Barr Cover-Up: Call It What It Is


ttps://www.forbes.com/sites/victorlipman/2019/04/15/the-barr-cover-up-call-it-what-it-is#21396f1d3638April 18,2019

https://www.forbes.com/sites/victorlipman/2019/04/15/the-barr-cover-up-call-it-what-it-is#21396f1d3638Barr Cover-Up: Call It What It Is

 

 

The more latitude AG Bill Barr has to redact, the more latitude he has to protect the president. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

The more latitude A-G Bill Barr has to redact, the more latitude he has to protect the president. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) ASSOCIATED PRESS

Enough already. No more benefit of the doubt.

Having observed this whole process all too carefully, I’m convinced Attorney General Bill Barr’s actions with respect to the Mueller Report are being guided by the following principles:

Take as long as possible, and use every legal means possible, to release as little damaging information as possible.

Translation: Protect the president as much as possible.

Interest in the American public actually seeing anything meaningful in the Mueller Report? As little as possible.

No matter that this pleasant avuncular fellow looks and talks more like a respectable attorney than a fixer. Don’t be fooled: The fix is in.

Consider his actions over the past three weeks. He’s put a chokehold on Mueller-related information. In his measured lawyerly tones he’s promised everything and delivered nothing.

Following are four reasons why I have no confidence there will be much of anything meaningful in his redacted version of the Mueller Report.

His original four-page summary. This was a carefully crafted and misleading document designed to shape public perceptions, and place the president in the most favorable possible light. This was all about management, devious though it may be: managing the message, and attempting to manage public opinion.

His decision to exonerate the president for obstruction. Barr arrogated a decision that should never have been his, given the enormity of the stakes, rather than let the examination of facts, discussion and decision go to Congress, as Mr. Mueller doubtless originally intended.

Stonewalling Congress. He’s persistently refused to let the full report go to Congressional leadership, despite their numerous requests for it.

Redacting more rather than less. Barr says he wants transparency but far more important than what he says is what he does. He’s spent weeks now completing the broadest possible universe of redactions, removing both grand-jury-related material as well as the especially unclear vague references to “peripheral third parties.”  The more latitude he has to redact, the more latitude he has to protect the president. The less the public will know what’s in the full report.

This is all part of a consistent pattern designed to minimize the release of damaging information.

One would hope that the highest law enforcement officer in the land would be more of an honest broker than a spin doctor, but clearly in these hyper-partisan times that’s too much to hope for.

As I’ve noted previously in this space, I’m a registered political Independent, not a Democrat, and no fan of Bill, Hillary and Obamacare. But I am a fan of transparency and finding out what actually happened in this investigation – and this is a strange way to conclude the most consequential political inquiry in decades.

As an interested citizen, and like many interested citizens, I’d like to know exactly what’s in the Mueller Report. Not have an ideologue masquerading as an impartial attorney general tell me what he wants me to know.

Call it what it is, this is Banana Republic stuff. Think about it: The president wanted an attorney general who would protect him. Barr “auditions” for the job with his now-famous 19-page memo. He then proceeds to become judge, jury and evidence keeper, while maintaining a respectable legal facade.

Despite this veneer of objectivity, I believe our attorney general is neither unbiased nor operating in good faith.

Unless someone involved in the investigation leaks the actual Mueller Report (an increasing possibility, given the byzantine way this is unfolding), Democrats should take the gloves off and use every legal means at their disposal to get the document in its entirety.

What other options are available? Welcome to tribalism, 2019 style. The Barr cover-up. Call it what it is.

[Update 2:15 p.m. 4/15/19: The Justice Department announced today they expect to release the redacted Mueller Report this Thursday. This is 25 days after Barr released his summary letter.] 

 

 

Nearly a quarter century of Fortune 500 management experience. Long interested as practitioner in the subject of management, both good and bad, effective and ineffective…

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Who understands our times, Bernie or The Donald?


April 13, 2019

Who understands our times, Bernie or The Donald?

by Fareed Zakaria.com

https://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2019/4/11/who-understands-our-times-bernie-or-the-donald

There are many explanations for Benjamin Netanyahu’s victory in this week’s election that have to do with Israel’s particular situation — its economic boom, stable security climate and the prime minister’s political talent. But he is also part of a much larger phenomenon: the continued strength of populist nationalism around the world — and the continued inability of left-of-center parties to respond to it.

Image result for BERNIE AND TRUMP

 

The case for populist nationalism goes something like this. It’s a nasty world out there. People are trying to take our jobs, undermine our security, move into our country. The cosmopolitan urban elites don’t care; they benefit from these forces. So we need a tough guy who will stand up for the nation and against the liberals in our midst.

In some variant or another, this is the argument made by Netanyahu, Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Narendra Modi, Viktor Orban, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Jair Bolsonaro, the Brexiteers — and, of course, President Trump.

In 1972, the philosopher Isaiah Berlin wrote that nationalism “expresses the inflamed desire of the insufficiently regarded to count for something among the cultures of the world.” He placed the roots of modern nationalism in Germany, a country obsessed with finding its place in the sun. But the sentiment — a kind of victim mentality — can be found in almost all modern variations, even among rich and powerful nations.

Look at Putin’s claim that Russia has been pushed around by the West since the Cold War, the Chinese obsession with their humiliation since the opium wars, the Israeli right’s complaint that the world is biased against Israel and Trump’s constant refrain that all foreigners — from Mexicans to Chinese to Europeans — take advantage of the United States. These leaders promise to rectify the situation and restore their countries’ proper standing in the world.

Trump’s embrace of the word “nationalism” illustrates the simultaneous attacks on domestic elites (with their politically correct language) and on perfidious foreigners. “We’re not supposed to use that word,” Trump said in October. “You know what I am? I’m a nationalist, okay? I’m a nationalist. Nationalist. Nothing wrong. Use that word. Use that word.”

When asked the next day what he meant by the term, Trump responded, “I love our country. And our country has taken second fiddle. . . . We’re giving all of our wealth, all of our money, to other countries. And then they don’t treat us properly.”

Netanyahu, for his part, has long argued that Israel deserves a much better “place among the nations,” a phrase that was the title of his 1993 book that argued for a robust Israeli nationalism that is aggressive and unapologetic. Though Israel’s strength and security have grown immeasurably, as its historical enemies — Saudi Arabia and Syria, among others — have either become buddies or basket cases, the argument that the world is against it has somehow persisted.

In fact, despite the pose of victim hood adopted by most of these populists, nationalism is probably the most widely held ideology in the world today. Which American politician today does not speak up for the United States? The real debate is whether nationalism should be informed and influenced by other values such as liberty and equality and, if these two sets of values conflict, which one should be preferred. That’s why the most ardent capitalists — from Friedrich Hayek to Milton Friedman — have always been in favor of globalization and economic freedom above nationalist protections and controls.

The danger for liberals is that they underestimate the power of these raw, emotional appeals. For centuries, liberals have assumed that nationalism was a kind of irrational attachment that would grow weaker as people became more rational, connected and worldly. In fact, Berlin wrote, like a twig that is bent in one direction and has to snap back, as globalization grew in its reach, nationalism would be the predictable backlash.

Populist nationalists understand the core appeal of their ideology. I recently asked a Bolsonaro supporter whether the Brazilian president’s economic policies (which are free-market-oriented and reformist) or his cultural nationalism was the key to his appeal. The supporter’s answer: Nationalism is the party’s core; the economics is simply about efficiency and growth.

Meanwhile, liberals in the United States still don’t seem to get it. The Democratic Party continues to think the solution to its woes is to keep moving leftward economically. This week, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) revealed his new Medicare-for-all plan, which was immediately co-sponsored by four other presidential candidates. The plan will probably require an additional $2 trillion to $3 trillion in annual tax revenue.At the same time, Trump tweets about the Democrats’ love of “open borders” and insists he will protect the country and enforce its laws. What if Trump understands the mood of our times better than Sanders?

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

 

Uncle Joe and the Perils of Good Intentions


April 8, 2019

 Uncle Joe and the Perils of Good Intentions

Americans have been on a long road trip with Joe Biden. The former Vice-President’s hot mikes, his “handsiness,” “gaffes,” and “loose-lipped and emotive manner” are all a matter of family lore.  Everybody knows a story or two or ten of Uncle Joe whispering in a woman’s ear, clasping her waist, or smelling her hair.

As Biden, now seventy-six, prepares to enter the 2020 Presidential race, several women have come forward to describe deeply uncomfortable situations involving his incursions into their personal space.

What’s changed is not the severity or nature of the offenses—no one has accused Biden of sexual misconduct. It’s just that the voices narrating the scenes have switched, so that we’re looking at the same gestures through a different lens. We’re looking through the lens of Lucy Flores, who wrote in The Cut that her encounter with Biden before a campaign event in 2014 left her feeling “uneasy, gross, and confused.” Or the lens of Amy Lappos, who said that, at a 2009 fund-raiser, Biden grabbed her around the neck and rubbed noses with her. “It’s not affection,” Lappos told the Hartford Courant. “It’s sexism or misogyny.”

On Wednesday, Biden tweeted a video acknowledging the accusations. “The boundaries of protecting personal space have been reset, and I get it. . . . I’ll be much more mindful,” he said. But he stopped short of apologizing. “I’ve always tried to make a human connection,” he said. “Life is about connecting to people,” he also said. The statement gently implied that Biden’s critics were fundamentally untethered—misunderstanding not only him but also the higher purpose of their time on earth. On Friday, Biden appeared more defiant. “I’m not sorry for anything that I have ever done,” he said. “I’ve never been disrespectful intentionally to a man or a woman—that’s not the reputation I’ve had since I was in high school, for God’s sake.” The same day, at a conference of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, in Washington, D.C., Biden joked about getting permission from the union’s president, Lonnie Stephenson, before putting his arm around Stephenson’s shoulder; then he made a similar joke about a child who joined him onstage.

What Biden perceives as intimacy, as empathic connection, may be, in fact, polite forbearance. Every woman knows men who remind her of Joe Biden. (If familiarity is his brand, then women are all too familiar.) These men radiate physicality and friendly exuberance, like messy Labradors—and who wants to seem uptight to a Labrador? Biden’s charisma, for those who see it as such, depends on him being slightly naughty, and then on us discerning his good (or at least harmless) intentions and giving him a pass. It might feel small and cruel not to give him a pass. On some level, a politician as intuitive and personable as Biden must realize that people dislike feeling small and cruel.

Although Biden has been in the public eye for nearly fifty years, his portrayal in the press as a well-meaning rogue is only about a decade old. He has always been a fundamentally sympathetic character, owing to the terrible family tragedies he has endured: the death of his first wife and baby daughter in a car accident, in 1972, and, in 2015, the death, from cancer, of his forty-six-year-old son, Beau. Still, Biden was long seen as a standard politico: slippery, telegenic, vaguely compromised. His first Presidential campaign flamed out, in 1987, owing to his plagiarism both on the stump and back in law school. In 1991, he oversaw Clarence Thomas’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings, where Anita Hill faced an all-white, all-male panel of interrogators, and where he declined to subpoena at least three witnesses who could have corroborated Thomas’s pattern of harassing behavior. “Biden was oily and unctuous throughout,” Howard Rosenberg wrote in the Los Angeles Times. (“I’ve worked my whole life to empower women,” Biden said in the video on Wednesday.)

Only in 2007, as he considered entering the Presidential race (“I’m a tactile politician and I trust my feel, and I’m telling you I think there’s some pace on the ball”), did the word “blundering” start to appear in coverage of Biden, partly because of a remark Biden made about the then candidate Barack Obama. “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” Biden said. As similar anecdotes began to surface—Biden also referred to Obama as “Barack America,” and encouraged a man in a wheelchair to “stand up” and let the crowd see him—the main cliché about Biden became that he was infelicitously blurty. Media narratives coalesced around words like “quirky,” “anachronistic,” “effusive,” “undisciplined,” “garrulous,” and “folksy.” Wolf Blitzer highlighted the senator’s penchant for “off-the-cuff comments”; Politico called him “a reliable fount of gaffes, awkward statements, and hyperbole.”

On January 20, 2009, a new narrative twist arrived, with an article in The Onion titled “Joe Biden Shows Up to Inauguration with Ponytail.” The piece marked the début of the comedy Web site’s Diamond Joe character: a muscle-car-loving, Pearl Jam–singing playboy prone to causing trouble at Dave & Buster’s. (Sample headlines: “Biden to Cool His Heels in Mexico for Awhile,” “White House Infested with Bedbugs After Biden Brings in Recliner Off the Curb.”) The Onion’s fictional Biden made hypermasculine tropes look not only unthreatening but delightful. They were the satirical equivalent of petting the Labrador on the head. A slick, womanizing Biden, a shirtless Biden who soaped up his Trans Am on the White House driveway and starred in Hennessy ads (“Sensual, Powerful, Biden”), was, oddly, a familiar Biden—which is partly why the joke worked so well for so long. (It also worked because of the strong contrast with the impeccably statesmanlike Obama, a deft comedian who was, unlike Biden, always in on his own joke.)

By 2010, the “wacky uncle” meme was in full flower. “Joe Biden,” a reporter wrote for the Washington Times, “has acquired . . . immunity. He regularly says things ranging from goofy to merely silly to outrageous, but the passage of the years has made him a lovable old uncle that nobody any longer takes seriously.” In Marie Claire, Alexandra Jacobs described Biden as glad-handing “every politico, getting in close, squeezing their shoulders.” Of the candidate and his second wife, Jacobs wrote, “Joe and Jill Biden exude a marital heat uncommon in buttoned-up Beltway circles.” Jacobs also quoted the Obama aide Valerie Jarrett: “They’re very, very outwardly demonstrative.” (Even Jill Biden, in her forthcoming memoir, admits that, early in their relationship,

Joe’s ebullient courtship left her feeling “strange and uncomfortable,” and that she “sometimes found all that affection draining.”) “Affectionate and freewheeling,” the Times called Uncle Joe, in 2013. The reporter Amy Chozick revealed that, when speaking to his colleague Hillary Clinton on the phone, during President Obama’s first term, Biden sometimes signed off with the words “I love you, darling.”

The next significant update to the Biden mythology came in 2015. A viral photo of the Vice-President massaging the shoulders of Stephanie Carter, the wife of Defense Secretary Ash Carter, during Carter’s swearing-in, caused pundits to snarkily invoke the “ick factor” and the “yuck factor.” (In a Medium post, Carter defended Biden’s “attempt to support me.”) The hosts of the “Today” show pulled together a slide show of images of Biden cozying up to women. “Joe Biden is the most entertaining Vice-President ever,” Carson Daly said, while Willie Geist observed that “he’s getting a little handsy,” and Al Roker smirked at the “Vice-Presidential magic fingers.” (These types of segments are what Flores is invoking when she writes, “Despite the steady stream of pictures and the occasional article, Biden retained his title of America’s Favorite Uncle. On occasion, that title was downgraded to America’s Creepy Uncle, but that in and of itself implied a certain level of acceptance.”)

If Biden is not sorry for anything he has ever done, it’s in part because most men and some women have been telling him for a long time that he has nothing to be sorry for, or, if he does, that it is mitigated by its entertainment value. And it’s conceivable that there is nothing inherently wrong with a kiss on the back of the head. But it’s irrefutable that there is nothing sacrosanct about it, either. A nose rub is a curious hill to die on. Biden’s identity is predicated on harmlessness, and he must cling to that identity even after harm has been demonstrated. Biden may believe that Lucy Flores, Amy Lappos, and other women felt demeaned by their encounters with him, but he also believes that their misunderstanding of his good intentions forfeits their claims to our sympathy. His brand is empathic connection, and to maintain it he must resist empathically connecting with the discomfort and embarrassment of the women he attempted to empathically connect with, using his hands and mouth.

Image result for Uncle Joe Biden

If some Democratic women still have reservoirs of affection for Uncle Joe, they may be sourced in part from one of his greatest political performances: when he faced off against Sarah Palin in the Vice-Presidential debate in October, 2008. In her preview of the event, the Slate writer Dahlia Lithwick offered Biden some prescient advice. Palin “will attack, and you will smile,” Lithwick wrote. “She will make jokes, and you will laugh. Do whatever you need to do—take four Percocet, deploy Zen breathing techniques—to prevent yourself from attacking this woman.” That is exactly how Biden proceeded. The beaming and genial man who showed up onstage deflected Palin’s offensives with such pleasantness that one would have thought he’d spent a lifetime learning to prioritize and reflect back other people’s feelings. It was the first Vice-Presidential debate since 1984 to feature a woman, and Biden flipped the gender script. He was deferential, ever-smiling, on point. He performed polite forbearance. He played the girl. One wonders if he remembers what that felt like.

On legal immigration, Trump might be right


April 7, 2019

On legal immigration, Trump might be right

by Dr . Fareed Zakaria

https://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2019/4/4/on-legal-immigration-trump-might-be-right

 

Image result for president trump

President Trump’s threat to close the U.S.-Mexico border has confused even his allies. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said it “would be bad for everybody.” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) remarked, “I’m not sure that’s a particularly good idea, and I’m not sure it gets the desired result.” Most assume the threat is part of the usual Trump style — bravado and bluff — and will eventually get dialed back, and there are already indications that this is happening.

But on the broader issue of legal immigration, Trump seems to be shifting his position. In his State of the Union address in February, he said, “I want people to come into our country in the largest numbers ever, but they have to come in legally.” Immigration hardliners did not take this well.

The president has since reasserted the idea. The day after the State of the Union, Trump told reporters: “I need people coming in because we need people to run the factories and plants and companies that are moving back in.” And Politico reported this week that Jared Kushner is quietly developing a proposal to increase legal immigration into the United States.

If this is Trump’s new and improved immigration position, the president might find his way to a powerful compromise — real crackdowns on illegal immigration, coupled with reform and actual increases in legal immigration. This also happens to be a smart policy idea.

A recent essay in the journal International Security points out that by 2050, the United States is projected to be the only major world power with an increase in its population . The four authors, all university professors, tie this factor to more dynamic economic growth and also the United States’ continued ability and willingness to play a major military and political role.

The data on other major powers is striking. United Nations projections show that by 2050, China and Russia will have a 20 percent drop in people of working age. Germany’s working-age population will drop by 17 percent, and Japan’s by 29 percent. This will probably translate into slower growth, less economic vitality and greater passivity on the world stage, the report says.

The United States’ working-age numbers are set to rise by 12 percent in the same period. In fact, only three other major developed countries will see increases in their working-age cohort: Australia, Canada and Britain. But all four countries are expected to enjoy this boost only because of immigration. Without immigration, by 2050, the U.S. working-age population would actually shrink by 4.5 percent. Canada’s would plummet by 20 percent.

China, on track to be the greatest economic, political and technological competitor to the United States, faces a demographic challenge that’s even more dire than was previously anticipated. Last year, China’s birth rate fell to its lowest level since 1961, a year of widespread famine. It appears that the Communist regime’s efforts to reverse the nation’s long-standing “one child” policy have not worked. The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said in January that for China’s population, “the biggest event in the first half of the 21st century is the arrival of negative growth,” according to the South China Morning Post.

Amid all the noise in this country about immigration, it’s easy to forget the big picture. Immigration means a more robust economy. It usually means younger workers, which translates into greater dynamism and more innovation. Most Nobel Prizes are awarded to scientists for work they did when they were young. Most companies are founded by people when they are young. Younger populations are more risk-seeking, adventurous and entrepreneurial.

Despite the rhetoric around it, legal immigration in the United States is actually not that high. Before he became chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, Kevin Hassett published a piece in National Review ranking wealthy countries on their ratio of new immigrants to total population in 2010. The United States had the third-lowest figure, higher only than Japan and France. Canada and Germany had more than twice as many new immigrants as a share of the population, and Norway and Switzerland had more than four times.

During the past two decades, many of the United States’ crucial competitive advantages have been copied by the world to the point that other nations do it better — with well-regulated market economics, technological investments, infrastructure, mass education. What does America have left to truly distinguish itself?

Over the past half-century, the United States has handled immigration better than most countries. It takes in people from everywhere, assimilates them better, integrates them into the fabric of society and is able to maintain an environment in which the new immigrants feel as invested as the old. This will be its core competitive advantage in this century.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group
Washington Post
April 4, 2019

The Mueller-Industrial Complex Collapses


March 28,2019

A man beats a drum in a Mueller T-shirt
Alex Wong / Getty

In a letter to Congress on Sunday, Attorney General William Barr declared that while Robert Mueller’s report found evidence of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and did not exonerate President Donald Trump, it also did “not conclude that the president committed a crime.” And so the special counsel’s months-long investigation into Trump’s dealings with Russia ended with an inconclusive conclusion: No smoking gun would result in Trump’s hasty removal from office.

Image result for mueller report

Not just Democratic lawmakers had been banking on a final blow to the Trump administration. Pundits, commentators, and opportunistic entrepreneurs had all held up Mueller as a hero for their cause—and, in the process, constructed a cottage industry of Mueller-pegged media content and accessories.

The University of New Hampshire assistant professor Seth Abramson built a small media empire anticipating the report. He even wrote a book, not yet published, ambitiously titled Proof of Conspiracy, about Trump’s alleged “international collusion.” The Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe also found literary potential in the investigation, co-authoring the book To End a Presidency last year.

On Saturday Night Live, Robert De Niro played Mueller in a series of sketches about the special counsel. Stephen Colbert styled him as a Voltron-like superhero, single-handedly forming the “Obstruction of Justice League.” At The New Yorker, Troy Patterson covered Mueller as a “style icon” last year, including a detailed meditation on the special counsel’s Casio DW-290 sport watch; Patterson argued that it projected “an incorruptible constancy.” Redditors and watch enthusiasts took out their wallets.

More exotic Mueller-themed wares appeared. An Austin, Texas, company sold a Robert Mueller prayer candle, one of many such accessories, from T-shirts to mugs to throw pillows, that looked to cash in on Mueller fever. Etsy was (and still is) flooded with mugs and pins and baseball caps and Christmas ornaments emblazoned with the special counsel’s impassive face; art enthusiasts can buy an unframed print of Mueller’s neatly coiffed hair for $10. Booksellers started taking preorders for The Mueller Report—with an introduction by Alan Dershowitz, no less—marketing it as an inevitable best seller.

With the report in and seemingly impotent, the Mueller-industrial complex is quickly collapsing. Abramson has been posting feverishly on Twitter since Friday, in long numbered threads in between national media appearances, attempting to recuperate his miscalculation. On Sunday, Tribe pinned a last-ditch tweet to his Twitter timeline reminding readers that “the ‘no obstruction’ conclusion was Barr’s, not Mueller’s.” Saturday Night Live didn’t even get to weigh in this week; the show is on spring break. And it’s hard to imagine anyone lighting a Mueller votive candle at bedtime or donning their It’s Mueller Time T-shirt while drinking down some cold ones on the deck. The special counsel’s cottage industry quietly burned down when its namesake completed his job without fanfare.


As my colleague Megan Garber wrote on Friday, Americans had taken the liberty of inferring what the report would contain, and what impact it would have. Absent knowledge, Garber wrote, we filled in the blanks, interpreting the secretive actions of Mueller and his team in the manner most favorable to our own desires.

That’s not a phenomenon unique to the special counsel. The Mueller-industrial complex is just the latest example of a hyper-mediated world turned in on itself. CNN came on the air in 1980, but not until the Gulf War, in 1990, did the 24-hour news cycle coalesce. A war halfway around the world, filmed and commented upon incessantly, became the model for news of all stripes. It transformed the concept itself, filling the void of airtime and attention space accordingly. Talk radio’s shock jocks thrived during this period. Fox News took off in 1996. Then the internet arrived, and soon after that, blogs, and then social networks, where everyone from Wolf Blitzer to Seth Abramson to you and your grandmother was able to create and spread messages, images, and ideas that capitalized on whatever event currently felt current.

But there’s something different about Mueller industrialism. It’s more than yet another fusion of 24-hour information, meme culture, and internet opportunism. It also speaks to Americans’ strong desire to anticipate the future, and to live in the present as if that future has already arrived, and in the way they’d planned it to besides.

The media theorist Richard Grusin has a name for this practice: premediation. News analysts, pundits, product designers, influencers, and all the rest now create media in the present whose content anticipates future events or actions. The nonstop coverage of the 2020 Democratic primary offers an effective if humdrum example. That the left perceives the Trump presidency as odious partly explains why his opponents are coming out earlier, but the media landscape also demands and rewards this kind of anticipation. Are Kamala Harris’s policies suitable for the Democratic ticket? Is Beto O’Rourke’s hacker youth a benefit or a liability? Will Joe Biden run or won’t he? These and other stories seem like news about the present, but they are really speculations on information from the future.

The public eats this stuff up. Yesterday on Twitter, I happened across a long thread about whether supporters of Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, might be sexist because they would support a man with such modest credentials over a woman senator with experience and policy proposals, such as Harris. The thread was electric, bedazzled with hearts and replies, most frenzied in support or detraction. But exchanges like it are so common and so fleeting, I can’t even find the posts anymore. Those who weighed in were not really making arguments about the reality of the political moment; instead, they were anticipating, and practicing, the kinds of claims someone—a news commentator as much as a social-media everyperson—might make before a debate, or after one, or in the run-up to the Iowa caucus, or a local primary. So much media is premediated now, it’s almost impossible to find something whose payload isn’t partly composed of practice for future events.


Most of the time, nobody even notices this phenomenon. Premediation works because it homes in on natural anxieties or desires amplified by the hyper-mediated ecosystem in which television, smartphones, social media, and all the rest rot and reanimate. Whom should I consider voting for in the next election? Am I going to die if I board a plane? Those are questions whose future answers seem to demand consideration today.

In Mueller’s case, so many people anticipating the investigation’s end also banked on the specific conclusions that might accompany it. Certainly none of the Mueller industrialists thought it would burn out as a dud. But certainty is the enemy of forecasting. The future inspires drama because of the cloud of doubt that obscures it, not because it withholds a certainty until a later date. When SNL, Colbert, Abramson, and others began placing bets on the result of the Mueller investigation, they also sterilized their own relevance in the “no collusion” timeline that Americans now appear to occupy.

The investigation’s actual result now also casts a dour shadow over the Mueller-industrial complex’s wares and messages. The work came at a great cost: It cannibalized the future for the benefit of the present. Like taking out a loan on news to come in the hopes that its benefit will pay out enough to cover its costs, the Mueller disciples traded their own anticipatory media on margin, assuming that their winnings would more than pay off their debts. That bet turned out to be a bad one, and now the payment has come due.

And for boring reasons, too: Because it was high risk. Anticipating the future possibility of the Democratic nomination is a sure thing: Someone will get the party nod. But taking for granted the outcome of a charged and historic special-counsel investigation is like betting on a single chamber of the roulette wheel. If you win, you’re a hero. If not, you’re just a sucker.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.

Ian Bogost is a contributing editor at The Atlantic and the Ivan Allen College Distinguished Chair in Media Studies at the Georgia Institute of Technology. His latest book is Play Anything.

 

The Critical Part of Mueller’s Report That Barr Didn’t Mention


March 26, 2019

Cliff Owen / Associated Press

On Sunday afternoon, Attorney General Bill Barr presented a summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s conclusions that contained a few sentences from Mueller’s final report, one of which directly addressed the question of collusion between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia: “The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” In a footnote, Barr explained that Mueller had defined “coordination” as an “agreement—tacit or express—between the Trump campaign and the Russian government on election interference.”

Mueller’s full report has not been made available to the public yet, so it’s not clear whether it sets forth everything the special counsel’s office learned over the course of its nearly two-year investigation—including findings about conduct that was perhaps objectionable but not criminal—or whether it is more tailored and explains only Mueller’s prosecution and declination decisions. But national-security and intelligence experts tell me that Mueller’s decision not to charge Trump or his campaign team with a conspiracy is far from dispositive, and that the underlying evidence the special counsel amassed over two years could prove as useful as a conspiracy charge to understanding the full scope of Russia’s election interference in 2016.

“As described by Barr, at least, Mueller’s report was very focused on criminal-law standards and processes,” said David Kris, a founder of Culper Partners, who served as the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s National Security Division under former President Barack Obama. “We won’t know for sure if that is the case, and if it is the case, why Mueller confined himself in that way, until we see the full report.” Kris noted, however, that “there is no question that a counterintelligence investigation would have a wider aperture than a strict criminal inquiry as applied here, and would be concerned, for example, with the motivations and any sub-criminal misconduct of the principal actors.”

A counterintelligence probe, he added, would ask more than whether the evidence collected is sufficient to obtain a criminal conviction—it could provide necessary information to the public about why the president is making certain policy decisions. “The American people rightly should expect more from their public servants than merely avoiding criminal liability,” Kris said.

A spokesman for the House Intelligence Committee said in a statement on Monday that in light of Barr’s memo “and our need to understand Special Counsel Mueller’s areas of inquiry and evidence his office uncovered, we are working in parallel with other Committees to bring in senior officials from the DOJ, FBI and SCO to ensure that our Committee is fully and currently informed about the SCO’s investigation, including all counterintelligence information.”

In May 2017, just after Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey, the FBI launched a full counterintelligence investigation into the president to determine whether he was acting as a Russian agent. “We were concerned, and we felt like we had credible, articulable facts to indicate that a threat to national security may exist,” former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe explained to me last month. It’s still not clear what became of that counterintelligence probe after Mueller was appointed, and Barr did not indicate in his four-page summary how far the special counsel pursued it.

Jeremy Bash, who served as chief of staff at the Defense Department and the CIA under Obama, said he believes Mueller’s “core focus” was to determine whether or not federal criminal laws were violated. “If Mueller interpreted his mandate as a criminal one, the decision to pursue the investigation as such is something he will have to explain to Congress,” Bash said.

Mueller’s mandate, given to him by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, empowered him to investigate not only any “coordination” between the campaign and Russia, but any “links” between them as well. Barr’s summary does not describe how Mueller investigated or came to explain the many interactions the campaign had with various Russians during the election.

Even so, Bash said, it’s an “immense challenge” to envision how a counterintelligence investigation targeting the president himself would have played out. “Normally, the bureau would investigate, and if criminal matters were involved, they’d ask prosecutors to get involved,” he said. “But if it is just a matter of there being a national-security threat, the FBI would report to the director of national intelligence, who would then report to the president. But what if the president is the threat? We don’t have a playbook for this.”

Generally speaking, the wide aperture afforded by a counterintelligence investigation might be key to understanding some of the biggest lingering mysteries of the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russians in 2016—mysteries that, if solved, could explain the president’s continued deference toward Russian President Vladimir Putin and skepticism about his conduct on the part of the U.S. intelligence community.

For example, was the fact that Trump pursued a multimillion-dollar real-estate deal in Moscow during the election—and failed to disclose the deal to the public—enough for the Russians to compromise him? Why did the administration attempt to lift the sanctions on Russia early on in Trump’s tenure, even after it had been revealed that Russia had attacked the 2016 election? And what about the internal campaign polling data that Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, gave to the suspected Russian agent Konstantin Kilimnik in August 2016—an episode that, according to one of the top prosecutors on Mueller’s team, went “very much to the heart of what the special counsel’s office is investigating”?

Mueller apparently determined that none of that evidence was enough to establish that a criminal conspiracy had occurred, which is fairly unsurprising if you know Bob Mueller, said John McLaughlin, the former acting director of the CIA who served under former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. In criminal law, a conspiracy is an agreement between two or more persons to commit a crime.

Mueller “always noted that the term evidence meant something different to intelligence analysts who had to work with a variety of sources of varying reliability, whereas an FBI officer needed something so unassailable as to work in a court prosecution,” McLaughlin told me, referring to the conversations he had with Mueller while he was FBI director. But as former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell, who now hosts the Intelligence Matters podcast, told me, “We still do not understand why President Trump has this affinity for Putin. What happened yesterday is Mueller took one possibility off the table—that there was a criminal conspiracy. But we still don’t know what is going on between these two leaders, and what is driving this relationship.”

It would once have been unthinkable to even contemplate that a sitting president was putting the interests of a hostile foreign power above those of the United States. But Trump’s consistent praise of Putin, his pursuit of a massive real-estate deal in Moscow while Russia was waging a hacking and disinformation campaign against the United States in 2016, and the secrecy that continues to surround his conversations with his Russian counterpart have given some in the national-security community, including many leading Democrats, pause.

Trump took the extraordinary step of confiscating his interpreter’s notes after his first private meeting with Putin in Hamburg, Germany, in 2017, according to The Washington Post, and demanded that the interpreter refrain from discussing the meeting with members of his own administration. In Helsinki, Finland, one year later, Trump insisted on meeting with Putin with no American advisers or aides present.

Frank Figliuzzi, a former assistant director for counterintelligence at the FBI, said he “never envisioned” that Mueller would bring a conspiracy charge—and that focusing on the absence of criminal indictments for conspiracy is unproductive. “If all we do is apply criminal standards to investigative findings, we are missing the point,” Figliuzzi told me. He noted that the vast majority of counterintelligence cases never result in criminal prosecution. Instead, he said, “they’re about determining the degree to which a foreign power has targeted, compromised, or recruited” the subject. “This thing started as a counterintelligence investigation,” Figliuzzi said, “and it needs to end as a counterintelligence investigation.”

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Natasha Bertrand is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where she covers national security and the intelligence community.