Thursday, June 13, 2019


Everybody's talking about this Stephanopoulos interview:
PRESIDENT DONALD J. TRUMP: By the way, not only wasn’t he [Donald Junior] charged, if you read it, with all of the horrible fake news- I mean, I was reading that my son was going to go to jail — this is a good young man — that he was going to go to jail. And then the report comes out, and they didn’t even say, they hardly even talked about him.
OK, so I read it. He's cited on 44 pages of the Report (the same, as it happens, as "Russian sanctions"). Mueller doesn't call him a good young man. Mueller explains that he committed a crime in accepting the offer of help in the form of "dirt" on Clinton from a foreign government, but he felt it would be too hard to convince a jury that he knew what he was doing, or that the thing on offer was a "thing of value", given that as far as anybody knows it turned out to be not valuable (as you know, I think there's more to be said on that and new evidence in the Mueller Report bearing me out), so he decided not to prosecute:
taking into account the high burden to establish a culpable mental state in a campaign-finance prosecution and the difficulty in establishing the required valuation, the Office decided not to pursue criminal campaign-finance charges against Trump Jr.
Or as Marcy's explained, he'd have a hard time showing Junior was smart enough to understand that he was risking jail. It was nevertheless a crime, and it still is one. Hold that thought.

TRUMP: OK. Let’s put yourself in a position. You’re a congressman, somebody comes up and says, “Hey, I have information on your opponent. Do you call the FBI? I don’t think-
STEPHANOPOULOS: If it’s coming from Russia, you do.
TRUMP: I’ll tell you what, I’ve seen a lot of things over my life. I don’t think in my whole life I’ve ever called the FBI. In my whole life. You don’t call the FBI. You throw somebody out of your office, you do whatever you do-
This is the dude who swore an oath in January 2017 to take care that the laws be faithfully executed. His working rule, on the other hand, is that snitches get stitches. In a meeting between men of honor, people you believe to be Russian intelligence agents and your campaign operative selves, why would you allow the cops to intrude? Throw them out if they offend your honor, have them whacked if you must, but maintain omertà!
STEPHANOPOULOS: Al Gore got a stolen briefing book. He called the FBI.
TRUMP: Well, that’s different, a stolen briefing book. This isn’t a stolen- This is somebody that said, “We have information on your opponent.” Oh, let me call the FBI. Give me a break. Life doesn’t work that way.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The FBI director says that’s what should happen.
TRUMP: The FBI director is wrong.
In a way I don't even know why people are getting excited about this as if he's saying something new,  though that casual dismissal of Wray's statement is pretty startling, and I'll get back to it. It's been his consistent position for quite a while that (a) it wasn't a crime and (b) he had nothing to do with it:

Last August, I took that to mean he was throwing Junior under the bus, after the original coverup plan concocted in July 2017 Hamburg (possibly during his four hours of secret meetings with Vladimir Vladimirovich) collapsed under the weight of the evidence, turning instead to demonstrating his ignorance of the law as proof of innocence, but adding that he didn't know about it anyway  (ignoring, for the moment, the fact that he'd immediately taken control of the situation when the story came out to cover it up).

To some extent, the current position is just scrambling under the Stephanopoulos gaze to maintain some kind of appearance of consistency, and he may not mean the metaphysics of his distinction between a thing, the stolen briefing book, and some "information", suggesting that information isn't a thing, susceptible to being stolen. Later, he's clearly scrambling in that sense announcing that he might call the FBI after all, but doubling down on the idea that information, "oppo research", isn't a thing:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Your campaign this time around, if foreigners, if Russia, if China, if someone else offers you information on opponents, should they accept it or should they call the FBI?
TRUMP: I think maybe you do both. I think you might want to listen. I don’t- There’s nothing wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country — Norway — “We have information on your opponent.” Oh. I think I’d want to hear it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You want that kind of interference in our elections?
TRUMP: It’s not interference. They have information. I think I’d take it. If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI, if I thought there was something wrong. But when somebody comes up with oppo research, right, they come up with oppo research. “Oh, let’s call the FBI.” The FBI doesn’t have enough agents to take care of it. When you go and talk, honestly, to congressmen, they all do it. They always have, and that’s the way it is. It’s called oppo research.

And everybody does it, Washington is crawling with foreign operatives flashing opposition research, even Norwegians, doling it out to all and sundry—note how easily he evades the question of why anybody should be doing the research and distributing it (usually opposition researchers, including Christopher Steele, are expecting to be paid for their skills, and Stephanopoulos, along with virtually all the media, is wrong not to insist on asking what the hypothetical Norwegians or real Russians might be asking in return for their efforts).

But that throwaway line on Wray—"The FBI director is wrong"—really is new, and important.

My Twitter trolls get like that sometimes, in their ignorance of the concepts of research and factuality, confident that their native wit is enough to understand any situation without doing any work and flatly refusing to accept my evidence because it conflicts with their world view, and we know Trump is like that proactively, capable of ordering staff to promote his wrong opinions in opposition to the facts, as we were reminded just in the last couple of days—
After being briefed on a devastating 17-state poll conducted by his campaign pollster, Tony Fabrizio, Mr. Trump told aides to deny that his internal polling showed him trailing Mr. Biden in many of the states he needs to win, even though he is also trailing in public polls from key states like Texas, Michigan and Pennsylvania. And when top-line details of the polling leaked, including numbers showing the president lagging in a cluster of critical Rust Belt states, Mr. Trump instructed aides to say publicly that other data showed him doing well. (New York Times via Jonathan Chait)
It's not at all surprising that his views on what the law is—

§30121. Contributions and donations by foreign nationals

(a) Prohibition

It shall be unlawful for-
(1) a foreign national, directly or indirectly, to make-
(A) a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value, or to make an express or implied promise to make a contribution or donation, in connection with a Federal, State, or local election;
(B) a contribution or donation to a committee of a political party; or
(C) an expenditure, independent expenditure, or disbursement for an electioneering communication (within the meaning of section 30104(f)(3) of this title); or

(2) a person to solicit, accept, or receive a contribution or donation described in subparagraph (A) or (B) of paragraph (1) from a foreign national.

—should be the same type of thing, that he thinks his very big brain is adequate to telling him what without assistance and he has no reason to wonder why Christopher Wray disagrees with him. It's almost as if he were arguing privately, thinking of Junior's case, Mueller said you couldn't get busted if you don't know it's a crime, so I'll continue not knowing it.

But it should be clear that it's intolerable that a president should believe his very big brain makes him the final authority on what constitutes a crime, especially when he's using it to justify his own apparently criminal behavior.

It's bad enough that he's spent all this time not learning that it's against the law to accept a foreign campaign contribution of whatever sort, or pretending not to learn it (again, when his son got caught, his first move was to cover it up) and find himself in a position where he's amicably informing the ABC audience that he intends to do it again in the coming months—does he think this hasn't even been publicly discussed? It's intolerable that he thinks he's entitled to make the decision whether something he does is a crime or not, and fuck the FBI director and his opinion.

We've felt this way for a couple of years, of course, but I never expected him to come out and make the case for us.

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