Bloom Briefing 40: Mueller Investigation Update and More Specious Conservative Two-Sidesism

This week, The Bloom Briefing returns with an update on the Mueller investigation as well as further evidence for the need to rebut specious conservative two-sidesism.

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An Update on the Special Counsel Investigation

News broke this week that Robert Mueller has subpoenaed records from Trump’s businesses, some records of which are related to Russia. Details are still unclear about the extent of the subpoena, but at the very least, it indicates that there is more to come from Mueller and his team.

Trump responded angrily to the subpoena on Twitter, criticizing the very existence of the Mueller investigation, and implicitly raising the likelihood that he might fire Mueller. He used the cover of the House Intelligence Committee faux-investigation to claim that there is no evidence of any collusion between him, his campaign, and Russia.

With the investigation humming along, this seems like a good time to provide an update on its constituent elements. The Special Counsel has its own website here, which contains the related documents. The major players under investigation, as we know from the indictments handed down against them, are:

  • Paul Manafort has been indicted on a variety of charges, most of which are related to financial misdeeds (money laundering, tax fraud, bank fraud). Some of these are tied to his work for Viktor Yanukovych, a pro-Russian former President of Ukraine now living in exile in Russia. Manafort has entered a plea of not-guilty.

    • Why does Manafort matter? Manafort was, for a time, Donald Trump’s campaign manager. He participated in the meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower, which came about after she offered Don, Jr., dirt on Hillary Clinton. And he was campaign manager at the Republican National Convention in July where language in the Republican Party platform on Russia and Ukraine was changed to be more favorable towards Russia.

  • Rick Gates, Paul Manafort’s former right-hand man, has likewise been indicted on a series of charges related to financial misdeeds. He has entered a guilty plea and is cooperating with the Special Counsel.

    • Why does Gates matter? Gates was involved in the campaign with Manafort, and he has been Manafort’s associate for some time. Mueller likely hopes that Gates can supply incriminating evidence on more senior figures in the campaign and/or administration.

  • Michael Flynn, a senior figure in the campaign and, briefly, the Trump Administration’s National Security Advisor, has been indicted on charges of lying to the FBI. Lying to the FBI is a felony.

    • Why does Flynn matter? Flynn himself has connections to Russia – these contacts were the subject matter of his lie to FBI investigators. The Trump Administration was warned about Flynn before appointing him to the post of National Security Advisor, but Trump appointed him anyway. He was forced to resign because the Russian government knew that he had met with them and thus that he had lied, giving them (the Russians) the ability to blackmail Flynn. By gaining Flynn’s cooperation, Mueller has another source of information on what was communicated between the Trump team and Moscow during the campaign.

  • George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign, has been indicted on charges of lying to the FBI.

    • Why does Papadopoulos matter? The fact that Papadopoulos lied to the FBI isn’t the interesting part of this investigation. Like with Flynn, the interesting part is what he lied about. Papadopoulos is alleged to have known that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton while he was working on the campaign. By getting Papadopoulos to plead guilty, Mueller secures his cooperation with the investigation, and thus has access to some of the campaign’s communication, discussion, and thinking about what to do with Russian dirt on Hillary Clinton.

  • The Internet Research Agency and 13 individuals who worked at it, were indicted on counts of defrauding the United States by corrupting the election.

    • Why does this indictment matter? It’s unclear what the outcome of this indictment will be. Unlike the others, no US citizens have been named in this indictment. What it does do is lay out in painstaking detail the Russian operation to undermine the integrity of the presidential elections.

    • The Internet Research Agency is something of a known entity. The New York Times Magazine ran a profile of the Agency back in June of 2015. By laying out in excruciating detail (including internal instructions to Agency staff about how to execute their mission) what the Agency was attempting to do with respect to the election, if any information regarding the Agency appeared in Trump’s intelligence briefings, it would be abundantly clear that Trump had disregarded overwhelming evidence that Russia was attempting to aid him in the election and systematically lying to the American people about their involvement.

There also remain several allegations from the Steele Dossier that Mueller might be investigating. In last week’s New Yorker, Jane Mayer wrote a profile of Christopher Steele. I recommend reading the whole thing, which includes many alarming allegations. The most alarming of these, of course, is the very real possibility that an American president is a compromised Russian intelligence asset. This is why the Mueller investigation is necessary. The second most alarming allegation – made by Steele from intelligence gathered after the production of the initial dossier – is that Russia vetoed Mitt Romney as Secretary of State.

A Continued Vigilance against Specious Conservative Two-Sidesism

Two weeks ago, I wrote a lengthy Bloom Briefing (number 39) nearly entirely on the subject of specious conservative two-sidesism, the notion that because there’s something somewhat illiberal about some factions on the left, that the left poses as great a danger to liberal democracy as the right. The subsequent week of New York Times op-eds proved the need for such a piece.

On Tuesday, March 7, Bari Weiss penned an op-ed titled, “We’re all fascists now.” This column compares a small fraction of progressive activists on college campuses who don’t want conservative figures to be invited to speak with… wait for it… Silvio Berlusconi, Vladimir Putin, Rodrigo Duterte, Xi Jinping, Nicolás Maduro, Marine Le Pen, and Bashar al-Assad.

If that isn’t patently absurd on the surface, let me spell it out. College students have basically no power. What happens if they prevent Milo Yiannopoulos or Charles Murray from speaking? Other students buy their books, watch them on television, read their articles on Breitbart or in academic journals, and watch videos of them giving lectures on Youtube. Compare this outcome with Animal Farm having been banned in China. Nobody can read the book. It’s illegal to do so. Extrajudicial killings in Philippines or a civil war in Syria? That doesn’t sound very much like what’s happening on college campuses. But in Weiss’s mind, the impulse to prevent hateful speech is the same as the impulse to systematically exterminate political dissidents.

On Wednesday, March 8, David Brooks penned a column titled, “Understanding Student Mobbists.” In this column, Brooks argues that young progressives today live in a world where, “reason, apparently, ceased to matter.” No, Brooks isn’t referring to the unhinged and mendacious ravings of our sitting president; he is referring to progressive activists who prefer to prevent certain ideas from having prominent voice on campus.

While Brooks purports to engage in empathy, “to try to see things from the students’ perspectives,” he also refers to students as “mobbists,” decries the end of reason, and implies that the students share a perspective with the revolutionaries of France, Russia, and China that “ALL wound up waist deep in blood.”

On Thursday, March 9, guest columnist Katherine Mangu-Ward, chief editor of libertarian magazine Reason, wrote a piece titled, “When Smug Liberals Meet Conservative Trolls.” Here, in the first three paragraphs, we get the comparison between 4chan and Reddit neo-Nazi fascists and smug self-righteous coastal elites. The lede of the entire piece is, “It’s hard to tell who started it.”

Mangu-Ward accuses the left of smug provocation for accusing certain factions of the right as being beyond the pale. But the very “conservatives” Mangu-Ward identifies early on – e.g., the 4chan folks – are very much beyond the pale. These are folks posting photo-shopped images of Jewish media figures’ children in gas chambers to Twitter, but God forbid we smug liberal elites accuse them of being beyond the pale.

All of this is simply to make the point that specious conservative two-sidesism remains prevalent even amidst the “liberal” media most people reading this briefing likely consume regularly. I should make it perfectly clear that the New York Times is far from the only publication guilty of publishing too much of this nonsense (though I think their opinion page has become something of an embarrassment in this regard).

I also don’t think the publication of even this amount of specious conservative two-sidesism warrants canceling subscriptions (the reporting from the Times mostly remains excellent). But progressive readers must remain vigilant not to be fooled by the preponderance of articles in their traditional news streams asserting that the threat to liberal democracy is equally of the left and right.

Additional Reading:

If you read one thing this week, read Michael Reichert in the Atlantic on male violence.

I also recommend Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes in the Atlantic on the firing of Andrew McCabe and what it portends about our constitutionalism.

To round out a trio of Atlantic articles, Peter Beinart on Nancy Pelosi’s accomplishments and lack of recognition for them is also a good read.