In Defense of Trump’s Steele Dossier Tweet

I can’t believe what I’m about to do.

I’m going to defend this tweet from Donald Trump as reasonable.

Before I do, let me say two things.

First, I have zero doubt that the Russians attempted to influence the election. I think it likely Robert Mueller will eventually show evidence that senior people in Trump’s camp attempted to and may have coordinated with people working for Russia, and people more tangential to the campaign sought out Russians for help. I think if the full story of the Russian involvement in the election comes out, it will be worse than what people currently imagine.

I also think Trump opponents have made a really grave error in investing so much in the Steele dossier. That’s true because, from the start, there were some real provenance questions about it, as leaked. Those questions have only grown, as I’ll explain below. The dossier was always way behind ongoing reporting on the hack-and-leak, meaning it is utterly useless for one of the most important parts of last year’s tampering. The dossier provides Trump officials a really easy way to rebut claims of involvement, even when (such as with Michael Cohen) there is ample other evidence to suggest inappropriate ties with Russia. Most importantly, the dossier is not needed for the most common reason people cling to it, to provide a framework to understand Trump’s compromise by Russia. By late January, WaPo’s reporting did a far better job of that, with the advantage that it generally proceeded from events with more public demonstrable proof. And (again, given the abundance of other evidence) there’s no reason to believe the Mueller investigation depends on it.

But because Trump opponents have clung to the damn dossier for months, like a baby’s blanket, hoping for a pee tape, it allows Trump, Republicans, and Russians to engage in lawfare and other means to discredit the dossier as if discrediting the dossier will make the pile of other incriminating evidence disappear.

I believe the Trump opponents’ investment in the Steele dossier will ultimately lead to a bad own goal.

All that said, I think Trump’s tweet today, while as typically douchey as all his tweets, is somewhat defensible (and the fact that it is defensible should serve as a warning to those still clinging to the Steele dossier).

Workers of firm … take the 5th

Trump is referring to the fact that two Fusion employees refused to testify before the House Intelligence Committee under a subpoena issued unilaterally by Devin Nunes. There is significant confusion, spread in part by their attorney, as to why they would not testify. Beforehand, their attorney said the First Amendment permitted them to blow off the committee (which wouldn’t even be true for a journalist, much less an oppo research firm pretending for convenience to be a journalistic enterprise). Since it happened, several credible journalists have said Fusion’s lawyer said they pled the Fifth (which would work, but would also mean they felt they had criminal exposure).

So the point it at least contested.

My guess is they’re just stalling, with the knowledge that if Nunes has to find a way to enforce his subpoena, the rest of the committee will get to weigh in and will refuse to back his effort.

Discredited and Fake

It is true that anonymous sources say that the FBI has corroborated some things in the dossier (and Andy McCarthy makes an uncharacteristically worthwhile argument for what the tea leaves say). It is also true that Dianne Feinstein confirmed during the summer that we only have part (and given the numbering, probably a very small part) of the dossier. So we can’t be sure whether the bits FBI has corroborated are public at all.

There are things, as I’ve noted, that totally discredit parts of the dossier, such as the fact that it reported Russia hadn’t succeeded in hacking top targets almost a year after it was widely reported FSB already had (in general, the dossier is awful on the hack, as I lay out in this post; Steele’s speciality is in following the money and it shows).

Then there’s the fact that the unnecessary report on Alfa bank misspells their name: it’s a minor point but one those engaging in lawfare always point out.

The one thing that most people focus on — a Prague meeting between Cohen and the Russians — is not backed by the US passport he showed BuzzFeed.

A number of people have claimed that the dossier reported, 11 days after it occurred, the June 9 Trump Tower meeting. But as I lay out in this post, the dossier says the kompromat in question is older stuff based off wiretaps of Hillary, and it actually claims that Russia had not yet shared the intelligence in question, meaning the dossier did not confirm the June 9 meeting.

That doesn’t mean it’s discredited. But it doesn’t mean we know what parts of it have been corroborated, and some parts are not true (as we should expect from raw intelligence).

Who paid for it: Russia

The most problematic thing Trump said is that Russia may have paid for the dossier. It’s true we don’t know who paid for the dossier (indeed, that is the chief reason why Fusion doesn’t want to testify, to hide who did pay for it). Rumors say that a Jeb Bush supporter paid for it up until June 2016 (meaning, for a bunch of reports that aren’t public at all), and a Hillary supporter paid for it until November. Steele has claimed in court filings that the reports that came after that, including the December 13 report that has the most incendiary claims (including that Trump paid hackers involved in the operation), that he worked for free after November and that his sources — who normally would be paid — also just dumped the intelligence that happened to be the most inflammatory parts into his lap.

The Defendants continued to receive unsolicited intelligence on the matters covered by the pre-election memoranda after the US Presidential election and the conclusion of the assignment for Fusion.

After receiving some such intelligence [Steele] prepared the confidential December memorandum, … on his own initiative on or around 13 December 2016.

That last claim — that Steele worked for free — is pretty sketchy, especially when you consider that (given the numbering in the dossier and Feinstein’s confirmation we’ve got just part of the dossier) there were likely 31 reports filed between October 19 and December 13.

Regardless of who really paid for the work, the fact that Steele claims he (and his sources) were working for free, the fact that the Russians would have known about the dossier at least by October 31, when David Corn wrote about it, and possibly by mid-September, when Steele started briefing journalists on it, the fact that Aleksej Gubarev quickly sued, the fact that a suspected dossier source died in mysterious circumstances in December, and the fact that the last report tied everything up in a neat little bow, suggests the Russians may have been feeding Steele disinformation by that last report.

Does that mean the Russians paid Steele? Absolutely not. It’s an outrageous insinuation. Does that mean that any disinformation in the dossier was ultimately paid for by Russia and that it is not crazy to imagine the later reports included at least some disinformation? Yup.

Then there’s another detail that makes the Russian accusation at least reasonable: the fact that Rinat Ahkmetshin had a relationship with Fusion (to work on anti-Magnitsky stuff) at precisely the same time as Fusion was working on the Trump dossier. Not only does that fact make it more likely Russians eventually learned of the dossier and fed Steele disinformation, but it also means Fusion was getting paid by Russians at the same time as or not long before it was producing free Steele dossier work.

Who paid for it: FBI

People seem most offended by Trump’s claim that FBI may have paid for the dossier. The reporting on this point conflicts, but note that CNN has said that Steele got paid by the FBI for expenses.

CNN:

The FBI reimbursed some expenses of the former British intelligence operative who produced a dossier containing allegations of President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia, people familiar with the matter said.

WaPo:

The former British spy who authored a controversial dossier on behalf of Donald Trump’s political opponents alleging ties between Trump and Russia reached an agreement with the FBI a few weeks before the election for the bureau to pay him to continue his work, according to several people familiar with the arrangement.

The agreement to compensate former MI6 agent Christopher Steele came as U.S. intelligence agencies reached a consensus that the Russians had interfered in the presidential election by orchestrating hacks of Democratic Party email accounts.

[snip]

Ultimately, the FBI did not pay Steele. Communications between the bureau and the former spy were interrupted as Steele’s now-famous dossier became the subject of news stories, congressional inquiries and presidential denials, according to the people familiar with the arrangement, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

NBC:

The FBI reached a deal in October to pay a former British spy who had compiled a dossier on Donald Trump’s alleged ties with Russia, an indication of how seriously the bureau was taking the allegations, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The deal for the former operative, Christopher Steele, to continue his work on behalf of the FBI fell apart when Steele pulled out, said the source, who has direct knowledge of the situation.

Given what Chuck Grassley has asked and said in response, my suspicion is the reality is that FBI paid Steele’s expenses for trips to explain sourcing and other details of the dossier to them, meaning their funds didn’t pay his sources or for his time, but did pay for him to meet with the FBI.

Who paid for it: Dems

This claim is a no-brainer. According to the public story, a Hillary supporter — who has always been presumed to be a Democrat though there’s no reason that has to be true (indeed, it is utterly conceivable that the same person paid for the work first in Jeb’s name and then in Hillary’s) — paid for all the reports we have, save the December 13 one.

(or all)?

Finally, people are especially offended that Trump, with his “or all,” insinuated that the FBI and Russians were colluding against Trump.

It’s certainly possible that’s what he intended. But the public record at least claims that three different entities paid for the dossier over time; that same record makes a reasonable claim that both the Dems and FBI paid some money to support the dossier.

All of which is to say the serial payment for the dossier does not require that “or all” to be a malicious insinuation of collusion (heh) between FBI and Russia.

I know this will be an unbelievably unpopular post. But the dossier simply isn’t as pristine as those clinging to it want it to be. Which is a good reason for Trump opponents to spend more time highlighting the great reporting of the WaPo or NYT, which often as not has been confirmed and is backed by public information.

Update: Made some tweaks in my argument that Trump opponents should stop clinging to the Steele dossier.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

In Discussion of Unmasking Admiral Rogers Gets Closer to Admitting Types of Section 702 Cybersecurity Use

Last Friday, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Director of NSA Mike Rogers, and FBI Director Christopher Wray did an event at Heritage Foundation explaining why we need Section 702 and pretending that we need it without reasonable reforms. I attended Wray’s talk — and even got my question on cybersecurity asked, which he largely dodged (I’ll have more about two troubling things Wray said later). But I missed Rogers’ talk and am just now catching up on it.

In it, he describes a use of Section 702 that goes further than NSA usually does to describe how the authority is used in cybersecurity.

So what are some examples where we’ll unmask? Companies. Cybersecurity. So we’ll report that US company 1 was hacked by the following country, here’s how they got in, here’s where they are, here’s what they’re doing. Part of our responsibility on the US government side is the duty to warn. So how do you warn US company 1 if you don’t even know who US company 1 is? So one of the reasons we do unmasking is, so for example we can take protective to ensure this information is provided to the appropriate individuals.

What Rogers describes is an active hack, by a nation-state (which suggests that rule may not have changed since the 2015 report based off 2012 Snowden documents that said NSA could only use 702 against nation-state hackers). The description is not necessarily limited to emails, the type of data NSA likes to pretend it collects in upstream (though it could involve phishing). And the description even includes what is going on at the victim company.

Rogers explains that the NSA would unmask that information so as to be able to warn the victim — something that (via the FBI) happened with the DNC, but something which didn’t happen with a number of other election related hacks.

Of course, Reality Winner is facing prison for having made this clear. The FISA-derived report she is accused of leaking shows how the masking works in practice.

In the case of VR Systems, the targeted company described, it’s not entirely clear whether NSA (though FBI) warned them directly or simply warned the states that used it. But warnings, complete with their name, were issued. And then leaked to the press, presumably by people who aren’t facing prison time.

In any case, this is a thin description of NSA’s use of 702 on cybersecurity investigations. But more detail in unclassified public than has previously been released.

 

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Dear Bob Corker: Trump Has Also Been Starting Wars Here at Home

There is great delight in the chatter classes about — first — Bob Corker’s quip about the White House serving as an adult day care center caring for old people with dementia.

And then this article with a series of accusations about how unstable Trump is.

Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, charged in an interview on Sunday that President Trump was treating his office like “a reality show,” with reckless threats toward other countries that could set the nation “on the path to World War III.”

In an extraordinary rebuke of a president of his own party, Mr. Corker said he was alarmed about a president who acts “like he’s doing ‘The Apprentice’ or something.”

“He concerns me,” Mr. Corker added. “He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation.”

But I want to point to several passages most people aren’t focusing on.

First, Corker claims that he still likes his golfing buddy Trump.

The deeply personal back-and-forth will almost certainly rupture what had been a friendship with a fellow real estate developer turned elected official, one of the few genuine relationships Mr. Trump had developed on Capitol Hill. Still, even as he leveled his stinging accusations, Mr. Corker repeatedly said on Sunday that he liked Mr. Trump, until now an occasional golf partner, and wished him “no harm.”

Then, Corker says he doesn’t regret normalizing Trump during his campaign.

One of the most prominent establishment-aligned Republicans to develop a relationship with Mr. Trump, the senator said he did not regret standing with him during the campaign last year.

“I would compliment him on things that he did well, and I’d criticize things that were inappropriate,” he said. “So it’s been really the same all the way through.”

And ultimately Corker stops short of deeming Trump unfit, in spite of all the comments that make it clear almost all Republicans do view him as unfit (which, indeed, he would be if he required adult day care).

“As long as there are people like that around him who are able to talk him down when he gets spun up, you know, calm him down and continue to work with him before a decision gets made, I think we’ll be fine,” he said.

Mr. Corker would not directly answer when asked whether he thought Mr. Trump was fit for the presidency. But he did say that the commander in chief was not fully aware of the power of his office.

“I don’t think he appreciates that when the president of the United States speaks and says the things that he does, the impact that it has around the world, especially in the region that he’s addressing,” he said. “And so, yeah, it’s concerning to me.”

This is important for several reasons.

For the most part, Corker is focusing on the damage Trump will do internationally. He mentions North Korea, matters on which he fantastically imagines the worst Secretary of State in recent memory, Rex Tillerson, is “negotiating,” and the Iran Deal.

When specifically asked if Trump is unfit, Corker focused on his role as Commander-in-Chief, bracketing all the other parts of being President, as a way to avoid calling the man unfit, which might require action under the 25th Amendment.

And, still, Corker still normalizes the golfing buddy who has spent over two years sowing division in this country and ten months working to dismantle the country internally.

Yes, Corker mentions Trump’s racist comments after Charlottesville, and then confesses he still likes the man who made them.

It’s nice that Corker has finally made it clear his Republican colleagues recognize what the rest of us have too, that Trump is a disaster. But he did so in such a way as to absolve himself and his colleagues from direct action, choosing instead to leave Trump in place to continue his war on America and Americans, even while hoping that Tillerson and his co-babysitters can keep Trump’s fat fingers off the nuclear button.

These are great one-liners from Corker.

But these are not responsible comments. Congress is a co-equal branch of government. And if almost all Republicans in the Senate recognize that Trump is unfit to be president, their constitutional duty is to do something about it, not to continue to normalize him in the hopes he’ll finish dismantling the laws and policies protecting vulnerable Americans.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Killer Trash Talk

Hi there!

This will be a Trash Talk mostly absent the real world intrusions of the last few weeks. Mostly.

But I had dinner a couple of days ago with a couple of people, both students, with a family and home in Puerto Rico. No, nothing there is going the way Trump duplicitously portrays it. It is just not. To argue otherwise is to prove a fool and ignorant. Here is the Washington Post with a reminder of what we all knew. The family we know lives in a part of San Juan that is upscale. It is the “nice” part. They still do not have power. Just barely got running water. Things are very much not good there. And will not be for a very long time. For this White House to have taken the victory laps they did is simply unimaginable. Then there is the Las Vegas shooting. That will await another day.

So, probably we should be concerned about whether or not athletes in America stand of kneel for the national anthem. Even in hockey they may not always, or they may raise a Tommie Smith fist, and idiots will probably be up in arms about that.

On to the games. Turns out, the Mean Green of Sparty did the nation a favor by slaying Kaptain Khaki and the Bo Merlots in the large abode. And Mark Dantonio reminded everybody exactly who is the best college coach in Michigan. Don’t sleep on Chris Peterson and Washington, they are coming, and he is one hell of a coach. And hate it all you want, Penn State may be in that rarified picture too.

As to the pros: I cannot say it any better than Gary Myers did, so I won’t, and will let him speak:

The NFL needs to start looking for ways for the Chargers to move back to San Diego. Team owner Dean Spanos should take the $650 million relocation fee he owes the NFL and put it towards a new stadium in San Diego instead. Fans are tired of corporate welfare and don’t want to pay for billionaires to get new stadiums so they can make even more money. Los Angeles was fine without a team for over 20 years and now they have two. The Rams are having a tough time getting re-established in the market. The Chargers are not wanted. They can’t even sell out the 27,000-seat soccer stadium that is their home until the new stadium is ready in 2020. Fans of opposing teams are making it feel like home games are road games for the Chargers… Rivers has not relocated his family to the Los Angeles area. He customized an SUV with video equipment and a driver and rides up from San Diego every day with backup QB Kellen Clemens. Rivers says the commute takes about an hour each way. They must be leaving early and coming back late to beat the usually horrendous traffic. “It’s actually been even better than anticipated. That’s one thing I’m thankful for,” Rivers said. “I’ve had no issues at all and really feel like I’m getting all the work done. It’s been as if, honestly, as if I was right there in San Diego, as far as the way we get to setup. So, it’s been smooth.”
>>>>>
Chicago’s Mitchell Trubisky is the third rookie QB now starting as he takes over for free agent bust Mike Glennon. Browns second-round pick DeShone Kizer won the job out of camp and Texans first-round pick Deshaun Watson was made the starter at halftime of the first game. Alex Smith is doing a good job keeping first-round pick Patrick Mahomes on the bench in Kansas City… Watson, by the way, was electric in the Texans’ 57-14 victory over the Titans last week throwing for 283 yards and four TDs and also running for a TD. The Texans traded up from No. 25 in the first round and also gave up their first-round pick in 2018 to move to the Browns spot at No. 12 to get Watson. Of course, Cleveland should have taken Watson. In March, they took Brock Osweiler’s $16 million guaranteed off Houston’s payroll along with adding the Texans’ second-round pick. If the Texans win the Super Bowl, the Browns front office should get Super Bowl rings… The Browns are 2-29 in their last 31 games, the worst 31-game stretch in NFL history.

I saw that this morning, and all of it were thoughts I had to start with. It is time for Trubisky. And Watson for the Texans looks like the truth. With a real franchise QB, the Texans could be scary good for a very long time. As to the Bolts, they really should go back to San Diego. It makes far more sense than LA for them. Thing is, I am not sure San Diego wants them back at this point. The blinding arrogance and lack of sensitivity of the Spanos family and the NFL owners/Goodell is so incredible that I am not sure the Chargers are now welcome anywhere, much less in San Diego. What a total oligarch cockup.

The Pats overcame the Bucs in one of the better and more memorable Thursday Night games to move to 3-2 for the year. Huge win, but Brady is still spending too much time on his ass from poor offensive line play. And, though the defense has been praised for their effort against TB, it really was not that much better. History reflects that Bill Bel defenses start soft and gel when it counts, but this one is nowhere near that yet. We shall see, but, for now, Bill Bel and the boys are 3-2 and on to the Jets Jets Jets, who will undoubtedly enter the game next week also at 3-2 because they play the Brownies today. The better question is whether the Bills circle their wagons enough today against the Bengals in Cinci to keep the lead in the AFC East, or if they fall to 3-2, and leave the Pats right where they always are. In the division lead.

In other games, the Cards at Iggles is interesting. Philly has been in a breakout so far. The Cards have sucked. I think the Eagles win this pretty easy, but Cards are one of those outliers that, if they catch fire, can flat kill you. Don’t think so this week.

Detroit at Carolina ought to be pretty interesting. What kind of routes will Cam the misogynist man run? But I’ll put my dimes on the Kittehs, because they are a better team. Titans at the Fish was going to be great, but Mariotta is hurt, now maybe a tossup. Best game, probably by far, is the Cheesers at the Boys. I’ll call it a tossup. It is not a make or break game for either team. It is, however, one of the more underrated rivalries in the NFL over the last two decades. That is must see TV.

Today’s music is by The Killers. It seems a weird name for the band in light of what just happened a week ago in their home town of Las Vegas. But they have been rocking, and carrying the banner of Nevada and Las Vegas since they broke out with Hot Fuss in 2004. The band is ridiculously good, and have been from the start. If you do not know The Killers, you should, give them a try. So, let us rock on for another week.

Bmaz is a rather large saguaro cactus in the Southwestern Sonoran desert. A lover of the Constitution, law, family, sports, food and spirits. As you might imagine, a bit prickly occasionally. Bmaz has attended all three state universities in Arizona, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Arizona State University, and with significant post-graduate work (in physics and organic chemistry, go figure) at both the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Arizona. Married, with both a lovely child and a giant Sasquatch dog. Bmaz has been a participant on the internet since the early 2000’s, including active participation in the precursor to Emptywheel, The Next Hurrah. Formally joined the Emptywheel blog as an original contributing member at its founding in 2007. Bmaz grew up around politics, education, sports and, most significantly, cars; notably around Formula One racing and Concours de Elegance automobile restoration and showing. Currently lives in the Cactus Patch with his lovely wife and beast of a dog, and practices both criminal and civil trial law.

Chuck Grassley Finally Shows Concern about Parallel Construction — Affecting Trump

As I’ve said repeatedly, I think Chuck Grassley’s concerns about the Steele dossier — and FBI’s refusal to answer questions about it — generally have merit. That continues with his latest letter to FBI.

Effectively, he’s worried that because Steele shared the dossier with MI6, the FBI might effectively be parallel constructing intelligence that ultimately came from Steele, and so from a oppo research dossier.

There is another concern about Mr. Steele’s and Fusion GPS’s work that the FBI needs to address.  Public reports indicate that the FBI received the dossier and has used it in the Russia investigation.  However, it appears that the FBI, the media, and various Congressional offices were not the only recipients of the dossier prior to its publication.  In court filings by Mr. Steele’s attorneys in London, he admitted that he had passed at least some contents of the dossier to at least one foreign government – the United Kingdom.[1]

Media reports have also claimed that foreign governments passed along information to the United States about purported contacts between Trump associates and Russians.  Given that Mr. Steele also distributed the dossier’s contents to at least one foreign government, it is possible that this political dossier’s collusion allegations, or related allegations originating via Mr. Steele, may have also been surreptitiously funneled into U.S. intelligence streams through foreign intelligence sharing.  If so, that foreign information would likely have ended up within the FBI’s investigation of allegations of collusion between Trump associates and Russia.  However, given that foreign intelligence agencies carefully guard their sources and methods, it may not have been clear to the FBI that the foreign reporting was actually based on the work of Mr. Steele and Fusion GPS.

If this in fact happened, it would be alarming.  Mr. Steele’s dossier allegations might appear to be “confirmed” by foreign intelligence, rather than just an echo of the same “research” that Fusion bought from Steele and that the FBI reportedly also attempted to buy from Steele.  It is even more alarming in light of what we are learning about the allegedly unregistered Russian foreign agents who Fusion GPS and Glenn Simpson were working with to undermine the Magnitsky Act and who met with Trump family and campaign officials last summer.

The Committee must understand what steps the FBI has taken to ensure that any foreign information it received and used in the Russia investigation, beyond the dossier itself, was not ultimately sourced to Mr. Steele, his associates such as Fusion GPS, or his sub-sources.

It’s a fair point — as mentioned, he’s effectively describing parallel construction, which the FBI uses all the time to hide the ultimate source for its evidence on defendants (though usually, that process involves obtaining subpoenas to hide what kind of foreign intelligence it relies on).

So I’m grateful the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee has finally decided to turn his focus on a process that is badly abused, to the detriment of due process in this country.

I just wish he expressed the same concern for less famous targets, rather than just the President.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Richard Burr Accuses the Obama Administration of Running Out the Clock on Election Interference

At the end of yesterday’s press conference, Richard Burr made a startling accusation. In response to a question about whether the Trump Administration hasn’t done enough to respond to Russia’s interference, Burr instead addressed DHS’ delayed notice to states about election intrusions, as if that constituted an adequate response from the Trump Administration.

In doing so, Burr accused the Obama Administration of “running out the clock” (apparently, on notifying states).

Listen, I think the Vice Chairman alluded to the fact that though it was slow, getting DHS to recognize [that states needed notice of attempted hacks on their election infrastructure], it didn’t take as long as it did for the last Administration to run the clock on it. So we’re not trying to look back and point to things that were done wrong. Everybody’s done things wrong.

The accusation is particularly galling, given Lisa Monaco’s description of her efforts to get the Gang of Eight to write a letter warning states of the thread.

In the briefings, the C.I.A. said there was intelligence indicating not only that the Russians were trying to get Mr. Trump elected but that they had gained computer access to multiple state and local election boards in the United States since 2014, officials said.

Although the breached systems were not involved in actual vote-tallying operations, Obama administration officials proposed that the eight senior lawmakers write a letter to state election officials warning them of the possible threat posed by Russian hacking, officials said.

But Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican majority leader, resisted, questioning the underpinnings of the intelligence, according to officials with knowledge of the discussions. Mr. McConnell ultimately agreed to a softer version of the letter, which did not mention the Russians but warned of unnamed “malefactors” who might seek to disrupt the elections through online intrusion. The letter, dated Sept. 28, was signed by Mr. McConnell, Mr. Reid, Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Representative Nancy Pelosi, the ranking Democrat.

On Sept. 22, two other members of the Gang of Eight — Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representative Adam B. Schiff, both of California and the ranking Democrats on the Senate and House intelligence committees — released their own statement about the Russian interference that did not mention Mr. Trump or his campaign by name.

Do the math here: McConnell, Reid, Ryan, and Pelosi signed a letter saying that malefactors might try to disrupt the elections. Then Feinstein (then Burr’s counterpart on SSCI) and Schiff (Nunes’ counterpart on HPSCI) released a stronger letter blaming Russia.

Based on briefings we have received, we have concluded that the Russian intelligence agencies are making a serious and concerted effort to influence the U.S. election.

At the least, this effort is intended to sow doubt about the security of our election and may well be intended to influence the outcomes of the election—we can see no other rationale for the behavior of the Russians.

We believe that orders for the Russian intelligence agencies to conduct such actions could come only from very senior levels of the Russian government.

We call on President Putin to immediately order a halt to this activity. Americans will not stand for any foreign government trying to influence our election. We hope all Americans will stand together and reject the Russian effort.

None of these are the precise letter that Monaco has said she was after — a letter emphasizing the risk to the polls.

Still, just two people signed no letter: Nunes (who would go on to serve in Trump’s transition team) and Burr (who not only was serving on Trump’s national security advisory committee, but was in a close race in one of the states most likely to have had the outcome affected by known Russian hacking).

And he has the gall to call out the Obama Administration?

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Richard Burr’s Tacit Warning to Christopher Steele

I’m just now catching up to Richard Burr and Mark Warner’s press conference on the Russia investigation yesterday. I saw some folks questioning why they did the presser, which surprises me. The answer seems obvious. They did the presser to release and apply pressure from specific areas of the investigation. For example, Burr exonerated those involved in the Mayflower Hotel meetings on April 2016 and further argued that the GOP platform was not changed to let Russia off the hook for Ukraine (I think the latter conclusion, in any case, is correct; I’m less persuaded about the first). Warner used the presser to push for Facebook to release the ads sold to Russia.

A particularly instance of this — one that I believe has been misunderstood by those who’ve reported it thus far — pertains to the Steele dossier. Here’s what Burr said about it, working off of prepared remarks (meaning issuing this tacit warning was one purpose of the presser; after 16:00):

As it relates to the Steele dossier: unfortunately the committee has hit a wall. We have on several occasions made attempts to contact Mr. Steele, to meet with Mr. Steele, to include, personally, the Vice Chairman and myself as two individuals, of making that connection. Those offers have gone unaccepted. The committee cannot really decide the credibility of the dossier without understanding things like who paid for it? who are your sources and sub-sources? We’re investigating a very expansive Russian network of interference in US elections. And though we have been incredibly enlightened at our ability to rebuild backwards, the Steele dossier up to a certain date, getting past that point has been somewhat impossible. And I say this because I don’t think we’re going to find any intelligence products that unlock that key to pre-June of ’16. My hope is that Mr. Steele will make a decision to meet with either Mark and I or the committee or both, so that we can hear his side of it, versus for us to depict in our findings what his intent or what his actions were. And I say that to you but I also say that to Chris Steele.

People seem to interpret this to mean SSCI hasn’t been able to corroborate the dossier — a point on which Burr is ambiguous. He references intelligence products that might unlock secrets of the dossier, which might suggest the committee has found intelligence products from later in the process that either confirms or doesn’t the events as the dossier as produced.

More important, however, is his reference to June 2016. While it seems like Burr might be suggesting the committee has found no evidence on collusion dating to before that date, that would seem to be inconsistent with the committee having received information on Michael Cohen’s discussions of financial dealings from before June (though given Burr’s exoneration of the Mayflower attendees, he may deem the earlier activities to be inconclusive).

So it seems more likely Burr raised the June 2016, along with his question about how paid for the report, to suggest he has real questions about whether its findings served as a partisan effort to taint Trump, paid for by a still undisclosed Hillary backer.

If Christopher Steele won’t talk about what intelligence he had on Trump before the time when, in June 2016, he reported on Russia providing kompromat (though not, at that point, hacked emails) on Hillary to Trump’s team, Burr seems to be saying, then it will be far easier to question his motivations and the conclusions of the report. And frankly, given some of the details on the Steele dossier — especially Steele’s briefings to journalists and his claim that the customers for the brief never read it — Burr is right to question that.

In other words, one point of the presser, it seems to me, was for Burr to warn Steele that his dossier will not be treated as a credible piece of work unless and until the committee gets more details about the background to it.

Update: Apparently, Steele responded to Burr’s comments by informing the committee he is willing to meet with Burr and Warner.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Mark Warner’s Inconsistent Social Media Law-Mongering

Remember when, three weeks ago, people were shooting off their baby cannons because two reports kind of sort of claimed that Robert Mueller used a criminal search warrant to obtain details on Facebook’s ad sales to the Internet Research Association? I noted at the time that the logic behind those stories — that Facebook would have needed a warrant (as opposed to a 2703(d) order or a 702 directive) to obtain that information — was faulty. I’ve since become more certain that a D order was used in this case.

But since the stories were so dodgy, I assumed then they weren’t actually reporting about the investigation, but rather pressure on the part of Mark Warner to force Facebook to share the same data with Congress, including leaving (rather than just showing) ads.

And it worked! Last week and this week, Facebook did share those ads, with all the more leaks about them.

Unsurprisingly, Mark Warner is back, now insisting that Facebook should release all those ads that he or someone close to him just weeks ago was suggesting could only be released with a criminal search warrant, but now wants released with neither legal process nor a congressional oversight claim to force it.

I get why he wants that to happen. Even on top of informing the public about what happened in last year’s election, Warner would like to embarrass Facebook into accepting more sweeping regulation of political ads, which is a totally respectable goal.

But I find it amusing that the same people who, weeks ago, were certain that such materials were so private they could only be released with a search warrant are now arguing they should be released with no process whatsoever.

And whatever the beneficial goal here, there’s also the precedent of protection for private data. Do we really want it to be possible for (say) Russia to force Facebook to release all the information on the NGOs that target Russian users? Do we want Jeff Sessions’ DOJ to be able to force Facebook to release the details of those who oppose Trump without legal process?

I don’t expect Warner to be bound by those considerations — he’s trying to win a political battle (and doing a remarkably effective job). But I’d expect those reporting on this story to show some awareness of the claims they made about the sensitivity of this data just weeks ago.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

It’s Not the Economy, Stupid

Despite Bill Clinton’s famous catchphrase that he rode to two terms in the White House, and despite its echo in the 2016 campaign when Trump voters were described as acting out of “economic anxiety”, politics in the United States in my lifetime comes down, first and foremost, to racism. Yes, in Trump’s case and for most Republicans in office, there is a hefty dose of misogyny mixed in, but the animus against those who are not old, rich, white males unites their hatred.

Russia affected the 2016 contest. Clearly. But one of their primary tools was to stoke racial animus. Another huge impact on the actual outcome of the election was the outright suppression of minority votes by Republicans. It now appears that they may well have tipped the Wisconsin vote through suppression. And all those millions of votes for Trump, in the end, amount to nothing more than a huge endorsement of his outright racism. In the end, they came out on top with a little help from Republican policies expressly developed to prevent minorities from voting.

Trump is America’s racism unmasked and he would not be President if there weren’t a huge racist component to American culture today. The primary home for that racism is the Republican party.

The last few days have shown Trump revealing both his deep-seated racism and his cynical understanding that virtually his only support now is rooted in America’s racism. He tried his best to make his response to NFL protests be about the flag and patriotism. But that is most definitely NOT what Colin Kaepernick was protesting when he started this movement in August of 2016:

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has willingly immersed himself into controversy by refusing to stand for the playing of the national anthem in protest of what he deems are wrongdoings against African Americans and minorities in the United States.

His latest refusal to stand for the anthem — he has done this in at least one other preseason game — came before the 49ers’ preseason loss to Green Bay at Levi’s Stadium on Friday night.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Making matters even worse, NFL teams and even billionaire NFL owners–the very parties responsible for Kaepernick still not being on a roster despite abysmal quarterback play on several teams–came out with what some folks saw as admirable statements and actions in response to Trump calling for owners to “fire the sons of bitches” who kneel during the national anthem. The best response to that development came from Shannon Sharpe. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch the entire statement, it is a thing of beauty and something that every American needs to hear:

So what are we to do?

First, those of us who carry the advantage of being old, white males who are at least comfortable if not rich must speak up every time there is an instance of racial injustice. Especially at the local level, when the police treat minorities without respect, make it known that this will not stand. Support larger groups that are working to promote racial justice.

But perhaps it is also worth taking look at our own lives. What aspects of our own lives help to perpetuate racial injustice? Even simple actions can accumulate. The next time you reconcile a credit card statement, take a look at your choices. Do you only eat at faceless chain restaurants? When was the last time you had a meal at a locally owned restaurant with a minority owner? Those are likely some of the best eating establishments in your town if you take the time to look around and try some new cuisines.

How about schools? Do you send your kids to private schools, most of which have been established to get around integration? Worse yet, do you send them to charter schools, which are set up expressly to take money away from public schools?

How about your place of worship? Is it integrated? Does it have any activities or programs aimed at racial justice?

One small action that I’ve decided to take is that I won’t watch another down of NFL football until Colin Kaepernick has been signed by a team.

Trump is the poster child for American racism, but we could all benefit from spending a little time thinking about our own roles both in how he came to be President and what we can do to make sure his sort never gets there again.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

Did President Trump Violate Federal Law With His Alabama Rant?

I wrote yesterday about the racial, social and football implications of Trump’s rant in the history and home of George Wallace.

But a new, and by all appearances excellent, commenter on that post noted this:

“It occurs to me that his tweets are at least arguably in violation of 18 U.S. Code § 227. That section prohibits the POTUS (among others), from “attempting to influence or interfere” in a private company’s labor matter, to urge a “political” firing. This is especially true where the basis for the POTUS’s urging of the firing of such a private company employee (union covered, collective bargaining agreement governed) — is (as here) centered on protected political first amendment expression.”

So, is that right? Well, it is a LOT closer call than most would dismissively think. Let’s look at the language of the relevant statute, 18 USC §277:

18 U.S. Code § 227 – Wrongfully influencing a private entity’s employment decisions by a Member of Congress or an officer or employee of the legislative or executive branch:

(a) Whoever, being a covered government person, with the intent to influence, solely on the basis of partisan political affiliation, an employment decision or employment practice of any private entity—
(1) takes or withholds, or offers or threatens to take or withhold, an official act, or
(2) influences, or offers or threatens to influence, the official act of another,
shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than 15 years, or both, and may be disqualified from holding any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States.
(b) In this section, the term “covered government person” means—
(1) a Senator or Representative in, or a Delegate or Resident Commissioner to, the Congress;
(2) an employee of either House of Congress; or
(3) the President, Vice President, an employee of the United States Postal Service or the Postal Regulatory Commission, or any other executive branch employee (as such term is defined under section 2105 of title 5, United States Code).

Read the statute. It is a lot closer call than you think. Will Trump’s own Department of Justice pursue this? No, no chance, nor probably should it be. Is it a viable question, and one that ought be discussed in the public and media, yes, absolutely.

As sports law “experts” would say, let’s break it down. There are elements to a crime. Trump is unequivocally a “covered person” within the ambit of the statute. Also unequivocal is the fact that his words in Alabama were meant to influence “an employment decision or employment practice of any private entity”, in this case, the National Football League.

The problem lies in section (a)(1) of the relevant statute, which requires:

takes or withholds, or offers or threatens to take or withhold, an official act

It is easy to see and admit that Trump would do just that in a heartbeat. But Trump did not do that per se in his Alabama speech.

No. That element cannot be met by Donald J. Trump’s Alabama Song of hate. So, no, there is no exposure to 18 USC §227.

It is a great thought and question though.

And it is a perfect example of the precipice of racism, bigotry and ignorance on which the political discussion in the United States, and our Article II Executive Branch, courtesy of President Trump, nows perilously treads nearly every day.

The events and actions in and from the NFL today, tomorrow, and in the next few weeks pale in comparison. They are a symbol and a voice. But it is so much more and bigger than that.

Bmaz is a rather large saguaro cactus in the Southwestern Sonoran desert. A lover of the Constitution, law, family, sports, food and spirits. As you might imagine, a bit prickly occasionally. Bmaz has attended all three state universities in Arizona, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Arizona State University, and with significant post-graduate work (in physics and organic chemistry, go figure) at both the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Arizona. Married, with both a lovely child and a giant Sasquatch dog. Bmaz has been a participant on the internet since the early 2000’s, including active participation in the precursor to Emptywheel, The Next Hurrah. Formally joined the Emptywheel blog as an original contributing member at its founding in 2007. Bmaz grew up around politics, education, sports and, most significantly, cars; notably around Formula One racing and Concours de Elegance automobile restoration and showing. Currently lives in the Cactus Patch with his lovely wife and beast of a dog, and practices both criminal and civil trial law.