Part 1—Mike Morell's wet blanket: Yay yay yay yay yay yay yay!
This Thursday morning, on TV, we'll be treated to very high drama. James B. Comey—the newly resurgent Comey the God—will appear before the Senate intelligence committee, where he's expected to spill.
(Dramatic headline from Over There: "Senators preview plans for James Comey hearing as suspense builds.")
Why did Comey the God get fired? Did Donald J. Trump commit an obstruction of justice? Comey's words are expected to add to the drama we've been enjoying with respect to these points of concern. Almost surely, he'll be questioned about other dramatic points too!
Tomorrow, we'll start to profile the cast of characters for the coming drama. For today, we're going to share some words of caution from Mike Morell.
Who the heck is Mike Morell? During the Obama years, he served as deputy director of the CIA. He also served as acting director on two occasions, first in 2011, then again from 2012 through 2013.
And no, he isn't a right-wing hack. The leading authority on his life offers some basic background:
In an August 2016 op-ed for The New York Times, Morell endorsed Hillary Clinton for president. Stating that he was registered with neither the Democratic nor Republican parties, and had always been silent about his political preferences, Morell stated that Donald Trump was "not only unqualified for the job, but he may well pose a threat to our national security." Morell left his job as a CBS News analyst before making the endorsement."In December 2016, Morell suggested the interference of Russia in the 2016 United States presidential election was 'the political equivalent of 9/11,' " the leading authority goes on to say. "He added that President Obama should retaliate imminently, in spite of president-elect Donald Trump's doubts about the allegations of Russian influence."
Morell is an experienced intelligence officer. Last summer, he endorsed Candidate Clinton while trashing Candidate Trump.
Morell guested on the Charlie Rose program last Thursday night. With Thursday's drama approaching, we thought the words of caution he voiced that night might be worth reviewing today.
Morell spoke with Rose for 34 minutes. As you will see if you watch the tape, he displayed the slightly haunted air of those who have spent too many years in the intelligence services.
Roughly twenty minutes in, Rose sought Morell's views about some of the highly dramatic events which will come center stage this Thursday. In our view, a serious citizen might benefit from Morell's remarks.
For starters, Morell said we need a full investigation of the reasons behind Comey's firing. "Did the president of the United States obstruct justice in asking for Jim Comey's, reportedly asking for his loyalty, asking him to let the Michael Flynn investigation go? And then in firing him, right?"
That's one of the things Morell said to Rose. According to Morell, we need to see if Donald J. Trump obstructed justice, which is a crime!
Yay yay yay yay yay! But just like that, Morell cast a wet blanket over several current stampedes as he discussed other elements of our ongoing dramas.
What about the conduct of Jared Kushner, Donald J. Trump's son-in-law? Fighting through his host's interruptions, Morell suddenly cast himself in the role of buzzkill-in-chief.
The chase after Kushner has provided weeks of cable drama. That said, we think Morell may have offered some good sound advice in these buzzkill remarks:
MORELL (6/1/17): The first thing I would say, Charlie, is that I look at this as an intelligence analyst would look at an issue. And when I do that, the first thing I say is, "Wow, there's a big caveat here."Say what? According to Morell, we may not have the actual facts concerning the Kushner matter. A few days earlier, he'd issued similar words of warning in even stronger form.
And the big caveat here is that, is that the facts that are in the public domain may not turn out to be accurate, right? The real facts may be somewhat different than the facts in the public domain.
Why do I say that?
ROSE (chuckling): Because you have experienced it.
Chuckling, Rose seemed to suggest that the press corps frequently gets its facts wrong in matters of this type. Do we have the actual facts about Kushner? Morell extended his point:
MORELL (continuing directly): How do we—how do we know this Jared Kushner thing? How do we know the story, right? Well, what we, what we reportedly have is, we have Russians talking to each other about the meeting. And we have the U.S. collecting that intelligence of the Russians talking to each other about the meeting, right?Oof! Just like that, Morell extended a major wet blanket. Consider:
Then we have former officials and current officials leaking that to reporters, and we have the reporters then writing stories based on those leaks, not having seen the intelligence documents, but having talked to people who have leaked them.
ROSE: And who read from them.
MORELL: And who read from them. That's not a great sourcing chain, right? And I'm an analyst looking at that. I'm not going to put a high level of credibility in those facts, just because that sourcing chain—
ROSE: So you are saying about Jared Kushner and meeting with the Russian ambassador—
MORELL: Just be careful here.
ROSE: Be careful?
MORELL: Be careful here of the facts. That is—that is the first point.
Every night, on cable news, we're being fed extremely high drama about Kushner's behavior. All of a sudden, Morell was suggesting that our "facts" about this matter may not be the best!
He offered warnings about the "sourcing chain"—the exact kind of warning we issued several weeks back with respect to a different press corps report.
(Two weeks after we issued our warning, Rachel Maddow misleadingly said that, based upon her staff's new "reporting," the press corps' report had been wrong. She named six news orgs which ran with the bogus report, but forgot to mention herself.)
Concerning the Kushner drama, Morell warned Rose that the facts we currently have may not be accurate facts. From there, he voiced other drama-killing views, with which we tend to concur.
Concerning Kushner's request for a back channel with the Kremlin, he noted that Michael Flynn was at the meeting where that request is said to have occurred. Flynn "should be part of this story" too, Morell told Rose.
And then, he made the remarks shown below. For ourselves, we're inclined to agree with his series of drama killers. They started out like this:
MORELL: Remember, this was, as reported by the Washington Post and the New York Times, this was a channel for Michael Flynn to talk to the Russians, supposedly to the Russian military, supposedly about Syria and other issues. That was the channel.He isn't bothered by the idea that Flynn may have wanted to talk about various issues with the Russkies. At present, that's an heretical view. But we'll have to admit that we've largely had the same reaction to these exciting claims.
That doesn't bother me. That does not bother me.
Already, Morell had broken every rule in the book. But as he continued, his assault on our ongoing tribal drama only grew worse:
ROSE (continuing directly): What if it was to talk about sanctions?Is Morell allowed to say that? He was rejecting the basic constituents of the past few weeks' high dramatics—the items which have us excited each night on cable TV!
MORELL: That doesn't even bother me.
ROSE: Well, what would bother you, then?
What is Morell troubled by? In response to Rose's question, he said he wants to know the reasons for the secrecy sought by Kushner and Flynn. He said he wants to know if Donald J. Trump had endorsed the attempt to create a back channel. He said he wants to know if they had "something to hide."
But in what follows, Morell describes the part of this matter about which he's principally concerned. In this passage, he said he's mainly concerned with the possibility of pre-election collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russkies. But even here, he pooh-poohed major elements of ongoing cable dramatics, even left them for dead:
MORELL: I'm much more interested in what the Trump associates said to the Russians before the election than I am after the election, because I'm much more interested in the question of did they help the Russians interfere in our election. And I'm primarily interested in what they said after the election as a, as a way to inform what they were doing with the Russians prior. That's much more important here, to me.Is Morell concerned by the fact that Trump wasn't yet in office when Flynn and Kushner sought that back channel?
It is not unlikely that Flynn did want to talk to them about Syria and sanctions and other issues. And I don't think that's that big a deal. But it's—
ROSE: But is that par for the course for an administration that is not yet in power? And is it par for the course because some people always raise the question of "we only have one president at a time."
In response to Rose's question, he rolled his eyes at Logan Act excitement, then offered this assessment:
MORELL: During a campaign, a presidential campaign, during the general election campaign, there are foreign officials coming through both campaigns, having conversations about what is your policy going to be, right? What are you thinking about? Here is what we are thinking we would like your policy to be. What are you guys thinking?Say what? Morell, a highly experienced Clinton endorser, said conversations during the transition period are helpful. They should increase!
So that conversation is already occurring.
ROSE: And helpful.
MORELL: And helpful, right? And there is no reason why that conversation has to stop during a transition. In fact, there is every reason to believe that it should actually increase. So that's why that doesn't bother me.
Is Mike Morell right in these judgments? That's a matter of opinion. But as he and Rose ended this part of their conversation, he made a point about press coverage which we think you ought to consider. He seemed to say that "some people in the media" tend to get out over their skis at exciting moments like this:
MORELL: Here is the last point I would make, Charlie, on this Kushner thing. I think a lot of people, particularly some people in the media, have been very quick to grab this and conclude that something wrong—something was done here that was inappropriate or even criminal.Oof. Once again, Morell suggested that "the facts as we know them in the media" may not be entirely accurate. Beyond that, he made a thinly veiled suggestion:
And I simply don't think the facts as we know them—and you know my concern about whether the facts are right—that the facts as even we know them in the media take you there, right? Take you to the judgment that there was something wrong done here.
We have to be patient. We have to let the FBI do its investigation.
He suggested that "some people in the media" may tend to get ahead of themselves when a chase like this is on.
Mike Morell, a Clinton endorser, made these heretical statements on last Thursday's Charlie Rose program. A few days earlier, he'd made statements about the general accuracy of press corps work which were even more cutting.
Tomorrow, we'll start with those earlier comments. We'll stop today with this:
All this week, our cable stars will be handing us high drama. In fairness, such conduct is good for cable ratings. It helps to keep their massively bloated cable salaries afloat.
High drama serves the interests of those stars and of their corporate owners. But does high drama really serve you and yours?
Thursday morning's excitement approaches. We'll explore that last question all week.
Tomorrow: "I spent a career watching the media get a significant portion of intelligence-related stories wrong."