It’s a Conspiracy, Folks

Trump Maladministration

This Lawrence O’Donnell segment from last night is worth watching —

Among other things, people being interviewed in the clip above discuss how the people behind the July 9, 2016 meeting are all old business associates of the Trump family. There are videos in circulation showing the old man at a party with several of them.

While this week’s revelations have focused on Junior, the dots all connect back to Jared Kushner. We found out about the meeting because Jared Kushner’s lawyers amended his Form SF-86, a questionnaire that is part of the application for national security clearance. Kushner initially submitted the form last January and was soon found to have “forgotten” a lot.

Kushner’s aides have previously told the Times that he holds an interim security clearance, which Sean Bigley, a federal security clearance attorney at Bigley Ranish, LLC described to TPM as a “golden ticket” that provides government employees with “the full level of access” needed for an applicant to perform his or her role.

Kushner’s failure to disclose dozens of contacts with foreigners, including the CEO of a Russian state-owned bank and the Russian ambassador to the United States, have prompted Democrats to call for his interim clearance to be reviewed or pulled entirely. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Tuesday dodged questions about whether Kushner still had it.

When the Times first broke the news of Kushner’s omissions in April, Gorelick [Kushner’s lawyer] told the newspaper that they were made in error. Kushner submitted his lengthy SF-86 form prematurely on Jan. 18, Gorelick said at the time, and his office informed the FBI the next day that he would be providing additional information about his foreign contacts.

“Amending” the form isn’t unusual, the article says, and Kushner probably won’t get in trouble for initially filing an incomplete one. But there’s more.

Yesterday, McClatchy reported that Kushner’s role in the campaign has drawn attention

Investigators at the House and Senate Intelligence committees and the Justice Department are examining whether the Trump campaign’s digital operation – overseen by Jared Kushner – helped guide Russia’s sophisticated voter targeting and fake news attacks on Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Congressional and Justice Department investigators are focusing on whether Trump’s campaign pointed Russian cyber operatives to certain voting jurisdictions in key states – areas where Trump’s digital team and Republican operatives were spotting unexpected weakness in voter support for Hillary Clinton, according to several people familiar with the parallel inquiries.

Also under scrutiny is the question of whether Trump associates or campaign aides had any role in assisting the Russians in publicly releasing thousands of emails, hacked from the accounts of top Democrats, at turning points in the presidential race, mainly through the London-based transparency web site WikiLeaks. …

… By Election Day, an automated Kremlin cyberattack of unprecedented scale and sophistication had delivered critical and phony news about the Democratic presidential nominee to the Twitter and Facebook accounts of millions of voters. Some investigators suspect the Russians targeted voters in swing states, even in key precincts.

Russia’s operation used computer commands knowns as “bots” to collect and dramatically heighten the reach of negative or fabricated news about Clinton, including a story in the final days of the campaign accusing her of running a pedophile ring at a Washington pizzeria.

One source familiar with Justice’s criminal probe said investigators doubt Russian operatives controlling the so-called robotic cyber commands that fetched and distributed fake news stories could have independently “known where to specifically target … to which high-impact states and districts in those states.”

It gets juicier.

Among other things, congressional investigators are looking into whether Russian operatives, who successfully penetrated voting registration systems in Illinois, Arizona and possibly other states, shared any of that data with the Trump campaign, according to a report in Time.

“I get the fact that the Russian intel services could figure out how to manipulate and use the bots,” Virginia Sen. Mark Warner told Pod Save America recently. “Whether they could know how to target states and levels of voters that the Democrats weren’t even aware (of) really raises some questions … How did they know to go to that level of detail in those kinds of jurisdictions?”

The Russians appear to have targeted women and African-Americans in two of the three decisive states, Wisconsin and Michigan, “where the Democrats were too brain dead to realize those states were even in play,” Warner said.

To those who are certain the Trump/Russians stole the 2016 election, I would like to point out that if the Clinton campaign hadn’t been so brain dead, there would have been fewer vulnerabilities to exploit. Ultimately, it was Clinton’s election to lose, and she lost it. She might very well have lost it had the Russians done nothing at all. Historians will probably be arguing the point for the rest of eternity. But this is about something bigger than who won the election.

Back to Jared Kushner — this is from an article published in the New York Times this morning:

While Donald Trump Jr. has been on the firing line, the meeting with Ms. Veselnitskaya could arguably be a bigger distraction for Mr. Kushner. As a senior adviser to the president, he is involved in several of the administration’s most sensitive foreign-policy issues, from China to the Middle East peace process. His involvement in the meeting led reporters to ask the White House whether he still held his security clearance.

Also under scrutiny is how forthcoming Mr. Kushner was with his father-in-law about the nature of the June meeting. He met with Mr. Trump to discuss the issue, according to advisers to the White House, around the time he updated his federal disclosure form to include Ms. Veselnitskaya’s name on a list of foreign contacts that Mr. Kushner was required to submit to the F.B.I. to obtain a security clearance.

Mr. Kushner supplemented the list of foreign contacts three times, adding more than 100 names, people close to him said.

Mr. Kushner played down the significance of the meeting and omitted significant details, according to two people who were briefed on the exchange. They said Mr. Kushner informed the president that he had met with a Russian foreign national, and that while he had to report the name, it would not cause a problem for the administration.

Another official said Mr. Kushner’s assurance to the president was based on the fact that nothing came of the June meeting.

Meanwhile, the old man appears to be in a kind of denial. He has been saying that his son did nothing wrong, but earlier today in Paris he blamed Loretta Lynch for allowing the Russian attorney into the country. So, it’s all Obama’s fault.

Even weirder, though, is that according to the New York Times article linked above, Trump believes the worst is over.

The fierce criticism of a meeting between Mr. Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and a Kremlin-linked lawyer in June 2016 has left the president by turns angry, defensive and protective but ultimately relieved that for now, the worst appears to be over, people who spoke to him said Wednesday.

Oh, sweetums, I doubt the worst has even started yet. We’ll know what the worst is when we hear from the Mueller investigation, and that may take awhile.

I want to close with something Josh Marshall wrote yesterday, which is that the Trumpettes don’t seem to understand what kind of trouble they are in.

The abiding sense I get is not simply that they don’t know the magnitude of the legal threat but that they don’t understand the nature of the threat either. Again and again they seem to think the legal vulnerability can be trumped by good news cycles or getting the press to focus on some other individual.  They don’t seem to get that a big, sprawling federal investigation like this, untethered from the political chain of command and led by one of the top law enforcement professionals of his generation, trundles onward with a perfect indifference to whether you win the morning or kill it in 10 or a 100 different news cycles. Those things just don’t matter. And yet my sense at least is that Jared Kushner thinks he is helping himself by knifing his brother-in-law – as though if Don Jr is at the center of a media firestorm for a few days, Mueller will just forget about him.

Here is an example of what I’m talking about. This is from Mike Allen’s morning Axios email.

The view in Kushner’s orbit is that the brutal new revelations are more P.R. problems than legal problems. And if he makes progress with his Middle East peace efforts, perceptions would be very different.

Again, this strikes me as a profound and dangerous naïveté. These are certainly not PR problems. Prosecutors, meanwhile, really don’t care how well you’re doing on the policy front. But even if you grant the nonsensical premise – that grave legal problems can be managed with good PR or even substantive policy successes – this is an inane statement.

Yeah, and how hard can it be to broker peace in the Middle East anyway? It’s not like anybody ever really tried before, is it?

New York’s business and media world is a cockpit of vipers. It’s hard to say anyone who comes out of that world is green or wet behind the ears. But Washington DC, and especially big federal criminal investigations, are different. It does not prepare you for that. If you look at Trump’s own career, there’s a persistent pattern. Get into a jam and you call in the lawyers, make threats, threaten lawsuits. If someone gets in your way you bleed them for years in court. If things go bad, you settle and move on. There’s also the tabloids. They look vicious. But they can also be deeply pliant for the rich. Landing a blow by planting a nasty story in the Post is a persistent theme of Trump’s racket for decades. Being a longtime informant for the FBI solves other problems. Having a problem with a disloyal? Fire them and threaten retribution. There’s probably an NDA already in place. They can be dealt with.

Kushner, notoriously, bought The New York Observer as one of his first gambits after taking over the family business when his dad headed to the big house. But he reportedly used the paper as a tool to attack business enemies. Kushner’s interest in the Observer has always struck me as of a piece with Trump’s modus operandi with the New York tabloids.

Because of the President’s damaged personality and perennial and chronic anger it can seem like he’s different, that he gets the magnitude of the situation. I don’t think he does. Every reverse is because he’s being treated unfairly or let down by Reince Priebus or Steve Bannon or now his loyalist lawyer Marc Kasowitz. The problems won’t go away because his staff can’t stop the leaks. In a situation like this there aren’t a lot of people you can effectively buy or destroy. This is a legal world that Trump has very little experience with.

A big federal investigation like this is like a broad lava flow. It moves slowly but it is unstoppable. It burns and crushes things in its wake. And things too big or unburnable it just covers over. The little antics and PR gambits mainly do not matter. Key players in this mix don’t seem to appreciate that.

I wish the lava flow would move a little faster. Do read all of Josh Marshall’s piece. And see also Paul Waldman, “The Trump White House Is a Confederacy of Dingbats.”

Update: See also Nicholas Kristof, “All Roads Now Lead to Kushner.” I had forgotten about Kushner’s plan to set up a secret communications channel with the Russians.

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  1. uncledad  •  Jul 13, 2017 @5:19 pm

    “So, it’s all Obama’s fault”

    Ah yes nothing rallies the GOP like blaming everything that could possibly be perceived as negative on that colored fella.

    “Trump campaign’s digital operation – overseen by Jared Kushner”

    I’ve had a hunch for a while now that the Trumpers aided by the Mercers (they own a little data company called Cambridge Analytica), were in bed with the folks who hacked the DNC and Podesta to target low-info voters in the key Midwestern states. Me thinks this is where the rubber meets the road!

  2. paintedjaguar  •  Jul 13, 2017 @5:55 pm

    “But this is about something bigger than who won the election.”

    Really? Is it really? If anyone in this scrum really gave a rat’s ass about election integrity, we’d all be talking about hand counted paper ballots. Pretty hard to hack those from a server in Macedonia.

    And again, careful what you wish for… especially when your opposition has control over the prosecutorial executive. If you hadn’t heard – yes both sides do it.

  3. paintedjaguar  •  Jul 13, 2017 @7:32 pm

    And for further perspective/context, here is a pretty good summary of the case against the current RussiaGate hysteria, although it doesn’t mention the claims of “Shattered” authors Jonathan Allen & Amie Parnes that the whole Blame-Russia pot boiling originated as a post-electoral strategic distraction from the Clinton machine.

    I’ve already lived through one go-round of this “The Russians Are Coming” carousel, back in the sixties, although it has been a long running show from at least 1917. The “War on Terror” has served as a pretty good stand-in, but there’s nothing like the old standards, is there? For the record, I have no trouble believing that Trump was involved in shady business dealings in Russia, though I’ve yet to see any evidence of this. Such dealings would probably be mostly shady-but-legal anyway, like the widespread ownership of US real estate and assets by foreign parties, or the Clinton’s blatant influence peddling.

  4. maha  •  Jul 14, 2017 @12:35 pm

    painted jaguar — thanks for repeatedly missing points and posting drivel. I think we don’t need you here any more. Good bye.

  5. paradoctor  •  Jul 13, 2017 @7:49 pm

    I’m entirely willing to blame Trump’s presidency on both Clinton’s incompetence and Trump’s perfidiousness. Either alone might not have done it.

    When I look at D electoral performance, the phrase “throwing the fight” comes to mind.

    If the D’s and R’s are the Mom and Dad party, then Dad is Tony Soprano and Mom is Carmella.

  6. Swami  •  Jul 13, 2017 @8:27 pm

    ‘Open, Transparent and Innocent.’
    He really does have the best words. But if you’re seeking to understand the truth of what Trump is saying just apply the opposing concept of the words used by Trump… Secretive, Evasive and Guilty. And therein lies the truth.

    Innocent of what? Was it that thing that he said that he loved? If I were Cotton Mather I would say young Donnie was delighting in his evil even though his Pa says, “he’s a good boy”

  7. csm  •  Jul 13, 2017 @8:39 pm

    The best assist the Trump campaign had in winning was not the Russians, but the Clinton campaign itself. I agree; this was definitely Clinton’s race to lose. She handily won the popular vote but lost the electoral college vote because of shortfalls in a few states, namely MI, WI and PA, that would have put her over the top. And this is important especially given the fact that local democratic activists on the ground, particularly in MI and WI, alerted the campaign and asked for resources that they didn’t get because the models kept telling Clinton all was well.

    Had the Clinton camp ventured outside the overstuffed democratic consultant brain-trust bubble and paid more attention to what was happening on the ground in these key states, she would have won regardless of what the Russians did. And there would be little if any pearl clutching over the lost WWC voters.

    This is not to say there wasn’t a conspiracy; there apparently was, and it needs to be rolled up. And dems should press the issue, not for the sake of a political scalp but as part of an overall effort of salvaging and shoring up the integrity of our democracy. But, fairly or not, dems are open to the talking point that going after Trump over Russia is nothing more than a sour grapes argument over “the most qualified candidate in the history of the world” lost to an ignorant, openly racist liar and con man.

  8. Doug  •  Jul 13, 2017 @9:30 pm

    Trump knows he can pardon anyone but himself. Trump knows that impeachment is a political not legal proceeding. Trump has observed that whatever happens, in a worst case, he takes a 4 point hit in the polls and rebounds if he tosses the base red meat. On Gallup he’s trended between 36 to 40% for the last 2 months. With those numbers, Trump in not impeachable. Period.

    So, Trump stays as long as the base is onboard. Nobody Trump approves of will go to jail But Kushner (If the story is correct) just threw Trump’s son under the bus and it seems likely even Trump knows it. Kushner knows Trump’s maxim, “If somebody screws you, screw them back 10 times harder.” Was that a fatal mistake for Kushner, with huge legal liability? Not if Kushner knows where the body is buried.

    If Muller finds criminal liability for Kushner or Don Jr or Manifort (he also knows too much) or Flynn – they get pardoned. Regardless of the evidence, Trump calls it a media conspiracy. Trump probably can’t be charged until after he’s impeached – a legal theory without precedent – then Trump needs to win a second term to avoid being charged. (Talk about incentive!)

    If all that is right – we are looking at incentive for Trump to rig the election with Russian help and with federal level voter suppression. That would be a first but Trump is laying the groundwork for it. 2020 looks like a political perfect storm.

    There’s a few wildcards in the deck. If Trump goes to war with the Congress, Trump has already given them grounds for impeachment. Second, it’s impossible to calculate how long the Trump loyalists will buy into his sh*t. Third, Fox news might decide Trump is too irrational – they’ve thrown crackpots out before. Last, the courts – including the Roberts court aren’t going to let Trump run over them.

  9. c u n d gulag  •  Jul 13, 2017 @10:08 pm

    Here’s something else for t-RUMPLE-THIN-sKKKin and his stupid & evil, ignorant, and bigoted KKKlavern of KKKeystone KKKlowns to worry about:
    The FBI, NSA, CIA, and every other “acronymed”alphabet-soup national security agency, will want to add injury to the insults that were heaped upon them by the orange turdsicle with a wooddn stick up his ass, who is our “president!”
    Revenge, is s dish best served… Well, is in this case, slowly, in drips, at the times those drips will hurt the most.

    This will be the political version of an ancient Chinese torture:
    “The death of a thousand cuts.”

  10. Joseph Auclair  •  Jul 14, 2017 @10:29 am

    Let’s not forget that Hillary won the election among the voters and lost only thanks to a corrupt, rigged system that makes white rural conservative voters more important than nonwhite urban and liberal ones, the Electoral College.

    A point that so annoyed and annoys Trump that he gave us a phony commission to find 3 to 5 million imaginary illegal votes cast by illegal aliens.

  11. maha  •  Jul 14, 2017 @12:33 pm

    Joseph Auclair — Hillary lost the Electoral College election, which is the only one that counts, and that was through her own campaign’s incompetence. She blew it. Perhaps she would have squeaked it out had her vulnerabilities not been exploited so well, but she’s the one who created the vulnerabilities. Please don’t waste everyone’s time whining about a stolen election here.

  12. SocraticGadfly  •  Jul 14, 2017 @10:35 am

    McClatchy used to be better than the MSM, and more separated from the pack, on stuff like this. The times, though, are a-changing?

  13. maha  •  Jul 14, 2017 @12:23 pm

    SocraticGaddly: McClatchy is still a good source, IMO. I see that you’re one of those deluded fools who thinks the Russia-Trump story is fake. Please don’t waste my time.

  14. Swami  •  Jul 14, 2017 @10:56 am

    Trump in not impeachable. Period.

    Doug…I wouldn’t be so sure. It might come down to basic political survival for the GOP at some point. As things develop all of them are going to have to count the costs, and in the current trajectory Trump is growing as a liability. Self preservation could rule the day.

  15. pluky  •  Jul 14, 2017 @1:13 pm

    Trump will be impeached. I’m counting on the thoroughness of Mr. Mueller’s team. When he reports, the scope and scale of Trump’s entanglement with the Russians (government and mob) in matters political, financial, and criminal will be mind-boggling.

  16. maha  •  Jul 14, 2017 @1:19 pm

    I’m inclined to think Trump won’t finish his term. If he were proving to be useful to the Republican Party I’d say otherwise, but he isn’t.

  17. Doug  •  Jul 14, 2017 @4:11 pm

    The GOP doesn’t want Trump and never has. They tried to block his nomination, openly working with Rubio and even Cruz. The GOP voter distrusts the GOP establishment in the same way Bernie voters distrust the DNC. The support for Trump among the GOP is around 80%. In the last 4 days as the Russia story has been breaking, Trumps approval rating has gone UP!

    McConnell and Ryan know that if they stab Trump, there’s a good chance the GOP voters will form their own party built around the Trump brand. That’s an opinion but the GOP is dealing with a revolution at the voter level they don’t know how to contain. They don’t dare even LOOK like they are preparing to bring Trump down.

    If Trump goes to war with the RNC and the Congress, they will take Trump out. If Fox starts reporting the truth about Trump, it will affect his approval rating, but by how much? But while Trump has the heart of the base, the republicans in Congress won’t touch him UNLESS Trump first goes after the Congress.

  18. uncledad  •  Jul 14, 2017 @5:04 pm

    “The GOP voter distrusts the GOP establishment in the same way Bernie voters distrust the DNC”

    I wouldn’t dismiss Bernie voters as equals to the tea-tards that voted for Trump, not the same, apple meet orange? Every Trump voter I know (and I know a few) are low-information dullards who only consume right wing media, FAUX, Rush, Drudge etc. They only know what the GOP programmers want them to know. Most Bernie voters I know are well informed and not paranoid at all. To say that the DNC is just as bad as the GOP is a false equivalency at best. The GOP is a criminal organization dressed up as a political party. While the DNC is flawed it’s not even close IMO.

  19. Bill  •  Jul 14, 2017 @5:43 pm

    Both parties are in league with neoliberalism, a term rarely uttered in the land of the GOP evangelical, since most don’t even know what that is. But as they age past 50, and their own children become adults with few economic prospects… well, so far it may explain their continuing faith in Trump.

    Back to the post, according to Marshall, Trump’s people are behaving like “low level grifters or mob soldiers” trying to stop a “broad lava flow” with “little antics and PR gambits”.

    Hopefully the system isn’t too far gone. As things progress and if/when these fools try something desperate, I’m hoping journalists will be able to be there to tell all.

    Neoliberal and corruption killers (hopefully not being redundant) deserve as much.

  20. bernie  •  Jul 14, 2017 @6:20 pm

    To find, arrange, present, and connect these gems so cogently, is laudable.  Wow.

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