Doesn’t Anyone in the Media Read the Actual Election Laws?

Election Resolution Judges
(h/t Lance Fisher and used under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic [CC BY-SA 2.0])

Back in the day, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and all elections were conducted either with paper ballots or “pull the lever” machines, my high school government class was given an election season project. For the precinct around our high school, we were to do four things: (1) canvas the neighborhood to determine who was registered and who was not, (2) work to increase the number of registered voters, (3) try to get as many of these folks to the polls on election day as possible, and (4) report back to the teacher how it all went.

Shorter #4: It was a blast.

Oh, it was a lot of work, too. Lots of knocking on doors (and going back and back again when no one was home), and also lots of reading the elections laws. What were the deadlines? What did we have to do in order to be polling place observers, so that we could see who voted in the morning in order to start making calls or knocking on doors in the afternoon and evening? What were we allowed to do in the polling place, and what were we not allowed to do? Who would make the GOTV visits in the afternoon and early evening? Who had a driver’s license and a vehicle, so we could offer rides to the polls, if needed? Who could be available to babysit, if needed?

In a precinct that generally had turnout of around 30%, that year it hit 70%. We weren’t allowed to be advocates for a candidate or ballot proposition (this was a non-partisan school project, after all), but simply were trying to get as many folks as possible to the polls, and we did a damn good job. In the years that followed, I’m sure there were campaign strategists who looked at that number and figured it must have been a typo, because it never came close to that again.

Since high school, I’ve worked on a number of campaigns, from local school board stuff to Paul Simon’s presidential campaign and a bunch at every level in between. One thing I’ve never forgotten is simple: read the election law.

With all the “will we have a winner on Election Night?” blather, it seems few in the media have bothered to do that one very simple thing.

So let’s give it a try, OK? From the Missouri Revised Statutes, Chapter 115:

115.508. Certification of election prohibited prior to noon on Friday after election day.—Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, no election authority or verification board shall certify election results, as required under section 115.507, before noon on the Friday after election day.

What? You mean it’s illegal (at least in Missouri) for an election board – city, county, or state – to certify a winner before Friday?

115.507. Announcement of Results by verification board, contents, when due—abstract of votes to be official returns.—
1. Not later than the second Tuesday after the election, the verification board shall issue a statement announcing the results of each election held within its jurisdiction and shall certify the returns to each political subdivision and special district submitting a candidate or question at the election. The statement shall include a categorization of the number of regular and absentee votes cast in the election, and how those votes were cast; provided however, that absentee votes shall not be reported separately where such reporting would disclose how any single voter cast his or her vote. When absentee votes are not reported separately the statement shall include the reason why such reporting did not occur. Nothing in this section shall be construed to require the election authority to tabulate absentee ballots by precinct on election night.

What? You mean that each election jurisdiction has two weeks to submit their certification, and ballot counters don’t have to pull an all-nighter on election night?

115.430. Provisional ballots, used when, exceptions, procedure, counted when, how—rulemaking authority—free access system established—provisional ballot only used,when—no jurisdiction in state courts to extend polling hours.—
All provisional ballots cast by voters whose eligibility has been verified as provided in this section shall be counted in accordance with the rules governing ballot tabulation. Provisional ballots shall not be counted until all provisional ballots are determined either eligible or ineligible and all provisional ballots must be processed before the election is certified.

Here’s part of why you can’t certify a winner before Friday, and you get two weeks to finish the count. By Missouri state law, every individual provisional ballot has to be either accepted or rejected before ANY provisional ballots are actually tabulated and added to the regular count. If you get a lot of provisional ballots, or if there are lots of challenges to these ballots, this could take a while. And if you have both of those things, it *will* take a while.

What is reported on election night is — and always has been — unofficial. When you go to any state’s election website next Tuesday evening and frantically refresh the page to get the latest numbers, they will tell you that these results are unofficial. They aren’t official until at least a couple of days later, after every precinct has verified and counted all their provisional ballots, checked all their math, and filed a formal certification with their Secretary of State. Careful media voices may project a winner on election night, but it’s not official until the certification of the results is complete.

And at least in Missouri, that is not allowed to happen before the Friday after the election, and could be as much as two weeks after election day.

Look, I get it. I want to know who will win all kinds of different races as soon as anyone, but it’s not an automatic sign of any nefarious goings on if no clear winner is projected on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. More than anything, it’s a sign that everyone from the election judge in your local polling place on up to the Secretary of State wants to be really sure that they got the count right before they declare it to be official.

I know that Donald Trump doesn’t know election law, or even the mechanics of how elections work once the polls close, and I have no illusions about educating him on that subject. I just wish the media would quit imitating his ignorance.

Election Day Countdown: 6 Days

Six days. Less than a week to Election Day.

If you haven’t yet voted and were planning on voting early/absentee, please make a plan which doesn’t rely on U.S. Mail especially if you live in a large city. There are too many reports of First Class mail taking longer than five days to arrive.

Judge Emmett Sullivan — same judge handling the Flynn case — seems a bit tetchy about the U.S. Postal Service handling of ballots:


Worth your time to read the highly-detailed order linked in the Politico article, particularly this bit about the U.S. Mail:

FURTHER ORDERED that by no later than 9:00 AM on October 29, 2020, Defendants shall distribute, in the same form and to the same individuals who were previously advised about the need to “ensure that completed ballots reach the appropriate election official by the state’s designated deadline,” a list of state-specific statutory ballot receipt deadlines, so that the USPS managers and employees can implement the Election Mail guidance that Defendants have recently issued. The parties shall confer and agree and substance of the list. …

You can bet there’s squealing and scrambling going on right now even as I type this at 4:00 a.m.

Will these suits against the USPS be the first cases the new Barrett-added SCOTUS hears if current Postmaster Louis DeJoy refuses to comply and contests Sullivan’s directive?

~ ~ ~

There’s another problem with the SCOTUS already, though this is the pre-Barrett/post-RBG version. Seems Justice Kavanaugh has demonstrated what a hack he is making absurd errors in an opinion on voter suppression:

One of his errors goes right to the problem with the U.S. Mail:

Mistake No. 5: No one thinks they can return their ballot by Election Day if they request it by Oct. 29.

Kavanaugh wrote: “No one thinks that voters who request absentee ballots as late as October 29 can both receive the ballots and mail them back in time to be received by election day.” He cites no support for this assumption, probably because it’s wrong. Many states explicitly allow voters to request absentee ballots even closer to Election Day and instruct them to mail their ballots back. A large number of voters do wait until the last minute to ask for a ballot, which is why a strict deadline disenfranchises so many people. In August, the Postal Service encouraged 46 states to change their deadlines, warning them that ballots requested and returned in accordance with state law might not make it back in time. The Postal Service would not have sent out this warning if “no one” thought the states’ existing deadlines were unrealistic. …

I know there’s been a lot of talk about rejiggering the formulation of the SCOTUS including expansion of the number of justices to ensure improved representation reflecting a center-left country.

But I think we need to have a chat about reformulation including corrections of the existing justices. This opinion by Kavanaugh is so shoddy Congress should consider impeaching and removing him under a Biden presidency. Because it’s ridiculous that Chief Justice John Roberts let this out of his court, Roberts needs to feel a little sting for this as well.

~ ~ ~

Trump’s super spreader campaign rally in Omaha, Nebraska was a disaster Tuesday night. A number of elderly attendees had to be taken by ambulance for treatment of hypothermia due to temperatures in the 20s and the distance from the rally site to the parking lot.

It’s bad enough Trump is making campaign stops in places which Trump won by double digits in 2016 — 25 points, to be more specific. But to do so at physical risk to voters who may not yet have cast a vote?

Utterly stupid.

The capper: the campaign is desperate not only for votes but money.

That’s one way to clean up that $421 million dollars of personal debt.

~ ~ ~

If you’ve already voted, thank you. Please help get other voters to the polls and make this election a massive blue tsunami — a wave so big they can’t steal this election.

Ten Days To Go Trash Talk

Yesterday was the Scaramucci point; i.e. eleven days to go. Now it is ten, and it all is getting to be overwhelming. A perfect time for some Trash, as Trash was always about giving a release from the daily drudgery. Off we go!

Am still of the opinion that trying to play college football during the pandemic was a bad idea. But playing they are. In that regard, let’s talk about Wisconsin, who put on a show last night. Once we discussed the new whiz kid on the Badgers’ block, and it was Russell Wilson. He turned out to be all that, at Wisconsin and then in the NFL. But last night was ridiculous. First time redshirt freshman starter Graham Mertz merely completed 20 of 21 passes for 248 yards and five touchdowns in the Badgers’ 45-7 win. That is pretty good.

In the pros, after a Covid announcement by the Raiders, the NFL and NBC suddenly flexed the SNF game to Seahawks at Cardinal, purporting it to be to address Covid concerns. That is a joke. If Covid were the meter, you would give the Raiders more time, even if hours to comply and play. Just hazarding a guess here, but maybe the NFL and NBC figured Russell Wilson versus Kyler Murray was a better game and draw, and did not have potential to be cancelled at the last minute. If so, that was pretty much a smart play.

The Bucs at Vegas is still a must watch if available to you. Steelers at Titans is still the real game of the day. I’d normally take the Steelers with Big Ben back to normal. Would not bet a cent on it though, the Titans, Vrabel and Tannehill, are on a fair roll, and then there is Derrick Henry. This will be a fun game. Look too to Bears at Rams. Seems kind of ho hum, but is an important game.

This weekend is also the Portuguese Grand Prix. Now it has been a while since there was a Portugese, but there is a real history. Of course the Mercs of Hamilton and Bootas have to be favored. It is kind of a crazy looking circuit for the new iteration of F1 though. Could be interesting!

Today’s music is by Bruce. When he says no surrender, he means it. Listen to him, think about the time old message, and GO VOTE to make sure the Trump Train leaves the station. Enjoy Bruce at his rocking best.

2020 Presidential Debates: The Battle of Nashville [UPDATE-3]

[NB: Updates will appear at the bottom of this post. /~Rayne]

Here’s a post for emptywheel community members’ discussion purposes dedicated to what was supposed to be the third and final presidential debates.

The debate is scheduled to begin at 8:00–9:30 p.m. ET — this is earlier than the second debate was scheduled before it was canceled. Tonight’s debate will be conducted at the Curb Event Center at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.

Tonight’s moderator is Kristen Welker of NBC, the only woman of the three moderators chosen for the presidential debates. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this is an issue during the course of the debate, especially since it’s been a bone of contention that incumbent Senator Mitch McConnell has been reluctant to have a woman moderator for a debate against opponent Amy McGrath.

Good luck to Welker; I hope she’s got nerves of steel. She’s already had to deal with sideswipes by Trump on Twitter:


Only surprised Trump and his mini-me loser son didn’t make it about Welker’s mixed race heritage (Native American and Black).

Speaking of which, racism may also factor in tonight’s debate considering the location — Nashville was built upon a slave economy and was the first Confederate state capital to fall to the Union during the Battle of Nashville in 1864.

The COVID-19 epidemic may likewise figure largely. Nashville was the site of another pandemic which took the life of a former American president. James Polk died of cholera in 1849 only three months after returning to Nashville upon leaving office.

Could lightning strike twice, one might wonder, given how deep we are into another pandemic, this one encouraged by Trump’s malign governance.

One factor which might make tonight’s debate more challenging for Trump: the decision by the Commission on Presidential Debates to implement a two-minute microphone mute to allow each candidate to answer a question uninterrupted.

The muting will work like this: At the start of each of the six segments of the debate, each candidate will be given two minutes to answer an initial question. During that portion, the opposing candidate’s microphone will be muted.

“Under the agreed upon debate rules, each candidate is to have two minutes of uninterrupted time to make remarks at the beginning of each 15 minute segment of the debate. These remarks are to be followed by a period of open discussion,” the commission said in a statement. “Both campaigns this week again reaffirmed their agreement to the two-minute, uninterrupted rule.”

Team Trump whined this was unfair, of course. Yes, it’s really unfair that we’re allowed to hear each candidate answer a question without Trump sowing chaos with unending yelling-at-clouds throughout the debate like he did during the first debate three weeks ago. Expect it, though — his behavior during his interview with Leslie Stahl was a combination of toddler, bully, and mobster:

Hard to believe Trump thought releasing this interview material ahead of the edited 60 Minutes program this weekend would be a benefit to his campaign. Being an asshole to Stahl isn’t going to help him with women voters who haven’t already voted. He’s just so ugly and tiresome, like an overgrown irritable baby in need of a nap.

My god, has it really been three weeks since the first debate? It feels like it’s been a bloody decade. I’ll be so damned glad when tonight’s over and the Union has once again taken Nashville.

~ ~ ~

Election Day is twelve days away. Are you registered? Have you double checked the status of your registration? Have you requested an absentee or mail-in ballot? Have you mailed or dropped off your ballot? Have you checked the status of your ballot if mailed/dropped off?

And have you talked with all your friends and family members to ensure they have done the same? Make plan — register, vote, and help others, but make a plan. And then execute it to win.

~ ~ ~

UPDATE-1 — 9:15 P.M. ET —

He didn’t let us down. Trump the malignant narcissist, who believes and acts as if everything is about him and him alone, showed up this evening.

Meanwhile, 222,620 Americans have died from COVID as of the beginning of tonight’s debate. Americans are dying at a rate of 45-50 per hour, which means at least one American died while he blathered for two minutes about himself.

Revolting excuse for leadership.

~ ~ ~

UPDATE-2 — 9:55 P.M. ET —

This is why I can’t watch Trump. Not at rallies, not in debates. When he gets a mic he lies and it hurts Americans.

He’s lied again tonight about his health care plan we’ve yet to see in +3.5 years. He’s preparing to take the Affordable Care Act in front of the Supreme Court within days so his stacked jurists can kill it along with more Americans.

Meanwhile, even more Americans have died from COVID over the last 40 minutes — an estimated 30 more families will be told their loved ones didn’t make it. For every one of these deaths there are at least 50 new cases of COVID, a number of whom will end up with long-term disability due to damage ranging from their lungs to their testicles.

And he’ll keep lying about health care for all of them just as he’s lied to Laura Packard.

~ ~ ~

UPDATE-3 — 10:45 P.M. ET —

Accurate.

Blowhard knows blowing hard.

Numerous accounts say Biden stuck the landing with his closing. Tell me in comments who’s got it right before the media proceeds to tell us what happened.

Dr. Fauci Has No More Fucks Left To Give

This point was always going to arrive. An actually educated and aware specialist trying to deal with an obtuse oaf.

“The impact of a vaccine, he said, would depend on both its efficacy and the proportion of people who take it. Fauci cautions that, even if scientists release a vaccine by the beginning of next year, people will likely still need to carry out public health precautions into next fall and winter — including wearing a mask.
….
“This is the United States of America, the technologically most advanced country in the world,” he said. “We can make a test with a piece of paper that you stick into a little cassette for $1 that does it in five minutes that’s 98% sensitive. You can’t tell me that we can’t do that.”

The next year will continue to not be pretty or easy. The Donald is blowing smoke, desperately, with his “rounding the curve” bit of Coronavirus rhetoric.

There are indeed places in the world where the rosier view might be true, mostly led by sane women like Jacinda Ardern. But it is not true as to the US under the obese and obtuse oaf of Trump. Turns out people appreciate competent governance.

Steve Bannon, Guccifer 2.0, Glenn Greenwald, and Me: How Glenn Greenwald Defends “Smear Artist & Cowards”

Glenn Greenwald has appointed himself the guardian of suspected Russian disinformation on social media, spending much of the last several days wailing that Twitter and Facebook took measures to prevent a sketchy NY Post story from going viral on their platforms, and calling it censorship.

Glenn misrepresents why Maggie got attacked

Glenn’s story wailing about those measures is riddled with contradiction. For example, a man who spends most of his time making exaggerated or unsubstantiated attacks on journalists on Twitter, spent two paragraphs complaining about the treatment of Maggie Haberman after she retweeted the article — from her former employer — with no caveats.

BUT THE POST, for all its longevity, power and influence, ran smack into two entities far more powerful than it: Facebook and Twitter. Almost immediately upon publication, pro-Biden journalists created a climate of extreme hostility and suppression toward the Post story, making clear that any journalist even mentioning it would be roundly attacked. For the crime of simply noting the story on Twitter (while pointing out its flaws), New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman was instantly vilified to the point where her name, along with the phrase “MAGA Haberman,” were trending on Twitter.

(That Haberman is a crypto-Trump supporter is preposterous for so many reasons, including the fact that she is responsible for countless front-page Times stories that reflect negatively on the president; moreover, the 2016 Clinton campaign considered Haberman one of their most favorable reporters).

Glenn suggests a viral, organic response to Maggie’s RT — coming largely from regular users, not other journalists — was instead led by journalists. Glenn defends Maggie against being a “crypto-Trump supporter” in the same breath where he claims each and every person complaining about her initial uncritical response is a “pro-Biden journalist[].” And one of the most famously abrasive people on Twitter accused others of creating “a climate of extreme hostility” on the platform.

But the real problem is how he misrepresents Maggie’s role and the reason for the response. This was about virality.

In fact, at first, Maggie did not point out the flaws in the story. Importantly (because Matt Taibbi is claiming that the Steele dossier was reported on before the 2016 election without noting that the most important instance of this involved someone reporting on the investigative response to the dossier, not the dossier itself, and Glenn is similarly misrepresenting where and on what terms outlets reported on the dossier), Maggie gave the story credibility by quoting a line from the piece in such a way that it suggested the FBI might be investigating Hunter Biden because of the discoveries on the dodgy laptop rather than (as NBC has reported) investigating whether Hunter Biden was victimized by Russian spies.

Only after Maggie and Jake Sherman (who treated the Post story similarly) got criticized, did they begin to point to the obvious problems with the story.

Sherman even expressed regret for the way he had responded uncritically at first, tweets which Maggie RTed (though she offered no such mea culpa of her own).

The complaint was that two serious journalists were giving a shoddy story credibility before they had read it closely enough to see all the problems with it, which not only served to launch the story out of the frothy right (which Steve Bannon has said was entirely the point of packaging the story in this way), but with their significant follower counts, played a key role in making the story go viral.

In other words, while Glenn complains about the viral hostility in response to Maggie’s tweet, he doesn’t consider how her own tweet played a central role in making the story go viral.

Glenn presents a two social media platform effort to cut down on viral disinformation as a Democratic plot

Glenn then presents the social media decision to prevent the Post story from going viral on their platforms both as a response to the uproar over the initial viral response to it and as a Democratic plot.

The two Silicon Valley giants saw that hostile climate and reacted. Just two hours after the story was online, Facebook intervened. The company dispatched a life-long Democratic Party operative who now works for Facebook — Andy Stone, previously a communications operative for Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, among other D.C. Democratic jobs — to announce that Facebook was “reducing [the article’s] distribution on our platform”: in other words, tinkering with its own algorithms to suppress the ability of users to discuss or share the news article. The long-time Democratic Party official did not try to hide his contempt for the article, beginning his censorship announcement by snidely noting: “I will intentionally not link to the New York Post.”

Twitter’s suppression efforts went far beyond Facebook’s. They banned entirely all users’ ability to share the Post article — not just on their public timeline but even using the platform’s private Direct Messaging feature.

Early in the day, users who attempted to link to the New York Post story either publicly or privately received a cryptic message rejecting the attempt as an “error.” Later in the afternoon, Twitter changed the message, advising users that they could not post that link because the company judged its contents to be “potentially harmful.”

He even accuses these social media platforms of working together to do this (an accusation that has legal implications), even while describing responses and explanations for those responses that are not actually the same, undermining his claim.

In sum, the two Silicon Valley giants, with little explanation, united to prevent the sharing and dissemination of this article.

Glenn is, as is his wont, being very selective about how he pitches these Silicon Valley companies. He chooses not to describe how Facebook board member Peter Thiel has, like Glenn, been chumming around with right wing racists. He chooses not to explain how Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s Global Public Policy head, had a far more senior job in the W Administration than Andy Stone has ever held. And in his tweets in aftermath of this post, which focus closely on the impact of Facebook’s monopoly position, Glenn makes no mention of a blockbuster WSJ story describing how Facebook tweaked its algorithms to disfavor Mother Jones and also describing private dinners that Mark Zuckerberg has had with Ben Shapiro (the story came out after Glenn originally posted his post though Glenn has updated the post after it was initially published). He also conflates one report saying tech workers lean — centrist — Democratic with the suggestion the entire industries do.

Glenn treats this response — the suppression of links to the article but not discussions of the content — as censorship, going on to conflate the suppression of virality with outright censorship.

Private-sector repression of speech and thought, particularly in the internet era, can be as dangerous and consequential. Imagine, for instance, if these two Silicon Valley giants united with Google to declare: henceforth we will ban all content that is critical of President Trump and/or the Republican Party, but will actively promote criticisms of Joe Biden and the Democrats. 

You need go no further than to Glenn’s endless rants about this to prove that the outlets are not censoring content. They simply attempted to avoid being willful tools in the viral dissemination of propaganda, not the information itself.

Glenn’s selective concerns about monopoly

Glenn goes on to say some funny things about monopoly. He quotes from an article citing an HJC report on Facebook’s monopoly status, but (while he links the report), not the report itself.

In June, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law launched an investigation into the consolidated power of Facebook and three other companies — Google, Amazon and Apple — and just last week issued a sweeping report which, as Ars Technica explained, found:

Facebook outright “has monopoly power in the market for social networking,” and that power is “firmly entrenched and unlikely to be eroded by competitive pressure” from anyone at all due to “high entry barriers—including strong network effects, high switching costs, and Facebook’s significant data advantage—that discourage direct competition by other firms to offer new products and services.”

The report doesn’t address Twitter (because Twitter is not a monopoly). So instead, Glenn cites how many journalists use Twitter.

While Twitter still falls short of Facebook in terms of number of users, a 2019 report found that “Twitter remains the leading social network among journalists at 83%.” Censoring a story from Twitter thus has disproportionate impact by hiding it from the people who determine and shape the news.

This suggests that Glenn is concerned about the same thing Bannon is, ensuring that this story breaks out of the right wing echo chamber to be magnified by people like Maggie Haberman.

Glenn then makes some batshit crazy comments about Section 230, suggesting that only behemoths like Facebook benefit from it, and equating Section 230 with a specific exemption on antitrust law.

Beyond that, both Facebook and Twitter receive substantial, unique legal benefits from federal law, further negating the claim that they are free to do whatever they want as private companies. Just as is true of Major League Baseball — which is subject to regulation by Congress as a result of the antitrust exemption they enjoy under the law — these social media companies receive a very valuable and particularized legal benefit in the form of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields them from any liability for content published on their platforms, including defamatory material or other legally proscribed communications.

As Glenn surely knows, The Intercept, a mid-sized journalistic outlet, is protected by Section 230. Even teeny tiny emptywheel is protected by Section 230. To suggest that Facebook and Twitter uniquely benefit from it is simply ridiculous. We here at emptywheel monitor our comment threads fairly aggressively, but because of Section 230, we won’t go to prison if one of you decides to use the comment threads as part of your Russian intelligence operation.

Glenn endorses social media taking actions for the public interest but not the ones HJC suggested social media needs to take

From there, Glenn takes what — for a claimed First Amendment absolutist like he used to be — is fairly stunning. He suggests that the monopoly status of Facebook (and everyone else who benefits from Section 230, he suggests by context, but he cannot possibly mean that) means they owe a “dut[y] to the public interest.”

No company can claim such massive, unique legal exemptions from the federal law and then simultaneously claim they owe no duties to the public interest and are not answerable to anyone.

That is, in a piece that bitches mightily that Facebook and Twitter took steps to prevent a shoddy story that may have been seeded by documents stolen by Russia from going viral on their platforms, Glenn argues strongly that Facebook and Twitter should take steps to serve the public interest.

Let’s take this moment to go back to that report that Glenn links but does not cite. Glenn goes on at length about the dangers of concentration in social media, some complaints of which are valid and some of which are misstated. But here’s what the report from which he has been providing a second-hand quotation says about one major danger of concentration in social media: it helps spread dis- and misinformation and breaks down accountability in reporting.

Finally, because news is often accessed online through channels other than the original publication—including search results, voice assistants, social platforms, or news aggregators— journalism has increasingly become “atomized” or removed from its source and placed alongside other content.315 In the context of audio news, one market participant noted that aggregating different news sources can create a bad experience for users.316 The aggregation of different news sources without editorial oversight can also cause reputational harm to news publishers, such as when highly credible reporting appears alongside an opinion-based news source.317

Indirectly, the atomization of news may increase the likelihood that people are exposed to disinformation or untrustworthy sources of news online. When online news is disintermediated from its source, people generally have more difficulty discerning the credibility of reporting online. This process may also “foster ambivalence about the quality and nature of content that garners users’ attention,” particularly among young people.318

For example, during the Subcommittee’s sixth hearing, Subcommittee Chairman David N. Cicilline presented Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg with evidence of a Breitbart video that claimed that “you don’t need a mask and hydroxychloroquine is a cure for COVID.” 319 As he noted, within the first five hours of this video being posted, it had nearly “20 million views and over 100,000 comments before Facebook acted to remove it.” 320 Mr. Zuckerberg responded that “a lot of people shared that, and we did take it down because it violate[d] our policies.” 321 In response, Chairman Cicilline asked if “20 million people saw it over the period of five hours . . . doesn’t that suggest, Mr. Zuckerberg, that your platform is so big that, even with the right policies in place, you can’t contain deadly content?” 322 Mr. Zuckerberg responded by claiming that Facebook has a “relatively good track record of finding and taking down lots of false content.” 323

Moreover, because there is not meaningful competition, dominant firms face little financial consequence when misinformation and propaganda are promoted online.324 Platforms that are dependent on online advertising have an incentive to prioritize content that is addictive or exploitative to increase engagement on the platform.325 And the reliance on platforms by advertisers has generally diminished their ability to push for improvements in content standards. As a news publisher explained in a submission to the Subcommittee:

As advertisers have become more reliant on dominant search and social platforms to reach potential consumers, they have lost any leverage to demand change in the policies or practices of the platforms. In the era of newspapers, television, radio, or indeed direct sales of digital advertising online, there was a connection between advertising and the content it funds, creating a high degree of accountability for both parties in that transaction. This maintained high content standards, and enabled advertisers to demand or pursue change from publishers whose content standards fell. While many high-quality publishers continue to operate stringent policies in relation to the digital advertising that they permit to appear within their services, in a world of programmatic audience trading that self-regulated compact between advertisers and platform does not exist.326

During the Subcommittee’s sixth hearing, Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD) raised this concern. As he noted, in July 2020, Facebook faced an advertiser boycott by hundreds of companies.327 This effort, which has been spearheaded by the Stop Hate for Profit campaign, a coalition of civil rights groups organizing in protest of “the rapid spread of hate messages online, the presence of boogaloo and other right-wing extremist groups trying to infiltrate and disrupt Black Lives Matter protests and the fact that alt-right racists and anti-Semitic content flourishes on Facebook.” 328

As a result of this campaign, more than a thousand major companies—including Disney, CocaCola, and General Motors—announced that they would pull $7 billion in advertisements on Facebook as part of the Stop Hate for Profit boycott.329 But as Representative Raskin pointed out during the hearing Facebook does not “seem to be that moved by their campaign.” 330

That is, the report that Glenn refers to approvingly but does not cite actually connects concentration in social media to the way platforms are more likely to spread disinformation, propaganda, and exploitative content. The report describes the specific consequences that can arise — people ignore best practice during a pandemic — when social media companies act too slowly to prevent disinformation from achieving virality on their platforms.

Effectively, then, the report that Glenn cites favorably says that the public interest is served when social media platforms prevent disinformation from going viral on their platforms.

Glenn endorses requiring that monopolistic social media platforms answer to the public interest, invokes a report laying out what that public interest would be, and then wails because two platforms have done precisely what his argument suggests they should do, limit how their platforms are used to spread disinformation, propaganda, and exploitative content.

Glenn utterly confuses content, source material, propagandistic packaging of that source material, and discussion of that propagandistic packaging

In the later part of his screed, Glenn makes some important points about the inconsistency of Twitter’s evolving explanation for why it is limiting the virality of the Post pieces. He’s absolutely right that there should be some transparency and thought put into these policies, and an attempt to apply them consistently both between partisan sides but also globally, where social media more often caters to the whims of local governments to crack down on dissidents.

But amid those very good points, Glenn ties himself in knots, confusing precisely what it is he’s talking about.

Remember, the problem Glenn is complaining about is that after the Post posted some stories that he admits make “overblown” claims, published scandalous photos for which there’s “no conceivable public interest in publishing,” and offered an “explanation of how these documents were obtained [that] is bizarre at best,” Facebook and Twitter chose not to let those stories go viral on their platforms.

Glenn focuses in his post on the NYPost’s storied history.

Founded in 1801 by Alexander Hamilton, only three U.S. newspapers are more widely circulated.

But he doesn’t discuss that the woman writing these stories appears to have been installed at the Post from Hannity solely to publish them at the Post (this kind of shell game within the Murdoch empire also facilitated the Seth Rich hoax, per discovery in the Rich family lawsuits).

Post deputy political editor Emma-Jo Morris’ reports on Biden this past week constitute the sum total of her professional bylines. (That is, other than some posts Morris wrote in the summer of 2015 as a college intern for the conservative Washington Free Beacon.)

Prior to joining the Post in early spring, Morris’ most prominent media job involved her three years and eight months as a producer for Hannity, the Fox News star who is one of the president’s closest advisers. Morris did not reply to requests for comment sent to her social media accounts.

That is, while Glenn nods to the problems with the Post story, he doesn’t even examine how the reporter came to show up there, only to have Rudy Giuliani and Steve Bannon (the latter of whom Glenn doesn’t mention) drop these stories into her lap, details which go to her reliability. He ignores those details in a column that complains that social media platforms are throttling the virality of the Post story — but not the underlying allegations.

To illustrate how this undermines Glenn’s claims of censorship, recognize that there are four levels of the story here:

  • The claims about Burisma (which have been debunked by expert witnesses testifying under oath); discussions of these claims have not been throttled at all
  • Emails that the Post allegedly learned about from Bannon and received from Rudy, who in turn claims to have received them (using his attorney as a cut-out) from a repair store, but which neither the Post nor Rudy nor Bannon will share with others; if these emails were made publicly available, Twitter might throttle access to them under its prior “hacking” rule, but not necessarily its revised one
  • Several stories by a Hannity producer installed at the Post just before she wrote these stories; two social media companies have taken measures to limit the viral sharing of the stories, largely by limiting how readily users can access the stories directly via links posted on the social media sites
  • Discussion of the story and its production, of which this post, Glenn’s column, and his social media rants are part; that Glenn can rant at length on Twitter is proof that the social media companies are not “censoring” the discussion about them

The only thing at issue here are the Post stories. Not the underlying allegations; not (yet) the emails, if Bannon and Rudy ever decided to share them; not discussions about the Post stories.

In the section of his column discussing the actions by Facebook and Twitter, Glenn correctly limits his discussion to the article itself (without always noting that the issue was links to the article, not discussion of it).

But in his discussion claiming censorship more generally, Glenn conflates [links to] the story with the content of the story itself.

Then there is the practical impact of Twitter and Facebook uniting to block content published by a major newspaper. It is true in theory that one can still read the suppressed article by visiting the New York Post website directly, but the stranglehold that these companies exert over our discourse is so dominant that their censorship amounts to effective suppression of the reporting.

[snip]

THE GRAVE DANGERS posed by the censorship actions of yesterday should be self-evident. Just over two weeks before a presidential election, Silicon Valley giants — whose industry leaders and workforce overwhelmingly favor the Democratic candidate — took extraordinary steps to block millions, perhaps tens of millions, of American voters from being exposed to what purports to be a major exposé by one of the country’s oldest and largest newspapers.

[snip]

Do we really want Facebook serving as some sort of uber-editor for U.S. media and journalism, deciding what information is suitable for the American public to read and which should be hidden from it after teams of journalists and editors at real media outlets have approved its publication? [my emphasis]

Preventing a story from being spread virally from a platform, without preventing it from being discussed, in no way prevents “tens of millions … of American voters from being exposed to what purports to be a major exposé,” (though, in fact, the stories mostly recycle the same old allegations that experts have debunked under oath). It simply requires those engaging in the discussion — including via Glenn’s rants on Twitter or via stories about the Post stories, including Glenn’s column, which Twitter has not throttled — to go find that story itself.

Glenn’s theory that authentic emails justify serving as a mouthpiece for Russian intelligence

I’m most interested in how Glenn sprinkles a theory in this column that he has espoused in the past to defend his regurgitation of emails stolen by the GRU in 2016. He suggests that — so long as emails or other source documents are authentic — it doesn’t matter if they’ve been packaged up by a hostile intelligence agency (or a Murdoch propagandist installed expressly for the purpose). In this case, he suggests that until the Bidens prove the emails are not authentic, then the story which Glenn acknowledges overhypes what is claimed to be in the emails might “corroborate” a story largely debunked by experts testifying under oath.

While the Biden campaign denies that any such meetings or favors ever occurred, neither the campaign nor Hunter, at least as of now, has denied the authenticity of the emails.

[snip]

While these emails, if authenticated, provide some new details and corroboration, the broad outlines of this story have long been known: Hunter was paid a very large monthly sum by Burisma at the same time that his father was quite active in using the force of the U.S. Government to influence Ukraine’s internal affairs.

[snip]

The Post’s explanation of how these documents were obtained is bizarre at best: They claim that Hunter Biden indefinitely left his laptop containing the emails at a repair store, and the store’s owner, alarmed by the corruption they revealed, gave the materials from the hard drive to the FBI and then to Rudy Giuliani.

While there is no proof that Biden followed through on any of Hunter’s promises to Burisma, there is no reason, at least thus far, to doubt that the emails are genuine. And if they are genuine, they at least add to what is undeniably a relevant and newsworthy story involving influence-peddling relating to Hunter Biden’s work in Ukraine and his trading on the name and power of his father, now the front-runner in the 2020 presidential election. [my emphasis]

As I noted on Twitter, if Glenn consulted with The Intercept’s security expert, Micah Lee, Micah could explain that — at least given the publicly available metadata — there very much is reason to doubt the emails as presented are actual emails.

But even disclaiming knowledge of the technical problems with the provenance of the emails, Glenn nevertheless admits that the Post’s explanation for how these emails dropped in its lap is “bizarre at best.” Having admitted that, though, he puts the onus on the Bidens to deny the authenticity of these emails, not the journalists reporting on them. It’s not enough for Joe Biden to provide solid evidence (his calendar) explaining why the allegation construed from these emails is not true, the Bidens must disprove the authenticity of the emails (which would entail treating this story as credible, and giving it air).

Crazier still, Glenn takes no responsibility himself to assess whether the emails actually prove what the Post claims they do, a distinction between the authenticity of emails versus the accuracy of the interpretation derived from the emails. He states, as fact, that if the emails prove authentic it will “provide some new details and corroboration” and “add to” the existing allegations about Burisma. Except that’s not true! They’ll only add corroboration if the content of the emails is read correctly and if that correct reading logically ties the evidence (a claim about a meeting that was offered but not scheduled) to allegations that are newsworthy, much less misconduct. What the Post has floated falls far short of that, yet because it included pictures Glenn doesn’t find newsworthy and a claim to have actual emails, Glenn doesn’t scrutinize whether the reading of the emails demonstrates both an accurate interpretation and news value.

In other words, Glenn has totally abdicated assessing for himself whether the emails dangled say what a biased presenter claims they say, and even if they do, whether that really backs the allegations that have been debunked by experts testifying under oath. Thus far, they don’t.

Glenn’s defense of the Post story replays his defense of his own publication of emails stolen by GRU

As I said, this is a theory of journalism Glenn has espoused before, when defending his willingness to publish emails stolen by the GRU. He uses that theory, for example, when asked to defend this October 9, 2016 article, presenting as “news” that the Hillary campaign:

  • Pitched Maggie Haberman on a story she subsequently gave “somewhat more critical than what the Clinton memo envisioned” coverage of
  • Specified what should be treated as on the record and off when speaking with journalists
  • Had a list of surrogates, some of whom were paid by the campaign, who would appear on cable news
  • Hosted off the record gatherings with journalists

As the story concedes, none of that was really newsworthy. Glenn justified posting documents from sources that had just been described as Russian cut-outs by saying the documents “provide a valuable glimpse” into how all campaigns work the press.

All presidential campaigns have their favorite reporters, try to plant stories they want published, and attempt in multiple ways to curry favor with journalists. These tactics are certainly not unique to the Clinton campaign (liberals were furious in 2008 when journalists went to John McCain’s Arizona ranch for an off-the-record BBQ). But these rituals and dynamics between political campaigns and the journalists who cover them are typically carried out in the dark, despite how significant they can be. These documents provide a valuable glimpse into that process.

Glenn has not, as far as I’m aware, reported on a far more interesting role Maggie played in 2016, where Rick Gates leaked information to her as a way to get it into Roger Stone’s hands. Perhaps he didn’t report on that because the documents were legally released as part of a trial, or perhaps because finding them would take actual work, rather than repackaging what an interested party fed him in much the same way that Hillary fed the press.

Glenn vetted that story the same way he seems to think the Post story should be vetted: by asking the victim if the documents are accurate and, absent a denial that they are accurate, publishing them as “news.”

Given more than 24 hours to challenge the authenticity of these documents and respond, [Nick] Merrill did not reply to our emails.

Here’s how, in a column published on October 9, Glenn justified publishing stolen documents that — he ultimately admitted — weren’t really newsworthy but for which he had been given an exclusive.

The emails were provided to The Intercept by the source identifying himself as Guccifer 2.0, who was reportedly responsible for prior significant hacks, including one that targeted the Democratic National Committee and resulted in the resignations of its top four officials. On Friday, Obama administration officials claimed that Russia’s “senior-most officials” were responsible for that hack and others, although they provided no evidence for that assertion.

As these internal documents demonstrate, a central component of the Clinton campaign strategy is ensuring that journalists they believe are favorable to Clinton are tasked to report the stories the campaign wants circulated.

Even here, Glenn muddles things. Guccifer 2.0 was a persona. While it claimed responsibility for the hacks, virtually all experts by this point in October 2016 had presented public evidence for why they believed GRU (which Glenn does not mention in the piece) was responsible for the hack. This is the move that Glenn has — for years! — defended by saying, about his decisions to publish stolen emails, that it is “fundamental” that journalists must “report on newsworthy information legitimately in the public interest,” even if the source is bad or had bad motives (or, Glenn doesn’t say this but implies it, is a hostile intelligence agency trying to tamper in an election).

Other than “harm to innocents,” there is no excuse or justification for journalists to refuse to report on newsworthy information legitimately in the public interest – including claims that the source of that information is bad or had bad motives. This principle is fundamental.

Note what Glenn doesn’t consider here: whether the source is bad and has been proven to be a liar.

It turns out that Glenn and I had a bit of an exchange with Guccifer 2.0 just days before he decided to post documents that weren’t newsworthy because he was given an exclusive.

On October 4, 2016 — just after WikiLeaks had promised to release files that everyone believed would be Clinton Foundation documents, Guccifer 2.0 posted some party documents claiming they were Clinton Foundation documents.

I tweeted, without linking the site or Guccifer 2.0’s tweet announcing the release, noting that the documents probably weren’t Clinton Foundation documents. Within twenty minutes, Glenn asked why I said that, and I noted, two minutes later, that the documents might be authentic, but they were not what Guccifer 2.0 said they were.

According to Glenn’s long-term standard — publishing documents believed to be authentic, so long as some thin public interest can be described — I guess he would support publishing them. According to journalistic standards, however, publishing something from someone who had recently been caught lying ought to raise real questions about reliability.

Forty minutes after my original tweet and about twenty after my exchange with Glenn, the persona RTed my tweet, explaining away my objections.

Shortly after RTing me, the Twitter persona followed me.

This makes Glenn’s decision to post those documents on October 9, 2016 all the more inexcusable. Less than a week before Glenn posted the least justifiable story of many of his unjustifiable 2016 uses of stolen documents, someone he (then) trusted had pointed out that the persona was a liar. But he posted the unnewsworthy documents, on the schedule that served the persona, anyway.

Those who make “slimy insinuations” based off authentic documents are “smear-artists & cowards”

Of course, this rush to publish documents simply because you have documents, even if they provide no new evidence to “corroborate” stories already debunked by experts testifying under oath, can end up tainting by insinuation. That’s the entire point, and that’s what happened with this Post story.

Don’t take my word for it. Take Glenn Greenwald’s.

Last year, when DOJ released the first bunch of 302s under the BuzzFeed FOIA for the Mueller Report backup, numerous people (I’m sure I was one of them), pointed out this reference in a February 2018 Mueller interview with Steve Bannon. In the context of a series of questions about his knowledge of Trump Organization’s ties to Russia, he was asked about what appears to be the fall 2017 story (which we now know was a limited hangout) of Michael Cohen’s efforts to pursue a Trump Tower Moscow with Felix Sater.

Bannon described how he claimed to assess the validity of the story: he reached out to “his contacts at the Intercept, Fox, the Guardian and ABC News,” who all had no further information, which did not surprise him. And, I guess at that point, he dropped the issue.

Understand, Bannon (the guy behind the Post story) is a liar, and this interview in particular was full of false story after false story. Bannon probably was lying in all his interviews about his knowledge of Trump’s business ties to Russia (including elsewhere in this same interview). It may be that when Cohen released a carefully crafted cover story, Bannon really did call up some news outlets rather than people who would actually know. It may be that Bannon invented the story about calling news outlets altogether.

It’s just weird, though, that Bannon named the Intercept before Fox, and frankly weird that Bannon would claim to call an outlet with zero expertise on this issue to find out if they had heard anything.

Whatever the explanation — whether it was the inexplicable truth, Bannon lied about calling these outlets, or Bannon lied about his knowledge of the Trump Tower deal — that he made the claim is curious.

When it was posted with absolutely no claims about what it meant, Glenn went ballistic, accusing people who screen capped a curious reference to be “using slimy insinuations about who it [sic] is without having the courage to say it explicitly.”

Using Glenn’s method, of course, one could have asked him if the 302 of an official investigation officially released by DOJ was authentic, and that would be enough — according to Glenn — to merit not just publishing it in a story, but doing so while making other insinuations not backed by the evidence.

When something far less intrusive, based off documents legally FOIAed, happened to Glenn, he accused those of posting screen caps from official 302s of being smear merchants.

But when Steve Bannon is behind it and even the claimed provenance of the documents is absurd and the more likely provenance is quite suspect, Glenn demands that such insinuations must be allowed to go viral on Facebook and Twitter — anything less is censorship.

Docket Tea Leaves: Manafort, Bannon, and Flynn

I’d like to point to some curious docket doings in cases pertaining to Paul Manafort, Steve Bannon, and Mike Flynn

Manafort

First, two things pertaining to Paul Manafort, who is serving his prison sentence from home. In his book, Andrew Weissmann raises the “other investigation” in which Manafort, on the day he succeeded in getting a plea deal, implicated someone — almost certainly Jared Kushner — and wondered why the material still hadn’t been released.

Most notably, at one point we asked him about an email he’d received in August 2016 from Roger Stone. Manafort gave a long explanation, the gist of which was to implicate two senior Trump campaign officials; it was related to an investigation in New York. (As the precise material is still under seal I cannot discuss the details, although it is unclear to me what the continued basis is for keeping all this material under seal.) We were trying to assess his credibility, fixating on signs of dishonesty—any indication that Manafort was still angling for a pardon, or attempting to play us. Volunteering this information, which implicated senior officials, suggested he may have written that possibility off, even though we all had continuing doubts.

It’s a damn good question given that Manafort’s defense and prosecutors filed a sealed joint motion about what else could be unsealed from Manafort’s breach determination. At the time, the government was proposing to unseal at least some of the information — and had even given proposals to Manafort’s lawyers to unseal them.

On May 29, 2020, the government provided counsel for Mr. Manafort with the last of the government’s proposals for lesser-redacted materials. Counsel for Mr. Manafort is now considering the government’s proposals, and the parties respectfully request additional time for counsel for Mr. Manafort to do so, and for the parties to confer and prepare the joint report for the Court.

But Judge Amy Berman Jackson hasn’t ruled yet. She’s busy as hell, but some of this information would be fairly important for voters to consider before they vote.

Meanwhile, in Manafort’s case in chief, on Tuesday, one of the two DC AUSAs who were on the docket swapped out for a different one.

The United States of America, by and through its attorney, the Acting United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, and Assistant United States Attorney Arvind Lal, hereby informs the Court that he is entering his appearance in this matter on behalf of the United States. Assistant United States Attorney Zia M. Faruqui no longer represents the United States in this matter.

Manafort’s serving his prison sentence from home. And the AUSA on the unsealing docket, Molly Gaston, remains on this one (so it shouldn’t pertain to the unsealing debate). There doesn’t seem to be a need to add new AUSAs when all he’s going to do is continue to sit in his condo until Trump pardons him.

Bannon

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, a sealed document was placed in Steve Bannon’s docket.

This could be a lot of things, and Bannon has three co-defendants, so it’s not even clear that it pertains to him. But it’s the first sealed document (as a simple fraud case, this shouldn’t involve any classified evidence). And it was filed the same day as the Hunter Biden faux-scandal broke.

NBC reported that the FBI is investigating whether this faux-scandal has ties to foreign intelligence.

Federal investigators are examining whether emails allegedly describing activities by Joe Biden and his son Hunter and found on a laptop at a Delaware repair shop are linked to a foreign intelligence operation, two people familiar with the matter told NBC News.

The FBI seized the laptop and a hard drive through a grand jury subpoena. The subpoena was later published by the New York Post. The bureau has declined to comment.

Though there are other sketchy aspects to the story, such as the claim that the shop owner, having been subpoenaed for the laptop, also made a copy and gave it to Rudy’s lawyer, Robert Costello.

“Before turning over the gear, the shop owner says, he made a copy of the hard drive and later gave it to former Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s lawyer, Robert Costello,” the Post said. “Steve Bannon, former adviser to President Trump, told The Post about the existence of the hard drive in late September and Giuliani provided The Post with a copy of it on Sunday.”

Bannon’s Chinese benefactor, Guo Wengui, was hyping the dirt before it was released.

Weeks before the New York Post began publishing what it claimed were the contents of Hunter Biden’s hard drive, a Sept. 25 segment on a YouTube channel run by a Chinese dissident streamer, who is linked to billionaire and Steve Bannon-backer Guo Wengui, broadcast a bizarre conspiracy theory. According to the streamer, Chinese politburo officials had “sent three hard disks of evidence” to the Justice Department and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi containing damaging information about Joe Biden as well as the origins of the coronavirus in a bid to undermine the rule of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Three days later, a Twitter account linked to Guo and Bannon’s Himalaya movement subsequently amplified an edited clip of the segment alongside the pledge of a “Bombshell… 3 hard disk drives of videos and dossiers of Hunter Biden’s connections with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have been sent to Nancy Pelosi and DOJ. Big money and sex scandal!”

And Bannon was boasting of having the laptop on September 28.

If the FBI was already investigating this — including why the shop owner was handing out copies of the purported laptop — then the FBI may have been aware of Bannon’s activities before Wednesday.

The point is, some of this — particularly if it delves into fraud — would be a bail violation. There’s a status conference on October 26, so it’s possible we’ll get hints then.

Ultimately, I think Bannon is virtually guaranteed to be pardoned, because he still hasn’t told the full truth about 2016. So even if he were jailed, it’d likely be for a matter of days until Trump got him out again.

Flynn

Finally, there’s Flynn’s case. The one unopposed amicus — filed by the NACDL — got docketed today. It’s a strong case — far stronger than a similar argument that Sidney Powell tried to make — that Flynn should not be held in contempt for the lies he has told in Judge Emmet Sullivan’s case. It’s an argument that Sullivan would, I imagine, normally find persuasive, and the fact that he has docketed it today makes me wonder if he’s relying on it in his order on Flynn’s case.

The only problem with the brief is it misunderstands the full scope of Flynn’s lies to the court. The brief assumes all his lies pertain to his guilty pleas, and argue that defendants can’t be held accountable for perjury on coerced guilty pleas.

But — as I’ve noted repeatedly — the sworn declaration Flynn submitted as part of his attempt to withdraw his guilty plea, which DOJ’s recent excuses for blowing up his prosecution increasingly rely on, also conflicts with what Flynn said to the grand jury as well as evidence submitted in this docket, which shows notes from Covington recording Flynn telling lies about his engagement with Turkey (see the bold for a conflicting statement).

  • June 26, 2018: Mike Flynn testified to an EDVA grand jury, among other things, that:
    • “From the beginning,” his 2016 consulting project “was always on behalf of elements within the Turkish government,”
    • He and Bijan Kian would “always talk about Gulen as sort of a sharp point” in relations between Turkey and the US as part of the project (though there was some discussion about business climate)
    • “For the most part” “all of that work product [was] about Gulen”
    • When asked if he knew of any work product that didn’t relate to Gulen, Flynn answered, “I don’t think there was anything that we had done that had anything to do with, you know, anything else like business climates or stuff like that”
    • He was not aware of “any work done on researching the state of the business climate in Turkey”
    • He was not aware of “any meetings held with U.S. businesses or business associations”
    • He was not aware of “any work done regarding business opportunities and investment in Turkey”
    • He and his partner “didn’t have any conversations about” a November 8, 2016 op-ed published under his name until “Bijan [] sent me a draft of it a couple of days prior, maybe about a week prior”
  • January 29, 2020: Mike Flynn submitted a sworn declaration. Among the assertions he made were:
    • “On December 1, 2017 (reiterated on December 18, 2018), I pled guilty to lying to agents of the FBI. I am innocent of this crime.”
    • “I gave [Covington] the information they requested and answered their questions truthfully.”
    • “I still don’t remember if I discussed sanctions on a phone call with Ambassador Kislyak nor do I remember if we discussed the details of a UN vote on Israel.”
    • “My relationship with Covington disintegrated soon thereafter.” [After second proffer session.]
    • “I did not believe I had lied in my White House interview with the FBI agents.”
    • “In the preceding months leading up to this moment [when he agreed to the plea deal], I had read articles and heard rumors that the agents did not believe that I had lied.”
    • “It was well after I pled guilty on December 1, 2017, that I heard or read that the agents had stated that they did not believe that I had lied during the January 24, 2017, White House interview.”
    • “I agreed to plead guilty that next day, December 1, 2017, because of the intense pressure from the Special Counsel’s Office, which included a threat to indict my son, Michael, and the lack of crucial information from my counsel.”
    • “My former lawyers from Covington also assured me on November 30, 2017, that if I accepted the plea, my son Michael would be left in peace.”
    • “Regretfully I followed my lawyers’ strong advice to confirm my plea even though it was all I could do to not cry out ‘no’ when this Court asked me if I was guilty.”
    • “In truth, I never lied.”

Not to mention, Flynn’s sworn declaration is internally inconsistent. [Update: a few more of the amicus briefs have been approved, including one from former prosecutors.]

It’s also worth noting that the Bill Barnett 302, which included about a page worth of paragraphs that were “pending unsealing by the court” that have yet to be unsealed. Some of those must pertain to things Flynn claimed in his declaration. (Flynn’s defense, but not Judge Sullivan, has an unredacted copy.)

Finally, yesterday, DOJ either posted or updated a job description that could be Brandon Van Grack’s job leading DOJ’s more focused FARA practice, which Van Grack got moved to after the Mueller investigation (though it could also be a more junior position reporting to Van Grack).

The attorney for this position will focus on administering and enforcing FARA, with at least 50% of the attorney’s time devoted to FARA matters. The attorney’s FARA responsibilities will include preparing for and leading civil litigation, managing criminal investigations, conducting inspections, and drafting advisory opinions.

When DOJ tried to blow up Flynn’s prosecution, Van Grack withdrew from the case but did not quit, though the frothy right claimed he had been ousted. Just in the last while, Bruce Ohr was finally ousted from the office for a trumped up complaint that he shared intelligence on Russian threats, as he had done for years. Van Grack hasn’t filed anything in PACER since DOJ moved to withdraw the prosecution. That said, DOJ has repeatedly said DOJ did not violate Brady.

I don’t really know what to make of all this. But I thought I’d note what I’m seeing in the bottom of my tea cup.

Tuscaloosa Gets The Birmingham Blues

Part of the lack of consistent Trash has been aversion to NCAA “opening”, knowing what would happen. The NFL pros had/have a shot, but even that has not been easy. Colleges? Anybody that has spent time on a college campus knew that would be a tough pull. So…..

Nick Saban is a Trumpian hero that magically slays the Covid and can coach the most important thing in the world, a belligerent SEC game. What a jerk. That said, UGA at Bama is close to a national championship game as you will get prior to any supposed BCS Championship.

Bill Bel had an interesting start to his coaching career. He was always that guy, and it is interesting reading.

As to the Pros, they are holding on. Barely. The Tennessee Titans has a huge COVID scare that seems to be slightly smaller than first advertised. The Titans are actually a pretty well run organization, so that is not surprising. But what a warning shot, along with Cam Newton and Gilmore in Boston. Playing football, with giant team roster numbers, and even bigger administrative staffs, was always going to be harder than the NBA, NHL or even MLB.

The AFC alone lost steals the day Sunday. I’ll take the Pats over the Donkos in Gillette, but that is not overly easy, Baker and the Brownies in Pittsburgh is the game to really watch. Green Bay at Tampa Bay is the other one to watch. Whether you are a fan or not, that is two of the best QBs ever tilting at each other.

Okay, a story about the Trash music attached hereto. Long ago, I went to a Charlie Daniels Band concert in Phoenix. It was really good. So, one of my first summers in Santa Monica, I was just kind of driving around. Drove by the Civic Center and saw that the CDB was playing. So found a place to park and bought a ticket. It was absolutely great, as the CDB was back then. Later, I had an opportunity to talk to Daniels via email. He was stunningly smart, even if we disagreed about most everything. His politics were not mine, but he was great. This was before even Twitter. RIP Mr. Daniels. The Birmingham Blues are close enough to Tuscaloosa. So is Caballo Diablo.

“That’s Rudy.” Trump Proves, Yet Again, That He Would Just Ignore a Defensive Briefing

For years, the frothy right has wailed that candidate Donald Trump should have been given a defensive briefing back in July 2016, rather than have the FBI open an investigation to figure out which member(s) of his campaign had gotten advance notice that the Russians were planning on dropping emails to help Trump win. Never mind that his top advisor in the briefing where that would have occurred was secretly working for the Turkish government at the time.

The complaint has always rung hollow given that, after President Obama warned Trump against hiring Mike Flynn (the aforementioned secret agent for Turkey), Trump went ahead and hired him anyway.

Today, however, we have further proof that Trump would have done nothing if he had gotten a defensive briefing rather than have the FBI investigate whether — as turned out to be true, in every single case — Flynn and Paul Manafort and George Papadopoulos and Carter Page were trying to cash in on their ties to Trump with foreign governments.

Yesterday, the WaPo reported that Trump’s national security advisor warned Trump that Russia was feeding Trump bullshit though Rudy.

U.S. intelligence agencies warned the White House last year that President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani was the target of an influence operation by Russian intelligence, according to four former officials familiar with the matter.

The warnings were based on multiple sources, including intercepted communications, that showed Giuliani was interacting with people tied to Russian intelligence during a December 2019 trip to Ukraine, where he was gathering information that he thought would expose corrupt acts by former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

The intelligence raised concerns that Giuliani was being used to feed Russian misinformation to the president, the former officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information and conversations.

The warnings to the White House, which have not previously been reported, led national security adviser Robert O’Brien to caution Trump in a private conversation that any information Giuliani brought back from Ukraine should be considered contaminated by Russia, one of the former officials said.

The message was, “Do what you want to do, but your friend Rudy has been worked by Russian assets in Ukraine,” this person said. Officials wanted “to protect the president from coming out and saying something stupid,” particularly since he was facing impeachment over his own efforts to strong-arm Ukraine’s president into investigating the Bidens.

But O’Brien emerged from the meeting uncertain whether he had gotten through to the president. Trump had “shrugged his shoulders” at O’Brien’s warning, the former official said, and dismissed concern about his lawyer’s activities by saying, “That’s Rudy.”

The WaPo goes on to reveal that Bill Barr and Pat Cipollone — who helped Trump survive impeachment for asking for this help — along with Chris Wray all understood that Rudy was being targeted by Russia.

Several senior administration officials “all had a common understanding” that Giuliani was being targeted by the Russians, said the former official who recounted O’Brien’s intervention. That group included Attorney General William P. Barr, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and White Counsel Pat Cipollone.

Today, the NYT matched the WaPo story, albeit with one of their fewer than WaPo’s sources pushing back somewhat.

The agencies imparted the warning months before disclosing publicly in August that Moscow was trying to interfere in the election by taking aim at Mr. Biden’s campaign, the officials said. Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani have promoted unsubstantiated claims about Mr. Biden that have aligned with Russian disinformation efforts, and Mr. Giuliani has met with a Ukrainian lawmaker whom American officials believe is a Russian agent.

Robert C. O’Brien, the national security adviser, presented the warning about Mr. Giuliani to Mr. Trump in December. Two former officials gave conflicting accounts about its nature. One said the report was presented to Mr. Trump as unverified and vague, but another said the intelligence agencies had developed solid and credible information that Mr. Giuliani was being “worked over” by Russian operatives.

Mr. Trump shrugged it off, officials said, but the first former official cautioned that his reaction could have been colored in part by other information given to him not long before that appeared to back some of Mr. Giuliani’s claims about Ukraine.

Both stories, however, agree that Trump blew off this warning.

So in 2016, the FBI investigated and Trump wailed and cried and said he wished he had gotten a defensive briefing.

Last December, he got a defensive briefing, and he just let his attorney continue to mainline him Russian disinformation.

And along the way, Billy Barr seems to have sidelined a tip (and possibly tried to squelch others) — in the form of the whistleblower complaint that launched impeachment — that might get Rudy investigated for serving as such a willing agent of Russian intelligence.

2020 Presidential Debates: Missing ‘The Capital of Latin America’ [UPDATE-1]

[NB: Updates will appear at the bottom of this post. /~Rayne]

I pre-wrote posts for the presidential debates, scheduling them to post a half hour before the event began. Here’s the post I wrote about the now-canceled second debate, on which Trump and his team flip-flopped about his participation.

Here’s a post so emptywheel community members can discuss the second of three presidential debates.

Tonight’s second presidential debate scheduled for 9:00–10:30 p.m. ET . Tonight’s moderator will be Steve Scully of C-SPAN.

The debate — changed to a remote format after Trump’s hospitalization for COVID-19 — was to be held at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, Florida. Moving to a remote or virtual debate model removes a key topic of discussion though it’s best for the safety of the candidates.

Miami has two nicknames: the Gateway to the the Americas, and the Capital of Latin America. I wonder how closely Central and South America will be watching the debate because the original location lent itself to discussion of foreign policy in the Americas.

Good luck to Steve Scully on keeping the tangerine hellbeast from running amok as he did during the first debate.

Of course we now know that roughly 26-28 hours after Trump’s participation in the first presidential debate, Trump tweeted that he and his current spouse tested positive for COVID-19.

This is Day 14 after that announcement, and still an unknown number of days since Trump’s positive test was administered. We don’t know how long the gap was between the time the test was administered and when he announced he was positive, let alone if more than one test was taken or the kinds of tests used.

It’s also an unknown number of days since his last negative test because Trump and his minions have steadfastly refused to answer this question. We’ve seen reports indicating Trump was not tested regularly.

We still don’t have any indication who infected him or when. We know Hope Hicks, whose positive test was announced on October 1, traveled with Trump on Friday September 25. RNC’s chair Ronna Romney McDaniel was also with Trump inside the 24 hours before the “Rose Garden Massacre” super spreader event.

An unknown number of people including senators and GOP political figures were infected at that event; as of this past Monday we could account for 34 but there have surely been more who either didn’t tell anyone for various reasons including Trump’s goddamned NDAs, or fear, or asymptomatic status.

We’re no closer to knowing how the super spreader event began.

Trump ultimately canceled this second presidential debate because of his COVID-positive status seven days before this debate, unwilling as he was to participate on a virtual basis.

But just because he canceled doesn’t mean we the people don’t have questions for the candidates.

~ ~ ~

Make sure to add the date of the third and final presidential debate to your calendar — format and location subject to change, of course, if not outright cancellation:

Thursday, October 22, 2020 8:00–9:30 p.m. ET
Location: Curb Event Center at Belmont University, Nashville, Tennessee
Moderator: Kristen Welker, NBC

~ ~ ~

UPDATE-1 — 8:30 P.M. 15-OCT-2020 —

I left this post unchanged while the situation gelled into this evening’s dueling town halls, with Biden on ABC and Trump on NBC.

Since Trump’s appearance on NBC was announced, there’s been a shit storm of outrage across social media platforms. Trump refused to debate on a remote basis, but he’s willing to appear on a network this evening at the same time as Biden?

Fuck that.

Many young people are tuning into ABC on multiple devices and streams to watch Biden’s town hall in order to boost his viewership ratings, knowing of course that Trump is hung up on audience numbers.

After the way in which K-pop fans skewed the reservation numbers for Trump’s Tulsa OK rally back in June, it’ll be interesting to see what youngsters can do this time against a forewarned Team Trump.

Not putting up Trump’s crap here tonight, especially after his rally appearance today in which he implied he authorized the extrajudicial execution of an anti-fascist protester.

image_print