Sessions Will Try to Stay (It’s the Safest Place for Him)

In the clip above, Attorney General Jeff Sessions makes clear that he doesn’t plan to resign. There’s been talk that after Trump’s criticism of Sessions in a New York Times interview, Sessions would feel compelled to walk.

Unforced resignation seems improbable; it’s neither want Sessions wants (as he makes clear in his remarks) nor what would serve his interests.

Two quick points:

1. I agree with Sarah Kendzior that Trump’s complaining about Sessions may be something like a ‘fake feud.’ From a more serious man, remarks about Sessions like those Trump offered to the Times would, of course, be seriously meant. For Trump, a frivolous man, it’s harder to make that contention. (Furthermore, as Kenzior rightly observes, earlier critical remarks from Trump haven’t displaced Steve Bannon, for example.)

2. Sessions – a dodgy character from the get go – should want to stay in office, and hold power for as long as possible: he’s better able to protect himself against a collusion or obstruction investigation while serving as attorney general than as just another bigoted private citizen with retrograde views.

Everyone close around Trump has the problem that members of organized crime face: when you’re out, you’re really out. In one way of looking at this, there’s really no out at all. (Michael Flynn is out, of course, but only if one understands out as a synonym for slowly putrefying.)

This works two ways.

Sessions is safer inside, both for his own self-interest and for the self-interest of others he might implicate if he should be cast aside. If he should someday be out, then the prospects for all concerned – both Sessions and the Trump Admin – would be grave indeed.

‘Very Brazen About It’

In the video above, Dr. Sarah Kendzior describes the brazen nature of autocracy: not merely does an autocrat flaunt norms, but he does so to remind others of his power, and to attempt to instill in normal, freedom-loving people a feeling of hopelessness in the face of power aberrantly exercised.

In response to these tactics, one should (1) remind repeatedly how contrary to a well-order society authoritarianism is, (2) prepare for a long campaign in opposition, and (3) apply maximum, collective pressure, at times of one’s own choosing, against an authoritarian’s greatest vulnerabilities.

A longer view is both steadying and rational: one manages reverses more easily, and applies one’s reasoning most effectively. (There is this requirement of a long view: a long memory.)

Video via Sarah Kendzior On The Impending Trump Autocracy: ‘They’re Very Brazen About It.’

Where Bannon fits in all this…

Yesterday, as a comment to a post entitled Sarah Kendzior: The Kremlin Spokesman’s Odd Referral, a reader kindly asked a key question: “Where do you feel Bannon fits into all of this?”

It’s a critical question, to be sure. Steve Bannon’s no small figure, so to speak: he plays a role as ideologue, but that’s not all. Bannon has been affiliated with Cambridge Analytica, a data firm that may have a role in microtargeting of illicitly-obtained information in support of Trump.

Here’s my reply to yesterday’s comment:

Good morning, and thanks for your comment.

It’s such a key question, isn’t it? Bannon plays a key role for Trump as an ideologue (fomenting and focusing white nationalist ire against blacks, Muslims, Mexicans, Jews), but has he had a different responsibility, also? Perhaps so – as someone who helped Russia target lies and hacked information to particular communities, to (1) bolster the worst of Trump’s base and (2) to confuse, dispirit, and suppress the vote among those true to America’s democratic ideals.

Over at Brookings, Kate Brannen wrote on this, at the Just Security website, and her assessment seems persuasive to me. Connecting the Dots: Political Microtargeting and the Russia Investigation.

So much more to learn, of course, and sadly I think none of it good.

My best to you —


Here’s the overall issue concerning Cambridge Analytica, of which Bannon was vice president of the board, and of which the extreme Mercer family were principal owners:

This week, new reporting shined a light on one focus of the congressional investigation: determining how the Russians knew which voters to target with their disinformation campaign. A report from TIME’s Massimo Calabresi on Thursday provided new details: 

As they dig into the viralizing of such stories, congressional investigations are probing not just Russia’s role but whether Moscow had help from the Trump campaign. Sources familiar with the investigations say they are probing two Trump-linked organizations: Cambridge Analytica … and Breitbart News.

Cambridge Analytica is the data mining firm hired by the Trump campaign to help it collect and use social media information to identify and persuade voters to vote (or not vote), through an activity known as political microtargeting….

Kate Brannen asks the fundamental questions about Cambridge Analytica’s operation:

After sifting through these stories and publicly available information, here are a few open questions:

1. How sophisticated are Cambridge Analytica’s capabilities? Is the company really revolutionizing electoral politics, manipulating people through their social media data? Or are their services being exaggerated — by the company and by its critics?

2. Was Cambridge Analytica involved in voter disengagement efforts aimed at Democrats in key states? How successful were these efforts?

3. Were the Russians also carrying out voter disengagement efforts aimed at Democrats? Were they targeting the same voters, or same sort of voters, as Cambridge Analytica?

4. How precisely were the Russians able to target American voters? How were they able to identify these individuals? As Warner puts it: “How did they know to go to that level of detail in those kinds of jurisdictions?”

5. What, if any, were Russia’s capability gaps where they may have needed to seek outside help to conduct their disinformation campaign more effectively?

6. Did Russia extract voter rolls from state computer systems? Where exactly?

7. If Russia did have access to voter rolls, how did they use them for microtargeting?

8. If Russia had online voter rolls, what would it need from the Trump campaign or another third party to put these into effect?

9. What role did far right U.S. news organizations play? Did they knowingly take “any actions to assist Russia’s operatives”?

We’ve so much more yet to learn…

The Fellow Travelers

Jeremy Peters nicely describes the descent of far too many into mere fellow travelers for Putin, a dictator, imperialist, and murderer (Peters is far too mild about Putin, but he’s ably identified the self-hating Americans who support Russian’s dictator, and some of whom are perhaps even fifth columnists for Russia):

WASHINGTON — Years before the words “collusion” and “Russian hacking” became associated with President Vladimir V. Putin, some prominent Republicans found far more laudatory ways to talk about the Russian leader.

“Putin decides what he wants to do, and he does it in half a day,” Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York mayor and longtime friend and adviser to President Trump, gushed in 2014.

Mr. Putin was worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize, K. T. McFarland said in 2013, before going on to serve a brief and ill-fated stint as Mr. Trump’s deputy national security adviser.

“A great leader,” “very reasoned,” and “extremely diplomatic,” was how Mr. Trump himself described Mr. Putin that same year.

Though such fondness for Mr. Putin fell outside the Republican Party’s mainstream at the time, it became a widely held sentiment inside the conservative movement by the time Mr. Trump started running for president in 2015. And it persists today, despite evidence of Russian intervention in the 2016 American election and Mr. Putin’s increasingly authoritarian tendencies at home.

Via Reverence for Putin on the Right Buys Trump Cover.

Sarah Kendzior: The Kremlin Spokesman’s Odd Referral

Sarah Kendzior (@sarahkendzior) noticed this odd remark from the Kremlin’s spokesman in 2016, at the time he made it. It was a prescient catch, indeed. (Can’t recommend her work enough – a powerful, clear-sighted assessment of authoritarianism, well-suited to #TrumpRussia, and international relations beyond.)

Chris Hayes: Does Trump Jr.’s Email Thread Reveal He Had a Phone Conversation Before His 6.9.16 Meeting?

Having a prior phone conversation with the person who arranged the meeting, of course, makes it even less likely that Trump fils was ignorant of the subject matter.