Democracy and Faith

Not the pulpit and pew kind of faith. The ideas-have-utility kind. That the basic promise of science and reason and democracy are strong enough that you don’t have to pack the court to make it work. That you don’t have to rig elections, gerrymander, or shoe-horn racist questions into the census to get your way. That kind of faith. Faith that your positions are meaningful, and generally right, and if they turn out to be wrong, you’ll change them rather than changing the subject.

Faith that we don’t have to be 100% on the first draft of a law. That we can use statistical process control to make our systems work better than trying to thread the needle. We are not Luke Skywalker, and we don’t need to be.

Faith that the people want change. And that change is easier when it’s a step at a time. That we don’t start walking. We crawl first. We can be guided by the wisdom of evolution, of experimentation.

This is a starting-point problem, in many ways. That there is a false premise that’s been introduced to our collective system. The false premise is that we should ever be acting like someone like Trump acts—not his biting insults, not his bravado, but his mere conviction is his greatest flaw. His idea, and the idea of anyone, who says they hold some special key, some Rosetta Stone. Be it the wall, or tariffs, or whatever it may be.

And that is exactly what makes Trump so sad to a majority of the nation. He rejects our system. He acts as though he has joined a dictator’s club, believes in winning at all costs, believes in none of the things most of us spent at least twelve grades learning about. The American system, imperfect, seeks out perfection. The Trump system, fatally flawed, seeks nothing beyond the next win, the extra scoop of ice cream, the adoring headline. And then lashes out when it doesn’t get it.

We should all reject that, whether it’s in the guise of a golf resort and luxury brand heckler extraordinaire or whether it’s those who say that the GND is the only and holiest of grails rather than a sketch of some things that might work. Or those who say Medicare for All, rather than let’s figure out this healthcare thing, and if it is Medicare for All, great, but if not, great. The important thing is the result and not who had the idea or that it conformed to some chant or slogan or fever dream.

Faith in democracy means pain. It meant pain when they wrote the Declaration of Independence, signing their names and risking their lives. It meant pain for generations who endured slavery waiting for the country to wake up and have a war to put an end to it. More pain struggling to gain the vote. The pain of forever knowing we hesitated in answering the call, turning away refugees and interning citizens, while Hitler took power and took land and took lives. Our nation is founded upon pain, but of faith that that pain will not be for naught. We may be stupid and slow, but we will arrive.

That’s not to say no action is necessary. Just the opposite. But it does underline the type of action. Reform does not mean retaliation. It means girding the system against wrongdoing no matter who would enact it. If the courts do become rotted by neglect of the Senate, rather than packing them, enact reforms on the nomination and confirmation process, enact changes to court procedure, and impeach any judges (and only those) who are not well-behaved.

Similar reforms in other areas, always following the lodestar of a better system and not naive interests of the moment. The destination in our common sight is not “Democrats win” or “Republicans win,” but remains “America wins, and in doing so, earth and humanity win besides.”

Summary of the Mueller Report Introduction, Volume II

Note: this is written in the voice of the SCO/America, but it is a summary based on their summary.

Introduction to Volume II: The President’s Actions

OK. Remember Volume I was all about the stuff that Russia pulled on the USA during the 2016 election and thereabouts. Some before, some after, but centered around that election, in which the president got elected at the same time the Russians were helping him get elected.

Here in Volume II, it’s all about once how things went down around the investigation because the president and his campaign were being investigated for possibly helping the Russians to help him.

[Now, since the report has come out, the Attorney General and the Deputy (since-resigned) decided that they should make a determination on whether the president obstructed, which our report doesn’t do. But they haven’t released hundreds of pages of analysis or reasoning, which seems damned odd. Where’s their analysis? Anyway…]

A prosecutor usually looks at the evidence available, looks at the law, and decides one way or the other if e thinks e should bring charges. But there’s this Office of Legal Counsel piece of paper that says, ‘Thou shalt not charge the president while e’s president.’ Total bummer, right? I mean, what if e shoots someone on some street in NY? Also, we thought about it and said, ‘If we charge him, it would be really divisive and such. We can’t be the ones to make it all divisive, that’s Congress’ job if they want it.’ But, we wanted to get everything down on paper while everything was still fresh, and investigating is completely what we do, so we did.

But we were investigating, and then we were like, ‘Hmm.’ It occurred to us that if we can’t charge the president, it wouldn’t be right to say, ‘You took the cookies, but we can’t charge you yet.’ I mean, even if we could prove it, we can’t charge on it. So really we just have to get the evidence down, and then it’s up to Congress, or maybe up to the next Attorney General after the president isn’t president. But it’s not up to us! So there!

But by the way, even though we can’t charge him and don’t make an analysis under the usual rules, if we were sure the president was innocent we would say that. We do NOT say that the president is innocent. We can’t say that, based on the very thorough evidence in this volume. But we can’t charge him, or accuse him. It might be a good idea for Congress to read this and possibly think about it (not as hard as they should really think about what to do about all the crap that Russia pulled, as documented in Volume I, but still very hard).

Volume II Summary

Trump lied about his Russian connections

Trump’s response to the fact that Russia messed with America in 2016 was to act like they didn’t. He also lied about not having any business or connections to Russia, despite the fact he had just been trying to build a tower in Moscow (which is in Russia).

Trump was weird as fuck about Flynn and firing Comey

Michael Flynn lied to the FBI, to Pence, and to other officials about talking to the Russian Ambassador about America’s sanctions meant to punish Russia for their efforts to sabotage the 2016 elections in favor of Donald Trump. Right after Trump was told that Flynn lied, he goes to FBI Director Comey and tells him he needs loyalty. And then on Valentine’s Day, one day after firing Flynn, he tells an advisor that firing Flynn would end the investigation.

Also on Valentine’s Day, he tells James Comey that he hopes Comey will let Flynn go. Not to the Lonely Heart’s Club dance, but to let him go scot-free despite lying loudly and proudly. He tried to get a deputy national security advisor to write down that Trump never told Flynn to talk to the Russian ambassador—the deputy declined, because she didn’t know if it was the truth.

Trump didn’t want the investigation to be very independent

Around that time, Attorney General Sessions was mulling over whether he should recuse himself, and Trump told While House Counsel McGahn to tell Sessions not to recuse (which isn’t how recusal decisions work). Trump was pissed when Sessions recused, and he told advisors that he should have an AG that would protect him (which isn’t how attorneys general work). He talked to Sessions that weekend and told him to unrecuse.

After Comey told Congress that the FBI was investigating Russia’s 2016 attacks, Trump called on the intelligence community, asking them to shout from the rooftops that Trump was innocent of any wrongdoing in the 2016 attacks (not how the intelligence community works). He called Comey and asked him to shout from rooftops the same way (not how the director of the FBI works).

Trump fired Comey because Comey wouldn’t be a lackey

In May, after Comey refused to tell Congress that Trump wasn’t under investigation, Trump fired Comey. He made them include in the termination letter that Comey said he wasn’t under investigation. The White House lied and said Comey was fired for other reasons, and they had had Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein write a memo to justify it, but Trump had decided to fire him before that. Trump told the Russians that firing Comey had taken pressure off him.

The appointment of Special Counsel and Trump trying to fire him

That’s when we came in. In order to insulate the investigation from interference or potential conflicts, the special counsel is a step-removed investigatory office. Trump, upon hearing that we were investigating, told advisors it was the end of his presidency. He demanded that Attorney General Sessions resign, but when Sessions submitted a letter of resignation, Trump did not accept it. He claimed our office had conflicts of interest, but his own advisors told him such claims were wrong and that the office had been cleared by the Department of Justice.

Upon hearing reports that our office was charged with investigating obstruction, Trump told McGahn to call Rod Rosenstein and have the Special Counsel removed. McGahn refused, prepared to resign if it came to it.

Trump tried to curtail the independent investigation

Trump met with his former campaign manager, Lewandowski, later in June and dictated a message to be delivered to Attorney General Sessions. That message would have ordered Sessions to publicly shout from the rooftops that our investigation was very unfair, that Trump hadn’t done anything wrong, and that Sessions would meet with us and restrict our investigation to future elections only. How or where Sessions would procure said time machine was not included in said memo. But, for the record, none of that would be kosher for any attorney general to do under orders from any president.

A month later, Trump asked Lewandowski about the status of the message, and he was told it would be delivered soon. The message was then passed-on to a senior White House official, but that official also did not want to deliver the message, so it was never delivered.

Trump tried to have people hide evidence

Once the media started asking about the Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump, Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, and agents of the Russian government, Trump ordered aides not to disclose e-mails that set up the meeting and personally edited a press statement by Trump Jr. to obfuscate the context and purpose of the meeting. When asked by the press, Trump’s personal attorney lied about Trump’s role in editing the statement (not how attorneys are supposed to work).

Trump tried to have Sessions take over the independent investigation

Trump called Sessions at home during early summer of 2017 to again press him to take charge of the investigation. In October, he asked Sessions to investigate Hillary Clinton. Again, neither are lawful things for any president to ask nor would it be cool for attorneys general to act on such orders. In December, Trump told Sessions that if he took over the investigation, he would be a hero. Sessions held firm on his recusal.

Trump tried to have evidence falsified about his attempt to fire the Special Counsel

Upon press reports in early 2018 that Trump had ordered McGahn to fire the special counsel, Trump told his officials to forge a record, that is, to fabricate a document that would serve as an official lie. He also pressured McGahn to publicly lie. He questioned McGahn as to why he had been forthcoming with the investigation on these facts. This shit is fucked up.

Trump acted cagey as fuck about the various cases (Flynn, Manafort, and redacted but you know it’s Roger Stone)

Upon Michael Flynn’s withdrawal from cooperation with the president’s lawyers, said lawyers left voicemail for Flynn seeming to request cooperation and a heads up if Flynn became aware of incriminating evidence against Trump. During Paul Manafort’s trial, the president sang his praises, and upon his conviction, stated a belief that testifying against coconspirators should be outlawed. No, no, no, no, no.

Trump did not react well to Cohen cooperating

That pattern of anti-lawful rhetoric continued with Michael Cohen, to whom the president was nasty when he found out that Cohen had become a cooperating witness. Cohen had lied to the United States Congress about the timeline regarding the Trump Tower Moscow project, and Moscow is in Russia. According to Cohen, during preparation to lie before Congress, Trump’s personal attorney told him to stay on message and not contradict Trump about the project. He also discussed pardons with Trump’s personal attorney. Once Cohen began cooperating, Trump called him a rat. Can this be real?

While the office is prevented from indicting, and for that and other reasons cannot conclude whether the above offenses constitute crimes, we can say a few things about all of it.

For one thing, a few of the actions Trump took are normally okay, but he did them in ways or under circumstances that call them into serious question. Also, we didn’t find the president was involved in any underlying crimes specific to the Russian election interference (but we didn’t rule it out, either). Also, we are carefully making no comment about underlying crimes not related to that specific set of events. Finally, a lot of the stuff Trump did that we can’t outright call obstruction, but it’s very potentially obstruction (if we had an obstruction detector, it would be beeping and we’d have to pretend that the beeping wasn’t annoying us), happened in plain view. It doesn’t really change anything, but it’s weird that he was basically wearing a T-shirt that said “crime in progress” on it.

There was a pattern here. Phase I was Trump trying to pretend he wasn’t under investigation, up until he fired Comey and we got here, at which point (phase II) it was more run-of-the-mill obstruction-but-for-it-being-the-president.

It’s 73 weeks until the 2020 election. Will the House start an impeachment inquiry? I think of that question like a chart, where the horizontal is time and the vertical is probability of impeachment.

From early in the administration, it was already pegged to say, 20% chance, which is way higher than the average president, especially as the House was controlled by Republicans. With the 2018 elections, it jumped to maybe 40%, just because the party in control changed. With the closure of the Mueller investigation into Russian interference, it jumped to right around 60%, maybe a little higher.

But with each further attempt to forestall Congress’ investigations, it inches a little higher. (There’s a similar chart for Senate removal if he were impeached; it’s around 10% and hasn’t moved significantly either way.)

In text form, the chart of likelihood of impeachment:

100 |                                    
 90 |                                    
 80 |                                    
 70 |                                    
 60 |                              ,---^`
 50 |                             /      
 40 |                     ,------'       
 30 |                    /               
 20 |-------------------'                
 10 |                                    
 00 |                                    

The Two Sides of the Assange Indictment

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been re-indicted with violations of the Espionage Act. Journalists reacted to this, predictably, with worry that it will portend more charges against journalists for publishing classified information that it’s in the public’s interest to know. The intelligence community and state department types reacted, again predictably, pointing out that WikiLeaks was willfully negligent in publishing, failing to protect sources and methods at all.

The answer lies in the middle, of course. Assange is utterly condemnable. WikiLeaks beside him. Both for their poor showing of integrity, and for their assistances of foreign governments to the detriment of reason and democracy. Meanwhile, the long-standing traditions of the First Amendment are not so easily abandoned. Bad actors, acting in bad faith, to do bad things, are still afforded the protection of that hallowed law.

While there should be obvious civil liabilities for publishers that do real harm to individuals, the bar for criminality must remain set at active participation in the illicit gathering of classified or otherwise private materials. While the indictment of Assange indicates the prosecutors believe there are instances of that, and they should be able to seek to convict on those counts, the acts of mere publication, however unwise, should be protected.

The fact of a despicable individual not having a book to be thrown at them does not grant them even a modicum of redemption. However much one may hold bloodlust for the deserts menu to be trotted out, however vengeful the public attitude, and however blueballed it may find itself, the facts of a person’s character remain unchanged. A scoundrel is not more so for wearing an orange jumpsuit, and many innocents have worn them or the stripes.

The integrity of Julian Assange depends upon him alone. The integrity of the First Amendment, infinitely more important and more valuable than Assange, depends on the collective effort to see it used as wisely as possible, but to see it defended against the overreach of prosecutors under any and all circumstances.

The governments of the world, employing confidential and covert sources and methods, would do well to properly compartmentalize that information so that no organization or individual could meaningfully corrupt their capabilities. The technical capabilities to mask documents and databases, to keep informants and operatives safe, must be taken as seriously as possible (including against the corrupt interests of a lunatical president and a pliant attorney general).

As damaging as the WikiLeaks releases have been (alongside other acts of espionage against the nation), they could have been far less so if the government and military did more to protect identities.

Summary of the Mueller Report Introduction, Volume I

Note: this is written in the voice of the SCO/America, but it is a summary based on their summary.

Introduction to Volume I: The Russian Attacks

The report meets what the regulations said we have to do now that we’re done. First off, the Russians messed with us in 2016. We picked up on it in June of 2016, around when the Democrats announced they got jacked by the Russians. The Russians began putting out the info they jacked that month, and then they switched to using WikiLeaks.

After WikiLeaks started pushing the stolen Democrats’ stuff, Australia called up the FBI about something they heard from a Trump campaign guy called Papadopoulos. Back in May 2016, that guy told an Aussie that the Trump campaign had been told by Russia that Russia would help by releasing dirt on Hillary Clinton. The FBI said, “What the fuck?!” and opened an investigation to see if anyone in Trump’s campaign was coordinating with the Russians on this illegal bit-jacking operation.

The report tells you the two main ways Russia screwed with us. They did a bunch of stuff on Facebook and Twitter, both with ads and with fake accounts. That stuff was all about helping Trump and hurting Clinton. But they also did this stolen document stuff with the Democrats and Clinton’s campaign. Both the Trump campaign and Russia knew what was up, but we couldn’t find enough evidence to decide that they were actually doing it in concert, live from Carnegie Hall.

Volume I Summary

The Russians have this group they call an Internet Research Agency, but it doesn’t do research, it does bullshit.

Social Bullshiting Campaign

In 2014 they sent people to the USA to lie about being not-Russian and to [Redacted]. But the main thing about them is the bullshit. Back in 2014 and 2015 they just shitpost to mess with America, but in 2016 they turned their bullshit cannon on the election.

You’d be having a discussion about which sports bra was the best, and then someone would say, “Fuck Hillary,” out of nowhere. And you never did find out which sports bra was the best, and it’s all Clinton’s fault because she pissed off someone to go on the forum to derail the conversation. But it wasn’t Clinton’s fault at all. It was this Internet Bullshit Agency, lying and spreading bullshit. And the sports bra companies didn’t even realize they missed out on sales thanks to these Russians.

They also used social bullshit to organize fake rallies for people to yell at each other so they wouldn’t buy sports bras in person.

Stealing Democrats’ Stuff Campaign

While they had huge dump trucks of bullshit pouring over the series of tubes, they were also crawling through those same bullshit-laden tubes to steal from the Democrats. In March 2016, the Russian army started working to break into the e-mail of Clinton campaign staff, including the bigwig John Podesta. In April 2016, they broke into the campaign arms of the Democrats in congress and they broke into the Democrats’ national organization.

They stole all sorts of stuff from those computers, and then in June 2016 they used fake personas of DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0, in order to publish what they stole. And of course, they used that WikiLeaks crap too.

When they used WikiLeaks, a redacted person who is probably Roger Stone told the Trump campaign all about it. That’s around the time that Trump told Russia on national television that he wanted them to do crimes to obtain Hillary Clinton’s emails from when she was Secretary of State, but he later said he was “jk jk lol.”

The Russians and the Trump campaign

There were a bunch of times that the Russians and the Trump campaign people met up. We found some evidence, including that they got drunk and watched Netflix, but not enough to say they actually chilled.

In 2015, Trump’s business wanted to build a tower in Moscow, Russia. He signed documents to do it, and his people talked with Russia about it a lot. They kept talking even through the campaign to at least June 2016.

In the spring of 2016, that Papadopoulos fellow talked with a guy named Misfud in London who was connected to Russia. That’s the guy who told Papadopoulos that Russia had dirt on Clinton. A week later is when Papadopoulos told the Aussie about it. Misfud and Papadopoulos wanted to have a meeting between the campaign and Russia, but there’s no known evidence it ever did.

In summer of 2016, Trump’s older son Donald, Jr., his son-in-law Kushner, and the head of his campaign named Manafort all met with Russians because the Russians were said to have “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary [Clinton].” This was only five days before the Democrats announced the Russians had stolen from them. The next month the Russians put out the first dirt from their thefts.

There were other things that summer. One Trump campaign guy with a history with Russia went there, but he got pushed out over the summer because of media coverage of his associations with Russia. The Manafort guy worked on a plan to let Russia steal more of Ukraine. He did that in concert with a guy connected to Russia, and he gave the same guy Trump campaign polling data and other indications of how they wanted to handle the 2016 election.

After the 2016 election, the Russians got busy trying to influence the Trump transition. There was a meeting between a mercenary guy named Prince with a Russian bigwig named Dmitriev in a place called Seychelles. A friend of the son-in-law Kushner who worked with the Dmitriev fellow on a plan for US-Russian relations, and the friend delivered copies to Kushner, who passed them on to a guy named Bannon and a guy named Rex Tillerson.

There was also the stuff with a guy named Flynn. The outgoing administration had seen the bullshit that Russia had done, and they put sanctions on the Russians for doing it. But the Trump guys, including Flynn, didn’t want Russia to retaliate, and they told them that. Russia listened.

They did some other stuff not mentioned in the summary, like trespassing on Florida election servers in at least two counties, and attempting to do so in several other states. But that’s most of the big stuff, anyway.

Impeachment: Let the Record Develop

Having read most of the Mueller Report, the facts in Volume II are quite damning, and they point toward impeachment. But not right away. The proper course is for Congress to further develop their record of the events presented in the report (and to consider other matters not part of the report). Once the record is developed, it may confirm the need to impeach.

There’re political risks with impeachment for both sides. But there’s also a question of whether Trump might actually benefit from impeachment—if not politically, then at least in terms of criminal liability.

The Senate, a majority-Republican body, is unlikely to convict even though the facts be plain. That public airing of facts, along with a false dawn of a Republican jury acquittal, could protect him from prosecution once he is no longer president. Not directly, of course. Double jeopardy analyses would not apply to a Senate trial. But the publicity and opportunity to tune a legal defense might be in his favor.

What’s more, Trump’s personal liabilities aside, he probably doesn’t suffer a greater political cost from impeachment than he will already suffer from the report per se. It’s damning as is.

That’s not to say that anyone can expect Trump to welcome or to call for his own impeachment. There are reasons against. For one, the proposition of Trump testifying—given his fraught relationship with the truth. A Senate trial might just be another perjury trap for the man. Another being the precious Senate time taken up on the matter when they could be confirming more William Barr types.

The Republicans, not Trump, probably run the greater risk from a Senate trial. If the case is made and they acquit, that will not look good for a party that wants to claim the mantle of justice. Particularly, the firing of James Comey with the timeline from the report makes the case bad for Republicans. The fact that Trump was wrestling with his own appointed, party-confirmed Republicans to curtail the investigation only makes it a harder charge to dismiss. This is a historically weak position to defend—dead simple in terms of actually whipping the votes for acquittal, but with no ammunition to back it up on the stump.

The Democrats’ risk is merely looking like they are bringing a political action—a brush Trump has tarred them with for over two years now. They’d like a fig leaf of bipartisanship in voting to impeach. But if the record is strong enough, they don’t need it. The self-evincing weakness of no Republicans joining a motion to impeach on damning evidence will only play against the Republicans in the Senate all the more.

If there’s a bipartisan bone in a Republican representative’s body, they should join the call when the time comes.

To be clear, that evidence is in hand.

And as the Special Counsel’s report acknowledges, there is substantial evidence to show that the President was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks.

So sayeth Attorney General Barr, in an attempt to excuse the attempts at obstruction by Trump. As I read it, Barr makes the case of corrupt motive right there. Acting out of frustration and anger to try to lift the cloud of an investigation is exactly intentionally corrupt obstruction. Sincerity does not lessen the intent, but only sharpens it.

If Trump’s opponents were behind the investigation, that does not allow obstruction. If an investigation is undermining, the courts are there. To circumvent the courts and dispense with an investigation through firings is corrupt! If there are illegal leaks, they are to be investigated and dealt with appropriately. None of what Barr says lifts an ounce of guilt off the president’s head.

Trump had every opportunity to voice and tweet his concerns to the people and to Congress. He chose, instead, to seek the firing of the special counsel, only to be rebuffed. He could have been empathetic to the investigation’s founding, but he fired FBI Director Comey in a particularly—and intentionally—disruptive manner.

The report makes the case of intentionally corrupt attempts to obstruct. Barr himself betrayed an alternative, but equally damning, theory of Trump’s intent. There is no clean reason Trump could have to undertake the actions documented in the report.

Let the record develop. There is a case for impeachment, but there’s equally a case to push for real reforms now and let the next president’s attorney general make the call on an indictment. Real justice will always be about more than cells and shackles. It requires more than trials and investigations can give us. It demands we change the conditions that allow or promote crime.

In the case of obstruction, that might include reporting requirements in the Department of Justice and the White House. It might include changes to the Vacancy Reform Act. A new Special Prosecutor law.

But impeachment is always on the table. It’s in the Constitution for a reason.

The 2020 election will take place in 80 weeks.