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Tuesday, March 21, 2017


Yesterday was an historic day.  Not since Alexander Butterfield, responding to an apparently innocent question, revealed the existence of an audio taping system in the Oval Office have we heard such explosive Congressional testimony.  No self-respecting blogger could pass this by without extended comment, so here goes.

A word of advice to my younger readers from an elderly gentleman with a long memory.  I know that some of you will hesitate to acknowledge the importance of anything that so nakedly benefits Democrats and harms Republicans.  Too establishment, you will feel, not sufficiently infused with the awareness that the whole kit and caboodle of them are as guilty as sin of much greater transgressions.  True, true, but entirely beside the point.  When you reach something approximating my age, you will look back on this day and tell your grandchildren what it was like to hear the Director of the FBI testify that he and his organization were investigating a sitting president and his aides for what can only be construed as treason.  Recall the words of Prince Hal, become King Henry V, on the eve of the battle of Agincourt:

                        This story shall the good man teach his son,
                        And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
                        From this day to the ending of the world,
                        But we in it shall be remember√®d—

As Comey testified and Representative Adam Schiff laid out the prima facie evidence during his questioning, the Republicans, echoing Gertrude Stein [who was speaking, let us recall, about Oakland, CA], kept saying, there’s no there there.  The circumstantial evidence of active collusion between Trump and his campaign on the one hand and Russia and its agents on the other is quite astonishing, when one hears it laid out quietly and dispassionately.

It is well established and uncontroversial that the Russians sought to influence the election.  Inasmuch as every great imperial power since the glorious days of Louis XIV has acted in this manner, up to and notably including the United States, this is not at all surprising.  The news, of course, is that Trump and his campaign may well have been active participants in the effort.

Elementary logic tells me that there are four possibilities:

1.         There was no collusion, merely what Mike Nichols and Elaine May, in an early comedy skit, described as “proximity but no relating” [they were talking about an uptight couple in bed, but no matter.]

2.         Trump’s aides – Manafort, Flynn, and the rest – actively colluded with the Russians, but Trump was ignorant of their efforts and was uninvolved.

3.         Both Trump and his aides actively colluded with the Russians.

4.         Trump colluded with the Russians, but his aides were ignorant of his efforts and were uninvolved.

Quite obviously, I have no knowledge which of these is the case, but I am, after all, not brain dead, so I have opinions.  Numbers 2 and 4 strike me as least likely.  Number 4 is unlikely because, unless there were back channels of which we have had no word, it is implausible that Trump could have struck a series of explicit deals with the Russians without any awareness on the part of, or collaboration with, his aides.  Number 2 is implausible because Trump so visibly and loudly and repeatedly proclaimed his affection for Putin, his disapproval of NATO and the EU, and even called during a campaign speech for the Russians to hack Clinton’s e-mails and release them.

So either they were all in it together, or else there was no it at all.

Since I am deeply engaged in the expensive business of moving, I am unable to offer a Romney bet on the matter [$10,000, for those of you who do not recall the 2012 Republican primary debates], but I am willing to wager a dollar that the truth is behind Door Number 3.

All of this is entirely distinct from the question whether sufficient evidence can be uncovered to justify indictments or, beyond that, to secure convictions.  The FBI will of course follow the time honored procedure of nailing the small fry and then offering them immunity to rat on their superiors.  But as the outcome of the New Jersey Bridgegate affair shows, even when it is transparently obvious that the person at the top is guilty, it may prove impossible to bring him or her to justice.

There is, so far as I can see, one striking fact that speaks to Trump’s innocence:  If he is in fact in cahoots with the Russians and wishes to keep this fact secret, his behavior is so mind-numbingly stupid as to seem completely unbelievable in someone who is presumably at least minimally capable of dressing himself and using the toilet.  Let me offer just one example among many.

Let us suppose, purely hypothetically, that Trump took several hundred million dollars [or perhaps less – he may be, in the world of spycraft, a cheap date] to soften the Republican Party Platform language on Russia and Ukraine.  How would any ordinarily intelligent person go about this?  Well, the obvious answer is something like this:  Make a big fuss about the importance of the platform; present to the Platform Committee a lengthy document, with much fanfare, as Donald J Trump’s Plan to Make American Great Again; hide in an obscure clause of the document the bought and paid for softened language on Ukraine; and then put on an all court press to win approval of the platform, making whatever concessions are necessary on any clause not related to Ukraine.  The odds are great that no one would even notice the Ukraine language.

What did Trump actually do?  He completely ignored the Platform Committee, exhibited no interest whatsoever in the drafting process, and then sent his minion to demand that one and only one clause be changed, namely the clause on Ukraine.  Nobody engaged in a treasonous conspiracy to do Russia’s bidding in an American election could possibly be this stupid, right?

But then I remind myself of Karl Marx’s famous opening words of his brilliant monograph, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon:  “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. He has forgotten to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.”


Tom Cathcart said...

I agree on the likelihood of #3 and also on the difficulty of bringing anyone to justice, despite Trump's blatant stupidity. Today is another important hearing, which may be connected. A heretical thought: Is it possible that Gorsuch may turn out to be a blessing in disguise---an apparent straight-shooter who loves the Constitution more than he loves Trump or Republicans? If we are to have a Constitutional crisis, and if it ends up in the Court, perhaps a Gorsuch type may turn out to be important to a peaceful transition. Or have I lost my mind?

Guy Tennenbaum said...

This was a very funny read. My sense is that T***p and everyone around him really is just that stupid, fundamentally, despite superficial indicators of intelligence (e.g. Kellyanne Goebbels and her creepily robotic gift of the gab).

Come to think of it, given all this, and given that the gut reflex for so many of us upon T***p's election was to rail against the sheer idiocy of about half the electorate, the time seems ripe for a philosophical essay "On Stupidity."

Perhaps you could write it. If you get as much attention as Harry Frankfurt, you will have satisfied your professed thirst for greater fame.

howard b said...

Happy to hear Trump is no tragedy, as I thought, but farce

Paul Kern said...

Very clever Bob!!!

Tom: I think your rose colored glasses have created a short-sightedness, we would still have to put up with Gorsuch originalism for another 30 yrs.

Chris said...

When the fbi continually affirmed ongoing investigations into HRC the year of silence on that issue was palpable

s. wallerstein said...

there is space for:
5. Trump and his staff passively colluded with the Russians.

They saw what Putin was up to, but they pretended not to. There was never any explicit agreement or deal with Putin, but there was a tacit deal. They never said yes to anything or ever signed anything, but they smiled at Putin a lot and he smiled backed.

Chris said...

Only thing I could say I'm 'confident' in, is that 4 didn't happen (as Wolff rightly points out). Trump has the discretion of a streaker.

All options, including Wallerstein's 5, seem possible and maybe even plausible.

Tom Cathcart said...

Paul Kern: I'm assuming we're going to get Gorsuch regardless.

Unknown said...

My guess is that if anyone can be nailed on Russiagate, the charges will be connected to money. It’s plausible that the Trump organization owes quite a bit to Russian banks or to the kleptocrats who took over government-owned industry when the Soviet Union fell. The New Yorker of a couple of weeks ago had a long article about Trump’s hotel in Azerbaijan that looks very much like a money laundering operation. In the end, he may be caught in an Al Capone income tax kind of thing.

That said, what I would like to see from the Democrats are continuous statements and speeches about the details of Russiagate. Maybe they could draw up a case for impeachment or removal under the 25th Amendment. These would go nowhere--at least for now--but they would make the news, if only in Representative’s district. What’s needed is a steady drip-drip-drip, to keep it before the public between now and the 2018 elections.

Paul Kern said...

Tom Cathcart:'re probably right.

Jerry Fresia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jerry Fresia said...

Let's suppose it is No. 3. The actual content of the collaboration and it's extent at this point is murky at best. This blog makes the case: speculation reigns. And while nothing is clear, no solid evidence has been put forward. Much of what is alleged isn't new, at least in terms of elections/legislation and foreign influence and/or collaboration, and much of what we know at this point isn't illegal.

So here is what bothers me: THE RUSH TO JUDGEMENT. Given the paucity of evidence and the near hysterical response, this feels a bit like the McCarthy Era redux, but with a smiley-liberal face. Given the paucity of evidence and the near hysterical response, this feels like the complete capture of a free press. (To me, that is as equal a scandal.) Given the paucity of evidence and the near hysterical response, this feels like the Democratic Party is moving further and further away from ever speaking to the needs and wants of a growing disillusioned and impoverished portion of the electorate.

I would love nothing more than to see the Trump crew exposed and sent packing. At the same time, I worry that what we might be remembering about "this day" is that wheels came off vehicles that we rely on (barely) but hope to invigorate called the "independent" press and the Democratic Party.

Here's Robert Parry raising some questions about the logic of the case as journalists ought to (I'll skip over the tech experts who say there is no there there YET):

And here is a great clip of Bernie doing what many more Democrats ought to be doing NOW, whether or not the Russian collaboration story is every supported by solid evidence:

Chris said...

Perfect Jerry!

Chris said...

More evidence to support Jerry's theory:

Robert Shore said...

Well said, Jerry. I completely agree with you and Chris. And Prof. Wolff, while you are exulting over March 20, 2017, you might want to recall October 28, 2016 as the day James Comey announced that the FBI was investigating Hillary Clinton's email server and its use. You know what came of that! And April 22, 1954, the day that Senator Joseph McCarthy began his hearing investigating the United States Army as being "soft on Communism" and you know what came of that! I know how much you hate President Trump but you might at least remember that a man is innocent until proven guilty and not go rushing headlong into your own premature judgment about Trump's possible collusion with Putin.

Chris said...

Shore, I made a similar point, in that this blog was silent on the Clinton issues, but somehow the Trump one's are unprecedented.

Couldn't agree more that due process is a value to maintain even when your worst enemy is on trial.

Jen said...

A belated comment.
As it seems to me (from afar), there is one striking fact that speaks against Drumpf’s innocence. If he (and/or cronies) were innocent, he would not be doing everything he can to obstruct an investigation.