Saturday, May 4, 2019

The Mueller Report And William Barr Summaries- So Perfectly Calibrated To Keep Us Distracted With “Russiagate” . . . Noticing That The Public Isn’t Served By This (And Noticing Who Exactly Is)

Have you noticed? It’s amazing.  The Mueller Report, especially as it teams up with and plays in tandem off the summaries of it prepared by Attorney General William Barr seems perfectly calibrated to ensure that the so-called Russiagate investigation continues to take center stage in the mainstream corporate media as a huge continuing distraction from other bigger issues.  The Mueller Report/Barr Summary combinations are so perfectly calibrated to ensure fractious debate that it can hardly be imagined that they could be better designed to do so if it were intended.  Mueller and Barr and their families are reportedly good friends, with a relationship going back thirty years.       

Also, there is more to notice.  The Mueller Report is being used as a springboard to feed some very dangerous narratives, which, if not dressed up in anti-Trump garb soliciting cred, would most likely be treated by more of us with skepticism as propaganda.
Initially, let me say that there were serious problems with the premise of the Mueller investigation.  If you investigate the wrong questions you are guaranteed to get nonsense.  There are certainly a zillion things to investigate about Trump that are well worth investigating, everything from the Emoluments Clause violations, to the conflicts of interest of virtually all of Trump’s appointments, not to mention probably most of Trump’s real estate career with his income tax returns representing a mere tip of that iceberg.  Nor, would it be surprising to learn that Trump has been involved in money laundering for Russian Oligarchs.

As a less Trump-centric set of concerns, there are also critical things to investigate about the derailment of democracy in the United States, everything from the outsized influence of money and corporate interests in politics, to voter suppression, to unreliable voting machines, a hijacking that can be described as a “hacking” of our democracy.  That includes fossil fuel money hamstringing any action to address climate Armageddon.  But to blame “Russians” for the hijacking of our elections as an explanation is a red herring, a distraction, that leads away from acknowledgment of our real problems or the constructive fixes within our means. . .

Plus, even without throwing “Russiagate” into the mix, Trump is already our Distractor-in-Chief.

Our unproductive maelstrom of continuing distraction produced by the way that the way that Mueller Report/Barr summaries sync up to absorb energy and attention is exquisitely represented by the kind of treatment the NY Times is giving it.  They printed a special section of just the Mueller Report.  The Times is in overdrive figuring every conceivable way to crank out a plethora of stories about it.  One of its editions was essentially cover-to-cover on the subject and no edition hasn't included another story that more less screams “please pay attention to this.”

Certainly the Mueller Report/Barr Summary issuance deserves some coverage.  I think Democracy Now performed a service having Glenn Greenwald and David Cay Johnston debate the import of the whole thing twice now.  It was elucidating (especially in terms of where they agreed) while drawing out relevant facts (vs. non-facts) and generated a certain level of appreciation for nuance missing in most other coverage.  (See: As Mueller Finds No Collusion, Did Press Overhype Russiagate? Glenn Greenwald vs. David Cay Johnston, March 25, 2019, and The Mueller Report: Glenn Greenwald vs. David Cay Johnston on Trump-Russia Ties, Obstruction & More, April 19, 2019.)

Notwithstanding, because the Mueller/Barr products are so suited to keeping debate and discussion of Russiagate on the front burner of the mainsteam corporate media 24/7 news cycle, I think that Greenwald, Aaron Maté and Jimmy Dore have perhaps gone overboard about proclaiming that they were right to say that the Mueller report and investigation are a big `nothing burger,’ or its equivalent.  That’s even though they are still right, big picture, about the overblown distraction of it being a huge disservice to the American Public.

Think of all the ways that the Mueller/Barr titillations beg people to follow multiple trails of `evidence,’ like it’s a good detective story, which it isn't.*
[* Note of warning: As you read through the following bullet points you are likely to find it difficult to stay clear headed.  That is probably the inherent difficulty of trying to summarize things that themselves seem as if they’re intended to foment fuzziness.  One option to maintain a good overview is to skip reading these illustrative bullet points, or, alternatively, to initially skip them, but double back to read them afterward to verify the homework, and to see the specific examples of how things seem like they are calculated not to resolve.]
    •    Mueller walks coy hairsplitting lines in what he delivers, furnishing nothing decisively understandable by a public whose biases have been fueled to go in different directions.

    •    Mueller is delivering what he does while saying that any indictment of Trump by him is out of the question because he is choosing to follow a policy rule and interpretation of law that sitting presidents should not be indictable.  This assists Mueller in leaving things vague.  (Little is made of the concurrent fact that, if there was some sort of criminal Russiagate conspiracy, vast or otherwise, no other Americans who are, in fact, all susceptible to indictment were indicted- The only  indictments of this nature are of a few “shadowy” currently nondescript Russians safely out of the country and removed from any fact-uncovering interrogation or double checks on accuracy.)

    •    Mueller, however, notes (hint, hint?) that indictments may be possible after a president leaves office.

    •    The report's stated possible reason for the lack of an indictment (of what is thereby implied to be possibly illegal behavior) is complicated further when seized upon by Barr (and Rosenstein?) to assert the probably incorrect, frail and emotionally unsatisfying theory that any attempted cover-up, any “obstruction of justice” can't be a with “crime” if there is no underlying crime.

    •    Mueller in his report, however, says that he (and Rosenstein?) were unable to reach the “judgment” that president didn’t “commit” the “crime” of “obstruction of justice.”  Mueller in his report further cites multiple instances where he says Trump impeded and/or sought to limit his investigation. 

    •    Then Mueller specifically leaves it up to Congress to address whether there was an “obstruction of justice,” which, because impeachment is indeed in Congress’s purview, is not something to complain about from a technical standpoint.  But the standard for what conduct constitutes impeachable offenses “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” under the Constitution, is ultimately politically defined, and doesn’t necessarily track conventional criminal law.  Isn’t this a great thing to foster more division?

    •    What Mueller has laced into his report has allowed, for instance, Thom Hartmann (April 18), arguing that the report is damning for Trump, to say (paraphrasing Mueller, after reading selected quotes) that Mueller “repeatedly” says in the report says he couldn’t reach a conclusion about whether there was criminal conduct or collusion because his investigators were lied to, because information was withheld from the investigators, because information was communicated by Trump people over apps that left no traces, information that’s out of reach and can’t be subpoenaed, plus Hartman can assert that because there were prior threats to do so, the investigation was shut down before it was complete and that he didn’t have enough time (just two years).  Mueller asserts it was because of potential delay that he didn’t issue a subpoena to obtain the President's own testimony.

    •    The report also suggests other possible reasons the investigation perhaps falls short of finding out more that could be of potential relevance: That some witnesses invoking their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination declined to testify, other witnesses testified falsely or incompletely, “numerous witnesses and subjects lived abroad” (Russians?), some evidence was privileged, and some communications were deleted or otherwise unavailable.   

    •    There is the parsed issue of whether there is “collusion” verses whether there is a “crime.”  “Collusion” sounds like a really bad thing, although in this context it is so vague as to have no meaning, not withstanding the fact that Trump likes the fact that it rhymes with “delusion.”  Mueller’s report says that he did not investigate whether individuals were colluding (did not investigate anything “under the rubric of `collusion’”), because “collusion,” doesn’t exist as any sort of defined legal theory.   But then, in his report, Mueller tells a public that has been primed to hate and blame Russians by more than two years of incendiary rhetoric that individuals from the Trump campaign had cooperative chats with Russians about Trump presidential campaign goals.  Handled that way, it still serves, rather dependably, to ignite an emotional response.

    •    That’s where we get to a key point that is not being made clear in the swirl of discussions respecting the Mueller/Barr release of information dance.  It also brings us to the core issue of whether there is anything that signifies anything amidst all the sound and fury.  When constrained to deal with indictable offenses, Mueller could only look for “conspiracy” to commit some sort of actual crime.  The fact that there have been vigorous efforts to make the Russians hateful or to imagine them as having extraordinary powers and influence (much of the stoking of the hate and imagination involves fictional stories we now know didn’t happen) doesn’t mean that conversations between political campaigns and foreign governments who have a willingness to be helpful about politics and election goals are “crimes.”  You can excitedly jump into calling it “treason,” another emotion laden word for which actual definitions are unclear, but it also probably can’t ever be put even into the elusive category of “impeachable offense” under the Constitution, because such communications with foreign governments are commonplace. Noam Chomsky’s observations about Israeli influence of our elections are therefore important.  Similarly important is Glenn Greenwald pointing out how the Democratic National Committee workers on Hillary Clinton’s campaign collaborated, coordinated and worked with the Ukrainian government, to dig up dirt on Donald Trump’s finances and Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort.

This is not to say that Nixon’s negotiations as a presidential candidate (running against Vice President Hubert Humphrey in 1968) asking the South Vietnamese to prolong the war (a wartime "ally," not "enemy") wasn’t perhaps a treasonable offense. Similarly, the negotiations presidential candidate Ronald Reagan campaign is alleged to have had with the Iranians to prevent the Iranian’s release of U.S. hostages when Reagan was running against President Carter is easy to view as treason.  (Russia is not currently a declared enemy and we have no war with them at the moment.)

Two final points with respect to the core of the conspiracy theory investigated by Mueller: No matter the efforts to make the Russians hateful or to imagine them as having extraordinary powers, does that make it reasonable to believe either that the Russians had any truly appreciable effect on the U.S. elections, or that Trump is somehow an “asset” of the Kremlin.  Unfortunately, all the unresolved sound and fury, general confusion, and obfuscation is giving an emotionally riled population the cover to continue to hold onto such beliefs, whether or not they are reasonable.  Plus, whether its believable or not, unchallenged by Barr, the Mueller Report is putting out information that Russia’s intelligence Agency engaged in various forms of “hacking” the election.  This is not to say that this asserted hacking necessarily had any true bottom-line important effect.  Furthermore, there is good reason to exercise skepticism about many of these stories about hacking that our deep state intelligence community is producing.  (We are also told that Russia is a tremendous threat to us militarily: CBS News just offered a what was essentially a slickly crafted commercial for selling more Lockheed Martin stealth fighter jets to NATO based on that threat.  Nowhere did CBS offer the context that just the increase in the U.S. military budget in the two years of the Trump presidency is equal to the entire Russian military budget.  Meanwhile, in recent years Putin has been reducing Russian military spending to spend more on Russia's social benefit programs.)  

    •    Then there is the indictment by of Mueller of Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer and fixer.  The indictment by Mueller flows from its characterization as a campaign law violation, and Cohen agreed to characterize it as such in his plea agreement. The indictment is based on how "hush money" flowed from Trump to an adult movie star and to a Playboy Playmate to avoid tarnishing Trump’s reputation.  The theory that made the particular way the money flowed in these attempts to protect Trump’s reputation a campaign violation is that the payments flowed during an ongoing campaign.  It’s salacious, juicy and unsavory.  Nonetheless, our campaign laws are notoriously weak as well as complicated.  Would the Supreme Court (Trump and private private money campaign spending friendly) ultimately uphold as illegal this kind of strict restraint on personal image control efforts via such laws whenever anyone runs for office?   It doesn’t sound like a “high crime or misdemeanor.” And it has nothing to do with Russia (except to indicate that Mueller couldn’t find that anyone committed such a technical violation of these complex campaign laws with respect to Russia).

    •    Then there are the twelve foreboding criminal referrals that are sealed and mysteriously secret because they are outstanding.  Consider: All those people around Trump being instigated for activities possibly transgressing various criminal laws!  On must wonder if people around Trump breaking laws were hard to find.  All those people who could have been leaned on to disclose “Russiagate” information, but it seems that none of them did disclose anything, and all of the referrals are for matters without Russiagate substance or it would have been Mueller’s job to follow up on them rather than refer the matters out to others.

    •    There is the suspenseful multi-stage release of the Mueller investigation’s findings:
        ••    First, the years of dribbled out, titrated leaks with all sorts of suggestions about things untrue as well as true, that got intemperately interpreted by the likes of MSNC’s Rachel Maddow as she ignored other national issues.  Dribbling leaks, especially as it combined with spin, is a well appreciated media strategy.

        ••    There were the presaging hints about when the report would come out and what it would say.

        ••    The initial surfacing of the report through William Barr’s summary, Barr having arrived in his seat for the chore having clearly and rather publicly self-labeled himself as blindly partisan so as to ensure doubt about anything he says or interprets, which doubt he seals by stating things about “exoneration” that are clearly contradicted by the actual report when released.  That way the contradiction of “exoneration” with “no exoneration” became a big superseding headline.  Previously Trump’s firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions while bringing in Matthew Whitaker as an obvious loyalist served to create the same sort of headline grabbing suspicions so that, writing in November 2018, I suggested that if Trump was smart enough it could be his ploy to keep the Russiagate preoccupations alive: The campaigning in the midterm national elections had just emphatically demonstrated Russiagate to be a non-issue in the campaign and what won seats for Democrats had been other issues.  (See: Is Trump Smart Enough To Try A Certain Russiagate Ploy?: Why Is Trump Firing Jeff Sessions Really?)  The continuing failure to focus on other issues is probably doing more harm to the Democrats and others opposed to Trump than the other thing that has been suggested, which is that the Trump will gain strength as a perceived victim of Mueller investigation “witch hunt.” 

        ••    For the smaller subset of those of us who insist on having long memories and reading the alternate press to connect the dots, Barr comes on the scene with the pedigree of being previously labeled (by conservative New Times columnist William Safire no less) as “Coverup-General” for his work as U.S. Attorney General stymying the Iran Contra investigations and prosecution.  But, on the other hand, Mueller has also been accused of involvement in official coverups, including matters with Iran Contra connections. . .  So maybe that means Barr and Mueller can work well together.

        ••    William Barr continued his tactic of conspicuously heavy-handed and therefore dismissible spin by holding a press conference about the release of the Mueller Report while holding back the report itself for two hours.  Again, this makes the suspiciousness of it a cynosure for the delectation of spin coming from the "other side."

        ••    Mueller cooperates with his friend Barr’s contributions to this suspiciousness by writing a letter complaining that Barr’s summary is misleading and has created “public confusion” undermining the purpose of the investigation.

        ••    The adversarial arguing between Mueller and Barr about these characterizations has the effect of presenting a binary set of choices where erroneous assumptions could easily be provoked that anything Mueller and Barr don’t disagree about respecting what the report’s assertions are true.  That Russia is bad?  Not necessarily: but isn’t that kind of simplemindedness always the trap of getting shunted into binary choices?

        ••    The report then comes out redacted, redacted in two redacted versions no less, one of the public and another version for Congress.  The redactions, inherently mysterious, are also instantly suspicious when they are supposed to have come from William Barr’s office alone (not true though).  And, a great bit of PR fun: Extra attention gets called to the redactions because they are theatrically color coded!               
        ••    Next we are having the dramatic fight for the unredacted report.  The drama of that fight will make the report seem more important (and seemingly credible) still.

        ••    Plus we are going to be fighting about whether Barr should resign as Attorney General or be disbarred as a lawyer because he mischaracterized (“lied about”) Mueller’s chercteriziations in the report.

        ••    Similarly, with the continuing unfolding of it all, we are going to have all sorts of ensuing debates about whether “Russiagate,” rather than other things, should be grounds for pursuing investigation and charges to impeach Trump, and that will include secondary debates about which Democrats are being aggressive enough and what are the best tactics.
    •    Added in is the whole mishegoss of Trump’s lying that generates the theory: If Trump didn’t do anything illegal, why did he lie about it?  Why?: Because generally whenever Trump opens his mouth he lies.  He is always interested in saying what he thinks will make him sound good to his listener. In the end, Trump’s lies say more about what Trump thinks about the perceptions of his listeners and what he thinks would sound good to them on a particular day than anything else.  Essentially that same back and forth can be thrown in as a question and answer to explain Trump’s habitual bullying and throwing his weight around, including wanting to quash investigations.
It's clear why people would want to cut through and dispense with all this distracting nonsense, and clear why they would want to put matters to bed by proclaiming that the Mueller investigation shows that there has never been any "there" "there" when it comes to the Russiagate investigation. Understanding that the distractions have been founded on what is essentially a hoax would provide clarity and allow us to move on.  Somewhat unfortunately, in simplifying things toward this end, those wanting to make the point that the Mueller Report found no Trump criminal conspiracy with the Russians are often unnecessarily throwing in compliments, not necessarily deserved, for the thoroughness, accuracy and reliability of Mueller's investigation.

I can concur in the opinion that "Russiagate" has been fielded as a distraction by those who are largely insincere (and if there were anything significant to find it would have been out by now), but Mueller, with all the finely tuned vagaries of his report, is not cooperating in making this go away.  There those proclaiming the opposite, that the news media's two-year gyer of leaks and obsessed over suspicions has been "vindicated"  by the Mueller Report.  Nor is Barr helping to end things with the way his antics help so many to be sure that there is, in fact, something to hide, while at the same time such antics encourage Trump stalwarts to think Trump's been "exonerated" and persecuted.
The Mueller/Barr investigation report dance is doing an excellent job of dividing up the public and keeping it divided.  Now we not only have Trump Republicans and anti-Trump people, the anti-Trump people are now divided into the Russiagate preoccupationalists, and those who would get on to the real problems of which Trump is largely just a symptom.  Yes, that includes myriad concerns about how and why democracy is tanking in the U.S.

Here is what is really more important-  In terms of what generally ought to be recognized as big picture propaganda, the Mueller/Barr Report distractions are being effectively used to kill several birds with one stone (Roger that?)- Get people angry at Julian Assange and retroactively justify going after him for the publishing the Chelsea Manning leaks about U.S. war crimes, which is what the intelligence community has long been after Assange for (and it's clearly resorting to every available tool it has available, plus notice now how new moves against Assange and Manning have been timed)- Make Russians our enemy again- And every time they say that Russia “hacked our democracy” they imply that we have a properly functioning democracy, one that wasn't already profoundly hacked.  It implies, as Noam Chomsky says, that money doesn't fairly predictably control our politics.  It implies that a foreign country like Israel (are they “hostile” if they don't share our national interests?) isn't immensely involved in interfering with our elections.  It implies that the U.S. isn't routinely involved with election interference and regime change around he world.  Should Ecuador (whose previous government gave Julian Assange asylum) be on that long list as part of this story?  Venezuela (maybe Cuba too now) is openly high on our list to be next- all of which regime change activity on our part gets justified by saying the "Russians" are terrible.

Another effect of what’s achieved is that the intelligence community is being unskeptically embraced by liberals and people with a new set of assumptions that those in the intelligence community are reliable heroes to save us.  This is a point that journalist William Arkin recently made with the issuance of his “Perpetual War” letter, a wide ranging protest of the conduct of the mainstream corporate press.  He pointed out that under Trump the intelligence community has become “more autonomous and practically impervious to criticism.”  He’s gone on to say:
there are a lot of liberals in America who believe that the CIA and the FBI is going to somehow save the country from Donald Trump. Well, I’m sorry, I’m not a particular fan of either the CIA or the FBI. And the FBI, in particular, has a deplorable record in American society, from Martin Luther King and the peace movements of the 1960s all the way up through Wen Ho Lee and others who have been persecuted by the FBI. And there’s no real evidence that the FBI is either—is that competent of an institution, to begin with, in terms of even pursuing the prosecutions that it’s pursuing. But yet we lionize them. We hold them up on a pedestal, that somehow they are the truth tellers, that they’re the ones who are getting to the bottom of things, when there’s just no evidence that that’s the case.
The mainstream corporate media mantra talking point is that Mueller (albeit a Republican) is a “straight arrow.”  Mr. Mueller, aside from his friendship with William Barr, is actually a strange dude, or at the very least there are strange things to consider about him.  When Mueller was brought in to head the FBI (his was one of the multiple oddly timed 9/11 appointments, he started at the FBI September 4, 2001) he dismantled- shifted/- at least half of the investigative resources and focus of the bureau away from white collar crime (to “terrorism”).  Mueller’s family (his great uncle Richard Bissell) and his wife Ann Cabell Standish's family (her grandfather Charles Cabell) both hail back to top people Kennedy purged from the CIA before he was assassinated.  And there is more if you want to check out how Mueller’s record is described by those not part of the mainstream corporate media.

I provide this analysis recognizing that all of the corporate media has been essentially lockstep in uncritically and participatorily reporting the Mueller Report/Barr summary concoctions as if engaged in some huge performance art piece.  My hope is that those in the alternative press universe will have the perspective to keep their bearings and do something better. 

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