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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}


So here’s the good news: for all their assiduous efforts, President Trump and Attorney General Barr have failed to fully weaponize the U.S. criminal justice system. There’s never going to be a Russian-style show trial of Trump’s 2016 Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. The “vast right-wing conspiracy” scandal-obsessed pundits once lampooned her for describing has once again struck out.

According to the Washington Post, “A Justice Department inquiry launched more than two years ago to mollify conservatives clamoring for more investigations of Hillary Clinton has effectively ended with no tangible results.” Regarding the ballyhooed “Uranium One” and Clinton Foundation probes “[c]urrent and former officials said that (prosecutor John) Huber has largely finished and found nothing worth pursuing.”

Same as it ever was. 

See, in a properly functioning legal system an ambitious prosecutor has far more to lose than to gain by bringing, pardon me, Trumped-up charges against a prominent figure with the wherewithal to defend herself. Even “Whitewater” special counsel Kenneth Starr understood that. Starr spent most of Bill Clinton’s presidency hinting at Hillary’s impending indictment before ultimately releasing a final report conceding that he had nothing either. 

(Much later, of course, the very holy Judge Starr was forced out as president of Baylor University after bungling a probe of sexual assaults by football players.)

But I digress. The headline to Washington Post MVP columnist Jennifer Rubin’s piece reads “Hillary Clinton is the most exonerated politician ever.” And Rubin references only this latest collapsed conspiracy theory and the FBI’s fruitless probe of her e-mail usage. Not Whitewater, her law firm billing records, Benghazi, etc. She even goes so far as to scold her own cohort.

“You would think legitimate media outlets at the very least,” Rubin writes “would self-reflect on their coverage that often treated long-ago disproved accusations as still unsettled.”

That would be the New York Times, although Rubin’s too polite to say so. Also, never mind that Rubin herself spent much of 2016 railing against both Clintons’ propensity to play “fast and loose with rules and norms that inhibit others, always winding up just a smidgen short of illegality.”

That is to say, falsely accused, each successive bogus accusation somehow enabling the next. I’m reminded of the time Pulitzer Prize-winning financial journalist James B. Stewart, flogging his error-filled book on the Clintons’ Arkansas real estate dealings on “Nightline” accused Hillary of submitting a fraudulent loan application. All because he, Stewart, had failed to examine page two of a two-page document.

Also of this immortal 1996 paragraph by Time magazine’s Michael Kramer summarizing the Washington press corps’ Whitewater suspicions with a string of “maybes” here highlighted for your reading convenience.

Whitewater, Kramer wrote “is different—OR COULD BE—because the wrongdoing (IF THERE WAS ANY) MAY HAVE INVOLVED abuses of power while Clinton was serving as Governor of Arkansas…SO EVEN IF the worst WERE PROVED—and NO ONE YET KNOWS what that is—the offense MIGHT NOT WARRANT impeachment.” He concluded by asking why two lawyers like the Clintons possessed no paper trail “proving their innocence.”

Their innocence, that is, of charges Kramer himself couldn’t define. 

Ultimately, of course, they did, if not to universal satisfaction. Back then, I called these kinds of ritualized demands the “Clinton rules.”

But here’s the thing: pretty much the same standards applied to the whole “Uranium One” fixation. Like Whitewater, it also originated in a piece of absurdist journalism published by the mighty New York Times back on April 24, 2016. Read today… Well, the thing is almost impossible to read, which ought to have been a tip off. 

When you can’t make heads or tails of a newspaper article, it’s usually because the authors have no idea what they’re talking about and hope you won’t notice. Here Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was murkily accused of taking a bribe from a Canadian philanthropist who’d long ago sold his interest in a Utah uranium mine of no great value. (U.S. ore production is a tiny fraction of the world market.) A Russian company bought it.

The Times produced no evidence that Hillary played any role in the transaction whatsoever—signed off on by nine separate U.S. government agencies unrelated to the State Department. But the newspaper had made a devil’s bargain with one Peter Schweizer, a Breitbart-affiliated Steve Bannon acolyte with a history of smearing Democrats.

It was one of those deals where all the “mistakes” ran in the selfsame direction. Correct the errors, fill in the blanks, and the presumptive scandal vanishes. Exactly as this latest, and presumably last, Clinton scandal has done. You’d think New York Times editors would learn, although you certainly wouldn’t expect them to admit it.

So is Hillary without fault? Not hardly. Despite her humane intentions, like all politicians she’s about personal ambition and power. And she views most journalists with thinly-veiled contempt that many are only too glad to reciprocate. 

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Reprinted with permission from Alternet

When Fiona Hill, a former National Security Council (NSC) senior director specializing in Russian and European affairs, testified before the House Intelligence Committee on November 21, she stressed that there was zero evidence to support the claim that Ukraine rather than Russia interfered in the United States’ 2016 presidential election. Nonetheless, the CrowdStrike conspiracy theory persists on the far right. And journalist Alex Finley, in a report for Just Security, discusses the extremes that President Donald Trump’s allies have been willing to go to in the hope of discrediting intelligence on Russian election interference in 2016.

The CrowdStrike conspiracy theory claims that in 2016, the cyber-security firm CrowdStrike conspired with Democrats and the Ukrainian government to frame the Russian government for interfering in the presidential election. According to the false claim that the Ukrainian government — not Russian President Vladimir Putin — was the real villain in 2016, Finley notes, “Trump never could have colluded with Russia, because Russia never did anything wrong.” And Finley notes that Attorney General William Barr has been investigating people in the U.S. intelligence community who have been part of the Russia investigation — and appointed federal prosecutor John Dunham to head that investigation.

Finley explains, “Last month, media outlets reported that Barr’s investigation had become a criminal one. Whether true or not, the claim — much like the public attacks from Trump, Republicans and the conservative media ecosystem —  seemed like a clear signal to civil servants — whether in the FBI, the CIA or the NSA — to tread very carefully if they planned to take any actions that came anywhere near the Russia-Trump nexus again.”

Finley adds, however, that Barr’s investigation “was not the first threatening message sent to the intelligence and law enforcement community” about Russia: Trump and his allies have a long history of going after people who investigated Russian interference in the 2016 election.

For example, Finley points out, former FBI Director James Comey and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe were both fired. And Trump, Finley notes, “has repeatedly attacked FBI investigators Peter Stzrok and Lisa Page on Twitter and elsewhere with particularly prurient and unsettling comments.”

Finley observes, “One of Mike Pompeo’s first actions when he became head of the CIA was to interrogate the analysts who had written the report concluding that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election and had aimed to help Trump win. More recently, Barr traveled to both the United Kingdom and Italy to meet with intelligence officials in those countries. While there, he asked those foreign governments about the actions of his compatriot American intelligence officers.”

During the Ukraine investigation and the impeachment inquiry, Finley adds, many of the witnesses have been smeared by Trump and his supporters — including Marie Yovanovitch (former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine) and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman.

“What effect does this have on our national security?,” Finley asks. “If our intelligence community becomes reticent to chase down counterintelligence leads because the president or his associates might be involved or have an interest in how they play out, how vulnerable does the country become? The good news is: these civil servants seem like they won’t be cowed.”