December 7, 2017: Mueller’s “Cred” Problem | Franken for Moore | Millennial Hell
Good Thursday to you. Over the weekend, The Washington Post and The New York Times ran stories revealing that Special Counsel Robert Mueller demoted one of his investigators, Peter Strzok, last summer after he learned Strzok had sent anti-Trump texts to a colleague on his team. The Mainstream Media then largely left the story there -- a staffer misbehaved and then was reassigned. Done. In the alternative conservative media universe, however, it was as if a bomb went off. The Deep State conspiracies began flying -- and not just from the alt-Right. A united chorus aimed at discrediting the special counsel emerged among conservative publications. There has been a lot of post-election concern about fake news, but what about fake conspiracies based on bits of real news? That seems to us the more potent threat to an operating Democracy. We saw this destroy Hillary Clinton, and now we are watching, with concern, for Mueller. As always, if you have thoughts or questions please write us at firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Mueller’s “Credibility Problem”
News of Peter Strzok’s demotion struck conservatives, in the words of National Review, like “fever dreams.”
Once the evil Mainstream Media had revealed the basic narrative facts, the conservative media -- from traditional to alt -- busied themselves with focusing on those and other facts that might or might not have been related but certainly added to a Deep State conspiracy. Here are the main ones:
1) Mueller did not disclose the demotion to the (largely pro-Trump) House Intelligence Committee
2) Strzok also played a key role in the investigation that cleared Hillary Clinton of criminal wrongdoing in the email server scandal. He even personally softened the language of the charge
3) Strzok’s colleague who received his texts -- he was having an affair with her, according to The Post -- is a lawyer who had worked for Andrew McCabe, an F.B.I. deputy director who is hated by the Right because his wife received donations from some Clinton donors when she ran for public office.
Much of the conservative press excels at conspiracies -- Benghazi, the birther campaign against Obama, etc. Time and again, these major condemnations of perceived political enemies proved groundless, but the damage was done. Now the question is will “scandal” undermine any findings by Mueller about possible Trump collusion with Russia.
The Wall Street Journal editorial page, for one, declared that it already had enough facts to doubt the legitimacy of the entire Mueller probe and brought up the former F.B.I. director James Comey.:
While there is no evidence so far of Trump-Russia collusion, House investigators have turned up enough material to suggest that anti-Trump motives may have driven Mr. Comey’s FBI investigation……...
All of this reinforces our doubts about Mr. Mueller’s ability to conduct a fair and credible probe of the FBI’s considerable part in the Russia-Trump drama. Mr. Mueller ran the bureau for 12 years and is fast friends with Mr. Comey, whose firing by Mr. Trump triggered his appointment as special counsel. The reluctance to cooperate with a congressional inquiry compounds doubts related to this clear conflict of interest.
National Review went one step further and, using the Strzok case as an example, suggested that not only was Mueller probe contaminated, but, as Trump has been saying, that the entire F.B.I. is a partisan swamp.
In other words, it looks like a low-integrity, reckless, biased bureaucrat has played an important role in two of the most important and politically charged criminal investigations of the new century. Yes, it’s good that Mueller removed Strzok when he discovered the text messages. No, Strzok is not solely responsible for the conclusions reached in either investigation. But his mere presence hurts public confidence in the FBI, and it does so in a way that further illustrates a persistent and enduring national problem: America’s permanent bureaucracy is unacceptably partisan.
Ever dramatic, The New York Post ran with a cover story: “Fix Be In.” An inside opinion piece concurred and added that not only were the intelligence bureaucracies partisan, they were deliberately using their intelligence to “smear” conservatives.:
Potentially more disturbing is Strzok’s possible role in what many see as an even bigger scandal: the weaponizing of US intelligence against political opponents. Did he also sign documents asking a federal court to allow the FBI to spy on Trump advisers? It’s a critical question, because a so-called FISA document authorizing agents to monitor the communications of Trump adviser Carter Page, for one, reportedly was based at least in part on anti-Trump Russia propaganda promulgated in a dossier underwritten by the Clinton campaign — a partisan smear sheet that the FBI and Mueller have nonetheless used as a road map in their Russia probe.
What We’re Watching:
The Daily Caller complained that the F.B.I.’s partisanship wasn’t apparent only in the employment of Strzok, but also in how gently it handled Clinton cronies. Unlike Flynn, top Clinton aides -- Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills -- did not face punishment when they told the F.B.I. that they were unaware of Clinton’s private server until after she left the State Department, which The Caller thinks was a lie.
Also Worth Noting:
So far no one is exonerating Flynn just yet, but Jim Hoft, the flame-throwing founder of The Gateway Pundit @gatewaypundit, wrote on Twitter that it should be a done deal:
THIS IS BIG--- Former Judge: If General Flynn Was Not Aware Strzok Was Removed for Bias - Case Can Be Dismissed Due to Giglio Violation.
(Hoft is referring to Giglio v. United States, a 1972 Supreme Court case in which the Court held that the prosecution's failure to inform the jury that a witness had been promised not to be prosecuted in exchange for his testimony was a failure to fulfill the duty to present all material evidence to the jury.)
One Really Scary Thought:
In case you missed it, The Intercept ran a story saying that the Trump administration has been pitched an idea for an alternative private intelligence service by no less than Iran-Contra’s Ollie North and Blackwater founder Erik Prince.
THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION is considering a set of proposals developed by Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a retired CIA officer — with assistance from Oliver North, a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal — to provide CIA Director Mike Pompeo and the White House with a global, private spy network that would circumvent official U.S. intelligence agencies, according to several current and former U.S. intelligence officials and others familiar with the proposals. The sources say the plans have been pitched to the White House as a means of countering “deep state” enemies in the intelligence community seeking to undermine Donald Trump’s presidency.
2. Tax Bill Is Not Armageddon
Maybe the conservative media has been so protective of the president this week because their party is finally close to delivering on corporate tax cuts, a demand that has long been high on the wish list of the G.O.P. and its donors. The bill has been excoriated by Democrats and economists alike for being a giveaway to the rich, for disproportionately hurting blue states and for adding a trillion dollars to the deficit.
With polls showing the bill is widely unpopular, the conservative press ran a vigorous two-pronged defense: one part was justification of the actual contents of the bill and one part was derision of Democrats for being “hysterical.” In an article headlined “It’s an imperfect tax bill, not the end of the Republic,” The Weekly Standard vented:
The sheer ferociousness of the opposition to this reform has more to do with Democrats’ hatred for Donald Trump—and with our antipathetic politics generally—than with anything in the legislation itself. There’s no hope of persuading a single Democrat to support the measure, but we wonder if we could prevail on our progressive friends to take it easy on the apocalyptic rhetoric.
RedState made a similar argument against the Democrats and then also added an attack on the non-partisan groups that have calculated how much the bill would add to the deficit.:
So what about revenues? The “adds to the deficit” line is one of the more infuriating aspects of dealing with any tax plan. The Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation are treated like Nostradamus in that any conclusion they come to demands acceptance no matter what.
The CBO and JCT have been wrong before because they use very conservative projections when estimating the revenues resulting from any tax plan. Sure enough, the JCT’s analysis that the GOP tax plan would “add” $1.4 trillion to the deficit rests on the notion the plan will only generate 0.8 percent GDP growth. That’s a myopic take, and they’ve been wrong before. Everybody argued the Bush tax cuts would “blow a hole in the deficit” when it did no such thing. In fact, the GWB tax cuts helped to increase revenue not just in nominal dollars, but as a percentage of GDP.
3. Franken For Moore
Sexual harassment politics ratcheted to new heights this week. Trump and the G.O.P went all in for the Alabama senate candidate Roy Moore, saying, essentially, that winning the G.O.P. agenda is more important than anything that happened in the past. As usual, a handful of never-Trumpers chose to part with the president and wring their hands.
The former Bush speechwriter and syndicated columnist Michael Gerson @mjgerson tweeted:
There are few moments when a political party can be said to have lost its soul. GOP support for Moore is one of them. It is the complete abandonment of morality in the cause of power. Shockingly cynical, cruel to Moore’s (credible) accusers, an abdication of ethical leadership.
Commentary editor, John Podhoretz @jpodhoretz, also tweeted about his feelings of shame:
For decades now, on thousands of occasions, I've told people I'm not a Republican, I'm a conservative. What happened tonight with the RNC justifies every millimeter of distance I've sought.
But will it be enough?
The Democrats decided to go all in on shaming all of the G.O.P.. To emphasize a clear moral distinction between the parties, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer joined a rising chorus of Democratic senators last night to ask Sen. Al Franken to resign over allegations that he manhandled women. He is expected to do so today.
RealClear Politics, the right-leaning aggregator, wrote Thursday morning, that it was a winning move for Democrats.:
Democrats face more reward than risk in pushing out Franken, who is expected to make an announcement about his future on Thursday. Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton is a Democrat, and would no doubt appoint a member of his party to fill the seat. Shepherding Franken out the door, then, puts the spotlight back on Republicans, many of whom have called for Moore to leave the race -- or want the chamber to expel him if he wins.
“It's not a good contrast for Republicans, coming in the wake of the president of the United States' endorsement of Roy Moore,” said GOP strategist Brian Walsh. “Senate Republicans have been put into a very difficult position by the president once again not putting the long-term interests of the party first.”
Over at Fox News’s Halftime Report newsletter, however, Chris Stirewaltwas fairly skeptical. He reminded everyone that the current storm of “pervnado” first started with accusations against Trump, and voters taught the G.O.P. a lesson.:
As you recall, many Republicans, including party leaders, did what Democrats are doing now, and demanded that Trump leave the race, stepping aside so Mike Pence could run. When Trump did not, Republicans sheepishly waited for what they assumed would be a retributive wrath from female voters in November. The wrath never fully materialized. Trump got elected and Republicans generally came to embrace Trump’s point of view that if it didn’t matter enough to voters to cost him the election then the issue was settled.
Like disappointed adherents of an apocalypse cult, Trump-denouncing Republicans had to go back to real life. This embarrassment has left the party whopperjawed on the issue of sexual misconduct. The same guys who ousted two House speakers and impeached a president over this stuff have lost their nerve. ...
What we don’t know yet is whether voters will respond differently than they did last year? Pervnado has changed the way Americans do business, but will it change the way they vote?
4. All Roads Point to Jerusalem
Here is another case of parallel universes: Many in the mainstream media have been white-knuckled over the potential for unrest in the Middle East after Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to move the America’s embassy there. But the Right has been celebrating.
Fox & Friends fawned over the decision, calling it a bold, courageous move that showed Trump was true to his campaign promises. It was quick to share a video clip of George W. Bush and Barack Obama promising to move the capital of Israel, which they never did.
Meanwhile, a Trump skeptic, David French of National Review, offeredpraised the move and took a stab at The New York Times for its coverage, which reported that the decision “isolates the U.S.” and “has drawn a storm of criticism from Arab and European leaders.” :
President Trump’s decision to formally recognize that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and to announce plans to move America’s embassy to the seat of Israel’s government is one of the best, most moral, and important decisions of his young administration. On this issue, he is demonstrating greater resolve than Republican and Democratic presidents before him, and he is defying some of the worst people in the world.
The Federalist was also quick to label Democrats who opposed the idea as hypocrites, including Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, who claimed that the issue must be “part of a larger peace process,” and the California senator Dianne Feinstein, who said the move will spark violence.
Many of the same people who lecture us to stand up to the authoritarianism in Russia or China argue that we should cave to threats of groups that subsidize jihadists and undermine American interests. Why do Booker, Feinstein, or the experts at the Brookings Institution believe that Hamas or Qatar should dictate where the United States puts its embassy? Yes, the move will generate widespread hand-wringing in the world, and there is a good possibility that there will be a new round of self-destructive violence among Palestinians. But if Arabs are willing to embrace extremism and violence because the United States no longer supports a delusion, perhaps the problem isn’t Israel?
Breitbart was perhaps most ecstatic of all. It is worth noting that while earlier this week, the publication was extremely critical of Jared Kushner’s “surprisingly conventional approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”, it has steadily endorsed signals from the Trump administration that it sought a “bolder approach” with Israel.
Breitbart was also quick to celebrate right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s role in the lead-up to the announcement, republishing the Times of Israel’s report that “Netanyahu and his aides have been ‘active partners’ working in ‘total coordination’ with US President Donald Trump.”
5. Revenge of the Millennials
On Tuesday, Harvard’s Institute of Politics released its latest survey of America’s 18-to-29 year olds and found they preferred Democratic control of Congress by a lopsided margin of 65 percent to 33 percent. The larger than usual gap was largely blamed on a dislike of Trump, something that was noted with fear in an Op-ed in The Washington Examiner.:
Though older Americans may eventually look back on Trump as a temporary national trauma, younger Americans in the Millennial and Z generations will likely carry the scars for life. Research has shown that significant experiences during people’s “critical periods”—roughly the ages of 14 to 24—typically have an outsized and enduring effect on their preferences and way of seeing the world. After 30 or so, the impact of events decreases substantially, and by the time a person reaches middle age, short of Armageddon, events do not change a person’s preferences or worldview. This means that the impact of Trump’s boorish behavior and his deep unpopularity may permanently steer the younger generations clear of the Republican Party.