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MONDAY, MAY 21, 2018

The discourse falls apart:
Should the FBI have sent [NAME WITHHELD] to lure George Papadopoulos into a conversation? Through the use of a pile of cash and an airplane ticket to London?

(To see the name of NAME WITHHELD, click to Kevin Drum. Or click to Ken Dilanian of NBC News.)

Should the FBI have told NAME WITHHELD to do that? We can't voice a useful opinion. Basically, we lack the requisite experience.

That said, the behavior does begin to strike us as strange within the context of a presidential election. Beyond that, the general topic seems to be introducing The Total Crazy into the public discourse.

Julie Hirschfeld Davis is one of the sane ones at the New York Times. That said, her front-page report on this topic today strikes us as borderline nuts.

It reads like the work of someone who's trying to trigger a civil war. Morning Joe sounded the same way on this same topic this morning.

In fact, Trump asked for an investigation of the so-called informant/spy/embed. Rod Rosenstein said that would be fine with him; the IG can do it, he said. It's hard to see what's scary, upsetting or wrong about that. What explains all the hysteria?

Meanwhile, we've been struck by an apparent general reluctance to describe what NAME WITHHELD actually did. For starters, here was Matt Miller last Thursday night, speaking with Chris Hayes:
HAYES (5/17/18): I want to talk about this quote about the government informant because that has been what the President is sort of building this on, what Trump T.V. have talked about:

"At least one government informant met several times with Mr. Page and Mr. Papadopoulos, current and former officials said." That has become a politically contentious point of Mr. Trump's allies questioning whether the FBI was spying on the Trump Campaign or trying entrap campaign officials. What, how—what do you think?

MILLER: ...If there was an informant in the campaign who was talking to the FBI, it's because that informant presumably saw evidence of a crime and wanted to report it to law enforcement. You know, they're trying to twist that now and say that it's spying of some sort...
According to Miller, here's what happened:

If there really was an informant, it was because that person "saw evidence of a crime and wanted to report it to law enforcement."

But as the subsequent reporting has shown, that isn't what happened at all. Beneath a weirdly didactic headline, this is what the New york Times reported on Saturday morning:
GOLDMAN, MAZZETTI AND ROSENBERG (5/19/18):The informant is well known in Washington circles, having served in previous Republican administrations and as a source of information for the C.I.A. in past years, according to one person familiar with the source’s work.

F.B.I. agents were seeking more details about what Mr. Papadopoulos knew about the hacked Democratic emails, and one month after their Russia investigation began, Mr. Papadopoulos received a curious message. The [informant] inquired about his interest in writing a research paper on a disputed gas field in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, a subject of Mr. Papadopoulos’s expertise.

The informant offered a $3,000 honorarium for the paper and a paid trip to London, where the two could meet and discuss the research project.


Mr. Papadopoulos accepted the offer and arrived in London two weeks later, where he met for several days with the [informant] and one of his assistants, a young woman.
That isn't what Miller had imagined at all. In fact, the informant paid Papadopoulos $3000 to fly across the ocean to confer with him in London, pretending that he wanted him to write an academic paper.

Given the fact that a presidential campaign was involved, that strikes us as potentially shaky conduct. But however one may judge this behavior, it certainly isn't what Miller had imagined.

That said, so what? We've seen little attempt to describe this play, and some pundits on MSNBC continued to offer misleading, Miller-like accounts over the weekend. Meanwhile, Joy Reid kept telling us how dangerous it would be for anyone to name the informant, failing to say that her colleague Dilanian, and half the known world, had already done so.

(Dilanian employed some Times-like gorilla dust to seem to say that he wasn't naming the informant even as he did so. For background, see Drum)

More and more, day by day, our discourse seems to be moving toward a completely crazed two-tribe double muddle. Donald J. Trump is out of his head. Day by day, increasingly, we liberals may be too.


  1. Bye bye blue wave. The universe is unfolding just as it should.

  2. There is some context missing here. It is that the FBI investigation of Papadopoulos was initially started because an Australian heard him drunkenly bragging about something concerning Russia that struck him as improper. It makes sense they might ask a trusted non-employee to check that out, to see whether it merited a full-blown investigation. The Australian was not a known quantity and they perhaps didn't want to rely on his judgment alone. An informant is someone who is not an employee, someone not on payroll and not acting as a spy or investigator but just sizing up the situation to see if further action was warranted. Look at the timeline.

    It should be obvious why they couldn't send an FBI agent.

    Doesn't anyone remember the 60s when it was routine to assume that any campus or fringe political organization could be assumed to have several members who were FBI informants. The furor arose when they crossed the line and became provocateurs and entrapment laws were examined. But I don't see any suggestion of entrapment in the description of what this informant did with Papadopoulos. It was innocuous professional consulting in his area of expertise.

  3. I went back and read the NY Times article after reading Somerby's criticism of it. I cannot see what Somerby is upset about. I believe he may be confusing the author's voice with the collection of quotes and actions by Trump, which are very crazy, and the many comments by bystanders and authorities attesting that Trump's behavior is unusual and inappropriate -- the author explains why. It is a fairly comprehensive summary of events up to this latest demand. As such, it is not only appropriate as a news report, but helpful in summarizing what's going on, for those not watching events unfold day-by-day.

    So why then does Somerby claim the author is trying to start a civil war? Is it because Trump supporters won't like the picture of their President that emerges from this summary? If so, isn't it about time they woke up about Trump? And how will they do that, if not by seeing his actions through the eyes of these experts on precedents?

    Tiptoeing gently around Trump's misbehavior, to spare the feelings of Trump snowflakes, doesn't make any sense when our nation truly is in crisis. Somerby doesn't seem to think Trump is that bad. He occasionally makes a token remark about Trump's craziness, but he doesn't seem to care about the many cruel, disruptive, and ugly things that have emerged from that craziness. He doesn't care what Trump has done or what he will ultimately do to our country. Why is that?

    I do think it is irresponsible to make remarks about starting a civil war. One problem with Trump is that he has unleashed alt-Right violence by using rhetoric that signals approval of hate. He, not the NY Times, would be responsible for any violence coming from Trump supporters in response to the inevitable constraints that must be imposed on a President who will respect neither tradition nor law. Trying to blame that on liberals, as Somerby suggests by the use of the phrase "civil war", is despicable.


  4. "That isn't what Miller had imagined at all. In fact, the informant paid Papadopoulos $3000 to fly across the ocean to confer with him in London, pretending that he wanted him to write an academic paper."

    Tsk. Sounds like something from a Graham Greene novel... Happening in one of those places known as "banana republics"...

    1. Trump nominated a guy to the Supreme Court who sides with big business over the common worker.
      Ho-hum, just another day under Establishment Republican rule.

    2. Bottom of the barrel troll hits rock bottom by plagiarizing nutcase "libertarian" Justin Raimundo ("After all, are we living in some banana republic out of a Graham Greene novel, or the republic founded by Jefferson, Madison, Washington, and Adams?").


  5. "Should the FBI have told NAME WITHHELD to do that? We can't voice a useful opinion. Basically, we lack the requisite experience."

    That hasn't stopped you in the past from exculpatory musings about the Trump Tower meeting.


    "Trump asked for an investigation of the so-called informant/spy/embed. [...] It's hard to see what's scary, upsetting or wrong about that"

    Perhaps it's hard for you to see, Bob, because you "lack the requisite experience." But you voiced your opinion anyway.

    You seem to be able to form an opinion which exonerates Trump and the Trump campaign, but entertaining the opposite opinion? Suddenly, you have no "requisite experience."

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