Six Takeaways from the Mueller Report

I hate to start out yet another post talking about Attorney General William Barr, but, as I’m sitting here, making my way through Robert Mueller’s incredibly dense 448-page report, I find myself with renewed appreciation for just how absurd the conceit behind Barr’s 4-page summary was. The notion that anyone could adequately sum up this report in 4 pages is just so laughably absurd. I mean, a lot of us said it at the time — cautioning the press not to give Barr’s assessment too much weight — but, when you start reading through the actual report, and think about the summary that Barr attempted to pass off if in its stead, it’s just laughable… So, with that said, I’m not going to try to summarize the report. Here, however, are a half dozen observations that I think you might find of interest.

1. GUESS WHAT? THE WHITE HOUSE LIES.

There are a lot of White House lies outlined in the report, but here’s one of my favorite examples. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders apparently confirmed to investigators that she’d lied outright, when, after Jim Comey’s termination from the FBI, she told members of the White House press corp that “countless” FBI agents had reached out to the administration, saying that they had lost faith in his leadership. [As you’ll recall, they were trying to spin his termination as having nothing to do with the Mueller investigation and his refusal to pledge his loyalty to Trump.] Here’s the passage.

While we’re on the subject of lying, I should note that this report also verifies literally hundreds of news items that were reported by the likes of the New York Times and Washington Post, which members of the Trump administration referred to at the time as “fake news”. Here, from CNN’s Jim Sciutto, are three examples; “Trump claimed he never asked for loyalty from Comey – Mueller found he did. Trump claimed he never asked Comey to let Flynn matter go – Mueller found he did. Trump claimed he never pushed McGahn to fire Mueller – Mueller found he did.” More on McGahn in a minute. First, though, here’s video of Sanders lying to the press about how Comey had lost the confidence of the rank and file FBI.

2. THE TRUMP TEAM TRIED A LOT OF REALLY SHADY SHIT TO GET THEIR HANDS ON HILLARY CLINTON’S EMAILS.

Before the Russians came through for the Trump campaign, Trump had instructed his people to do whatever necessary in order to acquire Hillary Clinton’s emails. In one instance, Michael Flynn, having been personally directed by Donald Trump, reached out to GOP operative Peter Smith and GOP Senate Judiciary Committee staffer Barbara Ledeen, who then attempted to obtain the emails from hackers in the employ of hostile foreign intelligence services. [Ledeen worked for Senator Chuck Grassly, who was Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time.] The following is from former DOJ spokesperson Matthew Miller.

Here’s a little more color from Fortune: “Ledeen eventually obtained a trove of emails from the ‘dark web’ that she believed might have belonged to Clinton, according to the report. Erik Prince, an informal Trump adviser, gave Ledeen money to hire a tech adviser to analyze the messages, which were later determined to not be authentic, according to Mueller’s report.” [So, Erik Prince financed the attempt to acquire Clinton’s emails from foreign intelligence agency hackers. Interesting, right? One now wonders if that might be why his sister, Betsy DeVos, without any real credentials to speak of, got the job running the Department of Education. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit… Oh, and Peter Smith took his own life after this episode. I’m not sure what happened to Barbara Ledeen.]

It’s also worth noting that, once it became clear that the Russians had stolen the DNC emails, and had gotten them to Julian Assange, Donald Trump apparently directed Manafort and Gates to reach out to Roger Stone to find out when they’d be released by WikiLeaks… Put a slightly different way, Donald Trump personally instructed senior members of his presidential campaign to coordinate with a Russian front organization to release stolen documents thought to be harmful to his political adversary. [Sounds worse than a consensual blowjob to me, but apparently Republicans see it differently.]

3. MANAFORT TALKED SPECIFICALLY ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF MICHIGAN WITH KILIMNIK.

OK, remember how news broke a while back that, on August 2, 2016, just before the 2016 Republican National Convention, Trump Campaign Director Paul Manafort had handed over internal polling data to Konstantin Kilimnik, a shady Ukrainian with ties to Russian intelligence? Well, while Mueller’s investigators apparently couldn’t prove what Kilimnik did with the data, and whether it influenced the work of the Russian Internet Research Agency, which, according to investigators, “conducted social media operations targeted at large U.S. audiences with the goal of sowing discord in the U.S. political system,” we now know a little more about the conversation between the two men. Specifically, we know from Manafort associate Rick Gates that Kilimnik was told the “battleground” states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota were particularly important. As Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, by giving Trump slim victories against Clinton, essentially handed him the White House, this would seem to be an important bit of information. I mean, we now seem to know that Manafort explicitly told Kilimnik where Russian disinformation could be used to greatest effect, right? I suppose, without proof that Kilimnik couriered the data to Moscow, and gave the orders to focus on Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, there’s not enough to charge criminal conspiracy, but the pieces seem to line up.

4. THERE WAS A FUCKLOAD OF OBSTRUCTION, AND MUELLER WANTED CONGRESS TO TAKE UP THE QUESTION OF PROSECUTION.

Attorney General William Barr repeated again this morning that it was his role as the nation’s lead law enforcement officer to make the call as to whether or not Donald Trump technically committed obstruction of justice. Furthermore, he said that Mueller understood that he, as the Attorney General, would be making this call. According to the report, however, it would appear that Mueller was looking for Congress to make the call, not Barr.

“With respect to whether the President can be found to have obstructed justice by exercising his powers under Article II of the Constitution,” Mueller wrote in the report, “we concluded that Congress has the authority to prohibit a President’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice.”

And the report is rife with examples of obstruction, beginning with the firing of Jim Comey, and extending to the apparent promise of pardons. Here, on that last point, is a link to an article about how Manafort had told Gates that Trump’s personal counsel had promised that they’d be taken care of if they remained quiet.

And, then, of course, there’s all the stuff about how Donald Trump had tried to force White House counsel Don McGahn to shut down the Mueller probe.

Not only did Trump try to get McGahn to shut down the probe, but, afterward, he tried to get McGahn to swear that it had never happened. Here, with more on that particular chapter, is a clip from the ABC News coverage of the Mueller report.

…After news broke that Trump ordered McGahn to fire the special counsel, Trump pressured McGahn to deny that he had been directed to do so, even suggesting to aides that he would fire him unless he complied. Mueller concludes that there is evidence to suggest Trump acted this way to impede his investigation.

According to the report: “The President then directed [staff secretary Rob] Porter to tell McGahn to create a record to make clear that the President never directed McGahn to fire the Special Counsel. Porter thought the matter should be handled by the White House communications office, but the President said he wanted McGahn to write a letter to the file “for our records” and wanted something beyond a press statement to demonstrate that the reporting was inaccurate. The President referred to McGahn as a ‘lying bastard’ and said that he wanted a record from him. Porter recalled the President saying something to the effect of, ‘If he doesn’t write a letter, then maybe I’ll have to get rid of him’.”

Mueller concluded that “Substantial evidence indicates that in repeatedly urging McGahn to dispute that he was ordered to have the Special Counsel terminated, the President acted for the purpose of influencing McGahn’s account in order to deflect or prevent further scrutiny of the President’s conduct towards the investigation.”

In the end, it’s true that Trump’s efforts to obstruct were largely ineffective, given that many refused to do what he demanded. Sessions, for instance, didn’t un-recuse himself and shut down the special counsel’s investigation. And McGahn didn’t fire Mueller. With that said, though, these actions on the part of Trump and his people did, in Mueller’s opinion, “materially impaire” the Russia investigation. In other words, they obstructed the course of justice… And, I should add, in some instances, like with the firing of Jim Comey, Trump was actually successful in the execution of his plans to stymie the investigation. [Again, all the more reason that Congress should get involved, taking the case back from Barr.]

Here, for those of you who might be curious, are a few more examples of the President’s various attempts to stop the investigation. [Hilariously, Barr talked this morning about how supportive Trump had been of the investigation. In reality, he tried on multiple occasions to file Mueller and end the investigation. And, of course, he never agreed to testify, telling investigators what he knew of Russia’s attempts to influence the election.]

5. IT WAS TRUMP WHO PERSONALLY CALLED FOR THE GOP PLATFORM TO CHANGE IN 2016, MAKING IT MORE PUTIN-FRIENDLY ON THE SUBJECT OF UKRAINE.

Remember how, back during the Republican National Convention in 2016, the GOP platform was somehow changed to be more Putin-friendly on the subject of Ukraine? Well, we now know, at least according to one source, that it was Donald Trump himself who made the change. Following is something that I wrote at the time, followed by a clip from the Mueller report.

Just before the Republican National Convention, the Republican party released their new platform for 2016. The New York Times called it “the most extreme Republican platform in memory.” Among other things, according to the Times, this new platform outlined positions “making no exceptions for rape or women’s health in cases of abortion; requiring the Bible to be taught in public high schools; selling coal as a ‘clean’ energy source; demanding a return of federal lands to the states; insisting that legislators use religion as a guide in lawmaking; appointing ‘family values’ judges; barring female soldiers from combat; and rejecting the need for stronger gun controls — despite the mass shootings afflicting the nation every week.” This apparently came to pass largely because Donald Trump, who would go on just a few days later to accept the party’s nomination for President, didn’t push back. With one notable exception, Trump and his team, accepted everything that was suggested without debate.

According to Talking Points Memo, “The Trump Camp was totally indifferent to the platform. So party activists were able to write one of the most conservative platforms in history. Not with Trump’s backing but because he simply didn’t care. With one big exception: Trump’s team mobilized the nominee’s traditional mix of cajoling and strong-arming on one point: changing the party platform on assistance to Ukraine against Russian military operations in eastern Ukraine.”

That’s right. They didn’t push back against any of the retrograde domestic policies, but, curiously, they insisted that proposed wording about our need to arm the Ukrainians to fight Russian and rebel forces be stricken, “contradicting the view of almost all Republican foreign policy leaders in Washington,” according to the Washington Post…

Well, now we know who made it happen. The question remains, why? Why would Trump go out of his way to do a favor for Vladimir Putin?

6. MOTIVES AND ECUSES.

As for why Donald Trump would work so hard to subvert the special counsel’s investigation, I think the answer is pretty clear in this quote from Jody Hunt, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ chief of staff. According to Hunt, when Donald Trump was told that a special counsel had been appointed, he slumped back in his chair and said, “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’m fucked.” And, it would appear, he wasn’t just upset about the prospect of losing the presidency. Donald Trump had every reason to believe that other crimes would come to the surface during the investigations, like the fact that he paid-off multiple lovers in violation of campaign finance law. Here, with more on that, is another excerpt from the report.

I know that Barr said this morning that the President’s obstruction was defensible, as Trump had his feelings hurt — seeing as how he just wanted to Make America Great Again, and a bunch of angry Democratic sore losers kept trying to investigate him unfairly for collusion — but that’s not the way the law works. Obstruction is obstruction, regardless of whether or not your feelings are hurt. And, despite what Trump and others might think, a person can still be found guilty of obstruction, even if he or she is ultimately found not-guilty of the underlying crime being covered up. And it’s not a valid argument to say, “They made me obstruct justice by being mean to me.”

Here’s Barr making the ridiculous “But He Was Frustrated” case.

For what it’s worth, a lot of people on the right are now making the same case, saying that Trump wasn’t obstructing justice so much as he was fighting back against a cruel and unjust system. In fact, Donald Trump just tweeted out the following from Fox News personality Jesse Watters. “Donald Trump was being framed (and) he fought back,” he said. “That is not Obstruction.” [Again, even if this were true, it would not be a legal defense for obstruction.]

OK, I COULD GO ON FOR EVER, BUT I HAVE TO STOP.

There’s a ton that I still wanted to tell you about, like the fact that Donald Trump Jr. was apparently found to be too stupid to be arrested, but I’m going to have to call it quits for the night. Before I go, though, I just want to say two things. First, while it may be true that Robert Mueller couldn’t prove criminal conspiracy related to the Trump campaign’s involvement in the Russian hacking, I think it should be incredibly clear to anyone reading this with an open mind that there was collusion. Donald Trump wanted Clinton’s emails stolen. He openly urged the Russians to steal them. And, after the fact, once the emails had been stolen and disseminated, he lied repeatedly, saying that our national intelligence agencies were wrong, and that the Russians hadn’t been behind the hacking. As Congressman Adam Schiff said today, “Regardless of whether the obstructive acts described by Mueller was criminal or whether the litany of illicit contacts with Russia rose to the level of conspiracy, they’re dishonest, unethical, and unpatriotic. Mueller’s report is not a vindication of Trump, but a condemnation.” And, second, obstruction is against the law, and the question as to whether or not Donald Trump is guilty of having engaged in obstruction of justice should be taken up by Congress, as Mueller had intended. And we have to encourage our representatives in Congress to take up the cause. The very future of our democracy depends on it.

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The Mueller report open thread

I have absolutely nothing new to say about the Mueller report, but, as I suspect many of you will be looking for a place to start trading “OH MY GOD”s for “I TOLD YOU SO”s once it’s been released, I thought that I’d start a new thread. So, here it is…. Have fun with it.

Now I’m going to go and watch The Thin Man with a glass of scotch, in an attempt to block the insanity of our world out for a while.

Oh, before I go… if you haven’t already heard, news just broke that William Barr will once again be offering his unsolicited interpretation of the Mueller report tomorrow morning, a few hours prior to the document’s public release. That’s right, before anyone in the press has even had an opportunity to read a single page, he’ll apparently be taking one last opportunity to steer the narrative in a way that’s beneficial to the President. And, for what it’s worth, Robert Mueller, the author of the report, will not be present. So, once again, we’ll have the President’s hand-picked Attorney General — a man who got the job by condemning the Mueller investigation, and saying that, if he were Attorney General, he’d make sure that Donald Trump never faced obstruction charges — placing himself in the story to advance the Trump narrative, without any concern, it would seem, about how it might look to those of us who already question his impartiality in the matter. [And, yes, it’s a big deal that the historically independent Judicial branch has been politicized.]

Maybe I’m overthinking it, but I can’t imagine that Barr would once again put himself in this position after being so roundly criticized for denying Congressional access to the report for almost a month, cherrypicking Mueller’s materials to defend an inappropriate and premature “not guilty” verdict, and promoting conspiracy theories about a deep state spying campaign directed at the Trump campaign, but here we are. Not only did Barr hold off on the report’s release until the beginning of the Easter holiday, when members of Congress would be out of DC, but he decided to schedule the day’s events so that he’d take questions from the press prior to handing over the report, instead of afterward, when people knew what was actually in it.

Personally, I suspect the report will be redacted to hell, and we won’t get anything of value tomorrow, but, judging by the way Barr and Trump are acting, I suppose it’s possible that they’re concerned about the public response to the contents… Why else would the White House have spend the past several weeks drafting a “response” to the Mueller report, under the apparent advisement of the Attorney General? [It’s being reported today by the New York Times that “Justice Department officials have had numerous conversations with White House lawyers about the special counsel’s conclusions in recent days,” helping them to get ready with their rebuttal.] If Mueller had ‘completely exonerated’ Donald Trump, as the President has claimed, why stall on the release, conspire to draft a formal rebuttal, and keep having Barr offer his interpretations? It just doesn’t make any sense. No, they know what’s in this report, and they’re scared. They may not be afraid of any legal threat, but my sense is that they know it’ll hurt Trump politically when people see everything laid bare.

OK, I need to stop for the time being… Let me leave you, however, in the very capable hands of Representative Jerry Nadler, who apparently knows a cover-up when he sees one.

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Totally Quotable Arlo: Future Lyric Edition

Arlo, pictured here a few years ago, came up to me last night and said that his head was a cage of eyeballs. He was explaining some kind imaginary armor that he’d been thinking about, and this one particular phrase stuck with me. It’s not the most profound thing he’s said to me since the last installment of Totally Quotable Arlo, but it’s something that I thought that he might later appreciate, so I decided to add it to the official archive. If nothing else, maybe he can work it into a high school poetry assignment someday, or, better yet, a metal song.

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With the release of the Mueller report imminent, the President’s desperate lies intensify

I have a migraine. My head hurts like hell, but, after about four hours, I can finally see again, so things seem to be trending in the right direction… At any rate, I wanted to share a few things with you before I crawl back beneath the covers.

Word came out from the Department of Justice this morning that Attorney General William Barr will be be releasing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s redacted report on the Russia investigation this Thursday morning, and, as you might imagine, Donald Trump responded by going completely, fucking insane, lying about the findings of the report, and demanding that his investigators be investigated.

This, of course, is a lie. For all his talk of “total exoneration,” the Mueller report did not absolve him of collusion, corruption, or obstruction. In fact, even according to William Barr, Trump’s hand-picked Attorney General, the report did not establish that “no obstruction” took place. In his roundly-criticized four-page summary of the Mueller report, Barr even quoted Mueller as having said, “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” So, when Trump says that Mueller and Barr found “no collusion,” it’s a deliberate misstatement of fact. While it appears to be the case that Mueller did not find enough to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the President knowingly conspired with the Russians to interfere in the 2016 election, he very clearly states that obstruction of justice may have happened. And the consensus of legal scholars seems to be that he was looking to Congress to make that determination. Barr, however, interceded before Congress could see the report, offering his own interpretation… which was that the President, in his opinion, could not be found guilty of obstruction, regardless of evidence to the contrary.

Barr not only intercede on the President’s behalf to muddy the waters by declaring that no obstruction had taken place, but he also held the Mueller report for several weeks, refusing to even release the Special Counsel’s non-confidential overview documents to Congress, despite repeated demands. Meanwhile, of course, it would appear that Barr briefed the White House on the report, giving them a head start of several weeks not only so that they could push out the “total exoneration” narrative, but also so that they could start drafting a formal response, which one imagines will come out at the same time as Mueller’s report. And, not just that, but, when testifying before Congress last week, Barr threw some red meat to Trump’s conspiracy theory-loving base, suggesting that members of the U.S. intelligence community had illegally “spied” on the Trump campaign — an accusation that Trump is pushing aggressively today, in the run up to the release of the Mueller report.

For what it’s worth, this again is a lie, and even Barr has since backed away from it. The Republicans investigated so-called “Spygate” several times when Devin Nunes ran the House Intelligence Committee, attempting to establish that the FBI had acted inappropriately in their investigation of the Trump campaign, and they never found anything of substance to substantiate the President’s claim that the whole thing started with Hillary Clinton hiring former MI6 agent Christopher Steele to make up lies about his ties to Russia, or the ridiculous claim that Trump advisor Carter Page had been targeted for investigation without good reason. [The truth is, the investigation of Russian interference started well before the Steele dossier, when it became known that Trump associate George Papadopoulos had told an Australian diplomat in a bar the the Russians were preparing to help their campaign by releasing emails damaging to Hillary Clinton. Plus, the Steele dossier wasn’t something that the Clinton campaign had thought up. It was actually drafted by Steele, a former British agent with a significant network of Russian contacts, on the behalf of the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative online news site. And, as for Carter Page, members of our intelligence community sought a FISA warrant against him, not because he was working for Trump, but because we knew of Russian attempts to recruit him as an agent.]

But, for those who are unwilling to do the research and look at the actual facts, we have this alternative narrative being put forward by Trump and his associates, claiming that it’s all a “hoax” perpetrated by “dirty cops” within the intelligence community directed by Hillary Clinton… which, by the way, makes absolutely no fucking sense, given that it was the FBI that gave Trump the advantage going into the election by announcing that the investigation into Clinton’s email server had been reopened. And, more importantly, if Clinton had been behind the Steele dossier, hoping to use it to defeat Trump, why is it that it didn’t become public until the January after the election? The whole thing just makes absolutely no fucking sense. But yet here we are, arguing reality with old white men who just refuse to accept the truth.

All bullshit aside, here’s what we know beyond a shadow of a doubt. The Russians interfered in our election on the part of Donald Trump, and he welcomed their assistance. The Russians attempted through various means to make inroads with the Trump campaign, and, at every turn, they found Trump’s associates receptive. And, when questioned by investigators, these same Trump associates then lied about it, repeatedly. Sure, it may be that Mueller didn’t feel it was enough to stand up in court, and allow him to secure a conviction, but we know that it happened.

We know that Jared Kushner sought to set up a secret backchannel with Russia. We know that, when Russian operatives approached Donald Trump Jr. with an offer to help the campaign, he not only responded by saying, “I Love It,” but set up meeting at Trump Tower that was attended by several members of Trump’s campaign. And, we know, when this meeting became public, that Donald Trump himself penned a letter for his son, stating that the meeting had been about adoption policy, when it hadn’t. And we know that, in Helsinki, Donald Trump sided with Vladimir Putin over against his own intelligence agencies, saying that he believed Putin when he said that Russia didn’t interfere with our 2016 election. [Our intelligence agencies had already shown Trump definitive proof that Putin had personally called for the hacking.] And let’s not forget the only change Donald Trump’s team made to the GOP platform before the Republican National Convention in 2016 was to remove U.S. assistance for Ukraine, much to the delight of Putin… I could go on. I didn’t even mention the fact that we know from Michael Cohen that Trump talked with Roger Stone before the election about the timing of the Wikileaks releases of stolen Democratic emails on behalf of the Russians… But suffice it to say that there’s a great deal of evidence of very bad things having happened. And, if Barr doesn’t redact all of it, we’re going to know a great deal come Thursday.

So, prepare yourselves. The next few days are going to be filled with more shouts of “treason,” and demands that the investigators be thrown in jail. This, I’m afraid, is going to get incredibly ugly.

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Offering no evidence, William Barr tells Congress, “I think spying did occur” on Trump campaign by intel agencies in 2016

Attorney General William Barr, testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee today, let it be known that, in his opinion, “spying did occur” on the Trump campaign by U.S. intelligence agencies in 2016. Barr not only offered no evidence to back up this surprising claim, but, upon further questioning, said that he would not be “putting together a panel” to investigate the matter further, which would seem to indicate that knows full well that the investigation into the campaign was completely warranted, given the overwhelming evidence of Russian election interference and the numerous unreported meetings between members of Trump’s inner circle and individuals with ties to the Russian government. But yet he said it anyway. The question is why. Why would Barr, without evidence of wrongdoing, knowing that none exists, suggest that the intelligence community had been out to get Donald Trump in 2016?

Here, if you’ve yet to see it, is footage of Barr throwing chum to the rabid conspiracy theorists that now form the base of the Republican Party — people who actually believe that the intelligence community, directed by a liberal, globalist cabal of child sex traffickers, had illegally spied on the heroic, truth-telling Donald Trump without justification.

Later in his testimony, Barr would back away from the word “spying,” and would attempt to distance himself from the accusation that the intelligence community had conspired against Donald Trump. “I’m not suggesting that (the investigation) wasn’t adequately predicated,” he told the Senators, who had been understandably caught off-guard by his earlier comments about “spying”.

Seizing on Barr’s earlier comment, and ignoring the fact that he’d eventually walked back what he’d said, Donald Trump and his supporters once again went on the offensive, demanding members of the intelligence community be made to pay a price for what they’d done. Here’s a tweet from earlier today, in which Donald Trump suggests that the whole investigation was nothing more than a “treasonous hoax”.

To those who said that we should give Barr the benefit of the doubt over his poor handling of the Mueller report — which he still hasn’t given to Congress, by the way — I think we’ve now seen enough to know that his intentions are far from good. At every turn, he’s done Donald Trump’s bidding, and it just seems to be getting worse. He clearly doesn’t care about the long term damage being done to the intelligence agencies that he presides over as Attorney General, or the harm that he’s doing by sewing these seeds of distrust in American institutions. All he seems to care about is muddying the waters in hopes of helping Donald Trump to avoid facing the consequences of his actions. He was clearly selected for the job because he promised to shield Donald Trump for any investigations, and it would appear that every decision he’s made since has been with that objective in mind… I didn’t think it possible, but he’s making Jeff Sessions look like a heroic paragon of virtue in comparison.

Senator Mark Warner, I think, said it best. “Mr. Barr knows how counter-intel investigations work,” he said. “He knows there was ample evidence of Russian attempts to infiltrate the Trump campaign and that the FBI took lawful action to stop it. Giving a wink and a nod to this long-debunked “spying” conspiracy theory is irresponsible.

And, like that, we’re seeing the reputation of yet one more person in Trump’s orbit turn to shit.

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