Fair’s Fair

What goes around comes around. People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander – whatever that means. Fair is fair. Karma’s a bitch. Crime doesn’t pay. It all comes down to the same thing – the Boethian Wheel – “Fortune is ever most friendly and alluring to those whom she strives to deceive, until she overwhelms them with grief beyond bearing, by deserting them when least expected” – and so on and so forth. There is reciprocity in the universe.

There isn’t. Crime does pay. That’s why there are so many criminals. Why else would they bother? Life isn’t fair – get over it. That’s what you tell your kids – but life ought to be fair. Everyone feels that in their bones. Sometimes they act on it. Sometimes that’s political:

Amid a potentially lethal frenzy about renewed FBI activity related to Hillary Clinton’s email, the Clinton campaign and its Democratic allies worked furiously on Monday to change the subject to FBI interest in Donald Trump’s ties to Russia.

Democrats have complained for weeks that FBI Director James Comey has refused to discuss his agency’s alleged investigations into ties between key Trump figures and the Kremlin even as he has commented on the FBI’s inquiry into Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state.

But in a conference call with reporters on Monday, two top Clinton campaign officials escalated the charge, saying that Clinton was the victim of a “blatant double standard” when it comes to Comey’s public comments about his bureau’s investigations. Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook and press secretary Brian Fallon called it “jaw dropping” for Comey to disclose that the FBI is examining newly discovered emails potentially related to Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state while declining comment on reports of FBI queries involving Trump and Moscow.

“Director Comey owes the public an explanation for this inconsistency,” Fallon said.

There should be reciprocity in the universe, damn it! Fair’s fair! And Fallon may have a point:

The Clinton team was responding to a CNBC report published Monday afternoon that Comey had declined to sign on to an Oct. 7 public statement from the director of National Intelligence and the Secretary of Homeland Security declaring that the Russian government had directed cyber theft of emails from the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign later released by the website WikiLeaks. According to the report, which was sourced to an unnamed former FBI official, Comey privately argued that it was too close to the presidential election to issue such a statement.

That doesn’t seem fair, but there was more:

The Clinton officials also vented long-boiling frustration among Democrats about Comey’s low profile on the question of Russian influence in the election and possible Kremlin ties to Trump.

They referred to a letter sent to Comey on Saturday by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who fumed to Comey that the FBI director had made numerous public statements about the Clinton email case but not also publicized his knowledge of what Reid called “explosive information” about Trump’s connections to Russia.

Reid did not specify what that information might be. But Democrats, including Reid himself, have repeatedly cited several Trump aides and advisers with alleged links to the Kremlin or WikiLeaks, some of whom have been investigated by the FBI, according to media reports.

“It is not fair for [Comey] to stay silent about investigations into election-related hacks,” Fallon told reporters. “If the Trump campaign or allies of the Trump camp are being looked at as part of that investigation, he should tell us too.”

Perhaps so, because no one gets it:

Many Democrats are frustrated that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s apparent efforts to aid Trump haven’t inflicted more damage on the Republican nominee. Even after U.S. intelligence officials concluded that Russia’s government directed the hacking of the DNC and Clinton campaign, only 4 in 10 voters said they believe that Russia has tried to influence the election, according to a mid-October POLITICO/Morning Consult poll.

And they should “get” it:

Even the slightest collusion between Trump and Putin would be a scandal of historic proportions, Democrats say, a potential act of treason far more severe than the charge that Clinton and her aides mishandled classified information over email.

Intelligence officials have not publicly asserted any direct ties between Trump and the Kremlin, but such ties have reportedly been a topic of discussion in private briefings with members of Congress. A spokesman for the FBI’s national security division did not respond to a request for comment.

Yeah, well, private briefings won’t do, now that Comey has announced that his people found more emails that might or might not have something or other to do with Hillary’s private server when she was secretary of state, in a secondary way, if at all – but might be nothing at all – but they won’t have that figured out until long after the election. Sorry about that. Life isn’t fair. Get over it.

That cranky old man from Nevada won’t get over it:

Reid himself has led the charge since late August, when he sent Comey an open letter imploring the FBI to investigate what he called “evidence of a direct connection between the Russian government and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.” That letter cited a Trump campaign adviser who traveled to Moscow in July and who, according to Reid, “met with high-ranking sanctioned individuals” there. That was almost surely a reference to Carter Page, an investment banker who has worked in Moscow and whom Trump has publicly named as a foreign adviser. Page has denied meeting with sanctioned Kremlin officials in Moscow, where he delivered economic remarks at a think tank. The Trump campaign says Carter plays a minimal advisory role.

Some Democrats have also accused the former longtime Trump operative Roger Stone of inappropriate contacts with WikiLeaks, the organization that has posted troves of Clinton campaign and DNC emails stolen by what intelligence officials say was Russian hacking. WikiLeaks has not disclosed how it came to possess those emails.

All fourteen US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia did the stealing. WikiLeaks ended up with what they stole. What the Russians stole WikiLeaks then published. That caused havoc in the Clinton campaign. Comey refuses to say a word about any of it. He refuses to say anything that might influence the election, except for announcing he found more emails that might or might not have something to do with Hillary Clinton. Perhaps crime does pay.

Matthew Yglesias has more:

Harry Reid’s incendiary Sunday letter to FBI Director James Comey was mostly noted at the time for its far-fetched allegation that Comey may have violated the Hatch Act by dropping his vaguely phrased letter to Congress about emails that may or may not be new found on Anthony Weiner’s laptop. But the more important section of the letter may be the other part, in which he slammed Comey for hypocrisy on the grounds that the FBI was sitting on “explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump his top advisors and the Russian government.”

Reid rather famously concocted a wild fib about Mitt Romney’s taxes in order to dramatize a political point back in 2012, so the mere fact that he said he knew the FBI was sitting on explosive information didn’t mean they really were. But in the past 36 hours, a number of reports have surfaced across various media outlets indicating that there is some real smoke around Trump/Russia matters…

Where there’s smoke there’s fire? Add that to the list of clichés about fairness, but consider Yglesias’ list:

Ken Dilanian, Cynthia McFadden, William Arkin, and Tom Winter reported for NBC that the FBI has launched a “preliminary inquiry” into the business dealings of Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort. They do not say exactly what the inquiry is about, but they hint that it is a follow-up on NBC’s August reporting that “Manafort was a key player in multi-million-dollar business propositions with Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs – one of them a close Putin ally with alleged ties to organized crime – which foreign policy experts said raised questions about the pro-Russian bent of the Trump candidacy.” Manafort left the campaign shortly after the report, and the media largely let it drop but perhaps the FBI has not.

And add this:

Franklin Foer reported for Slate about a somewhat bizarre story (seemingly originating with this anonymous report) indicating that computer security experts have detected “a sustained relationship between a server registered to the Trump Organization and two servers registered to an entity called Alfa Bank,” a major Russian bank with links to the country’s political and business elite. Foer’s reporting does not reveal what the nature of the communication between the servers was and based on the evidence at hand, there seems to be no way to tell. Trump is famously not especially creditworthy, and I think the implication of this reporting is supposed to be that it’s the fingerprints of a previously unknown credit relationship between Trump and Alfa. Some informed observers say there’s nothing to this

Okay, that may be smoke without fire, but there’s this:

David Corn at Mother Jones reports the existence of a memo shared with the FBI by a former western intelligence official who now does private security work. This memo alleges that the “Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years” and that Trump “and his inner circle have accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his Democratic and other political rivals.” According to the memo the goal “endorsed by PUTIN has been to encourage splits and divisions in western alliance.” Corn reports that the FBI asked for follow-up information from the author of the memo (meaning they considered him credible), which has been provided, but that he does not know whether the Bureau has been able to confirm or debunk its contents.

On the other hand, there’s this:

Eric Lichtblau and Steven Lee Meyers of the New York Times have a story citing “law enforcement officials” as saying that though the FBI has indeed looked into these various matters “none of the investigations so far have found any link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government.” That includes an inquiry into the Alfa Bank matter, and seems to clearly contradict Corn’s ex-spy, though the memo is not specifically addressed in the story.

In fact, the Times’ sources go even further and say that the Russian hacks that have exclusively targeted Democrats and were timed perfectly for Trump’s political needs were not designed to help Trump at all. Instead they were “aimed at disrupting the presidential election rather than electing Mr. Trump.”

What, exactly, the difference is between disrupting the election in a way that favors Trump and trying to help Trump win the election is a little bit hard for me to say but it’s been the subject of a hotly contested semantic battle inside the American government ever since the DNC hacks in July. Clinton’s campaign strongly prefers the formulation that Russia is trying to help Trump, while evidently the FBI agents looking into the matter prefer the formulation that they are broadly seeking to discredit the electoral process.

To quote Hillary Clinton on a different matter, what difference does it make? The Russian government has been disrupting our election all along. James Comey just did his part. Perhaps neither part wanted to help Trump, but they did. This may not have been intentional. Perhaps but Fortune smiled on Trump. The net effect is the same.

But to quote Samuel Butler, Fortune is a Fickle Foster Mother:

The FBI has been conducting a preliminary inquiry into Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort’s foreign business connections, law enforcement and intelligence sources told NBC News Monday.

Word of the inquiry, which has not blossomed into a full-blown criminal investigation, comes just days after FBI Director James Comey’s disclosure that his agency is examining a new batch of emails connected to an aide to Hillary Clinton.

Perhaps there is reciprocity in the universe, but mum’s the word. This was a leak from inside the FBI – Comey is saying nothing, to be fair about things.

Still, there is smoke in the air:

Donald Trump’s campaign sought to distance him from his former campaign chief Paul Manafort on Monday night following reports that the FBI is looking into the ex-aide’s foreign business ties.

“Mr. Trump severed ties with Mr. Manafort many months ago. Mr. Trump has no knowledge of any of his past or present activities,” campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks said in an email.

Someone is worried, but Yglesias thinks all this misses the point:

Breathless speculation about possible Trump-Russia links is a lot more fun than boring policy analysis. But Trump’s policy views on matters related to Russia are a lot clearer than any of these cloak-and-dagger allegations.

He’s called for greater US-Russian cooperation in Syria, signaled sympathy for Russia’s seizure of Crimea, and most of all he’s called for dismantling the NATO alliance.

These are policy ideas that can be assessed on the merits (they’re terrible, in my opinion) completely separately from the question of exactly what motivated Trump to adopt them.

Josh Marshall, however, digs into the details of one of these items:

According to David Corn, who is an experienced national security and intelligence reporter, a retired spy from a western country who now works for an American security contractor has provided the FBI with evidence suggesting that “the Russian government has for years tried to co-opt and assist Trump.” Corn further reports that this retired spy found “troubling information indicating connections between Trump and the Russian government. According to his sources, he says, ‘there was an established exchange of information between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin of mutual benefit.'”

The retired spy, who remains anonymous, says he’s provided his evidence to the FBI and they have requested additional information from him about his sources, findings, etc. Corn knows how to do this kind of reporting. He has spoken to a US intelligence official who says this retired spy has provided credible and valuable intelligence to the US government in the past. He is considered reliable. Corn’s reporting gives me a high level of confidence this retired spy is not a crank. That doesn’t mean he’s right or even that he’s not pursuing some unknown agenda.

Perhaps this retired spy does have some odd agenda, but something seems very wrong here:

The activities being alleged here are incredibly serious. I was out early arguing that the confluence of connections between Trump and the Russian government required close investigation. But these are very serious charges based on unnamed sources with uncertain motives. I take it as a given that most things you hear in the final days of a brutal election are either not true, unsubstantiated or wildly overblown. Speaking for myself, the claims are too serious and the evidence so murky, that I really can’t make any judgments about them. I need a lot more evidence to believe what’s being alleged here.

If such murky and shadowy claims were being made about my candidate on the eve of an election, would I be pleased? I would have to say no.

However, it now appears fairly clear that some arm of the Russian government conducted an aggressive campaign of cyber-espionage against one US political party and used the material to assist Trump’s presidential campaign. Yes, maybe the US government is just making this up and maybe the non-governmental analysts who’ve come to the same conclusions are wrong. I’ve seen stranger things. But the Russian government is now barely making an effort to deny its involvement. Skepticism is always warranted when governments are involved. But dismissing the accusation of Russian involvement out of hand now seems more like denial than skepticism.

And denial won’t do:

Such an effort to manipulate a US election by a hostile foreign government is all but unprecedented. For all the chatter about the subject, there’s been very little wrestling with the implications of this in reporting on the US presidential election. When you put it together with Trump’s close support of Russian government policies on almost every front, his financial ties to Russian, and the number of close advisors with close ties to Putin and his allies, it’s more than enough to ring every alarm bell.

Marshall then agrees with Yglesias:

If Trump is advocating for Russia in the US political arena (he is), and Russia is conducting an espionage and disruption campaign on Trump’s behalf in the US political area (highly likely), do I need to know if they’re actually talking to each other while both these things are happening? I’m not sure I do.

Isn’t this a much bigger deal than it has been made out to be?

If it is, if Russia has coopted or cultivated or compromised Trump, that is a threat of the highest order. I can’t go on the word of an unnamed retired spy whose identity we don’t know, whose motives we can’t interrogate and whose evidence we can’t see. But I don’t think I need additional evidence. What’s been in plain sight for weeks, actually months, is more than enough to ring every alarm bell. And yet, with all the hints and arch remarks about Russia, the alarms have barely been rung.

There’s at least one reason for that. Norman Eisen and Richard Painter explain that it’s the tax returns:

Trump says his tax returns reveal nothing that is not already disclosed on his official candidate financial disclosure, called Form 278e. As ethics counsels to the past two presidents, we dealt with both their tax filings and their Form 278’s and so we know that Trump is wrong. His tax filings have an enormous amount of additional information which, in this case, could be critically important to determining whether his business overseas might affect his decision-making as president. That is because Trump’s 12,000-page tax return may tell us a great deal about his Russian and other foreign business ties that are not on his 104-page campaign financial disclosure. It’s now more vital than ever that we get that information in light of Trump’s embrace of Russian hacking, leaking and interference in our election.

These ethics counsels to the past two presidents seek the facts:

If the public saw Trump’s taxes, we could check his Russia connections for ourselves. That should start with the troubling discrepancies in how he and his closest associates talk about his Russia ties. Trump has claimed, for example, that “the reason they blame Russia [for hacking into Democratic emails] is they are trying to tarnish me with Russia. I know about Russia, but not about the inner workings. I have no business there and no loans from Russia. I have a great balance sheet.”

But that’s very different from the claims that the Trump Organization was making before he decided to run for president. Trump’s son said in 2008 that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross section of a lot of our assets” and “we see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

Trump’s tax returns could reconcile the tension between these statements. Even if Trump really does have no loans from Russia and no business in that jurisdiction, what about other financial connections with Russians outside of their land? His statement does not rule out such ties, including shared partnership interests, equity interests, joint ventures or licensing agreements with Russia or Russians – both by Trump and his affiliated companies.

Trump could clear this up. Why doesn’t he? After all, fair is fair:

Over the weekend, as controversy raged over FBI Director James Comey’s letter to Congress about Anthony Weiner’s laptop, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway responded by calling for “full disclosure and transparency, honesty and immediacy.”

That same standard should be applied by Trump to an issue he himself has avoided for months: his tax returns and what they might say about his dealings and holdings overseas. For the past four decades, every other presidential candidate has released his or her returns. Only Trump has refused.

And make no mistake: This is now a major national security issue.

And what’s sauce for the (female) goose is sauce for the (male) gander:

Clinton did not ask people to trust her assertions of what was on her tax filings; she disclosed them. So has every other recent presidential candidate. Ronald Reagan’s adage for arms negotiations with the Soviets two decades ago was “trust but verify.”

Perhaps it is time for voters of all political persuasions to tell Trump the same thing that Reagan told Mikhail Gorbachev: no verification, no deal.

After all, fair is fair. But then life isn’t fair, is it? No one will ever see those tax returns. And in the final seven days before the election, WikiLeaks promises seven days of massive dumps of Hillary Clinton stuff the Russians stole for them and handed to them, saying we haven’t seen anything yet. And the FBI won’t have time to look at all those emails they found on the laptop of the estranged husband of one of Hillary Clinton’s staffers, so finding out that there was nothing there at all will have to wait until after the election – and the FBI will tell us about Donald Trump’s Russian connection far after the election, to be fair about things. Yes, the Democrats will howl, but all the polling indicates that Clinton will win the presidency anyway, and the Democrats will retake the Senate. In an odd way there still is reciprocity in the universe. Deal with it.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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