The Trump Campaign: Too Screwed to Collude?

Trump Maladministration

In light of Jeff Sessions’s testimony today, I call your attention to Paul Waldman’s commentary:

Unlike his boss, who claims he possesses “one of the greatest memories of all time,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a man who gazes into the past and sees only a fog of out-of-focus associates and half-remembered events. But in his testimony today before the House Judiciary Committee, Sessions may have hit on the new Trump administration defense for the Russia scandal, one that can be applied to almost any future revelation.

Its essence is that the Trump campaign was such an ungodly, bumbling mess that it was simply incapable of colluding with the Russians in their campaign to undermine Hillary Clinton, help Donald Trump get elected, and generally disrupt and discredit the American electoral system.

As weaselly a defense as that may seem, it contains a good bit of truth. With each new revelation about the campaign’s contacts with Russia, a picture is filling out. It’s one not of a well-organized collusion conspiracy, but instead of a bunch of nincompoops engaging in a kind of ongoing, ad hoc, fitful sort-of-collusion, one that involved lots of meetings, lots of emails, and lots of contacts between various Russians with Kremlin connections and people at different levels of the campaign. Whether it fits your definition of “collusion,” it was one heck of an incompetent conspiracy.

Yesterday the Atlantic published some private direct messages sent through Twitter between Julian Assange and Donald Trump, Jr.  What struck about these is that Junior seemed to have no clue what to do with Assange. Assange clearly was trying to rope Junior into collusion. Junior didn’t always respond, as if he wasn’t sure who Assange actually was, but he was too dim to have realized he should have nothing to do with Assange and did go along with some of his suggestions.

See also Charles Pierce:

To get back to Junior, however, how stupid do you have to be to get involved even marginally in something like this? Assange believes in nothing but himself. He’d sell Junior to the Somali pirates if he thought that would advantage him in some way. No game is worth that candle. And you can see how desperately WikiLeaks wanted to keep Junior on the string. (That request for the president*’s tax returns, so that WikiLeaks could publish them and thereby establish a neutral bona fides for future anti-Clinton news dumps, is positively Machiavellian—and it would’ve worked, too.) And now, in another perfectly predictable development, those emails are in the hands of congressional investigators. Apologies, again, to Eric Trump, who heretofore will be known as The Smart One.

Anyway, Paul Waldman continues:

There was the meeting that Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort had with Russians connected to the Kremlin on the promise of dirt about Hillary Clinton. There were the contacts multiple Trump officials like Papadopoulos and Carter Page had with Russians, and the fact that others within the Trump campaign were likely more aware of these contacts than we had been led to believe. Among other things, Papadopoulos was told that the Russians had “thousands of emails” that could prove damaging to Clinton, before the Russian hacks came to light; we still don’t know whom in the Trump campaign he relayed that juicy tidbit to. And I promise you, there will be more revealed about Michael Flynn; the fact that Trump was so incredibly eager to protect him after he left the White House is a flashing red light.

And Julia Ioffe reports on secret correspondence between Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks, which was essentially acting as an agent of the Kremlin during the campaign (and may still be to this day). Perhaps most striking, when WikiLeaks released a batch of information, it wrote to Trump Jr. suggesting that his father tweet about the revelations, which Trump did just 15 minutes later.

So to review, this appears to be what happened in that case: 1) Russia hacks the emails of Democrats, including Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. 2) Russia passes some of what it finds to WikiLeaks for public release. 3) WikiLeaks asks Trump’s son to promote the release. 4) Trump urges media to focus on WikiLeaks’ findings.

Was that a violation of the law? Maybe not. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump Jr.’s defense will be, “Hey, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing!”

You know, they probably didn’t. Take Michael Flynn, for example. Today Sessions, whose infamous lack of recall suggests brain damage, had to deny that he knew anything about Flynn’s alleged plan to kidnap U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen and return him to Turkey, where he is wanted to stand trial for being the “mastermind” behind an attempted political coup in 2016. In exchange for Gulen, Flynn would have been paid $15 million. And this was while Flynn was part of the Trump campaign.

Flynn brings us to another dim bulb named Steve Bannon. During the time Chris Christie was in charge of the transition, Christie wanted to keep Flynn completely away from the administration. Gov. Beachball may be an asshole, but he’s not an idiot. But Nancy Cook wrote at Politico,

But when Christie was fired from his transition perch on Nov. 11 — replaced by soon-to-be Vice President Mike Pence — Flynn and former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon celebrated by tossing binders full of potential personnel picks, carefully culled by Christie’s team, into trash bins with a sense of ceremonial glee.

And do we want to talk about Stephen Miller? If that boy has an IQ in triple digits I’m the Tooth Fairy. Josh Marshall wrote last week:

According to the Times, Miller is the “senior policy advisor” referenced in the Papadopoulos court documents. He was the only unnamed player still unidentified. This means that Miller was one of the top Trump advisors Papadopoulos was keeping posted on his efforts to set up meetings between Russian officials and Trump campaign officials, perhaps even (preposterous as it may seem) a meeting between Trump and Putin himself. …

… Miller came to Trump via Jeff Sessions. He was a top staffer to Sessions in the Senate. By 2016 he had risen to Communications Director. And when Sessions endorsed Trump in late February 2016 he brought Miller into the Trump circle. As a speechwriter and advisor, Miller played a key role taking Trump’s instinctive racist-nationalist politics and aligning it with the comparable policy mix Sessions had been pushing, with no great luck, in the Senate for years. Here’s an interesting look at the relationship.

We still don’t have a terribly good explanation of how Jeff Sessions got on the Russia bandwagon, how he ended up having as multiple private conversations with then-Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak over the course of 2016, including one private meeting in Sessions’ senate office in September. Miller seems like at least one likely conduit. At a minimum, Miller getting updated on Papadopoulos’ adventures makes it much less credible that Sessions knew nothing about the channels opening up between the campaign and Russia.

And of course, in the center of this nest of nincompoops is the Mega Moron himself, Donald Trump, who is something like a perfect storm of idiocy. “Dimmer than a 5-watt bulb,” this guy says. Bob Mueller, save us.

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  1. KC  •  Nov 14, 2017 @10:43 pm

    It’s just plain scary that some of these folks are running the country. 

  2. c u n d gulag  •  Nov 14, 2017 @11:00 pm

    The tRUMP campaign was like "The Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight" meets "The Bowery Boys and The Keystone Kops" meets Mickey Rooney's call to his friends, "Hey kids!  LET'S PUT ON A SHOW!!!" 

    The whole group was horribly inept.

    All of this is true.

    What all of this doesn'the speak well of, is the Clinton campaign, and a lot of our MSM's members.

    While the GOP kept going on its long, lying attacks on Hillary, TRUMP upped the ante and led calls to "Lock Her Up!" 

    And the Russians helped – A LOT!  In more ways than one. 

    To their debi…  credit, the most successful thing he and his gang of political thugs did, was run a campaign that upped the volume on racism and other forms of bigotry.

    They were not inept when they did that.


    They were spectacularly "ept!"

  3. Swami  •  Nov 15, 2017 @3:41 am

    And meanwhile Mueller is working away behind the scenes with the stealth and tenacity of a termite. He's gonna get 'em.

  4. bernie  •  Nov 15, 2017 @6:56 am

    Not a well oiled machine, but a Rube Goldberg (young people might need to look this up) contraption.  Jeb stumbled and Marcos mumbled, setting off a chain of falling dominoes, which unleashed the Russians, who set off hoards of bots and trolls which scared the cat who spit out this giant orange hair ball.  I think I've got it all straight now. 

    And just when we were finally making progress in getting Hillary locked up on that Uranium deal, Fox's Shepard Smith goes rouge and exposes the story as a hoax and a fabrication.  Did the Kremlin forget his bonus check or what?  

  5. Tom_b  •  Nov 15, 2017 @1:56 pm

    “Plumb stupid” is a weak defense in a court of law, especially if argued by the kind of representation the Trump clan tends to retain, your basic “ambulance chasers”,

  6. c u n d gulag  •  Nov 15, 2017 @2:08 pm

    Swami & bernie,


  7. grannyeagle  •  Nov 15, 2017 @3:27 pm

    Sometimes I have to laugh to keep from crying.  It really is scary that these people are running (or not) the country.  Jeff Sessions is sleezy and he has that smirk on his face when he says "I have been called a surrogate a time or two."  And he gets so insulted when someone says he has lied.  Shakespeare comes to mind "I think thou doth protest too much".  I think that's Shakespeare.  If not, I'm sure one of you will let me know.  Anyway, I think it's interesting that both Sessions and Moore are from Alabama.  What kind of idiots is that state producing?

    I was watching Moore give a speech and he seems to have taken a hint from Trump.  Talking about fake news, it's a conspiracy of the Democrats and saying he is the only one that can unite the Democrats and Republicans.  That last may be true as it looks like the Senate Repugs do not want him.  It almost makes me want to give up my fiction novels as this is enough drama for me.

    I know I'm a little wordy this AM but my car has a dead battery so I can't go to the grocery like I planned.  I'm waiting for my son-in-law to come rescue me.  Maybe I will just get back to my book by Eben Alexander, M.D. about his NDE experience.

  8. csm  •  Nov 15, 2017 @4:19 pm

    As the coincidences pile up, stupid is all they've got, really.  And Trump is so damned dumb while a stupid defense may not be enough to get him totally off the hook if he’s ever charged, its a reasonable approach. 

    Nothing I've heard from any of them either makes sense and/or is believable given what we know.  The media may still be struggling with how to report the easily proven lies Trump spews without giving them any more legitimacy, but its reality and common sense, not "the democrats" or Hillary Clinton that is their main enemy.  And stupidity.

  9. Swami  •  Nov 15, 2017 @11:46 pm

    grannyeagle..I notice Session's smirk quite often and I'm not sure what to make of it. I get the sense that he signaling an uncertainty of whether he's going to be believed or not. It could also be a preemptive facial gesture to counter a negative response to a passive-aggressive jab. But whatever it is, it has a very impish quality about it and leads me to believe he's not being honest.

  10. priscianus jr  •  Nov 16, 2017 @2:15 am

    I always thought the issue at law was whether you had done something, not how well you did it.

    If they literally didn't know what they were doing, well, what did they think think they were doing?

    Finally, there I such a thing as criminal negligence. When you're running a presidential campaign you are expected to have at least some passing knowledge of what the hell you are doing. Because you might just be doing some stuff that's bad for the country, or even illegal. You're kind of expected to know this, especially if you're somebody who would be appointed attorney general.

    To all who are saying, it's scary to think these are the people that are running the country — yes it is, and it is doing incredible damage to this country and to the world. 



  11. grannyeagle  •  Nov 16, 2017 @3:10 pm

    Swami:  I read Session's smirk as he is very pleased with himself.  As you describe it, it is impish and reminds me of a little kid who has been naughty but is proud of the attention.