Good day Austin
Let’s start with Marlanna VanHoose singing the National Anthem at President Trump’s rally last night in Louisville, Kentucky.
OK. Now to the news.
The House Intelligence Committee opened hearings yesterday on ties between Russia and the Trump administration with testimony from FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers, and a lot of Democratic interest in Roger Stone.
From Maggie Haberman at the New York Times:
In President Trump’s oft-changing world order, Roger J. Stone Jr., the onetime political consultant and full-time provocateur, has been one of the few constants — a loyalist and self-proclaimed “dirty trickster” who nurtured the dream of a presidential run by the developer-turned-television-star for 30 years.
But two months into the Trump presidency, Mr. Stone, known for his pinstripe suits, the Nixon tattoo spanning his shoulder blades, and decades of outlandish statements, is under investigation for what would be his dirtiest trick — colluding with the Russians to defeat Hillary Clinton and put his friend in the White House.
At a hearing of the House Intelligence Committee on Monday, Democrats pressed James B. Comey, director of the F.B.I., for information on Mr. Stone. Asked by Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, a Democrat, if he was familiar with Mr. Stone, Mr. Comey replied tersely, “Generally, yes,” before saying he could not discuss any specific person.
Mr. Stone, 64, is the best known of the Trump associates under scrutiny as part of an F.B.I. investigation into Russian interference in the election. John D. Podesta, the Clinton campaign chairman whose hacked emails were released by WikiLeaks, accused him in October of having advance warning of the hacks, which the intelligence community has concluded were orchestrated by Russia.
“Trust me, it will soon the Podesta’s time in the barrel,” Mr. Stone had mused on Twitter before Mr. Podesta’s emails were released.
When Mr. Schiff asked Mr. Comey at the House hearing how Mr. Stone could have known that Mr. Podesta’s emails were going to be released, the F.B.I. director again refused to answer. “That’s not something I can comment on,” Mr. Comey replied.
Mr. Stone has denied advance knowledge of the hacks or any involvement with the Russians. But his public statements have given investigators a focal point to consider.
Before the Podesta emails were released, Mr. Stone said in a speech that he had “communicated with” Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder — whom he has defended for years — and that he had a large trove of material on the Clintons that he would publish shortly before the election. He has acknowledged having communicated over Twitter with the online persona Guccifer 2.0, who American officials believe is a front for Russian intelligence officials. And there was the Podesta tweet.
Mr. Stone has said the timeline of his “benign” contacts with Guccifer 2.0 — “who may or not be a Russian asset,” he insisted — disprove claims of collusion. His communication with Mr. Assange, Mr. Stone has said, was through an intermediary and was “perfectly legal.” The Podesta tweet, Mr. Stone said, referred to information in an article Mr. Stone wrote that was published two months later, not any emails.
Now under scrutiny by both F.B.I. and Senate investigators, Mr. Stone has hired two lawyers to represent him. But in an interview, Mr. Stone maintained that this was “a scandal with no evidence.”
“There’s only one way to solve this,” Stone told Jones. ‘Mano a mano.”
Stone’s appearance with Alex Jones came amid a full-scale Jones counteroffensive against Trump’s enemies in the Deep State.
In order to back President Donald Trump’s false allegation that former President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, fringe outlets and fake news purveyors — along with some right-wing media — are hyping a claim from Infowars’ Jerome Corsi and Alex Jones that supposedly reveals National Security Agency (NSA) documents that show Trump was spied on for years. Corsi and the “sources” he and Jones rely on have been major proponents of the debunked myth that Obama’s birth certificate is fake.
Infowars Claims Supposed New NSA Documents Show Agency Spied On Trump
Alex Jones: “BREAKING! Documents Show Obama Surveilled Entire Trump Family For 8 Years.” Infowars host Alex Jones claimed that Infowars had gotten a “law enforcement NSA database” that shows Trump “being surveilled by Obama, previous to even running for the presidency” and the surveillance also included “spying on the Trump kids, Trump wife, particular interest in the Trumps’ daughter.” Jones, who worried about being “SWAT team readied any minute” for his claim, also said that sources included “outgoing Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.” From the March 19 edition of Genesis Communications Network’s The Alex Jones Show:
Oh, and this from Media Matters on Friday: Donald Trump Jr. Liked Alex Jones Tweet Claiming That Obama Used British Intelligence To Spy On President Trump
Jones suggests he has multiple private phone numbers for Trump, though there is one – the ultimate one – he’s so far been too scared to use.
If the Trump White House has, or develops, a bunker mentality, I think it’s fair to say, that bunker is right here at the Infowars studio in South Austin.
From the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza’s encounter with Stone at the Trump Inauguration.
Stone is intelligent and witty, and it is often jarring to listen to him as he turns from a sober analysis of politics to bizarre conspiracy theories. He is a frequent guest on Alex Jones’s Infowars radio show, where he recently alleged that he was poisoned by unspecified enemies in the “deep state,” his term for American intelligence operatives. He told me that the C.I.A. invented the allegations of Russian hacking and an influence campaign to help elect Trump directed by Vladimir Putin because the agency wanted to go to war in Syria.
“The C.I.A. has their assessment,” he said, emphasizing the last word. “Assessment means guess. The President-elect hasn’t been shown proof because there’s no proof to be shown. The deep state needs to get over it. Their candidate lost. They wanted a wider proxy war in Syria, and Trump is not for war. He is for détente.”
One of Stone’s great talents over the years has been his ability to project an aura of influence. Jacob Weisberg, whose profile of him, in The New Republic, in 1985, branded Stone “The State-of-the-Art Washington Sleazeball,” wrote last year, “Stone was less power player than con artist. He cultivated a reputation for being a bad boy, playing dirty tricks and crossing ethical lines. In practice, so far as I could tell, he was mostly shaking down his clients, who paid him a lot of money based on the largely false impression that he had real influence.”
Stone’s penchant for exaggerating his role in political events may be what got him in trouble.
As Stone told me last fall – in reference to Alex Jones – “Let’s go back to Stone’s Rules – the only thing worse in politics than being wrong is being boring. The guy’s never boring.”
Ditto, in spades, for Stone himself.
A warning to Democrats on the Intelligence Committee.
Tangle with Stone at your peril.
He is endlessly engaging, will make brilliant theater, and, there is a danger that if they pin the rap on Stone and Stone alone (or even Stone and Paul Manafort), America will have to come to terms with the proposition that Roger Stone single-handedly manipulated the 2016 election to elect his thoroughly uncooperative and unpresentable candidate president, which would be too much for a big, proud nation to bear and seems a pretension too far even for the supremely self-confident Stone.
As Stone told Haberman on Sunday, “Don’t confuse Roger Stone with the character I play.”
Think the Joker.
From the Alex Jones show last Wednesday.
And, then there was the previous assassination attempt in January, as reported on Infowars on Jan. 17.
‘I was poisoned with, they now say, a substance that may have been polonium or had the characteristics of polonium. This made me exceedingly ill. The conjecture of all the doctors was that I did not receive a large enough dose to kill me, but I have never been this ill.”
Polonium-210 is a radioactive substance that releases extremely harmful alpha particles throughout the body producing cancer-causing free radicals. It has been used in numerous high profile assassinations, including that of former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko, and was suspected in the death of former PLO leader Yassar Arafat.
Meanwhile, just around the bend, at The Rachel Maddow Show, Rachel Maddow, it appears, is being driven mad by he Trump-Russia connection and, more broadly, by Trump.
Maddow has her personal ticks, what Jack Shafer at Politico described as the “maddening community theater dramatics she brings to every show—the eye-rolling, the sarcasm, the faux earnestness, the annoyingly conversational style that assumes that you’re a passenger on her news bus.”
But watch her here drag her Oxford Ph.D into a conspiracy thicket that, the mirror image of Jones’ own, won’t be satisfied until Trump is undone and gone.
Watch it, but in short, Maddow recounts the history of the United State developing the atomic bomb and dropping two of them on Japanese cities. But if you think Maddow is going to express some liberal misgivings about the United States being the only nation to have deployed nuclear weapons, you would be wrong.
What is upsetting Maddow is that the United States lost its sole claim to the bomb, because of internal subversion, that a theoretical physicist and atomic spy named Klaus Fuchs sold us out, costing us our nuclear hegemony, and elevating the Soviet Union at our expense, and that history is repeating itself, with witting agents of Russian influence – the likes of Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and, per chance, Donald Trump – once again selling us down the river.
Once again, the Russians had help from inside America to humble America.
Maddow cites a January Washington Post story by David Ignatius.
Last February, a top Russian cyber official told a security conference in Moscow that Russia was working on new strategies for the “information arena” that would be equivalent to testing a nuclear bomb and would “allow us to talk to the Americans as equals.”
Andrey Krutskikh, a senior Kremlin adviser, made the startling comments at the Russian national information security forum, or “Infoforum 2016,” held Feb. 4 and 5. His remarks were transcribed by a Russian who attended the gathering and translated for me by an independent European cyber expert
Krutskikh’s comments are important because they may help explain the radical strategic doctrine that underlies Russia’s hacking and attempted manipulation of the 2016 presidential campaign in America, as well as Russian political subversion in Europe. His title is “special representative of the president for international cooperation in the field of information security.”
A senior Obama administration official described Krutskikh as a “senior-level adviser” to President Vladimir Putin and “a long-standing player in cyber issues” at the foreign ministry. The official said he couldn’t confirm the details of Krutskikh’s remarks, but that “they sound like something Andrey would say.”
According to notes of Krutskikh’s speech, he told his Russian audience: “You think we are living in 2016. No, we are living in 1948. And do you know why? Because in 1949, the Soviet Union had its first atomic bomb test. And if until that moment, the Soviet Union was trying to reach agreement with [President Harry] Truman to ban nuclear weapons, and the Americans were not taking us seriously, in 1949 everything changed and they started talking to us on an equal footing.”
Krutskikh continued, “I’m warning you: We are at the verge of having ‘something’ in the information arena, which will allow us to talk to the Americans as equals.”
Putin’s cyber adviser stressed to the Moscow audience the importance for Russia of having a strong hand in this new domain. If Russia is weak, he explained, “it must behave hypocritically and search for compromises. But once it becomes strong, it will dictate to the Western partners [the United States and its allies] from the position of power.”
Fine. But Maddow already seems persuaded that Trump and Co. are Moscow’s useful idiots and covert agents, and, wondered, as she did a couple of times last night, why the Trump administration is still accorded any legitimacy.
“It’s weird they still get to do stuff,” Maddow said.
Like nominate a Supreme Court justice.
Why, she asked, are Democratic senators dignifying that proceeding by showing up at the confirmation hearing.
Well, I guess this is to be expected from a committed Russophobe.
But Maddow was not always so worried about the Russian bear.
When Mitt Romney was widely mocked for suggesting during the 2012 presidential campaign, that Russa was our “number one geopolitical foe,” Maddow joined in the mocking.
From the Rachel Maddow blog on Feb. 23, 2012: Romney doesn’t know how to fake foreign policy acumen
Two years later, Romney isn’t done pretending he deserves a seat at the big-kids’ table. After President Obama signaled yesterday his intention to negotiate with Russia on missile defense in a second term, the former governor was indignant.
The key quote in the clip was Romney arguing, in reference to Russia, “[T]his is without question our number one geopolitical foe, they fight every cause for the world’s worst actors, the idea that [President Obama] has more flexibility in mind for Russia is very, very troubling indeed.”
For one thing, Obama didn’t talk about more flexibility for Russia; he talked about more flexibility for himself, urging Russian leaders to be patient until after the election season. There’s a big difference between the two.
For another, calling Russia the nation’s “number one geopolitical foe” has renewed a debate over whether Romney understands these issues as well as he thinks he does.
The Democratic National Committee, for example, distributed this statement from former Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig:
“Governor Romney offered his judgment today that Russia is our nation’s number one geopolitical foe. This conclusion, as outdated as his ideas on the economy, energy needs, and social issues, is left over from the last century. Does Governor Romney believe that a Cold War foreign policy is the right course in the twenty-first century? Does he believe that Russia is a bigger threat to the U.S. today than terrorism, or cyberwarfare, or a nuclear-armed and erratic North Korea?
And then there was the debacle of Maddow’s much-hyped release last week of two pages of Trump’s tax returns from 2005 (most likely a gift from Trump or a Trump friendly), which proved that, lo and behold, at least that one year, Trump made a lot of money and paid a lot in taxes.
From Sonny Bunch, executive editor of the Washington Free Beacon writing in the Washington Post.
At some point during Rachel Maddow’s rambling monologue at the start of her show last night—which she had teased on Twitter hours before would reveal “Trump tax returns”—I realized that we weren’t watching a news broadcast so much as a modern recreation of X’s monologue from Oliver Stone’s “JFK.”
You remember the scene: A retired intelligence operative known only as X (Donald Sutherland) meets with Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner), the New Orleans district attorney who hopes to solve the assassination of President John F. Kennedy by proving a conspiracy existed to have him killed. X, his monologue performed over documentary and newsreel clips, hopes to help Garrison by showing him how the dots all connect.
The comparison first flashed to mind as Maddow was running through the history of presidents releasing their taxes. “When Richard Nixon said ‘I’m not a crook,’ he wasn’t talking about Watergate, he was talking about his taxes,” Maddow explained. “And, in fact, he was kind of a crook on his taxes. He handed them over in 1973. In April, 1974, the IRS ordered him to pay almost a half million dollars in back taxes. … Donald Trump’s opponent in the presidential campaign this past year, Hillary Clinton, she released every year of her tax returns back to 1977. But Donald Trump refused to release any.”
While walking through Washington, D.C., X provides a similar history lesson, taking us through America’s postwar undercover successes (“Italy ’48 stealing elections, France ’49 breaking strikes—we overthrew Quirino in the Philippines, Arbenz in Guatemala, Mossadegh in Iran. Vietnam in ’54, Indonesia ’58, Tibet ’59 we got the Dalai Lama out—we were good, very good.”) before getting to the big failures that began in the 1960s (“Then we got into Cuba. Not so good.”). X doesn’t have any proof that the dreaded military-industrial complex had JFK killed, but he does have a lot of coincidences. X’s own odd reassignment before JFK’s Dallas trip, an order given to the local military chief to “stand down” and not supplement the Secret Service, the fact that newspapers knew a great deal of Lee Harvey Oswald’s history: It all adds up, you see.
But what does it add up to? Who benefits? Cui bono? That’s the question and the answer seems obvious, at least to X: “You know how many helicopters have been lost in Vietnam? About three thousand so far. Who makes them? Bell Helicopter. Who owns Bell? Bell was near bankruptcy when the First National Bank of Boston approached the CIA about developing the helicopter for Indochina usage. How ’bout the f-111 fighters? General Dynamics in Fort Worth. Who owns that? Find out the defense budget since the war began. $75 going on a hundred billion … $200 billion’ll be spent before it ends. In 1950 it was $13 billion. No war, no money.”
Follow the money! Always follow the money. It is in this money-following that we saw shades of X in Maddow last night. For 19 minutes she showed us just how deep the rabbit hole goes, highlighting a real-estate transaction in which a Russian paid Trump $100 million for an estate that Trump had purchased for just $40 million.
“If this wasn’t just some Russian oligarch dumping almost $60 million into Donald Trump’s pocket for no discernible reason, couldn’t Trump tax returns clear that up? Wouldn’t Trump’s taxes show whatever reasonable real estate inflow and outflow might explain what otherwise really does look like a bizarre dump of tens of millions of dollars of Russian money into Donald Trump’s coffers? Right at a time when Donald Trump owed tens of millions of dollars to Deutsche Bank and Deutsche Bank was breathing down his neck to get it. That Russian oligarch who spent all that money on that property and never moved into it and ultimately tore it down—he’s also a large shareholder in a bank called the Bank of Cyprus which has been implicated in Russian money laundering. The chairman of the Bank of Cyprus is the former CEO of Deutsche Bank to which Donald Trump owed all that money at the time he conveniently got this very large influx of cash from a Russian guy. The vice chairman of that bank until recently was our new secretary of commerce, long time Trump friend Wilbur Ross.”
As in X’s monologue, Maddow’s coincidences pile up relentlessly, remorselessly. You sit there, overwhelmed by it all, processing, trying to pick apart just why this is nonsense but having a tough time of it because every individual datum is accurate. This is how conspiracy theorists operate: bury your opponent in an avalanche of facts and suggest there’s some secret connecting them all together, a Rosetta Stone you’re on the verge of deciphering.
I’ll let Stephen Colbert close out today’s First Reading.