Category Archives: Jenkins

Facts Don’t Really Matter

As with Republicans who came before, they are guilty of “something”; the only question is when we will find it….
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WSJ 12/8/1017

Pressing in on many of Donald Trump’s critics finally is the unreality of a Putin Trump conspiracy to put him in the White House, so now the switch has been to accuse him, after the election, of violating the Logan Act in demanding concessions from (not granting concessions to) Russia on behalf of an ally, Israel.

If that doesn’t work, he can be accused of obstruction of justice—the crime of interfering in the investigation of noncrimes. His financial history is also ripe. And his sexual history. The Al Franken episode is a Rubicon. Mr. Franken’s offenses may be real but have so raised the stakes that politicians must now live in fear of even the false allegation.

So apparently closes a chapter in which to doubt the Putin-Trump conspiracy theory was a sign of mental illness, which opened its own can of worms. “Splitting” is a mental symptom, all right, especially in borderline personality disorder. Splitting is also a method of columnists. Example: All true things about Donald Trump are bad, all bad things about Donald Trump are true.

Trump is guilty of something. It’s Robert Mueller’s job to figure out what, even if today’s theory of the crime is the obverse of yesterday’s.

Splitting columns write themselves, and tend toward lists, as if piling up claims is a substitute for examining them. So Christopher Steele is said to be a “credible” ex-spy, though unasked is what exactly he was in a position to be credible about: only that he faithfully relayed claims made by his source’s sources to his sources, and a little bit about how this game of telephone was set in motion—i.e., money was dished out.

Once upon a time, no reputable paper would print a sensational claim from a source who won’t vouch for its truth, who got it from a source he won’t identify, who got it from a source he can’t or won’t identify, and all were paid.

Citing Mr. Steele’s credibility is not even a competent appeal to authority, since his credibility derives from a profession that specializes partly in disinformation.

We could go on. Nothing in George Papadopoulos’s charge sheet for lying to the FBI suggests the words “emails of Clinton” referred to Democratic National Committee emails. Yet this allowed the press to assume the Trump campaign was in touch with Russian intelligence about a then as-yet-unpublicized real crime.

You’d be surprised at the papers that didn’t quote the words “emails of Clinton” so as not to lend evidence against their own assumption that these were DNC emails. An honorable exception was the Washington Post’s Matt Zapotosky, who wrote: “But at that time, it was well known that Clinton had deleted tens of thousands of emails she deemed personal from her private server. Those messages were of great interest to Republicans. . . . It was unclear to what emails the professor was referring or if he truly had access to any messages damaging to Clinton.”

Let us go now from the psychological motive to the sociological motive—i.e. from self-deceiving to others-deceiving:

If a particular perception of an event somehow appears to have become the social norm, people seeking to build or protect their reputations will begin endorsing it through their words and deeds, regardless of their actual thoughts.

So-called reputational cascades, as described here in a 1999 paper by Timur Kuran and Cass Sunstein, are particularly powerful. Sean Hannity, if confronted with proof of Trump collusion, for the sake of commercial survival would have to recant. But a negative can’t be proved, so anti-Trump conspiratorialists will never have to recant, at least not until they have something equally damning to lay against Mr. Trump.

Just maybe, though, an intertwined story can start to be noticed. “He was the top counterintelligence agent and an asset to the bureau and America.” Variations on this quote appeared in several news stories about Peter Strzok, the high-ranking FBI official removed from the Mueller task force due to anti-Trump text messages with his paramour.

But here’s the real question: Why was the FBI’s No. 2 counterintelligence official so hip-deep in the Hillary Clinton email investigation? Mr. Strzok, it turns out, conducted the key interviews. He scripted the exact words used to chastise Mrs. Clinton without implying criminal liability.

Think back to now-forgotten reports in the New York Times, Washington Post and CNN that an intelligence intercept, later understood to be a Russian plant, played a pivotal role in FBI Chief James Comey’s decision to intervene publicly in the Clinton email matter.

More than ever, it seems probable that his intervention was contrived as a counterintelligence exercise from the start, not a criminal inquiry to find out if Mrs. Clinton had committed a crime. Mrs. Clinton would win. Russia’s plan to discredit her victory must be foiled. So began a cascade of incompetent or worse FBI meddling in U.S. domestic politics, which will turn out to be the story of the decade once the Trump collusion story has given up the ghost.

By Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.

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Crime? What Crime?

What is the crime?
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By Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.
WSJ Dec. 1, 2017 6:36 p.m.

Retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn on Friday pleaded guilty to lying about a non-crime. Even Adam Schiff, the House Democrat most determined to ride the Russia collusion story to bigger and better things, acknowledged that conferring with a representative of Russia about the incoming administration’s Russia policy is not illegal or improper.

Flynn

These discussions concerned a United Nations Security Council vote on Israel (in effect the Trump team was asking Moscow for a favor on behalf of a U.S. ally, Israel). The discussions concerned Russia’s response to President Obama’s lame-duck sanctions for Russian meddling in the U.S. election.

Such talks, we learn from Robert Mueller’s investigation, were directed by a “very senior member” of the transition team. Why shouldn’t that be President-elect Donald Trump or somebody directly conversant with his views—a k a Jared Kushner ? Voters may remember Mr. Trump saying during the campaign that he wanted improved relations with Russia. He would be doing nothing illegal here.

Then why make Mr. Flynn plead guilty to a crime related to a non-crime, unless Bob Mueller thinks he’s enlisting Mr. Flynn’s cooperation in pursuit of real crimes? Well, Mr. Mueller’s job is to get to the bottom of the Russia question, and it doesn’t help to have people lying about even things that are non-crimes. What’s more, as Mr. Flynn would have known better than most, Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak was a prime target for U.S. surveillance. American voters will remember that Obama officials illegally leaked contents of some of these conversations to the press during the transition. Lying about these very same conversations to the FBI wouldn’t seem to have made much sense for Mr. Flynn. But if a key witness and former high-ranking official persists in a disproven and unnecessary lie, how do you not charge him?

Let’s recall a couple of things. For president, the American people elected a reality TV star and brand manager who came with a bundle of impulses but not deep knowledge of anything other than building large structures.

His plans/hopes with respect to Russia may have been unrealistic, but an incoming administration is elected to follow its own policies, not those of its predecessor. Second, unless he was completely unconversant with political reality, Mr. Trump understood by then that Democrats had settled on a story of Russia collusion to excuse Hillary Clinton’s loss and to discredit the incoming president.

Unfortunately, what we learned on Friday about all this was microscopic in relation to the magnitude of air time devoted to hyping events. The scandal has reached “inside the gates of the White House,” blared multiple news outlets. Uh-huh. Mr. Flynn worked there for 24 days, and none of this is evidence of any presumed conspiracy between the Kremlin and the campaign to put Mr. Trump in the White House. Wasn’t that the original question? The crime the media are trying to make out of these events is the crime of having diplomatic relations with Russia.

The talents that outfit somebody to be on TV are not necessarily talents that lend themselves to instantaneous dissection of breaking news. Inevitably, time is filled up with prejudices and tropes because, you know, time must be filled up.

This is sad but par for the course. Take James Comey, the retired FBI head. He could fill in a great deal of important information. He knows a lot about a lot of things that would be useful to hear, including about the Trump dossier and a Russian role in sparking his intervention in the Hillary Clinton email matter. Instead of shedding light, he drops Bible verses on Twitter. A man who knows so many vital truths and won’t tell them might do better to say nothing at all.

Anything is possible, including some conspiratorial quid pro quo between somebody in the Trump campaign and somebody representing Vladimir Putin. If Mr. Putin really wanted Mr. Trump’s election, then the two were certainly working toward compatible ends—at least to the extent that Mr. Trump, in some part of his brain, really did want to be president. When it comes to working toward compatible ends, though, this also appears to be true of Russian intelligence and the Clinton campaign and, quite possibly, Russian intelligence and the FBI in some instances.

At the same time, we would be stupid not to understand that other countries have a stake in the outcome of our elections and, by omission or commission, try to advance their interests. This is reality. After the Trump election, the direction of causation in the ensuing Russia scandal in my judgment seems fairly clear. The media and bureaucracy reject Mr. Trump not because they got wind of Russia. They were determined to reject Mr. Trump and Russia was handy.

Appeared in the December 2, 2017, print edition.

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The Trump Dossier Dam Is Breaking

WSJ- 10/28/2017

’Tis the season of tossing out nondisclosure agreements. Victims and employees of Harvey Weinstein clamor to be released from their NDAs so they can talk about his abuse. Perkins Coie, the Washington law firm for the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton campaign, showed the way by voluntarily releasing Fusion GPS from its duty to remain mum on Democrats who funded the notorious Trump dossier.

May the example catch on.

Journalists who investigated the Trump dossier now say their Democratic sources lied to them. That’s already a start. Please, Democrats, release journalists from their confidentiality agreements so they can tell us more about your lying.

The revelations provide new context for Harry Reid’s “October surprise,” his attempt 10 days before Election Day to lever the dossier’s allegations into the press with a public letter to then-FBI Director James Comey accusing him of withholding “explosive information.”

Mr. Reid knows how the responsible press works. Implausible, scurrilous and unsupported allegations are not reportable, but a government official making public reference to such allegations is reportable.

Mr. Reid, though, failed to mention his party’s role in concocting the allegations, much less that the manner of its doing so left him no reason to suppose the charges were anything but tall tales spun by Russian intelligence officials in response to danglings of Democratic money.

This is a completely novel tactic in U.S. politics, applying to a hostile foreign power for lurid stories about a domestic opponent. Mr. Reid, please tell us more about your role.

Let’s also hear from Adam Schiff, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

He claimed on TV to have “circumstantial” and “more than circumstantial” evidence of Trump collusion with Russia. In the event, what he delivered in a committee hearing was a litany of routine, innocuous business and diplomatic contacts between Trump associates and Russian citizens, interspersed with claims from the Trump dossier. He failed to mention, though, that the Trump dossier was manufactured by Democrats paying a D.C. law firm to pay a D.C. “research” firm to pay a retired British spook to pay unknown, unidentified Russians to tell stories about Mr. Trump, in reckless disregard for whether the stories were true.

Mr. Schiff, a Harvard Law graduate, will know the phrase is not our coinage. “Reckless disregard” is the standard by which the Supreme Court says, even in a country that bends over backward to protect the press at the expense of public figures, the press can be held liable for defamatory untruths about a public figure.

Even so, journalists are presumed to know their sources, not to have paid a long chain of surrogates to elicit sensational claims from perfect strangers, let alone anonymous agents of a foreign regime with a known habit of disinformation. It is impossible to exaggerate how reckless Democrats have been under this standard. If they found the Trump dossier on the sidewalk, they’d be in a better ethical position now. Let’s hear what Mr. Schiff knew and when he knew it.

Finally, let us hear from James Comey.

The Trump dossier was reckless and irresponsible in the extreme, but only consequential after Election Day. It didn’t prevent Mr. Trump from becoming president.

In the new spirit of non- non-disclosure, it’s time for Mr. Comey to tell us about the Russian intelligence scam that may really have changed the election outcome.

In closed hearings, he reportedly acknowledged that his intervention in the Hillary Clinton email case was prompted by what is now understood to have been planted, fake Russian intelligence. The fake Russian intelligence purported to discuss a nonexistent email between then-DNC chief Debbie Wasserman Schultz and George Soros-employed activist Leonard Benardo.

This led directly to Mr. Comey’s second intervention, reopening the case 11 days before Election Day, a shocking development that appears now to have moved enough votes into Mr. Trump’s column to account for his win.

At the time, the press was all too happy to blame Bill Clinton for his wife’s loss when Mr. Comey, for nonclassified consumption, cited Mr. Clinton’s tarmac meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch as the reason for his intervention.

The press is silent now. The new story satisfies nobody’s agenda, and only makes the FBI look foolish. Mr. Trump is not eager to hear his victory portrayed as an FBI-precipitated accident. Democrats cling to their increasingly washed-out theory of Trump-Russia collusion.

And yet, if Mr. Comey’s antic intervention in response to Russian disinformation inadvertently led to Mr. Trump becoming president, this was the most consequential outcome by far.

By Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.

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The FBI’s Political Meddling

If it waddles like a duck; quacks like a duck, then its a duck.
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By Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.
WSJ  Oct. 24, 2017 6:17 p.m. ET

Let’s give plausible accounts of the known facts, then explain why demands that Robert Mueller recuse himself from the Russia investigation may not be the fanciful partisan grandstanding you imagine.

Here’s a story consistent with what has been reported in the press—how reliably reported is uncertain. Democratic political opponents of Donald Trump financed a British former spook who spread money among contacts in Russia, who in turn over drinks solicited stories from their supposedly “connected” sources in Moscow. If these people were really connected in any meaningful sense, then they made sure the stories they spun were consistent with the interests of the regime, if not actually scripted by the regime.

The resulting Trump dossier then became a factor in Obama administration decisions to launch an FBI counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign, and after the election to trumpet suspicions of Trump collusion with Russia.

We know of a second, possibly even more consequential way the FBI was effectively a vehicle for Russian meddling in U.S. politics. Authoritative news reports say FBI chief James Comey’s intervention in the Hillary Clinton email matter was prompted by a Russian intelligence document that his colleagues suspected was a Russian plant.

OK, Mr. Mueller was a former close colleague and leader but no longer part of the FBI when these events occurred. This may or may not make him a questionable person to lead a Russia-meddling investigation in which the FBI’s own actions are necessarily a concern.

But now we come to the Rosatom disclosures last week in The Hill, a newspaper that covers Congress.

Here’s another story as plausible as we can make it based on credible reporting. After the Cold War, in its own interest, the U.S. wanted to build bridges to the Russian nuclear establishment. The Putin government, for national or commercial purposes, agreed and sought to expand its nuclear business in the U.S.

The purchase and consolidation of certain assets were facilitated by Canadian entrepreneurs who gave large sums to the Clinton Foundation, and perhaps arranged a Bill Clinton speech in Moscow for $500,000. A key transaction had to be approved by Hillary Clinton’s State Department.

Now we learn that, before and during these transactions, the FBI had uncovered a bribery and kickback scheme involving Russia’s U.S. nuclear business, and also received reports of Russian officials seeking to curry favor through donations to the Clinton Foundation.

This criminal activity was apparently not disclosed to agencies vetting the 2010 transfer of U.S. commercial nuclear assets to Russia. The FBI made no move to break up the scheme until long after the transaction closed. Only five years later, the Justice Department, in 2015, disclosed a plea deal with the Russian perpetrator so quietly that its significance was missed until The Hill reported on the FBI investigation last week.

For anyone who cares to look, the real problem here is that the FBI itself is so thoroughly implicated in the Russia meddling story.

The agency, when Mr. Mueller headed it, soft-pedaled an investigation highly embarrassing to Mrs. Clinton as well as the Obama Russia reset policy. More recently, if just one of two things is true—Russia sponsored the Trump Dossier, or Russian fake intelligence prompted Mr. Comey’s email intervention—then Russian operations, via their impact on the FBI, influenced and continue to influence our politics in a way far more consequential than any Facebook ad, the preoccupation of John McCain, who apparently cannot behold a mountain if there’s a molehill anywhere nearby.

Which means that Mr. Mueller has the means, motive and opportunity to obfuscate and distract from matters embarrassing to the FBI, while pleasing a large part of the political spectrum. He need only confine his focus to the flimsy, disingenuous but popular (with the media) accusation that the shambolic Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin.

Mr. Mueller’s tenure may not have bridged the two investigations, but James Comey’s, Rod Rosenstein’s , Andrew Weissmann’s , and Andrew McCabe’s did. Mr. Rosenstein appointed Mr. Mueller as special counsel. Mr. Weissmann now serves on Mr. Mueller’s team. Mr. McCabe remains deputy FBI director. All were involved in the nuclear racketeering matter and the Russia meddling matter.

Let’s stop here. All this needs to be sorted out, but not in a spirit of panic and hysteria. We are a prosperous, successful country, in pretty good shape right now by historical standards, even if our officials behave in the frequently dubious, self-interested way they always have.

But still: By any normal evidentiary, probative or journalistic measure, the big story here is the FBI—its politicized handling of Russian matters, and not competently so.

To put it bluntly, whatever its hip-pocket rationales along the way, the FBI would not have so much to cover up now if it had not helped give us Mrs. Clinton as Democratic nominee and then, in all likelihood, inadvertently helped Mr. Trump to the presidency.

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