Friday, June 09, 2017

Cruising the Web

Just as with his statement, Comey's testimony yesterday had something for everyone. Comey just talked about he felt about Trump's hope that the FBI could wrap up the investigation. That's not obstruction of justice, but it is certainly inappropriate. It's not good when the best defense being put forth by Paul Ryan is that Trump is new to government and didn't understand how things worked between the FBI and the presidency. The "Hey, the President is just ignorant" defense isn't all that confidence-building, though it actually seems quite probable that Trump had no idea that what he was saying was inappropriate and figured that he could talk to Comey just as he would have talked to one of his employees in his business. One of the problems with electing a businessman with no government experience is that he has a lot to learn about the differences between heading the government and heading a business.

Comey testified that Trump lied about why he had fired Comey. It's not edifying to have the President of the United States called a liar by his former FBI director, but does anyone really think that Trump doesn't lie? He repeatedly lied during the campaign about things that he'd said on camera. No one really bought that Trump fired Comey back in May because of the excuse given about Comey's handling of the Clinton investigation matter. His defenders might claim that Trump is not a liar, but few other people would doubt it. As Kevin Williamson writes about the statement that Trump might be a liar,
Question: Does anybody believe Donald Trump to be a man of unimpeachable honesty? One of the problems with having Trump as president is he makes it difficult to extend to him the benefit of the doubt.
Though from what Comey said, it seems that the real reason that Trump fired him was his annoyance at Comey refusing to publicly announce that Trump wasn't the target of an FBI investigation, not because of the Flynn investigation.

It's rather funny how the parties have switched positions on whether a president can be impeached for something that wouldn't be indictable as a crime. I well remember Democrats arguing that Clinton trying to get a good job for Monica Lewinsky after she was subpoenaed by Paula Jones' lawyer and to influence her testimony wasn't really obstruction of justice and didn't rise to the level of impeachment.

Now that Comey has said publicly that Trump was never under FBI investigation contrary to what had been widely reported, some liberals and Democrats are pretending that they had never actually said that Trump was under FBI investigation. Unfortunately for them, their words haven't disappeared from the internet and Dan McLaughlin has compiled a lot of links of people claiming that exact thing.

Roll Call has broken down the questions that the senators asked Comey by party and subject. It's actually more even on some of the key matters than I might have predicted.
As Jonah Goldberg wrote,
I thought the hearings were considerably better than the typical fare. Yes, they were partisan, but nowhere near as bad as the near show-trial nonsense we’ve seen in the recent past (particularly from the House). My memory of the various Fast and Furious, IRS, and Benghazi hearings is a bit of a mish-mash, but the bad taste they left is still worse, years later, than what I’m experiencing today.

And that, in a sense, is damning. During many of the Obama-era hearings, the questioning was often infuriating. The Democrats would salute the heroism and valor of IRS hacks and other miscreants while asking how they persevere during these witch-hunts. Of course, they’d throw in the occasional query about whether President Obama could create a boulder so heavy that even he couldn’t lift it. Meanwhile, the Republicans tended to make interminable speeches about their outrage but forget to hold a line of questioning long enough to make a difference. In today’s hearing, several of the Republican senators did a very fine job asking probing questions that poked holes in Comey’s testimony. It leaves me wondering, “Where were these guys during the Obama years?”

In the broad scheme of things, I think Comey’s account still holds water. Of course, Trump’s lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, doesn’t agree. But Kasowitz effort to insinuate that Comey’s testimony is simultaneously full of lies but also utterly vindicating simply cannot withstand two seconds of logical contemplation. And I agree with Kevin, that if you think there’s more reason to believe Comey is a liar than Trump, you may want to cut back on the Kool-Aid.

At least someone got Trump to stay off of Twitter during the hearing. Long may the silence continue.

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Even though Trump, unsurprisingly, didn't come out looking good after Comey's testimony, the former FBI director doesn't look all that great either. Kimberley Strassel summarizes,
Mostly he pronounced on what is—and is not—proper in any given situation: when handling investigations, interacting with the president, or releasing information. By the end, something had become clear. Mr. Comey was not merely a player in the past year’s palaver. He was the player.

It was Mr. Comey who botched the investigation of Mrs. Clinton by appropriating the authority to exonerate and excoriate her publicly in an inappropriate press event, and then by reopening the probe right before the election. This gave Mrs. Clinton’s supporters a reason to claim they’d been robbed, which in turn stoked the “resistance” that has overrun U.S. politics.

We now know it didn’t have to be this way. Mr. Comey explained that he had lost faith in then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s ability to handle the affair, in part because she had directed him to describe the probe in public as a “matter” rather than an “investigation.” That one of President Obama’s political appointees outright directed the head of the FBI to play down an investigation is far more scandalous than any accusation aired about Mr. Trump. Mr. Comey said it gave him a “queasy” feeling. But did he call on Ms. Lynch to recuse herself? Did he demand a special counsel? No. Mr. Comey instead complied with the request. Then he judged that the only proper way to clean up the mess was to flout all the normal FBI protocols. Vive la resistance.

It was Mr. Comey who launched an investigation into Russian meddling last July and expanded it to look for possible collusion with the Trump campaign. That may well have been warranted. Yet before the election his FBI had leaked this to the press, casting an aura of illegitimacy on a new president and feeding conspiracy theories based on, in Mr. Comey’s words, “nonsense” reporting.

Mr. Comey could have spared us this by simply stating, as he acknowledged Thursday, that Mr. Trump wasn’t under investigation. One could argue he had a duty to explain, given that he’d taken the unusual step of confirming the probe, and given the leaks from his FBI and the flood of fake news that resulted. But no. James Comey judged that (in this case, at least) it would be improper to speak out. So we’ve had all Russia all the time.

Moreover, it was Mr. Comey who had the discussions with President Trump that he now describes as compromising. On Thursday he claimed to have felt that Mr. Trump was directing him to end the Flynn investigation, even as he simultaneously admitted that Mr. Trump’s words (“I hope”) expressed no such order. He said he had been deeply uncomfortable that Mr. Trump wasn’t following protocol for dealing with an FBI director.

If Mr. Comey truly had believed the president was interfering, he had a duty to report it or to resign. Instead he maintained Thursday it wasn’t his role to pronounce whether Mr. Trump had obstructed justice. Really? This may count as the only time Mr. Comey suddenly didn’t have an opinion on whether to render justice or to take things into his own hands.

And why did he agree to dinner with Mr. Trump in the first place? Why keep accepting the president’s phone calls? Asked whether he, in those early meetings, ever told the president how things ought to go, he said no. Mr. Comey did nothing to establish a relationship he felt was correct.

Instead, he kept secret memos, something he’d never done before. He wrote them in an unclassified manner, the better to make them public later. He allowed Mr. Trump to continue, while building up this dossier.

Besides Loretta Lynn and Trump, another lower in Comey's hearing is the media, particularly the New York Times whose story that the Trump campaign had had contacts with Russians was "not true." At the time, after the administration had denied the story, the Times had stuck by their explosive story. The Washington Post writes,
Attacks from folks such as Priebus prompted New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet to issue this defense: “The Times had numerous sources confirming this story. Attacking it does not make it less true.”

Things have changed. Before, White House officials — a crew known to blast the media for often specious and baseless reasons — were blasting the story. Now a straight-shooting former FBI director is blasting the story. In addition, Comey confirmed Risch’s contentions that the former FBI director responded to the New York Times story by checking with his intelligence sources and informing lawmakers that it wasn’t accurate....

Yes, Russia interfered. Yes, Mr. Trump damages himself with reckless words and tweets. Yes, the Hillary situation was tricky. Yet you have to ask: How remarkably different would the world look had Mr. Comey chosen to retire in, say, 2015 to focus on his golf game?

Meanwhile, elsewhere on Capitol Hill, there was this testimony.
The Obama administration "systematically disbanded" law enforcement investigative units across the federal government focused on disrupting Iranian, Syrian, and Venezuelan terrorism financing networks out of concern the work could cause friction with Iranian officials and scuttle the nuclear deal with Iran, according to a former U.S. official who spent decades dismantling terrorist financial networks.

David Asher, who previously served as an adviser to Gen. John Allen at the Defense and State Departments, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee Thursday that top officials across several key law enforcement and intelligence agencies in the Obama administration "systematically disbanded" law enforcement activities targeting the terrorism financing operations of Iran, Hezbollah, and Venezuela in the lead-up to and during the nuclear negotiations with Tehran.
In the scope of things, this seems much more important testimony, but of course, no one will hear about it. No one in Washington was leaving work to go to a bar and watch testimony of how the Obama administration dismantled key investigations into terrorism financing because they were so desperate for a deal with Iran.

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Here is a funny story about how PETA tried to make a video looking like a cat was being abused go viral, but the effort actually just backfired on PETA.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals were intending to anonymously release this disturbing video on YouTube this week, to draw attention to animal cruelty. But there’s a problem: The video was faked. The cat is CGI. And a PR company working on PETA’s behalf asked a media organization to help them make the video go viral — without revealing that Rufus wasn’t real.

Last week, a Mashable reporter received a pitch from Press Kitchen, a PR company, asking the publication to write about the video and not explain its origins — even as the pitch acknowledged the video would be “planted on YouTube anonymously by the ad agency who created it for PETA.” In other words, the company wanted Mashable to play along with PETA and pretend as if they were unaware of who made the video or why.
So they wanted to gin up outrage about CGI cat abuse and then later reveal that it was a stunt which would somehow raise more concern animal rights. Because people care more about fake animal abuse than actual abuse or something. Just remember PETA wanted to use #FakeNews.