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Hurricane COVID-19: GOP’s Fiscal Restraint Pisses into the Winds

[NB: Check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

Before going further, let’s take a look at the weather by the numbers.

COVID-19 confirmed cases: 5,064,072 — new cases confirmed at a rate of 55,000/day

COVID-19 deaths: 162,623 — new deaths at a rate of 1,000/day

Unemployed: 31.3 million people were receiving some form of unemployment compensation as of Friday.

Evictions: 23 million people nationwide are at risk of being evicted or are now at some state of eviction.

This is Hurricane COVID-19, continuing to wreak havoc not on any one or two coastal states but the entire nation.

Imagine an enormous hurricane wiping out the lives of more than 162,000 Americans spread across every state.

Imagine a storm so big it destroys housing for AT LEAST 23 million Americans — at least, because this number may not include the affected family members.

Imagine a hurricane wiping out food for millions of children, many of whom rely on getting at least one meal a day from school.

This is not a single three-day blow with a limited range and a one-time demand for economic resources.

This ongoing hurricane will require everything we can throw at it for the next 12 to 18 months — until a vaccine and/or drug therapy can be developed, tested, approved, and distributed.

Concerns about fiscal restraint have NO place in the face of this rolling disaster. This is not a situation where reflexive conservative retrenchment to anti-tax small government will work.

Reflexive conservative decision-making has already failed this nation.

This includes stupidity like Sen. Ted Cruz’s nasty sarcasm on Twitter demeaning the most vulnerable in our society, the working poor and the dwindling middle class, tweeting, “Why be so cheap? Give everyone $1 million a day, every day, forever. And three soy lattes a day. And a foot massage.

Say that to the faces of families who’ve lost love ones, families wondering how they’ll keep a roof over their heads, or parents who wonder how they’ll feed their kids today and tomorrow — honest, hard-working Americans who’ve lost their jobs only because Trump and his political party have failed to take action necessary to stem COVID-19.

~ ~ ~

We’ve had more than a day to digest the White House’s feeble attempt to change the subject and redirect attention away from the GOP-led Senate’s refusal to meet to hammer out a rational economic aid package.

The Democratic Party-led House made a good faith effort to project what Americans would need based on conditions they saw and passed the HEROES Act in mid-May.

It has been sitting, waiting for the GOP-led Senate to catch up; it took TEN WEEKS to come up with a counter in the form of the HEALS Act, offering only a third of the aid HEROES Act offered while stuffed with gifts to donors and spending pork.

Democrats have been able to see this pandemic for what it is, with clear eyes. If they’ve failed it’s for lack of imagination when it comes to the obstinacy of the opposition party when it comes to facing reality.

If Democrats have failed it’s for assuming Republicans would hit bottom and eventually do the right thing.

But they haven’t. The Republicans have ensured that aid to date has been corrupted with lack of oversight and accountability, doled out to political supporters.

~ ~ ~

The White House knows things are going to get worse. They are not only unwilling to deal with the challenges accumulating over the last two months under Hurricane COVID-19, they are unwilling to plan ahead for a worsening crisis they have fomented.

Instead, inadequately qualified chief of staff Mark Meadows thinks more PR will fix the COVID crisis.

The administration has refused to work toward an effective national strategy though one is possible as other countries have proven. Their refusal is deepening the emergency.

Instead of working in good faith, they let their Bronx Colors boss spew more lies — Trump told reporters last evening that the Democrats had called, “…They’d like to get together” — when the truth is neither Nancy Pelosi or Chuck Schumer called.

Today Mnuchin indicated he wants a deal:

… Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, on a conference call with governors on Monday, said action by Congress remains the administration’s “first choice.”

Mnuchin and Vice President Mike Pence urged the governors to reach out to congressional leaders and push for legislation, according to audio of the call obtained by AP. …

Mnuchin needs to get on the phone and call his GOP peeps in the Senate, not state governors. The governors are over a barrel and need the money the House Democrats have already allocated $915 billion in direct federal aid to state and local government in the HEROES Act they passed more than two months ago.

It’s NOT the Democrats who are the problem and the states know it.

Jesus Christ, what a bunch of hacks working for this administration. They just don’t get it; they are unable to lead in the face of this massive ongoing catastrophe.

~ ~ ~

This is the threshold of an economic depression the likes of which this country has never seen. We don’t have anywhere near as much agriculture as we had in the 1930s during the Great Depression; many families simply eked by if they could keep their farms (though they did have different forms of federal assistance from a more competent government).

We are a service economy now and people can’t afford services which aren’t absolutely essential. They can’t afford the risk of services which put them in contact with other people too closely. Re-opening businesses like gyms and hair salons and restaurants doesn’t make the risks go away, nor does it change the fact most of us have had to reduce our spending because we may or have already lost our jobs.

Invest in the care of the Americans who need it. They will plow that money back into the economy. It keeps the rest of the economy moving until a vaccine or a drug therapy is available.

Failing to do this simple thing — take care of the American people by ensuring domestic Tranquility, providing for the common defense of their homes, promoting the general Welfare until we can beat back the disease — is like failing to heed the forecast of this massive Hurricane COVID-19 once again.

Parody of NOAA Hurricane Dorian map marked in Sharpie by Trump. Used here under Fair Use.

This is an open thread.

Trump’s Latest Executive Orders: Head Fakes and Head Games

[NB: Check the byline, thanks! /~Rayne]

Before we look at the craptacular bullshit Trump and his henchmen pulled over on major media outlets Friday and Saturday, let’s take a look at what needs urgent resolution.

A COVID-19 patient was evicted from her home while she was still recovering. The ownership of the home is in question yet she was booted out, still struggling to breathe while all her belongings are tossed out on the lawn.

This is likely not the only example like this. The article above notes there have been 9,000 eviction filings in the Memphis, Tennessee area as of June. How many are there today?

How many eviction filings are there across the entire country?

Bloomberg reported as much as a third of renters don’t think they will be able to make August rent payment:

Renters across America are wading into unknown territory. With the lapse of the federal moratorium on evictions that expired July 31 and the end of the $600 per week boost to unemployment benefits, a recent survey reveals the breadth of financial uncertainty now plaguing Americans.

An estimated 27% of adults in the U.S. missed their rent or mortgage payment for July, according to a nationwide survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau weekly over the last three months. Among renters alone, just over one-third (34%) said during the waning days of July that they had little to no confidence that they could make their August rent payment, a stark measure of the ongoing economic devastation for households stretched to the brink by coronavirus pandemic.

There were 43 million renters in 2019. If that number hasn’t changed we could be looking at nearly 15 million evictions within the next month.

This doesn’t include homeowners who haven’t or may not be able to make their mortgage payments.

This is a massive crisis which is kicking off slowly thanks to the GOP Senate refusing to negotiate with its HEALS Act to meet the House Democrats’ HEROES Act which was passed in May and has been ready to go since then.

Given 51 million Americans were unemployed by mid-July and many had difficulty collecting unemployment compensation on a timely basis, the scale of homelessness we are about to see because Trump and the GOP are such massively useless asshats will make the 2008 crash look like nothing.

~ ~ ~

At his Bedminster golf club Friday evening — in front of club members who didn’t wear masks in spite of New Jersey’s emergency orders — Trump threw out teasers about executive orders to help Americans:

These are Steve Herman’s live tweets capturing the event.

Many major media outlets reported Trump’s comments without any skepticism.

Just before 5:00 p.m. Saturday, Trump signed so-called executive orders. Again, major media reported this straight without any pushback, as Josh Benton noted in his feed:

In reality, what Trump signed was a head fake which did jack shit to address problems. Major media failed to portray it that way. To its credit, the Washington Post did sketch this as an end run around Congress — but it was far worse than that.

~ ~ ~

Let’s check with Bharat Ramamurti, member of Congressional Oversight Commission who spelled out the problems in a Twitter thread:

Let’s take a look at the actual text of these executive orders.

Here’s the heart of the one on evictions. As you can see, it doesn’t create an eviction moratorium. It asks certain federal agencies to see if they can maybe do something on evictions.

.

Here’s the payroll tax one. It’s a deferral. That means either employers will continue to withhold your payroll taxes and you won’t see any difference, or they won’t withhold (unlikely), and you’ll have it all withheld from your paycheck when the deferral expires at year-end.

.

Here is the key part of the unemployment insurance one.

*To be clear, the legal authority to do this is highly dubious.*

But, at best, it’s a $300/week federal contribution redirecting money that, by my estimate, would cover about 4 weeks for the currently unemployed.

.

On unemployment insurance, evictions, and on student loans, these orders and memoranda — even if they are found legal — provide far, far less relief than what Democrats provided in the HEROES Act that passed three months ago and has languished in the Senate ever since.

The House’s HEROES Act passed on May 15. The GOP-led Senate dragged its feet for two months; HEALS Act wasn’t introduced until July 27, offering only a third of the aid the HEROES Act offers while it also contains pork like spending on the F-35.

Because the GOP senate continues to take marching orders from the White House, adhering to an arbitrary $1 trillion limit which is inadequate to the size of the crisis, they avoid good faith negotiation with the House to reconcile the differences between the HEROES Act and HEALS Act.

The White House then throws out useless memoranda to keep the media occupied — a classic Bannon-esque move, treating the media as the enemy by flooding the zone with shit they have proven incapable to process correctly.

The intent is to do nothing. Absolutely nothing.

There is almost nothing actionable in the scribbles: orders like “shall identify,” “shall consider,” “shall take action,” “shall review” are worthless because they are not specific and not supported by legislation which would make them specific.

Nothing in any of the bullshit Trump signed in a reality TV-like gesture will help the millions of Americans already under threat of eviction, or those already evicted like that poor COVID-19 patient in Tennessee.

~ ~ ~

There are a number of analyses already published across the internet which spell out the flaws with the White House’s approach including its fundamental illegality.

Bob Greenstein at the Center on Budget points out the shortcomings in Trump’s “executive actions,” which is a more accurate description than executive orders. What’s missing:

– Funding for testing, contract tracing and other critical publc health needs to help get the pandemic under control
– Food assistance for millions who aren’t getting enough to eat, including students missing out on school breakfast and lunch
– Extension of the federal eviction ban and funding to help renters struggling to pay the rent
– Funding for schools to provide distance learning and take needed precautions to reopen safely
– Funding to keep child care providers afloat so they can care for children safely when parents are able to work
– Fiscal relief for states, including additional Medicaid funding, to avoid more layoffs and cuts in health care and other critical state services
– Employment benefits at adequate levels that would last more than the next six weeks or so for people who have lost jobs.

All the kinds of aid which legislation can provide and an executive order can’t, since the power of the purse lies solely with Congress.

It wouldn’t hurt at this point to brush up on executive orders; the Congressional Research Service worked up a paper on them in 2014. Probably wouldn’t hurt to revisit Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer.

As important as wrestling with this executive bullshit is, it’s essential to recognize the White House is absolutely useless to the American public right now. They aren’t doing anything to help the people, only to save their asses in the general election.

A Washington Post article published last evening tells us how chief of staff Mark Meadows and his minions are addressing the pandemic:

As the White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows is responsible for coordinating the vast executive branch, including its coronavirus response. But in closed-door meetings, he has revealed his skepticism of the two physicians guiding the anti-pandemic effort, Deborah Birx and Anthony S. Fauci, routinely questioning their expertise, according to senior administration officials and other people briefed on the internal discussions.

Meadows no longer holds a daily 8 a.m. meeting that includes health professionals to discuss the raging pandemic. Instead, aides said, he huddles in the mornings with a half-dozen politically oriented aides — and when the virus comes up, their focus is more on how to convince the public that President Trump has the crisis under control, rather than on methodically planning ways to contain it.

That’s what they are doing with the economic aid, the same damned thing — head fakes to appease their base, pretending to do something constructive when they’re doing nothing but campaigning.

The White House isn’t interested in addressing the pandemic’s economic problems any more than they are interested in addressing the pandemic itself.

That’s why the pretense of doing anything with worthless executive orders — it only needs to snow the media with head games and prop up Trump until the next head fake is required.

Meanwhile, the country continues to burn out of control.

Lysol and UV Rays: Running a Pandemic Like a Reality TV Show

After news outlets wrote their both-sides stories about the President’s musings about ingesting Lysol, and after they mapped out the four different excuses Trump offered on Friday — he told you to check with a doctor (Kayleigh McEnany); he was just joking (Trump himself); Trump was just thinking out loud (Dr. Birx); it’s the briefer’s fault (anonymous officials), several outlets set out to figure out how it came to be that the President of the most powerful country in the world went on live TV and suggested it might be a good idea to ingest cleaning supplies.

The NYT discovered that some of Trump’s advisors claim (anonymously in the NYT version, but named as Mark Meadows and Kayleigh McEnany by CNN) to have realized that allowing acting DHS Undersecretary for Science at William Bryan was going to be a mistake even before it happened. But Mike Pence liked the pretty pictures and good news he offered, so it went into the briefing.

Others inside the administration raised questions about why Mr. Bryan, whose background is not in health or science, had been invited to deliver a presentation. Mr. Bryan, whose expertise is in energy infrastructure and security, is serving in an acting capacity as the head of the department’s science and technology directorate.

Mr. Bryan served 17 years in the Army, followed by yearslong stints as a civil servant at the Defense and Energy Departments. The latter role led to a whistle-blower complaint accusing him, in part, of manipulating government policy to further his personal financial interests, and then lying to Congress about those interests.

The United States Office of Special Counsel, a federal agency that investigates whistle-blower complaints, asked the Energy Department last year to investigate the accusations against Mr. Bryan. In January, the Senate returned his nomination to the White House.

Mr. Bryan was invited by the vice president’s office to coronavirus task force meetings on Wednesday and Thursday to talk about a study that his department had done relating to heat and the conditions in which the coronavirus can thrive or be dampened. On Thursday, Mr. Bryan presented a graphic to the room, according to four people briefed on the events.

Mr. Pence’s advisers wanted Mr. Bryan to brief the news media on his findings, but several West Wing staff members objected, partly because they were concerned the information had not been verified.

Before Mr. Bryan took the lectern in the White House Briefing Room, Dr. Birx and Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, a member of the coronavirus task force, made a few revisions to his presentation, officials said.

As he listened to Mr. Bryan, the president became increasingly excited, and also felt the need to demonstrate his own understanding of science, according to three of the advisers. So Mr. Trump went ahead with his theories about the chemicals.

CNN described how Trump didn’t attend either of the task force meetings where Bryan presented his findings, but nevertheless ad-libbed a response after Bryan delivered his presentation.

President Donald Trump was absent from the Situation Room on Wednesday when William Bryan, the acting head of science at the Department of Homeland Security, presented the findings of a new study to the White House coronavirus task force.

[snip]

When Bryan arrived Thursday with a camera-ready presentation, Trump again wasn’t at the 3 p.m. ET coronavirus task force meeting, the sources said. But in the minutes before Trump’s planned early evening news conference, Bryan quickly explained his findings to the President in the Oval Office.

Moments later, Bryan was standing at the White House podium explaining how sunlight, ultraviolet rays and disinfectants — such as bleach and alcohol — could shorten the half-life of coronavirus.

But when Bryan’s explanation ended, things went sideways. As his health advisers looked on expressionless, the President started lobbing questions about whether light or disinfectants could be used inside the human body to cure coronavirus.

Trump and the White House spent the next 24 hours trying to rationalize the comments while health departments reminded Americans that ingesting bleach is lethal.

The really important detail from the CNN article, however, is that Trump doesn’t actually attend many of the Task Force meetings, which are held in the Situation Room. He attends maybe one a week, and doesn’t always warn members he’s going to drop in.

While he almost always attends the daily press briefings, Trump rarely attends the coronavirus task force meetings that precede them. The task force doesn’t seem to mind.

According to one person close to the task force, the meetings become more prolonged if Trump attends and often go off script. When Pence is at the helm, aides say, they usually tick through the agenda rapidly. Trump comes to roughly one briefing a week. At times, 10 days or more have passed without him attending.

[snip]

Trump often turns up when he’s not expected. His presence often throws the meeting well off its assigned agenda and frequently centers on how his performance is being viewed in the media or in polling.

That means Trump has been spending upwards of 10 hours a week emceeing briefings, without doing any of the homework to learn about the pandemic.

All the attempts to understand what happened have reminded me of the New Yorker article that described how Mark Barnett made a “skeezy hustler” like Donald Trump into a titan by repackaging the unprepared, impulsive things Trump said after the fact.

He wouldn’t read a script—he stumbled over the words and got the enunciation all wrong. But off the cuff he delivered the kind of zesty banter that is the lifeblood of reality television. He barked at one contestant, “Sam, you’re sort of a disaster. Don’t take offense, but everyone hates you.”

[snip]

“The Apprentice” was built around a weekly series of business challenges. At the end of each episode, Trump determined which competitor should be “fired.” But, as Braun explained, Trump was frequently unprepared for these sessions, with little grasp of who had performed well. Sometimes a candidate distinguished herself during the contest only to get fired, on a whim, by Trump. When this happened, Braun said, the editors were often obliged to “reverse engineer” the episode, scouring hundreds of hours of footage to emphasize the few moments when the exemplary candidate might have slipped up, in an attempt to assemble an artificial version of history in which Trump’s shoot-from-the-hip decision made sense.

As with the Apprentice, Thursday’s fiasco ended with reaction shot, this time of Dr. Birx realizing in real time what Trump had done.

Burnett has often boasted that, for each televised hour of “The Apprentice,” his crews shot as many as three hundred hours of footage. The real alchemy of reality television is the editing—sifting through a compost heap of clips and piecing together an absorbing story. Jonathon Braun, an editor who started working with Burnett on “Survivor” and then worked on the first six seasons of “The Apprentice,” told me, “You don’t make anything up. But you accentuate things that you see as themes.” He readily conceded how distorting this process can be. Much of reality TV consists of reaction shots: one participant says something outrageous, and the camera cuts away to another participant rolling her eyes. Often, Braun said, editors lift an eye roll from an entirely different part of the conversation.

Of course, this time it’s real. And no one gets to go back and edit Trump’s dangerous comments to make them look like leadership after the fact. By then, people were already drinking Lysol.

On Thursday, after Trump made his comments and had Dr. Birx comment on it, Philip Rucker asked him why he was spreading rumors. For me, it was the most remarkable part of an unbelievable briefing. Trump responded, first, by stating, “I’m the President and you’re fake news,” the kind of comment that might be a ratings hit if it wasn’t getting people killed.

THE PRESIDENT: Deborah, have you ever heard of that? The heat and the light, relative to certain viruses, yes, but relative to this virus?

DR. BIRX: Not as a treatment. I mean, certainly fever —

THE PRESIDENT: Yeah.

DR. BIRX: — is a good thing. When you have a fever, it helps your body respond. But not as — I’ve not seen heat or (inaudible).

THE PRESIDENT: I think it’s a great thing to look at. I mean, you know. Okay?

Q But respectfully, sir, you’re the President. And people tuning into these briefings, they want to get information and guidance and want to know what to do.

THE PRESIDENT: Hey — hey, Phil.

Q They’re not looking for a rumor.

THE PRESIDENT: Hey, Phil. I’m the President and you’re fake news. And you know what I’ll say to you? I’ll say it very nicely. I know you well.

Q Why do you say that?

THE PRESIDENT: I know you well.

Because I know the guy; I see what he writes. He’s a total faker.

Q He’s a good reporter.

THE PRESIDENT: So, are you ready? Are you ready? Are you ready? It’s just a suggestion from a brilliant lab by a very, very smart, perhaps brilliant, man. He’s talking about sun. He’s talking about heat. And you see the numbers. So that’s it; that’s all I have. I’m just here to present talent.

Trump ended, however, the most powerful man in the world rendered helpless by an actual crisis with actual consequences, by claiming, “I’m just here to present talent.”

Update: WaPo catalogued what has been going on in Trump’s COVID rallies, both since March 16 and since April 6. The whole thing is worth reading, but here’s a taste of what they found.

The president has spoken for more than 28 hours in the 35 briefings held since March 16, eating up 60 percent of the time that officials spoke, according to a Washington Post analysis of annotated transcripts from Factba.se, a data analytics company.

Over the past three weeks, the tally comes to more than 13 hours of Trump — including two hours spent on attacks and 45 minutes praising himself and his administration, but just 4½ minutes expressing condolences for coronavirus victims. He spent twice as much time promoting an unproven antimalarial drug that was the object of a Food and Drug Administration warning Friday. Trump also said something false or misleading in nearly a quarter of his prepared comments or answers to questions, the analysis shows.

If my math is correct, there have been almost 47 hours of briefings since March 16, and they’ve been an average of an hour and twenty minutes (the average for the later range is shorter, no doubt skewed by the 22 minute briefing Friday). So for the briefings Trump attends, he can spend over 9 hours a week mouthing off about stuff he knows nothing about.

 

Mark Meadows and the Potemkin Shut-Downs: Welcome to the April’s Fool White House

I know the White House has been running on Trump’s fumes for so long we’ve forgotten that Chiefs of Staff can exercise real power.

I’d like to suggest two things we’ve seen in the last week may reflect the hand of Mark Meadows.

The first is Monday’s campaign video played in the middle of Trump’s briefing, something Trump said Dan Scavino made inside the White House — a violation of the Hatch Act.

In a mash up of clips and audio that amounted to campaign ad, Trump lashed out at critics and returned to his favorite past time of going after reporters. The video began with a white screen saying “the media minimized the risk from the start.” At one point, it showed news clips of different governors giving kind remarks about the president’s response to the pandemic.

[snip]

When a reporter pressed him about the video resembling a campaign ad, Trump said it was done in the office. “We’re getting fake news and I’d like to have it corrected,” he declared.

The president also claimed that White House Director of Social Media Dan Scavino created the video, prompting reporters to question the fact that he had government employees put together what was essentially a campaign advertisement.

There’s nothing that suggests Meadows determined the content of it, but several of the decisions made in the almost two weeks since Meadows has been in place involve merging the White House and the campaign — most notably, the replacement of Stephanie Grisham with his campaign press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.

But I also suspect Meadows is behind a far more important strategy on shut-downs, in which Trump allies carry out a Potemkin shut-down, only to reopen quickly, probably in the context of graft as payoff. For this one, there’s explicit evidence in the Bloomberg coverage of his first week: Meadows convinced a number of hold-outs to enact stay-at-home orders.

Meadows has also gotten involved in the administration’s coronavirus response, calling Republican governors who have held out against issuing stay-at-home orders in their states to ask them to implement the policies immediately, according to two people familiar with the calls. The president has said such decisions are up to state leaders and has not publicly criticized those who decline, who are all Republicans.

[snip]

Meadows has also tried to persuade a group of holdout Republican governors that they should issue shelter-in-place orders to help curb the coronavirus outbreak. It isn’t clear if the new chief of staff has Trump’s blessing for the calls. The president has publicly said it is up to governors and local leaders to decide whether stay-at-home orders are appropriate and has declined to criticize the holdouts, all of whom are his political allies.

The governor of one of the holdout states, Kristi Noem of South Dakota, tweeted Wednesday that she’d spoken with Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who is a top medical adviser to the president. “Thankfully, he AGREES that a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t the answer in our state,” Noem wrote.

The tweet, according to one person familiar with the matter, was read by some as a signal to Meadows.

The week that Meadows started, a bunch of Trump flunkies issued stay-at-home orders: Arizona’s Doug Ducey (which was issued before Meadows officially started on April 1 and which extends through April 30), Florida’s Ron DeSantis (issued on April 1 and effective through April 30), Georgia’s Brian Kemp (which he has already extended through April 30), Mississippi’s Tate Reeves (imposed April 1, effective April 3, effective through April 20), Missouri’s Mike Parsons (imposed April 3, effective April 6, effective through April 24), South Carolina’s Governor Henry McMaster (imposed April 6, effective April 7, effective until rescinded). On March 31, Texas’ Governor Gregg Abbott issued an order that has been taken as a stay at home order which stops short of that; it remains in effect through April 30.

At least some of these governors, given the timing and the Bloomberg report, were cajoled by incoming Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to do so.

Last Thursday, days after his stay-at-home order, Ron DeSantis started talking about reopening schools in May (to be clear: this shut-down is having the greatest impact on children, especially those who don’t have WiFi at home and rely on schools for other services, like hot lunches). Yesterday, Gregg Abbott told Hannity most states don’t need to wait until May 1 to reopen (even though his own order goes through May 1). And of course, Mississippi and Missouri’s shutdowns don’t even last that long (indeed, they were never long enough to do any good).

So it seems likely that the same governors whom Meadows convinced to impose stay-at-home orders will shortly rescind them, giving Trump the story that he wants, that some of the nation’s biggest states have come through the COVID crisis. In Texas and Florida, in particular, a governor’s recision of a stay-at-home order might supersede those in badly affected cities (and both states are artificially limiting the number of official positive cases, in Texas by not testing likely cases in Houston, and in Florida by playing games with snowbirds.

I also suspect that one reason Mitch McConnell is refusing to negotiate with Nancy Pelosi over the other things she’d like to include in the next COVID relief package — which would include, among other things, $150 billion for state and local governments. McConnell wants to deal with such aid in a fourth aid bill and simply expand the funds available for the Paycheck Protection Program relief for small businesses, which is predictably already running out of money. The obvious reason to do that would be to withhold something that Trump can use as leverage over states and cities to do what he wants, rather than to give funds to them now without strings attached.

Trump believes, the Constitution notwithstanding, that he has either the authority or power to make states reopen. And given that Meadows was involved in getting a handful of states to impose what will amount to shut-downs that don’t appear to be good faith efforts to achieve the goal of shut-downs (though Kemp may have realized he has a bigger problem on his hands than he originally claimed), my suspicion is that those shut-downs were part of a plan to achieve some kind of leverage over reopening the economy.

On Ronna McDaniel’s (Still Undisclosed) Test Results

Update, 3/18: The Detroit Free Press just reported that McDaniel’s test (finally) came back negative. That’s both a relief — given who she interacted with before being tested — and a real testament to how long it still takes for (even powerful) people ot to get a test result.

On Friday night, RNC Chair Ronna [Romney] McDaniel got a test for COVID-19, the first high profile Republican tested based on the inadequate testing guidelines rolled out by the CDC rather than concerns arising just from exposure. That is, she had exposure and flu-like symptoms and tested negative for alternative explanations before she took the test.

I can find no follow-up report on the status of her test — though both Saturday and Sunday’s Michigan test reports included the description of a positive test for someone who could be her.

Oakland County, adult female with history of contact with someone with a confirmed case.

[snip]

Oakland County, adult female with contact with a person with COVID-19.

Meanwhile, on Saturday NYT updated a story — first published Friday afternoon — on how Kimberly Guilfoyle’s birthday party a week ago exposed a number of high profile people to the illness. The update quoted aides bitching that McDaniel revealed that she had “publicly acknowledged her illness.”

The president has sought for weeks to play down the severity of the outbreak and been especially sensitive about giving the impression that he himself was at risk. Indeed, several advisers to Mr. Trump on Saturday privately expressed irritation at Ms. McDaniel for publicly acknowledging her illness.

This is not confirmation McDaniel tested positive. Rather, it’s silence and expressed “irritation” about McDaniel’s honesty where other prominent Republicans like Matt Gaetz and Mark Meadows — to say nothing of the President himself — have disclosed both taking the test and their negative results without similar irritation.

As such, it’s an indication that the White House no longer wants to talk about the multiple exposures people within the White House and top ranks of the government or the Republican Party have had, and probably would not tell us if someone who had been exposed tested positive.

Negative or positive, McDaniel is entitled to her privacy, and I wish her the best with whatever was causing her symptoms. But President Trump has a duty to convey the seriousness of this disease and explain how easily one can come in contact with a person who, at the time, appears healthy, but who nevertheless might be contagious.

He hasn’t done that. As of yesterday’s press conference, however, he exhibited a new sobriety about this disease.

In the days ahead, the number of positive cases in a number of states are going to spike, in part reflecting second generation infections, in part because for the first time testing is becoming more widely available. For its part, Michigan announced a new case reporting, covering what will sure to cover those spiking numbers today, that eliminates the kind of individualized information that would allow someone to track a known potential case.

Which suggests that at the moment where we’ll finally begin to track asymptomatic transmission, the public will have less information with which to do so.

That probably explains why governments across the country just got more serious about stopping transmission without such critical data.

Devin Nunes Calls an Experienced Organized Crime Researcher Funded by Paul Singer a Democratic Operative

There’s a key part of Devin Nunes and Mark Meadows’ defense of the President yesterday that deserves far more attention, both for the way it distorts the factual record and how it suggests that simply being an expert on Russian and Ukrainian organized crime makes one a Democratic operative.

At issue is their bid to make the impeachment inquiry about Nellie Ohr, whom they’ve past falsely suggested had a role in mainlining the Steele dossier into DOJ and FBI. They’ve brought Nellie, the spouse of a key DOJ expert on organized crime, Bruce Ohr, back into their narrative by claiming she testified to Congress that Fusion GPS relied on Ukrainian sources. The idea is that Ohr’s testimony would prove that Trump had good reason to think Ukraine had it in for him in 2016, so could rightly ask Ukraine to investigate whether that amounted to tampering in the election.

Here’s how Nunes laid it out in his demand that Ohr be called to testify:

Nellie Ohr, former contractor for opposition research firm Fusion GPS. In a 2018 interview with the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees, Ms. Ohr stated that, during her work with Fusion GPS that ultimately assisted in the production of the Steele dossier–comprising false allegations against then-candidate Trump–Fusion GPS used information from sources in Ukraine, including Serhiy Leshchenko who recently lost his post from the Ukrainian parliament. Given President Trump’s documented belief that the Ukrainian government meddled in the 2016 election to oppose his candidacy, which forms the basis for a reasonable desire for Ukraine to investigate the circumstances surrounding the election and any potential Ukrainian involvement, Ms. Ohr is a prime fact witness who can assist Congress and the American public in better understanding the facts and circumstances surrounding Ukrainian involvement in the 2016 election.

In his demand, Nunes helpfully provides a footnote, to make it easy to see how many errors he makes in this paragraph. Here’s the passage of Ohr’s testimony before Congress that, Nunes falsely claims, backs his insinuations that Ohr tampered in the 2016 campaign.

GOP counsel Ryan Breitenbach is questioning her.

Q Was there indication from [her boss at Fusion GPS, Jake] Berkowitz or [Glenn] Simpson that they had any inside information as to whether there were suspicious connections with any of President Trump’s orbit of individuals including his family?

A What do you mean by “inside information”?

Q I would say any information that they specifically gave you, in terms of your employment with Fusion GPS, that would indicate that there were some level of connections with President Trump’s family and Russia?

A They would give me leads based on their open-source research and, you know, legal documents and other things.

Q Did they ever indicate that any of their leads were based off of sources of theirs?

A I don’t remember get- — regarding the Trump family, no.

Q Regarding any of the research during this year, 10-, 11-month period, was any — was any research based off of sources of theirs that you were aware of?

A Yes.

Q And who were the sources?

A I recall a — they were mentioning someone named Serhiy Leshchenko, a Ukrainian.

Q And did they give you any indication as to Leshchenko’s connections with them, how they got to know him? Were they doing work for him?

A With Fusion GPS?

Q Correct.

A I am not aware of how they

Q Were you aware of how they had a connection with him?

A I am not aware.

Q But you were aware that he was a source of information that was leading to information that they had, that they were then presenting to you as reasons for following up on opposition research or what research —

A Yes.

Q — that is, on President Trump or his family?

A My understanding is that some — yes. And — yes, it was not necessarily on his family that Leshchenko’s research was on.

Q Are you aware of what his research, or what his source information included?

A His source information, I am not aware.

Q You are just aware that he was a source of —

A Yes.

Q — Glenn Simpson? Or was it a source of Mr. Berkowitz? Or both?

A I am not aware of a differentiation between them. Just a source for Fusion GPS.

Q That is one source. Were there any other sources that you were aware of?

A I don’t think so. I don’t recall that there were.

Q And were you aware of Mr. Leshchenko prior to him being mentioned to you as a potential source of their information?

A Yes.

Q In what way?

A He is very well-known, Ukrainian, anti-corruption activist. So I had read about him in the press.

Q Had you studied him before?

A What do you mean by “studied”?

Q Performed independent research for any prior employer.

A No. I followed him in the — you know, if I saw him mentioned in the press, I read — I read about it.

Q And previous to this particular incoming knowledge from Mr. Simpson or just from Fusion GPS, were you aware of any connections between Mr. Leshchenko — am I saying that name, by the way?

A Yes.

Q — Mr. Leshchenko and President Trump, or anyone in President Trump’s familial orbit or even friendly orbit?

A I was unaware of any connections before that. [my emphasis]

Before this colloquy, Ohr had already testified that she had “no reason to believe” that her work was integrated into the Steele dossier at all. Democratic staffers walked her through passage after passage in the Steele dossier and asked her if her work had provided background for it, which she said it did not. She also had already explained (to both Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows in separate interactions directly) that she, “did online open source research using Russian sources, media, social media, government, you know, business registers, legal databases, all kinds of things.” Ohr’s testimony was backed by Glenn Simpson’s earlier appearances before Congress — including an appearance before HPSCI that Nunes attended; Simpson also said his own research was based off open source research.

Moreover, both the reports Nellie did (PDF 216 to 299) and a table she put together on Trump and his flunkies’ ties to suspect Russians show that the bulk of her research for Fusion preceded the time when Christopher Steele was working on the dossier. Significantly, that means much of Nellie Ohr’s work was paid by GOP billionaire Paul Singer, not the DNC.

So in this passage, Nellie Ohr is talking leads she got from her boss at Fusion, Jake Berkowitz, based off open source research he had done, that she would use to do more open source research, for a project mostly paid for by a Republican billionaire interested in the ties between Trump and Russian organized crime.

And what the passage shows is that:

  • Ohr said the information from Berkowitz came from open source reporting
  • She described herself getting information on Serhiy Leshchenko’s efforts, because he was a very well-known anti-corruption activist who was covered in the press
  • She twice said she was not aware of how Berkowitz and Simpson got their information from Leshchenko
  • She also said she didn’t know where Leshchenko got his information
  • Ohr said that Leshchenko’s reporting wasn’t focused on the Trump family (it almost certainly was focused on Paul Manafort, about whom Ohr wrote a detailed timeline)

In short, the transcript Nunes says supports a demand that Ohr testify does no such thing. Instead, it shows that this side of Fusion’s work relied on open source reporting, and that information on Leshchenko’s efforts was available via open sources. It also shows that Ohr repeatedly denied knowing whether the Fusion focus on Leshchenko was based on anything but open source reporting.

This transcript also shows that if Republicans really wanted to know about how Leshchenko’s work informed Fusion’s work, they should ask Simpson or Berkowitz to testify, because Ohr was only ever working from open sources — that is, doing research, mostly paid for by a Republican billionaire.

That background is all critically important for how Nunes ended yesterday’s testimony. In his closing statement at the hearing, Nunes restated his demand that Schiff permit Republicans to call their chosen witnesses, which he listed as:

  • The whistleblower
  • The folks that he spoke to
  • Numerous Democratic operatives who worked with Ukraine to meddle in the election

Obviously, Nellie Ohr — an experienced researcher on Ukrainian and Russian organized crime — must fall into the latter category.

So on top of all the ways Nunes misrepresented the Ohr’s testimony (or her ability to testify on the issues he claims to want to hear), there’s this. The Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, believes that an expert on Ukrainian and Russian organized crime being paid to do open source research by a Republican billionaire must be a Democratic operative.

The Cognitive Dissonance of Learning about Roger Stone’s “Collusion”

On March 27, just days after Bill Barr issued his “summary” of the Mueller Report but well before the Report got released publicly, I wrote a post laying out how Barr obviously understated the complicity of Trump and his flunkies. I noted how he focused exclusively on what the campaign (and not its satellite ratfuckers) did, and only on what they may have done with Russia. As a result, it left a big space for what Roger Stone, according to his indictment, did: attempt to (with uncertain success) optimize the release of the stolen emails.

Stone was not charged with conspiring with WikiLeaks. But then, short of making an argument that WikiLeaks is a known agent of Russia — which the US government has never done — optimizing the WikiLeaks release is not a crime. But assuming that Corsi is correct that Stone got WikiLeaks to hold the Podesta release to dampen the impact of the Access Hollywood video, it is absolutely coordination. And even according to Stone — who believed Trump needed to avoid alienating women to win — dampening the release of the video influenced the election.

Now consider how this behavior falls into Barr’s supposed exoneration of Trump campaign involvement in the hack-and-leak.

First, there’s Barr’s truncated citation of a Mueller Report sentence. [my emphasis throughout]

As the report states: “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

Then a footnote defining what the word “coordinated” means in that sentence.

In assessing potential conspiracy charges, the Special Counsel also considered whether members of the Trump campaign “coordinated” with Russian election interference activities. The Special Counsel defined “coordinated” as an “agreement–tacit or express–between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government on election interference.”

Finally, there’s Barr’s own version.

The second element involved the Russian government’s efforts to conduct computer hacking operations designed to gather and disseminate information to influence the election. The Special Counsel found that Russian government actors successfully hacked into computers and obtained emails from persons affiliated with the Clinton campaign and Democratic Party organizations, and publicly disseminated those materials through various intermediaries, including WikiLeaks. Based on these activities, the Special Counsel brought criminal charges against a number of Russian military officers for conspiring to hack into computers in the United States for purposes of influencing the election. But as noted above, the Special Counsel did not find that the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in these efforts, despite multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.

The exoneration for coordination in Mueller’s language, at least, extends only to the Trump campaign, not to rat-fuckers working on the side (one of the things Mueller reportedly asked a lot of witnesses was precisely when and why Stone left the campaign). And at least according to this language, Mueller’s assessment of coordination extended only to coordination with the Russian government. So even if Mueller and the US government are getting close to labeling WikiLeaks a Russian entity, it still wouldn’t count for this assessment. Unsurprisingly, Barr relies on that language to give the Trump campaign a clean bill of health on the hack-and-leak side.

Most cynically, though, even after Barr acknowledges that the Russians used WikiLeaks to disseminate the stolen emails, the very next sentence doesn’t mention the charges Mueller brought against Stone for hiding his own (and through him, the campaign’s, including Donald Trump’s) coordination of the releases “for purposes of influencing the election.”

But we know Stone’s indictment has to be in the report. That’s because the report, by regulation, must list all Mueller’s prosecutorial decisions. So not only would Mueller describe that he indicted Stone, but he probably also explains why he didn’t include a conspiracy charge in Stone’s indictment (which probably relates primarily to First Amendment concerns, and not any illusions about WikiLeaks’ willing service for Russia on this operation). So it must be in the report. But Barr doesn’t mention that, indeed, the Trump campaign, through their associated rat-fucker, did actually coordinate on the hack-and-leak and did actually influence the election by doing so, they just didn’t coordinate directly with the Russian government.

On this matter, it’s crystal clear that Barr cynically limited his discussion of the report to obscure that Mueller had, indeed, found that the campaign “coordinated” on the hack-and-leak for purposes of influencing the election.

When the Report came out, it became clear I was more right than I expected. First, there were two previously unknown incidents showing the evidence against Stone to be worse than previously known. The report showed Rick Gates witnessing a call where Stone, presumably, informed Trump that more files were coming. But it also included testimony from Ted Malloch who, contrary to being an intermediary to Assange (as Corsi had claimed) instead described learning from Corsi that WikiLeaks would drop John Podesta emails, backing the claim that Corsi and/or Stone got advanced information about the releases.

But the Report also had an almost entirely redacted section that — the TOC makes clear — includes analysis about whether optimizing email releases with WikiLeaks constitutes a campaign donation.

As noted, that section is almost entirely redacted, at least in part because of the Stone trial. Nevertheless, in most parts, it parallels the analysis done, in unredacted form, on the June 9 meeting. It has a section on whether these emails constitute a thing of value and whether the benefit was obtained willfully (that part is unredacted and suggests there might be difficulties on this front as well). But it also includes a section on the constitutional implications of defining optimized releases of emails as a campaign finance violation.

So we should assume that Mueller didn’t charge what we’re seeing in part for very good First Amendment reasons (though the EDVA indictment of Julian Assange seems to conflict with that analysis).

I raise all this by way of explanation to the many people wondering how the abundant evidence that not just Stone, but Trump himself, worked to optimize the release of the stolen emails did not get charged. Mueller considered it, and in part for reasons that we should all respect, did not charge it.

All that said, people experiencing cognitive dissonance should remember something else.

Mueller’s Report only addressed crimes he charged or declined to charge. It did not — he said explicitly on page 2 — address collusion. And while Bill Barr tried to define “collusion” as “conspiracy between the campaign itself and the Russian government,” and having done so exonerated Trump of all collusion, the report itself does not do so.

Which is why I keep going back to how Mark Meadows defined “collusion” in a hearing a year ago. In walking George Papadopoulos through his claimed ignorance of any attempt to optimize the emails that Joseph Mifsud told him about, Meadows defined “collusion” as “benefiting from Hillary Clinton emails.”

Mr. Papadopoulos. And after he was throwing these allegations at me, I —

Mr. Meadows. And by allegations, allegations that the Trump campaign was benefiting from Hillary Clinton emails?

Mr. Papadopoulos. Something along those lines, sir. And I think I pushed back and I told him, I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. What you’re talking about is something along the lines of treason. I’m not involved. I don’t know anyone in the campaign who’s involved. And, you know, I really have nothing to do with Russia. That’s — something along those lines is how I think I responded to this person.

Mr. Meadows. So essentially at this point, he was suggesting that there was collusion and you pushed back very firmly is what it sounds like. [my emphasis]

One of Trump’s top backers in Congress defines “collusion” as whether the campaign benefitted from the release of Hillary’s stolen emails. And while we haven’t yet seen in trial exhibits that Stone did succeed (though the Malloch testimony seems to suggest we will), what we have seen is that the campaign, from Trump on down, made significant efforts to “collude.”

That’s where I predicted we’d end up after hearing Barr’s very narrow exoneration but before seeing the report: that the campaign “colluded” in ways that Mueller could not charge criminally.

The Mueller Report Was Neither about Collusion Nor about Completed Investigation(s)

In the days since BuzzFeed released a bunch of backup files to the Mueller Report, multiple people have asserted these 302s are proof that Robert Mueller did an inadequate investigation, either by suggesting that the information we’re now seeing is incredibly damaging and so must have merited criminal charges or by claiming we’re seeing entirely new evidence.

I’ve had my own tactical complaints about the Mueller investigation (most notably, about how he managed Mike Flynn’s cooperation, but that might be remedied depending on how Emmet Sullivan treats Sidney Powell’s theatrics).  But I have yet to see a complaint that persuades me.

You never know what you can find in the Mueller Report if you read it

Let’s start with claims about how the release revealed details we didn’t previously know. Virtually all of these instead show that people haven’t read the Mueller Report attentively (though some don’t understand that two of the six interview reports we’ve got record someone lying to Mueller, and all are interviews of human beings with imperfect memories). Take this Will Bunch column, which claims that Rick Gates’ claims made in a muddled April 10, 2018 interview reveal information — that Trump ordered his subordinates to go find Hillary emails — we didn’t know.

Rick Gates, the veteran high-level political operative who served as Donald Trump’s deputy campaign manager in 2016, told investigators he remembers exactly where he was — aboard Trump’s campaign jet — when he heard the candidate’s desires and frustrations over a scheme to defeat Hillary Clinton with hacked, stolen emails boil over. And he also remembered the future president’s exact words that day in summer 2016.

Gates’ disclosure to investigators was a key insight into the state of mind of a campaign that was willing and eager to work with electronic thieves — even with powerful foreign adversaries like Russia, if need be — to win a presidential election. Yet that critical information wasn’t revealed in Mueller’s 440-page report that was supposed to tell the American public everything we needed to know about what the president knew and when he knew it, regarding Russia’s election hacking.

The passage in question comes from an interview where a redacted section reflecting questions about what Gates knew in May 2016 leads into a section on “Campaign Response to Hacked Emails.” What follows clearly reflects a confusion in Gates’ mind — and/or perhaps a conflation on the part of the campaign — between the emails Hillary deleted from her server and the emails stolen by Russia. The passage wanders between these topics:

  • People on the campaign embracing the Seth Rich conspiracy
  • Don Jr asking about the emails in “family meetings
  • The campaign looking for Clinton Foundation emails
  • Interest in the emails in April and May, before (per public reports) anyone but George Papadopoulos knew of the stolen emails
  • The June 9 meeting
  • Trump exhibiting “healthy skepticism” about some emails
  • The anticipation about emails after Assange said they’d be coming on June 12
  • The fact that the campaign first started coordinating with the RNC because they had details of upcoming dates
  • RNC’s media campaigns after the emails started coming out
  • Trump’s order to “Get the emails” and Flynn’s efforts to do so
  • Details of who had ties to Russia and the Konstantin Kilimnik claim that Ukraine might be behind the hack
  • China, Israel, Kyrgyzstan
  • Gates never heard about emails from Papadopoulos
  • Sean Hannity

This seems to be more Gates’ stream of consciousness about emails, generally, then a directed interview. But Gates’ claim that 1) he didn’t know about emails from Papadopoulos but nevertheless 2) was party to discussions about emails in April and May is only consistent with some of these comments pertaining to Hillary’s deleted emails.

Once you realize that, then you know where to look for the “Get the emails” evidence in the Mueller Report: in the description of Mike Flynn making extensive efforts to get emails — albeit those Hillary deleted.

After candidate Trump stated on July 27, 2016, that he hoped Russia would “find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump asked individuals affiliated with his Campaign to find the deleted Clinton emails.264 Michael Flynn-who would later serve as National Security Advisor in the Trump Administration- recalled that Trump made this request repeatedly, and Flynn subsequently contacted multiple people in an effort to obtain the emails.265

264 Flynn 4/25/18 302, at 5-6; Flynn 5/1/18 302, at 1-3.

265 Flynn 5/1/18 302, at l-3.

The footnotes make it clear that in the weeks after Mueller’s team heard from Gates that Flynn used his contacts to search for emails, they interviewed Flynn several times about that effort, only to learn that that incredibly damning effort to find emails involved potentially working with Russian hackers to find the deleted emails. And to be clear: Bunch is not the only one confused about this detail–several straight news reports have not been clear about what that April 10 interview was, as well.

A November 5, 2016 email from Manafort — which the newly released documents show Bannon wanting to hide that Manafort remained a campaign advisor — is another thing that actually does show up in the Mueller Report, contrary to claims.

Later, in a November 5, 2016 email to Kushner entitled “Securing the Victory,” Manafort stated that he was “really feeling good about our prospects on Tuesday and focusing on preserving the victory,” and that he was concerned the Clinton Campaign would respond to a loss by “mov[ing] immediately to discredit the [Trump] victory and claim voter fraud and cyber-fraud, including the claim that the Russians have hacked into the voting machines and tampered with the results.”937

In other words, there is little to no evidence that the most damning claims (save, perhaps, the one that RNC knew of email release dates, though that may not be reliable) didn’t make the Report.

The Mueller Report is an incredibly dense description of the details Mueller could corroborate

The FOIAed documents are perhaps more useful for giving us a sense of how dense the Mueller Report is. They show how several pages of notes might end up in just a few paragraphs of the Mueller Report. The entirety of the three Gates’ interviews released Saturday, for example, show up in just four paragraphs in the Mueller Report: two in Volume I describing how the campaign made a media campaign around the leaks and how Trump once told him on the way to the airport that more emails were coming.

And two paragraphs in Volume II repeating the same information.

Worse still, because the government has released just six of the 302s that will be aired at the Roger Stone trial starting this week, much of what is in those interviews (undoubtedly referring to how Manafort and Gates coordinated with Stone) remains redacted under Stone’s gag order, in both the 302 reports and the Mueller Report itself.

Shocked — shocked!! — to find collusion at a Trump casino

Then there are people who read the 302s and were shocked that Mueller didn’t describe what the interviews show to be “collusion” as collusion, the mirror image of an error the denialists make (up to and including Bill Barr) in claiming that the Mueller Report did not find any collusion.

As I’ve pointed out since March 2017, this investigation was never about collusion. Mueller was tasked to report on what crimes he decided to charge or not, so there was never a possibility he was going to get into whether something was or was not collusion, because that would fall outside his mandate (and the law).

Worse still, in his summary of the investigation, Barr played a neat game where he measured “collusion” exclusively in terms of coordination by the campaign itself with Russia. It was clear from that moment — even before the redacted report came out — that he was understating how damning Mueller’s results would be, because Roger Stone’s indictment (and communications of his that got reported via various channels) made it crystal clear that he at least attempted to optimize the releases, but that involved coordination — deemed legal in part out of solid First Amendment concerns — with WikiLeaks, not Russia, and so therefore wouldn’t be covered by Barr’s narrow definition of “collusion.”

Of late, I’ve found it useful to use the definition of “collusion” Mark Meadows used in a George Papadopoulos hearing in 2018. In an exchange designed to show that in an interview where George Papadopoulos lied about his ongoing efforts to cozy up to Russia his denial that Papadopoulos, the coffee boy, knew about efforts to benefit from Hillary Clinton’s stolen emails, Meadows called that — optimizing the Clinton releases — “collusion.”

Mr. Papadopoulos. And after he was throwing these allegations at me, I —

Mr. Meadows. And by allegations, allegations that the Trump campaign was benefiting from Hillary Clinton emails?

Mr. Papadopoulos. Something along those lines, sir. And I think I pushed back and I told him, I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. What you’re talking about is something along the lines of treason. I’m not involved. I don’t know anyone in the campaign who’s involved. And, you know, I really have nothing to do with Russia. That’s — something along those lines is how I think I responded to this person.

Mr. Meadows. So essentially at this point, he was suggesting that there was collusion and you pushed back very firmly is what it sounds like. [my emphasis]

One of the President’s biggest apologists has stated that if the campaign did make efforts to optimize the releases, then they did, in fact, collude.

The Roger Stone trial, which starts Tuesday, will more than meet that measure. It astounds me how significantly the previews of Stone’s trials misunderstand how damning this trial will be. WaPo measures that Mueller failed to find anything in Roger Stone’s actions, which is not what even the indictment shows, much less the Mueller Report or filings submitted in the last six months.

The Stone indictment suggests that what prosecutors found instead was a failed conspiracy among conspiracy theorists, bookended by investigative dead ends and unanswered questions for the team of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

And MoJo hilariously suggests we might only now, in the trial, establish rock solid proof that Trump lied to Mueller, and doesn’t even account for how some of its own past reporting will be aired at the trial in ways that are far more damning than it imagines.

Here’s why I’m certain these outlets are underestimating how damning this trial will be.

Along with stipulating the phone and email addresses of Erik Prince and Steve Bannon (meaning communications with them could be entered into evidence even without their testimony, though Bannon has said he expects to testify), the government plans to present evidence pertaining to four direct lines to Trump and three to his gatekeepers.

One way prosecutors will use this is to show that, when Trump told Rick Gates that more emails were coming after getting off a call he got on the way to Laguardia, he did so after speaking directly to Roger Stone. They’ll also date exactly when a call that Michael Cohen witnessed happened, after which Trump said the DNC emails would be released in upcoming days got put through Rhona Graff.

It’s not so much that we’ll get proof that Trump lied to Mueller (and not just about what he said to Stone), though we will absolutely get that, but we’ll get proof that Trump was personally involved in what Mark Meadows considers “collusion.”

The Mueller Report and the ongoing criminal investigations

Both Mueller critics and denialists are also forgetting (and, in some cases, obstinately ignorant) about what the Mueller Report actually represented.

We don’t know why Mueller submitted his report when he did — though there is evidence, albeit not yet conclusive, that Barr assumed the position of Attorney General planning to shut the investigation down (indeed, he even has argued that once Mueller decided he could not indict Trump — which was true from the start, given the OLC memo prohibiting it — he should have shut the investigation down).

A lot has been made of the investigative referrals in the Mueller Report, of which just 2 (Cohen and Greg Craig) were unredacted. We’ve seen just one more of those thus far, the prosecution of George Nader for child porn, a prosecution that may lead Nader to grow more cooperative about other issues. Some of the (IMO) most revealing details in the weekend’s dump were b7ABC FOIA exemptions for materials relating to Alexander Nix and Michael Caputo. Normally, that redaction is used for upcoming criminal prosecutions, so it could be that Nix and Caputo will have a larger role in Stone’s trial than we know. But it also may mean that there is an ongoing investigation into one or both of them.

In addition, investigations of some sort into at least three of Trump’s aides appear to be ongoing.

It is a fact, for example, that DOJ refused to release the details of Paul Manafort’s lies — covering the kickback system via which he got paid, his efforts to implement the Ukraine plan pitched in his August 2, 2016 meeting, and efforts by another Trump flunkie to save the election in the weeks before he resigned — because those investigations remained ongoing in March. There’s abundant reason to think that the investigation into Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman and Rudy Giuliani, whether it was a referral from Mueller or not, is the continuation of the investigation into Manafort’s efforts to help Russia carve up Ukraine to its liking (indeed, the NYT has a piece on how Manafort played in Petro Poroshenko’s efforts to cultivate Trump today).

It is a fact that the investigation that we know of as the Mystery Appellant started in the DC US Attorney’s office and got moved back there (and as such might not even be counted as a referral). What we know of the challenge suggests a foreign country (not Russia) was using one of its corporations to pay off bribes of someone.

It is a fact that Robert Mueller testified under oath that the counterintelligence investigation into Mike Flynn was ongoing.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Since it was outside the purview of your investigation your report did not address how Flynn’s false statements could pose a national security risk because the Russians knew the falsity of those statements, right?

MUELLER: I cannot get in to that, mainly because there are many elements of the FBI that are looking at different aspects of that issue.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Currently?

MUELLER: Currently.

That’s consistent with redaction decisions made both in the Mueller Report itself and as recently as last week.

It is a fact that when Roger Stone aide Andrew Miller testified, he did so before a non-Mueller grand jury. When Miller’s lawyer complained, Chief Judge Beryl Howell reviewed the subpoena and agreed that the government needed Miller’s testimony for either investigative subjects besides Stone or charges beyond those in his indictment. Indeed, one of the most interesting aspects of Mueller’s statement closing his investigation is the way it happened as Miller was finally agreeing to testify, effectively ensuring that it would happen under DC, not Muller.

Again, these are all facts. No matter how badly Glenn Greenwald desperately wants to — needs to — spin knowing actual facts about ongoing investigations as denial, it is instead basic familiarity with the public record (the kind of familiarity he has never bothered to acquire). At least as of earlier this year — or last week! — there has been reason to believe there are ongoing investigations into three of Trump’s closest advisors and several others who helped him get elected.

At least two of those investigations continue under grand juries, impaneled in March 2019, that Chief Judge Beryl Howell can extend beyond January 20, 2021.

Why Mueller closed up shop

Nevertheless, it is indeed the case that Mueller closed his investigation after producing a report that showed abundant obstruction by the President, but stated that his investigation “did not establish” that the Trump campaign engaged in coordination or conspiracy with Russia, including regarding a quid pro quo.

In particular, the investigation examined whether these contacts involved or resulted in coordination or a conspiracy with the Trump Campaign and Russia, including with respect to Russia providing assistance to the Campaign in exchange for any sort of favorable treatment in the future. Based on the available information, the investigation did not establish such coordination.

I’d like to end this post with speculation, one not often considered by those bitching about or claiming finality of the Mueller investigation.

In his closing press conference, Mueller emphasized two things: he saw his job as including “preserving evidence” against the President, and he noted that under existing DOJ guidelines, the President cannot be charged until after he has been impeached.

First, the opinion explicitly permits the investigation of a sitting President because it is important to preserve evidence while memories are fresh and documents are available. Among other things, that evidence could be used if there were co-conspirators who could now be charged.

And second, the opinion says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting President of wrongdoing.

In Mueller’s explanation of why he didn’t hold out for an interview with Trump, he said that he weighed the cost of fighting for years to get that interview versus the benefit of releasing a report  with “substantial quantity of information [allowing people] to draw relevant factual conclusions on intent and credibility” when he did.

Beginning in December 2017, this Office sought for more than a year to interview the President on topics relevant to both Russian-election interference and obstruction-of-justice. We advised counsel that the President was a ” subject” of the investigation under the definition of the Justice Manual-“a person whose conduct is within the scope of the grand jury’s investigation.” Justice Manual § 9-11.151 (2018). We also advised counsel that”[ a]n interview with the President is vital to our investigation” and that this Office had ” carefully considered the constitutional and other arguments raised by . .. counsel, and they d[id] not provide us with reason to forgo seeking an interview.” 1 We additionally stated that “it is in the interest of the Presidency and the public for an interview to take place” and offered “numerous accommodations to aid the President’s preparation and avoid surprise.”2 After extensive discussions with the Department of Justice about the Special Counsel’s objective of securing the President’s testimony, these accommodations included the submissions of written questions to the President on certain Russia-related topics. 3

[snip]

Recognizing that the President would not be interviewed voluntarily, we considered whether to issue a subpoena for his testimony. We viewed the written answers to be inadequate. But at that point, our investigation had made significant progress and had produced substantial evidence for our report. We thus weighed the costs of potentially lengthy constitutional litigation, with resulting delay in finishing our investigation, against the anticipated benefits for our investigation and report. As explained in Volume II, Section H.B., we determined that the substantial quantity of information we had obtained from other sources allowed us to draw relevant factual conclusions on intent and credibility, which are often inferred from circumstantial evidence and assessed without direct testimony from the subject of the investigation.

I take that to mean that Mueller decided to end the investigation to prevent Trump’s refusals to testify to delay the release of the report for two years.

In his testimony, Mueller agreed, after some very specific questioning from former cop Val Demings, that Trump was not truthful in his answers to Mueller.

DEMINGS: Director Mueller, isn’t it fair to say that the president’s written answers were not only inadequate and incomplete because he didn’t answer many of your questions, but where he did his answers show that he wasn’t always being truthful.

MUELLER: There — I would say generally.

She laid out what I have — that Trump refused to correct his lies about Trump Tower Moscow, as well as that he obviously lied about his coordination on WikiLeaks. So lies are one of the things the Mueller Report documents for anyone who reads it attentively.

But Trump’s obstruction extends beyond his lies. His obstruction, as described in the Report, included attempts to bribe several different witnesses with pardons, including at minimum Manafort, Flynn, Cohen, and Stone (those aren’t the only witnesses and co-conspirators the evidence shows Mueller believes Trump bribed with promises of pardons, but I’ll leave it there for now).

So here’s what I think Mueller did. I suspect he ended his investigation when he did because he was unable to get any further so long as Trump continued to obstruct the investigation with promises of pardons. So long as Trump remains President, key details about what are egregious efforts to cheat to win will remain hidden. The ongoing investigations — into Manafort and Stone, at a minimum, but possibly into others up to and including the President’s son — cannot go further so long as any prosecutorial effort can be reversed with a pardon.

That said, some of those details will be revealed for the first time starting this week, in the Stone trial. And, if the Parnas and Fruman influence operation is, indeed, related to Manafort’s own, then Trump’s personal criminal involvement in that influence operation is being revealed as part of a parallel impeachment inquiry.

Which is to say that I suspect Mueller got out of the way to allow investigations that cannot be fully prosecuted so long as Trump remains President to continue, even as Congress starts to do its job under the Constitution. And Congress has finally started doing so.

Bill Barr Risks becoming George Papadopoulos’ Coffee Boy

I’m not a conspiracy theorist. Everything I’ve ever tweeted or — probably, if that’s what you’re referring to, it’s just backed by things I’ve read in the media. George Papadopoulos

First, I testified against both Downer and Mifsud a year ago to help launch Durham’s investigation. Now, the fruit of that accurate testimony is exposing the global nature of the attempt to set up the 2016 campaign and interfere in the democratic process. George Papadopoulos

There has only been one roadmap that clearly identifies what AG Barr and John Durham are investigating abroad, it’s all in my book. George Papadopoulos

In this post, I noted that Attorney General Bill Barr had put himself in the role of an FBI line Agent and flown to Italy not so he could interview Joseph Mifsud — and so obtain information that might be useful in assessing the credibility of his Russian-backed lawyer’s claim that Mifsud actually worked for Western, not Russian, intelligence — but instead to sit in a room and watch a movie, the taped deposition made by Mifsud’s Russian-linked lawyer.

Not only had Barr flown to Italy without obtaining the real ask, a face-to-face interview, but he did so chasing claims that were laundered through one of the frothy right’s stenographers into the mouth of George Papadopoulos for his October 24, 2018 Congressional testimony, provenance so unbelievably sketchy it would be shameful for Rudy Giuliani to chase the conspiracy theory, much less the Attorney General of the United States of America on the taxpayer dime.

As a reminder, to try to help him avoid prison for lying to the FBI, Papadopoulos’ lawyers explained that in 2016, “To say George was out of his depth would be a gross understatement” and described his pursuit of ties to Russia as part of his campaign work as an attempt to, ” be at the center of a globally significant event.” They explained that he “lied, minimized, and omitted material facts” about the Russian investigation, “Out of loyalty to the new president and his desire to be part of the administration.” This is not a man you’d think anyone in government would take seriously.

I think, because Papadopoulos has so little credibility outside of the frothy right, traditional journalists largely ignored the role of Papadoulos and his Congressional testimony until it had already taken hold of the entire frothy right. That’s changing. Vox has a good post on Papadopoulos’ centrality in Bill Barr’s treasure hunt, and NYT tried to debunk the Italian part of it pertaining to Mifsud.

But I’d like to look at one more detail, that makes Papadopoulos’ obvious lack of credibility even more non-existent.

Most of the conspiracy theories he floated in his testimony didn’t even come from his first-hand information. Rather, they’re stuff he read, often from known stenographers for the frothy right, relying on sources that are fairly obviously either close to the President and/or close to Russian and Ukrainian sources who shouldn’t be trusted; where he relied on credible journalists, he misrepresented it. Papadopoulos, then, serves not as witness. Instead, he’s just an empty vessel being used by others to carry a concocted story.

Papadopoulos obtained his beliefs about Joseph Mifsud from the Daily Caller, La Republica, Fox News, and other unsourced reports

One of the few exceptions is that Papadopoulos believes that Alexander Downer recorded the conversation in which Papadopoulos told the Australian that someone had told him Russia had dirt on Hillary they were going to release material on Hillary to help the Trump campaign because Downer holds his phone when he speaks.

You know, at that time, I’m like, Wow, all these, you know, very senior diplomats and people want to just meet this 28-year old young aid who just joined the campaign, I think, or month or so before. But why not, you know. They could send it back to the campaign that I just met with the Australian diplomat. What I’m going to tell you right now is what I remember telling special counsel directly to their face, too. One, I felt like Alexander Downer — first, I felt the meeting was completely controlled. That he was sent to meet me by some entity or some organization, and that he was recorded my conversation with him. And what do I mean by recording my conversation? If I had my phone I would show you of how strange this character was acting. I sat down with him and he pulls his phone out and he starts holding it like this towards me.

Mr. Meadows. Here.

Mr. Papadopoulos. Here, I’ll show you. And I told the special counsel this over a year ago. I’m sitting down within 5 or 6, 7 minutes of meeting this person, I’m talking and he goes like this to me, stone-faced, just holding his phone like this towards me. And I didn’t know what to think except do I tell him Will you stop recording me, or, What are you doing? Because it was just, it just left such an indelible memory of how this individual was acting that I never forgot it, and I felt that he was recording it and the meeting was controlled. So he held his phone up like this.

But Papadopoulos believes that Downer is a spy, not a diplomat, because of something he read (he doesn’t say what).

Mr. Meadows. That’s correct. And so following up on the question from my colleague here about transcripts. Was there any other time that you felt like that you might have been recorded or surveilled in a manner, as you’re looking back on it now? Obviously, at the time, you might not have been aware of it. Is there any time that you said, well, you know, this just doesn’t feel right? Can you share that with the committee?

Mr. Papadopoulos. Certainly, sir, and thank you for your kind words. I was — let’s go to the Alexander Downer meeting, this Australian person, who I’m —

Mr. Meadows. And for the record, this is the Australian diplomat as it has been reported, at least, the Australian diplomat, Mr. Downer.

Mr. Papadopoulos. Mr. Downer, that’s right, who, it’s my understanding, is probably the top diplomat in Australia, or was before he retired. He was the head of what I think is the equivalent of the CIA in Australia for around 17 years. I think that’s what I read about him. Anyway, he’s a very unknown person, this isn’t counselor at the Australian embassy in London, okay. [my emphasis]

As for the source of that information, Papadopoulos told Congress he held two incompatible beliefs, both beliefs he took from something he read. Most critically, the belief that got Bill Barr to fly to Italy — that Mifsud actually works for Western, not Russian, intelligence — Papadopoulos cited to a Daily Caller article which itself relayed claims Mifsud’s Russian-backed lawyer made he had read the day before.

Q Okay. So, and Mifsud, he presented himself as what? Who did he tell you he was?

A So looking back in my memory of this person, this is a mid-50’s person, describes himself as a former diplomat who is connected to the world, essentially. I remember he was even telling me that, you know, the Vietnamese prime minister is a good friend of mine. I mean, you have to understand this is the type of personality he was portraying himself as.

And, you know, I guess I took the bait because, you know, usually somebody who — at least in Washington, when somebody portrays themselves in a specific way and has credentials to back it, you believe them. But that’s how he portrayed himself. And then I can’t remember exactly the next thing that happened until he decided to introduce me to Putin’s fake niece in London, which we later found out is some sort of student. But I could get into those details of how that all started.

Q And what’s your — just to kind of jump way ahead, what’s your current understanding of who Mifsud is?

A My current understanding?

Q Yeah. A You know, I don’t want to espouse conspiracy theories because, you know, it’s horrifying to really think that they might be true, but just yesterday, there was a report in the Daily Caller from his own lawyer that he was working with the FBI when he approached me. And when he was working me, I guess — I don’t know if that’s a fact, and I’m not saying it’s a fact — I’m just relaying what the Daily Caller reported yesterday, with Chuck Ross, and it stated in a categorical fashion that Stephan Roh, who is Joseph Mifsud’s, I believe his President’s counsel, or PR person, said that Mifsud was never a Russian agent.

In fact, he’s a tremendous friend of western intelligence, which makes sense considering I met him at a western spying school in Rome. And all his interactions — this is just me trying to repeat the report, these are not my words — and when he met with me, he was working as some sort of asset of the FBI. I don’t know if that’s true or not. I’m just reporting what my current understanding is of this individual based on reports from journalists.

[snip]

Q And then at what point did you learn that, you know, he’s not who he said he was?

A Like I said, I don’t have the concrete proof of who this person is. I’m just going with reports. And all I can say is that I believe the day I was, my name was publicly released and Papadopoulos became this person that everyone now knows, Mifsud gave an interview to an Italian newspaper. And in this newspaper, he basically said, I’m not a Russian agent. I’m a Clinton supporter. I’m a Clinton Foundation donor, and that — something along those lines. I mean, don’t quote me exactly, you could look up the article yourself. It is in La Republica. And then all of a sudden, after that, he disappears off the face of the planet, which I always found as odd.

[snip]

I guess the overwhelming evidence, from what I’ve read, just in reports, nothing classified, of course, because I’m not privy to anything like that, and considering his own lawyer is saying it, Stephan Roh, that Mifsud is a western intelligence source. And, I guess, according to reports yesterday, he was working with the FBI

Meanwhile, Papadopoulos explains away Joseph Mifsud’s mention of Hillary’s emails weeks later to a comment that Andrew Napolitano made on Fox News the day before (not, as he claimed to believe in the same testimony, that it was a big Deep State set-up), even though Papadopoulos believed Mifsud really believed in the emails at the time and didn’t know of the Napolitano link. Papadopoulos also mischaracterizes what he believed about Mifsud at that moment and even later, given his public emails from the time.

A Yeah. So my understanding, my current memory of this meeting was that he invited me to the Andaz Hotel in London by Liverpool Street Station, I guess on April 26, 2016. And at this meeting, he was giddy, you know, like he had something he wanted to get off his chest. And he tells me that the Russians have thousands of Hillary Clinton emails. I never heard the word DNC.

[snip]

A And I’ve said this on TV, and I’m saying it here, I never heard the words DNC, Podesta, anything like that. I just heard “the Russians have thousands of Hillary Clinton’s emails.” And at that time, and we could look at the records, people were openly speculating about that, too. I think even Judge Napolitano on Fox News, the day before I met with Mifsud on April 25th was openly speculating the same thing. So my impression when he told me this information at the time was he is validating rumors. Because I didn’t feel that I heard something so different, like Democratic National Committee emails, WikiLeaks, I didn’t hear anything like that. So yeah, it was an interesting piece of information, but you know, by that point you have to understand, he had failed to introduce me to anyone of substance in the Russian Government. So he failed to do that, but now all of a sudden he has the keys to the kingdom about a massive potential conspiracy that Russia is involved in. So that was my mindset when he told me this.

[snip]

Q So to the best of your understanding now, you know, how do you believe Mr. Mifsud would have known about these — you know, the Russians having these Clinton emails?

A My understanding now?

Q Uh-huh. A Well, one —

Q Or at the time or now, but —

A Well — well, one, as I stated, but I don’t want to be exactly quoted, I believe the day before Joseph Mifsud told me about this issue, I believe April 25, 2016, Judge Andrew Napolitano was on Fox News openly speculating that the Russians have Hillary’s emails. I don’t know if that’s true or not. Somebody told me that that’s what happened. I’m not sure. That he might have heard it from there. He might have been telling the truth that he heard it from people in Russia. He might have been working for Western intelligence like the evidence now suggests he was. I don’t know. That’s not my job to figure it out.

[snip]

A My current memory makes me believe that he was stating it as a fact, and I took it as well.

Q And did you believe him at the time?

A At the time, yeah.

So to sum up the source of Papadopoulos’ congressional testimony regarding his beliefs about his interactions with Mifsud and then Downer, he’s relying on:

  • Excuses relying on a Fox News host
  • A Daily Caller story that relies on a Russian backed lawyer
  • Some other unsourced claim
  • Downer’s posture and mannerisms

Papadopoulos obtained his beliefes about the Stephan Halper meetings from Twitter, NYT, and John Solomon

A similar pattern emerges regarding his interactions with Stephan Halper, the FBI informant sent with a presumed undercover Agent using the name Azra Turk to interview Papadopoulos about how he learned of the Hillary emails. Papadopoulos’ testimony to Congress is that he believes Azra Turk’s name is fake (it almost certainly was) because of something he read on Twitter

So I get there. I get to London. And he introduces — or he does not introduce me to, but I can’t remember exactly how I came into contact with his assistant, this young lady named Azra Turk, which I think is a fake name, by the way. My —

Mr. Meadows. Why do you believe it’s a fake name?

Mr. Papadopoulos. Reading — reading Twitter and people saying that Azra in Turkish means pure and then Turk. So unless she has the name of pure Turk.

He testified he believes Turk asked him about hacking because he read it in the NYT (the NYT actually shows Halper asked about this).

Mr. Papadopoulos. Just who I am, my background in the energy business, because everyone was curious about my background in the energy business in Israel. And that’s another thing we’ll get to about what I think why I had a FISA on me, but I don’t know. She then apparently — I don’t remember it, I’m just reading The New York Times. She starts asking me about hacking. I don’t remember her actually asking me that, I just read it in The New York Times. Nevertheless, she introduces me the next time to Stefan Halper.

Mr. Meadows. She asked you about hacking?

Mr. Papadopoulos. I don’t remember it. I just — I think I read that particular —

Mr. Meadows. You’ve read that?

Mr. Papadopoulos. Yes, that’s what I — I think I read it in The New York Times.

And Papadopoulos believes (correctly) there is a transcript of these conversations and (falsely) that it is exonerating because of what John Solomon wrote days earlier.

Mr. Papadopoulos. I’m sure the transcript exists and you’ve probably read it, so I don’t want to be wrong on exactly what he said. But —

Mr. Meadows. You say a transcript exists. A transcript exists of that conversation?

Mr. Papadopoulos. That’s I guess what John Solomon reported a couple days ago.

Mr. Meadows. So are you aware of a transcript existing? I mean —

Mr. Papadopoulos. I wasn’t aware of a transcript existing personally.

Mr. Meadows. So you have no personal knowledge of it?

Mr. Papadopoulos. I had no personal knowledge, no.

Mr. Meadows. But you think that he could have been recording you is what you’re suggesting?

Mr. Papadopoulos. Yes.

Mr. Meadows. All right. Go ahead.

Mr. Papadopoulos. And after he was throwing these allegations at me, I —

Mr. Meadows. And by allegations, allegations that the Trump campaign was benefiting from Hillary Clinton emails?

Mr. Papadopoulos. Something along those lines, sir. And I think I pushed back and I told him, I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. What you’re talking about is something along the lines of treason. I’m not involved. I don’t know anyone in the campaign who’s involved. And, you know, I really have nothing to do with Russia. That’s — something along those lines is how I think I responded to this person.

As I have noted, if the transcript reflects what Papadopoulos says it does, it shows that he lied about ongoing connections to Russia; he had been planning a secret meeting with Russia for precisely that date during the summer, and would boast of a pro-Russian interview to Mifsud some weeks later (which got him fired from the campaign). Plus, Papadopoulos’ claim an action — optimizing the WikiLeaks releases, which Roger Stone was doing even as Papadopoulos gave this answer — would amount to treason explains why he would lie to the FBI about any knowledge four months later. That is, the transcript, if it says what Papadopoulos says, shows the deceit of a guilty conscience, not exoneration.

Papadopolous cites an article quoting his lawyer saying his arrest was totally legal to claim it was rushed

In addition to citing his beliefs about the Israeli that almost got him charged with being a foreign agent of Israel to a misreading of a WikiLeaks cable, Papadopoulos does this most hysterically in attempting to respond to Mark Meadows’ clear demands that he claim the circumstances of his arrest (and a border search of his briefcase the likes of which happens all the time to brown people who aren’t even being arrested) was improper. At the beginning of a colloquy where Papadopoulos repeatedly stops short of using the inflammatory language Meadows tries to feed him,, the former campaign aide suggests a Politico story suggested a deviation from the norm on arrests.

So everything was done in a very — I had never been arrested before. I didn’t know that was a normal procedure. But reading certain articles about my arrest in Politico and other newspapers, it seems like there was some sort of rush to arrest me and —

[snip]

Mr. Meadows. So you didn’t say, Why are you arresting me?

Mr. Papadopoulos. The only thing I remember was something along the lines of — and I can’t remember if it was after I had the handcuffs on me that they told me this is what happens when you don’t tell us everything about your Russia contacts. But I don’t remember any formal charges, or them telling me You are under arrest for X, Y or Z. That, I don’t remember at all.

Mr. Meadows. They told you — I guess, they gave your Miranda rights?

Mr. Papadopoulos. I don’t remember that. I don’t remember that. I’m sure there might be the video or a transcript of what was going on. You have to understand, I had just come off a trans-Atlantic flight.

Mr. Meadows. Right.

[snip]

Mr. Meadows. So that’s your testimony. So they basically take your briefcase and they start searching it? Did they ask you permission to search it?

Mr. Papadopoulos. My memory is that they put me in the room at the airport, did not ask me for any permission whatsoever, and then they began to search through my briefcase in a very, quite violent manner.

Mr. Meadows. By “violent,” what do you mean, just ripping it —

Mr. Papadopoulos. Just opening it, like that, putting their hands and just digging around. That’s, I just didn’t understand what was going on.

Mr. Meadows. And they didn’t indicate what they were looking for?

Mr. Papadopoulos. I don’t remember them indicating anything, no. And I don’t remember them actually formally, I guess, looking through my bag until I — I can’t remember — after we went in a car to another facility where I was processed. It was very strange.

Mr. Meadows. So did they show you a warrant to search those things?

Mr. Papadopoulos. I didn’t —

Mr. Meadows. Did they have a warrant to search your —

Mr. Papadopoulos. I don’t remember any warrant. In fact, the whole situation was very, it seemed very rushed and very chaotic.

Mr. Meadows. So you’re telling me that they searched your personal property without a warrant prior to you coming through Customs?

Mr. Papadopoulos. That’s what I remember, yes, sir.

Here’s the Politico report. While reporting that the arrest was likely done in an attempt to shock Papadopolous, it also cites his own lawyer saying, “What they did was absolutely lawful,” [Thomas] Breen said. “If I had a complaint, you’d know about it. I’ve got a short fuse.”

Mark Meadows allowed Papadopoulos to tell a less damning fairy tale by neglecting to get backup emails from him first

This charade, letting a witness testify to Congress not about what he personally knows, but what he read about himself, often what he read in propaganda outlets relying on sketchy sources, would be bad enough. It was made far, far worse because of a simple fact about the hearing: the Republicans who set it up (and this appears to have been run almost entirely by Mark Meadows) did not, first, demand that Papadopoulos provide the backup documents that would make such questioning even remotely worthwhile.

As a result, Papadopoulos responded to question after question that went to the substance of his sustained interest in working with Russia with vague claims about what he did and did not remember and a offer, instead, to share the emails that might pinpoint what he really knew and did. Over and over, he happens to tell a story that is less damning.

Whether out of forgetfulness or deceit, for example, Papadopoulos foreshortens two things about the campaign: first, the claimed date when the campaign started covering up its ties to Russia, which was July, not May.

Q You said also that you continued to suggest this Trump-Putin summit, but eventually, you found out that the campaign just wasn’t interested. Can you tell me the process by which you came to understand that the campaign wasn’t interested in setting up a Trump-Putin meeting?

A Yes. As I remember it, by the time Manafort took the helm of the campaign, I just emailed him, Are we interested in this or not? I think I forwarded to him an email from Ivan Timofeev where he’s asking for a letter to be signed by the campaign if this is a serious proposal or not, something like that. And I don’t think I ever received a response from Manafort. And you just put two and two together, no one’s interested, so stop it.

He also foreshortens the time he was in contact with Mifsud, which extended even after the election.

Q When was the last time you remember communicating with Professor Misfud?

A Off the top of my memory I think it was the summer of 2016.

Perhaps the most glaring instance of this, however, pertains to whether Walid Phares was involved in pursuing a secret meeting with Russia that would have taken place at the precise time Papadopoulos was in London getting interviewed by Stefan Halper. Papadopoulos answered a question about whether he discussed the secret meeting with Phares not by answering, but by saying he wasn’t sure it was in the emails.

Q You mentioned a number of emails where both of you would have been copied. Did you and Mr. Phares have any direct communication just the two of you?

A We met face to face at the TAG Summit. And then we obviously met at the March 31st meeting. And I can’t remember if we met another time in person or not. But we certainly were in correspondence for months over email.

Q Did you discuss your efforts to set up the Putin-Trump meeting with Mr. Phares?

A I’m not sure he was copied on those particular emails, but I could send whatever emails I have with him to the committee. It’s fine with me.

As the Meuller Report makes clear, very very damning details about precisely this topic were in Papadopoulos’ emails.

Papadopoulos remembered discussing Russia and a foreign policy trip with Clovis and Phares during the event.484 Papadopoulos’s recollection is consistent with emails sent before and after the TAG summit. The pre-summit messages included a July 11, 2016 email in which Phares suggested meeting Papadopoulos the day after the summit to chat,485 and a July 12 message in the same chain in which Phares advised Papadopoulos that other summit attendees “are very nervous about Russia. So be aware.”486 Ten days after the summit, Papadopoulos sent an email to Mifsud listing Phares and Clovis as other “participants” in a potential meeting at the London Academy of Diplomacy.487

This is what any hearing with George Papadopoulos should be about, details that would make any allegation that his claim, in mid-September, that he had nothing to do with Russia would be inculpatory, not exculpatory. But that’s not the hearing Mark Meadows decided to stage.

According to someone familiar with the aftermath of this hearing, Papadopoulos never did supply the emails he promised, at least not in a way such that they got shared with Democratic staffers.

Papadopoulos tells Congress there is no substance behind allegations that the main source for his allegations made

The whole hearing was absurd, which is why it is all the more ridiculous that the Attorney General of the United States is running around the world treating these conspiracies as if they have merit.

But don’t take my word — or the public record — for it. Take the word of the hearing’s star witness, George Papadopoulos. He told Congress that there was no substance to the allegations that Stephan Roh, the Mifsud lawyer whose conspiracies Bill Barr is currently chasing, had made that he, Papadopoulos, was a western intelligence operative.

Q Are you aware that in a Daily Caller article, Mr. Roh has referred to you as a western intelligence operative?

A I wasn’t aware of that, but I was aware he wrote a book where he speculated that I could be that, but of course I don’t know this person beyond a couple of emails and phone calls, so, of course, he has no substance behind any allegations.

So on the one subject about which Papadopoulos claimed to have first hand knowledge here, he said Roh was making stuff up.

And yet, Bill Barr still treats Roh’s other allegations — the ones laundered through propaganda outlets — as true.

How Roger Stone’s Trial Relates to the Ukraine Scandal

The White House released the readout from one (but not all) of the calls involved in the whistleblower complaint. It shows that before Trump asked Volodymyr Zelensky for help framing Joe Biden, he first asked Zelensky for help attacking Crowdstrike.

The President: I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike … I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has.it. There are a lot. of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you are surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I . would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it. As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible.

As with the sections involving the request on Biden, this one includes ellipses, hiding part of Trump’s ask. Also like those sections, this one suggests Bill Barr is involved in his improper request.

A request about Crowdstrike more directly addresses matters of intelligence — the attribution of the 2016 operation to Russia — than an effort to frame Joe Biden.

And this Crowdstrike request is what ties the call obviously to the timing — the day after the Mueller testimony gave Trump the belief he had weathered the Russian investigation.

Only, Trump is not clear of the impact of the Mueller investigation. On the contrary, if all goes on schedule, prosecutors will present abundant evidence of what even Mark Meadows calls “collusion,” the campaign’s effort to optimize the WikiLeaks releases, in Roger Stone’s November trial. As I have noted, in addition to Steve Bannon and Erik Prince, the trial will talk about Stone’s texts and calls to four different Donald Trump phone numbers, as well as his aides and bodyguard, Keith Schiller. (This screen cap comes from a list of stipulated phone numbers and emails that has since been sealed.)

The Stone trial (if it goes forward–I still have my doubts) will show that Trump was personally involved in these efforts and got repeated updates directly from Stone.

And a key strand of Stone’s defense is to question the Crowdstrike findings on the hack. Stone has been pursuing this effort for months — it’s what almost got him jailed under his gag. And while Amy Berman Jackson ruled twice this week against Stone getting any further Crowdstrike reports (once in an opinion denying Stone’s efforts to get unredacted Crowdstrike reports as moot since the government doesn’t have them, and once today in his pre-trial hearing when she deemed the remaining unredacted passages to pertain to ongoing Democratic cybersecurity protections and so unrelated to what Stone wants them for), Stone still has several redacted Crowdstrike reports from discovery.

Stone’s defense has focused entirely on discrediting the evidence that Trump partnered with a hostile country to get elected (which presumably is part of his effort to get a pardon). If he can support that effort by releasing currently private Crowdstrike reports he will do so.

Today’s pre-trial hearing — where ABJ also ruled that Stone won’t be able to question the underlying Russian investigation — may have mooted the effort to tie Ukrainian disinformation to Stone’s own disinformation effort. But the two efforts are linked efforts by Trump to deny his own role in “colluding” with Russia.