eureka says:

    This post especially made me feel better about the take home exam.

    You also quoted my favorite part of the game theory post, where you go from ~’37 (or 34)’…intervening para…to ’37 (or maybe 30).’

    That is some fine shadecraft. Tickles my brain like that just-right part of a song.

  9. Jose says:

    A point needs to be made here: the transition conversations between Flynn and Kislyak certainly violated the Logan Act, even in the most narrowly construed version of that statute but more importantly, they may serve as the basis for a conspiracy to defraud the US charge which is a much more common tool for prosecution, because the substance of the conversations actually intended to impair the proper functioning of the State Department and Treasury measures just imposed.

    And moreover, they prove that there was a quo in a quid pro quo (which violates the federal bribery statute) between Trump and the Russian government. The quid here would be the hacking, for which they would also be liable.

    “Collusion” is a term I actually never hated that much because of this: it describes unlawful behavior that breaks not one statute but something like five different statutes and each in different ways.

    All that said, it’s not clear to me at all why KT McFarland wouldn´t be liable for conspiracy under these circumstances even if she and her excellent lawyers managed to dissuade the FBI from pursuing a false statements charge against her.

    • bmaz says:

      OMG!! The Logan Act! That sounds serious!!!

      Also, thanks for making your “point”. Also, kudos for propagating “collusion”, a term that does not even exist in the criminal law. When you state that engaging in something that is non-existent in the criminal code of the United states constitutes breach of “five different statutes and each in different ways”, what in the world are you talking about? People here will be waiting your explication.

    • Frank Probst says:

      @bmaz’s comment on the Logan Act has far more weight than mine does (IANAL), but I honestly don’t think it should apply to an incoming administration.  Technically it does, but it just seems silly to me, and it’s not the kind of thing Mueller would charge someone with.  It wouldn’t surprise me it there’s a retroactive change made to the law exempting incoming admin officials if anyone gets charged with this.

      • bmaz says:

        Perhaps I was too flippant with Jose, who appears to be a brand new commenter here. Welcome Jose.

        The fact is though, the Logan Act is a joke, and especially so as to a transition team, though they should discuss what they are doing with the existing Administration. There have only two indictments under the Logan Act, ever, one in 1802 and one in 1852. There has never been a conviction. It is, for all purposes, a complete joke at this point.

        As to “collusion” people who come here regularly know that it does not exist in US criminal law, and therefore can not possibly be a violation of anything.

      • Tracy says:

        IMO, this refers to their propaganda around a “deep state” “trap” to get Trump to fire Rosenstein before Kavanaugh’s confirmation/ midterms, which they all fear would imperil the midterms for him.

        After the midterms, though, it is hard to see how all guns will not be blazing at Sessions and/ or Rosenstein. They have the ammo that they need now, thanks to the NYT’s irresponsible mess.

      • Peterr says:

        I think this is a battle between two parts of the Trump universe. On the one hand you have the true believers who want to push their policies to the max and own the libs at every point possible, consequences be damned. On the other hand, there are the folks who want to be able to do this long term, and so are a bit more cautious about indiscriminate acts of authoritarianism.

        Rather than this being a “deep state” play seeking to “trap” Trump in some fashion, my WAG is that this is a play by someone in that first group  above who is tired of Rosenstein, tired of Sessions, and tired beyond belief of Mueller. They’ve been trying to get Trump to do this for a long time behind the scenes, losing out to arguments from McGahn and others. By leaking it to one of Trump’s most hated outlets (second only to CNN, I’d say), and spinning it in a way calculated to get Trump very angry very quickly, they are hoping to get Trump to tell McGahn et al. to pound sand and go ahead and fire Rosenstein already.

        Whatever the source of the leaks, Hannity & company are (rightly, IMHO) worried that firing Rosenstein before the midterms might goose up GOP turnout a little but would send Dem turnout through the roof, costing the GOP both the House and Senate, and opening up lots and lots of ugly investigations. Beyond the specter of Trump administration stuff (EPA, splitting families at the border, etc.), Hannity would probably prefer that everyone not remember that Cohen named him as one of his handful of clients and certainly wouldn’t want a congressional committee with subpoena powers asking difficult questions for him to answer.

        • Bob Conyers says:

          I think you’ve got the right dynamic in play here, although I’d add a couple of points.

          One is that I don’t think Trump actually hates the NY Times. I think the two of them (and CNN, for that matter) have settled on a pro wrestling dynamic of good guy and heel, and are engaged in a lot of Kayfabe right now.

          I also suspect that the Kavanaugh nomination plays a role, and a big reason Trump is keeping (mostly) silent is that he’s been convinced that they don’t want to risk anything going to the Supreme Court with a 4-4 tie in place. I’ll admit this is a shaky interpretation of the current facts, but I’m not sure there is a good explanation for what the hell the GOP has been doing with Kavanaugh, going all the way back to the talks with Kennedy about his retirement.

  10. arbusto says:

    Local TV prescription medicine ad: Are you stressed about events you can’t control. Are you suffering memory loss? Do you feel someone is constantly peering over your shoulder? Are you feeling unsure of your future? You could be suffering from FBItis. While not a fatal condition, it still makes you feel out of sorts and affects those close to you and may be contagious. Relief is available by prescription. Just ask you attorney for Mueller’s little pills for fast action and symptom relief. Caution, side effects may be life changing.

  11. Rayne says:

    This bit this past week:

    “If I did one mistake with Comey, I should have fired him before I got here. I should have fired him the day I won the primaries,” the president said. “I should have fired him right after the convention, say I don’t want that guy.”

    “Or at least fired him the first day on the job,” he added. “I would have been better off firing him or putting out a statement that I don’t want him there when I get there.”

    It came off as a flaky senior moment since Trump didn’t have the authority to fire anybody until after the transition of power was completed with the inauguration, putting aside that it would have looked very bad even after Comey’s screw up inside the week before the election. But now I wonder if this was some sort of kabuki to fuzz what Trump understood as the limits of his authority as his party’s nominee/president-elect versus inaugurated president.

    With Special Counsel limning more closely to Trump’s micromanagement of the sanctions conversation with Sergei Kislyak, is it possible Trump has been (badly) coached to “misunderstand” what he could and couldn’t do as GOP nominee/president-elect? Is he going to try a dumb blond defense?

    Food for thought.

    • Peterr says:

      I think you are giving Trump too much credit here. My WAG is that this was not a planned “dumb blond defense” nor a “flaky senior moment.” I think it was simply Trump being Trump – an autocratic loner who, when he thinks about rules and procedures at all, truly believes they don’t apply to him. “I won, so now — not in January — I’m in charge!” Even when he was only the victor in the primaries, this is his mindset.

      Shorter Peterr: stupid, not evil (at least in this case).

      • Trip says:

        There’s always the hypothesis that he knew contemporaneously that he would win, through the assistance of rigging. I’m not saying that is the case, but only that Trump tends to blurt out elements of truth when you least expect it, (see Lester Holt), aside from his complete lack of knowledge about how government works, and his autocratic leanings.

        • Peterr says:

          I think Trump was truly surprised he won. He did NOTHING to prepare for a transition, save for naming an ostensible transition team but mostly sowing the seeds of doubt in his speeches to be able to claim on Wednesday that he lost because the election was rigged. (“If I lose, it’s because Hillary got a bunch of illegals to vote for her! Just ask Kris Kobach!”)

          When Wednesday rolled around and he was president-elect, he was not at all prepared.

          • Trip says:

            I vacillate back and forth about his “knowing”. He could still have been surprised upon winning while also knowing about a plot to rig. The surprise that it happened/worked, and then the realization that he’d have to pay the piper in a big way. I think he got into it as a money making proposition. In that he succeeded.

            • Bob Conyers says:

              I lean toward thinking he was going to lose.

              I think one of the reasons why he was so happy to conspire with the Russians is that he thought he wouldn’t have to go through with any payoffs expected if he became president, and would be able to continue to be nothing more than a conspiracy theory peddler when Clinton was in office. He probably suspected that would be safe from serious FBI investigation as long as he wasn’t president.

    • Barry Wasserman says:

      I wrote recently that the best way to understand Team Trump’s actions was through the lens of asymmetrical warfare. Rayne seemed to think this made no sense. I wrote a reply then but when I finally clicked “post comment” it didn’t post. So let me try again.

      Mueller is waging a traditional legal battle much as he would in taking down a mob and its boss. In this legal battle Mueller has an extremely large advantage over Team Trump because the law and facts are on his side – i.e. the quid (help in smearing Clinton for sure and maybe withholding of dirt that Putin has on Trump) for the quo of oligarch sanctions relief, and then all the lying/obstruction that continues to take place to cover up this self-serving and illegal behavior.

      For Team Trump it would be a weak and losing strategy to only fight Mueller on the the legal battlefield.  Instead, as in asymmetrical warfare, the weaker combatant is smart to adopt an alternate guerrilla war-type strategy where they may have an upper hand. For Team Trump, which includes Fox News and his congressional allies, that strategy is to wage an all-out every day public relations assault on the motives and integrity of Mueller’s investigation.  Seen in this light, the seemingly stupid and even inane comments of Trump, Giuliani, Hannity, Meadows, Nunes, et al are in fact intentional guerilla-style political assaults on Team Mueller that are designed to keep Republican voters and therefore Republican politicians loyal to the President. If it’s true that Mueller feels proscribed from indicting a sitting President, and with the power of the pardon to protect his mob family, it seems the only reasonable strategy for the mob boss.

      Like most everyone on this site, I dearly hope it doesn’t work.

      • Rayne says:

        Enforcement of the law isn’t warfare. That’s what I took issue with in your comment. Team Trump has tried too hard to cast Special Counsel and DOJ as illegitimate and at war with Trump’s presidency — that’s propaganda and I reject that frame.

        If you want to maintain Team Trump is conducting asymmetric warfare, fine, I won’t quibble with that but I don’t think Trump or the people on his team are particularly good at it if they are even conscious of it as warfare. They are being/have been outmaneuvered by entities with expertise at asymmetric warfare.

        The question is whether enforcement of the law will stay ahead of Team Trump’s illegitimate grasp of power.

        • Drew says:

          One of the asymmetries is that Trump & Trumpworld do approach enforcement of the law as war, though those who believe in the rule of law do not, at least in principle. I doubt that Trump has a really clear idea of his goals, he just embodies them. But the effect of Trumpism on many fronts is to promote authoritarianism through undermining the protections of law, procedure, regulation, etc. and encouraging corruption which undermines confidence in public officials & agencies & increases chaos.

          So the analogy with asymmetrical warfare is convincing (though it should be regarded as analogy or metaphor and not literally the same thing) because the intention is to get to “nobody cares” before Mueller gets to convictions, at least of the inner circle.

          Imprisonment of large numbers for serious crimes (esp. those that can’t be waved away as “technicalities” or “usually not enforced”) the more difficult it is for Boss Don to maintain control and make good on his pardons, etc.

  12. Ollie says:

    Oh my goodness. Thank you, again, Marcy. Excellent reporting! Also?

    I love the comments Marcy’s reporting generates. Thank you.

  13. Charles says:

    And so another one of the people who lied to the FBI gets leniency?

    I guess prisons are only for people of color, dissidents like Reality Winner and Aaron Swartz, and the mentally ill.

    • bmaz says:

      Reality Winner was sentenced on espionage, not lying to FBI agents. Aaron Schwartz did not spend one day in prison. The relative matters are not remotely similar.

      • Charles says:

        Aaron Schwartz did not spend one day in prison.

        That is truly cold, bmaz. The only reason he didn’t spend time in prison is because he killed himself. And the reason he killed himself is because he was hit with the threat of an a 50 year sentence–one roughly as heavy as Paul Manafort would have faced if convicted on all charges.

        As for Reality Winner, do you think she deserves over five years, while KT McFarland and George Papadopoulos get leniency?

        Or are you just unhappy that the crack/powder disparity is down to 18:1?

        • bmaz says:

          No, I just think blithely comparing non-comparable things in criminal law is silly and disingenuous. We don’t do that here, and if you are going to pull that crap, you will get called on it.

          As to Aaron Schwartz, you don’t know jack shit about how it would have turned out, and are already ignoring the plea negotiations that were underway when he regrettably took his own life. These cases and their individual characteristics are FAR more complex than your trite bullshit equation.

          And you can take your little quip about crack versus powder cocaine and shove it. For the record, I was part of a group of defense attorneys screaming about that for decades. You got anything else, Chuck?

          • Charles says:

            bmaz, rest assured that your rudeness and eagerness to pick fights makes the feeling mutual. I’ve helped run sites and deal with people with wildly different opinions, including trolls. We even dealt with death threats. We managed to do it with respect for differences of opinion and dignity on our parts.

            Your behavior as a site co-manager is some of the most senseless I have seen outside of right-wing sites.

            • bmaz says:

              Right back at you, you moralizing jerk. You completely had facts and law wrong, and then got mad because somebody corrected you. You then decided to attack the messenger with this slur:

              Or are you just unhappy that the crack/powder disparity is down to 18:1?

              So I called you on that because it was petty, asinine and completely opposite of my history.

  14. cwradio says:

    It is notable that Republicans seem to have terrible memories, regardless of the importance of the event to be recalled.

    A genetic defect, perhaps? I’m hopeful there’s a cure.

  15. earlofhuntingdon says:

    So Mike Pompeo “hints” that Rod Rosenstein’s job might be in jeopardy after the Schmidt-Apuzzo movie script the NYT published for Donald Trump.

    Now, Mike Pompeo is a smart guy.  He graduated from West Point and Harvard Law.  And he’s been reading Koch brothers press releases for two decades.  So he knows a thing or two.  But for some reason, he pretends not to know that Rod’s job has been in jeopardy since the Don hired him.

    Everybody who works for Trump puts their job, their sanity, their standing in jeopardy.  Anyone not willing to do a full Pence and praise the Don and the Lord in the same breath puts those things in jeopardy.  As does anyone still tethered to reality.  Anybody willing to investigate him for potential crimes just turns up the heat on a pot already boiling.

    But Mike, here’s the thing.  Rod Rosenstein’s job was already in jeopardy.  That’s why the Times published that crap from Schmidt and Apuzzo.  It’s been in the can for months, just waiting for the Times and the WH to agree on a release date.  Hell, the Times has sat on real news stories for over a year when the WH tells them to.

    So, Mike, I know you know how to read a ballistic table, how to describe a coefficient of friction, and how to write a will that won’t violate the rule against perpetuities (no matter how much you want Kathleen Turner).  But you have a lot to learn about Donald Trump.

    • Peterr says:

      Mike Pompeo is a smart guy.

      Yes he went to West Point and Harvard Law. But to call him smart ignores decades of life experience since then, particularly when it comes to political analysis. He was dumb enough to be such a stupid thorn in John Boehner’s side that Boehner removed him from the Agriculture committee — leaving the deeply agricultural state of Kansas without a voice on that committee for the first time in something like 70 years and putting a big smile on John Boehner’s face. Losing that committee assignment got Pompeo primaried in one of the safest GOP districts at the time. The Kansas Farm Bureau endorsed his opponent (the first time they’d ever endorsed a non-incumbent in a primary), and he lost the primary. And John Boehner smiled again.

      I could easily believe that Mike was telling the truth here and didn’t know how thin the ice has been under Rosenstein since the day Mueller was named Special Counsel.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        I guess the snark flag was flying only at half mast, then.  Mike Pompeo seems to be smart in the way that Kris Kobach is book smart, what with those superlative Ivy League degrees, but too dumb to remember evidence or trial practice 101, too lacking in basic street smarts not to know that using Hans von Spakovsky as an expert witness in a voter fraud case was a sure way to lose it.

        Pompeo’s smarts are limited in the same way.  He’s also been a gunsel for the Kochs for two decades and continues to follow orders when not in uniform.  My conclusion is that he was sent out to deliver a WH line about Rosenstein for the Sunday chatterboxes.  He did.

        • Peterr says:

          OK – I’m with you now.

          What’s funny to me is that Pompeo, the guy too crazy to see that his own House seat was on thin ice after he kept gunning for Boehner, is now saying he didn’t think the quality of the ice under Rosenstein’s desk was anything to worry about until recently.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Here’s an article that covers Pompeo’s comments.  He’s a strong supporter of Trump, if more virile in his adoration than Mike Pence.  No surprise that he gave them to Fox Noise.

          Pompeo is using the sports cliche that there’s no “I” in team (nor in “Donald Trump”), and that everyone in the USG ought to be working 110% for the Don, regardless of their personal views or principled objections.  But he says it without Will Smith’s humorous cynicism from Men in Black.

          Having followed the Koch line for so long, I think Pompeo has learned to follow any line he’s given.  I suspect he thinks that’s part of being the perfect bureaucrat: if the boss says X on Monday, and its opposite on Tuesday, then he never said X ever.  It’s what the Goopers mean by inventing their own reality.  Most people just call it lying.

  16. JKSF says:

    It might be that the Butina indictment, wherein it is revealed that Maria’s boyfriend Paul Erickson lobbied hard for McFarland on NSC, helped jog her memory.

  17. Barry Wasserman says:

    Rayne – For some reason I couldn’t reply directly to your last reply, so I’ll try a new post.

    You say that enforcement of the law isn’t warfare and shouldn’t be viewed that way, and of course I agree with you. But what is a guilty and sociopathic client supposed to do? Just give up? No, he and his allies will fight tooth & nail in any unorthodox ( asymmetric) way they can.

    You go on to say that if Team Trump thinks it’s engaging in asymmetric warfare, then they’re not very good at it. I disagree, and I guess I give them credit for more cunning and skill than you do. But whether it’s skill or dumb luck, I’d say it’s working. The bottom line for them is to, at a minimum, hold on to the support of Republican voters because this makes it suicidal for Republican politicians ( who aren’t retiring) to speak or act in any way damaging to Trump. And with elected Republican muzzled in this way, it is easier to portray to Republican voters that opposition to Trump is merely partisan; that is, an attempt to annul the 2016 election. And with this asymmetric goal in mind, I’d say Trump has been shockingly successful.

    From Gallup polls I just looked up: In the first 9 days of Trump’s presidency – Jan 20 to 29, 2017 – 89% of Republicans approved of the job he was doing. Last week – September 10 to 16, 2018 – his job approval rating among Republicans was still at 88%. In other words, statistically no loss of Republican voter support despite the mountains of bad news and legal indictments. Will more bad news and more indictments change this?

    Let me conclude with a question: What do you see as the end game to this process of law enforcement? My fear is that Trump will be labeled by Mueller as an unindicted co-conspirator, while Don Jr and others will be indicted but quickly pardoned – even quicker than Joe Arpaio was pardoned. And all with the continued support of a large majority Republican voters and fearful Republican electeds. Mine is a dismal and even frightening scenario. I wish it didn’t seem so plausible.

    • Rayne says:

      …89% of Republicans approved of the job he was doing….

      They never tell you whether the number of self-identified Republicans has gone up or down.

      What do you see as the end game to this process of law enforcement?

      Trump will be an unindicted co-conspirator. I haven’t forgotten Nixon. And if nothing happens to Trump that will be an indictment of the Republican Party. What happens after that comes down to the will of the people, the majority of which are NOT Republicans, who have for too long been disenfranchised by a corrupt, oppressive system.

      A day of reckoning is coming. This country can’t continue as it has with 70% of its population living in 15 cities with 30% of representation. Frightening? Yeah, but the illusion of a white, straight, and male Republican country can’t survive; it will die just as those old fools GOP Senate Judiciary cannot escape time’s power.

  18. Thomas says:

    I wonder what Rosenstein told Trump that changed his mind about the latest “declassify!” hysteria.

    Whatever it was, Trump immediately reversed himself and left his dogs without anything to bark.

    A request to anyone reading. Please mercilessly troll Hannity about the Seth Rich lies. Hannity deserves media oblivion and utter bankruptcy and I really hope there was something in Cohen’s materials that will land Hannity, the worthless liar, in jail.

  19. orionATL says:

    O.T. (sort of)

    finally a strong intellect has taken a hard, semi-quantitative look at the impact of russian social media propaganda on the clinton-trump contest of 2016 – as opposed to ducking the issue by saying it can’t be known, or implying thru “theory” that it could not have been all that big.

    that someone is katherine hall jamieson and the reporter covering jamieson’s work a is the new yorker’s jane mayer:


    summary: the russian government mounted a social media campaign extraordinary in its volume and extraordinarily clever in its concept – deliver messages about clinton’s untrustworthy (and even perverted) nature from “ordinary americans” like the voter to that voter thru facebook. those “ordinary americans”, though, turned out to be fictitious personalities created by the russian social psychology campaign against clinton.

    read it!

    i will add this postscript:

    there is a direct line between the way clinton was vilified by the american power structure (media in particular) and the way kavanaugh was boosted and excused by that same power structure in the same time period.

    what happened to clinton in 2016 was the direct result of the same underlying mysogony that is bedeviling the president trump and his supreme court appointee brett kavanaugh – a mysogony that pervades the entire republican party of the present, though it does not stop there.

    • orionATL says:

      and, because i can’t shut up when i should, i will add:

      if trump did in fact conspire with the russians, the likelihood of which i take to be very high after a year and a half of investigations – media (emptywheel not least) as well as office of special counsel – then this nation has a unique problem on its hands; we have an illegitimate president and vice-president, both were elected together by the same conspiratorial process, a problem which makes the nytimes’ gossipy 25th ammendment story seem the trivia it is.

  20. orionATL says:

    a tale of two headlines:

    – the new york times

    “rosenstein will meet with trump to decide his fate …”
    m. shear, j. hirschfeld, m. habberman

    – the washington post

    “rosenstein to stay in job for now…”
    d. barrett, a. parker, c. leonnig, r. helderman

  21. Anne says:

    Had to google KT McFarland to keep up with you guys.
    T= Troia, her maiden name.
    Maybe she doesn’t know what that means in modern Italian slang:
    Or prostitute.
    How appropriate for a Trumpster!

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