Gaius Publius: An Investigation in Search of a Crime

Yves here. Gaius quotes Matt Taibbi’s line of thought that the relentless Trump investigations will eventually turn up something, most likely money laundering. However, it’s not clear that that can be pinned on Trump. For real estate transactions, it is the bank, not the property owner, that is responsible for anti-money-laundering checks. So unless Trump was accepting cash or other payment outside the banking system, it’s going to be hard to make that stick. The one area where he could be vulnerable is his casinos. However, if I read this history of his casinos correctly, Trump could have been pretty much out of that business since 1995 via putting the casinos in a public entity (although he could have continued to collect fees as a manager). Wikipedia hedges its bets and says Trump has been out of the picture since at least 2011. He only gets licensing fees and has nada to do with management and operations. So even if Trump got dirty money, and in particular dirty Russian money, it’s hard to see how that begins to translate into influence over his Presidency, particularly since any such shady activity took place before Trump was even semi-seriously considering a Presidential bid.

By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and frequent contributor to DownWithTyranny, digby, Truthout, and Naked Capitalism. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius, Tumblr and Facebook. GP article archive  here. Originally published at DownWithTyranny

Start at 2:25. Chris Hayes to Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell: “How long are you allowed to go before you retroactively file as a foreign agent?” Note Swalwell’s carefully phrased non-answers, as well as Hayes’ seeming failure to know that not registering is a very common practice. (If video doesn’t play in your browser, go here and listen, again starting at 2:25.)

“And most pitiful of all that I heard was the voice of the daughter of Priam, of Cassandra”
— Homer, The Odyssey, Book 11


PRIAM: What noise, what shriek is this?
TROILUS: ‘Tis our mad sister; I do know her voice. …
It is Cassandra.
—Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida, Act II, scene 2


“I’ll be your Cassandra this week.”
—Yours truly

So much of this story is hidden from view, and so much of the past has to be erased to conform to what’s presently painted as true. 

Example of the latter: Did you remember that Robert Mueller and Bush’s FBI were behind the highly suspicious (and likely covered-up) 2001 anthrax investigation — Robert Mueller, today’s man of absolute integrity? Did you remember that James Comey was the man behind the destruction of the mind of Jose Padilla, just so that Bush could have a terrorist he could point to having caught — James Comey, today’s man of doing always what’s right? If you forgot all that in the rush to canonize them, don’t count on the media to remind you — they have another purpose.

Yes, I’ll be your Cassandra this week, the one destined not to be believed. To what do I refer? Read on.

How Many Foreign Agents Register as Foreign Agents? A Number Far Smaller Than “All”

Today let’s look at one of the original sins pointed to by those trying to take down Trump, leaving entirely aside whether Trump needs taking down (which he does). That sin — Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort’s failing to register as “foreign agents” (of Turkey and Ukraine, respectively, not Russia) until very after the fact.

See the Chris Hayes video at the top for Hayes’ question to Rep. Eric Swalwell about that. Hayes to Swalwell: “How long are you allowed to go before you retroactively file as a foreign agent?” What Swalwell should have answered: “Almost forever by modern American practice.”

Jonathan Marshall, writing at investigative journalist Robert Parry’s Consortium News, has this to say about the current crop of unregistered foreign agents (my emphasis throughout):

The Open Secret of Foreign Lobbying

The alleged hacking of the Hillary Clinton campaign’s emails and the numerous contacts of Donald Trump’s circle with Russian officials, oligarchs and mobsters have triggered any number of investigations into Moscow’s alleged efforts to influence the 2016 election and the new administration….

In contrast, as journalist Robert Parry recently noted, American politicians and the media have been notably silent about other examples of foreign interference in U.S. national politics. In part that’s because supporters of more successful foreign pressure groups have enough clout to downplay or deny their very existence. In part it’s also because America’s political system is so riddled with big money that jaded insiders rarely question the status quo of influence peddling by other nations.

The subject of his discussion is the 1938 Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). Under the Act, failure to properly register carries a penalty of up to five years in prison and $10,000 in fines. Marshall notes that while the influence of foreign agents was of great national concern during World War I and World War II, very little is done today to require or enforce FARA registration:

Since the end of World War II, however, enforcement of the Foreign Agents Registration Act has been notably lax. Its effectiveness has been stymied by political resistance from lobby supporters as well as by the law’s many loopholes — including Justice Department’s admission that FARA “does not authorize the government to inspect records of those not registered under the Act.”

A 2016 audit by the inspector general of the Department of Justice determined that half of FARA registrations and 62 percent of initial registrations were filed late, and 15 percent of registrants simply stopped filing for periods of six months or more. It also determined that the Department of Justice brought only seven criminal cases under FARA from 1966 to 2015, and filed no civil injunctions since 1991.

The result — almost no one registers who doesn’t want to.

Here’s Russia-savvy Matt Taibbi, who is looking at the whole Russia-Trump investigation and wonders what’s being investigated. Note his comments about FARA at the end of this quote:

When James Comey was fired … I didn’t know what to think, because so much of this story is still hidden from view.

Certainly firing an FBI director who has announced the existence of an investigation targeting your campaign is going to be improper in almost every case. And in his post-firing rants about tapes and loyalty, President Trump validated every criticism of him as an impetuous, unstable, unfit executive who additionally is ignorant of the law and lunges for authoritarian solutions in a crisis.

But it’s our job in the media to be bothered by little details, and the strange timeline of the Trump-Russia investigation qualifies as a conspicuous loose end.

[So] What exactly is the FBI investigating? Why was it kept secret from other intelligence chiefs, if that’s what happened? That matters, if we’re trying to gauge what happened last week.

Is it a FARA (Foreign Agent Registration Act) case involving former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn or a lower-level knucklehead like Carter Page?

Since FARA is violated more or less daily in Washington and largely ignored by authorities unless it involves someone without political connections (an awful lot of important people in Washington who appear to be making fortunes lobbying for foreign countries are merely engaged in “litigation support,” if you ask them), it would be somewhat anticlimactic to find out that this was the alleged crime underlying our current white-hot constitutional crisis.

Is it something more serious than a FARA case, like money-laundering for instance, involving someone higher up in the Trump campaign? That would indeed be disturbing, and it would surely be improper – possibly even impeachable, depending upon what exactly happened behind the scenes – for Trump to get in the way of such a case playing itself out.

But even a case like that would be very different from espionage and treason. Gutting a money-laundering case involving a campaign staffer would be more like garden-variety corruption than the cloak-and-dagger nightmares currently consuming the popular imagination.

Sticking narrowly with FARA for the moment, if this were just a FARA case, it would be more than “somewhat anticlimactic to find out that this was the alleged crime underlying our current white-hot constitutional crisis.” It would be, not to put to fine a point on it, highly indicative that something else is going on, that other hands are involved, just as the highly suspicious circumstances around the takedown of Eliot Spitzer indicate the presence of other hands and other actors.

My best guess, for what it’s worth, is that Trump-Russia will devolve into a money-laundering case, and if it does, Trump will likely survive it, since so many others in the big money world do the same thing. But let’s stick with unregistered foreign agents a bit longer.

John McCain, Randy Scheuneman and the Nation of Georgia

Do you remember the 2008 story about McCain advisor Randy Scheunemann, who claimed he no longer represented the nation of Georgia while advising the McCain campaign, even though his small (two-person) firm still retained their business?

And all this while McCain himself was trying to gin up a war between Georgia and Russia that he would benefit from politically:

In the current [2008] crisis, President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia fell into a Soviet trap by moving troops into the disputed territory of South Ossetia and raining artillery and rocket fire on the South Ossetian capital city of Tskhinvali, with a still undetermined loss of civilian life. As in 1956, the Soviets responded with overwhelming force and additional loss of life. Once again the United States could offer only words, not concrete aid to the Georgians.

It is difficult to believe that, like the Hungarians in 1956, the Georgians in 2008 could have taken such action without believing that they could expect support from the United States. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice denies that the Bush administration was the agent provocateur in Georgia. To the contrary, a State Department source said that she explicitly warned President Saakashvili in July to avoid provoking Russia.

If this information is correct, then, by inference, John McCain emerges as the most likely suspect as agent provocateur. First, McCain had a unique and privileged pipeline to President Saakashvili (shown to the right in the photo to the right). McCain’s top foreign policy advisor, Randy Scheunemann, was a partner in a two-man firm that served as a paid lobbyist for the Georgian government. Scheunemann continued receiving compensation from the firm until the McCain campaign imposed new restrictions on lobbyists in mid-May. Scheunemann reportedly helped arrange a telephone conversation between McCain and Saakashvili on April 17 of this year, while he was still being paid by Georgia.,,,

McCain has benefited politically from the crisis in Georgia. … McCain’s swift and belligerent response to the Soviet actions in Georgia has bolstered his shaky standing with the right-wing of the Republican Party. McCain has also used the Georgian situation to assert his credentials as the hardened warrior ready to do battle against a resurgent Russia. He has pointedly contrasted his foreign policy experience with that of his Democratic opponent Barack Obama. Since the crisis erupted, McCain has focused like a laser on Georgia, to great effect. According to a Quinnipiac University National Poll released on August 19 he has gained four points on Obama since their last poll in mid-July and leads his rival by a two to one margin as the candidate best qualified to deal with Russia.

Was Scheunemann a paid lobbyist for Georgia at the time of these events? He says no. Others aren’t so sure:

Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a liberal-leaning watchdog group, said Scheunemann still has a conflict of interest because his small firm continues to represent foreign clients. The records that show Scheunemann ceased representing foreign countries as of March 1 also show his partner, Michael Mitchell, remains registered to represent the three nations. Mitchell said Tuesday that Scheunemann no longer has any role with Orion Strategies but declined to say whether Scheunemann still is receiving income or profits from the firm.

If almost no one registers under FARA who doesn’t want to, what’s the crime if Flynn didn’t register? The answer seems to be, because he’s Trump appointee Michael Flynn, and FARA is a stick his enemies can beat him with, while they’re looking for something better.

The fact that FARA is a stick almost no one is beaten with, matters not at all, it seems. Not to Democratic politicians and appointees; and not to many journalists either.

An Investigation in Search of a Crime

Questioning the Michael Flynn investigation leads us (and Matt Taibbi) down a further rabbit hole, which includes two questions: what’s being investigated, and how did this investigation start?

Short answer to the first question — no one knows, since unlike the Watergate break-in, this whole effort didn’t start with a crime that needed investigating. It seems to have started with an investigation (how to get rid of Trump) in search of a crime. And one that still hasn’t found evidence of one.

Journalist Robert Parry, who himself was a key Iran-Contra investigator, makes the same point:

In Watergate, five burglars were caught inside the DNC offices on June 17, 1972, as they sought to plant more bugs on Democratic phones. (An earlier break-in in May had installed two bugs, but one didn’t work.) Nixon then proceeded to mount a cover-up of his 1972 campaign’s role in funding the break-in and other abuses of power.

In Iran-Contra, Reagan secretly authorized weapons sales to Iran, which was then designated a terrorist state, without informing Congress, a violation of the Arms Export Control Act. He also kept Congress in the dark about his belated signing of a related intelligence “finding.” And the creation of slush funds to finance the Nicaraguan Contras represented an evasion of the U.S. Constitution.

There was also the attendant Iran-Contra cover-up mounted both by the Reagan White House and later the George H.W. Bush White House, which culminated in Bush’s Christmas Eve 1992 pardons of six Iran-Contra defendants as special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh was zeroing in on possible indictment of Bush for withholding evidence.

By contrast, Russia-gate has been a “scandal” in search of a specific crime. President Barack Obama’s intelligence chieftains have alleged – without presenting any clear evidence – that the Russian government hacked into the emails of the Democratic National Committee and of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta and released those emails via WikiLeaks and other Internet sites. (The Russians and WikiLeaks have both denied the accusations.)

The DNC emails revealed that senior Democrats did not maintain their required independence regarding the primaries by seeking to hurt Sen. Bernie Sanders and help Clinton. The Podesta emails pulled back the curtain on Clinton’s paid speeches to Wall Street banks and on pay-to-play features of the Clinton Foundation.

Hacking into personal computers is a crime, but the U.S. government has yet to bring any formal charges against specific individuals supposedly responsible for the hacking of the Democratic emails. There also has been no evidence that Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russians in the hacking.

Lacking any precise evidence of this cyber-crime or of a conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign, Obama’s Justice Department holdovers and now special prosecutor Robert Mueller have sought to build “process crimes,” around false statements to investigators and possible obstruction of justice.

I’ve yet to see actual evidence of an underlying crime — lots of smoke, which is fine as a starting point, but no fire, even after months of looking (and months of official leaking about every damning thing in sight). This makes the current investigation strongly reminiscent of the Whitewater investigation, another case of Alice (sorry, Ken Starr) jumping into every hole she could find looking for a route to Wonderland. Ken Starr finally found one, perjury about a blow job. Will Mueller find something more incriminating? He’s still looking too.

Note that none of this means Trump doesn’t deserve getting rid of. It just means that how he’s gotten rid of matters. (As you ponder this, consider what you think would be fair to do to a Democratic president. I guarantee what happens to Trump will be repeated.)

What Was the Sally Yates Accusation Against Flynn Really About?

Short answer to the second question of my two “further rabbit hole” questions — How did this investigation start? — may be the Sally Yates accusation that Flynn was someone who could be blackmailed.

Here’s Parry on that (same link):

In the case of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, acting Attorney General Sally Yates used the archaic Logan Act of 1799 to create a predicate for the FBI to interrogate Flynn about a Dec. 29, 2016 conversation with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, i.e., after Trump’s election but before the Inauguration.

Green Party leader Jill Stein and retired Lt. General Michael Flynn attending a dinner marking the RT network’s 10-year anniversary in Moscow, December 2015, sitting at the same table as Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Logan Act, which has never resulted in a prosecution in 218 years, was enacted during the period of the Alien and Sedition Acts to bar private citizens from negotiating on their own with foreign governments. It was never intended to apply to a national security adviser of an elected President, albeit before he was sworn in.

But it became the predicate for the FBI interrogation — and the FBI agents were armed with a transcript of the intercepted Kislyak-Flynn phone call so they could catch Flynn on any gaps in his recollection, which might have been made even hazier because he was on vacation in the Dominican Republic when Kislyak called.

Yates also concocted a bizarre argument that the discrepancies between Flynn’s account of the call and the transcript left him open to Russian blackmail although how that would work – since the Russians surely assumed that Kislyak’s calls would be monitored by U.S. intelligence and thus offered them no leverage with Flynn – was never explained.

Still, Flynn’s failure to recount the phone call precisely and the controversy stirred up around it became the basis for an obstruction of justice investigation of Flynn and led to President Trump’s firing Flynn on Feb. 13.

Do I need, Cassandra-like, to say this again? None of this means that Trump doesn’t deserve getting rid of. It just means that how he’s gotten rid of matters.

“So Much of the Story Is Still Hidden From View”

I’m not taking Robert Parry as the final word on this, but he’s one word on this, and his word isn’t nothing. If we were looking down rabbit holes for the source of this investigation, for where all this anti-Trump action started, I don’t think Yates’ concerns are where it begins.

I think this story starts well before Trump took office, a rabbit hole I don’t want to jump into yet, but one with John Brennan‘s and James Clapper‘s fingerprints — Obama’s CIA director, Obama’s DNI — all over it. Models of honesty all.

What’s down that hole? Who knows.

What I do know is that Manafort and Flynn not registering as foreign agents puts them squarely in the mainstream of Washington political practice. The fact that these are suddenly crimes of the century makes me just a tad suspicious that, in Matt Taibbi’s words, “so much of this story is still hidden from view.”

I warned you — I’ll be your Cassandra this week.  crime

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  1. TomDority

    I would think that a crime in search of an investigation would be Clinton’s private server while at state and, the tie in thru the Clinton foundation….just saying.
    The big story is that these chicken-little stories all seam to serve as cover for the bought-and-paid for chicken little politicians…..while those elected politicians who give a damp about their office and those they represent are sidelined.

    1. Ed

      While some might think there is some tie in with donations to the Clinton Foundation and favors granted by the political wing of the Clinton Conglomerate and the sudden dissolution of said donations after the toppling of Dame Clinton by Der Trumpf it appears all such talk originates in the fever swamp of the right wing echo chamber and it’s shot caller the GRU.

      1. sid_finster

        Oh, what a load of bullcrap!

        Present us evidence that the GRU has any influence, much less is the “shot-caller” with respect to the “right-wing echo chamber”.

        And why do you thing tyrants, despots, emirs and dictators generously donated so much to the phoney Foundation? Because they wanted to further its good works, just like the Saudis are very worried about AIDS prevention?

        No, they wanted to buy influence. And Clinton gave them what they wanted.

        And why did these same tyrants, despots, emits and dictators stop donating once Clinton lost? Because she could no longer deliver.

      2. different clue

        I cannot tell if Ed’s comment is straight or satire or snarcasm or what. The internet is a poor place to try such things.

        I am going to take it as a straight comment. The Clintons have been grooming Chelsea for public office and will try desperately to get her elected to something somewhere. That way, they will still have influence to peddle and their Family of Foundations will still be worth something.

        I hope Chelsea’s wanna-have political career is strangled in the cradle. And hosed down with napalm and incinerated down to some windblown ashes.

    2. Thor's Hammer

      That investigation has been firmly crammed down the rabbit hole and cemented over.

      If it had taken place in a nation where laws meant anything it would have likely disclosed:

      *** Clinton set up a private computer server center to control the information about her background, financial dealings, and political arrangements while serving as Secretary of State in the Obama administration.
      *** Obama was aware of the arrangement
      *** Clinton transferred classified and top secrete documents to her private server. This is by definition theft.
      *** Clinton defied subpoenas, refused to turn over documents, and destroyed evidence. This is by definition obstruction of justice.
      *** In spite of being informed that the server was not secure, Clinton placed classified and sensitive national security information on the server. This is equivalent to printing the same documents on paper and walking through Central Park throwing them at the squirrels. And it fits the legal definition of treason.
      *** Failure to prosecute Clinton is graphic proof that the US is not a nation of laws, but rather one where power, bribes and influence peddling determine who the law applies to.

  2. Disturbed Voter

    Corruption in high places is the norm. It is childish, all this virtue signaling. I would respect the sore losers more if they were honest … they want to put Obama in as President for Life … the US is Haiti now. Or the Kissinger faction of the MIC could install one of our TV generals as our version of Gen. Pinochet.

  3. RenoDino

    “None of this means that Trump doesn’t deserve getting rid of.”

    I guess this means, he needs to go, but not this way. This way is anti-democratic. But isn’t that the point?

    1. Carolinian

      Did Obama “deserve getting rid of”? Oh heck yes. You pays your money and you makes your choice. Next chance: 2020.

    2. Crazy Horse

      Since he won’t be impeached, I assume Gaius meant Trump should be assassinated? In the USA every four years we have the opportunity to battle over the control of voting machine software, voter disqualification and hanging chads. But if we want to change Presidents in mid-stream the traditional method is to have them shot.

      1. different clue

        It was the filthy Clintonites who gave us Trump to begin with. Let Trump be smeared all over their face and shoved way deep up their noses till 2020.

        And if the Clintonite scum give us another Clintonite nominee in 2020, then let Trump be elected all over again. I’ll vote for that.

  4. Alice X

    As regards the 2008 Georgian situation discussed here, Russia seems to have been referred to as Soviet. Twice. This happened for some years in the ’90s but it is rather late to do so these days. Maybe I misunderstood something?

    1. Vatch

      You did not misunderstand; yes, the author of that article was sloppy. He was switching back and forth between events of 1956 and 2008, and he failed to adequately proofread what he wrote about 2008.

  5. Skip in DC

    Gaius offers a realistic and well-put caution for Democrats and journalists taking their eye off the ball of the Mnuchin crowd.

    I’ve a good friend who’s exasperated when I utter such blasphemies, asking how I could have missed the constant swell of opinion by Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert, Joe Scarborough, Rachel Meadow, etc…

    When I reply that prospects outside the courts of comedians and MSNBC infotainment pundits goosing their base are different – and I’m not so sure I’d prefer a less crass and crazed President Pence armed with Trumpster strategies – I’m asked “But what about justice?!!!”

    Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.

    No doubt plenty of insulating layers if money-laundering took place via real estate, though its worth plumbing those depths. But given Trump appointees’ soft-ball approach to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, I’d guess that’s an arena well worth the time of journalists, insulating layers or not. I recall Sheldon Adelson’s disdain for the FCPA likely increasing his fervor to dump Democrats.

    1. sid_finster

      The right-on set ask “What about justice?”

      Hell, let’s see some evidence before we proceed to the sentence and verdict.

      1. TheCatSaid

        And let’s apply the justice to everyone, not just the “enemy camp” of whoever happens to be speaking.

        And let’s apply justice to those at the top first. Only after cleaning out all the top, most privileged layers, then the layers beneath them, should justice be applied to those at the bottom socio-economic layers. IOW, the opposite of the strategy we’ve seen applied over most of our history in many or most places.

  6. DJG

    Yves Smith: Thanks for this. Astute observations. And as I keep reminding people, you can turn on the spigot of MacCarthyism, and you may think that you can turn off that spigot, but you can’t. In the case of Joe MacCarthy himself, it didn’t truly end till about the time of his premature death from alcoholism.

    Hence the observation above in the posting that the rightwingers will pull out the same techniques if a Democrat wins the next election.

    One aspect of the now-thoroughly-rotten system in the U S of A is the constant contesting of election results. As Lambert Strether keeps writing, the electronic voting machines are a black hole, and both parties have been engaged in debasing the vote and diminishing the size of the electorate. The gravamen in both parties is that the voters don’t know what they are doing and the ballots aren’t being counted properly. Maybe we can do something about that…

  7. Stephen Douglas

    Do I need, Cassandra-like, to say this again? None of this means that Trump doesn’t deserve getting rid of.

    No. You didn’t need to say it even once.

    Another interesting analysis utterly ruined by the writer’s incessant feverish need to virtue signal himself as a Trump hater.


    You write an article chock-full of information clearly pointing to corruption, venality, un-democratic machinations, and still you feel the need to repeat over and over and over again that does not mean that you don’t want to remove Trump.

    Remove him? Like how, Gaius? And why?

    Why not remove the people you write about in your article? Why not say 40 times you want to remove them. Undemocratically, of course.

    As you say in your article, be careful of how the talk about removing people one does not like.

    You’re a Cassandra alright. And methinks the lady doth protest too much.

    1. Vatch

      Here’s another paragraph from the article:

      Note that none of this means Trump doesn’t deserve getting rid of. It just means that how he’s gotten rid of matters. (As you ponder this, consider what you think would be fair to do to a Democratic president. I guarantee what happens to Trump will be repeated.)

      This is an implicit warning about impeachment. I interpret this as a recommendation to vigorously oppose Trump’s actions over the next three and a half years, and to effectively campaign against him in 2020. Trump really is a terrible President, but Mike Pence would be terrible, too. And so would Hillary Clinton, but I hope we won’t have to worry about her any more.

      In case you’re wondering why I think that Trump is a terrible President, here’s a short summary:

      Scott Pruitt
      Betsy DeVos
      Jeff Sessions
      Steven Mnuchin
      Tom Price
      Neil Gorsuch

      There are other reasons, but that list should suffice for now.

  8. Jay

    None of the left-leaning writers who have been pooh-poohing the Russia investigation* have demonstrated a working knowledge of counterintelligence. I’ve also noticed that they correlate a lack of publicly-known evidence to an actual absence of evidence, which is the purview of the investigation. Investigators will be holding any evidence they discover close to their vests for obvious reasons, but even more so in this case because some of the evidence will have origins where sources and methods will statutorily need to be concealed. Furthermore, many of these writers appear to be unfamiliar with the case law governing the major features of the case. Yes, money laundering may be a part of the case and a financial blog may emphasize that aspect of the case because that’s what they’re familiar with, but what we’re fundamentally looking at is possible violations of the Espionage Act, as well as the obstruction of justice by certain players to hide their involvement. Not a single one of these articles (or any of the cable news shows) have taken note of one of the juiciest and obscure pieces of evidence that’s right there out in the open, if you’d been following this as closely as I have. As much as I admire Gaius Publius and Matt Taibbi, and trust their reporting within their demonstrated and reliable competencies, neither have really written about intelligence activities in a thoroughgoing manner in order to be identified as journalists specializing in matters pertaining to intelligence, espionage, spies. Publius writes about political economy and Taibbi is as “Russia savvy” as your average Russian citizen; maybe less so. And being Russia savvy does not make you FSB savvy. Now if Sy Hersh wrote something about L’Affaire Russe, that would be worth seriously considering.

    *I won’t even address the seriousness or motives of the people on the right who have been pooh-poohing the Russia investigation. But it is curious for otherwise “GOP-savvy” lefties to align with people who spout Fox News talking points all the live long day, and who are wrong about everything, all the time, and not in a “broken clock tells correct time twice a day” sort of way.

    1. lyman alpha blob

      If they had anything concrete on Trump we’ve have heard about it by now. The spooks have been leaking for months – they aren’t going to suddenly clam up if they’ve discovered something that’s actually a crime.

      Until someone presents actual evidence, this investigation is nothing more than Democrat payback for Benghazi, which itself was a BS investigation in search of a crime that went on for years. Unfortunately for sHillary, a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while and they did manage to uncover actual criminality in her case (and brushed it right under the rug).

      1. Jay

        If they had anything concrete on Trump we’ve have heard about it by now.

        I’ve been hearing that argument for months, but we’ve been hearing new evidence on a daily and weekly basis. Mueller isn’t going to show his hand until the investigation has concluded, and your argument that covert evidence is nonexistent evidence is specious. If you were being conscientiously candid, you’d admit that you don’t know what evidence, if any, exists, or that there is a possibility that it may be anything but exculpatory. Why should we be afraid of a full and comprehensive investigation of the subject? If they’re not guilty of anything they should have nothing to hide.

        Until someone presents actual evidence, this investigation is nothing more than Democrat payback for Benghazi, which itself was a BS investigation in search of a crime that went on for years.

        When it comes to Russia, for people in the intelligence community of any political stripe, it isn’t anything about payback, it’s about identifying US vulnerabilities to manipulation by an outside state actor, which is extremely dangerous, especially if that manipulation is effective against top security personnel such as Flynn, or any of the President’s senior policy advisors, or the President himself.

        There are even secondary effects, such as creating political chaos and doubts about the legitimacy of the election. These are characteristic of scenarios that Putin wants, not the intelligence community. Putin must be delighted to have a vainglorious ignoramus presiding over a US government paralyzed by division and increasingly at odds with its NATO partners, and who is interested in lifting sanctions against Russia and returning the two intelligence compounds seized by the previous administration. The enemy isn’t Democrats or journalists investigating the Russia story or Robert Mueller. It’s Putin.

        Just wait until the investigation is complete. Absent all the facts (I don’t have the FBI at my disposal) I’ll concede there may be less there than I suppose, and I suspect there’s a lot more than even I can document to date, but you suffer the same constraints, and so must also likewise concede that there may be more there than you suppose. Just wait until the investigation is complete.

        1. Peter VE

          “but we’ve been hearing new evidence on a daily and weekly basis.”
          We’ve been hearing new allegations. There has been no evidence presented publicly, and the people presenting the allegations do not have a great track record for veracity.

        2. Democrita

          Jay, you are right that we do not know much of fact–I don’t think there’s much disgreement on that.

          That being the case, I would suggest that investigators who aren’t ready to make indictments or present evidence should refrain from accusations. It’s not helping anyone’s credibility–individual or institutional.

          You say they “…otherwise don’t comment on open investigations until the investigation is completed.”
          Except they are doing just that.

          Yes, let’s have a full investigation and wait for results. Meantime, they should stfu.

          1. Jay

            Who? Which investigators are commenting on these investigations? Name them! I don’t think anyone on Mueller’s team would relinquish the chance to nail someone’s ass to the wall with convictions by leaking information to the press. If anyone has been acting hinky about the investigations outside the administration it would be Devin Nunes and possibly Dana Rohrabacher.

            1. Lambert Strether

              > Name them

              Can’t. Everything’s anonymous. The people who will go on the record also won’t show any of the actual evidence they may or may not have. And all of the reports published so far — Steele, the JAR (?) report — have been sketchy in the extreme. I mean, Steele shopped his oppo to Jebbie, and even Jebbie was smart enough not to buy into it, even as he burnt through his $150 million.

        3. shinola

          Just what makes Putin “the enemy”?

          Russia disseminates propaganda that (it hopes) will sway the American election in a direction more favorable to their interests!

          …and in other news, the sun will rise in the east tomorrow.

          1. Lambert Strether

            > Russia disseminates propaganda that (it hopes) will sway the American election in a direction more favorable to their interests!

            This is what gets me. We’re supposed to me a great power, and we’re going nuts on this stuff. It’s like an elephant panicking at the sight of a mouse. The political class has lost its grip entirely.

        4. NotTimothyGeithner

          “but we’ve been hearing new evidence on a daily and weekly basis. Mueller isn’t going to show his hand until the investigation has concluded,”

          Ah…we’ve been hearing new evidence, but Mueller is simultaneously keeping it secret…wait…did you mean we’ve heard new innuendos?

        5. Lambert Strether

          > Putin must be delighted to have a vainglorious ignoramus presiding over a US government paralyzed by division

          How sad, then, that the Pied Piper email showed that the Clinton campaign wanted Trump for their opponent. Or… Was she Putin’s stooge? Perhaps the server she left open to the world for three months with no password provided the Russkis with some kompromat? Really, there’s as much evidence for that theory as anything else…

        6. Lambert Strether

          > so must also likewise concede that there may be more there than you suppose

          So either there’s something there or there isn’t. That does seem to exhaust the possibilities.

          If only Maddow, the Clintonites, whichever factions in the intelligence community that are driving the “drip, drip, drip” of stories, the Jeff Bezos Shopper, cable, and all the access journalists writing it all up would take such a balanced perspective….

        7. JCC

          “… but we’ve been hearing new evidence on a daily and weekly basis.”

          You might want to reread parts of the article above, specifically:

          Hacking into personal computers is a crime, but the U.S. government has yet to bring any formal charges against specific individuals supposedly responsible for the hacking of the Democratic emails. There also has been no evidence that Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russians in the hacking.

          Where are the formal charges? Where is the evidence? The “hacking” story is only one example of many. There has been no evidence of anything, just multiple accusations for over a year now.

    2. sid_finster

      OK, so you are saying that we should trust the word of anonymous leakers from the intelligence community, that is, anonymous leaks from a pack of proven perjurers, torturers, and entrapment artists, all on the basis of supposed evidence that we are not allowed to see.

      Because secret squirrel counterintelligence. Ah, now I get it.

      1. Jay

        Okay, name the leakers who have committed perjury, torture, and entrapment. Is everyone in the intelligence community a perjurer, a torturer, or engaged in entrapment? How do you know the leakers are? Do you belong to a community whose members have ever done something wrong? Does that mean you did those wrong things?

        If and when there are indictments, we will see the evidence. I know of no other federal case that is illegitimate because the investigators are collecting evidence and testimony outside of public scrutiny. In fact, that’s standard procedure. Do you suppose that the DOJ telegraphs every bit of evidence they unearth to the press, as they discover it, in a mafia investigation? In a white-collar crime case? When hunting a serial killer? No, they only appeal to the public for information that would help inform their case, rule out suspects, incriminate others, and otherwise don’t comment on open investigations until the investigation is completed. If and when there are indictments, we will see the evidence. Oh, and they’ve convened several grand juries for that. So, you know, prepare to be disappointed.

        1. sid_finster

          We don’t know who the leakers are. They’re anonymous, but they willingly associate themselves with an intelligence community, the very organizations that commit perjury, that engage in torture, that do entrapment, all on a regular basis. Not to mention other crimes for which men have hung, such as gin up up evidence to drive this country towards aggressive war. So nothing to be suspicious of here.

          These organizations have been leaking on a regular basis but they have not leaked evidence. That by itself is suspicious, since in a white collar crime case, a serial killer case, etc. we don’t usually have a flood of anonymous leaks coming from supposed investigators.

          Nor in a garden-variety criminal investigation do we have the suspect laid out in advance, and any leaks are intended to make the suspect guilty in the mind of the public, before charges or brought or a crime is determined.

          1. ian

            For that matter, how do we know the leakers even exist? When some media outlet wants to publish some made-up story, they can just attribute it to an anonymous source.

        2. Lambert Strether

          > name the leakers who have committed perjury, torture, and entrapment.

          We can’t. They’re anonymous.

          > Is everyone in the intelligence community a perjurer, a torturer, or engaged in entrapment?

          No, just the leadership. Clapper (perjury), Mueller (entrapment), Brennan (torture). Those come to mind immediately; there are doubtless others.

    3. WeakenedSquire

      Nope. Telling us prawns to wait until the evidence is in, or, worse, that only the specialists can be trusted, is one of the tactics of repression that the elite use while they are busy manufacturing and/or hiding said evidence. And surely by now we all know that “specialists” have no clothes.

    4. different clue

      If you want serious analysis by seriously non-left people who have broken rocks in the quarry of intelligence, you can read Sic Semper Tyrannis. They have offered some hi-valu input on this whole “Putin diddit” deal.

      They also offered some hi-valu input on the Hillary server matter. And Colonel Lang had a thing or three to say about the Clinton Family of Foundations . . . including a little-remarked-upon stealth-laundry-pipeline registered in Canada.

        1. different clue

          Philip Giraldi has also written guest-posts at Sic Semper Tyrannis from time to time. The name “Philip Giraldi’ is one of the pickable subject-category names on the right side of the SST homepage.

    5. Lambert Strether

      > Not a single one of these articles (or any of the cable news shows) have taken note of one of the juiciest and obscure pieces of evidence that’s right there out in the open, if you’d been following this as closely as I have.

      OK, what is it?

    6. TheCatSaid

      None of the left-leaning writers who have been pooh-poohing the Russia investigation* have demonstrated a working knowledge of counterintelligence.

      Important point! Fortunately there are those on the internet with input from experienced intelligence and counterintelligence professionals. For example, Sibel Edmunds on and George Webb on YouTube.

  9. sid_finster

    An investigation seeking to find evidence that a pre-selected target has commited a crime is I believe called a “witch hunt”.

    1. Byron the Light Bulb

      Or, you know, probable cause to investigate based on very public admissions. Production before a grand jury is secret under penalty of criminal prosecution. Once probable cause is affirmed, then the indictments will be under seal for what could be some time. I think it’s probable that there may already be indictments against some of the players. DJT may already be a John Doe. The Fed GJ’s in DC are three months long, the current one wrapping up third week of August [a guess based on past experience as a 3rd party]. Expect movement early this fall.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        As Constitutional scholar Alan Dershowitz pointed out, the DOJ reports to the President. Trump was completely within his authority to give instructions to Comey and fire him. Dershowitz also points out Trump can pardon anyone, including himself. But Trump doesn’t read and oddly no one seems to have clued him in on what Dershowitz has said.

        Nixon was a completely different case. There had been an actual crime, a break in. Archibald Cox was an special prosecutor appointed by Congress. Firing him raised Constitutional issues.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            Ad hominem attacks are against our Site Policies. You need to argue on the merits. And by virtue of having had Dershowitz pick up a roommate on the Boston Shuttle, I’ve seen him clad only in a bath towel. Not a pretty sight. So yes, I do know who he is.

        1. Katje Borgesius

          If you really want to go down the rabbit hole, read the complaint in “Kriss et al v. BayRock Group LLC et al” [ 1:10-cv-03959-LGS-DCF ] in NY Southern District. It’s a RICO. It goes from the 46-story Trump SoHo condo-hotel on Spring Street to Iceland [?] and beyond. Then check out DJT’s deposition in Trilogy Properties “LLC et al v. SB Hotel Associates LLC et al” [ 1:09cv21406 ] and his D&O doc production.

          If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            Help me. This is the best you can do?

            I’ve said repeatedly that people should stop hyperventilating about Trump and Russia and if anything should be bothered that he was in business with a crook, as in Felix Sater. I was on this long ago. Sater is Brighton Beach mafia. That means Jewish mafia, BTW; he worked Jewish connections overseas. He’s not connected to anyone of any importance in Russia. No one with any sophistication would do business with a felon who turned state’s evidence. Means he can’t be trusted (by upstanding people, because he’s a crook, and by crooks, because he sang like a canary).

            Oh, and the former employees lost that suit.

  10. sid_finster

    For “super secret” investigations, the investigators sure leak like sieves.

    I wonder why.

  11. Ed Walker

    Suppose the real issue is Trumpy’s financing. Suppose all his money for the last 15 years or so came from Russian oligarchs and politicos close to Putin. Or maybe the Russians were helping some other country, like maybe Syrian oligarchs.The money is “laundered” through a bank, let’s call it D Bank, which is the formal lender. The issue isn’t the money-laundering or the sources, but the quo for that quid. Suppose Trumpy is in default on some of those loans, or needs to roll them over. Just another quid.

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