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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Making Sense of Friday's Indictments
      •  Trump Points the Finger at Obama
      •  Making Sense of Trump's U.K. Visit
      •  Kavanaugh Confirmation Fight Heating Up
      •  Pence Family in Turm-oil
      •  Today in Irony...

Making Sense of Friday's Indictments

On Friday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 12 Russians for actions taken during the 2016 campaign to aid in the election of Donald Trump. The 29-page indictment, for those who like dry reading, is here. However, there has now been time for the experts to carefully examine the document and to figure out what it all means. That includes a team of seven folks at LawFare, who produced an excellent analysis of the indictment. Here is the executive summary of the main points made in their assessment:

  • Russian operations against the DNC were extensive and, not surprisingly, very skillfully run. They began with "spearphishing," wherein fake sites made to look like real sites (for example, a phony, or a phony warning that accounts had been hacked). These sites were used to capture login credentials, which were then used to login to and compromise at least 33 DNC computers. Here, for example, is a re-creation of a message that fooled Clinton campaign chair John DePodesta on March 19, 2016:

    Fake gmail warning

    Once various malware and key-capture programs had been installed, the hackers routed stolen information (including e-mails) from the DNC to a server in Arizona they rented using bitcoin.

  • Major developments in the Russians' hacking activity coincided with significant Russia-related actions by Team Trump. For example, the hacking of DNC computers started within 24 hours of Trump suggesting publicly the Russians should do that. The website, which purported to be the work of American hacktivists, but was actually run by the Russians, went online just hours before the notorious meeting at Trump Tower between members of the campaign and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. It is unlikely that these things are mere coincidences. The only plausible explanations are: (1) The Trump campaign was coordinating with the Russians, or (2) The Trump campaign was acting as, to use a Cold War term, a bunch of useful idiots.

  • The Russians also created the online identity "Guccifer 2.0," who was presented as a sole Romanian hacktivist, but was in fact a front for the Russian operation. At least one Congressional candidate contacted Guccifer for dirt on his Democratic opponent, as did "a person who was in regular contact with senior members" of the Trump campaign, a "state lobbyist and online source of political news," and an organization identified in court filings as "Organization 1." Thus far, there is no consensus on who the congressional candidate was, but the "person who was in regular contact" is friend of Trump Roger Stone, the "state lobbyist" is Florida GOP operative Aaron Nevins, and "Organization 1" is almost certainly Wikileaks.

  • There are a total of 11 counts, which allege conspiracy to commit a crime against the United States (counts 1 and 11), aggravated identity theft (counts 2 through 9), and conspiracy to launder money (count 10).

  • The indictment not only describes the breadth and skill of the Russian operation, but also breadth and skill of the counterintelligence operation mounted by the American intelligence apparatus. For example, as Russian officers of the GRU (the intelligence arm of the Russian military) committed many of their nefarious deeds, U.S. intel pros were often able to figure out exactly who was sitting at the keyboard at any given time, and to watch in real time what they were doing.

  • Although the Trump administration claimed vindication after Friday's indictments were announced, they are jumping the gun, big-time. First of all, because the indictments suggest some level of American involvement in the Russians' schemes. Second, because the indictments do nothing to excuse these individuals or clear their (anonymous) names, an ambiguity that is often prelude to bringing charges against such individuals. Third, because it is now 100% clear that hacking the DNC was the Russians' specific goal (and not merely a byproduct of a larger intelligence operation). Fourth, because the Russians' operation extended for much longer than previously believed, and well into the the months where people close to the Trump campaign were in contact with the GRU.

    These last two points are particularly important. It was possible that the GRU just happened to stumble on to some Democratic secrets, decided to release them in order to create some chaos, and then moved on. In this scenario, the leaking of documents would have been a one-time incident. And if that is what happened, then knowing about the Russians' plans, even in advance (as Roger Stone apparently did) would likely not be a crime. However, we now know for certain that the Russian operation was targeted, ongoing, and long-lasting. This means that if any member of Team Trump had an awareness of what was going on, then they did not merely have advance notice of a single bad action, they had knowledge of an ongoing conspiracy against the United States that they did not bother to bring to the attention of the authorities. That would effectively make any individuals who were "in the know" into accessories.

In short, then, Friday's announcement was an absolute bombshell. Its impact on the voting public may be blunted, because it's a complicated legal document alleging a complex series of illegal actions by a complex network of bad actors, some of whom remain hazy for now. But it is not the voting public who tries criminal cases, it is seasoned jurists and lawyers. So, for all their spin, Team Trump should be getting very nervous at this point. (Z)

Trump Points the Finger at Obama

Donald Trump knows that, when it comes to Russian hacking, his legitimacy as president is on the line. After all, 77,000 votes in three states were the difference between victory and defeat. If those votes came courtesy of the man in the Kremlin, then that means, quite simply, that he won neither the popular vote nor the electoral vote, and that he should not be in the White House.

If there is one thing that Trump understands well, it is threats against him—personal, professional, or political. For half a century, he has responded to such threats by firing back with whatever he's got. And so, he has worked tirelessly to rewrite the story of his election. That included lies about the size of his inaugural crowd and about the number of "illegal" voters who cast votes for Hillary Clinton. It also included his repeated insistence that the Russians did not interfere with the election.

With everything that has become public in the last 12 months or so, and especially with Friday's indictments, even Trump can no longer claim that the Russians were not involved in his victory. And so, the narrative has evolved. From the statement the White House put out on Friday:

Today's charges include no allegations of knowing involvement by anyone on the campaign and no allegations that the alleged hacking affected the election result. This is consistent with what we have been saying all along.

In other words, the story now is, "Russia might have interfered, but Team Trump had nothing to do with it." That's a new version of events, and so the last line of the quoted passage is a lie. The rest might be a lie, as well, but the last line definitely is.

However, even admitting what everyone already knew was a bridge too far for Trump. He hates showing weakness. And since he can no longer plausibly deny, he has moved on to page two of the Trump playbook: Deflect. So, as he traveled to the site of his summit with Vlad Putin, the Donald took some time to send a few tweets:

Note that those tweets, though very similar in content, were sent eight hours apart. Clearly this is weighing on the President's mind.

There is—as is so often the case with Trump—a fair bit of either dishonesty or ignorance on display here. It is true that if Barack Obama had it to do all over again, he might play his cards differently. It is also true that he played his hand the way he did, in part, because he thought Hillary Clinton would win. However, the much larger and more important truth here is that Obama did try to do something about the situation. He went to GOP leaders in Congress and implored them to join him in a bipartisan statement announcing (and condemning) the Russians' activities, and promising to take whatever steps necessary to stop it. However, the GOP leadership—most prominently Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)—categorically refused #44's offer. "No Drama Obama" felt that such an announcement, if coming from only one side of the aisle, would appear as a naked attempt to influence the election, so he remained silent.

It is also worth pointing out that if Trump has concluded that dealing with Russian malfeasance is indeed the president's job, then it raises an excellent question: What is he planning to do to correct for Obama's failures? Do not hold your breath waiting for an answer to that question. (Z)

Making Sense of Trump's U.K. Visit

When all is said and done, there are only going to be two things that people will remember when it comes to Donald Trump's visit to the U.K. (besides all the protesters). The first is his freewheeling interview with The Sun, particularly his ill-considered remarks about Prime Minister Theresa May, who hardly needed yet another headache in a week when her government began to fall apart. The second is his repeated breaches of protocol with the Queen: Making her wait 15 minutes, failing to bow, walking in front of her.

Journalists and commentators on both sides of the Atlantic are now scratching their heads, trying to make sense of it all. In particular, they cannot see how Trump benefited from any of this bad behavior. For example, British historian and pundit David Boys said, "Nothing substantive at all has come out of it. Usually with a presidential trip, there will be some kind of positive development coming out of it. There has really been nothing at all." GOP strategist Rick Tyler agreed. "It's just inexplicable...what are your objectives in going overseas—embarrassing your host and undermining her precarious position?"

As a Briton, Boys' confusion is understandable. After all, Trump is not his president, and he probably hasn't been subjected to news about him on a daily basis for 18 months. But for any American commentators who are confused (particularly a professional operative like Rick Tyler), there is simply no excuse. Trump's motivations were as clear as day, since he's been pulling these same moves throughout his entire presidency:

  • Venting: Trump was unquestionably angry about the NATO meeting, and the negative coverage he got. When he gets angry, he vents, and The Sun happened to be the first to get their hands on him when he was in that state of mind. Also characteristic, incidentally, is that he chose a woman (May) and a person of color (Sadiq Khan) as his primary targets.

  • The Base: The base loves it when Trump pokes "the elites" in the eye. And besides perhaps Hollywood big-wigs (translation: Jews) and college professors (translation: smart people, and more Jews), nobody is more a symbol of elitism and stuffiness to the base than the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Well, with the possible exception of the Queen of the United Kingdom. There is no question that Trump was briefed on how to interact with Her Majesty; that is the precise job of the White House Office of Protocol. That he did not handle it properly means that he either deliberately chose to snub the Queen, or at very least that he did not consider it worth his time to listen to the briefing.

  • A Distraction: The worst of Trump's bad behavior came at exactly the same time that the 11 indictments against the Russians were being announced. Trump knew it was coming, as he was briefed before leaving town. Has everyone ever forgotten how much he likes to try to change the narrative when the narrative is not favorable to him?

Only Trump knows exactly which of these things was most important to him. However, figuring out the basic dynamics of his behavior, at this point, is not exactly rocket science. (Z)

Kavanaugh Confirmation Fight Heating Up

Will Rogers famously quipped that, "I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat." He's been dead for more than 80 years, but the blue team seems determined to keep their reputation alive, as they are currently in the midst of a budding civil war over exactly how to deal with Donald Trump's nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. The progressive wing of the Party, of course, wants to make a unified show of opposition to the Judge, even if it ultimately proves futile. The centrist wing, by contrast, thinks that it might be necessary to allow some members (i.e., red-state Democrats) to retreat from the battle in order to have a better chance of winning the war.

Few would disagree that Kavanaugh easily meets the conventional standards for approval as an associate justice of the Supreme Court. He's essentially Antonin Scalia, except with a lengthier resumé (in particular, Scalia had four years as a district court judge, Kavanaugh has 12). The basic problem is that the process has now been politicized, with both parties bearing at least some of the blame. Scalia was approved by a vote of 98-0, but given that (1) Democrats (quite rightly) view the seat as having been stolen from them, and (2) A judge's politics are now as much a part of his confirmation process as his qualifications, Kavanaugh will be lucky to break 55 votes.

The Democrats' internecine struggle would be resolved if they could come up with some dirt on Kavanaugh that made him toxic. And so, blue team partisans are currently looking under rocks for anything that might do the job. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who just so happens to be up for reelection right now against a candidate who is to her left, is leading the charge to gain access to 20,000 pages of files that Kavanaugh helped produce while he was working for Kenneth Starr. This request serves two purposes for the Senator; there might be some hidden "treasures" in those files, and beyond that, the process of acquiring them and reviewing them will drag the whole confirmation process out. The Dept. of Justice says they will give up some of the records, but they might not be able to give up all of them. Feinstein is already openly wondering what secrets Kavanaugh might have that need to stay hidden.

Meanwhile, the #MeToo-linked group Ultraviolet has a different angle. One of Kavanaugh's past bosses is U.S. Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski, for whom the SCOTUS nominee once clerked. Kozinski retired hastily last year, after being accused of sexual harassment by several female colleagues. What Ultraviolet is asking is, "What did Kavanaugh know, and when did he know it?" They argue that the harassment was so pervasive, there is no way that he could have been in the dark.

Now, it could well be the case that Feinstein comes up with something legitimately concerning, or that Ultraviolet's criticism is on the mark, or that something untoward really did happen with Kavanaugh's credit card debt (which was reported on last week), or that there's some other skeleton out there just waiting to be discovered. Time will tell, but for now the only certainty is that we're all going to get an up close look at how political sausage is made. (Z)

Pence Family in Turm-oil

At the moment, this is less an issue for Vice President Mike Pence (who has two years before he has to go before voters again), and more an issue for his brother Greg, who is making his first run for political office right now. However, the Washington Post is reporting that the gas station business the family ran—which went under in 2004—left a slew of polluted sites among its ruins. The state of Indiana has spent at least $21 million on the cleanup so far, with more to come.

It's an ugly story, one that is sure to infuriate environmentalists (who, admittedly, are not likely to be Pence voters), but also anyone who does not like the government bailing out private businesses and anyone who thinks this makes the "small government" Pence family look a tad hypocritical (two groups who might very well be Pence voters). The story is also a reminder that Pence, who was entirely overshadowed by Donald Trump during the campaign, is still something of a mystery to most Americans, and has never really gotten a lot of scrutiny. If he tries to mount a presidential campaign in 2020 or 2024, however, there is going to be dirt aplenty on him. And unlike Don, he does not appear to be made of teflon. (Z)

Today in Irony...

By all indications, Donald Trump is going to allow his newest round of tariffs on Chinese goods to take effect at some point after August 30. And while shoes—like the ones that are sold by Ivanka Trump's company—are not currently set to be targeted, baseball caps are. As a result, the company that makes Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" hats says the price per hat might double as a result.

Consequently, folks who wish to show their support for Making America Great Again could find themselves spending twice as much for their headwear, directly as a result of tariffs that are allegedly designed to Make America Great Again. If people staple their receipts to their hats, then maybe they can show double support for the President's agenda. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jul14 Mueller Indicts 12 Russians
Jul14 Trump Makes Waves in the U.K.
Jul14 House Republicans Preparing Articles of Impeachment against Rosenstein
Jul14 Cohen Plot Thickens Just a Bit More
Jul14 Administration Says 57 Children Have Been Reunited with Their Parents
Jul14 Pelosi Pushes for Democratic Leadership Election to Be Delayed
Jul14 Wilbur Ross: Mistakes Were Made
Jul13 Foreign Policy, Trump-style (Part I)
Jul13 Foreign Policy, Trump-style (Part II)
Jul13 Strzok Battles with GOP Members of the House
Jul13 Spicer: Manafort Was a Key Player
Jul13 Dershowitz: SCOTUS Could Overturn Impeachment
Jul13 Trump Claims to Be More Popular than Lincoln
Jul13 Another Chapter Added to Stormygate Saga
Jul12 Collins and Murkowski Are Probably "Yes" Votes on Kavanaugh
Jul12 The First Kavanaugh Muck Has Been Raked
Jul12 Senate Rebukes Trump...Sort Of
Jul12 Markets Tumble on Wednesday
Jul12 Pence Heads Home to Do Damage Control
Jul12 North Korea Situation Heads Further Downhill
Jul12 Manafort Is a VIP Prisoner
Jul11 Another Volley Fired in the U.S.-China Trade War
Jul11 Trump Administration Blows Deadline
Jul11 Everyone Has an Opinion About Kavanaugh
Jul11 NBC Reporter Blows It
Jul11 Trump Administration Takes Another Swing at Obamacare
Jul11 Who Is More Elitist?
Jul11 Tim Ryan Weighs a New Challenge to Nancy Pelosi
Jul11 The Brits Turn Trump Trolling into an Art Form
Jul10 It's Kavanaugh
Jul10 Trump's Trip Hasn't Started Yet, and It's Already Going Badly
Jul10 UK Government in Disarray
Jul10 Trump Responds to North Korea
Jul10 Federal Judge Won't Change Rules about Immigrant Children
Jul10 Trump Gets Sued Again
Jul09 Whom Do Conservatives Want Trump to Pick for the Supreme Court?
Jul09 McConnell Wants Kethledge
Jul09 The Long Shot Plan for Derailing Trump's SCOTUS Nominee
Jul09 The Longer Shot Plan for Derailing Trump's SCOTUS Nominee
Jul09 White House Pushed Pruitt Out
Jul09 Trump Administration Opposes Breastfeeding
Jul09 McSally Moves to the Right on Immigration
Jul08 So Much for Peace for Our Time
Jul08 SCOTUS Nominees Are in the Home Stretch
Jul08 Trump Administration Chips Away at Obamacare
Jul08 What About Ivanka's Shoes?
Jul08 GOP Candidate in Kansas Tells Us What He Really Thinks
Jul08 New Poll Has Some Good News, Mostly Bad News, for the GOP
Jul08 Trump Balloon Is Becoming a Big Story
Jul07 Brett Kavanaugh Once Argued for Broad Grounds for Impeachment