I know, I should probably not waste everybody’s time commenting on this nonsense, but the push on it has been massive, with it seeming to influence a lot of people it should not, so I have decided some push back is called for, even if those who should see it do not. I am partly triggered in this by getting defriended on Facebook yesterday by a generally intelligent libertarian academic economist I know who started massively linking to every crackpot pushing this nonsense, and when I pointed out some serious problems with all of it and declared the whole thing to be “insane,” I was told that my “TDS was showing” and was defriended. As far as I am concerned, TDS is people who believe lunatic lies by Trump, showing as a result their own derangement.
As part of all this the Trump media push on this is massive. I am not sure it held for the whole Sunday-Saturday week, but reportedly for at least a substantial portion of last week Fox News was spending more time on this story than on the pandemic, no distraction with this, of course. And this was not as in there might be two sides to it, at least not on Hannity where I have kept an eye on it. He has been for quite some time pushing for investigations of how the Russia investigation started with a demand that people go to jail for it for a long time. So he has been all u-rah-rah to Trump coming on to Fox News on Thursday morning with his completely off the wall claim that “This is the greatest political scandal in US history,” repeated several times, along with his demand that Senate committees drag lots of people in and that Obama, Biden (of course), Comey, and Brennan should all go to jail for 50 years, although he has not mentioned any actual crimes for which they should go to serve these long sentences that would effectively put them away for life. Both Sens. Grassley and Graham have jumped sort of to attention to promise hearings on all this, although the generally odious Graham did show some streak of sanity by saying he would not call Obama before his committee, perhaps aware that the guy is the most popular political figure in the country, warning “Be careful what you wish for,” although I did not see him ruling out dragging Biden in.
So have there been any actual crimes in all this “Obamagate” as Trump has now repeatedly labeled it? Not much. Probably a majority of the talk in this past week and a half or so as this has ramped up has been about the unmasking of former General Michael Flynn. Hannity has all but frothed at the mouth over the supposedly awful “unmaskers,” who seem to be as bad as Islamic terrorists, if not Commies in the 1950s. Of course, unmasking is a completely trivial and ordinary thing that goes on all the time, with the rate of it higher under Trump than under Obama. Officials ask the NSA for the identity of an American identified in a phone call with some foreigner of interest. This does not mean their identities become public, which rarely happens. In 2017 there were over 8,000 such unmaskings, with the requests needing to be approved by NSA. In 2018 this hit an all time record of over 16,000, approximately one per half hour, with that number falling back to something over 10,000 in 2019.
Apparently between his appointment as incoming National Security Adviser and Trump’s inauguration, about three dozen officials requested him to be unmasked, some of them on multiple occasions. Note that while they may have suspected it was him, they did not know this when they made these requests. While there has been a big focus on Flynn’s Dec. 29 phone conversations (two of them) with former Russian Ambassador Kislyak, the majority of these unmasking requests, which were granted as legitimate, came in mid-December due to other phone calls he was in on, the contents of which remain unpublicized to this point. The Dec. 29 ones, which were later leaked to the Washington Post that published about them on Jan. 12, were especially important in that they made it clear that Flynn had lied to incoming VP Pence about making promises to the Russians about weakening sanctions just imposed by Obama to punish them for their interference in the US election, which lie Pence had publicly pronounced. This would lead Trump to eventually fire Flynn, and it was this matter that Flynn lied to the FBI about on Jan. 24, although they did not coordinate with the DOJ when they spoke with him. I note that two days after the election when Obama met with Trump, he specifically advised him not to appoint Flynn to anything due to his screaming incompetence, with Obama having fired Flynn from being director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA, Pentagon junior cousin to the CIA). There is an old Cold War era Washington joke that goes: “The CIA director testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee, ‘The Russians are coming!” Then the DIA director testifies and says, ‘The Russians are coming tomorrow!” and then the Air Force Intelligence director testifies that, ‘The Russians arrived yesterday!””
I find it a sign of Flynn’s screaming incompetence that as a former DIA director he did not realize that when he started having phone conversations with the Russian ambassador and who knows who else we do not still know about that NSA would be listening so any lies he would tell later would be caught and that indeed he would get unmasked by a gazillion officials all over the security establishment. And he has now committed perjury by withdrawing his confession of lying to the FBI, with all this pile of Trump media people pressing for Judge Sullivan to drop his case now that AG Barr has requested it, since AG Barr is clearly such an honest and straightforward player himself, given how he blatantly lied about the Mueller Report when it came out.
So, roughly coinciding with Barr’s move was that of Acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Grenell declassifying and bringing to the Dept of Justice, with Fox News filming his arrival there with a briefcase containing them the roughly three dozen names of people who dared to unmask Flynn. Barr promptly transmitted these names to various GOP senators, three of whom then made the list public so Hannity and others could staart denouncing these evil unmaskers, triggering them to start receiving death threat from lunatic Trump followers. I note that Grenell’s sole experience in intelligence or foreign policy matters was his recent bout of serving as ambassador to Germany where that government requested he be removed, a request that was ignored by Trump. Shortly after he arrived in Berlin, Trump withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear JCPOA, and Grenell then issued a demand that no German businesses have any dealings with Iran, a demand that was ignored aside from the German government’s demanding he be removed.
Ah ha! At least one possible crime has been identified! (This has been “the scandal in search of a crime”) In Friday’s WaPo, Trump fan Mark Thiessen (who I grant has on rare occasions criticized Trump mildly for this or that) published a column in which he declared “Flynn isn’t the one who committed a crime” (yes, he did). According to Thiessen the crime is the leaking of the stories about Flynn’s Dec. 29 phone calls to Kislyak, about which he lied to Pence and others in the incoming Trump admin, which led them to fire him. Thiessen proceeded to identify 8 out of this three dozen people who might have been the evil leaker (although he only listed 7 names), and thus possibly open to being prosecuted, if only DOJ can figure out which one it was. This was the set of people who supposedly not only reuested unmasking of Flynn from NSA, but were actually given his name (allthough apparently in some cases these requests were made by staffers in their offices without even the main person even knowing about it, this being so routine). Obama’s name was not among the 7 Thiessen listed, but Biden’s, Clapper’s, and Somantha Powers’s were.
Obviously there is attention being paid to Biden in this regard, and no doubt we shall hear a lot about this from the Trump media mob, with him possibly even being demanded to testify before one of the Senate committees. However, it is almost certainlhy not him or even one of his staffers. Why not? The one unmasking request that came out of his office did so on Jan. 12 (not mentioned by Thiessen but reported elsewhere in WaPo), the day the leaked story appeared in WaPo. So quite likely somebody in his office sent the request after seeing the story in the paper. Anyway, not the leaker.
Curiously another name is somebody I never heard of, one Stephanie L. O’Sullivan, identified by Thiessen as “a CIA official whose name is redacted.” What? He does not explain where her name was redacted. If it was redacted in the report given by Grenell to Barr, how did it come to be unredacted and made public? This looks like illegal leaking of its own, of a still hired person in the CIA whose identity is supposed to be kept secret. But ah, obviously this shows how the evil Deep State was after Flynn and the whole Trump administration, blah blah blah. The hypocrisy of this particular piece of this just stinks to high heaven.
Anyway, I realize that this is pretty complicated. But that may be why I see a need to put it out there as there is no doubt the Trump people will be putting out distorted and wildly exaggerated versions of this big time. So, here it is, for any of you who have made it this far. And that is enough from me on this, at least for now. Stay well, one and all.
Addenda: In today’s Washington Post, Ruth Marcus noted something I had forgotten: it was Michael Flynn who led the chants to “Lock her up!” at the 2016 GOP convention. Of course such a worthy cannot be locked up himself.
For the record, here are the 7 people listed by Thiessen in his column as being candidate leakers (or maybe somebody from one of their staffs, although he does not mention that possibility): former VP Joe Biden, former UN ambassador Samantha Power (Fox News commenters have made much of her, who supposedly made 7 unmasking requests, how dare her!), former DNI (not Acting) James R. Clapper, Jr. (why would somebody in his position have any authority to make such a request?), former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, former White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, deputy nation intelligence director Michael Dempsey, ah, and the above-menioned Stephanie L. O’Sullivan, whose name was supposedly “redacted,” but I missed that she also is a “former deputy national intelligence director.”
Oh, and in Trump’s diatribes on all this he has called this “the greatest political crime” as well as “scandal” in US history. Maybe a “political crime” is not quite the same thing as a “legal crime,” although, wow, there is this case of leaking!