Saturday, June 15, 2019

Reading Mueller: Russians, Russians, and more Russians

Indivisible SF reads from the Mueller report in front of the San Francisco Federal Building, June 14, 2019.
Here's a second installment of my duty-filled reading of the Mueller report. The battalions of lawyers who have worked so hard to try to preserve the rule of law from a lawless administration keep saying "read it," so in tribute to them, I am reading it. Unlike them, I find it tedious. It seems inconclusive because Mueller apparently didn't have the time, latitude, or perhaps Department of Justice backing (even prior to installation of Trump's toady Bill Barr) to use the full force of law to make a covey of small time crooks come clean.

In the long, meaty, section "Russian Government Links To And Contacts With The Trump Campaign," the report examines, to the extent investigators were able to get facts, every known contact between the swarm of self-promoting low-lifes which composed both the Trump Organization and the Trump campaign. Here's how Mueller introduces this material:
The Office identified multiple contacts—“links,” in the words of the Appointment Order—between Trump Campaign officials and individuals with ties to the Russian government. The Office investigated whether those contacts constituted a third avenue of attempted Russian interference with or influence on the 2016 presidential election. In particular, the investigation examined whether these contacts involved or resulted in coordination or a conspiracy with the Trump Campaign and Russia, including with respect to Russia providing assistance to the Campaign in exchange for any sort of favorable treatment in the future. Based on the available information, the investigation did not establish such coordination.
I had been following mainstream media reports of these "links" pretty closely; the investigation didn't turn up much that hadn't already leaked out. There's the episode of changing the Republican platform statement on Ukraine to a pro-Russian spin; the Trump Tower meeting with a mysterious Russian lawyer offering "dirt" on Hillary Clinton; former security official Mike Flynn's making nice to the Russian ambassador during the transition period; Jared Kushner's attempt to set up a channel for Trump to Putin through Russian communications facilities (the Russian ambassador knew better on that one); that longtime mercenary huckster Erik Prince trying to set up a meeting with a Russian oligarch in a resort in the Indian Ocean ...

It's baroque -- but mostly it's all small, stupid and sordid. These people had no idea how to get anything done at a nation-state, government to government, level. They were both oblivious to and hiding from any official channels for anything they did. Over and over, it's about trying to find someone, who might know someone else, who maybe had a relative, who'd once known a high official, who perhaps could make a connection ...

Mueller documents that these clowns' idea of research was Google and Wikipedia and they weren't particularly good at it. Michael Cohen, in his role fronting for Trump on Moscow real estate dangles, discussed getting to Putin with someone named Klokov, a guy he had misidentified via Google as an Olympic weight lifter. According to the report, Erik Prince proudly displayed proof he'd found the right Russian to approach, the head of that country's sovereign wealth fund:
Prince had on his cellphone a screenshot of Dmitriev’s Wikipedia page dated January 16, 2017, and Prince told the Office that he likely showed that image to Bannon.
Way to go, ace investigator!

Here's a specimen of how real estate hustler Felix Sater, who was looking for some payoff for helping Michael Cohen land a Moscow hotel deal, promoted his project:
Michael, Putin gets on stage with Donald for a ribbon cutting for Trump Moscow, and Donald owns the republican nomination. And possibly beats Hillary and our boy is in. . . . We will manage this process better than anyone. You and I will get Donald and Vladimir on a stage together very shortly. That the game changer.
The people who worked for Trump -- and evidently Trump himself -- were and are the kind of men for whom this sort of second-rate mob posturing is the entirety of their ethical and intellectual world.

The only figure in the Mueller report who seems to have had any campaigning competence was Paul Manafort. Mueller reveals that he tried to rein in the clowns; when man-on-the-make George Papadopoulos was offering that Trump should try to meet Putin, Manafort wrote:
“Let[’]s discuss. We need someone to communicate that [Trump] is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the Campaign so as not to send any signal.”
After some back and forth, Manafort chose to go to prison (perhaps expecting a pardon) rather than tell what he knows. He's made a life of betting on corrupt oligarchs and he didn't change under Mueller's pressure. Mueller was unable to determine why Manafort turned campaign data over to a Russian identified as a spy. Nothing in the report moves me off my skepticism that campaign data mumbo-jumbo could have turned the election. Sure, the Russians may have achieved marginally better targeting thanks to this gift, but manifold accidents, not Manafort, enabled Trump's election.

The report did not answer what has long been my nagging question about the Trump/Russia connection: why did that old neo-Confederate Jeff Sessions go all squirrelly in his Senate confirmation hearing when asked about Russia? The man is a racist ideologue, but unlike the Trump faux mobster entourage, he knew how things actually get done in government. Mueller reports nothing untoward in Session's glancing contacts. Yet for some reason Sessions tried to hide them. Perhaps he feared that line of questioning would lead to what some other person was doing/had done? Maybe he had come to fear that Trump actually is a Russian asset, though still one who could enable his racial agenda? We may never know.

Yes -- I will read the rest of it, slowly.

1 comment:

Joared said...

Sordid and disgusting to say the least as those a bit shy of ethical and moral values, much less allegiance to U.S. operate — all in the name of anything-goes business practices, I suppose......or worse.