The Smearing of Robert Mueller (Propaganda in Action)

Here at the blog we have promised to expose propaganda from time to time, and today we have a very clear example of it. It involves Sean Hannity at Fox “News” who, despite all his ethical lapses is, remarkably enough, still on the air.

Hannity has been on a one-man crusade against the Robert Mueller probe, echoing our sad President’s sentiments that this is all a Democrat-orchestrated witch hunt (despite the fact that the majority of people who are running or authorized the investigation, including Rod Rosenstein, Andrew McCabe and Mueller himself are all registered Republicans).

Lately, in their efforts to discredit Mueller, the right wing machine has been claiming that Mueller was part of the conspiracy to protect Whitey Bulger, and was directly responsible for keeping four innocent men in prison, two of whom died while still incarcerated.

You can see Sean Hannity make this claim (above) starting at about 4:13 in his fifteen-minute diatribe.  There is a lot to unpack here, so let’s try to unpack some of it.

  • Whitey Bulger, for those who don’t know, got a good deal of his notoriety for being a mob boss in Boston while his brother (“Billy Bulger”) was the President of the Massachusetts Senate. In a bit of a Cain and Abel story, Whitey turned out to be an informant for the FBI – a bit of a “no no” for a mob boss – and fled to California, where he escaped capture for a remarkable 16½ years.[1]
  • Joseph Salvati and three other men were convicted in Massachusetts for the 1965 murder of Teddy Deegan, a murder they did not commit. Although the FBI knew the identity of the actual murderers, two FBI informants (Vincent “Jimmy the Bear” Flemmi and Joe “The Animal” Barboza) provided the needed testimony to convict Salvati and the others. Flemmi was, in fact, one of the murderers; he was also the brother of Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, who was one of Bulger’s closest associates and also an informant for the FBI.
  • Salvati was eventually vindicated after the extent of the FBI’s use of Whitey Bulger and his associate’s was exposed.
  • In a subsequent civil trial for wrongful imprisonment and certain civil rights statues, which was presided over by Judge Nancy Gertner,[2] Salvati was awarded over $100 million (which was the largest award of its kind at the time).

Now, while I had a vague recollection of this, I was reminded of this history via an article in the Boston Globe which detailed a heavy-weight battle between former Judge Gertner and Alan Dershowitz, the legendary Harvard Professor and agent provocateur who made his fame defending the likes of Claus von Bülow. Dershowitz, who loves nothing like the spotlight, has recently been making waves by arguing legalities in defense of Trump. And Dershowitz provided Hannity with some of the “evidence” that led Hannity to conclude that Mueller conspired to let four innocent men rot in jail.

Are you still with me?

So here is the really interesting part: Gertner, having read every transcript and piece of evidence related to the Salvati case while she was presiding over the trial, said that Mueller’s name never came up.  He was not alleged to be part of the conspiracy, and there has been no credible evidence uncovered by anyone that he was.

That, however, has not led Sean Hannity to stop repeating the false accusation over and over again on his show.

Yes, the same Sean Hannity who was recently found to be the third of three clients of President Trump’s personal attorney, Andrew Cohen.[3]

Why can Sean Hannity get away with his blatant and obvious out-and-out lying on Fox “News”? It’s a good question, my friends.

And the answer is because Hannity is not part of the “news” department at Fox; what he offers is “commentary.” Which is a crucial distinction in the law of libel and slander.

However, a day of reckoning may be coming. Alex Jones was recently sued for continuing to repeat the lie that the murders of school children at Sandy Hook was a “staged event” by two of those parents. I can only hope and pray that they leave him bankrupt.

P.T. Barnum famously said “there’s a sucker born every minute.”[4] And let me tell you, my friends, we, the American voters, have been suckers for a long time. Not all of us, to be sure, but enough of us to bring you President Donald J. Trump.


[1] During this time he made it to the top of the FBI Wanted List.  The FBI took a huge public relations hit, especially in Boston, for essentially allowing Whitey to stay on as a crime boss, actively committing murders and other crimes, while they were getting inside information from him against other syndicates.

[2] Gertner was a legendary feminist and firebrand as a defense attorney before becoming a federal judge. While at Yale Law School, she was friends with Hillary Rodham (Clinton) and spent time with Bill Clinton.

[3] To his credit, Dershowitz subsequently went on Hannity’s show and told him on air that he should have revealed his conflict of interest to the public.

[4] Or maybe he didn’t say it because, let’s face it, some version of fake news has been around for quite some time.  But in any case, it’s been attributed to him.

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Giving Andrew McCabe a kick in the pants on his way out the door

Last week FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe was fired a couple of days before his twenty year retirement date, thereby depriving him of a substantial portion of his pension. Boy, what a kick in the pants for that guy.

 

Don’t know what he did to deserve kick in the pants? That puts you in good company with most Americans. (Some Fox viewers will think they know, but like most things they learned on Fox News, they will have gotten their facts completely wrong.)

So, this is part of the Trump administration’s frantic effort to prove that the FBI and the whole intelligence “apparatus” are out to get them.  The FBI?

You mean the same FBI that handed the election to Trump on a silver platter?
You mean the same FBI that handed the election to Trump on a silver platter?
You mean the same FBI that handed the election to Trump on a silver platter?
You mean the same FBI that handed the election to Trump on a silver platter?

You mean that Federal Bureau of Investigation? The one that was led by James Comey before he got his ass handed to him for (a) failing to swear a loyalty oath to Trump, and (b) failing to drop the Russia collusion investigation?

How did the FBI deliver the election to Trump on a silver platter?

Although this is recent history, let’s just review how it came about that the FBI (through its former director, James Comey) delivered the election to Trump on a silver platter.

  • While Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton was investigated 13 times for her role in the Benghazi incident, in which three United States military contractors and the US Ambassador to Syria were killed.[1]
  • During the investigations, it was discovered that Hillary Clinton maintained a private email server at home, on which she did state department business.
  • Multiple investigations, including one conducted by the FBI, found that Clinton’s use of a private email server for public business was not criminal, although it was also not approved. It showed poor judgment and opened Clinton to the possibility that her server would be hacked.[2]
  • FBI Director announced his findings that no charges should be filed against Clinton on July 5, 2016.[3]
  • In the meantime, Anthony Weiner (who really turned out to be a dick), the husband of Huma Abedin, Clinton’s Chief-of-Staff at the State Department, was being investigated multiple times for “sexting” (which eventually landed him in prison).
  • In September of 2016, pursuant to a news report, a new sexting investigation was opened against Weiner, resulting in the seizure of his phone and laptop.
  • On his laptop investigators found some sensitive emails from Huma Abedin related to State Department business.
  • On that basis, Comey re-opened his investigation on October 28, 2016, or eleven days before the November 8 election.
  • Then, on November 6 (or two days before the election) Comey announced that his review had found nothing new, and he was closing the investigation again.

Needless to say, by the time Comey announced for a second time that nothing illegal had been found, the damage had been done.

And that, my friends, is how James Comey handed the election to Donald Trump on a silver platter.[4]

What did Andrew McCabe do to deserve his kick in the pants?

The Grand Old Party has been gunning for McCabe – even though he, like James Comey – is a registered Republican ever since he refused to kill the Russia investigation after Comey was fired.

Let’s acknowledge at the outset that there is massive amounts of evidence that the Trump administration colluded with the Russian government of Vladimir Putin.[5]

  • Andrew McCabe became the Acting Director of the FBI on May 9, 2017 after James Comey was fired.
  • On May 11, McCabe testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on the Russia investigation. During that testimony McCabe publicly contradicted President Trump that Comey had “lost the confidence of the FBI rank and file” (one of the many claims the Trump administration made after Comey was fired for doing his job).
  • McCabe was not selected for the top job at the FBI when Trump chose the current director Christopher Wray instead. As part of the selection process Trump had (allegedly) asked McCabe whom he had voted for in the Presidential election.
  • According to Republicans, McCabe was supposedly also part of an anti-Trump cabal that approved using the Steele dossier to help get a FISA warrant against Carter Page, a consultant to the Trump campaign, and a significant cog in the connection between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.[6]
  • On January 29, 2018, after he was not selected for the top job, McCabe stepped down from his role as Deputy Director, with the intent of taking accrued leave until his formal departure on March 18, at which point he could get his full pension.
  • On March 16, 2018, McCabe was fired, pursuant to a report by the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility.[7] He was allegedly fired for “his decision to allow FBI officials to give information about the Clinton Foundation investigation to the media and for misleading investigators about that decision.”
  • This firing two days ahead of schedule prevented McCabe from received the full pension he would otherwise have been entitled to.[8]

So, I love it when Republicans suddenly become concerned about the mishandling of the Clinton investigation by the FBI. This is the same party, whose Presidential candidate literally goaded the Russians to hack into Hillary’s server and retrieve her “deleted” emails in order to disadvantage her politically.

Hypocrisy much?

BTW, if you were paying attention, you may have noticed that in all the Clinton emails disgorged by Wikileaks, there was nothing especially embarrassing in there. If anything, it portrayed Clinton as serious, not particularly tech savvy, and concerned about her staff.

But proving that no good deed goes unpunished, Trump – and believe me, this was personal – was sure to give Andrew McCabe a kick in his pants on the way out the door.


[1] Although Republicans tried mightily to prove it, it turned out that Hillary Clinton had no role in the aftermath of the incident, and was not involved in a coverup.

[2] Ironically, there is no evidence to prove that her server was hacked while she was Secretary of State.

[3] For details on what was and was not found against Clinton, check out this article from FactCheck.org. Of course, the Trump started the “lock her up” chants based on his false claims that Hillary must have been guilty of something.

[4] This was, of course, not the only reason that Clinton lost. There have been plenty of persuasive arguments that her own inept campaign had much to do with her loss, but from a polling perspective, these last-minute doubts appeared to be decisive in swing states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where Clinton lost the electoral college.

[5] The full scope of that has not yet been revealed because Bob Mueller has not yet concluded his own Special  Counsel investigation.

[6] The Steele dossier, the Nunes memo, and the connections between the Trump campaign and Russian interests are well beyond the scope of this article, but will require another extensive disaggregation of fact from fiction in the future.

[7] There had also been an investigation of McCabe from the Inspector General of the Department of Justice over concerns that he should have recused himself from the investigation of Hillary’s email server, since his wife wqas running as a Democrat for the Virginia State Senate.

[8] Apparently Democratic Congressman Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Seth Moulton of Massachusetts both offered to hire McCabe for a couple of days so he could retire with his full pension. As of this writing, it does not appear that either offer was accepted.

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Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss

This month in autocrats, we’ve had some interesting examples of déjà vu “all over again.”

In an election that had all the suspense of a Harlem Globetrotters match, Vladimir Putin has won re-election to a six  year term as President of Russia.

In China, Xi Jinping, serving as General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, President of the People’s Republic of China, and Chairman of the Central Military Commission, recently had the constitution altered so that there would no longer be term limits on his Presidency.

More recently Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was re-elected President in Egypt in another election with the suspense of a Harlem Globetrotters match. The only suspense will be whether or not Sisi will beat the 76.7% figure that Putin amassed in his win.

In Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has become ever more authoritarian in governing his country.

In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has illegal hit squads out assassinating suspected drug dealers all around the country, which is how he initially made his fame as Mayor of Davao City.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

I’m not saying these guys are as bad as Stalin, Mao, Ferdinand Marcos or Atatürk, but they’re not a heck of a lot better.

I don’t think, for example, that Putin is much better than Leonid Brezhnevor or Yuri Andropov. Putin is like the poster boy for toxic masculinity, and now the whole country of Russia seems to be infected. Boy, it’s clear that we were too gleeful back when the iron curtain came down in our “victory” over communism.

The Russians did not take kindly to being emasculated (in their view), and it’s clear that they’re looking both for a return to “First World” status (at least in a military prestige sense) and some serious payback.

Since they managed to help inflict Donald Trump on us – I don’t think they were the decisive element, I still think James Comey and the FBI hold that status – they’ve already achieved a generous measure of payback.

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The Trump Administration actually can ask the citizenship question on the Census

Today I’m going to be separating myself from some of my progressive friends on whether or not the Trump administration can ask the Census Bureau whether a respondent is a United States citizen as part of the Decennial Census questionnaire.

I think they can.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I get that this is part of the Trump administration’s effort to get minorities and immigrants undercounted, and maybe even part of their overall plan to suppress the votes of those groups who are not favorably inclined towards Republicans. I totally get that.

But this is also a constitutional argument.

So, the Census is required by the Constitution through Article I, Clause 3 of the Constitution, which says the following in pertinent part:

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths[1] of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.

More specifics relative to the enumeration are set forth in 13 U.S. Code 1 et seq. Under federal law, the Bureaus is tasked with counting citizens, non-citizen legal residents, non-citizen long-term visitors, as well as undocumented immigrants. The Census Bureau bases its decision about whom to count on the concept of “usual residence,” defined as the place a person lives and sleeps most of the time.

Now let’s remember that the purpose of the census was originally the apportionment of the House of Representatives, and let’s remember that non-citizens can’t vote. So the citizenship question is certainly relevant to the census.

On the other hand, the census is now used for a number of other things, principally the apportionment of federal funds, and for that purpose all persons residing here are relevant.

Back in 1980, and fresh out of college, I was a crew leader for the Decennial Census. At the time the Census had a great deal of difficulty (as it still does) in counting the homeless population (which, needless to say) was chronically undercounted. But there were ways at getting at the problem, including using census takers who used to be homeless.

Same thing with the immigrant population. There are ways that the Census Bureau can about trying to count them, and offering them maximum anonymity would be a start.

Some populations are always going to be harder to count than others. Like the homeless. Even without the question on immigration, it’s not as if undocumented aliens are going to volunteer to be counted. What do they care about the apportionment of federal dollars? They care about keeping their asses here in the United States, and no count is going to help them do that.

Of course, even if I think the Trump administration is on legally defensible ground in this one particular case, that didn’t stop habitual liar Sarah “the Huckster” Sanders from lying about the Census anyway. She claimed that the immigration question has been part of “every census” since 1965.

 

It pains me to have to point out to Ms. Sanders that there was no decennial census in 1965 (as those are only taken every decade) and that the immigration question has  not been part of the census since 1950. It wasn’t “taken out” (as Sanders claimed) for the 2010 census.


[1] The three-fifths provision were, of course, in reference to slaves who were brought to this country, and did not count as “full persons” until much later.

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Trump at 42% Approval Ratings

This morning I heard the discouraging news that Trump’s approval rating has ticked up slightly from the high 30’s to 42% in a new CNN poll.

 

Seriously?

I despair for this country.

After seeing him operate for the last 15 months or so, that he has an approval rating higher than 12% should be a grave concern for everyone.

Apparently, 21% of respondents also believe Trump when he asserts that he neither had an affair with Stormy Daniels or Karen MacDougall.

On the other hand, a large number of people think he’s doing well with the economy, many of them because they like the tax cuts. As a nation, we really are just one big cheap whore, I guess.

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Courageous Trump fires Tillerson via Twitter

Our President, who claimed that he would have the courage to run into buildings unarmed to confront a school shooter, doesn’t even have the balls to fire his Secretary of State face-to-face.

No, just as with the firing of James Comey, President Kumquat used Twitter.

CIA Director and Teaparty Hawk Mike Pompeo will become the new Secretary of State. His Deputy, Gina Haspel will become the new Director of the CIA.

One might think that having the first woman run the CIA would be good news, but Gina Haspel was deeply involved in black ops and the torture of ‘enemy combatants’ after 9/11.

Oops.

Senate confirmation is not guaranteed, according to well-informed news sources.

As Andy Borowitz wrote in the New Yorker, “Nation Marvels at Trump’s Ability to Turn ExxonMobil Multimillionaire Into Sympathetic Figure.”

And so it goes.

 

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Didn’t Republicans used to hate the Russkies?

Vladimir Putin went before the cameras yesterday in his annual State of the Nation speech, and essentially announced the revival of the Russian nuclear weapons program. He hinted strongly that no one would be able to ignore the Russian’s “strategic interests” anymore.

Déjà vu, anyone?

What strange bedfellows we have these days.  There is Donald “No Collusion” Drumpf who continues to kiss Putin’s ass on any occasion he can find.

Didn’t Republicans used to hate the Russkies?  How much they love them now.

The Trump Administration has, of course, refused to implement the sanctions that the Congress – in a rare act of bipartisanship – voted almost unanimously last year to impose.[1] The administration’s explanation was that since (in their estimation) “foreign governments have abandoned planned or announced purchases of several billion dollars in Russian defense acquisitions,” the imposition of actual sanctions was not necessary.

Say what?

In the meantime, there is so much evidence of collusion that it isn’t even funny.

Aside from Trump practically goading the Russians to steal Hillary Clinton’s emails on the campaign trail, members of the Trump administration or the Trump campaign who had contact with the Russians include Michael Flynn, Jared Kushner, Anthony Scaramucci, Jeff Sessions, Rex Tillerson, Wilbur Ross, Michael R. Caputo, Rick Gates, Paul Manafort, George Papadopoulos, Carter Page, Roger Stone, Donald Trump Jr., and Michael Cohen. Several of these have already been indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team.[2]

But no, there was no collusion.

Didn’t Republicans used to hate the Russkies?

That wasn’t very long ago.

Don’t seem to hate them so much now.


[1] The Senate voted 98-2 in favor of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. The House was almost as strong.

[2] For details on the Russian contacts with the Trump campaign, check Wikipedia.

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