A former Ukrainian lawmaker who has peddled dirt on Joe Biden’s family was arrested earlier this week in Germany, where he is awaiting extradition to his home country.
Oleksandr Onyshchenko, who had close ties to Ukraine’s former president before fleeing the country to avoid embezzlement allegations, was arrested Friday by German authorities at the request of Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau and Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office, reported The Daily Beast.
“According to our information, Oleksandr was in the process of seeking international protection and could not be arrested in accordance with Article 33 of the international convention relating to the status of refugees,” said Oleg Ishemko, the former lawmaker’s attorney.
Onyshchenko was arrested as President Donald Trump’s allies continue seeking information about Burisma Group, where Biden’s son Hunter Biden once served as a board member.
The president’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani flew to Kyiv this week to hold meetings on that topic, which is also being probed as part of the impeachment inquiry.
Russian internet trolls interfering in the 2016 US election; Russian hitmen murdering Putin’s opponents abroad; Chinese spies manipulating Australian politics while the country’s coast guard ships harass Japanese fishing fleets. These are not random acts of autocratic aggression. They are examples of a new form of warfare that is becoming a bigger challenge for the United States and its western allies: gray-zone conflict.
Once an obscure Russian military concept, the gray zone is now one of the hottest topics in Western strategic debate. As Hal Brands, professor of global affairs at Johns Hopkins explains: “Gray zone conflict is best understood as activity that is coercive and aggressive in nature, but that is deliberately designed to remain below the threshold of conventional military conflict and open interstate war.” Gray-zone tactics are ambiguous and incremental, including the use of information operations (a term of art for fake news), psychological manipulation, corruption, economic coercion, and covert paramilitary activities, like the “little green men” Russia sent in to invade Crimea.
There is plenty of academic debate over the exact nature of this term, but little disagreement that the United States, and the West generally, is on the losing side in an increasingly bitter competition with a belligerent Russia, as well as a subtler but equally determined China. From Ukraine to the South China Sea, these two nations’ bold gambles appear to have paid off. Eastern Ukraine remains in chaos and Crimea firmly in Russian hands, while China’s Navy intimidates its neighbors, ignoring international legal rulings. Now, other revisionist powers like Iran are learning to emulate their tactics: use deniable proxy forces, drone strikes, and cyber-attacks to improve their position without risking all-out war.
Despite the early success these rogue nations have had through adopting gray-zone strategies, defeatism in the face of this challenge is foolish; with skill and focus, the United States can win this conflict.
After all, this is not the first time the U.S. has faced a shrewd enemy that had overcome its conventional military inferiority with innovative tactics. During America’s greatest conflict, the Civil War, the Confederacy had won a series of stunning victories with bold, unorthodox maneuvers, frustrating Northern generals and leaders alike and leading to a sense that the North could not win the war. So, when Ulysses S. Grant took over the demoralized Army of the Potomac, after yet another defeat at the hands of Robert E. Lee, he told his officers:“I am heartily tired of hearing about what Lee is going to do… try to think what are we are going to do ourselves.” That is the spirit the West needs to rediscover to win in the gray zone.
Helpfully, Russia and China have been quite clear about their approach. In 2013, General Gerasimov, the Chief of the Russian General Staff, gave a speech that set out what became known as the Gerasimov doctrine, although he portrayed—quite ironically—that these were in fact Western tactics aimed against Russia.
He described the future of conflict as “shifting towards the widespread use of political, economic, informational, humanitarian and other non-military measures implemented with the use of the protest potential of the population. All this is complemented by covert military measures, including the implementation of information warfare and the actions of special operations forces.”
The Chinese approach to the gray zone—referred to as the doctrine of Three Warfares—concentrates on the psychological media and legal tools needed to win without fighting. As Professor Stefan Harper explains, “It is uniquely suited to an age where success is often determined by whose story rather than whose army wins.”
In other words, both countries rely on the ability to shape the specific populations’ information environments through manipulation, corruption, and targeted violence, effectively winning by demoralizing their opponents.
These unconventional methods, from fake news to little green men, aim to destabilize a target without provoking an armed confrontation, which authoritarian regimes know they would lose. This is a serious challenge to democratic stability: Russia has already invaded and occupied parts of a sovereign neighbor, supported extremist parties in Europe, and interfered in U.S. elections. China, for its part, has been refining and exporting surveillance technologies, bullying companies and governments who dare to challenge it, as the NBA has recently learned, and expanding its reach by building illegal artificial islands across the South China Sea.
But democracies often undermine authoritarian rule often without even realizing it—merely by offering an attractive alternative to a system built on oppression and lies. Despotic rulers tend to see this threat as part of a conspiracy against them, or at least, they want their people to see it as such.
The Chinese Communist Party’s complaint that the rise of androgynous celebrities is the result of a CIA conspiracy is one of the more absurd examples. Putin’s claim that the Internet is a CIA plot is another, as was his furious reaction to the Panama Papers, which exposed the fortunes his cronies had hidden away. Meanwhile, the example of nearby democracies like Ukraine and Taiwan challenge the entire legitimacy of authoritarian rule.
While there are areas in which democracies and autocracies can collaborate, the tension is inherent between incompatible systems. For the democracies, building good defenses against gray-zone tactics is a necessary starting point. Countries like Finland, Sweden, Estonia, and Denmark, for instance, have launched successful media literacy programs to help their citizens recognize Russian media manipulation and call out fake news. As a result, they are largely immune to this tactic.
But stronger defenses are not enough. Following General Grant’s example, democracies also need to increase the pressure on authoritarian regimes and go on the offense against the gray zone. Some interventions are direct, like the U.S.-sponsored Radio Free Asia’s Uighur language radio, which provides an independent news source to China’s oppressed Uighur minority. Others are subtler. Standing up for the human rights of dissidents and oppressed minorities,—from Tibet and Hong Kong to the brave protesters in Moscow—is not only a moral duty but also good policy. If nothing else, it undermines the authoritarian regimes in power. This requires U.S. presidential leadership squarely anchored in democratic values, from a president who believes in them. We may have to wait until 2021 for that—though let’s hope not until 2025.
Beyond a direct response to gray-zone attacks, there are a series of policies, which Western democracies should be following in any case, that have the added benefit of increasing pressure on authoritarian regimes. Russian government accounts show that 60 percent of its GDP comes from oil and gas resources. Rapid de-carbonization, particularly in Europe, threatens the economic basis of Putin’s rule. Therefore, moving away from dependence on Russian gas and toward a carbon-free energy system should be a priority for all European countries—and one that the US should support.
Similarly, China’s aggressive moves to develop, and export, a model of technologically enabled authoritarian control—and its use of economic leverage to squash dissent—is a central element of the Communist Party’s approach to exerting power. It needs to be challenged. The European Union’s work to defend online privacy is a helpful start.
China uses its increasing economic might as leverage. When the Norwegian based Nobel committee awarded the 2010 Peace Prize to the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobao, China retaliated by imposing an economic embargo for six years until Norway promised not to interfere in Chinese affairs again. The lack of support from Norway’s allies was shameful and only encouraged more of this kind of behavior. Any future administration must recognize how understanding the tools of weaponized economic interdependence—and how to use them—has to be a core capability of the United States.
A great weakness of modern autocracies is their reliance on the support of corrupt oligarchs, who steal at home and then hide much of their wealth in the West. Laws that promote financial transparency can put pressure on them while reducing their ability to corrupt Western accomplices. Some interesting recent examples include the U.S .Corporate Transparency Act, legislation that would ban shell companies; the EU’s efforts to eliminate money laundering sanctuaries; and the UK’s Unexplained Wealth Order that allows a court to investigate and freeze the assets of a suspected foreign criminal, or someone politically connected to them. These reforms all build on the success of the Magnitsky Act, which remains to date the most powerful financial tool against murderous Russian kleptocrats.Finally, there is still a military component to gray-zone conflict. The United States and European allies will need to provide fledgling, vulnerable democratic partners with defensive military assets to deter and, if needed, defeat subversion, sabotage, and armed confrontation. The West, however, should be careful not reduce this challenge to just its military dimension.
General Grant would have understood that the position of democracies in this conflict is considerable. With clarity and determination, they can move from a purely reactive approach and make autocrats worry more about maintaining their hold on power than on how they can sow chaos abroad. If they do, they will make the world a safer, and more decent, place.
Simon Clark is the chair of Foreign Policy for America.
With the release of the report from the House Intelligence Committee on their impeachment hearings, Trump’s enablers are outraged that Representative Adam Schiff got access to the phone records of key players in Giuliani’s extortion scheme. According to Byron York, of particular concern is the fact that those records include telephone calls by John Solomon.
Finally, the publication of John Solomon’s records raised still other issues, this time about freedom of the press. In the excitement over the Democratic report, there was little or no discussion about the problems that might arise from the House Intelligence Committee publishing a journalist’s phone records. But in the past, at least when President Trump was not involved, similar issues have been a concern of press advocates…
Searching media coverage Tuesday and Wednesday, there was little or no discussion on whether Schiff’s disclosure touched on Solomon’s First Amendment rights. Solomon is the target of much criticism in mainstream reporting, but he is a journalist who should enjoy the same protections as others in his profession.
York isn’t the only one complaining. The guy who smeared a U.S. ambassador with a mountain of lies in order to get her fired actually had the nerve to talk about a lack of decency.
The problem with claiming that someone like Solomon deserves the protections of the first amendment is that he wasn’t acting as a journalist. While he calls himself an “investigative journalist,” he’s not simply a conservative reporter as some would suggest. He’s been a political operative for years now.
I first noticed stories by Solomon when I began tracking down the origin of the smears about the Clinton Foundation. He wrote volumes spreading those lies. As it turns out, one of his sources was Victoria Toensing, a pattern that has persisted to the current impeachment hearings about Ukraine. At the time, Toensing was representing an undercover FBI informant who claimed he could blow the whistle on Clinton corruption.
What we eventually learned is that the Justice Department determined that they had “serious credibility concerns” with Toensing’s client and that there were inconsistencies between his testimony and the documents they had obtained as part of their investigation.
You might, however, notice a pattern here when I point out that, while Solomon was collaborating with Toensing, the same lies about the informant were being repeated by Trump on Twitter and by Representative Devin Nunes on Fox News. The cast of characters looks very familiar, doesn’t it?
Solomon went on to write about the Trump-Russia investigation. He specifically focused in on the Steele dossier and often quoted anonymous sources that sounded an awful lot like members of the House Intelligence Committee.
Since March, Solomon has been writing articles related to Giuliani’s Ukrainian racket – including smears against Ambassador Marie Yavanovitch, claims that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election, and attacks on the Bidens. He admitted that Lev Parnas is the one who connected him to the source of much of his material—former Ukrainian prosecutor Yuri Lutsenko.
Documents shared with congress by the State Department inspector general give us an inside look at how these kinds of stories were coordinated.
Included in the roughly 50-page packet was an email from Solomon to Toensing, diGenova, and Parnas previewing an article he’d written that was not yet published…
After that email became public, Solomon claimed he was simply fact-checking the piece before it was published. But Toensing, diGenova, and Parnas are not mentioned in the article, raising the possibility that the trio, who had been working to find evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens in Ukraine, had been working directly with Solomon on the story.
In other words, Solomon was running the article by his handlers to get their input and/or approval prior to publication.
Just as we saw with the efforts to smear the Clinton Foundation, the team of Toensing and diGenova would sign on as lawyers to represent people who had dirt on Trump’s opponents to sell, usually in exchange for favorable treatment by Trump’s Justice Department. Parnas or Toensing connected those people with Solomon, who wrote the stories that were spread by Devin Nunes, Donald Trump, and a whole host of right wing news outlets. In the midst of all of that, Solomon was also a client of Toensing and diGenova.
It is in that sense that I would challenge Solomon’s claims to be a journalist. Just like Giuliani, Toensing, diGenova, Parnas, and Nunes, he was working as a political operative on Trump’s behalf. Beyond the fact that he spread lies that benefited the most corrupt individual to ever serve as a U.S. president, he contributed to the undermining of journalism, which is equally disturbing. Any time a political operative disguises themselves as a journalist, it infects the entire culture with suspicions about who we can trust.
Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.
After deliberating with the members of her caucus and reading the House Select Committee on Intelligence report on the Ukraine bribery scandal, Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced on Thursday morning that she has directed the chairs of the Judiciary, Intelligence, Oversight and Reform, Financial Services and Ways and Means committees to begin writing articles of impeachment against President Trump.
Her speech was quite moving, offering up pertinent quotes from the founders and laying out her reasoning for going ahead after having been notably reluctant to do so.
PELOSI: “In America no one is above the law … the facts are uncontested: POTUS abused his power for his own political benefit, at the expense of our natl security … [his] actions have seriously violated the Constitution … POTUS leaves us no choice but to act.” pic.twitter.com/96AAGBdANw
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) December 5, 2019
It is unclear whether any of those committees other than the Intelligence Committee will offer evidence of impeachable offenses at this point. Pelosi made it clear that they did not plan to impeach the president over government policy, no matter how grotesque that may be, because the coming election will settle those differences. Impeachment, in her mind, is instead about the president’s abuse of power and his nefarious plan to corrupt the democratic process for his political benefit.
She and the Democrats seem to think that impeaching the president quickly — and then seeing him quickly acquitted in the Senate — will somehow prevent him from doing that, which strikes me as unlikely. If experience is any guide, Trump will claim “total exoneration” and see it as license to do the same thing all over again. After all, the day after Robert Mueller testified before the House Judiciary Committee, Trump got on the horn and tried to bribe the Ukrainian president to do what Mueller proved the Russians did on his behalf in 2016 — interfere in the presidential election.
There is some talk that the Democrats will include the Volume II charges in the Mueller Report in an impeachment article on obstruction of justice, which makes sense. The Mueller team obviously wrote that part of the report as a quasi-impeachment referral and handed it to the House practically tied up in a big red bow. It’s full of testimony given under oath by dozens of Trump associates, flunkeys and administration officials that tells the story of a presidential campaign to defeat and undermine the Russia investigation. These two crimes, the Russian interference and the attempted Ukrainian bribery, are like bookends, with the first informing the second.
Whatever the Democrats decide to do about the specific charges, Trump is going to be impeached. I would think dragging that out and keeping him tied down and off-balance would be the better way to ensure that he doesn’t use his office for personal political gain again. But that ship is rapidly sailing out of the harbor.
According to CNN, the White House and Republican senators are planning a “defense” in which they attack Joe Biden and his son. They don’t want to waste the opportunity to smear the former veep some more while the whole world is watching. But regardless of their sleazy tactics, the outcome of the whole thing is preordained. Trump will not be convicted and will undoubtedly strut around the country afterward, bragging that he beat the rap.
So it’s probably time to start thinking about a post-impeachment election campaign. Trump will certainly be on the ticket next year, barring something totally unpredictable. Both Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton were in their second terms when they faced impeachment. Andrew Johnson failed to win his own party’s nomination in the 1868 election, following his impeachment, so this will be a first.
But there are some clues about how to deal with this since we’ve had a couple of elections following impeachment or resignation in the fairly recent past. CNN’s Ron Brownstein has written about how the presidential successors in those two impeachments ran their campaigns, and how surprisingly similar they were. Despite the fact that running against Trump is like running against an alien from outer space, there are some lessons to be taken from those two examples:
In each case, the president’s party lost the White House to a candidate — Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Republican George W. Bush in 2000 — who played off lingering public unease about the scandal that had precipitated the impeachment process against their predecessor. In each instance, impeachment functioned like a leak that corroded the foundation under the president’s party in the next election.
Brownstein looks back at those campaigns, starting with the fact that public opinion was very different in both cases, with Nixon being remarkably unpopular and Clinton enjoying a 60% job approval throughout. But the opposing party’s nominee in the following elections ran campaigns with the same subtext. Neither Carter or Bush dwelled on the scandals, but they both presented themselves as the antidote to the ugliness they exposed.
Carter said people had heard enough about Watergate but famously pledged “I will never lie to you” and promised to give the country “a government as good as its people.” Brownstein says it was enough to put him over the top with an electorate that was exhausted by Watergate. George W. Bush likewise didn’t talk about the impeachment directly but called himself “a uniter not a divider” and promised to “restore honor and dignity to the Oval Office,” which everyone understood to mean that he wouldn’t befoul it with sexual rendezvous in the hallway.
Brownstein grants that this situation is different. After all, Trump himself will be on the ballot and will no doubt wear the impeachment as a badge of honor to rile up his rabid following, declaring himself a martyr to the cause of Making America Great Again. But most analysts agree that impeachment will also have the effect of hardening opposition to Trump, making it even more difficult for him to reach beyond his hardcore base.
The only way Trump can change that dynamic is by sullying the opposition so that he is seen as the lesser of two evils by just enough people to win. On some subconscious level, he obviously knew that all along, which explains his desire to project his own corruption onto Joe Biden, his own pathological lying onto Elizabeth Warren and his own craziness onto Bernie Sanders. Trump has no analytical skills but he does possess a feral survival instinct which tells him that his only hope is to turn his opponents into mirror images of himself and then attack them for it.
Perhaps this will be successful. But it is far more likely that any of the Democrats running, regardless of their various attributes and skills, will be seen as the decent, honest alternative to Trump regardless of how much he verbally assaults them in the campaign. Impeachment brands Trump in a way that he will never be able to escape. As he himself admitted to House Republicans, “You don’t want it on your résumé.”
It’s going to be worse than that. It will be in the first paragraph of his obituary. We can only hope the words “Donald J. Trump, one-term president …” will be there too.
Heather Digby Parton, also known as “Digby,” is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.
Watch: Does the cup pass the taste and durability test?
Earlier this week, Air New Zealand began a trial of new edible coffee cups in an effort to reduce waste.
The airline currently serves more than eight million cups of coffee each year.
The edible cup announcement was one that had me checking my calendar to make sure it wasn’t April 1.
I was determined to find out just how these cups would handle holding hot coffee for more than an hour. Anyone who loves to dunk a biscuit knows they are a good match for the taste buds, but not when it comes to the strength of the biscuit.
So, we put the cup to the test. How long could it last before the coffee made the cup so moist it fell apart?
And, almost more importantly, what do they taste like?
Watch the video to find out how long the cup lasted, and what some of our Newshub reporters thought of the taste.
Trump’s campaign manager tried to spook Democrats with new poll numbers — but it completely backfired
Brad Parscale, President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, has an ominous warning for Democrats on Thursday.
“Nancy Pelosi is marching members of her caucus off the plank and into the abyss,” he said in a tweet. “Impeachment is killing her freshman members and polling proves it.”
He added: “Say goodbye to your majority, Nancy!”
But even with a cursory inspection, observers quickly point out that his scary poll numbers were nothing of the sort for Democrats.
The data, shared on Twitter, should be treated with caution, as any campaign’s numbers demand. But according to the Trump team’s polling, Democratic Rep. Kendra Horn of Oklahoma’s Fifth District faces headwinds in her re-election. The poll said 49 percent of 300 likely voters polled in her district wanted to elect a Republican. Only 42 percent want a Democrat. Even worse seeming for Horn, only 37 percent said she deserved re-election, while 49 percent said they wanted “someone else.”
Again, these poll numbers should be treated skeptically, given the source. But considering the source, the following numbers don’t look good for Trump and the GOP at all.
In this GOP-leaning district, 45 percent of people favored impeaching Trump, while 52 percent of voters oppose it. And only 36 percent of voters said they would be less likely to vote for Horn’s re-election if she were to vote for Trump’s impeachment. Another 28 percent said it would make them more likely to vote for her. It’s hard to say what these numbers really mean, because many of the people who say they would be less likely to vote for her if she votes for impeachment may have never intended to vote for her anyway, and vice versa. But note that it actually seems, according to this poll, that impeachment itself is more popular than the candidate herself. That seems to suggest there’s little downside for her to support it, if she thinks it’s otherwise warranted.
“All caveats about this polling aside, it shows impeachment running eight points ahead of the incumbent congresswoman. 45 percent support in a heavily pro-Trump district,” noted Politico reporter Kyle Cheney of the numbers.
Vox’s Aaron Rupar similarly added: “OK-5 had been a Republican seat for 45 consecutive years before last year’s election, so the fact it’s even in play in 2020 is actually a sign of Trump’s weakness, not his strength.”
And Mike DeBonis, who covers Congress for the Washington Post, tweeted: “If you are telling Dem strategists that OK-05 (Trump+14, Romney+19) is 45% pro-impeach, I’m guessing they are going to feel pretty darn good about holding the majority.”
Cody Fenwick is a senior editor at AlterNet. He writes about politics, media and science. Follow him on Twitter @codytfenwick.
On the Thursday of the second week of the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment hearings, former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara had a special guest on his weekly podcast, Carl Bernstein. It was Bernstein, with fellow Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward, whose reporting broke open the story of how the Committee to Re-elect the President burglarized Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate office building in Washington, D.C. That reporting and the impeachment hearings that followed eventually forced President Richard Nixon to resign in disgrace in 1974. Bharara wanted to hear about what differences Bernstein sees between the Nixon impeachment proceedings and Donald Trump’s today.
That was the week when the New York Times reported that viewership of those “boring” hearings was proving to be “as big as Monday Night Football.” That was the week when the world heard from, among others, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman on Donald Trump’s July 25th “perfect” phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky; from ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland on how “everyone was in the loop” when it came to the Ukrainian quid pro quo (not to speak of his “Zelensky loves your ass” exchange with the president); and from the steely former Trump adviser on Russia, Fiona Hill, on how that country promulgated the fiction that Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 American election.
That should have been enough to convince anyone paying attention that the president had indeed attempted to trade a Zelensky White House visit and U.S. military aid for an announcement that Ukraine was investigating its own (fictitious) interference in that election and the (equally fictitious) corruption of Joe Biden via his son Hunter. Clearly, however, the Republicans in Congress were anything but convinced.
Bharara reminded Bernstein that, when Richard Nixon was at risk of impeachment, key Republican congressional figures, including two senators (at a moment when, as now, Republicans had a majority in that body) encouraged the president to resign rather than be impeached and be convicted in a trial there. Why, Bharara asked, is today’s Republican Party more loyal to the president than the Constitution and the rule of law?
Bernstein replied that, in his view, the divisions in the U.S. today are no longer simply a matter of ideological differences — disagreements about what constitutes a good society and how to achieve it. The whole country, he suggested, is already embroiled in a “cold civil war” that’s vividly reflected in Congress. If so, then it’s a complex war indeed, involving at least four allied but also diverging forces in today’s Republican Party:
Those motivated by white anxiety and resentment, some of whom also tend to be isolationists opposing U.S. military adventures abroad; Those dedicated to maintaining U.S. military expansion around the world, some of whom genuinely believe in the ultimate superiority of a white, Christian United States and some of whom care only about the projection of force; Right-wing evangelicals, many sharing white resentment and also ready to make common cause with the forces of imperial expansion, especially when it comes to support for Israel; Those dedicated to increasing the wealth of the wealthiest elites, who are quite willing to harness white fear of losing privilege, as well as nationalist military desires, to advance their own agenda of reducing taxes and rolling back regulatory constraints on corporate power.
The roots of much of the turmoil in the current Republican Party are, however, centuries old. They go back, in fact, to the twin crimes that have helped shape this country from its very beginning: slavery and imperial expansion.
This year marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival in the British colonies that would become the United States of America of the first enslaved Africans. The New York Times has gathered some of the best recent scholarship on the nature and history of American slavery in an excellent series: “The 1619 Project.”
Many white people in this country think of slavery as a “problem” of the distant past. They are mistaken. African Americans live with its effects today (as do the rest of us in different ways) in legacies like mass incarceration and the existential threat of police violence. In 2015, the Guardian reported that “young black men were nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by police officers.” In that year, police killed 1,134 people. The Washington Post now keeps a running annual tally of such police-caused deaths. As of November 25th, the number for this year was 829.
The line that can be drawn from slavery to convict leasing to lynching to torture in police stations to police shootings of African Americans is all too direct. It’s impossible, in fact, to overstate the importance of slavery to the economic, legal, and social development of this country. The 1789 Constitution was in many ways a document meant to appease southern slave states and keep them in the union. This included the “three-fifths” compromise, which counted any enslaved resident as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of apportioning members of the House of Representatives to each state. Similarly, the creation of an upper house, the Senate, where each state has two representatives, regardless of population, and the invention of the Electoral College were meant, in part, to enhance the power of southern states. And to this day, those two institutions continue to allow southern and, more generally, rural states to exercise an undemocratic power, disproportionate to their population size. In a very real sense, compromises made in 1789 helped elect Donald Trump in 2016.
The first income-generating crop in the southern colonies was tobacco, initially planted, tended, picked, and packed by semi-free indentured servants from England who worked for a fixed period (usually seven to 10 years) and then were free to start farming on their own. Enslaved Africans, however, soon offered a number of advantages over such contract workers. As a start, their “contracts” never ran out. Indeed, their children and children’s children would also be enslaved workers. They would prove crucial to the way those planters built their wealth (and significant parts of the wealth of the colonies and that of the United States as a whole), both as profit-generating laborers and as capital-building assets against whom money could be borrowed. This history is well-described in a number of books, including Edmund Morgan’s American Slavery, American Freedom, Edward Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told, and Andres Resendez’s The Other Slavery (about the little-studied enslavement of native peoples in what would become the American Southwest), as well as in the autobiographies and collected oral testimonies of hundreds of formerly enslaved people.
In Virginia and the Carolinas, however, those tobacco farmers faced a serious problem. Unlike indentured servants who could look forward to their eventual freedom, newly enslaved Africans had no incentive to work; none, that is, except physical pain. As a result, torture — real mind- and body-destroying torture — was part of the American experience from the first moments the slave system was established, with effects that have lasted to this day.
After the revolution and the invention in 1793 of Eli Whitney’s seed-stripping cotton gin, southern farmers turned to another, far more lucrative export crop: cotton. First in Virginia, Georgia, and the Carolinas, but soon in the lowlands that would become Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Texas, cheap raw cotton would feed England’s fast-industrializing textile industry and so, for the next two centuries, help make that country’s economy the world’s preeminent one. It also fed the nascent textile mills in the North after Samuel Slater, an early industrial spy, crossed the Atlantic to New England, carrying in his memory plans (embargoed by Great Britain) for a water-powered textile factory.
As slavery expanded, so did the systematic use of torture. Enslavers on the new plantations organized “gangs” of laborers, their long lines easily visible to overseers who followed them with cowhide whips. From dawn to dark, through the endless workday, that whip flew at supersonic speed (the source of its “crack”), tearing flesh till the blood ran. It waited for workers in camp at night, as each day’s output was weighed, and those who failed to make their quotas were punished.
A new form of torture-enforced labor began after the Civil War and the brief interim period of Reconstruction when black people in the South found themselves, through the legal conceit of convict leasing, essentially enslaved all over again. Arrested on minor charges or none at all, prisoners — almost all of them African-American men — found themselves leased out by county and state authorities to private cotton growers and to the developing coal and steel industries of Tennessee and Alabama. Once again, the whip came along for the ride. Convict leasing lasted into the 1920s when Southern states chose to employ their convicts directly in chain gangs to build the region’s railroads and highways. Legal segregation, also begun at the end of Reconstruction, did not end until the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Nor did state-sanctioned torture of African Americans end with emancipation or the eventual diminution of those convict-leasing programs. Lynching (a label Donald Trump recently had the nerve to apply to the impeachment proceedings) continued from the end of the Civil War well into the twentieth century, peaking between 1880 and 1920. In addition to its culminating murder by hanging or burning, lynching often involved whipping and the castration of male victims prior to death. In the context of Jim Crow segregation, these institutionalized rituals of torture and murder served to secure the power of white authorities over black populations. In many places, lynchings were also treated as popular entertainment, encouraged by local officials who often participated themselves. The practice even produced a form of popular art: photographs of lynchings decorated many postcards in the early part of the twentieth century.
Every society that adopts institutionalized torture as a method of social control identifies certain groups of people as legitimate targets for it. From the very beginning of this country, one group was so identified: enslaved Africans (and their emancipated descendants). Even today, in police stations, prisons, and public schools, black Americans are at risk of socially sanctioned physical abuse, even torture.
President Trump’s open embrace of a white supremacy born of slavery and nurtured by convict-leasing, segregation, and lynching has powerfully emboldened its modern proponents, encouraging economically and socially anxious whites to focus their resentment on blacks and, of course, immigrants from anywhere but northern Europe.
As much as American history is a story of slavery and its legacy, it’s also a tale of steady geographical expansion and imperial domination, often enabled by military force. That history, too, has a twenty-first-century legacy: America’s forever wars across a significant part of the planet.
It’s a tale that began early. The newly independent United States quickly acquired a lot more of itself, starting with the 1803 Louisiana Purchase from France. That deal effectively doubled the country’s territory, annexing lands that would eventually become parts or all of 10 new states. Of course, France didn’t actually control most of that land, apart from the port city of New Orleans and its immediate environs. What the U.S. government really bought was the “right” to take the rest of that vast area from the native peoples who lived there, using treaties, population transfers, and wars of conquest and extermination.
Such acquisitions continued with Florida in 1819 (from Spain) and the annexation of Texas (by war) from Mexico in 1845. All of this new territory contained land that was, as Sven Beckert says in Empire of Cotton, “superbly suited to cotton agriculture.”
So, conquest, slavery, and (when it came to native peoples) displacement and genocide combined as cotton growers expanded their holdings. A frequent first step in securing new territory for cotton planting was to remove the people already occupying it. That process began in Georgia in the early 1800s, as the Creek nation was driven west. Soon, as Beckert writes, “the Creeks suffered further defeats and were forced to sign the Treaty of Fort Jackson, ceding 23 million acres of land in what is today Alabama and Georgia.” In a process that today would likely be called ethnic cleansing, cotton’s empire continued to expand at the expense of indigenous peoples:
“In the years after 1814, the federal government signed further treaties with the Creeks, Chickasaw, and Choctaws, gaining control over millions of acres of land in the South, including Andrew Jackson’s 1818 treaty with the Chickasaw nation that opened western Tennessee to cotton cultivation and the 1819 treaty with the Choctaw nation that gave 5 million acres of land in the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta to the United States in exchange for vastly inferior lands in Oklahoma and Arkansas.”
In 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, designed to do exactly what its name implied by requiring Indian nations in the southeastern United States to “exchange” prime cotton-growing acreage for vastly inferior land in present-day Oklahoma. As the National Park Service’s website on the subject recounts, after the Choctaws, Muscogee Creeks, Seminoles, and Chickasaws had for some time “fiercely resisted” such relocation, they finally “agreed” to be moved to the newly designated Indian Territories.
Perhaps the best-known population transfer of this period was the one that took place along the Trail of Tears. Beginning in May 1838, the U.S. Army, together with various state militias, began the forcible removal of more than 16,000 Cherokee people from North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee to Oklahoma. The job was completed by the following year. The journey proved a tragic one (more than 1,000 people died along the way) and the destination unsatisfactory, but the Park Service wants to assure visitors that the story has a happy ending:
“The Cherokee, in the years that followed, struggled to reassert themselves in the new, unfamiliar land. Today, they are a proud, independent tribe, and its members recognize that despite the adversity they have endured, they are resilient and invest in their future.”
U.S. expansion continued across the rest of the continent, decimating Indian nations and consigning survivors to reservations. In 1893, it reached Hawaii where U.S. Marines supported a coup against Queen Lili’uokalani. In 1898, the treaty ending the Spanish-American War, the country’s first full-scale imperial conflict abroad, gave the United States Cuba, Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico. After World War II, the United Nations awarded the U.S. what would become the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, including the island of Saipan, which remains in U.S. “trusteeship” to this day.
The U.S. shadow also fell across Latin America, as it occupied Nicaragua from 1909 to 1933, installing the autocrats of the Somoza dynasty in power there in 1936. In 1954, the CIA orchestrated a coup against the government of Guatemala’s Jacobo Arbenz to prevent him from instituting a land reform program. Support for coups continued into the 1960s and 1970s in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. Rather than make these Latin American countries actual colonies, a policy of global neocolonialism (backed by the unprecedented military garrisoning of the planet) allowed the United States to fuel a postwar economic boom with cheap raw materials from around the world.
Today, the United States maintains about 800 military bases in more than 80 countries and has forces stationed on every continent except Antarctica. We remain by far the world’s preeminent military force and continue to fight (unsuccessful wars) across the Greater Middle East and Africa.
The Trump Republican Party has inherited, and continues to make use of, the legacies of this nation’s twin evils: slavery and imperial expansion. We see in its white supremacist strand a commitment to maintaining systems of white superiority that have persisted from slavery through Jim Crow segregation to ever-present threats of violence today. Many white evangelical Christians maintain an enthusiasm for racial separation (as the histories of their flagship universities reveal). They see in Trump a leader who will advocate for white supremacy so they don’t have to.
The power of the Republican militarist wing may appear to have diminished in the face of Trump’s vocal isolationism and threats to bring U.S. troops home from this country’s various twenty-first-century wars, but in truth, the military and intelligence sectors of the government have managed to do almost everything they’ve wanted to, even while seeming to agree with the president. (No surprise, then, that there are now more U.S. troops stationed in the Middle East than there were when Donald Trump took office.) In addition, he has certainly made sure that the Pentagon has all the money it could possibly want, even if he sometimes decries excessive military budgets.
The history of U.S. territorial and military expansion has long been accompanied by a commitment to American exceptionalism, a belief that this country is different from and better than the rest of the world’s nations. That sense of superiority is usually described as an embodiment of national values like democracy and equality, but bubbling beneath the surface there has always been the belief that the U.S. succeeded in all but eliminating the native peoples on this continent and in defeating others around the world because of a natural superiority born of a European heritage. This confidence remains strong today, despite the fact that (apart from invading the tiny nations of Grenada and Panama) the U.S. hasn’t won a war since World World II, including the never-ending conflicts it has launched over large stretches of the planet after 9/11.
And what of the economic elites, the top tenth of the top one percent? Their commitment, however they may choose to wrap it in libertarian anti-tax rhetoric, remains only to themselves and to maintaining and expanding their own vast wealth. To the extent that any of the party’s other three strands contribute to that goal, they are happy to contribute to the party.
Today’s Republicans are very different from those of the Nixon era. His was a party with an ideological commitment to anticommunism, law and order, and opposition to organized labor. In Trump, the party seems to be committed not to principles, but to a man who defies the rule of law and is disorder personified. However, like their president who shamelessly turns on his friends when it suits him, his party will likely turn on him the moment he appears to threaten, rather than enhance, their election prospects. In the meantime, they are in every sense a historic crime in the making.
Rebecca Gordon, a TomDispatch regular, teaches at the University of San Francisco. She is the author most recently of American Nuremberg: The U.S. Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes and is now at work on a new book on the history of torture in the United States.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer’s new dystopian novel (the second in the Splinterlands series) Frostlands, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.
Copyright 2019 Rebecca Gordon
by Hank Edson
In his opening statement emphasizing the importance of legal standards, George Washington University constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley claimed that impeaching, “a president on this record would expose every future president to the same type of inchoate impeachment” and warned, “I hope you will consider what you will do when the wind blows again perhaps for a Democratic president.”
In making this argument, Turley might just as well have argued that the founding patriots should not have declared independence because once they were in power, the people might declare their independence from them. The founding patriots, after all, were not asserting a codified legal standard in declaring their independence, they were asserting their political power. The source of the people’s political power sufficient to overthrow codified law, the Declaration itself announced, was not the written codes authored by human beings, but the “self-evident” truths describing natural law. Faced with Turley’s argument, our founding patriots might well have said, “If we, as governors of the people, deserve it, let the people declare their independence from us.” Indeed, Thomas Jefferson famously welcomed such exercise of the people’s authority under natural law to assert their political power when he said, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” But Jefferson and the other founding patriots were also wise enough to allow for a process that would avoid the need for such bloodshed in the assertion of the people’s authority and power under natural law to remove an illegitimate government. They gave us impeachment.
Turley’s “turn-about is fair play” gambit is in fact nothing more than, what I must sadly label, the despicable false relativism plaguing our public debate that mischaracterizes every argument as nothing more than opinion, with each side in a dispute entitled to equal respect as though each were equally legitimate. This ploy is nothing more than a defense of the double-speak George Orwell warned about in his dystopian novel, 1984, and which we see everywhere today proclaiming that what is false is true, what is real is fake, what is war is peace, and what is an exercise of authority under natural law is a violation of the people’s rights. Sadly, Professor Turley has become just such a doublespeak mouthpiece.
Nothing more clearly demonstrates this doublespeak than Professor Turley’s own remarks to congress in the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton in 1998. Whereas yesterday Turley warned of the threat to our political process if the House impeached President Trump, in 1998 he made quite clear that the most profound influences on his thinking about impeachment as a constitutional law scholar, Benjamin Franklin and James Madison, regarded congress as serving a vital accusatory role that posed no threat to our political process at all, but that, to the contrary, allowed no room for exceptions. Turley testified:
… the founders wanted impeachment issues, serious impeachment questions to go to the Senate for resolution. … [The House of Representatives] has an accusatory function in a tripartite system that I hope you will not ignore. … It is your function to detect such conduct, to deter it by your voice of condemnation. There is a censure provision in the Constitution. It’s called articles of impeachment. It’s where we define conduct that we find unacceptable for a president. And when we do that, we don’t just define what a president is, we define something about who we are. You don’t have to worry about what the President’s oath said, what he agreed to do. It’s your oath that’s at stake. You will define what we expect from a president. Regardless of whether the President is removed in the Senate, you will define it for future presidents.
Turley went on to emphasize:
I think the only thing that would bother Madison… is this view that we have such a fragile system, that the system is in danger by your decision. The system will last this hearing. The system will last this crisis. It’s lasted crises far worse than this. … The only thing that you can’t do in a Madisonian system is grant an exception. … What it does is it addresses factions, things that divide us, and it forces it into open and deliberative process where we resolve it instead of letting it fester and letting it divide. There is nothing more divisive, nothing more divisive, than an allegation that a president lacks the political and legal legitimacy to govern. That’s when the Madisonian democracy and the process is so important. That’s why you can’t grant exceptions. There’s a place where that decision is made. It is that other body [the Senate]. Your function [in the House of Representatives] is to define conduct which we cannot tolerate, conduct that is incompatible with the President’s office. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if the President is removed. That’s not a concern for this body. … You’ve got a more important function than the Senate. Your function is to help define what we expect from future presidents.
One cannot review the stark self-contradiction in Turley’s 1998 statements and his statements yesterday without hearing the words of Stanford Law professor Pamela S. Karlan, who also spoke yesterday, and who expressed outrage while reprimanding Congressman Collins, saying, “Here, Mr. Collins, I would like to say to you sir that I read the transcripts of every one of the witnesses who appeared in the live hearing because I would not speak about these things without reviewing the facts. So, I am insulted by the suggestion that, as a law professor, I don’t care about those facts!” Just as Professor Karlan had a responsibility to review the transcripts of all the witnesses in the live hearing, Professor Turley had a responsibility to review the transcript of his own prior statements about impeachment before the House of Representatives and identify and respond to any inconsistencies between his current and past views.
Professor Turley never did so, even though the self-contradiction could not be more startling, and I cannot help but think Professor Karlan would be shocked by such an omission. I certainly am. Turley’s self-contradiction is all the more jaw dropping in view of his 1998 pro-impeachment argument relativistically setting as equal the political significance of all lies before a grand jury, whether they be about covering up a sexual infidelity or covering up a scheme to fix the result of a presidential election. And yet, here is Professor Turley, in 2019, omitting to note to congress that he previously argued to congress that impeachment was not a threat to our political process and was, instead, an obligation no matter what the lie at issue might be. Incidentally, Professor Karlan’s assessment of the gravity of Trump’s misconduct was quite different than that of Professor Turley. Professor Karlan fervently asserted that “everything I read on those occasions [when I reviewed each witness transcript] tells me that when President Trump invited, indeed demanded, foreign involvement in our upcoming election he struck at the very heart of what makes this a republic to which we pledge allegiance.”
But let’s get back to Turley’s false equivalence that argues that it is impossible to establish the superior legitimacy of one side or another and therefore the exercise of impeachment power at present may well invite an abuse of that power in the future against which the party exercising power now will then have no defense. This is completely false. The truth is the two sides in this and every political drama are not equal. Defending the right side against the wrong side is extremely achievable by a free and sophisticated people like us.
On the right side are those who pursue a “more perfect union,” meaning a more perfect political and social equality and a more perfect democratic political process. On the wrong side are those who seek to concentrate wealth and power through reliance on authoritarian oppression by an oligarchy. The United States of America has never had a more striking example of an authoritarian oligarch sitting in the office of the President than Donald Trump.
The hard truth of politics that a free and sophisticated people like us need to master is that authoritarian oligarchs have throughout history shown themselves willing at every opportunity to undermine and violate the existing constitutional order of law in order to pull the nation into their tyrannical control. In response to the authoritarian oligarchs’ fundamental commitment to overthrowing the foundations of political equality and democratic rule of law, the other group, whom we may call democratic egalitarians, are always trying to pull the nation toward a more perfect union from within the constitutional legal order. Unfortunately, faced with an enemy of democracy like the authoritarian oligarchs, it’s not enough to work within the legal order, especially when the legal order has been corrupted and rendered abusive under the authoritarian oligarchs’ control, as it has increasingly become today, as it was in the time of King George. In such circumstances, democratic egalitarians find it necessary to disregard the rule of law for the sake of defending the principles underlying the law and advancing and perfecting them in order to protect them against the ever increasingly sophisticated corruption and violence of the oligarchic authoritarians.
The underlying wisdom of this last resort of democratic egalitarians is that of basic self-defense. Where an enemy to democracy attacks our democratic political process, we, the people may defend our political rights and process with political, rather than legal, power. This political power is legitimate under natural law. Therefore, we can dismiss Professor Turley’s “turn-about is fair play” argument as manipulative and illegitimate. For too long, we have allowed hostile attacks on our democratic rights and political process to be mischaracterized as just as legitimate as efforts to improve and perfect our democratic political rights and process. They are not.
The legal standard for impeachment is found in natural law, not in codified human law, and it is this: Does the extra-constitutional exercise of power by a president take the nation toward a more perfect political equality or not? If it does not, it is conduct that is not authorized and that is in violation of natural law and therefore it is impeachable. By contrast, if extra-constitutional exercise of power by a president does take the nation toward a more perfect political equality, then although such exercise of power is not authorized by the human-authored political process, it is authorized by the higher authority of natural law as better serving the interests of the people and the spirit of the law. Such conduct is not impeachable.
We don’t need Professor Turley’s hand-wringing performance to scare us away from defending our democracy through the exercise of our political power to hold an oligarchic authoritarian accountable. Exercising our accountability muscle will make a stronger, not weaker in the future. It will make us more familiar with the source of our political authority and power and will protect us against further abuses in the future, not make us vulnerable to them, as Professor Turley suggests.
President Trump needs to be impeached for his shocking and multi-dimensional misconduct. But the people need him held accountable for another reason: We need him held accountable to reconnect with the underlying authority on which our democracy is based and to start cleansing our society of the noxious false relativism infecting our public debate, such as we witnessed yesterday in Professor Turley’s performance.
Hank Edson is an author, activist and attorney based in San Francisco. He is the author of The Declaration of the Democratic Worldview (Democracy Press, 2008).
Reflecting on the evolution of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., from confidant of the “maverick” 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain to apologist for President Donald Trump, 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton questioned whether her former Senate colleague had “a brain snatch.”
After remarking on how Clinton had close relationships with many Republican senators prior to her run for president in 2016 which soured during her campaign, radio host Howard Stern asked the first woman to appear at the top of a major party ticket about Graham.
Clinton began by noting that the South Carolina senator was once “good company. He was funny. He was self-deprecating.”
She added, “He also believed in climate change back in those days.”
After Stern expressed incredulity, Clinton added: “He was concerned about the future, absolutely. I saw him as somebody who, you know, had been working to try to figure out what he believed and how he could do things.”
When asked if Graham had sold his soul to the devil, Clinton replied that she was unsure. Nonetheless, she conceded that Stern had asked “a fair question.”
“What I don’t understand is how [Graham] went from being the friend and the real confidant of the Maverick — John McCain — who, you know, I didn’t agree with politically, but I found him to be a man of integrity, a man of real strength of conviction,” she added.
After commenting on how in 2006 Graham wrote a tribute to Hillary Clinton for Time magazine, Clinton concluded by asking, “It’s like he had a brain snatch, you know?”
Graham has emerged as one of Trump’s most outspoken supporters in the Senate, even though he once criticized the former reality TV star during the 2016 election for being a “jackass.” Since then, Graham has backed Trump during a number of controversies, from his appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court through the current impeachment inquiry.
There have been recent occasions when Graham has indirectly criticized the president. Earlier this week, he spoke out against the unsubstantiated conspiracy theory invoked by Trump which claims that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 presidential election.
“I’ve got no doubt that it was the Russians who stole the DNC emails,” Graham told CNN. “It wasn’t Ukraine. Russia was behind the stolen DNC emails, and [John] Podesta and all that good stuff.”
Graham also spoke out against Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, telling “Fox & Friends” in October that “this impulsive decision by the president has undone all the gains we’ve made — thrown the region into further chaos. Iran is licking their chops. And if I’m an ISIS fighter, I’ve got a second lease on life. So to those who think ISIS has been defeated, you will soon see.”
You can watch more below via Twitter:
[email protected] expected to have partisan disagreements with Republicans in Congress, but the recent change she’s seen in politicians like Lindsey Graham have surprised her: “It’s like he had a brain snatch.” pic.twitter.com/F7lEmIuzyh
— Stern Show (@sternshow) December 4, 2019
Trumpers have been consumed by conspiracy theories about the Russia probe. Are they about to bite the dust?
On November 15, reporters who were awaiting Trump’s departure from the White House for a campaign rally in Louisiana witnessed what they described as an “animated” discussion in the Oval Office between the president, Attorney General William Barr, and White House counsel Pat Cipollone. According to CNN’s sources, the topic of discussion was Justice Department Inspector General Horowitz’s report on the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation, which is set to be released publicly on Monday.
Rumors have been flying recently about the contents of that report. The president’s enablers assume that it will implicate the FBI in nefarious activities that indicate the entire probe was a hoax, providing the mother-of-all distractions from the impeachment hearings. However, there are some people who claim to be knowledgeable about the contents of the report that have been leaking information to media organizations like the New York Times and the Washington Post. For example, here is what Adam Goldman reported.
The Justice Department’s inspector general found no evidence that the F.B.I. attempted to place undercover agents or informants inside Donald J. Trump’s campaign in 2016 as agents investigated whether his associates conspired with Russia’s election interference operation, people familiar with a draft of the inspector general’s report said…
The finding also contradicts some of the most inflammatory accusations hurled by Mr. Trump and his supporters, who allegednot only that F.B.I. officials spied on the Trump campaign but also at one point that former President Barack Obama had ordered Mr. Trump’s phones tapped.
It is interesting to speculate whether those findings explain the animated discussion that took place between Trump, Barr, and Cipollone. Perhaps in briefing the president on what was coming, Barr found himself in the position of being the bearer of bad news.
More recently, the Washington Post reported that Barr disputes some key findings in the report, writing that the attorney general “has not been swayed by Horowitz’s rationale for concluding that the FBI had sufficient basis to open an investigation on July 31, 2016.”
According to the Mueller report, the FBI launched its investigation when they learned from Australia’s intelligence services that George Papadopoulos had been told that Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of emails. The person who gave that information to Papadopoulos is Joseph Misfud, who Mueller identified as having ties to Russian intelligence.
Right wingers, including Papadopoulos, have developed a major conspiracy theory suggesting that Misfud actually worked for Western intelligence services and his tip about the emails was a set-up by the “deep state” to spy on the Trump campaign. Barr’s two trips to Italy to press their intelligence services about Misfud indicate that he buys into that nonsense. All of that forced the Italian government to make a public statement.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of Italy said his country’s intelligence services had informed the American attorney general, William P. Barr, that they played no role in the events leading to the Russia investigation, taking the air out of an unsubstantiated theory promoted by President Trump and his allies in recent weeks.
Not satisfied that Horowitz was investigating the origins of the Trump-Russia probe, Barr tasked U.S. Attorney John Durham to investigate the matter as well. According to the Washington Post, Durham is coming up dry on providing support for the conspiracy theory.
Horowitz’s report addresses in detail the cause — referred to in law enforcement circles as “predication” — for opening the Russia investigation. The bureau did so after the Australian government passed to the U.S. a tip that George Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign aide, had boasted about Russia having political dirt on Clinton…
Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his interactions with Mifsud, has alleged, though, that he believes Mifsud is some type of Western intelligence asset, and that he was set up.
People familiar with the matter said Horowitz queried U.S. intelligence agencies to determine if there was any truth to that claim, and found no evidence Mifsud was a U.S. asset. He also reached out to Durham to see if the prosecutor had found anything that might contradict that assessment, and Durham said he had no such evidence, people familiar with the matter said.
On Wednesday, Senator Lindsey Graham will hold a hearing on this report. Back in September, he indicated that he bought in to this conspiracy theory about Misfud during a conversation with Sean Hannity and has told reporters that he plans to call Papadopoulos as a witness. That should be interesting. Will he acknowledge Horowitz’s findings that were backed up by Durham? Or do the inspector general and U.S. attorney get thrown under the bus as either members of the “deep state” or NeverTrumpers?
The bottom line is that, if the Washington Post account is accurate when it comes to what will be included in Horowitz’s report, it will provide evidence that vindicates the FBI, the intelligence services of our allies, and Robert Mueller from charges made by a man who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
That strikes me as a perfect example of the world of conspiracy theories that has consumed Trump and his enablers. Both the president and the people who surround him are notorious liars. But these are the people who are making ludicrous claims in a never-ending attempt to defend the most corrupt man to ever occupy the Oval Office. In the process, they demonize any person or institution that gets in their way, evidence be damned.
Meanwhile, those of us who live in the reality-based community are left to celebrate the fact that yet another conspiracy theory bit the dust.