This isn’t about collusion; it’s about illegal and improper things done by and for the Trump side in the 2016 election.

We can start with the Russians

Even before the Robert Mueller indictment of 13 Russian nationals and 3 Russian companies and even before the Director or National Intelligence published his report on Russian meddling in the election, the news was full of stories about Russians trying to influence the 2016 election by supporting Trump, to a lesser degree supporting Bernie Sanders, and disparaging Hillary Clinton. They accomplished this by creating fake social media accounts (with a large staff of Russians creating content and a software army to make it seem like their voice was much bigger). They even organized actual campaign events.

Then the Russians illegally purchased ads on Facebook. US law prevents foreigners to spend money in the US to influence a US election, but the Russians dropped $100,000 on ads.

Of all the Russians did, probably the most effective at influencing the election was poisoning the relationship between Clinton and Sanders supporters by way of hacking Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails and passing them on to WikiLeaks, who leaked them on the eve of the Democratic National Convention. The DNC emails showed that the national committee had favored Clinton over Sanders, a clear violation of policy. Some outraged Sanders supporters could not bring themselves to vote for Clinton and just stayed home or voted for a third party.

Speaking of Facebook

Cambridge Analytica claimed that they had the technology to influence people’s opinions. A wealthy Republican donor paid the company, one whose directors was Trump Campaign chief Steve Bannon, $50 million to do just that; however, Cambridge Analytica lacked the data to feed into their mind-twisting process, so they fraudulently obtained detailed personal information on 50 million Facebook users, and used that data to create manipulate opinion. Facebook’s market capitalization dropped by billions of dollars after the disclosure.

Then there was Comey

How many times have you heard someone from the government say “we cannot comment on an ongoing investigation”? So exactly why did the whole country find out that the FBI had reopened the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server? It came from FBI director James Comey in a letter to Congress just 11 days before the election. It is certainly ironic that Trump fired the one man who perhaps was responsible for winning the election for him.

And the Tweeter in Chief

Donald Trump lied a great deal during the 2016 election campaign. That’s why I added “misconduct” to the title of this story. It’s not illegal for a candidate to lie during an election campaign. Even Clinton occasionally got things wrong. But Trump lied, outrageously lied, frequently lied, gratuitously lied and somehow got elected. Various news organizations maintain long lists of Trump lies. Here’s another list.

Pointing the Finger

I’m not going to say that one of the things in this article caused Trump to win a tight election. I can’t prove that all of them together swayed the decision. What I will say is that the Republican campaign benefitted from illegality and misconduct in a way that the Democrats did not. From what is publicly known, the forces of crime and deceit were on the Republican side. The saying goes, “nice guys finish last.” I don’t think that’s ultimately true, but in the short term it can be and we saw this in 2016.

"Obama Impeachment Hearings Begin" Fake news item

Headline from the Weekly World News

That’s a pretty provocative title for an article. It reflects my bias, and knowing that, it’s not something I would have written before I knew it was true, but it turns out that I was right. A number of studies have been done that show that Trump supporters in particular are more likely to believe fake news than Liberals. I find that particularly ironic, given that Conservatives on the Internet are the ones who bring up the topic of “fake news” most often.

One study was done at Oxford University, analyzing what news stories Conservatives and Liberals shared on Twitter and Facebook. The study found:

The social networks mapped from public Twitter and Facebook data show that the junk political news and information was concentrated among Trump’s supporters.

and

The Trump Support group … contributes more to the spreading of junk news, compared to all other groups put together.

The careful reader will notice that the Oxford study uses the words “junk political news” rather than “fake news.” The study identified “junk news” as news from sources that consistently publish

political news and information that is extremist, sensationalist, conspiratorial, masked commentary, fake news and other forms of junk news…

The study is a very interesting read and the Conservative / Liberal divide is not the only analysis in it. I guess Trump supporters will call it “fake news.” What do they know?

The Tweeter in Chief says 3-5 million fraudulent votes were cast in the 2016 election, and all of them went to Hillary Clinton. Remember? Trump offered no evidence because he didn’t have any. We know this because his very own Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity didn’t report any fraud.

The Commission apparently wanted to go on a fishing expedition, asking all the states for personal information and voting records on everyone who voted in the 2016 election that they would, one presumes, try to match with something else to find out if they were citizens, or perhaps that they voted twice. That data gathering exercise quickly got bogged down in lawsuits because the states in general don’t want the federal government spying on their citizens. The Commission nevertheless did get some data but they never did anything with it.

Trump in an attempt to cast the blame elsewhere blamed Democratic state officials for the demise of his commission, ones like Republican Governor Henry McMaster of South Carolina and Mississippi Republican Secretary of States Hosemann. So rather than wrestling the issue to the ground, whether or not massive voter fraud was happening in the country, Trump ran away, said he didn’t want to spend money defending lawsuits, and blamed the Democrats for not breaking state laws to give the commission data.

So Trump dissolved his own commission, it having made no findings whatever, and whatever data it collected is going to be destroyed.

What an awful president we have. Shameful.

See also: Do Lots of Undocumented Aliens Vote?

Trump’s appointee to an office at the Department of Energy was linked to some pretty nasty things on social media. You can read what he supposedly said, the smears against Obama’s mother and other overtly racist remarks (this is hard core birther stuff), at The Hill. I don’t think that even a Trump supporter, at least not in public, would defend such things. Bradford claims that the comments were not his, but that his Internet identity had been hacked.

The problem with the “hacked defense” is that it is easy to make, but difficult to prove one way or another. Trump regularly lies, and Bradford’s claim could be a convenient lie as well. All he has to do is say it and Trump supporters will believe it. They will see Bradford as a victim. He could be a victim, but I doubt it.

So who is Bradford? He is a “Jewish-American lawyer and scholar of political science,” says the Wikipedia. That sounds pretty solid, but he also called for treason charges against some US legal academics. The Wikipedia goes on to detail how Bradford had lied about his military record.

Bradford apologized for some of his disparaging remarks about Barack Obama (which is an admission that he made them) but he has denied the more offensive comments about Obama posted on the Disqus site. (This writer also posts on Disqus.)

In any case, the charges are very serious, and I strongly urge the Senate not to confirm Bradford unless this issue is fully investigated and resolved in his favor.

UPDATE:

A Democratic senator requested documents from the FBI regarding the Bradford excuse. Bradford has resigned.

Donald Trump gained notoriety in right-wing circles back in 2011 by fanning the embers of the dying birther movement, a group of conspiracy theorists who made up stories that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the US. Trump set off a chain of events that eventually led to Sheriff Joe Arpaio of the Maricopa County Arizona Sheriff’s Office assigning an investigation of Obama’s birth certificate to a totally inept, unqualified and biased volunteer posse, who several times came out with reports saying that the certificate was a fake before their pseudo-expert opinions fell apart under scrutiny.

Arpaio, however, was known for much more than being a birther. His main claim to fame came from acting out the self-proclaimed role of  “America’s toughest sheriff,” something that played out in mistreatment of prisoners, trumped-up charges and arrests of political opponents, and the big one–racial profiling. All in all, Maricopa County paid out several tens of millions of dollars in settlements for wrongful deaths in its jails, false arrest, and racial profiling. The sheriff’s office was placed under a court-appointed monitor. Evidence came to light that Arpaio intentionally disobeyed court orders and that led to his recent conviction for criminal contempt of court.

Now President Trump has pardoned his unrepentant supporter and birther protege. Trump is signaling that any illegality carrying out his agenda by his supporters is now above the law. This is a serious abuse of the presidential pardon, but President Trump has shown almost daily that he has no respect for the office he holds.

The US Supreme Court decided in the last century that the president’s pardon power extends to criminal contempt of court. For a scholarly article article on the topic, see “Contempt and Executive Power to Pardon” by by Paul M. Butler in Notre Dame Law Review (548) 1929.

We can’t be sure why Donald Trump says things that are either outright lies or at least things for which there is no supporting evidence. He may be a crazy conspiracy theorist, or me may say outrageous things to co-opt the news cycle and divert attention from his negatives. Whatever the reason, it weakens America.

Let me remind people some of the outright false or highly questionable statements from Donald Trump (Politifact documented over 100).

  • Muslims in New Jersey cheered the 9/11 attacks
  • There’s something fishy about Barack Obama’s birth certificate, and blamed the stories on Hillary Clinton
  • Global warming is a Chinese hoax to weaken America
  • Barack Obama personally ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower
  • 3-5 million persons illegally voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election

Perhaps the reader is like me and has become habituated to Trump’s nonsense and just files it under “stuff not worth bothering with.” Yesterday I realized just how wrong that is. The instance involves the US missile strike in Syria. This action by the Trump administration may be the only arguably positive thing Trump has done since becoming president. It shows the resolve of the United States regarding the use of chemical weapons, but the international leverage gained by that action is diluted because the Russians have essentially labeled the “Assad chemical attacks” story fake news; they say it was the rebel factions who used the chemical weapons. So who is the world to believe, the Trump administration who regularly puts out fake news, or the Russians who regularly put out fake news?1

Every time the government and its leaders lie, the credibility of the United States suffers, and the world is less likely to believe them when they tell the truth.


1We took a similar hit when George W. Bush used fake evidence (sale of “yellow cake”) to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Most folks were completely shocked when Donald Trump made a major reshuffle of the National Security Council in January, adding his chief political strategist Steve Bannon and dropping the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the National Security advisor. People wondered what President Trump was doing.

Apparently President Trump didn’t know what he was doing, according to a February article in the New York Times: “Report: Trump not fully briefed on exec order that gave Bannon seat at NSC meetings.” Trump didn’t know what he was signing. But it gets worse. Not only didn’t President Trump know what he was signing, no one else did either. The demotion of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the National Security Advisor was not intentional, according to the White House. It was all a mistake because somebody cut and pasted text from a George W. Bush order and left them out.

OK, so why would they wait 2 months to fix a typo? Where’s my picture of the clown car?

As for Steve Bannon’s removal from the Council, the Administration says that his original placement was not a mistake, but rather that Bannon was put on the Council to “de-operationalize” it [what the heck does that mean?], and now that has been completed.

accomplished

“When you are given immunity, that means you probably committed a crime.” Michael Flynn, September 2016 on NBC’s Meet the Press.

“If you’re not guilty of a crime, what do you need immunity for?” Donald Trump, September 27, 2016.

“Mike Flynn should ask for immunity…” Donald Trump, March 31, 2017 – Twitter.

Trump and his surrogates don’t even try for consistency. Their rhetoric is meaningless.

The story comes from Jerome Corsi via the Alex Jones conspiracy theory web site Infowars. The top quote says:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Infowars.com have obtained credible information from law enforcement sources regarding individual records of U.S. citizens under National Security Agency (NSA) electronic surveillance in the years 2004 through 2010 – a database that suggests both Donald J. Trump and Alex Jones were under illegal, unauthorized government monitoring during those years.

What follows is the unpacking of that statement, and why it is not true.

There’s no better place to start with than the phrase “law enforcement sources.” Embattled former sheriff of Maricopa County Arizona, Joe Arpaio, has been under a court order in the Melendres v. Arpaio lawsuit to stop racial profiling Latinos. A man named Dennis Montgomery that one article describes as “The Man Who Conned the Pentagon” (his specialty was turning noise into terrorist messages hidden in Al Jazeera broadcasts. Eventually the government finally figured out that his software didn’t work and terminated the contracts after millions were paid) was indeed a government contractor for the CIA and the Pentagon. A relationship developed between him and Joe Arpaio. Montgomery claimed to have a massive database of data from the NSA program to record telephone call data (not content) through a program that was leaked to the public by Edward Snowden. Arpaio paid Montgomery a considerable sum as a confidential informant (the exact amount isn’t known, but it tops $100,000) for evidence that the judge in the Melendres case was having secret phone conversations with the Justice Department. Montgomery also took $10,000 from Mike Zullo to provide proof that Obama’s birth certificate was a forgery—proof that never materialized.

Arpaio must have known about Montgomery’s dubious past, or was at least suspicious because he hired two former NSA employees to analyze the 50 hard drives full of stuff Montgomery had provided. The NSA analysts, Thomas Drake and Kurt Wiebe who examined the hard drives came to the conclusion that Montgomery’s work product was a “total fraud.” Arpaio himself, on the witness stand trying to explain why he was investigating the judge, admitted that the material from Montgomery was “junk.”

So Joe Arpaio is the “law enforcement”  part of the “source” but more on that later.

The next phrase to unpack is “credible,” which as we have seen according to experts and law enforcement itself was a “total fraud” and “junk.” Maricopa County Detective Brian Mackiewicz said:

There was no sensitive information contained on any of these 50 yard drives. … Much of the information that Dennis Montgomery has alleged that was harvested by the federal government … cannot be sourced for validity based on the information contained in the 50 hard drives. … At this juncture, after a 13 month investigation, Maricopa County Sheriffs office CANNOT validate the credibility of Dennis Montgomery or his work. … It is extremely discouraging to learn most if not all the representations made by Dennis Montgomery to investigators, the State of Arizona, and a Federal Judge have been less than truthful.

When Drake and Wiebe examined the hard drives, the data they found consisted primarily of hours and hours of recorded Al Jazeera broadcasts. Some documents that did appear to list phone calls and durations contained wrong numbers for some of the parties listed, suggesting that the data was faked.  I have never seen any knowledgeable source confirm that Montgomery ever had access to any NSA phone call log data.

Corsi’s article states that “Sheriff Arpaio and Chief Investigator Zullo have identified dozens of entries at various addresses, including both Trump Tower in New York City and Mar-a-Lago in Palm Breach Florida.” Zullo was unpaid volunteer for one of the Sheriff’s Posses. “Chief Investigator” is a fake title. Nothing I have seen in the Melendres testimony suggests that anyone at the Sheriff’s office looked at Montgomery’s alleged database to identify anything, but rather only looked at excerpt reports. The hard drives they had lacked the information as we have seen. Deputy Anglin testified in October 2015 about what he passed on to Arpaio from Montgomery:

…phone logs, again spreadsheets showing a series of calls, phone numbers that originated the calls, phone numbers that received the calls, the length of time, the date and the time that those calls were made. I [Anglin” also provided documents that Montgomery provided to us, that being lists of names of individuals with their addresses, as well as businesses with their addresses.”

The form of some of this information is available from court documents.

There was a 2013 meeting, prior to his relationship with Montgomery, between Arpaio, and Montgomery business associate Tim Blixseth that was recorded  by Mike Zullo, in which Blixseth states regarding the database:

… and I see myself in there. I see people I know, I mean, I see Donald Trump in there a zillion times, and Bloomberg’s in there and ….

But again, the “database” was always in the possession of Montgomery or his associate, not law enforcement. So while the NSA collected phone call data on everybody (making Trump’s inclusion rather unremarkable), there remains serious doubt as to whether Arpaio, Zullo, Montgomery or Corsi have ever had access to it. The following chart was prepared by Montgomery, alleging specific phone conversations:

Again, this is a Montgomery claim, not actual data. Former NSA employee Thomas Drake wrote of this data:

“All he  as done is to provide you with readily available lists of email addresses, names, phone number of both individuals and businesses and a lot of framed up information, data and code BUT NO PROOF OF WHENCE THEY CAME and a whole lot of faked and made up documents and analysis.

So if Jerome Corsi did not get his list of phone numbers and addresses from the only source he mentions, where did he get this sensitive NSA data, the possession of which is probably a crime?Maybe he just made it up, more likely took the word of a con man that it exists. And of course, the NSA telephone mining operation started under President Bush, not Obama.

I am dismayed by the budget proposal from President Trump because it is an attack on what makes America really great. A country is not only great because of a big army, winning wars, and being rich. A country is great when its people are happy and fulfilled. It is great when they are free and informed. It is great when they have a path to a better future.

The Trump budget cuts funds for Public Radio and Television. These produce some of the most balanced and in-depth news reporting we have available to us. NPR and PBS programming bring culture and arts to Americans.

The Trump budget eliminates the AmeriCorps program. I personally work with AmeriCorps volunteers through Habitat for Humanity of Greenville. The provide important assistance, and are growing in leadership skills in construction (2) and family services (1). At least three of the full-time staff at Greenville Habitat are former AmeriCorps volunteers. The AmeriCorps program turns out first class citizens, who also help our communities.

Trump’s budget cuts the National Institute for Health and disease research. How could that ever be good?

Trump’s budget slashes federal funding for the arts and humanities. What country could be great without arts and humanities? Should we turn into boorish louts like our President?

I am dismayed that the right-wing crazies are setting climate policy, and that the United States is unilaterally deciding to put its head in the sand and ignore global warming and sea rise. What is so ironic is that the new green energy industry had tremendous potential to create well-paying jobs and keep the United States in the forefront of technology. The Trump budget decimates the very thing that is and will make America strong and prosperous. The Chinese are racing ahead of is in this area. Germany has set a date after which no gasoline vehicles will be made there. And we’re cutting funding for green energy, and re-examining CAFE standards.

I feel like the Trump budget is a nuclear strike aimed at the Heart of America.