Sherlock Holmes is useful. There’s The Adventure of Silver Blaze – that’s the famous race horse that simply disappears on the eve of an important race. There’s the apparent murder of its trainer. No one knows what’s going on. Sherlock Holmes tells the Scotland Yard detective he missed something – “the curious incident of the dog in the nighttime.” The Scotland Yard detective – “The dog did nothing in the nighttime.” Holmes – “That was the curious incident.”
This was an inside job. That’s why the dog didn’t bark. Everything falls into place. The bad guy goes to jail. The horse was nearby the whole time. Silver Blaze wins the race. Holmes smiles and heads back to Baker Street. Case closed – and that’s what’s useful about this tale. Pay attention to what didn’t happen. That will tell you what’s really going on.
When the dog doesn’t bark, something is going on. When Donald Trump doesn’t tweet, something is going on. He didn’t bark. He has yet to tweet about this:
The Justice Department inspector general on Thursday castigated former FBI director James B. Comey for his actions during the Hillary Clinton email investigation and found that other senior bureau officials showed a “willingness to take official action” to prevent Donald Trump from becoming president.
The 500-page report, documenting major missteps in one of the most politically charged cases in the FBI’s history, provides the most exhaustive account to date of bureau and Justice Department decision-making throughout the investigation of Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state, particularly in the months just before she would lose the presidential election to Trump.
That was big news. The FBI was going to nail Comey and Hillary too. Trump would be vindicated. The FBI would admit they had been out to get Trump all along. Sure, but the dog didn’t bark:
The inspector general did not find evidence supporting assertions made by the president and his allies that political bias inside the FBI had rigged the case to clear Clinton, but the report cited numerous instances of unprofessionalism, bias and misjudgment that hurt the bureau’s credibility.
This was, in current parlance, a big nothingburger. Trump couldn’t bark, and John Harwood puts that this way:
Another Deep State conspiracy theory hyped by President Donald Trump and his Republican allies has withered under scrutiny.
In February, it happened with the so-called “Nunes memo” that the White House had hoped would discredit the FBI investigation into connections between Trump campaign advisors and potential Russian agents. The memo, by failing to undermine the basis on which the FBI conducted surveillance, proved to be a dud.
On Thursday, the Justice Department inspector general released his report reviewing the FBI’s conduct in its 2016 investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of email. Here, too, Trump and his supporters had openly rooted that the findings would back up their claims that the president has been victimized by political bias from entrenched forces within the government that oppose his policies.
The 568-page report by Inspector General Michael Horowitz did not back up their claims. In fact, it showed the opposite.
This was about what didn’t happen:
Horowitz criticized, sometimes sharply, the conduct of multiple FBI officials. He said he was “deeply troubled” by text messages exchanged by Peter Strzok and Lisa Page that demonstrated hostility to Trump. With similar communications, three other officials also “brought discredit to themselves,” the IG report concluded.
The IG concluded that the private views of those officials “created the appearance” that bias had influenced their investigation of Clinton’s email practices. He did not conclude that bias actually did influence their investigation.
They blew off steam in text messages, but they did their jobs, and something else didn’t happen:
He criticized former Attorney General Loretta Lynch for an “error in judgment” in failing to cut short an airport tarmac conversation with former President Bill Clinton before the Justice Department had concluded the email investigation. But he did not back up Trump’s tweeted suggestion that Clinton dangled favors for Lynch in return for going easy on his wife.
“We found no evidence that Lynch and former President Clinton discussed the (email) investigation or engaged in other inappropriate discussion during their tarmac meeting,” the IG said.
They talked about their kids. Bill Clinton wouldn’t shut up. She’s now embarrassed that she ever let that happen, but nothing happened, and there’s this:
Horowitz also had sharp words for former FBI Director James Comey, who Trump fired last year. He called it “extraordinary and insubordinate” for Comey to hold a July 2016 press conference explaining the decision not to seek charges against Clinton in the email case.
That press conference “deviated from well-established (Justice) in a way intentionally designed to avoid supervision by department leadership,” the IG report concluded. It also found Comey made a “serious error in judgment” by telling Congress in late October the FBI was investigating newly-discovered emails, which ultimately proved insignificant in the probe.
But Horowitz did not attribute Comey’s decision to political bias. Most significantly, he did not fault the decision not to prosecute.
“We found no evidence that the conclusions by the prosecutors were affected by bias or other improper considerations,” the IG report concluded. “Rather, we determined that they were based on the prosecutors’ assessment of the facts, the law, and past Department practice.”
He had been doing the right thing all along. He just shouldn’t have talked about it, saying Hillary had committed no crimes but ranting about how she had been extremely careless, then, ten days before the election, telling the nation the FBI has found more Clinton emails, and then two days before the election saying oops, there was nothing new there – sorry about that. He should have said nothing. That was policy, but he had decided he’d try to keep both sides happy, or both sides unhappy, and when Hillary won, he didn’t want to be accused of covering up anything negative about her. That would look bad for the FBI – so his motives were fine – but she lost and it all fell apart. He made a mess of things, trying to do the right thing. He shouldn’t have talked about any of it.
That was it. No one was out to “get” Trump. They were trying to do the right thing, and Harwood adds this:
None of this will stop Trump from seeking to discredit the merits of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into his campaign’s interactions with Russia. Before the IG report was released, Trump repeated his claim – which no one has substantiated – that Comey illegally leaked classified information to trigger Mueller’s appointment.
The president’s GOP supporters lent a hand today, too. Rep. Peter King of New York slammed “the shameful anti-Trump political bias” of Strzok and Page as having cast an “indelible cloud” over Mueller’s investigation.
Yet Mueller removed Strzok from the Russia investigation after learning of the agent’s improper text messages; Page has left the FBI. The only improper FBI conduct Horowitz identified that mattered in the 2016 election hurt Clinton, not Trump.
That’s why Trump hasn’t tweeted about this. That’s why the dog didn’t bark. The FBI hurt Clinton, not Trump. The FBI got him elected. He’s not going to thank them – no tweets. Holmes was right. Pay attention to what didn’t happen. That will tell you what’s really going on. That was the curious incident.
Trump, however, did tweet about something else. The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold has been reporting on the Trump Foundation for almost two years, and now, as he reports, he’s drawn blood:
New York’s attorney general filed suit against President Trump and his three eldest children Thursday, alleging “persistently illegal conduct” at the president’s personal charity and saying that Trump had repeatedly misused the nonprofit organization to pay off his businesses’ creditors, to decorate one of his golf clubs and to stage a multimillion-dollar giveaway at 2016 campaign events.
In the suit, Attorney General Barbara Underwood asked a state judge to dissolve the Donald J. Trump Foundation. She asked that its remaining $1 million in assets be distributed to other charities and that Trump be forced to pay at least $2.8 million in restitution and penalties.
Underwood also asked that Trump be banned from leading any other New York nonprofit organization for 10 years – seeking to apply a penalty usually reserved for the operators of small-time charity frauds to the president of the United States.
But she didn’t stop there:
Underwood sent letters to the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Election Commission in which she identified what she called “possible violations” of tax law and federal campaign law by Trump’s foundation.
The claims in the New York attorney general’s suit could trigger tax penalties by the IRS, according to tax-law experts, who noted that the Justice Department can also bring criminal charges when prosecutors believe tax-law violations are “willful.”
Marc S. Owens, a former head of the IRS’s nonprofit division, called the suit “an extraordinary catalogue of how not to run a private foundation. There’s little else Trump could have done that would have made it worse.”
Trump, of course, had to bark in the nighttime here:
Underwood did not run for her office: She was promoted to attorney general just weeks ago, succeeding Eric Schneiderman (D) after he resigned following allegations that he had physically abused several romantic partners…
“Schneiderman, who ran the Clinton campaign in New York, never had the guts to bring this ridiculous case, which lingered in their office for almost two years,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Now he resigned his office in disgrace, and his disciples brought it when we would not settle.”
Trump didn’t bark at the FBI report and that said something – he knew that report undercut everything he had been ranting about. Here he barked loudly, and that says something too:
In the suit, Underwood noted that Trump had paid more than $330,000 in reimbursements and penalty taxes since 2016. But she asked the judge to require Trump to pay millions more. She said a 20-month state investigation found that Trump had repeatedly violated laws that set the ground rules for tax-exempt foundations – most important, that their money is meant to serve the public good, not to provide private benefits to their founders.
Underwood said that oversight of spending at Trump’s foundation was so loose that its board of directors hadn’t met since 1999, and its official treasurer wasn’t even aware that he was on the board.
Without any outside supervision, Underwood said, the foundation came to serve the spending needs of Trump – and then, in 2016, the needs of his presidential campaign. She cited emails from Trump campaign staff members – including then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski – directing which charities should receive gifts from the Trump Foundation, and in what amounts, in the lead-up to the crucial Iowa caucuses.
This was almost comically inept corruption:
Owens, the former IRS official, said he was surprised at the scope of the violations that the Trump Foundation allegedly committed – especially because the Trump family had enough money to hire lawyers and accountants who would explain the law.
“Some of the facts are extraordinary. The failure to have board meetings since 1999, for example. You don’t see that very often,” he said.
And it gets worse:
Three of Trump’s adult children – Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump – were named in the lawsuit because they have been official board members of the foundation for years. Under the law, Underwood said, board members are supposed to scrutinize a charity’s spending for signs that its leader – in this case, their father – was misusing money.
But they didn’t, Underwood said.
The three siblings “abdicated all responsibility for ensuring that the Foundation’s assets were used in compliance with the law,” she wrote.
Underwood asked the judge to ban each of the three from serving as a director of any New York nonprofit organization for a year.
There’s a reason for that:
Behind the scenes, Underwood said, the foundation was essentially one of Trump’s personal piggy banks – a pool of money that his accounting clerks knew to use whenever Trump wanted to pay a nonprofit organization. By law, Trump wasn’t allowed to buy things for himself using the charity’s money, even if he was buying them from nonprofit groups.
At one point, during a deposition, a New York state investigator asked Allen Weisselberg – a Trump Organization employee who was listed as treasurer of the Trump Foundation – whether the foundation had a policy for determining which specific payments it was allowed to make.
“There’s no policy, just so you understand,” Weisselberg said.
The interviewer asked whether Weisselberg had understood that he was actually on the board of the Trump Foundation, and had been for more than a decade.
“I did not,” he replied.
Trump can bark all he wants but this woman has got the goods on him:
Twice, Underwood said, Trump used the charity’s money to settle legal disputes that involved his for-profit businesses… In March, after the attorney general’s investigation was underway, Trump repaid his foundation the $258,000 it had spent in those cases, plus more than $12,000 in interest, Underwood said.
Underwood also listed several smaller instances of what she called “self-dealing,” meaning Trump using foundation money to help his businesses. According to Underwood, the charity paid $5,000 to place an ad for Trump hotels in the program for a charity gala; paid $32,000 to satisfy an obligation of a Trump company that manages a New York estate; and paid $10,000 to buy a portrait of Trump, which was later found hanging in the sports bar at Trump’s Doral golf resort.
And then there’s the one thing that could be real trouble:
In January 2016, Trump skipped a debate among Republican candidates because he was feuding with Fox News Channel, the debate’s host. Instead, Trump held a televised fundraiser for veterans – drawing millions from wealthy friends and small-dollar donors, and giving much of it to the Trump Foundation.
Underwood said that, afterward, “the Foundation ceded control over the charitable funds it raised to senior Trump Campaign staff.” She cited emails in which Lewandowski, Trump’s campaign manager at the time, directed which veterans’ charities should receive money.
At one point, Lewandowski emailed Weisselberg to ask whether the Trump Foundation’s money could be ready to distribute during Trump’s last campaign events before the Iowa caucuses: “Is there any way we can make some disbursements from the proceeds of the fundraiser this week while in Iowa? Specifically on Saturday,” Lewandowski wrote in an email cited by Underwood.
In 2016, Trump sought to excuse his foundation’s actions in a letter to the New York attorney general, saying that the Iowa fundraiser was a charity event. “This statement was false,” Underwood wrote, “because, in reality, the Fundraiser was a Trump Campaign event in which the Foundation participated.”
She wrote that Trump had repeatedly signed charity documents saying that nonprofit organizations like his were not allowed to become involved in political campaigns. “Mr. Trump’s wrongful use of the Foundation to benefit his Campaign was willful and knowing,” she wrote.
Trump can shoot off all the rage-tweets he wants. Let him bark. Sherlock Holmes would understand that there’s something else going on here. Sherlock Holmes understood dogs.
Otherwise, it was a day of random barking:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions used a Bible verse Thursday to defend his department’s policy of prosecuting everyone who crosses the border from Mexico, suggesting that God supports the government in separating immigrant parents from their children.
“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes,” Sessions said during a speech to law enforcement officers in Fort Wayne, Ind. “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves. Consistent and fair application of the law is in itself a good and moral thing, and that protects the weak and protects the lawful.”
This is the usual evangelical argument. God has ordained the government for His purposes – at least our particular government. The Founders were good Christian men who established a good Christian government. That’s why we put “In God We Trust” on our money. Trust God. Trust the American government he ordained. It cannot be morally wrong:
Sessions has said “we’ve got to get this message out” that asylum seekers or anyone else immigrating through unofficial means is not given immunity. He appealed to “church friends” later in Thursday’s speech in Fort Wayne, emphasizing that non-citizens who enter the United States illegally are breaking the law.
That didn’t go well:
At a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Wednesday, the nation’s Catholic leaders strongly condemned the administration’s immigration policies as immoral, with one bishop going so far as to suggest that Catholics who help carry out the Justice Department’s policies are violating their faith and perhaps should be denied Communion.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said during a briefing Thursday that she hadn’t seen Sessions’ comments, but she backed his line of thinking. “I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law. That is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible,” she said. “It’s a moral policy to follow and enforce the law.”
She was quickly outnumbered:
Conservative religious leaders who have long preached about the sanctity of the family are now issuing sharp rebukes of the Trump administration for immigration policies that tear families apart or leave them in danger… Some of the religious leaders are the same evangelicals and Roman Catholics who helped President Trump to build his base and who have otherwise applauded his moves to limit abortion and champion the rights of religious believers.
The Rev. Franklin Graham, a son of the famed evangelist the Rev. Billy Graham and an outspoken defender of President Trump, said in an interview on Tuesday on the Christian Broadcasting Network, “I think it’s disgraceful, it’s terrible to see families ripped apart and I don’t support that one bit.”
And there was this:
A coalition of evangelical groups, including the National Association of Evangelicals and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, sent a letter to President Trump on June 1 pleading with him to protect the unity of families and not to close off all avenues to asylum for immigrants and refugees fleeing danger.
The Southern Baptist Convention, a conservative evangelical denomination that is the nation’s largest Protestant church, passed a resolution on Tuesday at its meeting in Dallas calling for immigration reform that maintains “the priority of family unity.” The measure called for both securing the nation’s borders, and providing a pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrants living in the country. It passed on a near unanimous vote of the thousands of delegates in the room.
“We declare that any form of nativism, mistreatment, or exploitation is inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ,” the resolution said.
This was not going well:
When Vice President Mike Pence addressed the Southern Baptists on Wednesday, his speech hailing the accomplishments of the administration received only a mixed reception.
On the same day, the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops opened their meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with a strong statement from the group’s president that cast asylum as a “right to life” issue – language usually applied only to issues like abortion and euthanasia.
Trump hasn’t tweeted about this either. When Donald Trump doesn’t tweet, something is going on. As Sherlock Holmes would say, the game is afoot. Pay attention to what didn’t happen. That will tell you what’s really going on. It’s not good.