Category: Republicans

Republicans Are Using the Russian Playbook on the FBI

Republicans Are Using the Russian Playbook on the FBI

New York Magazine
By Jonathan Chait

Odds are, you don’t remember any of the particular revelations contained in the stolen emails from John Podesta and the Democratic National Committee. But when WikiLeaks published them two years ago, they created a furor. The snippets of conversation, wrenched out of context, seemed to supply hidden evidence of what Hillary Clinton’s critics on both the left and the right already suspected.

One of the reasons Clinton’s left-wing critics dismissed charges of Russian hacking was that they feared the crime would overshadow the apparently revelatory emails.

The email hacks did not actually reveal anything nearly so incriminating. What the episode showed was that, if hostile actors are allowed to peek into a vast trove of their target’s private thoughts, they can usually find something that sounds shady. This is exactly the method Republicans are now using to discredit the FBI.

Republicans didn’t steal messages from the FBI. They happened upon them because two FBI agents, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, happened to be having an affair, and since they used their phones to communicate (to avoid detection by their spouses), the messages they sent fell into the laps of Congress. For weeks, Republicans have followed the WikiLeaks formula with these texts, selectively leaking snippets of conversation to feed a distorted story line to the media.

Republican senator Ron Johnson highlights a text of Strzok expressing reluctance to join Robert Mueller’s team, because “my gut sense and concern is there’s no big there there.” Johnson told a conservative talk-show host that this “jaw-dropping” comment amounted to a confession that Strzok knew that Trump was innocent and joined Mueller’s investigation to smear him. But maybe Strzok simply had an open mind and thought Mueller’s probe stood a strong chance of clearing Trump. Another Strzok “scandal” grew out of a text he sent expressing the opinion that Clinton would not be charged in the email investigation. The text “suggests they knew and, in turn, believed Loretta Lynch knew, that no charges would be brought against Hillary Clinton, even before the FBI had interviewed her over her unauthorized private email server,” reports Breitbart.

They knew! The fix was in! Or maybe they simply knew that the evidence of the private email server did not amount to a plausible federal case against Clinton.

 

How the GOP Rigs Elections

How the GOP Rigs Elections

Rollingstone
By Ari Berman
Image courtesy of Victor Juhasz

To say that Republicans are facing a toxic political environment heading into the 2018 midterm elections would be a massive understatement. Donald Trump is the most unpopular president at this stage of his term in modern American history. Just three in 10 Americans have a favorable view of the Republican Party, and Democratic voters’ enthusiasm to vote in 2018 tops Republican voters’ by 17 points. But because of sophisticated gerrymandering, Republicans who should be vulnerable, like Republican state Sen. Van Wanggaard, have been seen as untouchable. “It’s more challenging than it should be because of the way the districts are drawn,” says Jenni Dye, who works for Democrats in Wisconsin’s state Senate. Wanggaard is among 11 Republican state senators up for re-election in 2018, but no one has stepped forward to challenge him yet.

The gerrymandering in Wisconsin, which experts call among the most extreme in U.S. history, is but one part of Republicans’ stealth plan to stay in office. Since Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican Legislature took power, they’ve also introduced some of the country’s harshest voting restrictions, passing laws that make it harder for Democratic-leaning constituencies to register to vote and cast ballots. At the same time, the state has become the “Wild West of dark money,” according to Lisa Graves, a senior fellow at the Madison-based Center for Media and Democracy, with Republican politicians like Walker raising unprecedented sums from billionaire donors to finance their campaigns.

“All three of these things have to be seen as part of a whole,” says Eric Holder, Barack Obama’s attorney general, who founded the National Democratic Redistricting Committee in 2016 to challenge Republican gerrymandering efforts. “Unregulated dark money combined with these voter-ID laws combined with gerrymandering is inconsistent with how our nation’s system is supposed to be set up. American citizens ought to be concerned about the state of our democracy. We could end up with a system where a well-financed minority that has views inconsistent with the vast majority of the American people runs this country.”

More immediately, a beleaguered Republican Party tainted by Trump could still retain majorities in 2018 and 2020. “It’s not a level playing field,” says Tom Perez, head of the Democratic National Committee. “There are millions of people whose votes effectively don’t count.” And as a measure of the GOP’s ability to maintain a political advantage, despite widespread public opposition to its policies, look no further than Wisconsin. “We’ve been under a counterrevolution here for the past six years,” says Matt Rothschild, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which tracks the influence of money in politics. “Walker has urged other states to follow his model. Reactionary politics is a big Wisconsin export now.”

Faust on the Potomac

The New York Times
By Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman writes —

I haven’t yet read Wolff’s book – do I really have to? — but the basic outlines of his story have long been familiar and uncontroversial to anyone with open eyes. Trump is morally and intellectually incapable of being president. He has also exploited his office for personal gain, obstructed justice, and colluded with a hostile foreign power. Everyone who doesn’t get their news from Fox has basically known this for a while, although Wolff helps focus our minds on the subject.

It seems to me that that the real news now is the way Republicans in Congress are dealing with this national nightmare: rather than distancing themselves from Trump, they’re doubling down on their support and, in particular, on their efforts to cover for his defects and crimes. Remember when Paul Ryan was the Serious, Honest Conservative? (He never really was, but that was his public image.) Now he’s backing Devin Nunes in his efforts to help the Trump coverup.

As Brian Beutler says, Republicans have become the Grand Obstruction Party. Why?

The answer, I think, is that the cynical bargain that has been the basis of Republican strategy since Reagan has now turned into a moral trap. And as far as we can tell, no elected Republican – not one – has the strength of character to even attempt an escape.

For more than a generation, the Republican establishment was able to keep this bait-and-switch under control: racism was deployed to win elections, then was muted afterwards, partly to preserve plausible deniability, partly to focus on the real priority of enriching the one percent. But with Trump they lost control: the base wanted someone who was blatantly racist and wouldn’t pretend to be anything else. And that’s what they got, with corruption, incompetence, and treason on the side.

What this means, among other things, is that expecting the GOP to exercise any oversight or constrain Trump in any way is just foolish at this point. Massive electoral defeat – massive enough to overwhelm gerrymandering and other structural advantages of the right – is the only way out.

The age of betrayal is back

The age of betrayal is back

The Washington Post
By E.J. Dionne Jr.

Dec. 20, 2017, will live on as a day of disgrace and dishonor.

It will be remembered as the day when a government of, by and for the people became a government of, by and for wealthy campaign donors — and of, by and for wealthy Republican politicians themselves.

We thought the corruption, self-dealing and social indifference of the Gilded Age were long behind us. But we underestimated the raw nerve of President Trump, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

This Triumvirate of Privilege has returned us to the “age of betrayal,” as writer Jack Beatty called the years of the robber barons. The goal has always been to roll back the social advances that the country has made since the Progressive Era. On Wednesday, the demolition crews in the House and Senate struck a devastating blow.

The tax law loots the federal treasury on behalf of major corporations and the richest people in America. It sharply shifts the nation’s tax burden onto wage and salary earners whom Trump, Ryan and McConnell treat as serfs expected to bow before the wielders of capital, including real estate titans such as the president himself. It also creates an utterly unstable tax code. So many new opportunities for evasion were stuffed into this monstrosity that not a single person who voted for it can fully know what its effects will be.

This lobbyists’ wish list was passed with unconscionably reckless haste because those who confected it didn’t want mere citizens to grasp what they were doing. In this, they failed. The polls make clear that citizens, including many Republicans and many Trump supporters, know exactly whom this bill will benefit, and whom it will hurt. No tax cut in recent memory has been so unpopular.

Trump will keep lying about the bill’s financial impact on him. Some of Trump’s die-hard supporters will keep cheering when he calls out kneeling NFL players. But so many who wanted to believe what he said about draining the swamp and standing for our country’s “forgotten men and women” understand that they have been kicked to the curb.

Eventually, even the most accomplished charlatans show us who they really are.

Republicans keep on telling voter-fraud fairy tales

Republicans keep on telling voter-fraud fairy tales

The Washington Post
By Editorial Board
Image courtesy of Gabriella Demczuk

Shortly before Virginia’s elections last month, we asked the three Republicans on the statewide ballot — Ed Gillespie, the gubernatorial candidate; Jill Vogel, the lieutenant gubernatorial candidate; and John Adams, the attorney general candidate — if they believed voter fraud was rampant in the state. None gave a straightforward answer; all three mentioned the isolated case of an undergraduate at James Madison University who filed 18 falsified voter registration forms last year, none of which resulted in a fraudulent vote being cast.

The JMU case is the near-exception that proves the rule: Voting officials and scholars in Virginia, as in other states, say election fraud is rare across the United States; even more seldom does it result in falsified votes at the ballot box.

Nonetheless, the robotic responses by the three Virginia Republicans, who all lost by sizable margins, reflected the party’s intellectual corruption in an age of truthlessness. In the party of President Trump, who asserted, without a scintilla of evidence, that he lost the popular vote in the presidential election because up to 5 million people voted fraudulently, veracity has gone out of fashion. Consequently, many GOP candidates, including Mr. Gillespie, Mr. Adams and Ms. Vogel, lack the spine to utter what is plainly true — namely, that there is no evidence whatsoever that voter fraud is prevalent in the United States.

The Republican project is clear. Facing disadvantageous demographic trends — specifically, an increasingly diverse electorate — GOP lawmakers across the country are using the specter of fraudulent voting to justify rules, including tougher state voter ID legislation, tailor-made to deter minority and young voters, who lean Democratic.

Let’s be clear on what Republicans are really saying about the Mueller probe

Let’s be clear on what Republicans are really saying about the Mueller probe

The Washington Post
Opinion by Paul Waldman


From the moment a special counsel was appointed to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign’s potential collusion with that meddling, it was inevitable that it would become a target of Republican attacks. That’s just how things work: As soon as it became clear that the investigation wouldn’t simply exonerate the president, his allies in Congress and the media would try to disparage and discredit it to minimize the damage it might do to the administration.

But at this point, they have nearly lost their minds. And it’s precisely because, from all appearances, Robert S. Mueller III is going about his work methodically and professionally, and is getting closer and closer to the Oval Office. If Mueller really were some kind of partisan hack launching a witch hunt, Donald Trump and the rest of the GOP wouldn’t have all that much to fear.

That is not just the lunatic ravings of one extremist. It is fast on its way to becoming the position of many in the Republican Party — not that we should shut down the FBI, but that the Bureau has become a hopelessly corrupted outpost of anti-Trump subversion, expressed most fully in Mueller’s investigation, which not only must be shut down but which should then be targeted by another special counsel appointed to investigate Mueller.

In the end, what matters is what Robert Mueller’s investigation produces. So far, there hasn’t been a shred of evidence that it has been anything but professional. Perhaps the indictments and plea bargains he has obtained so far will be the end of the story, and he’ll conclude that there was no further wrongdoing, particularly on the president’s part. But the possibility that he’ll find a great deal more — and present it with unimpeachable evidence — is precisely what has Republicans in such a panic.

Thoughts on Rod Rosenstein’s testimony

Thoughts on Rod Rosenstein’s testimony

Lawfare
By Benjamin Wittes

Mr. Wittes writes: “I have not watched all of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee yesterday. But I watched three hours of it, and that was quite enough to convey the disturbing and dangerous nature of the current moment.”

It was enough to highlight the apparent breadth of the congressional Republican effort to delegitimize the Robert Mueller investigation. The attacks on Mueller and his staff and allegations of supposed conflicts of interest were not the province of a fringe but a matter of an apparent consensus among House Republicans, at least on the famously partisan judiciary committee.

It was enough to loose upon the world an almost hysterical attack on an FBI agent and an FBI attorney in the presence of little evidence that either has done anything wrong—as opposed to merely ill-advised and unfortunate—and in the midst of an ongoing inspector general investigation that has not yet reached any conclusions.

It was enough to lay bare the absurdity of Republican demands for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate a series of matters about which there is not even the barest allegation of criminal conduct—let alone a predicate for an actual investigation.

It was enough to bring to the surface the bizarre fixation in the Republican caucus on conspiracy theories involving Fusion GPS, the so-called Steele Dossier, FISA surveillance, and the Mueller investigation.

And it was enough to make clear, yet again, that Rod Rosenstein is a man out of his depth and to make one sympathize for him at the same time.

At yesterday’s hearing, Republican Rep. Jim Jordan announced about the Mueller probe that “The public trust in this whole thing is gone.”

The trouble is that if enough members of Congress tenaciously attack the institution over a long period of time, Jordan’s words could acquire the quality of self-fulfilling prophecy. It is an enormously damaging undertaking for members of Congress to self-consciously erode public confidence in federal law enforcement.

Even if that doesn’t happen, public confidence in Mueller may not be enough when the President’s political base—in conservative media, in Congress, and the broader political ecosystem—is rallying behind the proposition that the Justice Department, the special counsel, and the FBI are all out of control. The concern, and yesterday’s hearing dramatically highlights that concern, is that if Trump believes he has Republican cover to get rid of Mueller, he may feel emboldened to act against him even in the presence of broader public support.