SATURDAY, JULY 30, 2022
All the way back to I, Claudius: Last Monday night, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland) appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
We pretty much wish he hadn't. That said, one exchange between the two men helps us consider the bogus nature of much of our public discourse.
To watch the tape of the interview's first segment, you can just click here. Three minutes into the six-minute session, Colbert introduced the question of the Secret Service texts:
COLBERT (7/25/22): Now the Secret Service cannot find their texts to each other, and they sent one text, which almost seems like a "[BLANK] you," if you will pardon the expression. It seems insulting to send one text.
RASKIN: Well, when was the last time you got one text in a day?
COLBERT: Exactly. So the Secret Service has said, "Oh yeah, big mistake. Oopsy daisy! We can't find them."
Do you buy their explanation at all?
Raskin replied with a wonderful joke: "Is it for sale?" he said.
He was rewarded with a laugh. This is how people get popular.
Meanwhile, inquiring minds will agree. Colbert's viewers had been given an extremely truncated factual overview of the situation at hand.
That said, Colbert had posed a provocative question. Does Raskin believe what the Secret Service has said? Does he "buy their explanation at all?"
For us, Raskin's grossly misleading reply recalls a Dylan lyric:
RASKIN: I don't—I don't really buy that for one minute.
For one thing, isn't it a little odd that all of the texts would vanish for January 6th and January 5th? You know, of all the days, what an odd coincidence that is.
And you know, there was a preplanned migration of the phones that just happened to be on the same day as the first violent insurrection in American history?
So I'm a little dubious of that. So count me as skeptic of that.
We recall the famous Dylan lyric, in which a father laments the way his daughter has come to believe "that no one would be true." In this case, it would be the baldly disingenuous Raskin serving as the source of the disillusionment.
Let's start with Raskin's reply to Colbert's provocative question.
Appearing on a network comedy show, Raskin said he doesn't buy the existing explanation at all. Essentially, he doesn't buy the explanation from innocent error, from mere "mistake"—not even "for one minute!"
By the time Raskin finished his reply, he had scaled that dramatic statement back. That said, we know of no instance where Raskin has spoken in such a definitive way in an actual news context.
We couldn't help thinking that he was overstating what he knew while speaking to a comedian, at the expense of a comedy crowd. In such ways, we see that even the tribunes from our own tribe aren't willing "to be true."
For the record, that's a relatively minor part of Raskin's performance here. The truly horrible part of what Raskin said involves his obvious insinuation that text messages can't be found for only one or two highly significant days.
He started by suggesting that, "of all the days," the texts had only vanished for "January 6th and 5th." That suggestion, of course, is factually inaccurate. Messages were sought from 24 agents, generally without result, for a period of more than a month, starting in early December 2020.
From there, Raskin proceeded to a flatly inaccurate statement. He seemed to say that the "preplanned migration of the phones" had taken place on the same day as "the first violent insurrection in American history"—on January 6th, the day of the violent riot at the Capitol Building.
That, of course, is blatantly false. But it added to the picture Raskin was drawing—a picture in which text messages are mysteriously missing for only one or two (highly significant) days.
Raskin's words were baldly deceptive. There's no excuse for what he said this night.
We've advised our analysts to remember what he said to Colbert and to the Colbert crowd when they see him appearing in other venues, which he seems to do in pretty much every waking hour.
On Monday night, Raskin painted a baldly misleading picture of the basic facts of this matter. Three nights later, the Washington Post's Carol Leonnig spoke by telephone with Lawrence O'Donnell as part of the MSNBC program, The Last Word.
The Post had just published a new report about this ongoing matter. Lawrence hurried to speak to Leonnig—and to his credit, he eventually told her this:
LAWRENCE (7/28/22): We asked the Secret Service about Director James Murray's text messages from January 6th. They said he didn't have any, but added this in their response:
"By policy, Secret Service agents are not to conduct official government business via text for information security purposes as well as government record retention."
So they are saying that the Secret Service are not supposed to have any text business messages on their phones.
As regular readers will know, Lawrence's initial statement was factually inaccurate. As we noted at the start of the week, the Secret Service actually told Lawrence that Murray did in fact have one text message on his phone for January 6—a message from the security company he hires for his private home.
We have no way of knowing if that statement was true. But this claim reinforces the basic claim the Service made in its response to Lawrence. That basic claim was this:
Agents and other personnel are instructed not to conduct official business by text!
We don't know if that is true, but that's what Lawrence was told. If true, that could of course start to explain why there seem to have been so few text messages on the phones of the 24 agents under review for the month-long period running through January 8, 2021.
Why have so few text messages been found on these agents' phones over that month-long period? Could it be because the agents don't conduct business that way?
We don't have the slightest idea, but the Secret Service told Lawrence that agents are so instructed. To his credit, Lawrence fleetingly raised the point. This is what Leonnig said:
LEONNIG (continuing directly): That is definitely a reasonable policy. The problem, Lawrence, from a rational standpoint with that is that the Secret Service gave employees instruction when they were resetting the phones and said, if you see that you have government business conducted on your phone, here is where you will archive and upload that information so we preserve those records.
So it may be policy not to text and and conduct government business, but the Secret Service appears, as they've explained it to me, appears to have realized that some employees conducted government business that way.
With that, Lawrence ended the discussion. We'll offer these observations:
Did Leonnig confirm what Lawrence was told? Did she confirm the claim that, as a matter of policy, Secret Service personnel are told that they mustn't conduct business by text?
In our view, she neither confirmed nor denied the claim, nor did Lawrence push her on this point. Does Leonnig even know if such a policy exists? We have no idea.
From there, it seem to us that Leonnig put her thumbs on the scales in a pro-scandal direction. If that really is the official policy, it might explain why so many of the 24 agents in question had no text messages on their phones for the entire month-long period under review.
It could also suggest the possibility that no one was doing any texting on January 6. Instead of noting this possibility, Leonnig went in a different direction, suggesting that the Secret Service seemed to assume that some agents don't always follow the no-texting policy. So there should have been texts after all!
Citizens, can we talk? The matter of the Secret Service texts is already so complicated that there's little chance we will ever get clear on what actually happened.
This matter is technical and factually complex—and it's subject to constant novelization. Over the past two weeks, basic facts have persistently been reworked and/or disappeared. On our favorite cable channels, it's been factually jumbled Storyline pretty much all the way down.
Speaking with Colbert, Raskin baldly misled the public. Lawrence and Leonnig conducted a very brief discussion of what may be a significant claim.
Beyond that, you can be sure of this: You will never hear, ever again, about what Lawrence was told by the Secret Service.
The reason for that seems clear:
The claim that agents are officially told that they mustn't text tends to undermine the sense that there must be a scandal here. It suggests a possible innocent explanation for the absence of texts on January 5 and 6.
In the end, true misconduct may have occurred. A genuine scandal may be involved in the matter of the allegedly missing texts.
But along the way, for-profit stations like MSNBC are aggressively selling our tribe the thrilling product called scandal. Thumbs will persistently land on the scales, with occasional flatly dishonest performances, perhaps for comedy crowds.
We've lost a lot of respect or Raskin of late. He strikes us as a camera hog and as a bit of a propagandist.
In our view, Monday night's performance with Colbert took him over the top. He baldly misled the Colbert crowd, was rewarded with applause and with laughter.
Dylan's fictional daughter came to believe that "no one would be true." According to experts, this is the way discourse has always worked within the street-fighting tribes and guilds of our human species.
We tend to think those experts are right. We're willing to go all the way back to I, Claudius—even to Claudius the God!