Donald Trump’s Big League Russian Circus

Clowns are the pegs on which the circus is hung.

-P. T. Barnum

A drunk juggler, walking a high wire, juggling chainsaws, as the American public looks up in shock and disbelief. That’s Donald Trump. The man who would be ringmaster of our political circus. Surrounded by a bevy of freaks, his only mirror the fun house of the right wing media.

There’s no way this circus presidency ends well. The only questions are how and it ends. (Bookmakers are giving odds). And more importantly, what the extent of the damage to America will be.

If there were a way to stave off investigations into his and his campaign’s connections to Russia, his unhinged, Saturday morning tweets were not it. Accusing Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower was completely nuts. There are enough people with an investment in reality that investigations are inevitable. The GOP is trying to get enough of its agenda passed before the Trump presidency completely crumbles.

A sane president, one without a virulent personality disorder abetted by a personal fortune, might have used the tweets as pre-emptive strike against whatever the next Russia revelation will be. Instead, it was up to talk show host Mark Levin, a pus-bag of conservative vitriol, to pass the buck to Obama–the man who couldn’t do anything right as president but can manage the most nefarious conspiracy now out of office. (It’s him behind the protests, don’t you know).

Levin’s story, passed on by Breitbart, wasn’t absolutely unsourced. “A series of reports that began with a piece by Louise Mensch in Heat Street back in November, later corroborated by articles published by The Guardian and the BBC in January, claimed that the FBI sought a warrant from the FISA Court.

In connection with a multi-agency intelligence investigation of Russian interference with the presidential election, the FBI sought an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court authorizing them to monitor transactions between two Russian banks and four persons connected with the Trump campaign.

The Guardian‘s report alleges that initial applications submitted over the summer, naming “four members of the Trump team suspected of irregular contacts with Russian officials,” were rejected by the FISC.

But according to the BBC, a narrower order naming only the Russian banks as direct targets was ultimately approved by the FISC in October.  While the BBC report suggests that the surveillance was meant to ferret out “transfers of money,” the Mensch article asserts that a “warrant was granted to look at the full content of emails and other related documents that may concern US persons.”

Caveats about anonymous sources should apply here, but the allegations are certainly plausible. The FBI may or may not have received a FISA warrant for electronic surveillance of Trump and/or his bevy of circus freaks, but it is more than probable that they were recorded on the NSA’s taps of the Russian Embassy’s phones. General Flynn, perhaps the stupidest man to make general in the contemporary military, apparent wasn’t aware of the fact.

Allegations of Obama having anything to do with the wiretapping are absolutely bizarre:

In the first place, the White House doesn’t ask for such wiretaps, ever; such requests come directly from NSA, the FBI, or the Justice Department. Involvement of any White House in such highly classified requests would immediately set off enormous red flags in the IC and DoJ due to their glaringly political—and therefore illegal—aim.

There’s a special top secret Federal court that handles such sensitive warrant requests, which are issued under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, which allows for intelligence gathering against foreign spies and terrorists. They key words in FISA are the first two: foreign intelligence. Warrants are only issued against foreign targets which are deemed to be plausibly involved in espionage or terrorism against the United States.

However, Americans who call or email those suspicious foreigners may appear in signals intelligence collection, although under FISA their identities are concealed in SIGINT reports in a process the IC terms “minimization.” In other words, your civil liberties as an American do not include the right to communicate with foreign bad guys without possible monitoring. Keep in mind, though, that under FISA the people being targeted are foreign spies and terrorists, not Americans.

It’s likely then that Trump’s roustabouts have been recorded talking with Ambassador Sislyak, though FISA law requires their identities be minimized. The Obamacare Sideshow opened today, so Russia will likely be out of the center ring for the next few days. FBI Director James Comey has been asked to testify in front of the House Intelligence Committee, along with National Security Agency chief Mike Rogers, former director of national intelligence James Clapper, former CIA director John Brennan, former acting attorney general Sally Yates and two executives from CrowdStrike Inc., a cybersecurity company, to the March 20 hearing.

UPDATE: Lies, Lies, Lies

We’re accustomed to President Trump lying. Last weekend, he told a whopper in the form of the accusation about being wiretapped. He’s repeatedly denied any contacts with Russia.

“Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. Haven’t made a phone call to Russia in years. Don’t speak to people from Russia,” Trump said during a February 16 press conference. He said he contacts with Russia were limited to talking twice to Vladimir Putin after election day.

On February 20, Trump spokesperson Sarah Sanders flatly declared that the Trump campaign had “no contacts” with Russia.

The Wall Street Journal apparently reported the fact in May, but almost no one noticed. It comes as no surprise that Trump and his carnival barkers were lying:

Trump met Kislyak during a VIP reception April 27 at the Mayflower Hotel shortly before a foreign policy address, according to a report at the time in the Wall Street Journal. In the speech, Trump said an “easing of tensions and improved relations with Russia” is possible.

Also in attendance to this invitation only event: Attorney General Senator Jeff Sessions


24 Comments . Leave a comment below.

    here and around the world.

    He must be removed from office.

    Fred Rich LaRiccia

  2. I don't know

    Given what’s come out so far, I’m not sure this is the hill Democrats should want to die on.

    Sure, push for more investigation but there is nothing yet that is even close to damning and if that bombshell doesn’t drop, it’s a big problem for the side making it the core of their opposition.

    Also, even now it appears to be pretty bad politics – Democrat approvals have been tanking since jumping on this.

    Hammer Trump and the Republicans on their terrible policies and incompetence, and also put forth an alternative vision (!!!!!) to win people over. Jumping on scandals like this and kind of hoping that will win the day is dumb and very very risky. With how the Democrats are doing so far, I’m already not hopeful about 2018.

    • I was thinking something similar today

      I want everything to come out, for the record. it’s a really important story.

      But politically, we may be overplaying our hand.

      I also think “Resistance” has run its course. We need to talk about Governance.

      • Resistance will have run its course...

        …when Trump is out of the WH and not a moment before. Yes, we need governing ideas, but there’s only so much we can do about them without control of any branch of government.

    • The media is about 6-8 weeks behind

      the story. I researched this issue on school vacation and found decent sources on national security. Plenty of others in national security circles have been on this story a lot longer. Impeachable offenses will be revealed.

      Most of this information has been available from conventional news sources, but no one has put them together. That’s where I learned what I know.

      Things that will come out: 1) Trump laundered money for the Russian mafia in building projects; he already paid a $10 million fine for doing so 2) Trump has been “compromised” by Russia; he’s beholden to them. They have a lot info on him 3) Manafort and Page were Russian “agents,” not Boris and Natasha types, but people who’ve been paid to advance the Russian agenda and report on Trump 4) the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia against Clinton during the campaign 5) the Trump campaign took money from the Russians for their campaign.

      Rachel Maddow is now on the story. She’s been interviewing David Cay Johnston, a long-time reporter on Trump. Trump’s people were incredibly sloppy with their Russian contacts. The reason, I think, most people aren’t picking up on this is that it involves espionage and foreign policy.

      Follow me on Twitter @MarkBail64 where I tweet on this.

  3. "We're not Trump" didn't work in 2016

    And it sure as hell won’t work in 2018 when midterm turnout is usually depressed. I think making it explicitly clear that the Democrats are pivoting toward an economic vision that recognizes the system is rigged against working people and proposes simply and easy to grasp policies that make it fair for working people is the best way to drive turnout.

    This GOP health care bill is a golden opportunity akin to the failed Social Security privatization effort. Not only is it substantially cutting Medicare, it is also making cuts for folks in the 50-60 brackets as well as the underemployed. The only people it really benefits are voters between 26-50 (my age group) who will save a little bit with access to cheaper bronze plans and don’t have families yet. And basically we already dislike Trump over his social and immigration policies and would want a stronger Obamacare not a weaker one that benefits us.

    And I agree with others on pushing the envelope with bold ideas like basic income. A supermajority of voters have rejected the free market orthodoxy of the last forty years and we are on the cusp of a major realignment to a class based politics. The culture war is over and the liberals one. We are backsliding on racial and immigration issues because our economic system is fundamentally broken-fix it and we can simultaneously make progress on those areas as well.

    Every member of Congress has a constitutional obligation to investigate this administration and hold its real ties to foreign government accountable. So far, only members of our party and maybe a dozen in the other are committed to this. But it’s a fight worth having-it’s also not the only fight worth having.

    • Well if Americans don't even care about high treason...

      …we’re in worse shape than I thought:(

      • People will care when and if high treason is proven.

        Right now we have a tremendous amount of sleaze, a lot of lying or misstatements about contacts with Russians, and smoke. There’s no clear story about how Trump or anyone else committed treason. If there’s a point where it can be shown that he directed the activities of a foreign intelligence service in order to aid his election prospects, or knowingly covered up for aides who had done so, there will be an actual criminal conspiracy and people will care about it, for all the obvious reasons. But that hasn’t been shown, and it’s not that surprising for the general public to be relatively skeptical at this point. After all, did we get all upset about Benghazi (Benghazi! BENGHAZI!!) just because Fox News and some of our Republican friends seemed obsessed with a tale of wrongdoing that somehow never quite held together?

        Since the election, I’ve seen plenty of people outraged by Scott Pruit’s appointment, by Betsy DeVos’s appointment, by Jeff Sessions’ appointment, by the last travel ban and the new one, by overreach at our borders, by the travesty of the Republican health-insurance overhaul draft. Every day there’s something substantive that people are ready to mobilize around.

        I’m not convinced that Russia is one of those things. When I see or hear talk about it, it’s never direct outrage or fear of Russia itself, or Russian influence. It’s much more likely to be a kind of ferocious optimism, where people want to talk about how bad this is because they hope it can bring Trump down. It’s going to be a real blow to morale if we collectively overinvest in this and in the end, all that can be found is fecklessness, sleaze, and a lot of appointees having to resign for having lied to Congress. It needs to be investigated, yes, but it’s not at the top of very many people’s lists. Or, it’s not at the top because they’re concerned about the matter for its own sake.

        A study came out today, or was reported today, that noted that Clinton’s advertising went into the critical states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania only in the last week of the race — and when it did, the content was remarkably light on policy and heavy on personal attacks on Trump. (The Vox writeup is here.) We know from bitter experience that it wasn’t as effective as we needed it to be. We have more opportunity every day to showcase how much better our policies are for everyone except a few hundred billionaires, and give people positive reasons to vote for our candidates. Prudence suggests that rather than hoping that Russia (Russia! RUSSIA!!) will pan out, and that we’ll be able to rely on We’re Not Trump in 2018 and 2020 to do what it couldn’t in 2016, we might at least take this opportunity to diversify the portfolio, as it were.


          in the best tradition of investigative journalism. ” Real reporting is the best obtainable version of the truth.” BOB WOODWARD

          We’re Democrats. That means we can walk and chew gum at the same time.

          ” Carry the battle to them. Don’t let them bring it to you. Put them on the defensive. And don’t ever apologize for anything.”

          Fred Rich LaRiccia

          • There should be a central registry of all foreign contacts . . .

            . . . for both political campaigns.

            • there is something even better

              There is something even better and that is the Foreign Agent Registration Act, which is applied to ALL people. I learned about it when a colleague told me how to bust a State House operative who was acting on behalf of a foreign government.

            • Part of me thinks this shouldn't even be legal.

              I would support an outright ban on any American citizen hiring him/herself out to lobby for another government. Isn’t that what embassies are for anyway?

      • They clearly don't and we are


  4. Who's putting their eggs in

    one basket? How do my posts on Trump and Russia divert attention from other issues, which seem to be the gist of some comments. With all due respect, I think many of you are missing the point.

    A complicated news story doesn’t progresses directly from point A to point B. Two things have to happen: 1) facts have to accumulate into a coherent picture, and 2) the audience has to develop capacity to understand the story. Right now, the facts are starting to accumulate. Many have been floating around as disconnected pieces of data for years. People haven’t developed the capacity to understand the story. Espionage? Mafia? Presidents? Treason? Compromised?

    My goal in these posts is to connect the pieces of information and build the foundation that people need to understand the story as it unfolds. It’s going to take a while. Be patient.

    • A minor burglary

      Watergate was a minor burglary for many months, the stories from Woodward and Bernstein buried in the back pages of the “A” section.

      • It always has amazed me how slowly that developed too.

        I’m not old enough to have seen Watergate unfold in real time, but I’ve read several books, every one of which seems to indicate that enough scandal was known by the public BEFORE 1972 Election Day to have given people serious second thoughts about voting for Nixon. As we know, he beat McGovern in a landslide which ironically and tragically tells me that Nixon could have won easily and comfortably WITHOUT the Watergate shenanigans anyway. It’s such a shame because I really believe that without all that Nixon could have gone down as a near-great President on a host of fronts.

  5. Taibbi kinda agrees with Doubleman.

    Matt Taibbi thinks the Russia story is dangerous. He really isn’t that well-informed on the subject, however. I’ll bet money that the story is big. The question marks are the politics. The GOP are going to squeeze as much out of Trump as they can before the rest of the country catches on.

    • Taibbi's pece is quite good

      He may not be informed on the subject, but that’s OK at this point, because his critique of the journalism around it is spot on.

      Trump calls us “enemies of the people” who purvey “fake news.” Together with what vile ex-CNN turncoat Lou Dobbs calls the “global corporatists” who own the major media companies, we are said to comprise the “opposition party.”

      We can’t afford to bolster these accusations of establishment bias and overreach by using the techniques of conspiracy theorists to push this Russia story. Unfortunately, that is happening.


      The press has to cover this subject. But it can’t do it with glibness and excitement, laughing along to SNL routines, before it knows for sure what it’s dealing with. Reporters should be scared to their marrow by this story. This is a high-wire act and it is a very long way down. We might want to leave the jokes and the nicknames be, until we get to the other side – wherever that is.

      But this is the real boom:

      Reporters should always be nervous when intelligence sources sell them stories. Spooks don’t normally need the press. Their usual audiences are other agency heads, and the executive. They can bring about action just by convincing other people within the government to take it.

      In the extant case, whether the investigation involved a potential Logan Act violation, or election fraud, or whatever, the CIA, FBI, and NSA had the ability to act both before and after Donald Trump was elected. But they didn’t, and we know why, because James Clapper just told us – they didn’t have evidence to go on.

      Thus we are now witnessing the extremely unusual development of intelligence sources that normally wouldn’t tell a reporter the time of day litigating a matter of supreme importance in the media. What does this mean?

      • Given the nature of this administration...

        …I am very willing to believe that the intelligence community is using the media. I’m getting most of this story from Rachel Maddow, in whom I place great faith that she is doing everything she can to get this story right.

      • The slowness of this story is, in part,

        due to the fact that intelligence is involved. We’re used to one of the more prominent reporters announcing the news and the information coming out slowly. We’re now in the 24-hour news cycle and the big shot journalists don’t break the stories these days.

        As I began to study this issue, I actually had to start looking for reliable sources because I couldn’t trust regular news outlets for context. I may post on this some time, but understanding Trump’s Russian connections isn’t really any different than understanding and opining on most issues in politics. The fact is, most of us have very little direct knowledge of the things we write about and comment on. I have a deep knowledge of education policy, for example, and I’m shocked what some people-including the press– erroneously think about the issue. I imagine that people carry the same degree of ignorance on a multitude of subjects. Including me. The same rules of dealing with the Russia connection should apply: 1) don’t rush to judgement 2) don’t argue for certainty where none exists.

      • It means

        That the IC is resorting to desperate measures since nobody in the administration believes them and the typical oversight functions of Congress and the Justice Dept are non-existent. I think we are all underestimating how much our government got hijacked and how difficult it is going to be to restore it to normalcy. I give Mark Bail a ton of credit for sticking with this story. I also agree with you and Matt Taibbi that it’s incredibly important to get the story right rather than just try to be first or generate disposable click bait with half assed articles. But the story is real-we just don’t know the entire scope of it yet.

        • At least we know it this time around

          There is very strong evidence, that I find persuasive, that the CIA was deeply involved in bringing down Richard Nixon. Each key breakthrough in that scandal originated from a current or ex CIA operative. Whenever the unfolding case bogged down, another startling breakthrough popped into the news cycle — and every time from someone connected to the CIA.

          We can speculate about the motivation for that involvement, but in my view the participation of the CIA is itself demonstrated fact. It is unfortunate that the exit deal negotiated by the parties (including, of course, the CIA) blocked further investigation into all the other things that were happening inside the US government during the Nixon years. I will go to my grave believing that that was very much intentional.

          I think Watergate was a CIA-driven exit strategy — whether or not Mr. Nixon knew of it.

          I think the IC has always used the media. I think it joins the rest of us in still struggling to learn how to accomplish that in the revolutionary new world of today’s media.

  6. See my next Russia

    post in archives. It’s about money laundering and Trump.


    ” The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.” PLATO

    Fred Rich LaRiccia

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