Streetwise Professor

September 22, 2017

The Mueller Investigation: One Part Abuse, One Part Absurdity. There is No Third Part.

Filed under: Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 7:32 pm

The Mueller “investigation” of “collusion with Russia” is one part abuse, one part absurdity. There is no third part.

One aspect of the abuse is well summarized by my friend Tom Kirkendall and others quoted in this article:

“Here is a United States citizen where the FBI is coming in, picking his lock, and raiding his home in the early morning, over what? It doesn’t matter which side you’re on. It’s just crazy. We’re not the Soviet Union. It’s appalling,” said Kirkendall, who has worked on cases involving one of the special counsel’s key investigators, Andrew Weissmann.

As Tom noted to me, apparently the irony of using KGB tactics to investigate rumored Russian intelligence involvement in the US election is lost on Mueller and his thugs. The presence of serial prosecutorial abuser Andrew Weissmann is also quite revealing about Mueller’s attitude.

Another aspect of the abuse is the continued and repeated leaking from the investigation, and about Manafort in particular. The leaked information was obtained either by search warrant in a criminal investigation, or a FISA warrant in an intelligence investigation: it is criminal to release either.

All of this is clearly intended to intimidate Manafort into cooperation against Trump. In this effort, they are apparently ranging far afield from anything remotely related to the 2016 election. One (leaked) story is that they are looking into Manafort’s activities dating back 11 years. That might have more relevance to the 2008 election involving current Swamp darling John McCain–Manafort’s partner Rick Davis was McCain’s 2008 National Campaign Manager–than it does 2016’s.

No leaks yet as to whether Mueller is investigating contacts between Manafort and Agamemnon during the Trojan War. Which would be about as relevant to the things he is pursuing now.

Another leak is that–gasp!–Manafort offered to brief Oleg Deripaska about the campaign. I checked my thesaurus. “Brief” and “collude” or “conspire” are NOT synonyms. Furthermore, this is an example of how dishonest and misleading leaks can be. In court they make you swear to tell the whole truth, because partial revelations can be as misleading and deceptive as an outright lie. How many other people from what other nations did Manafort offer to brief? What did these briefings involve? Just revealing a single communication about a possible Russia contact (without even confirming that any briefing actually occurred) is highly manipulative, and presents a distorted picture of what actually occurred.

It is telling that Manafort has demanded that ALL of the material collected about him be released. He no doubt knows that the Deripaska connection would appear trivial when put into the context of the entirety of his activities.

I wonder if they have the measure of their man, however. After all, the whole reason Manafort has come under suspicion is his history of dealings in Ukraine, and on the side of Russia-friendly politicians there. These people are not boy scouts. They are capable of far worse things than no-knock raids. Someone like Manafort who is used to dealing with the likes of Yanukovych and Ukrainian oligarchs cannot be easily intimidated. I’m not saying he’ll go all G. Gordon Liddy, but he’s not likely to collapse into a puddle of tears begging for Mueller’s mercy either.

One last thing about this: the massive leaks give Manafort a colorable claim that he cannot receive a fair trial anywhere in the US due to the highly prejudicial pre-trial (and even pre-indictment) publicity. Mueller et al have to know this, but are willing to leak prejudicially anyways, meaning they don’t give a damn about Manafort qua Manafort. But Manafort (and his attorneys) know this too–which might lead him to resist the pressure.

As for absurdity, it is widely reported that a major focus of Mueller’s investigation is the alleged purchase by Russians (which of the 145 million odd citizens of the Russian Federation has not been revealed) of a piddling sum of ads on Facebook. What connection this has to the collusion allegations that started this whole effort in motion has not been disclosed. But even if there is some remote connection, this is farcical.

The purchase price of the ads was between $50,000 and $100,000. (I have seen both numbers quoted.) To put things in perspective, Hillary spent $400 freaking million on ads. (And every dollar was wasted–hahahaha!) So even assuming the high number, the FB ads represented .025 percent of Hillary’s ad buy: Hillary was spending more per business hour than the entire FB ad buy. This does not count the massive free publicity via the mainstream media, which was highly partisan: that would have cost many billions to buy. Nor does it count pro-Hillary Facebook and Twitter (and for all I know, Instagram) material that was churned out during 2016.

Given that Mueller has hired 14 high-powered lawyers, who always come with a train of support staff, I would not be surprised if he spends more in a day investigating the Great Facebook Conspiracy than the conspirators spent on the ads in the first place.

All of which shows beyond cavil that any putative Russian ad buy on Facebook was about as relevant to the outcome of the election as what Putin had for breakfast on election day. Or put differently, if it did have any impact on the election, every campaign manager and consultant is an idiot and a wastrel for spending vast sums on conventional media buys when spending the campaign budget for a hotly contested school board race on Facebook ads would be sufficient to propel their candidates to the highest offices in the land.

Both the abuse and the absurdity demonstrate the depravity of the independent counsel statute, and the grave disservice that Rod Rosenstein and Jeff Sessions did not just to Trump but to the nation, by appointing Mueller, and in particular, appointing him with a license to look into anything remotely related to Russia. Prosecutorial power must be restrained, or it will be abused: not may be–will be. (This is especially true with US prosecutors.) The most important constraint is that they be limited to prosecuting a specific allegation of criminality. Indeed, given the stakes and the huge ramifications for the operation of the US government, special prosecutors should be particularly constrained. Instead, we are in a situation where this special prosecutor is apparently free of any limitation, and is free to roam at will as a hybrid of Inspector Javert and Frankenstein’s Monster.

The only silver lining in this dark cloud is that the fact that Mueller is chasing chimeras likely means that there is nothing to the collusion allegations that were the reason for his appointment.

The reason I started to write about Russia years ago was that it represented to me a real world dystopia that showed what could happen in the absence of a rule of law, and protections of individual rights: writing about a place where these things did not exist was (to me) an effective way of demonstrating their importance where they do exist. But in the 11 odd years since I started blogging about Russia, the United States has been converging to it from above, and the pace of convergence has quickened in recent years. It is sickly ironic that one of the most disturbing illustrations of this convergence is a special counsel investigation ostensibly motivated by grave concerns about Russian interference in American politics. Pace Pogo, we have met the enemy, and he is us: we are doing a damn good job at becoming Russia all by ourselves, thank you very much.

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  1. I’ve heard from at least one ex prosecutor (in an interview) that no knock raids are tough to get warrants for. The approval is tougher than a normal search warrant. I suppose you could say the courts are a sham, but that presupposes a soviet style hellscape that existed long before Mueller.
    On the leaks front, I’ve heard experts on those say that almost always those leaks are put out by the defense. They can legally say whatever they want (absent a gag order or something like that), but leaks from the prosecutor’s offices are crimes. Leaks by the defendants have the added bonus of bringing about just the kind of “a fair trial is impossible, look at the leaks” defense you develop above.
    Essentially, I think we need to wait and see what happens. Convicting Mueller of terrible abuses of power without all the evidence is precisely the kind of premature judgment you rightly warn about in this post.

    Comment by Anonpls — September 22, 2017 @ 8:12 pm

  2. @Anonpls
    You note ” I suppose you could say the courts are a sham, but that presupposes a soviet style hellscape that existed long before Mueller.” Yes that pre supposition is exactly why Trump was elected. Let’s just say about 50% of the elctorate in the US do not believe the political elite represent their interests just as the Soviet elite was seen as detached from the interests of the Russian citizen.

    Your chacterization of the difficulty of obtaining no knock warrants is just untrue at this time in the US. From the Washington Post-
    “They’re used, for example, against people such as the woman and her 3-year-old daughter who were held at gunpoint after FBI agents entered her home by taking a chainsaw to her door. They were looking for a drug dealer who lived in the building. They had the wrong apartment. They’re used against families such as the three children in New Mexico injured by flash grenades when FBI agents conducted a no-knock raid on their father, who was suspected of being a street-level drug dealer. Or the Quincy, Mass., couple raided last year by FBI agents and local police who took a battering ram to their door and ransacked their home. The agents found nothing incriminating and left a search warrant that included only the home’s address.”

    ” In the federal system, federal agents present search warrant applications to United States Magistrate Judges for review. Magistrate Judges aren’t nominated by the President and confirmed by Congress like United States District Court judges — they are appointed by other federal judges for set terms, and have a reduced level of authority and responsibility. They do a lot of the unglamorous day-to-day work of the federal judiciary.
    The magistrate judge reviews the search warrant application and, almost always, signs the warrant approving it . . . I think that magistrates can be a little rubber-stampy at times. But probable cause is a pretty low bar.”

    This entire special prosecutorial process is exactly why Trump was elected-the elites are conducting the business of government in a way that does not benefit the average citizen. It is business as usual but in this unprecedented case the President is despised nearly equally by both the Republican and Democratic elites.

    An average citizen might ask himself what Trump could possibly have provided Russia that was to the common citizen’s detriment. Was it an unbalanced arms control treaty like New START? Was it multi million dollar payments into a foundation from Uranium One’s Chairman. Was it a $500,000 speaking engagement fee in Moscow from an investment bank involved in the Uranium One transaction?

    At the time I could care less what Bill Clinton dipped his cigar in before smoking and now I could care less if Trump went horseback riding shirtless with Putin. Articles of Impeachment will only move the US into an even darker place. Any positive that the poltical establishment hopes to achieve from this will not be forthcoming-just the opposite.

    Comment by pahoben — September 23, 2017 @ 4:49 am

  3. CNN for God’s sake is like a broadcast of a HUAC meeting. The difference is they have no one to say-have you no shame.

    Comment by pahoben — September 23, 2017 @ 5:09 am

  4. Session’s must have made the later part of his career on drug enforcment and moral issues-anything else fuhgetaboutit. To recuse and allow the special prosecutor such a broad remit provides opportunity to eventually manufacture something from nothing. He has not been a good AG.

    Comment by pahoben — September 23, 2017 @ 5:19 am

  5. Pahoben (eek, my autocorrect wants to call you pathogen! I know the internet coarsens discourse, but that’s a new one.),
    It’s easy to find mistakes in any process, but that doesn’t mean you can dismiss it. Innocent people are convicted all the time, and patients die in surgery all the time. That doesn’t mean we should have no criminal law and no doctors. The post above was attacking the motivations of Mueller, and until Mueller can actually present evidence and discuss the investigation, I think it’s wreckless to go too far in condemning him. In my read of things, it’s 100% okay to note “hey, this stuff could be really concerning given the right fact pattern, which will we learn about in due time.” Perhaps I was misreading the post, but I don’t think it’s saying that no knock warrants are always wrong, just that this one was. If he’s taking the stance that all prosecutions using such tactics are unjust, I don’t think there’s enough common ground to engage in conversation about this. Again, I don’t think that’s the case, though.

    Comment by AnonPls — September 23, 2017 @ 7:23 am

  6. What’s the back-story on Mueller? What is driving his fevered pursuit? I would have expected better from someone with a history of public service.

    Comment by Global Super-Regulator on Lunch Break — September 23, 2017 @ 10:58 am

  7. Where you stand depends on where you sit. Mueller is a special prosecutor, hence he must prosecute somebody. Every SP has become Captain Ahab searching for a white whale.

    Comment by The Pilot — September 23, 2017 @ 6:36 pm

  8. Well, Manfort having spent his career helping impose KGB rule on others, his landing on the receiving side of it would be pareto-improving on global justice.

    Comment by Ivan — September 24, 2017 @ 1:24 am

  9. “It is telling that Manafort has demanded that ALL of the material collected about him be released” – specifically telling that he wants to know how much they know to decide on the optimal extent of cooperation needed for him to minimize damage to himself.

    Comment by Ivan — September 24, 2017 @ 5:09 am

  10. Apparently, we are the Soviet Union.

    Comment by Thomas Jefferson — September 25, 2017 @ 10:01 am

  11. […] on Facebook during the presidential election, paying in the region of $50k-$100k for them. As Streetwise Professor points out, Hillary spent $400 million on adverts. And she still lost. Whatever the causes of her […]

    Pingback by Russia Throws US Election for Republicans by Backing Democrat Causes | White Sun of the Desert — September 29, 2017 @ 1:31 am

  12. HRC needs the constant flack of ‘Russia’, otherwise the only news will be her crimes, for which she would have to answer. So her cohort must anticipate what she would be accused of, and first accuse others of that. Mueller has a lifetime job.

    Comment by Richard Whitney — September 30, 2017 @ 12:53 pm

  13. […] on Facebook during the presidential election, paying in the region of $50k-$100k for them. As Streetwise Professor points out, Hillary spent $400 million on adverts. And she still lost. Whatever the causes of her […]

    Pingback by Samizdata quote of the day « Samizdata — October 1, 2017 @ 3:05 am

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