I recently finished reading James Clapper’s book, Facts and Fears, out last month and available in a Kindle edition for $15 ($14.99 plus tax). Clapper is a retired Air Force lieutenant general, more recently serving as Director of National Intelligence. His final day on the job was inauguration day for President Donald Trump, and during his long career in military intelligence and in the civilian intelligence system he had great opportunity to observe the workings of our government’s very expensive system for gathering information.
In his course he developed a great respect for fact and the telling of truth. As he observed the candidacy of Donald Trump he was dismayed at both the lack of regard for truth and at the same time the ever more obvious fact that Mr. Trump was under the influence of a foreign government. The later chapters of his book deal with his assessment of Mr. Trump and with the influence the Russian government exerted on the 2016 election.
To be clear, it quickly became obvious to American intelligence that Vladimir Putin’s government despised candidate Hillary Clinton, and it set its intelligence warfare apparatus to work with the aim to undermine her candidacy. When Donald Trump became the presumptive nominee, much of the Russians’ effort swung toward support for the Trump campaign. I will write a review of the book, but for now a few excerpts will illustrate James Clapper’s observations.
The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations. The recent disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails on sites like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts. These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process.
Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 352). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
We knew now that the Russians had thousands of Twitter accounts and tens of thousands of bots that posted more than a million tweets. They posted more than a thousand videos on YouTube with days of streaming content. Facebook has said Russian content reached 126 million of its American users—an astonishing number, considering that only 139 million Americans voted.
Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 395). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Most interesting was the extent to which members of Congress, dominated by Trump’s party, were eager to support the narrative pushed by Russian intelligence. Particularly, the Fox cable network, which never seems to find a right wing notion it will not support, diligently assisted in the Russian effort.
In April, Mr. Trump first used the phrase “lying, crooked Hillary” to refer to his likely opponent in the primary election. RT, Fox News, and paid and unpaid trolls across social media latched on to the moniker. Russia and the Trump campaign seemed to be quite in sync, but that didn’t necessarily mean they were colluding—coordinating their efforts behind closed doors. They may simply have had a lot in common: a strong dislike for both the Washington political establishment and Hillary Clinton personally; a proclivity for social media, particularly Twitter, which meant they’d end up sharing each other’s ideas on the internet [sic]; and a genuine delight in wallowing in conspiracy theories.
Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 334). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
If you are not familiar with the RT television network, an excerpt from Wikipedia will be helpful:
RT (formerly Russia Today) is a Russian international television network funded by the Russian government. It operates cable and satellite television channels directed to audiences outside of Russia, as well as providing Internet content in English, Spanish, French, German, Arabic and Russian.
Government intelligence agencies initiated an intense investigation into the activities waged against the election, and this effort continues to the present. Prior to the end of his term in office, President Obama ordered briefings on these intelligence findings and made them available to the new administration. With great dismay, the intelligence community found that rather than accepting these findings whole heartedly, the Trump administration pushed back with a vengeance. After Donald Trump assumed office FBI Director James Comey declined to put an end to the bureau’s investigation and President Trump fired him. Subsequently a special prosecutor, Robert Mueller, was appointed to investigate and to bring criminal charges to those involved in criminal activity. That was 13 months ago, and during all this time the Trump administration, right-leaning members of Congress, and also conservative news outlets, have maintained an effort to end these investigations and, failing that, to undermine public confidence in the findings and in the people working the case.
With some surprise, I find amusement in all this. An element of my amusement is a stream of imagery running across my TV screen almost daily. Most recently, there was John Oliver’s show, Last Week Tonight.
Oliver claims this is one of a series he calls “Stupid Watergate.”
Regardless, it’s Oliver’s biting— and at the same time humorous—take, on the massive pushback against the Mueller investigation and on the simultaneous attacks against the American intelligence agencies. I streamed the TV episode on my computer and captured 59 screen shots to illustrate the story line, and I may not use all of them in this posting. Here’s the story.
Fox Network is particularly aggressive in casting the investigation as a witch-hunt. Sean Hannity, who has very close ties with the president, does not have enough time in a day to say all he wants relating to the matter.
Tucker Carlson is no less effusive.
Additionally, Fox has Sebastian Gorka, Roger Stone, Newt Gingrich, and even President Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
At this time I need to apologize if somebody in these shots appears in bad form. Truth is I have to watch these stream live on YouTube, and I have to snag the Print Screen button at just the right moment, when nobody’s eyes are closed, or worse. Sometimes I am successful.
Anyhow, they are all calling the Mueller investigation a witch-hunt, prompting John Oliver to declare therefore there must be witches.
New indictment filed against Manafort names ally with Russian intel ties. “… 20 people and 3 companies have been charged.”
From The New York Times:
Mueller investigation enters year two: What comes next — and how it could end “Five guilty pleas.”
Oliver points out the objective of this jawboning the matter has the goal of reducing public confidence in the process and the people. Last July 62% of those polled thought the investigation should continue. By April of this year the level had dropped to 54%. The strategy seems to be working.
On another matter, it is being claimed by the president and his allies that federal authorities planted a spy in his organization back in 2016. This narrative is being pushed relentlessly, despite a complete lack of evidence.
Oliver outlines three tactics employed to deflect the investigation findings. The first is “redefine,” establish a alternate definition of what the investigation is about and attack that.
Here is a woman commenting on Fox News. Somebody please help me to identify her, because I have no clue. Anyhow, we hear her saying:
Mueller is there to show collusion between Russia and Trump, and there is [none] so far, so why not end it.
Hannity is saying:
Where is there any evidence of collusion? Show us. Nothing so far. Not a whiff.
Katrina Pierson, advisor for Trump 2020 campaign:
There is zero evidence of Russia collusion.
And Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway makes the ultimate case, and if anybody can explain it to me, then I will buy them a beer. And I will have one for myself.
Unkindly, Oliver reminds these good people that evidence of Russian collusion is not and never was a part of Mueller’s directive. His task, as originally directed by his boss, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, was to [investigate]:
“… any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump …”
The second tactic is what Oliver calls “whataboutism.”
Yeah, what about all that stuff others do? Hannity points to our notorious two-tiered justice system, apparently one set of rules for his favorite president and another set for everybody else.
He informs us of the massive load of malfeasance perpetrated by those others.
These are all very bad people, and if anybody can tell me what they have done that warrants my attention, then there is another beer waiting.
Oliver counters with his own list, equally staked out. Almost anybody can put a bulletin board and a list of perps in bold white font.
He notes the utility of this approach. If you produce a movie, and it gets a bad rating, then you can point to the blockbuster hit From Justin to Kelly. “Look at how bad that was, so why am I not getting an Oscar?”
The logic is impossible to challenge.
Then there is the counter narrative.
I don’t watch Fox News much, so I missed out on some stuff. Apparently Hannity has a passel of conspiracy theory story boards that outline the Mueller and Clinton crime families.
Who would have suspected this stuff was going on? Possibly not Hannity, but definitely a basket full of deplorables, who bought into this line and voted for Donald Trump. Sadly, it turns out, there is one graphic which even John Oliver is unable to decipher. Explanation please, and another beer.
More or less echoing what James Clapper details in his book, Hannity has been on the air “night after night” pushing the theory that the investigation is one massive plot to take down President Trump, and it involves the Democrats, the FBI, the “deep state,” and “establishment” Republicans. Hannity repeats a favorite catch phrase, calling the Mueller investigation bigger than Watergate. He says again and again it makes Watergate look “like stealing a Snickers bar.” There follows a sequence of shots similar to the one below and showing Hannity invoking the Snickers comparison.
This gives Oliver the opening to have his own fun with a Snickers bar.
Two of the names on Hannity’s “Waiting to be Raided” board are Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. These were two government workers originally gainfully employed in the Mueller investigation. While so employed, they were also enjoying some sub rosa snuggle bunnies. They were humping on the sly while married to others. Worse, they were found to have exchanged disparaging remarks about Donal Trump, said exchanges being conveyed through their employer’s email system. Mueller dismissed both from the investigation upon learning this, and they have since left government service.
Gone from the taxpayers feed trough, the pair still provide grist for the Fox News mill. Gregg Jarrett does not pass up the opportunity to refer to them: “If these two cheating love birds, who were still married to other people at the time, have any opportunity to still do their jobs at the FBI …”
This is the opening for Hannity. He is ripe to unload on Page with choice characterization:
There she is. FBI love bird Lisa Page …
This is scandalous beyond the pale. I mean, Watergate comes off as filching a Snickers bar by comparison.
That stalwart of moral propriety, Mike Huckabee, joins the chorus. He goes full conspiratorial, cupping his hands to his mouth as he intones “and secret lover” when referring to Page. Hester Prynne somebody else need your A.
Appears to be the same Fox News mystery woman, dishing on Strzok and Page. They are getting off the hook for their misdeeds to keep the anti-Trump scheme on oxygen.
The pair’s misdeeds are undisputed. From The Washington Post:
FBI officials’ text message about Hillary Clinton said to be a cover story for romantic affair. “… relied on work phones to try to hide their romance from a spouse …”
The views they exchanged were unworthy of government employees:
“God trump is a lothsome human.”
“God Hillary should win 1,000,000,000 – 0.”
Imagine what kind of person would say such a thing about Donald Trump. A possible description might be “sentient life form.”
The picture painted by those pesky facts is less than lurid. From The Wall Street Journal, which went to the trouble of reading the several thousand messages exchanged between the two:
Inside the FBI Life of Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, as Told in their Text Messages
The conclusion being “… show no evidence of a conspiracy against Mr. Trump.”
Introducing “Spy Gate,” a more recent Hannity brain storm, according to Oliver.
At this point I pause to weep for the English lexicon. Forty-six years ago the Democratic Party was headquartered in the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. The etymology for this site has a local history, but at the time I was already acquainted with the need to apply spiffy names to mundane constructions, being acquainted with the newly-constructed Westgate building in Austin, Texas.
Anyhow, for the next two years the word Watergate was on the front page of about every American newspaper, and it got stuck in copywriters’ heads, filling that empty place from which originality is supposed to flow. Since the time it has become the custom to name a scandal of any scale by snagging a tag word and appending “gate.” Shortly there was Koreagate:
… in 1976 involving South Korean political figures seeking influence from 10 Democratic members of Congress.
After that there was no holding back the flood, producing among many, Tunagate. Alas, “Spygate” was inevitable.
Despite Mr. Hannity’s deepest desires and despite what fuels the fever in his imaginative brain, Spygate is he stuff of yawns. From The New York Times:
F.B.I. Used informant to investigate Russia Ties to Campaign, Not to Spy, as Trump Claims
“… F.B.I. agents sent an informant to talk to two campaign advisers [who] had suspicious contacts linked to Russia …”
Working at a cut above Alex Jones, Fox News relentlessly pumps the Spygate liturgy. Congressman Trey Gowdy, no stranger to investigative overreach, is seen telling panelists on CBS This Morning that the FBI was doing exactly what the FBI is required to do in such a situation. Not good news for Fox and Friends, and not so good for Congressman Gowdy, as well, his comments drawing immediate fire from Trump supporters.
Fox and Friends want us to know government investigators spooked the Trump campaign apparatus in a dark scheme to undermine the candidate. In a different world, where the sun comes up every morning, newspaper headlines read, “FBI Investigates Possible Crime.”
Oliver characterizes this as reporting that Domino’s delivers pizza. Who would have thought of that?
We see Lou Dobbs, commenting on Gowdy’s remarks:
I’m naming names here. I’m through with it. Trey Gowdy … is schizophrenic … He is absolutely in the service of the establishment. And the deep state, where they are consciously … purposely …
And that is so amusing, because “the establishment” is what left wing radicals used to call the Republican Party 50 years ago.
Oliver reminds us this is in accordance with Conspiracy Theory 101 [my words]. Anybody speaking against the conspiracy theory is part of the conspiracy.
Something is obvious wrong here. We see Hannity making the case in a most queer way:
No evidence of Trump Russia collusion. Mueller, if you got it, come on the show and tell America. And by the way, if the media, if you have more proof that this is not a witch-hunt. OK. I don’t believe you.
Oh Jesus. They have reached the tipping point. No amount of counter evidence will convince them. This is Conspiracy Theory 101 §1.2. Take note, students. It’s going to be on the quiz.
Oliver cruelly reminds viewers of what is known. In June 2016 Donald Trump Jr. set up a meeting in Trump Tower with a Russian agent who promised to provide dirt on candidate Clinton.
The hard facts available to us are not the result of any deep state intrusion into a political campaign, nor are they the result of an aggressive FBI investigation. We know these things because Donald Trump Jr., oldest son of the current president, tweeted this information out, from which it was picked up and published in a major newspaper.
Hannity has a masterful comeback to that bit of news.
He proudly reveals that a Russian-American lobbyist at the Trump Tower meeting reports knows Hillary Clinton and associates.
Score for Hannity! Not quite. Supposedly Hillary Clinton sent a Russian agent to a meeting with the aim of spilling incriminating evidence on herself. Oliver properly catalogs this response as the “shittiest conspiracy theory ever.” And I did not even realize this was supposed to be a contest.
Putting it all together, Hillary Clinton, her good friend Trey Gowdy, and the FBI, engaged in a dark plot to sabotage the Trump campaign. Pardon me while I take a break and have another beer.
If this explanation is correct, then a massive conspiracy involved diverse people and agencies working diligently to cost Trump the election. Then came the time to implement it and they all took vacation. Yes, I believe that. I believe it. I think.
But wait! Please do not come at me with pitchforks and blazing torches, but I have horrendous news for you. It works. All this finagling with the truth and all this carpet bombing the airwaves with cockamamie conjectures actually convinces a large segment of the population. Clips from [apparently] an Emory University focus group study record remarks from adult American citizens.
They call it a farce, created by the deep state.
It was a witch-hunt to overturn the election. All of this stuff that they say Trump did, they are finding out the Democrats did.
It’s been going on for a year and a half. They found nothing. She told … Oh, there’s something, there’s something. We’ll find it, we’ll find it. There’s nothing.
I hope you are sleeping better tonight. Don’t let me keep you awake.
Oliver likens it to the O.J. Simpson defense, which relied on discrediting parts of the state’s case and then convincing jurors the remainder of the case was similarly flawed. Trump supporters, including a major American news outlet, work with immense energy to keep the story alive while it gradually sinks in.
Oliver leaves us wondering whether, when it is all done, and Donald Trump skates free of any jail time, he will recapitulate O.J. and publish a tell-some book titled “If I Did It.” I will wait for the Kindle edition.
The intelligence community’s investigation continues, and Robert Mueller continues to bring charges and to prosecute people. Despite having President Trump and many others refer to this work as a witch-hunt, Mueller’s team continues to find offenses that require prosecution. At least one party so charged has already served his term in jail.
American intelligence has established credibility for their findings related to Russian efforts to undermine our electoral process and also to compromise the American president. The Steele dossier, which surfaced late in the 2016 election cycle, details Russian efforts to influence Donald Trump, and many of the allegations included in it have good confirmation. Other parts have not, including a humorous section after which this series is titled:
However, there were other aspects to TRUMP’s engagement with the Russian authorities. One which had borne fruit for them was to exploit TRUMP’s person obsessions and sexual perversion in order to obtain suitable ‘kompromat’ (compromising material) on him. According to Source D, where s/he had been present, TRUMP’s perverted) conduct in Moscow included hiring the presidential suite of the Ritz Carlton Hotel, where he knew president and Mrs OBAMA (whom he hated) had stayed on one of their official trips to Russia, and defiling the bed where they had slept by employing a number of prostitutes to perform a ‘golden showers’ (urination) show in front of him. the hotel was known to be under FSB control with microphones and concealed cameras in all the main rooms to record anything they wanted to.
The vision of a future American President, paying to watch prostitutes pee on a bed in an upscale Moscow hotel would have been difficult to summon up scant years ago. Times have changed, and the Golden Shower is now a meme I promote at every opportunity. I hoist it as a banner against the oft-cited basket of deplorables that allowed themselves to be manipulated by a foreign government to elect the sorriest piece of humanity to ever lead our country. My fondest hope is that when these people close their eyes for the last time, this is the vision what remains burned into their retinas. And that’s just me being gracious.