Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Trump prepares for another Saturday Night Massacre ...

… and Fox News and the GOP are just fine with that.

Greg Sargent (Washington Post/Plum Line) delivers this chilling conclusion: Trump and his allies are laying the groundwork for a Saturday Night Massacre. Here’s the full story.

Let’s be clear on what’s happening in our politics right now. President Trump and his media allies are currently creating a vast, multi-tentacled, largely-fictional alternate media reality that casts large swaths of our government as irredeemably corrupt — with the explicitly declared purpose of laying the rationale for Trump to pardon his close associates or shut down the Russia probe, should he deem either necessary.

We often hear that Trump and his allies are trying to “distract” from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s intensifying investigation. That’s true, but this characterization inadequately casts this in terms ordinarily applied to conventional politics. Instead, Trump’s trafficking in this stuff should be seen as another sign of his fundamental unfitness to serve as president. Similar efforts by his media allies should be labeled as a deliberate effort to goad Trump into sliding into full-blown authoritarianism, and to provide the air cover for him if he does do so.

The Associated Press reports that people who have spoken to Trump say that he has recently revisited the idea of trying to remove Mueller, now that Mueller appears to be digging into Trump’s finances. Meanwhile, CNN reports that former Trump strategist Stephen K. Bannon is privately urging Trump to try to get Republicans to defund Mueller’s probe.

Monday night, Sean Hannity delivered perhaps the most perfect expression yet of efforts to create the rationale for such moves. Hannity dismissed the news of major allegations against Trump’s campaign chair Paul Manafort and the cooperation adviser George Papadopoulos as big nothingburgers. He also hit all the high points of the new Trump/media campaign, points that Trump himself and the White House have made repeatedly in public statements. Those include reviving the made-up scandal that Hillary Clinton approved a deal for a Russian nuclear agency to gain access to U.S. uranium extraction rights in exchange for kickbacks, and the absurdly exaggerated claim that the Clinton campaign, having paid through various intermediaries for research that ultimately led to the “Steele Dossier,” actually colluded with Russia to interfere in the election. These have been extensively fact checked and debunked.

In an important new piece, Post fact checker Glenn Kessler blows another big hole in one of this campaign’s key story lines. Kessler notes that multiple Trump media allies are repeating the claim that Clinton gave away “20 percent” of our uranium capacity to Russia. And he shows that, for various technical reasons, this figure is itself absurdly inflated, and the description of this as a Clinton giveaway has no relation to reality.

But the real point of Hannity’s presentation came when he flatly accused Mueller of trying to “change the narrative to distract from the real Russia collusion and massive cover-ups.” Hannity added that Mueller “is clearly complicit in the Uranium One scandal.” This is a reference to the fact that Mueller headed the FBI when the uranium deal happened. Reports that the FBI was investigating a Russian energy official’s efforts to corrupt a U.S. company at the time have led to GOP questions about why the Obama administration green-lighted the deal anyway. But this is also absurd, as Kessler explains, since the deal went through an extensive multi-agency process and no evidence has been presented that this process improperly skirted any FBI probe.

Regardless, Hannity concluded: “We are at a real crisis point in America tonight.” Trump has tweeted in support of many of these allegations. And as Jonathan Chait details, other Trump media allies have explicitly cited these and other similar story-lines (Mueller’s investigators are Dem donors!) in support of the notion that Mueller should resign or that Trump should close down the Russia probe.

We don’t know if Trump will go full authoritarian or not. But as Brian Beutler says, the mere fact that congressional Republicans are not flashing a bright warning sign itself suggests that we cannot count on any procedural response meeting it, if it does come to that. The continued media treatment of efforts to lay the groundwork for such an eventuality as mere efforts to “distract” from Mueller suggests another guardrail is inadequate as well.

Indeed, it’s important to reckon with the scope of what Trump and his allies are alleging. The idea is that Mueller — who was originally appointed to head the FBI by George W. Bush, and who became special counsel because of Trump’s own firing of his FBI director over the Russia probe — originally participated in a hallucinatory conspiracy to cover up Clinton collusion with Russia. Now Mueller is using the current investigation to distract from it. In this alternate universe, all of that is the crisis (Hannity’s word) we face, and the only way to address it is for Trump to close all of it down. Dem strategist Simon Rosenberg is right to point out that Trump’s trafficking in all of this — his endorsement of the idea of preposterous levels of corruption and conspiracy theories unfurling at many levels throughout the government — itself raises questions about Trump’s fitness to serve. We need to confront the insanity and depravity of all this forthrightly, and convey it accurately.

Here are other short stories in that same Tuesday Plum Line.


Regarding the last item above, Sargent concludes “The sheer brazenness of this scheme continues to surprise, as does its acquisitiveness: More than $12 million was spent on personal goods and more than $6 million went to real estate.” He also points us to a NY Times graphical depiction of How a Federal Inquiry Says Paul Manafort Laundered $18 Million, and How He Spent It.

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