CNN gets the scoop about foreign dirt!

TUESDAY, JUNE 18, 2019

Veselnitskaya should have been paid:
And so it goes, as the pundit world turns. The jumbled discussion about foreign "dirt" has given way to the entertaining discussion about Donald J. Trump firing his pollsters.

These serial pseudo-discussions are almost always Potemkin. They may look like coherent discussions, but in the end they typically aren't.

Our public discussions rarely make sense. Consider the murky, jumbled, now-suspended discussion about Donald J. Trump and receipt of foreign dirt.

It started with an imprecise set of questions from George Stephanopoulos. (Our press corps discussions almost always run on that kind of fuel.)

By the time Trump had 1) directly answered George; 2) tweeted about his initial remarks; then 3) finally spoken to Fox & Friends, he had given every possible confusing answer to the rather murky questions with which he'd initially been assailed.

Was Candidate Trump prepared to accept information, assistance or dirt from foreign governments, adversaries or persons? Trump's answers to these thoughtful questions were, in order, yes, no, maybe and no one would ever try such a thing, Trump loves the country so much. But so it goes when the press corps kills time pretending to study a question.

As a nation, what were we hoping to outlaw or avoid as we seemed to examine this question? This was never made clear. That said, the analysts cheered when Larry Noble explained the whole thing to Pamela Brown on CNN last Friday afternoon.

Noble is a former member of the FEC. The toothless ersatz federal board is down to only four members now, but Noble was there in the good old days, when the agency managed to do nothing at all with a full contingent of six.

What sort of help can a campaign receive from a foreign person, agent or country? Trump had just made a silly statement, saying no foreigner would ever approach him because he loves the USA so much.

Brown asked Noble to comment on that. In the course of his reply, Noble laid down his basic marker:
BROWN (6/14/19): And I want to get your take on that, Larry, this idea that because you're a patriot, a foreign country, or an adversary, wouldn't come to you with dirt.

NOBLE: Again, that there's just no reason to think that's true. And in this particular situation, we know that Russia already came to his campaign. In 2016 they came, the campaign listened.

The only reason the campaign didn't get into further trouble was because the information they offered—they [the Mueller team] decided wasn't really worth very much—and I guess, the value issue.

Opposition research is very valuable. Campaigns spend a lot of money on it. And so, it is something you can value. The law says you cannot accept anything of value from a foreign national.
According to Noble, we know that Russia did approach Trump's 2016 campaign. He was referring to Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russkie lawyer who approached the campaign with information so utterly useless that the Mueller team thought it didn't reach the level of valuation which might trigger a criminal charge.

Having said that, let us also say this—as best we can tell, the Mueller team never concluded that Veselnitskaya was acting as a Russian "agent." Noble seemed to be stating a fact not in evidence, something which is rather common when pundits who are anti-Trump discuss the Mueller report.

That said, Mueller's team did explicitly note that Veselnitskaya was a "foreign national." On that basis, it seems they searched for ways to charge someone with a crime, something prosecutors seem to like to do.

Back to Noble! He had now set down his basic marker. "The law says you cannot accept anything of value from a foreign national," he had told CNN's Brown.

That said, is information a "thing of value" under federal law? In theory, could Trumpkins have been charged with a crime for accepting accurate information from Veselnitskaya, even if she wasn't working for Vladimir Putin himself?

Brown asked Noble about Christopher Steele, a foreign national who'd been collecting information from other foreign nationals, then funneling it through to the Clinton campaign.

Why didn't that involve criminal conduct, Brown sensibly asked. When we heard Noble's full reply, we decided to enjoy a good laugh:
BROWN (continuing directly): Okay, so let me ask you this. Because the other side would say, "Well, what about this idea of the dossier?" The Democrats, you know, paid for a dossier, which was compiled by a foreign national, Christopher Steele. Again, he was a former spy with an ally, but what's the difference there?

NOBLE: The law does not prohibit a foreign national getting paid by your campaign and doing work for your campaign. You can hire foreign nationals. You can hire a company that employs foreign nationals and as long as you pay them, that's fine.

BROWN: All right. I want to turn to Josh on Kellyanne Conway...
That was the ex-commissioner's tale.

At any rate, there you have it! The Clinton campaign paid for the Steele dossier. They paid Steele to gather information, so that was A-OK.

It was OK to take information from Steele because Steele was getting paid. If Steele had simply assembled the information out of his global civic concern, then sent it to the campaign for free, that could have been a crime on the part of the Clintonistas.

Go ahead—ask yourself. Does that really seem to make sense?

We agree that it was perfectly OK for the Clinton campaign, or its surrogates, to pay Steele to gather tons of "dirt" and then to pass it along. We see nothing wrong with that—with gathering information.

But good God! If Steele had assembled the information on his own, then simply passed it along, it would have been a crime to accept it because he had done it for free?

In our view, this is how silly discussion can get when cable channels have twenty-four hours to fill. And remember—Noble isn't your average cable news shlub. He's a former member of the FEC!

Veselnitskaya should have been paid, Noble almost seemed to have said. If her information had been significant, it could have been a crime to take it for free. But if the Trumps had slipped her a couple of bills, the whole thing would have been fine!

That isn't exactly what Noble said, but what the heck did he say? If Steele had passed along accurate information for free, it would have been a federal crime for the Clinton campaign to take it?

Information isn't cash, and it isn't a fleet of jets. In theory, we want to get information, assuming it hasn't been stolen. Then the national press gets involved—and the national press corps runs on script. They're inclined to flee from information, and they always have been.

Can candidates accept information from a foreign person—perhaps from a well-placed Norwegian? In the excitement of the past week, we don't think we ever saw a coherent discussion of this basic question.

We don't think we ever saw one such discussion. But then, what else is new?


  1. Somerby keeps misstating the relationship of the Clinton campaign to Steele. The campaign was paying Fusion GPS to do oppo research. Fusion GPS hired or subcontracted work to Steele. The Clinton campaign may not have been aware of Fusion GPS’s use of Steele.

    That said, the discussion with Brown and Noble seems simple, coherent, and addresses the major issues. Brown even asks about the Steele dossier, bringing up a point Somerby keeps making. So, Somerby’s questions seem asked and answered. Except that he still finds it ludicrous that a distinction should be made between a contribution and paid service. So be it.

    He keeps calling the FEC “toothless”. How it is “ersatz” is anyone’s guess (the word means low-quality substitute. Substitute for what?). Our country’s attempts at campaign finance regulation have been whittled away, especially by rulings such as Citizens United, which bizarrely equates money with speech. What few laws we do have are currently in danger of being undone, as the conservatives on the Court have signaled a willingness to strike down pretty much any limitations on money in politics. Corruption goes hand in hand.

    As for the rules about foreign involvement, they are a modest attempt to prevent foreign meddling in our election campaigns. The first amendment presents challenges, but everyone, even Somerby, can see the danger in allowing unfettered access by foreigners in our elections and our campaigns. That is partly why we depend upon campaigns to adhere to norms, like not coordinating with foreign governments. Those norms are now shattered.

    So, Somerby can laugh and mock at the toothless FEC and its silly laws, but he might want to think about the dangers of throwing up our hands and shutting down the FEC and opening the floodgates.

    Hint: it won’t be good for progressives.

    1. I'll credit TDH with being right on the mark on this topic. How has it come to this, with the dems and libs and pundits going on and on endlessly on the Russians, and collusion and obstruction of justice when it's more or less a big nothingburger. Are we saying that if Trump approached the Russian lawyer and offered to pay her for some 'dirt' that would be ok? I've read the statute - information is not a campaign contribution. The law in question is directed at financial or tangible contributions. That is basically what Mueller says in his report. And the Russians didn't even provide any information at the famous meeting. I'm no election law expert - but there are laws about Americans making campaign contributions. It's not just money paid to the candidate - see how Michael Cohen's payment to Stormy was deemed a campaign contribution. But what if an American citizen gave valuable info, gratis, to someone's campaign. If you want to argue that 'dirt' provided gratis by the Russkie lawyer is a campaign contribution - then wouldn't Americans who gave that type of info for free (and the pols who accepted the info) also be violating campaign financing laws? This would be ridiculous - and the same with all this endlessly vacuous focus on this Russian stuff

    2. Clinton did not disclose payments to Steele, and that may or may not be ok, the payments were to a sub vendor, she may not have been aware of the arrangement.

      It may be that Steele provided a thing of value. As others have noted, he is not a foreign national nor foreign agent, he was not representing a foreign government looking for influence, nor was he looking for influence.

      Some issues are not cut and dried.

      Some are.

      Russia wanted influence, wanted sanctions relief, and Trump provided that. It may have been in response to being offered dirt on Hillary, but more likely the result of Trump's financial entanglements with Russia - loans, money laundering, the Rosneft deal, etc.

    3. @AC MA:
      American citizens are allowed to donate to a campaign. They can donate money, or any thing of value, including information. The prohibition only applies to foreign nationals.

      Mueller’s team did not reject charging Trump Jr because they determined that info wasn’t a thing of value. They were unable to establish knowledge of the crime and the value of the info.

      Cohen’s campaign violation was not related to information (which he tried to suppress). It was about financial contributions in excess of allowable limits.

      We now have two members of the FEC who say that the Trump Tower meeting was illegal. They probably ought to know what federal election law says and means.

    4. Nobody says:

      American citizens are allowed to donate to a campaign. They can donate money, or any thing of value, including information.

      At the time the law said:

      Contribution limits for 2015-2016 February 3, 2015

      Under the Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act), certain contribution limits are indexed for inflation every two years, based on the change in the cost of living since 2001, which is the base year for adjusting these limits. The inflation-adjusted limits are:

      The limits on contributions made by persons to candidates (increased to $2,700 per election, per candidate) (52 U.S.C. § 30116(a)(1)(A))...

      (f) Prohibited contributions and expenditures

      No candidate or political committee shall knowingly accept any contribution or make any expenditure in violation of the provisions of this section. No officer or employee of a political committee shall knowingly accept a contribution made for the benefit or use of a candidate, or knowingly make any expenditure on behalf of a candidate, in violation of any limitation imposed on contributions and expenditures under this section.

      So let me get this straight, according to Nobody "American citizens are allowed to donate" dirt on an opponent to a campaign. It's just that in 2016 a citizen would have been limited to giving dirt that was worth $2700 or less to a campaign. I suppose dirt fairly valuated as worth $2700 in the 2016 presidential election would have been something along the lines of proof the major party's opposition candidate had stood up a date while in college without ever offering an explanation or apology after the fact to the wronged party. Dirt any nastier than that in the 2016 presidential campaign would have been worth more than $2700 and, therefore, could not have been legally donated by an American citizen to a campaign.

    5. In this Information Age, the rules may need some clarification or specificity on contributing information. The spirit of the law, while not crystalline, is less murky.

  2. So what exactly is a foreign national?


  3. Mao, don't you realize that you sound like a demented idiot -

  4. Nobody:

    “Our country’s attempts at campaign finance regulation have been whittled away, especially by rulings such as Citizens United, which bizarrely equates money with speech.”

    Actually, that bizarre equation was established under Buckley V. Valeo, way back in 1976.

    Once again, Bob criticizes the press (a task for which this site mainly exists) for muddying the waters on this question of foreign influence, but that fact seems to be subsumed by the belief, by many commentators on this board, that he’s pro-Trump because he criticizes the “press” in its current incarnation. Not saying you do that, there’s no way to tell.

    If Mueller determined that there was no “there” there, then it really doesn’t matter what former FEC officials think, competent or not.


    1. @Leroy:

      Just as Mueller’s report does *not* say “no collusion, no obstruction”, it also did not say there was no “there” there regarding the Trump Tower meeting. The report quotes from the relevant campaign finance law, and clearly argues that information is a thing of value. The Mueller team chose not to prosecute because: 1) they could not establish “willfull” breaking of the law, and 2) they could not determine the value of the information. The second is important because the value must exceed a minimum threshold *to be prosecutable as a felony*. There are generally only civil penalties if the amount is below this threshold.

      What the FEC officials are saying is relevant to *future* campaign activities, since Trump said he would take such information in the future. It is illegal, whether Mueller decided to charge Don Jr in the specific instance.

      In my opinion, money in politics is problematical, and the Citizens United case expanded the application of the notion that “money is speech”, which implies that “more money means more speech”, a fundamentally undemocratic idea. The current Court has made noises about removing any and all campaign contribution limits whatsoever. If that happens, we can just get rid of the “toothless, ersatz agency”.

      And if Somerby really believes, as he said the other day, that it’s probably a bad thing if foreign intelligence services meddle in our elections, then it’s probably best if campaigns do not coordinate with foreign persons and set up meetings to accept voluntary dirt from them, because those foreign persons could be working for a foreign intelligence service.

    2. Somerby’s complaint about the media isn’t based on their supposed confusion. He objects to the notion that information is a thing of value that is prohibited as a donation from a foreign national. He has not shown any confusion in the media. He merely objects to their conclusion.

    3. 10:39, exactly.

      Only a goof thinks TDH does media criticism. Typically he uses media criticism as a cover to bludgeon those who under-appreciate his value, such as it is.

    4. Nobody, I think you are wrong about the Mueller report. In its rationale for not finding a violation of the law prohibiting foreign campaign donations, the report says, inter alia, that it is unclear that "information" can constitute a campaign contribution, and that there are no court precedents supporting such an interpretation. Whether it's best for campaign members not to meet with foreigners who are offing negative info on an opponent, I suppose depends on the circumstances. The whole topic seems far fetched. Nothing was provided by the Russians at the infamous meeting. And the material that was hacked apparently by Russians from the dems computers was readily published by the NYT and everyone else. As someone who grew up during the Cold War, when liberals were accused of being soft on the USSR, the narrative that Trump is soft on Russia seems odd. I watched the Republican debates - what a freak show - and Trump was almost the freakiest (that title goes to Cruz) - but when he suggested we try to ease hostilities toward Russia, it seemed to me that he was making some sense.

  5. Mao,
    If that was true, Trump would put the most goebbelsian zombie priest in charge of the EPA to make the people suffer from pollution even more. Just like he's done putting fossil fuel executives in charge to fuck us all over.

    Trump's not Putin's puppet, he's the Establishment Elite's puppet.

  6. Let me type this out slowly so you can understand: I masturbate to Eric Estrada.


    And I don't even like men.

    I just thought given the emotional impotency of glyphs, we should deal strictly with facts. And as the suzerain of the comment section, it may be important for everyone to know.


    1. @10:21P: "And I don't even like men."

      Keep tellin' yourself that, 'cause no one here cares.

    2. @1:03 AM

      10:21 is mocking a commenter here named deadrat, posing as deadrat and writing a nonsensical comment in the same style and tone as the real dearat. It's a joke, a good one as deadrat is an obnoxious idiot no one likes who only makes nitpicking comments of no consequence.

      Eh? Eh? not a bad trigger, amiright

    3. @1:41A

      Ah, thanks. So 10:21 is mocking someone who’s of no consequence? Seems like an odd hobby, but then look at the commenter calling himself Mao Cheng Ji.

      The Eric Estrada comment is off the wall and pretty funny, but the disclaimer still seems out of place to me. Unless this deadrat is a homophobe or is suspected of being a repressed homosexual. And I don’t understand what emotional glyphs are.

      Who’s triggered? Unless you mean me.

    4. It seems pro-homosexual for deadrat to masturbate to a hot beefcake outside his preferred sexual gender day after day after day. It shows an openness. I don't understand you, frankly.

    5. It shows an openness to admit to a homosexual practice. And I applaud that. (Eric Estrada? Perhaps he has a very old CHIPs poster.) But don't you understand that it's somewhat homophobic for him to deny his attraction in his next breath?

      Perhaps I'm too easily triggered.

    6. Not if it's true. Yes, you are being daft. Wasting your time. Move on!

    7. Now who’s triggered? lol

      Move on? Who made you the suzerain of the comment section? (Yeah, I had to look it up, but that’s what it means.)

      I comment on lotsa blogs, not all of them political, and they’re all pretty much a waste of my time, but can it be any more of a waste than someone who mocks another commenter by posing as that person, who the mocker thinks is an idiot? How about more of a waste of time than someone who posts anonymously and unprompted, explains the mocker?

      At the risk of going all PC on you, using homosexuality as mockery is problematic to begin with. Especially, when it includes the age-old denial, “but I’m not gay.” It would be like saying, “Black people are so noisy, but I don’t mind. And anyway, my best friend is black.”

      Even if it’s true about the friend.

    8. Aw 4:15, 2:26, 7:38 you ain't foolin' nobody, my little coy koi swimming in my fish tank.

      Everyone is of consequence, it is the one being mocked's comments that are of no consequence.

      Until we meet again, may the good Lord take a liking to you.

    9. Pooping feels good.

    10. So, Barry, the talk about homosexuality got ya all hot and bothered? Thanks for joinin' in on the fun.

    11. 1:41A, 1:54P, 9:47P,

      Quite the fish tank you've got here. Your nose is firmly planted in the ass of deadrat who's got his nose firmly planted in the ass of someone he's posing as.

      It's all good fun until you run into the side of the tank, and someone breaks a fin.

      Each of us is of consequence in the eye of the good Lord. Until we meet at all, may He lift up His countenance upon you.

    12. Which one? Does that make three deadrats then? This place must be infested.

      Or is there only one, posting as himself and a compulsive detractor?

      No, I'm not him (or her), but how would you know? Unless you're him (or her) as well. Hard to tell from one Anonymous to another.

      Illiterate dumb fuck. Dear me, I think I can tell the tone of that. Or is fucking tone different from regular tone? And all because I had to look up a word I didn't know?

      Get triggered much, dearie?

      Relax. Remind yourself that it's just the comment section of a blog.

      May the Lord make his face to shine upon you.

    13. I shall not be defeated, by all means necessary.

      I have no shame, today I wore my adult diapers on the outside of my pants.

  7. Bob states that Mueller team never concluded that Veselnitskaya was a Russian “agent”. But wasn’t that meeting “advertised” to Donnie Jr as the Russian government wanted to help the Trump campaign? Did I imagine that part?

    And the Steele dossier was handed over to the FBI. Isn’t that what everyone is saying should be done? Notify the FBI?

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