Good Friday Morning! It’s finally here! The Mueller report arrived! Kind of. We now have a four-page summary written by Attorney General William Barr. A drum beat I kept repeating on the Trump-Russia front was to wait for the Mueller report; it was the only thing that mattered. I’ll dig more into what it means below.
It’s been a busy news week overall. Stormy Daniels former lawyer Michael Avenatti got arrested on separate charges of extortion, wire, and bank fraud in both Los Angeles and New York. The Feds have him ON TAPE doing these things, and they put a case together in practically a week. He’s a remarkably sleazy, had known ethics issues, and got touted up and down by the news media. OH — and if you haven’t heard, his co-conspirator, though not charged is celebrity lawyer Mark Geragos, CNN legal analyst, lawyer to Michael Jackson, Jussie Smollett, and more (the 2019 show writers like keeping things connected).
Speaking of Jussie — he’s suddenly off on all charges. Why? No one knows. We may get a federal investigation out of it though. I tend to agree with another lawyer on this point, who said, “I’d like a federal investigation into the Chicago police department’s decades of mafia payoffs, torture of suspects, and lying under oath. We can’t all be happy.” Same here. Chicago is notoriously corrupt, and they’ve let all manner of police, criminal, and political misconduct slip through. So if we get a federal investigation into all of this Jussie Smollett stuff, I’m cheering for that entire facade of criminal justice in Chicago to come crashing down.
Finally, the last major storyline this week outside the Mueller report is that the DOJ moved to support a district court ruling that said Obamacare, as currently constructed after the Trump tax cuts, is unconstitutional. As you may recall, when Obamacare survived a constitutional challenge in 2012, the Supreme Court held that the law was only constitutional as a tax. The majority opinion said it was unconstitutional under any other argument, specifically the commerce clause.
The Trump tax law changes effectively stripped the individual mandate portions of the code and left the rest of the law. GOP lawyers looked at this and decided to take a second legal shot at Obamacare, saying that since the tax argument of the law is no longer present, the act is no longer valid and should get struck down as a whole. I’m not persuaded this will work and agree with law professor Johnathan Adler over at Volokh. But it’s worth watching; stranger things have happened.
I have a column going up on the Conservative Institute about the media’s decision to support anti-Israel positions. You can expect that sometime in the afternoon (timing varies). Like I said above, I’m hitting the Mueller report this week. Links follow.
Where you can find me this week
Make sure to sign up for the Conservative Institute’s daily newsletter. You can also go to their Facebook page. You can join Ricochet here. And I do recommend their ever-growing network of podcasts, which you can find on all popular podcast platforms. They have a show for every topic you can imagine, and the list continues to grow.
The CNN media award for their Parkland town hall on gun control proves that the media doesn’t care at all for truth or honesty. Rewarding a disaster is not journalism — it’s activism.
My piece in the immediate aftermath of the Mueller report.
The Mueller Report — or Barr Summary — Arrives
I have two broad takeaways from the Mueller report, and I’ll attack each in turn. First, my thoughts on the summary we got and what to expect from the complete Mueller report. Second, what the Barr memo and Mueller report tell us about our intelligence community and media reporting of this entire debacle — it’s not pretty.
The system works — Mueller’s investigation worked
The first thought I had was that the system worked — the legal system, regulations, and everything worked. Mueller ran an investigation, the DOJ ran its process, and Barr wrapped the inquiry up with Rosenstein’s help. The two topline conclusions: 1) No collusion, and 2) No finding on obstruction from Mueller. I have a full write-up over at the Conservative Institute walking through the report’s conclusions, and I won’t go back through them here. You can also read the four-page Barr summary memo yourself.
What I expect next is for the full Mueller report to get released with redactions. It will show those two conclusions, but it’ll also show a ton of embarrassing stories for the Trump administration. I suspect most of it we will know from what is already public through indictments and court filings. But there may be some new information.
The key on the collusion question, or conspiracy to use the legal term, is that I doubt Mueller was able to find intent. We know Russia tried to interfere with the election. We know they hacked the DNC. We know they reached out to the Trump campaign. We know some American intermediaries like Roger Stone tried to reach out and get that information. What I doubt Mueller found is any intent of conspiracy on the part of the Trump — he likely just found incompetence. All these bad things may have happened — but it wasn’t a result of Trump trying to make them happen.
That’s what I’m expecting from the full Mueller report. It’ll clear Trump, but it won’t look good. Democrats will then use the House as their playground to bring all the evidence Mueller covered into the House record and run their own investigation. Barr and Mueller will both end up testifying.
A popular myth on the left right now is that there’s no way Barr could have read and summarized Mueller’s report in such a little time. Or that Barr is a hand-picked political minion of Trump brought in to wrap this process up. That’s all nonsense. I fully suspect that Barr, Rosenstein, and Mueller all ran the summary by each other and were fine with it. Mueller will say, in the end, he left the obstruction question up to the AG. The odds of Mueller, Barr, and Rosenstein disagreeing are incredibly small.
Many on the right are attacking Mueller for not settling the question of obstruction of justice, but I’m more sympathetic to him here. There’s an open question of whether or not any legal officer in the US can indict a President. Furthermore, the obstruction charge deals with the President firing James Comey. That may be an abuse of Presidential power — but it’s harder to say if the President can obstruct justice when he’s the one running the investigation (the President oversees the DOJ, so by extension, he’s managing an investigation into himself — one of the weird ironies in this entire thing). Mueller likely doesn’t believe he has the power to issue an indictment on that front, and that it’s a political question for Congress, so he tossed it to Barr and Congress.
But given all those points, the end point is this: the process worked. And if it clears the President and removes this cloud from the administration, we’re better off for it.
What do we make of the Intelligence Community now? Worse than the media?
The day after the Mueller report/Barr summary dropped, a long piece by a far-left liberal Matt Taibbi came out that went viral on the left and right, and for a good reason. Taibbi wrote a searing indictment of the media entitled: “It’s official: Russiagate is this generation’s WMD: The Iraq war faceplant damaged the reputation of the press. Russiagate just destroyed it.” It’s one thing for someone like me to criticize the media, but when the left go after their own like this, it’s something else. If you have a moment, you should read it.
There was one part that struck a chord with me, and it went into an area I’ve thought about heavily. I wrote about the Russia issue early on, back in the 2016 primaries, and predicted here that until an investigation got completed, the cloud of Trump-Russia would follow Trump’s administration. And something collapsed in that entire story, Taibii gets at that:
The biggest thing this affair has uncovered so far is Donald Trump paying off a porn star. That’s a hell of a long way from what this business was supposedly about at the beginning, and shame on any reporter who tries to pretend this isn’t so.
The story hyped from the start was espionage: a secret relationship between the Trump campaign and Russian spooks who’d helped him win the election.
The betrayal narrative was not reported as metaphor. It was not “Trump likes the Russians so much, he might as well be a spy for them.” It was literal spying, treason, and election-fixing – crimes so severe, former NSA employee John Schindler told reporters, Trump “will die in jail.”
In the early months of this scandal, the New York Times said Trump’s campaign had “repeated contacts” with Russian intelligence; the Wall Street Journal told us our spy agencies were withholding intelligence from the new President out of fear he was compromised; news leaked out our spy chiefs had even told other countries like Israel not to share their intel with us, because the Russians might have “leverages of pressure” on Trump.
CNN told us Trump officials had been in “constant contact” with “Russians known to U.S. intelligence,” and the former director of the CIA, who’d helped kick-start the investigation that led to Mueller’s probe, said the President was guilty of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” committing acts “nothing short of treasonous.”
Hillary Clinton insisted Russians “could not have known how to weaponize” political ads unless they’d been “guided” by Americans. Asked if she meant Trump, she said, “It’s pretty hard not to.” Harry Reid similarly said he had “no doubt” that the Trump campaign was “in on the deal” to help Russians with the leak.
None of this has been walked back. To be clear, if Trump were being blackmailed by Russian agencies like the FSB or the GRU, if he had any kind of relationship with Russian intelligence, that would soar over the “overwhelming and bipartisan” standard, and Nancy Pelosi would be damning torpedoes for impeachment right now.
There was never real gray area here. Either Trump is a compromised foreign agent, or he isn’t. If he isn’t, news outlets once again swallowed a massive disinformation campaign, only this error is many orders of magnitude more stupid than any in the recent past, WMD included. Honest reporters like ABC’s Terry Moran understand: Mueller coming back empty-handed on collusion means a “reckoning for the media.”
Of course, there won’t be such a reckoning. (There never is). But there should be. We broke every written and unwritten rule in pursuit of this story, starting with the prohibition on reporting things we can’t confirm.
Russian connections were one of the main reasons I refused to vote for Trump, along with all the other character reasons you’d find with conservatives. I read the intelligence community things before the primaries, when things started coming out and refused to vote for Trump. Especially after Manafort and the Trump campaign stripped out party platform language that went after Russia.
I still don’t like him, for what it’s worth. It’s a question I get about once a quarter now. But there’s a massive difference between being a man of low character and being compromised by a foreign country.
People like John Schindler correctly called out the American media for fawning over Wikileaks, Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, and Chelsea Manning. Then they turned and started aiming their fire on Trump. It’s not like they didn’t come without some authority. And every outlet, on both sides of the aisle, reported various sections.
That authority is gone now. And so is any respect I have for the US intelligence community — especially when people like former CIA Director James Brennan were on cable news NON-STOP — up until weeks before the Mueller report came out saying more indictments were coming. It’s not just that it was Brennan, who had lied under oath before, it was that every single person seemingly connected to the intelligence community said the SAME THING. Brennan wasn’t alone.
But one of the trend lines I noticed watching media coverage is that none of them knew what Bob Mueller was going to do at a given point. The New York Times called him almost invisible. It was fashionable on the right to attack Mueller and say he was leaking, but the opposite was true: the press had absolutely zero contacts on his investigation, especially after Mueller fired Peter Strzok and Lisa Page (and the OIG detailed how bad those two were in the FBI).
Sure, leaks were happening, but they weren’t coming from Mueller or his team. The leaks came from entities around Mueller, the DOJ, FBI, and others. The media never knew when Mueller’s indictments were coming. They never knew the targets. They never knew how far along Mueller was in writing the report (he’d been “close to ending it” for more than a year now). If we were getting leaks from Mueller’s team, that report and summary wouldn’t have shocked the entire establishment. Everything Mueller did shocked and surprised the media.
So who was the media getting for sources during this whole story?
If you’re looking at it, they only had two things: the public filings of Mueller, which are hard to mess up, and then the intelligence community sourcing everything else. All the news items Taibbi noted above, that everyone read got sourced from the IC.
Back to Schindler for a moment, he said all his previous contacts were telling him one thing in February of 2017: the IC was ready to go nuclear against Trump. Now either Schindler was lying (definitely possible), or the IC WAS saying that and leaked anything damaging they could to harm Trump. And we have a ton of news reports of the IC and its distrust of Trump. Every major news outlet had at least one of these stories.
This theory may sound utterly implausible and like you need a tin foil hat, but we know it isn’t entirely untrue. Both Lisa Page and Peter Strzok fit this description to a “T” and others like former CIA Director James Brennan echoed those same sentiments on cable news constantly.
We also know the infamous Steele dossier fits this description. Taibbi hits this point too:
By June and July of 2016, bits of the dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, which had been funded by the Democratic National Committee through the law firm Perkins Coie (which in turn hired the opposition research firm Fusion GPS), were already in the ether.
The Steele report occupies the same role in #Russiagate the tales spun by Ahmed Chalabi occupied in the WMD screwup. Once again, a narrative became turbo-charged when Officials With Motives pulled the press corps by its nose to a swamp of unconfirmable private assertions.
Some early stories, like a July 4, 2016 piece by Franklin Foer in Slate called “Putin’s Puppet,” outlined future Steele themes in “circumstantial” form. But the actual dossier, while it influenced a number of pre-election Trump-Russia news stories (notably one by Michael Isiskoff of Yahoo! that would be used in a FISA warrant application), didn’t make it into print for a while.
Though it was shopped to at least nine news organizations during the summer and fall of 2016, no one bit, for the good reason that news organizations couldn’t verify its “revelations.”
I went back to what I first wrote about this in January of 2017, and I think I got it mostly right on the dossier, though I’d change part of it now:
Some of it likely is true. But you can’t pretend all of it is true. And in truth, I don’t buy this is the full list of things the Russians potentially have in their real dossier of Trump (which they absolutely have — going back into the 1980’s when Trump was traveling to Russia). Like Schindler, one of my first thoughts was this being a misdirection campaign.
At this point, it’s clear the Russians don’t have a thing on the President. And it’s also likely all the dossier compiled by the IC was entirely made up, either by the IC or by the Russians to make Trump seem illegitimate. The dossier looks like complete fake intel, tossed into the pool to see what would happen. If it was a misdirection campaign by the Russians, it wasn’t to misdirect people away from a real dossier; it was to cause chaos.
In any event, the point is this: It’s clear A LOT of muddy water got kicked up by one group: The intelligence community. And now that we’re at the end of this whole ordeal while questioning the media is good, that’s only part of the issue. And from what I can tell, it was the intelligence community who was passing along to the media information that was either entirely fake or purposely chaotic from the Russians.
The IC were the ones telling the WSJ they weren’t sharing intel with Trump. They were the ones claiming they were warning off Israel. They were the ones leaking to the media. And they’re the ones who are the most wrong at the end of this entire matter.
The media is wrong too — obviously, they refused to question any of their sources because they loved this story too much. But the IC is in a horrible spot. And it’s not unlike the WMD story.
And the question that is remaining: is this like WMD’s in Iraq, where they were just wrong? Or were they purposely throwing out false information to hurt Trump? I don’t know… but I don’t like the answer either way. The IC has had the failure of the Iraq War, they’ve let issues like Snowden and Manning harm this country, and it looks like they failed in spectacular fashion in attacking their own boss, the President.
Ross Douthat, in the New York Times, picked up on this theme and called in the paranoia of the center:
This pattern points to the essential difference between paranoias of the fringes and what Reason’s Jesse Walker once called “the paranoid center.” Because the center believes in the basic goodness of American and Western institutions, the basic wisdom and patriotism of their personnel, its threat matrix is always attuned to Great Enemies outside and radicals within, and its greatest fears tend to involve the two groups working together — whether that means Middle Eastern dictators and Islamist sleeper cells after Sept. 11 or the grand alliance of Putinists and homegrown white nationalists that’s blamed for Donald Trump.
Meanwhile the extremes, in different but sometimes overlapping ways, are much more skeptical about American institutions, much more “unpatriotic” in the way that David Frum once dismissed right-wing critics of the Iraq war, and thus much more likely to be skeptical of any narrative that asks you to simply trust the wisdom and good intentions of, say, figures like James Comey and John Brennan.
This gives both the far left and the far right an advantage when it comes to seeing through the paranoias of the center — even as both are tempted toward paranoias that locate all the evils of the world within the establishment, in the interlocking directorates of Washington and Wall Street or the military-industrial complex or the Brussels-Berlin axis.
Neither form of paranoia is necessarily worse or better than the other — and neither, it should be stressed, is always wrong. The paranoid center tends to take real threats and then inflate them, rather than inventing them ex nihilo; the paranoid fringes tend to identify real establishment failures and corruptions but then over-imagine conspiracies and puppet masters.
But the paranoid center generally has a power that the fringes lack — both the formal power of institutions and the cultural power to set narratives and declare the boundaries of legitimate debate. And this can make centrist paranoia more dangerous and more easily disguised.
I tend to agree. We had or have a paranoid center in the IC and media. They used their power to level a crippling set of charges that proved wrong.
We needed the Mueller investigation and report. We needed it badly to clear this paranoia that’s gripped various parts of the country.
I don’t expect the report to stop the left from fantasizing about getting rid of Trump. There are vast numbers who still believe Bush stole the 2000 election. Political conspiracies always exist.
But this was a different paranoia that needed to get vetted and turned out. It cleared Trump, and that’s good. It’s a good thing that the President of the United States isn’t compromised or hampered by foreign influence — and I can’t believe I have to say that to some people.
But what remains is clearing up and figuring what is happening in the American IC. I don’t expect the media to clean their act up. I do demand it from our professional spies.
Links of the week
San Antonio Likely Violating Chick-Fil-A’s First Amendment Rights: Its exclusion of Chick-Fil-A from the airport appears to be based on the viewpoint expressed by Chick-Fil-A and various organizations to which it donates. – Eugene Volokh, The Volokh Conspiracy
The Steele Dossier, Hillary Clinton’s Malignant Gift to America – David French, National Review
The Resistance Media Weren’t Ready for This: After years of accruing retweets and Patreon donations with fevered speculation about Mueller, anti-Trump internet personalities are scrambling to figure out what’s next. – McKay Coppins, The Atlantic
MSNBC’s Trump-Russia Ratings Fizzle: ‘Time to Pivot to 2020’: The Mueller report and its potential implications have driven the network’s coverage—and monster ratings—for two years. Now it’s ended with a whimper, leaving execs in a bind. – Maxwell Tani & Lloyd Grove, The Daily Beast
Bonfire of the Media Vanities: The less credibility they have, the easier it becomes to ignore them. – Kyle Smith, National Review
Actually, Skepticism Is Good – Charles C. W. Cooke, National Review
Court-Packing: A Blow Against the Rule of Law – Casey Mattox, National Review
Michael Avenatti’s life of luxury hangs by a thread as IRS comes calling – Michael Finnegan & Mark Z. Barabak, The LA Times
DOJ Reaches a deal with Well-Connected Ex-Feinstein Aide Accused Of Doxxing Republicans, New Filing Shows – Luke Rosiak, The Daily Caller
The Federal Criminal Complaints Filed Against Michael Avenatti Should Surprise No One: The case in the Southern District of New York charges Michael Avenatti with multiple counts of extortion, and the case in California charges him with bank fraud and wire fraud. – Caroline Court, The Federalist
Roiled by Staff Uproar, Civil Rights Group Looks at Intolerance Within – The New York Times
“Anti-Zionism is the New Anti-Semitism,” Says Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks at AIPAC – Fern Sidman, The Jewish Voice
Women’s March leader: U.S. ‘Jewish Establishment’ caused NZ attacks: Bob Bland apologized for sharing a Facebook post blaming American Jewish Establishment for Christchurch massacre. – Marcy Oster, The Jerusalem Post
Rafi Eitan, 92, Israeli Spymaster Who Caught Eichmann, Is Dead – The New York Times
On the Trail of the Robocall King – Alex Palmer, Wired
The Underground Railroad of North Korea: For over two decades, a secret network has worked tirelessly to help thousands of refugees escape the world’s worst dictatorship. This is the story of one desperate woman who risked her life to reach freedom, and of the complicated man who led the way. – Doug Bock Clark, GQ
Louisiana’s Disappearing Coast: The state loses a football field’s worth of land every hour and a half. Now engineers are in a race to prevent it from sinking into oblivion. – Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker
Meet the Man Who Flies Around the World for Free: Last year, a young man walked into the Seattle airport and took the next flight to anywhere — and he hasn’t come down since – Ben Wofford, Rolling Stone
The DMV Reviewed Thousands of Hilarious Vanity Plate Applications Last Year. These Are Our Favorites: Inside the important job of keeping poop puns, dick jokes, and hate speech off California’s roadways – Samuel Braslow, LA Magazine
Satire piece of the week
Nation’s Faith In Goodness Of God Restored As Baseball Season Arrives – The Babylon Bee
U.S.—The country’s long-lost faith in the everlasting goodness and love of God has been miraculously restored overnight, as the nation woke up to discover that baseball season had arrived at last.
After a long, dark period of doubt in which Americans had to endure football and basketball and pretend to understand that weird Canadian game with the flat ball on the ice, Major League Baseball’s latest season returned, dispelling the nation’s fear that God had abandoned them forever.
“This is irrefutable proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy,” said one man as he prepared to walk into the stadium to see the Angels play the A’s Thursday afternoon. “I’ve never been much of a religious guy, but now I know for sure that there is a good, loving God in heaven who pours out His common grace on the just and the unjust alike.”
Thanks for reading!