Saturday, June 1, 2019

One Loopy Piehole; and Prolegomena to a Discussion of Russia Sanctions

To the tune of a song by Hoagy Carmichael and Frank Loesser:

One Loopy Piehole

here we are
out of Adderall
are there drugstores open?
can't somebody call?
one loopy piehole
that whines on and on
and waits for the copter
on the lawn

here we are
wasted all the time
if he won't shut up he'll be
confessing to a crime
one loopy piehole
with nothing to say
how long before he
goes away?

do you remember the way we fought
throughout the whole campaign?
Russia didn't help me at all
do you remember the way I won
thanks to my big big brain?
there isn't time to stall
we have to build that wall

and here we are
hectoring the press
free associating
what a freaking mess
one loopy piehole
that whines on and on
waiting for the copter
on the lawn

Photo by Evan Vucci, via IowaPoliticsNow.

As he was waiting to take off on Marine One for Colorado, where he's presenting a commencement address to graduates of the Air Force Academy:
THE PRESIDENT:  I believe that Russia would rather have Hillary Clinton as President of the United States than Donald Trump.  The reason is: Nobody has been tougher on Russia than me.  Whether it’s our energy policy, which was not hers; whether it’s the pipelines, as you know, in Europe, going all over the place that I’ve been bitterly complaining about; whether it’s Ukraine; whether it’s a whole host of things — there has nobody ever been more tough or difficult for Russia than Donald Trump.
Now, I have to tell you this: I put sanctions on Russia at a level that nobody has seen before.  Nobody even wants to write about it.
OK, I want to write about it.

Not sure how the energy policy has been tough on Russia. Oil prices have been rising dramatically, to Russia's great benefit, most of the time since he took office, with the expected breaking of the Iran deal (which President Hillary Clinton certainly would not have done) that took place in May 2018 making the supply uncertain—except for a startling collapse in late 2018 for which Trump cheerfully took credit (the main reasons were a slip in demand in light of the Chinese economic slowdown and the concomitant crazy strength of the dollar).

Chart via DailyFX.
The Trump administration's opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline delivering Russian natural gas to Europe and bypassing Ukraine (which Clinton certainly would have objected to as well) has been totally ineffective, so I don't see why Putin would get all upset about it. Putin has sounded extremely grumpy over the US delivery of small defensive weapons to Ukraine in December 2017 but his response, to build up Russian forces further in the Donbass region, may have been what he wanted to do anyway; the current state of confrontation, with talk of getting Ukraine more effective weapons [Update December 2019: written almost two months before, as we now know, the Office of Management and Budget put a freeze on military aid to Ukraine in a plan to extort help for the 2020 Trump campaign from the Ukrainian government] and standoffs in the Sea of Azov, is being driven by Pompeo, who is trying to take over foreign policy from Stephen Miller as Trump increasingly loses interest.

But the sanctions—that's the issue over which I believe the deal was made, as Rinat Akhmetshin sort of told the FBI interviewers:
Akhmetshin then spoke about U.S. sanctions imposed under the Magnitsky Act and Russia’s response prohibiting U.S. adoption of Russian children.731 Several participants recalled that Trump Jr. commented that Trump is a private citizen, and there was nothing they could do at that time.732Trump Jr. also said that they could revisit the issue if and when they were in government.733 Notes that Manafort took on his phone reflect the general flow of the conversation, although not all of its details.
Not quite: Manafort's notes are almost entirely about Browder and the Ziff Brothers case; he doesn't mention sanctions, and, after a reference to "adoptions", stops taking notes altogether. "If we get elected, we'll see what we can do," said Junior, sort of, after that, bringing the conversation back to the subject he'd expected to be discussing, Donald Trump's interests, in light of the promises of "Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump", in the campaign. (Philip Bump's analysis of the notes, from May 2018, shows how you could read them the opposite way, as representing the entire meeting, before Akhmetshin's testimony was part of the record; now I think that's no longer possible.)

Mueller's discussion of economic and diplomatic sanctions on Russia is less than minimal—he clearly didn't regard it as part of his remit at all, which is unfortunate, since if there was a conspiracy, Russia's desire for relief from the various sanctions would be their angle in it; to use an analogy I've used before, you wouldn't investigate a contract killing without considering the money offered to the hit man.

But the only time sanctions are seen as an issue in the Report is in the passages early in Vol. II dealing with Trump's efforts to quash the investigation of national security adviser Mike Flynn, after Flynn lied about discussing sanctions in phone conversations in late December 2016 with ambassador Sergey Kislyak. It's not even a discussion of Flynn's original crime but of Trump's obstruction, as if Flynn's crime had nothing to do with the "collusion" between the campaign and Russia, though he was part of the campaign and actively colluding.

And then yesterday there turned out to be something funkier still: Judge Emmett Sullivan, presiding over Flynn's sentencing hearing in Washington, had ordered transcripts of the phone calls to be made public, but when the moment of delivery arrived, they weren't there. The Department of Justice had brought an (extremely incriminating) letter from Trump's then attorney to Flynn's then attorney, but no words by Flynn at all:
Instead, prosecutors asserted that they did not need to provide the transcripts because they were, in the end, not vital to the prosecution of Mr. Flynn. He pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lying to the F.B.I. after agents interviewed him about what was said on those calls.
“The government further represents that it is not relying on any other recordings, of any person, for purposes of establishing the defendant’s guilt or determining his sentence, nor are there any other recordings that are part of the sentencing record,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing responding to Judge Sullivan’s order.
Which may be seen as literally true—the statement of offense never mentions where the FBI got their knowledge of the phone call, and the Mueller Report itself cites Flynn's confessional account to the FBI of what was on the tapes rather then the tapes themselves; and it's possible, as has been suggested, that there are really serious security issues in disclosing the tapes, the existence of which has never officially been acknowledged.

All the same, it makes the subject of sanctions seem all the more important to me. In a subsequent post, I'll be going over that history Trump said "nobody even wants to write about" in some close chronological detail.

Update: Martin has a terrific rant on that lawn appearance. The close chronological detail on Trump's avoiding economic sanctions on Russia ended up as two posts, here and here.

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