• Trump Lawyer Calls for Mueller Investigation to End
• Today's Trump Staffing Updates
• Trump Data Firm Harvested Facebook Data Without Permission
• Russians Head to the Polls Today
As we have pointed out before, there was a time when the impact of political shenanigans could be blunted by doing the dirty work late on a weekend night. When people got most of their news from newspapers and from weekday news broadcasts, information about a judiciously-timed shady maneuver could seep out slowly as opposed to exploding onto the scene. Those days are long gone, however, which meant that on Saturday there was all kinds of drama and fallout stemming from the termination of former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, ostensibly fired for unethical behavior, but really fired because an angry Donald Trump imagines him to be a representative of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, the "deep state," the FBI "witch hunt," and all other manner of bugaboos.
To start, in case there were any doubts about Donald Trump's feelings on the matter, he resolved them on Saturday morning (aka, his weekly "Twitter unleashed" time):
Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI - A great day for Democracy. Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy. He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 17, 2018
The Fake News is beside themselves that McCabe was caught, called out and fired. How many hundreds of thousands of dollars was given to wife’s campaign by Crooked H friend, Terry M, who was also under investigation? How many lies? How many leaks? Comey knew it all, and much more!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 17, 2018
The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime. It was based on fraudulent activities and a Fake Dossier paid for by Crooked Hillary and the DNC, and improperly used in FISA COURT for surveillance of my campaign. WITCH HUNT!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 18, 2018
Time will tell if the employees of the FBI buy it that Trump did this for them (Hint: They won't).
Of course, Twitter works both ways, and so plenty of folks weighed in with some pointed criticism. For example, this from former CIA director John Brennan:
When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history. You may scapegoat Andy McCabe, but you will not destroy America...America will triumph over you. https://t.co/uKppoDbduj— John O. Brennan (@JohnBrennan) March 17, 2018
Brennan is a registered independent who served in the Clinton, Bush II, and Obama White Houses, so he's hardly a left-wing partisan hack.
Meanwhile, in a development that should have been entirely foreseeable to anyone who did not fall off the turnip truck yesterday, it turns out that—wait for it—McCabe wrote memos after each of his conversations with Donald Trump. That is to say, he did exactly the same thing as James Comey, the other high-ranking FBI official that the President tried to arm-twist and then fired. And in case you were wondering, special counsel Robert Mueller already has the memos, which he got during his extensive interview of McCabe. So, even if McCabe somehow goes silent, this whole incident is effectively guaranteed to come back and bite Trump in the rear end. Especially since Trump's own tweets from Saturday will also go into the "obstruction of justice" file, right alongside McCabe's memos.
In short, in exchange for some Saturday morning glee, Trump made yet another headache for himself (as if he didn't already have enough of those), and he gave yet another free handout to the Special Counsel. If that weren't enough, Trump might not even get the revenge he desperately wanted. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), who just so happens to be a staunch Trump critic, has offered McCabe a job in his office as an election security consultant. While it's not a slam dunk, most experts on federal personnel policy concur that if McCabe holds that job for a day (or, even better, a whole pay period), then he'll accrue the service time that Donald Trump tried to stop him from accruing, and will get his full pension after all. Given the separation of powers, there is nothing the President could do to stop the hire. Who knew revenge was so hard? (Z)
In a development that is not a coincidence, on Saturday morning, Donald Trump lawyer John Dowd demanded that the Mueller investigation be concluded immediately:
I pray that Acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe's boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier
You know that someone has a strong argument when roughly one word out of five is a superlative.
It is quite clear that Team Trump's approach to the Mueller probe has taken a 90-degree turn. The departure of most of the White House staffers who might stand up to Trump, the firing of McCabe, the President's Saturday morning tweets, Dowd's statement, the reportedly imminent departure of Trump lawyer and "stay the course" advocate Ty Cobb, and the rumors of staffing changes (including the replacement of Attorney General Jeff Sessions with current EPA Administrator and Trump yes man Scott Pruitt) all suggest that the Trump administration has declared war against Mueller and the FBI. Trump badly wants to order that Mueller be fired, and every time Trump badly wants to do something that is within his power to do (tariffs, military parades, firing Comey, firing McCabe, firing Rex Tillerson), it generally ends up being done. So, Mueller and his probe are definitely on the endangered list, and it wouldn't be a surprise if Trump pulled the trigger sometime very soon.
Why has Trump shifted gears? It's a good question, and there are many possible answers. Among them:
- Impatience: There have been consistent reports
that Trump has seriously considered firing Mueller for months, and that he has
been talked out of it by Cobb (who lied and said that the probe was almost over)
and by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who made clear that he would resign
before following an order to terminate Mueller. It could well be that Trump no longer
believes Cobb's lies, and/or that as long as McCabe is going, Rosenstein might
as well go, too.
- Money Laundering: Whether Team Trump colluded with
the Russians or not, the President has persuaded himself that they did not. And
whether or not the President obstructed justice, the President has persuaded
himself that he did not. So, as long as those were the questions that Mueller
was looking into, Trump was able to sleep somewhat easily, because he
(apparently) truly believes he's in the clear. However, in the last week or so
Mueller has started looking into possible money laundering and other shady
business activities by the Trump Organization. The President has consistently
warned that looking into his business affairs is not acceptable, very possibly
because he knows there's something very serious there. Put another way, The
Donald may be feeling the heat now in a way that he was not before.
- Protect the Family: Thus far, it is largely Trump
underlings and associates who have been under the microscope, and who have been
at risk of imprisonment or other consequences. In other words, cannon fodder.
However, with Mueller's shift toward looking at the Trump Organization, it could
be the President's
including Don Jr. and Ivanka, who are at risk. That may be a bridge too far for
The Donald, a threat great enough that he is even willing to risk the presidency to
save his kids. On a related note, there is some talk that this also explains
Vanessa Trump's decision to file for divorce—she wanted to get hers before
Trump family assets are potentially seized.
- The Midterms: The closer we get to the midterms, the harder it gets to fire Mueller, because Democratic challengers would beat their GOP opponents over the head with that. And if the Democrats somehow take one or both houses of Congress, it could become entirely impossible to get rid of him, since the blue team would just use Congressional funds to employ Mueller and his team. So, if there's a "good" time to rip off the band aid, this may be it. Of course, Democrats will still hit the GOP over the head with the issue, but it might have a little less immediacy than if Mueller was fired in, say, September.
In short, then, Russiagate is getting uglier by the day, and there's no reason to think that will change anytime soon. (Z)
Donald Trump loves yes men. And on Saturday, we learned a little bit more about how Larry Kudlow secured his new job as Chair of the National Economic Council. Reportedly, he told the President with a straight face that the nation's economy is on the verge of 4% to 5% annual growth. Never mind that the last time it achieved 4% was 20 years ago, and never mind that there is no evidence to support this conclusion, and never mind that Kudlow's predictions are often comically bad. This was what Donald Trump wanted to hear, and this is what Kudlow said, and voila—"you're hired!"
Meanwhile, as Trump casts about for new staffers, telling the President what he wants to hear is an important qualification. Another one is looking good on TV. Reality TV star that he is, Trump often places more importance on how you look while you govern than he does on actual governing. To that end, he is reportedly planning to raid the ranks of cable news for some of his next hires (having already done do in the case of Kudlow). Cable talking heads check the "telegenic" box, and may prove to be much less troublesome than the politicians and generals and business executives Trump has been hiring, many of whom tend to push back against the President when they don't like what they hear. TV stars probably won't do that. Attorney General Jeanine Pirro, anyone?
Another place to look for new hires is, well, old hires. There are some Trump ultra-loyalists who were let go for one reason or another, but who may be headed back into the fold. Katrina Pierson, who stuck her foot in her mouth so many times she got athlete's tooth, was rehired this week as a senior adviser who will work on Trump's reelection bid. A more recent firee was Trump aide John McEntee, who was terminated this week. Whatever he did, the hammer came down so hard that he was bodily removed from the White House premises, and wasn't even allowed to retrieve his jacket. Then, he was promptly given a job with Trump's reelection committee. And now, it looks like he's going to be rehired for a White House job. What a difference four days makes.
There are also some staffers who are definitely going to be let go, as soon as the details can be ironed out. Most obvious among these is National Security Advisor Herbert McMaster, who has been dead NSA walking for weeks. Reportedly, Trump wants to find McMaster (who remains an active-duty three-star general) a posting that represents a "promotion," so as to spare the general some embarrassment. This seems plausible, except for the part about Trump being concerned about McMaster's feelings. The President has already humiliated his NSA by letting him twist in the wind like this. No, Trump's concern is that he doesn't want to aggravate the military-loving base by cutting off a three-star at the knees. The problem is that, being a maverick, McMaster has stepped on quite a few toes in his time. Further, there aren't a lot of jobs available that (a) McMaster would be suited for, and (b) would justify his promotion to full general. He might be sent to West Point to be commandant there, which would be a good job for a wonky fellow like him, but that's a three-star job and would be hard to spin as a "promotion."
In any case, change is in the air at the White House, and there's every reason to believe that more heads will roll this week. The only question is whose. (Z)
The Trump administration is at the heart, or the periphery, of so many scandals that it's getting hard to keep track. One of the new ones, which broke Saturday, involves Cambridge Analytica (CA), the British-founded firm owned by Trump supporter Robert Mercer and run (for a lengthy period) by Steve Bannon. CA was tasked with handling the Trump campaign's data operation. It turns out that being: (a) British in origin, (b) fairly young, and (c) unconnected to a major political party, they did not have the data they needed to deliver on their promises to target GOP voters with Trump messaging. So, they stole it by harvesting 50 million Facebook users' profiles. Christopher Wylie, who worked with Cambridge University professor Aleksandr Kogan to obtain the data, blew the whistle yesterday, telling reporters that:
We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people's profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons. That was the basis the entire company was built on.
At the heart of the scam—and make no mistake, it was a scam—was an app called thisisyourdigitallife. Those who downloaded the app were told that they were completing a personality test for "academic research." Not only was that not true, but the app was also collecting information about test-takers' friends and relatives while the test was underway.
Of course, the Russians are also accused of using Facebook under false pretenses to aid the Trump campaign. And as it turns out, CA and the Russians weren't just using the same techniques, they may have been talking with one another. This particular scandal is barely 24 hours old, and it's already been discovered that CA did work for (and met with) executives from Russian oil giant Lukoil. Like pretty much every major Russian corporation, Lukoil has ties to Vladimir Putin. And when their executives met with the folks from CA, they were particularly interested in how Facebook data could be used to target American voters. So, the CA staff may have been colluding with Putin, or they might just be "useful idiots." Undoubtedly, we will learn more in coming days.
Meanwhile, this is yet another black eye for Facebook in a year that has been full of them. They have already suspended CA, along with Kogan and Wylie (despite the latter's whistle-blowing). All the social media platform has done here, however, is close the hen house door after the chickens already flew the coop. And making things worse is that they knew about CA's bad behavior for months, and kept that to themselves, allowing vulnerable users to remain ignorant of their exposure. The lawsuits have already begun, as Facebook marches closer and closer to being regulated by one or more governments. (Z)
Today, in an election spread across 10 different time zones, Russians will go to the polls to "elect" the person who will serve as their president for the next six years. We put "elect" in quotation marks, because today's event is largely for show. There has been little campaigning, the six people who are running against Vladimir Putin have no chance of beating him, and the one person who did pose even a tiny threat—Alexei Navalny—was banned from running. Putin's main worry is not whether he will win, but whether enough people will show up to cast a ballot. He would prefer to collect at least 30 or 40 million votes from Russia's 109 million eligible voters, but because the outcome is preordained, people might not show up to vote. It's considerably less impressive if you win when only 10% or 15% of the voters actually bothered to vote for you.
The more interesting question is not whether Putin will be reelected, but whether or not he is still running the country. Exiled oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky gave an interview to the BBC in which he declared that the Russian president is actually in the thrall of about 100 thugs and hoodlums that surround him, and that this "criminal gang" effectively runs the country. Khodorkovsky has reason to lie or exaggerate, so take that claim with a grain of salt, but there's probably at least a little truth to his claims (and maybe a lot). That also squares with claims, made by a number of Russia-watchers, that Putin will mysteriously turn up dead not long after he leaves office. At the moment, that is scheduled to happen in 2024, when he will be term-limited by the terms of the Russian constitution. We will see if their constitution still says that in, say, four years. (Z)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
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