Monday, July 10, 2017

Thanks, Rich, for cluing me in. Even if it was unconscious.

Starbursts for Rich Lowry! The original bombshell, Hedy Lamarr, via Nerdist (because this one was a lot smarter than Sarah Palin, you might be astonished to learn how much smarter.)

There was another bit of Rich Lowry/National Review idiocy I wanted to write about that has suddenly turned much funnier, or more serious, depending on how you look at it:
Meanwhile, the New York Times has another “bomb-shell” report about Russia, this time a meeting between a shady Russian operative and Donald Trump, Jr. and some others from the campaign.
Uh, Rich, are you entirely sure you want to dive into this?
Two quick points.
One, this jumped out at me given that we are about a year into this thing:
While President Trump has been dogged by revelations of undisclosed meetings between his associates and Russians, this episode at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, is the first confirmed private meeting between a Russian national and members of Mr. Trump’s inner circle during the campaign. It is also the first time that his son Donald Trump Jr. is known to have been involved in such a meeting.
The first!
Oh, Rich! What's betraying him here is his authoritarianism. When he sees "first confirmed private meeting" he thinks that means "confirmed by the authorities". He thinks nobody really knows if any of the other ones took place at all—it's all beastly rumors! Maybe nobody met anybody at all!

But what the Times means is, in fact "confirmed to a Times reporter by one of the participants in the meeting":

Representatives of Donald Trump Jr. and Mr. Kushner confirmed the meeting after The Times approached them with information about it. 
Sessions, for example, has been generally denying that his meetings with Kislyak were private, and Flynn isn't talking to the press at all, and maybe neither of them ever belonged to the "inner circle" anyway. Manafort, Page, Stone, and J.D. Gordon are probably not on anybody's official inner circle list, though Stone has known and worked with his fellow Roy Cohn disciple Trump for decades, and Manafort lives in Trump Tower, but few of these have discussed their Russian meetings with the press. Right now, if you believe Business Insider, the imperial "inner circle" consists only of Jared and Ivanka, Hope Hicks, and the bodyguard Keith Schiller, and only one of these, Kushner, has ever been alleged to have had meetings with Russian intelligence persons.

So if the Times had written that the June 9 meeting was  "the first confirmed meeting between a Russian national and Mr. Kushner" or "Mr. Kushner has not confirmed any of the other meetings he is reported to have had with Russian nationals" it would have been equally true but more accurate or at least less ambiguous.

But it is also the case that all these people, including Kushner, have had to withdraw false statements denying that they had meetings with Russians, so we know the meetings took place, "confirmed" or not. It's hard to tell whether Lowry is being disingenuous or stupid when he interprets the Times sentence to mean it's possible that they didn't.
Second, if you are the Kremlin and you have cooked up this sensitive intelligence operation that need only involve your hackers and Wikileaks—both of whom are presumably completely reliable—are you really going to risk mucking it up by having some hack lawyer go and try to collude about it with whomever can be rounded up in the Trump campaign? (And at a time when everyone assumed the Trump campaign was a sure loser?)
There's a really disingenuous-or-stupid omission there, which is leaving out the essential quo for which the Russians are offering their quid. They are not simply coming over to say something like, "Hello, we have some secret and embarrassing documents about Democrats that we are going to give to WikiLeaks", which they could have done without contacting the Trump campaign at all. It's "documents that we can give to Wikileaks, but we'd be grateful if you'd do us a favor," which would apparently involve some relief for the Russian government from US-imposed economic sanctions.

And that "hack lawyer" just happened to be Natal'ya Vesil'nitskaya, the point person for Russia's efforts to get rid of the sanctions imposed by Congress through the Magnitsky Act of 2012 over human rights abuses including the suspicious 2009 prison death of the lawyer Sergey Magnitsky, and which a furious Putin reacted to by cutting off US adoptions of Russian orphans. One of the things Vesil'nitskaya does being to plead for the poor orphans who are losing their chance of acquiring American parents because of the vagaries of international politics—gentlemen, please, take away these horrible sanctions now, so little Foma Fomych can go to his American home!

And the team of Manafort, Kushner, and Grand Duke Donald Donaldovich was hardly "whomever can be rounded up"; Manafort, with long experience in Russia and Ukraine working for Oleg Deripaska and Viktor Yanukovych, was always the essential Russian contact, not that idiot Flynn, and Kushner is, as should be clear by now, just about the whole of that "inner circle" we've been talking about. I don't actually understand why Donald Jr. was allowed to tag along, because he's still dumber than Flynn, even a lot dumber, but it should be clear that other than him, all these elements were absolutely necessary to any collusion plan. They had to plan the collusion! The hackers and WikiLeaks are merely the mechanical parts.
I’m perfectly open to changing my mind if the facts change, but at this point the collusion story has everything—intrigue, breaking news, “smoke,” even a special counsel—except plausibility. 
And then the facts did change! According to this afternoon's Times story, we now have an agenda for that June 9 meeting in Trump Tower, which doesn't correspond to any of the four stories the Grand Duke and assistants have offered as to what went on (it was just about adoption, he didn't even know who he would be meeting, he had lots of meetings, it was all a setup by Democrats) are wrong. He now tells us the Russians lured him into the meeting by promising incriminating information about Hillary Clinton for use in the campaign:
“After pleasantries were exchanged,” he said, “the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms. Clinton. Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.”
He said she then turned the conversation to adoption of Russian children and the Magnitsky Act, an American law that blacklists suspected Russian human rights abusers. The law so enraged President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia that he retaliated by halting American adoptions of Russian children.
“It became clear to me that this was the true agenda all along and that the claims of potentially helpful information were a pretext for the meeting,” Mr. Trump said.
Leading one to ask, in the first place, ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? He thinks that this is mitigating evidence, that he only asked her over to meet with him and Manafort and Kushner because she had illicitly obtained materials that could be used to defeat Clinton? And her information turned out to be garbage so nothing really happened at all?

No, that is evidrncr of collusion in its own right. Narratologically speaking, this new information lends a lot of clarity and cohesion, but that's not the story it tells.

  • Flynn, visiting Russia in 2013, cashiered by NSD Clapper in 2014, and fighting for Republican attention throughout 2015, makes a connection with Trump in August 2015, meets Putin in December, and joins Trump's campaign in February 2016.
  • Russian Fancy Bear team steals DNC emails for a long period ending May 2016.
  • Once Trump has the nomination sewn up, Vesil'nitskaya conveys that she has information usable against Clinton and asks for a Trump campaign meeting on June 9. The information she offers is useless, but (a) she has learned that the Trump team is willing to take opposition research from Russian intelligence and (b) Trump team has learned that Russians may trade genuine information for promise of sanctions relief (for example, for the Magnitsky law), and a larger plot can now proceed.
  • At the July Republican convention in Cleveland, all the Republicans meet with Kislyak and negotiations come to a finish: the Republicans will show their good faith by altering the GOP platform to take pressure off Russian involvement in Ukraine (making relief for the Ukraine sanctions more available), and the Russians will show theirs by beginning the release of the DNC emails. Both of which immediately happen.

And the rest of the story, including the Russia/WikiLeaks work to fix the election results and the Trump team effort to reduce sanctions (now in three areas, the Magnitsky Law, the Ukraine issue, and the brand-new "Russia-tried-to-hack-us" phenomenon), carries on from these points.

Don Jr.'s testimony, even assuming that he's to some degree lying, fills in the question of how they got from February to July extremely neatly, and his evidence will provide the missing link to demonstrate what the crime actually was.. I'm going to just drop that there, and maybe come back to it later, but I think this much illustrates how the conspiracy worked, and I think this phase of the investigation has to be coming to completion.

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