Thursday, March 28, 2019

Journalists Matt Taibbi and Glenn Greenwald should hesitate to take victory laps based on William Barr's assessment of the Mueller report on Russia scandal

Matt Taibbi
Two prominent liberal journalists, who long have pooh-poohed the Trump-Russia scandal, are taking victory laps this week after Attorney General William Barr released a letter to Congress claiming the Robert Mueller report failed to establish grounds for conspiracy and obstruction-of-justice charges against those affiliated with the 2016 Donald Trump presidential campaign.

Matt Taibbi (Rolling Stone) and Glenn Greenwald (The Intercept) have produced mountains of top-flight journalism on national and international issues. So I've struggled to grasp why they have been averse to any notion that Russians meddled in the 2016 election -- and Trump officials might have helped them. It seems Taibbi and Greenwald have such a deep distrust of the U.S. intelligence community that they believe reporters inevitably were fed bogus information on the Russia story, much the way falsehoods drove the weapons-of-mass destruction (WMD) story during the lead up to the Iraq War under George W. Bush.

Perhaps most alarming is the level of vitriol and disdain Taibbi and Greenwald show toward journalists who might not share their views. One such journalist is Nancy LeTourneau, of Washington Monthly. In an article titled "Why Taibbi and Greenwald Shouldn't Feel Vindicated," LeTourneau suggests the duo's end-zone dances in the wake of Barr's letter are both unseemly and unwise.

That seems particularly true given that Taibbi and Greenwald, in the vernacular of TV talking heads, have "moved the goal posts" on the Russia story. Writes LeTourneau:

It is not surprising that Donald Trump and his enablers are doing a happy dance in response to Attorney General Barr’s letter summarizing the findings of the Mueller report. Barr has given the president what some have called “the best day of his presidency,” which is exactly what he was hired to do.

But there are at least two other people who’ve been busy patting themselves on the back over the last couple of days: Matt Taibbi and Glenn Greenwald. Taibbi has written two articles taking a victory lap, while Greenwald has been busy with television appearances, including one with his buddy Tucker Carlson.

The reason these two are feeling so vindicated is because they’ve been skeptics of almost everything related to the Trump-Russia story from the beginning. Donald Trump isn’t the only person in the country who still hasn’t admitted that Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 election. As late as February 2018, after Mueller released his indictments against dozens of Russians for their social media campaigns, Greenwald was still in denial. Here’s what Taibbi wrote about that this week:

"I didn’t really address the case that Russia hacked the DNC, content to stipulate it for now. I was told early on that this piece of the story seemed “solid,” but even that assertion has remained un-bolstered since then, still based on an 'assessment' by those same intelligence services that always had issues…The government didn’t even examine the DNC’s server, the kind of detail that used to make reporters nervous."

No rational person, at this point, can deny that Vladimir Putin and Russia meddled in the 2016 election. Even William Barr admits that. Consider these words from his letter to Congress:

The Special Counsel's report is divided into two parts. The first describes the results of the Special Counsel's investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The report outlines the Russian effort to influence the election and documents crimes committed by persons associated with the Russian government in connection with those efforts.

Barr's words confirm there was a story of momentous importance there all along. So why do Taibbi and Greenwald seemingly shrug their shoulders and say, in essence, "There never was anything worth investigating"? Here is LeTourneau's take:

There are those who would suggest that Taibbi buying Trump’s line about the government not examining the DNC’s server suggests that he is unqualified to comment on this issue at all. But the main message from both he and Greenwald is that we can’t trust what U.S. intelligence services tell us, so we must see all of the evidence related to Trump and Russia with our own eyes.

Of course, the fact that something is awry has been obvious to anyone who has been watching Trump in action over these last three years. But what is most astounding to me is that both of these guys have gone all-in on feeling vindicated about their skepticism based on a four-page letter from the attorney general. Neither of them is holding back judgement until we get the chance to see the results of Mueller’s investigation with our own eyes. Where did all that skepticism go?

Indeed. Why would two guys who don't trust intelligence officials buy every word coming from William Barr, long known as a fixer for the Republican Party? Both Taibbi and Greenwald have described themselves as dogged, lawyer-like investigators. So, LeTourneau wonders, understandably, what happened to that approach:

And yet, all of the sudden Greenwald and Taibbi believe that what Attorney General Barr has written about the Mueller report represents the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. One can only assume that being on team DOJ is just fine.

It is human nature to be more attuned to information that reinforces your view of the world. So it probably shouldn’t surprise us that Greenwald and Taibbi have jumped on Barr’s bandwagon. But they are the ones who have been holding themselves above the rest of us as journalists who question those in power and demand evidence.

In terms of "moving the goal posts," let's consider Taibbi's original approach to the Russia story, from a Legal Schnauzer post in January 2017:

Taibbi seems nonplussed that the whole thing hasn't been wrapped up with a colorful bow by now. And oh, there is that Iraq-WMD thing:

"The problem with this story is that, like the Iraq-WMD mess, it takes place in the middle of a highly politicized environment during which the motives of all the relevant actors are suspect. Nothing quite adds up.

"If the American security agencies had smoking-gun evidence that the Russians had an organized campaign to derail the U.S. presidential election and deliver the White House to Trump, then expelling a few dozen diplomats after the election seems like an oddly weak and ill-timed response. Voices in both parties are saying this now."

Taibbi's analysis began with doubts that Russia interfered with the U.S. election. Now that such interference has been proven -- even to William Barr's satisfaction -- Taibbi has switched gears to: "Well, it's just silly to think Trump officials worked in cahoots with Russians."

Greenwald's tone has changed, too. Here is how he explained his position in an April 2018 interview with Jacobin Radio's The Dig program:

What I have said from the very beginning was exactly the same as what I say now, which is that of course it’s possible, and even plausible, that Russia engaged in disinformation campaigns or hacked with the intention of undermining or destabilizing the US, because this is something that the Russians and the US have done to one another and to everybody else for many decades. Nobody would ever say, “Oh, this isn’t something that Vladimir Putin would do, he’s too ethical, he’s too cautious.” This is minor in the scope of what the Russians and the Americans do to one another, and have long done to one another.
Glenn Greenwald
Nobody rational would ever say “Oh, I don’t believe this happened.” My argument has been very simple and consistent, which is the lesson that I thought we learned from Iraq is that we shouldn’t accept inflammatory claims from the US government unless accompanied by convincing evidence that those claims are true. We shouldn’t accept them on faith, especially when they’re being laundered anonymously through media outlets, but even when they’re being issued in terms of government reports in the name of the Department of Homeland Security, that doesn’t have evidence to let us determine whether or not the claims are true. We ought to have high levels of skepticism about the truth of those claims unless evidence is available for us to look at that convinces us that those claims are true. And we just haven’t had that evidence when it comes to the core claim that Vladimir Putin ordered Russian government agents to hack the email inboxes of the DNC and John Podesta. Maybe the Mueller investigation will one day reveal that’s true, maybe it will one day reveal that Donald Trump worked with the Russians to make that happen, but thus far there’s very little evidence to no evidence that those things are true. Therefore I’m saying, and I’ve always said, not that it didn’t happen, but that we shouldn’t accept the view that we did.

So, Greenwald has admitted all along the claims of Russian interference could be true? And we know now they were true. How does that square with his tone in a joint interview this week with journalist David Cay Johnston on Democracy Now!, with host Amy Goodman?

Greenwald called the Trump-Russia story "a scam and fraud from the beginning." He uses words like "moronic," "joke," and "fairy tale" to describe reporting on the matter -- all on a story he admitted at the outset could be true. That's not the only sign of Greenwald being disingenuous. Writes LeTourneau:

Greenwald claims to know what Mueller found during his investigation. But the truth is, all he knows is what Barr wrote about it, which included one quote from Mueller related to this point: “The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

Greenwald is a lawyer, so he should know that the specific words another lawyer uses in a situation like this matter a lot. Rather than saying they “found no evidence” for collusion or coordination, Mueller wrote that he “did not establish” that the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with Russians. In other words, they might have found evidence, but not enough to prove it in a court of law. That is precisely why we need to see Mueller’s entire report in order to know what kind of evidence he did or did not find.

Taibbi and Greenwald have taken stances on the Russia story that are so peculiar some have suggested they are Russian agents. LeTourneau refuses to go that far, but she makes clear the story has not represented their finest hours:

I agree with Greenwald and Taibbi that accusing them of being Russian agents smacks of McCarthyism. So I reject that notion wholeheartedly. But in their quest to highlight the failings of U.S. policy, they too often fail to acknowledge the shortcomings of any country that presents itself as an adversary. That is especially true of Russia. It blinds them not only to the possibility that the current president might be compromised, but to the fact that, as Franklin Foer wrote, “Russian-Style Kleptocracy Is Infiltrating America.” That is a failing for anyone who claims to be a liberal.


Anonymous said...

Taibbi and Greenwald do great work on just about all of their stories, except this one involving Russia. Strange.

Anonymous said...

So these guys question anything coming from the intelligence community, but they lap up whatever Bill Barr throws at them? That, alone, sends their credibility out the window.

Anonymous said...

I can understand why the writer from Washington Monthly is hesitant to suggest her journo colleagues are Russian agents. But I have no such qualms. I think they are Russian agents.

Anonymous said...

Matt Taibbi has done big-time investigative work on the near collapse of the banking industry, suggesting we shouldn't trust bankers. But he trusts the word of Bill frickin' Barr? I still read Taibbi's stuff, but I've certainly lost some respect for him.

legalschnauzer said...

How big a crook is William Barr? Raw Story provides a powerful summation:

ack in 1992, the last time Bill Barr was U.S. attorney general, iconic New York Times writer William Safire referred to him as “Coverup-General Barr” because of his role in burying evidence of then-President George H.W. Bush’s involvement in “Iraqgate” and “Iran-Contra.”

General Barr has struck again—this time, in similar fashion, burying Mueller’s report and cherry-picking fragments of sentences from it to justify Trump’s behavior. In his letter, he notes that Robert Mueller “leaves it to the attorney general to decide whether the conduct described in the report constitutes a crime.”

As attorney general, Barr—without showing us even a single complete sentence from the Mueller report—decided there are no crimes here. Just keep moving along.

legalschnauzer said...

Some good background from Josh Moon, of Alabama Political Reporter:

This whole mess started because America’s intelligence agencies learned of a massive effort by Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election, and those agencies agreed that the primary goal was to get Trump elected.

In addition, we kept learning about contact between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. That includes contact between former AG and all-around awful person Jeff Sessions, who failed to disclose those meetings — and potentially lied about them — during his confirmation hearing.

There was also the infamous Trump Tower meeting, the potential blackmail evidence Russia held over Trump, the Russian spy with NRA ties, Michael Flynn’s shady contacts and multiple instances of contact — usually unexplainable — between Trump’s election team and high ranking Russian officials.

And let us not forget Trump continuously flaunting his Russian connections while on the campaign trail — begging Russia to hack Clinton, stating how much he loves Wikileaks and quoting from hacked DNC emails that were published by Wikileaks.

With all of that going on, Trump fired Comey. And to make matters worse, he then, a few days later, bragged to a couple of Russians about it in a private Oval Office meeting. Which should be dumb enough for him to at least spend a few nights in jail just so we’re all relatively sure he learned something from this.

legalschnauzer said...

AP has a report about the massive amount of evidence connected to the Mueller report. But Barr was able to go through all of that in one weekend's time. Right.

Democrats say they want “all of the underlying evidence” in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation . But what is all of that evidence?

Mueller’s team issued more than 2,800 subpoenas, executed nearly 500 search warrants and interviewed more than 500 witnesses. That means the special counsel likely compiled thousands, if not millions, of documents and pieces of evidence. Material collected ranges from a $15,000 ostrich jacket worn by President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman to emails and encrypted text messages to hard drives and laptops. It could even include tax returns, if Mueller sought them.

legalschnauzer said...

More from the AP report on evidence connected to Mueller report:

In one Mueller case, that of longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone , the government said it had turned over 9 terabytes of discovery, an amount so large that Stone’s lawyers said if it were on paper it would pile as high as the Washington Monument, twice.

If all of that was delivered to Congress, the House Judiciary Committee might need to invest in a larger office space. But lawmakers say what they really want is documentation of everything — and an idea of how that evidence guided Mueller’s conclusions.

“We don’t need to see Paul Manafort’s ostrich jacket, but we do need to know that it’s there,” says Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Democratic member of the Judiciary panel.

Anonymous said...

Big question: What is Barr's next stunt?

daelv said...

Server coordination between Russia and U.S. where there was no collusion? Where does the #trmpstop? Spectrum Health tied to DeVoss/Eric Prince? Seems like DIY investigations are the way to go...

daelv said...

Trump's alleged computer server connection with a Russian bank continues to be investigated
Blackwater founder held secret Seychelles meeting to establish Trump-Putin back channel

legalschnauzer said...

Nation of Gandhis:

Thanks for sharing those links. Most informative. I'm particularly intrigued by the Tea Pain piece about data replication. In fact, I noticed Tea Pain's has another piece about WikiLeaks having two servers in Russia:

daelv said...

Thanks Roger, If Russia did have wikileaks servers, would that be a bad thing? Someone has to save the files.. :P go here: type in or paste
yes servers still there.

daelv said...

Wikileaks partners

daelv said...

there's a site goes to netherlands only...

Anonymous said...

Aboard the Eliza Battle the crew was having a round table discussion. Ms Chapelle asked the Captain's opinion of why Mueller punted the collusion probe. The Captain replied that an analogy using a little twist of the "If a Tree Falls in the Forest" philosophical thought experiment will help explain his opinion. The American People heard a crashing sound in the forest. Mueller went to investigate and found that a healthy tree had fallen. A park ranger went to investigate and found that a rodent had built a nest under the tree's supporting roots and that a Bear had severed the roots digging for the rodent thus causing the tree to fall. The Captain continued that during the collusion probe, Mueller found that the Russians had hacked E-Mails and had approached Trump's campaign officials with information about his opponent. Sheldon asked," But Captain! The Russians are capable of hacking and not getting caught. Why were they so careless?" The Captain replied that Roger Post gives one explanation with the Franklin Foer article. The Russian's could not have accomplished what they did without having compromised people in positions of power in America's Government. Trump's Presidency threatened these assets and the Russian's set out to destroy Trump's Presidency by appearing to help it. Admiral Tyron asked the Captain if Ross Perot had seen records showing that the U S tried to intercept a Russian aircraft flying Vietnam POWs to Moscow. The Captain replied that Perot got his information from the shipmates of the abducted Marines of VMA aw 224. The Captain added that there are no historical records of the attempted intercept of the Russian Aircraft but the attempted intercept of the Russian Aircraft is recorded in history. Mary Mac asked the Captain to please explain. The Captain replied that the Marines were abducted on May 9,1972, which was the first day of Operation Linebacker and that there are numerous records of this operation. He continued that the aircraft to intercept this Russian aircraft was launched at 1355 on May 10, 1972. Ms Chapelle asked if this was recorded. The Captain replied that there are many books written about the May 10,1972 operation when the US was bombing the North Vietnamese Rail lines at the Chinese border. Many of these books have eyewitness accounts of pilots from CVA-64 Constellation seeing Roger Sheets and Charlie Carr in a A-6A carrying Sidewinder missiles during an ALPHA STRIKE. The only discrepancy is the number of missiles. The CVA-43 Coral Sea log book entry on May 10,1972 reads in part; 1338 suspended flight operations-1355 launched one A-6 tanker- 1430 resumed flight operations. The Captain added that the A-6 was not a tanker but was a A-6A with 4 fuel tanks and one sidewinder missile. Admiral Tyron asked how the Coral Sea knew when to launch the intercepting aircraft.The Captain replied that the Coral Sea's log book gives us a clue. The Commander of Carrier Division Three was the liaison aboard the Coral Sea of Carrier Task Force 77 which was embarked aboard the carrier Kitty Hawk.The Coral Sea's log book entry of May 10,1972 reads in part; 0805 Carrier Division Three departed. The May 11,1972 log book entry reads in part; 00-04 steaming as a unit with Commander Carrier Division Three embarked Coral Sea. Captain Marshall added that the Commander had flown to Hong Kong to report the departure time of the Russian aircraft back to Roger Sheets and Charlie Carr. The Captain continued that many books written about Operation Linebacker records Roger Sheets A-6 being intercepted by a NVAF Mig and being rescued by a F4 from CVA-64 Constellation. Roger Sheets ejected his external stores to elude the Mig and abandoned his attempted intercept of the Russian Aircraft because of lack of necessary fuel for the journey. My Questions. Why was a A-6A bomber carrying sidewinder missiles during a ALPHA STRIKE And how was a Mig able to penetrate a ALPHA STRIKE escorted by 16 F4 Phantoms.