"Good News, Everyone": My Thoughts On Part One of The Mueller Report

After about six months of the media screaming about Trump and Russia Russia and Trump and breathless insisting that this time they had found the smoking bullet, by God, this time they had him, I eventually settled firmly into the somewhat exhausted position that once Mueller completed his report, I would read it and formulate an opinion of my own, especially since no one in the media appeared to be all that interested in being well, sane about this.

So when it finally came out, unlike many members of Congress, I actually sat down and slowly and painfully picked my way through the entire report, redactions and all. And at the end of the day, my biggest takeaway from this mess is that the whole damn thing is just so fucking bizzare it's kind of a head scratcher that the people involved actually behaved the way they did.

The overall report is two parts: one, looked into the main portion of the Special Counsel's brief- the question of the extent and success of the Russian interference operations in the 2016 elections and the second part looks into President Trump's behavior and reaction to the Special Counsel's investigation. The first part definitely contains more good news (for a given value of 'good news') in terms of the big picture of our democracy than the second one does. So, let's break all this shit down:

The big question that hangs over Part One is perhaps the biggest one of all: What if Trump had never asked Russia to find the emails? Would we be here at all? Would my brain have hurt so damn much trying to wade through this long slog of a redacted report? There's a certain sense of surrealism that hangs over part one, because a lot of made me scratch my head in confusion- I mean... why?

If Russia really has kompromat on Trump- if the pee tape is really a thing and he's a double agent or working directly for Putin as many a hysterical Twitter egg has suggested- then none of this shit makes sense. If Russia wanted 'their guy' they sure didn't get a lot out of this. The media hysteria over 'contacts' between Russians and Team Trump looks to be largely that: hysteria. Yes, someone tried to call Hope Hicks. Yes, Sessions and Ambassador Kislyak had a conversation. But conspiratorial collusion? Seems to be a whole lot of nothing: and this is a good thing, people. The President does not, at least according to the Mueller Report, appear to be directly in the pocket of a foreign power. However much we may dislike or actively detest him, that piece of news is good.

(Mueller does hedge a bit on that score- in fact, he hedges so much throughout the entire document you'd think he's got a future in competitve topiary if that's a thing. So, at the end of page ten, we do have to acknowledge that yes, more shit could come to light to change these conclusions. Take the good news, add a sprinkle of salt and let's keep rolling.)

If it's not active kompromat the Russians have, then the obvious conclusion that this whole thing was set up to cause as much mischief and sew dissension and undermine trust in the institutions of our democracy. In that sense, Mission Accomplished- the Internet Research Agency (and yes, I'm old enough to get weirded out by the fact it's shortened to IRA) had social media accounts all over the spectrum pushing out bullshit online- which brings us to the hardest aspect of the whole thing: the chicken vs egg thing.

Did the Russians create the misinformation or was it already there, given the decades of hysteria about Mrs. Clinton- especially on the right? Given how polarizing both candidates were, did any of this change votes or even influence votes? Honestly, there's no way to determine that-- you can probably make a good argument that it did at the end of the day, but I can also argue that one or two trips to Wisconsin or Michigan could have been enough to flip the margins in both those states the other way. (In other words, you can make the argument, it's just not a particularly persuasive one, at least, IMO.)

The 'Scary Bad News' and 'Sort of Good News' aspect of that is that the GRU was able to penetrate and compromise some voter data bases- but not actual voter machines. Y'all: PAPER BALLOTS ARE THE ANSWER. If you ever watch UK election returns, they're all paper ballots and the counting is done by hand in big, open church halls or random big ass room right where everyone can see it.* (Transparency + Paper Ballots = more secure elections and yes, it is absolutely something Democrats should beat Republicans over the head with. And if Republicans don't get serious about this, they are failing at their most basic jobs.)**

At the end of the day, if we don't break up Google and Facebook (which we should, imo) then Twitter for sure is going to have to end anonymity. No more EGGS. You gotta have a real name- and even if you're running a parody account there needs to be something to tie it back to a real person. That's probably not a perfect solution- but in terms of online harassment and bullshit, I honestly think Facebook is a lot better than Twitter because the bullshit is easier to manage. If Person A has strong opinions that differ from yours, unfollow them and you don't have to see them. Do that and never read the comments on anything and it's almost okay, until you realize that they're selling your data and compromising your privacy behind the scenes.

Small government types will hate it, but unless these companies step up, regulation- or breaking them up completely is coming- perhaps sooner than you think. All of this Russion Collusion Mess should bring the point home to absolutely everyone: Information is the real commodity now. Control a narrative and you can control the world-- which is why journalism shouldn't traffic in narratives, because people have this inherent spidey-sense that lets them know when someone is trying to sell them a pile of bullshit. But bigger picture: if a narrative can move voters, then breaking up these companies should move from theoretical and rhetorical to actually fucking happening and like yesterday. No one should get a monopoly on narratives or information.

Russia just looks strange in all of this, Trump looks mildly incompetent, but if you want a real villain then I'm afraid that Wikileaks more than fits the bill. Yes, Russia hacked the DNC and posed as 'Guccifer' the hacker to pass the info onto Wikileaks-- they, for their part were actively looking for a GOP win because they felt the media would attack a GOP President more than they would a Democratic President- hence lessening the chances or at least making more difficult the chance of excessive drone strikes/imperialist wars/things that Wikileaks didn't agree with ideologically

There seems to be a pretty clear indication that when it came to 'neo-liberal warmongers' Wikileaks felt that Mrs. Clinton was very much part of the problem. The information they got from the Russians-which- I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt here, they would have no way of knowing the real people behind Guccifer- as it turned out, gave them exactly what they were looking for in terms of information to use against the candidate they disliked.

To me, if anyone was actively trying to move the needle on the election it seems like Wikileaks was the most blatant about it. The behavior of everyone else is this whole mess is somewhat more difficult to find a logical explanation for.

There were contacts between the Trump Campaign and Russia- that much the report is very clear about. But here's the thing that almost slipped by me, but it very very important to note from a legal point of view: collusion does not exist as a legal term. Conspiracy does. The media and everyone is talking about this rather abstract and amorphous thing in collusion while Mueller is trying to see if the fact he's uncovered fit the legal definition of conspiracy (and therefore, something he could indict on/make criminal referrals on) and the conclusion that he seems to reach is that yes there were contacts, but during the campaign there is nothing to indicate a conspiracy.

Again, this strikes me as a good news/bad news thing, because hooray, there doesn't appear to be evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump Campaign and a foreign power. This is a good thing. However, the number of contacts between the Trump Campaign and Russia for various reasons are sort of, well, questionable, to me. You can and probably should raise an eyebrow at them and wonder why.

Overall, the biggest thing that I took away from all these contacts is that President Trump isn't very careful about the company he keeps. Manafort seems like he wanted to pitch a nakedly pro-Russian peace deal for the Ukraine which would have seen Russia assume defacto control of the Donbas Region-- and the Russians were really pushing for their plan to get pitched to Trump, but there's no evidence that Manafort ever did push it and events have proven that it very much has not happened that way. It's disturbing that Russia thought there was a possibility it could happen, it's also a good thing that it didn't happen. (Also crazy: Ambassador Kislyak floated the idea of Russian Generals briefing the Transition Team on Syria. Russian Generals. That rocked me back on my heels a little bit.)

It's not just Russia and it's not just President Trump, however- there was a meeting in the Seychelles involving Erik Prince and Steve Bannon that got no coverage from the media that I can remember that seems shady as hell, given the conflicting accounts the two men gave in the report.(To be fair Bannon has long since been removed from The White House.) Doing some more digging on Wikipedia, the meeting in the Seychelles seems to be an attempt to tell the Russians that we wouldn't accept Russian involvement in Libya-- they had moved an aircraft carrier toward the coast of Libya. But Wikipedia also mentions that the Seychelles meeting also involved the UAE who seemed to be under the impression that Prince was their direct link to the Trump Transition Team.

Lordee this is long, but we're almost done with Part One. Three final things remain: Trump Tower Moscow, What the Hell Russia Wanted and the June 9th Meeting.

Look, the legendary pee tapes aside, I honestly wasn't all that concerned about the Trump Tower Moscow thing. It really does strike me as the action of a guy who was very much hedging his bets about the election- a lot of people honestly thought that he was surprised that he won on Election Night and his behavior with regard to Trump Tower Moscow seems to back that up. He kept the irons in the fire and kept inching it forward- perhaps using the Russian flirtations during the election to keep the project moving right along, in case he loses the election. There were some mentions in the report of him maybe going to Moscow to lobby directly for the project- but I think they decided the optics of that would look terrible and backed off.

What the hell did Russia want out of all of this? That's the real head scratcher in all of this. I honestly think they wanted something out of this that they just didn't get. Sanctions weren't eased and if memory serves, Congress actually tightened them, over the objections of the administration. It seems like they wanted a quid (assisting the campaign with the disclosure of the Clinton Emails) but have not, at least to my knowledge gotten much of a pro quo out of this whole thing. In this, I think we were saved from real and actual shenanigans from Russia's lack of knowledge or understandings of how our institutions actually work. If there's one saving grace of this Presidency and the apocalyptic hellscape we all get to live in, it's that it's poked Congress out of it's decades long torpor and occasionally, if the President does something insane enough, they do decline to acquiese to his requests. (Personally, I'd like them to be more aggressive on that score, but hey- I'll take the occasional heart monitor going 'beep.... beep'. Beats them just being a supine rubber stamp for the Executive Branch.)

There's a disturbing quote from an email that shows up in the report: "Putin has won." In a lot of ways, he has. Trust in our institutions is at an all time low. We haven't moved aggressively enough to secure our elections- because inevitably that will get tied up in the pissing match over Voter ID laws. It's obvious by now that we haven't learned the lessons of 2008 and there was zero accountability for that economic disaster, because rich people don't get to be accountable in this country. Similarly, I think it's obvious that trust is our institutions has been undermined. Our election security is questionable and at minimum could be and should be a hell of a lot better than it is and we have done precisely nothing to rectify this situation.

There's an old quote from Talleyrand about the restored Bourbon dynasty after the abdication of Napoleon: "They had learned nothing and forgotten nothing." Both the historical context and the quote itself seem disturbingly apt for America today.

A lot of this seems questionable. Some of it seems outright shady. But I think the closest we come to outright malfeasance is part one in the June 9th meeting. It's hard to really pin down anything because everyone has conflicting accounts about it- it seems like Junior wanted it to be about some sick dirt on Mrs. Clinton but everyone else thought it was supposed to be about adoption. Either Junior made a push for dirt and Kushner and Manafort were like 'this is bullshit and a waste of time' or Junior thought it was going to be about dirt and it ended up really being about adoption.

It strains credibility that Junior didn't tell the President about the meeting to me- however, no one said anything different and barring any other evidence you've gotta take people at their word I guess, however dubious you might find the whole thing.

I straight up do not get this. I do not understand why the Trump Campaign thought they needed dirt on Mrs. Clinton when there was a Conservative media apparatus that has been portraying her as Lady Macbeth and worse for over two decades now. I expected they thought that any revelations of the emails would be fatal to Mrs. Clinton's campaign and that's an assertion I can probably get behind- in fact, you could make a larger argument that it was the emails that doomed her when Comey took a mulligan and popped the hood back on the investigation like a week before Election Day.

The money quote from part one:
"Ultimately, the investigation did not establish that the Campaign coordinated or conspired with the Russian government in it's election interference activities."
Sure, that makes me feel better. Kind of. And I try not to be a clutcher of pearls when it comes to the character and behavior of the President. He is who he is and there's an H.L. Mencken quote that also seems apt: "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard." There's also another one: "Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under." We shouldn't be surprised or outraged by any of this. We knew who he was when he was placed on the ballot. It's not like he was Mother Theresa before this.

Part one of this report throws the President's character into sharp relief. You can't rationalize this away. You can't say he's playing three dimensional chess. You can't ignore it. You can tell a lot about a person about the company he keeps and having read this it seems that the unspoken words after 'Drain The Swamp' may well be 'so I can put a Super Fund Site/Toxic Waste Dump there instead.' Maybe I'm judging the President too harshly. I should, after all, recognize my own biases against him and acknowledge those- but this feels shady as hell. And usually if something seems shady as hell, there's a reason for that. The problem confronting us seems to be, what if we have a President that does shady things that are almost, but not quite illegal? What do we do then?

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