Saturday, July 28, 2018

Facts Do Not Matter Where Russia Is Concerned

There is one certain method to send Democrats and the legacy media into major meltdown mode: simply use "Trump" and "Russia" in the same sentence.  The sentence need not even be coherent or logical. The sentence works best if it does not rely on facts, for facts are simply not relevant where Russia is concerned. 

Witness the latest "bombshell scoop" from CNN, where Michael Cohen claimed to have been in the room when Donald Trump and Don, Jr., discussed meeting a Russian national with dirt on Hillary Clinton. Presumably, this now "proves" that Donald Trump is merely a Putin puppet, and all the excoriations heaped upon him by the legacy media are now justified.

What a pity none of that is true.

As has been noted on Gateway Pundit, the lead rebuttal witness against Michael Cohen is--wait for it--Michael Cohen. CNN's recent breathless reporting even makes a passing note of the obvious contradiction:
Cohen privately testified last year to two Congressional committees investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. A source familiar with Cohen's House testimony said he did not testify that Trump had advance knowledge. Cohen's claims weren't mentioned in separate reports issued by Republicans and Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee.
However, Michael Cohen's actual statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee leaves little room for his latest revelation to be true, as he declaimed not only any knowledge of any such improprieties, but also that Donald Trump participated in any improprieties:
Given my own proximity to the President of the United States as a candidate, let me also say that I never saw anything - not a hint of anything - that demonstrated his involvement in Russian interference in our election or any form of Russian collusion.
If we assume, as the legacy media insists we must, that a meeting with a Russian claiming to have opposition research on Hillary Clinton, represents "Russian interference," then either Cohen is lying now, or he perjured himself before the Senate Intelligence Committee. The one and only escape valve that would reconcile his past and current statements is if Don, Jr.'s, now-infamous meeting at Trump Tower is in fact not an instance of Russian meddling--a conclusion which immediately topples the entirety of the Russian collusion narrative. 

Cohen is not the only factual problem faced in perpetuating the current hysteria over Russia.  Even Special Counsel Robert Mueller's latest round of indictments, alleging a dozen Russian intelligence agents hacked the DNC computers and released several embarrassing documents retrieved from those systems, runs afoul of earlier claims and assertions made regarding Russia.

Mueller's indictments specifically allege that the named Russian agents used a hacker known as "Guccifer 2.0" to facilitate leaking the stolen data:
Beginning in or around June 2016, the Conspirators staged and released tens of thousands of the stolen emails and documents. They did so using fictitious online personas, including “DCLeaks” and “Guccifer 2.0.”
However, not only does the original forensic analysis by Crowdstrike identify two different Russian hacking entities--"Cozy Bear" and "Fancy Bear"--thus discounting the claimed involvement of the Guccifer persona, but further analysis of Guccifer-related material by cyber security firm ThreatConnect explicitly discounts Guccifer's involvement.  ThreatConnect's conclusion is that Guccifer is an intentional distraction from the "real" Russian cyberattack:
Although the proof is not conclusive, we assess Guccifer 2.0 most likely is a Russian denial and deception (D&D) effort that has been cast to sow doubt about the prevailing narrative of Russian perfidy. While targeting political campaigns for espionage purposes is not new, the greatest concern would be the use of the Guccifer 2.0 persona to leak documents of questionable integrity and authenticity in an effort to manipulate the outcome of the U.S. presidential election.
Both the Mueller indictments and the Crowdstrike/ThreatConnect analysis are themselves challenged by analyses performed by the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, which makes the case that the "hack" was in fact an inside job: 
Forensic studies of “Russian hacking” into Democratic National Committee computers last year reveal that on July 5, 2017, data was leaked (not hacked) by a person with physical access to DNC computers, and then doctored to incriminate Russia.
As I have observed before, the VIPS memorandum is one of the few analyses which can be independently assessed, as the source materials are made available to public scrutiny--a quality noticeably lacking in the Crowdstrike report and ThreatConnect's complementary analysis.

In almost every regard, the current narrative of Russian electoral interference is contradicted by the 2017 version of that same narrative. Even if we assume that Russian meddling happened (an assumption which must be regarded as problematic, given the VIPS memorandum), we are still confronted with reconciling past and current reporting regarding said meddling. As with Michael Cohen's latest claims, the 2018 narrative can only be true if the 2017 narrative is false. Mueller's indictments of Russian agents can only be sustained if the Crowdstrike analysis of the DNC hack is refuted.

For the rationally-minded, this will not do. Historical facts do not change--the past is always permanently etched in stone. Understanding can only come when all established facts are scrutinized and reconciled--something the legacy media has not even attempted to do. Whatever malfeasance Russia may have done is not revealed by a constantly evolving and incomplete recitation of the underlying facts. A case for impeaching--or defending--President Trump is not advanced by a constantly evolving and incomplete recitation of the underlying facts. Strengthening measures for guaranteeing the integrity of our elections cannot happen when there is a constantly evolving and incomplete recitation of the underlying facts. 

Despite the rantings that pass for reporting among the legacy media, we must look at the facts--all of the facts--without regard to the conclusions they support if we are to come to a full understanding of them. Regardless of the hyperventilations of the legacy media, the facts--and only the facts--matter.

Friday, July 27, 2018

There stands President Trump. What Crime Has ANYONE Found?

Lavrentiy Beria, head of the NKVD under Josef Stalin (The Soviet Union's secret police and precursor to the infamous KGB), is often cited as having said "show me the man and I'll find you the crime."

We should be mindful of these words in regarding the broad authority granted Robert Mueller in his appointment as Special Counsel for the US Department of Justice, charged with investigating possible "collusion" between the campaign staffs of Donald Trump and Russia. We should be mindful for the simple reason that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, at the time of Mueller's appointment, explicitly discounted any presumption that any criminal offense had even taken place:
“In my capacity as acting Attorney General, I determined that it is in the public interest for me to exercise my authority and appoint a Special Counsel to assume responsibility for this matter,” said Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein. “My decision is not a finding that crimes have been committed or that any prosecution is warranted. I have made no such determination. What I have determined is that based upon the unique circumstances, the public interest requires me to place this investigation under the authority of a person who exercises a degree of independence from the normal chain of command.”
Mueller's appointment was never even an assertion that a crime had been committed, much less that President Trump had committed one.  This alone made Mueller's appointment something of a legal oddity, for the federal statute governing the appointments of Special Counsel, 28 CFR § 600.1, specifically references criminal investigations:
The Attorney General, or in cases in which the Attorney General is recused, the Acting Attorney General, will appoint a Special Counsel when he or she determines that criminal investigation of a person or matter is warranted....
Moreover, the investigation must be grounded in a specific crime (or at least the allegation of a crime), as 28 CFR § 600.4(a), requires some specificity as to the subject of investigation:
The jurisdiction of a Special Counsel shall be established by the Attorney General. The Special Counsel will be provided with a specific factual statement of the matter to be investigated....
Former US Attorney Andrew McCarthy highlighted these apparent defects of Mueller's appointment in a 2017 piece for the National Review, and I encourage those wanting a fuller understanding of the legal issues to read it.  I highlight these points merely to underscore the "Beria-esque" nature of Mueller's appointment: He was shown Donald Trump, and challenged to find the crime.

After a year (and an untold number of millions of dollars spent), the question now becomes: "What crime has Mueller found?"  What crime has anyone found? What credible accusation of criminal offense may now be laid at President Trump's feet?

The answer appears to be: none. There is no crime alleged. There is no accusation to be made.

Consider the tangible fruits of the Mueller probe to date:  
  • George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign, pleaded guilty in October 2017 to making false statements to the FBI.
  • Michael Flynn, President Trump's one-time national security advisor, pleaded guilty in December of 2017 to making false statements to the FBI.
  • Rick Gates, business partner and lieutenant to Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, plead guilty in February 2018 to one count of making false statements and one count of "conspiracy against the United States", both charges arising out of political consulting work Manafort and Gates provided to Ukrainian politicians several years ago--work wholly unrelated to either the Trump campaign or the 2016 election cycle as a whole.
  • Richard Pinedo, someone with no known affiliation to either Donald Trump or the Trump campaign, pled guilty to a charge of identity theft, in connection with a series of indictments Mueller announced involving a number of Russian nationals and Russian-based companies.
  • Alex van der Zwann, also with no known affiliation to Donald Trump or the Trump campaign, pled guilty to making false statements to the FBI.
These represent the sum total of prosecutorial "wins" Mueller has obtained as a result of his investigation.  Not one of these guilty pleas even hints at a larger crime or conspiracy having been perpetrated by President Trump or members of his campaign staff.  As regards President Trump, Mueller has failed to even allege any crime.

Mueller's investigation has also resulted in the following criminal indictments:
  • One-time Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was indicted in October of 2017 on a number of charges, including money laundering and making false statements, all in relation to work done long before his involvement with Donald Trump's Presidential campaign.
  • Manafort associate Konstantin Kilimnik, was indicted in June of 2018 with obstruction of justice, purportedly by attempting to tamper with potential witnesses in the Manafort case.
  • In February of 2018, Mueller indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities on charges of conspiring to interfere with “US political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016.” However, it must be noted that, in announcing the indictments, the Department of Justice explicitly excluded any allegation of any American--including Trump campaign operatives--being a willing party to the criminal acts alleged: "There is no allegation in the indictment that any American was a knowing participant in the alleged unlawful activity. There is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election. "
  • In July of 2018, Rod Rosenstein announced indictments of 12 Russian GRU intelligence agents on charges surrounding the alleged hack of the DNC servers in the spring and early summer of 2016.  As with the February indictments, American involvement was specifically discounted: "There is no allegation in the indictment that any American was a knowing participant in the alleged unlawful activity or knew they were communicating with Russian intelligence officers."
27 individuals and three companies indicted, and none of the indictments even hint at a crime committed by Donald Trump or his campaign staffs.  Moreover, in announcing both sets of Russian indictments, the Department of Justice specifically rejected the possibility that the alleged activities influenced the outcome of the election, stating outright that "there is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the vote count or changed the outcome of the 2016 election." Even if every single indictment results in a conviction, not a single one points to any criminal conduct by President Trump or his associates.  A year after Mueller was shown Donald Trump, he has failed to find any crime.

Nor has anyone else managed to find an actual crime.  Outside of the Mueller investigation, the most notable potential source of wrongdoing is the allegation that President Trump had an affair with porn star Stormy Daniels in 2006, and possibly another with Playboy model Karen McDougal. Because of payments made to Daniels and McDougal, arranged by Trump lawyer and "fixer" Michael Cohen, during the fall of 2016, there has been some intimation of campaign finance violations, but even that becomes highly problematic given Cohen's revelation of recorded conversations with Donald Trump discussing such payments.  Even if the allegations themselves are true, adultery is not a crime.

It is disingenuous and facile to say that Donald Trump "may have" committed crimes, either in relation to Russian involvement in the 2016 election or with regards to his supposed mistresses.  Strictly as an hypothetical, that is always true, not just of Donald Trump but of anyone.  However, crime is not an hypothetical.  Crime is factual. Accusations of crime require there be a date, a place, a time, and a law that has been broken. Accusations of crime require there be facts.  So far, there have been no facts that even identify a crime that Donald Trump could plausibly have committed.

Lawyer after lawyer has been shown Donald Trump, and lawyer after lawyer has failed to find a crime. Maybe there is a crime lurking just out of sight, and maybe it will be soon brought to light.  Maybe.

For now, the reality is there are no crimes that can be alleged against Donald Trump.





Saturday, July 21, 2018

Facebook Fact Checkers -- Just More Fake News

Apparently, I am now part of the "alt-right"/"alt-media" cadre.  Facebook has decreed the page I have to help publicize this blog as contributing to the spread of "fake news.":

First, some background.  I maintain a Facebook page of the same title as this blog, "A Voice Of Liberty", and in addition to using it to promote my various postings and pages here, I also post links to news stories that I consider to be interesting and relevant to the political discourse at large. I also share a substantial number of these postings to various Facebook groups.

On July 17, 2018, I posted an article from TruePundit which highlighted an alleged assertion by Lisa Page that Chinese hackers penetrated Hillary Clinton's email server:

The embattled Page tossed James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok and Bill Priestap among others under the Congressional bus, alleging the upper echelon of the FBI concealed intelligence confirming Chinese state-backed ‘assets’ had illegally acquired former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 30,000+ “missing” emails, federal sources said.
As I have done countless times, I shared this article among several Facebook groups. Yesterday, on July 20, 2018, I received the notification in the graphic above, that Factcheck.org reviewed the TruePundit article and labeled it "false".

Unfortunately for Factcheck.org, what's "false" is its review and rating--that is provably false.

Factcheck's "rebuttal" is in reality a rather ham-handed red herring argument, centering on an assertion by Lisa Page's lawyer, Amy Jeffress:
“These stories are completely false,” Amy Jeffress said in a statement provided to FactCheck.org. “In nearly ten hours of testimony before the Committees, Lisa did not say a single word about China hacking the DNC server, and this conspiracy theory about the FBI instructing her to cover up such a story is nonsense. Her testimony was consistent with the intelligence community’s unanimous assessment: the evidence demonstrated Russian interference in the election.
Except the TruePundit article did not mention the DNC server, but Hillary Clinton's email server. Factcheck.org even quotes TruePundit and explicitly mentions that Lisa Page's assertion was in regard to Hillary Clinton's server, and not the DNC server, yet focuses on the alleged hack of the DNC server. The quoted statement from Lisa Page's attorney, Amy Jeffress, makes no mention of the Hillary Clinton server; it has no bearing on the TruePundit article.

Factcheck.org is disputing a claim TruePundit did not make. Factcheck.org is thus itself demonstrably guilty of producing "fake news". Facebook is guilty of disseminating "fake news" by attaching Factcheck.org's red-herring rebuttal to my sharing of the TruePundit article.

Additionally, the possibility--even probability--of China having hacked Hillary Clinton's email server has been reported upon by the legacy media, including the New York Times and Politico. The Washington Times reported in 2016 on indications that at least the US Secret Service was aware that Hillary Clinton's email server had been hacked.

The "revelation" in the TruePundit article is not Lisa Page's claim that China hacked Hillary Clinton's email server--which has been rather widely reported in the past--but that the FBI knew this and chose to cover it up. Even that assertion is not without some historical precedent thanks to the aforementioned Washington Times report.

Factcheck.org is demonstrably guilty of producing fake news. Facebook is guilty of disseminating fake news.

The facts prove it. The links prove it.

A few disclaimers and disclosures in the interests of transparency:
  • I have no affiliation with TruePundit. I read their content from time to time, and share links to their content when I find it interesting and relevant to the larger political discourse in this country. The only way I can vet their content is by comparing it to other content from other sources--which is what all well-informed citizens should strive to do.
  • I have no affiliation nor conflict with Factcheck.org. 
  • I have no affiliation with Facebook other than I maintain a Facebook page.
  • TruePundit's article may prove to be inaccurate or completely wrong. Until Lisa Page's congressional testimony is made public--or, preferably, that she give actual testimony in an open forum without redactions--we cannot know absolutely the accuracy of the article. However, this is the case with all news articles, and it is only when we have access to primary sources that we may plausibly hope to actually fact check any news article.  Skepticism and a focus on the facts are virtues to be cultivated, particularly in regards to political reporting.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Trump-Russia: Are There ANY Facts Out There?

The American political establishment has lost what little sanity it possessed.

After President Trump failed to publicly excoriate Russian President Vladimir Putin for the alleged meddling by Russia in the 2016 election, pundits on both the right and the left went into epic meltdown mode. Words like "treason" and "surrender" were thrown around with total abandon.

To add insult to injury, much of the media hyperbole was based on a complete misrepresentation of what Donald Trump actually said. While he did not accuse Putin outright of election meddling, neither did he exonerate him.  As Tom Trinko cogently observed afterwards:
Trump never said the Russians didn't meddle – only that he discussed the issue with Putin and Putin denied it.  Putin appears to be ready to back his claim up by providing Robert Mueller access to the 12 supposed hackers.
Putin could be lying, but nothing Trump said boils down to "the Russians didn't meddle."  Rather, Trump was being diplomatic and didn't directly call Putin a liar.
All of this brings to the fore a simple yet rarely asked question: "What are the facts?"  What is the actual empirical data that is actually known about Russia's presumed interventions in the 2016 elections?

Is there any such data?  Frighteningly, the answer may very well be "no":
  • As I wrote when the Intelligence Community Assessment was first published in January of 2017, the report itself is contradictory and problematic, and fundamentally fact free.  It was and is an opinion piece, and nothing more.
  • In September of 2017, Facebook came forward to announce that a Russian entity, the Internet Research Agency, had purchased a number of ad pages on the platform. Yet when the ads themselves were disclosed, their political impact seemed uncertain at best, and their impropriety seemed almost nonexistent. As evidence of improper "meddling", the ads are simply laughable.
  • In Mueller's first round of Russian indictments, the cases almost immediately imploded, first when it was revealed one of the companies named did not exist during the time frame covered by the indictments, and then when it was discovered that Mueller's investigators never translated the proffered "evidence"--largely uncorroborated social media posts--from their original Russian.
  • Mueller's second round of Russian indictments appears not to have been much better. In addition to be built essentially around apparently hearsay testimony, some of the particulars in the indictment may very well have been cribbed from other, unrelated investigations.
Weak evidence, false evidence, no evidence--objective scrutiny of Russia's alleged malfeasance is for the moment impossible because there is no publicly available objective data--no factual evidence--to scrutinize.  Two years of investigation and endless hyperbole from hyperventilating pundits and politicians, and we have no facts.

By way of comparison, I submit a memorandum published on Counterpunch by a group called "Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity" (VIPS), suggesting that the alleged hack of the Democratic National Committee's servers might have been an inside job and not an outside hack.  I do not know if their assessment is more or less accurate than the ICA from January of 2017.  I do know the assessment is factually grounded, where the ICA is not.

How is the VIPS memo factually grounded?
  • Links and citations are provided to primary source materials.  We are not obliged to take the VIPS team at their word, but are allowed and even invited to scrutinize the primary source data for ourselves.
  • The primary source data is a forensic study of an archive of DNC material, part of a hack of the DNC network performed on July 5, 2016.  The forensic analysis includes a link to the archive itself.
  • The forensic study provides an explanation of the examinations and computations conducted on the archive, thus providing a clear logical basis for the conclusions reached.
Even if the VIPS memorandum should prove inaccurate, it is still a superior treatment of these issues because it makes repeated reference to objective data that can be independently verified and scrutinized.  Nothing from Mueller's prosecutorial efforts provides this level of comfort.  The ICA does not provide this level of comfort.  We are being asked to take these agencies at their word, while VIPS all but requests independent scrutiny.

Two years of investigation and endless hyperbole from hyperventilating pundits and politicians, and we have no facts. We have no objective data which we may independently verify and analyze. We have only opinion and allegation.  This is the objective reality of the multiple investigations into the alleged malfeasances of Russia.

Absence of proof is not necessarily proof of absence.  We cannot automatically infer from this lack of objective data that Russia is innocent of any wrong doing with regard to the 2016 election.  However, the longer we are faced with an absence of proof, the less likely the claim of Russia malfeasance becomes, and the more likely that the truth of the 2016 election is something far different than the current hysterical and histrionic narratives of the media.