Comey and Hypocrisy

by John Holbo on May 10, 2017

It is not hypocritical in the least for Democrats to be outraged about Comey over the Clinton business and also to be outraged over Trump’s firing of Comey, apparently to hinder FBI investigations of Trump and his associates. (One presumes Trump has a motive for the firing and the official reason is obviously not the real one.)

If Republicans try to troll Democrats – and I see that they already are – here’s the short, sharp response: we all agree that someone may deserve to be punished, but also that proper procedures for punishing them need to be observed. This is not hypocrisy. It’s the rule of law. If I say Smith should be arrested for capital crimes, and then I am outraged when Smith dies in custody in a suspicious manner, suggesting the police might be covering their own crimes, I am not a hypocrite. The firing is like that. If you care about the rule of law, you are outraged that Comey was fired today. If you care about the integrity of US elections, you are outraged he wasn’t fired before. There is no tension in the view that the rule of law is good, yet the integrity of elections is also good. If Republicans want to make the case that one or both of these are bad, or that it’s wrong to want both, let them make their case openly and honestly.

{ 164 comments }

1

Raven 05.10.17 at 5:50 am

Of course Trump’s firing of Comey had nothing at all to do with this other headline just out: Grand jury subpoenas issued in FBI’s Russia investigation — Federal prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas to associates of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn seeking business records….”

2

faustusnotes 05.10.17 at 6:13 am

This is surely going to encourage a whole new level of counter-Trump activity in the security state. Holder’s tweet was basically telling FBI staff to have at it …

3

nastywoman 05.10.17 at 6:59 am

– but as the reasoning for firing the FBI-Dude is such awesome classical ‘Comedy Gold’ – we have to admire the lawyers -(and even the F…faces humor)
And I just see them sitting somewhere and chuckling:
‘Let’s use the Clinton Inquiry’!
‘Oh – that woulld be hilarious’
‘Even the writers of SNL can’t beat that’!
‘Take that Colbert’!
‘And it will show even Kimmel with his Baby- what ‘real’ comedy in our homeland is all about.

– and all what’s left is roaring laughter.
And for everybody who reall wants to discuss seriously some ‘laweful’ aspect of ‘Trumpland’ we might have to wait until Von Clownstick has departed again?

4

bluicebank 05.10.17 at 8:16 am

In a nutshell, Comey committed suicide-by-cop+mobsters. Rarely done if ever, even in film noir. First you piss off the cops. Then you piss off the mobsters. Then you get between them, hoping none of the bullets hit you and you come out a hero like in “L.A. Confidential.” Yeah, never works that way.

5

kidneystones 05.10.17 at 10:43 am

Hi John. I’ve no complaint with the OP.
I just visited the several newspapers and my own take away is that Democrats must be weeping with joy at their good fortune. The firing of Comey is being construed as the desperate act of a criminal about to be indicted. Which is remarkable given the fact that senior Democrats in the intelligence and judiciary committees confirmed they’ve yet to see any evidence connecting Russia and the GOP candidate as recently as last week. So, if the new Nixon (who I thought was Obama – record secrecy, spying on journalists, and prosecuting whistle-blowers) isn’t impeached, convicted, and pilloried it won’t be because there’s no evidence. Better still, Putin – Trump’s Russian master – is now running America through his Manchurian candidate in the White House. Historians are going to have a field day with the denunciations. I can’t wait.

6

Daragh 05.10.17 at 11:27 am

I think this may be the GOP engaging in projection again. They divide the world into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ guys, the latter of whom are fair game. Proceduralism is just the formalities. Look at how massively they abused Congressional investigative powers to try and make Benghazi a scandal. That other people might have principles above ‘crush mine enemies’ isn’t really a thought they’ve spent much time trying to grasp.

7

Lee A. Arnold 05.10.17 at 11:35 am

From Trump’s letter of termination, it looks like Comey was fired because he refused to say in public, at the Senate hearing, whether Trump himself was under investigation about the Russians, thus leaving it appear that Trump could be under investigation, or that the investigation might lead to Trump.

Here is the beginning of Trump’s second paragraph in the termination letter: “While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau.”

This seems to have little to do with Comey’s performance in the Clinton email “scandals”. It looks instead like the Russian story is getting too close, & Trump found a convenient premise to fire Comey, that premise being the need to correct Comey’s public misunderstanding of the scope of Clinton’s emails on Weiner’s computer in Comey’s statements, at the Senate hearing last week — a rather minor error, at that.

I imagine that Comey may have divided feelings right now: relieved to be off the hot seat, but alarmed that history may abuse him. Because last year Comey was sandbagged by the GOP, twice:

1. In the last hour of the July 7 hearing about the State Dept. emails, you can see Comey’s visible discomfort and his growing frustration that he was being manipulated into saying something untrue about Hillary Clinton, in a witch hunt, under the repetitious badgering by Gowdy and Chaffetz who were trying different legalistic locutions. Their intended effect was to make much of the public believe that the FBI let Clinton off the hook.

As Comey had already explained in that same hearing, the facts are that dozens or hundreds of State employees, all the way back to Colin Powell’s days, were using private servers without the “classified” status printed on the emails, and there was technically no law broken, therefore none prosecutable — though it was careless and sloppy, as Comey stated. So far as I know, the big questions have never been asked in the media: Why were they all doing this? Why didn’t the State Dept. provide a secure server? Are the State Dept’s own computers underperforming, — or else compromised? Are gov’t communications of all sorts OVER-classified?

2. Various published reports could be construed to narrate a “dirty-tricks” story: that in October, an anti-Clinton faction in the FBI’s NY office leaked the Abedin-Weiner non-story bullcrap to Rudy Giuliani, and possibly to Republicans in Congress. This threatened Comey to come out and say something about it IN PUBLIC, before it was blown up in headlines in another way — with the added bogus suggestion of the Bureaus’ involvement in a new coverup to protect Hillary. So Comey found himself in another no-win situation.

Indeed Rudy just came up, again. From the hearing last week, May 3:

SENATOR LEAHY: Let me ask you this. During your investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, a number of surrogates like Rudy Giuliani claimed to have a pipeline to the FBI. He boasted that, and I quote, numerous agents talk to him all the time. (Inaudible) regarding the investigation. He even said that he had — insinuated he had advanced warning about the emails described in your October letter. Former FBI agent Jim Kallstrom made similar claims.
Now, either they’re lying, or there’s a serious problem within the bureau. Anybody in the FBI during this 2016 campaign have contact with Rudy Giuliani about — about the Clinton investigation?
COMEY: I don’t know yet. But if I find out that people were leaking information about our investigations, whether it’s to reporters or to private parties, there will be severe consequences.
LEAHY: Did you know of anything from Jim Kallstrom?
COMEY: Same answer. I don’t know yet.
LEAHY: Do you know any about — from other former agents?
COMEY: I don’t know yet. But it’s a matter that I’m very, very interested in.
LEAHY: But you are looking into it?
COMEY: Correct.
LEAHY: And once you’ve found that answer, will you provide it to us?
COMEY: I’ll provide it to the committee in some form. I don’t whether I would say publicly, but I’d find some way to let you know.

Reading the full transcript of this hearing will show you just how serious the Russian connections are, to both sides of the aisle in the Senate.

On the Rudy story, see also Reuters, Nov. 3: “FBI fear of leaks drove decision on emails linked to Clinton: sources”
http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-fbi-leaks-idUSKBN12Y2QD

And a detailed overview as of Dec. 22: “Was Rudy Giuliani At The Center Of An FBI-Trump Campaign Conspiracy To Steal The Election?”
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/was-rudy-giuliani-at-the-center-of-an-fbi-trump-campaign_us_585ad14ce4b014e7c72ed993

8

Mario 05.10.17 at 11:42 am

Here is the letter where Comey gets fired (link goes to the New York Times).

In these weird times its the original sources which one should read, if possible.

9

nastywoman 05.10.17 at 11:47 am

– and @5 stop this nonsense about ‘Trump’s Russian master’ – as by now everybody is aware that Von Clownstick only has ONE ‘master’ – the most nasty, dangerous and demented of them all: ‘Himself’.

But – still – Historians are going to have the absolute and total ‘field day’ for how little dough one could in Trumps erection – buy a real ‘campaign manager’ – or for what an amazing tiny budget price you were able to get a real US national security advisor – and I really understand that lots and lots of US politicians are angry – how Manafort and Flynn went for such small change in order to help – of all Creeps one of the nastiest dudes of them all.

I mean I it would have been France -(or even better Italy) trying to buy themselves into the US government in order that Von Clownstick would do some promotion for them -(and Paris or Rome) – that would have been some kind of acceptable – and ME and my friends already thought: If a buy in – into the US government is ‘that’ cheap – why leave it to countries like Russian – why not getting it for ourselves? – and then when Ivanka comes by get some of her clothes a lot cheaper too?

10

Glen Tomkins 05.10.17 at 1:36 pm

One problem with the claim that the president firing Comey is in any way a subversion of the rule of law, is that firing by the president of any official in the executive branch (with the exception of independent agency officials) is as legal as church on Sunday. That’s a foolish feature of our system, but it is a feature of our system. The Senate failed by one vote to impeach Andrew Johnson for firing Stanton as Secy of War, and partly as a way to rationalize that failure, but mostly because the presidency was always going to evolve towards an elected monarchy, we later passed a law clarifying that the president has the power to fire cabinet members and their subordinates.

So, sure, we had the president fire the head of the FBI because he was leading an investigation into the wrongdoings of the president and his associates. But however much that outrages common sense and common decency, it clearly is not an outrage to the law and what we have let our system become. That’s our system. We’ve put the presidency above the law by letting the office control the prosecutors.

The legal recourse now, within our system, is to appoint an independent counsel, a prosecutor to lead the investigation into administration wrong-doing who cannot be fired by the president or his Atty-Genl. Trump, though, is no Clinton. There is zero prospect that he would let public pressure squeeze him into approving an independent counsel.

The prevention, and now cure, of the pathology Trump presents, is a political matter. The Republican party should never have let him have their nomination. That they failed to stop such an obvious threat to all of us, including themselves, is the final proof that there is no longer a party capable of acting even in self-preservation. Now that prevention failed, the only recourse is for Congress to investigate him by impeaching him, or to use the 25th to just get him out of office.

I suspect that we’re about to have fairly definitive proof that the US no longer has a Congress capable of acting, even in self-preservation.

11

Yan 05.10.17 at 3:34 pm

Hypocrisy is not a charge about reasons but about motives.

The question is not: are there good reasons for Democrats to hold different positions about Comey in each case? (There are.) The question is: are they in fact motivated by those good reasons? (That seems less obvious.)

Imagine if Comey had been fired with equally improper procedure after the Clinton email scandal. Do you really think many Democrats would have been outraged?

This is particularly an ironic defense given that it applies equally well to Trump himself. Trump claims he’s firing Comey for mishandling the Clinton email investigation. Of course, no one believes that’s his real motive. But it is a sound reason, a reason that exists and is available to him, and by this logic, inures him from the charge of hypocrisy.

What’s astonishing is that the OP even presents the case in a cynical way that almost short-circuits the post: “if Republicans try to troll Democrats…here’s the short, sharp response.” In other words: hey, people on my team, in case anyone tries to impugn your motives and you need help coming up with a good motive, here’s one.

But hypocrisy is a moral charge, and so this is not a politically important issue. It’s good that Republican and Democratic hypocrisy might get Trump impeached, even if the state of the souls on both sides are extremely impure.

12

Manta 05.10.17 at 3:52 pm

I am not American, so I am not positive about how the proper procedure is.

However, I tend to agree with Tomksin @10.
If I understand correctly, John Holbo is complaining that the Democrat were asking to follow the “proper” legal procedure to fire the head of FBI, but Trump did not follow it.
So, what is this proper procedure? I was under the impression that the procedure was the president (maybe after consulting with the AG) writing a letter with “YOU ARE FIRED!” written on it. If I am right, and the rule of law was followed, the whole post is bullshit; if I am wrong, I would appreciate a clarification on what is the procedure: more precisely, what would be the legitimate way to follow the requests of the Democrats and fire Comey? (By the way, I think his firing was a tragic loss for US democracy: he proved to be a fiercely independent public official, willing to make powerful enemies from both sides of the aisle).

13

bianca steele 05.10.17 at 3:55 pm

If Republicans want to make the case that one or both of these are bad, or that it’s wrong to want both, let them make their case openly and honestly.

They are never going to make their case openly and honestly. They will continue to equivocate and to give lip service to principles they don’t even bother to cover up anymore. The only question is whether they rest complacent in their hypocrisy, or whether they begin to argue that “rule of law” mean something different from what it does (or more likely, to hypocritically insist that we use their use of the word in inappropriate ways is correct, while giving lip service to the idea of shared meanings, traditional definitions, and so on). Which of these would be preferable (not that we have a say in the matter) seems to be less clear than we might wish.

14

Anarcissie 05.10.17 at 4:18 pm

There is not much use in being outraged by something one can in no way affect, such as the outcome of the struggle between rogue capitalist Trump, now thrashing about randomly, and the Deep State or Established Order or whatever you want to call it. However, as the struggle intensifies, and stuff begins to come loose and flap in the wind, we may be able to learn something about the current power structure of the U.S. The fact that the E.O. did not stop Trump long before he got anywhere near the presidency shows serious, Weimar-reminiscent incompetence, whose consequences will continue to develop. The E.O. also lacks foot soldiers among the proles, which Trump still seems to have. It may be we have entered Interesting Times.

15

Heliopause 05.10.17 at 4:30 pm

A few seconds googling reveals numerous explicit statements from prominent Democrats that Comey is incompetent and untrustworthy and should no longer be in the job. I’m afraid that’s quite textbook hypocrisy.

The alternative to that reading would be that it’s not hypocritical because I want this incompetent individual to continue his incompetent work investigating my political rival. That would not be hypocritical but would be an inane position to take.

The public reasons Trump gave for the firing are broadly assumed to be correct assessments of Comey’s performance. If you’re worried that he had unstated ulterior motives you can relax, the “Saturday Night Massacre” didn’t help Nixon and if there’s anything to all this Russia Trutherism there are phalanxes of anti-Trump people in the government and elite media to bring it out.

16

rea 05.10.17 at 4:58 pm

It is not that the president does not, in the abstract, have the power to fire the FBI director–it’s that it is inappropriate to do so when the FBI is investigating the president.

17

Frank Wilhoit 05.10.17 at 5:46 pm

“…let them make their case openly and honestly.”

You are neglecting the fact that conservatives have a total emotional block against honesty (at least outside their own closed community). To tell someone a true thing grants the hearer equal status: this a conservative cannot do, not under any manner of duress.

18

Chris "merian" W. 05.10.17 at 5:50 pm

Yan, if you want to find a hypocritical Democrat, I’m sure you can find one. However, I think that your criterion, that a Democrat’s reaction is only not hypocritical if they also would have been not hypocritial in the event of a similarly shoddy firing under Obama or Clinton, is not proper. I absolutely believe that the people around me who are shocked are genuinely shocked.

Also, given recent precedent, it is quite absurd to think it is likely that a Democratic administration would have proceeded in this way. Obama gave Democrats ample reason to expect that whatever would be done, it would be done in a way to protect institutional integrity. (Indeed, before the inauguration, internal affairs announced they’d start to look into Comey — an investigation the result of which was not yet available yesterday.) So for someone who does NOT have this internal insight into what the options and their trade-offs are to say “get rid of Comey!” is perfectly appropriate — that’s why we have specialists who know how to implement a goal properly.

19

Scott P. 05.10.17 at 6:18 pm

“A few seconds googling reveals numerous explicit statements from prominent Democrats that Comey is incompetent and untrustworthy and should no longer be in the job. I’m afraid that’s quite textbook hypocrisy.”

Not at all. You can think Comey should be replaced with someone more competent, and to also believe that Trump fired Comey not to replace him with someone more competent but to cover up an ongoing investigation.

Similarly, I think Trump is woefully incompetent and should be removed from office, but I would be violently opposed to the Chinese government assassinating him.

20

Sebastian H 05.10.17 at 6:55 pm

“It is not that the president does not, in the abstract, have the power to fire the FBI director–it’s that it is inappropriate to do so when the FBI is investigating the president.”

This from rea is the perfect summary.

And the fact that no-one in the White House who knew that, had enough power to do anything about it, is why this particular move worries me at least as much as anything else Trump has done thus far.

21

oldster 05.10.17 at 7:10 pm

22

JimV 05.10.17 at 7:45 pm

My reading of the OP was that (filling in some background as I see it):

1. Comey’s public statement two weeks before the election that the Clinton email investigation had found new evidence which might yet (at long last) turn out to be incriminating was an outrageous act – particularly since a potentially more serious investigation of Trump was in progress and not similarly mentioned.

2. Trump’s firing of Comey, in order to put someone else in his place who would shut down the Trump investigation, was also an outrageous act – the act of a tyrant.

3. Both these acts are censurable, with or without hypocrisy; and one should not let 2) pass for fear of being called a hypocrite.

Assuming that is, in fact, the sense of the OP, the firing procedure was not being questioned but rather the motive behind it; and I agree with the OP (as I read it).

23

J-D 05.10.17 at 8:48 pm

If this is an inappropriate procedure for firing the director of the FBI, what would be the appropriate procedure for firing the director of the FBI?

24

Mario 05.10.17 at 9:00 pm

And so it begins.

One thing I don’t like about all of this is that the liberal / progressive voices are uniting behind the wrong flag. Folks, this is an enemy firing a broadside at another enemy. Instead of taking sides in this harrowing spectacle, let’s make sure they take turns at that until little is left.

A more interesting question is: what can be done to take advantage of the situation? What can be done to advance the common good?

25

Glen Tomkins 05.10.17 at 10:08 pm

Heliopause,

The point is that Comey was not fired for the justifiable reasons of incompetence and untrustworthiness, but because he was investigating Trump’s ties to Russia, which is an obviously dangerous abuse of the power the president has been given to enforce or fail to enforce the law.

If Trump now appoints a replacement who continues that investigation with greater competence and trustworthiness than Comey has displayed, that will prove me completely wrong. But, since there has never been any prospect of Trump firing Comey in order to get a competent and trustworthy successor, it has not been the least hypocritical of Ds to not push for Comey’s firing before he was fired, or be happy about it now that he has been fired. Being incompetent and untrustworthy is light years better in this job than what we will get as Comey’s replacement, the tool of a president willing to fire FBI directors to avoid investigation of his wrongdoing. Any candidate to succeed Comey who does not make appointment of an independent counsel a condition for accepting nomination will prove that he or she is such a tool. I don’t care how competent such a person is at being a tool. In fact, it would be a plus from my point of view if he or she is incompetent.

26

Sebastian H 05.10.17 at 11:04 pm

“If this is an inappropriate procedure for firing the director of the FBI, what would be the appropriate procedure for firing the director of the FBI?”

Well step one might be to disclose the actual reasons for deciding to fire the director of the FBI in the middle of his term instead of transparently false ones.

If you, surprisingly, believe the disclosed reasons for deciding to fire the director of the FBI, step two would be to disclose the reason for firing him now, instead of in January, or February, or March, or April.

Trump seems to have quite a few problems understanding appropriate timing. He held on to Flynn for 18 days after he was informed of Flynn’s ties to the Russians and his lies about that.

27

J-D 05.10.17 at 11:52 pm

Sebastian H

Well step one might be to disclose the actual reasons for deciding to fire the director of the FBI in the middle of his term instead of transparently false ones.

That’s an issue of substance, not an issue of procedure.

If you, surprisingly, believe the disclosed reasons for deciding to fire the director of the FBI, …

I’m not sure what you mean by ‘believing the reasons’. The reasons given in the Deputy Attorney-General’s memo appear, on the face of it, to constitute an adequate justification for the decision; but official justifications are only sometimes actual motives; sometimes they are not motives, but pretexts.

… step two would be to disclose the reason for firing him now, instead of in January, or February, or March, or April.

The President’s official notification, the memo from the Attorney-General, and the memo from the Deputy Attorney-General all bear the same date, so this question reduces to the question of why the Deputy Attorney-General compiled his memo when he did. Obviously he couldn’t have submitted a memo as Deputy Attorney-General before he became Deputy Attorney-General, but aside from that, there’s nothing in his memo to explain why he wrote it when he did, or indeed why he wrote it at all. It doesn’t begin (as it could so easily have begun) ‘You have asked me to report on …’ or ‘My attention has been drawn by …’ or ‘I have become concerned because …’ or ‘In the bath today, I suddenly began to wonder whether the Director of the FBI should be fired …’ (okay, that last one he would never have actually written).

So if anybody’s looking for a procedural flaw, I think that has to be it. There’s no explanation, on the part of the Deputy Attorney-General, for why he has taken this action (written this memo). That’s a reasonable procedural requirement, for a memo of this importance to include background information that explains how the preparation of the memo came to be initiated. Once the memo had been submitted, I can’t figure how there’s any procedural fault in the Attorney-General endorsing it or the President acting on it (I can figure how it could be argued that there are substantive faults, but not procedural ones).

28

Tabasco 05.10.17 at 11:57 pm

@ nastywoman 9

Historians are going to have the absolute and total ‘field day’ for how little dough one could in Trumps erection – buy a real ‘campaign manager’

On first reading I thought there was a typo here, but now I am not so sure. Can you clarify please?

29

Heliopause 05.11.17 at 12:43 am

@19
If Comey is unfit to hold the office, as many top Democrats have said outright or at least strongly implied, it is plainly ridiculous to trust him with an investigation which you consider so important.

30

Heliopause 05.11.17 at 1:11 am

@25
1. Trump effected the result that Democrats said they wanted, i.e. Comey out of office.
2. Trump’s publicly stated reasons were the same reasons as those of the Dems.
3. Dems have also said they’d like a special prosecutor.

The honest response from Dems would then be, “it’s great you fired Comey, now appoint a special prosecutor.”

Can I also point out while I’m here that a very prominent Democrat recently identified Comey as the main cause for Trump’s being in office in the first place and that it is facially absurd for a Democrat to want such an individual to continue in office under any condition?

31

derrida derider 05.11.17 at 4:03 am

“here’s the short, sharp response: we all agree that someone may deserve to be punished, but also that proper procedures for punishing them need to be observed. This is not hypocrisy”
It may not be hypocrisy, but it’s nowhere near short and sharp enough to impress Trump supporters. You risk sounding like a bureaucrat – “but he failed to complete FormA638ZZ!”, and is no answer to the riposte “I’m Dirty Harry – Dirty Harry don’t need no steenking paperwork. I did the whole town a favour taking that badass down. Now, Kim-il-fatface, do ya feel lucky punk?”

Far better for the Dems to keep pointing out his hypocrisy, not his impulsiveness. Talk more Russia, less Combey.

32

derrida derider 05.11.17 at 4:30 am

“Are the State Dept’s own computers underperforming, — or else compromised? Are gov’t communications of all sorts OVER-classified?” – Lee Arnold @7

As someone familiar – far too familiar – with civil service bureaucracies (albeit not US ones) I would bet money that the answer to both questions is a resounding YES.

My experience is that successful conspiracies of any sort are almost impossible, not because there aren’t plenty of would-be conspirators but because secrets are almost impossible to keep in the modern world; truth really will out. And bureaucrats consistently over classify because they like to believe they’re insiders, privy to important and successful conspiracies.

33

Manta 05.11.17 at 6:59 am

Sebastian H @26
When you demand to a politician “do X”, you cannot add “but only for the right reasons!”.
At most, you can demand “but follow the right procedure”.

34

reason 05.11.17 at 7:18 am

Lee Arnold @7
“So far as I know, the big questions have never been asked in the media: Why were they all doing this? Why didn’t the State Dept. provide a secure server? Are the State Dept’s own computers underperforming, — or else compromised? Are gov’t communications of all sorts OVER-classified? “

I thought this was pretty much clear. In the case of Hillary Clinton, she wanted one device with both her private email and state department email and the State Dept. couldn’t provide it. It seems some of the other wanted to avoid being subject to freedom of information intrusion on their less suitable for the public thoughts (Powell).

35

Daragh 05.11.17 at 8:58 am

Heliopause @30

“Can I also point out while I’m here that a very prominent Democrat recently identified Comey as the main cause for Trump’s being in office in the first place and that it is facially absurd for a Democrat to want such an individual to continue in office under any condition?”

The only reason I was happy for Comey to continue in office is that his replacement will now be named by Trump. I think that’s a sufficient condition to make my position not absurd.

36

John Holbo 05.11.17 at 9:42 am

Heliopause asks an apparently reasonable question to which there is a reasonable response: “If Comey is unfit to hold the office, as many top Democrats have said outright or at least strongly implied, it is plainly ridiculous to trust him with an investigation which you consider so important.”

The trouble with trying to keep things short is it is not conducive to nuance. In Comey’s case, there is a need for nuance because questions of motive and procedure get pretty fine. The following things seem to me likely true.

Comey, in a mistaken attempt to protect the reputation of the FBI by forestalling pro-Trump leaks concerning Hillary’s case, did something that was in-itself inappropriate and thereby threw the election to Trump. That’s pretty outrageous even though Comey almost certainly intended no such effect. The fact remains: outrage at this circumstance is fully justified and it really isn’t good to have an FBI director who – however inadvertently – took inappropriate actions that threw a US Presidential election (in a ‘but for X, Y wouldn’t have happened’ sense.) Nevertheless, it’s hard to say when it would have been appropriate to fire Comey. Obama could have, but it would have looked real bad and partisan. Trump might have, before the point where Comey testified that there was an investigation of Trump’s campaign but even then it would have looked real bad and partisan because it isn’t believable that Trump is Hillary’s white knight, concerned that someone called her ‘crooked’ in an unfair way. It would be obvious he was replacing Comey to install some crony (probably.) Worst of all, of course, is what actually happened.

Now this is sort of annoying; it’s outrageous that Comey is still director, but there wouldn’t have been an acceptable way to remove him at any point. But that’s life. Sometimes there’s no good procedural way to do something. But even if we disagree about that, we can all agree that, if you are going to fire Comey, you shouldn’t do it in what looks to me the most inappropriate possible way, i.e. with intent to obstruct an ongoing investigation.

37

kidneystones 05.11.17 at 10:44 am

The principal reason Comey spoke out in the first place was because candidate Clinton’s husband decided to pay an unscripted visit to his friend and long-time confident, the AG of the United States, at precisely the same time the Justice department was debating whether to open a criminal investigation into the handling of government documents by the Democratic nominee, also named Clinton. Comey’s decision not greeted with universal applause. The partisan press has spent the last 8 years polishing the myth of the scandal-free Obama administration so that the gullible and the cynical can promulgate the myth among the masses. This rather good Wapo piece on AETNA’s plan to walk away from Obama’s signature program does more to explain why Trump is president and Clinton is not than any parsing of statements. The long and short of is that this election should never have been close. It was principally because of the broken promises and failed policies of the Obama administration.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/aetna-exiting-all-aca-insurance-marketplaces-in-2018/2017/05/10/9dedbeea-35d4-11e7-b373-418f6849a004_story.html?utm_term=.73cecd86b1f4

38

Bill Benzon 05.11.17 at 10:50 am

Over at Lawfare, a post on procedural issues in the firing:

The Administration, in short, has shown little regard for thoughtful process in law enforcement that is key to the maintenance of the integrity of the legal system, and of public confidence. Mr. Trump and his DOJ leadership have jumped ahead of the Inspector General’s inquiry, moving suddenly to put their views on record on the same issues the IG is addressing. They have failed to explain why they did so, when the alleged misconduct to which they appeal is no different from that which generated the IG inquiry and was widely known when the President took office. The AG was involved in this decision when recused from any matter involving the Russia investigation—again with no explanation. The Deputy AG could not have weighed the matter carefully in 14 days, some part of which he spent writing the short memorandum: which means he reached his conclusion in less than those two weeks. So with whom did he consult—and on what factual record, developed in what way and by whom, did he depend? Again: no explanation.

https://lawfareblog.com/how-it-was-done-problem-not-only-trump-fired-comey-how-he-did-it

39

Lee A. Arnold 05.11.17 at 10:51 am

It looks even more like Comey was cashiered because he wanted to expand the investigation into Trump’s Russian connections.

Trump screamed at Comey on the TV during the Senate hearing last week, then called Sessions & Rosenstein to the White House, said “Get rid of Comey”.

Rosenstein went back to his office & dutifully wrote a letter to give some reasons why.

But then Trump used Rosenstein as the pretext, claiming that the Rosenstein letter INITIATED Comey’s firing!

Washington Post top headline this morning: “Deputy attorney general threatened to quit after being cast as impetus of dismissal”.

I had been wondering about Rosenstein’s participation in Comey’s sudden cashiering, because it didn’t make sense. Rosenstein seems like the reasonable sort, but the reasons in his letter are last year’s stories. Rosenstein must know (as everybody in D.C. does, including FBI rank-and-file) that Comey is a decent guy, not a politician, and that he was dirty-tricked into smearing Hillary in two different ways in July & October. So the command to write the letter must have seemed like a call to scribble some perfunctory bureaucratise, however unfair to a fellow.

But now it looks like Rosenstein is being sandbagged, too. And he doesn’t like it.

Not good for Trump. Both Rosenstein & Comey can both be called up to the Hill for testimony.

Firing Comey was Trump’s second big unforced error. A hyoooge error, even bigger than his shallow claim in a tweety pique that Obama wiretapped him.

Despite the Democrats’ apparent indignation & hypocrisy at Comey’s sacking, you can forget it, they are tickled to death.

40

J-D 05.11.17 at 11:21 am

John Holbo

Now this is sort of annoying; it’s outrageous that Comey is still director, but there wouldn’t have been an acceptable way to remove him at any point. But that’s life. Sometimes there’s no good procedural way to do something.

Sometimes, if there’s no good procedural way to do something, that’s a system flaw. There should be a good procedural way to remove the FBI director, and if there isn’t, that a flaw in the system; although, now that I’ve got on to the subject, not nearly as big a flaw as the lack of a good procedural way to remove the US President. Yes, I know there’s a procedure for removing the President, but it’s not a good one, and there should be a good one.

But even if we disagree about that, we can all agree that, if you are going to fire Comey, you shouldn’t do it in what looks to me the most inappropriate possible way, i.e. with intent to obstruct an ongoing investigation.

That still seems to me to be an issue of substance, not of procedure.

41

Cranky Observer 05.11.17 at 11:40 am

= = = John Holbo @ 9:42 am: The following things seem to me likely true.
Comey, in a mistaken attempt to protect the reputation of the FBI by forestalling pro-Trump leaks concerning Hillary’s case, did something that was in-itself inappropriate and thereby threw the election to Trump. That’s pretty outrageous even though Comey almost certainly intended no such effect. = = =

The difficulty is that there is an equally likely explanation that fits the facts and is no more complicated than this one and perhaps less complicated: there is a faction within the FBI that actively dislikes Hillary Clinton and took specific intended actions to damage her Presidential campaign, with the deliberate intention of seeing a candidate elected who was more congenial to their worldview. In this scenario whether Comney was a member of that faction or simply took no action to identify and fire/prosecute them, he was complicit in their actions.

[I saw a transcript yesterday in which Senator Schumer specifically asked Comney about Giuliani’s magical ability to predict FBI announcements up to 36 hours in advance. Comney did his best to deflect but admitted he might have to look into that. I think we can assume that won’t happen now. ]

If a large number of Democrats accept the fell scenario, then it becomes harder to disagree with Helipause: there is no justification for a law enforcement official not only violating the Hatch Act but actually throwing an election using law enforcement resources to remain in office regardless of what else he might be investigating.

42

Manta 05.11.17 at 11:45 am

“Now this is sort of annoying; it’s outrageous that Comey is still director, but there wouldn’t have been an acceptable way to remove him at any point. But that’s life. Sometimes there’s no good procedural way to do something. “

If you think so, what would make of the demands by the Democrats to do exactly that?

43

Cranky Observer 05.11.17 at 11:45 am

= = =Lee A. Arnold @ 11:35 am: So far as I know, the big questions have never been asked in the media: Why were they all doing this? Why didn’t the State Dept. provide a secure server? Are the State Dept’s own computers underperforming, — or else compromised? Are gov’t communications of all sorts OVER-classified? = = =

I was working in the technology sector at the time and perhaps it was covered in more detail by the technology press, but yes: Hillary’s Clinton’s first employee town hall meeting as Secretary of State turned into a 2-hour gripe session about how bad State Dept. computer and communication technology was, why State employees were forced to use only Internet Explorer 4 and forbidden to install Mozilla/Firefox despite the latter’s vastly superior security record, etc. The answer from State’s CIO was: because that’s what our outsourcing contractor gives us and we are not allowed to complain or deviate from that.

44

Manta 05.11.17 at 11:52 am

In other words: if “you” (a professional politician) demand that the presidents does X, you are implicitly claiming that there is an acceptable way to do X.
Otherwise, you are a buffoon.

45

John Holbo 05.11.17 at 12:23 pm

“If you think so, what would make of the demands by the Democrats to do exactly that?”

Well, it’s a dilemma. But again, just because whatever you do there’s something bad about it doesn’t mean you should haul off and do something obviously worse.

It’s true that in the post I take the ‘Comey should have been fired’ line, which honestly is a bit strong, given my view that really there wasn’t a good way to do.

46

Manta 05.11.17 at 12:35 pm

Also, motives are not important.
For instance, whether the Democrats elected official motives for asking Comey’s head were sincerely felt outrage or simply a way to embarrass the president, is irrelevant.

What is important is that they asked X, and got X: now they cannot complains “but he did it for the wrong reasons!” (especially since the stated official reasons are the same that they claimed).

Mind you, procedure and rule of law *are* important, but it’s pretty clear that
1) the rule of law was followed (i.e.: the President can fire the head of FBI)
2) no procedure would have been satisfactory (by your own admission).

The whole mess seems like a unruly kid, that first asks mommy for a toy, and then complains that he got what he asked for.

47

John Holbo 05.11.17 at 12:42 pm

“Also, motives are not important.
For instance, whether the Democrats elected official motives for asking Comey’s head were sincerely felt outrage or simply a way to embarrass the president, is irrelevant.”

I think you are confusing motives and procedures. As you yourself admit, those need to be kept distinct.

Also, just because no procedure would be satisfactory for dealing with Comey, it does not follow that all procedures are equally unsatisfactory. That’s a fallacy. You can still have a worse option among bad options.

48

Katsue 05.11.17 at 12:48 pm

Re: the Russia investigation, didn’t Comey reveal during the Senate hearings that he didn’t know what Gazprom was, and then go on to talk about Putin’s motives? Surely a “What is a leppo?” moment if ever there was one.

49

Daragh 05.11.17 at 1:07 pm

I would argue there is an acceptable procedure for firing Comey. Trump could announce that due to Comey’s intervention, the results of the election are clearly tainted and his own presidency is illegitimate. Pence could then resign, and be replaced by Hillary Clinton as VP. Trump could then fire Comey for cause, before handing his own resignation to the Secretary of State, and making Clinton president in accordance with the will of a plurality of the American people.

Will this ever happen? Of course not. But the arguments above seem to boil down to ‘one cannot hold the opinion “Comey is unfit to be director of the FBI and, ceteris paribus, should be fired” and “Comey is unfit, but whoever Trump replaces him with will be far worse, so we must tolerate him” at the same time.’ if there is no satisfactory procedure to remove him available. So consider this the possible, but wildly improbable, satisfactory procedure.

50

kidneystones 05.11.17 at 1:55 pm

Thanks, John, for remaining relatively level-headed over this. There are some sensible comments and fair push-back to the OP. There’s also an unhealthy amount of wishful thinking.

Trump just imploded! For the last two years we have we been forced to endure countless convoluted LARGE CAP!!! assertions that THIS. IS. IT!!!! GAME OVER!!!!! Done, toast, finished, stick-a-fork-in-him MARK THIS DAY!!!!

I watched a fantastic sequence with a middle-aged female voter who, when informed that May had just called the UK election, reacted with NO! No more. Not another election, not more politics. She refused to even offer much of a comment beyond stating that she was sick to death of politics.

If Dems think that six months to six years of conspiracy theories is going to win back the voters, I’d suggest they think again. Yes, a large number of Americans would like to see an investigation of some sort. But that investigation probably concerns them less than taxes, jobs, education, health care, national security and a host of other issues. Trump supporters stopped listening to the media long ago, and I’m not convinced independents believe Comey matters much, much as the NYT wishes otherwise.

The Doctorow series was very good, btw. Enjoy!

51

John Holbo 05.11.17 at 1:58 pm

One thing Manta may be getting at is that it is possible – no doubt actual – for some on the left to be rank hypocrites about Comey. But my point isn’t that it’s impossible for anyone to hold inconsistent positions about this (obviously that’s possible.) Rather, it’s possible – and actual – to hold consistent positions. One ought to hold a consistent position about this.

One thing I could be wrong about is this: have prominent Democratic elected officials (not just some dude on Twitter) called for Comey’s head since he testified about the ongoing Trump-Russia investigation two months ago (or whenever exactly it was)? If so, then it’s rank hypocrisy. Granted. But my impression is that Dems have 1) done most of their griping back in Nov-Dec. And why shouldn’t they have griped? 2) not called on Trump (or Obama) to fire him but simply expressed that the situation is outrageous – which it is. I just did a quick search and here’s the worst the Washington Examiner came up with from Schumer.

http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/schumer-too-lost-confidence-in-comey-in-november/article/2622608

It’s not evidence of hypocrisy. Nothing that Schumer has said is inconsistent with him saying that it’s outrageous for Trump to transparently interfere with an ongoing investigation by summarily firing its head.

52

John Holbo 05.11.17 at 2:07 pm

Thanks, kidneystones, glad you like the Doctorow. The OP has problems. My point is fine but the capital crimes analogy is bad and misleading. The simple way to put it would be: if Dems have actually been calling for Comey’s firing the last 2 months, since he testified about the ongoing investigation, then they are flagrant hypocrites. Otherwise, if they just complained about how outrageous the election interference was – especially if they did it back in November-Dec, but even more recently – well, they didn’t ask for THIS. Not hypocrites.

53

Cranky Observer 05.11.17 at 2:13 pm

kidneystones: If Dems think that six months to six years of conspiracy theories is going to win back the voters, I’d suggest they think again. Yes,

Alternate view: the Republicans managed to keep the EBOLA drumbeat going for 6 months even while the Liberian Health Service got the spread under control and the US health services stayed in top of it. You and your Republican allies are just surprised and set back on your heels to find out that Democrats can pull the same trick on you – and you know they have a real scandal to work with in the Trump case.

54

Sebastian H 05.11.17 at 3:11 pm

J-D “That still seems to me to be an issue of substance, not of procedure.”

You keep saying that but you aren’t exhibiting an understanding of what these types of procedures are for–to protect against corrupt or improper decision making. You are also improperly trying to create a sharp divide between substance/procedure which does not exist in improper influence cases.

Lets take an area I’ve worked in, and which is directly on point–employment law.

In California, and many states, employees are “at-will”, which means from that point of view, literally any procedure is enough to fire them.

But if you drill down half a step, you find that you can fire them for any reason, with a few exceptions which count as illegal reasons. Things like discrimination against certain classes, or retaliation for doing a legally important thing that you didn’t like.

So, half a step down, lots of employers put in procedural safeguards to show that they aren’t letting improper reasons influence their decision to fire someone. And that is good, because lots of times it actually stops improper reasons from influencing their decisions.

But sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes the employers use these procedures in a pretextual way–they go through the some of the FORM of the procedures, but inject the improper reasons anyway. They do that by firing someone for reporting them to the FDA, but saying it was because they didn’t fill out their timecard properly. Or they say that they screened the notorious anti-black bigot out of the decision making, but in reality he told one of the managers who was involved in the decision making that he wanted the nigger out of the office.

The purpose of the procedure is to screen out improper influence. If you purposely inject improper influence you aren’t actually following the procedure.

A desire to avoid letting the Russia investigation get to the bottom of things would be obstruction of justice–one of the key things that procedures regarding the firing of the FBI director is supposed to avoid. So there are procedures to keep the improper influence away–like the Sessions ‘recusing’ himself (scare quotes to be explained in a moment).

So we examine the firing letter for pretext. We find that it claims to be firing Comey for things that were well known to the firing party for months. Things that the firing party in fact publicly praised Comey for. In any employment action this would be a clear sign of pretextual firing. Then you try to look beyond the pretext. Is there any evidence that there were other reasons for the firing? Yes there are–we have reports of Trump ranting about the Russia investigation (an improper motive). Is there any evidence of the procedure being subverted for an improper purpose–yes Rosenstein appears to have been ordered by Sessions (his boss and the very person supposedly recused from the investigation) and Trump (whose aides are being investigated) to draw up a memo with other reasons to fire Comey. All of those actions appear to subvert the procedural requirements.

What could Trump have done? He could have let the Inspector General finish his investigation into Comey and acted on his report. He didn’t do that because Trump and Sessions weren’t actually following the procedures to avoid improper influence.

55

Sebastian H 05.11.17 at 3:20 pm

One thing I fail to mention above is that in a typical employment case with pretextual firing in retaliation for doing something legal (or legally mandated like reporting certain types of irregularities to the FDA) timing is almost always a factor. If you show that the legally mandated, but vexing to the employer, action is close in time to the firing, while the pretext is not close in time to the firing, you have gotten very far along to winning a lot of money.

56

Manta 05.11.17 at 4:40 pm

John @51 & @52

I agree with your take there.
However, I remember (I hope correctly) that it was also the NYT and other news outlets to call for Comey’s head: it’s not “some dude on twitter”, but it’s also not prominent Dem official.

57

kidneystones 05.11.17 at 4:48 pm

Just took a final look at the international and national press coverage of Comey. Bottom line – the probe continues and there may be a special prosecutor. So, if the firing was an attempt to derail the investigation – that’s clearly failed. So, why did Trump do it?
Absent any other explanation I return to my original suppositions re: Trump.

No 1: He’s no politician, but a damn effective reality TV producer and actor. He builds and markets brand Trump. Comey was fired because he wasn’t generating the kind of ratings Trump wanted, the narrative was stale and the actor ‘playing the part of the FBI director’ was hated by every demographic of the president’s ‘audience.’ Trump isn’t running a government, he’s casting a reality TV show. Comey’ replacement must be competent, but more important she, or he, must win the trust of the public and the nation that Comey had clearly lost. Pretty much all the air goes out of the obstruction argument with the investigation going forwards as is surely seems to be doing. Any remaining goes out with the appointment of a special prosecutor. There may be some piece of spectacular evidence that eluded the CIA, NSA, FBI, and other security agencies (many of which are evidently staffed by individuals hostile to Trump) that will knock the president off stride. Within a week, or two, the news cycle will move on. Feinstein confessed there’s no there, there – at least not yet. And until there is, Trump moves on.

Comey is gone. He’ll be trotted out as a martyr, but in the end will regarded unsympathetically by pretty much everyone, rightly or wrongly. The folks who hate Trump still will, and those who don’t aren’t paying much attention to hyperbolic after-the-election moaning. Trump may yet hit a wall, but that will most likely come from some future blunder, and so far he hasn’t made any significant enough to knock too far off stride.

Praying for the president to fail? That’s what Republicans did for 8 years. How’d that turn out? Dems still have no persuasive economic argument to win back white voters. Few liberals are ready to make common cause with the ‘mouth breathers,’ and until they are Republican fortunes remain bright.

58

Orange Watch 05.11.17 at 7:23 pm

kidneystones@56:

Pretty much all the air goes out of the obstruction argument with the investigation going forwards as is surely seems to be doing. Any remaining goes out with the appointment of a special prosecutor.

It only goes out if you assume that it would have necessarily succeeded if that was the motivation. Which is a pretty hard assumption to justify, especially with the actors involved.

59

Heliopause 05.11.17 at 9:04 pm

@36
“Sometimes there’s no good procedural way to do something.”

Trump’s fans like him because he is supposedly decisive, and if someone needs firing he’s not going to wait around 142 days for the HR report, he’s just going to do it. That’s his schtick and that’s what we should expect him to do. If he carefully deliberated his decisions he’d be Obama.

If that’s the way it’s going to be, that we’re going to pull the Capt. Renault routine every time Trump doesn’t follow “procedure” and acts like Trump, then it’s going to be years of these histrionics in the foreground while god knows what goes on in the back. More Russia nonsense, more Trump doing Trump stuff, more alienation of the general public from the whole stinking pile. I would say that the one good thing to come out of this is that there won’t be any more Comey dog-and-pony shows on TV, but, alas, my fear is that we haven’t seen the last of him.

Maybe I should be more positive about the Democratic party as Resistance. Maybe I should ignore obvious hypocrisy when I see it. Maybe I should immerse myself in procedure and personality and put all the stuff that matters on the back burner. Maybe I should look forward to our choice in 2020 between Mark Zuckerberg and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

60

jack lecou 05.11.17 at 10:25 pm

No 1: He’s no politician, but a damn effective reality TV producer and actor. He builds and markets brand Trump.

We should be wary about underestimating Trump, but I wonder if this nevertheless gives too much credit.

What Trump does as a businessman promoting his “brand” is to self-aggrandize and act like a duplicitous, thin-skinned, imperious, tasteless jerk. What Trump does as an “actor” is to play a self-aggrandizing, duplicitous, thin-skinned, imperious, tasteless jerk. What Trump has done so far as both a candidate and a President is to behave like a self-aggrandizing, duplicitous, thin-skinned, imperious, tasteless jerk.

Which leads me to lean toward a hypothesis that he isn’t so much an individual who is clever and talented at PLAYING a self-aggrandizing, duplicitous, thin-skinned, imperious, tasteless jerk — when the circumstances are appropriate — so much as that he IS a self-aggrandizing, duplicitous, thin-skinned, imperious, tasteless jerk. One who has simply been lucky enough to find himself (until now, perhaps) in circumstances where that more or less worked.

This might seem like a subtle distinction, and in a way it doesn’t contradict the above statement. But it does put it in a different light.

It’s kind of like how when a cymothoa exigua louse burrows into a red snapper’s gills and attaches itself to its tongue. We don’t say our louse is acting like a disgusting parasite because of talent, or because of a clever calculation that that’s going to play well in the cable news cycle. Nope. Our C. exigua does so simply because it IS a disgusting parasite, and that’s what it does. If and when the behavior works, it’s only because it’s found its niche on a susceptible fish.

61

kidneystones 05.11.17 at 11:02 pm

@ 58 You put the pitfalls of focusing on bright, shiny objects – Trump’s ‘outrageous’ ‘unprecedented’ actions (all as you note quite predictable) into sharp relief. Trump couldn’t give a rat’s behind about Comey and may actually respect him for all we know. I don’t doubt for a second that Trump was going to dump him whatever the report said, or that many more former Obama officials will follow him out the door, a development which I hope comes as no surprise to anyone.

Who will be the first Dem to break ranks post-Comey and join the administration? That’s an interesting question for the distant, or not too distant future. Media outlets are showing few signs of regaining any sense of balance, or focus and have devolved into click-bait camps for the shrill of various persuasions.

62

Faustusnotes 05.11.17 at 11:33 pm

What’s the point in talking about procedure in a political system where the entire civil service leadership changes hands every election and the current leader is an idiot who cares about nothing except his own grift? In any case trump has now helpfully stated in a tv interview that he had already decided to sack comey and didn’t need reasons, just as everyone (rightfully) assumed. This won’t sway the republicans of course because they’re traitors and economic wreckers, and they don’t care what orange shitgibbon does to violate norms so long as they can keep destroying the country.

63

Suzanne 05.11.17 at 11:47 pm

58: “Maybe I should be more positive about the Democratic party as Resistance.”

You should, actually. From the grassroots to the top the party has put up a quite spirited resistance and I think they can keep it up. Given the weakness of the Democrats’ position, they can’t stop much if the GOP gets it halfway together – they could not stop Gorsuch and they may not be able to stop “health care reform” if a bill actually gets out of the Senate or the “tax reform” that the Republicans also have planned. But they really are making things as difficult for the GOP as they responsibly can, with a powerful assist from the Toddler-in-Chief.

As for Comey, I’m willing to believe a considerable part of Trump’s motivation was perfectly unserious. Comey had annoyed him by failing to support his claim that Obama tapped him, he had admitted the Russian investigation was underway, and apparently Trump took Comey’s “nauseous” remark to mean that Comey wanted to puke at the thought that his actions might have elected Trump. Never underestimate personal spite when it comes to Trump.

64

J-D 05.12.17 at 1:49 am

kidneystones

Praying for the president to fail? That’s what Republicans did for 8 years. How’d that turn out?

A Republican got elected President. Did you not notice? How do you think it turned out?

65

Pavel A 05.12.17 at 4:22 am

Given that the next Director is probably going to be Chris Christie or Rudy Guilliani (or Cushner perhaps), it’s perfectly reasonable to despise Comey for influencing the election and fully expect that whoever replaces him is going to be considerably worse. This isn’t a complicated position to hold and implies no hypocrisy on the part of the holder.

66

John Holbo 05.12.17 at 4:59 am

“Maybe I should ignore obvious hypocrisy when I see it. Maybe I should immerse myself in procedure and personality and put all the stuff that matters on the back burner.”

My suggestion would be that focusing on ‘some Democrat is being hypocritical somewhere’ does not typically equal ‘paying attention to what really matters’. Why is sniffing out hypocrisy – which necessarily involves immersing yourself in procedure and personality – help you extricate yourself from mere procedure and personality?

67

bruce wilder 05.12.17 at 5:39 am

I don’t think whatever the partisan Democrats are playing at constitutes “hypocrisy” per se. I can see why one might think hypocrisy is involved, because there’s an elaborate sham being used as a “narrative” by the Media in cooperation with partisans, but I think the major actors would have to have some moral compass in order to deviate from its direction before “hypocrisy” was apt.

I do not think for one moment that there is any substance at all to the allegations of a Russian Conspiracy that meddled decisively and subversively in the U.S. election, so though I think Trump is annoyed at being dogged by investigations into the Russian Conspiracy, I find it impossible to credit this annoyance as morally significant “obstruction”. As far as I can tell, there are not even any actual allegations, let alone evidence to support them. There is just the pretence of allegation, innuendo ad infinitum. It is completely maddening — gaslighting a whole country. And, Comey has been an instrument for this kind of crap going back at least to the Clinton email investigation.

It is not like this is anything new in U.S. politics. The Whitewater scandal was kept in motion for years. Two of the leading journalists promoting the “if there’s smoke there must be fire” queries thru the 1996 election (20+ years ago!) at the NY Times and Washington Post founded Politico.com and another Whitewater scandal monger incongruously switched sides and became a favorite contract attack dog for the Clinton Machine.

The journalists and manipulators of the narrative that infect U.S. politics do not even know they are malevolent forces. The U.S. invaded Iraq with a majority of the electorate believing Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and had something to do with 9/11. Yet, the U.S. has been at war for 15 years with no end in sight. Pundits with the records of Tom Friedman and Charles Krauthammer continue on.

This has become U.S. politics, it is institutionalized as U.S. political discourse and now it is reaching its crescendo, with a reality teevee star in his dotage playing the President.

It is hard to have much sympathy for Trump, who was happy enough to use birtherism with his characteristic shameless disregard for all fact and, of course, to draw attention to Comey, when Comey was using “FBI investigation” as the instrument of Clinton’s discomfort.

Still, I look on in horror and fear for my country.

There is a barb of irony in the letter report of the Deputy Attorney General, citing Comey’s misconduct in the Clinton email inquiry as a reason for firing Comey. That barb of irony does not obviate the observations made about Comey’s failure to perform his role properly or the importance of doing so. It may be that these sensible observations of the Deputy Attorney General were merely there as part of the cover story to bait the Democrats, but it isn’t “hypocrisy” when the Democrats refuse to take the bait and continue to escalate the effort to de-legitimize Trump and oust him on completely bogus grounds. (And, why on bogus grounds — with Trump, it is hard to believe that a real, grounded case could not be built, not that option is considered an option.)

The erosion of norms of conduct and the failure of institutions to enforce those norms when violated actually has a lot to do with this growing crisis of legitimacy. I do not see many journalists let alone partisan pundits question the wisdom of keeping this narrative of the Russian conspiracy going. It is not that many years ago that a Presidential election actually was stolen, and prominent partisan Democrats did not get this excited. Most of them, led by Gore, rolled over, rather than risk critically de-legitimizing the government — it was viewed by some responsible politicians as an extortion attempt that they should accede to.

Trump’s letter to Comey was remarkably direct. “While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau.” I read that as sarcasm. That might not be “the” correct reading, but if you cannot see the high plausibility of that interpretation, if you cannot read it as sarcasm, something has gone wrong with your reading comprehension. You have passed thru the looking glass into a political discourse conducted entirely in the subjunctive case (“as if”) and a register of hyperactive albeit insincere and ungrounded outrage.

Trump is annoyed to be told repeatedly that he is not under investigation. Trump knows better than most the import of such negative messages. The whole narrative of the Russian Conspiracy is built on such empty non-allegation allegations and the conspicuous intent to never frame an investigation in terms that would bring it to a definite end and conclusion. Was there ever a final end to the Clinton email server investigation? Does any one ever investigate something with the intent of actually reaching a conclusion? There was that crazy dossier that floated about about Trump and golden showers in Moscow; did anyone, journalist or official investigator, ever confirm or disconfirm any of it? It was just another occasion for mindless, baseless speculation with no interest in judgment.

As Anarcissie @ 14 observed, one way to read these continuing events is as a struggle between a Deep State or Established Order and the rogue (but still billionaire elite) element represented by Trump. This is an E.O. that is remarkably careless about order itself.

68

faustusnotes 05.12.17 at 6:01 am

I’ll care about Democrat hypocrisy when Republican “family values” crusading homophobes stop getting caught toilet trading. Until then, I don’t think hypocrisy is the key issue in US politics.

69

J-D 05.12.17 at 6:03 am

Sebastian H

Is there any evidence of the procedure being subverted for an improper purpose–yes Rosenstein appears to have been ordered by Sessions (his boss and the very person supposedly recused from the investigation) and Trump (whose aides are being investigated) to draw up a memo with other reasons to fire Comey.

I agree absolutely. If Trump and/or Sessions asked Rosenstein to write the memo, that fact should be in the memo. On the other hand, if there was some other reason for Rosenstein to write the memo, that should be in the memo: for example, ‘Immediately on being appointed Deputy Attorney-General, I set out to review the performance of all those reporting directly to my new office. As part of this process, I commenced a review of the performance of the Director of the FBI, who reports directly to the Deputy Attorney-General, and was concerned to find that …’ and so on. There is nothing in the memo to explain why the memo is being written; that’s a procedural flaw.

And then there’s this report:

Rosenstein threatened to resign after the narrative emerging from the White House on Tuesday evening cast him as a prime mover of the decision to fire Comey and that the president acted only on his recommendation, said the person close to the White House, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/how-trumps-anger-and-impatience-prompted-him-to-fire-the-fbi-director/2017/05/10/d9642334-359c-11e7-b373-418f6849a004_story.html?tid=sm_tw&utm_term=.bcaac13ed219

Rosenstein’s grievance (if that story is true) is self-inflicted. If he had begun his memo to the Attorney-General, as he could have, ‘As you are aware, we have been instructed by the President to state the argument in favor of dismissing the Director of the FBI. This memo has been prepared accordingly for your consideration.’, it would have prevented the emergence of the narrative to which (reportedly) he objected.

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kidneystones 05.12.17 at 7:23 am

@ 60 There’s a great deal of truth in your observations, cheers.

@ 67 Thanks, Bruce, for the sensible jolt of reality.

@ 64 First, US presidential elections are held every four years, not eight. Second, Trump the reality TeeVee star destroyed the entire Republican political establishment because praying for a president to fail was the best that gang of charlatans could dream up. The Republican primary voters recognized that the Republican elite offered nothing, and gambled on the rodeo clown. The battle in the White House is between the nationalist insurgents (Bannon et al) and Democrats (Ivanka and allies). The Republican party won big as they usually do at all other levels because Democrats manage to make themselves even more distant and unfeeling than Pence and pals. And therein lies the real problem.

Trump is no Republican – he’s the consequence of all that’s wrong in both parties, and as Bruce W. points out, with much of the rest of the establishment.

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J-D 05.12.17 at 10:09 am

kidneystone

US presidential elections are held every four years, not eight

Why, thank you so much for explaining that to me. But as it happens I did already know that, so the explanation was in fact unnecessary.

Trump the reality TeeVee star destroyed the entire Republican political establishment

After something has been destroyed, it’s not there any more. The entire Republican political establishment is still very much there, so clearly it has not been destroyed.

The Republican party won big as they usually do at all other levels

I don’t know what your idea of ‘usually’ is, but it’s obviously not the same as mine.

Trump is no Republican

The evidence is against you on that point.

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faustusnotes 05.12.17 at 10:55 am

Yes, if there’s any salutary lesson to be drawn from Trump’s ascension, it’s the terrible way that Republican elites like Paul Ryan were cast out into the cold, unable to influence policy in any way.

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kidneystones 05.12.17 at 11:12 am

@71 You’re entirely right on all counts – you spent over a year asserting that Hillary would win and she did. The Republican establishment love Trump, but the base found Donald’s dogmatic fixation on GOP principles to be excessively doctrinaire and impractical. Jeb Bush secured the nomination, but lost to Hillary, who is now making the world safe for everyone, including bankers. Republicans do not have control over far more state and local governments than Democrats and never have. Trump is now back to holding beauty contests, but regularly participates in local GOP contests like the lifelong Republican he is.
Democrats are more popular than ever having re-elected a young and dynamic leadership with no leader over the age of fifty. Trump never visits New York, but hangs out with his GOP buddies, the Bush family in Texas and Florida, who all attended Trump’s wedding to Melania some years ago. Trump will write a column for the Weekly Standard along with his good friend William Kristol, but will find time to join David Frum and the NRO gang on their cruises.

Or, how about this – the GOP allowed Obama to win in 2012 as part of their ‘master plan’ to make Donald Trump, ‘the Republican’s Republican,’ the nominee in 2016. Mitt worked as hard as he could to get Donald elected and was shattered when the man he admires most was demolished by Hillary’s masterful fifty-state sweep.

It’s your world we just live in it.

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Lee A. Arnold 05.12.17 at 11:32 am

Sounds like an argument that one is perfectly justified in believing the lies of a con artist, because he won the election.

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Layman 05.12.17 at 11:53 am

kidneystones: “Pretty much all the air goes out of the obstruction argument with the investigation going forwards as is surely seems to be doing.”

Yet Trump says he meant to obstruct the investigation:

“And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said: ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.’”

You may be right that the obstruction won’t work, but there’s no reason to be optimistic about that. And, I’m pretty sure they prosecute bank robbers who fail in the attempt. Then there’s Nixon, of course, who fired the special prosecutor who was investigating him. The investigation continued, carried on by others. Do you say Nixon wasn’t obstructing justice, because the obstruction ultimately failed of its purpose?

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Katsue 05.12.17 at 12:57 pm

@49

I can’t say I ever thought I would see the events of the 3rd season of Battlestar Galactica being held up as an acceptable procedure in real life, with the Blob standing in for Bill Adama.

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Suzanne 05.12.17 at 3:53 pm

67: “Trump is annoyed to be told repeatedly that he is not under investigation. Trump knows better than most the import of such negative messages.”

We don’t know that any such exchanges between Trump and Comey ever took place. The reports we do have suggest that Trump was pissed because Comey admitted in a public forum that Trump was under investigation.

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bruce wilder 05.12.17 at 5:02 pm

Suzanne @ 77

I think you would have a hard time finding such a statement. Google it and you will find a stream of propaganda from Think Progress, a Clinton organ, and endless regurgitation of claims and denials cleverly misconstrued by the Media to keep the controversy going.

Actual facts disappear into a dust cloud of deliberate and irresponsible misinterpretation often driven by the needs of a narrative chosen for its tactical convenience without any concern for consequences for public policy or democratic discourse.

Automatic Earth had an essay yesterday that looked at this issue.
https://www.theautomaticearth.com/2017/05/comey-and-the-end-of-conversation/

I would not even concede as Raul does at the link that something might turn up to confirm the narrative. Like WMD? Or semen on a blue dress?

This is a contest among skilled and irresponsible manipulators — Trump not least among them so no sympathy for that ahole — and the rest of us should do more to question the value of playing our assigned parts as eager consumers of their dog food.

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Layman 05.12.17 at 5:47 pm

bruce wilder: “I think you would have a hard time finding such a statement. Google it and you will find a stream of propaganda from Think Progress, a Clinton organ, and endless regurgitation of claims and denials cleverly misconstrued by the Media to keep the controversy going.”

It’s hard to understand what this means. The first sentence is simply wrong, as a quick google search shows that lots of media (WaPo, Reuters, WSJ, etc) are reporting what you say is only being reported by Think Progress. The second sentence renders the first pointless anyway, as you make it clear you won’t believe it no matter who reports it. This is tin-foil hat stuff.

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PGD 05.12.17 at 6:56 pm

Layman, Bruce’s basic point is that Trump can’t be obstructing justice because the “Russian Conspiracy” is manifestly non-existent. I would say it is tin-foil hat territory to claim that Trump conspired with Russia to hack the election, but unfortunately the entire polity, media, and political system have been dragged into that territory.

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Orange Watch 05.12.17 at 7:17 pm

@PGD #80:

Obstruction of justice does not require a finding that a crime was committed – it’s a crime in itself, and more than a few people who could have walked away head unbowed have been convicted because they lied under oath or sought to influence legal proceedings. If you value rule of law and transparency, that’s an entirely reasonable and just outcome.

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Layman 05.12.17 at 7:29 pm

PGD: “Bruce’s basic point is that Trump can’t be obstructing justice because the “Russian Conspiracy” is manifestly non-existent.”

A conspiracy can be stupid, even hair-brained, and still be a conspiracy. And obstructing or interfering with an investigation is still obstruction, even if the conspiracy was stupid. There doesn’t appear to be much doubt that some Trump team members were having conversations with Russians that, at least superficially, violate the law. And there is public evidence of collusion WRT the release of anti-HRC hacked material.

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jack lecou 05.12.17 at 7:32 pm

I do not think for one moment that there is any substance at all to the allegations of a Russian Conspiracy that meddled decisively and subversively in the U.S. election, so though I think Trump is annoyed at being dogged by investigations into the Russian Conspiracy, I find it impossible to credit this annoyance as morally significant “obstruction”. As far as I can tell, there are not even any actual allegations, let alone evidence to support them.

I haven’t been paying attention *that* closely, so perhaps I’m in error here, but isn’t at least some level of “subversive Russian meddling” (i.e., the DNC hacking) already more or less established fact? (‘Decisively’ is a weasel word – whether those attempts were truly decisive or not, they were certainly unwelcome.)

The matter of at least some inappropriate contact between Trump staffers and Russian diplomats — and attempts to then lie about and cover up those contacts — has also been established. Not to mention a pile of indistinct but distinctively unseemly-looking business ties with various Russian interests.

Thus the “Russian Conspiracy” you blithely dismiss is at least in some ways already a matter of fact. The remaining questions and investigation are instead about its size and scope: what were the content of those secret conversations, and how many others occurred? Was there any kind of prior communication — perhaps even quid-pro-quo agreement — between Russian officials and the highest levels of the Trump campaign regarding the hacking attempts which did occur?

That is, I believe, the implied allegation. And if any evidence for any of it were to be uncovered, it would in fact be scandalous, and perhaps even establish a crime.

(There’s also a question in my mind about whether the hacking was limited to email servers. I see no reason to assume that *attempts* weren’t at least made on the voting infrastructure itself. That would be enormously scandalous. And while I haven’t heard anyone more than whisper about the scenario, given the porous nature of most voting machine systems, it’s not nearly as tinfoil-hat as I think we’d all prefer.)

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jack lecou 05.12.17 at 7:47 pm

I would say it is tin-foil hat territory to claim that Trump conspired with Russia to hack the election.

I’m sympathetic to the idea that the Russia stuff is a distraction from the actual policy catastrophes we should be worrying about.

At the same time, the variously corrupt and incompetent individuals who seem to inhabit all levels of the Trump campaign and the Trump White House sure look to me like so much stacked dry wood. And there is an awful lot of actual smoke swirling around.

So simply asserting forcefully that it’s ludicrous on the face to entertain the possibility that some of that dry wood might have caught a spark at some point isn’t actually doing a great deal to reassure me.

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bruce wilder 05.12.17 at 8:02 pm

I google, “Comey says Trump is under investigation” and I get a lot of links reporting back-and-forth on Trump “defending” his firing of Comey and noting Trump’s claim that Comey told Trump Trump was not under investigation. I do not see any straight news report of Comey reporting on his own authority in a public forum that Trump was under investigation, which is what Suzanne claimed. I expect what Suzanne refers to was Comey’s March 20 statement before Nunes’ House Intelligence Committee about an ongoing FBI counterintelligence investigation.

A lot of the reporting on investigation of the Russia Conspiracy is tin-foil hat stuff — people in the Media adopt phrasing and tone that induce imagining stuff.

In a functional political system, institutions circumspect concerning their own integrity would police the boundaries, but that isn’t happening. Consider what happens to people who disclose actual, verified facts. What happened to the CIA officer who sought to verify rumors that Niger had supplied uranium to Saddam Hussein? What happened to Wikileaks? What happens to Media figures who come too close to critical thought? Ashleigh Banfield, I am sure, learned an important lesson in 2003.

Meanwhile, we have official statements from the likes of James Clapper to entertain us with empty innuendo and Seth Meyer drawing conclusions from how happy Trump appears in official photos of a meeting with the Russian ambassador. oooh, breaking news.

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jack lecou 05.12.17 at 8:38 pm

I do not see any straight news report of Comey reporting on his own authority in a public forum that Trump was under investigation

Maybe you’re just really bad at google? Try this (@~34:00).

And here’s a video from yesterday of the new acting FBI director talking about the effects of the firing on the “ongoing investigation of ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.” I haven’t watched the whole hearing – he may well never have occasion to flatly state “we are investigating X”, but he certainly has plenty of opportunity to correct the apparent assumption of everyone else in the room that such an investigation in fact exists, and happily talks about, for example, how the investigation you say doesn’t exist has enough resources in his opinion.

(Or is this a very clever word game we’re playing, in which e.g., “investigation into links to the Trump campaign,” is not the same thing as “investigation of Trump”….?)

87

Suzanne 05.12.17 at 8:41 pm

@85: ” I expect what Suzanne refers to was Comey’s March 20 statement before Nunes’ House Intelligence Committee about an ongoing FBI counterintelligence investigation.”

Well, yes:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/20/us/politics/intelligence-committee-russia-donald-trump.html?_r=0

“The F.B.I. is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government — and whether there was any coordination, Mr. Comey said.”

If you want to make a distinction between investigating the Trump campaign and investigating Trump, fine by me. However, The Donald seems to have made no such distinction when it came to his displeasure at Comey’s March testimony:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/05/09/trump-needed-a-really-good-excuse-to-fire-james-comey-comey-gave-it-to-him/?utm_term=.06abb6bb7eed

“A couple of weeks after Comey made those announcements in March, Trump talked about his job security at length in a pretty conspicuous way, re-litigating the FBI chief’s handling of the Clinton investigation.”

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Layman 05.12.17 at 9:03 pm

@bruce wilder, that doesn’t really support your original comment. You say the Russia conspiracy is fake news fanned by the establishment media, without addressing that

1) we know that Trump team members were discussing with Russians the content and timing of anti-Hillary propaganda (Stone), and

2) we know that Trump team members held illegal conversations with Russians and then lied about them (Flynn), and

3) we know that other Trump team members had contacts of an unknown nature with Russian officials, and then lied about those contacts (Sessions), and

4) we know that Trump fired the FBI Director at least in part because of the ongoing investigation (because Trump told us that.)

If, confronted with those facts, you claim there’s nothing to be investigated, and that pro-Hillary media is responsible for ginning up this fake controversy, and that as a practical matter there is some substantial difference between an investigation into the Trump campaign team and one into Trump at this point in the process, and your support for this claim is what Seth Meyers says(!), then I think you’re just shouting at passing traffic.

89

steven t johnson 05.12.17 at 9:14 pm

Yes, well, hypocrisy is indeed the opposite of sincerity. The thing is, sincerity is the cheapest of virtues, being available for the wee price of self-deception. It is beyond me how anyone can be sure someone truly is a hypocrite, or just kidding themselves. That is, absent the power to see into men’s souls. Come to think of it, this power does seem to be standard equipment for pillars of rectitude. But if you’re not a rectitudinous pillar, this accusation can border on charging someone with being human. Even worse, propriety is very much like beauty. (I suppose I could harden myself to charge a mother with hypocrisy for persisting in telling all and sundry her child is beautiful, but is it a worthwhile pursuit?)

The politics however I think are much clearer than the murky waters in the human consciousness: Convicting the Democrat Party of hypocrisy supports Trump. Insisting that Trump is effectively obstructing justice, does not. It will be the Republican Party that impeaches Trump, so the kerfuffle is noise and fury.

90

Layman 05.12.17 at 9:17 pm

Suzanne @ 87, yes, and to state the obvious, Trump is a member of the Trump campaign team.

91

kidneystones 05.12.17 at 9:19 pm

92

jack lecou 05.12.17 at 9:57 pm

There was that crazy dossier that floated about about Trump and golden showers in Moscow; did anyone, journalist or official investigator, ever confirm or disconfirm any of it? It was just another occasion for mindless, baseless speculation with no interest in judgment.</blockquote

You cannot use the existence of speculation as evidence for a lack of interest in judgement. It's simply that speculation inevitably precedes conclusive judgement, often by quite some time. (In an Einsteinian universe where cause precedes effect, I’m not sure how else it could possibly work.)

Of course, the Steele dossier hasn’t disappeared from the radar. Individual portions continue to appear in the news from time to time as they are confirmed (or not) by press investigations, isolated official comments, and so forth. If there is any unified official investigation, it’s probably part of the whole Trump/Russia enchiladablini, and of course we aren’t likely to hear any judgements there until they’re officially good and ready — which, even unobstructed, might take a while.

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bruce wilder 05.12.17 at 11:48 pm

jack lecou @ 83,84

I mostly don’t pay that much attention either — very few do. We rely on a division of labor and institutional reputation to provide focus and filter. I think we have seen that institutional bulwark break down almost completely after being under considerable stress for a long time.

Not trying to pick a fight or anything like that, but it seems to me that you are, in your comments above, illustrating my thesis about how this political discourse in the subjunctive is synthesized out of sweeping generalizations and “as if” speculation.

EX: “isn’t at least some level of “subversive Russian meddling” (i.e., the DNC hacking) already more or less established fact?”

EX: “the “Russian Conspiracy” you blithely dismiss is at least in some ways already a matter of fact.”

EX: “The matter of at least some inappropriate contact between Trump staffers and Russian diplomats — and attempts to then lie about and cover up those contacts — has also been established. “

EX: “That is, I believe, the implied allegation. And if any evidence for any of it were to be uncovered, it would in fact be scandalous, and perhaps even establish a crime.”

EX: “There’s also a question in my mind about whether the hacking was limited to email servers. I see no reason to assume that *attempts* weren’t at least made on the voting infrastructure itself. That would be enormously scandalous.”

EX: “simply asserting forcefully that it’s ludicrous on the face to entertain the possibility that some of that dry wood might have caught a spark at some point isn’t actually doing a great deal to reassure me.”

To paraphrase Nixon, let me be perfectly clear about one thing: I do NOT want to reassure you about the competence of Trump or the people he has assembled about him. (I am not here to do the impossible ;-)

That said, the way your mind has gone forward into projections about hacking the actual vote count or a quid-pro-quo agreement between Russian officials and the highest levels of the Trump campaign is exactly the way this kind of propaganda is designed to work. No one ever reports such eventualities as accomplished facts, but you still somehow end up thinking them. Just like people thought Saddam brought down the World Trade Center. It is declaring “don’t think of a pink elephant” to induce people to think of pink elephants or asking a man when he stopped beating his wife or reporting a false but lurid rumor in the hopes of forcing an enemy to deny it. Richard Gere is never going to have a normal relationship with a gerbil, that much I know.

I am not saying that Michael Flynn’s early departure from the Trump Administration wasn’t a boon to the country, but speaking to the Russian Ambassador is hardly inappropriate conduct — it’s routine conduct to speak to ambassadors, that’s what ambassadors are for. And, Flynn, being Flynn and by many accounts possessed of singularly poor judgement and impulse control for a general officer, may have said more than he should and wanted to cover it up; maybe Flynn just lies compulsively. There are always going to be dots on the page; you need a little more to justify connecting those dots into a constellation and then making the supreme leap of asserting that the constellation represents anything at all in the world outside your own dreamscape.

Was it ever verified that the DNC was hacked on behalf of the Russian government? Not exactly yes and not exactly no — that event and the official narratives about it are a great illustration of how official secrecy and “investigations” that involve only a minimal nod to methods of investigation seem to breed this shadowy smoky stuff that get us worried about Manchurian candidates elected by rigged vote counts. A private firm, CrowdStrike, with some dubious political links and self-promotional flair, did the only hands-on investigation at the DNC and issued in place of documentary evidence a press release. They identified the hackers as the shadowy group dubbed by security researchers, Fancy Bear, and widely but vaguely thought to be a frequent instrument of some not altogether definitively identified Russian intelligence agency. CrowdStrike also asserted that another shadowy Russian hacker group working for a different Russian intelligence agency had broken into the DNC email server nearly a year before Fancy Bear tried their hand. Neither the FBI nor any other police agency conducted any kind of forensic examination. The CrowdStrike report was disputed. A former British diplomat with ties to Julian Assange claimed he had been involved in getting the Podesta emails to Wikileaks and knew the leaker was an insider. Guccifer 2.0, still another hacker(s), claimed to have done the dirty deed and there’s been back-and-forth among people who care about such things about whether Guccifer 2.0, who appears to be Romanian, is on good terms with official Russia. It is an endless tunnel of mirrors where people freely speculate and then weasel out “medium confidence” in a conclusion. And, this becomes the foundation for an intelligence assessment that might be nine-tenths reading Putin’s mind for intentions.

I think the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment commissioned by President Obama on Russian interference illustrates another way official secrecy is used to manufacture hysteria and outrage. There was, first of all, the ceremonial gravity given to the proceedings by Obama threatening retaliation and actually carrying out a gesture of expelling some diplomats. There was lots of high-flown language framed in general terms about a “massive” cyber operation, but the actual de-classified report mostly whined about the Russian cable-news channel, RT America. I suppose one is supposed to surmise that they just couldn’t tell everyone about the juicy stuff — source and methods don’t cha ‘no — but it kind of looks like they got nuthin’. Unless you think RT America is somehow illegitimate — I’m not one of the 14 people who watch regularly, but from what little I know of it, it has higher journalistic standards than MSNBC.

In the end, you are supposed to imagine almost involuntarily that the Russians hacked the voting machines and Trump insiders were conspiring with Putin’s minions in a quid-pro-quo. And, there’s absolutely no reason to think either of those things is true. Other than the incessantly repeated propaganda stream that substitutes for a political discourse.

jack lecou: “‘Decisively’ is a weasel word – whether those attempts were truly decisive or not, they were certainly unwelcome.

I wasn’t trying to weasel so much as to draw attention to mechanisms. To make a case for Russian interference, you have to put it into a context of mechanisms for winning elections. It can’t just be serial liar James Clapper’s ungrounded and unexplained “massive” — it has to be proportional to the task. The U.S. has interfered in some elections historically, and the interference was proportional to outcomes; governments were overthrown by military force when the vote didn’t work out. You cannot in total secrecy win an election in which millions publicly campaign and vote. Some large part of your effort will appear above the waterline. So what was the mechanism? That the Podesta emails revealed true information? That RT America, with its audience of 14, overwhelmed the propaganda resources of the billion-dollar Clinton campaign?

jack lecou @ 86: . . . is this a very clever word game we’re playing, in which e.g., “investigation into links to the Trump campaign,” is not the same thing as “investigation of Trump”….?

Yes, I think it is akin to a very clever word game, but it’s not my game.

Psychological processes like semantic generalization and narrative incompleteness are being exploited to lead us along a path. Very vague formulas are used, so a possibly legitimate, routine and pedestrian counterintelligence investigation advances by almost imperceptible increments from examining the affairs of a relative nobody named Carter Page with distant and tenuous links to Trump into a surmised accusation that Trump is Putin’s Manchurian Candidate.

Or, speculation about who hacked the DNC becomes a fear that the electoral count was hacked. And, so on.

Again, I feel like I have to end by re-asserting that I do not want to “reassure” anyone. That’s a trick of the mind — your mind, not mine. Hysteria over a false threat doesn’t mean there isn’t a real threat. Paranoia is no guarantee that they are not out to get you. It is, in fact, evidence of a real threat: re-read Anarcissie @ 14 above.

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J-D 05.13.17 at 1:03 am

kidneystones

You’re entirely right on all counts …

In accordance with your usual MO, you’ve obviously made up a fantasy version of me that bears no relation to me, just so you can sneer at it to prove your own superiority.

… you spent over a year asserting that Hillary would win and she did.

I never made any such prediction, not even once.

The Republican establishment love Trump, but the base found Donald’s dogmatic fixation on GOP principles to be excessively doctrinaire and impractical.

I have never made any of those assertions.

Jeb Bush secured the nomination, but lost to Hillary, who is now making the world safe for everyone, including bankers.

Again, not my predictions …

… and I could go on through your comment line by line, but you get the idea.

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Anarcissie 05.13.17 at 5:18 am

John Holbo 05.11.17 at 9:42 am
‘… Comey, in a mistaken attempt to protect the reputation of the FBI by forestalling pro-Trump leaks concerning Hillary’s case, did something that was in-itself inappropriate and thereby threw the election to Trump…..’

It is not possible to reason from evidence to the conclusion that Comey’s actions, or Putin’s for that matter, caused a particular outcome of the election, because if it were, the same reasoning could have been applied shortly before the election, and the result would have been a predominance of predictions that Trump was going to win.

96

Orange Watch 05.13.17 at 5:57 am

@Anarcissie #95:

Your own comment shows why its conclusion is wrong: “the same reasoning could have been applied shortly before the election, and the result would have been a predominance of predictions that Trump was going to win” – just because someone could follow through with the reasoning does not mean they would, nor that they would give it the same weight as far as projected impact of conflicting factors (or their preexisting biases and conclusions) were concerned. You are narrowly correct that we do not, cannot, and never will have “exact reasons” why voters voted as they did during the election (just like every other election), but even if we did have it that in no way implies that the media would have en masse embraced and published it – and to further highlight the inherent meaninglessness of the sort of counterfactual you’re proposing, the media concluding and predominantly predicting that these factors would tip the election to Trump could well have then prevented the election from going to Trump.

97

steven t johnson 05.13.17 at 9:55 am

If Trump can’t take Russian money, then gleefully stiff them, he’s not the man I thought he was.

In other words, the old joke is, an honest politician stays bought, but Trump is not an honest politician.

98

Lee A. Arnold 05.13.17 at 11:30 am

How can anyone maintain the ideas that there is a “Deep State or Established Order” which is being “opposed” by the “rogue capitalist Trump”? This a dramatic fantasy, worthy of a sword-and-sorcery TV miniseries.

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Faustusnotes 05.13.17 at 12:30 pm

Bruce, Flynn clearly broke basic rules on disclosure. He was working for Russia and turkey while advising trump on security. If you can think of an innocent reason for that I’d love to hear it. If you can explain why comeys sacking has nothing to do with the Russia inquiry when trump himself said that was the reason I would love to hear it.

Republicans are traitors and wreckers. That’s the easiest explanation for their behavior.

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JimV 05.13.17 at 1:39 pm

“It is not possible to reason from evidence to the conclusion that Comey’s actions, or Putin’s for that matter, caused a particular outcome of the election, because if it were, the same reasoning could have been applied shortly before the election, and the result would have been a predominance of predictions that Trump was going to win.”

Or, as actually happened at fivethirtyeight.com, the statistical predictions could have changed from a high probability that HRC would win to more of a toss-up. Trump was always going to be the worst candidate in most people’s minds (e.g., see the popular vote), but with Comey’s letter, and the big media play on it, Trump suddenly had a chance.

https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-comey-letter-probably-cost-clinton-the-election/

Kudos to all those who presciently predicted that Comey would come through for their cause.

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jack lecou 05.13.17 at 9:56 pm

That said, the way your mind has gone forward into projections about hacking the actual vote count or a quid-pro-quo agreement between Russian officials and the highest levels of the Trump campaign is exactly the way this kind of propaganda is designed to work. No one ever reports such eventualities as accomplished facts, but you still somehow end up thinking them.

But I don’t think them. Or think they’re true anyway. You’re essentially making the claim that people are so foolish that statements like “there’s reason to be suspicious this might have happened, we should check it out” are equivalent in their minds to “this definitely happened”.

I’m the first guy to admit that the public can be pretty foolish, but I think that’s underestimating even them. The subjunctive continues to be used over the indicative for a reason.

Just like people thought Saddam brought down the World Trade Center. It is declaring “don’t think of a pink elephant” to induce people to think of pink elephants or asking a man when he stopped beating his wife or reporting a false but lurid rumor in the hopes of forcing an enemy to deny it. Richard Gere is never going to have a normal relationship with a gerbil, that much I know.

Which aren’t really equivalent at all. All of those examples are instances of non sequitur accusations invented out of whole cloth. There’s a difference between on the one hand, asking a man whether he has stopped beating his wife, and on the other hand, observing that a woman seems to be able to offer only weak explanations for the bruises she has all the time, so maybe it’s worth looking into whether her husband — or someone else she knows — may be responsible.

What we have with the Trump/Russia nexus is a series of accidental and clumsy revelations of misbehavior. Ripples in the water. There are enough of them that I — and apparently not a few others — think there’s sufficient suspicion there to merit turning on the fish finder and seeing if we can find out what’s down there. Could be a little school of minnows. Could be a great white whale. Could just be the wind.

I’m unclear on *your* position. Unless it’s just to assume it’s the wind because considering any other possibilities would involve use of the dreaded subjunctive.

In the end, you are supposed to imagine almost involuntarily that the Russians hacked the voting machines and Trump insiders were conspiring with Putin’s minions in a quid-pro-quo. And, there’s absolutely no reason to think either of those things is true. Other than the incessantly repeated propaganda stream that substitutes for a political discourse.

You act as if some sinister force is directing this process. Was it that force which conducted the DNC hacking? Was it that force which engineered inappropriate contacts between Trump staffers and Russian interests? No. And yet absent those events, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

*NO* reason to think those things were true would be the conditions which prevailed in the Clinton, Bush or Obama administrations, in which there were no ripples in the water. No potentially Russian linked hacks and high-level campaign contacts with Russian agents were ever revealed.

So there is not NO reason to think those things are true. Not enough to conclude they are true? Sure. We’re somewhere in between. Which is what investigations are for. To do the best we can to get out of that zone.

Psychological processes like semantic generalization and narrative incompleteness are being exploited to lead us along a path. Very vague formulas are used, so a possibly legitimate, routine and pedestrian counterintelligence investigation advances by almost imperceptible increments from examining the affairs of a relative nobody named Carter Page with distant and tenuous links to Trump into a surmised accusation that Trump is Putin’s Manchurian Candidate.

“Relative nobody” is doing a lot of work for you there. You’re writing as if Page were a refrigerator salesmen from Toledo, rather than well connected businessman and highly — if not top — placed adviser in Trump’s presidential campaign. Any in-progress counterintelligence investigation which involves individuals close to a sitting President is by definition not a “routine and pedestrian” one. Which is perhaps the crux of the disagreement here.

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jack lecou 05.13.17 at 10:37 pm

To make a case for Russian interference, you have to put it into a context of mechanisms for winning elections. It can’t just be serial liar James Clapper’s ungrounded and unexplained “massive” — it has to be proportional to the task.

No, it only has to be proportional to the expense. It’s very plausible (YMMV) that Russian authorities running a live-fire exercise of some of their ‘cyber’ forces in an operation which could both dig up dirt on an individual they dislike (Clinton) while perhaps winning brownie points with her more easily manipulable competitor (Trump) would be [oh dear] basically win-win-win for them relative to the risk and resources expended. Potentially influencing the actual election on top of that is pure gravy.

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Collin Street 05.13.17 at 10:50 pm

Republicans are traitors and wreckers. That’s the easiest explanation for their behavior.

Actually, the easiest explanation is that they all have undiagnosed or unmanaged empathy impairments, which sometimes manifests as a difficulty with understanding why different people have different experiences and want different changes made and sometimes emerges as a crippling, all-encompassing narcissism.

Noone wrecks or traits for fun. They’re doing it for reasons that seem to them just and mete, and to understand and predict actions you need to know what those just-and-mete reasons are and why they hold them. “People other than me don’t have genuine experiences” actually fits the observed phenomena pretty damned well; I mean, I’m open to alternative explanations. But yours is, fundamentally, “they are devils in human flesh”, and I find that unsatisfying.

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kidneystones 05.13.17 at 11:09 pm

@ 100 Stipulating first that I see no any additional reason not to waste countless mountains of money and energy engaging in ‘connect-the-dots, duh’ conspiracy theorizing beyond those all ready outlined up-thread, here’s what Nate Cohen just wrote about the Comey effect.
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/08/upshot/a-2016-review-theres-reason-to-be-skeptical-of-a-comey-effect.html?_r=0

“Most important, the polls taken before the letter were as bad for Mrs. Clinton as those conducted after it. Again, there aren’t many of these polls, but taken at face value there’s a case that Mrs. Clinton had nearly or even completely bottomed out by the time the Comey letter was released. Even if she had not, the trend line heading into the Comey letter was bad enough that there’s no need to assume that the Comey letter was necessary for any additional erosion in her lead.”

Cohen writes that he dismissed one poll that put Trump ahead in Florida before the Comey letter was released and others that reduced Clinton’s lead to just 2 points. Cohen offers a solid critique of his own assumptions which will probably read like science fiction to many here.

Over 50 percent of the public believes the timing of the Comey firing to be problematic/suspect. The NYT suggested with 98 percent certainty that Hillary would win the night of the election. These two facts certainly support Bruce’s arguments about the failure of the media.

My own confidence in the Trump victory was based (sorry, John) entirely on reading and accepting data that Cohen and others dismissed, with the key factor being enthusiasm and the lack there-of to predict actual turn out in key states. I also listened to and took seriously the warnings of African-American Democratic activists who others (ahem) tuned out and/or dismissed, Van Jones in particular.

Using a simply custom time search 7/1/2015 – 6/1/2016 with the key words “Clinton even with Trump in key states 40 to one” we get data confirming Hillary’s problems in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida.

https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2016/05/10/clinton-v-trump-swing-state-tie-obscures-deeper-divisions/

Here’s Van Jones explicitly predicting exactly how Trump would win in May 2015. I just listened to Van getting it right – scroll down for the video: http://redalertpolitics.com/2016/05/02/van-jones-unexpected-warning-dems-trump-black-vote-video/

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Anarcissie 05.13.17 at 11:34 pm

JimV 05.13.17 at 1:39 pm @ 100 —
I have another reason for not thinking that Comey’s letter probably cost Clinton the election, besides that the outcome of the election was incomputable before it, and therefore opaque as to causes of its outcome after — a perception which seems so obvious to me that I am confounded that anyone disagrees. My other reason is that I have read that most voters do not vote according to lengthy chains of evidence-gathering and logical analysis, but according to intuition and emotion, and I believe this because it corresponds to my own observations. I do not believe the voters, in general, would be inclined to make the kind of extended analysis necessary to apportion blame for Clinton’s improper email server and the circus (Anthony Weiner!) which surrounded it, in time to change their feelings and therefore their votes. Why would they?

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kidneystones 05.13.17 at 11:47 pm

One clarification, please John, and then I’m done. Trump is a vulgarian a-hole and possibly an entitled narcissist. Certainly that’s what the media has led us all to believe and let’s say the media is correct.

Bruce’s point and my own is that the media isn’t reliable. Period. What does that mean? It means whilst one of the two presidential candidates might well be an entitled narcissist, it means we can’t trust the press to tell us. We are required to look at the evidence. The evidence as Van Jones outlines it is that one of the two presidential candidates recognized that victory would only/possibly come from hard work, that the outcome was not assured, that she/he was not entitled to the nomination, or the presidency because it was his, or her turn.

So, if we look at which candidate did more, worked harder – which one is entitled narcissist? Trump certainly sounds like an a-hole, but he almost never sounds like an entitled a-hole. He allowed that he could lose from the beginning right up to the end. He didn’t spend much money, instead he reached out to voters who felt taken for granted by just about everyone. The other candidate did the opposite. Characterized as impulsive and undisciplined, the candidate crossed the nation speaking directly to crowds and virtually the entire media establishment mocked him and his supporters.

That doesn’t mean Trump is a better person, in fact the opposite may be true. What it means is that offering a message that people want to hear works, if the candidate is willing to put the work in, and even then the outcome is far from certain.
There’s a message of hope in Trump’s example if critics are willing to learn. I suspect most aren’t, which is why Trump is very likely to keep winning. And if you think he isn’t you really aren’t paying attention.

More than enough said. See you in 3 months.

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faustusnotes 05.14.17 at 5:44 am

I’d like to point out the subtle tenor of Bruce Wilder’s denials of the Russia thing, in which he focuses on “hacking voting machines.” We all know this is largely not the way it most likely happened – that it was a bunch of other stuff. Also the inquiry is not about whether the Russians hacked voting machines, it’s about whether they own Trump. Even if they didn’t help him at all, the possibility that they own him is a matter of serious concern. Yet Bruce is focusing on specific material allegations that likely aren’t true, using the same strategy that the Republicans have been using in issuing denials. e.g. how they seized on Comey’s statement that there was no evidence the Russians hacked voting machines as a way to say the whole thing is a witch hunt.

Once again, just as he did with the stories about the Clinton Foundation and Obamacare, Bruce Wilder is reproducing right wing disinformation.

Why do you always repeat right wing lies, Bruce? Is it because you’re being played?

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Layman 05.14.17 at 12:01 pm

@anarcissie, I confess that “[it] seems so obvious to me that I am confounded that anyone disagrees” is a powerful argument, and you nearly had me with it. Nevertheless, I find Nate Silver’s analysis of the impact far more convincing.

https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-comey-letter-probably-cost-clinton-the-election/

I suggest you read it.

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JimV 05.14.17 at 12:56 pm

“I do not believe the voters, in general, would be inclined to make the kind of extended analysis necessary to apportion blame for Clinton’s improper email server and the circus (Anthony Weiner!) which surrounded it, in time to change their feelings and therefore their votes. Why would they?”

Answer: there was a significant portion of voters who had not made up their minds – some leaning slightly one way or the other, others without any clue (and in fact something like a million voters handed in ballots with no selection or a write-in – often facetious – at the top). These voters did not have feelings or votes to change. Then they saw the front page of the NY Times after the Comey letter, or the cable news furor – the last supposedly significant thing before the election.

I don’t know for certain, but it is equally if not more obvious to me that attributing a significant effect to the Comey letter is not a reach (and that the announcement itself turned out to be another red herring). Of course, it is always possible that I am indulging in motivated reasoning, the ill that all humanity is heir to.

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bruce wilder 05.14.17 at 3:02 pm

faustusnotes @ 107: Why do you always repeat right wing lies, Bruce? Is it because you’re being played?

lol

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Anarcissie 05.14.17 at 3:06 pm

JimV 05.14.17 at 12:56 pm @ 109:
‘… Then they saw the front page of the NY Times after the Comey letter….’

Who, the people who voted for Trump in the Rust Belt? The Times? Come on.

Actually, I can see the Comey fandango producing a sympathy vote for Clinton. I am told most people hate email and prefer to communicate via texting and social media. What they get from email is mostly spam and messages from their bosses. That Clinton was having some kind of mysterious trouble with an email server in her basement would resonate favorably with them. Someone should look into this.

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Layman 05.14.17 at 3:41 pm

kidneystones: “Bruce’s point and my own is that the media isn’t reliable. Period. What does that mean?”

If true, it means that you can’t know anything at all and should stop pontificating. I mean, without the media, you know nothing at all about any of the players.

Oddly, you don’t stop. Instead, you quote the media(!) when it supports your preconceptions: “The evidence as Van Jones outlines it is…”

So forgive me if I don’t believe you actually think the media is unreliable, if in practice you do what many other people do, which is believe the media when they support your preconceptions and disbelieve them when they confound those preconceptions.

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Layman 05.14.17 at 3:46 pm

Anarcissie: “Actually, I can see the Comey fandango producing a sympathy vote for Clinton…”

Of course you can! I mean, that’s not at all at odds with what you said before, which is that people paid no attention to it, and that people can’t reason from evidence to make voting decisions. Who needs data, after all, when we can just go along with whatever you find impossible to believe today, and are confounded that anyone disagrees?

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jack lecou 05.14.17 at 5:03 pm

I’d like to point out the subtle tenor of Bruce Wilder’s denials of the Russia thing, in which he focuses on “hacking voting machines.” We all know this is largely not the way it most likely happened – that it was a bunch of other stuff. Also the inquiry is not about whether the Russians hacked voting machines, it’s about whether they own Trump.

As someone who did mention voting machines, I’d like to apologize if that wasn’t particularly helpful or relevant to the discussion. To be clear, I don’t think there is any evidence that this occurred, that any is likely to come to light, or that this is a focus of any of the ongoing investigations. There’s plenty of other stuff to investigate.

I brought it up mostly because it’s irritating to me that large scale voting machine hacking tends to be dismissed by ‘serious’ people as somehow unpossible. I don’t know what that judgement is based on, but it certainly can’t be based on any sober consideration of the security record of voting machine systems (amateur and laughable almost to a one) the existence of secure, fully auditable paper or other record trails with which to cross check the results (nonexistent) or the obvious nonexistence of any hacking groups (whether state or non-state, foreign or domestic) with the requisite ambition and ability to pull off such an attempt (nope, surely none of those out there, nosir).

Ohio, for example, is still using flaky touch screen machines from ca. 2005. A ballot box literally made out of swiss cheese would be more secure. Other key states aren’t really any better. Search “[state] voting machines 2016” and see if you feel reassured*.

But is there evidence anything actually happened? No. And the voting results were more or less consistent with the late polls, so if it did, it wasn’t blatant. We wouldn’t necessarily expect to find hard evidence though, given the lack of security involved. Many of the actual, demonstrated vulnerabilities leave no traces. It’s an essentially unfalsifiable hypothesis. And it really, really shouldn’t be. That’s a problem. Probably an off-topic problem (sorry), but still: a problem.


* I just did Wisconsin and found one about a kerfuffle in which some observers were concerned that machine seals were broken. These turned out to just be warranty seals, and we are reassured that it’s probably nothing because physical tampering isn’t really a primary threat anyway — most security researchers are instead primarily concerned that the machines and counting infrastructure are hackable remotely. Ha ha! Nothing to worry about then. I laugh because this state of affairs is both idiotic and terrifying.

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F. Foundling 05.14.17 at 5:16 pm

@88

>1)we know that Trump team members were discussing with Russians the content and timing of anti-Hillary propaganda (Stone)

Stone has only boasted of having talked to *Wikileaks*, not ‘Russians’ (not to mention that Wikileaks has denied even that). Equating Wikileaks and the Russians is what the McCarthyist establishment does, of course.

>2) we know that Trump team members held illegal conversations with Russians and then lied about them (Flynn)

Breaking formally an antique and mostly pointless law that had been dormant for centuries and that nobody involved was probably aware of. The content of that conversation (as reported by the leakers themselves) wouldn’t have seemed obviously wrong or sinister to anyone unaware of the specific law, and Flynn’s subsequent lies were just an attempt to avoid admitting that he had broken it.

>3) we know that other Trump team members had contacts of an unknown nature with Russian officials, and then lied about those contacts (Sessions)

AFAIU, he said that he hadn’t spoken to them in the capacity of a member of the campaign; and as a US senator, it was perfectly normal for him to speak to foreign ambassadors all the time.

In sum, one can note that sinister-sounding general formulations are often more useful for a certain purpose than the actually available specifics.

Of course, I can’t *exclude* the possibility that any of the accusations are true (and, at least, it’s only too plausible that some in Trump’s entourage are motivated by their business interests in Russia), but what does seem quite clear is that a lot of very weak evidence is being trumpeted and misrepresented deliberately and systematically in order to manufacture a controversy.

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JimV 05.14.17 at 5:47 pm

Anarcissie, for some reason you cherry-picked my actual statement, so as to imply that only NY Times readers would be affected. Here is the complete form:

“Then they saw the front page of the NY Times after the Comey letter, or the cable news furor – the last supposedly significant thing before the election.”

It has been estimated that about 80,000 more votes for Clinton, total, in the swing states she lost, would have won her the election. I myself know that one of my nephews, a lifelong Republican, had been planning to vote for HRC, mainly out of disgust at Trump, but changed his mind at the last minute and wrote in his son’s name. He doesn’t subscribe to the NY Times, but heard about the Comey letter via a Facebook reference. I don’t listen to Rush Limbaugh (voluntarily – a friend of mine at work used to play him on the radio most of the day, while drafting drawings), but I would bet he mentioned it, and that he has a lot of followers in the Rustbelt, and that these followers communicate with others.

My point about the NY Times was that what makes its front page (on the top) is usually considered big and important news, and a gloating point for conservatives when it is the sort of news they want to spread. To quote a previous poster, “a perception which seems so obvious to me that I am confounded that anyone disagrees.”

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bruce wilder 05.14.17 at 5:59 pm

jack lecou @ You act as if some sinister force is directing this process. . . . So there is not NO reason to think those things are true. Not enough to conclude they are true? Sure. We’re somewhere in between. Which is what investigations are for. To do the best we can to get out of that zone.

So, in your mind our Disinterested Solons and Media Tribunes of the People are responding almost involuntarily to “a series of accidental and clumsy revelations of misbehavior” by doing the right thing, investigating smoke spotted in the distance, to see if there’s fire. This, now, is nothing like the Clinton Whitewater scandal or the run-up to the Iraq War. That was then, this is now. Those were “non sequitur accusations invented out of whole cloth”. Not like now. This time is different.

Boy, do I wish I lived in your world! (Faustusnotes probably does too; there he’d occasionally be right about something.)

I don’t know if I would say “sinister forces” are driving this process — I did use the word “malevolent” above but in the context of suggesting actors lacked awareness of consequences — but it doesn’t happen by itself, sua sponte. Recasting it as the outcome of a vast conspiracy with central direction misses my main point entirely. (I expect you are trying to miss my main point, but I am going to reiterate just in case your misunderstanding is my fault.)

I am not saying there’s a conspiracy and that’s what’s wrong here. The public discourse is being driven — there are actual drivers, people whose roles are to press forward particular narratives and critiques — but my complaint isn’t so much about the drivers’ course and conduct per se, as it is about the condition of the road. I am saying there has been an institutional degeneration that leaves the road the public discourse must travel, deeply potholed, badly marked or lighted and inadequately policed. This degeneration increases the danger that the drivers of the public discourse run democracy and the republic into the ditch or into a tree. Not intentionally — though their own blindness and irresponsibility play a part in increasing the risk of a wreck — but, rather, as a consequence of a deteriorating institutional “infrastructure”.

In principle, the remnants of the Clinton Machine and the Democratic Establishment pushing the narrative that Comey’s misconduct (and I agree it was misconduct which was misconduct precisely because it could affect the election outcome) and Russian interference in the election (“Russian Wikileaks”) is just part of the perpetual political campaign, a normal driver of the political discourse in a representative democracy with rotation in office: it is what the loyal opposition does. If partisan critiques from those out of office for the moment are occasionally “hypocritical” — as the OP tries to discern in this case — is by-the-by. Politics ain’t beanbag. Those out of power but seeking office are motivated to criticize those in power; that’s what makes democracy go ’round. Two cheers for democracy!

What’s gone very dangerously wrong here is the institutional degeneration. If the public discourse were travelling along a well-paved, well-marked road with vigilant traffic cops, there would be limits to what partisans would try, because there would be limits to what would work to partisan advantage.

You have said that suspicion should lead to investigation. It is very logical and I agree with the logic. We see what looks like smoke in the distance; we should send someone out to look to see if there is fire. Logical. But, I think you are being naive to the point of being obtuse to think that is the function of “investigation” in the present deteriorated state of our political system. Whitewater was investigated for years on end. Or, maybe, you’d like an investigation of Iraqi WMD?

I can almost hear you even as I type saying in tones of uncomprehending outrage: “So, is it your position that there should be no investigation!??” [Rolling my eyes.]

In a well-functioning political system, actual investigations employing effective methods of verifying facts and reaching balanced judgments in a finite length of time would put effective limits on what partisans and other actors could claim in accusing officials of misconduct. We do not have such a well-functioning system, and consequently there are no curbs on what suspicions can be raised and repeated as propaganda. In a well-functioning political system, a great newspaper covetous of its own reputation for integrity might be counted on to investigate and publish facts. In a well-functioning political system, great public agencies also covetous of their own reputations for integrity could similarly be counted on to arbitrate partisan bickering or bring miscreants to justice. We are not living within such a well-functioning political system.

“Investigation” in our political system means the farce Comey’s FBI conducted regarding Clinton’s email server. An “investigation” that continues indefinitely, stirring up suspicion but never really settling any facts or reaching any judgments, at least none that put limits on partisan accusation. And, it is not that “investigation” has degenerated in isolation — the whole ecology (I know I am mixing metaphors) is dragging “investigation” down into this dysfunctional generator of leaks. That the news media report the exciting headline of suspicion on Sunday’s Page 1 and then walk it all back on Saturday’s page A32 is part of the process, as is the public’s retreat from the common public square into tribalist cul de sacs and echo chambers of aligned voices. (See there, I got back to the road metaphor for a second.)

And, the intelligence community gets to play a role. The well-funded 17(!) agencies can have their consensus judgments reported by trustworthy figures like Comey and Clapper without any verifiable reference to actual facts. So, another flavor of “investigation” is available to us, to stoke groundless suspicion, and not incidentally to block any actual investigation (I’m sorry, that part had to be redacted.)

For those who like concrete examples, here is one from a relic of the ancient blogosphere, The Daily Howler: the “revelation” breathlessly reported by the Washington Post and New York Times that suggested that Comey asking for more money for the Russia probe got him fired.
http://dailyhowler.blogspot.com/2017/05/days-of-excitement-and-scandal.html

Or, consider the example of James Clapper telling Meet the Press on March 5 that there is no evidence of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, but doing it in such a way as to stir groundless suspicions. The discussion by PolitiFact is absolutely classic:
http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2017/may/12/donald-trump/trumps-mostly-false-claim-clapper-said-no-collusio/
It is almost enough to make me sympathetic to Trump — not really, he deserves it, but it doesn’t give me much hope for the country.

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Layman 05.14.17 at 6:39 pm

F. Foundling: “Stone has only boasted of having talked to *Wikileaks*, not ‘Russians’…”

Who cares what he boasts about? We know he communicated on twitter with Guccifer2.0, which is believed to be a Russian front. We know he predicted who would be targeted by leaks, and refused to say how he knew.

“Breaking formally an antique and mostly pointless law that had been dormant for centuries and that nobody involved was probably aware of. The content of that conversation (as reported by the leakers themselves) wouldn’t have seemed obviously wrong or sinister to anyone unaware of the specific law, and Flynn’s subsequent lies were just an attempt to avoid admitting that he had broken it.”

Yet he lied about it from the start. If he didn’t know about the law, why did he hide the content of his discussion? If no one cared about the law, why did people lie for him?

“AFAIU, he said that he hadn’t spoken to them in the capacity of a member of the campaign; and as a US senator, it was perfectly normal for him to speak to foreign ambassadors all the time.”

You’re quite poorly informed. Here’s a good recap of Sessions’ Russian contacts and statements about them:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2017/03/02/what-jeff-sessions-said-about-russia-and-when/?utm_term=.1fdbe6fe74da

And here’s a good discussion on how unusual it is for a Senator to have a private meeting with a foreign Ambassador:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/03/02/so-is-it-ever-appropriate-for-a-senator-to-meet-with-the-russian-ambassador/?utm_term=.fc0ae4311bd2

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William Timberman 05.14.17 at 7:40 pm

First Act: You lie to gain an advantage. They lie to gain an advantage. Everybody lies to gain an advantage. Result: nobody believes anybody anymore, but they are confused.

Second Act: Lies get louder, smarter, and more expensive. Whole industries evolve to advance this or that quality of mendacity, and to produce it in blinding and deafening quantities. A significant percentage of GDP is sucked up in the process.

(Intermezzo)

Final Act: David Broder wannabes all over the developed world publish a flurry of suitably weepy and high-toned op-ed pieces about the tragedy of our intellectual commons. The curtain falls. The house lights come back up. People nervously check their twitter feeds as they shuffle toward the aisles.

(Yes, I know that everyone has already seen this play. It even won a Tony back in the 90s or something, didn’t it? I only bring it up because I read somewhere — on Facebook, maybe — that they’re bringing it back as a musical.)

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Suzanne 05.14.17 at 7:57 pm

@155: Leaving aside your discussion of Flynn for the moment, Sessions’ fellow members of the Armed Services Committee were not taking such meetings. Sessions did not disclose those meetings during his hearings and volunteered that he had ” no communications with the Russians,” period. He also denied any Russian contacts in response to a written question. He even denied he was a Trump surrogate. It is quite fair to say that the man who is now the nation’s leader of law enforcement is guilty of a serious act of perjury.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/sessions-spoke-twice-with-russian-ambassador-during-trumps-presidential-campaign-justice-officials-say/2017/03/01/77205eda-feac-11e6-99b4-9e613afeb09f_story.html?utm_term=.603cb4a7378d

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jack lecou 05.14.17 at 11:04 pm

So, in your mind our Disinterested Solons and Media Tribunes of the People

Painfully blatant strawman is painfully blatant.

This, now, is nothing like the Clinton Whitewater scandal or the run-up to the Iraq War. That was then, this is now. Those were “non sequitur accusations invented out of whole cloth”. Not like now. This time is different.

I mean, yes, there are differences. And to the extent there are similarities, I don’t think they really show what you seem to want of them. Let’s take the Iraq war. There we had on the one hand, a virtually united front of US intelligence agencies saying e.g., ‘there is no material cooperation between Iraq and Al Qaida and no reason to think they’d want to be allies — it’s like cats and mice teaming up to steal cheese’ and on the other, ad hoc ‘intelligence’ shops within the Bush administration run by such worthies as Dick Cheney saying, basically, ‘Saddam totally did 9-11, trust us. Mumble mumble. Mohammed Atta. Something something. Prague. Mumble. Anthrax!’

Now, are the press and the intelligence services hyper-flawed and manipulable institutions? Yes. Were we therefore unable to reach the correct conclusions about the Iraq/Al-Qaida connection based on the statements relayed to press by the various actors? No.

…What’s gone very dangerously wrong here is the institutional degeneration. If the public discourse were travelling along a well-paved, well-marked road with vigilant traffic cops, there would be limits to what partisans would try, because there would be limits to what would work to partisan advantage.

I’m more or less in agreement with this much at least. My quibble would be to point out that this ‘degeneration’, if that’s the right word at all, isn’t particularly recent. The low quality of the press and official institutions of various kinds has in fact been evident for decades (and your passing references to Whitewater, Watergate etc. suggest you might agree). Not to mention ‘Remember the Maine’ — I’m a little skeptical that there ever was a golden age of uniformly high-functioning institutions.

But I’m reading all of this very carefully in search of the point you mention you have, and coming up empty.

You have said that suspicion should lead to investigation. It is very logical and I agree with the logic. We see what looks like smoke in the distance; we should send someone out to look to see if there is fire. Logical. But, I think you are being naive to the point of being obtuse to think that is the function of “investigation” in the present deteriorated state of our political system. Whitewater was investigated for years on end. Or, maybe, you’d like an investigation of Iraqi WMD?

I can almost hear you even as I type saying in tones of uncomprehending outrage: “So, is it your position that there should be no investigation!??” [Rolling my eyes.]

Which suggests you agree and so DO think there should be an investigation. Again, searching for the point…

In a well-functioning political system, actual investigations employing effective methods of verifying facts and reaching balanced judgments in a finite length of time would put effective limits on what partisans and other actors could claim in accusing officials of misconduct. We do not have such a well-functioning system, and consequently there are no curbs on what suspicions can be raised and repeated as propaganda. In a well-functioning political system, a great newspaper covetous of its own reputation for integrity might be counted on to investigate and publish facts. In a well-functioning political system, great public agencies also covetous of their own reputations for integrity could similarly be counted on to arbitrate partisan bickering or bring miscreants to justice. We are not living within such a well-functioning political system.

Again. I may quibble with specific points, but not very forcefully. We can certainly wish and work for a better system.

That said, we also all have to do our best to find whatever thread of truth may be revealed by the system as it actually exists.

You know, deal with reality.

“Investigation” in our political system means the farce Comey’s FBI conducted regarding Clinton’s email server. An “investigation” that continues indefinitely, stirring up suspicion but never really settling any facts or reaching any judgments, at least none that put limits on partisan accusation.

I do not agree that these necessarily continue indefinitely. Perhaps they outlast your own patience, but it’s my perception that they do eventually roll to a halt.

Whether the partisans find the conclusions satisfactory is a different matter, and I think here is where I’d raise another point of difference: you’re wishing fervently for hypothetically unimpeachable intelligence and/or press institutions that you believe would serve as a check on endless partisan dispute of the facts, but that’s not necessarily the way it would work.

It’s chicken and egg, to be sure, but I think it is as least as much the case that partisan disputation of facts causes erosion in institutional trust and quality (via funding and autonomy mechanism) as the other way around.

Take the climate ‘debate’. Science is a far more trustworthy institution than e.g., the NSA, and is even — in the abstract — far more trusted by the public. And yet all it takes is a relative handful of outspoken corrupt/partisan dissenters to raise ‘questions’ in the mind of a substantial portion of the public and policymakers, and thus successfully block meaningful action in the halls of power. (Not all of the public however — which is another point I’d make. Polls suggest that a substantial majority of the public are not actually fooled on the facts. Somehow despite all the effort spent clouding the water, and the generally atrocious coverage in the press, most people have managed to find a thread of truth.)

And, it is not that “investigation” has degenerated in isolation — the whole ecology (I know I am mixing metaphors) is dragging “investigation” down into this dysfunctional generator of leaks. That the news media report the exciting headline of suspicion on Sunday’s Page 1 and then walk it all back on Saturday’s page A32 is part of the process, as is the public’s retreat from the common public square into tribalist cul de sacs and echo chambers of aligned voices. (See there, I got back to the road metaphor for a second.)

And, the intelligence community gets to play a role. The well-funded 17(!) agencies can have their consensus judgments reported by trustworthy figures like Comey and Clapper without any verifiable reference to actual facts. So, another flavor of “investigation” is available to us, to stoke groundless suspicion, and not incidentally to block any actual investigation (I’m sorry, that part had to be redacted.)

I think part of this is you appear to place far too much significance on leaks and other transient events. Perhaps even erroneously conflating leaks, or random comments by investigators, with the investigations themselves.

When substantial questions like this are outstanding, are we all going to collectively scrabble at whatever scraps of information, leaks and rumor are available and form our own preliminary conclusions? Yes, of course. That’s just human nature.

Will the later release of firm-ish ‘official’ conclusions down the road have zero effect on these preliminary judgements, rendering such investigations pointless? No. They still matter, even in our fallen state.

I for one will accept whatever conclusions the FBI/Senate/etc. reach in due course. If the result is negative, will I occasionally grumble to myself, “well, maybe they didn’t leave any incriminating memos lying around, but those bastards are still totally in bed with the Russians”? Maybe. But I’ll certainly accept that THIS is not the thing Trump is impeached for and it’s time to move on.

For those who like concrete examples, here is one from a relic of the ancient blogosphere, …

But an example of what, in service to what point?

An example of the press being breathless and incautious and terrible? Yes, probably. An example of the ‘remnants of the Clinton Machine’ or whoever planting fake news? It seems less likely.

And again, it looks a lot like you’re placing a lot of undue weight on small events. What exactly is the measurable effect of this 1/2 news cycle worth of possibly questionable material? In the middle of a news cycle with some pretty dramatic and less disputed events? (I mean, was this false fact the key evidence in the impeachment proceedings? What impeachment you say? Exactly.)

Or, consider the example of James Clapper telling Meet the Press on March 5 that there is no evidence of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, but doing it in such a way as to stir groundless suspicions.

That’s a weird reading.

Alternatively, the straight reading is that Clapper’s a bureaucrat in a sensitive position trying to be very careful with how he words things, knowing they’ll be read to death, one way or the other. Clapper says he hasn’t seen such evidence. Contrary to Trump’s claim, this really is not the same as either ‘nobody has seen evidence’ or ‘there is no evidence to be found,’ let alone ‘there is no collusion’. I’m not sure what makes the Politifact link ‘classic’ – it seems to more or less get all of that straight.

OTOH, your reading is rather more strained — it only really works if we assume that Clapper knows Trump is innocent or at least knows no evidence exists, which in turn seems to require that Clapper be aware of the details and ongoing results within not only his own area of responsibility but also every other corner of the state investigatory & intelligence apparatus (implying in turn either that Clapper is a mastermind who has everyone under surveillance, or that the intelligence establishment is monolithic and shares information freely). It also requires Clapper to have malicious motive – less of a leap than the first, to be sure, but still assumes facts not in evidence.

Those seem like pretty big leaps to be making for someone throwing out accusations of hysteria at the rest of us for the high crime of making a few fairly mild-mannered preliminary inferences about the presence of all this smoke we’re seeing.

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Anarcissie 05.15.17 at 3:26 am

Layman 05.14.17 at 3:46 pm @ 113 —
Actually, the only alleged data I have seen about the effect of Comey’s act on the election was that there wasn’t any. I believe there is a cite up above somewhere. Of course I have no way of verifying or disproving this assertion, so it may be we are talking about ‘data’ with scare quotes, not plain old data. But that’s what it said.

JimV 05.14.17 at 5:47 pm — Sorry, I couldn’t resist making fun of the Times. 80,000 votes would be about 0.06% of the total electorate (unless I’ve lost a decimal point somewhere) and thus we are in the realm of noise and jitter, not reasonably computable behavior. Maybe 80,000 voters got out of the wrong side of the bed that morning, or it rained. (See Menand’s article on what sort of events can affect an election.) Maybe it was just bad luck (or good luck if one is of the Trumpoids and Hell does not embarrass them with its bill before the end of his performance).

123

Peter T 05.15.17 at 5:13 am

The issue of Trump and Russia is not one for legal standards of judgement than for intelligence assessment. It’s worth remembering that the intelligence agencies and the UN assessed that Iraq very probably did not have WMD – something Cheney’s smokescreens were designed to obscure.

On this issue, it would be odd if Russian and Chinese bureaucrats did not elevate loans to Trump and associates, or meetings, or trademark grants, to the political level. That is what they are trained to do. The impetus may not come from above, and the answer may be just an acknowledging nod, but surely the awareness is there. And that should be of concern to the US establishment – that foreign powers have purely personal ways of influencing a key player.

That it is not of serious concern to the Republicans exemplifies Bruce’s point about broken processes. But surely the way to repair the process is to raise the issue and keep raising it.

124

Raven 05.15.17 at 8:27 am

bruce wilder @ 117: “Or, consider the example of James Clapper telling Meet the Press on March 5 that there is no evidence of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign….” — Except that Clapper made no such claim, and indeed could never have known that there was “no evidence” of that sort; all he could have known, and all he did in fact claim, was that he himself had not seen it (as the investigation and its evidence were and are classified, and he himself was and is not involved in it; “So it’s not surprising or abnormal that I would not have known about the investigation, or even more importantly, the content of that investigation.”)… which meaning he later took care to clarify, after his original statement got taken and twisted into the misinterpretation you just repeated.

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Layman 05.15.17 at 11:13 am

Anarcissie: “Actually, the only alleged data I have seen about the effect of Comey’s act on the election was that there wasn’t any…”

Yet I offered you some, at #108. Did you read it?

126

Sebastian H 05.15.17 at 1:20 pm

The drop in the polls at the end appears to have started before Comeys last announcement. Also, the main characteristic of the polls being used to argue the letter had a big effect is the fact that a large percentage of the “undecideds” broke for Trump while in past elections we normally see a more even break. This would be strongervif we hadn’t seen the exact same thing happen with the Brexit polls–which we can be fairly sure were not influenced by the Comey letter.

127

Katsue 05.15.17 at 1:42 pm

To summarise the Russia hacking story as I understand it:

a) The evidence that APT 28 and APT 29 exist at all is only circumstantial – there is substantial doubt about whether the cybersecurity concept of “Advanced Persistent Threats” is of any use as a forensic or investigative tool
b) There is no evidence that, if they do exist, they are linked to any Russian intelligence agency – merely speculation
c) There is no evidence that, if they do exist and if they are linked to a Russian intelligence agency, that Vladimir Putin himself knew about and directed their activities – merely speculation
d) There is no evidence that if APT28 and APT29 do exist and are directed by Vladimir Putin, that Vladimir Putin directed their activities in order to get Donald Trump elected
e) There is no evidence that if APT28 and APT29 do exist and were directed by Vladimir Putin to elect Donald Trump, they were the source of the leaks to Wikileaks – Wikileaks could have obtained the leaks independently
f) There is no evidence that Donald Trump himself knew about, well, any of this

An alternative theory presents itself: Roger Stone, acting on behalf of Donald Trump, employed hackers to hack the DNC computers and passed the information on to Wikileaks, who published them. These hackers may have used some of the library of techniques associated with APT28.

Another alternative theory presents itself: a disgruntled DNC insider, perhaps a member of the IT staff, leaked the emails to Wikileaks, who published them.

It is also alleged that Michael Flynn met with the Russian ambassador after Donald Trump’s election and asked him, on behalf of the President-elect, to convey a request to Vladimir Putin not to expel American diplomats from Russia in retaliation for Obama’s expulsion of Russian diplomats for America. While obviously this can only be described as treason, treason to the Republic!, it seems like a minor treason in comparison to, say, Nixon sabotaging the Paris peace talks or Reagan sabotaging the Iranian hostage negotiations.

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SusanC 05.15.17 at 3:37 pm

5th March 2017, as reported by NBC:

CHUCK TODD: Yeah, I was just going to say, if the F.B.I., for instance, had a FISA court order of some sort for a surveillance, would that be information you would know or not know?

JAMES CLAPPER: Yes.

CHUCK TODD: You would be told this?

JAMES CLAPPER: I would know that.

CHUCK TODD: If there was a FISA court order–

JAMES CLAPPER: Yes.

CHUCK TODD: –on something like this.

JAMES CLAPPER: Something like this, absolutely.

CHUCK TODD: And at this point, you can’t confirm or deny whether that exists?

JAMES CLAPPER: I can deny it.

But then on 12 May 2017, Clapper says this:

So it is not surprising or abnormal that I would not have known about the investigation or even more important, the content of that investigation

The switch between Clapper saying he was in a position to know about an ongoing investigation and can categorically deny it, to saying that he was not in a position to know, is suggestive that he was either lying or being deliberately misleading. (e.g. by failing to say something on the lines of “Well, if there was a FISA warrant I’d have known about it, but if the FBI was investigating Trump under some other authorization they wouldn’t have told me about it, and I have no idea whether they were or were not.”

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steven t johnson 05.15.17 at 4:50 pm

The Trumpists had no problem with the media shilling phony stories hinting at treason for years about Benghazi, email servers, Clinton Foundation and pizzagate. It is hypocritical of them to object now to how that game is played now (if your idea of political analysis is moralizing about hypocrisy.) Trumpists may think that joining in with the decades old tradition of Hilary bashing gives them more gravitas, but I think it makes them trashier. Sauce for the gander is sauce for the goose, and everybody knows it.

The evidence that Comey influenced the election is much stronger than the evidence that Clinton or Trump are treasonous. A popsicle stick is stronger than a straw too, though, so you cannot honestly make of that what you will. The upshot is that Comey was fired because he couldn’t be relied on to stay on message. Defending that with the childish claim that objecting to Comey’s dismissal now is hypocritical is merely a way to defend Trump.

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jack lecou 05.15.17 at 5:36 pm

5th March 2017, as reported by NBC:

…5th March 2017.

I wonder what could possibly be significant about that date that might provide context for the first quote. Hmm. Nope. Nothing comes to mind.

So, since the first quote was obviously in the context of giving Chuck Todd a comprehensive briefing about how federal investigatory powers are delegated, rather than debunking a specific stupid tweet, you’re right. It was incredibly misleading of Clapper to neglect to mention the obvious fact that other agencies might be conducting their own investigations down one or more of the dozens of other avenues which don’t involve FISA warrants. /sarcasm.

In context, of course, his limited statements above seem reasonable. And if he HAD added ‘…but the FBI might still be investigating in other ways that I wouldn’t be privy to’ I can’t help but wonder if some here feel that would have been unsolicited, out of context character assassination.

I’m no fan of James Clapper, but it does kind of seem like there’s going to be something to complain about no matter what he says, doesn’t it?

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jack lecou 05.15.17 at 6:03 pm

Hell, there’s plenty of context immediately above and below within the very interview transcript that above quote was mined from. For example:

Clapper: I can’t say– obviously, I’m not, I can’t speak officially anymore. But I will say that, for the part of the national security apparatus that I oversaw as DNI, there was no such wiretap activity mounted against– the president elect at the time, or as a candidate, or against his campaign. I can’t speak for other Title Three authorized entities in the government or a state or local entity.

and:

[on the January hacking report] It did– well, it got to the bottom of the evidence to the extent of the evidence we had at the time. Whether there is more evidence that’s become available since then, whether ongoing investigations will be revelatory, I don’t know.

I’m really not sure what else Clapper could have said to satisfy you…

132

Anarcissie 05.15.17 at 8:20 pm

Layman 05.15.17 at 11:13 am @ 125 —
I looked at the article, and the thing that caught my eye was the graph, which shows Clinton’s lead declining sharply before the Comey letter. This data, if it was data, seemed redundant, in other words, not really information. However, I did get one interesting thing out of it, which I was hitherto unaware of. You will notice that shortly after Sept. 11, there was a dip in Clinton’s numbers. What happened around then? One thing that was played up prominently in the media and was visual was that Clinton seemed to faint at the 9/11 memorial event; a picture of her being stuffed in a car by attendants, her feet askew and one shoe missing, was widely circulated. Clinton had shown physical weakness. Then the event was obfuscated in classical fashion, which added to its mystique and notoriety. Physical weakness makes people seem unfit for leadership; they’re supposed to be ready to take the role of the alpha male baboon and go front and center in a crisis. Irrational as this thought may be, it is intuitively powerful. So I can assign the dip, Nate-Silver-in-explanatory-mode-wise, to the event, being careful to follow up the assertion with a disclaimer of certainty just as Mr. Silver would.

When you’re talking about an electorate, this is the kind of thing you’re dealing with. A trial lawyer will tell you that you can never tell what a jury is going to do, and that’s just 12 people, not 130 million. I don’t know what happened around October 16, and I don’t want to look it up, but that’s when Clinton’s big slide began, not on October 28. That is, if the graph accurately and relevantly portrays reality, about which I have some doubts.

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JimV 05.15.17 at 8:57 pm

I don’t think anything good is happening in this thread at this point, but one last comment here (by me) (I hope) on a possible misunderstanding, re:

“Sorry, I couldn’t resist making fun of the Times. 80,000 votes would be about 0.06% of the total electorate (unless I’ve lost a decimal point somewhere) and thus we are in the realm of noise and jitter, not reasonably computable behavior.”

Apology gratefully accepted. But the rest of the paragraph (not all of which is quoted above) seems to me to be assuming that 80,000 is an estimate of the number of voters who changed or made up their minds at the last minute (or so). It is not (see original comment). For a statistical estimate of the number of voters who changed their minds, see the Nate Silver analysis linked to previously by myself and repeated by Layman. It is bigger than 80,000. The point of the 80,000 was that even such a relatively minute effect of the Comey letter could have been enough to change the election result (and the Comey letter was the last big news before the election).

134

Raven 05.15.17 at 10:53 pm

Katsue @ 127: b) – f) repeating “There is no evidence….” — This is blatantly more than you know or can know. Even James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence, took care to say of himself vs. that classified investigation: “So it’s not surprising or abnormal that I would not have known about the investigation, or even more importantly, the content of that investigation.” Are you claiming you have a more privileged inside view than he had?

135

Anarcissie 05.16.17 at 2:14 am

JimV 05.15.17 at 8:57 pm @ 133 —
Hence my belief that we are looking at ‘noise and jitter’, not a probable chain of causation from the Comey letter (or anything else).

Raven 05.15.17 at 10:53 pm @ 134 —
I imagine Katsue means that there is no evidence available to the public, that no evidence has been published. Of course we cannot know if there is some secret evidence hidden away in a cupboard somewhere with Vlad’s guilty fingerprints upon it.

I wish, for the sake of my Social Security and Medicare if nothing else, that the Democratic Party leadership would stop blame-shifting and try to figure out how to win something in 2018.

136

Layman 05.16.17 at 3:09 am

Anarcissie: “I looked at the article, and the thing that caught my eye was the graph, which shows Clinton’s lead declining sharply before the Comey letter.”

You read an analysis that specifically addressed the question of when the decline began, and what can be inferred by the data before and after the Comey letter, and what you took away from that analysis was the picture?

That’s, something. I don’t know what, but it’s something.

137

Lee A. Arnold 05.16.17 at 11:40 am

One thing that everybody ought to be made aware of, is that the polls almost always tighten in the few months before a U.S. Presidential election. I’m not sure if anyone has bothered to tease that effect out of this last election however.

138

bruce wilder 05.16.17 at 1:31 pm

Raven @ 134: Are you claiming you have a more privileged inside view than he had?

Perhaps we should just elect Clapper, Dictator. I am sure he would enjoy that.

Clapper knew what he was doing when he went on Meet the Press. It wasn’t informing the public.

Secrecy is a characteristic disease of a dysfunctional state. I do not mean the keeping of actual secrets, which by definition involves . . . well, secrets, or the keeping of confidences, which is a matter of trust. Actual secrets are rare in affairs of state, which is after all the public business, the confidential rather more common and routine. I refer to the gamesmanship of secrets and lies, where the pretence or conceit of “secret” knowledge is used strategically and tactically as a weapon of power.

That is what we are witnessing: the gamesmanship of secrets and lies in a politics gone senile.

139

jack lecou 05.16.17 at 5:34 pm

That is what we are witnessing: the gamesmanship of secrets and lies in a politics gone senile.

That strikes me as an…incomplete summary of what we are witnessing.

Politics, the security state, etc. has been bad for a long time, decades at least.* That alone doesn’t sufficiently explain all the excitement and…novelty inherent to the trend in current events.

The new and interesting part, the large, orange-whiskered pachyderm your explanation tries unsuccessfully to sweep under the rug, is a presidential administration with a genuinely unusual level of ineptness and/or corruptness.


* Assuming it was ever good in the first place, which it wasn’t. That’s a just a big ol’ rosy retrospection fallacy. Politics has *always* been kind of rotten-ish. Rotten in a variety of different ways, sure, but rotten is rotten.

140

SusanC 05.16.17 at 6:58 pm

I don’t usually draw political cartoons, but right now I’m imagining a plan to “drain the swamp” being implemented by letting loose a very large orange alligator.

@138: Yes, I think our politics became decadent a while back, but this time the voters have decided to try the “throw in an alligator” approach.

141

Anarcissie 05.16.17 at 7:29 pm

Layman 05.16.17 at 3:09 am @ 136 —
‘You read an analysis….

No, I looked at the data. I assumed, maybe incorrectly, that the graph represented data. That’s what I thought we were talking about. Again, I have no way of checking the validity of that particular slice of data, but it was recommended twice, so it must be good stuff, right? Anyone can analyze or explain or frame or filter a set of facts — even I did that.

142

jack lecou 05.16.17 at 8:54 pm

No, I looked at the data. I assumed, maybe incorrectly, that the graph represented data.

That’s like looking at an elevation chart of an airplane crash landing and saying “well, it was already descending when the engines cut out, so that couldn’t have been the problem.”

Eyeballing graphs is a necessary but not sufficient basis for analysis.

In this case everyone agrees the numbers were indeed narrowing — and probably would have continued to do so. Gradually. But something definitely happens just after Oct 28 to cause a relatively sudden, sharp decline. Silver’s point is that based on previous responses to email server news, it’s totally reasonable to make the connection — hard to avoid, even.

My view is that was hardly the only thing to cost her the election, but it was one feather among many. And it took ALL of the feathers to tip the scales to Trump. The critical margin was very small.

143

Anarcissie 05.17.17 at 2:15 am

jack lecou 05.16.17 at 8:54 pm @ 142:
‘… My view is that was hardly the only thing to cost her the election, but it was one feather among many. And it took ALL of the feathers to tip the scales to Trump. The critical margin was very small.’

Well, that won’t serve to delegitimate Trump.

144

Raven 05.17.17 at 2:23 am

bruce wilder @ 138: “Perhaps we should just elect Clapper, Dictator. … Secrecy is a characteristic disease of a dysfunctional state. … That is what we are witnessing: the gamesmanship of secrets and lies in a politics gone senile.” — All of which is non-responsive.

You made a knowledge claim (repeatedly: “There is no evidence….”) that former DNI Clapper himself could not make; which meant you claimed to be privy to more secrets than he was. And now you turn around and dis secrecy? HahahaHAHAHA*koff*

145

Layman 05.17.17 at 3:39 am

Meanwhile, in the real world of fake scandals, Trump reportedly asked Comey to quash the Flynn investigation, this after first asking him to pledge his personal loyalty, and before firing him because he declined to stop it. As bruce wilder will shortly explain, none of these are attempts to obstruct justice, because reasons.

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/may/16/trump-james-comey-memo-michael-flynn-fbi-white-house-denial?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

146

Layman 05.17.17 at 3:41 am

Anarcissie: “No, I looked at the data. I assumed, maybe incorrectly, that the graph represented data.”

This is as blatant an exercise of bad faith as I can recall seeing for some time. I, personally, would be embarrassed to have resorted to it. Kudos.

147

jack lecou 05.17.17 at 5:00 am

As bruce wilder will shortly explain, none of these are attempts to obstruct justice, because reasons.

How could they be? There’s nothing unusual going on whatsoever. You — and the so-called ‘press’ — ought to be embarrassed for even mentioning it. Those reports are but mirages. Phantasms and optical illusions which appear only if we gaze too raptly with our less enlightened eyes upon the hypnotic — but perfectly normal and meaningless! — self cannibalizing oscillations of a senile and dysfunctional machine of state.

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Katsue 05.17.17 at 1:34 pm

@144 I am not Bruce Wilder, and I was, in part, talking about publicly available evidence.

The DNI report of 6/01/2017 is illuminating, and not least because the word “evidence” can’t be found it in even once. It states that intelligence assessments are based not just on information but also on previous assessments. It’s very easy to build castles in the sky using this method – in fact it’s the classic way to write nonsense like The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail,, where you argue on page 10 that x could be true and then, on page 15, make an argument based on the premise of x, which after all has already been established.

In post 127, I made a number of points. It’s my view that if my point (a) is accepted, then (b)-(f) are necessary logical consequences.

If APT28 does not exist, then any assignment of responsibility for a hack based on the idea that it was carried out by APT28 can only be correct by coincidence. Whether correct or not, I don’t see how you can say it is based on evidence.

If APT28 may or may not exist, then any assignment of responsibility for a hack based on the idea that it was carried out by APT28 can only be speculation.

(I will be interested in any correction by philosophers on these points.)

I grant that Vladimir Putin was probably hostile to Hillary Clinton, but this hardly convicts him of involvement in any hacks. The population of people who were hostile to Hillary Clinton and were capable of hacking the DNC if they put their mind to it was probably in the tens if not hundreds of millions. Nor does it prove that he decided to magnify the risks of such a hack by including, of all people, Donald Trump, who is possibly the most indiscreet man on Earth, in his conspiracy.

As for the cui bono argument, I hope it is perfectly clear that this can’t apply to anybody more strongly than it does to Donald Trump and his campaign team. And for their part, if they did organise the hacks, then obviously they had no reason to involve the Russian government. America is well supplied with hackers, many of whom are politically on the far-right, and there was no reason to borrow them from Russian military intelligence. I suppose they could have done it by accident, but that may stretch coincidence a bit too far.

There, that’s my assessment, also based on no evidence.

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Anarcissie 05.17.17 at 2:19 pm

Layman 05.17.17 at 3:41 am @ 147 —
Facts are faithless, loyal only to themselves.

150

Sebastian H 05.17.17 at 3:47 pm

“Silver’s point is that based on previous responses to email server news, it’s totally reasonable to make the connection — hard to avoid, even.”. Why did the same thing happen with the Brexit vote? The key charactertic for Sikver was that the very late undecideds broke for Trump. They broke similarly and uncharacteristically for “leave”. Comey’s letter came after the Brexit vote, so the trend may mean something else. (It may even mean something in support of a Comey hypothesis like a two odd tricks social media change) but it seems a big enough TWO recent deals to maybe consider them together.

151

jack lecou 05.17.17 at 4:43 pm

In post 127, I made a number of points. It’s my view that if my point (a) is accepted, then (b)-(f) are necessary logical consequences.

I don’t see how that works.

For example, your (b) *assumes* APT 28 and 29 do exist [i.e., are coherent entities], and then asserts that there is no evidence that they are linked to any Russian intelligence agency.

But this doesn’t follow. If we’re granting that these groups do exist, it suggests the
methods you dismissed by assertion in (a) — i.e., identifying groups based on consistent characteristics including methods, means, fingerprints left in code, and choice of targets — must in fact be at least partially successful. And yet some of the characteristics which (by assumption) are successful at identifying these groups also point specifically toward the conclusion that they are e.g., Russian (indeed Moscow-based), well-funded, professional, and conduct activities in support of Russian state interests. All of which is basically a long winded way to say “an arm of the Russian intelligence/covert operations community”.

Granted, you are basically correct that the inference grows weaker the further down that list you go — but you don’t need to go very far for the events to be damning.

For example, (c) is essentially irrelevant: if you grant that these groups exist and are linked to a Russian intelligence agency, does it matter whether Putin specifically knew about or ordered a particular attack? Wouldn’t he still be responsible for the actions of his agencies and subordinates, especially if they continue to occur? Or (d) does it matter whether the attacks were specifically attempts to get DT elected vs. merely to sow dissension generally?

And for their part, if they did organise the hacks, then obviously they had no reason to involve the Russian government. America is well supplied with hackers, many of whom are politically on the far-right, and there was no reason to borrow them from Russian military intelligence.

Scenario 1: Russian surrogate casually whispers to a Trump surrogate, “Aren’t all these DNC leaks fascinating? I sure hope you guys appreciate the effort of whoever is responsible. [wink, wink].”

Scenario 2: Trump pulls Kushner (or whoever) aside sometime in early 2016 and says “I need you to go on that 4Chan thing and find us some really good, all-American hackers. You know, maybe some overweight guys from basements in New Jersey. The best. I’ve got a job for them…”

It should be obvious that those are totally different scenarios. In all sorts of ways.

YMMV may vary, but finding #1 at least vaguely plausible in no way suggests that #2 is. “Obviously no reason to involve the Russian government” my foot.

152

Layman 05.17.17 at 5:34 pm

Sebastian H: “Why did the same thing happen with the Brexit vote?”

Trump got elected by the Brexit vote? That’s only a half joke. What is this ‘same thing’ that happened?

I think Silver is quite clear that there were other factors in Clinton’s defeat, but I think he makes an equally compelling argument that the Comey letter probably cost her at least 1% of the vote, and that 1% was enough for her to lose. It’s hard to argue with that analysis, but if you’re going to, you can’t start with ‘maybe there were other factors’, because he’s already acknowledged those other factors.

153

jack lecou 05.17.17 at 5:56 pm

Why did the same thing happen with the Brexit vote? The key charactertic for Sikver was that the very late undecideds broke for Trump. They broke similarly and uncharacteristically for “leave”. Comey’s letter came after the Brexit vote, so the trend may mean something else. (It may even mean something in support of a Comey hypothesis like a two odd tricks social media change) but it seems a big enough TWO recent deals to maybe consider them together.

Well, were there other factors? Almost certainly. Does it look like something weird is going on to make polls less reliable then they (arguably) used to be? Yes. But that doesn’t affect the basic point here:

…it’s not credible to claim that the Comey letter had no effect at all. It was the dominant story of the last 10 days of the campaign.

It’s not really plausible to argue the Comey letter had zero effect. And yet if it had anything like the effect you’d expect — or indeed, almost any effect at all — that was likely enough to tip the election.

It’s obviously not unique in this respect. It was a close election, so there are any number of small factors like this, any one of which would have been decisive had they tipped the other way. It is kind of unique in being more or less the direct result of one individual’s voluntary actions, though.

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Raven 05.18.17 at 6:02 am

jack lecou @ 151: “For example, (c) is essentially irrelevant: if you grant that these groups exist and are linked to a Russian intelligence agency, does it matter whether Putin specifically knew about or ordered a particular attack?” — I too wonder just how detailed and micro-managing Katsue meant by “Vladimir Putin himself knew about and directed their activities; as president of a nation all Putin needs to do is give broad goal directives to his intelligence agencies, not plan out each particular technical attack. (Though as a former KGB officer he likely has the technical savvy to micro-manage if he so chooses….)

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Katsue 05.18.17 at 1:11 pm

@151 I presume you’re trying to make the scenario of “Donald Trump hacked the DNC” sound ridiculous by bringing Jared Kushner into it. I submit that given (a) the fact that Donald Trump is a billionaire and (b) Roger Stone’s alliance with Donald Trump, there is no reason to be sceptical of Trump’s ability to find hackers without Russian help.

Regarding the direction of hackers by Vladimir Putin, I’m not interested in whether Vladimir Putin micromanages everything. The question is whether he ordered or was aware of hacks on any given target (e.g. the DNC, the RNC, the Clinton Foundation, etc.) or not.

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jack lecou 05.18.17 at 3:17 pm

I submit that given (a) the fact that Donald Trump is a billionaire and (b) Roger Stone’s alliance with Donald Trump, there is no reason to be sceptical of Trump’s ability to find hackers without Russian help.

I agree that it’s entirely possible that he could have. That’s not the point though.

The point is that actively conceiving of a plan and recruiting for it is a far higher bar than being presented with a fait accompli by one’s Russian acquaintances (who I think you’d have to concede almost certainly do have a supply of skilled hackers on salary, regardless of whether you think any of their suspected activities — including other instances of election-related hacking — have been accurately identified). If the former is plausible, the latter is far more plausible.

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jack lecou 05.18.17 at 3:56 pm

Regarding the direction of hackers by Vladimir Putin, I’m not interested in whether Vladimir Putin micromanages everything. The question is whether he ordered or was aware of hacks on any given target (e.g. the DNC, the RNC, the Clinton Foundation, etc.) or not.

I don’t see what you think the difference is supposed to be.

We’re not talking about impeaching Putin, so the details of the Kremlin’s control structure — who knew what when or whatever — are wholly irrelevant. We’re concerned about US national security and the domestic political implications.

And you’re accepting ad arguendo that the hacks were carried out by hackers associated with the Russian government (“…if they do exist and if they are linked to a Russian intelligence agency…”). If that’s the case, that’s already the whole ball game. All that matters is that the Russian government is effectively responsible, full stop.

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Sebastian H 05.18.17 at 6:49 pm

Silver sees something that fueled the Trump win at the end. Lets call it Thing 1.

“Exit polls showed that undecided and late-deciding voters broke toward Trump, especially in the Midwest. A panel survey conducted by FiveThirtyEight contributor Dan Hopkins and other researchers also found shifts between mid-October and the end of the campaign — an effect that would amount to a swing of about 4 percentage points against Clinton.”

Thing 1 is a weird polling phenomenon (therefore in want of explanation), because usually late deciders don’t go so strongly one direction. He explains Thing 1 by attributing it to the Comey letter.

However, Thing 1 ALSO happened in the Brexit polling. There the late deciders also went for ‘leave’ in unprecedented numbers.

Two of the same unprecedented things happening in similar elections with similar outcomes shouldn’t at least create a strong inference that something that happened in only one of them wasn’t the big cause.

I can think of a unifying cause that seems rather obvious and applies in both cases–people who feel fucked over by the globalist/neo-liberal order voted against it. You have to find two separate explanations if you are going to attribute the US one to Comey, while one explanation seems more than enough (especially when you notice WHERE Clinton lost ground in formerly Democratic strongholds). Were those places especially attuned to FBI letters? Or were they especially attuned to the fact that globalism had fucked them over, and that voting for the Democrat when it was Obama just let all the banks get off the hook while people still lost their homes?

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jack lecou 05.18.17 at 11:02 pm

Two of the same unprecedented things happening in similar elections with similar outcomes shouldn’t at least create a strong inference that something that happened in only one of them wasn’t the big cause.

I think this is where we’re talking past each other a bit. Silver is not looking for “THE big cause”, he’s looking at a particular thing (the Comey letter) to see if it was significant enough to be A cause.

And in the counterfactual sense of “if X hadn’t happened, would the election have gone the other way”, the Comey letter pretty much has to be one of the decisive factors. You can’t get around that without assigning an unreasonably small impact to a major piece of negative official news that hit very hard in the last days of the election (one otherwise reliably associated with poll effects of several full points).

It’s entirely possible there was a general and separate “Brexit phenomenon” of undecideds breaking heavily toward Trump — one that was larger than the Comey effect even. And still, without even 1 or 2 points of Comey effect, that wouldn’t have been quite enough to tip the scales.

The only slightly reasonable way I see to make the Comey letter non-critical would be to suppose that there were essentially *no* genuine undecideds at all by mid-October or so (i.e., everyone was already firmly committed, mostly for Trump, whether they were admitting that to pollsters or not, so the letter couldn’t change any minds).

That is possible — and as a hypothesis it’s possibly consistent with Brexit too — but almost by definition there’s no empirical data to support it directly. The assumption is basically that polls can’t be trusted, after all. Certainly the passages you quote above don’t support that — I believe the whole point of including those was to show that, as far as the numbers can tell, there were still plenty of tractable undecideds with whom the letter might have made a difference.

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Layman 05.18.17 at 11:28 pm

Sebastian H: “I can think of a unifying cause that seems rather obvious and applies in both cases…”

You can, because you have a hammer, and this question looks to you like a nail. But as jack says, you’ve got the question all wrong. You’re asking ‘what caused the Trump and Brexit results’, and the answer is surely ‘more than one thing’. Silver is asking if one of those things – the Comey letter – was decisive in the sense that, had it not happened, Trump would likely not have won. The answer is that it probably was decisive. You can ask that same thing about other factors if you want, and you will likely find that some of those other things were decisive, too, but that doesn’t change the answer with respect to the Comey letter.

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steven t johnson 05.19.17 at 1:22 am

The biggest factors in Trump’s rise is the enormous amount of publicity given gratis by the mass media and the Electoral College swindle inflicted on us by a bunch of so-called realists who thought they were smart. But yes, the Comey shenanigans may have been the last straw. But how can we ever prove or disprove that? Trump is having trouble taking advantage of his “victory” because he lost the election, and people are at some level aware that pretending winning the Electoral College really gives legitimacy was just Al Gore being a coward, a fool and a sleazeball.

This crap about Russian hacking is like whining about the DNC hacking the Democratic nomination. Bitching about an ingrown toenail when you have a knife sticking in your back is all about agenda. The main factor in Sanders’ loss was the mass media snuffing his story. Pointing fingers at a handful of individuals than the system is how you fight rivals, not opponents. (Rivals fight over the same goal, opponents fight for different goals.)

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faustusnotes 05.19.17 at 1:49 am

No steven, this crap about Russian hacking is about how the current ruling clique of the USA are owned by Russia. It’s not about whether they hacked the DNC but whether they have hacked the policy-making process and turned the whitehouse and both houses of congress into their instruments.

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Anarcissie 05.19.17 at 8:30 pm

faustusnotes 05.19.17 at 1:49 am @ 162 —
But, how long can the tail wag the dog, and by what means?

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steven t johnson 05.20.17 at 1:34 pm

faustusnotes @162 Russia doesn’t have the money to buy “the current ruling clique of the USA” out from under the House of Saud, etc., much Wall Street. I’ve forgotten where you personally stand on Russia but this idea is crazy. These insinuations of treason are part of the tradition of US politics since the Great Purge post-war. All conventionally acceptable ( so-called “serious people) factions, without exception, adhere to this tradition. But it was madness with a method when good old Joe McCarthy did it, and it’s madness now when his bastard grand-children do it.

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