Why today’s indictment is very bad news for Trump and Congressional Republicans

There’s a tendency – obviously from Trump and his lickspittles, but also from usually sensible outlets such as VOX – to claim that today’s indictments are “good news for Trump” because, while they mention that some Americans, including some people on the Trump campaign, were unwitting purveyors of Russian fake news, they doesn’t charge any American with consciously collaborating with the Russian attempt to undermine our election.

This reflects in part an elementary failure of logic: obviously, “Some Americans were duped” does not imply “No American conspired.” And in fact the indictment recites that the three entities and thirteen individuals charged had “known and unknown co-conspirators.” Deputy AG Rosenstein chose his words carefully when he said, twice, that “there is no allegation in this indictment” about collusion, rather than saying that the investigation hadn’t found collusion.

But Matt Yglesias makes a different and possibly more important point, which might be unpacked as follows:

* The indictment charges a series of crimes.
* Presumably Mueller has evidence of those crimes.
* Donald Trump, Devin Nunes, Chuck Grassley, and others have been denying that such crimes had been committed, and doing their utmost to interfere with attempts to investigate them: denouncing the investigation as a “witch hunt;” firing Comey; trying to discredit Mueller, his team, and the FBI agents working with him; demanding criminal prosecution of Christopher Steele for blowing the whistle.
* Mitch McConnell used threats to prevent Obama from exposing the crimes while they were being committed.
* Insofar as it can be shown that any of those folks were aware of the truth, and of the import of their actions, they can be charged with obstruction of justice, even if the actual criminals can’t be extradited and therefore never face trial.

We’re much closer to the beginning of this investigation than to its end. Fasten your seat belts; it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

 

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

18 thoughts on “Why today’s indictment is very bad news for Trump and Congressional Republicans”

  1. Apropros of both your remarks and Michael O'Hare's comments on the use of the word "treason": The use of the descriptor "UnAmerican" is, perhaps, a better word choice. It gets us out of the trap of being involved in a somewhat academic debate of whether the use of the word "treason" is appropriate, yet is sufficiently both accurate and damning.

    1. The problem with "unAmerican" is its hypocritical use. It is used to refer to conduct that fails to comport with supposed American ideals, not to conduct in which we actually engage. When reacting to bad conduct, politicians say "that's not who we are," when in fact it is precisely who we are. As Rap Brown said, "Violence is as American as cherry pie." We are a nation that claimed that "all men are created equal" and entitled to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," yet we were founded on slavery and genocide. They are therefore not "unAmerican." The Electoral College and the Senate and gerrymandering and voting restrictions on minorities belie the claim that we are a democracy, and they are not "unAmerican." Our Constitution prescribes due process of law, and we are holding men in prison at Guantanamo without trial for 17 years, and that is not "unAmerican." Throughout our history we have invaded other nations and killed their nonwhite people–that is not "unAmerican."

      1. UnAmerican won't do for a couple of reasons. First, the term itself is hopelessly tarnished by its use to slander quite patriotic Americans (yes, along with some Stalinist pro-Soviet US communists) in the McCarthy era. More important, it's inaccurate: the French are unAmerican and so are the Canadians, but that doesn't mean they want Americans to be poisoned by coal power plant smoke, or to suffer more droughts and hurricanes, or have their food stamps replaced with a box of canned goods, or not trust their elections.
        What Trump is is anti-American (along with being anti lots of other people). His agenda is harmful to Americans generally, and to the distinctive and most valuable American institutions. The only thing about America Trump likes are anomalies, our worst qualities: the ease with which wealth can flow from the poor and weak to the rich, and the willingness of so many of us to be duped into racial hate and fear.

  2. Are your judgments being clouded by your eagerness to see Trump taken down a peg? News story quote " By September 2016, defendants had a monthly budget of $1,250,000, the indictment says. They used Social Security numbers and birthdates of U.S. citizens without their consent to set up PayPal accounts that they used to buy ads on social media sites. In addition to disparaging Clinton, they denigrated other candidates, "such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio," and they supported Bernie Sanders and then Donald Trump. In the latter half of 2016, they used groups to discourage minorities from voting in the 2016 presidential election. "
    This kind of stuff moves the narrative away from 'Trump helped by Rooskies' to 'Rooskies are trying to throw sand in the gears of our society' – which happens to be the way I see it, mostly.

    1. The whole point was surely to stop Clinton. Putin saw her as more hardline than Obama and a real threat to Russian ambitions of restoring its regional hegemony.

      1. To stop Clinton? I think Putin is more than anything like the hound which has been chasing THAT GOD DAMNED BUICK FROM DOWN THE STREET for years and finally catches it – bewildered. My own guess is that his ambitions were more in the line of damaging her and rendering her ineffective after her perceived to be inevitable win. That fits with the backing for Sanders as well as Trump. After her remarkably feckless campaign succeeded in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory neither he nor anyone else (and that emphatically includes the Orange Crusher himself) knew quite what to do.
        Exacerbating divisions, encouraging people to do stupid and fratricidal stuff – this is the Russian enterprise. That it put Trump into the White house is just a bonus. To the extent that people believe as I do, it moves Trump out of the category of colluder with the enemy and instead into the long available category of useful idiot. Which is, Mark K. to the contrary, a good thing for Trump, I think

        1. An attractive theory. It is reminiscent of the high point of the machinations of the Tsarist Okhrana, the fabrication of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Assuming Norman Cohn is right, this was initially just a move in obscure machinations in St. Petersburg involving the credulous Tsaritsa, Count Witte, and Rasputin. Tragically, the work of the forgers was far too good, largely because parts of it were lifted from a first-rate liberal satire against Napoleon III, and these parts made the book seem intelligent if you didn't notice the cracks. It got into circulation among far-right groups in Russia, Germany and elsewhere, including those that coalesced into the NSDAP, and fed their eliminationist antisemitism.

          Trump is committing treason as we speak, by not using the power of his office to make sure the Russian interference with the 2016 election is not repeated in 2018. He is thereby enabling a repeat. A useful idiot would at least be putting on a show of concern.

          1. And, like Canute's success at ordering back the tides, by telling the Rooskies to stop he will cause them to stop? You have greater admiration than I for the power of the Presidency!

          2. You're probably right. He's only got

            (1) America's secret services
            (2) status as manager of the world financial system, hence setting rules for banks worldwide
            (3) the backing of the entire West's secret services, who all realize (and many of whom stepped-up when we were falling down) the existential threat that Vladi poses
            (4) Putin&his oligarchs' existential need to exfiltrate their wealth to where their successors can't grab it (capital flight to "safe" jurisdictions)

            No, there's nothing a President who wanted to preserve and work with the Western Alliance could -do-, short of war. Nothing. Heck, that Magnitsky Act, it didn't even *bother* Putin.

          3. In fairness, Trump doesn't know the government can do any of the stuff you're talking about. He's new at the job, and unconventional. Running the government is for chumps, and Trump is not a chump.

          4. With respect, I think you're being too kind to him. When it matters, he knows what's what. Look at his depositions — he told the truth, b/c he knew better than to be caught committing perjury on video. He knew to rescind the DACA executive order. He knew he could just fail to implement the new Russia sanctions. He (and SOS Exxon) knows to keep American personnel out of critical meetings with foreign powers, so there's no record. So that when he leaks Israeli crown jewels, there's no record.

            Remember Vicente Gigante? Wandered around NYC's Village in a bathrobe, pretending insanity? Turned out, he wasn't. Li'l Donnie's been mobbed-up for decades — probably my entire adult life. He may be thick in many ways, but he knows the levers of power.

          5. I don't disagree, except to push back a little against your last sentence. Donnie is thick in many ways, but he's surprisingly skilled in self-preservation. He is astonishingly unskilled in running the government, and astoundingly unconcerned about preserving the US. His gargantuan rear end may yet wind up in a sling, but it won't be for lack of trying.

          6. Oho! Nicely done! I feel like we're standing around the dying body of a massive beast of prey that got its head caught in some awful trap.

            You're 100% right — I went too far. Lemme try again:

            He may be thick in many ways, and surely he's made colossal fuckups repeatedly (who goes bankrupt running a casino?) but *in other contexts* he's also demonstrated skill at self-preservation and routing his adversaries. His most self-destructive flaw in this instance appears to be his inability to understand that the context is different, and that what's required for self-preservation is different this time.

            But then, if he'd had that skill, he'd never have run for President, and would never have hired competent crooks to run his campaign.

            How's that?

          7. So that's why Trump refused to implement the sanctions mandated by Congress. This will come in handy when Trump starts issuing pardons — "how exactly is punishing these guys going to undo what they did?"

        2. The fact that someone else had an independent motive for their actions has never been a good defense in a criminal conspiracy case.

      2. Putin had reason to hate all things Clinton. President Bill was the one who expanded NATO with the help of Madeleine Albright. George F. Kennan, then in his nineties but still in possession of his marbles, warned that this was an enormous strategic mistake which would empower the forces of Great Russian nationalism, due in part to Russia's geographic vulnerability to invasion from the west and to historical memories related to same.

        I have not heard any of the talking heads discussing this as a factor in Russian meddling, and I am not able to judge its relevance, but if it is irrelevant, I would like to hear an informed pundit dismiss it and explain why it is a non-factor in the current situation. Was Kennan being prescient?

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