A Conspiracy Against Trump?

Let us, for a moment, do this thought experiment: let us think, not like a person of everyday decency and common sense, but instead like a professional Republican politician.

You have a dilemma. On the one hand, you have a Trump problem. His trade war threatens to flush the economy down the crapper. Even worse—yea, verily, even worse—his electability is very much in doubt. Look at 2018. Look at Texas today, where polling shows Biden beats Trump.Just by the hair of his chinny-chin-chin. But Biden still wins. In Texas.

But the other horn of your dilemma is that Trump remains highly popular among the Republican voting masses.

With all that in mind, keep on trying to imagine yourself a professional Republican politician. Ask yourself, how can we professional Republican politicians possibly escape this dilemma?

I’m not talking detailed tactics here. I’m talking overall strategy; the tactics can be filled in later.

Obviously, the general strategy would be to play Trump’s lickspittle in public, but to conspire against him in private.

With all that in mind, I commend to you this from thebulwark.com: Christian Vanderbrouk, Mike Pence, Leader of the Resistance? He could be in real trouble if the Trumpist media ever actually reads [sic] the Mueller report.

Ann Coulter for President!

Coulter

If you happen to be a long-time reader, you know that I have said repeatedly that Trump’s vulnerability with racist jerks is that he is so incompetent that he gives racism a bad name.

This morning, a poster on Bill Kristol’s thebulwark.com, has this to say: What Ann Coulter Needs to Know About the Mueller Report: Trump is killing MAGA world with his incompetence:

Time and again, the special counsel’s report makes Trump look ridiculous and out-of-the-loop. …

In another episode, Trump ordered the White House counsel, Don McGahn, to have Mueller fired. But he then sort of forgot about that, too, after a while. This is part of a pattern. Trump is prone to ordering people to do very serious, important things and then not following through or even entirely forgetting he’s given the order. Trump famously decided to formally withdraw from the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement and ordered his aides to draw up the paperwork for his immediate signature. As word spread of this decision, serious people in the administration panicked, recognizing what this would do both to the U.S. economy and to America’s defense interests in the Pacific. The problem was solved by the simple expedient of removing the paperwork from Trump’s desk and the president never raised the topic again. There’s a similar story about withdrawing from NAFTA.

To be sure, the presidency is a stressful job and there are, no doubt, a lot of things to keep track of. But you would think that withdrawing from NAFTA is the kind of thing you would remember. …

[The Mueller report provides little help to Trump challengers like Weld or Kasich.] The bigger problem for Trump is if he draws a challenger from his other flank. Because if you’re a person who loves Trump’s nativism and nationalism, then the humiliating picture of incompetency and chaos from the Mueller report is a very new, and very big, development.

Imagine, for example, Ann Coulter jumping into the Republican primary. Her message would be that Donald Trump lied to his base and, to make matters worse, is a bumbling incompetent who isn’t capable of delivering on his promises. Where Trump’s slogan is ‘Make America Great Again” Coulter’s slogan would be “Where’s Our Wall.” Which, you have to admit, would look great on a hat. #WOW

I don’t know how Coulter would handle retail politics, but on television and in head-to-head debates, she’d be a force of nature. Ann Coulter is a lot of things and among them are intelligent, articulate, merciless, and shameless. On top of all that, if she entered the race, she’d instantly neuter Trump’s FOX/talk radio advantage. Just imagine Coulter being interviewed on Hannity.

Aardvark’s Animadversion

Well, I don’t know whether Ann Coulter might be The One. But there sure as hell is a political space for a racist reactionary who is “intelligent, articulate, merciless, and shameless,” but not a blithering idiot.

Maimonides and Mueller: A Guide for the Perplexed

perplexed

Washington Post, 5 persistent myths about the Mueller report

So here’s the thing. Let’s say that it’s your job to explain a complicated fact pattern, and to apply, to that complicated fact pattern, a set of subtle and recondite legal concepts. Let’s say that it is, then, your job to explain what you have done in a document of several hundred pages. Let’s say your intended audience is largely made up of people inclined to think in slogans rather than multi-step logical analysis. And let’s say you are working in an environment where a lot of smart but badly intentioned people are going to twist your words to make it sound as if you said something you did not, in fact, say.

And let’s say your object is to be widely understood, notwithstanding the audience’s innate disposition to think in slogans and to nod off when presented with an analysis of any complexity.

How do you proceed?

Well, first of all, you have to think very carefully about how your words might be misunderstood. And about how they are going to be twisted.

And then, having thought long and hard on these matters, you need to write REALLY, REALLY CLEARLY.

By these standards, the Mueller report is not quite up to snuff.

I don’t know why it’s not up to snuff. But the simplest explanation is that writing clearly about complex legal topics, for a semi-informed audience, is really, really hard to do. Trust me on this.

In any case, the Washington Post piece, by someone named Aaron Blake, cited above, provides some help for the perplexed.

Yeah, That Pretty Much Sums it Up

The Plum Line observes,

President Trump’s current position on special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report is as follows:

1) it proved beyond all doubt that Trump is completely innocent;

2) it was illegal, biased and full of lies;

3) we should move on and get back to the work of governing; and

4) we must keep talking about it.

Cue the flying saucers.

Plan 9

Bizarre Barr

it would be nice

The best way to find out what is in a document is to read it. I will probably try to read the whole Mueller report, but I haven’t yet had the time to do so. (Writing this blog is a hobby of mine, not a job, so I didn’t “pull an all-nighter.”)

If you want to read it for yourself, you can download it here. Or you can buy it on Amazon, inasmuch as there is no copyright in works of the United States government.

Meanwhile, in the past 24 hours an ocean of ink has been spilled by commentators commenting on Barr’s bizarre performance yesterday morning. I recommend, for example, the generally reliable Jonathan Chait, who nicely described the differences between the truth and what Barr said, in his post titled Congress Should Impeach William Barr.

But Chait thinks Barr’s toadyism is straightforward. By contrast, over at The Bulwark (Bill Kristol’s hideout) a post headlined No Honorable Middle Ground for Barr comes closer to the truth as I see it. Barr has learned from people like Jim Mattis and John Kelly that you cannot work for Trump while trying to preserve your personal integrity. If you try to do that, he will fire your ass on twitter.

That leaves the choice: either don’t work for Trump in the first place, or work for Trump and go full toady. OR AT LEAST PRETEND TO GO FULL TOADY.

So what happened yesterday? What happened was that in the morning Barr gave a news conference where he told lie after lie, see Chait, supra, and then, two hours later, released a redacted but still very meaty Mueller report that clearly revealed the mendacious nature of the morning news conference.

And just who was Barr trying to fool? I submit that he was trying to fool the one person in the country most likely to be taken in by this charade, to wit, one Donald J. Trump.

If Barr were an actual compeat today, then I think he would have redacted a lot more than he did react.

But you don’t have to take it from me. If Barr is an actual Trump toady, then he will shut down or obstruct the 14 still on-going investigations of Trump and his world, notably the federal investigation in the Manhattan district attorney’s office. That way, he can have the honor of occupying the same jail cell occupied by his illustrious predecessor John Mitchell.

But if Barr is only a pretend toady, he will let the investigations go forward while continuing to hop up and down yelling “no collusion”—until such time as Trump’s lizard brainf inally gets the message that he is being taken for a ride.

Waiting for the Mueller Report and Its Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Redactions

As I write, we have seen the morning Barr show but have not yet seen the report—that would be the one with the itsy, bitsy, teeny, weenie redactions.

A Good Lawyer Making a Bad Case

The Barr performance this morning was that of a good trial lawyer making an opening statement to the judge and jury, with respect to a very bad case.

The Theology of Conspiracy

I was an antitrust lawyer, so inevitably that’s one of the perspectives I bring to the situation. In antitrust, we were forever dealing with complicated, messy, ambiguous fact patterns and deciding whether those complicated fact patterns should or should not be called a conspiracy. To that end, we applied legal criteria—legal criteria that are, themselves, the subject of much legal debate and “refined” analysis.

Having that perspective, I wait to see what legal criteria Mueller employed to look at a complicated fact pattern and find insufficient evidence of an illegal conspiracy. I can guess and speculate, but of course I won’t, especially at this hour.

A Man is Presumed to Intend the Natural Consequences of His Acts

Applying this well known legal maxim, one thing we can say for sure is that William Barr has acted in a way calculated to generate many, many headlines proclaiming that he has joined the Cult of Trump and become the complete toady.

William Barr knows that his conduct is generating these sorts of headlines.

Therefore William Barr intends that these sorts of headlines will be generated.

If it Walks Like a Duck and Talks Like a Duck …

Or, to change the metaphor, if it looks like a strawberry shortcake and smells like a strawberry shortcake and tastes like a strawberry shortcake, then it’s very probably a strawberry shortcake.

Therefore, it’s entirely understandable that if Bill Barr walks like a Trump toady and talks like a Trump toady, then he’s really a Trump toady.

I still don’t believe the act, though the acting is really good, and the act is becoming more convincing. Maybe even good enough to yank the wool over the Trumpster’s eyes, if such is the intent.

These Days, It’s Hard to Distinguish Between Satire and News

fake news

Andy Borowitz, Putin Almost Done Redacting Mueller Report:

MOSCOW (The Borowitz Report)—After putting in what one associate called a “hellish all-nighter,” the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, is almost finished redacting Robert Mueller’s report in time for its release, on Thursday.

Earlier in the week, the U.S. Attorney General, William Barr, submitted the approximately four-hundred-page document to Putin for his approval, but the Russian President was reportedly “in a state of disbelief” over how much Barr had failed to redact.

Quickly assembling a crisis team at the Kremlin to implement further redactions, Putin told his associates, “Put some coffee on, boys—it’s going to be a long night.”

Is He an Actual Toady, or Does He Just Play One on TV?

Generally, it’s a sign of insanity when you see a pattern that has eluded every smart person in the world but yourself. So if you detect a sign of insanity in me, that’s fine. But I still see what I see.

Among the commentariat, the consternation and puzzlement over Barr’s toadying behavior grows from day to day. See supra.

Right now, folks are perseverating, bigly, on how much Barr is going to redact from the Mueller report. The question is important, and the perseveration is understandable.

But as important as the coming redactions may be, of equally great importance is what part of the Mueller report will NOT be redacted. What will we see? And how bad will it be for Trump?

So, here is what I think may have happened. I think Trump got wind of what the redacted Mueller report will look like. I think he threatened to fire Barr’s sorry ass on twitter, and that right speedily, unless Barr would gin up some headlines about the purportedly rotten oranges of the Mueller report. Thus, when the redacted but still bad report comes out, Trump and his minions will be able to jump up and down with distracting claims about rotten oranges.

And I think Barr did what he had to do.

As you know, I also think Barr came back to Washington to do an as yet unidentified Task X. Barr would have known that he had no hope in hell of accomplishing Task X without sticking around for some months. And you cannot stick around Trump for some months without your reputation going to hell.

Sometimes, to get the job done, a good lawyer has to take a bullet.

No Collusion

Gospel of Thomas

For helpful Talmudic exegeses of the Barr letter, see these morning reads, especially the second:

The Plum Line, Trump won with illicit help. He abused his power. His AG is blocking a full reckoning.

Lawfare, What to Make of Bill Barr’s Letter

The Language to be Parsed

I focus here on the collusion side, rather than the obstruction side. Barr’s key language is short. Thus spaketh Attorney General Barr:

The report further explains that a primary consideration for the Special Counsel’s investigation was whether any Americans including individuals associated with the Trump campaign joined the Russian conspiracies to influence the election, which would be a federal crime. The Special Counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election. As the report states: “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”1

Footnote 1 reads as follows:

“In assessing potential conspiracy charges, the Special Cou7nsel also considered whether members of the Trump campaign “coordinated” with Russian election interference activities. The Special Counsel defined “coordination” as an “agreement—tacit or express—between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government on election interference.”

“Find” Versus “Establish”

Barr’s own language—paraphrasing or purporting to paraphrase Mueller—is that the investigation did not “find”conspiracy or coordination. But Mueller’slanguage says that the investigation did not “establish”conspiracy or coordination.

Moreover, as indicated by the brackets around “T”—“[T]he”—Barr is cherry picking a part of a sentence from Mueller, not the whole sentence.

When we get the whole sentence, what will it say? Of course I don’t know, but it could well be something along the lines of,

although there was lots of really bad evidence, I didn’t think I could prove conspiracy or coordination beyond a reasonable doubt, therefore I determined that the evidence did not establish conspiracy or coordination.

Or, it could be that, inexplicably, Mueller determined that there was in fact little or no evidence of conspiracy or coordination at all. But if that is the case, then why in hell didn’t Barr quote the whole damn sentence, not just a piece of it?

Mr. Barr’s Book Report on the Mueller Opus

Gospel of Thomas

The Aardvarks have returned from their cruise. (Fortunately, we did not choose a Norwegian destination on the Viking Sky. The Aardvarks do not relish being plucked by helicopter from the deck of a ship without power, bouncing around in the icy seas.)

We have returned just in time for Mr. Mueller to hand over his memorandum—of unknown length, ten pages?, 100 pages?, 1000 pages, no one knows—to Attorney General Barr, and for the latter to prepare a summary of less than four pages.

The occasion seems to call for some commentary, so I will make five brief points.

Mr. Barr’s Book Report and the Aardvark Hypothesis

First, I have previously hypothesized that Barr came to Washington to work out a deal whereby Trump would resign from office in exchange for immunity from prosecution. The document released this weekend does not lend support to my hypothesis, and is generally in tension with my hypothesis, but does not in any sense conclusively disprove my hypothesis. So, we shall see what we shall see.

One Slippery Eel

Two: whatever his motivations and intentions may be, Mr. Barr is an able lawyer and a master of the semantic dodge. These are two ways of saying much the same thing. What he leaves unsaid may well be as important as what he says explicitly. Thus, his weekend piece, though short, will probably bear as much scrutiny as a New Testament scholar would give to one of the more Delphic passages in the Gospel of Thomas. (But that doesn’t mean I’ll offer that level of scrutiny in this post.)

“No Collusion or Coordination,” or, Mueller’s Got Some Splain’ To Do

Three: the Barr book report tells us, in a surprisingly clear cut way, that Mueller found no collusion or coordination between Russia and that Trump campaign. Barr’s summary of Mueller’s conclusion is probably a very shorthand account of what may be a lengthy exposition by Mueller.

There were in fact about a hundred contacts between the campaign and the Ruskies. And quite a few people lied about those contacts. How, then, does Mueller conclude there was no collusion or coordination? We need to see the Mueller report to form an intelligent judgment.

A Blessing in Disguise for Democrats?

Four: some of the talking heads are saying this evening that the no collusion conclusion is a great gift to Democrats, in that they will now be compelled to talk about policy issues like health care and climate change, that people care about, rather than esoteric issues about what amounts to campaign collusion—issues that are muddy, not to mention beyond the ken and beyond the concern of the proverbial man in the street.

I suspect that the talking heads have a pretty good point.

Obstruction, Anyone?

Five: Mueller’s report says that he could have gone either way on obstruction, but left the issue to the Attorney General. At which point, Trump’s Attorney General, in an entirely objective and disinterested distinction between balls and strikes, called it a ball.

Prosecutors are not supposed to prosecute unless they think they are highly likely to meet the difficult beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard of proof of guilt. Here, Barr’s alleged doubt about the ability to obtain a conviction may have been made on the facts, or on the law, or both. At this point we just don’t know.

I could add a sixth point: the investigation of Trump’s business practices, which look like a poster child for RICO, goes on.

An Interesting Question

Lastly, here’s an interesting little question. Having spent so much effort tweeting against Mueller, will Trump’s perverted mind conclude that he came off as well as he did because he succeeded in threatening and bullying Mueller?

And, having drawn that conclusion, how will that affect Trump’s future behavior?

“Good Morning Mr. President”: A Hypothetical Conversation between Attorney General Barr and The Donald

Barr Adjusts Glaases

This hypothetical presentation is based on the thoughts laid out in the immediately preceding post.

Good morning, Mr. President. I am here to brief you on the Mueller Report and how I intend to handle it.

Before going any further, I want to remind you that you are not my client. My client is the United States of America. But what I have to tell you has grave implications for your own personal interests. Therefore, I urge you to engage qualified personal counsel to advise you on these matters. I will be happy to have a full and candid discussion with your lawyer. I believe that, when all is said and done, your personal lawyer will see your own self-interest the way I see your self-interest. But that is a matter for discussion with him or her.

With that out of the way, Mr. President, I regret to inform you that Mr. Mueller has concluded—and I agree with his conclusions, based on the evidence he has cited—that you have violated the following provisions of the United States Criminal Code. [To be elaborated, though briefly, so that he might possibly understand the presentation.]

Secondly, Mr. President, as you know, it is the policy of the Department of Justice that a sitting president may not be indicted. And it is the policy of the Department of Justice that, where no indictment is brought, prosecutors do not disclose derogatory information about the target of an investigation.

You should know that, as the Attorney General and head of the Justice Department, I have the right to modify those policies, or to authorize an exception to them.

As of this point, it is, however, my intention to adhere to those policies and thus not to disclose to Congress the vast body of evidence pointing toward your commission of a variety of criminal offenses.

But, most importantly, you need to understand—you need to fully grasp—that continued adherence to those policies is not politically or legally sustainable over time. In other words, I can fight a temporary, rearguard action. But in the end, it is overwhelmingly likely that most or all of the evidence cited by Mueller will be made public, one way or another. [Explain as necessary.]

And there is something else of vital importance to your own interests: after you leave office—and however you leave office—you can be prosecuted for committing federal crimes, and you surely will be prosecuted. And, even while you are still president, other jurisdictions, such as New York state, are highly likely to prosecute you for crimes within their jurisdiction.

But the good news, Mr. President, is that right now you have significant leverage that I believe you can successfully use to achieve immunity from any and all criminal prosecution, both for you and your immediate family. That political leverage arises out of the fact that vast numbers of politically influential people—Republican as well as Democrat—would like you to leave office, and to leave office expeditiously.

You have the power to give them what they want in exchange for what you and your family urgently need: immunity from prosecution

If you will agree to negotiate toward that end, then, Mr. President I believe I can work out a deal with all relevant parties that will fully protect you and your family from prosecution for any alleged state or federal crimes that have occurred to date.

Mr. President, you may believe that you can avoid impeachment and achieve reelection, and that by 2025, when you leave office, any criminal exposure will have somehow disappeared. Or you may believe that you can pardon yourself or your family out of this situation.

If such is your belief, and if you plan your affairs based on that belief, then, I am sorry to say, Mr. President, that I will need to seriously consider whether to make an exception to current departmental policy, and to publicly disclose all of the evidence Mueller has found.

But if you work with me toward an immunity agreement, then you and your family can keep your freedom. And you can keep your wealth. And you can very likely keep much of your following—and leverage their trust in you for your future economic gain, throughout the remaining years of your life.

It’s your choice, Mr. President.

Have a nice day.