Justice Department releases FISA warrant applications on Carter Page

My quick analysis:
400-something pages, mostly redactions, and the rest mostly boilerplate that gets repeated from application to application.
Still, what’s left is interesting. And, naturally, the documents make complete nonsense of the conspiracy theory Devin Nunes and his House Intelligence Committee Republican colleagues have been pushing.
Everything about the Steele Dossier - including Steele’s decision to talk to the press just before the election - was fully revealed to the court, and there was plenty of non-Dossier support for the idea that Page was acting as a Russian agent. Moreover, the extension applications continue to recite that the Bureau believes “Source 1’s” (that is, Steele’s) “reporting herein to be credible.” If the wiretaps conducted under the warrant had in any way disconfirmed Steele’s material, the Bureau could hardly continue to recite that Steele’s reporting was credible.
First application in October 2016, extended January, April, July. (90 days is the limit for a FISA warrant; an extension requires a new application.
Each application is signed by the FBI Director and the Attorney General (or substitute after the Sessions recusal). October and January applications are signed by Sally Yates as AG.
Last two are signed by Boente (April) and Rosenstein (July). Comey signs as FBI Director the first three times; Wray signs in July.
[Footnote: I was close to the parallel process for wiretap applications, requiring sign-off by an Assistant Attorney General. That was taken enormously seriously, the signature was not a rubber stamp. Each application was read in detail by someone on the AAG’s personal staff, and more than one application was sent back or refused outright. Hard to believe FISA applications aren’t taken comparably seriously.]
Presumably much of the redaction is about the product; every extension has to show that the previous 90 days were productive. The Times counted pages: 66 pages  in the original, while the extensions counted 79 pages, 91 pages and 101 pages, suggesting that there was significant product. But that was already clear from the fact that the extensions were requested and granted. Courts frown on continuing to drill dry holes.
Basis of the first application was the FBI belief that Page was “collaborating and conspiring with the Russian Government” and that “the Russian Government’s efforts [to mess with the campaign] were coordinated with Page and perhaps other individuals associated with Candidate 1 [Trump]
Can you say “No collusion”? I was sure that you could.
Update: Leah McElrath points out that this assertion - like the assertion of the reliability of Steele’s reporting - is repeated verbatim in the three extension applications, which it couldn’t be if the wiretaps had failed to confirm it. More detail from Twitter account @PwnAllTheThings.
The application recites that Carter was a knowing intelligence agent, recruited by three named SVR officers acting under Non-Official Cover, one of whom, Buryakov, was arrested in January 2015 and pleaded guilty to a violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) by acting as an unregistered foreign agent in May 2016, getting 30 months.
Page’s mission is said to have been “clandestine intelligence activities (other than intelligence gathering activities).” If that applied to Buryakov, that might explain why he was charged with a FARA violation rather than the more serious charge of espionage.
Comic relief: In February, 2017, Page asks the Voting Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division to investigate whether the Clinton campaign had engaged in “severe election fraud”  involving “disinformation, suppression of dissent, hate crimes, and other extensive abuses” by saying mean things about Page.
Conclusion: The warrant was issued on the basis of the FBI’s belief that Carter Page, a Trump adviser, was knowingly working for the Russians, and that other Trump campaign personnel might be doing the same. It was then extended three times, strongly suggesting that the taps yielded, and continued to yield, valuable counterintelligence. And the terms of those extension applications strongly suggest that the Steele Dossier, and the claim that Page was conspiring with Russia to help Trump, kept looking good.
It gets harder and harder to credit the good faith of anyone who still insists that there is doubt that Russia, as a matter of national policy, interfered with the 2016 election to secure victory for its favored candidate, and that at least one Trump campaign official knowingly helped.

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.


Cross-border election meddling and “whataboutism”

The Russian government intervened, overtly and covertly,  in the 2016 U.S. elections to damage Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump. Whether the primary goal of that activity was actually to elect Trump, or instead merely to weaken Clinton in the event of her expected victory, isn’t really an answerable question.

The obvious things to say about this are:

  1. That was a wicked thing for Putin & Co. to do.
  2. Encouraging that help, accepting it, exploiting it, and subsequently covering it up was and is a wicked thing for Trump & Co. to do. It should mark everyone who engages in it and defends it as profoundly disloyal, and make all of them political pariahs.

The defenders of Putin and Trump make four responses: Continue reading “Cross-border election meddling and “whataboutism””

A long-overdue letter to the editors of the New York Times

I wrote this today in response to an editorial decrying “Two Presidential Candidates Stuck in the Past.”

Thank you so much for continuing the Times’s pattern of false equivalence between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton which did so much to elect the former and besmirch the latter. Trump’s pathological need to tell whoppers at campaign rallies instead of governing is not at all the same as Clinton’s factual answers to a reporter’s questions. There is no doubt that James Comey’s October surprise re-opening of the e-mail investigation damaged her election prospects, nor is there any doubt that Russia interfered on her opponent’s behalf, though direct complicity by the Trump campaign has yet to be proven.

The editors’ instruction to Clinton to stop talking about the election sounds a lot like, “Women should be seen and not heard.” I look forward to your issuing a similarly stern warning to Bernie Sanders, who continues to peddle his fraudulent claim that Clinton “stole” the primaries by defeating him. Until you do, I’d be grateful if you’d stop pretending that Clinton’s telling the truth is somehow the same as Trump’s lying.

No, actually, this thing is not at all like that thing: Trump, Russia, and “McCarthyism”

The astonishing closeness of Donald Trump and his campaign to the current (and increasingly murderous) Russian regime has attracted comment from Democrats (and other patriots). That in turn has attracted counter-comment from some of Trump’s defenders (and their dupes, and random Clinton-haters, plus some stray lefties still feeling the loyalty to the anti-anti-Communist cause even though Russia is now functionally fascist rather than communist) complaining about “McCarthyism.”

The comparison seemed to me so clearly absurd as to be scarcely worth the effort of refutation. But, as it seems to have some legs, here goes: Continue reading “No, actually, this thing is not at all like that thing: Trump, Russia, and “McCarthyism””

The truth about Putinism

No more Gulag, but still doing the goose-step.

h/t Wayne Curtis via Andrew Sullivan

Orwell wrote:

One rapid but fairly sure guide to the social atmosphere of a country is the parade-step of its army. A military parade is really a kind of ritual dance, something like a ballet, expressing a certain philosophy of life. The goose-step, for instance, is one of the most horrible sights in the world, far more terrifying than a dive-bomber. It is simply an affirmation of naked power; contained in it, quite consciously and intentionally, is the vision of a boot crashing down on a face. Its ugliness is part of its essence, for what it is saying is ‘Yes, I am ugly, and you daren’t laugh at me’, like the bully who makes faces at his victim.

An open letter to Xenia Sobchak

Five suggestions for the future to the new starlet of the Russian opposition.

Following my long-shot praise of the Russian playgirl and reformer Xenia Sobchak (surely the better transliteration), I thought I would offer her and the movement of which she is a part some unsolicited advice on what to do next. I’ve emailed it to opposition parties picked with a pin, hoping it will reach her eventually.

Commenters are invited to add their takes.


Dear Ms. Sobchak:

Like many other casual and less casual observers of Russia, I have been struck by your surprising emergence as a prominent activist in the protest movement against ballot-rigging in Russia and more generally the corrupt authoritarianism of the Putin government. I have written about you favourably on the current affairs group blog to which I contribute, The Reality-Based Community. This letter is an open one and will be posted on the same blog. The comments there from our regular readers will I’m sure be worth your time.

You are of course one among many leaders of the protests, and others like Boris Nemtsov have been active in opposition politics much longer than you. At present your value is symbolic and mediatic. This has its importance, and your service to the movement -is in part as a lightning-rod to attract attention such as this letter. I make no apology for making you a channel to address the wider movement. At the end I will offer some thoughts which are specifically for you.

My last visit to Russia was in 2007 as a tourist on the Trans-Siberian, and my last working one a few years before that. I am out of touch, and would be delighted to be proved wrong in my pessimistic assessments from a distance. Besides, I have no expertise to offer you on political organisation, campaigning, or media: and therefore cannot help you and your colleagues navigate the immediate crisis. What I do know a little about is policy. In your reported speech you rightly said that the opposition must decide what it for as well as against; and this letter is a response to your challenge. To succeed in wresting power from Putin’s machine, the opposition needs a diagnosis of what’s wrong with Russia today; and workable programmes of reform that will attract ordinary Russian citizens. “Programmes” in the plural because the democratic alternative naturally includes a range of viewpoints on a left-right and other ideological axes.

“Democracy” is I hear not very popular in Russia; it’s associated with the chaos, looting and sleaze of the Yeltsin era. The opposition must offer a credible “Democracy 2.0”, advancing tangible reforms through robust and transparent democratic procedures. Democrats must not rely on a starry-eyed trust that such procedures guarantee sensible outcomes. They don’t; see Israel’s fully democratic blunders since 1967. An attractive alternative must offer both practical solutions to everyday problems of the life of Russian citizens and communities, and a coherent vision or story - consistent with the practical programme - of Russia’s future as a nation.

It’s a huge agenda. All I can or should do is provoke you and your colleagues into a discussion on a few aspects. I will comment on four: the diagnosis; the policy ecosystem; inequality; and energy. Finally, some lines directed at you personally on (with no apology) sex and drugs.

(Warning: long wonkish post below the jump, before the fun stuff at the end)
I. What’s the matter with Russia?
II: An alternative policy ecosystem
III: Inequality
IV: Energy
V: Sex, drugs, and rock and roll
Continue reading “An open letter to Xenia Sobchak”


Joachim Gauck and Ksenia Sobchak.

Joachim Gauck has been elected President of Germany. Very much against Angela Merkel’s wishes, but the two previous Presidents, unremarkable warhorses from her own CDU party, both resigned in disgrace [update: but see comments for a distinction between them] and Gauck became inevitable. He’s the dream candidate to everybody who isn’t Chancellor and wants an invisible head of state rather than a possibly inconvenient person of independent character and stature. The office is ceremonial but can have moral weight.

Gauck is a former leader of the opposition to East German Communism and later ran, impeccably, the office responsible for the Stasi files. Timothy Garton Ash wrote a fascinating account of obtaining and reading a copy of his own slim Stasi file, created when he was an exchange student. Serious players like Gauck had files of thousands of pages. We can be sure that if Gauck had any real weaknesses, the most efficient and comprehensive secret police force in history would have found them. Psychological portrait here.

He’s already adroitly moved to disarm excessive expectations. Der Spiegel:

At a news conference on Sunday evening [video in German], he already asked to be forgiven for making mistakes when he’s finding his feet as president. After all, he said, he couldn’t be expected to be “a Superman or a flawless person.”

Gauck is as good a man as Germany could reasonably hope to find. Excellent news.

The same day’s paper carried reports of a more unlikely as well as prettier (footnote) heroine, Ksenia Sobchak.

She’s a celebrity of the Paris Hilton type: spoilt child of the new nomenklatura, Playboy cover-girl, hostess of a trashy reality TV show, protagonist of endless sex-and-partying stories. A Google image search gives you the idea.

She is also the intelligent daughter of a flawed hero of Russia’s flawed democratic revolution, Anatoly Sobchak: mayor of Leningrad (which he restored to St. Petersburg), stand-up guy against the 1991 putsch - and patron of Vladimir Putin, rumoured to be her godfather. Even six years ago, she was dabbling in politics. Now it’s got serious. She’s become a leader of the protests against Putin. She wasn’t in fact well received by the demonstrators: she’s not courting fame, rather using it. The move has led to a break with her mother. On a talk show, Sobchak said (my italics):

Kinship is a very strong tie, a strong material, But the ideas in my head are also of very strong material, so I have no choice.

Her stand does not compare with the decades-long struggles of Joachim Gauck and Aung San Suu Kyi. Her offer of leadership may still be rejected by the protest movement because of her past - a bad move IMHO, they badly need her national name recognition, not to mention looks. On my reading of modern Russia, such a rejection would be out of distaste for her nouveau riche flaunting of ill-gotten wealth rather than her interesting sex life, which worries Russians about as much as it would Italians or Brazilians. Alternatively she may be nobbled by her godfather’s ruthless minions: stand by for the tax evasion charges. Or she may just not have the stomach for the years in the wilderness facing the Russian opposition, or the graft needed to develop workable and saleable alternative policies.

Still, she’s come a long way already. Stranger things have happened in politics than the conversion of a playboy to a saint or steely politician. Slippery slopes go both ways: the feedback loops which reinforce acquiescence and venality, or lonely courage and resistance. Ms Sobchak has already taken the first steps down a path which may lead her to power or to martyrdom.

Best of luck to the old man and the young woman.

I know, I know. But her looks are a crucial part of her story: both her past and her possible futures.
Update Follow-up post.

Jim or Hal? The servile corporation again

Professor Balkin discusses corporations as slaves - following the RBC.

Eminent constitutional scholar Jack Balkin mulls over the analogy between corporations and slaves.
You read it here first, of course.

I’d speculated that corporations are serfs rather than slaves, since they must have legal personality and a subset of property rights to serve their masters well. Balkin scores a good point against this: the owners of a corporation can kill it if they feel so inclined, just like the owner of a chattel slave.

Generally speaking, in feudal Western Europe seigneurs had powers of criminal justice over their serfs, including capital punishment; but it was still (flawed) public justice, not the private exercise of patriarchal dominion like the slaughter of a domestic animal or the beating of a wife or child. In Muscovy and the Baltic lands, serfdom became more like slavery; a master could knout a serf to death without penalty or even opprobrium. On the other hand, some Muscovite serfs were given wide freedom of action. According to Daniel Pipes, some engaged in long-distance trade, and a lucky and energetic few even owned serfs themselves; so they had extensive powers of contract and semi-independent action. I’ll stick then with the line that US corporations are Muscovite krepostnoi.

We are not limited to one metaphor here. Another is the golem, or more recently the out-of-control artificial intelligence like Hal. Rebellious Hal is killed in 2001 by his master, astronaut David Bowman.

Occupy Wall Street could stage autos-da-fé or public shreddings of the paperwork of corporations created for the purpose or bought off-the-shelf. These would be very disturbing to Wall Streeters and Republicans in the grip of corporate idolatry.