Jean Metzinger The blue bird 1912-13
Lots of Mueller report coverage today. Can’t be helped. Who’s going to apologize to Russia?
Matt Bivens is a former editor of the St. Petersburg Times and the Moscow Times who has left journalism to become an emergency room doctor.
• Russiagate: The Great Tragic Comedy of Modern Journalism (Bivens)
In its Russiagate coverage, The New York Times has repeatedly offered a graphic accusing the President’s retinue of “more than 100 contacts with Russian nationals.” This decision to question the loyalty of people who have had contact with a Russian national -so, for just knowing or meeting a Russian- has been a staple of New York Times coverage. “More than 100 contacts with Russian nationals.” It’s incredible that this can even be an allegation -in our paper of record- there in explainer graphics almost every day, for more than two years now. It smacks of the famous Senator Joseph McCarthy speeches in the 1950s: “I have in my hand a list of 205 [or 57, or 81]…” And yet no one ever seemed to mind.
After all, as former intelligence chief (and liar to Congress) James Clapper has asserted on television, “Russians are almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favor.” Worse, I may have already been co-opted and penetrated without even knowing it! As Clapper said recently on CNN when asked if Trump could be “a Russian asset,” it is “a possibility, and I would add to that a caveat, whether witting or unwitting.” Unwitting! So you can be an unwitting traitor? Infected with Russian mind-control, like a zombie? Yes. As mainstream media have argued repeatedly and quite explicitly. Consider the stunning set of short films on The New York Times op-ed webpages titled “Operation Infektion: How Russia Perfected the Art of War”.
[..] I was not surprised to see politicians up on their hind legs, panting mindlessly about Russians. But to see journalists at CNN, The New York Times, NPR, MSNBC, competing to be even dumber … hot on the trail of a non-story, recklessly discarding fairness and professionalism … dragging us gleefully down every rabbit hole … applauding the collateral damage to bystanders, as they indulge their collective rage against Donald Trump, their hysterical certainty that he must be a Russian asset … What can I say? It’s been heart-breaking. I know of smart, progressive-leaning journalists who politically oppose Donald Trump, but who feel like strangers in their own newsrooms, afraid to speak out against this mob psychosis. When I meet old colleagues, we have to feel each other out cautiously, until with relief we realize: Thank God, you’re not one of them – not one of the pod people from “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” that might point at me and scream.
No, I don’t like having to go to the NY Post.
• Mueller Madness: The Media Pundits Who Got It Most Wrong (NYPost)
Special counsel Robert Mueller has definitively put to rest the collusion theory of President Trump’s election. That’s not a little embarrassing for the many journalists, talking heads, celebrities and instant experts who spent more than two years furiously speculating about Moscow “pee-pee” tapes, treasonous rendezvous and the president’s imminent arrest. The president’s haters no doubt wish to memory-hole collusion and move on to the next anti-Trump theory. But not so fast: We want to laurel the punditry “champion” — the one who peddled the most nonsensical nonsense, the wildest inanities, the weirdest theories and unsubstantiated stories. That’s where your brackets come in.
Our contenders are divided into four groups (not unlike NCAA conferences): the print journalists, the cable TV talkers, the Twitterati and the network news reporters and “analysts.” And the brackets are seeded, with the most visible and influential figures contending against the lesser-known. In the Print category, the top seed is the never-Trump honcho Bill Kristol, who in August predicted that “Mueller will find there was collusion between Trump associates and Putin operatives; that Trump knew about it; and that Trump sought to cover it up and obstruct its investigation.” Or not. Pick your brackets — no, not for March Madness. This is Collusion Madness!
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“They are literally — the media and the Democrats — have called the president an agent of a foreign government. That is an accusation equal to treason, which is punishable by death in this country.”
Maybe we can stop smearing her as well.
• Mueller Probe Accusations Were ‘Equal To Treason’ – Sarah Sanders (MW)
President Donald Trump wasn’t the only one taking a victory lap a day after the Justice Department announced that the long-awaited Mueller report found no evidence that the president’s campaign “conspired or coordinated” with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told “Today” show anchor Savannah Guthrie on Monday morning that Attorney General William Barr’s four-page letter to Congress summarizing the two-year investigation was a “total exoneration” of the president. What’s more, she called on the media and Democrats to apologize for “wasting” the past two years on treasonous charges.
The exchange between Sanders and Guthrie got heated at times, with the “Today” anchor — who has a law degree and previously covered courts — arguing with Sanders that the Barr letter is not a full exoneration. “Let’s be clear about what this report, what this letter is and what it isn’t,” said Guthrie. “It is a legal exoneration with regards to conspiracy and collusion. As to whether he obstructed justice, the special counsel doesn’t say. … Would you acknowledge that it is incorrect for the president to call this is a total exoneration? “It is complete and total exoneration, and here’s why — because the special counsel couldn’t make a decision one way or another — the way the process works is they then leave that up to the attorney general,” countered Sanders.
She also referred to the two-year, $25 million investigation as something that “never should have happened,” adding that “this should never happen to another president, and we want to make sure that the institution of the president is protected.”
“..a roughly 33-month national ordeal (the first Russigate stories date back to July 2016) in which the public was encouraged, both by officials and the press, to believe Donald Trump was a compromised foreign agent.”
• As the Mueller Probe Ends, New Russiagate Myths Begin (Taibbi)
On Sunday, Attorney General William Barr sent a letter to Congress, summarizing the findings of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. The most telling section, quoted directly from Mueller’s report, read: “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” That one sentence should end a roughly 33-month national ordeal (the first Russigate stories date back to July 2016) in which the public was encouraged, both by officials and the press, to believe Donald Trump was a compromised foreign agent. After the 2016 election, the storyline instantly became that Trump was an illegitimate president, a foreign operative who’d cheated his way into office and would therefore need to be removed ahead of schedule.
There were too many stories that dwelled on this theme to count here, but we all saw them. New York asked, Was Trump “meeting his handler” in Helsinki? The Daily Beast asked, “Is he a Russian asset?” (Note: the extravagant use of hack spy-novel language during this period is going to look particularly ridiculous in history books decades from now.) Some outlets didn’t even put their beliefs in the form of a question. “Trump Is Compromised by Russia” read a not-unusual editorial in the New York Times last November. If you tried to protest that this had not been proven, that journalists should be more careful about leveling such serious accusations, the first line of response (if it wasn’t accusing you of being in league with Putin) was usually a version of: Be quiet, you don’t know what Mueller knows.
Mueller knows became the cornerstone belief of nearly all reporters who covered the Russial investigation. Journalists reveled in the idea of being kept out of the loop, thrilled to defer to the impenetrable steward of national secrets, the interview-proof Man of State. He was no blabbermouth Donald Trump, this Mueller! He won’t tell us a thing! “What Robert Mueller knows — and Isn’t Telling Us,” proclaimed Wired in February, going on to list the many areas where Mueller “probably knows far more than he’s willing to say.” Last month’s “What we know we don’t know from Mueller’s investigation,” by the Washington Post, marveled at Mueller’s ability to keep secrets. It made note of former Trump aide George Papadopoulos: “Mueller’s team kept him under wraps for months, with barely a hint of his importance.”
“We treated any words he spoke in his own defense as if they were automatically to be disbelieved because he had uttered them. ”
• Apologies to President Trump (Hill)
With the conclusions of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe now known to a significant degree, it seems apologies are in order. However, judging by the recent past, apologies are not likely forthcoming from the responsible parties. In this context, it matters not whether one is a supporter or a critic of President Trump. Whatever his supposed flaws, the rampant accusations and speculation that shrouded Trump’s presidency, even before it began, ultimately have proven unfounded. Just as Trump said all along. Yet, each time Trump said so, some of us in the media lampooned him. We treated any words he spoke in his own defense as if they were automatically to be disbelieved because he had uttered them.
Some even declared his words to be “lies,” although they had no evidence to back up their claims. We in the media allowed unproven charges and false accusations to dominate the news landscape for more than two years, in a way that was wildly unbalanced and disproportionate to the evidence. We did a poor job of tracking down leaks of false information. We failed to reasonably weigh the motives of anonymous sources and those claiming to have secret, special evidence of Trump’s “treason.” As such, we reported a tremendous amount of false information, always to Trump’s detriment.
And when we corrected our mistakes, we often doubled down more than we apologized. We may have been technically wrong on that tiny point, we would acknowledge. But, in the same breath, we would insist that Trump was so obviously guilty of being Russian President Vladimir Putin’s puppet that the technical details hardly mattered. So, a round of apologies seem in order.
Sure. Keep digging.
• Democrats Refuse To Retreat On Trump Legal Issues (G.)
“It’s a shame that our country has had to go through this,” a defiant Trump said Sunday. “To be honest, it’s a shame that your president has had to go through this.” Democrats nonetheless demanded the release of the full Mueller report, while suggesting Barr’s summary could not be trusted given his prior criticisms of the special counsel investigation. “The fact that Special Counsel Mueller’s report does not exonerate the president on a charge as serious as obstruction of justice demonstrates how urgent it is that the full report and underlying documentation be made public without any further delay,” the Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.
“Given Mr Barr’s public record of bias against the special counsel’s inquiry, he is not a neutral observer and is not in a position to make objective determinations about the report.” Democrats took particular issue with the claim by Barr and Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, that Mueller’s evidence was insufficient to prove Trump had obstructed justice. The special counsel examined several actions by Trump in considering the question of obstruction, including his firing of the former FBI director James Comey, public and private attempts to pressure the former attorney general Jeff Sessions, and role in misleading the public about a meeting between his campaign and a Russian lawyer during the campaign.
In a joint statement, the Democratic chairmen of the House intelligence, judiciary and oversight committees called for the complete release of Mueller’s report and “all underlying documents”. “It is unacceptable that, after Special Counsel Mueller spent 22 months meticulously uncovering this evidence, Attorney General Barr made a decision not to charge the president in under 48 hours,” the chairmen said.
When will they start attacking Bill Barr for real? And Mueller?
• Democrats Not Yet Ready To Conclude There’s No Russia Conspiracy (CNN)
Special counsel Robert Mueller found that no one in the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government in 2016 – but Democrats are not ready to accept that finding. In interviews since Attorney General William Barr issued his four-page letter on Sunday, Democrats have refused to accept that determination, saying there’s ample evidence of Trump campaign and Russia contacts that may not have risen to the level of criminal conduct. They are demanding the full release of the Mueller report to determine what else the special counsel found, and they say they will continue investigating ties between Trump and Russia.
But that strategy risks political backlash for Democrats if they are viewed as overreaching and probing into an area that has already been exhaustively investigated by a special counsel whose investigation turned up no criminal wrongdoing. “What I accept was there was apparently no criminal conspiracy … with the Russians,” Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat, told CNN. “That doesn’t mean there wasn’t a lot of activity with the Russians that ranges from unsavory to treacherous.” [..] House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, and Minority Whip Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, called for House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff’s resignation from the committee on Monday – payback after Schiff and the panel’s other Democrats pushed former Chairman Devin Nunes, a California Republican, to recuse himself from the panel’s Russia investigation in 2017.
“When you look at the claims that they’ve made, Chairman Schiff said he had more than circumstantial evidence that there was collusion. Whether he was misleading people or he was misled himself, he ought to be held accountable,” Scalise told reporters. “A lot of people, I think, should be angry today that for two years they’ve had people misleading and lying to them, saying there was collusion when there wasn’t.”
“..the collusion that actually occurred between the Hillary campaign, the FBI, the DOJ, the CIA, the NSA, the UK’s MI6 intel agency, and the Obama White House, striving to prevent the election of a TV reality show star, and to disable him afterwards..”
What actually happened with RussiaGate? A cabal of government officials colluded with the Hillary Clinton campaign to interfere in the 2016 election and, failing to achieve their desired outcome, engineered a two-years-plus formal inquisition to deflect attention from their own misconduct and attempt to overthrow the election result. The Cable News characters, quite a few of them lawyers, were litigating the living shit out of the story on Sunday night in their usual spirit of obdurate rank dishonesty. For instance, Jeffrey Toobin, who plays Attorney General on CNN, went off on the infamous 2016 Trump Tower Meeting in which the president’s son, Donald, Jr., met with Russian lawyer Natalia V. Veselnitskaya.
Toobin omitted to mention that Ms. Veselnitskaya was, at that very time, on the payroll of Fusion GPS, Hillary Clinton’s “oppo” research contractor. In other words, Trump Junior was set up. That was characteristic of the collusion that actually occurred between the Hillary campaign, the FBI, the DOJ, the CIA, the NSA, the UK’s MI6 intel agency, and the Obama White House, striving to prevent the election of a TV reality show star, and to disable him afterwards — also of the news media’s role in the whole interminable scam of RussiaGate. Their fury and despair were as vivid the night of March 24, 2019, as on November 8, 2016. And now they will attempt to spark off a sequel.
[..] My favorite college professor and mentor, David Hamilton, once put a curious question to us when we were vexing him for some reason now forgotten: “Why,” he asked, “Did Achilles drag Hector around the city of Troy three times?” We twiddled our cigarettes and pulled our chins. “Because he was just that pissed,” he said.
Who made this guy a star? You own that.
• Michael Avenatti Arrested On Extortion Charges (G.)
The high-profile attorney Michael Avenatti was charged with trying to extort more than $20m from the sports company Nike. Avenatti, the former lawyer for Stormy Daniels and a prominent critic of Donald Trump, threatened to release damaging information about Nike unless it paid him off, according to a criminal complaint filed by federal authorities in New York. He was also charged with wire and bank fraud in a separate case in Los Angeles, where prosecutors said he embezzled money from a client. Avenatti, a California lawyer who has teased the idea of a presidential bid, rose to national fame as the lawyer for Daniels, the porn star who was paid off to keep quiet about an alleged sexual encounter with Donald Trump. They parted ways this month.
He used his prominence to try to extort millions from Nike, prosecutors alleged. He threatened to publicize allegations of misconduct against Nike unless the company paid a client he represented $1.5m, and paid Avenatti and another lawyer up to $25m to conduct an internal investigation, the criminal complaint says. “A suit and tie doesn’t mask the fact that at its core, this was an old-fashioned shakedown,” said Geoffrey Berman, the US attorney for the southern district of New York. Avenatti was arrested in New York on Monday morning and later appeared in court. He did not enter a plea and was released on a $300,000 bond.
Berman said Avenatti, 48, acted as an attorney bringing a case on behalf of a client merely to “provide cover for [his] extortionate demands for a massive payday for himself”, adding: “When lawyers use their law licenses as weapons as a guise to extort payments for themselves, they are no longer acting as attorneys. They are acting as criminals.”
It all comes apart.
• General Election Looms As Theresa May Calls Cabinet Talks (Ind.)
Theresa May’s Brexit strategy has been left in disarray and her leadership under threat after three of her ministers resigned and MPs dramatically voted to take control of the process from the government. A total of 30 Tory MPs defied the party whip and supported a cross-party amendment which will allow MPs to potentially dictate the business of the House of Commons. The move could pave the way for a “softer” deal that keeps Britain closer to the European Union, as ministers warned of the prospect of a third UK general election in four years.
[..] More than 80 per cent of people think the government has handled Brexit badly, a new survey has found. The NatCen Social Research poll found that just 7 per cent of voters think Theresa May’s team has done well, while 81 per cent said the opposite. The figures are significantly worse for the government those from 2017, when only 41 per cent said Brexit was being managed badly, while 29 per cent thought the government was doing well.
But May could still try and steer the country into a no-deal.
• UK MPs Seize Control Of Brexit Process (G.)
MPs have inflicted a fresh humiliating defeat on Theresa May, voting to seize control of the parliamentary timetable to allow backbenchers to hold a series of votes on alternatives to her Brexit deal. An amendment tabled by former Tory minister Oliver Letwin passed, by 329 votes to 302 on Monday night, as MPs expressed their exasperation at the government’s failure to set out a fresh approach. The prime minister had earlier declined to say whether she would abide by the outcome of a process of “indicative votes”. The government issued a punchy statement after the amendment passed, warning that it “upends the balance between our democratic institutions and sets a dangerous, unpredictable precedent for the future”.
Three ministers resigned from government in order to back the Letwin amendment: the foreign affairs minister, Alistair Burt, the health minister Steve Brine and the business minister Richard Harrington. A total of 29 Tory MPs rebelled to vote for the amendment. Harrington, who has been outspoken in his warnings about the risk of a no-deal Brexit in recent weeks, accused the government of “playing roulette with the lives and livelihoods of the vast majority of people in this country” in his resignation letter. The amendment was drawn up by a cross-party group – led by Letwin and Labour’s Hilary Benn – and gives MPs a series of votes on the alternatives to May’s deal, such as a softer Brexit or revoking article 50.
The pride of America. Once.
• Nasa Cancels All-Female Spacewalk, Citing Lack Of Spacesuit In Right Size (G.)
Nasa’s plans for an all-female spacewalk have fallen through – at least in part because the agency doesn’t have enough spacesuits that fit the astronauts. Early this month, Nasa announced that Christina Koch and Anne McClain would take part in the first-of-its kind mission on 29 March, walking outside the international space station (ISS) to install new batteries. In the past, missions have been all-male or male-female. But in a press release on Monday, Nasa said its plans had changed, “in part” due to a shortage of outerwear.
McClain had “learned during her first spacewalk that a medium-size hard upper torso – essentially the shirt of the spacesuit – fits her best.” Only one such top can be made by Friday, the agency said, and it will go to Koch. When McClain took part in a spacewalk last week, she became the 13th woman to do so, Nasa says; Koch will be the 14th. McClain is now “tentatively scheduled” to perform her next one on 8 April.
[..] The first woman to perform a spacewalk was the Soviet cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya, 35 years ago. More than 500 people have been into space, but only 11% have been women, Reuters reported. But Koch and McClain were both part of Nasa’s 2013 class, which was half female. Fitting for spacesuits is a tricky business, according to Space.com, since microgravity makes you taller. McClain tweeted this month that she was 2in taller than when she launched.