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“You Can’t Convict Someone With Maybe”: They Were Never Close To Indicting Hillary — 20 Years Ago Or Yesterday

Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear: specifically to September 1992, when Attorney General William Barr, top-ranking FBI officials, and — believe it or not — a Treasury Department functionary who actually sold “Presidential Bitch” T-shirts with Hillary Clinton’s likeness from her government office, pressured the U.S. Attorney in Little Rock to open an investigation of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s Whitewater investment.

The Arkansas prosecutor was Charles “Chuck” Banks, a Republican appointed by President Reagan, and recently nominated to a Federal judgeship by President George H.W. Bush.  It was definitely in Banks’s interest to see Bush re-elected.

The problem was that Banks knew all about Madison Guaranty S&L and its screwball proprietor Jim McDougal. His office had unsuccessfully prosecuted the Clintons’ Whitewater partner for bank fraud. He knew perfectly well that McDougal had deceived them about their investment, just as he’d fooled everybody in a frantic fiscal juggling act trying to save his doomed thrift.

Banks and local FBI agents were unimpressed with the “Presidential Bitch” woman’s analysis. She showed shaky grasp of banking law, and obvious bias — listing virtually every prominent Democrat in Arkansas as a suspect. When FBI headquarters in Washington ordered its Little Rock office to proceed on L. Jean Lewis’s criminal referral, Banks decided he had to act.

He wrote a stinging letter to his superiors in the DOJ refusing to be a party to a trumped-up probe clearly intended to affect the presidential election. “Even media questions about such an investigation,” he wrote, “all too often publicly purport to ‘legitimize what can’t be proven.’”

Keep that phrase in mind.

Banks also promised to refer reporters to the Attorney General. And that was the end of the Bush administration’s “Hail Mary” attempt to win the 1992 election with a fake scandal. Also the end of Chuck Banks’ political career.

The prevailing themes of the Clinton Legends, however, were set: imaginary corruption, and a “Presidential Bitch.” Eight years and $70 million later, Kenneth Starr’s Whitewater prosecutors folded their cards, proving the Little Rock prosecutor had been right all along.

Shamefully, several of Starr’s assistants recently showed up in the Washington Post reminiscing about how they almost indicted Hillary Clinton. Except that they never did, and for the same reason FBI director James Comey wouldn’t dare take his largely adverbial case (“extremely,” “carelessly,” etc.) into a courtroom against her.

Because when the accused can afford competent defense counsel, a bogus case endangers the prosecutor more than the defendant. Indict the former Secretary of State and lose? Goodbye career.

If the Post had a sense of humor, they’d have illustrated the article with a photo of “Judge Starr,” as he liked to be called, dressed in his cheerleader costume leading Baylor University’s felonious football team onto the field.

But back to Comey’s successful grandstand play — successful at protecting Comey’s own career while wounding the Democratic presidential nominee, that is. See, no way could the former Secretary of State be prosecuted for mishandling classified information without convincing evidence that a bad guy got his hands on it. The best Comey could do was to say that “it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal email account.”

Clinton herself noted that Comey was simply speculating. “But if you go by the evidence,” she said “there is no evidence that the system was breached or hacked successfully.” (Although the State Department’s was.) Pundits can sneer, but you can’t convict somebody with maybe.

What secrets are we talking about? Slate’s Fred Kaplan explains: “Seven of [Clinton’s] eight email chains dealt with CIA drone strikes, which are classified top secret/special access program—unlike Defense Department drone strikes, which are unclassified. The difference is that CIA drones hit targets in countries, like Pakistan and Yemen, where we are not officially at war; they are part of covert operations… But these operations are covert mainly to provide cover for the Pakistani and Yemeni governments, so they don’t have to admit they’re cooperating with America.”

Top Secret, maybe. But regularly featured in the New York Times. The eighth email chain was about the President of Malawi.

Seriously.

Even Comey’s press conference assertion that Clinton handled emails marked classified failed to survive a congressional hearing. Shown the actual documents, Comey conceded that they weren’t properly marked. Indeed, it was a “reasonable inference” they weren’t classified at all. Both concerned trivial diplomatic issues in Third World countries. Really.

Michael Cohen in the Boston Globe: “Whatever one thinks of Clinton’s actions, Comey’s depiction of Clinton’s actions as ‘extremely careless’ was prejudicial and inappropriate. The only reason for delivering such a lacerating attack on Clinton was to inoculate Comey and the FBI from accusations that he was not recommending charges be filed due to political pressure. But that’s an excuse, not an explanation, and a weak one at that.”

The very definition, indeed, of legitimizing “what can’t be proven.”

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, July 13, 2016

July 14, 2016 Posted by | Bill and Hillary Clinton, Conspiracy Theories, James Comey | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Inconvenient Facts, Far Beyond The Pale”: Crazy Nut Donald Trump Thinks George W. Bush Was President On 9/11

Last fall, Donald Trump claimed that, on September 11, 2001, thousands of Muslims cheered the fall of the World Trade Center. This vicious fiction drew the scorn of fact-checkers and social liberals but caused nary a ripple in the Republican field. But, on Saturday night, Trump said something else about 9/11, something so far beyond the pale that conservatives finally rose up in righteous indignation. He claimed that on 9/11 the president of the United States was George W. Bush.

Republicans disagree internally on aspects of Bush’s domestic legacy, but his record on counterterrorism remains a point of unified party doctrine. Bush, they agree, Kept Us Safe. To praise the president who oversaw the worst domestic terrorist attack in American history for preventing domestic terrorism is deeply weird, and the only way this makes any sense is to treat 9/11 as a kind of starting point, for which his predecessor is to blame. (Marco Rubio, rushing to Dubya’s defense at Saturday night’s Republican debate, explained, “The World Trade Center came down because Bill Clinton didn’t kill Osama bin Laden when he had the chance to kill him.”) Trump not only pointed out that Bush was president on 9/11 and that the attacks that day count toward his final grade, but he also noted that Bush failed to heed intelligence warnings about the pending attack and that his administration lied to the public about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Conservatives have always dismissed such notions as far-left conspiracy theorizing, often equating it with the crackpot notion that 9/11 was an inside job. The ensuing freak-out at Trump’s heresy has been comprehensive. “It turns out the front-runner for the GOP nomination is a 9/11 ‘truther’ who believes Bush knew 9/11 was going to happen but did nothing to stop it,” says Marc Thiessen, the columnist and former Bush administration speechwriter. “Moreover, Trump says, Bush knew there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq but lied to the American people to get us into a Middle East war.” Trump is “borrowing language from MoveOn.org and Daily Kos to advance the absurd ‘Bush lied, people died’ Iraq War narrative,” cried National Review’s David French. Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol demanded that, even should Trump win the nomination, fellow Republicans refuse to “conscientiously support a man who is willing to say something so irresponsible about something so serious, for the presidency of the United States.”

In fact, Trump has not claimed that Bush had specific knowledge of the 9/11 attacks. He said, “George Bush had the chance, also, and he didn’t listen to the advice of his CIA.” That is correct. Bush was given numerous, detailed warnings that Al Qaeda planned an attack. But the Bush administration had, from the beginning, dismissed fears about terrorism as a Clinton preoccupation. Its neoconservative ideology drove the administration to fixate on state-supported dangers — which is why it turned its attention so quickly to Iraq. The Bush administration ignored pleas by the outgoing Clinton administration to focus on Al Qaeda in 2000, and ignored warnings by the CIA to prepare for an upcoming domestic attack. The Bush administration did not want the 9/11 attacks to occur; it was simply too ideological and incompetent to take responsible steps to prevent them.

It is certainly true that Trump took his attack a step too far when he insisted the Bush administration “knew” there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. All of the evidence suggests that the Bush administration, along with intelligence agencies in other countries, believed Saddam Hussein was concealing prohibited weapons. But the evidence is also very clear that the Bush administration manipulated the evidence it had to bolster its case publicly, like police officers framing a suspect they believed to be guilty.

The cover-up was grotesquely crude. Republicans in Congress insisted that the original commission investigating the issue confine itself to faulty intelligence given to the Bush administration and steer clear of manipulation by the Bush administration itself. The report stated this clearly: “Our executive order did not direct us to deal with the use of intelligence by policymakers, and all of us were agreed that that was not part of our inquiry.” It was not until a subsequent commission that the administration’s culpability was investigated. And that commission, which became known as the “Phase II” report, found that the Bush administration did indeed mislead the public: “[T]he Administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent.”

You might think Republicans would have developed a sophisticated response, but they haven’t. Their defense for the last decade has consisted of claiming the Phase I report, which was forbidden from investigating the Bush administration, actually vindicated Bush, and ignoring the existence of the Phase II report. Today’s Wall Street Journal editorial does it again, calling the claim that Bush lied a “conspiracy theory,” which was refuted by — you guessed it — the Phase I report. (“Their report of more than 600 pages concludes that it was the CIA’s ‘own independent judgments — flawed though they were — that led them to conclude Iraq had active WMD programs.’”)

Republicans have walled inconvenient facts about the Bush administration’s security record out of their minds by associating them with crazed conspiracy theorists. It is epistemic closure at work: Criticism of Bush on 9/11 and Iraq intelligence is dismissed because the only people who say it are sources outside the conservative movement, who by definition cannot be trusted. The possibility that the Republican Party itself would nominate a man who endorses these criticisms is horrifying to them. To lose control of the party in such a fashion would be a fate far worse than losing the presidency.

 

By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, February 16, 2016con

February 17, 2016 Posted by | 9-11, Conservatives, Donald Trump, George W Bush | , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Trump Speaks The Truth”: The Donald Has The Better Of Jeb Bush In Their Spat Over 9/11

Here at the Country Mart, on the edge of Brentwood and Santa Monica, politics is not on the menu. The Sunday talk shows are no big thing. Imagine, people are not that excited about Hillary Clinton’s upcoming date with Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., chairman of the House Benghazi committee.

This is Hillaryland, a rare state with two Democratic women senators. But one flare from the presidential primary season has made its way west: Donald Trump said something simple and true, which needed to be said. I never thought I’d say it, but thanks for clearing the air on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Trump.

The failing presidential contender Jeb Bush has made this absurd statement his signature as a candidate: “My brother kept us safe.” No, President George W. Bush did not do that. Trump only pointed out that almost 3,000 died on that day and the World Trade Center towers fell. That’s the record of a day that broke the nation’s heart.

It happened on President Bush’s watch, while he was ignoring his CIA August intelligence briefings that a plot involving planes was in the air, so to speak. Most of the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, not Afghanistan nor Iraq. We stayed friends with the desert kingdom for some reason; the Bushes were chummy with Prince Bandar. Bush fell down on the job, to say the least.

We are still paying dearly for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The fearsome Islamic State group is not keeping us safe, little brother. President Barack Obama had to own that grim truth, keeping more troops than planned in the warring Middle East neighborhood. Much of Syria has been destroyed, like a contemporary Carthage.

“My brother kept us safe” shows a tragic chorus of Bush blind loyalty at work again. Jeb Bush has clearly not learned any lessons from the past, asking the same family crowd of foreign policy advisors to help him, including that shrewd player and hawk, Paul Wolfowitz.

It’s his birthright, his inheritance. Jeb is very proud of being a Bush team player.

Finally, as a matter of finesse, “my brother” sounds like he’s running for home room president. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy always referred in public to his late brother, John F. Kennedy, as President Kennedy. That has more dignity, not the Bush strong suit.

Trump spoke the plain truth. It’s refreshing. Let’s have more of it from Republicans running for president.

 

By: Jamie Stiehm, Washington Whispers, U. S. News and World Report, October 19, 2015

October 23, 2015 Posted by | 9-11, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Car-Lying; Carly Fiorina Lies Like A Boss”: Her Meaningless Specifics Are A Marketing Ploy, Not A Policy

The Central Intelligence Agency has some tips for spotting liars. Unfortunately, most of them also sound like stage directions for a GOP primary candidate: “Failing to answer.” “Attacking.” “Denial.” Even, “Bringing up religion.” One particular hint is unusually relevant these days: “Being too specific.”

Carly Fiorina’s continuing distortions about what she saw, or didn’t see, on the Planned Parenthood sting videos would set off alarms all over Langley on all those counts, but it’s her level of primary-color, pointillist embroidery on the truth—in that and other instances—that truly sets her apart from the rest of the field.

Call it Car-lying. Describing things into reality is a trademark of Fiorina’s, a style of mendacity that sets her apart from career politicians. Indeed, the reason she doesn’t come off as a politician is she’s still in marketing.

At Hewlett-Packard, employees said she “embellished” the company’s “future products, strategy and even history,” adding a fictitious personal visit from Walt Disney to the true story about Disney Studios being an early client. She was brought into HP to be brash and exciting, to “drive a stake through” the “community-minded” and “collaborative” “pocket-protector paradise” of cautious expansion that existed before she got there. And she did! The Compaq merger that defined her unsteady tenure was a function of her own salesmanship: “The moxie to risk shareholders’ money on a huge acquisition… exceeds the courage of most mortals,” as one more positive assessment put it. Or, put another way: “Fiorina had one significant weakness as chief executive: she just wasn’t very good at running the business.”

Perhaps the best example of Fiorina’s cynical hucksterism is her brief stint as a consultant to the very agency that might have seen through her: the CIA. Then-Director Michael Hayden asked her to serve on a board charged with helping the agency navigate “demands for greater public accountability and openness.” Her advice? Don’t stop doing the stuff that make people want to hold you accountable—mass surveillance or torture—just make people think you’re being accountable. Or, as she recommended: “be very creative about [being] transparent.”

Indeed, exuberant chicanery may be the only crossover skill Fiorina can bring to her campaign from the business world. She managed the business side of her last campaign about as successfully as she did HP, which is to say: Not only did she lose, but by paying off her self-funded loan to the campaign first, she got a golden parachute and her employees got the shaft.

Fiorina does more than tell the “big lie,” she tells a big lie of a thousand parts, throwing placeholder disinformation at her interrogators with such practiced cool that observers just assume she must know what she’s talking about. Hence the soup of numbers in her military requisition demands at the last debate: “50 Army brigades,” “36 Marine battalions,” “350 naval ships.”

Fiorina’s numbers came from a Heritage Foundation study—though not one that has anything to do with the question on the table, which at least began with “Have you met Vladimir Putin?” and drifted more fuzzily into “the military issue.” Heritage’s alarmist report is a faux-empirical “readiness” index, designed to either estimate the U.S.’s ability to conduct two simultaneous, conventional regional wars or goose defense spending (maybe both!); but it’s not an actual plan for a real-world military engagement. Do you think River City would have bought the con if it had been “a lot” and not 76 trombones leading the big parade?

Pressed by Chuck Todd on her Planned Parenthood video lies, Fiorina didn’t just repeat that she had seen something that does not exist, she accused the organization of something that the “sting” video’s makers hadn’t: “Planned Parenthood is aborting fetuses alive to harvest their brains and other body parts. That is a fact.” To be clear, with this statement, Fiorina isn’t just repeating a mischaracterization she already told (that Planned Parenthood “harvests” organs that are intact after an abortion). Rather, she is saying that Planned Parenthood aborts fetuses alive, for the purpose of harvesting their intact organs. She added, “Planned Parenthood will not and cannot deny this because it is happening.”

That last bit is a hoary nugget of rhetorical flim-flammery on par with “When did you stop beating your wife?” It tries to reinvent lack of engagement as admission of guilt. Except Planned Parenthood has denied allegations of illegally “harvesting” organs—and six different state investigations (Pennsylvania, Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, South Dakota, and now Missouri) have backed up those denials.

Instructively, what’s disturbing about Fiorina’s falsehoods isn’t that she lied, or even that she seems to believe her own lies. It’s not even, really, that her lies get bigger every time.

No, what should give you pause is that by sheer force of articulated will she has fabricated her own reality, to the point that her Super PAC spliced together a different video to illustrate just what it is she said she saw. Think about it: If Fiorina had stuck to some kind of emotionally-charged but non-specific description of the video, there would be no second round of debate. As it is, Fiorina didn’t just lie—she created a storyboard.

The Super PAC YouTube contribution is as dishonest a use of found footage as any “Paranormal Activity” rip-off, yet somehow her supporters suspend their disbelief. That may be because, unlike fans of direct-to-on-demand ghost stories, Republican primary voters haven’t really seen anything like this before.

Confident generalization is the native language of a Washington professional; studied ambiguity is their background noise. The reason red meat works so well is most political speech is thin gruel. Pat truisms are what make politicians sound like politicians (and parties often indistinguishable from each other): it’s what makes America great, education important, families treasured, and apple pie delicious.

We talk about “dog whistles” because what politicians really mean or really want to communicate is usually cloaked by superficial inoffensiveness and preservation of plausible deniability is the lodestar of any halfway decent flack. Disregard for those conventions on a personal, philosophical level is why the howling, unambiguous racism of Donald Trump and the obvious yet soft-spoken bigotry of Ben Carson have broken through. On policy, however, the only thing that distinguishes their vagueness from career pols is its hilarious blatancy.

By contrast, Fiorina’s brazenly explicit prescriptions are almost pornographic: especially in the sense that what she’s describing is unattainable in real life. People see her steely, echoing assertions as discipline. But she’s not displaying the focus of a real leader—just the conscientiousness of someone who has to keep her lies straight.

 

By: Ana Marie Cox, The Daily Beast, September  29, 2015

October 1, 2015 Posted by | Carly Fiorina, GOP Presidential Candidates, Planned Parenthood | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Gross Failures In Journalism”: The Media Needs To Get Over Its Blind Hatred Of Hillary Clinton

Last week, Hillary Clinton got in one of her periodic fights with the press, extending a long-running battle that has been raging for decades now. In the media corner was The New York Times, which beclowned itself with a false report alleging that Clinton was about to be the subject of a criminal inquiry over emails she sent while at the State Department.

The episode is the latest evidence that the Times needs to take a hard look at its Clinton coverage. But there’s also a lesson here for the broader mainstream media, which needs to get over its blind hatred of the Clintons. It not only leads to gross failures in journalism, but ends up being a massive distraction from the actual scrutiny Hillary Clinton deserves.

It’s worth noticing what a stupendous journalistic faceplant this was. As Kevin Drum points out, pretty much every single word in the original headline was wrong:

Clinton was not a target. The referral was not criminal. The emails in question had not been classified at the time Clinton saw them. When the dust settled, it appeared that the whole thing was little more than a squabble between State and CIA over whether certain emails that State is releasing to the public should or shouldn’t be classified. In other words, just your garden-variety bureaucratic dispute. [Mother Jones]

This isn’t the first time the Times has printed a gravely mistaken story suggesting ethical lapses on the part of a Clinton running for president. Back in 1992, Times reporter Jeff Gerth wrote a story about how the Clintons were involved in a seemingly shady real estate deal called Whitewater. It suggested that the Clintons had gotten a big share of potential profits without putting up much cash, and that Bill Clinton had used his power as Arkansas governor to protect a savings and loan owned by a Whitewater associate from being closed down by the feds.

Just as with the most recent story, about every part of Gerth’s account was wrong or misleading, as Joe Conason and Gene Lyons wrote in their book on the Clinton impeachment, The Hunting of the President. The Clintons actually lost a ton of money on the deal, and the Arkansas government had recommended to the feds that the S&L be liquidated.

But that was only the start of hundreds of Whitewater articles and reports. The political press ditched any notion of objectivity and pursued the Clintons with a deranged, prudish zealotry. These journalists never actually revealed any concrete wrongdoing, but the incessant repetition convinced many that the Clintons must have done something wrong — which eventually led to the appointment of a special prosecutor. The rest is history.

Not much has changed. Much of the centrist press still quite obviously loathes the Clintons. Ron Fournier, the id of centrism, knocks her PR strategy (that is, writing a devastating, accurate takedown of the Times report), insists where there’s smoke there’s fire, and generally makes dim excuses to keep hounding her.

On the other hand, the Times’ atrocious report was caught out almost immediately. Unlike the 90s, there is a reasonably powerful left-leaning press today, and fact-checking can spread rapidly through social media. It is much harder to get away with that kind of lazy hack job on a prominent candidate.

It’s hard to figure out how the Times could have been so incredibly sloppy. But I suspect the traditional media suspicion of the Clintons played a big role. The Clintons’ reputation is so bad that reporters tend to discard their vaunted skepticism the moment a bad piece of news about them comes over the transom.

And that, as we see, leads to disastrous mistakes. A story that confirms a strong prior belief is exactly the point at which journalists ought to be at their most skeptical.

And perhaps more importantly, this annoying, narcissistic media spectacle is proving to be an enormous distraction from the important task of actually reporting on Hillary Clinton. There are all manner of things to cover, from her poor choice in advisers, to her foreign policy views, and yes, even the deleted emails from her years at the State Department. Just make sure to actually, you know, check the facts before hitting publish.

 

By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, August 3, 2015

August 4, 2015 Posted by | Hillary Clinton, Journalism, Media | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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