Saturday, February 03, 2018

Poison Tag

We are watching a game of "poison tag" being played out in Washington.

Poison tag being a game we played as kids. One kid is poison, and if he tags you you are poison too, or you are poisoned, depending on how it's being played. Shrieks and running around are involved. In the DC game of poison tag the game begins when the Republican Party declares someone is poison and everyone runs from them. Anyone who touches this person or is touched is out of the game. The Republicans have declared Christopher Steele poison. Why? First, it isn't a game. It's very serious national security business and Steele is one of America's most reliable friends. Why make Steele a pariah for everyone to shun?

Steele ran the Russia desk for MI6, the intel agency of our closest ally. A serious professional who did serious work for many years keeping the free western democracies like Britain and the U.S. and our NATO allies free of interference from the Russian spies we all grew up fearing because of James Bond novels. Russia is no longer communist but it is now ruled by a former KGB boss, Vladimir Putin. Steele has a well-earned dislike of Putin having seen what he does. Example: since the Russian involvement in hacking our election became known several witnesses to it, western sources of information and Putin critics, have wound up suddenly violently dead. One of them was poisoned twice––not a game––and survived to talk about it.

The reason Steele is being maligned and shunned by half of Washington is simple. He saw an alarming pattern of contacts and business dealings and involvements, some of them possibly very compromising, between the Republican candidate for president of the United States and the Russian government and its spy agencies and President Putin's closest allies, the oligarchs. He did what any friend would do: he told the FBI about this. He did so knowing it would not be a good thing for America to have a president who was on the hook to the Russians. Steele discovered this in 2016, and the more he looked the more he discovered, and the more worrying it was. Why was he looking? He was hired by a research firm, FusionGPS, a respected firm founded and led by former Wall Street Journal investigative journalists.

Full disclosure: the Wall Street Journal is a very right wing newspaper, but it has a highly respected newsroom. Did this make observers concerned that FusionGPS might have a right wing bias? Apparently Fusion was hired by Republicans during the Republican primary to find out more about Donald Trump. Republicans were worried about Trump. Let's face it, he is a dodgy character, with longtime mob ties, multiple bankruptcies, suspicious sources of financing, a long history of sexual misbehavior, etc. Who wouldn't be concerned. Republicans were concerned, but as soon as Trump won the nomination they dropped their research and let FusionGPS go.

FusionGPS was subsequently hired by the Democrats who were running against this dodgy character named Trump. It was at this point that the Fusion research team realized they needed fuller information about Trump's Russian connections, and who better to hire than a former MI6 Russia desk chief named Christopher Steele. Steele had gone into private business after he was thrown out of Russia by Putin for treading on Putin's toes. Spy career over. At least Putin didn't assassinate him the way he does others who tread on his toes.

Why is Steele "poison" today? Don't we like James Bond? In the Bond movies there are lots of characters who are operating illegally or dangerously in the Russian orbit. America doesn't usually run one of them for president. In fact that would make a great Bond novel. (I would cast Christopher Walken in the movie.) Why is James Bond now the bad guy? Why is this Bond villain being run by the Kremlin the hero?

This is a bizarre game of poison we're playing. What is right is wrong. What is legal is illegal. What is patriotic is treason and what used to be treason is now the urgent instruction coming from the party. In this case it's the Republican Party, the least likely group to be suspected of favoring the Russians in a war with the FBI.

Everything is upside down.

A trusted former counterespionage official from Britain calls American law enforcement and reports a possible crime in progress. Because he is a professional in these matters it's more than a possible crime, it's likely, and he is deeply concerned. He shares information with the FBI. He shares all he knows, suspicions that have been confirmed and those bits that are just raw intel. He does not edit out the worrisome salacious bits because the Russians have a long history of using honey traps to lure Americans into compromising situations for blackmail purposes. The FBI listens. They listen with greater interest because Steele's "dossier" overlaps with much of what the FBI has learned in its own investigations. The FBI began investigating on their own, having heard from their Australian counterparts that a member of the Trump campaign was boasting about having important and useful connections with the Russian government.

This kind of broadly corroborated information is not the sort of thing a counterintelligence agency discards out of prudery. They don't stop following the trail because it gets embarrassingly close to a major party presidential candidate, but that is what the Republicans are saying they ought to have done. Apparently, by Republican standards, NO information that shows a Republican presidential candidate––god forbid a Republican president––has become a puppet of the Russians should EVER be believed or disseminated.

Such information should be disbelieved at once! Anyone who discovers such a crime in progress must be shunned and discredited at all costs! Even if the person with this urgent information about a crime in progress is a career professional in counterintelligence from our oldest ally, Great Britain, he must be shut out! He is poison! Don't listen to him!

The Republicans are saying that the reliable friend who is reporting this ongoing crime against America is himself the criminal. This is the game of "poison" the Republicans are playing.

Republicans are upending various kinds of illogic to peddle this poison. They are not saying that a Democrat phoned in the crime report, they say a professional investigator of good standing hired by a company that was paid by a Democrat phoned in the crime report. If being hired by a company hired by Republicans but now paid by a Democrat discredits you, we have a problem. It discredits an awful lot of people. It means more than half of all Americans cannot expect to be believed when they call law enforcement, either because they are Democrats or because they know someone who is. And if they have their neighbor phone the FBI for them the FBI will be expected to hang up––because if the FBI believes the crime report or seeks to verify it they will be complicit in a crime, so the Republican argument goes.

The FBI believed Steele (Republicans hadn't called him poison yet) because his information corroborated much of their own information discovered in an investigation begun independently. But the Republicans are saying that the FBI's investigation is fatally biased and all its warrants are fatally biased because the FBI answered the phone when Steele phoned in the warning that Russians were involved in multiple ways with the Republican presidential candidate. The warrants the FBI obtained required something called "probable cause", but the Republicans are discrediting those warrants because they say "probable cause" means the FBI was biased against Donald Trump. Finding credible evidence of wrongdoing, the Republicans say, creates a fatal bias in the investigating agency. Oddly this is not something Republicans charge when Arizona sheriffs count the brownness of a suspect's skin as probable cause.

What this all means is this: if you want to commit a crime and avoid investigation and prosecution the safest thing to do is be a Republican candidate for president or a member of his campaign, because these things make you immune to all suspicion and invalidates any investigation that might be opened or may have already been ongoing into your dodgy business practices that look like money laundering or fraud or conspiracy, especially your pattern of conspiring with Russian spies. Probable cause to seek evidence of crime means you are too biased to investigate. Only law officers who swear everlasting fealty and loyalty to the Leader are to be trusted. Everybody else must be fired.

James Bond supposedly had a license to kill. Not really true but it made a good story. He did have a license to investigate Russians, though, and he knew how to do this. But Bond's license to investigate Russian conspiracies is hereby suspended because he had the gall to investigate a Republican. Mr. Bond is persona non grata. Poison. Nobody should talk to him or listen to him or believe what he says. If you do nobody will believe you either. The crimes Bond is reporting are not crimes at all. Mr. Bond is a criminal. The Russians do issue licenses to kill and without any friends in America Bond, I mean Steele, had better not come here anymore because the president who used to be very "mobbed up" is now very "Russianed up" and you never know when they might arrange for someone to fall out of a high window or meet with an accident on the sidewalk. All of this sounds like something dreamed up by Ian Fleming (too bizarre for John LeCarré) but it's now true. Because false is now true.

Good is now evil. Bad is good. Criminal is legal and the crime-fighters are now the criminals. Treason is now patriotism and what used to be patriotism is now treason. Republicans sleep with Russians and this is a good thing. If you oppose the surrender of American sovereignty to the man in Moscow you are unAmerican, because that is what Trump has done and what Trump does is now the rule. It doesn't even matter if Russian prostitutes were filmed doing strange things with Mr. Trump in Moscow because the American Evangelicals, our highest authorities on superChristianity, have given President* Trump a license to do strange things with prostitutes or wives of his friends or complete strangers exactly as he sees fit. God help us all.

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Friday, February 02, 2018

The Nunes Memo Casts More Suspicion on the GOP Than It Casts On The FBI

In early 1933, Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany.

In March, their parliament passed the Enabling Act that gave Hitler dictatorial powers.

In December 1933, the oaths sworn by members of the armed forces, law enforcement and the civil service, were changed from an oath to serve Germany to an oath to obey Adolf Hitler. A loyalty oath. A personal loyalty oath.

This recent news about Trump’s demand of personal loyalty from DOJ officials and FBI officials has a very dark precedent not from American tradition but from Nazi Germany.

I am not surprised Donald Trump would go this way. I am dismayed and disturbed to see how Republicans are enabling him. (See the Enabling Act, above)

When will Republicans stand up for American law and order and push back?

Republican leaders are charging that the FBI, the DOJ, and our intelligence agencies are biased. The President* sees this bias in anyone who threatens him by investigating matters that might incriminate him, anyone who threatens him by fulfilling his or her duties, who won't swear an oath to Donald Trump. The latest fears of Donald Trump stem from FBI agents following probable cause to investigate matters that seem to involve the president himself.

This "bias" Trump is objecting to appears to be based on something called probable cause. Probable cause is information that hasn't been proved yet, but probable cause prompts further investigation and these elements of probable cause are part of the application for a warrant.

The key point is this: Probable cause to investigate a crime does not vacate any investigation because of bias.

If law enforcement has probable cause to investigate they are obligated to investigate. Saying otherwise amounts to dangerous blindness to official duty. Saying otherwise indicates a greater loyalty to a probable lawbreaker than to the law.

What makes this especially alarming is we see Republicans, the majority party––with enormous power that they are asserting maximally–– stating a strange opinion that reaching a level of high suspicion or concern, rather than bolstering the case for further investigation, by some bizarre logic undermines the case.

The Republicans in Congress are siding with a president who may in fact be compromised by the Russian government, who has throughout his career shown a great tendency to lie, to cheat, to show bias and act in a bigoted manner, to hire and work with organized criminals, to admire criminals, to associate with and admire foreign dictators, and to side with foreign dictators, enemies of this country, and their intelligence apparatus, against our own intelligence professionals whose job is to protect our national security.

The Republicans are siding with someone who has triggered mountains of probable cause concern against the law enforcement professionals who are seeking to find out if these concerns are borne out by further evidence. (Imagine if a career mobster were to raise these arguments. He would be laughed at by Americans from both ends of the political spectrum.)

We face not only a constitutional crisis but a national security crisis and we are being led by a Republican Party that behaves like a criminal organization with close ties to the Russian president.

What sources of anti-terrorist intelligence or intelligence that might strengthen our national security will feel confident enough to share that information with us when Republican in high office will misuse it and expose the sources of the information?

Where are the elders of the party? Where are the responsible Republican officeholders, if any remain?

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