Saturday, March 4, 2017

Emperor Donald Gets Scared

Classic, via TheWrap.
So sometime yesterday morning, before flying off to Orlando at 10:30 for his gig at St. Andrews Catholic School, the Emperor apparently "went ballistic" with his senior staff in the Oval Office over the recusal of attorney general Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III from any investigations of relations between the 2016 Trump presidential campaign and agents of or with the Russian government—he didn't think Sessions should have done it, and the recusal only "emboldened his enemies". In the course of the tantrum he disinvited Bannon and Priebus from the weekend at Palm Beach, or they "volunteered" to stay in Washington and work, and then he went out to the South Lawn and climbed into Marine One with his daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren and disappeared.

Also, at some point or another after around 5:00 yesterday evening and before 6:00 this morning he seems to have been reading stories from Breitbart News in the little pile of Trump-themed printouts Ms. Hicks supplies him with so he doesn't have to use a computer, and the Emperor went nuts by around 6:30 this morning:

That was from a Breitbart story pointing out (fairly enough, I guess) that it wasn't Trump who originally invited Ambassador Kislyak to the Republican National Convention—
President Barack Obama’s Department of State sponsored the July event in Ohio where Sen. Jeff Sessions met the Russian ambassador for the second time in 2016, according to the organizers of the event.
It was 50 ambassadors, not 100, according to the story, though Trump is right and Breitbart is wrong in that it was Sessions's first meeting with the ambassador, not the second. And while the State Department may have paid for the ambassadors' travel and lodging it was the Heritage Foundation that organizaed the event, not the Obama administration.  But I'll have to admit it explained successfully why Kislyak showed up for the convention. On the other hand, it doesn't explain why Sessions was there. Sessions's presence in particular is a little odd because although he later said he was there in his official capacity as Senator, he paid his own expenses out of personal campaign funds and acted in public as a representative of the Trump campaign.:
Larry Noble, general counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan advocacy group, said Mr. Sessions likely used his campaign account, rather than official Senate funds, because as a senior adviser to the Trump campaign it would have been difficult to argue that he wasn’t attending the convention for any political purpose. “If he was truly there solely as a member of the Armed Services Committee, then he could’ve used his legislative account,” Mr. Noble said. (Wall Street Journal via Slate)
It's also unclear why he especially wanted to hang out with Kislyak, to say nothing of Carter Page and J.D. Gordon, the one who floor-managed keeping the reference to arming Ukrainians out of the Republican platform that same day. Or why Sessions and Kislyak had an unlogged conversation about which Sessions was able months afterwards to recall so many interesting details but not whether they had spoken about the presidential campaign or not, although they were, you know, at the convention.
This was inspired by a Breitbart piece from early yesterday by Joel Pollak, providing a bullet-point wrapup of Mark Levin's Thursday-night radio show on how Obama has been conspiring to bring him down since before he was elected—
1. June 2016: FISA request. The Obama administration files a request with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) to monitor communications involving Donald Trump and several advisers. The request, uncharacteristically, is denied....
3. October: Podesta emails. In October, Wikileaks releases the emails of Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, rolling out batches every day until the election, creating new mini-scandals. The Clinton campaign blames Trump and the Russians.
4. October: FISA request. The Obama administration submits a new, narrow request to the FISA court, now focused on a computer server in Trump Tower suspected of links to Russian banks. No evidence is found — but the wiretaps continue, ostensibly for national security reasons, Andrew McCarthy at National Review later notes. The Obama administration is now monitoring an opposing presidential campaign using the high-tech surveillance powers of the federal intelligence services.
Trump's not reading the story very carefully, it contains some major errors and fabrications in its own right, and the material it's based on, which has been around since November, has some important errors too, notably in the original account by Louise Mensch, former chick lit novelist, Conservative MP for Corby in Northamptonshire, and blogger for NewsCorp's Heat Street, where she broke the story, which is this story, that in October 2016 the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) had granted the FBI a warrant to spy on a Trump Organization computer server located in Trump Tower Philadelphia (h/t Emptywheel, who agrees with me very strongly on the reconstruction of how Trump made up the story) from which humans seemed to be having conversations with people connected with the Alfa Bank in Moscow in a curious rhythm peaking at important moments of the presidential campaign.

Which couldn't be quite right because if you were paying attention to the story of the Alfa server (see Franklin Foer's Slate piece from October 31) you knew that the server had shut down weeks before the warrant would have been issued, shortly after the New York Times's Eric Lichtblau asked Alfa Bank about it on September 21. (The server itself really did exist, and I'm convinced that it was just as sinister as Foer thought, though some well-informed techies think that's bullshit.)

Nevertheless it is possible and even likely that the FISC granted the FBI a surveillance warrant on the four Trump campaign associates with Russian connections who have been reported to be under investigation all over the place—presumably Manafort, Page, celebrity ratfucker Roger Stone, and former National Security Adviser and court lunatic Michael Flynn. Indeed this was claimed very precisely in a Guardian story of January 10—
The Guardian has learned that the FBI applied for a warrant from the foreign intelligence surveillance (Fisa) court over the summer in order to monitor four members of the Trump team suspected of irregular contacts with Russian officials. The Fisa court turned down the application asking FBI counter-intelligence investigators to narrow its focus. According to one report, the FBI was finally granted a warrant in October, but that has not been confirmed, and it is not clear whether any warrant led to a full investigation.
—only that "one report" is Mensch's report about the Alfa server, which we now understand to be messed up at least somewhat. (Note: the counterintelligence division of the FBI is pretty markedly distinct from the domestic criminal investigation division that was investigating Hillary Clinton's private email server at the same time, and perhaps somewhat more independent of the director.)

It's likely, because October is precisely when WikiLeaks started publishing the stolen DNC emails, and the FISC, not impressed by tales of Republican campaign officials colluding with Russians when the division first requested the warrant in June, were prepared to be more impressed now that this fanciful conspiracy was actually starting to produce stuff. It's exactly what FISA was supposed to do, determining very slowly when it's allowed to spy on an American person, and nobody ever deserved it more than Paul Manafort or Carter Page or Michael Flynn.

In any event what Trump "just found out" (i.e., from reading the Pollak story) was completely wrong, in addition to being something he ought to have known about five months ago, and was probably told. There is no reason to think his own phones were being tapped—he's confusing the (now inactive) Alfa server in Trump Tower with his personal landlines there—and even Breitbart's fakenews operation didn't go so far as to say they were.

I should also point out that "McCarthyism" generally refers not to the conduct of counterintelligence but to the practice of enhancing one's political importance by retailing terrifying but false stories about shadowy conspiracies among one's enemies, after Senator Joseph McCarthy, who put the technique together with his attorney Roy Cohn, a mentor of Donald Trump's.

Also, a couple of hours after the tweetstorm, a fairly comprehensive denial had already appeared:
Asked about Trump's tweets on Saturday, a former senior US official with direct knowledge of investigations by the Justice Department under the Obama administration denied there was any such investigation of Trump or that his phones were tapped.
"This did not happen. It is false. Wrong," the former official said.

This one is really just Breitbart trolling, with a semiserious fakenews purpose—they're trying to make it seem as if the issue is merely one of people meeting with the Russian ambassador, as opposed to (1) meeting with the ambassador in the interest of skullduggery, and/or (2) lying about it. Not sure whether Trump understands this or really thinks, like the classic drunk rightwing uncle, that he's got proof Obama is 11 times guiltier than Sessions ("No puppet! No puppet! You're the puppet!").

It's pretty much illegal for a sitting president to do anything of the sort, as Trump attempted to do yesterday  ("No puppet! No puppet! You're the puppet!").

That, for example, is not going to happen, no matter how hard he demands it in public or private, because no judge will give him a warrant for such an idiotic project, and because he's not entitled to ask for one anyhow. It is legal for an investigative agency to do whatever a responsible agency of the judiciary says is OK; such as the FISC, which is responsible for giving FBI permission to spy on US persons found in the course of the NSA's normal investigation of suspicious foreigners. (Doing what NSA is supposed to do, as opposed to what Glenn Greenwald likes to imagine.)

Like Roy Cohn, right?

He really hasn't learned ("No puppet! No puppet! You're the puppet!") that if this is Nixon/Watergate, it's where documents were stolen from the DNC, only by Russian agents instead of plumbers, and he's Nixon. Most likely he has no idea what happened during Watergate at all, other than that it was a big scandal, classy and huge, the most impressive scandal ever.

And then, less than two hours after he started, he wanders away from the subject to something he really minds about, big league:

Another Breitbart story, announcing Arnold Schwarzenegger's early retirement from Celebrity Apprentice, presents a different point of view—
 “I loved every second of working with NBC and Mark Burnett. Everyone – from the celebrities to the crew to the marketing department – was a straight 10, and I would absolutely work with all of them again on a show that doesn’t have this baggage,” Schwarzenegger told Empire magazine in an interview.
“Even if asked [to do it again] I would decline,” he added. “With Trump being involved in the show people have a bad taste and don’t want to participate as a spectator or as a sponsor or in any other way support the show. It’s a very divisive period now and I think this show got caught up in all that division.”
Baited again by these no doubt true but hurtful accusations, and no doubt aware that he's losing some licensing money by the show's cancellation, he's forgotten all about the other thing.

Nevertheless, for that time he was able to focus, from the moment of freaking out over the fact that Sessions wouldn't be leading the investigation and able to protect him to the gradually dawning realization of how much those people might know of what he and his thugs have been doing, I think I smell the coming of genuine fear.

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