Category Archives: Jenkins

Trump vs Schiff??

 WSJ 12/7/2019

Hearings were hardly necessary to show that Donald Trump, in all too characteristic a fashion, took interest in his administration’s Ukraine policy only when he saw a chance to lard on Ukrainian announcements that he could throw back in the face of domestic critics who questioned his 2016 legitimacy.

So why does Adam Schiff feel the need to stretch every truth beyond the breaking point in a House Intelligence Committee impeachment report released this week?

A media transcript plainly shows that acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney was not referring to a Ukraine quid pro quo when he said politics will influence foreign policy and that critics should “get over it.” Ambassador Gordon Sondland merely “presumed” that Mr. Trump sought a quid pro quo from Ukraine. Why falsely characterize these men’s statements, as the Schiff report does, when doing so is unnecessary to convince anyone that Mr. Trump nevertheless envisioned a quid pro quo?

Mr. Schiff claims Mr. Trump delayed “critical military aid” to Ukraine, but offers no evidence that the aid was critical. (The missiles discussed in Mr. Trump’s supposedly incriminating call with Ukraine’s president were not even part of the holdup.) He insists Mr. Trump’s dealings undermined U.S. national interests, but a president is perfectly entitled to differ with Mr. Schiff over what constitutes the national interest. With a casualness you expect only from the media, he relies heavily on the fallacy that wishing to examine Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 election is tantamount to denying Russian meddling.

Mr. Schiff must gild the few lilies in his possession to distract from a glaring omission in his own proceedings. “Fact witnesses” were called to discuss whether there was a quid pro quo, but none were called to give evidence on whether the “quos” Mr. Trump sought from Ukraine were unfounded or illegal.

Don’t underestimate this sign of Mr. Schiff’s disingenuousness. However much the media lies about it now, a Ukrainian official allied with the then-Poroshenko government spoke openly to the Financial Times in 2016 of his work to ensure Mr. Trump’s defeat. Ditto the Bidens: Mr. Trump may be barking up the wrong tree in some ways, but Joe Biden is not just Mr. Trump’s present-day “political rival.” He is a former vice president who, when tasked to help clean up corruption in Ukraine, allowed his unqualified, drug-addict son to receive a lucrative board seat at a Ukrainian company under investigation for corruption.

These are subjects whose illegitimacy must be proved, not just assumed. And yet missing from the final report is any evidence that broaching them with the Ukrainians amounted to the crimes of bribery, extortion or campaign-law violation that Mr. Schiff once told us it did.

Instead, Mr. Schiff insinuates a motive he’s not prepared to state clearly, one designed as much to rescue his own reputation as slur Mr. Trump’s. This is his report’s reference to Mr. Trump as a president “elected in 2016 with the benefit of an unprecedented and sweeping campaign of election interference undertaken by Russia in his favor.”

In fact, Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society painstakingly examined the social-media evidence and found Russia’s impact on the election to be trivial. More to the point, the authors concluded: “If the biggest win for Russian information operations is to disorient American political communications, then overstating the impact of those efforts actually helps consolidate their success.”

Bingo. Mr. Schiff may not be a Russian agent but he qualifies as a Kremlin asset in the sense that Hillary Clinton has been known to use the term. Example: Nothing in Mr. Trump’s words and actions, and nothing in the testimony of any witness, supported the claim with which Mr. Schiff began his hearings, that Mr. Trump asked Ukraine to “make up dirt, lots of it” on the Bidens.

Is this not the kind of shameless twisting of the facts the Kremlin’s own propagandists use to sow discord and bitterness? Mr. Schiff later fibbed and said he was engaging in “parody,” but anybody can listen to his remarks and hear him insisting his rendition is the accurate “essence” of Mr. Trump’s “rambling” presentation.

Which raises a question. Festooning their impeachment case with lies and innuendo of the sort Mr. Schiff specialized in during the collusion fiasco is hardly a way for Democrats to win over the noncommitted. Indeed, why allow someone so discredited with Trump voters and Middle America to be the face of this effort in the first place? Answer: Because we’re having this impeachment for no other reason than to appease the House left and save Nancy Pelosi’s speakership when and if Donald Trump is re-elected.

BUSINESS WORLD

By Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.

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What Ails the U.S. Press? – WSJ

A timeworn TV commentator and professor of politics, in the moments before Robert Mueller ’s testimony began last week on MSNBC, told the audience that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election was an “act of war” by a “sworn enemy of the United States.”

Notice how each word is the sheerest nonsense. There is no forum in which countries “swear” their enemyhood. Congress has not declared war on Russia. Our $27 billion in annual trade with Russia does not implicate thousands of Americans in trading with the enemy. If Russia was behind the hacking of Democratic emails, this is a crime, not an act of war, and has been treated as such by the special counsel. And heaven help us if Facebook ads are an act of war. The U.S. conducts, and has for decades, espionage, disinformation, propaganda and other kinds of influence campaigns in numerous countries around the world. Thankfully we do not consider ourselves at war with them.

Don’t get me wrong. The Russian actions during the election, and especially their flagrancy, were an insult to U.S. power, and likely offered as such. I doubt the Kremlin is much pleased with the result, but a response is still required to deter such actions in the future. But what can it mean when grey-haired commentators are employed to speak childishly of these matters to the public?

Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Or take a sentence in the New Yorker magazine, known for its care with writing. A staff writer positively disdains any interest in who promoted the Steele dossier or why. “There are questions worth exploring about the Steele dossier, having to do with, say, the transparency of campaign spending. But they are not the questions congressional Republicans are asking,” she sneers.

This evasion is so trite as to have a name: the red-herring fallacy, or pretending to refute an argument by changing the subject. That such a sentence passed muster with an editor is an embarrassment (and no favor to the writer). At least be the truth teller you presumably got into journalism to be, and say you don’t wish to know any truths that might tend to incriminate anyone other than Donald Trump.

Ditto the several cable hosts who shrilly promoted the theory that President Trump was an actual traitor and now, with equal shrillness, insist he’s a traitor for not echoing their partisan exaggerations about Russian meddling. In any other time, this dodge would not be enough to keep them in their jobs.

The U.S. is not in a position to get in a moral snit about such meddling, but we are certainly in a position to exact a price for it, and should. At the same time, let us stop lying to ourselves: 99.99% of the consequential effect of Russia’s low-budget actions arose from the panting eagerness of U.S. partisans to weaponize those actions against their domestic opponents. Indeed, if we were to parse the meanings of the word “collusion,” it would not reflect well on Rep. Adam Schiff, who objectively has been invaluable to any supposed Russian desire to confound and embitter U.S. politics (though my real guess is that Russia wants nothing so much as sanctions lifted, and has only shot its foot off).

It needs to be understood whether the Mueller report, and the Mueller investigation itself, was essentially a product of disinformation (and whose disinformation). Did the Steele dossier’s lies really originate with Russian sources, and to what purpose? Was the dossier embraced by members of the U.S. government because they believed it or because it was useful against a presidential candidate they disapproved of? (Pretending to believe false intelligence may not be an actionable dereliction, but the question needs to be asked.)

We need to know whether the secret Russian intelligence that James Comey used as justification for his improper, protocol-violating actions in the Hillary Clinton case was, in any sense, real intelligence. Did it bear any intelligible, logical relation to his actions, or was it a cipher, a piece of digital flotsam, that he seized upon disingenuously as an excuse to clear Mrs. Clinton’s path to the nomination?

These questions are not just necessary for historical accuracy. They are of scintillating journalistic interest. If you’re a reporter who can’t simultaneously disapprove of Mr. Trump (as many journalists do) and see their urgency, you should rethink your career choice. (I believe it was the psychoanalyst Karen Horney who said the professions function partly to attract those least capable of exemplifying their values.) News consumers might marvel that so many journalists at least are so devoted to their partisan allegiances, but devotion has nothing to do with it. It’s just dumb conformism and lack of imagination. As in any field, one learns not to be surprised that so many unprepossessing persons are in positions of authority.

Happily, we don’t need to worry about one thing. The hysterical rhetoric on Russia will disappear instantly when it’s no longer useful against Donald Trump.

via What Ails the U.S. Press? – WSJ.

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Mueller’s Mole Hills

The clarity with which Mr Jenkins presents is refreshing.
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WSJ 2/21/2018

On Aug. 17, 2015, 63 days after Donald Trump’s escalator ride at Trump Tower, a lightbulb went on. Certain pro Trump emails that colleagues and I were receiving were coming from Vladimir Putin’s internet trolls. “The Kremlin is now in the Donald’s corner . . .?” I emailed a co-worker.

The most valuable thing said last week was said by Sen. Jim Risch during a hearing, when he pointed out that the American people “realize that there’s people attempting to manipulate them.”

The least valuable was the prediction by three intelligence chiefs that Russia’s meddling will continue through 2018 and 2020. It may or may not, but what else were they going to say? There’s no upside to “estimating” anything else. This is a big part of what’s wrong with our intelligence establishment, handling inherently ambiguous matters and overwhelmingly incentivized, at least at the top, to say whatever is most politically and institutionally expedient.

Let’s be realistic: The Russian propaganda activities detailed in Robert Mueller’s indictment last week had less impact on the election than 20 seconds of cable TV coverage (pick a channel) of any of Mr. Trump’s rallies.

Only the media’s beloved hindsight fallacy suggests otherwise. In fact, Hillary Clinton’s campaign made good use of Russia to discredit Mr. Trump in the eyes of voters. What was the net effect on the vote? The press doesn’t know. Worse, it doesn’t know that it doesn’t know.

Ditto the media’s new favorite song that the U.S. has done nothing to punish Mr. Putin’s provocations. The U.S. government does not tell the public everything it does. American warplanes recently killed dozens, perhaps as many as 200, Russian mercenaries in Syria employed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a key figure in the Mueller indictment. For the first time in the Syrian theater, a man-portable antiaircraft weapon appeared in the hands of the Syrian opposition, shooting down a Russian jet. The U.S. government has denied a role, but the message, if that’s what it was, would be historically resonant. The U.S. used such missiles to raise the cost of Soviet adventurism in Afghanistan and Angola in the 1980s.

Let’s hope so, because such means will be necessary in Mr. Putin’s case, not just waving legal paperwork at him as Mr. Mueller has done.

That said, give Mr. Mueller credit. So far, we’ve relied on partisan leaks and memos to tell us what little we know. His court filings, insufficient as they are, at least contribute to the air-clearing.

His latest includes information that could only have come from U.S. intelligence intercepts. He cites reports that Russia’s alleged operatives filed with each other, and even an email one operative sent to a relative. But this also highlights a problem. Mr. Mueller is dependent on U.S. intelligence agencies, which share only what they want to share.

James Comey’s intervention in the Hillary Clinton email matter now is widely understood to have been prompted by a false, possibly planted, Russian intelligence intercept of some kind in March 2016.

News reports as well as basic logic suggest U.S. intelligence agencies, at some point, would have started monitoring Christopher Steele’s communications. They likely know more about his alleged Russian sources and their credibility than they are telling.

Both episodes have done far more to inflame U.S. politics than anything outlined in the Mueller indictment. Yet here’s betting a Battle Royal lies ahead before we get the truth out of U.S. intelligence agencies.

Remember your Watergate: The CIA is a natural, perhaps irresistible, instrument for pressuring the FBI. Did Obama intelligence chieftains John Brennan and James Clapper use their positions to lean on Mr. Comey to spy on the Trump campaign or protect Mrs. Clinton? Is the intelligence community even now trying to shape Mr. Mueller’s probe by what it decides to share with him? If we had to guess based on what we know today, the answer is yes.

The Foreign Agents Registration Act, the basis for many of Mr. Mueller’s charges against the Russians, was passed in 1938, aimed at Nazi propagandists, who were active in the U.S. in ways very similar to the Putin regime. Implicit was the idea that Americans can’t be insulated from foreign influence, but they can certainly understand who is trying to influence them.

The Washington Post, in a lengthy reconstruction last year, concluded that President Obama held back from doing more to inoculate the American people against Russian influence because he didn’t want to upset the apple cart of an expected Clinton victory. That’s one mistake future administrations will find it harder to make.

Even so, keep in mind that the most consequential Russian meddling may well have been via the administration’s own handling of the Steele dossier and the Hillary Clinton email controversy. If so, the real struggle is yet to come. It will involve pulling teeth to get information from the FBI and CIA that they don’t want us to know.

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D & D

( Dossiers and Disinformation…)
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Holman W Jenkins, Jr. 1/12/2018 WSJ

Glenn Simpson, in the now-released transcript of last summer’s interview with congressional investigators on the Trump dossier, mentions his former employment with The Wall Street Journal and Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper.

He doesn’t mention the Unification Church-owned (i.e., Moonies) Insight magazine in the mid-1980s. I know because I worked there too. As did others: Malcolm Gladwell was one—I got his desk when he left for the Washington Post. John Podhoretz, a columnist for the New York Post and editor of Commentary magazine, was one of my editors. David Brooks, of the New York Times, worked downstairs at our sister publication, the Washington Times. David Brock, who gained fame for his Bill Clinton Troopergate reporting and then for becoming a powerful pro-Clinton activist in Washington, was yet another colleague.

I could go on, though I imagine some would prefer I didn’t. It was one of the best jobs I ever had.

Which brings me to today’s subject. The essence of journalism is assessing the validity of statements.

Democrats hired Mr. Simpson to look into Donald Trump’s background. He hired Christopher Steele, the former British agent, to look into Trump-Russia connections. Mr. Steele, from his base in London, reached out to contacts in Russia. A few new things, though, become apparent through Mr. Simpson’s testimony.

He has no real idea whether the info was trustworthy.

He won’t say whether he knows who Mr. Steele’s sources were.

He’s completely at sea on the question of whether he and his firm, Fusion GPS, were victims of Russian disinformation.

“What he [Steele] said was, ‘Disinformation is an issue in my profession, that is a central concern, and that we are trained to spot disinformation, and if I believed this was disinformation or I had concerns about that I would tell you that and I’m not telling you that.’”

It ain’t that easy—ask James Angleton. Ask the FBI and CIA, with all their resources, trying to sort out whether the dossier or the Loretta Lynch-related email are deliberate Russian plants. Read Stalin biographer Stephen Kotkin on the Soviet leader’s inability to discern a pending Nazi invasion: “When Stalin damned his intelligence as contaminated by disinformation, therefore, he was right. But the despot had no idea which parts were disinformation.”

If you’re a history buff, 10 other examples have occurred to you.

Mr. Simpson’s blithe assertion that Mr. Steele was on the lookout for disinformation is a joke, worthless. I wasn’t kidding when I wrote several weeks ago that Democrats who tried to inject this material into the 2016 race would be in a better position ethically if they found the Trump dossier on the sidewalk—i.e., had no knowledge of its untrustworthy antecedents. In this light, it’s odd that Mr. Simpson would, as he testified, let a foreign national (Mr. Steele), whose information Mr. Simpson could not vouch for, evaluate or defend, talk him into trying to introduce it into the presidential race via the FBI.

There is a time-honored method by which reporters make fools of themselves. They have a narrative that says (for instance), look for Russian connections. Any they find, however desultory and unrelated to the central premise, become proof of the premise, in this case the premise of a conspiracy between Donald Trump and the Russian government.

Felix Sater, an ex-Russian criminal, was long known to be a business associate of Mr. Trump (Mr. Trump walked out of a BBC interview in 2013 when his name came up). A seller of luxury properties, Mr. Trump sold some to Russian émigrés.

See, these involve Russia, and the document is all about Russia.

Mr. Trump has claimed for years that Vladimir Putin walks all over the U.S. because we have weak leaders. We’d have better relations under a strong leader. Lacking connections to the GOP policy establishment, he attracts helpers and hangers-on who are keen to promote better ties with Russia. Of course, opportunists come out of the woodwork, like a Maltese professor claiming to have Kremlin contacts.

You can almost read the New York Times editorial now. Every specific claim in the dossier may be false, but it points to a “larger truth.” Read further, and the larger truth is that Mr. Trump is sleazy, so it doesn’t matter if particular allegations against him are real or made-up.

Here’s another truth: Our industry has its share of Dan Rathers, capable in some respects but deficient in judgment. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, is their favorite metaphor. The world is smoke, they forget. The challenge is interpreting it accurately, rigorously.

One final point: If the Trump dossier is Russian disinformation, it’s only the second way Russian disinformation roiled U.S. politics. The first would be the fake Russian “intelligence” referring to a nonexistent email between liberal operatives concerning Obama Attorney General Loretta Lynch that was reportedly a key factor in James Comey’s decision to intervene in the Hillary Clinton email matter in the run-up to Election Day.

By Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.

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