The Barnum and Bailey Circus Is Alive and Well and Living in the White House

Spicey resigned! Oh noes! We won’t have him to kick around any more. I swear, stuff happens so fast in DC these days it’s like a three-ring circus. In more ways than one.

Spicer’s resignation came about because some guy named Anthony Scaramucci was given the job of communications director. Scaramucci is a Wall Street financier and big-time Republican donor with no experience in journalism or corporate communications, so this should be fun. We’ll see how long he lasts.

Related: Trump 101: How to Speak His Language.

There’s also been a shakeup in Trump’s so-called “legal team” – Marc Kasowitz, Trump’s personal attorney, is out.  “Legal team” spokesman Mark Corallo has resigned. I look forward to the tell-all books that ought to be published next year, if not by Christmas.

Meanwhile, there are stories that Trump and Putin had other meetings at G20 beside the ones we know about.

But the big news is about the coming Mueller-Trump Smackdown. As I wrote yesterday, Trump indicated in his word salady-way that he expected Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller to limit his investigation to things directly related to the 2016 investigation. Then Bloomberg published a report that Mueller clearly was looking into Trump’s business interests, especially as they pertain to Russia. This includes  Trump’s as yet undisclosed tax returns, btw.

By all accounts, Trump has gone ballistic. White House staff have been put to work trying to dig up dirt on Mueller and his team. Lawyers have been put to work trying to determine if Trump could pardon himself. (The consensus: no.) Trump’s beef with the investigation is being called a war on the Justice Department.  See especially Josh Marshall, The President at War.  In short, he’s thrashing around in ways one would expect a very guilty man to do.

It’s a good bet Trump is going to try to fire Mueller, giving us Saturday Night Massacre II. And it could be very, very messy.

This places Trump and Mueller on a collision path. Either the president will have to fire the special counsel for doing exactly the same things that got Bharara and Comey axed, or he’ll have to sit and seethe as Mueller pokes into his taxes, his business, and who knows what else. …

… Legal experts think Trump could fire Mueller in several ways. He could direct Rosenstein to do so, but Rosenstein would probably refuse unless there was a strong legal justification. Trump could also try to change the rules for firing, but that would also have to go through Rosenstein. Either path is fraught with likely firings or resignations at the Justice Department.

If Trump is half as guilty as I suspect he is, he’ll burn the White House down before he’d allow his business dealings to be probed.


Natalia Veselnitskaya, the lawyer who met with Junior, has connections to Russian intelligence.

Exxon Mobile has been fined for violating Russian sanctions while Tillerson was CEO.

Trump wants to hire foreign workers for Mar-a-Lago. He decided this during Made in America week.

Highlights of Trump’s Interview in the New York Times

These are direct quotes from Trump.

So pre-existing conditions are a tough deal. Because you are basically saying from the moment the insurance, you’re 21 years old, you start working and you’re paying $12 a year for insurance, and by the time you’re 70, you get a nice plan. Here’s something where you walk up and say, “I want my insurance.” It’s a very tough deal, but it is something that we’re doing a good job of.

What the hell does that mean?

So I told them today, I don’t want to do that. I want to either get it done or not get it done. If we don’t get it done, we are going to watch Obamacare go down the tubes, and we’ll blame the Democrats. And at some point, they are going to come and say, “You’ve got to help us.”

They’re more likely to say, “You own this, dude.”

This health care is a tough deal. I said it from the beginning. No. 1, you know, a lot of the papers were saying — actually, these guys couldn’t believe it, how much I know about it. I know a lot about health care. [garbled] This is a very tough time for him, in a sense, because of the importance. And I believe we get there.

Again, what the hell does that even mean?

I have had the best reviews on foreign land. So I go to Poland and make a speech. Enemies of mine in the media, enemies of mine are saying it was the greatest speech ever made on foreign soil by a president.

I don’t recall anybody saying that.

She was sitting next to Putin and somebody else, and that’s the way it is. So the meal was going, and toward dessert I went down just to say hello to Melania, and while I was there I said hello to Putin. Really, pleasantries more than anything else. It was not a long conversation, but it was, you know, could be 15 minutes. Just talked about — things. Actually, it was very interesting, we talked about adoption.

They talked about adoption? Why do I find that unlikely?

Here’s a longer bit:

SCHMIDT: Last thing, if Mueller was looking at your finances and your family finances, unrelated to Russia — is that a red line?

HABERMAN: Would that be a breach of what his actual charge is?

TRUMP: I would say yeah. I would say yes. By the way, I would say, I don’t — I don’t — I mean, it’s possible there’s a condo or something, so, you know, I sell a lot of condo units, and somebody from Russia buys a condo, who knows? I don’t make money from Russia. In fact, I put out a letter saying that I don’t make — from one of the most highly respected law firms, accounting firms. I don’t have buildings in Russia. They said I own buildings in Russia. I don’t. They said I made money from Russia. I don’t. It’s not my thing. I don’t, I don’t do that. Over the years, I’ve looked at maybe doing a deal in Russia, but I never did one. Other than I held the Miss Universe pageant there eight, nine years [crosstalk].

SCHMIDT: But if he was outside that lane, would that mean he’d have to go?


HABERMAN: Would you consider——

TRUMP: No, I think that’s a violation. Look, this is about Russia. So I think if he wants to go, my finances are extremely good, my company is an unbelievably successful company. And actually, when I do my filings, peoples say, “Man.” People have no idea how successful this is. It’s a great company. But I don’t even think about the company anymore. I think about this. ’Cause one thing, when you do this, companies seem very trivial. O.K.? I really mean that. They seem very trivial. But I have no income from Russia. I don’t do business with Russia. The gentleman that you mentioned, with his son, two nice people. But basically, they brought the Miss Universe pageant to Russia to open up, you know, one of their jobs. Perhaps the convention center where it was held. It was a nice evening, and I left. I left, you know, I left Moscow. It wasn’t Moscow, it was outside of Moscow.

HABERMAN: Would you fire Mueller if he went outside of certain parameters of what his charge is? [crosstalk]

SCHMIDT: What would you do?


TRUMP: I can’t, I can’t answer that question because I don’t think it’s going to happen.

Headline from today’s Bloomberg News: Mueller Expands Probe to Trump Business Transactions

The U.S. special counsel investigating possible ties between the Donald Trump campaign and Russia in last year’s election is examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates, according to a person familiar with the probe. …

…FBI investigators and others are looking at Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008, the person said. …

…Agents are also interested in dealings with the Bank of Cyprus, where Wilbur Ross served as vice chairman before he became commerce secretary. They are also examining the efforts of Jared Kushner, the President’s son-in-law and White House aide, to secure financing for some of his family’s real estate properties. The information was provided by someone familiar with the developing inquiry but not authorized to speak publicly.

The roots of Mueller’s follow-the-money investigation lie in a wide-ranging money laundering probe launched by then-Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara last year, according to the person.

Not enough popcorn in the world …

One More Time: Follow the Money

Irakly (Ike) Kaveladze, now identified as the “eighth man” in the infamous June 2016 meeting with Junior, Mr. Ivanka and Paul Manafort, is suspected of being involved in Russian money laundering.  Imagine that!

Scott Balber, Kaveladze’s attorney, confirmed to The Washington Post and other news outlets that he had been contacted by a representative of Special Counsel Robert Mueller and complied with a request to identify Kaveladze as among the attendees at the meeting. …

… Kaveladze, whose online resume says he “oversees a global business portfolio that includes large retail ventures as well as commercial and residential real estate projects” figured prominently in a Nov. 2000 story in The New York Times about money laundering.

The Times reported that investigators found that Kaveladze had opened accounts at American banks that were then used to launder more than $1.4 billion from “unknown Russians and other Eastern Europeans.”

Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., speaking with NPR’s Geoff Bennett, said he understood that Kaveladze has “a colorful history.”

According to Reuters, Balber also has ties to the president. The news agency says he “represented Trump himself in the New York businessman’s 2013 lawsuit against comedian television host Bill Maher, demanding the $5 million Maher offered to give to charity if Trump could prove his father is not an orangutan.”

The lawyer says Kaveladze attended the meeting as a translator, but found out nobody needed him to translate, so he didn’t say anything.

Charles Pierce gets to the gist of the matter —

It was always about the money. The reason we never saw the tax returns was because of what they would show about the money. The reason we can’t get a straight answer about the family’s dealings with the Russians is the money. Preet Bharara got fired because of the money and how the money had been allegedly laundered. James Comey got fired because of the money. Without the money, specifically the money from Russia, the Trump empire likely would have collapsed under a hail of writs and the paterfamilias would have been rendered invisible, even in the mirrors of Mar-a-Lago.

It always was about the money. The meeting on June 6, 2016 ultimately was about the money, as we learned today from CNN. The network reported that it had identified the eighth participant in that now-famous Trump Tower confab. Contrary to the previous load of hooey dispensed by Junior and the first family, this dude was not a translator.

This is from the 2000 New York Times story:

In a a nine-month inquiry that subpoenaed bank records, the investigators found that an unknown number of Russians and other East Europeans moved more than $1.4 billion through accounts at Citibank of New York and the Commercial Bank of San Francisco.

The accounts had been opened by Irakly Kaveladze, who immigrated to the United States from Russia in 1991, according to Citibank and Mr. Kaveladze. He set up more than 2,000 corporations in Delaware for Russian brokers and then opened the bank accounts for them, without knowing who owned the corporations, according to the report by the General Accounting Office, which has not been made public. …

… The G.A.O. report said nothing about the sources of the money. In view of past investigations into laundering, this wave was highly likely to have arisen from Russian executives who were seeking to avoid taxes, although some money could be from organized crime.

More than $800 million was wired from abroad to 136 accounts that Mr. Kaveladze opened at Citibank for Russian clients, and most of that was then sent to overseas accounts, said the report, which was provided to The New York Times by government officials who want to see its findings receive maximum exposure. … About $600 million moved through the Commercial Bank, the investigation found.

In spite of the strong appearance of shadiness, it seems Kaveladze was never indicted for anything, much less convicted. But the banks closed his accounts anyway.

On top of everything else, we learned yesterday that Trump had an undisclosed meeting with Vladimir Putin while he was in Germany. This happened after the much discussed public meeting.

Hours into a dinner with world leaders who had gathered for the Group of 20 summit meeting, President Trump left his chair at the sprawling banquet table and headed to where President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was seated. …

… The dinner discussion caught the attention of other leaders around the table, some of whom later remarked privately on the odd spectacle of an American president seeming to single out the Russian leader for special attention at a summit meeting that included some of the United States’ staunchest, oldest allies.

No one else from the U.S. government was in on this conversation, which was facilitated by a Kremlin translator. No one knows what they talked about for as long as an hour. This might have be en innocent, but Trump’s seeking out Putin, as if Trump were someone currying favor with a patron, looks bad, considering everything else going on.

Getting back to money laundering … I keep giving these lectures that the Trump-Russia collusion thing is about something bigger than just election meddling. Trump has changed positions on nearly everything he ran on, but he keeps coming back to being buddies with Putin. One does wonder why that’s so. What does Putin have on Trump? Earlier this year, John Oliver wondered this, also.

It’s all about the grift, folks. Follow the money.

The Eighth Man

Another tidbit in the news — the eighth man at the famous June meeting has been identified.

An American-based employee of a Russian real estate company took part in a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between a Russian lawyer and Donald Trump Jr., bringing to eight the number of known participants at the session that has emerged as a key focus of the investigation of the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russians.

Ike Kaveladze’s presence was confirmed by Scott Balber, an attorney for Emin and Aras Agalarov, the Russian developers who hosted the Trump-owned Miss Universe pageant in 2013. Balber said Kaveladze works for the Agalarovs’ company and attended as their representative.

Here’s the juicy bit:

Balber said Tuesday that he received a phone call from a representative of Special Counsel Robert Mueller over the weekend asking if Kaveladze would agree to be interviewed. Balber said his client would cooperate. The request is the first public indication that Mueller’s team is investigating the meeting.

Fail Fail Fail Fail Fail

The Senate Obamacare “repeal and replace” bill that I can’t remember the name of died last night; Republicans didn’t have the votes. What is likely to happen next?

Mitch McConnell already trotted out the old “repeal and delay” law, and that was shot down by lunchtime. Are there any other options?

It appears Mitch has just about used up his options. Trump has been ranting about letting the ACA collapse, but it probably won’t collapse unless Republicans find a way to make it collapse. Left to itself, it will probably trudge along about the way it’s been trudging along — not perfect, but not awful, either.

See also Trump’s erratic leadership is killing the GOP’s agenda. Not only has he never held a job; it’s become clear the whole concept of “teamwork” eludes him.

Stuff to Read

Good, in-depth article in Salon, “Chris Christie’s era of misrule in Jersey: The empty swamp mall and the canceled tunnel.” Christie will be leaving New Jersey in much worse shape than it was before he became governor. Unfortunately, the New Jersey Democratic Party is totally useless, also. I have no idea where New Jersey will go from here.

The Washington Post reports that when he’s not on a foreign trip, Trump sits around the White House watching television. At least he puts on a suit and isn’t in his bathrobe all day. He appears to have checked out of the job of being President, except for rallies and trips.


Are Our News Media Learning?

A righteously frustrated Colbert King writes,

The vaudeville show that’s running at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue didn’t book itself into the White House. Nearly 63 million Americans sent that burlesque comedy with headliner Donald Trump to Washington. That 66 million other voters thought otherwise is beside the point. Trump didn’t anoint himself president. Millions put him in office.

What does that tell us about the country?

I would ask, what does that tell us about U.S. elections and how people make voting decisions? Many mistakes were made last election by both parties; little went according to plan. But I think a lot of the blame has to go to news media and how elections are covered.

The single biggest source of information most voters go by is cable and television news. The chart is from Pew Research Center, from February 2016.

Notice that only 2 percent of people get information from national newspapers; 1 percent actually check out the candidates’ websites.

If you check out the article, you see that older people in particular lean on cable and television news, whereas younger people lean more heavily on notoriously unreliable social media. Among millennials, 6 percent name “late night comedy” as a source, way ahead of any sort of newspaper, local or national.

But going back to cable and television news, what exactly did people learn about the candidates last year from those sources?

Recently Warren Olney wrote in the Los Angeles Times that Trump owed his election victory to the current head of CNN Worldwide, Jeff Zucker.

Zucker helped create “The Apprentice” as a vehicle for Trump when he was head of NBC Entertainment, Olney wrote. And “As president and chief executive of CNN 10 years later, Zucker became the giver who kept on giving.”

Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan has described his contribution this way: “It was Zucker who gave Trump astonishing amounts of free exposure in the Republican presidential primary on the cable network, continually blasting out his speeches and rallies — often unfiltered and without critical fact-checking.”

During the election season, I saw entire Trump rallies carried live by CNN, interrupted only for mandatory commercials. Not only was there no critical fact-checking, there was no serious effort to provide context for viewers. Never raised, let alone answered, was the question: Why should a developer with a shaky reputation and no relevant experience be seriously considered for the most powerful job in the world?

It wasn’t just CNN, of course. I was never to frustrated with television news as I was on March 15, 2016, when three cable networks ignored a speech being given by Bernie Sanders in favor of covering Trump’s empty podium. Ryan Grim wrote at the time,

Fox News, CNN and MSNBC all declined to carry Sanders’ speech, instead offering punditry about the evening, with the chyrons promising, “AWAITING TRUMP” and “STANDING BY FOR TRUMP.”

Hillary Clinton last week got similarly dissed by the networks in favor of Trump.

Earlier Tuesday, The Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone reported that the media have collectively given Trump some $2 billion worth of free air time. 

Thanks to Trump’s ability to drive ratings and generate controversy, as well as his unmatched accessibility — notably by phone — TV networks have covered the candidate nonstop since he entered the race last summer. Numerous rallies and press conferences have been aired live, while sexist and bigoted remarks typically result in a flurry of TV interviews. After canceling a rally Friday night, Trump dominated cable news by calling into CNN, MSNBC and Fox News for a total of 48 minutes in under an hour.

“Trump’s ability to drive ratings” is key here. He was entertaining. People tuned in to see what he was up to.

Colbert King is wondering why so many Americans couldn’t see his flaws:

Trump the candidate showed himself to be an ignorant, undisciplined, ranting bully who exaggerated and lied without shame. A man who wore a tough-guy masculinity but was actually a coward, who picked on women, demeaned minorities and was thoroughly lacking in human decency. …

… Trump’s ties and affinities to Russia were no secret, either.

Two months before Election Day, reports appeared in The Post, including in this column, that there was strong evidence that Trump’s businesses had received significant funding from Russian investors — thus adding to a growing sense that the Russians may have had their hooks in him and his associates.

Plus, there were the stories about how Trump stiffed his vendors, about how Trump apparently cheated on his taxes, about Trump’s old ties to the New York mob, about his “Trump University” being nothing but a scam, about his many business failures, etc.

But was any of that on cable or television news? The Washington Post and New York Times were both doing a dandy job of digging up the dirt on Trump’s past. But if you don’t read those newspapers — and clearly, most voters don’t — would you have known about those stories? Would you have even been dimly aware those stories were even out there somewhere? I don’t think so. The only dirt on Trump that gained any traction on cable or television news, as I remember, was the “grab ’em by the pussy” remark.

One of the things that must be done, before we go through another presidential election campaign, is to put pressure on television and cable news to present the candidates responsibly and honestly. We need massive media reform. We’ve needed massive media reform since the 1980s, at least. Some of us have been complaining about that for years. The Democrats, at least, ought to be pushing that agenda, because they’re the ones most hurt by the way politics is covered. But they don’t.

Social media, alas, is a cesspool of misinformation, and I’m not sure there’s much that can be done about that. Being able to ban or block fake news sites would help, but there’s a reluctance to do that for fear of shutting off legitimate news.

Trump Plays the President on Teevee

The Washington Post is reporting that “The White House” is putting pressure on Republican governors to endorse the Senate’s monstrous health care bill. The “White House” in this case consists of Veep Mike Pence, HHS secretary Tom Price, and Seema Verma, also a Trump appointee, who is administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The alleged POTUS is not part of this effort.

Granted, Trump has been in Paris busily engaged in weird handshakes …

… and saying inappropriate things to Brigitte Macron. And this weekend he is busy attending the U.S. Women’s Open golf tournament in Bedminster, NJ. Priorities, people. But it should be noted that otherwise he hasn’t really been much engaged in anything lately, other than tweeting. Many have noted that his schedule often is weirdly empty. Many others have commented that he doesn’t do many things presidents normally do.

The president did engage personally on health care earlier in the year, courting groups of lawmakers in the Oval Office and making rounds of calls, eventually claiming partial credit when a version of the legislation passed the House. But those overtures to reticent lawmakers over Diet Cokes have largely faded as Senate Republicans have labored to pass their version of the bill, long the party’s signature pledge to its base.

Trump, who has ventured west of the Mississippi River only once as president, has barely mentioned health care on his few stops outside Washington and his golf properties in Florida and New Jersey. He has done little beyond tweeting to rally his base in support of the plan and has not stepped foot in the state of a Republican lawmaker who might be needed to pass the bill in the Senate.

At his most recent political rally — in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in late June — he made just a few scattered references to the issue.

“I think health care’s going to happen,” Trump said. “You’re going to have a lot of exciting things over the next few months.”

He was engaged with the House health care bill, but it seems once that passed the House he lost interest in what was going on in Congress. He’s leaving the work of pushing an agenda through Congress to Mike Pence and other underlings.

Even when he was engaged, he really wasn’t. For example, several weeks ago he claimed that his tax bill was moving through Congress, when it hadn’t been written yet. It still hasn’t, btw.

James Downie writes in WaPo that “in both making and executing laws, passiveness to the point of abdication is a growing hallmark of Trump’s presidency.”

With the Senate trying again, the president has shrunk back even further. In an interview with The 700 Club’s Pat Robertson on Wednesday, Trump showed us how he views his role in the health-care debate. “I am sitting in the Oval Office with a pen in hand,” he said, “waiting for our senators to give it to me.” Twice more he cast himself as a passive actor: “Now we have a President that’s waiting to sign it. … I’m sitting waiting for that bill to come to my desk.” Even as he acknowledges that “it would be very bad” if Senate Republicans fail, he suggests there is no role for him in getting a bill passed.

The president has been similarly uninvolved on foreign policy. Where past presidents — of both parties — have reserved final say-so over troop levels in war, Trump has delegated that tremendous responsibility, giving Defense Secretary Jim Mattis authority over the size of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. This comes after six months with no new strategy for the Afghan war — a conflict the United States has been in for more than 15 years. Also missing is a coherent policy for the Middle East, China or for pretty much any other part of the world.

Trump’s apathy is also shown in the slow pace of executive-branch appointments. Of the 564 positions that require Senate confirmation, 374 still have no nominee. Many secretaries and their departments have been stuck waiting for key positions to be filled. The inertia is so total that it can only have come from the very top. And while doing less may ease the burden on Trump’s shoulders, the resulting sluggishness hurts the rest of us.

Meanwhile, the steady drip of unforced errors and self-made scandals has dominated political coverage, which actually isn’t helping Republicans get their agenda passed in spite of the it’s-all-a-diversion theory.

Trump himself is probably unaware that he’s not really doing his job, because he’s never had a job before. One suspects that whatever  his initial engagement, now that the novelty has worn off he’s likely to become even more detached from the job, which probably isn’t nearly as gratifying as he thought it would be.

So when do Congressional Republicans decide the guy is more trouble than he’s worth? It hasn’t happened yet, and I don’t expect it to happen this year. But if the scandals become more incriminating and Trump becomes even less of an asset, they may very well become willing to cut him loose. Pence is the guy they really want to work with, after all.

Basically, Everything Is Screwed Up

Today I wanted to write about the Senate health care bill, and then CNN reported there were at least eight people at the infamous July 9, 2016 “dirt on Clinton” meeting. One of those was Rinat Akhmetshin, being described as a Russian ex-counter-intelligence officer. See also “Trump Jr.’s Russia meeting sure sounds like a Russian intelligence operation.”

As far as the Senate health bill is concerned, it’s awful. It does nothing to address the real reasons health care is too expensive in the U.S. It relies on “solutions” that have already been found to not work, like high-risk pools and letting insurance companies sell junk insurance. The Republicans seem to think all they need to do is enable young, healthy people to buy cheap insurance and let everyone else die. Medicaid would be slashed considerably. People with preexisting conditions could be denied coverage at any price. See also:

Paul Waldman, “The new GOP health-care plan is still an abomination.”

Sarah Kliff, “The new Senate health care bill — and the return of preexisting conditions — explained

It’s a Conspiracy, Folks

This Lawrence O’Donnell segment from last night is worth watching —

Among other things, people being interviewed in the clip above discuss how the people behind the July 9, 2016 meeting are all old business associates of the Trump family. There are videos in circulation showing the old man at a party with several of them.

While this week’s revelations have focused on Junior, the dots all connect back to Jared Kushner. We found out about the meeting because Jared Kushner’s lawyers amended his Form SF-86, a questionnaire that is part of the application for national security clearance. Kushner initially submitted the form last January and was soon found to have “forgotten” a lot.

Kushner’s aides have previously told the Times that he holds an interim security clearance, which Sean Bigley, a federal security clearance attorney at Bigley Ranish, LLC described to TPM as a “golden ticket” that provides government employees with “the full level of access” needed for an applicant to perform his or her role.

Kushner’s failure to disclose dozens of contacts with foreigners, including the CEO of a Russian state-owned bank and the Russian ambassador to the United States, have prompted Democrats to call for his interim clearance to be reviewed or pulled entirely. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Tuesday dodged questions about whether Kushner still had it.

When the Times first broke the news of Kushner’s omissions in April, Gorelick [Kushner’s lawyer] told the newspaper that they were made in error. Kushner submitted his lengthy SF-86 form prematurely on Jan. 18, Gorelick said at the time, and his office informed the FBI the next day that he would be providing additional information about his foreign contacts.

“Amending” the form isn’t unusual, the article says, and Kushner probably won’t get in trouble for initially filing an incomplete one. But there’s more.

Yesterday, McClatchy reported that Kushner’s role in the campaign has drawn attention

Investigators at the House and Senate Intelligence committees and the Justice Department are examining whether the Trump campaign’s digital operation – overseen by Jared Kushner – helped guide Russia’s sophisticated voter targeting and fake news attacks on Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Congressional and Justice Department investigators are focusing on whether Trump’s campaign pointed Russian cyber operatives to certain voting jurisdictions in key states – areas where Trump’s digital team and Republican operatives were spotting unexpected weakness in voter support for Hillary Clinton, according to several people familiar with the parallel inquiries.

Also under scrutiny is the question of whether Trump associates or campaign aides had any role in assisting the Russians in publicly releasing thousands of emails, hacked from the accounts of top Democrats, at turning points in the presidential race, mainly through the London-based transparency web site WikiLeaks. …

… By Election Day, an automated Kremlin cyberattack of unprecedented scale and sophistication had delivered critical and phony news about the Democratic presidential nominee to the Twitter and Facebook accounts of millions of voters. Some investigators suspect the Russians targeted voters in swing states, even in key precincts.

Russia’s operation used computer commands knowns as “bots” to collect and dramatically heighten the reach of negative or fabricated news about Clinton, including a story in the final days of the campaign accusing her of running a pedophile ring at a Washington pizzeria.

One source familiar with Justice’s criminal probe said investigators doubt Russian operatives controlling the so-called robotic cyber commands that fetched and distributed fake news stories could have independently “known where to specifically target … to which high-impact states and districts in those states.”

It gets juicier.

Among other things, congressional investigators are looking into whether Russian operatives, who successfully penetrated voting registration systems in Illinois, Arizona and possibly other states, shared any of that data with the Trump campaign, according to a report in Time.

“I get the fact that the Russian intel services could figure out how to manipulate and use the bots,” Virginia Sen. Mark Warner told Pod Save America recently. “Whether they could know how to target states and levels of voters that the Democrats weren’t even aware (of) really raises some questions … How did they know to go to that level of detail in those kinds of jurisdictions?”

The Russians appear to have targeted women and African-Americans in two of the three decisive states, Wisconsin and Michigan, “where the Democrats were too brain dead to realize those states were even in play,” Warner said.

To those who are certain the Trump/Russians stole the 2016 election, I would like to point out that if the Clinton campaign hadn’t been so brain dead, there would have been fewer vulnerabilities to exploit. Ultimately, it was Clinton’s election to lose, and she lost it. She might very well have lost it had the Russians done nothing at all. Historians will probably be arguing the point for the rest of eternity. But this is about something bigger than who won the election.

Back to Jared Kushner — this is from an article published in the New York Times this morning:

While Donald Trump Jr. has been on the firing line, the meeting with Ms. Veselnitskaya could arguably be a bigger distraction for Mr. Kushner. As a senior adviser to the president, he is involved in several of the administration’s most sensitive foreign-policy issues, from China to the Middle East peace process. His involvement in the meeting led reporters to ask the White House whether he still held his security clearance.

Also under scrutiny is how forthcoming Mr. Kushner was with his father-in-law about the nature of the June meeting. He met with Mr. Trump to discuss the issue, according to advisers to the White House, around the time he updated his federal disclosure form to include Ms. Veselnitskaya’s name on a list of foreign contacts that Mr. Kushner was required to submit to the F.B.I. to obtain a security clearance.

Mr. Kushner supplemented the list of foreign contacts three times, adding more than 100 names, people close to him said.

Mr. Kushner played down the significance of the meeting and omitted significant details, according to two people who were briefed on the exchange. They said Mr. Kushner informed the president that he had met with a Russian foreign national, and that while he had to report the name, it would not cause a problem for the administration.

Another official said Mr. Kushner’s assurance to the president was based on the fact that nothing came of the June meeting.

Meanwhile, the old man appears to be in a kind of denial. He has been saying that his son did nothing wrong, but earlier today in Paris he blamed Loretta Lynch for allowing the Russian attorney into the country. So, it’s all Obama’s fault.

Even weirder, though, is that according to the New York Times article linked above, Trump believes the worst is over.

The fierce criticism of a meeting between Mr. Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and a Kremlin-linked lawyer in June 2016 has left the president by turns angry, defensive and protective but ultimately relieved that for now, the worst appears to be over, people who spoke to him said Wednesday.

Oh, sweetums, I doubt the worst has even started yet. We’ll know what the worst is when we hear from the Mueller investigation, and that may take awhile.

I want to close with something Josh Marshall wrote yesterday, which is that the Trumpettes don’t seem to understand what kind of trouble they are in.

The abiding sense I get is not simply that they don’t know the magnitude of the legal threat but that they don’t understand the nature of the threat either. Again and again they seem to think the legal vulnerability can be trumped by good news cycles or getting the press to focus on some other individual.  They don’t seem to get that a big, sprawling federal investigation like this, untethered from the political chain of command and led by one of the top law enforcement professionals of his generation, trundles onward with a perfect indifference to whether you win the morning or kill it in 10 or a 100 different news cycles. Those things just don’t matter. And yet my sense at least is that Jared Kushner thinks he is helping himself by knifing his brother-in-law – as though if Don Jr is at the center of a media firestorm for a few days, Mueller will just forget about him.

Here is an example of what I’m talking about. This is from Mike Allen’s morning Axios email.

The view in Kushner’s orbit is that the brutal new revelations are more P.R. problems than legal problems. And if he makes progress with his Middle East peace efforts, perceptions would be very different.

Again, this strikes me as a profound and dangerous naïveté. These are certainly not PR problems. Prosecutors, meanwhile, really don’t care how well you’re doing on the policy front. But even if you grant the nonsensical premise – that grave legal problems can be managed with good PR or even substantive policy successes – this is an inane statement.

Yeah, and how hard can it be to broker peace in the Middle East anyway? It’s not like anybody ever really tried before, is it?

New York’s business and media world is a cockpit of vipers. It’s hard to say anyone who comes out of that world is green or wet behind the ears. But Washington DC, and especially big federal criminal investigations, are different. It does not prepare you for that. If you look at Trump’s own career, there’s a persistent pattern. Get into a jam and you call in the lawyers, make threats, threaten lawsuits. If someone gets in your way you bleed them for years in court. If things go bad, you settle and move on. There’s also the tabloids. They look vicious. But they can also be deeply pliant for the rich. Landing a blow by planting a nasty story in the Post is a persistent theme of Trump’s racket for decades. Being a longtime informant for the FBI solves other problems. Having a problem with a disloyal? Fire them and threaten retribution. There’s probably an NDA already in place. They can be dealt with.

Kushner, notoriously, bought The New York Observer as one of his first gambits after taking over the family business when his dad headed to the big house. But he reportedly used the paper as a tool to attack business enemies. Kushner’s interest in the Observer has always struck me as of a piece with Trump’s modus operandi with the New York tabloids.

Because of the President’s damaged personality and perennial and chronic anger it can seem like he’s different, that he gets the magnitude of the situation. I don’t think he does. Every reverse is because he’s being treated unfairly or let down by Reince Priebus or Steve Bannon or now his loyalist lawyer Marc Kasowitz. The problems won’t go away because his staff can’t stop the leaks. In a situation like this there aren’t a lot of people you can effectively buy or destroy. This is a legal world that Trump has very little experience with.

A big federal investigation like this is like a broad lava flow. It moves slowly but it is unstoppable. It burns and crushes things in its wake. And things too big or unburnable it just covers over. The little antics and PR gambits mainly do not matter. Key players in this mix don’t seem to appreciate that.

I wish the lava flow would move a little faster. Do read all of Josh Marshall’s piece. And see also Paul Waldman, “The Trump White House Is a Confederacy of Dingbats.”

Update: See also Nicholas Kristof, “All Roads Now Lead to Kushner.” I had forgotten about Kushner’s plan to set up a secret communications channel with the Russians.