Today in Ukraine, and the U.S.

The ruble is worthless now, I understand. Even Switzerland has frozen Russian accounts. Russia is in for a world of hurt.

Do read The war in Ukraine isn’t working out the way Russia intended in the Washington Post. In brief, the ground invasion of Ukraine has been shockingly incompetent. The Russian troops are undertrained and, apparently, undermotivated.

This is more recent:

In Kharkiv, home to nearly 1.5 million people, three areas came under heavy daylight bombardment, experiencing some of the most intense shelling and street fighting since the start of the invasion — an apparent escalation of the attack from Russian President Vladimir Putin. At least 11 people were killed and dozens hospitalized, according to the head of the regional government. But both Kharkiv and Kyiv, the capital, remained in Ukrainian hands as Russia faced more resistance than it was expecting, the Pentagon reported.

It appears Russia will rely less on tanks and more on artillery and bombs. I am so sad for Ukraine. No one should have to experience this.

Closer to home, Aaron Blake writes, the tide has turned against the Russia apologists — and the neutrals. Polls show overwhelming support for Ukraine and opposition to Russia. A huge majority of Americans now see Russia as an enemy. A clear majority thinks that what is happening in Ukraine is a threat to America’s vital interest.

Fox News hosts and others who cast U.S. intelligence on the imminent Russian invasion as dubious or even an elaborate ruse have reverted to decrying the thing they suggested might be a hoax. Carlson has acknowledged that the piddling “border dispute” spearheaded by the not-necessarily-a-bad-guy Putin, which was of no concern to us, is now worthy of sanctions amid a potential “world war.” Former Trump secretary of state Mike Pompeo went full Russia hawk days after echoing Trump’s praise for Putin’s formidability and saying he had “enormous respect” for Putin. Even Trump, after praising Putin’s strategy in the run-up to the invasion and declining to warn him off it, on Friday alluded going further than sanctions. “There are things you can do that could be very powerful if you want to get it ended,” Trump said, while declining to get into specifics for some reason.

Trump’s praise for the invasion as “genius” is going to be used to bash him from now on.

The World to Russia: Bleep You

The unfolding war is unlike any other, I believe. Russia is being pummeled by financial sanctions. Ukraine citizen militias are organizing on social media, and a head of state is addressing his people and the world on Twitter. There are some good ones on this Twitter feed. Fighters on the front lines are providing updates on Twitter.

Oh, and this seems significant —

So is this:

The Russian people won’t have to take their sons and possibly daughters back in body bags, I guess. Many families may never learn what happened to their loved ones.

Okay, one more.

I understand that Russians have very limited access to the Web outside of Russia, but “very limited” is not “zero.” Russians are going to find out what’s really going on eventually. And it sounds as if a lot of them have found out already — see Furious Russians turn on Putin – mass arrests as thousands protest in St Petersburg, just posted at The Express (UK).

This morning we woke to the news that Russia was putting its nuclear forces on alert. Nuclear weapons are a power that creates weakness and limits options. It’s because of nuclear weapons that other nations are not sending their own troops to defend Ukraine, but instead the world stands by and watches. Ukraine will be sacrified before risking a nuclear World War. But the world is not standing by helplessly; the sanctions appear to be having an effect.

Today the Pentagon said, in so many words, that since the original blitzkrieg plan was stopped, the Russian military appears to be falling back on the time-honored Plan B — a seige. This is not good news for civilians. Will the Russians interpret attempts to send food and medical supplies to Ukraine’s cities as acts of war?

Now Alexander Vindman is tweeting that there are reports Putin has fired the head of the Russian military, Valery Gerasimov. This hasn’t hit the news yet, if it’s true. It may not be.

If Putin is rational — some are questioning this — he must realize that even if his military does take Ukraine, this will not be the end of the story. The global community will not accept a Russian occupation Ukraine, never mind Ukrainians. There will be robust subversion and guerrilla war. It will cost Russia big time to hang on to Ukraine. And the sanctions continue to pile on.

See the Finantial Times, Vladimir Putin’s grand plan is unravelling.

Unable to achieve the easy victory that he anticipated, Putin seems unlikely to back down. Pride, paranoia and his own personal survival point to the use of ever more radical and dangerous tactics. One senior western official predicted to me that “Putin will only dig in and this will get very ugly”.

Western security analysts have been warning of the possible use of thermobaric missiles in Ukraine — “flame-thrower” bombs which Russia has deployed in Chechnya and Syria and can cause huge loss of life. The nuclear threats that Putin is deploying, while clearly intended to intimidate, cannot be entirely discounted given his state of mind.

Do read the entire article; it’s very informative. But it’s possible the rest of the world will be drawn into a larger war, like it or not. However, I believe Russia will be alone. I don’t think Xi Jinping is deluded enough to back up Russia militarily. What’s in it for China? Nothing I can see.

Best-case would be for the oligarchs gang up on Putin and oust him.

One more tweet — Kyiv’s defenders are sending videos to the Russian troops surrounding their city.

Ukrainians attend a rally in central Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022, during a protest against the potential escalation of the tension between Russia and Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden are to hold a high-stakes telephone call on Saturday as tensions over a possibility imminent invasion of Ukraine escalated sharply and the U.S. announced plans to evacuate its embassy in the Ukrainian capital. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

Ukraine Is Rewriting the Scripts

We keep hearing that Ukraine is fighting bravely, and that the Russians are advancing more slowly than expected. As I write, Ukraine is still in control of Kyiv. We also keep hearing that there is precious little chance Ukraine won’t be crushed eventually. I have no military experience whatsoever and have no idea how to interpret the many reports.

Germany has a long-standing policy of not allowing lethal weapons to be sent to conflict zones. But a short time ago it relented and will not oppose shipping arms from EU and NATO countries to Ukraine. Now the Netherlands is preparing to send rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and Germany is sending 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger missiles. The U.S. Department of State insists it is throwing assistance to Ukraine as fast as it can, although it’s not clear to me how this is going. I assume the U.S. is sharing intelligence about Russian troops with Ukraine.

European countries are still debating whether to cut Russia off of the SWIFT banking system. “Blocking Russia from the system will require the agreement of all the EU’s 27 members,” it says here. This is a big lift, and it would cause some pain on the EU side. But the threat is real enough that it’s making Russia nervous.

Ukraine is asking Turkey to block Russian access to the Black Sea. There is no indication Turkey will comply. The Moscow Times reports that Turkey is urging Russia to end the “conflict” and has offered to mediate negotiations between Ukraine and Russia.

At the same time, there are reports that Russia is also threatening Sweden and Finland with consequences if they even think of joining NATO. At this point I doubt Sweden or Finland are too worried. Well, maybe Finland.

The man of the hour is Volodymyr Zelensky, president of Ukraine. He is certainly rising to the moment. The U.S. offered to help him and his family to evacuate; Zelensky responded that he needs weapons, not a ride. But if Russians get their hands on him, they’re going to kill him. I worry for him. One headline commended him for “going down with the ship.”

And then there’s this meme:

This crisis could well be one of the unforeseen events that sends U.S. politics off on a new trajectory, like September 11 or Hurricane Katrina. Although that’s yet to be seen. It has already changed our ongoing political “discourse,” if you want to call it that, and I think it could be changed even more. Republicans may find they’ll have to rework their rhetorical strategies.

The recurring clown show known as CPAC — it’s supposed to be annual, but it seems to come along about every three months — is going on in Orlando. NBC News reports that the speakers are steadfastly ignoring Ukraine.

As Moscow launched missiles at Ukraine, CPAC speakers were firing away at Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for his country’s public health restrictions. The agenda had one breakout session devoted to China, but none on Russia, and China was more frequently invoked as a bigger problem for the United States.

Those speakers who did mention Ukraine blamed President Biden for whatever is happening there. I still say their divisiveness encouraged Putin. And, of course, I have no idea how Fox News is covering the crisis, if at all. And I’m not going to look.

But all the meatballs whining about how mask mandates violate their freedoms just look ridiculous now. They were ridiculous before, of course, but the contrast makes them truly absurd. And then there’s Ron DeSantis:

In his 20-minute speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Ron DeSantis hit on everything from immigration and “mob violence” to critical race theory, the Bill of Rights and the peril of a “biomedical security state.”

One thing the Florida governor — who is a U.S. Navy veteran and former member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee — did not mention on Thursday was Ukraine….

… Ukraine drew mention from some Republican politicians. Yet attendees heard more about banned books, “Marxist” leftists, Covid mandates and the fantasy that the 2020 election was rigged. 

Tucker Carlon, after weeks of signalling that the kewl kids want Vlad to sit at their lunch table, and Ukrainians are poopy heads, had to moderate a bit and admit that Putin is to blame for what is happening in Ukraine. And then he pivoted to racial slurs of Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson.

Ukraine Invasion Enabled by U.S. Right

I strongly suspect that the only thing that would stop Putin from further aggression is if the oligarch class in Russia rose up against him. That may be what the sanctions are designed to do. This is from a just-released fact sheet at, which is what President Biden said today.

Today’s actions include sweeping financial sanctions and stringent export controls that will have profound impact on Russia’s economy, financial system, and access to cutting-edge technology. The sanctions measures impose severe costs on Russia’s largest financial institutions and will further isolate Russia from the global financial system. With today’s financial sanctions, we have now targeted all ten of Russia’s largest financial institutions, including the imposition of full blocking and correspondent and payable-through account sanctions, and debt and equity restrictions, on institutions holding nearly 80% of Russian banking sector assets. The unprecedented export control measures will cut off more than half of Russia’s high-tech imports, restricting Russia’s access to vital technological inputs, atrophying its industrial base, and undercutting Russia’s strategic ambitions to exert influence on the world stage. The impact of these measures will be significantly magnified due to historical multilateral cooperation with a wide range of Allies and partners who are mirroring our actions, inhibiting Putin’s ambition to diversify Russia’s brittle, one-dimensional economy. 

Further down, there is this:

Additional full blocking sanctions on Russian elites and their family members: Sergei Ivanov (and his son, Sergei), Andrey Patrushev (and his son Nikolai), Igor Sechin (and his son Ivan), Andrey Puchkov, Yuriy Solviev (and two real estate companies he owns), Galina Ulyutina, and Alexander Vedyakhin. This action includes individuals who have enriched themselves at the expense of the Russian state, and have elevated their family members into some of the highest position of powers in the country. It also includes financial figures who sit atop Russia’s largest financial institutions and are responsible for providing the resources necessary to support Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. This action follows up on yesterday’s action targeting Russian elites and their family members and cuts them off from the U.S. financial system, freezes any assets they hold in the United States and blocks their travel to the United States.

Some commenters have pointed out that there are no sanctions yet on Putin himself. There are also complaints that Biden has not cut Russia off from the SWIFT Banking System, but that’s not something the United States can do by itself. Other nations would have to agree. Reuters reports that the EU nations in particular are unlikely to agree to cut Russia off from SWIFT because it would hurt them as much if not more than Russia. And, anyway, Russia has been building an alternate payment system.

And in addition to sanctions on Russian financial institutions, Belarus is facing penalties for allowing Russian troops to use it as a staging area.

This is good, although it’s not clear to me that this is all that could be done. In a fascinating interview by Greg Sargent of Edward Fishman, a former State Department official, Fishman talks about completely freezing all state-owned banks in Russia out of the global financial system. Some of that has been done, but I don’t know if all banks are affected. And Fishman says that all of the wealth held by the oligarchs outside of Russia must be identified and frozen. I sounds as if some of that is being done, but I can’t tell how much is being done.

Fishman says he believes Putin may be overconfident in his ability to absorb the costs of sanctions. Russia was sanctioned in 2014 and survived. This round of sanctions is going to be much, much harder. Fishman adds, “Substantial agitation among the Russian elite could potentially impact Putin’s calculus. It’s anyone’s guess what the right vector of influence is, but it’s incumbent upon the U.S. to try all of them.”

I trust that President Biden is examining every option very carefully and will put more into effect in the next few days. I think his position overall is correct.

The Right continues to blame Biden for being “weak” and allowing Putin to act up, as if any President could have stopped him. They have no specific ideas about what might be done differently, mind you; they just somehow think nothing bad would happen were Biden not such a noodle.

One strongly suspects that the American Right’s perpetual ridicule of Joe Biden factored in to Putin’s decision to move on Ukraine. Putin could count on much of the U.S. public not rallying around their President, and if that’s what he thought, he would have been right. Here’s a statement released today from Elise Stefanik, the third-ranking Republican in the House.

“After just one year of a weak, feckless, and unfit President of the United States and Commander-in-Chief, the world is less safe. Rather than peace through strength, we are witnessing Joe Biden’s foreign policy of war through weakness. For the past year, our adversaries around the world have been assessing and measuring Joe Biden’s leadership on the world stage, and he has abysmally failed on every metric. From kinetic and deadly attacks on our allies and partners, to the catastrophic withdrawal and surrender in Afghanistan, to the cyber attacks impeding American industry and infrastructure, to today’s Russian invasion of Ukraine, Joe Biden and his Administration have failed America and the world.”

It’s past time to turn this crap back on the Right, which is acting as a fifth column in service to Putin. Yesterday Alexander Vindman compared Tucker Carlson to Tokyo Rose; that’s a start.

My old buddy Josh Hee-Hawley has stopped insisting we should not extend any effort on behalf of Ukraine because we need to keep an eye on China. Today he said in a tweet that “I will introduce legislation on Monday when the Senate returns to session to lift Joe Biden’s shut down of the American energy sector and return American energy to full production. No more weakness.” The “shut down of the American energy sector” refers, I assume, to Biden’s shutting down of oil and gas leases on public lands.

But, you know, if the Right all this time had not been fighting the inevitable, and instead had supported robust investment into renewable energy technology these past several years, we wouldn’t be in the fix we’re in now about petroleum prices, would we? Righties want to keep us tied to fossil fuel, and it keeps getting us into trouble because it keeps us dependent on countries controlled by despots, or else it requires risking other resources, such as coastlines, wildlife, air, water, and the entire freaking planet. I guess that petroleum industry money is a resource they just can’t quit.

Jennifer Rubin, who almost seems a different columnist from what she was in the Bush years, writes  Dear media: Ask Republicans why they are normalizing support for Putin. “Most Republicans remain cultishly devoted to defeated former president Donald Trump, even as he openly praises Vladimir Putin for dismembering Ukraine, a democratic ally,” she writes. “Imagine a leader of an American party praising the Soviets as their troops crushed the Hungarian uprising in 1956.”

See also Putin’s Useful Idiots by David Graham at The Atlantic.

And meanwhile, in Russia, thousands of Russians took to the streets to protest their nation’s invasion of Ukraine. And thousands were swiftly detained. The Associated Press reports,

In Moscow and other cities, they moved swiftly to crack down on critical voices. Litvinovich was detained outside of her residence shortly after posting the protest call. OVD-Info, a rights group that tracks political arrests, reported that 1,745 people in 54 cities had been detained by Thursday evening, at least 957 of them in Moscow.

Russia’s Investigative Committee issued a warning Thursday afternoon reminding Russians that unauthorized protests are against the law.

Meanwhile, a bunch of mostly white men in big trucks are heading to Washington DC to clog up traffic and otherwise cause trouble because they think they’ve been denied their “freedoms.” Although the trucker convoys are ostensibly about covid restrictions,  “they’re also demanding action on a lot of issues that have nothing to do with COVID-19, ranging from ‘justice’ for January 6 insurrectionist Ashli Babbitt to reversing the renaming of two streets in Scranton in honor of President Joe Biden,” Margaret Hartmann writes at New York magazine.

But the “freedom” activists do love them some Vlad Putin, because he’s a friend of Donald Trump, you know.

Republicans Can’t Settle on Ukraine Message

[Update: The attack on Ukraine has begun.]

Republicans are united in criticizing President Biden for the Ukraine crisis. However, they don’t agree on why Biden should be criticized.

Some are blaming Biden for being weak. This wouldn’t have happened if Biden were strong, like Trump. See Bess Levin, Republicans Claim Putin Wouldn’t Have Invaded Ukraine Under a Beefy Piece of Man Meat Like Trump, in Vanity Fair. (I had to link to that, just for the title.)

Claiming that “Biden becoming president is the best thing that ever happened…for Vladimir Putin,” Senator Ted Cruztold Fox News on Sunday that “Europe is on the verge of war because of the weakness, the fecklessness of Joe Biden.” The Texas lawmaker, who has been happy to do his part to spread Russian propaganda that benefits a man who claimed Cruz’s own father helped kill JFK, followed that up with a press release on Monday declaring that “Biden–Harris officials are to an enormous extent directly responsible for this crisis.”

Echoing those comments on Monday was Marco Rubio who, incidentally, has reportedly been happy to acceptpolitical donations from Len Blavatnik, a billionaire with “longstanding ties to oligarchs close to” Putin. Without referring to the president by name, though the reference was more than clear, the senator from Florida tweeted: “Weakness always invites aggression. And weakness in response to aggression always invites others to be aggressive as well.” Senator John Barrassotold Fox News last week that Biden “talked tough but Putin doesn’t respect statements, he only respects strength,” claiming the president of Russia “views President Biden as weak and ineffective and indecisive.” In January, Senator Tom Cotton blamed Putin’s aggression on “a year of Joe Biden’s impotence and incompetence towards Russia in particular and in foreign policy more generally,” somehow forgetting that Trump spent four years passionately kissing Putin’s ass.

I have reason to believe that Levin wrote this before Trump called Putin’s move on Ukraine “genius.”

Now, exactly what do these people mean by “strength? Is it standing submissively next to Putin in Helsinki and confessing he believed Putin’s “strong and powerful” denials over the analysis of U.S. intelligence agencies? Was it fawning over Putin like a lovesick puppy during World War I commemorations in France?

Many people have pointed out that the Republicans have not proposed a different approach to dealing with Ukraine. Seriously, they haven’t. They just think Biden should be stronger. But what does that mean?

Paul Waldman:

Though some Republicans say the sanctions at the center of Biden’s strategy should have started earlier, you’ll have a hard time finding one who can specify in any detail what Biden’s “weakness” toward Russia has consisted of to this point, nor what a “strong” president would be doing instead. Mounting a ground invasion to take Moscow? Launching nuclear weapons? What?

If the answer is “What Biden is doing, but, you know, more,” that’s not very persuasive. But as far as they’re concerned, “strength” isn’t something presidents demonstrate with their actions; it’s more of an ineffable quality that Republican presidents possess by definition while Democratic presidents lack.

I clearly remember that last week some people believed that Biden was the one causing the crisis in Ukraine, or at least he was causing panic over a non-crisis in Ukraine. Tucker Carlson has had a grand time making fun of Biden’s predictions that Russia would invade Ukraine. Now that the invasion has begun, it’s Joe Biden’s fault because he was too weak to stand up to Putin.

Waldman continues,

Consider Trump. Short of literally getting down on his hands and knees to shine Putin’s shoes, there’s almost no way you could imagine Trump having been weaker toward Putin than he actually was. Trump continually praised the Russian dictator, dismissed his misdeeds and went out of his way to denigrate NATO — just as Putin would want.

It culminated in the utterly disgraceful display at the 2018 summit in Helsinki, when Trump was asked about Russian interference in the 2016 election and declared he was taking Putin’s word over the analysis of U.S. intelligence agencies, because “President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”

It was so embarrassing that even Republicans were shocked; then-Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee said Trump “made us look like a pushover.” Sen. John McCain called it “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.” Nevertheless, today Republicans claim that when it came to Russia, Trump was a paragon of strength.

Yeah, not so strong. But the prize goes to Maria Bartiromo at Fox, who declared last week that the Ukraine crisis was a hoax.

“What about this hysteria that the State Department went through all weekend?” she asked. “Because on Friday, you’ve got [national security adviser] Jake Sullivan telling us that Russia would invade Ukraine today. I mean, to be so specific and all the leakers leaking that it was today, Wednesday to be so specific and then Joe Biden telling us, get out of Ukraine immediately.”

“Was this a ruse?” she continued. “Was this whole thing an effort to take everybody’s attention away from what Hillary Clinton did and what we know to be a complete hoax over this Russia investigation?” After all, she continued, Sullivan worked for Clinton, and he had been involved in “peddling this Russia collusion lie.”

Then there’s another faction of Republicans who have decided that the United States should just ignore what Putin is doing in Ukraine. From Politico,

But a vocal GOP minority on and off Capitol Hill — represented by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Fox News host Tucker Carlson and Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance, among others — has taken a third path, actively arguing against any U.S. involvement in the region while still dinging Biden. They argue that expanding the U.S. commitment to NATO is a mistake, and that the president should instead focus on countering China and securing America’s southern border.

Ol’ Hee-Hawley is in way over his Ivy League-educated head, I bellieve. Poor Jack Danforth, who was a respectable Cold War-era Republican back in the day, must be mortified he helped Hawley get a start in politics.

This situation isn’t good for anybody. Expect energy prices to skyrocket; that’s hardly something Biden wants. But no, Josh, we can’t ignore this.


Putin on the Edge of Starting a War

First off, here are a couple of articles I found extremely helpful to sort out the historical and political relationship of Ukraine and Russia. See How the West Gets Ukraine Wrong — and Helps Putin As a Result by Rory Finnin at Politico and The increasingly complicated Russia-Ukraine crisis, explained by Jen Kirby and Jonathan Guyer at Vox. And see also Six ways Russia views Ukraine — and why each should worry the West by Robyn Dixon at WaPo. I hope especially that those of you with more knowledge of that part of the world will take a look and share your opinions.

Now we’re in the “was this the invasion?” phase of the crisis. What’s happened so far is either the beginning of the invasion or a feint meant to achieve concessions. But if the latter, it’s not working.

I was a bit surprised to learn that Germany has, apparently, killed the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project. “The $11 billion pipeline is designed to double the amount of gas flowing from Russia to Germany and it was completed late last year. But German regulators had yet to give the green light to the pipeline to officially allow it to operate.” Putin probably was not expecting that. President Biden appears to have done a good job pulling the NATO powers together.

My sense of things is that this is all about Putin’s inner demons and his need for power.

Someone on teevee last night said that Russia is essentially a big gas station. Its GDP is much smaller than California’s. It’s not investing in innovation. Its economy is seriously not diverse. What it has is oil and natural gas, and energy profits are enjoyed mostly by the oligarchic class. Two-thirds of its exports are either petroleum or its distillates, it says here. The compulsion to annex a former Soviet member is both a means to distract citizens from their economic deprivations and to put the world on notice that Russia is still a world power. This could backfire on Putin eventually, but not before he has caused a lot of suffering.

Your thoughts?

Five Days Trump Wants to Forget

Boy howdy, did Trump ever have a bad week. Let’s review.

Monday, February 14

Trump’s longtime accounting firm, Mazars USA, threw Trump under the bus by declaring that the financial statements they had prepared for Trump over the years “should not be relied upon” and that it was severing its business ties with Trump. Happy Valentine’s Day, Donald! Trump reacted by releasing some unhinged statement making claims about how wealthy he is. Steve Benen

The former president did not take the news well, and there’s no great mystery as to why. His accountants have an enormous amount of potentially incriminating evidence against Trump, and the more the firm cooperates with investigations, the more legal trouble the Republican is likely to face. It’s why George Conway said this week that Mazars breaking up with Trump is “worse for him than getting impeached twice.”

The day after the public learned of the firm’s decision, Trump issued an unusually long written statement — it was over 1,100 words — that appeared designed to calm any potential fears about the status of his supposedly vast wealth. …

… To bolster his assertions, the rattled Republican referenced specific data from a June 2014 “statement of financial condition,” prepared by Mazars, that pointed to a pre-candidacy net worth of nearly $5.8 billion.

As The New York Times noted overnight, the problem with Trump’s claim is that it’s at odds with his own previous assertions.

This is what the New York Times noted

When he declared his candidacy in 2015, he produced what he called his “Summary of Net Worth as of June 30, 2014” with a very different number: $8.7 billion. A month later, he upped the ante, releasing a statement pronouncing that his “net worth is in excess of TEN BILLION DOLLARS.”

Back to Steve Benen —

It’s as if he effectively said, “My finances shouldn’t be the subject of fraud investigations, and to prove it, here are some inherently sketchy numbers about my finances.”

Tuesday, February 15

Previously, on February 11, Fox News fell down a new rabbit hole, taking the entire right-wing media circus with it. Amidst the flying teacups and white rabbits with pocket watches, lo, there was a new Hillary Clinton scandal! She had paid informants spying on the Trump campaign and White House! This information, we were told, came from a a court filing by John Durham, the alleged special counsel who is investigating the Trump-Russia investigation.

This must have cheered Trump immensely. “They spied on my campaign!” was trotted out as Trump’s new rallying cry. Alas, by February 15 the allegations were being soundly debunked. See Fox News Found a New Rabbit Hole for details.

Wednesday, February 16

A relatively quiet day for Trump. But then “President Biden ordered the National Archives to hand over a range of visitor logs from the Trump White House to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, rejecting his predecessor’s claim that the material is protected by executive privilege,” the New York Times reported.

Thursday, February 17

Citing the recent statement from Mazers over Trump’s fictional finalcial statements, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform asked the General Services Administration to terminate Trump’s lease on the old Post Office Building in D.C. This is, of course, the site of Trump’s Washington D.C. hotel. The Committee believes Trump submitted  fradulent financial statements to obtain the lease in 2013.

This is not the first time this committee expressed concern about the lease. In October 2021, the committee said that Trump’s financial statements had failed to report over $70 million in lost revenue from the hotel. But lo, about the same time, it was announced that Trump had a deal to sell the lease to a Miami-based investment group for $370 million. This announcement caused much head scratching among people who understand these things — see Why Would Anyone In Their Right Mind Pay $370 Million For Trump’s D.C. Hotel? — but apparently it’s a real deal, still pending. It would take the turkey off Trump’s hands and leave him with a considerable profit for his trouble. But if the lease is canceled, Trump loses it all.

But it gets better.

Also on Thursday, New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron ruled that Trump, plus Junior and Ivanka, must respond to subpoenas and submit to being deposed by New York Attorney General Letitia James within 21 days. A.G. James is investigating whether the Trump Organization broke state laws in its business dealings.

The court hearing must have been a doozy. In the New York Times

The judge’s decision followed a fiery virtual hearing in State Supreme Court in Manhattan on Thursday, during which lawyers for Mr. Trump and the attorney general made their cases. Several times, Mr. Trump’s lawyers became so heated that Justice Engoron and his law clerk had to call for a timeout — raising their hands in the shape of a T, a gesture more often seen at a sporting event than in a courtroom.

And this was reported by Business Insider — Trump’s attorney, Alina Habba, “repeatedly interrupted the judge at a contentious hearing on Thursday and grew so heated at times that the law clerk had to remind her several times not to speak over the judge.”

Also, too,

Habba also veered away from the focus of the hearing to air out right-wing conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton and what Trump has alleged was an illegal plot to spy on his campaign and administration.

“I want to know, Mr. Wallace, Ms. James, are you going to go after Hillary Clinton for what she’s doing to my client?” Habba said, referring to the attorney general of New York and Kevin Wallace, an attorney representing her in the hearing. “That she spied at Trump Tower in your state? Are you going to look into her business dealings?”

Durham’s initial filing mentioned data collected from the EOP and a February 2017 meeting in which research was discussed. This was interpreted as meaning that the data involved in the analysis included data collected during Trump’s presidency (which, of course, began in January of that year). Setting aside the limited scope of this data (there was no “listening in on”) and the authorization under which it was collected, the team at Georgia Tech that conducted the research denied that it included anything collected after 2016. And, here, Durham’s admitting that this was true.

Trump must run farm teams of wackadoo lawyers. When one flames out, just call up the next one. Anyway, it’s assumes Trump will appeal this. It’s assumed the appeal will waste some time and then fail.

Friday, February 18

The National Archives confirmed that it had found “classified national security information” in the famous fifteen boxes retrieved from Mar-a-Lago recently. The Archives have again referred the matter to the Justice Department.

Also, the Archives “identified certain social media records that were not captured and preserved by the Trump Administration” and said that some White House staffers had been conducting official business using non-official messaging accounts. Further, these messages were not copied to official accounts, as the law required.

Tell me again what Hillary Clinton why they wanted Hillary Clinton locked up? Oh, yeah, emails on a private server. Hmm.

Also on Friday, a federal judge “sweepingly rejected” Trump’s claim of absolute immunity from lawsuits accusing him of inciting the January 6 insurgency. “In a searing, 112-page opinion that quoted repeatedly and at length from the former president’s own public statements, U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta refused to dismiss three lawsuits against Trump by Democratic House members and police officers seeking damages for physical and emotional injuries they incurred in the assault,” writes Spencer S. Hsu at WaPo.

But wait, there’s more!

It’s now being widely reported that John Durham himself threw cold water on the media frenzy that followed his court filing of February 11. This is from a new filing

“[D]efense counsel has presumed the Government’s bad faith and asserts that the Special Counsel’s Office intentionally sought to politicize this case, inflame media coverage, and taint the jury pool,” Durham wrote. But, he added later, “[i]f third parties or members of the media have overstated, understated, or otherwise misinterpreted facts contained in the Government’s Motion, that does not in any way undermine the valid reasons for the Government’s inclusion of this information.”

Background — awhile back Durham obtained an indictment against cybersecucrity lawyer John Sussman, who in the past has worked for Hillary Clinton and the Democratic party. Sussman is something of a lynchpin in all the conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton spying on Trump. The filing of last week that sent Fox News down the rabbit hole was actually about possible conflicts of interest on Sussman’s legal team. See Law & Crime for more details than you probably want to know.

To grossly oversimplify all the lawyer stuff, last week Sussman filed his own brief objecting to Durham’s February 11 brief. Among other things, Sussman accused Durham of politicizing the issues surrounding whatever legal conflict is going on here. And Sussman asked the court to strike a bunch of paragraphs from Durham’s February 11 brief. The paragraph above is from Durham’s response to Sussman’s request.

Philip Bump in WaPo:

Durham is stating, explicitly, that members of the media may have “overstated” and “misinterpreted” facts included in his filing. This isn’t me, Washington Post guy, saying that his filing sparked an inaccurate narrative. It’s Durham saying that this (might, perhaps, maybe) happened.

It’s important to point out what immediately preceded that “if.” Durham had mentioned that stuff about data from the White House being included in the Russia research because “a member of the defense team was working for the Executive Office of the President of the United States (‘EOP’) during relevant events that involved the EOP.”

To a layperson, that seems unremarkable. But, as Charlie Savage noted when writing for the New York Times, it is Durham validating reporting that indicated there was no research conducted on data collected from the Trump White House at all.

This is giving me a headache. I am just passing this on; don’t ask me to explain it.

Some time last week Fox News was actually covering a live speech Hillary Clinton was giving to a convention of New York Democrats. I am told they thought she was going to announce another run for the presidency. Only righties think Hillary is going to run again; she looms in their nightmares like Jason from the Friday the 13th films, a ghoul who can never be killed. But when she started making fun of the “she spied on Trump” hysteria, they cut away. (This was reported to me; I didn’t see it for myself.)

And Durham “implicitly acknowledged that White House internet data he discussed, which conservative outlets have portrayed as proof of spying on the Trump White House, came from the Obama era,” according to the New York Times. Of course, Trump will never, ever let go of the claim that Hillary Clinton somehow spied on him. Hillary brilliantly spied on the Obama White House to get to Trump. It’s like quantum leap spying.

Internal Polling in Missouri Worries GOP

I am not hearing about polls in the race for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination in Missouri, which is an open seat since Sen. Roy Blunt is retiring. I don’t believe there has been any public polling. But I take it from articles in Politico today that former governor Eric Greitens is ahead, according to internal polling.

This surprises me, because I never hear about Eric Greitens. On the other hand, another candidate, Attorney General Eric Schmitt, is in the news every day. He has been vigorously grandstanding over “tyrannical” covid restrictions and suing school districts that won’t drop mask mandates. He likes to file attention-grabbing lawsuits, such as a recent one about the admission and parole of refugees at the southern border,who are minor children. (Last I heard, Missouri does not border Mexico.) One could argue he’s using his office and the taxpayers’ dime to campaign. But one hears his name so much I would have assumed he was the front runner.

The other current candidates of note include Mark McCloskey, who has been blessedly invisible lately, and U.S. Representative Vicky Hartzler, who has a long history of campaiging against same-sex marriage and Planned Parenthood. I had never heard of her until recently — her district is in another part of the state — but she may become a contender, as I will explain in a bit.

The state Republican party does not want Greitens to be the nominee, because they believe he would be vulnerable in a general election. A recent head-to-head poll found him only 4 points ahead of the current Democratic front runner, Lucas Kunce.  The article doesn’t say if there has been head-to-head polling with Schmitt or McCloskey against Kunce. I had never heard of Kunce before last year, but from what I’ve seen so far, he’d be an excellent senator. Barring some unfortunate turn of events, he’s got my vote in the primary.

Greitens is a slimebag, no question. But it also makes me crazy that news media keep saying he resigned because of a sex scandal. No, he did not. Conventional wisdom in these here parts was that he could have survived the sex scandal. I say he resigned because the Missouri House was investigating him for possible campaign finance violations, and when a judge ordered him to turn over documents from his dark money fundraising group, he resigned almost immediately. Like, later that same day. He had also been charged with computer tampering to hide the dark money donations, and when he resigned the charge was dropped. This suggests a more compelling reason for the resignation than the lady who complained about being tied up to exercise equipment in his basement and molested. She wasn’t planning on pressing charges, as I recall, and without a trial the episode would have faded from the news. See Bad Coverage of the Greitens Resignation from May 2018.

The Greitens issue has put our other senator, Josh “Fist Pump” Hawley, into an awkward position. Hawley was the state attorney general in 2018, and he investigated Greitens for campaign finance violations. I understand that the Hawley investigation brought about the computer tampering charge. Hawley was staying away from endorsing anybody, but over the weekend he endorsed Vicky Hartzler. Why Hartzler and not Schmitt or even McCloskey I do not know.

But then as soon as Hawley announced his endorsement, he was slammed by another candidate for Roy Blunt’s seat, U.S. Rep. Billy Long of the 7th district, which includes Branson. Long is a loyal Trump factotum who supports whatever Trump supports and opposes whatever Trump opposes. The Springfield News-Leader reported,

A frequent user of Twitter, Long has posted several times in recent days about Hawley and Hartzler. He criticized both of their camps for selling merchandise not made in the United States, and pointed to Hartzler’s previous vote on “The Great American Outdoors Act.”

“PS I voted for it if you’re taking notes,” Long wrote.

Whatever. It must be that Hartzler is polling better than Long.

Speaking of Josh Hawley, the campaign merch he is selling includes this January 6 commemorative “Fist Pump” mug.


I can’t even. And I don’t know where he gets his merch made.

The other factor is, of course, the Trump endorsement. Politico reports that Republicans want Trump to endorse Hertzler (why not Eric Schmitt? His polling must be terrible). The consenses is that if Trump does endorse Hertzler, she wins the primary.

“But Trump feels burned by some of his previously endorsed candidates who’ve fizzled out, and has been reluctant to wade in unless he’s sure he’s backing a winner,” says Politico. This doesn’t exactly speak well to the power of Trump’s endorsement.

In another Politico article, I learn why I haven’t seen any campaign ads on television yet.

Unlike other crowded Republican races where Senate candidates and their super PACs have already spent tens of millions of dollars on ads, the airwaves in Missouri are quiet. Instead, the campaigns have been battling it out at grassroots events and on their own social media platforms, with no one emerging yet as a clear front-runner.

I hope that continues for a while.

In other Missouri news: Glenn Thrush writes for the New York Times that the Justice Department yesterday sued the state for attempting to nullify federal firearm law.

The Second Amendment Preservation Act, enacted last year, provides for penalizing law enforcement agencies that knowingly enforce federal gun laws within the state with a fine of about $50,000 per violating officer. The blatantly unconstitutional Act explicitly states that any federal laws, executive orders or other federal regulations used to track or take away firearms from law-abiding citizens will be considered void in Missouri. This is nullification on its face, even as Gov. Parson and A.G. Schmitt insist it isn’t. Right; and this is not a duck.

St. Louis filed suit against the state over the law last June, and in December the U.S. DOJ filed a brief in support of the St. Louis suit. Glenn Thrush writes that the state Supreme Court was hearing arguments on the St. Louis suit, and the lawyers were nearing the end of their presentations.

The suit came two days after lawyers in the Missouri case began wrapping up their closing arguments before the state Supreme Court, and Republicans were quick to suggest the Justice Department’s suit was intended to pre-empt a possible loss in the state court.

This is the same state supreme court that thinks “actual innocence” is not a valid reason to let someone out of prison. I wouldn’t trust them to know the supremacy clause from a toaster.

On the other hand, I am pleased to report that the “Make Murder Legal” act I wrote about a few days ago has died in committee. Maybe it won’t come back.

Fox News Found a New Rabbit Hole

Recently, Fox News reported that John Durham — the lawyer who was tasked by William Barr to investigate the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation — had learned that in 2016 Hillary Clinton’s campaign had paid a technology company to infiltrate a White House server. And then the Washington Examine reported Durham says Democrat-allied tech executive spied on Trump’s White House office.

You will not be surprised that the entire right-wing echo chamber blew up over this. But I also noted, as I browsed headlines, that absolutely nothing was being reported about this outside the right-wing echo chamber. This usually means the right-wing news outlets have found themselves a new rabbit hole to fall down. I decided to sit on this until the people who get paid to investigate and explain things worked it out.

Here’s Charlie Savage at the New York Times.

The latest example began with the motion Mr. Durham filed in a case he has brought against Michael A. Sussmann, a cybersecurity lawyer with links to the Democratic Party. The prosecutor has accused Mr. Sussmann of lying during a September 2016 meeting with an F.B.I. official about Mr. Trump’s possible links to Russia.

The filing was ostensibly about potential conflicts of interest. But it also recounted a meeting at which Mr. Sussmann had presented other suspicions to the government. In February 2017, Mr. Sussmann told the C.I.A. about odd internet data suggesting that someone using a Russian-made smartphone may have been connecting to networks at Trump Tower and the White House, among other places.

Mr. Sussmann had obtained that information from a client, a technology executive named Rodney Joffe. Another paragraph in the court filing said that Mr. Joffe’s company, Neustar, had helped maintain internet-related servers for the White House, and that he and his associates “exploited this arrangement” by mining certain records to gather derogatory information about Mr. Trump.

Citing this filing, Fox News inaccurately declared that Mr. Durham had said he had evidence that Hillary Clinton’s campaign had paid a technology company to “infiltrate” a White House server. The Washington Examiner claimed that this all meant there had been spying on Mr. Trump’s White House office. And when mainstream publications held back, Mr. Trump and his allies began shaming the news media. …

… There were many problems with all this. For one, much of this was not new: The New York Times had reported in October what Mr. Sussmann had told the C.I.A. about data suggesting that Russian-made smartphones, called YotaPhones, had been connecting to networks at Trump Tower and the White House, among other places.

The conservative media also skewed what the filing said. For example, Mr. Durham’s filing never used the word “infiltrate.” And it never claimed that Mr. Joffe’s company was being paid by the Clinton campaign.

Most important, contrary to the reporting, the filing never said the White House data that came under scrutiny was from the Trump era. According to lawyers for David Dagon, a Georgia Institute of Technology data scientist who helped develop the Yota analysis, the data — so-called DNS logs, which are records of when computers or smartphones have prepared to communicate with servers over the internet — came from Barack Obama’s presidency.

Jonathan Chait:

Durham has an established history of floating allegations that disintegrate upon inspection. The last time he did this, Durham got the mainstream media to quickly amplify his charges before subsequent reporting showed how weak they were.

That’s a “fool me once” trick. So now, appropriately, the media is going to perform its due diligence and look into Durham’s charges rather than echo them in credulous headlines.

Sure enough, the mainstream news has begun reporting on the filing. Here’s CNN, the Washington Post, and the New York Times. Somehow, despite its absolute determination to ignore the story, the mainstream media has wound up producing several reports covering it. The flesh is weak.

These stories completely debunk the erroneous Fox News coverage that prompted all the right’s complaints.

See also Marcy Wheeler, John Durham Is the Jim Jordan of Ken Starrs; Paul Waldman, The Republican propaganda machine kicks into high gear; and Charles Pierce, The Durham Report Is Vague Enough to Be Useful.

Sarah Palin’s Libel Suit Dismissed

In a move that already has the right wing howling for blood, the judge in Sarah Palin’s suit against the New York Times has dismissed the case even as the jury is still deliberating. WaPo:

A judge on Monday indicated he will dismiss Sarah Palin’s libel case against the New York Times, saying she had not met the legal standard showing that the newspaper acted with “actual malice” in publishing a 2017 editorial that included an inaccurate claim about her.

Judge Jed S. Rakoff told the lawyers involved in the case that he will formally issue his ruling after a jury that has been deliberating since Friday returns its decision.

The judge will allow jury deliberations to continue. He assumes Palin will appeal the decisions, and he wants future courts to have both his ruling and the jury’s decision to consider.

As I understand it, the judge ruled on a suit to dismiss filed by the New York Times. He said Palin simply hadn’t met the “actual malice” and “reckless disregard” standards set by the Supreme Court in New York Times v. Sullivan (1964). See also The Right vs. Freedom of the Press.

Palin appears to have tanked her own case by behaving like a ditz on the stand and in the courtroom. (At one point she yelled “Objection!” When told only the lawyers could do that, she said “I just thought it was funny.”)  See especially Erik Wemple, Sarah Palin bombs on witness stand in New York Times trial and ‘All they had to do is dislike her a little less’: Palin lawyer slams NYT in closing argument.