Joe Conason On MSNBC's 'Morning Joe' [Video]
February 14 | 2012
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The two most common themes of MAGA sorehead emails I received last year were the inevitability of an anti-Biden landslide in 2022, and the certainty of Hillary Clinton’s prosecution by “independent counsel” John Durham supposedly for falsifying evidence against Donald Trump during the “Russia, Russia, Russia hoax,” as Trump styles it.
Almost needless to say, neither happened. What has taken place instead is the total collapse of Durham’s ballyhooed probe along with his reputation for probity and competence. Along with that of former Attorney General Bill Barr, who comes off looking like…
Well, have these two jokers never heard of Kenneth Starr, another would-be Republican Torquemada, 15th century mastermind of the Spanish Inquisition? For a time, Starr managed to preserve the appearance of probity among his adoring fans among the Beltway media.
How many times did we see the soft-handed house-husband dutifully taking out the trash on TV and assuring reporters “our job is to do our job”?
Until, that is, the public reaction to his prurient, porn-accented report on the dalliance between Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. (Written by Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.) This unfortunate document sent the eminent Judge Starr off to Baylor University, where as college president he took to wearing cheerleader costumes and helping cover up sexual assaults by football players, resulting in his firing.
Lawyers who work for Donald Trump, of course, are rarely paid and often end up facing disbarment—Michael Cohen, Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman, Sidney Powell, etc. William Barr, a veteran GOP operative, should have known better.
But then he and his running buddy Durham are True Believers, seemingly falling into the most seductive of traps: believing their own bullshit, to use one of Barr’s favorite words. This has long been Barr’s calling card; he’s the kind of idealogue who’s often in error, never in doubt. A blowhard who makes a great show of his Catholic piety.
Durham’s motives appear similar. A recent detailed New York Times expose depicts the pair as making a mockery of the “independent” part of “independent counsel,” drinking and dining together regularly, and jointly embarking to Europe on a futile quest to prove an imaginary “Deep State” conspiracy against Trump.
Instead, Italian authorities presented them with evidence of financial crimes by Trump himself, prompting a criminal investigation that should never have been entrusted to Durham. The Times and other news outlets erroneously reported that Durham’s review of the Trump-Russia probe had morphed into a criminal investigation. Fox News flogged it like the Second Coming. Neither Barr nor Durham did anything to correct the record. Hence the excitement among my MAGA correspondents.
What the Italian allegations consisted of or what Durham’s investigation concluded remains unknown. How current Attorney General Merrick Garland can allow Durham to persist in his role, given the revelations in the Times’s voluminous article is similarly mysterious.
Former Attorney General Barr, of course, has cunningly attempted to salvage his own reputation by turning against Trump—dismissing his claims of election fraud as “bullshit” and telling the January 6 committee and pretty much anybody who will listen about the former president’s intellectual, temperamental and moral unfitness for office. Geez, you think?
Would it surprise you to learn that Trump’s domineering Attorney General has never prosecuted a court case? Durham has, but appears to have succumbed entirely to partisan zeal.
After Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz issued a report concluding that FBI investigators had properly opened an probe of the Trump campaign after an Australian diplomat tipped them that a Trump aide revealed advance knowledge that Russian spies had Hillary Clinton’s emails, Barr and Durham did all they could to debunk it.
“But as Mr. Durham’s inquiry proceeded,” The Times reports “he never presented any evidence contradicting Mr. Horowitz’s factual findings about the basis on which F.B.I. officials opened the investigation.” Then, after independent counsel Robert Mueller’s report revealed “numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign and detailed both how hard Moscow worked to elect Trump, and how eagerly wanted their help,” Barr composed a weasel-worded summary that distracted public attention.
Robert Mueller didn’t indict Trump but he convicted both his campaign manager Paul Manafort, who owed millions to close Putin ally Oleg Deripaska, and also his dirty tricks chieftain Roger Stone.
John Durham convicted nobody. Over the resignations of career prosecutors who objected to his bullying methods, he charged two Democratic operatives for allegedly lying to the FBI. “The two cases,” Josh Marshall writes “were mainly vehicles for airing tendentious conspiracy theories he couldn’t prove and had no real evidence for. The actual cases were laughed out of court with speedy acquittals.”
So now we have the GOP House’s so-called “weaponization” committee which will put on a great show of trying to prove what Durham and Barr could not about the mythical “Deep State.”
Look for it to blow up in Republican faces.
For more of my coverage of the Ukraine war, as well as my coverage of the Republican war on our democracy, please buy a subscription.
A “western official” said at a briefing in London that casualties in Russia’s war of aggression on Ukraine have reached the 200,000 mark, “with a similar number killed and wounded on either side,” according to a report in The Guardian. There is an argument by experts that Russia’s losses are greater than Ukraine’s because more of their soldiers have been killed in the war. No matter how you look at it, however, it is a bloody, deadly war for the soldiers out there in the wintry cold in the trenches.
As the war has settled into a so-called war of attrition, many soldiers on both sides are being killed by artillery strikes. It’s hard to imagine the terror on that battlefield. 155 mm howitzers can fire accurately (or inaccurately, as the case may be) from 15 miles behind the front lines. That means the Ukrainian soldiers defending towns like Bakhmut and trying to retake Donetsk never hear Russian cannons when they go off. The standard American M107 projectile and its Russian equivalent weigh about 95 pounds, and its passage through the air is audible as a high-pitched whistle. The American M107 is designed to produce as many as 2,000 separate fragments when it explodes. It is likely the Russian 155 projectile is just as deadly, so the terror among soldiers when one of these monsters whistles overhead is unknowable. Unless the artillery strike ends up in the middle of a field, as I showed in a satellite image a couple of weeks ago, the sound a shell makes as it flies through the air means someone is going to die.
The big story last week was that the U.S. was giving serious consideration to sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, but President Biden shot down that prospect yesterday when he answered a question about the F-16’s with a single word: “No.” It is not known how or why U.S. officials came to that decision, but it may have been because reports in the media held that such a move would be an “escalation” in the war.
That is total bullshit. Since the war began, Russia’s air force has flown combat missions over Ukrainian airspace using their missiles to hit targets in population centers such as Kharkiv, as well as to strike Ukrainian military targets on the ground. In fact, every time the U.S. has stepped up its shipments of weapons to Ukraine, Russia has called it an escalation. They did it when we first supplied Ukraine with our HIMARS mobile missile launchers which are able to place accurate fire on targets miles beyond the reach of 155 mm howitzers.
Russia called it an escalation when we supplied Ukraine with ground-based Avenger radar-controlled anti-aircraft missiles. Russia called it an escalation when it was announced that the U.S. would provide Ukraine with its longer-range Patriot guided anti-missile batteries. Now that Germany will send 14 of its Leopard II tanks and the U.S. will supply Ukraine with 31 Abrams M1 tanks, Russia has charged once again that it marks an escalation in the war. Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of Russia’s Security Council chaired by Putin, said last month that NATO and American supplies of sophisticated weapons systems to Ukraine could “trigger” a nuclear response by Russia. “Western powers are pushing the world to a global war,” Medvedev bellowed, apparently in response to criticism by Russian hard-liner Viktor Alksnis that a Russian defeat by Ukraine would lead to Russia’s “shameful capitulation and its subsequent breakup.”
In case Medvedev and Alksnis hadn’t noticed, Russian T-72 tanks rolled across the Belarussian and Russian borders last February 24, accompanied by every kind of armored personnel carrier in their arsenal. Russia deployed its SA-6 surface to air mobile missile systems against Ukraine’s small air force. Russia deployed its BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launchers on day one. In fact, many of the fragments of rockets shown in the photograph above are from Russian Grad rockets that failed to explode in a December rocket attack on Kharkiv. How is anything an escalation against that?
It's not an escalation to match an aggressor weapon-for-weapon, and so far that is exactly what Ukraine and its western allies have done. Putin and his fellow-bellowers can try to spin it any way they want, but not even using American F-16 fighters would be an escalation in Ukraine’s war to defend itself from the Russian army that has attacked and seized part of Ukrainian territory.
Vladimir Putin knows this. His generals know this. It’s past time for American media to stop echoing Russian propaganda by calling our shipment of increasingly sophisticated and deadly weapons to Ukraine an escalation. When you’re under attack, especially by forces that have been deliberately bombing civilian targets since day one, you fight back with anything you can get your hands on. That’s all Ukraine is doing, and we should help them by sending F-16’s and longer range mobile rocket systems that can strike Russian targets in Crimea. It’s fair and it’s the right thing to do. If Russia doesn’t want its army to face Abrams tanks and HIMARS missiles on the battlefield, and if they don’t want their fighter jets shot down by Patriot missiles, they should pull their forces out of Ukraine and go home.
Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.