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WSJ’s Curious Mueller Editorial

I want to look back at something that has been puzzling me: a Wall Street Journal editorial issued by the end of the day Wednesday arguing that Mueller should not be fired. The next day, Rupert Murdoch paid Mitch McConnell a personal visit on the Hill.

While not as shrill or fact-free as its columnist, Kim Strassel, the WSJ editorial page has been steadily critical of the Mueller investigation, dismissing any possibility it will identify “collusion” and repeating GOP claims that it as sprawled beyond Mueller’s original remit (as well as parroting GOP claims that the FBI framed the Trump campaign). A column on the Paul Manafort plea deal, for example, warned that leaks from the investigation (which have never happened) would undermine public confidence in the investigation.

Leaks or other news about his investigation will undermine public confidence in a probe that has already wandered far from its original Russia remit and has now lasted 16 months without a resolution.

So it’s not like WSJ has been friendly to the Mueller investigation.

That said, their columns on the Mueller investigation as frequently criticize Trump’s incompetence in dealing with it and DOJ. That sentiment shows up in the two most relevant recent editorial columns on the investigation. This column from late August argues that Trump’s attacks on Jeff Sessions put Republican majorities at risk in November, which would lead to impeachment.

We will point out that Mr. Trump’s attacks on his own Attorney General this week are wrong and politically counterproductive.

The President is still furious that Mr. Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe, which has since become the sprawling Robert Mueller investigation that threatens his Presidency. But railing against Mr. Sessions can’t change that, and it gives the appearance of trying to politicize the department.

[snip]

The biggest political threat to Mr. Trump is a Democratic election victory in November, which will trigger a drive for impeachment. Mr. Trump isn’t going to persuade anyone to vote for Republicans by railing against a Republican Attorney General he selected.

And this September column about the possibility of firing Rosenstein emphasizes the impact that would have on Republican majorities.

The immediate battle now is over the midterm election and whether Mr. Trump can stay in office as the impeachment assault begins from Nancy Pelosi’s Democrats. Mr. Trump can make personnel changes after the midterms if Republicans still hold the Senate and he can get someone confirmed.

Murdoch’s American flagship paper doesn’t like the Mueller investigation. But that has as much to do with the ways it leads Trump to do stupid things that imperil Republican rule as that it poses a risk for Trump personally.

With that as background, consider the column. It starts by complaining (again) about how badly Trump treated Sessions.

Mr. Sessions deserved better than the public humiliations dealt by President Trump. As a Senator from Alabama, Jeff Sessions was the first Washington figure of any stature to embrace Mr. Trump’s candidacy. Mr. Trump wants loyalty up but not down.

It then describes the appointment of Matt Whitaker without comment or judgment.

Sessions’ temporary successor will be the AG’s chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, who presumably will hold the job until a successor is nominated.

Most of the column argues for a solid Attorney General replacement. The WSJ seems to be complaining — as they did in some of their other editorials — that the White House should exercise more influence over DOJ. They do want someone respectable as Attorney General, however.

It is important that the White House get this one right.

The Attorney General shouldn’t fire Mr. Mueller, as the President essentially said himself at his Wednesday news conference. Mr. Trump needs an individual of stature and judgment who will have the trust of the department’s lawyers, who is capable of independence, but who also understands that the Justice Department is part of the executive branch and not a law unto itself.

But the WSJ, with as little comment as it makes about Whitaker, also states clearly that any new Attorney General shouldn’t fire Mueller and claims Trump himself has agreed, probably a reference to this answer from Trump at the press conference that day.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Going back to the Russia investigation and the potential investigations from the now- Democratic majority in Congress, some say that you could stop all this by declassifying —

THE PRESIDENT:  I could.  I could fire everybody right now.  But I don’t want to stop it, because politically, I don’t like stopping it.  It’s a disgrace.  It should have never been started because there was no crime.  It is — everybody has conflicts.  They all have conflicts over there that are beyond anything that anybody has ever seen in terms of conflicts — from the fact that people ask for jobs; from the fact that they have very good friends on the other side, like really good friends, like Comey — who, by the way, lied and leaked, and also leaked classified information.  Nothing happened there.  It might, perhaps.  Maybe something is happening that I don’t know about.

I stay away from it.  But do you know what I do?  I let it just go on.  They’re wasting a lot of money, but I let it go on because I don’t want to do that.

The day after the election, Trump took a rash step to end the Mueller investigation by firing Sessions and hiring Whitaker. And WSJ almost immediately responded by warning Trump not to do any further damage to the party with his impulsive efforts to undermine Mueller.

BBC’s Adam Curtis’ Fluck Up

Every once in a while there’s an opinion piece so grossly naive, horribly uninformed, or passively apologetic that it deserves pushback.

BBC’s Adam Curtis’ blog post, WHAT THE FLUCK [sic], is such a piece. Read it for yourself. I’m still scratching my head about this overlong, winding post that ultimately says,

“…Maybe today we are being farmed by the new system of power. But we can’t see quite how it is happening – and we need a new journalism to explain what is really going on. …”

No. We have the right journalism, even if it is not perfect or dispersed evenly, even if we could use more of it. The Guardian’s work on the Snowden story is just one example; if I may say so, Emptywheel sets another fine example as citizen journalism.

What we need is a public willing to invest time and energy in reading the material reported, discuss it openly after careful analysis, willing to demand and support more good journalism by way of subscription, donation, or advertising revenues as a last resort.

What we don’t need are naive or uninformed opinion leaders who tell us we don’t have journalism reporting about the size, scale, and nature of the corruption we face.

What we don’t need are apologias masquerading as demands for more and better journalism.

Curtis’ piece in particular does several things to muddy the public’s perception about journalism today:

• He throws us a narrative about poor little rich girl Tamara Yeardye Mellon and her father that is not unlike reading about poor little Paris Hilton, or poor little Kardashian Annoying-Sister-Of-The-Day. The narrative utterly misses a critical point, derailing its own effort, yet he feels the public need more backstory narrative in order to really understand today’s challenges..

• Rupert Murdoch is treated as if he was handed a bag of flaming dog poo by his editorial predecessor, dealing with the mess in the best manner he could — as if cellphone hacking by Murdoch’s employees was mere fallout inherited immaculately by Murdoch.

• Curtis ignores his own role, using his bully pulpit to complain about an absence of reporting he is capable of providing instead of this meandering whinge.

With regard to Tamara Mellon’s allegedly lost control over of her luxe shoe business Jimmy Choo Limited to Phoenix Private Equity, Curtis failed to note that not even a Mellon family member is safe from predation. Even a Mellon can be made into a corporate vulture’s bitch.

What does this tell us about the nature of the beast? Read more

Company that Engaged in Criminal Wiretapping Hails Obama’s Wiretap Extension

The Wall Street Journal–owned by the same guy whose company and son are in trouble in the UK for criminally wiretapping those they wanted to collect information on–has found something to love in the Obama Administration.

Well, not everything President Obama and the 112th Congress managed to achieve is so terrible. With scarcely any notice, much less controversy, they did at least preserve one of the country’s most important post-9/11 antiterror tools.

That would be wiretapping, which you may recall liberals portrayed during the George W. Bush era as an illegal and unconstitutional license for co-President Dick Cheney and his spymasters to bug the bedrooms of all U.S. citizens. But now Washington has renewed the 2008 amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that were due to expire at the end of 2012, with no substantive changes and none of the pseudo-apoplexy that prevailed during the Bush Presidency.

In addition to applauding Obama’s “fairly ruthless antiterror prosecut[ions] and unapologetic assert[ions] of Presidential powers,” the WSJ revels in this opportunity to mock those who thought illegal wiretapping was wrong.

This is a turnabout from 2007 and 2008, when letting U.S. spooks read al Qaeda emails or listen in on phone calls that passed through domestic switching networks supposedly spelled doom for the American Republic. Democrats spent years pretending that Mr. Bush’s eavesdropping program was “wrong” and “destructive,” as Attorney General Eric Holder put it at the time, lamenting that “I never thought I would see a President act in direct defiance of federal law.”

Maybe this mutual love of abusive wiretapping is why–as Elliot Spitzer has pointed out–DOJ has thus far failed to pursue News Corp under Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

And finally, where is the inept U.S. Department of Justice in all this?

The DOJ has brought many irrelevant and tiny cases against companies for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which makes it illegal to bribe either individuals or government officials, even in a company’s overseas operations. The DOJ loves to use the statute to show just how tough it is.

Yet now they have the most important case sitting right there in front of them. It’s easy. Even a rookie could field this one.

But what are they doing? It’s not clear.

If they fail to make this case against News Corp., Eric Holder is a failure as attorney general.

After all, Eric Holder’s DOJ successfully fought to give legal sanction to Cheney’s illegal wiretapping. It would look rather silly, after having extended warrantless wiretapping past the end of the Obama Administration, for them to prosecute Rupert Murdoch for doing the same thing Cheney did.