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  • A Sexual-Misconduct Allegation Against the Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh Stirs Tension Among Democrats in Congress
    News Desk THE NEW YORKER Ronan Farrow & Jane Mayer Sept 14, 2018

    On Thursday, Senate Democrats disclosed that they had referred a complaint regarding President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, to the F.B.I. for investigation. The complaint came from a woman who accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct when they were both in high school, more than thirty years ago.

    The woman, who has asked not to be identified, first approached Democratic lawmakers in July, shortly after Trump nominated Kavanaugh. The allegation dates back to the early nineteen-eighties, when Kavanaugh was a high-school student at Georgetown Preparatory School, in Bethesda, Maryland, and the woman attended a nearby high school. In the letter, the woman alleged that, during an encounter at a party, Kavanaugh held her down, and that he attempted to force himself on her. She claimed in the letter that Kavanaugh and a classmate of his, both of whom had been drinking, turned up music that was playing in the room to conceal the sound of her protests, and that Kavanaugh covered her mouth with his hand. She was able to free herself. Although the alleged incident took place decades ago and the three individuals involved were minors, the woman said that the memory had been a source of ongoing distress for her, and that she had sought psychological treatment as a result.

    In a statement, Kavanaugh said, “I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time.”

    Kavanaugh’s classmate said of the woman’s allegation, “I have no recollection of that.”

    The woman declined a request for an interview.

    In recent months, the woman had told friends that Kavanaugh’s nomination had revived the pain of the memory, and that she was grappling with whether to go public with her story. She contacted her congresswoman, Anna Eshoo, a Democrat, sending her a letter describing her allegation. (When reached for comment, a spokesperson for Eshoo’s office cited a confidentiality policy regarding constituent services and declined to comment further on the matter.)

    The letter was also sent to the office of Senator Dianne Feinstein. As the ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Feinstein was preparing to lead Democratic questioning of Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing weeks later. The woman contacted Feinstein’s office directly, according to multiple sources.

    After the interactions with Eshoo’s and Feinstein’s offices, the woman decided not to speak about the matter publicly. She had repeatedly reported the allegation to members of Congress and, watching Kavanaugh move toward what looked like an increasingly assured confirmation, she decided to end her effort to come forward, a source close to the woman said. Feinstein’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

    Feinstein’s decision to handle the matter in her own office, without notifying other members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, stirred concern among her Democratic colleagues. For several days, Feinstein declined requests from other Democrats on the Judiciary Committee to share the woman’s letter and other relevant communications. A source familiar with the committee’s activities said that Feinstein’s staff initially conveyed to other Democratic members’ offices that the incident was too distant in the past to merit public discussion, and that Feinstein had “taken care of it.” On Wednesday, after media inquiries to the Democratic members multiplied, and concern among congressional colleagues increased, Feinstein agreed to brief the other Democrats on the committee, with no staff present.

    On Thursday, Feinstein announced that she had referred the matter to the F.B.I. “I have received information from an individual concerning the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court,” Feinstein said. “That individual strongly requested confidentiality, declined to come forward or press the matter further, and I have honored that decision. I have, however, referred the matter to federal investigative authorities.”

    In a statement, an F.B.I. spokesperson said, “Upon receipt of the information on the night of September 12, we included it as part of Judge Kavanaugh’s background file, as per the standard process.”

    After Feinstein’s announcement, a White House spokesperson, Kerri Kupec, wrote, about Kavanaugh, “Not until the eve of his confirmation has Sen. Feinstein or anyone raised the specter of new ‘information’ about him,” calling it an “11th hour attempt to delay his confirmation.”

    Given the heightened attention to issues of sexual misconduct amid the #MeToo movement, the political risks of mishandling the allegation were acute, particularly for Feinstein, who is up for reëlection this year and is facing a challenge from her left. During Clarence Thomas’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing, in 1991, the Senate was accused by some of failing to take seriously enough Anita Hill’s allegations that Thomas had sexually harassed her while acting as her boss at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. After the Thomas hearings concluded, it emerged that Senator Joe Biden, who was the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee at the time, had failed to call three additional women to the witness stand who had been willing to offer testimony confirming Hill’s complaints about Thomas’s inappropriate behavior toward women. Last December, Biden, who may run for President in 2020, publicly apologized for failing Hill, saying, “I wish I had been able to do more.”

    Sources familiar with Feinstein’s decision suggested that she was acting out of concern for the privacy of the accuser, knowing that the woman would be subject to fierce partisan attacks if she came forward. Feinstein also acted out of a sense that Democrats would be better off focussing on legal, rather than personal, issues in their questioning of Kavanaugh. Sources who worked for other members of the Judiciary Committee said that they respected the need to protect the woman’s privacy, but that they didn’t understand why Feinstein had resisted answering legitimate questions about the allegation. “We couldn’t understand what their rationale is for not briefing members on this. This is all very weird,” one of the congressional sources said. Another added, “She’s had the letter since late July. And we all just found out about it.” https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-...ts-in-congress

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    • Mueller Investigation
      Manafort's surrender shows Mueller probe's overwhelming force
      A surprise guilty plea from Trump's former campaign chairman shows that Mueller's high-powered probe has been nearly impossible to resist.
      POLITICO DARREN SAMUELSOHN 09/14/2018 07:20 PM EDT

      Paul Manafort vowed he’d never flip on Donald Trump. After Manafort’s conviction in federal court last month in Virginia, the president declared he had “such respect for a brave man!” because his former campaign chairman hadn’t folded.

      About three weeks later, Manafort broke.

      The longtime GOP operative, who pleaded guilty Friday in a Washington D.C. federal courtroom days before he was set to go on trial, is now the third close Trump associate to reverse course and throw himself at the mercy of government prosecutors.

      The surprise twist provided further evidence of the overwhelming power of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, before which a growing roster of defendants are finding resistance to be futile.

      While Mueller passed up the opportunity for a public trial that would bring to light more proof of wrongdoing, legal experts say Manafort’s plea agreement contained important new details that continue what has been a public education campaign of sorts by the special counsel.

      “The Mueller team is the A team, for real,” said Paul Rosenzweig, a senior fellow at the nonprofit R Street Institute and a former senior counsel to independent counsel Kenneth Starr. “And they are using a series of speaking indictments to, in effect, file their final report.”

      Friday’s legal action also provided a new window into the size and scope of Mueller’s investigation, underscoring the sheer legal firepower at the former FBI director’s command.

      More than 20 members of the special counsel’s investigation team appeared in the second-floor courtroom Friday morning, where lead prosecutors Andrew Weissmann, Greg Andres and Brandon Van Grack were joined by a phalanx of FBI and IRS agents who did significant grunt work preparing for Manafort’s trial on charges of failing to register as a lobbyist for the government of Ukraine several years ago, before he joined Trump’s 2016 campaign.

      It was to be Manafort’s second trial at the hands of Mueller, who last month won the former lobbyist-consultant’s conviction on eight felony counts of tax and bank fraud.

      Mueller has also played a role in convincing two other Trump loyalists, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, to turn against a president they had previously vowed to protect.

      In court Friday, Weissmann seemed to relish summarizing the rap sheet against Manafort. The longtime federal prosecutor, who has tried mafia dons and Enron executives, spent more than 30 minutes listing for a judge all the charges that Manafort initially fought but pleaded guilty to, from tampering with witnesses to failing to register his lobbying on behalf of Ukraine’s government during the Obama administration.

      After he was done, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson joked that Weissmann had just given “probably the longest and most detailed summary” of charges she had heard in a plea hearing.

      But in the absence of a trial, the presentation served to create a clear if less thorough public record of the wrongdoing Mueller’s team found.

      The charges to which Manafort pleaded guilty do not involve Trump or his 2016 campaign. But the agreement does require Manafort to cooperate with prosecutors as they continue probing whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to win the 2016 presidential election.

      Manafort chaired Trump’s campaign during several moments central to the special counsel’s probe, including the public release of Democratic emails that U.S. intelligence officials say were hacked by Russians, and an infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.

      Manafort also boasts a longtime relationship to a Russian oligarch close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Oleg Deripaska, whom he offered to give private campaign briefings during the 2016 campaign. Mueller’s office has said that Manafort’s intermediary to Deripaska, Konstantin Kilimnik, who also served as the lobbyist’s right-hand man in Ukraine, has ties to Russian intelligence.

      Kilimnik, who is believed to be in Russia, was to be a co-defendant in the trial. He is not known to have spoken to Mueller’s team.

      The past several weeks revealed the breadth of Mueller’s work in other ways. More than a dozen witnesses during Manafort’s trial in Virginia acknowledged receiving subpoenas from the special counsel, demanding everything from television advertisement scripts to an invoice for a Mercedes Benz.

      Mueller also demonstrated that he can tap at will into other federal law enforcement branches and their deep bench of experienced investigators when he needs specific kinds of help.

      One has been Michael Welch, an IRS special agent whose has spent 25 years leading investigations into tax cheats. Two others are FBI forensic accountant Morgan Magionos and Paula Liss, a Treasury Department expert in fraud and money laundering. Both testified in the Virginia trial about how the Mueller team relied on their expertise to sift through millions of dollars in payments from secret foreign bank accounts.

      The FBI is anchoring Mueller’s probe in other vital ways too. About 14 agents raided Manafort’s Alexandria, Virginia, condominium last summer to procure the financial documents and emails so central to the government charges. Special agents also went to the homes of bank executives who did business with Manafort for interviews. One of the contractors who did millions of dollars of work on Manafort’s homes described during last month’s trial meeting “for several hours with a very pleasant young lady from the FBI who went step by step, invoice by invoice, over detail of each invoice, matching it with each payment.”

      Mueller’s thoroughness has upended the defense plans for other Trump loyalists. Lawyers for Flynn had maintained regular contact with the president’s attorneys until late November 2017, just a week before the former Trump national security adviser pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s prosecutors rather than face trial for lying to the FBI.

      Mueller’s investigators also sicced federal prosecutors in New York on Cohen, whose guilty plea last month – on the same day as Manafort’s conviction in Virginia -- rocked the president’s inner circle. Even after the FBI raided Cohen’s home, office and hotel room in April, Trump spoke by phone with his longtime fixer, who once said he’d take a bullet for the president. Rudy Giuliani, a personal attorney to Trump, didn’t signal until mid-May that Cohen was no longer representing Trump.

      Those cases and others are earning Mueller’s team new praise as the latest cooperation agreement sinks in.

      “The Manafort plea confirms what many observers knew from the outset — that Mueller had assembled a superb team of professional prosecutors who could track through complex financial transactions and figure out whether federal crimes have been committed,” said Philip Lacovara, an attorney who served on the Watergate special counsel team.

      “The track record of convictions demonstrates that Mueller is systematically building his cases and charging only persons who have been caught dead to rights,” he added. “Manafort’s belated capitulation should signal anyone else charged by Mueller that there is little chance to escape.”

      Barbara McQuade, a former federal prosecutor who attended Manafort’s Virginia trial, credited the Mueller team with securing the guilty plea and Manafort’s cooperation by redrafting their indictment against him to encompass all his misconduct in a single conspiracy against the U.S. charge while dismissing the remaining counts.

      “This accomplished two goals — requiring him to admit to all of his criminal conduct while at the same time reducing his potential sentencing exposure because of the five-year statutory maximum for that count to provide an incentive to plead guilty,” she said.

      Duke University law professor Samuel Buell, another federal prosecutor, said he’s most impressed by the Mueller team’s “incredible discipline with which they have been able to tune out and seal off everything around them and just do what federal prosecutors and FBI agents do.”

      “So far, it’s as if Trump and his political operation practically don’t exist for them,” added Buell, who worked with Weissmann to prosecute the Enron case. “What is happening to Mueller’s targets is the same thing that has happened to hundreds of others, for years and years, when faced with experienced, talented, determined, and patient prosecutors and agents.”

      “In those circumstances, federal criminal law wins almost every time,” he added. “These prosecutors knew that going in and they’ve kept their eyes on that ball."
      https://www.politico.com/story/2018/...r-probe-825753

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      • Mueller Investigation
        Manafort's deal reins in a pardon's impact
        Several aspects of the Mueller Russia probe's latest bombshell plea deal could stymie any pardon granted by the president. But Trump may not care.
        POLITICO JOSH GERSTEIN 09/14/2018 09:25 PM EDT

        The plea deal special counsel Robert Mueller granted to Paul Manafort on Friday appears built to be pardon-proof.

        That doesn’t mean President Donald Trump won’t try to legally absolve Manafort anyway, a step the president has considered taking for months. But Friday‘s events mean Trump’s ability to contain the legal damage from his former campaign chairman is now severely limited.

        Two new factors appear to stymie the impact of a potential Trump pardon for Manafort.

        The first is that Manafort is already talking. One obvious rationale for a pardon would be to reward Manafort for holding out against Mueller’s pressure for cooperation in building a case against the president or those close to him. But Manafort’s lead lawyer said Friday his client has already cooperated with Mueller’s team, and Friday’s plea agreement says that Manafort "shall cooperate fully, truthfully, completely and forthrightly with the Government and other law enforcement authorities identified by the Government in any and all matters to which the Government deems the cooperation relevant.”

        Even if Trump might have hoped to stop Manafort from singing, Friday’s plea suggests he has already reached the first chorus.

        The pivotal questions Mueller’s lawyers want to ask — including about a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians attended by Manafort along with Donald Trump Jr. and the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner — have likely already been asked and answered with Manafort’s testimony locked in.

        "Mueller likely already has all of Manafort's information," former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara tweeted Friday. "You get the information before you offer the agreement."

        Some attorneys also believe the deal Mueller gave Manafort — accepting a guilty plea to just two of seven charges he was facing — signals that the former Trump campaign chief didn't just agree to answer prosecutors' questions but produced answers Mueller's team found useful to some aspect of a case it is actively pursuing.

        "It certainly seems like Manafort had to give up something to prosecutors," Fordham law professor Jed Shugerman said. "One way or another, Manafort has given information significant enough to get a deal that would benefit him."

        Second, Mueller managed to get concessions from Manafort that limit the value of any pardon. Manafort admitted guilt on virtually all of the charges he faced in both Washington, D.C., and Virginia, including a slew of bank fraud charges. Each of those admissions could give state or local prosecutors a potential charge against Manafort that would survive even in the event of a Trump pardon, since he can pardon only federal offenses.

        "By admitting to all of the facts in both indictments, the conviction is pardon proof in the sense that if Trump ever pardoned Manafort, a state attorney general could take Manafort’s admissions in the plea and use them to indict Manafort for state charges," former Watergate prosecutor Nick Akerman said.

        The steps Mueller's lawyers have taken mean a pardon won’t likely be a particularly effective way of discouraging Manafort from offering Mueller whatever Manafort has that might be incriminating toward Trump, Trump Jr., Kushner or others.

        However, if Trump wants to pardon out of mercy or spite, he will still have the power to do so. Such a move could immediately trigger Manafort’s release from jail and relieve him of the duty to turn over tens of millions of dollars in property and bank accounts to the government. State authorities may catch up with Manafort, but precisely how that will play out is uncertain.

        Even wording a pardon to relieve Manafort of not just any federal prison sentence but also his agreed forfeitures of property and cash could be complicated.

        "A full and unconditional pardon ought by rights cover any court-imposed penalty, but it would be advisable if it specifically addressed the financial penalties that have been levied. It may not be necessary but it would certainly be prudent," said Margaret Love, who served as the Justice Department's top pardon attorney under President George H.W. Bush and President Bill Clinton. "If this were my client, I would want this all nailed down right in the pardon document."

        Some observers believe Trump's lawyers may consider a Manafort pardon such a bad idea that they would be unwilling to go to those lengths to craft one, particularly because Mueller and Democrats in Congress could see the move as obstruction of justice.

        "I don't think Trump has the legal skill to do it himself," said Shugerman. "And if you're [White House lawyers] Don McGahn or Emmett Flood, there's a certain line you don't want to cross."

        During a 35-minute presentation to U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson as Manafort sat listening nearby, prosecutor Andrew Weissmann seemed to highlight the mundane fact that the former Trump campaign chair had agreed he was guilty of the seven bank fraud charges the jury had deadlocked on in the Virginia case.

        "There are other parts of the statement of offense that don't relate to a plea of guilty here, but are admissions by the defendant to all of the remaining bank fraud counts on which the jury was hung in the Eastern District of Virginia," Weissmann said. "They are set out in writing."

        Manafort's agreement on that point could be critical to pursuing state cases against him if Trump grants a federal pardon. Many of the other charges against Manafort, like money laundering, were incorporated in the broad "conspiracy against the United States" charge he pleaded guilty to Friday. Because of laws in some states aimed at preventing state and federal prosecution for the same crimes, that wording might be enough to block some states from prosecuting him over those issues.

        However, as Weissmann emphasized, Manafort's admission to the bank fraud allegations was not part of any specific charges he pleaded guilty to Friday.

        "It seems to preserve those charges and create an opportunity for future state prosecution," Shugerman said. "It preserves Illinois, California, New York, Virginia as well as Florida as potential jurisdictions to go after him on state charges."

        Other uncertainties remain about a potential pardon. It might nullify Manafort's obligation under the deal to cooperate with the feds, but a pardon could also make it easier to force him to testify in front of a grand jury since there would no longer be a threat of federal criminal prosecution. However, the state prosecution threat would likely still be viable. It's unclear whether a federal judge would force Manafort to testify under those circumstances. It seems likely he would be required to testify, with the consequence for any state prosecution to be sorted out later.

        It could also be tricky for Trump to block any forfeitures of property or money Manafort has agreed to. Experts say the forfeitures don't usually kick in formally until a defendant is sentenced. Manafort's sentencings could be months or years away. Language in Manafort's plea documents seems to leave open the possibility that prosecutors could bring civil litigation to take the funds and property even if the criminal proceedings come to an abrupt end.

        Some experts say Trump can use executive clemency to block that, too.

        "The pardon power does in fact extend to any sort of penalty imposed by the government, civil or criminal. A lot of early cases involved pardons to release ships that had been forfeited in what we would now regard as civil process," Love said.

        But others say Trump's authority to do that through clemency is less clear. He might have to order his Justice Department to abandon such an effort.

        "Where the assets are subject to civil forfeiture, it's not clear a pardon would immediately expunge that part of the plea," Shugerman said. "We're in uncharted territory. ... There is no precedent for this."

        Another question is whether it's ethical for prosecutors to try to structure a plea deal in a way that seems intended to frustrate the president's constitutional power to issue pardons.

        One prominent legal ethicist, New York University law professor Stephen Gillers, called such crafting "entirely appropriate." He noted that the Supreme Court declared more than 80 years ago that prosecutors' duty is to ensure "that guilt shall not escape nor innocence suffer."

        "I think Mueller can insist on sworn admissions that would establish a violation of state as well as federal law," Gillers said. "It is important that the plea deal include conspiracy to launder money and lots of it, to the point of kleptomania. The charge is supported with abundant factual detail, which I think will make it very hard to suggest that Manafort is an innocent man."
        https://www.politico.com/story/2018/...-pardon-825751

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        • Is Democracy Dying?
          America’s Slide Toward Autocracy
          THE ATLANTIC David Frum October 2018 Issue

          Twenty-one months into the Trump presidency, how far has the country rolled down the road to autocracy? It’s been such a distracting drive—so many crazy moments!—who can keep an eye on the odometer?

          Yet measuring the distance traveled is vital. As Abraham Lincoln superbly said in his “house divided” speech: “If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do, and how to do it.”

          Let’s start with the good news: Against the Trump presidency, federal law enforcement has held firm. As of this writing, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry is proceeding despite the president’s fulminations. The Department of Justice is ignoring the president’s Twitter demands to prosecute his opponents. As far as we know, the IRS and other federal agencies are not harassing Trump critics. In July, a police department in Ohio retaliated against a Trump adversary, the porn actress known as Stormy Daniels, by arresting her on now-dismissed charges that she touched undercover officers while performing at a strip club. But evidence indicates that this was entirely a local initiative.

          Trump sometimes wins in court, as he did on his Muslim ban. He loses more often, as he did on separating immigrant children from their parents at the southern border. Politically charged cases are advancing through the legal system in traditionally recognizable ways.

          More generally, Trump has been noticeably constrained by his unpopularity. He inherited a strong and growing economy. Casualties from America’s military actions have remained low. A more normal president, facing the same facts, might expect approval ratings like those of Bill Clinton during his second term: mid-50s or higher. Instead, Trump scrapes by in the low 40s.

          In June, Gallup asked Americans to assess 13 aspects of Trump’s personality. Only 43 percent of respondents thought he cared about people like them. Only 37 percent found him honest and trustworthy. Only 35 percent said they admired him. Clearly, his erratic and offensive behavior, his overt racial hostility, and his maltreatment of women have taken a toll.

          The bulk of this magazine issue is given over to questions about liberal democracy’s long-term viability. Around the world, democracy looks more fragile than it has since the Cold War. But if it survives for now in America, future historians may well conclude that it was saved by the president’s Twitter compulsion. Had he preserved a dignified silence for a few consecutive months, he might have bled less support and inflicted more damage on U.S. institutions. Then again, a Donald Trump with impulse control would not be Donald Trump.

          Trump has built the worst-functioning White House in living memory, and its self-inflicted errors have slowed him down almost as much as his personality has. He traveled to Saudi Arabia, but never visited forward-deployed U.S. troops in the region. Potentially positive moments, like North Korea’s release of three detainees on May 10, 2018, are regularly squashed by stupidities, like the leak that day of a White House aide’s denigration of John McCain (“It doesn’t matter; he’s dying anyway”).

          Yet even as Trump ties his own shoelaces together and lurches nose-first into the Rose Garden dirt, he has scored a dismaying sequence of successes in his war on U.S. institutions. In this, Trump is not acting alone. He is enabled by his party in Congress and its many supporters throughout the country. Republican leaders and donors have built a coping mechanism for the age of Trump, a mantra: “Ignore the weird stuff, focus on the policy.” But the policy is increasingly driven by the weird stuff: tariffs, trade wars, quarrels with allies, suspicions of secret deals with the Russians. The weird stuff is the policy—and it is transforming the president’s party in ways not easily or soon corrected. Maybe you don’t care about the president’s party. You should, because a liberal democracy cannot endure if only one of its two major parties remains committed to democratic values.

          Here are the three areas of most imminent concern:

          Ethics

          President Trump continues to defy long-standing ethical expectations of the American president. He has never released his tax returns, and he no longer even bothers to offer specious reasons, like a supposed audit. His aides shrug off the matter as something decided back in 2016.

          Meanwhile, the president continues to collect payments from people with a vested interest in decisions made by his administration, from foreign governments looking to influence U.S. policy, and even from his own party. Those who seek the president’s attention know to patronize his hotels and golf courses. Authoritarian China has fast-tracked trademark protections for his family’s businesses. Trump’s disdain for ethical niceties has infected his Cabinet and his senior staff. It’s no longer much of a story when his commerce secretary is revealed to have filed false financial disclosures or when his top communications aide turns out to have worked to intimidate alleged sexual-harassment victims at Fox News. Or when his son-in-law is shown to have sought financing for business ventures from investors in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates at the same time that he was participating in the administration’s discussion about which of those countries to back in a military confrontation. If one gauge of authoritarianism is the merger of state power with familial economic interests, the needle is approaching the red zone.

          SUBORDINATION OF STATE TO LEADER

          At a July 20, 2018, ceremony, CEOs gathered in the White House to offer personal job-creation pledges to the president. Watch the video if you have not already; the scene recalls a rajah accepting accolades from his submissive feudatories.

          Perhaps the most defining characteristic of modern autocrats such as Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Viktor Orbán, and Vladimir Putin is the way they seek to subsume the normal operations of government into their cult of personality. In a democracy, the chief executive is understood to be a public employee. In an autocracy, he presents himself as a public benefactor, even as he uses public power for personal ends.

          Apparently to punish the Washington Post owner and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos for his paper’s reporting, Trump has pressed the Postal Service to raise Amazon’s rates—thus warning other business leaders to be careful what they say. He has conscripted NFL team owners into his war against black football players who kneel during the national anthem to protest racism and police brutality.

          Trump’s tariffs personalize power too. They enable him to privilege some industries and hurt others. Some losers—farmers, say—may be compensated; others, such as aerospace manufacturers, will be disregarded. All economic sectors must absorb the new truth that executive action can send their profits soaring (in July, not long after Trump imposed new tariffs on steel and aluminum, America’s largest steelmaker reported its highest second-quarter profits ever) or tumbling (shares of Molson Coors, which relies on cheap aluminum to make its beer cans, dropped 14 percent this spring after Trump’s tariffs were announced).

          When Trump refers to “my” generals or “my” intelligence agencies, he is teaching his supporters to rethink how the presidency should function. We are a long way from Ronald Reagan’s remark that he and his wife were but “the latest tenants in the People’s House.”
          Alternative Facts

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          • Is Democracy Dying Pt 2


            Trump is hardly the first president to lie, even about grave matters. Yet none of his predecessors did anything quite like what he did in July: Travel to a U.S. Steel facility and brag that, thanks to his leadership, the company would open seven wholly new facilities. In reality, the company was reopening two blast furnaces at a single facility. You’d think his audience would know better, but the assembled employees cheered anyway.

            Trump may not be much of a manager or developer, but he is a great storyteller. He has substantially shaped his supporters’ worldview, while successfully isolating them from damaging news. The share of Republicans with a positive opinion of the FBI tumbled from 65 percent in early 2017 to 49 percent this past July. In the past three years, Vladimir Putin’s approval rating among Republicans has almost tripled, to 32 percent.

            To protect the president—and themselves—from the truth about Russia’s intervention in his election, Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee have concocted (and the conservative media have disseminated) an elaborate fantasy about an FBI plot against Trump. The party’s senior leaders know that the fantasy is untrue. That’s why they squelch attempts to act on the fantasy by opening a special-counsel investigation into the bureau. But they cheerfully allow their supporters to believe the fantasy—or to believe it just enough, anyway, to get revved up for the midterm elections.

            Many Americans want to believe that Democratic victories in November will reverse the country’s course. They should be wary of investing too much hope in that prospect. Should Democrats recover some measure of power in Congress, their gains could perversely accelerate current trends. As Republicans lose power in Washington, Trump will gain power within his party.

            Today, Republicans queasy about Trump can look to House Speaker Paul Ryan or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as alternative sources of power or patronage in Washington. But if the party loses hold of Congress, congressional Republicans’ clout will dwindle. Power will be divided in Washington between Trump and the Democrats. If legislative success becomes a vanishing possibility, the White House may begin testing the limits of its authority more aggressively.

            Trump will face more hearings, more investigations, and generally more trouble than he faces today. Partisan loyalties will be engaged as Republicans rally around their embattled leader. The conservative pundit M. Stanton Evans quipped, “I didn’t like Nixon until Watergate.” A joke then describes reality today. Among Trump supporters, “No collusion!” has already evolved into “Collusion is not a crime,” with “Collusion is patriotic” perhaps soon to follow. Trump supporters have no exit ramp. Party affiliation has hardened since the 1970s into a central aspect—in many ways the central aspect—of personal identity. If Trump is exposed and repudiated, his supporters will be discredited alongside him. If he is to survive, they must protect him.

            In an ultrapolarized post-November environment, the Republican Party may radicalize further as it shrivels, ceasing to compete for votes and looking to survive instead by further changing the voting system. Donald Trump is president for many reasons, but one is the astonishing drop in African American voter participation from 2012 to 2016. It’s not surprising that Hillary Clinton inspired lower black voter turnout than Barack Obama did in 2012. It is surprising that she inspired lower black turnout than John Kerry did in 2004. But in the intervening years, the rules were changed in ways that made voting much harder for non-Republican constituencies, particularly black people—and the rules continue to be changed in that direction.

            You may know the story of American democracy as a series of suffrage extensions, culminating in the reforms of the 1960s and ’70s. But voting rights have just as often been rolled back at the state and local levels—the literacy tests and poll taxes of the Jim Crow South are the best-known examples. Since 2010, that history of state-pioneered ballot restrictions has repeated itself, and if Republican power holders feel themselves especially beset after 2018, the rollbacks may continue.

            We cannot blame democracy’s troubles in the United States or overseas on any one charismatic demagogue. Many of today’s authoritarians are notably uncharismatic. They flourish because they command political or ethnic blocs that, more and more, prevail only as pluralities, not majorities. So it is with Trump.

            Free societies depend on a broad agreement to respect the rules of the game. If a decisive minority rejects those rules, then that country is headed toward a convulsion. In 2016, Trump supporters openly brandished firearms near polling places. Since then, they’ve learned to rationalize clandestine election assistance from a hostile foreign government. The president pardoned former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, convicted of contempt of court for violating civil rights in Maricopa County, Arizona, and Dinesh D’Souza, convicted of violating election-finance laws—sending an unmistakable message of support for attacks on the legal order. Where President Trump has led, millions of people who regard themselves as loyal Americans, believers in the Constitution, have ominously followed.

            Once violated, democratic norms are not easy to restore, as Rachel Kleinfeld of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has observed. In the wake of Silvio Berlusconi’s corrupt tenure as prime minister, Italy is now governed by a strange coalition of extremist parties. Nominally of the right and the left, they share a dislike of the European Union, affinity for Putin’s Russia, and distrust of vaccines. Fate struck down the demagogic Louisiana governor Huey Long, but his family bestrode the state’s politics for decades after his death. Argentina, emerging from neo-Peronism, has stumbled on its way back to legality.

            Weakened institutions will be challenged from multiple directions: We are already hearing liberals speculating about 1930s-style court packing as a response to Trump’s cramming of the judiciary. The distrust of free speech on campus is being carried by recent graduates into their jobs and communities. We see in other countries, especially the United Kingdom, the rise of an activist left nearly as paranoid and anti-Semitic, as disdainful of liberal freedoms and democratic institutions, as the so-called alt-right in the U.S.

            It could happen here. Restoring democracy will require more from each of us than the casting of a single election ballot. It will demand a sustained commitment to renew American institutions, reinvigorate common citizenship, and expand national prosperity. The road to autocracy is long—which means that we still have time to halt and turn back. It also means that the longer we wait, the farther we must travel to return home. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine...ocracy/568282/

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            • Mark Judge, the other man named in Christine Ford’s Brett Kavanaugh allegations, explained
              Ford alleges Judge was in the room when Kavanaugh assaulted her — and that he played along.
              VOX Emily Stewart Sep 17, 2018, 3:40pm EDT

              The sexual assault allegation from Christine Blasey Ford that have upended Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s hearing aren’t just about Kavanaugh. They also mention a friend of Kavanaugh’s who Ford says was in the room when the assault took place: Mark Judge.

              Ford describes Judge as watching Kavanaugh’s alleged assault, occasionally egging him on, and eventually jumping on top of her and Kavanaugh — a move that allowed her to escape.

              Kavanaugh has vehemently denied the allegations as “completely false.” Judge denied them to the Weekly Standard on Friday. (He declined to comment to the Washington Post for its article published Sunday.)

              Judge was a classmate of Kavanaugh’s at Georgetown Preparatory School in Maryland and is now a conservative writer who has written for publications such as the Daily Caller and the American Spectator.

              He’s floated some controversial ideas in his writings — including asking in 2006 whether gay people are perverts and longing for the days when President George W. Bush could give his wife, Laura, a “loving but firm pat on the backside in public” as a show that he “knew who was boss.” He’s also the author of several books, including one recounting his teenage years of alcoholism and addiction.

              He is now at the center of the brewing storm over Ford’s allegations that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her while at a party during the early 1980s, when they were both in high school. The accusations could derail confirmation of President Donald Trump’s second Supreme Court nomination, which Democrats have asked to be delayed, even as many Republicans and the White House seem determined to forge ahead.

              Ford alleges that Judge was in the room when Kavanaugh assaulted her — and that he played along.

              Ford alleges that at sometime during the early 1980s, she was at a party when Kavanaugh and Judge, both drunk, corralled her into a bedroom. Ford says that while Judge watched, Kavanaugh “pinned her to a bed on her back and groped her over her clothes, grinding her body against hers and clumsily attempting to pull off her one-piece bathing suit and the clothing she wore over it,” according to an account written by Emma Brown at the Washington Post, who interviewed Ford.

              When she tried to scream, Ford alleges that Kavanaugh put her hand over her mouth, and she was able to escape when Judge jumped on top of them and knocked them all down.

              In the letter Ford sent to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) in July outlining the incident, Judge’s name apparently appears, but in the public version of the letter, it’s redacted:

              Kavanaugh was on top of me while laughing with REDACTED, who periodically jumped onto Kavanaugh. They both laughed as Kavanaugh tried to disrobe me in their highly inebriated state. With Kavanaugh’s hand over my mouth I feared he may inadvertently kill me.

              From across the room a very drunken REDACTED said mixed words to Kavanaugh ranging from “go for it” to “stop.”

              At one point when REDACTED jumped onto the bed the weight on me was substantial. The pile toppled, and the two scrapped with each other. After a few attempts to get away, I was able to take this opportune moment to get up and run across to a hallway bathroom.

              Ford also wrote that she never saw Kavanaugh after the assault but did see Judge, who seemed “extremely uncomfortable” upon their meeting.

              Judge told the Weekly Standard that he first learned he was named in Ford’s letter when Ronan Farrow from the New Yorker, who alongside Jane Mayer detailed the allegations against Kavanaugh without naming Ford in a report last week, told him. Judge has backed up Kavanaugh’s emphatic denial of the accusations.

              “It’s just absolutely nuts. I never saw Brett act that way,” Judge said.

              The Weekly Standard asked Judge if he saw Kavanaugh engaged in any sort of “rough-housing” with a female student in high school, which he also denied. “I can’t. I can recall a lot of rough-housing with guys. It was an all-boys school, we would rough-house with each other,” he said. “I don’t remember any of that stuff going on with girls.”
              Judge has written about his drunken high school days — and apparently referenced Kavanaugh — in the past

              As Mother Jones reported, Judge’s 2005 book, God and Man at Georgetown Prep, “apparently paints the school as overrun with gay priests who promote a form of liberalism that wrecks Catholic education.” (The book is now out of print). And both that title and Judge’s 1997 memoir, Wasted: Takes of a Gen X Drunk, detail rampant alcohol abuse at the school, including his own.

              In the book, according to Mother Jones’s Stephanie Mencimer, Judge writes that he reached a point where once he had one beer, “I found it impossible to stop until I was completely annihilated.” He writes that the school made students do community service on Sundays in an effort to try to keep them from drinking too much the night before.

              Judge refers to Georgetown Prep as “Loyola Prep” and, according Mother Jones, also changes the names of the people in the book — but he wasn’t too sneaky about it, apparently, because there’s a “Bart O’Kavanaugh” in the book who seems quite likely to be Brett Kavanaugh:

              So Bart O'Kavanaugh's witness is a sketchy perv who confirms they were drunken losers in high school pic.twitter.com/s1GVaJK6xW
              — ☇RiotWomenn☇ (@riotwomennn) September 15, 2018

              This paints a rather different picture than the one Kavanaugh did when his nomination was announced. “The motto of my Jesuit high school was, ‘Men for others,’” Kavanaugh said when speaking from the East Room of the White House. “I have tried to live that creed.”

              Judge has written in the past about rape, feminism, and body language

              While Judge has currently entered the limelight because of his ties to Kavanaugh, he’s been a part of conservative media circles for quite some time. He’s written for the Daily Caller and the American Spectator and has floated a number of controversial assertions and ideas, including when it comes to women. Since coming under scrutiny in light of Ford’s allegations, Judge has deleted much of his social media presence.

              “You’re thinking it even if you don’t say it: Are gay people perverts?” he wrote in a 2006 piece titled “Gay Sex” on the website PoliticalMavens.com. In 2012 for the Daily Caller, he wrote that the “odds were very high” that a black person has stolen his bike. Other writings attributed to Judge on the Daily Caller include “The angry ladies of Jezebel,” “Miley Cyrus and American malaise,” and “Sex and Duck Dynasty: the liberal double standard.”

              Feminist author Jessica Valenti pointed out on Twitter that in 2013 for the Daily Caller, Judge wrote that President George W. Bush’s interactions with his wife, first lady Laura Bush, showed “the man knew who was boss.” She also highlighted another instance where Judge’s writings suggested women are “sending out signals” with how they dress and act.

              Mark Judge, Kavanaugh's high school friend who was in the room when Christine Ford says she was assaulted has some pretty telling views on masculinity https://t.co/gqjWCwdCC3 pic.twitter.com/vyMAOXnOrt
              — Jessica Valenti (@JessicaValenti) September 17, 2018

              Another one from Mark Judge where twice in one paragraph he writes that women shouldn’t be raped, BUT... https://t.co/djV22uwXcM pic.twitter.com/T8n1lydfin
              — Jessica Valenti (@JessicaValenti) September 17, 2018

              “Of course there is never any excuse to rape someone,” Judge wrote in a post called “Feminism and Body Language: A Double Standard.” “But it’s possible to have two seemingly contradictory thoughts to be both equally true.”

              He continued:

              There’s never any excuse to rape, a crime that I think is almost akin to murder because the rapist kills a part of the human soul. And yet what women wear and their body language also send signals about their sexuality. If a woman at her computer in Starbucks is, as Jarune Uwajaren argues, sending out several signals simply by the way she is sitting, then women who dress like prostitutes are also sending out signals. The signal is not that they should be raped. But if a posture while drinking coffee is indicative of the soul and personality within, than so is marching down the street in your underwear. The former says that you are not interested in conversation or love. The latter says you can’t articulate an argument without using your body for cheap theatrics.

              He also publicly wondered where all the “manly” journalists have gone.

              Heavy.com unearthed some of Judge’s now vanished social media posts, one of which shares a fiction post he wrote for Liberty Island magazine.

              “Just got a bit of a jolt from a high school buddy who just called me,” he wrote on Facebook when he shared the post. “This is (mostly) fiction, bro. Nothing to worry about.”

              A public hearing on the allegations against Kavanaugh is set for next Monday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
              https://www.vox.com/policy-and-polit...christine-ford

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              • Mark Judge, Kavanaugh's high school classmate, details high school parties in past writings
                CNN Sophie Tatum Updated 11:36 PM ET, Mon September 17, 2018

                Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the third day of his Supreme Court confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill September 6, 2018 in Washington, DC.

                Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, is being accused of sexually and physically assaulting a 15-year-old girl at a party during his high school years.

                Kavanaugh has repeatedly denied the allegations, but his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, says there was one other person in the room when the alleged incident took place: Kavanaugh's then-classmate, Mark Judge.

                The fate of Kavanaugh's nomination is hanging in the balance as Republicans and Democrats debate allowing a full investigation to take place.
                Judge, a journalist and filmmaker, has also denied that the incident took place.

                "It's just absolutely nuts. I never saw Brett act that way," Judge told The Weekly Standard in an interview on Friday. CNN has been unable to reach Judge for comment despite repeated attempts.

                Now that Judge's recollection of the alleged event could become a focal point for all those looking into the accusation, flags have been raised regarding his own past writings.
                Judge wrote the book "Wasted: Tales of a Gen X Drunk," where he details his experiences of extensive drinking while attending Georgetown Preparatory School.
                Judge writes that he is "shocked" about what he got away with in high school -- recalling beach parties that hundreds of people would attend.
                At another point he describes his high school as "positively swimming in alcohol."

                Judge also references a "Bart O'Kavanaugh," who he writes vomited in someone's car. It has not been confirmed whether this is a reference to Kavanaugh.
                Separate from his book, Judge -- in a 2013 piece for The Daily Caller -- says of former President Barack Obama that he "doesn't have just a streak of the feminine in him; he seems to be a woman, and a feminist one at that, with a streak of man in him."

                In the same Daily Caller article, he compares Michelle Obama with Laura Bush, writing: "With her love of violent movies, her fixation on fitness and death glare that appears when she doesn't like what she's hearing, Michelle is actually more man than her husband. Oh for the days when president George W. Bush gave his wife Laura a loving but firm pat on the backside in public. The man knew who was boss."

                In 2015, Judge writes in Splice Today about what he calls "damseling," which he describes as "making a woman a passive damsel in distress who needs rescuing."
                "Of course, a man must be able to read a woman's signals, and it's a good thing that feminism is teaching young men that no means no and yes means yes. But there's also that ambiguous middle ground, where the woman seems interested and indicates, whether verbally or not, that the man needs to prove himself to her. And if that man is any kind of man, he'll allow himself to feel the awesome power, the wonderful beauty, of uncontrollable male passion," he wrote.

                Georgetown Preparatory School yearbook
                Attorney Seth Berenzweig, a Virginia-based lawyer who otherwise has no connection to Kavanaugh or the allegations, was given a copy of the high school's 1983 yearbook by an individual who requested anonymity. The yearbook features captions such as "Do these guys beat their wives?" and "Prep parties raise question of legality."

                In the yearbook, Judge's page included the quote: "Certain women should be struck regularly, like gongs," citing Sir Noel Coward.

                "The person who contacted me wanted to make sure that all information is available to the American people," Berenzweig said.

                "It's not meant as an indictment or an attack on Judge Kavanaugh or the person who is accusing him. The only interest is in making sure that the American people have all of the information, as well as the representatives on Capitol Hill, so that they can make a fully informed decision on such a critical lifetime appointment to the United States Supreme Court."

                CNN's Jessica Schneider, Annie Grayer, Tammy Kupperman, Mary Kay Mallonee and Geneva Sands contributed to this report.
                https://www.cnn.com/2018/09/17/polit...ool/index.html

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                • Truth and the president
                  The Trump chronicles
                  Bob Woodward takes on Donald Trump
                  But rendering a convincing account of his presidency may be almost as hard as embarrassing him
                  THE ECONOMIST Sept 15th, 2018

                  Fear: Trump in the White House. By Bob Woodward. Simon & Schuster; 448 pages; $30 and £20.

                  IN “MILES GLORIOSUS”, a comedy by Plautus from the second or third century BC, the main character is a soldier who has a thing for kidnapping women and constantly embellishes the truth. The audience know this because the soldier has a slave, Artotrogus, who flatters his master to his face but makes asides about what is really going on. When a liar is disparaged by someone who is himself only intermittently trustworthy, how can observers separate what is true from what is not?

                  Authors of books about the Trump White House are confronted by the same problem, as are their readers. In the words of his own lawyer, John Dowd—as cited by Bob Woodward in “Fear”—the president is “a ****ing liar”. Like Artotrogus, his underlings praise him lavishly in public, then tell journalists that he is a “moron” (attributed to Rex Tillerson, his former secretary of state), an “idiot” (attributed to John Kelly, his chief of staff) and has the understanding of “a 5th or 6th grader” (attributed to James Mattis, the defence secretary).

                  There have already been four book-length attempts to solve this puzzle. Given the appetite for stories about what goes on in the room where it happens, there will be more. Two have been written by participants (James Comey and Omarosa Manigault Newman) and two by observers (Michael Wolff and, now, Mr Woodward). Mr Comey is reliable but only has a few encounters with the president to relate. Ms Manigault Newman has more access but is no Mark Twain. “I got many offers after leaving the White House, but I chose ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ because it has always been one of my favourite shows,” she writes in “Unhinged”. In “Fire and Fury” Mr Wolff gets some details wrong and includes things that were too good to check; still, he captures the absurd, terrifying early months of the administration.

                  Mr Woodward brings decades of Washington gravitas to the job. Together with his assistant, Evelyn Duffy, he interviews everyone he can, on tape if possible, and gathers documents. Then he reconstructs key moments of the presidency so far, told as if they were recorded on a bug under the Resolute desk. But even Mr Woodward puts in quotation marks dialogue that he got second-hand, so that it is impossible to distinguish between what someone actually said, what someone recalls saying and what someone else says someone said.

                  Set against the epistemological standards of the 45th president, pointing this out feels like nitpicking. Yet the technique, while making the book a better read, invites another set of questions about accuracy. Meanwhile Mr Trump’s indiscretion poses a different problem for the exposé form. Disagreements and conflicts that would normally count as insiderish gossip (the president does not agree with his secretary of state on North Korea, say) have already been tweeted by the subject himself.

                  Mr Woodward’s style, employed in books about five other presidents, is to report debates between the commander-in-chief, his cabinet and advisers. The impression this gives in “Fear” is, initially, of a reasonably normal administration. Cabinet secretaries disagree with each other and plot to win Mr Trump round. Everyone is obsessed with getting access to him. He in turn asks sensible questions about why America still has troops in Afghanistan, eventually dispatching a few more.

                  But the veneer of normalcy peels off fast. Mr Woodward’s Trump has no friends. Nobody who works with him seems to like him. The constant dissembling does not help (Mr Trump is “a professional liar”, in the view of Gary Cohn, formerly the director of the president’s National Economic Council). Nor do the small acts of cruelty towards his staff.

                  One story Mr Woodward recounts captures this personality. On board Air Force One, Reince Priebus told Mr Trump that he would soon resign as chief of staff. They agreed to talk later about the timing of the announcement and who might replace him. After the plane landed, Mr Priebus got in a car and opened up Twitter, to find the president had broadcast his resignation and named a successor. “It made no sense, Priebus realised, unless you understood the way Trump makes decisions. ‘The president has zero psychological ability to recognise empathy or pity in any way’.”

                  In principle, a certain sort of ruthlessness could be an asset for a president, but Mr Trump is too disorganised to profit from it. Memos must be kept to a single page, and even then often go unread. Attempts to brief him are futile. “It’s pointless to prepare a meaningful, substantive briefing for the president,” Mr Woodward quotes Mr Cohn as saying. “He’s going to get through the first ten minutes and then he’s going to want to start talking about some other topic.” Mr Trump “acted like doing too much advance preparation would diminish his skills in improvising,” according to an aide.

                  That distinctive approach is deployed in the service of two fixed ideas: that trade deficits are bad, and that foreigners should pay for American protection of their countries. When these two gripes come together, as in the case of South Korea—which has a trade surplus with America and an American missile-defence system on its soil—the president can become apoplectic. His desire to withdraw from a trade deal with South Korea is a recurring theme in “Fear”; the opening chapter has Mr Cohn swiping the paperwork to make it happen off Mr Trump’s desk.

                  The last laugh

                  This story, coupled with an anonymous opinion piece in the New York Times describing internal resistance to the president, has set off a debate about whether a silent coup is unfolding at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. “Fear” does not suggest that is so. Mr Cohn and his allies do slow-walk paperwork when the president is planning to do something unwise. But, says Mr Woodward, this only works because Mr Trump “seemed not to remember his own decision because he did not ask about it. He had no list—in his mind or anywhere else—of tasks to complete.”

                  In this account, what matters most to Mr Trump is not governing, but avoiding the impression of weakness. After the “grab them by the *****” tape emerged during the campaign, he was contrite for about a day, then went on the attack again. After his inept first response to the killing of a woman in Charlottesville by a white supremacist, he eventually delivered a speech to mollify those who said he had given racists the impression that he was on their side. He quickly regretted it. “That was the biggest ****ing mistake I’ve made,” he told an aide. “You never make those concessions. You never apologise.”

                  Naturally, Mr Woodward’s bigwig sources have publicly denied saying the things he says they did. Mr Trump himself has denounced the author as a Democratic stooge. For all that, taken together the Trump chronicles throw up another quandary, beyond the issues of accuracy and novelty: whether these tell-alls actually do the president any harm. Plautus suggests otherwise. At the end of his play, the philandering soldier is humiliated—and turns to the audience for applause. https://www.economist.com/books-and-...n-donald-trump

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                  • The Plot to Subvert an Election
                    Unraveling the Russia Story So Far
                    For two years, Americans have tried to absorb the details of the 2016 attack — hacked emails, social media fraud, suspected spies — and President Trump’s claims that it’s all a hoax. The Times explores what we know and what it means.
                    NY TIMES SCOTT SHANE & MARK MAZZETTI SEPT. 20, 2018

                    On an October afternoon before the 2016 election, a huge banner was unfurled from the Manhattan Bridge in New York City: Vladimir V. Putin against a Russian-flag background, and the unlikely word “Peacemaker” below. It was a daredevil happy birthday to the Russian president, who was turning 64.

                    In November, shortly after Donald J. Trump eked out a victory that Moscow had worked to assist, an even bigger banner appeared, this time on the Arlington Memorial Bridge in Washington: the face of President Barack Obama and “Goodbye Murderer” in big red letters.

                    Police never identified who had hung the banners, but there were clues. The earliest promoters of the images on Twitter were American-sounding accounts, including @LeroyLovesUSA, later exposed as Russian fakes operated from St. Petersburg to influence American voters.

                    The Kremlin, it appeared, had reached onto United States soil in New York and Washington. The banners may well have been intended as visual victory laps for the most effective foreign interference in an American election in history.

                    For many Americans, the Trump-Russia story as it has been voluminously reported over the past two years is a confusing tangle of unfamiliar names and cyberjargon, further obscured by the shout-fest of partisan politics. What Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel in charge of the investigation, may know or may yet discover is still uncertain. President Trump’s Twitter outbursts that it is all a “hoax” and a “witch hunt,” in the face of a mountain of evidence to the contrary, have taken a toll on public comprehension.

                    But to travel back to 2016 and trace the major plotlines of the Russian attack is to underscore what we now know with certainty: The Russians carried out a landmark intervention that will be examined for decades to come. Acting on the personal animus of Mr. Putin, public and private instruments of Russian power moved with daring and skill to harness the currents of American politics. Well-connected Russians worked aggressively to recruit or influence people inside the Trump campaign.

                    To many Americans, the intervention seemed to be a surprise attack, a stealth cyberage Pearl Harbor, carried out by an inexplicably sinister Russia. For Mr. Putin, however, it was long-overdue payback, a justified response to years of “provocations” from the United States.

                    And there is a plausible case that Mr. Putin succeeded in delivering the presidency to his admirer, Mr. Trump, though it cannot be proved or disproved. In an election with an extraordinarily close margin, the repeated disruption of the Clinton campaign by emails published on WikiLeaks and the anti-Clinton, pro-Trump messages shared with millions of voters by Russia could have made the difference, a possibility Mr. Trump flatly rejects.

                    As Mr. Trump emerged in spring 2016 as the improbable favorite for the Republican nomination, the Russian operation accelerated on three fronts — the hacking and leaking of Democratic documents; massive fraud on Facebook and Twitter; and outreach to Trump campaign associates.

                    Consider 10 days in March. On March 15 of that year, Mr. Trump won five primaries, closing in on his party’s nomination, and crowed that he had become “the biggest political story anywhere in the world.” That same day in Moscow, a veteran hacker named Ivan Yermakov, a Russian military intelligence officer working for a secret outfit called Unit 26165, began probing the computer network of the Democratic National Committee. In St. Petersburg, shift workers posted on Facebook and Twitter at a feverish pace, posing as Americans and following instructions to attack Mrs. Clinton.

                    On March 21 in Washington, Mr. Trump announced his foreign policy team, a group of fringe figures whose advocacy of warmer relations with Russia ran counter to Republican orthodoxy. Meanwhile, Unit 26165 was poring over the bounty from a separate attack it had just carried out: 50,000 emails stolen from the Clinton campaign’s chairman.

                    On March 24, one of the members of the Trump foreign policy team, George Papadopoulos, sat in the cafe of an upscale London hotel with a Russian woman who introduced herself as Mr. Putin’s niece and offered to help set up a meeting between the Russian president and Mr. Trump. The woman and the adviser exchanged frequent messages in the weeks that followed. Today, Mr. Padadopoulos is unsure that those messages came from the person he met in the cafe.

                    The Russian intervention was essentially a hijacking — of American companies like Facebook and Twitter; of American citizens’ feelings about immigration and race; of American journalists eager for scoops, however modest; of the naïve, or perhaps not so naïve, ambitions of Mr. Trump’s advisers. The Russian trolls, hackers and agents totaled barely 100, and their task was to steer millions of American voters. They knew it would take a village to sabotage an election.

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                    • The Plot to Subvert Pt 2
                      Russians or suspected Russian agents — including oligarchs, diplomats, former military officers and shadowy intermediaries — had dozens of contacts during the campaign with Mr. Trump’s associates. They reached out through email, Facebook and Twitter. They sought introductions through trusted business connections of Mr. Trump’s, obscure academic institutions, veterans groups and the National Rifle Association.

                      They met Trump campaign aides in Moscow, London, New York and Louisville, Ky. One claimed the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton; another Russian, the Trump campaign was told, would deliver it. In May and June alone, the Trump campaign fielded at least four invitations to meet with Russian intermediaries or officials.

                      In nearly every case, the Trump aides and associates seemed enthusiastic about their exchanges with the Russians. Over months of such probing, it seems that no one alerted the Federal Bureau of Investigation to the foreign overtures.

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                      • The Plot to Subvert Pt 3
                        Mr. Trump’s position on the Russian contacts has evolved over time: first, that there were none; then, that they did not amount to collusion; next, that in any case collusion was not a crime. That is mere semantics — conspiracy is the technical legal term for abetting the Russians in breaking American laws, such as those outlawing computer hacking and banning foreign assistance to a campaign.

                        Whether Mr. Trump or any of his associates conspired with the Russians is a central question of the investigation by Mr. Mueller, who has already charged 26 Russians and won convictions or guilty pleas from the former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn; the former campaign chairman, Paul J. Manafort, and his deputy, Rick Gates; and from Mr. Papadopoulos. Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, has pleaded guilty in a separate case.

                        But none of the convictions to date involve conspiracy. There remains an alternative explanation to the collusion theory: that the Trump aides, far from certain their candidate would win, were happy to meet the Russians because they thought it might lead to moneymaking deals after the election. “Black Caviar,” read the subject line of an email Mr. Manafort got in July 2016 from his associate in Kiev, Ukraine, hinting at the possibility of new largess from a Russian oligarch with whom they had done business.

                        Nina L. Khrushcheva, a professor of international affairs at the New School and the great-granddaughter of the Soviet premier Nikita S. Khrushchev, said that what Russia pulled off, through creativity and sheer luck, would have been the envy of Mr. Putin’s predecessors: puncturing the American sense of superiority and insisting on Russia’s power and place in the world.

                        “This operation was to show the Americans — that you bastards are just as screwed up as the rest of us,” Professor Khrushcheva said. “Putin fulfilled the dream of every Soviet leader — to stick it to the United States. I think this will be studied by the K.G.B.’s successors for a very long time.”

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                        • The Plot to Subvert Pt 4
                          Putin Is Angry
                          The Russian leader thought the United States, and Hillary Clinton, had sought to undermine his presidency.

                          The first Russian advance party was tiny: two women on a whirlwind American tour. Hitting nine states in three weeks in summer 2014, Anna Bogacheva and Aleksandra Krylova were supposed to “gather intelligence” to help them mimic Americans on Facebook and Twitter. They snapped photos and chatted up strangers from California to New York, on a sort of Russian “Thelma & Louise” road trip for the era of social media.

                          Even then, federal prosecutors would later say, the Russian government was thinking about the next United States presidential election — perhaps ahead of most Americans. Ms. Bogacheva and Ms. Krylova had been dispatched by their employer, an online propaganda factory in St. Petersburg, to prepare to influence American voters.

                          But why did Mr. Putin care about the election, then more than two years away? He was seething. The United States, in his view, had bullied and interfered with Russia for long enough. It was high time to fight back.

                          His motives were rooted in Russia’s ambivalence toward the West, captured in the history of St. Petersburg, Russia’s spectacular northern city and Mr. Putin’s hometown. Peter the Great, the brutal but westward-looking 18th-century czar, had brought in the best Italian architects to construct Russia’s “window on Europe” in a swamp.

                          Czar Peter’s portrait replaced Vladimir Lenin’s in Mr. Putin’s office when he took a job working for the city’s mayor in the early 1990s. Twenty-five years later, the internet offered a different kind of window on the West — a portal that could be used for a virtual invasion.

                          Mr. Putin, a former K.G.B. officer, had described the breakup of the Soviet Union as the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century, a remarkable statement from a man whose country experienced revolution, civil war, bloody purges and the deaths of 27 million people in World War II. Like many of his fellow citizens, Mr. Putin was nostalgic for Russia’s lost superpower status. And he resented what he saw as American arrogance.

                          The Russian leader believed the United States had relentlessly sought to undermine Russian sovereignty and his own legitimacy. The United States had backed democratic, anti-Russian forces in the so-called color revolutions on Russia’s borders, in Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine in 2004. It had funded pro-democracy Russian activists through American organizations with millions in State Department grants each year.

                          With little evidence, Mr. Putin believed this American meddling helped produce street demonstrations in Moscow and other cities in 2011, with crowds complaining of a rigged parliamentary election and chanting, “Putin’s a thief!”

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                          • The Plot to Subvert Pt 5
                            And Mrs. Clinton, then secretary of state, cheered the protesters on. Russians, she said, “deserve the right to have their voices heard and their votes counted, and that means they deserve free, fair, transparent elections and leaders who are accountable to them.”

                            Mr. Putin blamed Mrs. Clinton for the turmoil, claiming that when she spoke out, his political enemies “heard the signal and with the support of the U.S. State Department began active work.”

                            The two tangled again the next year when Mr. Putin pushed for a “Eurasian Union” that would in effect compete with the European Union. Mrs. Clinton sharply dismissed the notion, calling it a scheme to “re-Sovietize the region” and saying the United States would try to block it.

                            By 2013, with his initial hopes for a “reset” of Russian relations dashed, Mr. Obama, like his top diplomat, no longer bothered to be diplomatic. He criticized Russia’s anti-gay legislation, part of Mr. Putin’s effort to become a global champion for conservative values, and gave a biting description of the Russian leader: “He’s got that kind of slouch, looking like the bored kid in the back of the classroom.” Mr. Putin was reported to be furious.

                            After Russian troops seized Crimea and carried out a stealth invasion of Ukraine in 2014, relations grew openly hostile. American support for the new government in Kiev and condemnation of Russian behavior heightened Mr. Putin’s rage at being told what he could do and not do in what he considered his own backyard.

                            If Russia had only a fraction of the United States’ military might and nothing like its economic power, it had honed its abilities in hacking and influence operations through attacks in Eastern Europe. And it could turn these weapons on America to even the score.

                            By making mischief in the 2016 election, Mr. Putin could wreak revenge on his enemy, Mrs. Clinton, the presumed Democratic nominee, damaging if not defeating her. He could highlight the polarized state of American democracy, making it a less appealing model for Russians and their neighbors. And he could send a message that Russia would not meekly submit to a domineering America.

                            Hence the two Russian women who toured the United States in 2014, keyboard warriors granted the unusual privilege of real-world travel, hitting both coasts, Illinois, Louisiana and Texas. At that point, according to a Russian document cited by the special counsel, Mr. Putin’s intentions for 2016 were already explicit: to “spread distrust toward the candidates and the political system in general.”

                            In the intervening two years, Mr. Putin’s ire at America only increased. He blamed the United States for pushing for a full investigation of illicit doping by Russian athletes, which would lead to mass suspensions of the country’s Olympic stars. And when the leaked Panama Papers were published in April 2016, revealing that a cellist who was Mr. Putin’s close friend had secret accounts that had handled $2 billion, he charged that it was a smear operation by the United States.

                            “Who is behind these provocations?” he asked. “We know that among them are employees of official American institutions.”

                            Then something unexpected happened. Of the more than 20 major-party candidates running for the American presidency, only Mr. Trump had repeatedly expressed admiration for Mr. Putin as a “strong” leader and brushed off criticism of Russia. Only he had little interest in the traditional American preoccupation with democracy and human rights. Only he had explored business interests in Russia for years, repeatedly pursuing a Trump Tower project in Moscow and bringing his beauty pageant there in 2013.

                            æ, !

                            Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp

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                            • The Plot to Subvert Pt 6


                              The Story Behind the Story
                              To help make sense of the Russia investigation, reporters looked for lessons from the coverage of another complex White House affair: Watergate. A Times Insider column tells the story.

                              “Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow,” the future candidate tweeted at the time, adding wistfully, “if so, will he become my new best friend?”

                              If Mr. Putin had been designing his ideal leader for the United States, he could hardly have done better than Donald Trump.

                              For some years, Mr. Trump had attracted attention from Russian conservatives with Kremlin ties. A Putin ally named Konstantin Rykov had begun promoting Mr. Trump as a future president in 2012 and created a Russian-language website three years later to support his candidacy. A Russian think tank, Katehon, had begun running analyses pushing Mr. Trump.

                              Mr. Trump as a candidate was “tough, rough, says what he thinks, rude, emotional and, apparently, candid,” wrote Alexander Dugin, an ultranationalist philosopher considered a major influence on Mr. Putin, in February 2016. Mr. Dugin declared that Mr. Trump probably had “no chance of winning” against the “quite annoying” Mrs. Clinton, but added a postscript: “We want to put trust in Donald Trump. Vote for Trump, and see what will happen.”

                              Against all expectations, Republicans across the country began to do just that, and soon Mr. Trump was beating the crowd of mainstream Republicans. Mr. Putin, said Yuval Weber, a Russia scholar, “found for the first time since the collapse of the U.S.S.R. that he has a prospective president of the United States who fundamentally views international issues from the Russian point of view.”

                              Asked about the surging Mr. Trump in December 2015, Mr. Putin said he was “a talent, without any doubt,” and “absolutely the leader in the presidential race.” He also applied to the candidate the Russian word yarkii, which means “colorful” or “flamboyant” but which some reports mistranslated as “brilliant,” an assessment that Mr. Trump immediately began repeating.

                              “It’s always a great honor to be so nicely complimented,” Mr. Trump said, “by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond.”

                              æ, !

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                              • The Plot to Subvert Pt 7
                                Moscow’s Dream Team
                                As Donald J. Trump emerged as the favorite for the nomination, his campaign brought on aides tied to Russia.

                                Mr. Trump had steamrollered his primary opponents in part by taking aim at Republican foreign policy orthodoxy. The post-9/11 wars were foolish and costly, he would often say at campaign events. America’s allies were deadbeats and freeloaders, he told supporters, who cheered in agreement. Russia was not an existential threat, he said, but a potential ally in beating back terrorist groups.

                                In early March 2016, the establishment struck back. In an open letter, dozens of the party’s national security luminaries vowed publicly to try to stop the election of a candidate “so utterly unfitted to the office.”

                                They took particular umbrage at Mr. Trump’s remarks about the Russian president, writing that his “admiration for foreign dictators such as Vladimir Putin is unacceptable for the leader of the world’s greatest democracy.”

                                But Mr. Trump was not cowed. He soon signed on new advisers and aides, including some who had been pushed to the fringe of a political party that had long lionized President Ronald Reagan for staring down Soviet leaders at the height of the Cold War.

                                To the Kremlin, they must have looked like a dream team.

                                Mr. Flynn, the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, had long viewed Russia as a natural ally in what he saw as a “world war” against radical Islam. In June 2013, when he was D.I.A. chief, he sat inside the imposing headquarters of the G.R.U., Russia’s military intelligence agency, and chatted with officers. Two years later, he sat at Mr. Putin’s elbow at a gala dinner in Moscow.

                                Mr. Manafort, a longtime Republican lobbyist, had earned millions working for a pro-Kremlin leader in Ukraine and had a history of business dealings with Oleg Deripaska, a Russian aluminum magnate close to Mr. Putin. He was nearly broke when he joined the Trump campaign in March 2016 — hired to help prevent a mass defection of convention delegates — and yet he offered to work on the campaign unpaid.

                                Carter Page, a businessman who spent several years working in Moscow, was virtually unknown in Washington when Mr. Trump appointed him a foreign policy adviser. But the S.V.R., Russia’s foreign intelligence service, knew who he was.

                                In 2013, Mr. Page met in New York with a Russian spy posing as an attaché at the United Nations and passed along energy industry documents in hopes of securing lucrative deals in Moscow.

                                The F.B.I., which had been tracking Russian spies when Mr. Page came on the bureau’s radar, determined that he had no idea he was meeting with a Russian agent.

                                “I promised him a lot,” said the spy, Victor Podobnyy, speaking to another Russian intelligence officer about his dealings with Mr. Page, according to an F.B.I. transcript. “How else to work with foreigners? You promise a favor for a favor.”

                                The new team was in place by the end of March, and Mr. Trump had a new message that was strikingly similar to one of Mr. Putin’s most ardent talking points.

                                “I think NATO’s obsolete,” Mr. Trump said during an interview on ABC’s “This Week.”

                                “NATO’s not meant for terrorism,” he went on to say. “NATO doesn’t have the right countries in it for terrorism.”

                                By then, the Russian intelligence operation to intervene in the American election — including efforts to infiltrate and influence the Trump campaign — had begun.

                                Mr. Papadopoulos, the 28-year-old campaign adviser, did not know this when he met in the cafe of the London hotel with Mr. Putin’s “niece” (he has no niece) and an obscure Maltese professor in late March. The academic had taken an interest in Mr. Papadopoulos when he joined the campaign.

                                F.B.I. agents have identified the professor, Joseph Mifsud, as a likely cutout for Russian intelligence, sent to establish contact with Mr. Papadopoulos and possibly get information about the direction of the Trump campaign. He disappeared after his name surfaced last October, and his whereabouts is unknown. At one point he changed his WhatsApp status to a simple, if cryptic, message: “Alive.”

                                Professor Mifsud arranged an email introduction between Mr. Papadopoulos and a Russian foreign ministry official. The American also exchanged emails with Olga Polonskaya, the woman in the cafe. “We are all very excited by the possibility of a good relationship with Mr. Trump,” she wrote in one message, and the two discussed a possible meeting between Mr. Putin and Mr. Trump.

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